In this week’s issue… Big potential for AM operators? – Still more new signals for Toronto ‘burbs – Fox rebrands in CT – New newscasts in Boston – PLUS: We’re celebrating at the Empire State Building this week!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*They kept us all on the hook for three years, but the commissioners at the FCC finally dropped more than 70 pages of First Report & Order, Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Further Inquiry on Friday afternoon, closing the first chapter in the long process of AM radio revitalization.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the marketplace has already decided AM’s fate and whether “revitalization” would have been more relevant several decades earlier, Friday’s lengthy document opens some interesting new doors for the broadcasters who are still trying to succeed on AM.
The big headline, at least for us, is that the FCC will provide four opportunities for AM stations to obtain FM translators. That’s a sharp change from the stance that chairman Tom Wheeler had taken as recently as the Radio Show in Atlanta earlier this month, and it appears that commissioner Mignon Clyburn was the negotiator who made the case for a compromise deal.
Here’s how it will work: initially – and soon – the FCC will open a six-month window in which class C and D stations (the old “graveyard” class IV channels and former daytimers) can move one commercial-band FM translator from as far as 250 miles away, and to any open commercial-band FM channel in the new market. That will be followed by three more windows: a three-month window for any AM station to do a 250-mile transmitter move, then windows in 2017 for C and D stations, then any station, to apply for a brand-new translator.
(We should note at this point that your editor filed extensive comments in this proceeding, several of which were cited in the FCC’s report; and that through Fybush Media, we provide consulting services to AM stations seeking to improve their reach through translators and other moves. How can we help your station?)
The 250-mile limit is, of course, completely arbitrary. And while the FCC seems to believe that widening the circle of possible translator moves will reduce the prices station owners pay for those translators, we’re not so sure. Translator owners that have only a few possible suitors right now may find themselves with more potential buyers; over at RadioInsight, Lance Venta has already identified the first translator to be sold to an AM station more than 200 miles away, moving from Indiana to Ohio.
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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 27, 2014
*In the last few years, we’ve had the sad duty in this space of eulogizing some of the region’s best-known broadcasters as they’ve left us. But there was something a little different about the news Sunday of the death of Dale Dorman. Legendary as the longtime WRKO (680), WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and WODS (103.3) jock was on the Boston radio scene, so many of the remembrances of “Uncle Dale” were intensely personal.
“He was the man who I listened to as a kid & gave me my first radio gig,” wrote Shawn Tempesta, now at KMXB in Las Vegas. From Florida’s WNZF, Ron Gitschier remembered reaching out to Dorman for advice on his own first paying radio job. “His reply gave me that little extra push of confidence to go for it…. he explained how radio has been very good to him and recommended that I give it a go. I feel very honored to have had such advice from a beloved radio icon/my idol.”
As long as Dorman’s Boston career was – 40 years of daily radio gigs plus a long run as a TV announcer, too – the memories poured in of his earlier days in radio, too. Dorman started in the mid-1960s at WCHN (970/93.9) in central New York, then became part of the legendary Syracuse radio scene at WOLF (1490) before making a brief foray to the west coast at Bill Drake’s KYNO in Fresno and KFRC in San Francisco. It was Drake who brought Dorman to Boston and WRKO’s morning shift in 1968, but Dorman’s personality ended up growing far beyond the strictures of the tight Drake format.
All of Dorman’s wit, razor-sharp timing and trademark phrases – “Hi Mom!” – were in full flower during the next chapter in his career. With WRKO’s music days waning (Dorman later claimed he tried to recommend to RKO management that they move the music format to FM and take the AM talk in the 1970s), Dorman was fired in 1978, moving briefly to mornings at WVBF (105.7) in Framingham before joining Richie Balsbaugh’s insurgent Kiss 108, becoming a key part of what would become one of the most stable airstaffs in town. For more than two decades, the music stayed young on Kiss even as the jocks got older, and by the time Dorman’s Kiss run (nearly all of it in afternoon drive) ended in 2003, “Uncle Dale” really could have been an uncle or even a grandpa to many of his young listeners. (Many of them had grown up hearing and seeing him in another context: he had a long run in the 1970s and 1980s as a kiddie TV host on channel 56, WLVI.)
