In this week’s issue… WHDH sues to keep NBC – AM moves in Mass. – Canada investigates CHCH firings – Morning Zoo reunion – RIP Ray C
By SCOTT FYBUSH
With less than nine months remaining before NBC plans to pull its affiliation from Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7), is it any surprise that the fight between NBC parent Comcast and WHDH owner Ed Ansin is now headed to court?
On Thursday morning, Ansin’s Sunbeam Television filed a federal lawsuit opposing Comcast’s plans to move its affiliation to a new “NBC Boston” due to launch by the end of 2016.
The suit, which seeks $400 million in damages, is based on the premise that Comcast will launch NBC Boston on the Boston-market signal it already owns, Telemundo outlet WNEU (Channel 60) licensed to Merrimack, New Hampshire.
If NBC moves from WHDH to WNEU, Sunbeam argues, it will lose nearly 4 million over-the-air homes from its reach – homes, the lawsuit says, that would then have to turn to subscription services such as Comcast cable TV to be able to watch NBC.
And that, the suit argues, violates a promise that Comcast made to the FCC when it was allowed to buy NBC five years ago. Ansin says Comcast assured the government that it wouldn’t do anything to reduce NBC’s over-the-air reach in order to push viewers to its cable business. He points to the areas where WNEU doesn’t reach – lower-income areas like Roxbury and Dorchester – as particular points of concern about the move.
Comcast wasted no time firing back, calling the lawsuit “meritless” and noting that its affiliation contract with WHDH was set to expire in December and included a cancellation clause. But what’s more telling, perhaps, is something Comcast has never officially said at all.
(Read on for what that missing piece is – and some details we can now fill in about how the Comcast/WHDH negotiations broke down…)
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Here’s the curious thing, then, about WHDH’s lawsuit: despite the claims Sunbeam makes, as best we can tell there’s been no point anywhere in this process at which Comcast actually made an announcement that NBC Boston will be on WNEU.
In fact, when you look back on the process, Comcast has been extremely quiet about just what “NBC Boston” will be, and that very vagueness may work in the company’s favor as it fights off the suit (which you can – and should – read in its entirety here.)
Sunbeam even acknowledges as much in the details of its suit, where it lays out a timeline alleging that Comcast was making plans to take NBC away from WHDH as early as the summer of 2013, when Comcast ad representatives were reportedly telling clients that the NBC affiliation would soon move to New England Cable News. At the time, WHDH says, it confronted NBC about the rumors it was hearing from its own clients, only to be told Comcast had no plans to move the network to NECN.
Over the next two years, WHDH says it was never able to get Comcast to make good on its promise to sit down to negotiate an extension of its affiliation deal. Meanwhile, it alleges Comcast was spending money to enlarge NECN’s Newton studio facilities, as well as moving NECN from the company’s cable network division to its owned-and-operated stations division.
The lawsuit says the matter came to a head last September 11, when NBC executives Ted Harbert and Jean Dietze officially notified WHDH that its affiliation deal wouldn’t be renewed. That much we knew – and reported on – but the lawsuit fills in some interesting details about what happened next. On September 14, NBC offered Sunbeam $200 million for WHDH (against what Sunbeam says should be a $500 million market valuation); after that offer was rejected, Comcast made an offer in December to pay Sunbeam $75 million to share WHDH’s RF channel, using some of its bandwidth to broadcast the new NBC Boston in a channel-sharing agreement.
Sunbeam rejected that deal as well, and that rejection, it says, is what prompted Comcast’s January 7 public announcement that it would launch NBC Boston by year’s end.
*So what happens now? NBC executives issued a statement saying they’re “disappointed” in Ansin’s decision to file what it calls a “baseless” lawsuit. Amidst rumors that Comcast might be looking to acquire over-the-air bandwidth for NBC Boston from ion’s WBPX (Channel 68), Ansin told the Globe he’s not familiar with channel 68, which is an interesting bit of disingenuousness considering that channel 68 (then WABU-TV) picked up quite a bit of CBS programming that WHDH declined to air in its waning years as a CBS affiliate.
