In this week’s issue… New owners in upstate NY – Media General sells in RI – Public broadcaster plots spectrum auction – Remembering Philly, NYC morning legends – CBS shakes it up in Boston
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Upstate NEW YORK tends to be a fairly conservative place – not just politically, but when it comes to radio ownership, too. So it’s a big deal when a week brings sales of not one, but two significant station clusters that together span a territory from the Pennsylvania border north almost to Lake Ontario. That goes double when both of those owners are new to the radio business in the region, as indeed they are.
We start in Elmira, where we’ve spent much of the last few years chronicling the aftermath of the bankruptcy of longtime owner Robert Pfuntner. Pfuntner’s been trying for several years now to sell off some combination of his assets in Elmira, Bath, Olean and Salamanca to satisfy his creditors. Last October, Pfuntner had a $2.75 million deal lined up to sell the Elmira and Bath stations to ad agency owner (and former WETM-TV manager) Randy Reid, but despite entering into an LMA with Reid’s Titan group, the deal never closed and the stations went back on the market. Reid ended up joining with a competing station group, Community Broadcasters, to file a petition that halted the next sale proposal, which would have sent the Elmira and Olean/Salamanca stations to Bill Christian’s Great Radio LLC for $950,000.
The latest attempt to sell the Pfuntner station doesn’t come with any of the ownership-cap concerns that halted the Christian deal. Unlike Christian, who owns Fox affiliate WYDC-TV and has spousal ties to the Sound Broadcasting cluster based in Corning, new buyer Gordon Ichikawa has no broadcast holdings at all, at least where licenses are concerned. But while “Gordy” Ichikawa may be new to station ownership, he’s a well-known figure in the Southern Tier broadcast community for another reason: in addition to a long-running two-way radio business, he owns several of the tallest towers in the region, including the Higman Hill tower above Corning that’s home to most of the TV signals in the Elmira/Corning market and several towers on Ingraham Hill above Binghamton.
As “Tower Broadcasting LLC,” Ishikawa is paying a total of $1.13 million in cash for Pfuntner’s Elmira properties: $950,000 for sports WELM (1410 Elmira), oldies WEHH (1600 Elmira Heights-Horseheads, plus an FM translator), top-40 “Rock 94” WLVY (94.3 Elmira, plus translators in Corning and Waverly) and country WOKN (99.5 Southport, with a translator in Corning), plus $165,000 for the real estate on Lake Road in Elmira that’s home to the AM towers and the stations’ studios and $15,000 for the Horseheads hilltop property where the FMs are located. (That $950,000, in turn, includes a $169,000 breakup fee to end the LMA that still existed between the Pfuntner stations and would-be buyer Great Radio.)
As of August 1, Great Radio’s LMA with the Pfuntner stations has been replaced by a new LMA with Tower Broadcasting that will run until the stations are finally sold.
In his new role as a station owner, Ichikawa enters one of the most crowded radio markets in the region. With a huge chunk of broadcast revenue already going to TV (especially powerhouse WETM), what’s left for radio is divided up among Community’s three FM/two AM cluster, Sound’s four FMs and two AMs and Equinox’s two FMs, in addition to Tower’s new group – plus more signals in Hornell and Bath that eat into the Steuben County end of the sprawling market. For now, at least, Pfuntner remains in control of the Bath stations, AC WVIN (98.3) and sports WABH (1380), as well as WZKZ (101.9 Alfred); the stations in Olean (WOEN 1360/WMXO 101.5) and Salamanca (WGGO 1590/WQRS 98.3) are awaiting closing on their $275,000 to Paige Christian’s Sound Radio.
*But the Elmira sale isn’t the only bankruptcy-induced cluster changing hands this week.
Up along the northern end of the Finger Lakes, the Finger Lakes Radio Group got caught up in the personal bankruptcy of principal owner George Kimble, and that led to an auction last Monday for the group’s assets. That includes AC WNYR (98.5 Waterloo), rock “Wall” WLLW (99.3 Seneca Falls), country WFLK (101.7 Geneva)/WCGR (1550 Canandaigua, plus an FM translator), news/talk WGVA (1240 Geneva)/WAUB (1590 Auburn), plus FM translators for both, and country WFLR (1570 Dundee, plus two FM translators).
