In this week’s issue… How does a long-dark AM get renewed? – More CBS cuts in Philly – Big downgrade for a Boston AM – Jolly Joe, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How does someone who seemingly doesn’t even exist get a license transfer approved on a radio station whose transmitter site doesn’t exist? It’s just another day in the life of Brian Dodge and his affiliates, at least where WCKL (560 Catskill NY) is concerned.
Dodge’s name, of course, doesn’t actually appear anywhere on the WCKL license renewal that was inexplicably granted a week ago. That went to “Family Broadcasting and Media,” which told the FCC in a 2014 ownership report that it was controlled by Tamara K. Thayer (who is, or was, married to Dodge) and one “Tim Allen,” who listed the same Brattleboro, Vermont address as Thayer.
Why was the grant “inexplicable”? As NERW readers know, WCKL was evicted from its longtime transmitter site on Route 9G back in 2013 after the station failed to pay rent to its then-landlord, Clear Channel Radio. The FCC knew WCKL had been evicted, too, when Clear Channel filed to put a translator on the site (still used by Clear Channel/iHeart’s WCTW 98.5) and had to explain that there was no concern about disrupting WCKL’s pattern because there was no more WCKL. In early 2014, the FCC wrote to WCKL seeking clarification, getting a letter in reply in June that claimed the station was indeed on the air.
It wasn’t until April 2015 that WCKL bothered to request an STA, which it was supposed to have done within 30 days after going silent from its licensed site. The April STA still didn’t request use of the longwire site from which WCKL has been intermittently operating (without authorization) for the past two years. Instead, WCKL’s “Tim Allen” requested silent status in typically-incoherent Dodge fashion: “DUE MANY FACTORS INCLUDING THE HARD WINTER THE GREATEST BEING ELECTRIC FAILURE OF TRANSMITTING UNIT. WE HEREBY REQUEST A STA WHILE ALL THE PROBLEMS ARE WORKED ON.”
And yet, despite all of that, the FCC granted WCKL a license renewal on July 24 – which was followed a few days later by an application to transfer the station’s license from Family Broadcasting and Media to Ebony Media. Here’s the entire transfer agreement, as submitted: “FAMILY BROADCAST LICENSEE OF WCKL AGREES TO TRANSFER TO EBONY MEDIA WCKL AND ALL EQUIPMENT FOR 1.00 NO WRITTEN AGREEMENT!”
Who’s Ebony Media? That would be one “Bishop Tim Allen,” with an address in “Renssellear, New York” (sic), who tells the FCC that he has “no other radio interests.”
Which is interesting, indeed, because over in another FCC office, the Media Bureau staffers who handle low-power FM received two identical semi-incoherent documents from a “Dave Reed” on July 21, one filed as a “petition for reconsideration” and the other as an “application for review” of the deletion of a construction permit for an LPFM on 104.7 in Huntington, Massachusetts. We’ve written about the many Dodge-related LPFM apps in western Massachusetts before; what’s of interest here is that the documents (which you can read here) claim that permittee “WHAM for BB, Inc.” (“Women, Handicap Americans and Minorities for Better Broadcasting,” misfiled with the FCC as “WHAB for BB” at one point) built and is operating the signal despite the CP having been cancelled – and that WHAM for BB has a pending deal to transfer the CP to River Valley Community Church for, yes, one dollar. And who filed the original Huntington application? “Tim Allen,” of course…
It’s been more than 18 years now since the FCC first fielded a detailed petition about Dodge’s antics (which even now has never been acted upon); at what point, we wonder, will current FCC staffers catch up to “Tim Allen” and “Dave Reed” and finally pull the plug?
(But then, we hear from someone who’s been doing the counting that there were no fewer than 18 pirate FM stations on the air in Boston over the weekend, most of them in plain view with just a little direction-finding, which further calls into question the FCC’s plan to cut back on its enforcement budget.)
We’re a community.
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: August 4, 2014
*It’s been a bad year for independent radio in CONNECTICUT‘s capital city. Hartford started 2014 with three vibrant independent competitors lined up against the big Clear Channel and CBS clusters: Buckley Broadcasting’s WDRC-FM (102.9) and its AM talk quadcast sisters, Marlin’s rocker WCCC-FM (106.9) and its classical “Beethoven” AM sister, WCCC (1290 West Hartford), and Red Wolf Broadcasting’s modern rock WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury) and its Spanish-language translator/HD sister, “La Bomba.”
