In this week’s issue… NJ FM’s secret sale – Miss Info moves on – CBC’s new Cape Breton signal – Hockey on the Radio 2015-16

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*This week’s NERW begins with a mystery: who’s taking over NEW JERSEY’s WNTI (91.9 Hackettstown) and why did the station jettison its longtime volunteer staffers and programming so abruptly?

For some 30 years now, Centenary College has taken something of a hands-off approach to the 5500 watt/509’ class B1 license it holds in the hills of northwestern New Jersey. That’s allowed WNTI to develop a freeform AAA-ish sound that’s been a refreshing difference from the corporate commercial fare that dominates the rest of the dial in the region it serves, which stretches from New York City’s westernmost suburbs over to the Poconos.

It was all good – until about a week ago, when WNTI programmers suddenly found themselves locked out of the studios with only automated music replacing their shows. The college has been nearly silent about the move, saying only that it intends to bring back some vestiges of the old format on a new webstream that hasn’t yet launched.

In the void of information that followed, plenty of rumors have been spreading. We can say with certainty that WNTI has not “been sold to NPR;” the national programming entity doesn’t actually own any licenses and isn’t about to start in a rural corner of the Garden State.

wntiSo who is getting 91.9? All indications so far seem to be that it, like so many college stations lately, is being at least leased out (if not sold outright) to one of the larger public radio entities in the region. It’s not hard to understand why college licensees find moves like these attractive: frankly (and sadly), it’s getting harder for most college radio managers to find the crowds of passionate students who once beat down the doors of their stations to get on the air. The licenses that once had little or no value can now draw decent money, sometimes into the millions of dollars, which is hard for cash-strapped college administrators to turn down. And for many administrators, an FCC license (especially a powerful one like WNTI’s) is increasingly being seen as more of a liability than an asset, what with the threat of FCC indecency and obscenity fines that can run into the six figures, not to mention the bad PR that can come from aven one unfortunate incident on the air.

We’re expecting an official announcement of WNTI’s fate to come as soon as today – but in the meantime, this wouldn’t be NERW if we didn’t engage in some informed speculation, so here’s what we think we know so far:

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There are only a few regional public broadcasters who’d have use for the signal coverage WNTI will add. New York’s WNYC already covers WNTI’s service area with several of the New Jersey Public Radio signals it inherited from the now-defunct NJN Radio a few years back – but that area doesn’t have much coverage from WNYC’s classical sister station, WQXR (105.9), so it’s at least remotely possible that 91.9 could become a WQXR relay. Despite some similarities between WNTI’s sound and that of Fordham University’s WFUV (90.7), it’s unlikely WFUV has the funding to buy WNTI. More likely, we think, is that WNTI will become an expansion signal for a public broadcaster to the south. Philadelphia’s WHYY already covers much of south Jersey via the signals it inherited from NJN, but it doesn’t get as far north as WNTI’s turf. Neither does WRTI, Temple University’s classical/jazz station that has extensive coverage into adjacent parts of northeast Pennsylvania via its own relays. Given the size of WRTI’s network, which extends down into Delaware and up into the Poconos, it may well be the most likely suitor for WNTI. (Another Philadelphia possibility is Penn’s WXPN 88.5, which has a Harrisburg relay and a translator in Allentown.) But there are two dark horses as well: just across the Delaware River, WDIY (88.1 Allentown) is the closest thing to a local public radio signal for the region. And to the north, Albany’s WAMC Northeast Public Radio has been pushing down the Hudson Valley almost to the Jersey state line. Does it want to keep going south – and if it does, will listeners on Chris Christie’s turf care about news from as far afield as Vermont?

*The week’s other big news, from NEW YORK, is the only real news at all in this year’s Hockey on the Radio coverage, at least where the NHL is concerned. (There have been big changes in the minors and we’ll get to those next week!)

The Islanders closed down Nassau Coliseum last spring and have just started play within New York city limits at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, but the team still can’t get much of a break when it comes to radio coverage. For several seasons now, the Isles were relegated to the noncommercial dial on Hofstra University’s WRHU (88.7 Hempstead), and we’d expected that their move to the city would come with a bigger signal. Both iHeart’s WOR (710) and Cumulus’ WABC (770) seemed like they’d benefit from the attention a major-league franchise would bring to their winter evenings – especially WOR, which has found some summer (and now early-autumn!) success carrying the Mets.

wnyeBut no: with just days to go before the first puck drop, the Islanders announced that their New York City coverage would come from…city-owned WNYE (91.5), which will pick up the WRHU-produced broadcast under terms that neither the team nor station has disclosed. The games will also continue to air in eastern Long Island on JVC Broadcasting’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead), which also carried the Islanders last year.