We know there were at least two bidders in the auction: one was Alan Bishop, the longtime executive who’s been running the group for more than a decade; the other was Vox Communications principal Bruce Danziger. And while no sale has been filed with the FCC yet, we know that Danziger had the winning bid, somewhere north of the $3 million stalking-horse bid he’d already entered with the bankruptcy court.
Danziger won’t take over operation of the Finger Lakes cluster until the deal closes; until then, Bishop and the existing management team will stay in place at the Geneva headquarters.
*While we’re in the region, we add WBTA (1490 Batavia) to the AM-on-translator club. Owners Dan and Deb Fischer are paying Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes $42,500 for the construction permit for W261CR (100.1 Darien Center), which has just filed an application to relocate eastward to the WBTA tower on Creek Road just south of Batavia. From there, it will run 250 watts, covering a big chunk of central Genesee County.
Two Southern Tier signals are temporarily silent while undergoing tower work: in Jamestown, WKSN (1340) tells the FCC it went silent in mid-July due to “technical problems with its transmission system,” but it expects to be back on the air soon. In Owego, Catholic station WHVM (91.9) is in the midst of replacing its original tower with a taller one, but it says it’s run into some difficulties building the new 55-meter stick. It’s hoping to get the new facility built and on the air by the end of October.
An update on the demise of WUTI (1150 Utica), the former WRUN: not only has the license now been deleted by the FCC, we’re told the station’s former studio/transmitter building and property on Thomas Road in Oriskany are now set for an auction in lieu of unpaid taxes, another sign that this one really isn’t coming back.
*We’re deep in the midst of “hall of fame season,” and this week’s announcement came from Buffalo, where the Buffalo Broadcasters unveiled their next lineup of inductees. At the September 18 ceremony, WIVB-TV (Channel 4) anchor Don Postles will receive the TV Hall of Fame Award, WHTT (104.1) morning man Bill Lacy will receive the Radio Hall of Fame Award, longtime WIVB general manager Chris Musial will receive the Al Anscombe Award, and former WNED-TV (Channel 17) programmer Tony Buttino the “Behind the Scenes Award” for his role in developing “Reading Rainbow” for public TV. There will be a long overdue posthumous honor for WKBW’s Jackson Armstrong, a 50th anniversary award for WBLK (93.7), and the Buffalo Bob Smith award, for Buffalonians who went on to bigger things outside the market, will go to journalist/educator Susan King. You can read all about the honorees (and get information about ticket availability for the ceremony) here.
Up in Plattsburgh, silent WNMR (107.1 Dannemora) is back on the air; for now, it’s running polkas to keep the license alive, but we hear a more permanent format may be in place soon.
Moving downstate, Pamal is relocating WBPM (92.9 Saugerties) from the historic stone building at 82 John Street in uptown Kingston to the Seven21 Media Center at 721 Broadway, the former home of WTZA/WRNN (Channel 62). While the Kingston Daily Freeman claimed WBPM has called the John Street address home “for 38 years,” that’s not quite true – the original WBPM at that address was the station on 94.3 that’s now Townsquare’s country WKXH, operating from Poughkeepsie. Once the move to Broadway is complete, it’s not clear what becomes of WBPM’s former sister station WGHQ (920), which really has been at John Street for decades, and which still originates its leased-time “Kingston Community Radio” morning show from that location.
Across the Catskills, Bud Williamson has flipped WQCD (88.1 Montgomery) from its temporary format of 1980s pop to smooth jazz, reuniting the format and calls that lived for several decades on New York’s 101.9. The new WQCD is also being heard on translators at 106.3 in Poughkeepsie and 94.9 in Middletown.
