In this week’s issue… WFAS relaunches on FM – Country brand extends up the coast – CC modifies Providence plan – Corus shuffles Cornwall lineup
By SCOTT FYBUSH
This week’s NERW is coming to you a little early, both because of breaking news and the Labor Day weekend holiday. And it’s coming to you FREE for the weekend – in part to direct your attention to the pre-order period for the brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2015, and in part to help you spread the word about what we do here at NorthEast Radio Watch and fybush.com. Put bluntly, we need to substantially increase our subscriber base to be able to keep on bringing you all the news about radio and TV “first, fast and accurate,” as we’ve been doing for 20 years now. Nobody’s better at spreading the word than you, our loyal readers and subscribers. So if you appreciate the service we provide here, now’s the time to tell a friend or a colleague and to share this column, paywall-free, on social media or the message boards of your choice. Subscriptions cost as little as 29 cents a week, and they go a long way to making this service possible for a long time to come. Thanks for your support!
*If you’ve been reading NERW since the spring of 2013, you know that Cumulus has been plotting for quite a while now to put an FM replacement in place for the former WFAS-FM (103.9) in Westchester County, NEW YORK.
In April 2013, NERW was first to report on Cumulus’ plan to move translator W232AL (94.3 Pomona) across the Hudson to the WFAS (1230) tower in Greenburgh to fill in some of the gap once 103.9 relocated to New York City. As it turned out, it was more than a year before the 103.9 move finally took place. On July 4 of this year, WFAS-FM relaunched as WNBM, licensed to Bronxville and transmitting from the Bronx with an urban AC format as “Radio 103.9,” part of Cumulus’ New York cluster.
Meanwhile, the AC format from WFAS-FM has lingered on in something of a zombie state. Its staff was dismissed just before the move to the Bronx, but an automated version of the format quickly appeared on an HD subchannel of WPLJ (95.5 New York), even as WPLJ’s main channel programming appeared on W232AL in Rockland County. Behind the scenes, Cumulus and the translator’s owner, Bridgelight, were working through FCC bureaucracy to complete the move of the translator, first increasing its power on the Rockland County side of the river and then re-filing to make the move to the WFAS site in Greenburgh.
That most recent Greenburgh application was filed in July, and on Thursday it was rewarded with a construction permit. Working in near-record time, Cumulus crews descended on the Secor Road site to build out the translator, which took air Friday afternoon as “WFAS-FM 94.3,” delivered over the WPLJ subchannel.
With just 250 watts at 413 feet up the AM tower, the new “WFAS-FM” can’t come close to matching even the reach its class A predecessor enjoyed over most of the county. Its directional pattern is aimed mainly northward, with a 60 dBu contour that extends westward over the river to Nyack, north to Chappaqua and Pleasantville and east to a corner of Greenwich. The need to protect co-channel WWSK on Long Island means the new 94.3 WFAS signal won’t be of much use along Long Island Sound, where New Rochelle and Mamaroneck will hear “the Shark” instead. But a signal’s a signal, and in central Westchester, at least, Cumulus now gets the chance to try to rebuild some of the audience it surrendered two months ago. For now, the new 94.3 launches without local jocks, though John Tesh’s syndicated show will reportedly air in middays.
Over the longer run, it’s less clear what Cumulus’ strategy in Westchester really looks like. After this year’s big changes on Secor Road, what’s left now is WFAS (1230 White Plains) with a mix of local and syndicated talk and the new “WFAS-FM” with its AC format in direct competition against Pamal’s much bigger WHUD (100.7 Peekskill) from northern Westchester. There’s a pretty substantial rebuilding process ahead for Cumulus: NERW hears rumblings that when the former FM staff departed, most of the automation system in the building was wiped out, leaving the skeleton AM staff scrambling to stay on the air. And even after getting everything back up and running, the gap between the end of 103.9 and the launch of 94.3 means WFAS has to rebuild its sales and marketing from scratch now. Will Westchester welcome it back with open arms?
*Clear Channel is already reworking its plans to rearrange the FM dial in eastern New England. The big change filed last week affects RHODE ISLAND, where WWBB (101.5 Providence) will still downgrade from class B to class A – but instead of relocating to one tower of co-owned WHJJ (920) in East Providence, the new 101.5 would instead trade its current Rehoboth transmitter site for a new home right in downtown Providence, high atop the 28-story One Financial Plaza skyscraper.
