In this week’s issue… WRKO launches post-Rush lineup – WMEX sale price a stunner – CRTC pulls the plug on AVR – #ThanksJack – iHeart launches CT “Beat”
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s a new era in Boston talk radio, for whoever’s left to listen. Today marks the launch of a new mostly-local lineup and new branding at Entercom’s venerable WRKO (680) and the start of the new Rush Limbaugh-anchored talk format at iHeart’s WKOX (1430 Everett). The week also brings new ownership to WMEX (1510) at a price that looks stunningly low (but we’ll show why it might actually be unsustainably high). And it may bring a new talker to another New England market, too.
Market manager Phil Zachary is positioning the new show as a move away from “traditional talk radio…facing strong headwinds,” emphasizing that it’s part of WRKO’s first all-local weekday lineup in 20 years. The rest of that lineup is pretty much as we’d been anticipating: Barry Armstrong will continue to lease the 10 AM-noon slot for his Financial Exchange show, followed in the former Rush slot at noon by former morning man Jeff Kuhner, the lone piece of the schedule produced solely by WRKO. At 3, Howie Carr’s show stays in place, and then it’s syndication after 7 PM.
If that’s one vision of the future of talk radio – going local by partnering up as much as possible with other entities (Boston.com in the morning, then Barry Armstrong, and then Carr’s self-syndication in the afternoon), today also marks the launch of iHeart’s new bargain-basement approach to talk. WKOX (1430 Everett) signs on as “Talk 1430” today with Fox Sports Radio in morning drive, followed by an all-syndicated Beck/Limbaugh/Hannity lineup. For iHeart, WKOX will be at least a vaguely useful test going into next year’s syndication renewal talks with Limbaugh: if you put his show on one of the worst AM signals in the market, surround it with syndicated programming and no local content and (presumably) don’t give it any promotion, how many dedicated Rush listeners will still find it and stay tuned?
For iHeart, at least, there’s not much financially at stake: it already owns 1430 and had already been running it at minimal cost with a satellite-fed format, Spanish tropical “Mia.” Up the dial at 1510, though, there’s a lot of math to consider as we evaluate the $175,000 sale price for WMEX that had a lot of people talking all week.
We’re a community.
Cards on the table here: for all the talk about LMA operator Daly XXL being poised to buy the WMEX license from Blackstrap Broadcasting, we had our doubts here at NERW that the transaction would ever really be filed. After all, among the checkered episodes in 1510’s recent past was another LMA to Wallis Communications that was supposed to result in a sale and instead just fizzled out.
“Wow, AM values have completely cratered” was another common reaction. While it’s true that the benchmark values for most AM stations are on the decline – consider the mere $500,000 Salem is paying Radio Disney for WMKI 1260 in Boston, a station with a signal arguably worse than WMEX – the 1510 signal in Boston is a special case, and then some, thanks to a perfect storm of operational conditions.
As NERW readers have long known, WMEX’s Waltham transmitter site has been problematic ever since the station moved there in the late 1970s. Tucked into the back parking lot of an office park on Waverley Oaks Road, the four-tower array has what’s reportedly a mid-five-figure monthly rent payment to the owners of the land beneath. Add to that the power costs for the station’s aging Nautel AMPFET transmitter and the experts we’ve talked to estimate that just keeping the signal on the air costs something like $50,000 a month even before the costs of personnel and studio facilities are factored in. With expenses like that, it doesn’t take much to start a station spiralling – and 1510 has arguably been in a painful spiral of revolving formats and owners for more than three decades now.
Can Daly XXL reverse that long slump with the latest talk format on 1510? We won’t sugarcoat it: it feels like the longest of long shots, but we wish them all the best in the effort.
*At Greater Media’s WROR (105.7 Framingham), Julie Devereaux is back in her old midday slot after spending the last few years doing afternoons. The midday slot had been without a regular host for a while; Devereaux’s move to the 10 AM-2 PM daypart makes room for another Boston vet, Jay Beau Jones, to move from weekends to afternoons.
