In this week’s issue…PA AM/FM combo gets new owner – TV newscasts combine – NY FM seeks move – Pope’s visit brings Catholic radio to Philly – New booster in Boston? – Tower Site Calendar 2016: Get Yours Now!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a busy year in central PENNSYLVANIA for the Confer family. Kerby Confer’s wife and daughter have been realigning the FM dial in and around State College with their Seven Mountains Media group – and now Kerby Confer’s Forever group is pushing eastward across the mountains with the $4.25 million acquisition of WGTY (107.7 Gettysburg) and WGET (1320 Gettysburg) from the Times & News newspaper, which has owned the stations since putting the AM signal on the air back in 1950.
What’s in the mix now for these stations, which have long occupied an enviable niche at the western edge of the sprawling Harrisburg-York-Lancaster market? Forever is a country expert, so it’s hard to imagine any change in WGTY’s core format – but could 107.7 soon be sporting the “Froggy” branding that Confer uses in many of his other markets? As for WGET, it’s been doing sports for a while now, and while Forever doesn’t do a lot of AM these days, WGET has a decent signal that’s a notch above some of the failing AMs that Confer has turned off in recent years.
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: September 29, 2014
*As the sun rises over NERW-land this Monday morning, many in the radio industry expected to hear several fewer signals across the AM dial. Friday was supposed to have been the last day of Radio Disney on its remaining terrestrial signals, including WQEW (1560 New York), WMKI (1260 Boston), WWJZ (640 Mt. Holly NJ/Philadelphia) and WDDZ (1250 Pittsburgh).
But as NERW readers learned in our exclusive report on Friday, a cautious Disney legal team stepped in to change the original corporate plans to take those (and 19 other) signals silent while waiting for buyers to emerge for the stations.
Instead, the Disney AMs will stay on the air in stripped-down form, with no local advertising or promotions and just a handful of local staffers at each location. And with that, a new round of speculation begins: while the cost of transmitter power and a few staffers isn’t much to a company as big as Disney, it’s still an expense the company didn’t expect to have on its balance sheet after the end of September.
John Slattery was one of the consummate good guys of NEW YORK City TV. Over a long career that included stops at WCAU-TV (Channel 10) in Philadelphia, WABC-TV (Channel 7) from 1979-1984 and then a 30-year run at WCBS-TV (Channel 2), “Slats” covered everything and knew just about everyone – and so it was a tremendous blow to the channel 2 newsroom when he died in his sleep, apparently of a heart attack, on Thursday. Slattery had been at work at channel 2 just a day earlier. He was just 63 years old.
Downtown at WINS (1010), Judy DeAngelis will celebrate her birthday Wednesday as a retiree. Her departure from WINS on Tuesday will end a 26-year run at the all-newser that began when her previous news home, WNBC (660), folded in 1988. Her resume also includes prior stops at WALK (97.5/1370) on Long Island and then at WCBS-FM (101.1); we remember her, too, for her involvement in the Edwin Armstrong memorial broadcasts a few years back. (She was an easy “get” for the broadcast, which aired over WFDU 89.1, the college station where her husband Duff Sheffield is the general manager!)
*If you’ve been waiting for two long-silent AM frequencies to return to the air in one of CANADA‘s largest markets, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. The CRTC last week granted the Tietolman-Tetreault-Pancholy (TTP Media) group another extension to build a new English-language news-talk station on AM 600 and a French-language counterpart on AM 940 in Montreal. The group now has until November 21, 2015 to build those stations, but as months and years continue to pass with little news about any actual progress on those stations (or their proposed French-language sports talk sister on 850), there’s growing doubt that they’ll ever actually see air in a market where Cogeco’s CHMP (98.5) dominates the French talk landscape and Bell’s CJAD (800) similarly dominates in English.
Five Years Ago: September 27, 2010
When Radio Disney launched back in 1996, it looked to AM radio as an inexpensive, wide-coverage way to distribute its programming to dozens of markets around the country. For nearly a decade and a half, that strategy seemed to work for Disney: it acquired AMs in large and medium markets from coast to coast, purchasing and operating them inexpensively. But a lot has changed in the last few years: the AM signals that were at least marginally viable in 1996 have, for the most part, fallen completely off the radar for much of Radio Disney’s target audience (not just kids themselves but also their parents), even as other distribution methods such as satellite radio and streaming have become much more prominent. Over the last year or so, Disney has begun to dismantle its AM portfolio, shutting down its signals in medium markets such as Albuquerque and Greensboro, N.C. and putting those stations up for sale. Now that trend has reached RHODE ISLAND and CONNECTICUT, where Disney will pull the plug on WDDZ (550 Pawtucket) and WDZK (1550 Bloomfield) on Thursday night at midnight. (Two other Disney AMs, WDRD 680 in Louisville, Kentucky and WBWL 600 in Jacksonville, Florida will also be silenced.)
