In this week’s issue… No CW for WHDH – Could NBC, Hearst shake up New England TV? – NYC AM for sale? – Dennis departs WEEI – Cumulus shuffles Nash mornings
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*As the Rio Olympics wound down last week, so did the last bits of hope that Ed Ansin’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and Comcast’s NBC would find a way to get past their differences to keep the Peacock on its eastern MASSACHUSETTS home of 22 years.
It’s now all but inevitable that Ansin will lose the NBC affiliation on New Year’s Day, and with that in mind WHDH unveiled a new NBC-free lineup that doubles down on local news to make up for lost network airtime.
Surprisingly, Ansin doesn’t plan to move the CW network from WLVI (Channel 56) over to channel 7; instead, he’ll double-run “Family Feud” at 8 and 8:30, between local newscasts at 7 and 9. WHDH will also add local news from 7-9 AM where “Today” now runs from NBC, as well as simulcasting its 10 PM news on both 7 and 56.
Ansin says WHDH will hire 30 more newspeople to help produce all those extra hours of news, which will now run from 5-10 AM, noon-1 PM, 4-8 PM and 9-11:30 PM on weekdays.
For Bostonians who desperately need news at 8 PM, too, CBS is filling that void – its fall schedule for MyNetwork affiliate WSBK (Channel 38) moves its WBZ-produced primetime newscast from 10 PM to 8 PM, pushing back the “live” MyNet clearance to 9-11 PM.
*Over at Cox’s WFXT (Channel 25), there’s a new news director: Melrose native Mike Oliveira takes the helm at the troubled Fox affiliate to help shepherd it through big changes that will include a new set. Oliveira returns to Boston after a decade at WPXI (Channel 11) in Pittsburgh, where he led that Cox-owned NBC affiliate to the top of the ratings.
*But the big news in town is all still NBC-related: Comcast has picked up reporter Susan Tran from WHDH and anchor/reporter Frank Holland from WCVB to join its staff at New England Cable News and the future NBC Boston. The personnel moves come amidst what may be an even bigger upheaval…could NBC have an unexpected destination in mind now for its future Boston affiliation? Keep reading…
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*We emphasize that this is very much a rumor-mill item, but it came our way last week from several sources: could Hearst be plotting a deal with NBC/Comcast that would see “NBC Boston” land at WCVB (Channel 5) and uproot existing affiliations in several other New England markets?
Here’s how it could work and what it could mean:
In Boston, moving NBC to WCVB would solve several of Comcast’s big problems all at once. The existing New England Cable News facility in Newton and the Comcast Sports Network studio in Burlington aren’t big enough to house everything NBC needs for a full-fledged local affiliate (especially with new equipment ticketed for Boston after being packed up from the Rio Olympics broadcast center) – but WCVB’s spacious Needham studio has lots of room at an excellent location alongside Route 128.
WCVB’s existing news operation is, of course, top-notch, and would only be bolstered by whatever staff NBC might bring in. And a move to WCVB would instantly solve what may be NBC’s biggest problem right now – the sticky question of where it will land for over-the-air viewers. Unlike Comcast-owned WNEU (Channel 60) from New Hampshire, WCVB’s RF 20/virtual 5 signal is centrally located in the market and already a familiar destination for generations of viewers.
But if an NBC/WCVB combination makes perfect sense for Comcast in Boston, it raises some big issues elsewhere in the broadcast universe:
What’s in it for Hearst? The rumor mill is pointing toward a station swap that might give Hearst some of NBC’s smaller-market O&Os, perhaps including KNSD in San Diego and WVIT in Hartford. And of course behind the scenes, there’s plenty that the various arms of Comcast could do for Hearst’s big portfolio of local TV stations, whether it’s sweetheart deals for NBC affiliations in other markets, or favorable terms on Comcast cable systems when it’s time to renegotiate retransmission consent for Hearst stations around the country.
Where does ABC go in Boston? While NBC and CBS traded places in 1995, the Alphabet Network has enjoyed enviable stability in Boston for 44 years now, with its WCVB affiliation fast approaching the record 47-year linkage between WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and NBC. Now owned by CBS itself, WBZ-TV is off the table as a potential partner for ABC, which leaves several other possibilities.
Could Ansin and ABC make a last-minute deal that would return ABC to the station (then WNAC-TV) it called home in Boston from 1961 until 1972? The move would give ABC its strongest possible local news partnership, not to mention the “channel 7” dial position it enjoys at most of its biggest owned-and-operated stations. But given Ansin’s tensions with his other network affiliations, would Disney want to do business with him?