Dorman’s next chapter reunited him with the music he’d been playing early in his career: he took over in mornings at CBS Radio’s WODS (103.3) for what turned out to be the waning days of its “Oldies 103” era – and after five years in morning drive, Dorman left quietly and on his own terms in 2008, moving himself to weekends and eventually retiring completely a year or so later. Dorman was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2010; he’d apparently been ill recently, and he was 71 when he died last Tuesday.
*In western MASSACHUSETTS, it was moving day for public radio over the weekend. New England Public Radio’s WFCR (88.5 Amherst) began broadcasting from its new digs in Springfield on Saturday afternoon at 1, and while some studio space will remain behind on the UMass Amherst campus, it’s the end of more than 50 years of full-time operations from Hampshire House there. We’re looking forward to a visit to the new studios and offices at 1537 Main Street in Springfield sometime soon – so stay tuned for pictures here and on Tower Site of the Week! (Where, by the way, we’ve kicked off our extensive recap of Big Trip 2013…)
WSNR (620 Jersey City) is licensed to New Jersey, but it serves a big chunk of New York City, too – and now it’s being sold. Our sister site RadioInsight broke the news that Gregory Davidzon’s Davidzon Radio, which has leased the daytime airtime on AM 620 since 2003, is buying the station outright from Peter Davidson’s Blackstrap Broadcasting for $12.5 million.
Even before the sale closes, Davidzon’s Russian-language programming will take over WSNR’s airtime 24/7 via a new time brokerage agreement that starts Saturday, replacing the other ethnic programming (largely Spanish religion, if memory serves) that had been running nights and weekends on 620.
Blackstrap bought WSNR and Boston sister station WUFC (1510) from Paul Allen’s Rose City Radio for $20.5 million back in 2007; Rose City had tried and failed to make them succeed with Sporting News Radio, and had already turned to leased time in New York before selling.
Five Years Ago: October 25, 2010
It was supposed to be a pretty simple job: replacing the channel 59 translator antenna for W59AU in Utica with a new antenna, allowing Syracuse public broadcaster WCNY to switch from analog to digital (on channel 22, as W22DO-D.) But something went terribly wrong as a three-person crew from Alpha Antenna Services worked 300 or so feet in the air atop the tower WCNY leases from Utica’s WKTV. The old channel 59 antenna buckled, sending all three tower workers falling. William Fox, 49, suffered the most serious injuries to his face, while Kelly Dougherty, 30, suffered foot injuries and a third worker was checked out and released. Because the tower with the dangling antenna sits right next to WKTV’s Smith Hill studios, Channel 2 was forced to evacuate its building, cancelling its noon newscast and replacing its usual NBC feed with programming from its DTV subchannel. (The actual WKTV transmissions, from a site in Middleville 20 miles to the east, were unaffected, but WKTV’s master control couldn’t function until workers there were cleared to return to the building.)
As of Monday night, it’s not yet clear how long it will take for WCNY to resume the translator-upgrade project, or whether WCNY’s other signal at the site, WUNY (89.5 Utica), was affected. (2011 update: Tower crews were on the WKTV tower just this past week, finally completing the needed work to rebuild the DTV antenna and return W22DO-D to the air.)
Every radio market with a big top-40 station in the sixties had its breakout star – and in Albany, NEW YORK, there was none bigger than “Boom Boom Brannigan,” who spun the tunes on WPTR (1540) beginning in 1961 and stayed there well into the seventies, propelling WPTR into the heat of a top-40 battle with archrival WTRY. Before his Albany stardom, Brannigan had been up and down the Thruway, working under his real name, Joseph Motto, at stations in Utica (WTLB) and Syracuse (WNDR) and as “Ronnie Victor” at Buffalo’s WBNY. After leaving WPTR in 1974, Brannigan also worked at WABY (1400) for a time, and he came back to WPTR in the early years of the 21st century when the station flipped to an oldies format in an attempt to recapture the old magic. In the meantime, he’d become a station owner, putting WMVI (1170 Mechanicville) on the air in 1979, and later selling it, buying it back and selling it again. Brannigan, whose real name was Joseph Motto, had been in poor health for the last few years; he died Tuesday in Albany, at age 82.
