In this week’s issue… NYC’s “Channel 3” rebounds – Howie Carr’s new home, new sidekicks, new calls – Country lands in Ottawa – Shared LPFM granted in NYC – New England FM downgrade underway – WSJ Radio shuts down
**IN NEW YORK WEDNESDAY? Me too! Come say hello, have a drink, talk about radio with fellow radio folks (including RadioInsight’s Lance Venta), and pick up a 2015 Tower Site Calendar, hot off the press. 7:30 or thereabouts, Tribeca Tavern, 247 West Broadway. Drop me a line if you can make it!**
If you live in greater New York City, need your daily fix of “I Love Lucy,” “Adam 12” or “Leave it to Beaver,” and you get your TV from an antenna, this may have been a confusing week for you. In the latest chapter of a saga we’ve been documenting on and off here at NorthEast Radio Watch for the last few years, PMCM LLC abruptly shut down WJLP (Channel 3)’s transmitter atop 4 Times Square in Manhattan on Monday, only to put the MeTV affiliate back on the air two days later after the latest in a series of emergency rulings from the FCC.
What’s at stake, still, is the question of how WJLP will identify itself on viewers’ TV sets now that it’s completed its long move from its former life as KVNV in Ely, Nevada. Back there, the station’s virtual digital channel was easy to figure out: it had been an analog station on channel 3, and so its digital incarnation was 3.1.
After its big move eastward, of course, things have been more complicated. PMCM hoped to simply make KVNV’s new incarnation (licensed to Middletown Township, New Jersey) “channel 3.1,” but it quickly ran into issues with other stations that already laid a claim to the “channel 3” identity in the area. In Fairfield County, Connecticut, part of the New York City TV market, WFSB from the neighboring Hartford/New Haven market has long laid claim to the channel 3 position on Cablevision’s system, where it runs a Fairfield-specific CBS feed with local advertising. (WFSB’s over-the-air signal, while virtual channel 3, is on RF 33 since the digital transition.) At the other end of the New York market, where it pushes up against the Philadelphia market, CBS had issues, too: its KYW-TV is now on RF 26, but it’s still virtual 3 as well.
As NERW readers know, the conflict over WJLP’s virtual channel assignment has been dragging on since September, when objections from WFSB and KYW led the FCC to put out a public notice seeking comment on WJLP’s proposal to use virtual channel 3.10 for its over the air signal. That’s the channel WJLP used when it started broadcasting at the end of September, and a lot of lawyers on all sides have been getting rich since then as the filings have flown back and forth.
A week ago, things came to a head when the FCC issued an order directing WJLP to change its virtual channel to 33.1 (as WFSB had requested) or leave the air – and while PMCM filed an appeal asking for a stay of the order, it also took the station off the air completely on Monday night. On Wednesday, its request for a stay was granted and the station came back on using 3.10 again. (Its engineers actually had to duck out of the big CCW/SATCON convention across town to go put the transmitter back on the air at midday!)
For now, that’s only a temporary solution, and WJLP is still fighting to get its second cross-country move fully licensed.
Here’s why that matters: whatever you may or may not think about PMCM’s use of a 1980s-era law designed for one purpose (saving RKO’s embattled license for WOR-TV by allowing it to be “moved” from New York to New Jersey) to instead move two stations thousands of miles across the country, WJLP and its Philadelphia-market counterpart KJWP (Channel 2) are in place now – and subject to the same pressure to get cable and satellite carriage as any other small TV station anywhere else. If you’re asserting must-carry rights, as WJLP must (because so far, no cable company’s willing to pay just to carry the MeTV reruns and infomercials it programs), the law says you get to be carried on your over-the-air channel number.
At cable channel 3, WJLP would nestle snugly between WCBS-TV on channel 2 and WNBC on channel 4, an enviable spot even in an era when fewer viewers are hitting the channel up-down buttons on their remotes. (It would also displace ion Media’s WPXN, channel 31, from its own long-established spot on channel 3 on many area cable systems, which is why WPXN is also fighting against WJLP). At the virtual channel the FCC originally proposed, 14, WJLP would be a little more out of the mainstream – and at channel 33, it would ne nowhere near the city’s other broadcasters on most cable systems. (In Connecticut, WJLP has already promised WFSB it won’t seek to displace it from cable 3, but that hasn’t pacified the Hartford station.)
The latest stay of the FCC’s “go to virtual 33” order runs through December 1, and the longer the legal wrangling drags on, the longer PMCM has to wait to even begin asserting any must-carry rights, and thus to appear on cable anywhere at all. It’s a story we’ll continue following closely here at NERW, however it ends.
