In this week’s issue… iHeart seeks Conn. frequency change – Maine talker goes Catholic – Saga shifts in NH – Students expelled for radio stunt – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio, 2015 – Double-A and beyond
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a busy week out there for FM translators, including a high-pricetag sale, a no-pricetag trade and, in southern CONNECTICUT, the first step of a multi-hop move aimed at ending an unpleasant interference situation.
The situation, ironically enough, pits giant iHeart Media against Saga Communications, which has been as aggressive as anyone in radio when it comes to using translators and defending them from interference complaints. But in this case, it’s iHeart’s new W271BW (102.1 Millbrook) that’s doing the interfering, and Saga’s WAQY (102.1 Springfield MA) that’s complaining about it.
For iHeart, W271BW came as something of an accident; it had been applied for way back in 2003 by then-Clear Channel, and it received a construction permit last year as the FCC thawed out hundreds of translator applications that had been frozen while the Commission tried to deal with an overflow of would-be translator operators. The delay worked out just fine, as it happened – had the translator been granted back in 2003, it’s not clear what Clear Channel would have done other than to sell it. But by 2014, iHeart could use it to relay an HD subchannel, and that’s just what it did, creating the new “Rock 102” with jocks tracked from New York’s WAXQ (104.3).
Up the Connecticut River valley, though, iHeart’s Rock 102 clashed with the fringe signal of Saga’s big Rock 102, which has a great signal into Connecticut from its site up on Provin Mountain within sight of the state line. Saga immediately began collecting interference complaints, and iHeart is moving rather than fighting. The application it filed last week would move W271BW down to 101.5 on the dial, running just 5 watts from a wooden pole at the site of sister station WAVZ (1300 New Haven).
But wait – isn’t 101.5 awfully close to iHeart’s big WKCI (101.3 Hamden), whose HD2 is feeding the translator? It sure is, which is why the operation on 101.5 is likely to be extremely temporary. Under the FCC’s rules, a translator can make a “minor change” up and down 1, 2 or 3 channels, which doesn’t get W271BW all the way down to what we’ll guess will be a new permanent home at 100.9. Instead, the translator will likely operate very briefly on 101.5 and then file for another minor change to get where it’s headed.
*Another Nutmeg State translator is selling for a very healthy price: once Dennis Jackson filed to relocate W279CI (103.7) from Georgetown up to the Brushy Hill transmitter site of Berkshire Broadcasting’s WLAD (800)/WDAQ (98.3) in Danbury, it was a pretty logical conclusion that the next step would be a sale of the translator to WLAD, and that’s just what’s happening. The translator is selling for $250,000, and while it’s on the books right now as a WDAQ relay, we suspect it will actually end up relaying WLAD’s news-talk format. That would give Irv Goldstein’s Berkshire group three notches on the Danbury FM dial: the hot AC of WDAQ, classic hits on WREF (850 Ridgefield) and its 107.3 translator from Brushy Hill, and now 103.7 as well.
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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: April 7, 2014
LAS VEGAS – It wouldn’t be April without our annual trek into the desert to commune with a hundred thousand other broadcasters and content creators at the annual NAB Show.
But as we gather under the warm sunshine of Las Vegas (or so we’re told from deep within the stale Convention Center air), there’s more than the usual uncertainty among the TV station owners assembled here, thanks to the FCC’s 3-2 vote last week that rewrites the rules on the joint sales agreements that have changed the TV landscape in recent years.
There are two very divergent ways to see the issue before the FCC here: big TV owners, and thus the NAB as well, argue that the use of JSAs to allow a single operator to sell for two or more TV stations in a market has kept many smaller stations alive that might otherwise have failed; what’s more, they point to examples (albeit few and far between) of markets where a JSA has allowed a minority-owned broadcaster to stay in business with the help of a larger JSA partner.
There’s another side to this dispute, though, too: for every Tougaloo College, the historically black school in Mississippi that says it’s only able to keep its WLOO-TV (Channel 35) alive by using a JSA with another station in town, there’s a dozen or more markets where a Sinclair or a Nexstar or a Granite are using a JSA with a closely-linked “sidecar” company to do what looks awfully like completely bypassing the FCC’s ownership caps.