*In New York City, they’re mourning Al Meredith, who had a remarkable 28-year run as the news director and morning news voice on WCBS-FM (101.1). Meredith, born Alan Hickey, started his radio career on his native Long Island, working at WGBB, WGSM, WGLI and WBLI before joining WCBS-FM in 1980. While other FM music stations in the city moved away from any real news presence, Meredith maintained a competent, credible news sound as part of the CBS-FM experience. He remained on board even during the Jack FM interregnum (2005-2007), but retired in 2008 and moved to Florida a year later. That’s where he died on August 15, at age 68.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news also starts with the death of a well-known morning voice. Don Cannon came to Philadelphia in 1969 to be the lead-off hitter for top-40 powerhouse WIBG (990), and he racked up an impressive Philly resume that included WIP (610), WFIL (560), WIFI (92.5) and a stint as both jock and programmer at WSNI (104.5)/WPGR (1540) before making his final extended stop at WOGL (98.1), where he was morning man from 1990-2004. Born Dominick Canzano, he was a staunch supporter of local charities and a passionate golfer. (He also hosted “Inside Golf” on Comcast Sports, among other extracurricular gigs.) Cannon was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. He died Friday, at age 74. A memorial service was held Sunday; an on-air memorial will take place today on WOGL’s morning show.
*Another longtime Philadelphia morning voice, Harry Donahue, is still very much among the living – but he starts a new chapter of his life today. Donahue retired last week from KYW (1060) after a remarkable 41-year run with the all-news station. His last day on the air included a series of on-air tributes, which the station has collected here.
*In Pittsburgh, PBRTV reports some big airstaff changes at Renda’s remaining station, WSHH (99.7), starting with the departure of 30-year morning veteran Dan Dunlap. Chris Shovlin moves from the news chair (and afternoons on former sister station WJAS 1320) to the host chair alongside Cris Winter. Sara Lockard’s now in middays, effective today, and PD Ron Antill takes over afternoons.
In Johnstown, there’s word that the land under the WKGE (850) nine-tower array has been sold, casting doubt on the chances that the station will get back on the air at its licensed 10 kW power level.
In Erie, translator W275BX (102.9) is getting out of the way of a recent rimshot addition to the market. WCGM (102.7 Wattsburg) is Family Life Ministries’ relocation of the former WNAE-FM in Clarendon, near Warren; instead of trying to make the 102.7 rimshot and the 102.9 translator in downtown Erie coexist, FLM has applied to move W275BX down to 92.1, jumping from 10 to 45 watts. The translator is also apparently changing hands, becoming a relay of Catholic WMIH (89.5) from Geneva, Ohio to the west.
*In NEW JERSEY, there’s a callsign for SRN Communications’ new LPFM on 107.9 in Woodbridge: if it ends up being locally programmed, someone will get to be “the morning deejay on WOLD,” since the new signal has picked WOLD-LP as its call (and, it would seem, secured permission from WOLD/WOLD-FM in Virginia.)
*We use the term “iconic” perhaps a little too liberally in this column, but we have no reservations about applying the phrase to one of the longest-running TV anchors in MASSACHUSETTS. Jack Williams came from Pocatello, Idaho, but after a career that moved him around from Seattle (KIRO-TV) to Las Vegas (KORK-TV), he landed at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston in 1975 and never looked back.
Two years after paring back his workload to just the 6 PM newscast, Williams and the station announced last week that he’ll soon be leaving the anchor desk. As of September 1, Williams will drop back to part-time duties, serving as a fill-in anchor and continuing to be the face of the “Wednesday’s Child” adoption initiative that’s long been his signature. Whether the move was actually Williams’ idea or the result of a contract ending, both sides are putting a happy face on what’s effectively the retirement of the last of the city’s big TV personalities from the 1970s and 1980s.
Down the street at CBS Radio, Mike Thomas is getting some big new duties to go along with his PD responsibilities at WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub) and WZLX (100.7). Thomas is now one of two vice presidents of sports programming for CBS, sharing the title with Mark Chernoff at WFAN in New York. And just upstairs from Thomas, Dan Mason is out as PD of top-40 WODS (103.3 AMP Radio), heading south to join Cox in Tampa as operations manager for three of its FM signals there. That’s rather more than your typical “Radio People on the Move” move, of course, because Mason’s father is the Dan Mason at the helm of CBS Radio. We’re not going to play the rumor mill game that other trades have been doing – no, this doesn’t mean CBS is about to sell its radio holdings – but there is some legitimate speculation out there that the younger Mason’s departure may be a sign of a format flip coming at 103.3, which has struggled to get traction in a very crowded hit radio field that’s dominated by Clear Channel’s one-two punch of WXKS-FM (Kiss 108)/WJMN (JAM’N 94.5), as well as Greater Media’s WBQT (Hot 96.9).
