In this week’s issue… TV station seeks local future – AM off in NW PA – Morning changes on Long Island – Bell seeks TV shutdowns in rural Canada
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*While it’s licensed to Hagerstown, Maryland, WHAG-TV (Channel 25) brands itself as “Your4State.com” – and one of those four states the station serves is a big chunk of south-central PENNSYLVANIA, where its transmitter sits.
And as of last week, the 46-year-old TV station is more dependent than ever on local coverage of places like Chambersburg to succeed, now that it’s become the latest small station to lose its NBC affiliation.
It was no great surprise when NBC announced earlier in the year that it wouldn’t be renewing with WHAG; as with its earlier decision to cut ties with WMGM-TV in Atlantic City, New Jersey, NBC owner Comcast has been clear that it wants to have only one affiliate in any given DMA. Even though NBC O&O WRC (Channel 4) is some 70 miles away in Washington, Hagerstown and vicinity fall squarely within the boundaries of the Washington DMA – and NBC wants to make sure anyone watching the Peacock within those boundaries is doing so by way of WRC, even if that requires a cable or satellite subscription. (Which, in fairness, pretty much anyone in the Hagerstown-Chambersburg area has long needed anyway, since it’s been the only reliable way to see CBS, ABC or Fox.)
In Atlantic City, the end of NBC at WMGM-TV pretty much meant the end of the station. Its newsroom shut down at the end of 2014 and the station has been running third-tier satellite programming ever since while awaiting the upcoming spectrum auction.
But in the “4State,” Nexstar is trying a different tack: the end of NBC programming early Friday morning brought with it an expansion of local news for the sprawling area WHAG-TV serves. The morning news, which formerly ran from 5:30-7 AM, now extends to 8 AM, with the 7:30 AM segment specifically devoted to the burgeoning I-270 corridor that stretches from Frederick, Maryland down toward the DC suburbs.
Along with a new set, there’s now an hour of local news at noon, a half-hour at 5:30 specifically aimed at the panhandle of West Virginia, a 7:30 PM rebroadcast of the morning I-270 show, and a new hour of local news at 10 PM as well. Nexstar says it’s adding 20 jobs to the WHAG-TV staff to help service its new local news commitment to the area, which stretches down to Winchester, Virginia to the south, westward to Cumberland, Maryland and northward up the I-81 corridor into Pennsylvania.
Will it work? It’s an area that could certainly use more local news coverage, to be sure – but without the draw of NBC programming (WHAG-TV is now using the “Heroes & Icons” diginet as prime-time and daytime filler), can the station get the visibility it needs? (One ominous sign…as we watched the WHAG switchover on an antenna in our Hagerstown motel room Thursday night, we noticed that the motel’s own TV system carried only WRC and not WHAG at all.)
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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: July 6, 2015
Back in the late 1990s, when then-Clear Channel began propagating brands like “Kiss” and “Mix” into markets from coast to coast, we started wondering how long it would take before those formats might evolve into something truly national. Clear Channel’s evolution into the multiplatform beast called “iHeart” got closer, launching talents like Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest into prime drivetime shifts all over the country, and Cumulus is testing the waters with the even more nationally-focused “Nash” and “Nash Icon” country formats. Radio Disney used AM to put its national product in more than half of all the radio households in the country before switching to streaming as its main platform. Entirely away from the terrestrial broadcast bands, Sirius XM has created national radio in the form of dozens of niche channels – but to the extent it has recognizable personalities, they’re largely refugees from terrestrial radio (hi, Howard!) or celebrities from outside radio extending their brands (howdy, Oprah!)
But as it turns out, what may be the most interesting radio move of the year – and the most dramatic step toward true nationwide “radio” in the old-fashioned personality sense – came last week from a completely non-radio player. But for the transmitter and tower, the new “Beats 1” is unquestionably a radio station, complete with a roster of star DJs in weekday shifts and a bunch of specialty shows hosted by big names such as Elton John.
It’s a model that’s likely to be more familiar to listeners in Europe, inasmuch as it’s unabashedly modeled on the BBC’s national Radio 1 service. Beats 1, however, ups the ante by going after a fully global audience with air talent based in studios in London, Los Angeles and, yes, New York, where Ebro Darden now follows up his morning shift at Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97) with a worldwide airshift on Beats 1.
Meanwhile at iHeart, one of its biggest NEW YORK names is making a big – and interesting – move. After nine years at WHTZ (Z100), JJ Kincaid is leaving afternoons and the big city behind to become the new PD and morning man at iHeart’s Denver top-40 station, KPTT (95.7 the Party). At Z100, JJ was a social media innovator, sharing his shift with listeners all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond. He’s also a second-generation radio geek of the highest order (his father, Robert Cohen, had a long career in Boston and later at the Voice of America), and we can’t wait to see what he’ll get himself into in Denver.
