In this week’s issue… Williamson swaps for NY’s WALL – Mass. FM wants boosters, lots of boosters – New format “pops” in CT – “Alternate Side” suspended – Tower Site Calendar 2016: Get Yours Now!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s always nice when we can lead the column with a win for one of the good guys, and that’s just what we find in the Hudson Valley this week. That’s where an endangered small-market AM station is getting a new lease on life thanks to good guy Bud Williamson, his Neversink Media Group, a clever swap and a bunch of translators.
WALL (1340 Middletown) was once a very big small-town station. At the edge of the New York market, it was a launching pad for the careers of many a jock who needed a gig while waiting to break into the big time. (It was late at night back in the early ’70s that a bunch of those talents put their brains together and created the classic “NINE!” parody, right there in the WALL production room.) In recent years, though, it had fallen on hard times as a forgotten cog in the big machines of Cumulus and then Townsquare, which used it mainly to simulcast WEOK (1390 Poughkeepsie), most recently as a Spanish-language signal.
Enter Neversink and Bud’s sister company, Digital Radio Broadcasting. DRB had been moving some translators around the Hudson Valley in recent months, as we’d noted here in the column, and Bud had hinted to us that “one more big move is coming.” That move is the swap of DRB translator W239AC (95.7 Middletown) to Townsquare, in exchange for the transfer of WALL to Neversink.
At the Neversink end, Bud and wife Juli Williamson will do in Middletown what they’ve done at their successful cluster down I-84 in Port Jervis. WDLC (1490 Port Jervis), WYNY (1450 Milford PA) and WABD (96.7 Lehman Township PA) are super-serving a small chunk of the Delaware Valley and the Poconos with local fare, using translators to augment the AM signals. In Middletown, WALL will bring veteran morning man Mark West back to the air a few months after Townsquare ended the deal in which he was leasing the morning hours. The new WALL will be heard on three DRB translators: 94.9 in Middletown, 94.1 in Chester and 105.7 in Ellenville; the deal includes the use of an HD subchannel on Townsquare’s WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie) to feed those signals.
Best of luck to Bud, Julie, Mark (and his duck, Mortimer) and the rest of the Neversink gang on resurrecting WALL; we’ll be following closely as they bring it back to life.
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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 25, 2014
*Upstate NEW YORK tends to be a fairly conservative place – not just politically, but when it comes to radio ownership, too. So it’s a big deal when a week brings sales of not one, but two significant station clusters that together span a territory from the Pennsylvania border north almost to Lake Ontario. That goes double when both of those owners are new to the radio business in the region, as indeed they are.
We start in Elmira, where we’ve spent much of the last few years chronicling the aftermath of the bankruptcy of longtime owner Robert Pfuntner. Pfuntner’s been trying for several years now to sell off some combination of his assets in Elmira, Bath, Olean and Salamanca to satisfy his creditors. Last October, Pfuntner had a $2.75 million deal lined up to sell the Elmira and Bath stations to ad agency owner (and former WETM-TV manager) Randy Reid, but despite entering into an LMA with Reid’s Titan group, the deal never closed and the stations went back on the market. Reid ended up joining with a competing station group, Community Broadcasters, to file a petition that halted the next sale proposal, which would have sent the Elmira and Olean/Salamanca stations to Bill Christian’s Great Radio LLC for $950,000.
The latest attempt to sell the Pfuntner station doesn’t come with any of the ownership-cap concerns that halted the Christian deal. Unlike Christian, who owns Fox affiliate WYDC-TV and has spousal ties to the Sound Broadcasting cluster based in Corning, new buyer Gordon Ichikawa has no broadcast holdings at all, at least where licenses are concerned. But while “Gordy” Ichikawa may be new to station ownership, he’s a well-known figure in the Southern Tier broadcast community for another reason: in addition to a long-running two-way radio business, he owns several of the tallest towers in the region, including the Higman Hill tower above Corning that’s home to most of the TV signals in the Elmira/Corning market and several towers on Ingraham Hill above Binghamton.
