In this week’s issue… Cox/Fox swap gives WFXT new owner – Cumulus readies NYC’s new FM – Sinclair sells in PA – New FM in southern Ontario
By SCOTT FYBUSH
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: It appears Clear Channel is busy cutting staff again, at least here in Rochester. Veteran WHAM (1180) morning man Chet Walker was off the air and off the WHAM website this morning, where “WHAM Morning News” is shown with no host on the schedule. Walker had been a WHAM fixture since 1985; his longtime morning co-host, Beth Adams, lost her spot at WHAM in 2011 and is now across town at WXXI (1370). And in Springfield, WRNX (Kix 100.9) has broken up its morning team of Mike, Kera and Shaggy; they stay on the schedule with individual shifts later in the day, while the syndicated Bobby Bones show takes over mornings.
*Less than a week after the big news of a TV sale in western MASSACHUSETTS, it was the Boston TV market’s turn to be taken by surprise with the news that Fox Television Stations is exiting the region, swapping longtime O&O WFXT (Channel 25) and its Memphis station, WHBQ-TV (Channel 13) to Cox in exchange for San Francisco-market Fox affiliate KTVU (Channel 2) and independent KICU (Channel 36).
As valuable as an owned-and-operated station in market 7 might have been to Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s company has long coveted KTVU in market 6, not because it’s significantly larger but simply because of football. As an AFC market, the real football winner in Boston is CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4), which gets to televise all of the Patriots’ Sunday afternoon road games and most of the home games as well. Only the handful of games against an NFC road team end up on Fox and WFXT – but in San Francisco, KTVU gets nearly the complete 49ers schedule, plus a couple of Raiders home games against NFC visitors.
So it’s easy to see what’s in this deal for Fox…but what about Cox? As NERW readers know, Cox has been strategically exiting most of the markets where it can’t combine radio with its TV (and in some cases, legacy newspaper) holdings, which is why it recently sold off its stations in southern Connecticut to Connoisseur, for instance. With two TV stations in San Francisco, might Cox’s radio options in the Bay Area have been too limited?
In any event, speculation is already swirling around Cox’s options to grow its putative cluster in Boston once the ownership swap is official. Of the four big radio clusters in town, CBS Radio and Clear Channel are highly unlikely sellers, and Greater Media’s five-FM cluster is effectively that company’s flagship now that it makes its headquarters in the Boston area. That leaves the troubled Entercom cluster as a possible target for Cox – and a target with some history, at that. That’s because Fox is exiting Boston and selling WFXT for the second time in the station’s history, having owned it from 1987 until 1990 and then repurchased it in in 1995 after Murdoch sold his interest in the Boston Herald. In between Fox ownership, WFXT belonged to the Celtics, as a sister station to pioneering all-sports WEEI, then on 590. Both WEEI and WFXT grew substantially under their subsequent owners, but reuniting WEEI (now on 93.7) and Fox 25 under Cox ownership would still make for some very interesting synergies.
(You can see what Cox does with synergy in a market such as its onetime headquarters town, Dayton, Ohio, where WHIO television and radio share a newsroom with the Dayton Daily News and several nearby dailies. We visited the WHIO complex a few summers ago and recently featured it in Tower Site of the Week.)
*For now, at least, any talk of a larger Cox cluster is still speculative – so what do we know with certainty about what comes next? We know there will be a management change: WFXT VP/GM Gregg Kelley will stay with Fox, taking a cross-country transfer to hold the same post at KTVU/KICU. Cox inherits a vibrant local news operation at WFXT from Fox, something Kelley’s credited with helping to build from the ground up; when Fox repurchased WFXT in 1995, the station’s only local news was a single newscast outsourced to New England Cable News, and now WFXT produces more hours of local news than anyone else in town.
Will Cox maintain that level of news commitment? Out at KTVU, it was Cox that invented much of the news programming now seen on many Fox affiliates – long before Fox even existed, channel 2 was a leader in the Bay Area with its “Ten O’Clock News” and “Mornings on 2,” though our friends out there say the sterling reputation KTVU’s news operation once enjoyed has become tarnished by budget cuts in recent years.
