In this week’s issue… Big AMs get a crack at FM dial – After the Greater Media/Beasley deal – “Chilly Billy,” RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It may not be making huge headlines the way the Greater Media-Beasley deal did early last week (more about that momentarily), but if you know any consulting engineers, brokers or AM station owners, you may find them to be much busier than usual for the next few days.
That’s because Friday (July 29) marks a big turning point in the FCC’s AM revitalization initiative: after six months, the window for class C and D stations to move AM translators will close, and a new six-month window for bigger class B and A AM stations will open up.
(We may as well get the disclaimer out of the way early: Fybush Media, through our TranslatorSale.com website, has been involved in brokering translator sales; we also provide engineering consulting services to broadcasters seeking to move in translators. So we’re not even going to pretend to be a dispassionate observer of what’s happening here.)
What does it all mean for the larger world of radio? Here’s our bullet point analysis:
- For smaller AMs, a last flurry of activity, then a breather. When the FCC opened its initial AM improvement window at the end of January, it culminated a whirlwind few months that tested many AM owners’ ability to make deals quickly. The idea of a 250-mile window for AM translator moves surfaced publicly for the first time only at the Radio Show in Atlanta at the end of September 2015, and the Commission worked with near-record speed to craft a rulemaking. That left both AM owners and translator owners just a few weeks to figure out what sort of prices the market might bear for translators, which made for a very chaotic marketplace. Some translators sold for just a few thousand dollars, while others pulled in six-figure sums. And as supply dwindled and demand grew in some areas (especially New England), many AM owners decided they couldn’t justify the prices. They’ll get a second chance in January 2017 – if frequencies remain available, class C and D AMs will get to apply for brand-new translators without having to buy someone else’s existing translator – but that’s a long wait for an uncertain outcome for some of those owners. Meanwhile, a few class C and D owners are spending this week rushing to complete move-ins that have been in the works for a while, hoping to snag coveted FM channels before the As and Bs get there.
- For bigger stations, a rush to the starting line. Not every class A or B station can get a translator in this window, but not everyone needs one, either. For the very biggest AMs, especially in big metro areas, a translator simply can’t cover enough ground to be of use, even in the unlikely event there’s an available frequency for one. (Imagine, for instance, if a WABC or a WRKO could find an open channel in New York or Boston – and then imagine them promoting an FM channel with at best a reach of a few miles, covering just a fraction of their existing AM footprint.) For each of those huge AMs, though, there’s a class B in a place like Altoona or Binghamton where a translator can make a difference. Smart AM owners in those markets have been lining up available translators and preparing engineering to be ready to file as soon as the window opens on Friday. (If the January window was any guide, for instance, we’ll see a flurry of paperwork from iHeart, where engineers have been poring over the company’s own remaining translator inventory to see what’s in house that can be relocated.) All applications filed on Friday will be considered to have been filed simultaneously; woe betide the station in a crowded market that waits until Monday to file and finds it’s been beaten to the last available channel.
- After the window, what about the AMs left behind? Critics of the FCC’s “AM revitalization” initiative point out, correctly, that the translator-move windows don’t improve AM radio directly, just the fates of the AM station owners now able to put their programming on the FM dial. So when the last of the translator windows closes at the end of 2017, it will be a bittersweet moment for the AM stations that might have benefited from translators but didn’t get in on the action. Barring another change in FCC rules (always a possibility), there will be hundreds of AMs of all classes that lack full-market coverage on their own – and that won’t have any remaining opportunity to use an FM translator to fix that problem. For the last few years, the first question most prospective AM buyers have asked brokers has been, “can it get a translator if it doesn’t already have one?” What will happen to the value of an already-struggling AM when a broker has to answer, “It missed out on the window and can’t get on FM, probably ever”?
So, yes, these are complicated times for anyone involved in the intersection of AM radio and FM translators. Read on over the fold for some of the deals that have been going on in the last few days – and stay tuned here at fybush.com and at our social media outlets for updates as one window closes and another prepares to open.
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*The week’s other big story, of course, is the $240 million deal that folds Greater Media’s radio holdings into the fast-growing Beasley Media group.
We outlined the details of the deal in a NERW Extra as the news broke on Wednesday; one thing we can add this week is that it actually reunites two former AM-FM pairs. In addition to the old WCRB/WCRB-FM in Boston (now Beasley’s WRCA 1330 and Greater’s WKLB 102.5), it also rejoins the former WIP (610 Philadelphia; now Beasley’s WTEL) with longtime Metromedia FM partner WMMR (93.3, part of the Greater Media cluster). We can also add that Greater Media isn’t disappearing completely: the deal doesn’t include the company’s newspaper holdings, a group of suburban weeklies in central New Jersey.