*In New York City, they’re mourning Al Meredith, who had a remarkable 28-year run as the news director and morning news voice on WCBS-FM (101.1). Meredith, born Alan Hickey, started his radio career on his native Long Island, working at WGBB, WGSM, WGLI and WBLI before joining WCBS-FM in 1980. While other FM music stations in the city moved away from any real news presence, Meredith maintained a competent, credible news sound as part of the CBS-FM experience. He remained on board even during the Jack FM interregnum (2005-2007), but retired in 2008 and moved to Florida a year later. That’s where he died on August 15, at age 68.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news also starts with the death of a well-known morning voice. Don Cannon came to Philadelphia in 1969 to be the lead-off hitter for top-40 powerhouse WIBG (990), and he racked up an impressive Philly resume that included WIP (610), WFIL (560), WIFI (92.5) and a stint as both jock and programmer at WSNI (104.5)/WPGR (1540) before making his final extended stop at WOGL (98.1), where he was morning man from 1990-2004. Born Dominick Canzano, he was a staunch supporter of local charities and a passionate golfer. (He also hosted “Inside Golf” on Comcast Sports, among other extracurricular gigs.) Cannon was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. He died Friday, at age 74. A memorial service was held Sunday; an on-air memorial will take place today on WOGL’s morning show.
Five Years Ago: August 23 & 30, 2010
An AM station going silent in CANADA has almost ceased to be a news item these days – but it’s only in recent months that the drumbeat of AM-to-FM conversions has been joined by a steady drip of AM signals simply signing off for good.
Corus Radio led that new trend when it abruptly pulled the plug on Montreal’s big-signal CINF (690) and CINW (940) a few months back. Last Wednesday, Corus even more abruptly turned off the 1000-watt AM signal of CJUL (1220) in Cornwall, Ontario, on the St. Lawrence River southwest of Montreal. Corus officials tried to put the best possible face on the shutdown, saying the market had outgrown the little AM signal and that its news and information programming would be shifted to expanded newscasts on its remaining FM sister stations, CJSS (101.9) and CFLG (104.5), but the shutdown nevertheless meant job cuts, including CJUL morning man John Bolton and news reporter Shannon Simpson. By Thursday morning, crews were already on hand tearing down the two AM 1220 towers, which were reportedly in seriously deteriorated condition. CJUL’s shutdown marked the second time in just over a decade that Cornwall had lost a station on 1220: in 1999, the veteran station on that frequency, CJSS, moved to FM, clearing the way for then-owner Tri-Co to apply for a new 1220 signal using the old CJSS facilities, which signed on the following year as CJUL. (Cornwall had also once had a second AM station, French-language CFIX 1170, which left the air in 1983.)
And in another odd bit of irony, CJUL will be one of two Ontario stations on 1220 to go dark in August; at least as we go to press, CHSC (1220 St. Catharines) doesn’t appear to be fighting the CRTC’s decision not to renew its license when it expires August 31.
However dead AM radio may be in Cornwall, it’s at least fondly remembered down the St. Lawrence Seaway in Kingston, where the last AM signals went dark a couple of years ago. One of those AM-to-FM moves was CFFX, which went from oldies on 960 to soft AC as “Lite Rock 104.3” – but with the CRTC’s decision last year to allow oldies formats on FM, Corus is reviving an earlier AM 960 identity. As of 6 PM last Thursday (August 19), CFFX-FM became CKWS-FM, returning to the AM station’s original calls, which stood for the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper back then and which now cross-promote sister Corus station CKWS-TV (Channel 11). The resurrected CKWS is expected to announce a new on-air lineup today, and it will hold a free downtown oldies concert Sept. 3 to help promote the new format.
On the US side of the border, a venerable eastern PENNSYLVANIA AM station has quietly vanshed from the FCC database. WOYL (1340 Oil City) was Venango County’s first radio station when it signed on in December 1946; it went silent 63 years later, in December 2009, due to a transmitter failure, and while the FCC granted Special Temporary Authority for WOYL to remain silent through June 2010, it was never renewed and WOYL now appears to be gone for good. (A bit of irony here: WOYL is the second half of a former share-time on the frequency to disappear; WSAJ at Grove City College, which operated only two days a week on the channel, left the AM dial a few years ago.)
Ten Years Ago: August 22, 2005
Nexstar and Sinclair announced that they’re entering into a joint services agreement under which Nexstar’s WROC-TV (Channel 8) in Rochester will handle most of the operations of Sinclair’s WUHF (Channel 31). NERW has learned some of the key details of the arrangement, and it includes the shutdown of WUHF’s quasi-local “News Central” 10 PM newscast. That program will go off the air September 1, with 26 of WUHF’s employees (including news anchors Melanie Barnas and Ty Chandler) joining the staff of WROC and 26 more losing their jobs. Later this fall, WUHF will relaunch its 10 PM news as a half-hour broadcast produced by the WROC news staff.