*Two AM signals in New York are heading for the exits: in Putnam County, Cumulus had taken WPUT (1510 Brewster) dark last year, citing financial issues, and now it’s returned the license to the FCC for cancellation. After several decades as a local voice for the exurban landscape between Westchester and Poughkeepsie, WPUT had spent its final decade as a mostly-forgotten simulcast of WINE (940 Danbury CT), most recently with sports.
*In CONNECTICUT, Davidson’s WXCT (990 Southington) is back to English-language programming for the first time in years. It’s now airing an oldies format, simulcasting across the state line with WACM (1490) in West Springfield, MASSACHUSETTS. For all the excitement that’s being generated in some corners of the message-board world, it’s not clear if this is really a new format or just filler until a new leased-time operator materializes for the signals.
Five Years Ago: July 4, 2011
*It’s hard to believe that it was just seven years ago when Nassau Broadcasting was boasting about assembling a cluster with “more stations than any one owner has ever had in New England.” But that’s what we wrote in NERW back in March 2004, and for a while, the New Jersey-based broadcaster was flying high.
Then the boom went bust, and Nassau was right there in the headlines, too. After making headlines with the $60 million purchase of WCRB in 2007, a tightening credit market left the company unable to turn its LMA of WFKB (107.5 Boyertown PA) into a $22 million purchase in 2008. By 2009, Nassau was under the control of its largest creditors, led by Goldman Sachs, and it soon sold off WCRB for $14 million.
Now Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti is taking back control of the company, but at a price: Inside Radio reports that the lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, want out of owning the company, and they’re willing to sell it back to Mercatanti at a steep discount. Thursday’s IR exclusive reports that Mercatanti’s group will pay only about a fifth of Nassau’s debt – $54 million out of $258 million that’s owed – to buy back the stations.
But the Nassau that emerges will be a much smaller company, closer to the group that Mercatanti acquired from founder Herb Hobler in 1986 than the regional behemoth that it became since deregulation. The transfer of control to Goldman Sachs already forced Nassau to put several stations in a divestiture trust, and now Inside Radio is reporting that by the end of 2012, the slimmed-down Nassau will exit New England entirely, selling the rest of its stations in MAINE, NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT as well as some non-core AM signals in PENNSYLVANIA.
*The NEW YORK State Broadcasters Association said goodbye to its longtime leader in style Monday night. NYSBA’s 49th annual executive conference once again took place at the Sagamore Hotel at Bolton Landing on Lake George, and the night brought out many of the state’s most prominent broadcast leaders and an impressive dais of honorees, too. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was the last of the big names to arrive, since he had a newscast to finish in Manhattan before being flown up to the Adirondacks on what he described, with his usual dry humor, as the “smallest charter plane I’ve ever flown” to accept his Broadcaster of the Year award.
It was Reilly himself who brought the house down with his musical performance as he was inducted into the NYSBA Hall of Fame, a fitting honor for the man who’s shepherded one of the nation’s largest state broadcasting groups for more than three decades. (It wasn’t Reilly’s only honor of the evening; earlier, he was presented with a proclamation from no less than Pope Benedict XVI himself.) Reilly had plenty of praise for his successor, former Associaton for Maximum Service TV head Dan Donovan, but at least for now it was hard for many in the room to imagine anyone other than the gregarious Reilly at the helm of NYSBA.
*The efforts of some NEW JERSEY lawmakers to stop the transfer of the state-owned NJN television network came close, but in the end Democrats in the state Senate fell one vote short in their attempt to overturn Governor Chris Christie’s plan to put the network’s four TV stations in the hands of New York-based WNET and the Caucus group run by Christie political ally Steve Adubato, Jr.
And that meant NJN’s four decades of broadcasting from Trenton ended on schedule late Thursday night. On the NJN TV stations, the final edition of “NJN News” concluded with a shot of the empty Trenton newsroom, and at night’s end the network’s acting executive director delivered a short farewell message to viewers before the stations signed off. They returned to the air Friday morning with a new identity – “NJTV” – and with a new schedule and a much smaller staff. In place of “NJN News” is a new public-affairs show, “NJ Today,” debuting with a stripped-down “summer edition” before making its official launch this fall. Gone is the NJN2 service that provided time-shifted runs of “NJN News” and other network programming; for now, NJTV is running just one statewide service. The four TV licenses in Montclair, New Brunswick, Trenton and Camden remain with the state, though the new NJTV group will collect rental income from the stations’ tower sites.
*Belated “Happy CANADA Day” wishes to our readers north of the border, where there was a big format change to mark the occasion last week. After just a year on the air, CJOT (99.7 Ottawa) dropped its “EZ Rock” format on Thursday in favor of classic hits as “Boom” – beg pardon, “boom,” in their preferred lower-case styling.