Expect Comcast’s lawyers to be keeping just as busy as Ansin’s lawyers in the months to come – when there will surely be a flurry of countersuits, injunctions and headlines as the matter makes its way through the courts.
*There’s a new AM signal on the air in MASSACHUSETTS‘s Merrimack Valley, as Costa-Eagle Communications relocated WMVX (1570) from Beverly to Methuen on Wednesday afternoon. The new WMVX is a 31 kW day/102-watt night non-directional signal that shares the tower of sister station WNNW (800 Lawrence), making it the company’s fourth AM in the Merrimack Valley. At least for now, it continues to carry Portuguese-language programming from Nossa Radio.
Out on Cape Ann, MAINE-based Light of Life Ministries has completed its move of WWRN in Rockport from 91.5 to 88.5, clearing the way for UMass Boston’s new 91.5 signal in Gloucester to be built. Now Light of Life wants to upgrade WWRN from its present 750 watts/187′ to 2.7 kW/194′ DA, sending a little more signal down the North Shore toward Salem and Lynn.
There’s a new translator signal coming to Boston: the FCC has approved Bob Bittner’s application to move translator W252BT (98.3) from his WJTO in Maine down to WJIB (740 Cambridge). The new signal will run 250 watts on 101.3 from the WJIB tower on Concord Ave.; Fybush Media was proud to have been the FCC application preparer to bring this new signal into the Boston market.
In Springfield, WMAS (94.7) has returned Bridget Lynott to the airwaves. The former Clear Channel personality has been working as promotions director for the Cumulus-owned AC station for the last few months, and now she’s doing middays there as well. (And speaking of promotion, market VP Craig Swimm checks in to let us know that the 2016 94.7 WMAS CMN Radiothon to benefit the Baystate Children’s Hospital broke an all time record by raising $343,377 over the 3 day event. “I’m so proud of the team. We’ve been doing the Radiothon since 2002, and since then have raised $3,096,424,” he says.
And there’s sad news from Fitchburg as we finish up the column late Sunday: Ray C. has died. Ray Chalifoux was part of WEIM (1280, now WPKZ) for most of four decades, starting in 1973, and while he’d officially retired a few years back, he was still hosting the Saturday Shopper program as recently as March 5. We’ll have more on his Fitchburg legacy next week.
*Radio people on the move in CONNECTICUT: Megan Duley, late of WBEC-FM (95.9) in Pittsfield, Mass., has signed on with Connoisseur as the new middayer at WEZN (Star 99.9) in Bridgeport. She’ll also do fill-in on the company’s other Connecticut stations.
While licensed to Marconi Radio Foundation, the station signed on last month with DiPaola as its manager, programming classic rock (all pre-recorded for now at DiPaola’s studios for WBLQ 1230 in Westerly) as “I-95.1.”
*Our NEW YORK news starts with Pamal, which filed last week to downgrade WGHQ (920 Kingston), the Hudson Valley AM station it’s once again operating after public broadcaster Robin Hood Radio ended an LMA that didn’t appear to be on track to end with a donation that Pamal had originally promised.
One of the ongoing issues with WGHQ was the deterioration of its directional array – and now Pamal has remedied that, sort of, by applying to take the station from 5000 watts day, 78 watts night with three towers to 1000 watts day, 35 watts night from just one tower. The other two towers in the array in Port Ewen, along the Hudson south of Kingston, will apparently be taken down.
Pamal’s job cutbacks continue, meanwhile, with the latest casualty being WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) night guy/assistant PD/music director Rob Lipshutz (on air as “Jeff Arrow.”) He’d been part of “The Peak” since it signed on 12 years ago. PD Chris Herrmann takes over the work Lipshutz had been doing.
*We’re just a few weeks away from April Fools Day, and we already know what’s coming at New York’s WCBS-FM (101.1). Morning man Scott Shannon will reach back a few decades to recreate the “Z100 Morning Zoo,” minus the “Z” part. Former WHTZ colleagues Claire Stevens, Ross Brittain and John Bell will be on hand for the on-air reunion – which leads us to wonder…what about other “Zoo” cast members from the early days in Secaucus, such as Anita Bonita, who’s been working off-air in recent years for software company RCS?