In general, those caps allow for two stations to be commonly owned and operated only if there are at least eight independent TV ownership voices in the market, and if only one of the two stations is among the top four in the ratings. And because the FCC’s decision last week doesn’t include any grandfathering for existing JSAs, there could be big effects in several NERW-land markets
So what happens to all of these combinations, most of them involving some pretty heavily interlinked clusters of staffers and physical facilities?
For the moment, the FCC’s big concern is on the sales end: its new rules, if they survive the inevitable court challenges, focus on the question of whether a JSA operator sells 15% or more of the airtime on its partner station. At least in theory, that still leaves room for companies like Nexstar/Mission or Sinclair/Cunningham/Deercliff to continue some of the other ways in which their stations combine services – but the FCC says it plans to open a rulemaking proceeding to investigate some of those other forms of joint operation, too. That would include the “shared services agreement” under which a Nexstar or Sinclair provides essentially all non-sales functions (engineering, master control operations, newsroom, promotions, and so on) for a Mission- or Cunningham-owned station.
*Former CONNECTICUT governor John Rowland is now “former talk host John Rowland.” The WTIC (1080 Hartford) afternoon host had been on the hot seat in recent weeks as two of his former business partners stood trial on conspiracy charges.
Rowland was off the air for part of the time Brian Foley and his wife, Lisa Wilson-Foley, were in court, but he returned to the air Tuesday after they were convicted. Because of Rowland’s prominent role in the case – he was accused of acting as a consultant to Wilson-Foley’s unsuccessful Congressional campaign while being paid instead by Foley’s chain of nursing homes, and could now himself be indicted in connection with the case – and because of Rowland’s own checkered history, which included 10 months in prison for accepting bribes while governor, pressure quickly built on WTIC to distance itself from the ex-governor.
After initially saying he’d stay on the air but wouldn’t discuss the case, Rowland made a brief announcement at the end of Thursday afternoon’s show that he was done with talk radio; WTIC then announced that his frequent fill-in, “Pastor Will” Marotti, will take over the 3-6 PM slot on a permanent basis. It’s hard to see how CBS could have kept Rowland on the air, especially as news reports surfaced that he’d already turned down a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for 18 months; it’s perhaps harder to see why a station as prestigious as WTIC wanted anything much to do with Rowland in the first place.
*In western MASSACHUSETTS, engineers had a busy week restoring WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams) and W266AW (101.1 North Adams, relaying WFCR 88.5 Amherst) to the air after their towers collapsed in a wind storm on March 30.
Paul Thurst’s EngineeringRadio blog has been an outstanding source of updates on this one, since Thurst happens to be WUPE’s contract engineer. He reports that WUPE was back on the air by 1 PM last Monday, using a Shively antenna that was field-retuned (snip! snip!) from 94.1 to 100.1 and mounted on a pole next to the transmitter building, where it’s putting out about 600 watts ERP.
*In central NEW HAMPSHIRE, Steve Silberberg is filling a gap between links in his ownership chain.
Silberberg’s biggest station by far is WXRV (92.5 Andover MA), which serves not only the northern half of the Boston market but also much of the Merrimack Valley; up north in ski country, he simulcasts “The River” on WLKC (105.7 Campton). Now he’s adding a simulcast in Concord, right where WXRV’s main signal starts to fade out.
Silberberg’s $425,000 purchase of WWHK (102.3 Concord) ends more than five years of uncertainty at one of the oldest FM signals in the state capital. The former WKXL-FM was part of the cluster that was transferred from Vox to Nassau in 2004, but because of ownership caps, the station (then WOTX), Nassau couldn’t buy it outright, instead entering into an LMA with licensee Capitol Broadcasting.
Five Years Ago: April 5, 2010
The breathless TV news reports called it RHODE ISLAND’s worst natural disaster in two centuries, though the Hurricane of 1938 might beg to differ. But whether it was “worst” or just “pretty bad,” the flooding on the Pawtuxet and Blackstone rivers caused plenty of damage and kept broadcasters busy last week. Unlike the 1938 storm, which destroyed most of the state’s broadcast infrastructure, the TV and FM sites and most of the AM sites, all east of Providence, remained safe and on the air. As best we can tell, only two riverside AM sites north and west of Narragansett Bay were inundated: Radio Disney’s WDDZ (550 Pawtucket) along the Blackstone River and Hall’s ESPN Radio affiliate WLKW (1450 West Warwick) along the Pawtuxet.