That’s the same move sister station CJEZ (97.3 Toronto, now CHBM) made in 2009, and in Ottawa Astral believes the move away from contemporary tunes to older music will give its station an edge against Bell Media’s long-dominant AC station, CJMJ (Majic 100).
*In Windsor, the clock is now ticking on CBC Radio One outlet CBE (1550), which made its official switch to CBEW (97.5) on the FM dial on Friday. That means the 10 kW AM signal, which enjoys wider coverage across southwest Ontario, Michigan and Ohio than the new FM outlet, will go dark no later than September 30, leaving no primary CBC Radio One outlets on AM between Manitoba and Newfoundland.
Ten Years Ago: July 3, 2006
It’s still not completely official – and won’t be until sometime after the holiday, at the earliest – but it’s now abundantly clear that the WCRB calls and the classical music format will survive in eastern MASSACHUSETTS after Greater Media buys the existing WCRB (102.5 Waltham) facility from Charles River Broadcasting. Nassau acknowledged last week that it’s negotiating with Greater Media to acquire the “intellectual property” – calls, format and staff – of WCRB, as well as the license to what’s now country WKLB (99.5 Lowell), which will end up with the WCRB calls and classical format when country moves to 102.5.
We don’t yet know a price tag for either end of the deal – the 102.5 sale to Greater or the 99.5 sale to Nassau – but we can make some educated guesses. On the Greater Media side of the ledger, trading 99.5 for 102.5 moves WKLB’s signal coverage over a more central part of the Boston market. While 99.5, like 102.5, is a full class B (50 kW/492′ equivalent) signal, its transmitter location on Wood Hill in Andover is too far north to reach much of the south shore or even Boston proper, where the high signal levels from the FMs on the Pru (including Greater’s other four signals) keep almost anything from out of town from penetrating. With an antenna on the “FM128” tower in Newton, 102.5 will give WKLB full Boston-market coverage for the first time since the calls and country format were on 105.7 almost a decade ago.
For Nassau, the new WCRB on 99.5 will mesh nicely with its existing network of four “W-Bach” classical signals that stretches all the way up from the New Hampshire seacoast to down east Maine. And since those “W-Bach” signals get their programming from WCRB’s World Classical Network, the Nassau purchase of WCRB will also bring the programming source in-house. (Nassau is already making noises about rolling the classical format out in some of its other markets, in fact.)
It’s almost a given that the move of WCRB to 99.5 will prompt complaints from loyal listeners in Boston, Brookline, the western suburbs and the south shore – all areas where the 99.5 signal is either weak or overwhelmed by stronger nearby FM transmitters. (There’s a parallel to be found in Cleveland, where longtime classical voice WCLV sold its full-market class B signal on 95.5 five summers ago, trading down to a rimshot class A on 104.9 that was located on the other side of the market from most of the station’s listener base.) But compared to the alternative – no WCRB at all, or one reduced to an HD-2 simulcast – it’s not as bad as it could have been, and we’re sure that will be the party line once the deals are complete.
Has any market in PENNSYLVANIA seen as much change in the last few years as State College? In the latest installment of the format merry-go-round in Happy Valley, Forever has pulled the plug on top 40 “Hot 103.1” WJHT, moving the “Quick Rock” format to 103.1 from its current home on WQWK (98.7 Pleasant Gap). The WQWK calls will move to 103.1 as well (their fourth home in State College, having started on 96.7 State College, which later became the 97.1 University Park facility that’s now oldies WOWY) – and 98.7, under new calls, will simulcast “Froggy” country from WFGY (98.1 Altoona). (NERW notes that State College has had a “Froggy” in the past – the 94.5 that’s now smooth jazz WSMO was once WFGI.)
Fifteen Years Ago: July 11, 2001
PENNSYLVANIA is a good a place as any to start the news, with format changes in three major markets. Philadelphia’s “Jammin’ Gold” didn’t live to see another summer on Greater Media’s WEJM (95.7); that station took on the “Mix” moniker at the end of June, becoming an AC outlet under the programming leadership of Chris Ebbott (inbound from Los Angeles’ KFI, where he was marketing director). Greater Media ditched the format at its Detroit outlet that same week, flipping “Groove” WGRV (105.1) to “Magic” WMGC-FM and launching a shot across the bow of Clear Channel’s market-leading AC WNIC (100.3 Dearborn) with a talent raid that brings veteran WNIC morning host Jim Harper to the new “Magic.”
To Harrisburg, next, as Clear Channel made the anticipated change from oldies to “Kiss” CHR on WWKL-FM (99.3) July 1, with new calls expected soon. Countering the move is WEGK (92.7 Starview), which dumped its classic rock format the same day to become “Big 92.7” with oldies as WHBO(FM).
Up in Erie, we just missed a call swap that restores a heritage call to its longtime home: Talker WLKK (1400) returned to its old call of WJET(AM), while the WLKK calls moved to the former WJET(FM) at 102.3, which remains modern AC as “the Point.”