The rest of the NHL lineup in the region remains steady as it can be, and it looks like this: the Montreal Canadiens on CHMP (98.5) in French and CKGM (690) in English; the Ottawa Senators on CFGO (1200) in English and CJFO (Unique FM 94.5) in French; the Toronto Maple Leafs once again evenly split between sports archrivals CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the FANproviding a comm) and CHUM (TSN Radio 1050).

On the US side, the Boston Bruins remain on WBZ-FM (98.5); the New Jersey Devils on WFAN (660/101.9); the New York Rangers on WEPN-FM (98.7); the Philadelphia Flyers with a newly-renewed deal on Greater Media’s WPEN (97.5), overflowing to WMMR (93.3) when there’s a conflict with the Sixers; the Pittsburgh Penguins on WXDX (105.9) and the Buffalo Sabres on WGR (550).

(Next week, we’ll look at how the shift of several minor-league markets from the AHL to the ECHL has changed the broadcast lineup there.)

wabc-donovan*Nobody will ever really replace Johnny Donovan at New York’s WABC (770) – how could anyone really replicate his 43-year career that spanned the top-40 years and the station’s entire run with talk? But his retirement back in May meant WABC needed to hire a new staff announcer/production director, and the gig goes to Christopher Libertini, who’s been a prolific VO talent for many high-profile clients including ESPN, Howard Stern and the New York Lottery.

Another veteran member of the on-air family at Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97) is out: after a decade on staff, “Miss Info” (Minya Oh) says she’s leaving the station – and radio, for now – to spend more time writing a book on parenting and maintaining her website, missinfo.tv.

*Between Rochester and Buffalo, Family Life Ministries is once again moving its Medina translator. W207BD (89.3) moved to 89.7 after the construction permit for WFWO (89.7 Medina) was deleted – that was the station, you may recall, that built its site 35 miles away in downtown Buffalo instead of in rural Orleans County – and now Family Life has applied to move the translator again, this time to 100.3, where its 250 watts would be tightly squeezed in between Rochester’s WDVI (100.5) and the Batavia 100.1 translator for WBTA (1490).

*Jeff Andrulonis’ Colonial Media + Entertainment is on the move. The company is leaving its offices and studios at One Blue Bird Square in Olean for new showplace digs at the Olean Center Mall. That facility will be home for WXMT (106.3 Smethport, “The Mountain), WVTT (96.7 Portville, “V96.7”) and the HD/translator-fed WVTT talk format at 93.9 and country “Eagle 99.1.” Meanwhile, Colonial has established a new Quaker State Broadcasting division that’s operating WBYB (103.9 Eldred, “Bob” country) and translator/HD-fed “95.3/99.3 Hot FM” from a building Andrulonis recently bought at 53 Main Street in Bradford. We visited the former Blue Bird Square studios last year and showed them off in Tower Site of the Week; guess we’ll have to head back for a new visit soon!

*In western MASSACHUSETTS, John Thomas (aka “JT”) is the new senior VP of programming for iHeart’s Springfield cluster, WHYN (560), WHYN-FM (Mix 93.1) and WRNX (Kix 100.9). Thomas replaces Terry O’Donnell – and returns to radio after a few years directing marketing for Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, which means we’re raising a red Solo cup in his direction to congratulate him on the new gig.

Global Ministries Christian Church has applied for a license to cover for WBPG-LP (102.9 Dorchester), one of several stations that will share the 102.9 frequency if they can overcome the pirates that dominate the channel around Boston.

And we’re sorry to have to pass along news of the death October 4 of Jimmy Roberts, whose long career in Massachusetts and RHODE ISLAND included stops at the old WROR (98.5) and WKLB-FM (105.7/102.5) in Boston and at WPRO-FM (92.3) in Providence.

*In CONNECTICUT, WZME (Channel 43) has been in an uncomfortable spot for a year or so now, carrying MeTV programming in parallel with PMCM’s New Jersey-based WJLP (Channel 33), which also serves the greater New York market. With WJLP now established as the primary MeTV signal for New York, the Bridgeport-based WZME is flipping to the “Heroes & Icons” network.

