In this week’s issue… Lots of questions after a busy NAB – Big shifts at KDKA – WEEI’s Dennis in rehab – CBC still reeling from Ghomeshi – NY FM leader dies – New England FM donated
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Anyone who came home from this year’s NAB Show with any sense of certainty about any of the big issues on the table must have been at a different set of sessions from the ones we attended. It was a very busy (and incredibly windy) week in the desert, and aside from a nasty head cold, here’s what we brought back as the big items from Las Vegas:
Voltair: Massachusetts-based 25-Seven Systems is now part of the larger Telos Alliance, and its new box was the talk of the show on the radio side in a way we haven’t seen in years. If you work in a PPM market, you already know what’s going on here: after years of concern that Arbitron (now Nielsen)’s proprietary encoding system wasn’t able to work as well with some formats and voices as others, 25-Seven’s Dr. Barry Blesser began researching the subject.
The result was the Voltair, a “watermark monitoring and enhancement” device that’s designed to process station audio to provide the PPM encoding with more to work with (in Blesser’s words, a bigger “blanket” under which the PPM encoding can hide what are supposed to be inaudible tones). The boxes have been out there being tested for several months now, with more than 300 already in the field, and the ball is now in Nielsen’s court to figure out what to do about it. (We’ll be writing much more about this topic in the weeks to come, we’re sure.)
AM improvement: There was a healthy FCC presence at this year’s NAB Show, but the commissioners weren’t always saying what broadcasters wanted to hear. That was especially true when it came to AM improvement, that contentious issue that’s now been percolating at the Portals for more than a year with no clear results from last year’s flood of comments. While nearly all of the commenters (present company included) supported the idea of a filing window specifically to allow AM-only operators to file for new FM translators, that doesn’t appear to be in the cards; instead, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler stirred up ire with a Monday blog post in which he said he wouldn’t approve an AM-specific window, hinting that the eventual plan for filling remaining gaps in the FM spectrum will focus on additional diversity in ownership and content.
What will AM’ers get when the FCC does move forward on whatever remains of an AM improvement plan? Few hints have emerged so far, though Wheeler says action is coming soon.
Repacking: TV transmission vendors on the floor knew they weren’t going to be doing much business domestically in the near future, at least not until the FCC has more clarity about what will happen in the great spectrum auction and repack that’s still looming on the horizon. There, too, certainty was in short supply and tempers were running relatively high with billions of dollars potentially at stake. (One session moderator we know literally lost control of a repacking session during a heated Q&A event, and that’s not a normal thing at NAB.)
Drones: This was the year of the unmanned aerial vehicle at NAB, with huge crowds every day at the Drone Pavilion and busy traffic at all the vendors showing off their wares. Here, too, uncertainty was the order of the day: for now, it’s still illegal to use drones for commercial purposes, but TV stations, video producers and even some radio stations are eager as can be to get ready for the FAA’s eventual new rules that will make commercial drone operation legal within some fairly strict limits.
There was other new tech, too, of course: we’ve seen microphones with built-in SD card recorders for years now, but this year’s models included built-in WiFi so a reporter can use a smartphone to control a mic on a podium and even retrieve and edit audio to send back to the newsroom. Water-cooled transmitters have been the norm in TV for years, and have been used here and there in FM applications as well, but this year there were more of them on the FM side, including a new GatesAir offering. The processing companies didn’t have anything new at the top end of the market, but there were some attractive new units lower on the price chain. Interconnectivity was the order of the day for studio gear, too: the Dante standard is becoming increasingly common for allowing units from different manufacturers to communicate with each other for audio and control.
And while we were busy out at NAB, there was plenty making news back home, too…
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*Radio People on the move at both ends of PENNSYLVANIA: in Pittsburgh, CBS Radio sends Ryan McGuire packing for warmer weather, as he departs the PD chair of KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan) after two and a half years to take that same post at new sister sports station WQAM (560 Miami), effective May 4. Jim Graci, who’s PD down the hall at news-talk KDKA (1020), will take over McGuire’s duties on the sports FM side, with KDKA news director/executive producer P.J. Kumanchik stepping up with added duties on the AM.
Those duties will include overseeing a new afternoon block on KDKA: after former afternoon anchor Bill Rehkopf departed in February to go to CBS all-newser WNEW-FM in the Washington market, KDKA is pulling longtime FM morning host Shelley Duffy in as the new co-host of “KDKA Afternoon News” alongside current KDKA evening talker Robert Mangino. Their new show debuts next Monday, April 27.
In Philadelphia, veteran WIP sports talker Anthony Gargano debuted this morning as the new 6-10 AM host on Greater Media’s WPEN-FM (97.5 the Fanatic). The new show, co-hosted by Jon Marks, displaces ESPN’s “Mike and Mike,” which will now be cleared in the market on Beasley’s leased-time/sports WTEL (610).
