In this week’s issue… FCC quashes “channel 3” in NYC – Boston’s 1260 goes to Salem…with Rush? – Remembering Stan Wall and Margaret Juntwait

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Six years ago, the principals behind New Jersey-based Press Communications set a process in motion to bring new TV signals into the heart of the New York City and Philadelphia markets. PMCM, LLC paid just $1.2 million to buy small VHF stations in rural Nevada and Wyoming, using a forgotten bit of the FCC’s rules to try to force the Commission to allow those licenses to be moved thousands of miles east to become the lone VHF signals licensed to New Jersey and Delaware, respectively.

wjlp-3That audacious plan got a frosty reception from the FCC, which quickly assigned two new VHF channels in those states in an attempt to head off PMCM’s proposed moves. PMCM went to federal court to uphold its interpretation of Section 331(a) of the Commission’s rules. Even if that rule was originally meant solely to protect RKO from losing the license to WOR-TV (Channel 9) back in the 1980s by “moving” it from New York to Secaucus, NJ, the courts handed PMCM a win, allowing it to put KJWP (Channel 2) in Philadelphia and KVNV (Channel 3) high atop Four Times Square in the heart of Manhattan.

That “win” ended up being a bit elusive in New York, though, when rival broadcasters challenged PMCM’s right to call its new station (now WJLP) “channel 3.” After months of back-and-forth legal wrangling, the FCC last week sided with WJLP’s opponents, stripping the new station of the right to use virtual channel 3 for its over-the-air signal and instead ordering the station (which remains on RF channel 3) to use virtual channel 33 for its broadcasts.

As a real-world matter, PMCM made a solid case that using “channel 3” for WJLP would cause few problems, even to the two virtual channel 3s that objected to sharing with WJLP. Meredith’s WFSB in Hartford, which uses RF channel 33, is almost impossible to receive over the air in the Connecticut communities that are part of the New York TV market, since it shares its RF channel with New York’s WCBS-TV (Channel 2); at the other end of the WJLP viewing area, PMCM notes that no complaints were received when both WJLP and Philadelphia’s KYW-TV were operating as “channel 3,” despite some signal overlap in central New Jersey.

But the FCC says none of that matters: even after WJLP offered to start its virtual channel lineup at “3.10” instead of the usual “3.1,” the Commission says the intent of its rules is clear: in any given signal area, each major virtual channel (the part before the dash or dot) is supposed to be associated with only one broadcaster’s offerings. What’s more, the FCC says, since there was never an analog “channel 3” in New York prior to KVNV/WJLP’s move, there’s no established viewing pattern or history that tie the station to that “3” branding, which was the intent behind creating virtual channel mapping in the first place.

The real game here, of course, never had much to do with over-the-air channel numbering – just the cable and satellite channels that are determined by OTA channel numbers. While PMCM’s Philadelphia-market channel 2 (now KJWP) successfully got itself on cable channel 2 in most of that market, WJLP has been on hold with its must-carry bid while waiting for a virtual channel resolution. Only Verizon FiOS so far has picked up WJLP on channel 3 across the entire market. That will change now – along with the virtual channel 33 order, the FCC also started the clock in motion for PMCM to start filing for must-carry for WJLP, which will now have to either use channel 33 on New York-market cable or negotiate directly with cable companies for a better spot. (Suppose PMCM now wishes it had accepted the FCC’s original compromise offer to use “channel 14” instead? And that CBS wishes it had used the potential of conflict with its New York WCBS-TV 2 to file a similar complaint against KJWP’s Philadelphia use of “channel 2,” too?)

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wmki*Our MASSACHUSETTS news yet again focuses on the Boston AM dial this week, as Disney prepares to shed its WMKI (1260), among the last remaining AM licenses in the Radio Disney portfolio. When Salem picked up Disney signals in Pittsburgh and Atlanta earlier this year, we’d speculated that it had turned down the chance to add other Disney AMs to its lineup. That may well have been true, but it wasn’t the end of the story; last week, Disney announced another round of sales to Salem that includes WMKI at the bargain price of just $500,000, just 10% of the $5 million that Salem received when it sold 1260 (then WPZE) to Hibernia Broadcasting in 1997.

