In this week’s issue… Waiting for action on Disney’s AM signals – NYC TV’s Slattery remembered – Translator action in NJ – CT sports voice retires – Still waiting for new Montreal AMs – Plus: Hockey on the Radio 2014-2015
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*As the sun rises over NERW-land this Monday morning, many in the radio industry expected to hear several fewer signals across the AM dial. Friday was supposed to have been the last day of Radio Disney on its remaining terrestrial signals, including WQEW (1560 New York), WMKI (1260 Boston), WWJZ (640 Mt. Holly NJ/Philadelphia) and WDDZ (1250 Pittsburgh).
But as NERW readers learned in our exclusive report on Friday, a cautious Disney legal team stepped in to change the original corporate plans to take those (and 19 other) signals silent while waiting for buyers to emerge for the stations.
Instead, the Disney AMs will stay on the air in stripped-down form, with no local advertising or promotions and just a handful of local staffers at each location. And with that, a new round of speculation begins: while the cost of transmitter power and a few staffers isn’t much to a company as big as Disney, it’s still an expense the company didn’t expect to have on its balance sheet after the end of September.
We’re told several potential buyers have been “kicking the tires” at some of the Disney AMs around the country; will the Mouse be more eager now to move quickly to get these stations sold, even at more steeply discounted prices, if that means it can end this interim operation sooner? For now, at least, the speculation we offered back when the sale was announced this summer still holds – these aren’t full-market signals, for the most part, and they’ll never be contenders with mainstream formats. Instead, they’re most likely to go to religious, ethnic or other leased-time players, and likely different ones in each market. (We’re talking about some of the possibilities over in the RadioInsight Community – come join us!)
NERW Live! We always enjoy meeting up with NERW readers (and future NERW readers), and we have two events coming up next week that you might enjoy. On Wednesday, October 8, it’s the SBE 22 Expo, the big annual broadcast engineering show held at the Turning Stone Casino & Resort in Verona, between Utica and Syracuse. This year’s Expo is also the SBE’s 50th Anniversary national convention, which makes it even more special.
And then on Thursday, October 9, we’re excited to be hosting a book signing and meet-up with Peter King, the CBS Radio News correspondent and upstate radio veteran who’s just co-authored “Ithaca Radio,” the new book from Arcadia Publishing. In addition to several events in Ithaca, Peter will be here in Rochester from 11:30 AM-1:30 PM to sign books and talk radio at Bill Gray’s, 1650 Penfield Road (corner of Panorama Trail). We hope you can join us!
(And if you can’t make it, we have copies of Peter’s book, our new Tower Site Calendar 2015, and lots of other goodies, too, over at the Fybush.com Store!)
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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: September 30, 2013
*In an era of aggressive consolidation by TV station owners, no company has been more aggressive than Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group and its affiliated companies. Over the last few decades, Sinclair has built multi-station clusters all over the region, starting from one of its original holdings in Pittsburgh and growing with acquisitions that included the former Act III Fox affiliates in upstate New York, the Guy Gannett stations in Springfield and Portland, Freedom”s WRGB in Albany, Newport”s WHAM-TV in Rochester and most recently Barrington”s Syracuse cluster.
Now Sinclair is shoring up its position in PENNSYLVANIA with the $90 million acquisition of New Age Media”s stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, along with signals in Tallahassee and Gainesville, Florida.
New Age has been operating three stations in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: it owns Fox affiliate WOLF-TV (Channel 56/RF 45, licensed to Hazleton) outright, operates CW affiliate WSWB (Channel 38/RF 31, licensed to Scranton) under a shared-services agreement with licensee MPS Media of Scranton, and also owns MyNetwork affiliate WQMY (Channel 53/RF 29, licensed to Williamsport) by licensing that station as a satellite of WOLF-TV. (WQMY”s programming also airs on a DTV subchannel of WOLF-TV, while WOLF-TV and WSWB are seen on subchannels of WQMY for Williamsport OTA viewers, in the unlikely event there are any.) As part of the New Age deal, WSWB”s license will be transferred to Sinclair”s partner company, Cunningham Broadcasting, but Sinclair will operate the station.
Sinclair”s acquisition of the WOLF-TV/WSWB/WQMY cluster puts all three of the station groups in the market in the hands of big group owners: Nexstar has been in the market since the 1990s at NBC/CBS combo WBRE (Channel 28)/WYOU-TV (Channel 22), while dominant ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16) is part of the pending deal to transfer Local TV LLC”s stations to the reworked Tribune TV group. (It will be in the hands of a shell company, Dreamcatcher Broadcasting, until Tribune can fully separate its TV holdings from the newspapers it”s spinning off, including the Allentown Morning Call at the edge of the market.)
*In western NEW YORK, the long-somnolent Buffalo radio market has been awfully busy in the last few weeks. Just since Labor Day, listeners in the Queen City have heard a flip from liberal talk to ESPN sports on Entercom”s WWKB (1520), a new top-40 simulcast just across the border at Niagara”s CFLZ (101.1)/CJED (105.1) – and now the end of the simulcast of news-talk WBEN (930 Buffalo) on Entercom”s WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield Township).
