In this week’s issue… Massive Canadian TV cuts – NH AM goes silent – Changes at Cumulus NYC – Towers going up in Mass.
By SCOTT FYBUSH
We’re a community.
That reality was borne out in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday when CHCH (Channel 11) cancelled its evening newscasts and called a 4 PM staff meeting at which it laid off its news staff of 129 full-timers and 38 part-timers, closing the books on an audacious experiment in wall-to-wall local news.
While CHCH itself continues to be owned by Toronto-based Channel Zero, its subsidiary Channel 11 LP, which provided the newscasts, filed for bankruptcy Friday. When newscasts resume tonight, they’ll be provided by a new subsidiary that will rehire only a fraction of the former staff, reportedly 58 full-timers and 23 part-timers. Some of CHCH’s longest-serving veterans, including Matt Hayes, Scot Urquhart Lauran Sabourin and Donna Skelly, won’t be part of the new team, even after surviving the upheavals a few years back that sent the station through a series of ownership and programming changes that culminated with Channel Zero paying just $12 for CHCH and CJNT in Montreal.
(You can see more about CHCH’s history and get a look inside its ambitious news operations in this Site of the Week profile from earlier this year.)
Instead of starting news at 4 AM and running non-stop through 7 PM, then picking up again at 11 PM, the new CHCH news operation will include only a two-hour morning show from 7-9 AM, an hour at 6 PM, a half-hour at 11 and no weekend newscasts at all. CHCH also cancelled the “Sportsline” and “Square Off” talk shows it had programmed in the 5 PM hour.
What went wrong? Channel Zero places much of the blame on the end of the Local Program Improvement Fund, a tax on cable and satellite subscribers that had funneled millions of dollars a year to help maintain local programming. Others, including Montreal’s Steve Faguy (who calls it “The day local TV died“), point to the bigger changes in Canada’s TV landscape in recent years. Unlike the US model, where most local stations are owned by companies independent of the national networks, nearly all of Canada’s local stations are now owned by one of a handful of giant media conglomerates – Bell’s CTV, Shaw’s Global or Rogers’ CityTV. That simply doesn’t leave much ad revenue for any independent players, and that left CHCH without the revenue stream it had hoped to tap for its news experiment.
And now more than 80 newspeople are out of work in Hamilton, adding to a toll that’s included even bigger cuts at Bell’s radio and TV operations across Canada.
*In Montreal, it appears multicultural programming may be the future for Evanov’s CHRF (980), which has been playing Christmas music since dropping its own audacious experiment, French-language programming aimed at the GLBT community. Evanov recently bought Montreal’s original ethnic station, CFMB (1280), and it has been airing a few hours a day of multicultural shows, though a full-time flip would require the CRTC to change CHRF’s license terms.
This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Max Cacas, who died on Tuesday at 61. While he never worked here in NERW-land, the veteran DC journalist was a friend to many in the region both professionally and personally. Max’s professional resume included time at NPR, where he worked behind the scenes in the early years of “Morning Edition,” as well as the Capital News Connection, which served several affiliates in the region, Federal News Radio and WTOP. On a personal level, Max was an early adopter of Usenet and a vital part of the rec.radio.broadcasting community from which this column launched more than 20 years ago. More recently, he was a Facebook staple, participating actively in many radio-related forums. He was always generous with his time and enthusiasm, and his sudden death leaves a void that will be hard to fill.
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: December 15, 2014
*Broadcasters in the U.S. enjoy pretty free rein when it comes to what they program, who they simulcast and where they seek out ad dollars. But you only have to go a few miles across the border into CANADA for this week’s example of just how differently the rules work there.
The stations at the center of the CRTC’s wrath this week are Vista’s CFLZ (101.1 Fort Erie) and CJED (105.1 Niagara Falls), which have been simulcasting as “2Day FM” since September 2013 but waited until May 2014 to ask the agency for the license modifications that would make the simulcast legal. While “shoot first and ask questions later” may be a sound business strategy in some contexts, it doesn’t fly with the CRTC, which last week slapped Vista with some tough conditions in order to keep the 101.1 half of the simulcast on the air.
Here’s the problem: because the CRTC requires most licensees to provide a not-insignificant amount of local news specific to their communities, it’s nearly impossible for stations to both simulcast 24/7 and to meet those local news and programming requirements. Under the Broadcasting Act, stations that are local for less than 42 hours a week can’t solicit or accept local advertising within their communities.
