In this week’s issue… What a Pittsburgh sale says about “AM Revitalization” – WRKO becomes a thing of the past – Ontario FM seeks signal boost – Remembering NY’s Siegel, Murphy, “Commander Ralph”
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Pittsburgh Public Media is making a move to get more signal into Pittsburgh itself. The former managers of WDUQ (90.5, now WESA) formed PPM after Duquesne University put that station up for sale, and when they couldn’t get the 90.5 signal, they bought what’s now WYZR (88.1 Bethany WV), rimshotting Pittsburgh from the southwest.
Now PPM is paying $75,000 to buy WZUM (1550 Braddock) from Ed deHart’s AM Guys LLC, which paid $16,000 to buy 1550 when it was silent as WLFJ. WZUM had been running an oldies format that found an avid fan base, but it couldn’t find financial viability as an AM daytimer.
So why does PPM think it can succeed with 1550 where nobody else has been able to do so for many years?
The answer comes in just a couple of weeks, when the FCC opens the first of several windows for its “AM improvement” proceedings. Whether or not the whole process will actually improve AM radio, per se, it’s already having a big effect on AM radio owners – and even more so on the owners of FM translators that have been underutilized.
When the window opens January 29, class C and D AM stations like WZUM will be able to move translator licenses and construction permits from as much as 250 miles away, but only if they file by July. After that, class B and A AM stations will get their own window, followed in 2017 by another set of windows for brand-new translator licenses on whatever frequencies still remain open.
For stations like WZUM, it’s potentially a big opportunity: assuming PPM can find an open FM channel and beat other applicants to it, it could acquire a translator on any commercial channel from as far away as Michigan, Tennessee or upstate New York and secure a presence on the FM dial, restoring the old WDUQ jazz format to many listeners who can’t get the WYZR signal from the western edges of the market.
How to make sense of all the sudden opportunities for buyers and sellers, especially as sale prices for translators are on the rise (as you’ll read later in today’s issue)? That’s where we come in: in addition to our weekly column, Fybush Media provides consulting services to broadcasters all over the region – and now we’re launching a new offshoot at TranslatorSale.com to help bring buyers and sellers together. We’ll have the first translators for sale listed at the site later today – and we’re eager to work with you, whether you’re buying or selling, to help you make the most of the big opportunities that this window may offer.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the whole process here in NERW, too – and you’ll see more about translator move-ins in the making later on in the column…
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*It’s been many decades since listeners in MASSACHUSETTS tuned to WRKO (680 Boston) to find music, but that changed in a small way on Saturday night when the Entercom-owned talker launched a four-hour block of oldies. The new show is hosted by veteran Boston DJ Jeff Lawrence (WVBF, WCGY, WODS, etc.), who’s playing vintage jingles from WRKO’s top-40 era in the 1960s and 1970s. (And no, there’s no reason to expect this weekend specialty show to portend any sort of bigger format change at the talk station…)
In Worcester, WCRN (830) is upping its commitment to local news, adding afternoon local newscasts with Sherman Whitman, who moves to that shift from his current role as Hank Stolz’ morning co-host. Ben White, who’s been behind the board for afternoons, will move to mornings to work with Stolz.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, JC Coffey’s new gig continues the game of musical chairs that’s been playing out in the region: after departing Saga in Manchester, Coffey’s starting February 8 at Townsquare’s Seacoast cluster. He’ll serve as operations manager/brand manager for all four stations there, programming the two country signals in the cluster (WOKQ 97.5 Dover and WPKQ 103.7 North Conway) and doing afternoons on WOKQ. That’s the job Mark Jennings left behind a few months ago when he joined Saga’s Portland stations. This is Coffey’s second time at the Seacoast stations; from 2007-2010 he did production and some on-air work at WOKQ/WPKQ and sister stations WSHK/WSAK (“the Shark”). He’ll give up his weekend shifts at WAAF (107.3) in the Boston market when he takes the new job with Townsquare.
And we send our deepest condolences to station owner Bob Vinikoor (WNTK, WCFR, WCNL) on the death of his wife and business partner, Sheila, on January 8 at their home in Fort Myers, Florida. Sheila was just 65; she leaves behind their children Jeff and Lisa. Funeral services were held last weekend in New Jersey.
*In VERMONT, Kwame Dankwa has moved on again after a second stint as PD of Pamal’s WZRT (97.1 Rutland). Dankwa programmed Z from 2011-2012, left for a year in Memphis, then returned in 2013. He says he’s going to take a “brief retirement” and do some teaching and travel.
In Warren, Rootswork’s community LPFM, WMRW-LP, has filed for a license to cover for its move from 95.1 to 94.5, where it’s moving away from incoming interference from CBF-FM (95.1 Montreal).
*In CONNECTICUT, Dennis Jackson is trying again to move W276AV (103.1 Stamford), the translator he recently bought from Univision. After being thwarted in a bid to move the translator over to Westchester County to relay WVOX (1460 New Rochelle), Jackson is now applying to shift it to 105.5 as a relay (for now, anyway) of public radio WSTC (1400 Stamford). Jackson tells the FCC the current 103.1 signal has suffered from interference since Connoisseur’s co-channel WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) across Long Island sound went non-directional last year – and that the added interference is especially noticeable because WBZO’s previous directional antenna wasn’t completely filling the authorized DA pattern toward Connecticut.