From that site, WWBB would become a 6 kW/298′ DA signal, still with a directional notch to the northeast to protect upgraded sister station WBWL (101.7 Lynn) in the Boston market. And while a drop from B to A is indeed a big deal, it’s still important to note two factors at play here: first, much of the present WWBB’s coverage area that will be lost falls to the north, outside the Providence Nielsen Audio market and thus outside the territory where Clear Channel can get ratings and revenue from that signal. And second, moving 101.5 from Rehoboth to downtown Providence will actually better center what’s left of the signal over the population core of the market; what’s lost is primarily in the very rural areas south and west of Providence.
*Those moves are all designed to give Clear Channel better reach for the country “Bull” format that’s been drawing record high ratings in Boston on 101.7, something the company’s hoping to build on with a new hire. WBWL is poaching PD Lance Houston from sister station WPOC (93.1 Baltimore) to serve as both PD and afternoon jock. Once he’s on board in the next few weeks, expect a local midday jock to be announced as well.
But that wasn’t the only Bull move in the region last week. Clear Channel made a Labor Day weekend flip on the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast, too: as of Friday afternoon, WSKX (95.3 York Center ME) is now “95.3 the Bull,” replacing the AC “Coast” format it had been carrying for several years. As in Boston, the seacoast “Bull” is aimed at a long-established, higher-powered, more localized competitor, Townsquare’s top-rated WOKQ (97.5 Dover).
*With the departure of the longest-serving TV anchor in MASSACHUSETTS, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) is revamping its anchotr lineup: Jonathan Elias replaces Jack Williams on the 6 PM newscast, opening up a slot on the 11 that will be filled by current morning anchor David Wade. Wade will team with Lisa Hughes at both 5 and 11; Hughes had been co-anchoring the 6 with Williams, but former 5 PM co-anchor Paula Ebben swaps places with her there. Kathryn Hauser comes on board to replace Wade in the morning.
Back on the radio, Entercom renewed one big show for a few more years. Not Howie Carr, whose impending contract expiration at WRKO (680) will be a big story in the next few months – but down the hall at WEEI-FM (93.7), John Dennis has reportedly joined morning co-host Gerry Callahan in signing a contract extension for their “D&C” morning show.
On Martha’s Vineyard, the community group called “MVPBS” is fighting the FCC’s dismissal of its application for a low-power signal on 105.5. The Commission said MVPBS didn’t present evidence that it’s a qualified noncommercial entity, but it’s submitted a petition for reconsideration with additional documentation. MVPBS was one of two 105.5 applicants on the Vineyard; the other, one of the “M&M Community Development” groups that proposed multiple LPFMs in both recent windows, has its Oak Bluffs application still in “received” status limbo at the Commission.
In Springfield, Spanish religious WLHZ-LP is on the move again. After initially being authorized on 104.9, the low-power station moved to 107.9, 98.7, back to 107.9 – and now it’s headed to 100.1 after demonstrating to the FCC that it will receive less incoming interference on that channel than it does on 107.9, where it’s affected by WXKS-FM from the Boston market and WEBE from southern Connecticut.
*From CONNECTICUT comes word that “Miss Klonk” (Suzanne Moutinho to the DMV) has found new work after the demise of the rock format on WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford), where she held down afternoon drive. Klonk was also the promotions director for ‘CCC, and she’s now assuming that same role across town at Connoisseur’s revamped WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford) and its AM sister stations.
And there’s late word as we head into the weekend that the last of the Buckley WDRC-FM personalities is now out, as Kim Zachary’s morning show is set to be replaced by a semi-simulcast of Chaz and AJ from new sister station WPLR in New Haven. More on that next week…
(Chaz and AJ are also simulcast on Connoisseur’s WFOX-FM 95.9 in Norwalk, and it’s tangentially in the headlines this week because after many decades in which former owner Cox declined to share the WFOX calls with any Fox TV stations, Cox has now worked out an arrangement to use those WFOX-TV calls on what’s now WAWS-TV 30, its own Fox affiliate in Jacksonville. There’s been a longstanding story that Fox itself sought, and was denied, permission to change its WNYW-TV 5 in New York to WFOX-TV back when the WFOX calls were on Cox’s 97.1 in Atlanta; it’s not clear how Cox got the go-ahead to use the calls now that it doesn’t even own the radio version of WFOX anymore.)
*In MAINE, Light of Life Ministries has a new translator on the air in Brunswick, where W234CG (94.7) has filed for its license to cover, relaying WMEY (88.1 Bowdoinham).
