In this week’s issue… When a TV hub fails – Tribune re-ups with CW – WQXR honcho moves on – Format change in the Lehigh Valley
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*One of the TV industry’s big trends in recent years has been the move away from local master control operations to master control hubs.
With the cheap availability of fiber connections, it’s increasingly easy to run a TV station from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Several commercial operators, including NBC and Fox, have been hubbing their stations for years; on the noncommercial side, Syracuse is home to a major national Joint Master Control operation that handles duties for PBS stations as far away as Hawaii. (Shown here: Media General’s Indianapolis hub in 2010.)
It’s usually good for the bottom line and mostly seamless for viewers – except on the rare occasion when something goes disastrously wrong. That happened last Monday morning to the hub that Media General inherited from the former LIN Television at the Chicopee, MASSACHUSETTS studios of WWLP (Channel 22).
That facility (left) serves not only WWLP but also Media General’s stations in Buffalo (WIVB/WNLO), Hartford-New Haven (WTNH/WCTX), Providence (WPRI/WNAC), Norfolk, Virginia (WAVY/WVBT) and Youngstown, Ohio (WKBN/WYTV/WYFX)…all of which lost their program feeds around 8:30 in the morning when the power failed at the Chicopee hub.
WWLP says the Chicopee Electric Light Department blamed a squirrel for the outage. From what we hear, it knocked most of the hubbed stations for a loop. With only limited local capacity, WIVB/WNLO, for instance, looped a repeat of its local newscast on both of its channels for much of the day before getting a CBS feed back on the air by early afternoon.
Power was restored to the Chicopee hub by the afternoon, and the stations were all back on line Monday evening. We’re told it was only the third outage to hit the Chicopee facility in more than a decade since it went into service, and we’ll bet the engineers at Media General are looking for ways to make the backup power more stable there to prevent a repeat.
(In Buffalo, it wasn’t even the only station outage all week; WKBW-TV, the Scripps ABC affiliate that’s hubbed from Atlanta, had power issues at its Colden transmitter site that took it off the air for a time as well.)
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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: June 1, 2015
*When last week’s NERW went online, it seemed reasonable to speculate that Rush Limbaugh’s second (and apparently quite final) exit from Boston’s WRKO (680) would be followed by a swift move up the dial to WMEX (1510), the upstart talker that seemed to be in dire need of a high-profile name to pull listeners away from their longtime radio habits.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a new clearance for Premiere’s flagship talker in what’s been one of his more challenging big markets: the new operators at WMEX were quick to declare that they, too, weren’t interested in being in the Rush Limbaugh business.
*For more than 40 years, Marselis Parsons was the face of TV news in VERMONT as the main anchor and news director of the state’s top-rated WCAX (Channel 3). Parsons, who died Wednesday morning, started his broadcast career in the early 1960s at WTSL (1400) in Hanover, NH and worked at the short-lived WRLH (Channel 49) in Lebanon before coming to WCAX in 1967.
At WCAX, Parsons was a perfect fit: in a no-nonsense state, he was a no-nonsense newsman, never flashy and always factual. His retirement in 2009 left behind a big hole in the newsroom, as witnessed by the outpouring of memories and condolences when “Div” succumbed to cancer. He was 70 years old.
*Our NEW YORK news begins with Don Imus’ departure – not, as yet, from his radio home on Cumulus’ WABC (770), but from his most recent TV perch on Fox Business Network and, for the most part, from New York City. Imus will be doing most of his shows from his Texas ranch now, though his radio cast will stay behind in New York.
*CANADA‘s biggest radio sports network is extending its reach to another CFL market. Bell Media announced last week that it’s signed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats away from their longtime home at Corus’ CHML (900). The team’s move to CKOC (1150) will be followed later this year by a format change from oldies to “TSN Radio 1150,” adding Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors coverage as well as the Ti-Cats.
Five Years Ago: May 30, 2011
*The long wait for New York’s new “K-Love” signal finally ended on Monday, when WKLV-FM (96.7 Port Chester) signed on with the California-based noncommercial network’s contemporary Christian format. WKLV-FM is the relocated WCTZ, formerly part of Cox Radio’s Stamford, Connecticut cluster.
And a sad story from western Massachusetts: WFCR-FM (88.5) newsman and “Morning Edition” host Bob Paquette died suddenly over the Memorial Day weekend. Paquette had been with WFCR since 1991. He was just 55.
*The transfer of one of western PENNSYLVANIA‘s most prominent public radio stations is imminent. Essential Public Media says it will take over WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) on or about July 1, installing new calls on the station as it separates from longtime owner Duquesne University.