As of Friday afternoon a little past 5, as Pantera’s “Walk” faded out on WCCC-FM (hear it on our sister site FormatChange.com), the roster of independent commercial FM owners in Hartford is down to just John Fuller’s Red Wolf group, thanks to the sales of WDRC to Connoisseur and now of WCCC-FM/WCCC(AM) to EMF Broadcasting, which has flipped both signals to its national “K-Love” contemporary Christian format.
To Marlin’s credit, it gave fans and staffers of WCCC-FM a chance to say goodbye, devoting the station’s last five hours on Friday afternoon to an emotional on-air reunion hosted by Mike Karolyi and featuring many years’ worth of former WCCC’ers, including a call-in from one of the most famous, Howard Stern, who called the station home in the late 1970s.
The final hours of WCCC-FM included something else, too: plenty of ads from Connoisseur’s new classic hits version of WDRC-FM, seeking to pick up listeners who’d been attached to the more classic direction in which WCCC’s rock format had been trending over the past year or so. It’s become somewhat traditional in situations like that for the surviving competitor to at least offer a salute to the departing rival, and so it felt a little raw to a lot of listeners that WDRC’s ads instead appeared to be rubbing it in, especially after the very recent dismissal of most of WDRC’s former airstaff, replaced by voices from New Haven sister station WPLR. (Did we mention it’s been a weird year for Hartford radio?)
Connoisseur was reportedly a bidder for the WCCC stations as they were quietly shopped around over the last few months, and losing out to EMF leaves it in a challenging position: it’s all alone with WDRC-FM now (and the weak AM quadcast) against the much bigger portfolios of its corporate competitors, three big FMs and powerhouse AM WTIC (1080) for CBS, and four FMs plus an AM for Clear Channel.
For K-Love, as we noted in our Thursday update, WCCC-FM fills the gap between its existing signals in the New York area (WKLV 96.7 Port Chester, formerly a Connecticut commercial license) and in southern Rhode Island (WKIV 88.1 Westerly), and it will mark the chain’s first big urban entry into New England, traditionally a tough region for religious broadcasters.
*Just to add to the overall depressing month in Connecticut radio, they (and we) are mourning Samantha Stevens, who died last Monday, far too young. Stevens, whose real name was Nicole Loban, was a Shelton High School and Southern Connecticut State University graduate whose post-college career included a long run at WKCI (101.3 Hamden) in the New Haven market, as well as on-air and programming stints at WEFX/WFOX (95.9 Norwalk) and the former WKHL (96.7 Stamford), a stretch as PD/middays at WEZN-FM (99.9 Bridgeport), part-time work at WEBE (107.9 Westport) and an impending gig with WRCH (100.5 New Britain), where she was to have returned to the air in September after what appeared to be a remission from cancer. She was just 44 years old.
*Now that Bob McAllen’s PMCM group has successfully launched one of its cross-country TV move-ins, Philadelphia-market KJWP (Channel 2), it had hoped to be broadcasting this week in NEW YORK City as well. But the launch of KVNV (Channel 3), the license PMCM is moving from Ely, Nevada to “Middletown Township, New Jersey,” is delayed, thanks to a complaint from Connecticut’s WFSB-TV. The Hartford CBS affiliate has been on “channel 3,” first physically and then virtually, ever since 1957, and because it counts Fairfield County as part of its home turf, it’s seen on 3 on the Cablevision systems all the way down to the New York state line. With KVNV poised to launch on RF channel 3 from 4 Times Square in Manhattan this summer, PMCM had already filed the paperwork to claim must-carry on channel 3 on Cablevision and Time Warner systems throughout the New York metro area, which threatened to displace WFSB in Fairfield County.
That would be a big blow to WFSB, whch sells local ads for a Fairfield-only custom version of its signal. So it went to the FCC asking to have KVNV forced to a different virtual channel, preferably “33,” which is WFSB’s physical RF channel (and also that of WCBS-TV in New York, but we digress.) If KVNV is moved off virtual 3, it loses the right to claim that prime “3” spot on cable, nestled neatly between WCBS and WNBC, which would dramatically reduce the new station’s visibility.