*In NEW JERSEY, Rahul Walia’s W284BW has modified its most recent CP modification. Instead of going from its present 27 watts in New Brunswick to a directional 250 watts aimed at southern Staten Island, the translator is now applying to move to a site in Metuchen where it would use 55 watts non-directional, better serving much of the Indian community in the area. It’s listed on paper as a relay of WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson), but is really carrying Indian programming from the HD2 of WQHT (97.1).
*Translator moves in northeast PENNSYLVANIA: Bold Gold’s WWRR (104.9 Scranton) has picked up a new simulcast in Wilkes-Barre by way of sister station WYCK (1340 Plains) and its translator W264CG (100.7 Wilkes-Barre). Those signals had been part of Bold Gold’s “Game” sports simulcast with WICK (1400 Scranton) until recently.
Meanwhile in Scranton, Kevin Fitzgerald’s W236BV (95.1 Dickson City) has completed its move to 94.7, where it’s now serving the Electric City from a site up in the hills east of town. It’s still relaying Family Life Ministries’ WCIG (107.7 Dallas) for now.
And speaking of Family Life, it’s filed to swap callsigns between WCIS (90.9 Laporte) and WCOV-FM (93.7 Clyde NY).
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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: March 16, 2015
*In the end, they needed to be with each other more than they needed to be apart. Is there much more to say about the long saga of Howie Carr and WRKO (680 Boston), the Entercom talk station that will have Carr back on its airwaves this afternoon?
As we wrote back in November when Carr was days away from leaving WRKO, “there are, in short, no real winners to be found in the next chapter of Mr. Carr vs. Entercom.” And indeed, there were no real winners. Without Carr, WRKO struggled badly to find an afternoon replacement or to get attention for the rest of its checkered schedule. Without WRKO, Carr struggled to be heard over his replacement station, signal-challenged WMEX (1510), or over the patchwork of affiliates his new syndicator cobbled together to replace WRKO’s 50,000 watts.
And so just as Rush Limbaugh ended up back on WRKO after Clear Channel’s ill-fated attempt to use his show to launch a new talker, WXKS (1200), a few years ago, Carr will be back in place at 680 on the AM dial today at 3. This time, WRKO will be “just” an affiliate along the Carr network, which should somewhat reduce the tension that’s long simmered between Carr and Entercom management.
If the inevitability of Carr’s return to WRKO shows the increasing calcification of the talk format (who, after all, was waiting in the wings to replace Carr? When did the last brand-new talk outlet draw a significant audience?), it’s even worse news for the other players in this game, especially Carr’s temporary home up the dial at 1510, which is about to go through even more big changes.
*Every once in a while, a stunt that looks completely obvious to radio folks ends up catching the attention of the mainstream media, and that’s what happened in NEW YORK‘s state capital when Townsquare flipped WQSH (105.7 Malta) from “Pop Crush” to all-Christmas as “Santa 105.7.” But while Townsquare execs kept a straight face claiming that the market now demanded holiday tunes all year, we all knew better – and indeed, a real format made its debut at 7 AM on Thursday.
The new “Rewind 105.7” touts itself as “Hits from the 80s, 90s and More,” kicking off with Marky Mark, INXS and Jody Watley. It’s jockless so far except for a morning show (apparently fed from Townsquare in New Jersey), and given the tight niche it’s trying to exploit in a very crowded pop-music market, it may stay that way for a while.
*You can’t keep a central PENNSYLVANIA AM signal down, at least not if it’s WHYL (960 Carlisle). After bankruptcy and the loss of its transmitter site, the station made it back to the air March 7 with a new owner (WIOO’s Harold Swidler), a new studio location (Swidler’s North Hanover Street facility) and a new transmitter site (the tower of Swidler’s WCAT-FM 102.3, the original WHYL-FM). The revived WHYL is playing oldies, featuring Kirk Wilson (a former Carlisle mayor) and Larry Flood on the air.
