In this week’s issue… The end of broadcast TV as we know it? – Mass. AM gone – Ed O’Brien, RIP – New signal over NYC – More new AM in Toronto?
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The numbers are, frankly, eye-popping. An even $900 million for New York’s WCBS-TV? $846.9 million for WRNN-TV, a station that’s mostly infomercials? $445 million for a low-power TV station that almost nobody in New York has even heard of, WMBQ-CD? Over $2 billion for the four signals of the New Jersey public TV network?
It’s no wonder at all that speculation was running wild after the FCC released its list of opening prices last week for the reverse auction that’s intended to clear out big chunks of UHF TV spectrum that can then be resold to wireless carriers and other users. Some of the prices seemed just as inflated down the list of smaller markets: $133 million for a UHF station in Binghamton? $248 million in Utica? $76 million for a low-power TV in Johnstown? What TV owner wouldn’t cash it in, sell the license and live out the rest of his days on a beach for those payouts – right? And what will be left of broadcast TV as we know it after these sales go down – not to mention the channel repack and conversion to a new transmission standard, ATSC 3.0, that will follow? As commercial broadcast TV approaches its 75th birthday next summer, is the end in sight?
Not so fast, perhaps. While there will certainly be plenty of money floating around when the auction gets started next year, there’s reason to think that many (perhaps even most) of the TV stations in the region will find it makes more sense to stay in business. Here’s how it looks to us:
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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 20, 2014
Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks silenced the nine TV stations and four FM stations that broadcast from One World Trade Center, the first new signal is about to hit the airwaves from the new skyscraper that rises just a few hundred feet north of the old site. But even as WABC-TV (Channel 7) applies for special temporary authority to put an experimental signal on the air from the new building, it’s not at all clear that it – or any of the other stations that once called the Twin Towers home – will make a permanent return to lower Manhattan.
As WABC’s application explains, the 5 kW signal on RF channel 12 would be used only for testing purposes; specifically, “to test the propagation and reception characteristics of VHF TV channels to be compared with the characteristics of the existing VHF transmission facilities located at the Empire State Building.” There are three stations operating on high-VHF from Empire since the DTV transition; in addition to WABC’s main signal on 7, WPIX and WNET returned to their former VHF channels, 11 and 13, in 2009. All three are now looking intently at the merits of Empire versus the new 1 World Trade Center, and they have a plan (with the help of the Metropolitan Television Alliance umbrella trade group) to get some hard data to help make that decision.
The tests won’t be conducted with a full non-directional signal from the 1WTC mast – on channel 12, that would cause unacceptable interference to co-channel WHYY in the Philadelphia market, and potentially to Albany’s WNYT, which also uses RF 12 – but will instead operate with a single panel that will be shifted in different directions to test the signal across various arcs of New York City and its northern and eastern suburbs. (The use of channel 12 also required permission from ion’s low-power station WPXU-LD, which is licensed to use channel 12 from the top of the Bloomberg tower on Lexington Avenue, and which will yield the channel for testing.)
*The other big news from the city hasn’t actually happened yet. There are few broadcast trade journalists as consistently reliable as Tom Taylor, so when he reported last week that Disney had reached a $12 million deal to sell WQEW (1560 New York) to Family Stations, the news quickly spread to the newspapers and the message boards.
It’s a deal that makes perfect sense: Family has been seeking to return to the New York radio dial ever since it sold the former WFME (94.7 Newark) to Cumulus two years ago, and the things that make WQEW less desirable to mainstream broadcasters these days (a huge nighttime skywave signal offset by spotty coverage within the market, not to mention its position way up at the top of the AM dial) aren’t deal-breakers to Family, which is more interested in broad reach than in Nielsen Audio ratings. And even given how much money Family spent (and how much debt it incurred) promoting the end of the world in 2011, it’s likely that there’s enough left from the $40 million sale of 94.7 to pay for the 1560 signal.
Five Years Ago: October 18, 2010
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a true seven-figure radio deal, but there’s one to tell you about this week out of NEW YORK. There’d been rumors flying for a while about Barnstable selling its properties in eastern Long Island, and late last week they came true with the $3 million sale of WRCN-FM (103.9 Riverhead) and WKJI (96.1 Center Moriches).
The buyer is JVC Broadcasting, the aggressive John Caracciolo-Vic “Latino” Canales partnership that’s already a significant player in Suffolk County with rhythmic top-40 WPTY (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) and Spanish tropical WBON (98.5 Westhampton). This deal adds two more class A signals to JVC’s existing pair, and guarantees at least one format change: while WRCN’s rock format is expected to remain more or less intact, the sale will break the fairly recent simulcast between WKJI and AC “K-JOY” WKJY (98.3 Hempstead) in Nassau County. Will JVC keep 96.1 as an adult contemporary station, or will that signal also move toward a younger audience?