One thing we can say with certainty: “Fox 25” will remain “Fox 25,” since the Fox/Cox deal includes an extended affiliation contract between the network and WFXT’s new owner.
*Just up the road from WFXT’s Dedham studios, Hearst’s ABC affiliate, WCVB (Channel 5), is celebrating a big promotion for one of its alumni. David Muir was an anchor and reporter at 5 TV Place from 2000 to 2003, when he jumped to the network, eventually becoming the weekend “ABC World News” anchor and, as of this fall, replacing Diane Sawyer on weeknights.
Muir’s roots in NERW-land go even deeper than WCVB: before Boston, the Syracuse native and Ithaca College graduate worked at WTVH (Channel 5) from 1995 until 2000. (And you’ll forgive us a bit of upstate New York pride for noting that when Muir takes over, the network anchor ranks will include two area natives, since NBC’s Brian Williams is a proud son of Elmira, even if he did move to New Jersey early on.)
*There’s an AM sale in central Massachusetts, where Barry Armstrong’s Money Matters Radio is unloading WESO (970 Southbridge). Emmanuel Communications will pay $250,000 for WESO, which will convert to noncommercial operation as a simulcast of Catholic station WNEB (1230 Worcester). Armstrong ended up breaking even (give or take operational costs over the years) on WESO, for which he paid $250,000 himself back in 2001. Money Matters Radio continues on Armstrong’s WBNW (1120 Concord), as well as for most of the day on WPLM (1390 Plymouth).
One of WNEB’s former owners is moving to fill a format gap in Boston. After WKLB (102.5) cancelled its Sunday morning country oldies show, Bob Bittner is filling the hole with the launch of “Country Memories,” a live show he’ll host on Sundays from 8:30 until noon on both WJIB (740 Cambridge) in the Boston market and WJTO (730 Bath) up in MAINE.
*The total count of AM stations in the Bay State is down by one: the FCC has cancelled the license of WPNI (1430 Amherst) after the station’s last licensee, Pamal, reported that “reinstitution of broadcasting is not economically viable.” Pamal kept the AM as a standalone after selling former sister station WRNX (100.9) to Clear Channel in 2006, but in the years since then it’s been carrying placeholder programming (mostly a simulcast of noncommercial WUMB-FM from Boston) while the company sought out a buyer. One emerged last year in the form of Brian Dodge, but after putting down a $10,000 deposit, the Dodge-affiliated “Love Radio Church, Inc.” was unable to consummate the purchase. (Which didn’t stop Dodge from putting WPNI on his business cards and using the station’s studio address for a pile of LPFM applications, but that, as always, is another story…)
In the Berkshires, WUPE (1110) remains active on the AM dial, but it’s about to join the many small AMs that now exist mainly as glorified studio-transmitter links to FM translators. Gamma Broadcasting (part of Bruce Danziger’s Vox family) has applied to use translator W277CJ (103.3) as a relay of WUPE(AM), doubling its power from 50 to 100 watts. The translator, granted last year, had previously been on the books as a rebroadcaster of WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams); at least for now, the AM and FM simulcast as oldies “Whoopie.”
Radio People on the Move: James Raggi is departing WXKS-FM (Kiss 108), where he’s been producing “Matty in the Morning” and appearing as an on-air sidekick. In his new gig, he’ll be the morning man himself, joining the airstaff at WAJI (95.1 BEST FM) in lovely Fort Wayne, Indiana.
*The big news from NEW YORK, of course, is Cumulus’ impending launch of the fourth piece of its cluster. After acquiring WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5) when it swallowed Citadel, then picking up what’s now WNSH (94.7) from Family Stations, the last piece of the puzzle, ironically, is the one FM Cumulus already owned in the market.
That, of course, is the 103.9 signal that’s been a fixture to the north in Westchester County for decades. NERW readers were the very first to learn that Cumulus was laying the groundwork to move what was then WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains) into the city, and if you were following our Facebook or Twitter feeds late last week, you were also first to know that the station, now licensed to Bronxville, will take the calls WNBM when it signs on from its new Bronx transmitter site on Friday.
