In this week’s issue… Springfield TVs rebrand – Sale in the far north – LMA on the Seacoast – What’s a Fitchburg AM worth? – WTIC takes a spin on sports
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How many markets are there where a single broadcast license is probably worth more than every other broadcaster – or even print media – in the market, combined? Last week’s $10.25 million sale of WAGM (Channel 8) in Presque Isle, MAINE reminded us that New England’s northernmost market is one of those rare places – and that WAGM’s longtime ownership group is a pretty interesting company, too.
In the years that followed, NEP Productions became one of the biggest TV companies you’ve probably never heard of. Its fleet of production trucks now operates nationwide at pretty much every major sporting event and at even bigger productions like the Oscars. It owns multiple studios in Europe, Australia and all over New York City (“The Daily Show,” for instance, is produced at an NEP-owned facility.) And for the first few years of NEP’s growth, that whole production business remained co-owned with one of the smallest TV stations in New England, way up there in Aroostook County.
Along the way, WAGM has been through some big changes for such a small station. Originally a three-network affiliate (primary CBS, secondary ABC and NBC), channel 8 added some Fox content in the 1990s and then gradually dropped its remaining ABC and NBC shows. With the advent of DTV, WAGM became a two-network outlet, and despite its long relationship with CBS, it’s now Fox on WAGM’s standard-def 8.1 channel and CBS in HD on 8.2.
For Georgia-based Gray, WAGM will be its first station in the northeast. Aside from geography, though, WAGM is a good fit with Gray’s business model: the company specializes in small markets, some even tinier than Presque Isle. In many of those markets, Gray is in a similar position to northern Maine: it’s the only operator of network affiliates, carrying multiple networks on DTV subchannels and low-power stations. Could NBC or ABC (now provided on cable or satellite from Bangor) be in the future for WAGM?
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*Western MASSACHUSETTS is back to being a two-TV-newsroom market, now that Meredith has combined its recently-purchased WGGB (Channel 40) with “CBS 3” (WSHM-LD 21), whose 2005 launch of local news led to a decade of three-way competition in the Pioneer Valley.
Patience Hettrick had already been serving as news director for both WGGB and WSHM; it’s not yet clear whether there will be any staff reductions as a result of combining the two operations, which also boast a new set in the WGGB studio and a new graphics package as well, as they attempt to take on LIN Media’s longtime market leader, NBC affiliate WWLP (Channel 22).
*In Fitchburg, Bill Macek’s Central Broadcasting is selling WPKZ (1280) and its big translator signal, W287BT (105.3), to a new entrant on the broadcast scene. K-Zone Media Group, which is paying $700,000 for the 5000-watt AM and 150-watt translator, is headed by John Morrison, owner of the Wachusett Dirt Dogs collegiate-league baseball team.
Macek, who’s retiring after a 30-year broadcast career that also included time as a DJ (“Bill Maxwell”) at WLLH in Lowell and as the owner of WINQ (97.7) in Winchendon, had paid $795,000 when he bought the former WEIM from Liveair Communications in 2005. He’s done a nice job since then of adding the translator, locking up rights to all the major Boston sports play-by-play, and of solidifying WPKZ’s role as the news-talk voice of northern Worcester County.
*If not for the 350 miles between NERW headquarters and Boston (and the lingering remains of whatever it was we brought back from the NAB Show), we’d probably have been spending our Sunday afternoon in a movie theater in Brookline, where “I Am What I Play,” a new documentary about the heyday of FM rock radio and its star DJs, made its world premiere at the Independent Film Festival Boston 2015. The film features WBCN’s Charles Laquidara along with WNEW-FM’s Meg Griffin, CFNY’s David Marsden and Seattle’s Pat O’Day; it will make its Canadian premiere during Canadian Music Week in Toronto May 8.
*Congratulations to some of our favorite small-market broadcasters, Port Broadcasting’s Pete Falconi and Carl Strube, on signing an LMA deal that puts them in control of two more signals in addition to their existing AM/translator pairs, WNBP (1450/106.1 Newburyport) and WWSF (1220/102.3 Sanford).
While we were away at the NAB Show, Port announced that it’s taking over operations of Aruba Capital’s WXEX (1540 Exeter, NEW HAMPSHIRE) and WXEX-FM (92.1 Sanford ME). Those stations simulcast an classic hits mix that Falconi and Strube say will make a nice complement to the 60s/70s oldies “Legends” format they run on WNBP and WWSF. (And yes, this deal reunites the two halves of the Sanford pair that were long co-owned before Steve Mindich split them up a few years back.)