All those rumors floating around CANADA’s capital city for a while now have turned out to be true: as of today, Rogers is flipping Ottawa’s CIWW (Oldies 1310) to “1310 News,” giving CTV’s talk giant CFRA (580) its first serious competition (aside from CBC Radio 1) in a long time. Unlike CFRA, the new “1310 News” is promising listeners a 24/7 wheel of nonstop news – and to make it happen, Rogers says it’s planning to hire a new staff of about 30 newspeople.
MAINE’s first local TV newscast in HD comes not from the state’s biggest market, Portland, but from smaller Bangor – and it comes from WABI-TV (Channel 5), which launched its HD newscast last week. WABI is also in the midst of moving its RF channel; it’s replacing its temporary signal on UHF channel 19 with a new permanent signal on VHF channel 13. That UHF-to-VHF move goes against the national trend, but Bangor’s an unusual market – WABI was the only UHF signal in what’s otherwise been entirely a VHF digital city.
Ten Years Ago: October 17, 2005
One of RHODE ISLAND’s most experienced and talented TV reporters died unexpectedly early Wednesday morning (Oct. 12) at his Cape Cod home. Jack White’s journalism career began at the Newport Daily News in 1969 and soon took him to the Providence Journal, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his reporting that discovered President Nixon had cheated on his taxes. (It was that story, published in October 1973, that led Nixon to make his “I am not a crook” speech.)
White moved to television in 1979, working on the “I-Team” at Boston’s WBZ-TV (Channel 4). He returned to newspapers at the Cape Cod Times two years later, then joined WPRI (Channel 12) in 1985 as the station’s chief investigative reporter, a position he would hold for two decades. White’s tenure at WPRI included two Emmys, one for a 1992 report on fugitive banker Joseph Mollicone and one just this year for his reporting on Providence city officials who violated the city’s residency requirement. White is survived by his wife, Beth, three sons, a daughter and five grandchildren. He was 63. WPRI will broadcast a special tribute, “Remembering Jack White,” Monday night at 7.
Meanwhile in the Ocean State, the heavy rains late last week silenced at least one radio station. WDDZ (550 Pawtucket) had enough water at its site in the floodplain of the Blackstone River to knock the Radio Disney station off the air Friday. As we go to press Sunday night, chief engineer Craig Healy reports that the water level is still above the base insulators of the towers, which means the station will remain off at least into Monday morning.
WRIB (1220 Providence) is getting a new owner, as Carter Broadcasting sells the religious/Spanish outlet to Faith Christian Center, Inc. for $1.9 million. The deal will leave Carter with WROL (730 Chicopee) and WCRN (830 Worcester) in Massachusetts.
In New York City, the story was all about Clear Channel’s latest payola problems, which apparently led to the abrupt ouster of two of the company’s PDs last week – one of them Michael Saunders of WWPR (105.1). Clear Channel’s VP/Urban Programming Doc Wynter is handling PD chores at Power 105 for now, and of course the company’s keeping as quiet as it can about it all.
“They took the crosstown bus.” Confused by that? So were radio listeners across the state, who heard that cryptic message one afternoon last week during an Amber Alert EAS activation from the state’s emergency management office. The message was apparently part of a test that was transmitted by mistake, and it aired on numerous stations across the state.
There’s a format change on the way this week in central NEW JERSEY, where the oldies simulcast of WMTR (1250 Morristown) will disappear from Greater Media’s WWTR (1170 Bridgewater) in favor of EBC Radio’s Indian/South Asian programming. EBC had been leasing Multicultural Broadcasting’s WTTM (1680 Princeton) for its broadcasts, but the WWTR signal will put it a little closer to the base of South Asian listeners in the Edison area. WTTM, meanwhile, will flip back to ESPN Radio sports programming, or so we hear.