Over at Radio One, Al B. Sylk is the new assistant PD and afternoon jock at WPHI (Boom 107.9). Sylk moves north from Atlanta, where he’d been on Cox’s WALR (Kiss 104.1).
*A follow-up to to that bizarre March story about the woman who drove a car into the front of iHeart Media’s Williamsport studios: police have now arrested 30-year-old Crystal Glantz of Lock Haven, charging her with arson, criminal mischief and drunken driving in connection with the incident that did nearly $20,000 in damage. Investigators say Glantz had been repeatedly calling a DJ at one of the iHeart stations, though he no longer worked there. Glantz is being held in lieu of $25,000 bail.
Up above Williamsport, Family Life Ministries has completed a big translator upgrade: its former 10-watt signal, W277BJ (103.3 Garden View), has moved to 103.1 as W276CU and is now running 250 watts from up on Skyline Road. It’s carrying FLN programming via a subchannel of commercial station WILQ (105.1 Williamsport). FLN also has a translator upgrade pending in Erie: it’s applying to move W254AJ (98.7) from its present downtown location up to a 250-watt signal on the WICU-TV (Channel 12) tower south of town, where it would be fed by a an HD subchannel of WRTS (103.7 Erie).
We send our best wishes to Jeff Roteman, our fellow broadcast historian and longtime music director/midday jock at WIKZ (95.1 Chambersburg). Jeff has been with that station group since 1997, when he started as “JP McCartney” at WCHA-FM (94.3). Last week, he stepped down from his post at the Alpha station as he continues his recuperation from a minor stroke he suffered last fall. He’ll continue to be active in radio with his network of tribute sites, including those for Pittsburgh’s KQV, 13Q and ABC Radio News, and we hope to see him at a Pirates game again before long, too.
*Kristin Cantrell’s Southern Belle/Seven Mountains Media group continues to grow in central Pennsylvania: last week, the daughter of Forever honcho Kerby Confer closed on her $650,000 purchase of WJUN-FM (92.5 Mexico)/WLZS (106.1 Beaver Springs) from Starview Media, and now she’s also adding two Forever stations to her portfolio. Cantrell will pay $100,000 for WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) and WHUN-FM (106.3 Mount Union); the AM does sports and the FM is oldies as “Hunny 106.”
*And as we note High School Radio Day on Wednesday, we salute a college station in Reading on an anniversary and a big move: Albright College’s WXAC (91.3) celebrated its half-century mark earlier this year, and it celebrated in a big way over the weekend with a party at its brand-new studio home in the former College Relations Building, a space it shares with Berks Community TV.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, longtime WEEI-FM (93.7) morning co-host John Dennis has checked into a rehab facility, taking a leave of absence from the “Dennis and Callahan” morning show as he deals with a drinking problem that he says flared up at the Red Sox home opener last week.
Down the street at WGBH (89.7), another former commercial talent has joined the news staff: Henry Santoro, who spent nearly three decades doing news and public affairs at the old WFNX (101.7), takes over midday news anchor duties during WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio,” hosted by fellow commercial radio veterans Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. Santoro had spent the last three years as news director and morning host at RadioBDC.com, the Globe-owned alternative streaming station that absorbed much of the old WFNX staff.
*On Cape Cod, Matt Pitta returns to his longtime home at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media, where he’d worked until 2002. Pitta’s departing WXTK (95.1) to become news director for the CCB Media stations, where he’ll host “Cape Cod This Morning” weekdays from 6-7 AM on WFCC (107.5 Chatham) and newscasts on sister stations WQRC, WKPE and WOCN. Pitta’s arrival will allow CCB news director Laura Reckford to focus instead on her duties as news editor of sister website CapeCod.com.
*In VERMONT, St. Michael’s College was all set to surrender the license of its full-power signal, WWPV (88.7 Colchester), after winning a construction permit for an LPFM signal on 92.5 that will cover more ground with fewer regulatory responsibilities. But instead of letting the 88.7 signal go, St. Mike’s is now donating that license to its neighbor down the street, Vermont Public Radio. The 100-watt/82′ facility has a history with VPR, which operated it for several years as the “VPR World Channel” in the early 2000s, carrying BBC World Service and other programming for the immediate Burlington area. St. Mike’s will keep the WWPV callsign for its new LPFM, and VPR will assist the college with building out that new LPFM signal, as well as funding the expense of creating iOS and Android streaming apps for the LPFM.