The calls were just about the last thing we didn’t already know about the new “Radio 103.9 New York”; the remaining details beyond what we’d previously reported emerged at the launch party for advertisers last Wednesday at Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem. In addition to Tom Joyner in mornings and D.L. Hughley in afternoons, middays will feature Sharon “La Loca” Montero, headed north from WPYO in Orlando, while Marc Clarke, late of WHUR in Washington, will do nights.
But before the new WNBM makes its debut on Friday at 1:03 PM, Cumulus had to wind down the long history of WFAS-FM in Westchester. After years of cutbacks, there wasn’t much local airstaff left in Westchester, but morning host Jolana Smith, afternoon host Hartman and night guy Ron James are now gone, having done their last shows last week. The WFAS-FM format chugs along on automation for a few more days until the Secor Road transmitter site falls silent Thursday night and the new WNBM signs on from its perch in the Bronx.
The once-bustling Secor Road WFAS building won’t be completely empty once 103.9 moves, though: in a remarkable move these days, Cumulus will keep WFAS (1230) alive as a standalone AM outlet serving the heart of Westchester. NERW hears WFAS(AM) will focus more tightly on news and talk when it reboots in a few weeks’ time, and we’ll be interested to see how the AM fares against its handful of competitors in the county. The largest, of course, is Pamal’s big-signal WHUD (100.7 Peekskill); it’s widely believed that WHUD was the driving force behind Arbitron’s launch of a larger “Hudson Valley” market in which WFAS-FM couldn’t compete.
But the week’s unintentional irony award goes to our friend Bill O’Shaughnessy at New Rochelle’s WVOX (1460)/WVIP (93.5), who put out a “farewell” to WFAS-FM that carefully noted the “17 (count ’em!) absentee owners” and 43 general managers that station has had over the years. In touting the community service his stations intend to continue providing to Westchester while WFAS-FM/WNBP “turns their focus to the highly competitive New York City market,” the “farewell” letter carefully omitted one important detail: a few years ago, WVIP made the very same move that 103.9 is about to make, relocating its transmitter site from Westchester to the Montefiore Medical Center tower in the Bronx. (And, indeed, anyone seeking an early peek at how the “Radio 103.9” signal will get out when it signs on later this week can tune to WVIP for a nearly identical coverage area.)
*CBS Radio wasn’t in a hurry to change the calls when it flipped WNOW-FM (92.3 New York) from “Now” to “Amp” in May – but those WNOW-FM calls were desirable when CBS lured them away from a station in South Carolina to replace what had long been WXRK, and they were apparently desirable to Radio One’s “Now” in Indianapolis, too. WNOU (100.9 Speedway) flipped to WNOW-FM last Monday, presumably with a bit of cash changing hands, and “92.3 AMP” in New York is now WBMP.
Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) is wasting no time preparing for its move from the Empire State Building to 4 Times Square. It filed last Monday to be relicensed at the 4 Times Square site, where it would run 10 kW/926′ from the master antenna, an increase in power and decrease in height from its present 4.3 kW/1361′ at Empire. At least on paper, WBAI’s move (which takes it just 0.86 km to the northwest) would keep its coverage area essentially unchanged; as we noted last week, the real-world effect of the move is likely to be a slightly better signal inside Manhattan buildings, and a slightly weaker signal out at the fringes where the lower 4 Times Square antenna can’t see over hills quite as well as Empire does. The bigger question, of course, is whether Pacifica will have any easier time paying the lower rent at 4 Times Square than it’s had meeting the $50,000 monthly bill at Empire.
*In Syracuse, public broadcaster WCNY is going through some belt tightening. Seven staffers lost their jobs last week ahead of the end of the station’s fiscal year, bringing staffing down to a total of 52 at the stations, WCNY-TV (Channel 24) and WCNY-FM (91.3).
Meanwhile in Buffalo, WBFO (88.7) is hiring: it’s adding Brian Meyer as its news director this fall. The Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame honoree is a veteran reporter and newsroom manager at WBEN (930), but he’s been over on the print/digital side of things more recently, working as a reporter and digital media producer for the Buffalo News. Meyer won’t start his new WBFO gig fulltime until September, six months after former news director Jim Ranney departed for the world of politics.