In CANADA’s largest market, the handful of viewers who ever noticed “Toronto 1” (CKXT Channel 52) in its first couple of years of operation will now have to get used to a new name. The independent channel changed hands from Craig to Quebecor earlier this year as part of CHUM’s acquisition of Craig. That deal brought the Craig “A-Channel” name to the former CHUM “NewNet” stations across Ontario, and it forced the spinoff of Toronto 1, which now leads to the new identity there.
Quebecor, of course, is the owner of the Toronto Sun, and the company hopes that the new “SUN-TV” name for the station will tap into the popularity of the downmarket tabloid paper, much as Quebecor’s Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec cross-promote with the company’s TVA network to great success in Francophone Canada. And it’s no surprise at all that the rebranded SUN-TV will focus its programming on sports and entertainment; the station’s ambitious news efforts were already minly history by the time Quebecor took over.
In MASSACHUSETTS, it’s a busy week at the Entercom cluster, where WRKO (680 Boston) program director Mike Elder is the latest executive to leave the talk station. This move doesn’t appear to be related to the departure a week earlier of GM Tom Baker, whose job was eliminated in an apparent cost-saving measure; instead, it’s a big opportunity for Elder, who heads to New York to become director of talk programming at fast-growing Fox News Radio. Even so, it makes for a big challenge for WRKO, which has been facing tough competition from Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9 Boston).
Meanwhile, down the hall at WAAF (107.3 Westborough), the active rock station is finally gearing up for a long-planned signal upgrade. NERW hears that work will begin this week to install a new antenna for the station at the Boylston site of WUNI (Channel 27), a few miles closer to Boston than WAAF’s longtime home at Mount Asnebumskit in Paxton.
It was a bad week for a legendary PENNSYLVANIA station. The studios of KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh), along with sister stations KDKA-TV (Channel 2) and WNPA (Channel 19), sit in a prominent spot at Gateway Center, at the “Golden Triangle” where the city’s three rivers converge. It’s a nice location, but it’s also subject to flooding, as the station found out when a 36-inch water main burst just down the street on Wednesday. The TV stations were hit the hardest, as their graphics computers, news cameras and remote trucks were all located in the basement of the complex, where they were more or less ruined by the water. (So, for that matter, were many employees’ personal vehicles.) If that wasn’t bad enough, on Friday a small fire in an elevator forced the building to be evacuated mid-afternoon, sending KDKA-TV’s news outside and leaving KDKA radio afternoon host Fred Honsberger alone in the building. (He was eventually persuaded to leave, too, and he continued his show by cellphone from outside for a while.)
It’s a good thing KDKA’s owner, Infinity, has studio facilities elsewhere in town for its other stations; KDKA was able to set up temporary studios at the Infinity offices in Greentree while it dealt with the issues downtown.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 28, 2000
Keeping track of Canadian radio stations used to be easy — no more than a dozen stations in even the largest market, with format and call changes taking place at the rate of perhaps one or two per market per year. The past week in NEW BRUNSWICK seems to throw the old order completely out the window, with no fewer than six new stations and an AM-to-FM move being authorized by the CRTC.
Here’s how it plays out: In Moncton, both existing commercial broadcasters are getting new frequencies. Maritime Broadcasting System, owner of country CKCW (1220) and oldies CFQM (103.9), gets to move CKCW to FM with 19kw on 94.5. Atlantic Stereo, owner of rock CJMO (103.1), gets to add a new station on 96.9 with 100kw, also approved with a country format (though the CRTC notes that one of the two is likely to change away from country before both stations take the air). NERW notes here that CKCW’s move to FM restores the country format to the band where it was found before last year’s format swap took 1220 to country and 103.9 to oldies. [We’re also wondering what will become of CJCW, the 590 kHz outlet in Sussex that relayed CKCW’s programming to the areas west of Moncton in the 1220 null…]
But wait; there’s still more new radio coming to Moncton! On 99.9, Denis Losier was granted a license for a 9500 watt French-language commercial outlet, the first in Moncton since the 1985 demise of CHLR (1380). Losier will operate the station in conjunction with CKCW and CFQM, with Maritime Broadcasting owning 49% and using its studios on St. George Boulevard for the new 99.9. Want religion? You’ll have that, too, when two low-power Moncton stations sign on. At 100.9, James Houssen was granted a 50 watt station, while the International Harvesters for Christ Evangelical Association (why do we have this image of ministers on big farm tractors?) was granted 50 watts on 105.9.
Over in Saint John, New Brunswick Broadcasting will soon have a second station to help its CHSJ (94.1) compete against Maritime’s three-station group. The CRTC granted 97.3 with 55 kw for a new AC station. An hour away in St. Stephen, just across the water from Calais, Maine, New Brunswick Broadcasting gets another new station: 40 kilowatts on 98.1, with a mix of AC and country.