*A long-dead NEW HAMPSHIRE AM construction permit is now really, really, really dead. (We think.) The FCC has finally put a “D” in front of “WTIJ” on its records relating to the long-gone AM 1400 in Roxbury. That southwestern New Hampshire AM was one of the earliest failures in what’s turned into a long trail of FCC missteps by Brian Dodge, and while it’s been off the air since 1989 and never even received a license to cover, its CP has remained in zombie status on FCC records for more than a quarter of a century.
*Our NEW YORK news begins in middays at Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97), where Megan Ryte starts today as the latest addition to a fast-changing airstaff at a station that’s still in the midst of a shift from hip-hop to a more mainstream rhythmic top-40 sound. Ryte has been in Houston for the last few years at Radio One’s KBXX and KMJQ – and in today’s multimedia world, it’s worth noting that she’s also been doing TV down the street at Fox O&O KRIV-TV (Channel 26), where she’s been both an on-air talent and a digital producer. She’s also worked in Miami (WPOW-FM) and West Palm Beach (WMBX). Hot 97 music director TT Torrez had been the interim midday jock.
Down Hudson Street, it’s a big anniversary week for CBS Radio’s WINS (1010), which marked a half-century with its all-news format on Sunday. WINS’ anniversary celebration included on-air vignettes over the weekend and a commemorative lighting of the Empire State Building mast Sunday night.
*It’s a sad week here in Rochester for our friends at WDKX (103.9), where they’re mourning the loss of general manager Marietta Avery. Avery had been with the locally-owned urban station since its start in 1974, starting off in the accounting department and then serving as vice-president of finance before shifting to sales and then the GM chair.
“She was not an employee, but a member of the Langston family,” said WDKX co-owner Andre Langston, son of the late founder Andrew Langston. As with so much else that WDKX does, Avery’s role went far beyond radio and deep into the community. She was deeply involved in community leadership, especially in promoting the role of women in greater Rochester. Avery died last Tuesday, at age 65.
*Our news from CANADA begins, much to the CBC’s dismay, at the CBC. The Corporation’s investigation into former “Q” host Jian Ghomeshi came out last week, and even in heavily-redacted form it was still pretty brutal, portraying the star host as disrespectful and sometimes abusive to colleagues.
“It is our conclusion that CBC management condoned this behaviour,” said the outside investigators the CBC brought in. It didn’t take long for heads to roll: as the report was being released, the CBC announced it had terminated the employment of head of radio Chris Boyce and HR director Todd Spencer. Both had been on leave since January as the Ghomeshi scandal deepened. (Ghomeshi himself faces criminal charges of sexual assault and choking, and had already been fired by the CBC.)
The release of the Ghomeshi report coincided (just by chance, the CBC says) with news of more job cuts across the country, 244 in all. It also accompanied news of a rebranding of Ghomeshi’s former show: instead of “Q”, it will now be known as “q,” under new host Shad, who relaunches the program this morning.
Some happier news from CBC: veteran “Metro Morning” host Andy Barrie was back on the air last week, at least briefly, talking about his struggle with Parkinson’s disease and the treatment that’s helped him find some relief from the symptoms that forced him off the air in 2010. A new documentary about Barrie made its online debut a week ago, and it’s well worth taking the 13 minutes to watch his story.
*It’s not just CBC making news cutbacks: Global made headlines last week with the announcement that it will shift anchor duties for local late-night and weekend newscasts from studios in Halifax and Montreal to its news hub in Toronto. The move will mean some job cuts in those markets, where Global’s newscasts typically trail far behind CTV and CBC stations in the ratings. The Toronto hub, which already handles control-room duties for those local markets, will also take over late-night and weekend anchoring for Global “local” news in Manitoba and Kelowna, B.C.
And in the run-up to NAB, we were remiss in not taking note of a big change at the very top: Bell Media’s ouster of president Kevin Crull, who took the fall after being forced to apologize for trying to influence coverage on Bell-owned CTV of the CRTC’s new cable TV rules. Crull reportedly dictated that CTV newscasts wouldn’t be allowed to include video of CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, though top network anchors and producers refused to go along with that dictate. In earlier testimony to the CRTC, Crull had vowed that Bell management would never attempt to interfere with CTV editorial decisions.
*In southwest Ontario, Blackburn Radio flipped formats at CKUE (95.1 Chatham-Kent) and relay CKUE-1 (100.7 Windsor) on Thursday, the second format change at the station in a little over a year. The former rock station went to soft AC in January 2014 as “Lite FM,” but its new direction finds it taking a variety hits approach as “Cool FM.”
North of Toronto, CFMS (105.9 Markham) has been granted a small power boost from 704 to 981 watts, providing a little more signal into Richmond Hill and Vaughan for its split format: by day, it’s in English as “105.9 the Region,” while at night it programs to a South Asian audience in the area.