In this week’s issue… WHDH loses court bid to keep Peacock – What next for WBZ weekend shift? – WROC’s Kucko moves on – MPBN adds Portland classical signal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The ruling last Wednesday from a federal judge in MASSACHUSETTS wasn’t quite as stark as the old Daily News headline, to be fair – but now that WHDH-TV (Channel 7) owner Sunbeam Television has lost its bid to stop Comcast from pulling the station’s NBC affiliation away at year’s end, the future of Boston’s second-oldest TV station is now in a little more doubt.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns was about as unfavorable as it could have gotten for Sunbeam and WHDH. While acknowledging that Sunbeam has legitimate reasons to fear financial harm to channel 7 from the loss of the NBC affiliation it’s had since 1995, “absent any actionable harm attributable to Comcast, it is simply an indurate consequence of doing business in a competitive and unsentimental market place,” Stearns wrote.
Stearns pointed out that Comcast’s action is far from monopolistic in a broadcast market that also includes “ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS affiliates, local cable stations, Verizon, RCN, Charter, and the DISH Network…carrying a wide spectrum of programming content.” And his ruling notes that there’s ample precedent for allowing a contract to expire, as NBC’s does with WHDH on January 1, 2017, without forcing the parties to renew.
So where does that leave WHDH and Comcast now? Remarkably, still with plenty of uncertainty just over seven months before that deadline hits. Keep reading as we explore (for subscribers) what the next chapters are likely to bring for 7 News and NBC Boston…
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–The unknowns (still!) about NBC Boston. For a major-market news operation that’s due to be on the air so soon, the pace of hiring announcements from NBC has been curiously slow. After its initial round of names were made public over the winter, almost no additional talent or management has been disclosed. Nor has Comcast made any official announcement about what signal the new station will even be using. While we’ve assumed Comcast-owned Telemundo affiliate WNEU (Channel 60) from New Hampshire will be the obvious option, rumors persist that Comcast has been negotiating with other owners, especially ion’s WBPX (Channel 68), for more centrally-located broadcast signals.
As we’ve noted, those negotiations are deeply tied up in the impending spectrum auction/repack process – and therein lies another potential issue for Ansin. As the court proceedings laid out perhaps too clearly, Ansin turned down a lowball $200 million offer from Comcast to buy out WHDH, which he valued at $500 million. That number, in turn, came in part from the FCC’s valuation of WHDH’s UHF spectrum at potentially more than $400 million.
But with the auction about to begin, and with plenty of third-tier stations likely willing to part with their own Boston-market spectrum more cheaply than Ansin, what happens if WHDH ends up not selling? For the octogenarian Ansin, is there a continuing appeal to running an independent WHDH – or is there another path?
–Could NBC stay on 7 after all? Consider the numbers: Ansin will likely collect on the spectrum auction if, as is widely assumed, he’s putting the UHF spectrum of WHDH’s sister station WLVI (Channel 56/RF 41) into the pot. That’s likely to be well over $100 million in Ansin’s bank account, and there’s a path that could leave him even better off than that if NBC comes calling again.
Ansin’s other TV market, of course, is his hometown of Miami, where NBC’s WTVJ (Channel 6) struggles in a hyper-competitive English-language marketplace. Would NBC consider sweetening a new offer for WHDH by including WTVJ in a station swap? That swap would give Ansin a dominant position in Miami with both the NBC affiliation on WTVJ and the Fox affiliation on his existing WSVN (Channel 7). It would leave him with something else to cash in, too: NBC/Comcast doesn’t want to own property these days, and if it runs WHDH as “NBC Boston” from the NECN headquarters in Newton, how much value could Ansin unlock from a sale of the prime real estate under the current channel 7 building in Government Center? (Or, for that matter, the Newton real estate under and on the channel 7 tower?)
This is all, obviously, still highly speculative. NBC may well have other plans for a broadcast signal that it can’t yet disclose because of the auction’s “cone of silence.” Ansin may simply be so embittered against NBC that he wouldn’t consider a new offer to buy him out. But assuming money talks louder than history, it still seems at least plausible from where we sit that there may yet be a deal to be reached that will keep NBC on channel 7 and leave both Comcast and Ansin satisfied.
–Did we mention the clock is ticking? While January 1, 2017 is the drop-dead date for whatever it is NBC ends up doing, August 5 is likely to be the more critical date to be watching. That’s when the Rio Olympics begin, and with them NBC’s biggest promotional push of the year.