Over at Hot, Greater made a big change in its morning lineup last week, ending the yearlong reunion of former WJMN hosts Baltazar and Pebbles and pulling former NFL star Jerome Wiggins over from his weekly WBZ-FM appearances (“Wiggy Wednesday”) to become part of a new three-person morning show alongside Pebbles and former midday jock Melissa. The new show debuted Wednesday; Baltazar, for his part, may already be headed out of the market from what we hear. (Greater has also rebuilt the studio for Hot, wiping out the last physical traces of the old talk WTKK 96.9.)
*And just so Entercom isn’t left out, a help wanted ad it placed for a new talk host is stirring up conversation over at our RadioInsight Community and elsewhere. Is this the first step in WRKO (680)’s strategy for a “plan B” when Howie Carr’s contract is up this fall? Carr has already signed on with a new syndicator to take his show beyond its small base of New England affiliates; it’s not clear whether that deal can work with the present WRKO-based afternoon show, nor whether Carr and WRKO can get past their longstanding mutual enmity, given that the host has few other viable options for a Boston flagship and the station has little else by way of compelling local talk talent. (How things have changed in just a few short years since Carr’s near-departure for WTKK!)
*CONNECTICUT Public TV won’t have its Fairfield County over-the-air signal much longer. WEDW (Channel 49) will go into the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction, whenever it’s held, and CPTV will split the proceeds of the sale with spectrum speculator LocusPoint.
Our colleagues over at the public broadcasting trade publication Current broke this big story, and there’s not much that isn’t answered in their extensive story about the deal, at least to the extent that answers are available. What’s still not clear – and what CPTV isn’t disclosing in any detail – is how much LocusPoint paid into the network’s endowment fund last year in exchange for the right to share a portion of the auction proceeds once CPTV is able to reap the benefit of its UHF spectrum in one corner of the nation’s biggest market. The sum is apparently no larger than $13 million, the total cash addition to the $30 million endowment in 2013, but CPTV tells Current that some of that money came from sources other than LocusPoint. However much it is, it’s a welcome infusion for a network that took a big financial hit last year when it lost one of its programming staples, UConn women’s basketball, to cable.
CPTV says it will retain its position on cable TV all the way down to the very edge of the state line in a market that’s very heavily cabled, and it says over-the-air viewers will still get PBS service from New York’s WNET (Channel 13), Long Island’s WLIW (Channel 21) and from CPTV transmitters in Hartford (WEDH) and New Haven (WEDY), though the network has also explored the sale of the WEDY license. With relatively low power on the difficult RF channel 6, WEDY’s spectrum appears to be of rather less value than WEDW.
*While one Connecticut public broadcaster plans for a somewhat less OTA-centric approach to its future, another is taking a new stab at restoring one of its broadcast signals to something resembling full power. Sacred Heart University’s WSHU network has been without a permanent tower site for WSHU (1260 Westport) since 2005. After several false starts (including an attempt to relicense the station to Stratford and diplex it on the WFIF 1500 towers in Milford), WSHU is now applying instead for a move to Seymour, northwest of New Haven, where it would run 650 watts day/17 watts night from a folded unipole antenna mounted on an existing communications tower.
*In RHODE ISLAND, Media General has averted the ownership-cap issue that would have resulted in the Providence market from its planned merger with LIN Television. The merged company will keep LIN’s CBS/Fox combo of WPRI (Channel 12)/WNAC-TV (Channel 64), and Media General’s NBC affiliate, WJAR (Channel 10), will become Sinclair’s latest addition to its New England holdings as part of a larger deal that has all three companies swapping out stations as far afield as Green Bay, Birmingham, Tampa and Colorado Springs.
For Media General/LIN, the move means retaining the one-two punch of top-rated CBS programming and a near-monopoly on broadcast football; for Sinclair, WJAR is a prime property in a region in which it hasn’t been heavily represented. Providence’s oldest television station will join just one other Sinclair property in the region, the CBS-Fox pair of WGME (Channel 13)/WPFO (Channel 23) in Portland.