*Is central CONNECTICUT the next venue for a Boston-style talk shakeup? Over at our newly-revamped sister site RadioInsight, Lance Venta picks up on a whole bunch of new domain registrations for iHeart Radio’s WPOP (1410 Hartford), currently lingering in the ratings basement with a Fox Sports Radio satellite feed. Is Rush Limbaugh not long for CBS Radio’s WTIC (1080), the market’s hugely dominant talk station? And if Limbaugh is pulled from WTIC (or is sent packing), who’s on the bench to replace him? Beyond Jim Vicevich in late mornings, there’s not much local news-talk talent left on WTIC now that the afternoon slot has gone from disgraced former governor John Rowland to sports talk.
At WPOP, meanwhile, a duplication of the schedule of sister iHeart talker WELI (960 New Haven) would put Glenn Beck in the Hartford market, where he has no clearance, and would upgrade Sean Hannity from a late-night delayed clearance on WTIC to a live clearance on 1410.
*At iHeart in New Haven, translator W265DB (100.9) relaunched last Monday as hip-hop “100.9 the Beat.” Adam Rivers of sister station WKCI (101.3) is also programming the new “Beat,” using iHeart’s Premium Choice lineup that includes New York’s Angie Martinez in afternoon drive.
Way up north, just down the road from where that prison escape continued to make national headlines over the weekend, RadioActive’s WZXP (97.9 Au Sable Forks) has gone silent again. The Plattsburgh-market station had last been operating with a rock format LMA’d to Russ and Diane Kinsley (who’d earlier been running the same format on WEXP 102.5 and continue to stream it at musicheads.us), but Randy Michaels’ RadioActive group tells the FCC it’s now looking for a new format that’s economically viable for the station.
*Remember WXXE (90.5 Fenner)? The folks at Syracuse Community Broadcasting who put the little class A signal on the air east of Syracuse more than a decade ago got into a sparring match with the region’s big public broadcaster, WRVO (89.9 Oswego), for what seemed to be no good reason, applying for translators on WRVO’s frequency that would have nibbled at the edges of its coverage area.
In the years since, SCR lost another license, WXXC (88.7 Truxton), after misleading the FCC about whether construction was complete before the CP expired. It applied for a Syracuse-area LPFM signal in the 2013 LPFM window, and now that it’s been granted a low-power CP (WSPJ-LP 103.3), SCR has to sell the WXXE license.
That sale was filed last week, and for $7500 the WXXE license is going to… yup, WRVO’s parent, the State University of New York. WRVO apparently plans to use the Fenner signal to fill in some holes between Syracuse and Utica where its other signals don’t reach.
(We’d note, for what it’s worth, that in the last several years of traveling through the area we’ve heard not one bit of signal from WXXE.)
Here in Rochester, the latest TV anchor farewell comes from Hubbard’s NBC affiliate, WHEC (Channel 10), which said goodbye to Lia Lando on Friday after five years. Lando had been anchoring “Roc City Tonight” at 7 PM and co-anchoring the 11 PM newscast. Weekend anchor Jennifer Mobilia moves up to take those roles as Lando heads off to spend more time with her family and her PR business.
*A few months ago, we told you about ESPN’s plans to relocate its Mike & Mike morning show from its Bristol, Connecticut headquarters to New York City’s Times Square. The move was supposed to happen early in 2016, but ESPN now says it won’t be happening after all, at least not on that accelerated schedule.
*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Bob Stevens’ Broadcast Communications Inc. (and its nonprofit sidekick, Broadcast Educational Communications) is swapping signals with K-Love parent EMF, and here’s how it plays out: BCI and BEC paid $375,000 last year to buy WKJL (88.1 Clarksburg WV) and WRIJ (106.9 Masontown PA) from He’s Alive, Inc. Those stations will go to EMF in exchange for translator W237CX (95.3 Bridgeport WV) and full-power WDKL (95.9 Grafton WV); WDKL, in turn, has an application pending to relocate to Loch Lynn Heights MD, where it will join BCI’s existing two-FM/one-AM Oakland, Maryland cluster.