Down the road in Dedham, there’s WFXT (Channel 25), where owner Cox is a solid partner with ABC in markets such as Atlanta and Charlotte. Would Cox want to give up the NFL games – the Patriots games – it gets from Fox, though? (If ABC did go to channel 25, a Fox/WHDH alliance would then become a near-certainty.)
Or…in the TV landscape of 2016, could Comcast and Hearst work out some sort of deal that would see ABC stay in place on its other Boston-market affiliate? That’s WMUR (Channel 9) up in Manchester, which is currently seen only in New Hampshire but could easily claim full-market must-carry status – and perhaps even a reciprocal deal that puts its ABC signal on a WCVB subchannel for Boston OTA viewers, while WCVB’s NBC signal shows up on a WMUR subchannel in the Granite State.
Again, this is all very hypothetical for now – and so is our speculation about what would become of Hearst’s other ABC property in New England in the event of an NBC deal.
That’s in Portland, MAINE, a market that has never seen an affiliation change. Hearst’s WMTW (Channel 8) is the perennial third-place station in town behind TEGNA’s WCSH (Channel 6/NBC) and Sinclair’s WGME (Channel 13/CBS). If WMTW were to get NBC, it’s likely that ABC would go to WCSH, which would cause a domino effect down east in Bangor at TEGNA sister station WLBZ (Channel 2), also an NBC affiliate of very long standing.
This being 2016, and Bangor being one of the smaller remaining markets that still has three independent local news operations, might TEGNA pull a squeeze play, keeping NBC and ABC both on WLBZ via subchannels? That would leave third-place competitor WVII (Channel 7), the current ABC affiliate, with only the Fox affiliation it now carries on a low-power sister station, WFVX (Channel 22).
(Hearst also owns in VERMONT, where its WPTZ Channel 5/WNNE Channel 31 are already NBC affiliates and wouldn’t see any change under this scenario.)
There are, in short, lots and lots of moving parts here…and for now they’re all speculative. But there are certainly wheels in motion for NBC’s future in Boston, and we’ll be keeping tabs on all of them.
*We knew John Dennis was leaving WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence)’s morning show after nearly two decades alongside Gerry Callahan, and now we know why. On Thursday, WEEI announced that Dennis’ departure is “on the advice of his doctors.” The station says Dennis will work with station advertisers, act as an ambassador to sponsors and community organizations, and occasionally host WEEI programs.” He’ll be back on the air August 29-30 for the station’s annual Jimmy Fund radio-telethon. Kirk Minihane, who’s been the morning show’s third wheel, becomes the official co-host alongside Callahan.
*At Greater Media, John Mullett gets promoted from marketing director to music director at WBOS (Alt 92.9). Mullett has been with the station for three years; the MD post has been vacant since Paul Jarvis left in April for his new gig in Vermont.
*There’s a new TV news director in RHODE ISLAND: Kelly Johnston returns to WLNE (Channel 6), three years after departing to take some family time. She’d been with the ABC affiliate from 1999-2013, most recently as senior producer.
*A behind-the-scenes shift at Emmis headquarters could mean the spinoff of a NEW YORK AM station.
WLIB (1190) came along for the ride when Emmis acquired Inner City’s WBLS (107.5) for $131 million in 2014. As Emmis founder Jeff Smulyan tries again to take the company private, his $46.5 million offer includes some plans to reduce Emmis’ debt by spinning off some of its businesses. Those would include its Terre Haute, Indiana radio cluster, most of its publishing division – and WLIB, whose black gospel format has been a very weak third wheel behind Emmis’ big FMs in New York, WQHT (97.1) and WBLS. (Emmis also owns WEPN-FM 98.7, which it leases to ESPN.)
This is Smulyan’s third attempt in a decade to take Emmis private; if it succeeds, WLIB’s 10 kW day/30 kW night signal would surely be worth a few million dollars to any of several broadcasters targeting ethnic or religious audiences in New York.
*Where are they now? Ty Bentli, who’d been doing mornings on CBS Radio’s WBMP (AMP Radio 92.3) not that long ago, took over last week as host of Cumulus’ nationally-syndicated “America’s Morning Show” on its NASH country stations, including WNSH (94.7) in New York. Bentli replaces Blair Garner, who returns to his previous overnight shift.