There’s not yet a price tag on the swaps, which haven’t yet been filed with the FCC.
*And of course we can’t leave the Ocean State without remembering one of its most famous broadcast sons. A young Dominick Pardo started his broadcast career just before World War II at WJAR (920, today’s WHJJ), but since everyone heard the rookie announcer’s name not as “Dom” but as “Don,” he quickly became “Don Pardo.” By 1944, Pardo was announcing at NBC in New York, and of course there he stayed for a remarkable 70 years before his death last Sunday in Arizona. The native of Westfield, Massachusetts was 96, and he was truly the last of his breed.
*In MAINE, we now have the full roster of Hall of Fame inductees for next month’s Maine Association of Broadcasters conference. Veteran sportscaster Bruce Glasier’s induction was announced last month as he called a high school game on WCSH (Channel 6), where he was sports director until his retirement in 2012. Cary Pahigian will have to come back from his new gig at the helm of Hearst Radio in Baltimore to be honored for his many years at the helm of Saga’s Portland stations. And sadly, Bob Anderson won’t be able to be there for his honor; it’s been 11 years since the “Duke of Portland” collapsed and died of a heart attack during his morning shift at WYNZ (100.9), the last stop in a long career in Portland radio.
*More cuts in CANADA‘s biggest market: at Bell Media’s Toronto stations, CFRB (1010) has parted ways with news anchor Evelyn Macko, reporters Amber Gero and Katie Franzios, while downstairs at CKFM (Virgin Radio 99.9), morning newsman Steve Roberts, night guy Kid Craig and weekender Party Marty are out, too, with overnighter Tessa taking the night shift. Bell was also cutting in Kitchener/Waterloo, where the CKKW (K-FUN 99.5) morning team of Larry Silver and Lindsay Crossley was among the casualties.
And just as summer winds down along Georgian Bay, MZ Media has set Saturday (August 30) as launch day for its new “Classical 102.9,” CFMO Collingwood. The signal, a partial relay of CFMZ (96.3 Toronto), has been testing for several weeks now.
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From the NERW Archives
Yup, we’ve been doing this a long time now, and so we’re digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five, ten, fifteen and – where available – twenty years ago this week, or thereabouts.
Note that the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as “New England Radio Watch,” and didn’t go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997.
One Year Ago: August 26, 2013
*The end to one of the biggest “what-if” scenarios in NEW YORK radio came quietly late last week, when Cumulus Media and Clear Channel came to terms on a new agreement that will keep Clear Channel’s Rush Limbaugh on the big former ABC/Citadel talk stations now owned by Cumulus in major markets such as Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington.
But while Rush won’t move from legacy affiliates including WLS, WBAP and WMAL (not to mention smaller Cumulus outlets such as WXLM 980 in Groton, Connecticut), the deal between Cumulus and Clear Channel will bring Limbaugh to a new spot on the New York City radio dial beginning in January 2014, as he leaves Cumulus’ WABC (770) after a quarter of a century in favor of Clear Channel’s WOR (710).
The reasonably amicable resolution of what could have been an ugly dispute (there are few good options for replacement Limbaugh affiliates in many of the big Cumulus markets) continues a pattern of cooperation between the two big “C” companies: Cumulus’ stations are part of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming service, while Clear Channel’s stations now take part in Cumulus’ SweetJack daily deal site.
Amicable as it may have been, though, the shift of Limbaugh from WABC to WOR will force some big changes on both stations’ schedules:
*On WOR, Limbaugh’s arrival in the noon-3 PM slot will displace one of the station’s longest-running hosts, Joan Hamburg, from her current noon-2 PM airshift, which in turn opens up some interesting questions about what direction the daily WOR schedule will end up taking. There’s no reason to think John R. Gambling’s morning show is going anywhere (and we note here the death on August 17 of Gambling’s mother, Sally, at age 83; she was also, of course, the wife of John A. Gambling, John R.’s predecessor on the WOR morning shift.) What’s less clear, though, is whether Hamburg’s show will move into the 10 AM-noon slot now occupied by Mark Simone. If Hamburg does go to mid-mornings, where her service-oriented show would be an odd lead-in to Limbaugh’s politics), Simone would likely return to the fill-in/weekend duty he’d been doing for years at WOR and before that at WABC.