Entercom sparked two days worth of speculation when it announced the end of the simulcast on Tuesday: would 107.7 become the new FM home of the company”s other big Buffalo AM, sports signal WGR (550), alleviating some of that 5 kW signal”s nighttime issues to the east? Might a return to the country format used by former owner John Casciani (as WNUC in the 1990s) be in the offing? Or a return to Entercom”s first stab at a 107.7 format after it bought the station for $10.5 million in 2004 and flipped it to AAA as “the Lake”?
Instead, when the simulcast plug was abruptly pulled in the middle of Sandy Beach”s sign-off just before noon on Thursday, the replacement was “Alternative Buffalo.”
The new format, which launched with the Lumineers” “Ho Hey” and included top-40 hits such as Lorde”s “Royals” in its first hour, is about as “alternative” as the Bills are a “football team” – but it”s something that has been working for Entercom in other markets such as Portland, Oregon, and it makes a nice companion to Entercom”s two female-leaning FMs in the market, top-40 WKSE (Kiss 98.5) and hot AC WTSS (Star 102.5). It”s running jockless for now, programmed from Portland by Mark Hamilton, PD of Entercom”s KNRK (94.7) there. Entercom says it”s launching the proverbial “nationwide search” for a Buffalo PD, but there”s no word yet about an on-air staff.
*In Albany, Radio Disney pulled the plug over the weekend on WDDY (1460), one of its smallest remaining owned-and-operated outlets. WDDY was one of six stations around the country to go silent while awaiting a sale (the others included Radio Disney stations in Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and Richmond), following on the heels of an earlier round of sales that shed Disney outlets in Hartford and Providence. Disney says it plans to keep operating AM outlets in the top 25 markets, meaning WQEW (1560 New York), WMKI (1260 Boston) and WWJZ (640 Mount Holly NJ/Philadelphia) are safe for now, as probably is WDDZ (1250 Pittsburgh).
We”ve heard nothing at all just yet about potential buyers for WDDY, a venerable regional-channel signal (long known as WOKO and later as WWCN and WGNA) that runs 5000 watts DA-N from a three-tower site in Delmar, south of Albany.
Five Years Ago: September 28, 2009
If the big news story from PENNSYLVANIA last week was the G-20 summit that drew world leaders, protesters and news media to Pittsburgh, there’s no question that the big industry news story was taking place 300 miles away across the state, where the NAB Radio Show drew some 2500 radio people to the Philadelphia Convention Center for three days of exhibits, conferences and awards.
Many of those northeast radio people didn’t make it out to the big NAB Show in Las Vegas in April, when the economy (and travel budgets) hit a low point – but the convenience of a show that was within a few hours’ drive or an easy train ride was too much to pass up, which may explain why we saw so many familiar faces on the show floor.
This was, all in all, an optimistic show for small radio operators. While there weren’t many deals actually being announced at this year’s show, we left Philadelphia with the general sense that the decline in station prices is offering a real opportunity to broadcasters with the resources to start buying up stations from debt-laden bigger owners. Owners of all sizes found good news on the show floor, too: while there were few ground-breaking new products, there were plenty of vendors offering inexpensive versions of their consoles, automation systems, transmitters and antennas aimed at stations looking to save money without compromising too much on quality. There was good news in the session rooms, too: under the FCC’s new leadership, the Media Bureau is promising quicker action to clear the backlog of indecency complaints and other issues that have been clogging the desks at the Portals.
There was controversy as well – we spent Friday morning in a session devoted to the thorny topic of an HD Radio power increase, a topic that’s of particular concern in the crowded FM spectrum along the northeast corridor. Indeed, one of the key studies being debated looked at the tight spacing between Greater Media’s WKLB (102.5) in Boston and Rhode Island public station WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier), which has complained of interference from WKLB’s tests at increased digital power levels. The FCC appears to be waiting for industry leaders including Ibiquity, NPR Labs and the “Joint Parties” (the station owners and manufacturers pushing for a power increase) to come together on a solution – and at least on Friday morning, the sense was that a compromise involving small power increases and additional studies was in the works, but not finalized.
As for awards, four Marconi Awards went home with NERW-land broadcasters: Jerry Lee’s WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) won hometown honors as both major-market station of the year and AC station of the year, while Matt Siegel of Boston’s WXKS-FM won major-market personality of the year and Buffalo’s WGR (550) won sports station of the year.
A MASSACHUSETTS broadcaster is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Sandab Communications, which does business as Cape Cod Broadcasting, owns hot AC WQRC (99.9 Barnstable), country WKPE (103.9 South Yarmouth), AC WOCN (104.7 Orleans) and classical WFCC (107.5 Chatham), as well as the World Classical Network – and it says it owes M&T Bank $6.5 million dollars, as well as a $3.5 million debt to Charles River Broadcasting that still remains from the $7.5 million purchase of the Orleans and Chatham stations. Sandab says it will continue the stations’ operations without change while it reorganizes.