Here in Rochester, Entercom has announced its new afternoon sports lineup on WROC (950/95.7). Next Monday is launch day for “The Sports Bar,” co-hosted by WPXY (97.9) PD Mike Danger and Gene Battaglia. Danger will leave the 98PXY airwaves when he starts doing sports talk on the new show, which replaces the recently-cancelled “Press Box” on “ESPN Rochester.”
*Two PENNSYLVANIA “Where are they now” items: longtime Clear Channel/iHeart market manager Dennis Lamme, who’s worked in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as well as Albany, is out of the company in a reorganization that removes him from his post as mid-Atlantic regional president. Michael Preacher replaces Lamme, taking oversight of the company’s Washington and Baltimore stations.
And on the edge of the Keystone State, Bill Kelly is un-retiring from management in neighboring Youngstown, Ohio. He retired as regional president with iHeart back in February; in October, he’ll become VP/market manager for Cumulus’ Youngstown stations, including its sub-cluster in Sharon, Pennsylvania (WPIC/WWIZ/WLLF).
*A frequency swap in CANADA has been delayed. Instead of swapping frequencies this past Friday, CHIP (101.7 Fort Coulonge QC) and CIDG (101.9 Ottawa) will move this Friday, August 26, at 7 PM.
We’ve been remiss in failing to note the start of test transmissions at CFBN (93.3 St. Catharines); when we heard the 50-watt station testing in late July, it was promoting travel information for the Welland Canal, which is operated by station licensee St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.
And we note the death on Aug. 11 of Errol Bruce-Knapp, whose long, strange trip started in Egypt, included stints at offshore British broadcasters Radio Caroline and Radio England from 1964 to 1967, and then encompassed three decades in Canadian broadcasting. In radio, he worked at CKFH (1430), CHUM-FM (104.5) and CILQ (Q107); in TV, he was with the CBC and TVOntario. For the last two decades, his interests had focused on UFOs and the paranormal, hosting the Toronto-based show “Strange Days…Indeed.” He was 73.
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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 8, 2015
*It’s always nice when we can lead the column with a win for one of the good guys, and that’s just what we find in the Hudson Valley this week. That’s where an endangered small-market AM station is getting a new lease on life thanks to good guy Bud Williamson, his Neversink Media Group, a clever swap and a bunch of translators.
WALL (1340 Middletown) was once a very big small-town station. At the edge of the New York market, it was a launching pad for the careers of many a jock who needed a gig while waiting to break into the big time. (It was late at night back in the early ’70s that a bunch of those talents put their brains together and created the classic “NINE!” parody, right there in the WALL production room.) In recent years, though, it had fallen on hard times as a forgotten cog in the big machines of Cumulus and then Townsquare, which used it mainly to simulcast WEOK (1390 Poughkeepsie), most recently as a Spanish-language signal.
Enter Neversink and Bud’s sister company, Digital Radio Broadcasting. DRB had been moving some translators around the Hudson Valley in recent months, as we’d noted here in the column, and Bud had hinted to us that “one more big move is coming.” That move is the swap of DRB translator W239AC (95.7 Middletown) to Townsquare, in exchange for the transfer of WALL to Neversink.
At the Neversink end, Bud and wife Juli Williamson will do in Middletown what they’ve done at their successful cluster down I-84 in Port Jervis. WDLC (1490 Port Jervis), WYNY (1450 Milford PA) and WABD (96.7 Lehman Township PA) are super-serving a small chunk of the Delaware Valley and the Poconos with local fare, using translators to augment the AM signals. In Middletown, WALL will bring veteran morning man Mark West back to the air a few months after Townsquare ended the deal in which he was leasing the morning hours. The new WALL will be heard on three DRB translators: 94.9 in Middletown, 94.1 in Chester and 105.7 in Ellenville; the deal includes the use of an HD subchannel on Townsquare’s WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie) to feed those signals.
*On the NEW HAMPSHIRE/MAINE border, there’s a format shuffle at Port Broadcasting. Now that it’s LMA’ing WXEX (1540 Exeter NH) and WXEX-FM (92.1 Sanford ME), Port has moved those signals from classic hits to classic rock as “Classic Rock 92.1,” separating them a bit from its existing oldies “Legends” format at WWSF (1220 Sanford ME) and its 102.3 translator.