For now, the FCC (which resisted McAllen’s attempts to move the stations east in the first place until a court ruling forced its hand) is punting on the matter: at the request of Time Warner and Cablevision, it’s imposed a stay on KVNV’s channel 3 must-carry request until it can get around to ruling on WFSB’s petition to change KVNV’s virtual channel to 33. And while PMCM presses for a quick decision so it can be on the air by the time the fall ratings period starts, there’s no telling how long the virtual channel decision might take, or what appeals might slow it down. In the meantime, KVNV remains in limbo (and Connecticut viewers continue to see MeTV programming on Bridgeport’s WZME, channel 43, which will lose the affiliation once KVNV signs on.)
*Our news from CANADA starts out east in Saint John, New Brunswick, where Newcap wasted no time relaunching CHNI (88.9) after closing on its purchase from Rogers. Gone is “News 88.9,” and in its place is “Rock 88.9,” with 30 days of commercial free classic rock, leaving toward a heavier blend than most classic rockers.
Five Years Ago: August 2, 2010
Regulators in CANADA don’t often revoke a broadcast license, but the case of Pellpropco Inc. and CHSC (1220 St. Catharines) has been an unusual one for the CRTC. Ever since Pellpropco took over the station in 2002, it’s been in the CRTC’s crosshairs for a series of what appeared to be pretty serious violations of Commission policies, most notably an unauthorized shift of format from the English-language music format specified on its license to Italian-language programming aimed not at St. Catharines and the Niagara region but rather at the much larger Toronto market just up the QEW. The CRTC has been patient with Pellpropco, issuing short-term license renewals while waiting to see if CHSC would correct the violations, but now the agency’s patience has run out. After calling CHSC to two hearings (one in Orillia in 2008, then in Toronto earlier this year), the CRTC has denied CHSC’s license renewal, ordering the station to be off the air by August 31. In denying the renewal, the Commission said that it is not convinced that Pellpropco and its owner, Domenic Pellegrino, have “the ability and capacity to put its house in order and, generally, to operate its station responsibly and to fulfil its regulatory obligations and conditions of licence.”
While CHSC fades out, there’s a new station on Nova Scotia’s south shore. CJHK (100.7 Bridgewater) signed on last week as “Hank FM,” with a country format complementing sister station CKBW (98.1), which was itself a country signal back in its AM days. The launch of “Hank” comes with a studio move, too, as both stations relocate to new digs at 135 North Street.
PENNSYLVANIA has never been a hotbed of Spanish-language radio, but a fast-growing national Spanish network is getting cleared on Philadelphia radio beginning today, as Beasley pulls the business talk format off daytimer WWDB (860) in favor of ESPN Deportes. The arrival of ESPN Deportes will bring a second Spanish-language signal to Philadelphia, complementing Clear Channel’s “Rumba 1480” (WUBA), which is itself the remnant of an earlier failed experiment with Spanish-language radio on a full-power FM signal (WUBA-FM 104.5, now WRFF).
There’s a new station moving into the Erie market as part of a sale. Frank Iorio’s Iorio Broadcasting struck a deal last week to sell WNAE-FM (102.7 Clarendon) to Family Life Ministries, which has become one of the biggest broadcast groups in western New York and northern Pennsylvania. But there’s an interesting twist: the $400,000 sale of the class A station hinges on FCC approval of an application that’s yet to be filed. The application would move 102.7 from the Warren area west to Wattsburg, Pennsylvania, which sits right at the corner where the New York/Pennsylvania state line turns from north-south to east-west, less than 20 miles from downtown Erie. Assuming the FCC approves WNAE’s move, it would give Family Life its first full-power signal into Erie, which has long been served by Family Life translator signals.
There are some nervous programmers in NEW YORK, and around the country, awaiting the aftermath of the settlement between state attorney general Elliot Spitzer and Sony Music over payola charges. While Sony’s $10 million payment, coupled with an assurance that it will change its practices, gets the company off the hook with Spitzer’s office, the e-mails that Spitzer’s office dug up as part of its investigation will likely lead to more investigations, both by the FCC and by some of the broadcasters accused of accepting payola.
Among the stations whose call letters appeared in the e-mails were Boston’s WXKS and WBCN (where Sony apparently paid for a staff dinner for former PD Oedipus), Albany’s WFLY and WKKF (where Sony supplied a $1400 laptop to former PD Donny Michaels), Hartford’s WKSS, Buffalo’s WKSE (where PD Dave Universal was ousted earlier in the payola investigation, and where the e-mails suggest that even Sony was finding Universal excessively greedy) and Rochester’s WPXY (where an e-mail from PD Mike Danger admits “i’m a whore this week. what can i say?”)