*It’s not news to NERW readers that Bob Bittner provides a breath of radio fresh air to MAINE listeners on his WJTO (730/98.3) in Bath and WJYE (1280) in Gardiner – but the whole state found out about one of our favorite independent radio owners in a big feature story that ran in Portland’s Maine Sunday Telegram over the weekend, and we’re delighted he got the ink!

wmck*In western PENNSYLVANIA, it’s been many decades since the “WMCK” callsign graced the airwaves. The former AM 1360 in McKeesport eventually became top-40 WIXZ and is now WGBN – but the locals in the Mon Valley have always had a fond spot for those WMCK calls. Now they’re back in streaming form as WMCK.fm, a project of Tube City Community Media Inc. The new station launched officially last week, providing a community voice for an area whose on-air radio voices have largely fled to nearby Pittsburgh.

Another Williamsport note from our travels: Family Life Ministries has filed for a license to cover for its translator move from 103.1 (W276CU Garden View) to 103.3 (W277BJ Williamsport), with a 250-watt signal fed from the HD2 of Backyard’s WILQ (105.1).

*In CANADA, the CBC has finally straightened out its signal issues on Cape Breton Island. An initial plan to completely replace Sydney’s CBI (1140) with an FM signal at 97.1 was scrapped after signal tests found that the FM wouldn’t sufficiently replicate the AM’s coverage. Instead, the corporation has been granted approval for a nested FM repeater at 92.1, which will serve Sydney with a 6.5 kW average/10.7 kW max DA/123 m signal that will augment the AM station, which stays on the air.

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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: October 13, 2014

*Too often in this column, when we’re singing the praises of one of the industry’s pioneering engineers, we’re doing it in the context of an obituary. So it’s nice to be able to say by way of preface that Gino Ricciardelli is alive and well and still working, well into his 90s.

sbe-ginoAfter Wednesday’s SBE 22 Expo at Turning Stone in Verona, the veteran Binghamton engineer can now add “Fellow of the Society of Broadcast Engineers” to his list of honors, and what a well-deserved honor it is! A World War II veteran (though his time with “submarines” was strictly with the cable variety, not the vessels, as he noted with a smile), Ricciardelli came back to Binghamton to find himself charged with learning how to build the market’s first TV station, WNBF-TV (Channel 12). After flipping the switch to turn that station on, he went on to build the second station in the market, WINR-TV (Channel 40), as well as its first educational outlet, WSKG-TV (Channel 46).

Ricciardelli’s colorful career included many decades with channel 40, now WICZ-TV, and with its parent company Stainless Broadcasting. How many engineers who built the first black-and-white analog stations in the 1940s went on to build out DTV conversions? Gino did, and he’s still a consultant to WICZ and its corporate sisters.

His long history with the SBE goes back almost to the beginning: as member #117, he’s both a life member and a charter member of the national organization and Binghamton’s Chapter 1. And while he doesn’t travel too much anymore, his fellow Chapter 1 members were happy to drive him to Turning Stone to receive a standing ovation at the SBE’s national awards dinner, held as part of the SBE national meeting that was part of this year’s SBE 22 Expo.

Congratulations, Gino!

*For a long, long time, Boston was an unusual top-10 market in that it had no network owned-and-operated TV stations. NBC tried to change that in the 1960s with a never-consummated deal to buy WNAC-TV (Channel 7), but it took until the 1980s for MASSACHUSETTS to achieve O&O status, first with Fox’s acquisition of WFXT (Channel 25) and then the CBS purchase of Westinghouse that brought WBZ-TV (Channel 4) into the fold. In the meantime, Fox sold channel 25 to the Celtics, then reacquired it – and now it’s traded WFXT away once again.

wfxt-coxAs of last week, WFXT belongs to Cox, which got both Boston and WHBQ-TV (Channel 13) in Memphis from Fox in exchange for the Fox affiliate the network has long coveted, KTVU (Channel 2) Oakland/San Francisco, along with its independent sister KICU (Channel 36). The deal gets Fox out of an AFC market in which most of the Patriots’ games are on CBS’ WBZ-TV and puts it into an NFC market where most 49ers games air on KTVU. It also brings some key KTVU managers east to WFXT: Lee Rosenthal will become WFXT’s news director, joining the GM swap we already knew about that brings Cox’s Tom Raponi to Boston in an even exchange for current WFXT GM Gregg Kelley.