If NBC is determined to launch NBC Boston as a new channel by then, we’d expect a barrage of promos to be filling Comcast’s feeds of the various NBC cable channels carrying the Olympics – and if NBC will end up staying with channel 7, the games would make a great way to get that announcement in front of Boston TV viewers.
As always, we’ll be following the twists and turns of this conflict closely…
*There’s an overnight change coming to weekends at WBZ (1030 Boston), where Jordan Rich has held court ever since 1996, when he took over the shift from the late Norm Nathan. The CBS Radio news-talker announced last week that Rich will do his last show in that slot next month, but he’ll stay on the WBZ airwaves with his “Connoisseur’s Corner” and “New England Weekend” segments. It’s not yet clear what will happen with those hours at WBZ, or at Minneapolis sister station WCCO, which had also been carrying Rich’s show.
The LPFM dial continues to fill up in greater Boston, including several new share-time entries at 102.9. In addition to Boston Praise Radio’s WBPG-LP, which signed on last fall and is on the air 2-9 AM weekdays and 2 AM to 6 PM Sundays, city-owned WBCA-LP signs on next month under the management of Boston Neighborhood Network, operating 6 PM to 2 AM daily. Over in Newton, Lasell College’s WLAS-LP will use 102.9 during the remaining daytime hours, with its sign-on coming any day now.
And in Haverhill, soon-to-launch WHAV-LP (97.9) is getting ready to celebrate its LPFM debut with a reunion of Haverhill radio veterans from the old WHAV (1490) and WHAV-FM/WLYT (92.5). The event June 8 will include appearances by Bob (Douglas) Clinkscale, who signed on WHAV-FM in 1959 and went on to a career with Boston’s WCVB (Channel 5), as well as Paul Bellefeuille, Joe Clementi, Joanne Doody, Patricia Johnson, Marc Lemay, Dave “Mack” Macaulay, Bill “Maxwell” Macek, Eric Scott and Mark Watson. (There’s more information to be had at WHAV’s website, here.)
We reported a couple of weeks ago on Billy Teed’s arrival in mornings at WPLM-FM (99.1 Plymouth), and now we have more of the pieces of the shuffle there: Kevin Cronin’s departure from the morning/PD chair keeps him at “Easy 99.1” as afternoon jock, while production director/APD Scott Reiniche moves up to PD.
*MAINE Public Radio didn’t take long to find a Portland outlet for its new Maine Public Classical network, which launched May 9 on translators in Bangor and Waterville and a few days later on WFYB (91.5 Fryeburg).
Now the classical signal is on the air in the state’s biggest city via W281AC (104.1 Portland), the 50-watt signal that’s been relaying WMPG (90.9), the community station at the University of Southern Maine.
We don’t have any details yet on the terms of the transaction, which moves the translator from one arm of the University of Maine system to another; we do note with some interest that WMPG’s disappearance from the 104.1 frequency went completely unremarked on the station’s social media presence. (Monday morning update: The sale price for the translator is an eye-popping $251,000, plus an additional $34,840 in promotional consideration for USM on MPBN’s radio and TV services.)
*There are more translators on the air in central CONNECTICUT, including W287CS (105.3), the new FM relay for Gois Broadcasting’s WNEZ (1230 Manchester). With the new FM frequency comes a new identity: “Latina 1230” is now “Exitos 105.3.”
*In central NEW JERSEY, Chris Edwards has retired after 25 years with Greater Media’s WMTR (1250 Morristown). Edwards had been the oldies station’s PD, operations manager and morning man, and as of Friday the 13th he’s now down in the Carolinas enjoying the ability to sleep in. WMTR part-timer Mark Mitchell goes full-time as Edwards’ replacement.
New calls in Hackettstown for the former WNTI: as it changes hands from Centenary College to Philadelphia’s WXPN, the signal at 91.9 is now WXPJ.
In translator news, W224CW (92.7 Franklin Township) has signed on with the South Asian programming that’s also heard on WWTR (1170 Bridgewater), WQHT-HD2 (97.1 New York) and two other translators in central New Jersey. Down south, Hope Christian Church of Marlton’s new W262CH (100.3 Cape May) has applied to shift down the dial to 89.7.
On TV, PMCM got an answer from the FCC last week about where its WJLP (Channel 33) in the New York market will appear on several of the region’s cable systems. Unfortunately for PMCM, it wasn’t the answer the Bob McAllan-led group wanted: instead of appearing on its RF channel, 3, the FCC says its must-carry rules require WJLP to be considered with the virtual channel it ended up with following a fight with CBS and Connecticut’s WFSB. That’s “channel 33,” and because of the twists and turns of the must-carry rules, WJLP already gave up its lock on that channel on Time Warner Cable systems, where it will instead now appear somewhere up in the 1200s range. RCN systems will carry WJLP on channel 33, and the Service Electric systems at the western fringe of the market will carry WJLP on or below channel 33.