The new incarnation of 90.5 will lose most of the jazz programming that’s long been a staple of WDUQ, relegating jazz to just six hours a week on the station’s analog/HD-1 service, though its “JazzWorks” programming will run 24/7 on HD-2. Replacing the jazz will be more news and talk, including two new shows: a daily hour called “Essential Pittsburgh” and a weekly “audio collage” show called “Sounds of the City.” Essential says it will also beef up the station’s news staff.
*Greater Media has sold one of its NEW JERSEY stations, and for a surprisingly high price. WWTR (1170 Bridgewater) has been leased to Indian broadcaster EBC Radio since 2005, and now EBC Music, Inc. is buying the station for $2,750,000, which has to be a recent record for a 600-watt daytimer.
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a new executive at the helm of WGBH-FM (89.7 Boston), but he’s a familiar name in Boston radio. Phil Redo is the former market manager for Greater Media’s Boston stations, and he worked with WGBH on its acquisition of WCRB (99.5 Lowell) from Nassau last year. Now he’s becoming WGBH’s “managing director of news and culture,” with programming responsibilities for 89.7, beginning June 13.
*One of CANADA‘s longest-running large-market DJs signed off this week. Aaron Rand did his last show on CFQR (92.5 Montreal) on Thursday, closing out 26 years at the station. His former co-hosts Tasso and Suzanne were back on the air to say goodbye, appearing during a week of special shows that included archival audio and lots of VIP call-ins. Cat Spencer moves over from CJFM (Virgin Radio 95.9) to replace Rand on “the Q.”
Ten Years Ago: May 29, 2006
CBS Radio’s desire to sell some of its stations in smaller and slower-growing markets was one of the worst-kept secrets in the broadcasting world. Now it’s official, and to nobody’s surprise, the company’s upstate NEW YORK holdings are among the ten markets on the list. In Buffalo, the CBS Radio cluster of four FMs and one AM includes two of the Queen City’s most listened-to stations, country WYRK (106.5) and urban WBLK (93.7 Depew), along with AC WJYE (96.1), adult hits “Jack FM” WBUF (92.9) and classic country WECK (1230 Cheektowaga). In Rochester, CBS has four FMs: AC “Warm” WRMM (101.3), classic rock WCMF (96.5), top 40 “98PXY” WPXY (97.9) and modern rock “Zone” WZNE (94.1 Brighton).
Both clusters came intact to the CBS Radio family in 1998, part of a $2.6 billion CBS purchase of American Radio Systems that also included stations in Boston (WBMX, with the rest of the ARS cluster eventually being spun off to Entercom) and Hartford (WTIC, WTIC-FM, WRCH and WZMX). Now CBS is ready to part with the Buffalo and Rochester stations – along with clusters in Columbus, Cincinnati, Greensboro, Kansas City, Memphis, Austin, San Antonio and Fresno – as it focuses its energies on major markets and a handful of medium markets where it holds a dominant market position.
Another station swap is underway in upstate New York as well, this one in the Hudson Valley south of Albany. We told you last week that Pamal is trading its WRNX (100.9 Amherst MA) to Clear Channel, and now we know what Pamal gets in return – five stations, including WBPM (92.9 Saugerties) and WGHQ (920 Kingston) in the Hudson Valley, WZRT (97.1) and WSYB (1380) in Rutland, VERMONT and one AM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Clear Channel acquired WGHQ as part of its 2000 purchase of Roberts Radio, and added 92.9 (then WRKW) about the same time when it picked up the Straus stations in the Hudson Valley. WZRT and WSYB came into the fold later that year, as part of the $5.5 million purchase of Excalibur.
For Pamal, the station swap gets it out of a tough competitive situation in Springfield, where WRNX competed as a single station against several larger rivals. In Rutland, Pamal will now dominate the market, adding top 40 “Kiss” WZRT and news-talk WSYB to its existing package of country WJEN (94.5), AC WJJR (98.1) and AAA WEBK (105.3 Killington). (It’s not clear what becomes of WWWT 1320 in nearby Randolph, which has been simulcasting WSYB for the last few years.)
In the Hudson Valley, oldies “Cool 92.9” WBPM and news-talk WGHQ join AC WHUD (100.7 Peekskill), top 40 WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie), standards WBNR (1260 Beacon)/WHUD (1420 Peekskill) and AAA WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) as the northern links in a Pamal cluster that now stretches south from Poughkeepsie into New York City’s northern suburbs. (They also link up nicely with Pamal’s stations in its home base of Albany.)