Falconi notes that the combination of the Port and Aruba stations “gives us a strong radio signal footprint from the north shore of Massachusetts right up the coast to Portland, Maine, and inland to Dover and Rochester, New Hampshire.”
*A cleanup operation in Maine is keeping volunteers busy at WMPG (90.9 Gorham). The Portland-market community station suffered a leak Wednesday night in a pipe that ran above its record library, and by the time the water could be shut off, it had drenched about 3,000 LPs, mostly from WMPG’s blues collection. While most of the cardboard sleeves were destroyed, the vinyl itself was largely salvageable, and they’re now hard at work getting it dried out and re-sleeved and looking for replacements for the records that were destroyed.
Schedule changes at Emmis’ New York urban stations: Debi Jackson is out at WBLS (107.5), three years after she succeeded Hal Jackson, her late husband (and WBLS legend) as the host of “Sunday Classics.” Down the hall at sister station WLIB (1190), another veteran, Imhotep Gary Byrd, is out from his Sunday night talk slot, where more gospel music will now air. Byrd is still heard Sunday mornings with his public affairs show, “Express Yourself,” on WLIB and WBLS.
Can you trademark the name of your city of license? That question is being tested in a federal lawsuit involving two stations licensed to Woodstock. CHET-5 Broadcasting’s WDST (100.1) has called itself “Radio Woodstock” for many years, and has even filed for trademarks for the names “Radio Woodstock” and “Radio Woodstock 100.1.” But when WIOF-LP (104.1) signed on last year, it began calling itself “Woodstock 104.1.” The LPFM belongs to Birds of a Feather Media, helmed by Randi Steele of Radio New York Worldwide and WBCQ fame, and it’s standing up for what it says is its right to use the name of the community it serves.
*Southern NEW JERSEY lost its local news and NBC on WMGM-TV (Channel 40) last year, and now WMGM’s longtime general manager is gone as well. Ron Smith came to WMGM-TV as sales manager in 1989 after two years as owner of WCBG (1590 Chambersburg PA), as well as a long run before that as the founding sales manager of WHAG-TV (Channel 25) in Hagerstown, Maryland. Smith became WMGM’s general manager in 2003 and stayed there until his retirement in 2013. He was 75 when he died on Friday in Egg Harbor City.
*A frequency conflict on the outskirts of CANADA‘s largest market could be resolved if the CRTC and Industry Canada approve a proposal from little CHES in Erin, Ontario to move from 88.1 up the dial to 91.7. From its small-town home northwest of Toronto, CHES has spent the last few years trying to resolve co-channel interference with 88.1 in Toronto, now the home of indie rocker CIND. Both stations did a mutual power upgrade last year, but CHES says that didn’t really help matters any at its end.
It’s received permission from second-adjacent CKPC-FM (92.1 Brantford) to use 91.7 at low power in Erin, and because CIND would benefit from reduced incoming interference on 88.1, its owners would help fund CHES’ move if it’s approved.
(Clearing the way, at least somewhat, was the CRTC’s denial last week of an application from Markham’s CFMS 105.9 to use the 91.7 frequency for a rebroadcaster in Aurora.)
*An addendum to our ongoing Baseball on the Radio coverage: how about Baseball on Broadcast TV? This past weekend brought an interesting situation for New York baseball fans, because it wasn’t just a Mets-Yankees interleague Subway Series – it was a Subway Series in which two of the three games were seen on broadcast TV, but in an odd way. As we’d noted earlier, both the Mets (via SNY) and, this year, the Yankees (via YES) are placing a package of games on New York’s WPIX (Channel 11). While they’re both at the same spot on the dial for New York City-market viewers, they were very separate broadcasts; at no point on Friday’s SNY-produced coverage was there any mention that the YES-produced Saturday game would also air on channel 11, for instance.
And for those of us upstate, it was hit-and-miss at best as to where the games would show up. On the Mets side, the broadcast package appears this year on Time Warner Cable Sports in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, Utica and Watertown markets and on Sinclair’s WCWN in the Albany market. Viewers in Plattsburgh/Burlington, Binghamton and Elmira were out of luck. Out of state, it was Tribune’s WCCT (Channel 20) for Hartford-market viewers and WQMY (Channel 53) in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.
The Yankees/YES package? At least on Saturday, it aired on Sinclair’s WRGB (Channel 6) in the Albany market, WPNY (Channel 53/11) in Utica, WSTQ (Channel 14/6) in Syracuse, “CW16” (WHAM-TV 13.2) in Rochester, WNYO (Channel 49) in Buffalo, WETM’s 18.2 subchannel in Elmira, WBPN (Channel 8/WICZ 40.2) in Binghamton – and not at all in Watertown or Plattsburgh/Burlington. Connecticut viewers saw the game on WCTX (Channel 59), and it didn’t get picked up in Scranton.