After Vista acquired CFLZ and CJED through its purchase of the Haliburton group in 2012, it tells the CRTC that it found the Niagara Falls-based stations were “in disrepair, understaffed, had virtually no presence in the market, and were not operating on a financially sustainable basis,” making the simulcast necessary on a temporary basis. Its May application requested CRTC permission to retain the simulcast until the end of CFLZ’s license term, waiving the 42-hour rule for local ad sales while meeting a license term requiring three hours of local news each week.
But the CRTC was in no mood to reward Vista. Writing that the financial problems at CJED/CFLZ already existed when Vista bought the stations, the CRTC denied the license amendments. Instead, it told Vista that it has only until this Thursday to return local programming to 101.1, with a detailed report on how compliance will be assured – or, failing that, to submit an application by January 26, 2015 to convert CFLZ into a “rebroadcasting transmitter” of CJED.
Assuming Vista chooses that latter option, as seems likely, it will be able to legally simulcast the two overlapping FM signals all the time. But it also won’t be able to solicit or accept advertising in Fort Erie, ending just under 30 years of local radio operation in that community just across the Niagara River from Buffalo.
*The “C” company making big staffing changes in NEW YORK City last week wasn’t iHeart (well, it used to be a “C” company) but rather Cumulus – and the changes were in morning drive at WPLJ (95.5), where Jayde Donovan is inbound from Tampa’s WPOI to become the new sidekick to Todd Pettengill on “The Todd Show.” Her arrival means the departure of Pettengill’s original co-host, Cooper Lawrence, and production director William “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is out as well, less than a year after he came on board for the Pettengill show. (Our content partner, RadioInsight, noted that the WPLJ news release on Donovan’s arrival makes no mention of PD John Foxx, either.)
*There’s some good news from MAINE, where engineer Joel Epley checked in with NERW over the weekend to report that he’s got WMDR-FM (88.9 Oakland) back on the air after wind and ice took its tower down on Streaked Mountain a few days ago. (See all the details in our NERW Extra from Wednesday.)
While work continues up at the main WMDR-FM site to remove the wreckage of the downed tower and to see how much of the antenna can be salvaged, a broadband antenna at the site of sister station WMEY (88.1 Bowdoin) meant that the WMEY facility east of Lewiston could be retuned as an emergency home for the 88.9 signal, replicating at least part of WMDR-FM’s usual big coverage of central and southern Maine. Epley reports the replacement 88.9 signal is strong enough to reactivate the translator in Bangor that went silent when the Streaked Mountain tower fell.
Five Years Ago: December 11, 2010
There’s a new general manager at Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9), but Charlie Kravets is a familiar name in eastern MASSACHUSETTS broadcasting, where he spent the last two decades building New England Cable News from the ground up. Kravets was NECN’s founding news director back in 1992, becoming the channel’s president and general manager in 2008 before departing when Hearst sold its interest in NECN to Comcast. And he has deep ties to his WBUR predecessor: like Paul La Camera, Kravets has roots at WCVB (Channel 5), where he was the original producer of “Chronicle” and later assistant news director.
Kravets takes over the helm of WBUR on New Year’s Day; La Camera will stick around as an ambassador for the station and as BU’s administrator of public radio.
*Our NEW YORK news starts in the Hudson Valley, where veteran morning man Mark Bolger lost his job after Thursday’s morning show at WBWZ (93.3 New Paltz). The cancellation of the “Star 93.3” morning show also left co-host Kimberly Kay without a job; so far, no replacement for mornings there has been announced. There’s a new operations manager at the Clear Channel cluster in Poughkeepsie that’s home to WBWZ, WRWD, WKIP and “Kiss” WPKF: He’s Stephen Giuttari, who’d been PD at WCTK in New Bedford/Providence and WYGY in Cincinnati and was most recently working for Hearst in Seattle. Former CC/HV operations manager Reg Osterhoudt is now the cluster’s director of engineering.
It was one of the most recognized station IDs in all of CANADA: “This is CITY-TV, EVERYWHERE!”
The voice behind that ID was silenced last week: Mark Dailey was just 57 when he lost his battle with cancer on Monday, ending a long career as an announcer, reporter and anchor at CITY. Dailey came to Canada from Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked as a policeman before crossing to the other side as a reporter. His first Canadian gig was at the legendary CKLW (800) in Windsor; he came to Toronto to work at CHUM in 1974 and then moved to CITY in 1979, anchoring the 11 PM “CityPulse” newscast, hosting the station’s late movies and of course voicing the distinctive station IDs that made CITY a unique TV station in its heyday.