Salem’s repurchase of WMKI will give the company a fourth AM in the Boston market, adding to a cluster that already includes religious WEZE (590) and WROL (950) and Spanish religious “Radio Luz” WWDJ (1150). Speculation is, of course, already swirling about what Salem will do with a fourth AM, especially with Rush Limbaugh still seeking a new home in the market as Entercom prepares to drop him from WRKO (680).

Salem is no stranger to AM talk, of course, and its in-house syndication lineup that includes Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved is rather conspicuously lacking Boston as a major-market clearance. So it’s pretty much a no-brainer to figure that Salem will install “The Answer” somewhere in its Boston lineup – and since the company appears to be making good money from the religious programming on the superior 590 signal, the less-lucrative talk seems likely to land on 1260 despite a signal that’s far from full-market coverage. (There’s plenty of historical irony there: way back in 1953, pioneering Boston station WNAC found that same 1260 signal insufficient and instead bought the 50,000-watt signal on 680 that became today’s WRKO; in 1997, Salem itself traded up by moving the WEZE religious format from 1260 down to 590.)

So…Rush on “1260 the Answer,” then, right? It’s possible, certainly, but far from certain. So far, Salem hasn’t been rushing to get into the Rush business. Despite persistent rumors that Cumulus wants to pull Limbaugh from Chicago’s WLS, for instance, Salem has been in no hurry to add him to crosstown “Answer” WIND (560). Only one Salem talker currently carries Limbaugh, and that’s an unusual situation: Rush didn’t need a San Bernardino affiliate when he was on the booming 50,000-watt voice of KFI (640) in neighboring Los Angeles, but when then-Clear Channel shifted him to the lesser signal of sister station KEIB (1150) in LA, it suddenly had an urgent need for an Inland Empire signal to fill in KEIB’s holes, which is how Limbaugh ended up on Salem’s KTIE (590) in San Bernardino.

As we’ve been saying for a long time now, though, iHeart/Premiere is in a financial bind when it comes to Limbaugh and his current contract: as badly as it needs the national clearance that Salem could give it in Boston, it simply can’t afford to give the show away at any substantial discount just to secure that clearance – and if it’s only paying $500,000 for the entire 1260 facility and license, Salem’s not about to pay the $500,000 or so a year in cash compensation that Entercom was reportedly paying to put Rush on WRKO.

(As for Disney, the sale of WMKI will leave it with just one more NERW-land AM to unload: WWJZ 640, which serves Philadelphia from Mount Holly, NJ.)

*Mark down “WAEM-LP” as the callsign for the new LPFM  on 94.9 that will belong to the Town of Acton, where we suspect the “EM” stands for “Emergency Management.”

*WLWM-LP is the new callsign for Living Word Ministries’ new LPFM on 105.7 in Charlestown, NEW HAMPSHIRE.

*In MAINE, veteran jock Gary Dixon has died. Dixon started in broadcasting at Grahm Junior College in the late 1960s, then worked in Providence for a few years before making Portland his home in 1974. Dixon worked at Biddeford’s WIDE/WYJY, WBQQ in Kennebunkport and in Portland at WGAN, WPOR and WLOB over the years, including a stint producing and hosting an old-time radio show on WLOB. When he wasn’t doing radio, Dixon was an avid piano player and a collector of old movies. He would have turned 66 next month.

*VERMONT Public Radio’s staff of 58 employees at its Colchester headquarters has long since outgrown the Fort Ethan Allen facility that opened two decades ago when VPR had 27 people on staff – which is why the broadcaster just broke ground on an $8 million expansion.