There’s a callsign change coming at “Kool Oldies”: John Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting has reserved “WNTY” as the new calls for what’s now WXCT (990 Southington) once it takes over the license from Davidson; the WNTY calls, of course, graced that 990 signal from its 1969 sign-on until 2003.
*Long before the 9 AM slot on NEW YORK TV was home to Regis or Kathie Lee, it was home to a far more interesting personality, Stanley Siegel. Siegel, who died Jan. 2 at 79, had worked in TV in Green Bay, Tacoma and Nashville before coming to WABC-TV (Channel 7) in 1975 as host of “AM New York,” the live, local hour that followed the new “AM America,” the ancestor of today’s “GMA.” Siegel brought barb and wit to his show, but his hot persona wasn’t the right fit for the cool medium of TV at that hour, just as it would be a few years later for David Letterman. Siegel lasted only a few years on channel 7, even fewer on WCBS-TV (Channel 2), and by 1980 he was off the local airwaves, spending the rest of his career on the fringes of cable TV, where he was hosting programs right up until his death.
Here in Rochester, Jack Murphy was the morning man on WHAM (1180) in the 1970s, then general manager of the station when it changed hands to the Lincoln Group in the 1980s. NERW has learned that Murphy passed away last week at his Florida home; we’ll have more details in next week’s issue.
An obituary that slipped past us in December: Ralph Vartigian, known as “Commander Ralph” to young morning TV audiences around Albany for decades, died Dec. 12 at age 89. Vartigian started in Capital District radio in 1951 at the old WSNY in Schenectady, jumped to WROW in Albany and from there to WROW-TV (Channel 41), which became WTEN (Channel 10) in the late 1950s. He spent 36 years at the TV station – but was known best for “The Good Ship News,” a morning news show he started in 1961 aimed at kids and featuring “Mr. Monkey” delivering the weather forecast. The show lasted for 14 years before Vartigian moved on to more serious pursuits as WTEN’s noon anchor and editorial director. In 1989, he moved into politics, serving on the Rensselaer County Legislature and leading the Republican majority there for a time.
There’s word, too, of the death of James Pospula, who worked in promotions at several Rochester stations groups including Clear Channel/iHeart, WXXI Public Broadcasting (where he ran the station’s auction for several years) and WGMC (90.1 Greece). He’d been in and out of the hospital with cancer, and he’s gone now far too young.
And we salute WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor) institution Gary Sapiane, who marks his 50th anniversary in radio today. Sapiane started at age 16 doing nights on WAPC (1570/103.9) in Riverhead, then worked at WBIC (540 Islip), and he’s been at it ever since.
*In Troy, community LPFM WOOC-LP (105.3) is on the air with test broadcasts from “The Sanctuary for Independent Media,” we’re hearing. This is a particularly tight allocation, squeezed in against a 105.3 translator to the south in New Baltimore that will soon be relaying talk WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer).
In Buffalo, Edgewater’s W262CM (100.3) is now on the books as a relay of WBBF (1120), giving the Spanish-language format there 24-hour operation for the first time.
*Our new TranslatorSale.com isn’t the only exciting new offering on the web today. While the radio scene in NEW JERSEY has been quiet this past week, our colleague Lance Venta has been busy in the Garden State with a brand new look for our sister site, RadioInsight. It’s always full of fresh content about format changes, domain registrations, station sales and FCC news from around the country.
*More translators in the news in PENNSYLVANIA: Southern Belle LLC is paying Kevin Fitzgerald’s GEOS group $45,000 each for W244DB (96.7 South Williamsport) and W288DE (105.5 Williamsport); they’ll be moved to become translators for WIEZ (670 Lewistown) and WHUN (1150 Huntingdon).
Family Stations also appears to be entering the translator game – it’s filed a displacement application to move W215AF (90.9 Muncy) to 105.9, which also prepares it for a possible sale to a commercial operator who could then relocate it.
*In northeast Pennsylvania, Connoisseur has dropped the religious format on WBYN (1160 Lehighton); instead, the station is now a northern simulcast of the company’s Lehigh Valley ESPN signals, WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown).
Near Pittsburgh, Bob Stevens loves callsigns with “K” as the second letter – WKFB, WKHB, WKVE – and now his WRWJ (88.1 Murrysville) has changed calls to WKGO, picking up the calls dropped across the state line when Forever flipped 106.1 in Cumberland, Maryland to “Rocky” as WRQE.
*In a relatively quiet week in CANADA (aside from the all-in-the-family sale of Shaw’s TV network portfolio to Corus, also controlled by the Shaws), the biggest news may be brewing north of Toronto.
That’s where Radio Markham York is applying for a signal boost at CFMS (105.9 Markham), which wants to go from 704 watts average/2.5 kW max DA/9.1 m to 379 watts average/1.3 kW max DA/50 m from a new site in the heart of Richmond Hill, improving its coverage on that side of its turf.
There aren’t many Francophones in the Halifax, N.S. area – about 12,000 for whom French is their first language – and that might explain why the only local French-language station, CKRH (98.5), owes $60,000 to Revenue Canada and now faces the risk of going silent. Metro Halifax reports that the station is running a $20,000 fundraising campaign to try to stay afloat while crafting a new business plan to make the station stable again.
We’re a community.