At WDDZ, the water that rose above the tower bases didn’t knock the station off the air; even with the tower in water, the station’s auxiliary tube transmitter was able to drive the unusual load and keep some signal getting out. WLKW fared worse; it was off the air for almost two days until the waters receded below the base insulator. The good news is that there was no apparent permanent damage from the floodwaters, and things are slowly getting back to normal.
In MASSACHUSETTS, Chris Zito is gone from the morning show at WODS (103.3 Boston), leaving veteran jock Karen Blake solo for now. Blake and Zito had been paired up since November 2008, when their “Zito and Karen Blake” show took the place of longtime WODS morning man Dale Dorman. Zito came to WODS from Worcester, where he’d been doing mornings at WXLO. Another morning show in the same CBS Radio building has a little more job security: WBZ-FM (98.5) picked up the “Toucher and Rich” show for what’s being described as a “multi-year deal”; that deal doesn’t include producer/sidekick Chris “Crash” Clark, who left the show Friday.
Also gone from the “Sports Hub” is Gary Tanguay, who was co-hosting the midday “Tanguay and Zo” show with Steve Zolak; replacing him is one of Tanguay’s former Comcast SportsNet colleagues, Andy Gresh.
CONNECTICUT talk host Jim Vicevich is off the air again at WTIC (1080 Hartford), but this time it’s for good. Vicevich was absent from the WTIC airwaves for a while earlier this year as he recuperated from a bout with auto-immune illness, and while the station saved his 9 AM-noon slot for him with a combination of an extended morning show and Sean Hannity reruns, budget cuts finally did the local mid-morning show in last week. “As of this morning at 8:30, I am no longer employed by WTIC 1080,” Vicevich wrote on his radioviceonline.com site on Wednesday. “Over the course of four months, we were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.” Vicevich says he’ll continue to blog and to do shows on his website.
And we send our deepest condolences to WQNY (103.7 Ithaca) morning man Chris Allinger on the death of his mother, Betty Cushing Griffin Allinger, who was herself a formidable figure in Utica broadcasting for many years. She actually began her broadcasting career in Boston in 1938, working at WHDH after attending Leland Powers School of Theater and Radio, but by 1939 she was back home in Utica as director of educational programming at what was then the city’s only radio station, WIBX. During World War II, she became WIBX’s production manager, as well as a pioneering female newscaster. In 1955, she married a fellow Utica radio personality, Ralph Allinger; in later years, she also served on the board of the New York State FM Network, and she was a frequent guest on her son’s morning show even in her nineties. Mrs. Allinger died March 27; she was 93.
Ten Years Ago: April 4, 2005
A VERMONT television pioneer has died. Stuart T. “Red” Martin, Jr. was president of Mount Mansfield Television, the family-owned company that has owned WCAX-TV (Channel 3) in Burlington since it signed on as WMVT in 1954. (The station took on its present calls, WCAX-TV, the following year.) During World War II, Martin served in the Army Signal Corps, and after the war he taught at MIT and worked for Sylvania as chief engineer of its electronics division before moving to Vermont to work with his stepfather, Charles Holbrook (who also owned the Burlington Daily News), to put television on the air. Martin was instrumental in designing and building WCAX’s transmitter site high atop Mount Mansfield. In addition to his management duties, Martin delivered on-air editorials at Channel 3 into the seventies, and continued to go to work at the station as recently as a few weeks ago. Martin also served for 40 years on the CBS Television Affiliates Advisory Board. Martin died Saturday (Apr. 2) at his home in Jericho. He was 91.
In Downeast MAINE, Nassau pulled the plug on adult standards at WBYA (105.5 Islesboro) Friday, but it was no April Fool’s joke. The station relaunched as classic hits “Frank FM,” sharing air talent with the Frank mothership in Portland, WFNK (107.5 Lewiston) and promoting the addition of Patriots play-by-play this fall, too.