While respecting the history of the building, which was the old State Police horse barracks, the renovated VPR headquarters will include a new “VPR News Center” and “Studio One,” designed to host events, performances and meetings with live video and audio production capabilities.

wfwo*Another of the ongoing NEW YORK stories we’ve been tracking has been the strange saga of WFWO (89.7 Medina), the religious construction permit that showed up on the air a few years ago from the old WKBW-TV building in downtown Buffalo, 36 miles away from the Orleans County site where it told the FCC it had built its licensed facility. The FCC deleted WFWO’s license and handed permittee Fellowshipworld an $8,000 Notice of Apparent Liability, and last week it upheld that fine and denied Fellowshipworld’s appeal, ruling that the ministry couldn’t claim a history of compliance after it turned 89.7 back on from Buffalo following an FCC inspector’s visit and a promise to shut the unlicensed signal down for good.

*Here in Rochester, WROC-TV (Channel 8) was cursed for decades by constant turnover on the anchor desk in a market that takes longevity seriously. For the last 15 years, though, the Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate has found an unusual degree of stability – and ratings success, too – with an anchor team that’s included meteorologist Scott Hetsko, sports director John Kucko, Rochester native Maureen McGuire and her co-anchor, Kevin Doran. So it was with some sadness that Doran announced Sunday night that he’s leaving WROC on June 16. The Minnesota native was offered a gig back home at Hubbard’s KSTP-TV (Channel 5) in St. Paul, and WROC is now seeking a replacement on the anchor desk. (Is it more than coincidental that Hubbard also owns WHEC in Rochester, the once-dominant local news operation that’s been plagued by anchor-desk turnover in recent years?)

Say “Nick Nickson” in Rochester and older listeners will remember the genial jock who was a fixture on WBBF (950) in the 1960s and remained active doing radio sales well into his 90s. On the West Coast, though, the big “Nick Nickson” is Nick, Junior, who’s made quite a name for himself as the voice of Los Angeles Kings hockey since 1981. Now the younger Nickson is getting one of hockey’s biggest honors: he’s this year’s winner of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, which means he’ll be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on November 9.

On Long Island, the semi-retirement of the legendary Rusty Potz means a longer airshift for a younger member of the WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor) family: Brian “The Cannon” Bannon is now being heard straight through from 2 until 6 every weekday afternoon. (But without the trademark bell that Potz rang on the air throughout the afternoon shift – that went down to Florida with Potz!)

*Margaret Juntwait went from New York City’s WNYC-FM (93.9) to a prominent post as only the third regular announcer for the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday broadcasts. Juntwait, who’d been suffering from ovarian cancer, died Wednesday at just 58. She started her WNYC career in 1991 as an assistant to host John Schaefer, but quickly rose to a regular host position there. She joined the Met broadcasts in 2004 and continued to host them until the end of 2014, when her health no longer allowed her to be on the air after a decade in which the cancer had been under control.

*Tom Niven was an important part of AM 1500 in Pompton Lakes, NEW JERSEY from the day it signed on the air in 1964 as WKER until his retirement in January as the operations manager of what’s now WGHT. Niven began as a station announcer and eventually ended up buying the station in 1982. Even after selling it in 1993, Niven stayed on to keep “North Jersey 1500” running smoothly. Along the way, he became a mentor to several generations of radio people, including WABC (770) morning newsman Noam Laden, Fox Sports’ Kevin Burkhardt, WQXR/WRTI classical host Gregg Whiteside, TV reporter Barry Bernson and CBS Radio engineer Jim Stagnitto. Niven was just a few months into his Florida retirement when he died May 14 at 78.

wlsw-outside*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Stanley Wall was one of radio’s more colorful local personalities, turning a long career as a concert promoter and DJ into more than four decades of small-market ownership south and east of Pittsburgh. Wall started out on the air at WAKU (1570 Latrobe) and WESA (940 Charleroi) in the 1950s, helped to launch the career of famed Pittsburgh DJ Terry Lee (Trunzo) – and then, in 1971, put WLSW (103.9 Scottdale) on the air. Despite a signal that looked tiny on paper, the 320-watt station with Wall’s initials enjoyed a hilltop perch that gave its oldies format a reach over much of southwestern Pennsylvania including the Pittsburgh suburbs. Wall bought the former WAKU, now WQTW, in 1984. He’d continued to run the stations despite health problems in recent years, including open-heart surgery. Wall died Wednesday at age 78.