*Quick, who’s the longest-serving TV newscaster in western NEW YORK? That’s easy: it’s WHAM-TV (Channel 13)’s Don Alhart, who joined the Rochester ABC affiliate (then WOKR) on June 6, 1966 and has been with the station ever since.
But while Alhart prepares for his big 50th anniversary party next month, the longest-running personality in the history of crosstown WROC-TV (Channel 8) is stepping down from his post. John Kucko has been much more than just your typical sports director in his time at 201 Humboldt Street. At the corporate level, he’s become a fixture across the Nexstar station group with the live shots he files from big events such as the Super Bowl every year. Meanwhile, though, Kucko has also become a very accomplished photographer, an interest that’s taking more of his time lately. In a lengthy Facebook post over the weekend, Kucko told viewers he’s going to continue to be part of the WROC/Nexstar family and will keep covering Super Bowls and other big events; other parts of his new role have yet to be announced.
Elsewhere in the Rochester TV world, one of Kucko’s early WROC colleagues is moving on as well. Virginia Butler moved from channel 8 to the local cable company back in 1990 to host local Headline News cut-ins, a role that expanded to anchoring the nightly “WGRC-TV” news when it launched a year later. She’s stayed with Time Warner Cable ever since as an anchor at what later became GRC9, RNews, YNN and now Time Warner Cable News, but now she’s going to the Democrat and Chronicle as the director of its video studio in its new downtown Rochester building. There, she’ll be working with husband Dennis Floss, the paper’s director of marketing and communications – and she’ll get to give up a punishing commute to TWCN’s Buffalo studio.
And not to be left out, NBC affiliate WHEC (Channel 10) has had its share of recent changes, too. Meteorologist Josh Nichols recently exited, and now WHEC is about to replace the news set it’s had in use since 1995. After Thursday’s noon news, WHEC will do news for a few weeks from a temporary set in its annex building while its studio is rebuilt ahead of NBC’s Olympics coverage later this summer.
*Radio People on the Move: in Buffalo, Robby Bowen started last Monday as the new market president/chief revenue officer at the Townsquare cluster. Bowen had been general sales manager at CBS Radio’s KRLD-FM (105.3 the Fan) in Dallas.
At CBS Local Digital Media in New York, David Bialik is promoted from senior stream engineer to director of streaming operations. When he’s not deep in a streaming server, David’s widely known in the engineering community as the chair of the broadcast and streaming sessions for the Audio Engineering Society’s conventions (where we were privileged to work with him last fall at the Empire State Building!)
*Out at the tip of Long Island, iHeart is moving unbuilt W231CM (94.1 Southampton) down to Wilmington, Delaware, where it will shift to 92.9 as a translator of iHeart news-talker WILM (1450).
*Sad news from the worlds of both radio and TV: we’re learning (a bit belatedly) of the passing of John von Soosten, who went from engineering at WOR-TV (Channel 9) to programming at WNEW-TV (Channel 5), where he rose to become VP /director of programming before joining NATPE in 1985 as the syndication trade group’s president. Von Soosten later worked with Katz TV before starting a new career as a host of adult standards programming at WQEW (1560) and then WNSW (1430), then at Sirius XM satellite radio.
In retirement, von Soosten had been a program host at WNCK (89.5 Nantucket). He died April 13 on Long Island, at age 71.
*In CANADA, CHES (88.1 Erin) is once again on the move. The community station northwest of Toronto started a decade ago on 101.5, then was displaced to 88.1 in 2011, only to run into interference issues with Toronto’s co-channel CIND. Now CHES has been granted permission to shift to 91.7, jumping from 570 watts average/1.25 kW max DA/63 m to 850 watts average/2.5 kW max DA, still at 63 m.
My Broadcasting has pulled the “MyFM” branding from two of its Ontario stations: Canadian Radio News reports CIYM (100.9 Brighton) and CHMY-FM-1 (107.7 Arnprior) are now known as “Oldies 100.9” and “Oldies 107.7,” picking up the branding package from My’s recently-acquired CKWV (Oldies 96.7) in Peterborough.
*Iain Barrie’s career included not only broadcast work (at multiple stations in Montreal and Ottawa) but also a long run as a beloved professor in the broadcast department at Ottawa’s Algonquin College. Barrie died May 14 at 69; whatever else we could say about him, his protege John Mielke said much better in a touching tribute at his Milkman UnLimited site.
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