Plenty of news in NEW YORK, but we’ll start with the one bit that hasn’t actually happened yet: the rumor mill’s been churning about a format change at Buffalo’s WWKB (1520). For more than a decade, the Entercom-owned station has been running a series of little-noticed fringe formats, including satellite country, talk and business news. Last week, the message boards lit up with word that the erstwhile WKBW would be returning to its musical roots with a 70s-pop format. As we go to print with this issue, though, it’s still business talk and leased-time religion on 1520…
Rochester’s WXXI (1370) is going through some cutbacks. The public broadcaster marked its 17th anniversary last week by laying off veteran producers Bill Flynn and Carol Colella and cancelling its late-night blues show, one of the last remnants of the “news-and-jazz” format the station launched with back in 1984. Replacing the music in the overnight hours will be satellite-delivered World Radio Network programming, leaving host Jim McGrath also out of a job.
The big deal in CANADA was, literally, a big deal: the long-dormant Standard group flexed its muscles this week with an agreement to buy 62 radio stations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia from Telemedia. The latter group already cashed out of its Quebec and Maritimes interests with a sale to Astral last month. The deal turns Standard into a 75-station group with outlets in almost every major community in Ontario, including a four-station cluster in Toronto that adds Telemedia’s sports CJCL (The Fan 590) and AC CJEZ (EZ Rock 97.3) to Standard’s news-talk CFRB (1010) and hot AC CKFM (Mix 99.9). No sale price has been announced.
Twenty Years Ago: July 5, 1996
Boston-area radio listeners found quite a surprise on Independence Day when they tuned into talk-formatted WRKO (680). The American Radio Systems flagship gave the talk hosts a couple of days off…and in their stead is a revived version of “the Big 68,” the top-40 legend that was WRKO from 1967 until 1980. The station did not try to bring back the legendary ‘RKO jocks, instead using the current talk hosts (Pat Whitley & Marjorie Clapprood, Jerry Williams, Howie Carr, and the “Two Chicks,” Leslie Gold and Laurie Kramer) to introduce what’s being billed as the “Top 96 of 1968.” A few of the old Drake jingles have been resurrected, notably that top-hour sounder that aired on *every* RKO/Drake station of the era, and the “20/20 News” sounder (ditto!) The same countdown is airing in a 4 or 5-hour repeat cycle until Saturday morning, when the talk returns. A correspondent to the Boston-Radio-Interest mailing list notes that the countdown WRKO is running (number 1 is “Hey Jude”) does NOT match the actual end-of-1968 countdown WRKO issued…but instead corresponds to the national Billboard rankings. Ah well…
Elsewhere in New England…the 96.5 frequency is getting even more crowded. Last week, the newcomer was class-A WAEF Bedford-Manchester NH. Now it’s been joined by W243AI Newport RI, the Ocean State’s first FM translator. W243AI uses 55 watts on 96.5 from the Newport Hospital. NERW traveling correspondent Garrett Wollman reports the signal to be adequate into Fall River, some 15 miles north of Newport. W243AI rebroadcasts WCRB 102.5 Waltham MA, Boston’s commercial classical outlet. It helps rectify a lack of classical music in Rhode Island… the only other full-time classical outlet is 95.9 WVBI Block Island, which runs the SW Classic FM service with a very weak signal.
Up in Vermont, the former WBFL 107.1 Bellows Falls-Brattleboro has been reborn under new ownership as WZSH, soft ac “Wish 107.” The WZSH calls were last seen about six years ago, on what’s now WNVE 95.1 South Bristol-Rochester NY, also as a soft ac station called “Wish.” NERW wonders whether the CP for WSSH 101.5 Marlboro VT will turn out to be a simulcast. (The WSSH calls also spelled “Wish” for years in their former home on 99.5 Lowell-Boston, now WOAZ.) WBFL’s former simulcast partner, WNBX 100.5 Lebanon NH, continues as AAA “River.” And Garrett Wollman offers several additional Vermont tidbits: WWGT 96.7 Vergennes had resumed testing as of late last week, with a modern rock format that was not city-grade in downtown Burlington, and WNCS 104.7 Montpelier now calls itself “The Point,” though it’s made no change to its rock format.
One of New Hampshire’s newer radio stations has changed format and calls again. 98.7 in Somersworth NH (near the Seacoast) began its life as a CP with the calls WTSN-FM (its sister AM is WTSN 1270). It took air two years ago as AC WRGW “The Rock Garden,” then went through a series of changes a few months back, becoming WRDX and briefly running an adult-standards format as “Radio Deluxe” before returning to AC. Now M Street reports 98.7 has become WBYY, “The Bay.” The WBYY calls were last spotted on a little all-sports AM station near Grand Rapids MI.