*The week’s other top story came from MASSACHUSETTS, where Entercom’s WEEI was back in the headlines for a second week running as the Boston Celtics announced they’d broken off negotiations to renew the deal between the team and the station. The Celtics and Entercom had been together for eight years, first on WRKO (680) and then on WEEI since 2008. But while the team was in a strong negotiating position back then, winning its most recent NBA championship in 2008, there’s been quite the turnover since then, with the Celtics now staring down what looks to be a string of rebuilding years before they’re once again contenders.
*We can say with some certainty that wherever the Celtics land, it won’t be Emerson College’s WERS (88.9 Boston). But even without sports play-by-play, WERS is making dramatic changes to its evening lineup. With no notice last week, WERS pulled two of its longest-running specialty shows off the air in favor of additional hours of the AAA format that’s becoming the station’s focus. “Rockers,” WERS’ daily reggae show, traced its history back to the 1970s and an Emerson student named Doug Herzog who’d go on to run MTV; “88.9 @ Night,” which followed “Rockers” on weeknights at 10, was one of the Boston area’s premiere venues for hip-hop music in a market where urban formats were very slow to arrive on the FM dial.
This latest change comes on the heels of another controversial move at WERS, the recent addition of the station’s first paid staffer, morning host George Knight, and it’s raising some as-yet-unanswered questions about what Emerson’s long-range plans for its potent radio voice might be. While plenty of colleges and universities have sold off their student radio outlets in recent years, perceiving a lack of student interest and an increasingly off-core expense, Emerson is rather a different animal. As arguably the most prominent training ground for New England broadcasters today, WERS is unquestionably a core part of Emerson’s mission, and we’d think it would remain essential for students to continue to be right at the center of its on-air product.
*In addition to the big news from the big city, our NEW YORK news includes an impending format change in Binghamton, where Equinox Broadcasting is completing a flip that began with its surprise decision back in June to move oldies “Cool” from WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA) to the bigger signal that had been AC “Q107” WRRQ (106.7 Port Dickinson). Since the flip in June, “Cool” has been simulcasting on both the 106.7 signal from the main Ingraham Hill tower farm and the rimshot 100.5 signal, a class A from a site east of Binghamton in Windsor, NY. Last week, though, Equinox moved callsigns, turning 106.7 into WCDW and putting the calls WDRE (famous from earlier stints on alternative stations on Long Island and in Philadelphia) on 100.5. That call swap is tied into a flip that has moved the alternative “Drive” format to 100.5 from its initial home on Equinox translator W283AG (104.5 Binghamton) and one of 106.7’s HD subchannels.
There’s a new format coming to 104.5 after a period of simulcasting; “Drive,” meanwhile, will use Equinox translator W236AP (95.1 Binghamton) to help fill in the areas on the west side of Binghamton that can’t easily hear the main 100.5 signal. (Equinox also has two other HD/translator formats in town, rock “Z93” and soft AC “Sunny 107.”)
One bit of irony: one of the reasons the 100.5 signal has to be an east-side rimshot into Binghamton is the tight spacing to an older signal on the same frequency, Clear Channel’s Rochester station, WDVI, that’s also known as “100.5 the Drive.”
*In CANADA, Montreal’s newest TV station has begun testing. CFHD (Channel 47) will be multicultural “ICI TV” (International Channel/Canal International) when it signs on, at least if it can resolve a touchy trademark dispute with CBC/Radio-Canada, which still plans to use some sort of “Ici” branding on its French-language services beginning this fall. The new station, led by Sam Norouzi, plans to launch for real in late September or early October, reports Montreal media maven Steve Faguy, who says CFHD will feature some programming from OMNI, the multicultural network owned by Rogers that was formerly aired on CJNT (Channel 62).The introduction of CFHD was part of the deal that allowed CJNT to be relicensed as a full English-language commercial outlet of Rogers’ City TV service – and today marks the launch of the first daily City program in Montreal, “Breakfast Television” from 6-9 AM.