*In NEW YORK, we now know who’s replacing JJ Kincaid in afternoons on Z100 (WHTZ 100.3): this time, Team Z stayed within the thick walls of 32 Avenue of the Americas, picking Mo’ Bounce out of the evening slot he’s occupied for six years. No replacement has been named, in turn, for nights at Z.
Alternative rock is a tough sell in the big city, even in the noncommercial world: last week, Fordham University’s WFUV (90.7) pulled the plug on “The Alternate Side,” the alt-music format that it had been programming on a combination of an HD Radio subchannel and partial simulcasts on the main channels of WFUV and of city-owned WNYE (91.5).
Five Years Ago: August 22/29, 2011
*It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in PENNSYLVANIA radio for months now: rumor after rumor has pointed to the eventual end of rock on Philadelphia’s WYSP (94.1) and its replacement with the sports talk now heard on CBS Radio sister station WIP (610).
Now it’s much more than rumor: on September 6, the rock will end on 94.1 and WIP will take over the powerful FM frequency that’s been rocking for decades, give or take a short interregnum as “Free FM” talk a few years back.
It’s not hard to understand why CBS wants sports on FM in Philadelphia; the company has had success after success with FM sports outlets such as “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM in Boston and “Fan” signals such as KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh, WXYT-FM in Detroit and soon WKRK in Cleveland. And in Philadelphia, CBS-owned WIP already faces an FM challenger in the form of Greater Media’s WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), which has been mixing ESPN Radio national programming and local talk on a not-quite-full-market signal for more than a year now. (The CBS Radio shuffle actually ends up as a mixed blessing for Greater Media; while it gets a new FM sports competitor against WPEN-FM, Greater Media’s heritage rocker WMMR 93.3 gets to declare victory in its very long rock battle against WYSP. In the way these things go, of course, WMMR is itself the original WIP-FM from way back when…)
*In addition to WIP’s well-established stable of local talk personalities, CBS brings some additional potent artillery to the FM table: WYSP is the longtime home of the Philadelphia Eagles, who’ll continue on the new WIP-FM – and WIP will bring Flyers hockey and 76ers basketball over from the AM dial as well. And then there’s the Phillies, who now play on CBS talker WPHT (1210): while they’ll surely play out the rest of this season on AM, there’s bound to be discussion of moving baseball to FM next year as well.
Ten Years Ago: August 21, 2006
Entercom kicked off the week with a bang – announcing deals to buy CBS Radio’s stations in four markets, including Rochester, and to pick up Boston’s WILD-FM (97.7 Brockton) from Radio One. Entercom will use its $30 million purchase of WILD-FM to create a simulcast with its active rocker WAAF (107.3 Westborough), giving WAAF a real Boston signal for the first time in its history. That simulcast starts this morning, under a time-brokerage agreement, pulling the plug on the urban format that’s been running on WILD-FM. Radio One keeps WILD (1090 Boston), which has been carrying its talk network.
Meanwhile in Rochester, Entercom will have to divest two stations to stay under the ownership cap once it swallows CBS’ modern rock WZNE (94.1 Brighton), classic rock WCMF (96.5 Rochester), top 40 WPXY (97.9 Rochester) and AC WRMM (101.3 Rochester). The company already has four stations in the market – country WBEE (92.5 Rochester), adult hits WFKL (93.3 Fairport), classic hits WBZA (98.9 Rochester) and progressive talk WROC (950 Rochester) – and it will have to shed two FMs to stay under the ownership caps. We’d expect the two class A signals at 93.3 and 94.1 to hit the block – but might there be some format shuffles before that happens? Entercom’s $262 million deal with CBS also includes stations in Memphis, Austin and Cincinnati – and notably does not include the CBS Radio cluster in Buffalo, which had been rumored as another potential Entercom target.
In VERMONT, Air America Radio changes dial positions today. Steve Silberberg’s WVAA (1390 Burlington) has been the network’s affiliate for the last year or so – but when it applied for WCAT as its new calls a few weeks back, we suspected change was in the air. Now Air America is moving back to its previous home in the market, co-owned daytimer WTWK (1070 Plattsburgh NY), while WTWK’s ESPN Radio sports format moves across the lake to full-time status on 1390.
From RHODE ISLAND comes word that Doug White, the veteran WJAR-TV (Channel 10) anchor, died on Tuesday (Aug. 15), at 61, succumbing to the cancer that took him off the air last year. White came to WJAR in 1978 from crosstown WPRI (Channel 12), and he had previously worked at WSMW (Channel 27) in Worcester and at WLBZ-TV (Channel 2) in Bangor, Maine. White was honored with a half-hour special last week on WJAR, as well as a tribute on WPRI.