Five Years Ago: March 14, 2011
*In December 1947, a young man named Danny Stiles celebrated his 24th birthday by buying airtime on WHBI in Newark – and for more than 63 years afterward, Stiles was a fixture on the NEW YORK radio dial, becoming one of the last DJs to spin the old 78s and one of the last living links to the old days of leased-time radio in the city.
Stiles went on to spend many years at the old WNJR (1430 Newark), as well as WCTC (1450 New Brunswick), WHOL (1600 Allentown PA), the later 105.9 incarnation of WHBI, WVNJ (620) and then a long run at WEVD in its various incarnations at 1330, 97.9 and eventually 1050.
His long radio career (second in New York only to WNYC’s venerable Oscar Brand) came to a close early Friday morning, when Stiles died at the age of 87.
In recent years, Stiles had been heard at several spots on the dial: on Saturday nights from 8-10 on WNYC (820), in the spot just before Brand; weeknights in the overnight hours on WPAT (930 Paterson), late at night on WNSW (1430 Newark) and during unsold evening hours on WJDM (1530 Elizabeth NJ) and on Boston’s WRCA (1330 Watertown).
But the “Vicar of Vintage” had also moved into the multimedia world, programming a 24-hour stream of his music at dannystiles.com, which continues at least for now, as do his recorded shows on the Multicultural Broadcasting stations.
*We can attach a purchase price to Bill Binnie’s deal for WZMY (Channel 50) in Derry, NEW HAMPSHIRE: he’s paying $9.25 million for the station, about a third of the $28 million Diane Sutter’s Shooting Star Broadcasting paid for what was then WNDS seven years ago.
Ten Years Ago: March 13, 2006
It’s been a pretty quiet year in MAINE’s biggest radio market, but just in time for spring, things are heating up in Portland. On Thursday (March 9), Saga pulled the plug on adult contemporary WMGX (93.1 Portland), reimaging the station as “Coast 93.1” and adding more current tracks to become a hot AC. While Saga launched the station without jocks, most of WMGX’s airstaff will return next week, including the morning show with Tim, Jaime and Eva.
The “Coast” moniker was used before – briefly – in the market; when WWGT (97.9) became WCSO in 1991, it was “Coast” until WQSS up in Camden complained, at which point it became “Ocean 98,” before returning to its old WJBQ calls a few years later. (And kudos to Saga for paying tribute to the long history of WMGX with a nice montage of the station’s past, leading right into the 2 PM format change!)
NEW JERSEY is already awash in former WCBS-FM personalities, and now two more of them have morning gigs. At Greater Media’s WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick), Steve O’Brien starts his new morning show today. In addition to CBS-FM, O’Brien’s career has included stops at New York’s WYNY, WPLJ and WABC, WIBG in Philadelphia, WPOP in Hartford and WKNR in Detroit. (He’s also done TV, at New York’s WNYW and WNBC.) Meanwhile, over at “The Breeze” (WWZY 107.1 Long Branch/WBHX 99.7 Tuckerton/WKOE 106.3 Ocean City), Mike Fitzgerald starts today as PD, and he’s doing in mornings as well, joining his former WCBS-FM colleague Joe McCoy, who’s consulting the Press Communications station.
The big news out of NEW YORK was, of course, attorney general Eliot Spitzer’s suit against Entercom for alleged violations of the payola laws at its stations in Buffalo (primarily WKSE, where former PD Dave Universal has become something of a poster child for the payola investigators) and Rochester (where country WBEE-FM somehow got tangled up in this mess, too.)
Spitzer, who’s the front-runner in the race for governor this fall, has already won high-profile settlements in his payola investigations of several record labels, but Entercom is the first broadcaster he’s directly targeted. The suit offers evidence that top Entercom management, up to and including CEO David Field, pressured local programmers to meet ambitious goals to replace slashed promotional budgets with money provided by record companies or independent promoters, money that Spitzer alleges could only have come from what amounted to the sale of airplay.
The suit also presents details of several of the promotional plans that Entercom offered to record labels, in which their songs would be played during paid “CD Preview” and “CD Challenge” segments, regardless of whether they belonged on the playlist, thus adding to the number of spins counted by the BDS and Mediabase monitoring services. (There’s an especially notable e-mail from WBEE’s Billy Kidd complaining about how disruptive the segments were becoming to the station’s programming.)