There’s just one other piece of Bay State news this week, and it comes from the unlicensed side of the dial: “WPOT,” the Dorchester-based pirate that’s already been visited once by the FCC, has changed frequencies. The former 97.5 operation is now on 87.7, though it’s still calling itself “Hot 97.”
Jeff Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio is adding two more stations to its NEW HAMPSHIRE holdings with a deal to pick up WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) from Nassau Broadcasting, which had to spin those two signals to stay under FCC ownership caps. No sale price has been announced for that pair of signals; meanwhile, we hear that Great Eastern won’t be closing on the $700,000 deal it announced almost a year ago to acquire WCVR (102.1) and WTSJ (1320) in Randolph, VERMONT from Ken Barlow’s Vox group. WTSJ has already shifted programming, switching from a simulcast of Great Eastern’s country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH) back to Vox’s news-talk WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY).
Ten Years Ago: September 27, 2004
Boston University’s proposed sale of WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly) isn’t a done deal, at least as far as some RHODE ISLAND state officials are concerned. Attorney General Patrick Lynch stepped into the fray last week, asserting his concern about the fate of donations made to the WRNI Foundation, the WBUR-controlled entity that handles the station’s finances and holds their licenses. In the meantime, the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio, which says it’s raised more than $3 million in donations to WRNI since the station went on the air in 1998, says it will fight to keep the stations on the air with their current public radio format – even as it tries to avert WBUR’s effort to sell the licenses.
The WBUR organization, never known for its openness with information, acknowledged to the Boston Globe that WRNI supporters were “shocked” by the sale announcement, even as station managers made the claim that WBUR never intended to operate the Rhode Island stations for more than a few years, a position that WBUR somehow never took publicly at any point before it announced the impending sale a week ago.
The “WMEX” oldies are already history in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE, where WSNH (900 Nashua) ended its brief semi-simulcast of WMEX (106.5 Farmington NH) and flipped to ESPN sports last week.
Over in the Upper Valley, WTSL (1400 Hanover) has a new simulcast – it’s being heard now on WXKK (93.5 Springfield VT), which had been simulcasting WTSL’s AC sister, WGXL (92.3 Hanover).
In MAINE, supporters of Air America Radio are fighting to keep the liberal talk network on the air in Portland. They sent e-mails and letters to WLVP (870 Gorham) asking the Nassau-owned station to rethink its proposal to flip to ESPN sports, and it worked – sort of. WLVP now says it will keep Air America on the air through the elections, switching to ESPN November 8.
A well-known PENNSYLVANIA morning team is moving on: Ken Anderson and Kitty McVay of WCTO-FM (96.1 Easton) are taking their top-rated “Ken and Kitty” show to Cincinnati, where they’ll be heard on “Star” country WYGY (96.5 Lebanon OH). WCTO PD Sam Malone and middayer Becca Lynn take over morning drive at “Cat Country.”
Fifteen Years Ago: September 24, 1999
There’s so little going on this week, we’ll start off with a format change in MAINE, Searsport to be exact. That’s where Moon Song Communications has ended the simulcast of WVOM (103.9 Howland)’s talk format on WBYA (101.7). The Bangor-market station is now doing “Quality Rock” (sort of an AAA-ish thing) without jocks, except in morning drive when the WVOM simulcast continues. This is the first time in a few years WBYA has had its own format; before the WVOM simulcast, it relayed classical WAVX (106.9 Thomaston, now WBQX). We hear the Moon Song folks wanted to use the old “Wave” nickname, but WBQX (now “W-Bach”) put a halt to that.
A quiet week this week in MASSACHUSETTS, with little but the rumor mill to keep us company. What’s it telling us? That the new calls on 96.9 could well be WTKK (fitting, one supposes, in a market that’s seen WKKT and WTTK in past years); that disgraced pol Peter Blute could soon be sailing into a new job as morning co-host (with Andy Moes?) at WRKO (680); that Judi Papparelli has landed in a new slot on Talk America from 10-noon weekdays — actually, that’s no rumor, it’s reality as of this past Monday.
As goes Boston, so goes Albany? Maybe not…but we do note that smooth jazz is about to make an exit in New York’s capital city, as WHRL (103.1) prepares to make a format change October 1. We hear station manager Peter Baumann is out and PD Brant Curtis has been bumped down to production director. Hmmm…Clear Channel, upstate New York…why do we suspect a CHR “Kiss” clone could be next?
Meantime across the border in CANADA, the CRTC will allow Bea-Ver Communications to build a new FM station in Chatham. The 50kW outlet on 94.3 will have a modern rock format, and will be co-owned with Chatham’s CFCO (630) and CKSY (95.1).
And we note another possible reason for the CBC’s haste in moving to FM in major cities: Only by having an FM signal like CBLA (99.1 Toronto) can the CBC lease out subcarrier space — which is just what they’re applying to do on both 99.1 and CBL-FM (94.1), apparently to Spanish and Portuguese broadcasters.