Five Years Ago: August 24, 2009
Two station sales lead our NEW YORK news, beginning in Syracuse, where Buckley Broadcasting is exiting the market with the sale of its classic hits pair WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville)/WSEN (1050 Baldwinsville) and oldies WFBL (1390 Baldwinsville). While rumors about the impending sale of the stations had been swirling for a few months, the identity of the buyer came as a surprise: it’s James Johnson’s Leatherstocking Media Group, which just closed on nearby WMCR/WMCR-FM (1600/106.3 Oneida). Leatherstocking will take over operation of WSEN/WFBL under an LMA on September 1; the transaction hasn’t yet been filed with the FCC, so we don’t yet have a purchase price to report.
The addition of WSEN/WFBL to the Leatherstocking group puts Johnson into some stiff competition – unlike Oneida, where WMCR pretty much has rural Madison County to itself, the Syracuse stations face off against national players Clear Channel and Citadel, as well as two other local players, Ed Levine’s Galaxy cluster and Craig Fox’s stations. Speaking of Fox, he quietly flipped formats on his latest acquisition a couple of weeks ago: WVOA (105.1 DeRuyter) is now carrying Radio Disney, also heard on Fox’s WOLF (1490 Syracuse)/WWLF (1340 Auburn)/WAMF (1300 Fulton). The “Love Radio” religious/ethnic programming that’s been heard on 105.1 in two incarnations is again being heard exclusively on WVOU (103.9 Mexico).
In MAINE, Hearst’s WMTW-TV (Channel 8) is hoping to return to the dials of viewers using UHF-only antennas to receive digital TV – it’s applying for a digital replacement translator in Portland on channel 26 (the old analog home of MPBN’s WMEA-TV). The new translator would run 6.2 kW from atop the time-and-temperature sign above WMTW’s studio building in downtown Portland. WMTW tells the FCC that it’s still receiving reports from viewers unable to receive its channel 8 signal on indoor antennas, and it says many of those viewers, especially in urban Portland, are in situations where they can’t install outdoor antennas.
Ten Years Ago: August 23, 2004
It was a week of obituaries, and you’ll forgive us, we hope, if we begin our report in NEW YORK and remember one of your editor’s former bosses, Pete Dobrovitz, who died Tuesday (August 17) at 51.
Pete’s long career in Rochester TV news began in 1975, when he graduated from Marquette University and went to work for WROC-TV (Channel 8). Over the next fifteen years, he hit the “grand slam” of local TV news, as he’d later put it, working as well for WOKR (Channel 13), where he launched the station’s 5:30 newscast, and for WHEC-TV (Channel 10), where he served as the station’s “Action Team” reporter. Then, in 1990, he made the big move from broadcast to cable, joining what was then Greater Rochester Cablevision to create a 10 PM newscast for cable-only indie “WGRC-TV 5.” Pete then built his daily half-hour into something new called “R News,” expanding it to six hours daily, then 12, then swallowing the rest of the station (by then “GRC 9”) completely to become a 24-hour local cable news channel in July 1995, something utterly unprecedented in a market as small as Rochester. (Only New York’s New York 1 was doing 24-hour local news sooner.)
And it’s largely Pete’s fault that you’re now reading “NorthEast Radio Watch” and not “New England Radio Watch,” for it was his job offer in late 1996 that moved me from Boston’s WBZ to R News. Ironically, Pete was gone from R News just days after my arrival, the result of a disupte over editorial independence, a recurring problem in a newsroom owned by a cable company with no real experience in doing news.
But what he left behind was awfully impressive – the kind of TV newsroom that reporters and photographers dream of working at. Pete wasn’t big on fancy sets or graphics, he loathed “personality” promos, but he placed a huge value on quality storytelling, giving his staff the time and resources they needed to cover their community deeply and honestly, wuthout ever needing to worry about ratings. (It says something, especially in a mid-seventies-size market, that four of the original photog staffers, several reporter/anchors and a number of producers and crew members who started with WGRC back in 1990 are still there almost 15 years later; others have moved on to bigger things everywhere from Schenectady to Louisville to Cleveland to Minneapolis to Denver to North Carolina’s public TV network.)