Over at Townsquare’s Rand Building studios, veteran Buffalo programmer Dave Universal has been quietly doing sales for the last couple of years, since exiting CKEY (Z101) just across the Niagara River in 2012. But Universal, best known for 17 years at Entercom’s WKSE (Kiss 98.5), is returning to the PD chair, taking over from John Lassman at Townsquare’s AC WJYE (96.1 Joy FM). Lassman is headed to Minneapolis and the Cumulus cluster, where he’ll be PD at rocker KXXR (93.7). And is Universal already plotting changes at WJYE? RadioInsight reports a domain registration for “Mix96Buffalo.com,” which would resurrect the “Mix” nickname that had been used across town at WHTT (104.1) from 2007-2009.
*Here in Rochester, Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of WXXI (1370), one of a small handful of public radio news-talk stations on AM when it launched back in 1984, and one of an even smaller handful now. Your editor will be helping to mark that anniversary with a guest appearance on “Connections with Evan Dawson,” Wednesday at 1 PM.
*There’s still no confirmation of our exclusive-to-NERW story last week that Community Broadcasters is laying the groundwork to buy most of Robert Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines group in Elmira/Corning. In addition to the domain registrations that our content partners at RadioInsight picked up on last week, there are two more to report this week: Community has registered domains for “Wingz 100.9” and “Star 104.9,” suggesting plans to move classic rock WNGZ from its present Montour Falls-licensed “Wingz 104.9” to the Horseheads-licensed 100.9 signal a few miles south that better covers the Elmira area. That move, of course, would be contingent on whether Community can relocate “Wolf” country from 100.9 (now WPGI) to what’s now Pembrook Pines’ country competitor WOKN (99.5 Southport).
*In Albany, Empire Broadcasting has unveiled the next chapter in its format shuffle, as AC “Mix 106.1” replaces the former Time Warner Cable News simulcast on W291BY (106.1 Albany). Instead of originating on 106.1’s former simulcast partner, WUAM (900 Watervliet), Mix’s AM home is on the former WABY (1160 Mechanicville), where it replaces the standards of “Moon Radio.” The new calls on 1160 are WAIX, and the WABY calls and “Moon Radio” format migrate down the dial to 900, further enhancing the irony that the tower alongside I-90 from which 900 now broadcasts was the home of the original WABY on 1400, now WAMC(AM).
*Is VERMONT ready to welcome “The One”? Ken Squier’s Radio Vermont staff has been hard at work crafting the replacement for the two formats it dropped last week, classical WCVT (101.7 Stowe) and classic rock “Fox” WEXP (101.5 Brandon) down in the Rutland market.
While we’d already reported the broad outlines of what “The One” will sound like, now we have some details. The station’s music mix will, as we predicted, be heavy on AC music from the 1970s through the 1990s, and there will be a heavy news presence from the Radio Vermont News Network and sister station WDEV.
Marion Carol, who’s been off the air for a few years, returns to radio to host “Wake-Up 101” from 6-9 AM on weekdays, followed middays by “Allentown” with music director Frankie Allen (9 AM – 1 PM) and in the afternoons (1-7 PM) by Jim Knight’s “Edge of Knight.”
Both stations have been silent since their previous formats ended on Friday; they’ll spend today running a promotional loop for the new format, and “the One” will kick off Tuesday morning at 6:01 AM.
*On the state line with NEW HAMPSHIRE, Jim Bosh has been the PD and morning guy for Great Eastern’s “KIXX” country simulcast (WXXK 100.5 Lebanon NH/WKKN 101.9 Westminster VT) for a year and a half, but now he’s left the station and the area, returning to Connecticut, where he’d been the morning guy at WWYZ (92.5) in the Hartford market from 2004-2011. He’s pursuing his VO career there, along with some prospects outside of radio, too.
In Skowhegan, MAINE, the Wesserunsett Arts Council’s new 98.1 will be WXNZ-LP.
An update on our True Oldies Channel story from last week: like most affiliates of the network that signed off last night, Binnie Media’s WLVP (870 Gorham)/WLAM (1470 Lewiston) has reportedly flipped to Cumulus’ new offering, Good Time Oldies.