One more Pittsburgh-area story: in Jeannette, Calvary Chapel of Westmoreland County is paying He’s Alive, Inc. $22,500 for translator W250AU (97.9), which will expand the coverage of WJLW-LP (100.3 Greensburg).

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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: June 9, 2014

wcvt_color_montpelier_thicker_3*Few broadcast groups these days are as stable as Ken Squier’s Radio VERMONT. Squier’s father bought upstart station WDEV (550 Waterbury) way back in 1935, and for almost 80 years now WDEV and its sister stations have been a reliable source of news, entertainment and sports for a big chunk of central and northern Vermont.

So it’s big news when Squier’s stations make any changes at all – and even bigger news when an entire format is being jettisoned. For 17 years now, Squier has kept one of the nation’s last commercial classical music voices going, in the form of WCVT (101.7 Stowe), anchored by veteran Vermont radio host Brian Harwood in morning drive and using the World Classical Network’s syndicated service the rest of the day. A week ago, Harwood announced his retirement, effective immediately, and Radio Vermont says that was part of the impetus for a big change coming to WCVT. Another factor was Vermont Public Radio’s launch of a statewide full-time classical service within the past decade, and of course the overall decline of the commercial classical format was surely a factor as well.

For the moment, WCVT is carrying World Classical Network programming around the clock while preparing for a new format to launch at some point in the next few weeks, and with the help of our content partners at RadioInsight.com, we can put some pieces together.

As RadioInsight reported on Sunday, domain registrations by Radio Vermont point to “101 The One” as the new nickname for WCVT. What’s “The One”? The only clue Radio Vermont’s Eric Michaels would reveal, in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, was that the new format will be consistent with “the local ownership and the local direction that we very much believe in.”

We can say with some certainty what the new format won’t be: since Radio Vermont’s cluster already includes a country station, WLVB (93.9 Morrisville), we can rule out that format, which is also covered in the area by Great Eastern’s WWFY (100.9 Berlin). RadioInsight’s Lance Venta notes that the “One” name is used (mostly in Canada) by AC and country stations, and we’d echo his observation that the Radio Vermont “mother ship,” WDEV, has ditched most of the music from its full-service format in favor of more talk, news and sports.

And one more bit of pure speculation on our part here: the domain registrations are simply “101”, not “101.7” – and could that indicate that “the One” might actually include Squier’s most recent acquisition, Rutland-market WEXP (101.5 Brandon), which came out of the Nassau Broadcasting bankruptcy and has been coasting along with the un-Squierish “Fox” classic rock format that was inherited from Nassau?

*In MASSACHUSETTS, today is launch day for at least three new formats.

wufcIn Boston, WUFC (1510) debuted its new leased-time format, which trades its former Yahoo! Sports Radio programming for a mix of libertarian talk and some sports. In addition to the programming already announced (“Dr. K” in mornings, Glenn Beck at 9 AM, Alex Jones at 3 PM), WUFC’s new schedule includes Jay Mohr’s sports talk at noon, Boston-market sports veteran JT The Brock at 6 PM, and Wolfman Jack airchecks overnight.

And in northern Worcester County, it’s a two-step launch for Steve Silberberg’s WFNX (99.9 Athol) and WWBZ (700 Orange-Athol), which conclude their “Vote 99.9” stunt by unveiling new formats at 7 AM on the AM and 9 AM on the FM. We’ll update you when we know more. (Update: AM 700 relaunched as standards “Legends 700 WBZ,” which would seem to be an open invitation for a cease-and-desist letter from CBS Radio’s WBZ in nearby Boston; as for 99.9, it’s going with variety hits, and keeping the “Vote 99.9” site going while asking listeners to “help us choose a name for the new station.”)