*It’s been a month of departures at CBS Radio in Hartford, CONNECTICUT. On the heels of the retirement of veteran WTIC (1080) sportscaster Scott Gray, the news-talker parted ways last week with Pastor Will Marotti, who’d been doing afternoons since the disgraced former governor John Rowland exited that shift. WTIC says Marotti wasn’t intended to be a permanent replacement for Rowland, and he’ll continue to fill in there. For now, sports guy Joe D’Ambrosio takes the afternoon shift until a permanent host is announced.

*Whenever a newspaper article over the years has claimed that the great state of NEW JERSEY “has no commercial TV network affiliates of its own,” we’ve quietly steamed about the way south Jersey’s WMGM-TV (Channel 40) gets routinely ignored. But sadly, those stories are about to become retroactively accurate: while we already knew that WMGM had sold its license to spectrum speculator LocusPoint and that NBC was pulling its affiliation at year’s end, there’s now word that the scrappy WMGM local news operation will be dismantled and that channel 40 will sign off completely as 2015 dawns.

Five Years Ago: October 11, 2010

The NEW YORK Islanders came within days of starting the NHL regular season with no radio voice, but when the puck dropped, the Isles were once again on the air – via college radio. For the last two seasons, the Islanders split their schedule between two Long Island stations, WMJC (94.3 Smithtown) at night and WHLI (1100 Hempstead) by day, but that deal didn’t get renewed for this year, leaving the team seeking a new home. There’s no all-sports station on Long Island (save for WLIR out on the East End, a relay of New York’s WEPN), and the island’s music stations were loath to disrupt their formats for hockey. Enter Hofstra University’s WRHU (88.7 Hempstead), which brought the Islanders a fairly potent Nassau County signal (plus streaming audio, thanks to the NHL’s relatively liberal streaming policy) and a broadcasting program full of students eager to assist in broadcasts while learning the ropes of sports radio. Isles broadcaster Chris King will produce the radio broadcasts and provide play-by-play.

Is Rogers planning a format flip in CANADA’s capital? There’s certainly something going on at CIWW (Oldies 1310) in Ottawa, where “Brother Bob” Derro is gone from the morning shift after nearly a decade there. The buzz in the market suggests something big will happen at 1310 on Tuesday, after the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday – and perhaps that CIWW will re-emerge as “1310 News,” patterned after Rogers’ successful “680 News” (CFTR) in Toronto and “1130 News” (CKWX) in Vancouver.

In St. Catharines, CHSC (1220) is now history. A federal appeals court declined to hear an appeal from owner Pellpropco, Inc. to the CRTC’s decision to revoke the station’s license after a long history of violations – and that meant the end of a stay that had prevented the CRTC from enforcing its order that CHSC shut down at the end of August. In the end, CHSC faded away quietly, apparently signing off sometime late on Sept. 30 or early Oct. 1; its “Radio Uno” Italian-language programming continues, at least for now, on the web.

Ten Years Ago: October 9, 2005

NEW YORK – It’s been a banner year for the memory of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, the legendary inventor of the superheterodyne receiver and of FM radio. On the heels of the successful commemoration of his life at the Alpine tower site in June, the Audio Engineering Society hosted a panel discussion on the Major last night at its convention here, with your editor having the distinct honor of serving as moderator. The discussion ranged widely across Armstrong’s long career and his legacy, with the added bonus of personal recollections from Brecht of his imposing great-uncle and of the long and fascinating life that his great-aunt Marion Armstrong led after the Major’s death. Thanks to Houck and Katzdorn, attendees were also able to view many Armstrong artifacts, including original logbooks from Alpine and the breadboard modulator from the early Empire State Building experiments.

There’s good news for WKOX (1200 Framingham) in its long fight to move to Newton and boost its power. The city’s board of aldermen rejected a building permit for WKOX’s move last year, but the Clear Channel station (along with WRCA 1330, which also hopes to move to the site, and WUNR 1600, which wants to replace its two-tower array at the Oak Hill site with five towers shared with WRCA and WKOX) appealed to the state’s Land Court and won. The city of Newton holds a public hearing tomorrow on the application, after which it’s required to issue the building permit within 14 days. An appeal is, of course, already underway.