Fifteen Years Ago: May 28, 2001
The radio dial keeps spinning out on eastern Long Island as AAA Entertainment finishes reworking its four-FM group way out there. Here’s how things are shaking out on the East End: Last week, the soft AC sounds of “Z-lite” WBAZ moved from Southold-licensed 101.7 to Bridgehampton-licensed WBSQ, which had been doing a slightly more active blend of satellite-fed AC. The new calls WCSO (remember those from Portland, Maine a decade ago?) landed on 102.5, but that appears to be temporary. When the dust settles, WBAZ will be the call on 102.5 – but don’t mark WCSO down on 101.7, either. Late last week, that frequency began simulcasting local CHR outlet WBEA (104.7 Montauk), and sure enough, “Beach Radio” will make 101.7 its new home to better serve the more populated parts of the island that can’t hear the 104.7 signal from the farthest eastern tip of the South Fork and to reduce competition with AAA’s WKCD (107.7 Pawcatuck CT) across Long Island Sound.
So what lands on 104.7 at the end of all the shuffling? Adult standards, along with the WCSO calls (though the call swap hasn’t been made official yet). So that means it’ll be WBEA on 101.7, WBAZ on 102.5, WCSO on 104.7 and unchanged AAA-formatted WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) moving into renovated quarters on North Sea Road in Southampton later this summer. (Right now, WEHM and WBEA are in downtown East Hampton, while WBAZ and the former WBSQ are up on the North Fork in Southold.) And of course all four stations will still struggle to amass the East End listenership of the area’s single oldest station, the legendary WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor), where Paul Sidney and the gang continue to pump out a wildly diverse mix of music, jingles, ship’s bells and local news and information.
Elsewhere in NEW YORK this week, Utica listeners are also doing some dial-twisting, at least if they’re fans of Britney and the Backstreet Boys. Clear Channel confirmed all those rumors this week when it announced it will relocate the “Kiss” format and jocks from WSKS (102.5 Rome) to the former “Wow FM” simulcast of WOWB (105.5 Little Falls) and WOWZ (97.9 Whitesboro). What goes in next on 102.5? The rumor mill is churning out suggestions of country, 80s, AC and the Clear Channel “Mix” format; expect to know later this week or early next what the actual choice will be.
Over in Jersey City, WFMU (91.1 East Orange) DJ Glen Jones sailed past the world record for longest on-air shift ever on Monday morning. The record, held by a British jock, was 73 hours, 33 minutes; Jones finally signed off on Tuesday just a few seconds after passing the 100 hour mark.
Twenty Years Ago: May 28, 1996
(written by Garrett Wollman for the honeymooning Scott Fybush)
Long-running construction permit WAEF, 96.5 in Bedford, N.H., is now on the air testing. The program seems to be an endless loop of 20 minutes of classical music and 40 minutes of silence, with no announcements or other identification. The station is directional to protect WSRI in Rochester, N.H., and WTIC-FM, but the signal is otherwise quite good for a class-A drop-in, reaching all the way to Boston’s Route 128 beltway (about ten miles out of town). I had initially speculated that New Hampshire Public Radio might attempt to purchase this CP to jump-start their efforts at forming a second, all-classical network, but an official there states that they are not involved with WAEF.
A few formats get cleared up: Our spies in northern New England tell me WVFM 105.7 Campton NH is on the air, simulcasting oldies WLKZ 104.9 down in Wolfeboro for now. And WRDX (ex-WRGW) 98.7 Somersworth NH, on the seacoast, is again running AC, after a brief stint as standards “Radio Deluxe.” Meantime in Rhode Island, the smooth jazz is dead on WOTB 100.3 Middletown-Newport. New owner Philip Urso is now using the station to simulcast his modern-rock WDGE 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale, “the Edge.” There’s a lot of overlap between those two signals in southern Rhode Island. The only remaining smooth-jazz outlet in the area now is WPLM-FM 99.1 Plymouth MA, which mostly runs SW Smooth FM, as does WKCD 107.7 Pawcatuck CT, which gets into some of the more remote parts of the former WOTB listening area on the seacoast.
WBFL in Bellows Falls, Vermont, has been sold. The station previously was part of a two-and-a-half-station adult-alternative network broadcasting from WUVR (now WNBX) in Lebanon, N.H. as “The River”. WBFL and its Keene translator W288AM were observed Monday rebroadcasting a scratchy over-the-air pickup of White River Junction’s WKXE “Lite 95.3”. I did not have a chance to hear WNBX to see if the AAA format survives on that station.