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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 28, 2014
There are few broadcasters we’ve been writing about in this space for as long as Brian Dodge.
Way back in the earliest days of this column, one of our first special reports covered an extensive complaint filed against Dodge by competitor Carter Broadcasting. In the years since, we’ve reported on Dodge’s brushes with FCC regulations and with the law in general as he’s bounced around (and briefly out of) New England and vicinity.
Those adventures over the years included a long stint running WWNH (1340 Madbury), the Seacoast religious station that never actually received a license, operating for more than 20 years under a construction permit or no authorization at all. More recently, Dodge ended up in the Hudson Valley, running what’s left of WCKL (560 Catskill), apparently from a site other than the licensed one, where landlord Clear Channel evicted the station from its original directional array. (There’s also an unlicensed FM translator that’s popped on and off the air in recent years.) And more recently still, Dodge was part of a never-consummated deal to buy silent WPNI (1430 Amherst) from Pamal Broadcasting.
Last week, we noted that Dodge was getting into the low-power FM game. This week, we can tell you that he’s not only in the LPFM game, but (as is so typical of Dodge) once again apparently seeking to bend, if not outright twist, the one-to-a-customer rule that’s supposed to be one of the principles of the LPFM service.
Will someone challenge Dodge’s latest LPFM grants this time around? And will this be the time it sticks? As always, we’ll be watching closely to see what, if anything, actually happens.
*Full-time Catholic radio is coming to NEW YORK City. The format has been one of the rare spots of intense growth in the industry in the last decade or so, with a handful of Catholic broadcasters among the few groups still spending heavily on new station acquisitions. Wisconsin-based Starboard Media Foundation has been one of the biggest, putting “Relevant Radio” outlets on the air everywhere from Minneapolis to Chicago to Providence (WSJW 550 Pawtucket) – and now it’s spending $10.1 million to buy a signal that wasn’t even openly for sale.
WNSW (1430 Newark NJ) has been part of Arthur Liu’s Multicultural cluster since 1998, when he acquired then-WNJR along with several other Douglas Broadcasting stations. Liu moved 1430 closer to New York City, diplexing it with WPAT (930 Paterson) and boosting daytime power from 5 kW to 10 kW. Most recently, WNSW has been leased to Spanish-language religious operator Radio Cantico Nuevo, but it will go full-time Catholic when the sale to Starboard closes.
*We salute one of northeast PENNSYLVANIA‘s longest-serving radio veterans on his retirement. Bud Brown signed off WILK (980/103.1) in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. Long before he was a talk host at WILK, Brown did news there – and before that, at crosstown WBRE (1340) and WKRZ (98.5), as well as in his native New Jersey even before that. Brown is on his way west to Arizona to enjoy a well-deserved retirement at the end of a radio career that started way back in 1969.
Five Years Ago: April 26, 2010
After four decades of state support, the NEW JERSEY Network is on the verge of being cut loose. While the public radio and TV system has survived plenty of previous budget crises in the Garden State, New Jersey’s new governor made it clear when he took office that he intended to end a state subsidy that currently provides a significant portion of the network’s $28 million budget. (The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that New Jersey currently provides a $4 million cash subsidy to NJN, along with $2.4 million in employee benefits and $4.5 million in other resources including the use of state facilities and parking.)
While NJN is hardly the first public broadcaster to lose its government subsidies, the time frame specified by Governor Chris Christie doesn’t give the network much time to find new sources of support. Christie wants NJN to operate without state help as early as January 1, 2011, and he wants to begin the transformation by cutting NJN’s $4 million appropriation in half for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. NJN’s interim executive director, Howard Blumenthal, appeared before the state senate’s budget committee last week to report that planning is underway for the transition, but that some questions remain unanswered – and NERW wonders whether NJN’s radio network, a very low-profile cousin to its much better-established TV network, will survive the transition. Might the network of nine stations, with somewhat less than full-state coverage and relatively little local programming, end up being sold to fund the TV network’s survival?
If WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) morning man Dan Taylor sounds a little jet-lagged today, he has a good excuse: it’s his first day back on Eastern Time after an unplanned week of shows from London. Taylor was in England for pilot training when that volcano erupted in Iceland, and his scheduled April 18 flight home ended up being delayed for a full week. The show went on from a studio at CBS News in London; meanwhile, BBC Radio 1’s Chris Moyles was doing his morning show from Sirius XM in New York after being stuck Stateside when air travel was shut down. Taylor probably got the better end of the deal, starting his show at 11 AM London time while Moyles had to be on the air at 1:30 AM in New York.