But wait – there’s more! BEC is making one more purchase from He’s Alive!, paying $75,000 for WRWJ (88.1 Murrysville PA), east of Pittsburgh.
Calling it “a decision that shocks only the people who haven’t been paying attention,” our friend Steve Faguy provides a highly detailed look at why the CRTC imposed the death penalty on “Voices Radio,” which will have to shut down CKAV-1 (106.5 Toronto), CKAV-9 (95.7 Ottawa) and its stations in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver on July 25.
What finally did Voices in was a disastrous CRTC hearing back in May, at which Voices presented the commission with its new consultants, Bray & Partners and Steve Kowch, promising that this time it was going to get its many issues under control. Those problems included a persistent lack of any local programming, much less news (and how could it do any, with a staff of two part-timers at the end?), as well as filing the proper annual reports and maintaining program logs and logger recordings.
And so CKAV-1 and its sister stations join CKLN (88.1), the Ryerson University station that was shut down in 2011. Just as with 88.1 in Toronto, the 106.5 frequency in Toronto as well as the Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver frequencies will soon get a CRTC call for new applications. Unlike 88.1, this call will apparently be limited to broadcasters who intend to provide service to Aboriginal listeners, presumably in a way more focused than the vaguely-AC music mix that “Voices” was playing when last we heard it. We’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward.
FEBRUARY IS ALMOST GONE
We are down to our final copies and they won’t be reprinted.
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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 30, 2014
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: It appears Clear Channel is busy cutting staff again, at least here in Rochester. Veteran WHAM (1180) morning man Chet Walker was off the air and off the WHAM website this morning, where “WHAM Morning News” is shown with no host on the schedule. Walker had been a WHAM fixture since 1985; his longtime morning co-host, Beth Adams, lost her spot at WHAM in 2011 and is now across town at WXXI (1370). And in Springfield, WRNX (Kix 100.9) has broken up its morning team of Mike, Kera and Shaggy; they stay on the schedule with individual shifts later in the day, while the syndicated Bobby Bones show takes over mornings.
*Less than a week after the big news of a TV sale in western MASSACHUSETTS, it was the Boston TV market’s turn to be taken by surprise with the news that Fox Television Stations is exiting the region, swapping longtime O&O WFXT (Channel 25) and its Memphis station, WHBQ-TV (Channel 13) to Cox in exchange for San Francisco-market Fox affiliate KTVU (Channel 2) and independent KICU (Channel 36).
So it’s easy to see what’s in this deal for Fox…but what about Cox? As NERW readers know, Cox has been strategically exiting most of the markets where it can’t combine radio with its TV (and in some cases, legacy newspaper) holdings, which is why it recently sold off its stations in southern Connecticut to Connoisseur, for instance. With two TV stations in San Francisco, might Cox’s radio options in the Bay Area have been too limited?
*The big news from NEW YORK, of course, is Cumulus’ impending launch of the fourth piece of its cluster. After acquiring WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5) when it swallowed Citadel, then picking up what’s now WNSH (94.7) from Family Stations, the last piece of the puzzle, ironically, is the one FM Cumulus already owned in the market.
That, of course, is the 103.9 signal that’s been a fixture to the north in Westchester County for decades. NERW readers were the very first to learn that Cumulus was laying the groundwork to move what was then WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains) into the city, and if you were following our Facebook or Twitter feeds late last week, you were also first to know that the station, now licensed to Bronxville, will take the calls WNBM when it signs on from its new Bronx transmitter site on Friday.
The calls were just about the last thing we didn’t already know about the new “Radio 103.9 New York”; the remaining details beyond what we’d previously reported emerged at the launch party for advertisers last Wednesday at Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem. In addition to Tom Joyner in mornings and D.L. Hughley in afternoons, middays will feature Sharon “La Loca” Montero, headed north from WPYO in Orlando, while Marc Clarke, late of WHUR in Washington, will do nights.