It was most certainly an April Fool’s joke when NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio put out a press release announcing that it was joining forces with Vermont Public Radio, Maine’s public broadcasting network and Boston’s WGBH to create “New England Public Radio.” The release (which fooled at least one Granite State broadcaster and showed up on a number of message boards as fact) claimed that retiring NHPR president Mark Handley is postponing his impending retirement to take on the challenge of leading the new regional broadcaster, and much as we’d like to see Handley stick around for a while longer, the search committee’s already hard at work trying to fill his (very big) shoes.
The future of several northeast PENNSYLVANIA radio stations is in some doubt after the conviction of station owner Doug Lane on charges of molesting a 15-year-old boy and possession of child pornography. After his first trial ended in a mistrial, the second began and ended last week with just two days of testimony and 90 minutes of jury deliberations, finding Lane guilty on eight of the 11 counts and subjecting him to up to 80 years behind bars. In the past, the FCC hasn’t looked kindly on station owners convicted of such serious crimes, and local prosecutors in Scranton have already said they’ll attempt to seize the property connected to Lane’s stations, WWDL (104.9 Scranton), WICK (1400 Scranton) and WYCK (1340 Plains). (Lane also provides programming to WITK 1550 Pittston PA, which simulcasts WICK/WYCK.)
Fifteen Years Ago: April 7, 2000
There’s a new country station on the air in the Upper Valley market that spans NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT. WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and WCFR-FM (93.5 Springfield) dropped their “Magic” AC simulcast last weekend to become “Quickradio,” a commercial-free loop of just the hooks from 50 number-one songs from the last four decades. It was, of course, a stunt (borrowed from “Quick FM” on Syracuse’s WHEN-FM, circa 1996) — and it ended Friday morning (4/7) when the stations became “93.9, 93.5 Bob Country.” The buzz in Upper Valley radio circles says the name is a tweak at Bob Frisch, the owner of the market’s existing country station, WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH).
NERW’s listening to “Bob” as we write this, and it’s sounding live and local, complete with the “Turn your knob to Bob” liners originated a few years ago at the now-defunct “Bob Country” WBOB 100.3 Minneapolis (is there nothing new under the sun?) “Bob” also has a new Web site and a new studio, as owners Conn River Broadcasting move the station back to the Vermont side of the river, where former owners Bob and Shirley Wolf started WMXR a decade ago. The Wolfs had moved the station to West Lebanon, New Hampshire in 1997; now it moves to a renovated farmhouse at 24 West Bridge Road, off Route 131 in Ascutney. No change to the calls yet, but we wouldn’t be surprised to hear one sooner or later. (The Bob sales staff might need a reminder about what the calls are anyway — the coverage map on their Web site lists WMXR as 93.5 and WCFR as 93.9, with no mention at all of the W232AP translator on 94.3 in West Lebanon!)
The big news in MASSACHUSETTS this week? The impending return of a Boston radio legend to the airwaves! The number one question we get asked here at the Boston Radio Archives is, “What ever happened to Larry Glick?” The answer, until now, has been that he’s retired and has no desire to return to radio. Thanks to WBZ’s Steve LeVeille, the current occupant of Glick’s old overnight slot, we can now report that Larry Glick will be back on the air at WBZ for one night. Steve will be talking to Larry beginning at midnight, Thursday April 27 into Friday April 28, presumably for as long as Larry wants to go. Set those tape decks now…
Nothing doing this week in southern New England, so we move on to NEW YORK, where it seems WEHH in Elmira Heights-Horseheads isn’t quite as dead and gone as we’d thought. The station, silent for nearly a year already, has been granted a boost to 5 kilowatts day, 170 watts night, directional from the Lake Road towers of LMA sister station WELM (1410 Elmira). One more thing…it won’t be on 1590 when it returns. According to at least part of the buggy FCC database, the new WEHH diplex operation will be on 1600 kHz. No word yet on whether the standards format that was on the old WEHH until its tower came down will return on the new WEHH.
Up in Buffalo, Entercom made a format change Monday morning — but not, as rumor had it, on WWKB. Instead, it was AC WMJQ (102.5) dropping its “Q102” moniker for two commercial-free hours, followed at 9 AM by the debut of “Star 102,” a hot AC incarnation of the format. New calls followed later in the week: WTSS (shouldn’t that be “Tsar 102”?), last seen in the region at the long-gone AM 1320 in Scranton.
Twenty Years Ago: April 10, 1995