When all the dust settles, New Brunswick will be left with just four commercial AM stations: CJVA 810 Caraquet, CKNB 950 Campbellton, and CKBC 1360 Bathurst in the northern part of the province, and CFBC 930 in Saint John. (CJCW might be a fifth, if it doesn’t go away when CKCW moves to FM.) We wonder if the CBC will now feel pressure to move Moncton’s CBA (1070) to FM, now that it stands alone as the last AM in town. (If so, the 90.7B frequency remains open for it…)
Congratulations to CONNECTICUT’s WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), which just marked its fortieth anniversary with a reunion of “Big D” staffers. Our ears in the Nutmeg State tell us the “Big D” nickname is slowly going away, supplanted by “Oldies 103 DRC-FM.”
The side effects of the AMFM/Clear Channel deal are finally being felt for real in southern Connecticut, as Cox closes on its big trade with Clear Channel. Put WNLK/WSTC, WEFX, WKHL, WPLR, and the LMA of WYBC-FM in the Cox column, while Clear Channel walks away with Los Angeles’ KFI/KOST in trade (giving up stations in Florida and Atlanta to Cox as well…what, you think the only I-A clear channel in the #2 market comes cheap?)
Cumulus is flipping things around in Central MAINE, or so the folks at All Access report this week. WCME (96.7 Boothbay Harbor) and WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) are dropping their country simulcast for sports as “The Score,” which leads us to wonder: is this what Cumulus meant when it said it would find a new FM simulcast for its WSKW (1160 Skowhegan)?
More Clear Channel/AMFM spinoff deals are closing in NEW YORK, as Regent officially adds a stack of Albany licenses to its portfolio. Joining the company are WTMM (1300 Rensselaer), WGNA (1460/107.7 Albany), WABT (104.5 Mechanicville), WQBK (103.9 Rensselaer), and WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill). Regent also gets some Michigan spin-offs, in exchange for its clusters in Ohio and California. Now come the format changes…
Twenty Years Ago: August 29, 1995
There’s a new experimental FM in town. Avis Rent-a-Car is operating, or at least sponsoring, KF2XBF 88.5 FM at Boston’s Logan Airport. The station runs a HALF-HOUR long loop of tourism information and Avis ads.
So much for the “Matty in the Morning” show as a syndicated venture. The show is back to being heard only on WXKS-FM “Kiss 108” Medford-Boston, now that it’s been dropped by WKZS-FM 99.9 “Kiss” Auburn-Portland ME. Kiss’ local morning host led a successful public campaign against the show…saying it demeaned women. WKZS pulled out after just four months of a three year contract.
Also in Maine: 95.9 in Saco has indeed changed calls to WRED-FM. The station is still CHR, and was formerly WHYR-FM.
Almost on the air: The new antenna for Harvard’s WHRB (95.3) is up, on the One Financial Center building in Boston’s Financial District, right next to the antenna for Emerson College’s WERS (88.9). It will be quite a boost for WHRB to move off the single-bay antenna on Harvard’s Holyoke Center building. They’ll gain several hundred feet by moving to the new antenna…and if WERS is any indication, they should get great coverage. No word on an exact date for the move.
In the Albany market, the “Mix” talk-and-AC format on WEMX Ravena NY (94.5) is history. It’s been replaced by a simulcast of the (presumably satellite) standards format of WABY Albany (1400). WEMX now goes by “94.5 WABY,” and the WEMX calls are heard only on the top of the hour.
And Thursday marks the end of the line for one of Boston’s finest radio traditions. Public radio WGBH is reshuffling its schedule and dropping Ron Della Chiesa’s 2-5pm “Music America” program, which mixed jazz, pop, and whatever else Ron could find in the “Great American Songbook.” Now ‘GBH is trying to accomodate the new 2-hour All Things Considered (never mind that it’s already heard at the same time on WBUR in Boston, and can be heard on the west coast feed two hours later on the UMass Boston public radio network), and so they’re dropping MusicAmerica and replacing it with classical music in the afternoon. Meantime, WGBH is adding an extra hour of Morning Edition as well (again, the program is already heard for 3 hours every morning on WBUR). ME will run from 6-8am, followed by classical music hosted by Della Chiesa. Non-classical music has to wait until 7pm, for Eric in the Evening and jazz Monday-Thursday, and Della Chiesa’s new “Jazz Songbook” show on Friday.