Five Years Ago: June 6, 2010

After another quiet holiday-shortened week, we once again turn to CANADA’s capital city for our lead story.

In the space of just a week, Ottawa has added two new FM signals to its dial – first Astral’s “EZ Rock 99.7” (CJOT), and as of today, Frank Torres’ “101.9 DAWG FM” (CIDG). The new station, which mixes blues with rock and R&B, began testing its 3 kW/321′ DA signal from downtown Ottawa early last week. Today marks the debut of an airstaff that includes the morning team of Geoff Winter (ex-CHEZ 106) and Laura Mainella, as well as midday jock “Ali Kat” (Ali Misener, late of CHRI), afternoon jock J-man, “Black at Night” with Dylan Black and weekender Carly D. There is – or will soon be – live streaming as well, at www.dawgfm.com. Still to come is yet one more new Ottawa FM, the French community station at 94.5 that was authorized as part of the CRTC’s re-examination of its licensing process after its initial grants on 99.7 and 101.9 were overruled at a higher level of the Canadian government.

Our post-holiday NEW YORK news begins with several Radio People on the Move: in a story you saw first from NERW last Tuesday, Kevin LeGrett is heading back home to Rochester to replace Karen Carey as Clear Channel’s market manager, leaving behind his post as a regional president for Citadel, where he oversaw the Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton, Erie and (yes) Albuquerque markets.

And in New York City, we mourn Himan Brown, one of the last links to the golden age of radio drama. Brown’s first venture into radio was way back in 1927, hosting and producing a poetry reading series on New York’s WRNY (“Hi-Brow Readings”) and he’d been active ever since, working with big radio names such as Gertrude Berg (“The Goldbergs”) and soap opera pioneers Anne and Frank Hummel. Brown was a founding member of the Director’s Guild of America, and long after most of his colleagues had moved on to TV, retired, or passed away, Brown was still creating and directing radio drama, keeping the medium alive into the 1970s and beyond with the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which produced daily installments for nine years. Brown was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 and was named an American Broadcast Pioneer two years later; as recently as just a couple of years ago, your editor had the pleasure of watching him in action, directing a live radio drama production at the AES convention in New York City. Brown died at home in Manhattan Friday night, in the Central Park West apartment where he’d lived since 1938. He was 99.

Ten Years Ago: June 5, 2005

Fans of NEW YORK’s WCBS-FM (101.1) have been bemoaning the station’s decline for years, from the removal of pre-Beatles music from the playlist to the gradual retirement of legendary jocks like Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram and Dan Daniel to last year’s ouster of longtime PD Joe McCoy. But it didn’t make them any less stunned when the station pulled the plug on oldies Friday afternoon at 5 (with less than an hour’s warning to most station staff, reportedly) and flipped to “Jack FM,” bringing the “adult hits” format to the number-one market in much the same way it’s appeared everywhere: no DJs, no newscasters, no commercials at first, just music and attitude-filled liners. (The first song, for the record: the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right (To Party),” certainly the first time that group’s ever been heard at 101.1 on the dial.)

The flip means the end of Micky Dolenz’ morning show, which debuted a few months ago to lukewarm reviews. PD Dave Logan, who succeeded McCoy last year, is also gone, and it appears that the rest of the jock lineup – including veterans Bob Shannon, Don K. Reed and Bill Brown – is out as well. The oldies will continue as a Web-only stream, albeit apparently without the personalities who were so critical to making CBS-FM what it was. (Station management has been unclear on this point, and for now the stream is running jockless.)