Could there be even more reunions to come? Beasley, still in acquisition mode, is being widely rumored as a possible suitor if the spun-off CBS Radio decides to sell stations or entire clusters. For instance, if Beasley were to take on the flagship CBS Radio stations in New York City, ownership caps would force the sale of the central New Jersey signals it’s getting from Greater Media, a spin-off that’s seen as likely no matter what.
*Who’s taking over as PD of AC WLEV (100.7 Allentown) following the departure of Laura St. James? It’s Jerry Padden, who’s already the operations manager for that Cumulus cluster, and who’s also PD of sister “Cat Country” WCTO (96.1 Easton).
*At the other end of PENNSYLVANIA, the death of Bill Cardille on Thursday morning hit hard for generations of Pittsburghers. Cardille filled all kinds of roles on the western Pennsylvania airwaves for more than 60 years, but none more beloved than “Chilly Billy,” the iconic horror host of “Chiller Theater” on WIIC/WPXI (Channel 11). In that role, he did more than just introduce movies. He helped fund the original “Night of the Living Dead,” and his persona influenced Pittsburgh native Joe Flaherty to create SCTV’s “Monster Chiller Horror Theater.”
Cardille came to WIIC right at the beginning: he was the announcer whose voice signed the station on the air for the first time in 1957, and his work at the station included hosting “Studio Wrestling” and afternoon kids’ movies, as well as doing the weather and pretty much anything else the station needed, too.
He came by those skills honestly: after a short run at WDAD (1450 Indiana), his first TV gig in the early 1950s was as an announcer at Erie’s fledgling WICU-TV (Channel 12), where he learned to do live TV without much in the way of money and resources. In addition to his run at Channel 11, Cardille did radio at WWSW (970), WIXZ (1360) and, for almost 20 years, at WJAS (1320), where he worked from 1995 until the station’s 2014 format change to talk.
Cardille had been battling cancer. He was 87 when he died of pneumonia at his home in McCandless.
*In NEW JERSEY, Maranatha Ministries/Joy Communications is selling translator W258CF (99.5 Rio Grande) to Pamal, which plans to move it north to rebroadcast WGHQ (920 Kingston NY). The $47,000 deal is the second one Pamal has filed to move a translator to WGHQ; given the FCC’s one-to-an-AM rule, it’s not clear what becomes of the earlier $70,000 deal Pamal made to buy W250BV (97.9 Pittsfield) from the University of MASSACHUSETTS.
*It reaches more people in CONNECTICUT than in its state of license, NEW YORK; either way, WELJ (104.7 Montauk) is getting a new owner at a bargain price. The class A signal from the very eastern tip of Long Island has been in the hands of Cumulus’ Joule Broadcasting divestment trust, and for the last couple of years it’s been carrying Cumulus’ “Nash Icon” country format.
Now it’s going to a new company called Bold Broadcasting, founded by SUNY Stony Brook student Matthew Glaser, who’ll serve as VP. The CEO and co-owner will be Kerry Baldinger, and the two are paying just $197,000 for the signal, which reaches the New London market across the sound.
Here in western New York, Chris Saglian is headed down the Thruway from his current sales post at Entercom Rochester. He’ll be competing against his old company in his new role as co-general sales manager at Cumulus in Buffalo, where he’ll be paired with Ryan McCrohan.
More bits of news from the Pine Tree State: WJJB-FM (96.3 Rumford) has signed on its new 102.3 translator in Portland, W272BV. Atlantic Coast Radio is paying Light of Life Ministries $150,000 for the 250-watt signal. And in Augusta, Bob Bittner quietly shifted WJYE (1280 Gardiner) from classic country to his AC/standards mix a few weeks back.
*Is there a format change coming in CANADA‘s capital city? Canadian Radio News picks up on a CRTC ruling that lets Torres Media drop its obligation to play at least 20% jazz and blues as part of the format at “The Dawg,” CIDG (101.9 Ottawa). Torres is in the midst of a frequency swap with CHIP (101.7 Fort Coulonge) that will let it increase power to better serve Ottawa; CRN notes that Torres has requested permission to get the frequency swap done as quickly as possible, keeping CIDG at its present 1.7 kW while it works out some technical details for the site change and power increase that would follow.
And Steve Faguy picked up on the death of Merv Williams, who worked at Standard Radio and Astral in Montreal as a producer and on-air talent at CHOM (97.7), CJAD (800) and CJFM (Virgin Radio 95.9). Williams was just 39 when he died July 10 in Ottawa.
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