Five Years Ago: June 28/July 5, 2010
When a tornado hit the CONNECTICUT coastline Thursday afternoon, its path of destruction took it across both the studio and transmitter site of Cumulus’ WICC (600 Bridgeport). The storm wreaked havoc on downtown Bridgeport, where WICC and sister station WEBE (107.9 Westport) share studio space in an office building on Lafayette Square. The winds picked up an air conditioner from the roof of the building, turning it on its side and ripping a hole in the roof right over the WICC newsroom. The building was quickly evacuated, leaving both stations running on makeshift automation all through Thursday night and into Friday morning – but for WICC, that was just the beginning of its technical challenges.
The WICC transmitter site at Pleasure Beach sits on an offshore island that used to be connected to the mainland by a short bridge – but since a fire damaged the bridge in the 1990s, the site has been reachable only by boat or by walking across the water at low tide, which proved to be a big problem when the power went out and the station’s generator began to malfunction. WICC ended up being off the air from the time the storm hit until early Saturday morning, save for a brief period Thursday evening when it was on the air (with music-only automation) on the generator; the good news, at least, is that by Friday morning drivetime the studios were once again accessible, allowing WEBE’s morning show to air on schedule and WICC to provide at least a webcast.
Ten Years Ago: June 27, 2005
The latest chapter in the ongoing saga of one of New England’s longest-running unlicensed stations unfolded early last Wednesday morning in Brattleboro, VERMONT, when federal agents entered the unoccupied Main Street studios of Radio Free Brattleboro (or, as they prefer, “rfb”) and seized much of the station’s equipment, silencing the station’s signal at 107.9 and its web stream.
The move came amidst what amounts to a turf war among federal officials in the Green Mountain State. In Brattleboro, Judge J. Garvan Murtha has been slowly working through a civil case filed against the station by the FCC, and it appears that the Commission grew tired of waiting for action there. The FCC filed a motion for summary judgment in that case last month, but in the meantime, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case obtained a warrant Tuesday from a federal magistrate in Burlington to enter the station’s offices.
Photos posted later that morning on the community website ibrattleboro.com showed the studio missing its control board and other equipment, with scattered wiring and a lone microphone left behind.
In Bellows Falls, the Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company put WOOL-LP (100.1) on the air Saturday, providing a community voice to a town whose only licensed full-power signal is a simulcast from White River Junction. Check “Wool Radio” out – they stream, too – at www.wool.fm.
A small NEW HAMPSHIRE AM station is changing hands again, as Bill Sheehan’s Balance View LLC files to sell WSNH (900 Nashua) to Absolute Broadcasting LLC, headed by Tom Monaghan, for $925,000. Absolute has been programming the “ESPN 900” sports format on WSNH since last year.
As the construction permit for a Down East MAINE FM station approaches expiration, owner Lyle Evans is trying to salvage his WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) in at least a reduced form. WRMO’s construction permit was granted July 17, 2002, calling for a class B facility with 50 kW/64 meters. But with the CP set to expire July 17, 2005, Evans is asking the FCC to approve a much smaller WRMO, just to get the station on the air. As a minimum class A facility, WRMO would sign on with 130 watts at 2 meters from the center of Milbridge, just to get on the air before the deadline and to buy some time to build out a more powerful facility.
In MASSACHUSETTS, rumor became reality as WRKO (680 Boston) announced a multi-year deal with the Boston Celtics, who’ll move over next season from WWZN (1510), their flagship for the past four years. Meanwhile, WRKO and executive producer Rich Carbery have parted ways after several years together; no word yet on his next move.
We’re now hearing “mid-July” as the projected launch date for ESPN radio on WAMG (890 Dedham) and WLLH (1400 Lowell & Lawrence); new owner J Sports closed on the $9 million purchase from Mega last week, but Mega’s Spanish programming continues to run while the new ownership gets its programming ready to roll.
In the Catskill Mountains of NEW YORK, a venerable pair of community stations is changing hands, as the Blabey family sells WVOS (1240 Liberty) and WVOS-FM (95.9 Liberty) to Scott Kaniewski’s Watermark Broadcasting for $1.7 million. The sale will put the WVOS stations under the same roof as longtime competitor WSUL (98.3 Monticello), which Watermark bought last year; the three are the only commercial stations originating programming in Sullivan County.