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*Ready for a winter blast across much of NERW-land? Let us know if you hear of any stations affected by the weather moving across our territory today – and if you missed it last week, check out our exclusive Winter Weather Preview, a new feature from a new contributor to the site, WHEC-TV chief meteorologist Kevin Williams. Kevin’s part of the radio landscape around here, too, and on Tuesday he’ll offer up his expertise and tell you what your listeners will be experiencing, weather-wise, in the next few months.
Winter also means the arrival of a new Tower Site Calendar, which is back from the printer and now shipping from the Fybush.com Store. If you’ve placed an advance order, watch your mailbox – it’s coming soon!
We’re now previewing the new calendar every Wednesday at fybush.com – check out this week’s feature here!
But don’t stop at the calendar when you’re checking out the store this year – we’ve got a great selection of Arcadia Publishing’s photographic history books from all over the region, including Dr. Donna Halper’s “Boston Radio,” Peter Kanze and Alec Cumming’s “New York City Radio” and a small number of copies of the recently released “Ithaca Radio” personally signed by co-author Peter King Steinhaus during his recent visit to Rochester. (That’s Peter and yours truly at the book-signing event – and yes, that’s an actual 2015 calendar in the flesh!)
We’ve also got the National Radio Club’s always timely AM Radio Log, back issues of the calendar you might have missed, and we’ll soon be offering enlarged prints of popular calendar images, too! And the best part? All your purchases at the Fybush.com Store go right toward helping us keep doing what we do here at NorthEast Radio Watch and Tower Site of the Week (and toward recovering from what’s been a difficult year behind the scenes!)
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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: November 18, 2013
*Few formats in the history of radio have been as durable as the album rock that swept the FM dial in the 1970s. Iconic stations like Philadelphia’s WMMR, Pittsburgh’s WDVE, Rochester’s WCMF and Providence’s WHJY long outlasted most of the other hot formats and slogans of the era. And while most of those stations have long since abandoned any pretense to being freeform or underground, they’ve at least retained some recognizable pieces of their early DNA.
Until Friday, those stations had company at the easternmost tip of Long Island at WRCN (103.9 Riverhead). Way back in the spring of 1976, WRCN flipped from AC to rock from its concrete bunker of a studio behind a drive-in theater, and through changes in studio location and ownership and swings from album rock to classic rock, it just kept going…right up to the moment when it abruptly flipped to “Christmas 103.9.”
Sometime shortly after the first of the year, owner JVC Broadcasting says that stunt format will give way to news-talk. The new “LI News Radio” will include Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, as well as local hosts broadcasting from new studios under construction at MacArthur Airport in Islip.
Aside from Red Wolf Broadcasting’s WJJF (94.9 Montauk), which transmits from Long Island but is aimed across the Sound at listeners in southeast Connecticut, the new “LI News Radio” is the first full-on stab at the talk format on the island since WLIE (540 Islip) tried a mostly local talk format for a few years beginning in 2002. That effort was hampered by WLIE’s lack of a viable nighttime signal and its challenging spot right at the bottom of the AM dial, not to mention its relative proximity to the big talk voices out of New York City.
*The week’s other big story is the impending flood of new FM signals that will make WRCN look huge by comparison. The FCC had planned to close its window for new low-power FM applications back in October, but the government shutdown pushed the deadline back to Thursday afternoon, at which point the crush of thousands of applicants trying to file at once crashed the FCC’s Consolidated Database System (CDBS). The FCC extended the deadline once more, giving applicants until Friday afternoon at 3 to file.
Within the next few days, we’ll see that flood of applications begin to appear for public view, and our behind-the-scenes data crunchers are already poised to pull all of the important information from those applications together to be made available in a special edition of NERW coming to subscribers sometime this week. How many of those applications are there? The consensus seems to be a number in the mid- to upper-four figure range. That’s many more would-be broadcasters than there are channels available, and almost certainly more than any reasonable listener base could possibly support.
*There’s new leadership coming to classical radio in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where WGBH is rearranging the management at “Classical New England” (WCRB 99.5 Lowell and its relay stations around the region). Ben Roe, who’s been managing director of WCRB, has been promoted to a new role as “managing producer of music and performance,” focusing on new projects that will air on WGBH-TV and its digital platforms. Replacing Roe on the radio side is Anthony Rudel, who takes on the new title of station manager for WCRB. Rudel started at New York’s WQXR (96.3) as a 19-year-old announcer and eventually became the Times-owned station’s vice president of programming before it was sold.
*In RHODE ISLAND, they’re mourning Mark Gaudet, the engineer who was known as “Mountain Man” in his days at WHJJ (920) and WHJY (94.1). Gaudet was on his motorcycle driving through Scituate last Monday afternoon when he was hit by an SUV and pushed into a guardrail. Gaudet was 56.