There’s a new signal being tested on the air in CANADA’s capital city. Astral’s CJOT (99.7 Ottawa) signed on last week with the same adult contemporary music it’s expected to be playing when it launches officially soon. There’s even a temporary website at ottawa997.com, which may or may not be the permanent home when CJOT signs on for real. CJOT’s debut has pushed tourist information station CIIO off the air at 99.7; its English-language service has now moved to 101.9, which had been the French-language signal – but even that’s temporary, since 101.9 will soon be occupied as well, by new blues-rock station CIDG (DAWG-FM).
Ten Years Ago: April 25, 2005
The RHODE ISLAND television reporter who spent four months under house arrest after refusing to give up the source of a controversial videotape was hailed as a journalistic hero last week in Las Vegas. WJAR (Channel 10)’s Jim Taricani was a last-minute addition to the roster of speakers at the Radio-Television News Directors Association and National Association of Broadcasters’ conventions, and he used the opportunity to call for the adoption of a federal “shield law” to protect journalists’ sources. Had such a law been in place, it would have kept Taricani from being convicted of contempt of court after he defied a Rhode Island judge’s order to reveal the source of the tape that exposed a corruption ring in Providence’s city government. Taricani was fined $85,000 and sentenced to six months in prison, which was reduced to four months of home confinement because of Taricani’s health issues (he underwent a heart transplant a few years back.)
RTNDA invited Taricani and WJAR news director Betty-Jo Cugini to Las Vegas as soon as he was released, and Taricani said he was delighted to accept. “It’s great to be here – it’s great to be anywhere outside home,” he told the news managers as he spoke at their opening breakfast Monday. Taricani and Cugini said NBC management could not have been more supportive during the trial and the confinement that followed, including paying Taricani’s fine and legal expenses. Taricani is expected to be back at work at WJAR this week.
Oldies have returned to Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE with a format flip at WKBR (1250 Manchester); it had been carrying talk and ESPN sports, but now it’s “Oldies 1250,” taking up the format abandoned a few months ago when WQLL (96.5 Bedford) went to classic rock as “the Mall,” WMLL. Woody Woodland’s morning show remains in place on WKBR.
Just south of Rochester, there’s good news for Bob Savage’s WYSL (1040 Avon); he got word from the FCC last week that he’s been approved to take WYSL from 2500 watts to 20,000 watts by day. WYSL will drop to 13,200 watts during critical hours and remain at 500 watts after dark from its current four-tower array; the new signal’s expected to be on the air within a few months.
A landmark tower in western PENNSYLVANIA is no more. Engineers at WPIC (790 Sharon) nicknamed the station’s 550-foot Truscon tower “Old Shakey” as it entered its old age, and in recent years the station was unable even to get climbers to set foot on it to take care of painting and other maintenance. The end of the line for the 1947-vintage tower came last Wednesday (April 20) after one of its base insulators failed, forcing the Cumulus station to topple the tower. The 100,000 pounds of steel came down with one big “thud,” bringing down various STL antennas and the old WYFM (102.9) top-mounted antenna with it. (WYFM moved a few years ago, and is now transmitting from the tower of sister station WHOT-FM in Youngstown, Ohio.) As for WPIC, it’s running 400 watts from a temporary longwire antenna designed by retired engineer Jerry Starr, and it’s looking for a site for a new tower to return to its usual 1000 watt daytime (50 watts at night) operation.
Fifteen Years Ago: April 28, 2000
The last major independently-owned FM station in the Buffalo market is being sold to cable giant Adelphia Communications. WNUC (107.7 Wethersfield) will add programming from Adelphia’s Empire Sports Network to its country format when the deal closes this summer. WNUC is one of the oldest FM licenses in Western New York, tracing its lineage back to 1948, when, as WFNF, it was part of the early Rural Radio Network that relayed WQXR-FM New York across the state. In later years, as WRRL and then as WBIV, it was part of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “Ivy Network” that supplanted Rural Radio in the 1960s. In 1982, WBIV was sold and became WUWU, a quirky rock station that gained a following across Buffalo and into Rochester, where its signal penetrated well (and still does). WUWU later went jazz, then easy listening as WEZQ. Current seller John Casciani purchased the station in 1988 as smooth-jazz WBMW, flipping it to country as WNUC “New Country” a short time later. Even as talks leading to the sale were taking place, WNUC modified its format last month, becoming harder-edged country as “The Bullet” (leading one local wag, on hearing of the sale, to quip, “So the Bullet missed its target?”)
