By SCOTT FYBUSH
It was one of the summer’s biggest stories – after 18 years of using the AM band as a platform to bring its content to a nationwide audience, Radio Disney was planning to shut down all but one of its remaining terrestrial signals in big markets around the country, potentially leaving some big holes on the AM dial until new owners could be found for the licenses.
Today was supposed to be the day those stations went dark and their local offices closed – but listeners who tuned into WQEW (1560) in New York, WMKI (1260) in Boston, WWJZ (640 Mt. Holly NJ) in Philadelphia or WDDZ (1250) in Pittsburgh found them still on the air this morning – and NERW can exclusively report that those signals will remain on the air indefinitely until Disney is able to sell them.
Why the change of heart?
This is not the first time Disney has made plans to shut down a big chunk of its AMs. Previous waves of sell-offs have included former Disney outlets in Providence, Hartford, Albany and elsewhere – and each time, most of those stations have gone silent under FCC special temporary authority while awaiting sale.
This time, though, things are a little different: NERW has learned that when Disney’s corporate office put out the release in August announcing today as the shutdown date, it prompted concerns from lawyers elsewhere in the company. Can a company as big as Disney make an economic argument to the FCC about the need to take signals silent in some of the nation’s biggest markets, especially when the Radio Disney national programming feed isn’t going away? With much more valuable licenses at stake (think Disney-owned ABC owned-and-operated stations such as WABC-TV and WPVI), Disney quietly made the decision not to test the Commission’s patience with silent STAs.
Instead, today marks only a partial shutdown of local operations at the Radio Disney stations. The signals will stay on the air with the national Radio Disney feeds, we’re told, and each local studio/office will stay open with the FCC-mandated minimum of two staffers while the planned layoffs take effect for everyone else. But local promotions will end, and whatever local ad sales Disney had been doing will end as well. As far as the FCC is concerned, those Disney AMs (and its lone FM in Indianapolis) will remain fully operational for however long it takes to find buyers and close on the sales.
At least for now, the word we’re hearing is that while several potential buyers have at least expressed interest in some of the Disney stations, no deals have been consummated. While the FCC may see these stations as fully operational broadcasters, potential buyers will have lots of work ahead of them, including building out full studios and creating a programming lineup to replace the Disney satellite feed.
Who might be in line to buy? Back in August, we offered some informed speculation – and while the on-air status of the Disney AMs has changed, that list of possible buyers hasn’t.
We’ll have more on this (and several other big stories in the region) coming up in our regular NERW column on Monday.
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