While Brannigan was spinning the tunes at WPTR, Martin Beck was moving from the presidency of the Katz Radio rep firm into his own prominence as a station owner. Beck left Katz in 1968 to join forces with his brother-in-law George Ross under the “Beck-Ross Communications” banner, a name that would soon become prominent in the region. Beck-Ross bought its first station in 1970, flipping the former WPAC-FM (106.1 Patchogue) into WBLI. It became the cornerstone of an ownership group that eventually grew to 28 stations, including WHCN in Hartford and WSNE in Providence, before selling out to Capstar (one of the antecedents of today’s Clear Channel) in 1995. Three years later, Beck and his son-in-law Jim Champlin returned to ownership, investing in WSYB/WZRT in Rutland, Vermont. Beck held many of the industry’s top leadership posts, including serving as president of the New York State Broadcasters Association and chairman of the NAB Radio Board; he was named to the NYSBA’s hall of fame in 2005 and won the NAB’s National Radio Award in 1992. Beck died Thursday (Oct. 21) at 93.
Beck’s successor at the helm of the NYSBA is retiring. Joe Reilly has been with the group for three decades, and he’s giving the state association plenty of time to replace him; he won’t leave NYSBA until mid-2011, and he’ll still be around as a consultant even after that.
It’s been an interesting week for radio in southern NEW JERSEY, where police in the Atlantic City suburb of Linwood arrested the former general manager of the Atlantic Broadcasting cluster. Brett DeNafo was charged with second-degree theft and theft by deception after Atlantic accused him of stealing nearly $175,000 from the stations. $76,149 of that came from personal purchases DeNafo allegedly made with a station credit card, while the remainder of the money ($98,805) was related to advertising that ran on the stations but for which Atlantic never received payment. Atlantic fired DeNafo back in March, two years after he joined forces with JVC Broadcasting’s John Caracciolo, engineer Mike Ferriola and several local air personalities to buy the radio cluster from Access.1 Communications. DeNafo turned himself in to police in Linwood and was freed on $350,000 bail. His attorney Stephen Scheffler tells the Press of Atlantic City that the charges are “110% bogus.”
Ten Years Ago: October 24, 2005
Back in the earliest days of this column, a decade or so ago, one of the popular parlor games in eastern MASSACHUSETTS was to speculate on when, and how, Boston’s WILD (1090) would find a way to move its heritage callsign and urban format to an FM signal. It almost happened in the mid-90s, on what eventually became (and still remains) WXRV (92.5 Haverhill), and there were some pretty intense rumors that it was going to happen again in 1998, when the signal that’s now WMKK (93.7 Lawrence) came on the market. In 2000, Radio One’s purchase of WILD put the station under common ownership with an FM (WBOT 97.7 Brockton) for the first time, and again the rumors of “WILD-FM” swirled. Instead, WBOT remained “Hot 97-7,” with a hip-hop format, while WILD’s classic R&B format remained in place on the daytime AM signal – until last week, when Radio One finally moved the WILD identity to the FM signal.
The new “Wild 97.7,” which will soon bear the WILD-FM calls, picks up the Tom Joyner morning show that had been heard on 1090 (replacing the syndicated Russ Parr show), and it’ll pick up the rest of the AM’s local programming as well. After 6 PM, WILD-FM will begin aiming at a younger demographic, as it edges from R&B oldies back to hip-hop for the evening hours. WILD(AM), meanwhile, flips to black gospel as “Praise 1090, Boston’s Inspiration Station”; it’s not clear whether new calls will be on the way there or not.
And it’s worth noting that the new WILD-FM is poised to improve its Boston signal even beyond the considerable boost it received when it moved its transmitter to Great Blue Hill in Milton a few months ago. The move to Milton from Abington came with a directional notch to the northwest, protecting co-channel WOQL (97.7 Winchendon), but now Radio One and WOQL owner Saga have reached a deal to take WILD-FM nondirectional, while installing a directional antenna at WOQL. (Radio One will pay Saga $500,000, plus expenses, to take WOQL directional.) The applications for both stations were filed a few weeks ago at the FCC, and we’ll be watching as they work their way through the process there.
In other news from western MASSACHUSETTS, Citadel’s WMAS (1450 Springfield) has moved from talk to ABC’s True Oldies format, displacing hosts such as Neal Boortz, Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz and Randi Rhodes.