The fallout: Infinity’s move changes the landscape in New York in several ways. First, it puts an end to the lengthy speculation about which station would take the leap into the adult-hits format. While nothing’s impossible at this point, it’s hard to imagine any of the other major FMs in the market challenging WCBS-FM with a knockoff “Bob” or “Max” or what have you. (That said, ABC’s WPLJ was clearly testing the waters with its many “Flush the Format” weekends of late.)

Fifteen Years Ago: June 9, 2000

How much does it cost to move a Big Mattress 6000 miles west? Expect a MASSACHUSETTS moving company to get a phone call soon, as veteran Boston morning man Charles Laquidara gets ready to leave the Hub and join his wife and family in Maui. Laquidara is still best known for nearly a quarter-century at WBCN (104.1), where he all but defined “underground” FM radio, then rode the station to establishment success hosting ‘BCN’s “Big Mattress” morning show (and filling in at times as alter ego Duane Glasscock). In 1996 (ironically, on April Fools’ Day), Laquidara’s show moved to Infinity sister station WZLX (100.7), replaced by Howard Stern in a sign of WBCN’s move towards a mix of modern rock and talk.

Laquidara, 62, says he’s making the move out of Boston to be closer to his wife, who’s recovered from a bout with cancer last year. Replacing him sometime this fall on WZLX will be comedian Steve Sweeney and “Tai” (aka Tom Irwin), who faced off against Laquidara in the early ’90s as morning host at WFNX, then spent a few years at WRKO (680) before losing that gig last year.

Elsewhere in the Bay State, it’s a new format for Citadel’s WORC-FM (98.9 Webster), which ditched classic rock May 26 to become “Oldies 98.9,” thus returning to a format it had used for four years as WXXW. The move gets 98.9 out of the way of Citadel’s other classic rocker, WWFX (100.1 Southbridge) in the Worcester market. Speaking of that market, we’re reminded that WESO (970 Southbridge), WWFX’s former sister station, flipped from oldies to (mostly satellite) country late last year.

Last week, NERW was first to report that Clear Channel wouldn’t be allowed to buy four of the upstate NEW YORK properties it had hoped to acquire from Straus Media. Now we can tell you where they’re going instead. Concord Media, which has stepped in to buy other “over-the-cap” properties spun off from Clear Channel deals, will get WCKL (560) and WCTW (98.5) in Catskill and WHUC (1230) and WTHK (93.5) in Hudson. Clear Channel couldn’t take those four because they’re considered part of the Albany market, where the company’s already at the limit (and in fact had to spin WTRY (980 Troy) to Concord a few months back). Clear Channel is still pushing forward with the remaining six stations in the Straus group (WELV-WTHN Ellenville, WKIP-WRNQ-WTND Poughkeepsie, and WRKW Saugerties), and now we’re hearing a rumor that CC is also sniffing around the Roberts Radio properties in Poughkeepsie and Kingston for future acquisitions…

Twenty Years Ago: June 8, 1995

You may have seen the news coverage of the Great Barrington, Mass. tornado, which claimed 3 lives and did as much as $25 million in damage. It’s nice to see local radio out there responded well. The “Berkshire Eagle” of Pittsfield, Mass. reported on Thursday that WSBS Great Barrington, an 860 kHz ex-daytimer that has not been using its pipsqueak night allocation, stayed on well past its 7pm signoff time (presumably at full 2700 watts) to provide emergency information as the twister hit at 7:15pm. Coverage was simulcast on co-owned WNAW(AM)/WMNB(FM) North Adams, at the other end of the county.

Newspeople Mark Schane-Lydon, Tom Jay, Dick Lindsay, and morning host Nick Diller all pitched in to help with coverage. (And a special thanks to Mark for allowing WBZ reporter Carl Stevens to assemble and feed his reports from the WSBS studios on Tuesday and Wednesday!) 15 miles away in Pittsfield, WBEC AM-FM, WBRK AM-WRCZ FM, and WUPE FM all expanded their news coverage as well.

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