*Sinclair won’t have to shut any stations down in central PENNSYLVANIA in order to complete its near-billion-dollar purchase of Allbritton: it’s struck an $85.3 million deal to spin Allbritton’s ABC affiliate, WHTM (Channel 27) in Harrisburg, to Media General. This is one of Media General’s first deals since swallowing LIN Television; it’s a new state for Media General, and WHTM’s ABC affiliation provides some diversity in a lineup of stations that’s heavy on CBS outlets (especially on the Media General side of the merged MG/LIN.)
Sinclair keeps its existing presence in the market, CBS affiliate WHP-TV (Channel 21), right across the street from WHTM; for now, at least, WHP is also still operating Nexstar’s CW outlet, WLYH (Channel 15).
And of course we can’t let a mention of Media General and LIN go without noting that in RHODE ISLAND, we’re still waiting to see what gets spun to bring a merged MG/LIN back under the market cap in Providence, where LIN’s CBS affiliate WPRI and Fox affiliate WNAC have been competing with Media General’s NBC affiliate WJAR. Sinclair was speculated to be a possible buyer there – but if a Providence deal were in the works between Sinclair and Media General, it likely would have been done as a swap for WHTM, reducing the tax liability on both sides.
*Tony Bruno is out at Greater Media’s Philadelphia sports talker, WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), where the veteran host has been part of the “Fanatic” since 2010, most recently in the late morning slot with Harry Mayes. Bruno says he and the station were unable to reach a deal on a contract extension; will he end up across town at CBS Radio’s WIP-FM (94.1)?
Radio People on the Move: Two veteran managers at opposite ends of the state are retiring. In Philadelphia, Natalie Conner has been a fixture at Beasley’s WXTU (92.5) and WRDW-FM (96.5), where she started as national sales manager in 1991 and has been running the cluster since 2005, most recently as VP/market manager. She’s transitioning out of the role slowly, staying on full-time until a replacement is named and then continuing as a consultant to Beasley afterward. (That will be easy, geographically, since she’s relocating to Beasley’s headquarters town, Fort Myers, Florida.) In Pittsburgh, Chuck Gratner has run Salem’s WORD-FM (101.5) and WPIT (730), but after 23 years with the stations and an even half-century in radio, he’s retiring tomorrow. Tom Lemmon, the stations’ general sales manager, moves up to the GM chair to replace Gratner.
Back east, Sarah O’Conner is out as PD of Radio One’s WPHI (107.9 Pennsauken NJ); AllAccess reports Darrick Williams, PD of sister station WRNB (100.3 Media), will become operations manager for the entire cluster, overseeing WRNB (“Old School 100.3”), WPHI (“Hot 107.9”) and gospel WPPZ (103.9 Jenkintown)
Outside Philadelphia, Neumann University’s new LPFM station has changed calls. WRNU-LP (98.5) will instead be WNUW-LP when it signs on the air. (Will its air studio be outfitted with U47s?)
*Few college stations have been as consistently good at placing graduates in good positions in the industry as NEW JERSEY‘s WSOU (89.5 South Orange), and now the Seton Hall station has provided a good job right within its walls for a talented alumna. Jennifer Kajzer, a 1999 Seton Hall graduate, worked as an “integrated media manager” for CBS Radio across the river in New York, but now she’s returned to campus as WSOU’s new underwriting and marketing manager.
If that last name sounds familiar, it should – Kajzer’s sister Jackie, also a WSOU alum, has made a big name in the business herself as syndicated host “Full Metal Jackie.”
*In CANADA, there’s another new FM signal coming to southern Ontario now that the CRTC has approved an application from David Holdgate’s R.B. Communications Ltd. to build a sister station to his “Giant FM” (CIXL 91.7) in Welland. The new signal on 89.1 will bring back the country format that was last heard in the Niagara region on CIXL’s predecessor, CHOW (1470). It will run 564 watts average/3.1 kW max DA/130.5 m.
United Christian Broadcasters has won CRTC permission to add a relay transmitter at Maynooth, north of Bancroft, Ontario. The 50-watt/45 m signal will operate on 94.7, rebroadcasting CKJJ (102.3) from Belleville.