The case is unlikely ever to see the inside of a courtroom; the conventional wisdom is that Entercom will join the record companies in settling the suit before it can go to trial, especially with the license renewal process underway in New York right now. Spitzer’s likely to file suit against other broadcasters as well, and at some point the FCC could yet get involved as well.
Fifteen Years Ago: March 12, 2001
You know it’s a slow week when…a format change in Glens Falls, NEW YORK tops the news — and it’s not even much of a surprise. Vox Media did some call-letter swapping a few weeks back, moving the WHTR calls that go with the “Wheels” oldies format from 107.1 in Hudson Falls to 93.5 in Corinth, heretofore a country station under the WZZM-FM calls. When 107.1 then got the calls “WFFG,” speculation ran rampant that the “Froggy” name and country format that’s hopped all over the northeast was about to set down roots in the region. Sure enough, that’s just what Vox did today (March 12), installing “Wheels” on the 93.5 spot (continuing an oldies battle with WCKM-FM 98.5 Lake George) and launching “Froggy 107.” In addition to a better signal, the new dial position sits just below Albany country behemoth WGNA-FM (107.7), which regularly shows well in the Glens Falls ratings. We hear both stations will be doing more live and less off the satellite…ribbit.
Another format change long ago given away by the calls: in Watertown, the R&B oldies finally vanished from AM 1410, giving way to sports “ESPN 1410 – The Winner,” matching the WNER calls that replaced WUZZ a few months ago. Also in Watertown, WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) finally gets a license to cover its power increase (to 1800 watts from 870).
From PENNSYLVANIA comes word of the imminent demolition of a radio landmark. The garage on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg where Frank Conrad put amateur station 8XK on the air in 1920 will soon be removed to make way for a fast-food restaurant, and the National Museum of Broadcasting/The Conrad Project is trying to raise the money needed to dismantle the building and put it in storage for future restoration. What’s the big deal about an old garage? Only that 8XK evolved, later in 1920, into a little station called KDKA down the road in Pittsburgh. Whether or not you buy the Westinghouse PR machine’s “first radio station” claim, there’s no doubt that Conrad’s work was significant and that the loss of the garage would be a tragedy. We’ll keep you posted as efforts continue to raise the needed money…
Twenty Years Ago: March 14, 1996
The mega-opolizing continues in northern New England. Saga Communications has agreed to pay $10 million for Ocean Coast Properties’ WPOR AM-FM. The AM is a 1kw fulltimer on 1490, the FM is a full B on 101.9, and they simulcast country except when the AM breaks away for local sports play-by-play. Saga already owns news-talk WGAN 560, hot talk WZAN 970, classic rock WMGX 93.1, and oldies WYNZ 100.9 in the Portland market, so this deal makes it far and away the dominant owner up there. Only Fuller-Jeffrey comes close, with modern rock WCYY 94.3/WCYI 93.9, AOR (and blowtorch grandfathered-100kw) WBLM 102.9, and pending acquisition of hot AC WZPK 103.7.
A few new sets of calls: WBLQ 99.3 on Block Island RI has applied for WERI-FM, to match the calls of new owner Philip Urso’s WERI 1230 in nearby Westerly RI. Urso’s southern-RI holdings now include WERI, WERI-FM, Newport’s WADK 1540 (which is not off the air, despite reports to that effect in one hobby periodical) and WOTB 100.3, and modern-rocker WDGE 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale, which is a Providence rimshotter. Meanwhile up in southern Vermont, the WSSH calls that recently vanished from the Boston area have reappeared, on the CP for 101.5 Marlboro VT (formerly WAIG). This station looks like it might actually be on the air soon; it’s applied for a slight power increase as well.
A few more station sales: WHOU-FM in Houlton ME, a class A on 100.1, goes from a bankruptcy trustee to local County Communications for $31,500. WHOU had been co-owned with dark WTOX 1450 and WHMX 105.7 Lincoln. And Biddeford, Maine’s WIDE 1400 goes from Witham-Rhodes Communications to Saco Bay Communications group for $80K.