In New York City, fans of the oldies at WCBS-FM (101.1) aren’t going quietly – about 150 of them turned up outside the station’s Times Square studios last Tuesday to call for a return to the format.
A station sale leads off our PENNSYLVANIA coverage this week, and it’s once again in the State College market, where Nick Galli’s 2510 group sheds WBLF (970 Bellefonte). The station, formerly a simulcast of talker WRSC (1390 State College) and more recently simulcasting oldies WOWY (97.1 University Park), goes to Magnum Broadcasting, which owns WPHB (1260 Phillipsburg) and WUBZ (105.9 Phillipsburg).
And we’re delighted to report that the oldest high school station in the country, WHHS Havertown, is back on the air at its new home of 99.9. WHHS was displaced from its spot at 107.9 by the debut of WRNB (107.9 Pennsauken) last year, but with the help of WRNB owner Radio One (and alumnus Steve Hemphill, the engineer who built the WA2XMN transmitter at the Armstrong Tower), it’s won special temporary authority from the FCC to get back on the air at 99.9 while it waits for its application for a license at that frequency to be granted.
The big news out of CANADA came from Ottawa, where the CRTC is granting four new licenses in the National Capital Region. Newcap, which already has top 40 CIHT (“Hot 89.9”), gets 5.2 kW on 88.5 for a modern rock station. Evanov (aka “CKMW”) will put “The Jewel” on the air with 700 watts at 98.5, playing a mix of standards, easy listening and folk that’s supposed to be similar to the company’s “Foxy” CKDX (88.5) in the Toronto market. Radio Nord (which has CHOT-TV, CFGS-TV and CHLX-FM) gets a French pop-rock/urban station, with transmitters at 96.5 (1750 watts) in Gatineau and 107.5 (250 watts) in Buckingham. And Jack McGaw and Robert Stopells were granted a low-power tourist information station, though they need to find a new frequency. (It’s getting to be a crowded dial up there…)
Fifteen Years Ago: June 30, 2000
Twenty Years Ago: June 22-23, 1995
From our “Huh?!??!?” file this week: Wednesday morning (6/21), WCLB 105.7 Framingham-Boston switched calls very abruptly…to WKLB. Nothing has changed with the station’s country format, or with the on-air team (though they are running the satellite-delivered “After Midnight” all-night show now). A call to WCL– er, WKLB late last night produced the response, “We did research that found out people were getting confused by the “C,” so we changed it to “K.”” Mm-hmmm. My guess is that the confusion was in the ratings diaries, between WCLB and classical WCRB…and maybe even with similar-sounding suburban country WCAV-FM. The official calls, btw, have to be WKLB-FM, since WKLB(AM) is 1290 in Manchester KY.
AM 550 in Pawtucket (Providence) RI remains off the air. I last noticed them on the air around May 30, so that means they’re coming up on 3 weeks dark. Back Bay Broadcasters (WBNW 590 in Boston, WARA 1320/WWKX 106.3 in the Prov. market) is buying 550 and reportedly plans to change calls from WICE to WPNW, simulcasting WBNW’s Bloomberg news/biz talk format. WMBR (88.1) in Cambridge was briefly off the air early this week, but returned Tuesday afternoon June 20 from its new directional antenna on the MIT campus. The power increase from 360 to 720 watts will reportedly happen very soon.
WUAE 99.7 Wakefield has applied for the WDGE calls, to fit their tagline “The Edge.”
WSBK-TV in Boston is ending its 10pm newscast effective August 6. The newscast debuted in 1993, and was produced at WBZ-TV. WSBK is now a UPN affiliate, and owner Viacom thought the presence of a WBZ-branded newscast was diluting the station’s new “UPN 38” identity. Rumor has New England Cable News switching from producing a 10pm cast for WFXT-Fox 25…to doing one for WSBK, bearing the “UPN 38 News” identity.