In this week’s issue… First signal to light up from World Trade Center – Conrad Garage restoration kicks off – More Pfuntner sales in upstate NY – LPFM CPs flow from FCC – Veteran GM’s new NEPA gig
Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks silenced the nine TV stations and four FM stations that broadcast from One World Trade Center, the first new signal is about to hit the airwaves from the new skyscraper that rises just a few hundred feet north of the old site. But even as WABC-TV (Channel 7) applies for special temporary authority to put an experimental signal on the air from the new building, it’s not at all clear that it – or any of the other stations that once called the Twin Towers home – will make a permanent return to lower Manhattan.
As WABC’s application explains, the 5 kW signal on RF channel 12 would be used only for testing purposes; specifically, “to test the propagation and reception characteristics of VHF TV channels to be compared with the characteristics of the existing VHF transmission facilities located at the Empire State Building.” There are three stations operating on high-VHF from Empire since the DTV transition; in addition to WABC’s main signal on 7, WPIX and WNET returned to their former VHF channels, 11 and 13, in 2009. All three are now looking intently at the merits of Empire versus the new 1 World Trade Center, and they have a plan (with the help of the Metropolitan Television Alliance umbrella trade group) to get some hard data to help make that decision.
The tests won’t be conducted with a full non-directional signal from the 1WTC mast – on channel 12, that would cause unacceptable interference to co-channel WHYY in the Philadelphia market, and potentially to Albany’s WNYT, which also uses RF 12 – but will instead operate with a single panel that will be shifted in different directions to test the signal across various arcs of New York City and its northern and eastern suburbs. (The use of channel 12 also required permission from ion’s low-power station WPXU-LD, which is licensed to use channel 12 from the top of the Bloomberg tower on Lexington Avenue, and which will yield the channel for testing.)
So what does it all mean, and what can we expect in the longer term for broadcasting from the World Trade Center in a time when over-the-air TV is caught between the rise of the cord-cutters and the potential riches to be had from abandoning OTA and yielding spectrum to the upcoming incentive auction?
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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: October 21, 2013
*After more than half a century, the Pacifica Foundation is preparing to exit the radio business in NEW YORK. It’s not a sale – at least not yet – of the massively valuable class B signal of Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) in New York City, but Pacifica’s announcement that it’s searching for an LMA partner to operate WBAI signals that the latest set of troubles there may have been the death knell for local Pacifica programming there.
Pacifica’s request for proposals calls it a “Public Service Operating Agreement,” or “PSOA,” and if Pacifica can find a willing partner, that nonprofit will program WBAI, maintain a main studio for the station, provide office space for two Pacifica full-time staffers, and provide some space in the schedule for some Pacifica-provided programming, surrounding it with programming that will “serve programming interests otherwise unserved in the greater New York City area.”
But even as Pacifica’s national board is making plans to try to hand off WBAI to a new operator, local listeners to 99.5 are in the midst of a marathon pledge drive making no mention of the possible end to Pacifica’s programming – and it’s all happening without a studio (the station’s live shows are coming from borrowed space in Harlem at tiny WHCR) and now without the most recent interim PD, Andrew Phillips.
“We are on a wartime footing,” was Phillips’ message to staffers in an October 5 memo, warning that an LMA might be not only imminent but necessary in order to save the station in the long term. But while Phillips was trying to make WBAI’s morning programming more palatable to a larger audience and to minimize the use of pledge-centric programming like Gary Null’s medical show, Pacifica’s national programmers apparently had different ideas. On Thursday, Phillips reportedly sent a fiery e-mail to GM Berthold Reimers and interim national executive director Summer Reese complaining of being “blindsided” by a national mandate to run “Null’s bombastic mish-mash of warmed-up Pacifica fare” in morning drive.
“Where is the diginity?” he asked. “So this is what WBAI became?”
Whatever WBAI is in the process of becoming, it’s doing so without Phillips, who “has decided to move on,” according to a memo sent out by Reese later Thursday night.
*It’s looking all but certain, meanwhile, that the New York Mets have found a new radio home for 2014. The Daily News reported Friday that the team is close to finalizing a deal with Clear Channel’s WOR (710), and that the deal would not include an FM simulcast.
*There’s one fewer talk station in Portland, MAINE, where Saga quietly pulled the plug on its advice-talk format at WBAE (1490) early Sunday morning. The AM outlet is back to its former identity as “The Bay,” running Westwood One’s adult standards format.