Five Years Ago: November 16, 2009
Quick – when was the last time a brand-new FM signal appeared on the airwaves of NEW YORK City? We’re not talking suburban rimshot signals here, nor does the WNYZ-LP “Franken-FM” channel 6/87.7 operation quite count. And by that measure, it would seem that the 1985 debut of 8-watt WHCR (90.3) up in Harlem marked the last time a new (licensed) FM signal signed on from within the five boroughs. A quarter-century later, that’s about to change: last week, the FCC quietly approved one of the tens of thousands of applications it received back in 2003 for new FM translators. That window produced plenty of requests for new signals in the Big Apple, most of them ungrantable – but it also included an application from River Vale Media Foundation for a 19-watt signal on 107.1, licensed to Brooklyn but aiming most of its highly-directional signal northwest over the Brooklyn Bridge into the heart of Manhattan. When the application was filed, it drew opposition from Clear Channel, which operates WLTW (106.7) just two channels down the dial. Under the translator rules, though, such second-adjacent operation is acceptable, if the translator is up high enough so that no listeners on the ground would receive predicted interference. (It gets even more technical from there; suffice it to say, it’s an issue of ratios, and the River Vale application, which calls for antennas mounted off the side of a 300′ tall apartment building near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, meets those FCC regulations.)
The grant of the construction permit on 107.1 (complete with call letters W296BT) is just the start of what promises to be an interesting saga, of course, as we find out what River Vale (controlled by one Jae H. Chung) has in store for its new signal. The application filed back in 2003 called for 107.1 to relay Sound of Life’s WLJP (89.3 Monroe), but that was just a placeholder. There’s not much we can tell from River Vale’s other holdings; Chung has some 30 other applications for other translators in and near New York City still lingering ungranted from the 2003 window, and one other licensed translator, W247AW (97.3 Poughkeepsie), which is apparently repeating WGNY-FM (103.1 Newburgh). It’s a pretty good bet that W296BT will become the most valuable translator in America once it’s built, assuming River Vale wants to sell – especially now that the FCC allows AM stations to relay their signals on FM. Will Chung find a buyer? We’ll be watching this one closely…
Out on Long Island, another obstacle to the impending sale of Long Island University’s WLIU (88.3 Southampton) has been cleared away with the signing of a consent decree that settles allegations that WLIU and sister station WCWP (88.1 Brookville) ran afoul of the FCC’s underwriting rules for noncommercial stations. Under the agreement, LIU will make a “voluntary” contribution of $24,000 to the feds, and the investigation into the violations will be dropped, allowing the sale to Peconic Public Broadcasting to move ahead.
In other news from the Capital District, talker WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer) has applied for a license to cover its power increase, jumping from 5 kW day and night to 10 kW days, 8 kW nights. And its talk competitor, Pamal’s WROW (590 Albany), has signed on with Kansas-based Virtual News Center to produce “local” news reports. Are they ready to handle “Schaghticoke,” “Schoharie” and “Watervliet”?
In Niagara County, Lockport Community Television is moving forward with its construction permit for WLNF (90.5 Rapids). It’s working with the Rapids Fire Company to get zoning approval for a 100-foot self-supporting tower behind the fire hall on Plank Road, which would be shared by the fire department and the radio station. WLNF would run 250 watts from the top of the tower, carrying simulcasts of LCTV programming and eventually adding radio-only programs.
Burlington’s WCAX-TV (Channel 3) eulogized former chief engineer Ted Teffner as a “towering figure” in VERMONT broadcasting after his sudden death last week, and it’s hard to argue with that description. Until his retirement not long ago, Teffner was the guiding force behind the massive reconstruction project that transformed WCAX’s 1950s-vintage transmitter site atop Mount Mansfield into a 21st-century DTV site shared by most of Burlington’s TV broadcasters (and several FMs, too), and it’s hard to think of anyone more universally admired in the state’s engineering community. Teffner had recently retired to Florida, where he died Thursday at age 69. Funeral arrangements are not yet complete.
There’s not much new to report from the format shuffle that’s underway in central NEW HAMPSHIRE, where WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) continues to run a repeating loop directing listeners up the dial to WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) to find the “Hawk” classic rock format. Meanwhile, WNNH (99.1 Henniker) continues to simulcast soon-to-be-ex-sister station WJYY (105.5 Concord), and WWHK (102.3 Concord) was silent at last report. As always, stay tuned…
Country music has once again vanished from the airwaves in CANADA’s biggest market. On Friday afternoon at 3, Corus abruptly pulled the plug on “Country 95.3” (CING-FM), the Hamilton-licensed signal that was also supplying the much larger Toronto market next door with its Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw fix. After seven years of country, 95.3 is now playing classic hits, calling itself simply “The New 95.3” – and while it helps to fill the gap left behind when CHUM (1050) flipped from oldies to a CP24 TV simulcast earlier this year, the move leaves country fans seeking out some rimshot signals for their format. From the east side of the Greater Toronto Area, there’s CJKX (95.9 Ajax), “96KX,” with a signal that reaches much of the city and its eastern and northern suburbs (and even across the lake here in Rochester when the winds are blowing the right way); for listeners in 95.3’s hometown of Hamilton, there’s at least a rimshot signal from CIKZ (106.7) over in Kitchener-Waterloo. So far, there’s no word from Corus about an airstaff for “The New 95.3.”