The big story out of PENNSYLVANIA this week is Nassau’s sale of its Lehigh Valley/Poconos cluster to the growing Access.1 group. The stations in the group include some of Nassau’s earliest acquisitions – in the Poconos, oldies duo WVPO (840 Stroudsburg)/WPLY (960 Mount Pocono) and classic hits WSBG (93.5 Stroudsburg), and in the Lehigh Valley, sports duo WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown), classic hits “Hawk” WODE (99.9 Easton) and soft AC “Lite 107” WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ). No purchase price has been announced for the deal, which will put the stations under common ownership with WWRL (1600 New York) and Access.1’s cluster of stations in the Atlantic City area.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 16, 2000
Radio in the Upper Valley area of NEW HAMPSHIRE has seen plenty of new clusters in the last few years. But the big national groups haven’t made the trek up I-93…until now. Clear Channel is paying Bob and Cheryl Frisch $11 million for their four-station group, based in Lebanon. Heritage news-talker WTSL (1400 Hanover) is the oldest station in the group, accompanied by hot AC WGXL (92.3 Hanover), classic rock WVRR (101.7 Newport), and ratings-leading country “Kix,” WXXK (100.5 Lebanon). The usual “no staff or format changes are planned” line accompanies the sale, but rumors are already flying about the possibility of Clear Channel’s news-talk WGIR Manchester and rocker WGIR-FM Manchester providing programming to WTSL and WVRR an hour away. Stay tuned…
Just across the river in VERMONT, Family Broadcasting is selling WGLV (104.3 Hartford), as first rumored here months ago (NERW, 5/19/2000). The buyer? “Great Northern Radio,” aka the Vox group, which already operates in the market with sports combo WNHV (910 White River Junction) and WTSV (1230 Claremont), soft AC WWSH (95.3 White River Junction), and rocker WHDQ (106.1 Claremont). We hear WGLV will simulcast WNHV/WTSV for six weeks or so, followed by a “new format” under the WWOD calls. (Hmm…”O-D” — whatever could THAT be?)
Vox launched another “new” station in the Green Mountain State this week, moving WWFY (100.9) from a little class A in Middlebury to a big signal licensed to Berlin. Now known as “Froggy 100.9, Jumpin’ Country,” WWFY is targeting the Barre-Montpelier area. Jim Severance is the PD (and afternoon guy), with Steve Boswell from Waterbury’s WDEV doing mornings as “J.D. Green,” Michelle Drury middays as “Mickey Hopper,” the syndicated Lia show in evenings, and Tim Martin overnight as “Tad Pole.” Cute…real cute.
The big news from MASSACHUSETTS was the $47.5 million sale of Worcester’s Univision affiliate, WUNI (Channel 27). The station becomes the 18th Univision affiliate owned by Entravision, and the company’s first in New England. NERW wonders if Entravision might try to expand its growing Spanish-language radio group our way as well…
The “Score” sports simulcast in central MAINE has lost two of its many stations, as Cumulus flips WCME (96.7 Boothbay Harbor) to a simulcast of oldies WABK (104.3 Gardiner)..and our ears up there are hearing WHQO (107.9 Skowhegan) running a 15-minute loop of, of all things, hip-hop music.
Just last week, we told you that Aurora Broadcasting wouldn’t be selling its cluster in Connecticut and NEW YORK to Nassau after all. This week, Aurora showed just how much it’s changing gears, agreeing to pay $55 million for Rob Dyson’s Crystal group in the Hudson Valley.
This sale, combined with Clear Channel’s purchases in the valley earlier in the year (NERW 5/6/2000), mean that just about every major signal between Westchester and Albany will end the year under new ownership.
One bit of news from CANADA, and it comes to us through North Country correspondent Mike Roach: CJET (630) in Smiths Falls, Ontario has turned on its new FM signal at 92.3. Mike reports that “Country 92” began running a test loop of country music Saturday morning (10/14), which means the AM should be dark within a few months. (NERW’s suddenly very glad that we made it up to Smiths Falls over the summer, and not just for the Hershey Canada factory tour!)
Twenty Years Ago: October 14 & 19, 1995
Boston is getting its first FM triopoly, as soon as Congress approves the rule change to allow it (apparently at this point it’s “when” and not “if,” alas). Fresh from its purchase of Pyramid Broadcasting (locally, CHurban WJMN-94.5, CHR WXKS-107.9, and satellite-standards WXKS-1430), Evergreen has signed a deal to buy country WKLB-105.7 from Fairbanks Broadcasting. WKLB was the last stand-alone class B FM left available for purchase in the Boston area. CBS’s WODS-103.3 is a stand-alone for now, but will be paired with Westinghouse’s WBZ-1030 when that deal closes. And Charles River Broadcasting’s classical WCRB-102.5 is a stand-alone class B, but is not legally available for purchase.
The DJ Shuffle Goes On: Ken Shelton, late of WZLX, and before that a veteran of years as midday guy on WBCN, has landed on his feet after being fired from WZLX. Shelton will start as WBOS’s morning man November 1, the day his non-compete clause from WZLX expires. And JR, the former morning jock on WJMN, is returning to Boston from a brief exile to Texas. He’s starting soon on 70s WEGQ “Eagle 93.7.”
The demolition crews go to work Thursday morning, October 19, on what remains of the old rhombic antenna system of the late WBOS shortwave. WBOS was the shortwave outlet of WBZ, and operated from WBZ’s transmitter site at Hull, Massachusetts from about 1940 until shortly after World War Two. The actual antenna wires are long gone, but the telephone poles that supported the antenna have been sitting undisturbed in the swamp next to the WBZ towers for half a century. But…all things must pass, and it seems the town of Hull got nervous about these towers falling and hurting someone. So after much political pressure, the poles are being removed.