*The talk landscape in eastern PENNSYLVANIA is about to be realigned with the impending demise of Merlin’s WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ), and now we know where that station’s two biggest syndicated talkers are heading. Back in August, we wrote that we’d “be surprised if [Rush] Limbaugh doesn’t return to WPHT fairly quickly, giving the ailing AM talker a much-needed boost and probably reducing WPHT’s current hosts to three-hour shifts instead of their current four-hour daily shows.”
And sure enough, that’s just what’s happening, effective next Monday: Limbaugh will indeed be back in his old spot on CBS Radio’s WPHT (1210), reducing Dom Giordano to a 9 AM-noon shift, with three-hour slots as well for Dick Morris and Gary R’Nel (3-6 PM) and Rich Zeoli (6-9 PM). We were wrong, however, in guessing that Sean Hannity would be without a Philadelphia radio home: he’ll also join WPHT, on a six-hour delay that will find him running from 9-midnight when a Phillies game doesn’t pre-empt that slot.
Five Years Ago: October 19, 2009
*Univision Radio relaunched its NEW YORK FM presence Thursday morning, adopting new call letters and a new slogan to go with its $33.5 million move from its former FM home, “La Kalle” WCAA (105.9 Newark), to the more powerful signal on 96.3 that was long home to WQXR. As we told you last week, the WCAA calls made a temporary move down the dial to 96.3 on the night of October 8, when WQXR moved up to 105.9 under the ownership of public broadcaster WNYC. But the “La Kalle” slogan vanished in the move, and Univision’s frequent on-air exhortations to “mark your calendar with an X on October 15 at 6 AM” made it clear that something different was coming to the 96.3 frequency.
And as NERW first reported last week, that “something different” includes the calls WXNY – and a new slogan, “X96.3, La Mezcla de New York.” That translates roughly as “The Mix of New York,” and it comes with a format that’s not far different from the old “La Kalle” on 105.9. We’re not experts on the nuances of Spanish-language radio, but it seems to be described best as some mixture of “Spanish Tropical” and “rhythmic AC,” with some English-language dance tracks in there as part of the playlist, and with DJ banter that’s largely, but not entirely, in Spanish. So far, the new “X96.3” appears to be running jockless, except for the station’s star personality, the Luis Jimenez morning show.
Up north, St. Lawrence University’s North Country Public Radio has been granted a construction permit for a full-power signal in Lake Placid, winning out over competing applications from Albany’s WAMC and the Northeast Gospel Network. (As we reported back in December 2007, WAMC had agreed to drop its Lake Placid application in favor of NCPR.) The new 91.7 signal will replace NCPR’s present translator in Lake Placid, W219AK, which will apply to move to a new frequency and relay WAMC. And NCPR has signed on another new signal: WXLS (88.3 Tupper Lake) replaces a translator on 91.7 in that mountain community.
Here in Rochester, we’re mourning the loss of one of the original program hosts from the earliest days of WXXI-FM (91.5). Richard Gladwell was a part of the station almost from its start in late 1974, and his weekend choral music show, “With Heart and Voice,” continues to be offered to public radio stations nationwide. Gladwell had been diagnosed with brain cancer in June, and he died peacefully with family at his side at his Rochester home on Thursday, just short of his 89th birthday.
In MASSACHUSETTS, the deal to transfer classical WCRB-FM (99.5 Lowell) from Nassau to the WGBH Educational Foundation is moving forward. The contract for the $14 million sale is now at the FCC awaiting approval, and we noted a couple of unusual items as we read through it: it obligates WGBH to buy $100,000 of advertising on WCRB or other Nassau stations during the period before closing – and it includes a clause we’d never seen in a sale contract before, obligating Nassau to transfer WCRB’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to WGBH. (That clause, presumably, will soon become a standard feature of sale contracts.)
It’s been a bad year for broadcast history in CONNECTICUT, where two venerable TV studio buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball in the space of just a few months. The latest demolition is in West Hartford, at the 1953-vintage studios of NBC’s WVIT (Channel 30). The station is now settled in at its modern new home just behind the old studios off I-84 and New Britain Avenue, and last week its old digs were reduced to rubble.
One of the most enduring faces of TV news in VERMONT retired from the anchor desk last week. Marselis Parsons handed off his news director duties at WCAX-TV (Channel 3) to Anson Tebbetts in May, and on Thursday he signed off WCAX’s 6 PM newscast for the last time, inviting viewers to watch his successor, Darren Perron. Parsons started at Channel 3 as a reporter in 1967, and had been news director and evening anchor since 1984 – and we suspect both of those are, and will probably forever be, all-time longevity records in the region. In his retirement, Parsons will continue to file occasional stories from around Vermont for WCAX – and in the meantime, the station has put up a web page featuring all the video tributes it’s been offering for the longtime face of its news department.