Ten Years Ago: December 12, 2005
Three northeast PENNSYLVANIA radio stations will be able to stay on the air under new ownership, now that the FCC has agreed to allow their owner, who was convicted of child-molestation charges, to sell the stations rather than to surrender their licenses. Regular NERW readers already know the background here: Doug Lane, longtime owner of WWDL (104.9 Scranton, now WWRR), WICK (1400 Scranton) and WYCK (1340 Plains), was arrested in March 2004. Prosecutors say Lane’s history of molesting teenage boys extended back several decades, with the statute of limitations having expired on some of the earliest incidents.
In the past, the FCC has handled similar charges against licensees (most notably Michael Rice, who owned stations in Missouri and Indiana) by revoking the stations’ licenses – and indeed, to this day, Rice’s former frequencies in Columbia, Missouri and Terre Haute, Indiana remain dark. In this case, though, prosecutors in Lackawanna County had a different idea. They asked the FCC to allow Lane to sell the stations to Bold Gold Media, which owns four nearby stations (WDNH/WPSN in Honesdale, WYCY in Hawley and WDNB in Jeffersonville, N.Y.) and which has been operating the Scranton stations under an LMA for several months. Out of the $1.9 million sale price for the stations, $300,000 would be set aside for reimbursement to victims and for contributions to victim-assistance agencies. The remainder would be put into a court-supervised account, with the money (plus interest) going to Lane if he wins the appeal of his conviction and to the county if the conviction stands on appeal. The FCC agreed to the plan last week, and now the transfer of the licenses to Bold Gold will move forward.
In Philadelphia, another legal settlement means the end of the WOGL (98.1 Philadelphia) career of legendary jock Hy Lit. Lit had sued WOGL owner Infinity for age discrimination, and as part of a settlement with the company, he agreed to make yesterday (Dec. 11) his final Sunday show on WOGL. Lit’s far from finished, though – he’s now focusing on his 24-hour oldies webcast at hylit.com.
In Carlisle, WHYL (960) has made it official – it’ll return to adult standards when the Christmas music ends in early January. The format change includes the return of Ben Barber to morning drive; he’d been doing mornings until WHYL flipped to talk a year ago, and had been doing sales for the station since then.
There’s probably nothing we can add to the media hype surrounding the impending departure of Howard Stern from terrestrial radio, so we won’t even try.
But there is some news surrounding his NEW YORK flagship station: the calls will apparently change from WXRK to WFNY-FM when it becomes “92.3 Free FM” in January (the WFNY calls are also in use on AM and for an LPTV up in Gloversville, and we’re sure owner Michael Sleezer got a nice deal from Infinity to share them for New York City use.) The new WFNY-FM will have a new manager, as Mark Chernoff gets promoted from operations director at WFAN to VP/programming for both WFAN and WFNY-FM. And current WXRK afternoon guy Chris Booker will stay with 92.3 in its new incarnation, handling evenings.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 11, 2000
Enjoying the independent fare on Boston’s new WHUB-TV 66? Looking forward to more of the same next year on New York City’s channel 68 and Long Island’s channel 67? You’d better habla español, then. USA Broadcasting, which flipped WHUB and three of its 12 other stations around the country from home shopping to indies over the past two years, announced Friday that it’s selling all thirteen stations to Univision. The $1.1 billion dollar deal, which also includes an interest in four more UHF stations, will turn most of the USA stations into outlets of a brand new “Univision Duo” network (although two stations, WHSP near Philadelphia and WHOT-TV near Atlanta, will become primary Univision affiliates instead.)
Why “Univision Duo”? It looks like an attempt by Univision to ensure its continued dominance of the Hispanic TV market against an impending challenge from the new “Azteca USA” network being created by Pappas Telecasting and Mexico’s Azteca network, rival to Univision’s Mexican partner, dominant Televisa. The arrival of Univision Duo can’t be good news for Azteca — especially as word comes that an Azteca deal to buy WSAH (Channel 43) in Bridgeport is falling through, leaving Azteca with no New York City outlet against a potential three Univision outlets (the existing WXTV Channel 41, accompanied by USA’s WHSE Channel 68 and, on Long Island, WHSI Channel 67).
Meanwhile, upstate NEW YORK ended up with a second all-eighties outlet on Friday (Dec. 8), as Albany’s WABT (104.5 Mechanicsville) ditched “Jammin’ Oldies” to become “the Buzz,” accompanied by the strains of the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The Regent-owned station is one of several spinoffs from the Capstar group when it merged with Clear Channel’s Albany cluster earlier this year.
Twenty Years Ago: December 15, 1995