In MASSACHUSETTS, Qantum Communications announced a $10 million spinoff of three Cape Cod stations that it can’t keep because of ownership caps. Nassau will enter the Cape market with the purchase of classic rock WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) and oldies WDVT (93.5 Harwich Port)/WTWV (101.1 Mashpee) – and that starts the rumor mill spinning, since Nassau’s not a company that tends to be happy with just three signals in a market.
In Boston, former WBIX (1060 Natick) owner Brad Bleidt pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges last week, which will land him behind bars for 11 years when he’s sentenced October 25.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 7, 2000
As (WBCN’s Charles Laquidara) says goodbye, a new TV station says “hello.” WHUB-TV (Channel 66) Marlborough made its debut with a “Cheers”-heavy lineup of syndicated shows on Tuesday (August 1); expect the USA Broadcasting outlet to get heavily into the bidding wars for local sports in the months to come.
In NEW YORK’s Southern Tier, Vox is growing yet again (with the rumor mill hinting that it’s preparing for an eventual sale). The latest additions to Vox’s growing cluster down that way are Magnum’s WMNS (1360) and WMXO (101.5) in Olean, and just across the state line, the former WRLP (103.1 Russell PA), newly renamed WQFX.
We hear Clear Channel will step in and buy Binghamton’s WINR (680) from dentist Paul Titus, now that Titus’ deal to sell the standards station to Citadel is no more. CC already has four FMs in the market, plus sports AM WENE (1430 Endicott); we wonder what the strategy behind the (reportedly $2 million) purchase will be? (Late word is that an LMA kicked in August 1, with the deal to close this fall.)
Radio people on the move: Ellis B. Feaster has packed the moving van and he’s on the way out of Rochester for the second time in a few years. Feaster leaves the morning show at oldies WBBF (98.9) for a job at Cox country giant WWKA (92.3) in Orlando, Florida. Down in New York City, former WNEW (102.7) jock Dennis Elsas has resurfaced at the low end of the dial, where he’s signed on for afternoon drive at Fordham University’s cool AAA WFUV (90.7).
The word from VERMONT is that, yes indeed, country WLFE-FM (102.3 St. Albans) has LMA’d AM 1070 across the lake in Plattsburgh NY and is operating it as WLFE(AM). The irony here? Former WLFE owner John Kimel checked in to remind us that back in the early 80s, he flipped the FM to country in an attempt to steal the market share of…AM 1070 in Plattsburgh, then known as WKDR. (Burlington’s 100kw 98.9 spoiled the fun a few years later when it switched from CHR as WQCR to country as WOKO.)
Twenty Years Ago: August 8, 1995
WLYT, 92.5 in Haverhill MA, has taken a dive into “The River.” That’s the station’s new nickname as of Monday morning, 8/1. Format for the 35kw powerhouse 35 miles north of Boston is the AAA-80s pop sort of mix they’ve been using for the last few weeks. A call letter change is reportedly in the works. This is an exciting breath of life for a station that’s been largely ignored, despite a solid class B signal that rimshots Boston and is solid in the Merrimack Valley area along the Mass-NH border, where the other FMs (WSSH 99.5 Lowell, WEGQ 93.7 Lawrence) are now operating out of Boston, at least as far as studios are concerned.
The big media deals of the last two days are having their aftershocks in New England. The ABC-Disney deal won’t change much, since ABC has been busy selling its properties here. WPRO AM-FM Providence went to Tele-Media a year or so ago, and CapCities/ABC’s several newspapers in Connecticut have been sold off as well. CBS/Westinghouse is another story. The deal creates an immediate AM-FM-TV combo in Boston – Group W’s WBZ AM-TV and CBS’s WODS FM. Look for “Oldies 103” to move from downtown Boston to BZ’s newly-expanded building. Westinghouse also ends up in line to get WPRI-TV 12 in Providence, which CBS has applied to buy from Narragansett Broadcasting. Since WPRI-TV and WBZ-TV have significant overlap, a waiver will be needed.
Layoffs at WGBH: Boston’s public broadcasting behemoth is laying off 25 staffers, citing budget problems. Meanwhile, listeners upset over planned schedule changes that will reduce daytime classical programming in favor of news are forming a listeners’ group to protest the move. The big issue: the planned cancellation of Ron Della Chiesa’s afternoon “MusicAmerica” program.