Ten Years Ago: November 15, 2004
It was supposed to have been a week of celebration for WBIX (1060 Natick), as the eastern MASSACHUSETTS business-talk station celebrated its new 24-hour status with a gala party at the Boston Harbor Hotel. That was Wednesday night. By Sunday morning, the station’s future was in doubt, with owner Brad Bleidt under federal investigation for having allegedly stolen money from clients of his financial-management firm to cover the tens of millions of dollars being spent to build WBIX’s night signal and to keep the upstart station afloat.
The revelations came in a tape Bleidt sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission before he apparently tried to kill himself, just hours after the party on Wednesday. The Boston Herald reports that the transcript of the tape quotes Bleidt as saying, “The money’s gone. I stole it. I used (it) to buy a radio station, believe it or not, um, which is stupid,” and “I’m literally a psychopath, I must be. I’m a monster. An absolute monster.”
Bleidt is reportedly hospitalized as he recovers from the suicide attempt, and his personal assets, as well as the assets of his company, Allocation Plus Asset Management, have been frozen by court order while the SEC pursues its investigation. The revelations come at a time of transition for WBIX. As best we can piece it together, Bleidt (and his wife, Bonnie, who’s also WBIX’s morning host) still hasn’t closed on the sale of his interest in the station. Purchaser Chris Egan (son of Richard Egan, founder of EMC Corp.) has been operating the station for the last few months, and it will be interesting to see whether his outright purchase of the station can still go through. Adding to the complications, we understand that Bleidt still owed the station’s previous owner (in its WMEX incarnation), Alex Langer, for most of the $13.5 million purchase price. Can WBIX survive? We’ll be watching this one closely – and of course, following the story of Brad Bleidt carefully. Stay tuned…
A veteran Rochester voice is expanding his reach to the west. WCMF (96.5 Rochester) morning man Brother Wease will soon be heard on Infinity sister station WBUF (92.9 Buffalo), doing a 10:30 AM to 1 PM shift that will be partly original for Buffalo and partly a “best-of” the Rochester morning show. This isn’t Wease’s first attempt to expand his show beyond its home base – he was heard on weekends on New York’s WNEW (102.7) during its talk era – but this one may turn out to be longer-lasting, especially when you consider that WBUF will be losing its current morning host, Howard Stern, in just a year’s time, if not sooner.
The final shoes have dropped in that southern NEW JERSEY format shuffle, as Press Communications began programming its “Breeze” soft AC format on WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) midweek last week, with the simulcast of Millennium’s “New Jersey 101.5” (WKXW-FM 101.5 Trenton) moving to WIXM (97.3 Millville). The new “Breeze” at 106.3 completes a Jersey Shore-blanketing trimulcast with WWZY (107.1 Long Branch) and WBHX (99.7 Beach Haven), and there’s already a rumor swirling that Press will swap formats between WWZY and modern rock “G106-3” WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown) to put Breeze on both of the 106.3 signals it now controls.
Fifteen Years Ago: November 14, 1999
In MAINE, a judge has ruled against Saga Communications in its attempt to silence former WMGX morning host Lori Voornas. Saga tried to get a temporary restraining order to prevent Voornas from sending letters to advertisers on Citadel letterhead promising a new morning show for an unnamed Citadel station, but the judge declined to issue such an order, saying it’s not clear Voornas violated the terms of her non-compete by writing the letters. The non-compete is up February 28; NERW expects to hear a well-rested Voornas on one of the former Fuller-Jeffrey stations in the Citadel group (WCLZ? WCYY?) on Leap Day.
The big news in MASSACHUSETTS is Sunday night’s format change at WARE (1250 Ware), as Mega Broadcasting and Spanish programming take over from the oldies. PD/morning voice Gary James and newsguy J.P. Ellery said their farewells on Friday (11/12); expect the legendary calls to go as well, leaving WACO-FM in Waco, Texas as the only station in the U.S. whose calls are exactly the same as the city of license. (NERW is not interested in hearing from sticklers who would argue that the city of license for that station should thus be “Wacofm, Texas”!) 2009 update – The calls stayed, and the oldies returned a few years later!