While WDZK prepares to shut down in Hartford, another signal that’s been serving the Nutmeg State is being redirected to its state of license, NEW YORK. Citadel’s WXLM (104.7 Montauk) is the latest incarnation of a news-talk format that’s bounced around the dial in southeastern Connecticut, moving from WSUB (980 Groton) to the original WXLM on 102.3 in Stonington, and then to 104.7 when it swapped facilities with WMOS, the classic rocker programmed out of the Mohegan Sun casino. Now the WXLM programming is returning to the smaller 980 facility sometime next month – while 104.7 takes on a new identity serving Long Island as WELJ, an East End relay of Citadel’s big WPLJ (95.5 New York). As for Connecticut, the WXLM calls took up residence on 980 in Groton late last week, displacing the WSUB calls that have been there since 1958. Once the simulcast period with 104.7 has ended, the news-talk format will displace the Spanish tropical “Caliente 980” format that’s been airing there since 2006.
Before WXLM and WPLJ/WELJ grabbed the headlines at the end of the week, the big news-talk news from the Empire State came from Albany, where Clear Channel kicked off the week with a bang when it pulled the plug on modern rock “Channel 103.1” WHRL just after midnight on Monday, replacing it with news-talk as WGY-FM, a full-time simulcast of venerable WGY (810 Schenectady). It says something about just how stripped down an operation “Channel 103.1” was that only one person, morning host Jason Keller, lost his job when WHRL went away. (It should also be noted that the WHRL calls had been in place at 103.1 ever since the station signed on in 1966; only one other commercial station in the Albany market, WFLY, has kept the same calls longer.)
While Radio Disney slowly retreats from the AM dial elsewhere, it appears that Disney is poised to move the format to a big signal in southwestern PENNSYLVANIA. But the plan to move Radio Disney from WWCS (540 Canonsburg) to Disney-owned WEAE (1250 Pittsburgh) around the first of the year, reported late Friday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is notable less because of what it means for Radio Disney than for what it means to WEAE’s current programming. Assuming Bob Smizik’s P-G report is true (and there’s no reason to think otherwise), “ESPN 1250” is becoming the first to blink in what had become an overcrowded three-way sports battle in the Steel City. While WEAE was the first to go all-sports back in 1999, when ABC/Disney acquired the station from Jacor, it was soon challenged by Clear Channel’s WBGG (970) with Fox Sports – and then earlier this year by a full-time FM sports outlet, CBS Radio’s KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan).
Ten Years Ago: September 26, 2005
It was a sad start to the week last Monday in western MASSACHUSETTS, as WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) morning host Big Mike Patrick had to tell his listeners that his co-host, Sharon Steele, had died during childbirth. Steele, whose real name was Sharon Brophy-Forst, died September 15 while giving birth to daughter Olivia. Sadly, Olivia didn’t survive, either, and our sympathies go out to Sharon’s husband Kyle. Steele’s career began in her native Vermont, at WZRT (97.1 Rutland), and took her to upstate New York, Delaware and WHMP-FM (99.3 Northampton) before she settled in at “Live 105” a few years back. She was just 38.
Across the state in Boston, some happier news to report: WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston) is now broadcasting with higher power (12 kW, up from 7.2 kW) from a new Shively antenna mounted in the same spot as its old one, right at the top of the “FM-128” tower on Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls. The station pulled off the antenna replacement in just one day, using its backup site atop the BU Law School building in the meantime; we’re hearing that the reports of improved reception are already coming in.
And there’s still no sign of Jay Severin on WTKK (96.9 Boston), two weeks after the start of a flap about his claim of having won a nonexistent Pulitzer Prize for online journalism. The station’s been carrying Sean Hannity’s show live in the 3-6 PM timeslot instead.