WGBH (89.7 Boston) morning host Ron Della Chiesa is leaving his part-time gig as host of the station’s “Classics in the Morning.” The 35-year WGBH veteran will remain with the station as the announcer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the host of the Sunday “Jazz Songbook” program; he’ll be replaced in mornings by Cathy Fuller, who already hosts the show on Mondays and Fridays. (Della Chiesa’s weekend shows on WPLM in Plymouth, including the long-running “Music America,” will continue as well.)

In Scranton, former WWDL/WICK-WYCK owner Doug Lane was sentenced last Tuesday for sexually abusing minors and possessing child pornography. Lane, who’s 61, will serve at least 14 and possibly up to 30 years in prison. The stations are now being operated by Bold Gold Media Group, which is awaiting FCC approval of a deal under which it will purchase the stations, with the proceeds going to victims-assistance programs.

And there’s late word just in to NERW that Toronto Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek, who called the team’s first game in 1977 and didn’t miss a game for the next 27 years, died Sunday at age 66. Cheek had been recuperating in Florida after surgery for a brain tumor.

Fifteen Years Ago: October 9, 2000

Six months after announcing its $185 million purchase of Aurora’s cluster of nine stations in suburban New York City and Connecticut (NERW, 3/31/00), Nassau Broadcasting received a letter from Aurora this week saying the deal is off. A withdrawn IPO stalled Nassau’s attempts to finance the purchase, and while the company announced a few weeks ago that it would attempt to find private financing, Aurora says the previously-agreed deadline for closing the sale has passed. Aurora gets to keep Nassau’s $7 million deposit, and Nassau officials are telling industry newsletters that they’ll try to find a way to revive the deal somehow. The stations involved: WICC/WEBE in Bridgeport, WRKI/WINE/WPUT/WAXB in the Danbury market, and WFAS AM-FM/WFAF in Westchester.

Meanwhile, Nassau announced a change in another pending sale. While the company still plans to add WEEX (1230) and WODE (99.9) in Easton, PA to its cluster, it’s reworking the way in which Clear Channel will spin off the two stations. Instead of Nassau paying $30 million cash, it will pay $12 million and give Clear Channel four stations in northwestern New Jersey: WNNJ (1360 Newton), WNNJ-FM (103.7 Newton), WSUS (102.3 Franklin), and WHCY (106.3 Blairstown). Nassau also LMAs its WTSX (96.7) and dark WDLC (1490) in Port Jervis NY to Clear Channel, with an option for Clear Channel to buy the stations.

Twenty Years Ago: October 12, 1995

Providence’s “WHIM Country” has moved off its longtime 1110 frequency for the second time. Regular observers of the radio scene in the Ocean State (and I’m sure I’ll find one eventually) will remember that the country format and “Whim” slogan disappeared from WHIM-1110 East Providence in 1992, when that station became all-news WWRX, “1110 CNN.” “Whim” took up temporary residence at Pawtucket’s WICE (550), but when 1110 CNN folded, the country format and WHIM calls returned to 1110. Now they’re gone again, this time to 1450, the former WKRI in West Warwick. WKRI had been standards during the week, and Spanish on the weekends. The Spanish has moved to 1110, which will be known as WPMZ once the call change goes through. 1110 will be sold to Video Mundo Broadcasting; 1450 to Providence Broadcasting Co., which I believe is the same Philip Urso-owned group that also owned 1110. The 1450 signal does not have great coverage into Providence, and I wonder how well WHIM will be able to compete there.

Very very longtime observers of the Providence radio scene will recall that WHIM was the only country station in Rhode Island for years — until 1989, when WMYS 98.1, a 50kw FM in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts went country as WCTK. WHIM once had an FM on 94.1, the present-day WHJY. The 1110 transmitter is still at the studio location of WHJY-FM and its current sister AM, 920 WHJJ.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, it’s worth pointing out that while the SALE of a non-commercial license…especially one so close to NYC, if not actually serving NYC…could be highly profitable to a parent college. The LEASE of one cannot be, as per FCC rules. You cannot lease a non-comm license for more than the cost of its operation. For most stations, that tends to be around $75,000 to $150,000/yr. Not exactly huge amounts of $$$, especially not for a college.

  2. Never mind. Was reported today that it’s WXPN in Philadelphia, and it’s a sale…not an LMA. $1.25mil up front plus $500k of underwriting in trade over 10 years. I’ll bet Centenary is looking to draw more students from the Philadelphia/southern NJ area in which case this deal probably makes a lot of sense for them.

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