Ten Years Ago: October 18, 2004
Add RHODE ISLAND to the list of states with Air America Radio affiliates – and on one of the market’s best signals, no less. If you were wondering (as we were) just how long it was going to take WHJJ (920 Providence) to replace the departed John DePetro in the midday slot, the answer came last week when WHJJ revamped its entire schedule. Don Imus stays in place in morning drive, and local host Arlene Violet in afternoons – but the formerly conservative talk station is now running Air America’s “Morning Sedition” on tape delay from 10 till noon, followed by a live clearance for Air America’s Al Franken. After Violet, WHJJ now has Air America’s Randi Rhodes on delay from 6-8 PM, followed by Geoff Charles (doing double duty after his shift on WHJJ’s sister station, rocker WHJY 94.1) from 8-10.
In MASSACHUSETTS, Boston University has named an interim general manager for WBUR following the departure of Jane Christo. Peter Fiedler, son of legendary Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fielder, comes from within – he’s an assistant vice president at BU, responsible for sports broadcasting, media services and publications.
With no NHL hockey in CANADA (or in the U.S., for that matter), radio stations are scrambling to replace the programming that big-league hockey would have provided. Toronto’s CFMJ (640) is carrying the Leafs anyway, broadcasting “classic” Leafs games on Saturday nights at 7.
And over in the Lindsay area, the CRTC denies Andy McNabb’s application for a religious station on 96.7, which would have been licensed to Kawartha Lakes (the megacity that now includes Lindsay.)
Fifteen Years Ago: October 16, 1999
The WMEX calls are apparently about to return to the Boston-area airwaves, at least based on the promos being heard on WJLT (1060 Natick). The 1060 signal holds an unbuilt CP to boost power to 40 kilowatts by day, 22 kilowatts at night, which could be a contender in the market — if it can ever get built as a diplex on the WKOX sticks in Framingham.
Meanwhile, what of the “J-Light” Christian contemporary format and WJLT calls? We hear those will be migrating down the dial to Ashland’s AM 650, now WRPT and also owned by Alex Langer (who leases 1060 to “J-Light” programmer Great Commission Broadcasting). This station also holds an unbuilt CP, which would boost power from 250 watts to 2000, transmitting from the WBPS (890) sticks in Ashland.
One more Langer note: His WSRO (1470 Marlborough), which has been running on low power from a temporary site since losing its three-tower area to a city land-taking, has modified its application for a new directional array. The new application calls for four towers, three by day with a 7kW signal aimed mostly northwest and three (two shared with the day array) at night, with a 5kW signal aimed east/southeast over Marlborough, Framingham, and Natick.
“And the dead air goes on!”: That might as well be the slogan at Brockton’s WCAV (97.7), now in its second week with a stereo pilot but no programming. Radio One’s new urban format is still expected…any…day…now.
WBZ (1030) isn’t getting out quite as well as it usually does during the day — but there’s a reason. Having cancelled plans to replace its two-tower array in Hull, the station is now busy repainting, repairing, and re-guying the existing sticks (vintage 1940) to last a few more decades. While the work continues (through December), WBZ is broadcasting from 8 AM until 4 PM daily from its 10kW non-directional backup site at the studio in Allston. Nights are still 50kw from Hull (but we wouldn’t know, since we’ve had our dials glued to 1080 to listen to the Sox play-by-play with the properly-biased hometown broadcast team via WTIC!)
Down in RHODE ISLAND, Carolyn Fox is embroiled in a non-compete battle with her old employer. WPRO (630) is going to court to force Fox off her new gig at WWRX (103.7). The Citadel-owned talker has already won a restraining order that took Fox off WWRX’s air effective Wednesday (10/13). Citadel says it fired Fox October 4 after she tried to persuade two other WPRO staffers to join her at WWRX. Her contract included a six-month noncompete clause. A hearing Monday will decide Fox’s fate; we’ll keep you posted.
Rochester’s WPXY-FM (97.9) has named a new program director. Mike Danger succeeds (we won’t say “fills the shoes of;” they’re too big!) Clarke Ingram, who’s now jammin’ the oldies at Pittsburgh’s WJJJ (104.7). We’ve heard ‘PXY using the “PX-Y2K” nickname a few times lately…
Chatham,Ontario’s commercial broadcaster has been busy as a beaver — pardon, a Bea-Ver. Bea-Ver Communications put CKUE (94.3) on the air last week, just days after the CRTC granted its construction permit. “The Rock @ 94-3” is already being heard as far east as London; we’ll be there next week to check it out. Bea-Ver has also won CRTC approval to boost night power on CFCO (630) to 6kW from 1kW.