Another obituary this week comes from Buffalo, where Warren P. Smith, Jr., known to viewers and listeners as “Clip,” was killed Saturday (8/21) in a car crash in Niagara County. Smith began his broadcast career in the sixties at WUSJ (now WLVL) in Lockport, then went to Buffalo’s WKBW-TV (Channel 7), where he did sports from 1971 until 1988. From there he returned to radio, working at WGR (550) for a decade and then at WBEN (930) until his job was eliminated in a cost-cutting move in 2002. Smith was also active in politics, running for mayor of Lockport and serving on both the city council and the school board there. Clip Smith was 63.
A veteran of the NEW HAMPSHIRE broadcast scene has died. Maury Parent was closely associated with both of Nashua’s AM stations over the years, first at WOTW (900/106.3), then moving over to WSMN (1590) when WOTW went dark in the eighties, then returning to the revived AM 900 under its later incarnations as WMVU, WOTW and WSNH. (Most recently, he was hosting the morning show on WSMN.) Parent served as GM of both stations at one time or another, but was probably best known for his weekend show that served the area’s large Francophone population. (It’s heard on WSNH.) He was on his way to a remote Thursday when he suffered a heart attack and died behind the wheel; he was 72.
A PENNSYLVANIA radio station owner will go to trial on charges that he molested a young boy. A judge upheld all of the 19 counts against Doug Lane, owner of WWDL (104.9 Scranton)/WICK (1400 Scranton)/WYCK (1340 Plains), last week. Lane is free on bail while his case is being heard.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 27, 1999
We begin this week’s news up in MAINE, where J.J. Jeffrey’s new Atlantic Coast Communications has made another purchase. As expected, Jeffrey is adding WXGL (95.5 Topsham) to the group that already includes WRED (95.9 Saco), WJAE (1440 Westbrook-Portland), and WJJB (900 Brunswick). Will the $1.3 million purchase put WXGL in a simulcast with WRED? Or will some creative engineering with the two second-adjacents create a new full-market Portland signal? We’ll be watching…
Up the coast, some sad news to report from Rockland, where WMCM/WRKD owner Peter Orne Sr. died this week in the crash of the private plane he was piloting. Orne grew up in Rockland, attended Bowdoin College, and went into TV sales and management, eventually ending up at WTNH in New Haven, then as general manager of WVII in Bangor, a post he left to go into radio ownership (at one time including WABI/WWBX Bangor in addition to the Rockland stations). Orne’s son, Peter Jr., takes over management of WMCM/WRCD. Peter Orne Sr. was 64. A memorial service will be held Saturday.
Across the border in NEW HAMPSHIRE, there’s one station sale to report and another possibly on the way, as Tele-Media moves into the Granite State by buying Clark Smidt’s oldies WNNH (99.1 Henniker) in the Concord market. Smidt stays on with the new owners as “director of procurement for New England.” Tele-Media (which northeast listeners know from the Albany WABY/WCPT/WKLI group) is reportedly looking at Nashua’s WHOB as its next acquisition — but we’ve heard that station mentioned in enough rumors to stock an entire issue of Inside Radio!
Don Imus switched MASSACHUSETTS affiliates on schedule Monday, with WSJZ (96.9 Boston) taking over from WEEI (850) (and from Worcester’s WWTM, which also loses the I-man). Departing WSJZ PD Shirley Maldonado sent out an e-mail farewell to the station’s mailing list this week, mentioning the Web as the only local source for smooth jazz all day (with sister station WMJX offering a few hours on Sunday mornings).
Up in Middletown (well, “down” in Middletown from our perspective, actually), Crystal Communications is making some big changes at WALL (1340), as the station’s local programming gives way to a relay of WEOK (1390) in Poughkeepsie. Morning host John Moultrie was to have remained on WALL until next Friday (9/3), but after he voiced his opinions on the changes a bit too loudly, the plug was pulled a bit early. Also leaving is polka guy Jimmy Sturr, who returns to nearby WTBQ (1110 Warwick). Speaking of WTBQ, which we really should do more often, Dale Anderson is departing as news director to go home to New Jersey. OM Chris Cordani will fill in for now. And former morning guy Rob McLean rejoins the station as evening jock.