Out on NEW YORK’s Long Island, WLIM (1580 Patchogue) has been granted a critical-hours power increase from 5 kW to 10 kW, allowing the Spanish station to stay at full day power for two additional hours after sunrise and before sunset.
In Elmira, Carl Proper retired Thursday after four decades behind the anchor desk at WETM (Channel 18, formerly WSYE), ending his career at the station with a retrospective that occupied the entire 6 PM newscast. Proper will stay involved at the station, as a “community ambassador.”
EMF Broadcasting’s “K-Love” contemporary Christian format is entering southern NEW JERSEY. The California-based religious broadcaster is paying $2.5 million to Thomas Moffitt’s Broadcast Learning Center to pick up WSJI (89.5 Cherry Hill), which serves the Jersey side of the Philadelphia market. Look for EMF to add additional translators and full-power signals to broaden K-Love’s reach in the region.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 20, 2001
It’s been a quiet week here in NERW-land…except when it comes to Albany and the rest of NEW YORK’s Hudson Valley. On Friday, Tele-Media announced it was exiting the Capital Region with a $7 million sale of its four-station cluster. The buyer? Rival Pamal Broadcasting (doing business in the market as Albany Broadcasting), which will keep only two of the Tele-Media stations, modern AC WCPT (100.9 Albany) and its “Point” sister up in the Glens Falls market, WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg). To stay under the ownership cap, Tele-Media will sell the other two stations, news WABY (1400 Albany) and soft AC WKLI (94.5 Ravena), to Ed Levine’s Galaxy Broadcasting for $3.5 million.
Let’s jump into analysis mode here: Pamal already has a solid cluster in the Albany market, led by AC WYJB (95.5 Albany), CHR WFLY (92.3 Troy) and talker WROW (590 Albany), but also including urban WAJZ (96.3 Voorheesville) and smooth jazz WZMR (104.9 Altamont). Where does WCPT, wedged formatically between WYJB and WFLY, fit in? WCPT has been ratings-challenged for a while now, and while Pamal has taken on market-leading country station WGNA (107.7/1460 Albany) before, with the station that’s now WAJZ, we’d have to imagine that another attack isn’t impossible. What role WKBE will play in this, we can’t quite fathom…
The real wild card in this deal is Albany radio veteran Levine, who served as PD of WPYX (106.5 Albany) in the eighties before building his own set of radio clusters in Syracuse and Utica. (Little-known trivia: Levine’s WTKW in the Syracuse market was named in homage to the long-defunct WXKW 850 in Albany.)
Twenty Years Ago: August 22, 1996
A well-known set of Boston call letters has quietly returned to town. WROR was 98.5 FM under RKO and later Atlantic Ventures from the late 1960s until 1991. Now Greater Media has laid claim to the calls, using them for now to replace the equally-historic WMEX calls on leased- time ethnic AM 1150. The expectation around town is that WROR(AM) on 1150 is just a temporary move to hold the calls until they can resurface in a few weeks on one of Greater Media’s two country FMs, either WBCS on 96.9 or WKLB on 105.7. At least one of the best-known personalities from WROR’s glory days as an oldies and later as an AC station is currently available. Joe Martelle was dropped as morning host earlier this year at the former WROR, now WBMX. His non-compete clause expires in December, and after that he’s free to move over to what may become the new WROR-FM. No word yet on what calls 1150 will end up with (although it’s a good bet that the WMEX calls will be snapped up somewhere else very quickly.)
Ironically, when ARS changed the original WROR to WBMX, they deliberately tried to get the calls out of town. ARS bought the WBMX calls from AM 640 in Zeeland, Michigan, and in turn sent the WROR calls out there to occupy 640. In the years that followed, though, Michigan’s WROR(AM) became first WISZ, “Radio Aahs,” and now WMFN, “The Fan,” leaving the WROR calls open for a return to Boston.
More to come, no doubt, as Greater Media keeps dropping clues about where it’s going with 96.9 and 105.7 in Boston. The latest rumors seem to add up to 96.9 staying country, although perhaps inheriting the WKLB calls from 105.7, and 105.7 becoming some sort of hot AC, possibly as WROR-FM, on or about September 5. Stay tuned…