And on the TV side of things, Meredith launched local news on WSHM-LP (Channel 67) October 13, from studios at Monarch Place in downtown Springfield. News director Doug Lezette is anchoring the 6 and 11 PM broadcasts on “CBS 3,” along with Lindsay Liepman, Curtis Grevenitz doing weather and Scott Harris on sports. The newscast reaches viewers in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley over the LPTV signal and, mostly, over cable. (WSHM replaced Hartford’s WFSB, a Meredith sister station, on Massachusetts cable systems a few years back; it’s also available to Connecticut viewers on a subchannel of WFSB-DT.)
Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, WSMN (1590 Nashua) returned to the air last week. It’s simulcasting sister station WSNH (900)’s ESPN Radio programming, and it’s apparently operating from a very low-power STA on the WSNH tower while it tries to find a replacement for the soon-to-be-demolished three-tower array on Hollis Street that it used for 45 years before going dark this past spring.
We’ll begin our NEW YORK report way upstate, where WKYJ (88.7 Rouses Point) has signed on with EMF’s “K-Love” contemporary Christian music. EMF is adding another upstate outlet as well. The company is paying Liberty Communications Family Broadcasting Network $300,000 for WWJS (90.1 Watertown), which will flip to “K-Love” any day now.
North of Albany, WHAZ-FM (97.5 Hoosick Falls) is back on the air, temporarily simulcasting WHAZ (1330 Troy) until a new “gospel gold” format is ready to debut.
A station sale in NEW JERSEY is taking Mega Communications completely out of the region, as it sheds its last remaining Northeast property, WEMG (1310 Camden), to the fast-growing Davidson group. Davidson, which also owns stations in Hartford and Providence, is paying $8.75 million for the Philadelphia-market AM.
PDs on the move: Chuck Tisa’s out as PD of WRDW-FM (96.5 Philadelphia), with no replacement announced yet; meanwhile, across the state, Alex Tear arrives as the new PD of WKST-FM (96.1 Pittsburgh).
And we have a pair of call changes: public TV outlet WPSX (Channel 3) in Clearfield has officially changed to WPSU-TV, recognizing its ownership by Penn State University. The WPSX calls move to the former WPSB (90.1 Kane), which simulcasts with WPSU-FM (91.5 State College).
Fifteen Years Ago: October 23, 2000
It’s always fun to be caught completely by surprise by the sign-on of a new radio station, and that’s just what happened to us as we piloted the NERW-mobile through the hills and valleys of central NEW YORK this weekend. Spinning the dial while crossing the Mohawk Valley, we noticed high school football on 99.7. The Utica WJIV translator? Nope…that’s now on 99.1. How about an AM simulcast? Sure enough, also on 1230, WLFH Little Falls. A commercial break confirmed our suspicions: WBGK Newport Village is on the air. When it’s not doing high school football, WBGK is part of what’s now the four-station “Bug Country” simulcast, which also includes WBUG-FM (101.1 Fort Plain) and WBUG (1570 Amsterdam).
Elsewhere in the Empire State, Citadel’s WNSS (1260) in Syracuse dumped its AP all-news format last week, becoming one of the first two broadcast affiliates of the Comedy World network, heretofore a Web-only service.
One more from Syracuse: We heard the city’s new urban outlet on 106.9 using a new set of calls. The FCC database doesn’t show it yet, but “WPHR Auburn-Syracuse” was what we caught on the former WHCD. (The WPHR calls have been on a new CP in the Ashtabula, Ohio area, near where the calls had their heritage run a decade ago on Cleveland’s 107.9.)
Two notes from MASSACHUSETTS this week: With the Six Flags amusement park closed for the season, WPNT (1600 East Longmeadow) has changed format back to a simulcast — but not sister FM WAQY (102.1 Springfield). Instead, Saga is using 1600 to relay its new purchase in the Pioneer Valley, WHMP (1400 Northampton). Can WHMP’s programming, aimed at listeners in Hampshire County, make inroads against big talk competitors WHYN and WNNZ on their home turf in Hampden County?
Up in CANADA this week, it must have been quite a shock for listeners to the very soft rock that’s been heard on CHAY (93.1) in Barrie, Ontario for a generation. New owner Corus flipped the station to its “Energy Radio” dance-CHR format this week, joining existing Energy stations in Toronto-Hamilton (CING 107.9) and London (CKDK 103.1).
Twenty Years Ago: October 26, 1995