Just down the road, Jim Bleikamp’s WCME (900) has a new morning co-host. Bruce Stevens, the Boston radio veteran who’d been at the helm of the “Midcoast Morning Buzz” for the past year, has moved back to Connecticut to work with his wife’s educational consulting business, and his departure means frequent guest host Tom Pagnotti is now in the host chair every morning.
In Bangor, two analog LPTV stations are making digital plans. MeTV affiliate WBGR-LP (Channel 33) has applied for a digital companion channel on RF 18, while former sister station WCKD-LP (Channel 30) applies to go digital on 11.
And up north, the Harris MW5 at WFST (600 Caribou) burned up recently; the station tells the FCC that the transmitter can’t be repaired, and it’s running on a loaner transmitter at 1000 watts daytime instead of its usual 5000 until a new transmitter can be delivered sometime later in September.
*In VERMONT, there’s late word of a format change at Steve Silberberg’s AM signals. WCAT (1390 Burlington), WRSA (1420 St. Albans) and WFAD (1490 Middlebury) are now carrying “Today’s Comedy,” the replacement for the defunct “Comedy 24/7” service.
And Vermont Public Radio has been granted a new Burlington translator. W274BU (102.7) would run just 5 watts from the VPR studio in Colchester, relaying WVPS (107.9 Burlington) from Mount Mansfield.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Catholic broadcaster WHYF (720 Shiremanstown) is applying for a new site west of Harrisburg. As we hinted when the application was filed for the new Enola-licensed 850 signal, WHYF plans to diplex on the new 850 site across the street from the six towers of WHP (580) near Summerdale. From there, it would retain the 2 kW ND-D signal for which it’s now licensed from a site eight miles to the south. (That licensed tower is gone now, but WHYF has been on the air for several years from a longwire STA nearby.)
*Starboard Media has completed its $10.1 million purchase of WNSW (1430). While licensed to Newark, NEW JERSEY, the former Multicultural Broadcasting signal covers a big chunk of the greater New York market, where its “Relevant Radio” programming makes it the first full-time Catholic broadcaster in the region. The Radio Cantico Nuevo Spanish-language religion that had been leasing the 1430 signal is still heard in the market over the HD4 of WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle) and over translator W292DV (106.3) in Long Island City.
*On an otherwise quiet week in upstate NEW YORK, it’s the end of the road for an ill-starred noncommercial signal near Buffalo. WFWO (89.7 Medina) was licensed to Pastor John Young’s Fellowship World in 2012, but as NERW first reported in July 2013, the station never seemed to actually be on the air from its licensed location in rural Orleans County. Instead, we – and others – heard the 89.7 signal coming from Young’s church on Main Street in Buffalo, which led to an FCC notice of unauthorized operation. It also led to some questions when WFWO filed for license renewal, in the form of a pointed FCC inquiry seeking very specific details and invoices to prove that the station was really on the air in Medina. The station didn’t respond to that inquiry over the summer, and now the FCC has deleted the calls and cancelled the license.
A sleepy translator in Binghamton is about to get some big changes. W240AJ (95.9 Endicott) has carried the programming of religious WMHR (102.9 Syracuse) for many years, but translator owner John Pike’s death put the signal up for sale. Now another religious broadcaster, Montrose Broadcasting from Pennsylvania, is paying Pike’s estate $10,000 for the translator, which will move to 95.5, boost power to 100 watts and become a relay of southern gospel WPEL (800 Montrose). The move will give WPEL two services in Binghamton, where W292DL (106.3) and W234BT (94.7) both carry the religious format of WPEL-FM (96.5 Montrose).
*The march of national radio branding across CANADA arrived in Cornwall, Ontario last Monday, as both of Corus’ stations there relaunched with national brands attached to modified versions of their existing formats. First up was CFLG (104.5), which swapped out “Variety 104.5” for “104.5 Fresh FM” at 11 AM, followed four hours later by the relaunch of CJSS (101.9) from “Greatest Hits 101.9” to “Boom 101.9.” Tom Schoch is the new midday host at CJSS; Bill Halman moves from afternoons to host mornings with Dan Allaire and PD (“brand manager”) Darryl Adams takes over afternoons. Shannon Brooksbank moves from 101.9 to 104.5’s midday shift; otherwise, the lineup there remains stable.
In Peterborough, Corus flipped “KRUZ 100.5” (CKRU) from classic hits to AC Friday morning, relaunching the station as “Hits 100.5” in a move similar to the one it made earlier this year at CKWS (104.3) over in Kingston.
And in London, Rogers changed names at CHST (102.3) on Thursday, ditching “Bob” in favor of the “Jack” name it uses on its variety hits outlets in five other Canadian markets.
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