It was a heck of a night Saturday in upstate NEW YORK, as about 150 veterans of the Binghamton radio and TV scene gathered at an Endicott restaurant for the largest edition yet of the “Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion.” NERW was delighted to be able to attend the event, which included a display of some neat old Binghamton broadcast memorabilia, lots of great stories, and even some awards. WMRV’s Louie G was named “Broadcaster of the Year” for his outstanding charity work. WLTB’s John and Chris took home a special achievement award. The late Ray Diorio was honored with the Binghamton Broadcaster Memorial Award. And veteran WNBF/WNBF-TV/WBNG newsman Bernie Fionte won a standing ovation when he was named this year’s “Living Legend.” The event drew broadcasters from all over, including a few from Florida (WNBF veteran John Leslie and former WICZ anchor Mark Williams, who’s now at WNDB in Daytona Beach), several from New York City and Boston (including former WAAL/WZLX jock Keith Nelson) and – we’re proud to add – several other Rochesterians, too, including WHAM morning news anchor Bill Lowe and WYSL’s Bob Savage and Judith Day. (Bob was a screamin’ jock back in the day at WENE!)
In the Bronx, WFUV (90.7 New York) raised its new tower over the weekend. The 160-foot guyed mast sits atop a building on Gun Hill Road owned by Montefiore Medical Center, and once it’s fitted out with an antenna and WFUV signs on there, the station will be able to take down the unfinished tower on the Fordham University campus that caused so much controversy when it began rising above the treeline at the nearby Botanical Garden.
The big news in PENNSYLVANIA was, of course, the big gathering of broadcasters at the NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia. From what we heard on the show floor, the buzz about returning to the site for the second time in as many years was pretty good; the Pennsylvania Convention Center (site of the 2003 Radio Show) is certainly a convenient spot, with lots of good food, entertainment and transportation options. And as we’d expected, HD Radio was the big topic on many attendees’ minds, though with plenty of concern about what remains a much slower than expected rollout of receivers for the service. (Only Day Sequerra, which makes extremely sophisticated and pricey reference receivers, had tuners on the floor ready for shipping; Radiosophy was on hand to demonstrate its slick home tuner, but shipping of the unit remains delayed, likely past the holiday season that should have been a major rollout for HD Radio gear if the technology is going to catch on before it’s completely eclipsed by satellite and other digital technologies.)
On the TV dial, the buzz in Philly was the impending shutdown of one of the city’s newsrooms. Tribune announced that it will close the news operation at WPHL (Channel 17) on December 10, though news will continue via a 10 PM broadcast produced by NBC’s WCAU (Channel 10).
Fifteen Years Ago: September 23, 2000
SAN FRANCISCO – “What do you worry about?” That was the question former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs posed to Clear Channel chairman Lowry Mays as the two chatted in front of a room filled with hundreds of broadcasters here at the NAB Radio Show. “Yesterday afternoon,” drawled the man who owns more radio stations than anyone else in history, “I was worried about whether that German brown trout was going to grab that fly.” Mays was joking — we hope — but the point remains clear: the big guys here at NAB still believe their business has a future. The trouble is, the big guys are about the only ones here this year. Walk the convention floor and you’ll see very few badges from small-market stations, and fewer still from the big group-owned stations, many of which declined to send individual station managers to San Francisco this year.
Who’s left? Lots of “e-this” and “i-that” and “whatever.com,” to be sure, and many of the streaming audio booths remained packed throughout the week. One we couldn’t even get near for a while was Kerbango, that 40s-style net-radio appliance that’s supposed to make it as easy to tune in your favorite Webcaster as it is to tune WBZ from Nantasket Beach. The equipment makers were out in force, of course, and the smiles were especially wide on the faces of the transmitter and antenna guys. They, of course, will get to sell new equipment to pretty much every radio station in America if IBOC digital becomes a reality, and there were plenty of prototypes ready to be gawked at.
Speaking of IBOC, we did spend a few minutes at the iBiquity booth, where a prototype receiver offered a chance to listen to San Francisco’s KLLC (97.3) in IBOC digital, compared with several other locals in analog. To untrained ears, the difference was a bit short of stunning. No multipath (which is a big deal in this terrain-challenged town), but it’s hard to see how the extra few dB of dynamic range and slightly better frequency response will make much difference in the real world, where we listen to radio in the car with the windows open and Freckles, the NERW Wonder Dog, barking her head off over the music.
And yes, there were some real radio folk here too. A Friday afternoon session on local news in small markets warmed the heart of this former small-market radio newsguy. Listen to a guy named Jay Fisher, from a little station in Missouri called KTKS: “Whenever anything happens, we have someone there to report on it. No matter how insignificant it seems, those are the things people want to hear about.” An interesting concept, isn’t it?
Twenty Years Ago: October 1, 1995