This is the latest sign of Adelphia’s committment to the Buffalo market; the company is also negotiating with the city of Buffalo to build a major office building on the city’s waterfront to accomodate the space needs the company can no longer meet in its tiny hometown of Coudersport, Pennsylvania.
Elsewhere in NEW YORK, the morning show linuep is changing yet again at WABC (770 New York). As had been widely expected, the Rocky Allen Showgram, brought over from sister station WPLJ, was pulled from WABC in favor of veteran station hosts Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby, who move to mornings from the 6-8 PM slot. Another veteran WABC host, former mayor Ed Koch, is returning to radio with a one-hour afternoon gig on WEVD (1050).
Upstate, Mike Doyle moves down the Thruway from Pilot’s Syracuse group (WNSS, WNTQ, WAQX, WLTI), where he was market manager, to become GM of Entercom’s Rochester group (WEZO, WBEE-FM, WQRV, WBBF). Still to be filled at Entercom: openings for a CE and a night slammer for “99BBF”.
Our condolences to family and fans of Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, who died April 18 at age 70. While Syracuse was better known for his West Coast work at KYA and other San Francisco stations, his career began in Upstate New York, with his nickname coming from a particularly noisy entrance into the WKBW studios circa 1962.
Two AM frequencies in CANADA are silent now, with the end of the simulcasting on Montreal’s CIQC (600) and CKVL (850) as of last Sunday (4/23) at midnight. The stations have been replaced by CINW (940) and CINF (690), with no sign — yet — of applications to take over their old frequencies. This should mean an easier time for outlying listeners to Boston’s WEEI (850) this winter; the station’s signal is often plagued by interference from CKVL to the north.
Twenty Years Ago: May 2, 1995
WKRH 105.9 in Bath ME is off the air. It’s supposed to reappear later this month as religious WBCI-FM under new ownership. This is the second time this decade that this station has gone through a silent period. Circa 1990 they were off for a while as they transitioned from CHR WIGY to classic-rock WKRH. The station has a good class B signal over the Portland market, they’ve just never gotten it to work for them.
New calls for “Mix 96.7,” the alternative rock station in Rochester NH (part of a quadropoly with standards WMYF-AM, newly-standards WZNN-AM (ex-CNN Headline News), and AOR WERZ-FM). The former WWEM is now WSRI.
Speaking of calls with SR in them (and how’s THAT for a meaningless segue?), the WYSR calls abandoned by 104.1 in Waterbury (Hartford) CT have resurfaced to the northwest on 98.3 Rotterdam (Albany-Schenectady-Troy) NY. The former WTRY-FM has been calling itself “Star” for a few months, since it broke from its simulcast with oldies WTRY-AM 980. WYSR 98.3 and WWCP 96.7 Clifton Park (using the “UN” alternative format) are both owned by Jarad Broadcasting, but local ad time is sold by Liberty Broadcasting, which also owns WTRY(AM), country WGNA AM-FM, and AOR WPYX-FM.
Another Albany mega-opoly is about to shed one station. Albany Broadcasting is selling 50kw WPTR-1540 to an as-yet-unnamed religious broadcaster. Albany Broadcasting’s other stations are AP all-news WROW 590, ac WJYB-95.5, and chr WFLY-92.3.
The folks up in Greenville, Maine are getting nervous about the town’s biggest landowner, the shortwave station formerly known as WCSN. The Christian Scientists sold the station this year to a group called Prophecy Countdown, an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventists. The station is now known as WVHA. The AP reports that while WCSN never tried to take a religious exemption from paying property taxes, WVHA plans to seek such an exemption — a big deal considering the radio station makes up more than 10% of the town’s tax base! Also, neighbors are worried about increased security at WVHA. Apparently the new owners asked a lot of questions about how long the station can get by without outside supplies and power…and that has neighbors wondering what they’re planning.
And outside New England, a note that the “Jukebox Radio” network has reconfigured. Jukebox started as an attempt to program translator W276AQ Fort Lee NJ, just across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan. The original idea was to buy a dark high school station on 88.7 in Franklin Lakes NJ and use that station (redesignated “WJUX”) as the primary. Then, last fall, Jukebox bought and built the CP for WXTM-99.7 Monticello NY, a commercial station. WXTM became the primary, WJUX 88.7 went dark, and 103.1 W276AQ was able to air commercials at long last. 99.7 has now picked up the WJUX calls, the *88.7 station now has calls WNJW, and will be sold and pick up a new format.