In this week’s issue… Second antenna failure at TV site – New format on Boston FM? – Galaxy buys in Berkshires – RIP, Ottawa’s Katfish
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*There’s not much bigger on New England TV than a Patriots game midway through a winning season. And so it was a heart-stopping moment, we’re sure, when an antenna failure knocked CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and four other Boston TV signals off the air Saturday, less than 24 hours before Sunday’s 4 PM kickoff between the 6-1 Pats and the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
It’s still not clear exactly what went wrong 1400 feet above Needham, where this marked the second time in four years that the top master antenna at the 350 Cedar Street tower suffered a catastrophic failure. When the antenna went dark, it completely silenced WBZ, sister station WSBK (Channel 38) and public TV station WGBX (Channel 44) everywhere except Comcast cable, which gets direct fiber feeds of the stations. Hearst’s ABC affiliate WCVB (Channel 5) also uses the antenna, but it alone has a lower-power standby antenna mounted partway down the Cedar Street tower, allowing its signal to stay on the air for over-the-air viewers in the core of the market as well as for DirecTV and Dish Network viewers.
As with the 2012 failure, the broadcasters found a temporary solution over the weekend: the signals of WBZ (RF 30), WCVB (RF 20), WGBX (RF 43) and WSBK (RF 39) will be re-routed to the lower half of the master antenna, which normally transmits only WGBH (Channel 2/RF 19), while the WGBH signal is sent to WCVB’s lower standby antenna.
The temporary fix (plus a quicker fix on Dish Network, which routed Pittsburgh CBS station KDKA-TV to Boston-market viewers) got the Pats game back on most of the market’s TV sets in time for viewers all over greater Boston to see the team beat the Steelers. But it continues to expose one of the ongoing problems since the DTV transition: few broadcasters, even in big markets, have been willing to spend the dollars needed to build out redundant transmitter facilities. There’s a certain amount of logic to that; with the DTV repack and ATSC 3.0 conversion coming in the next few years, a facility that could cost into the millions to build will likely need expensive conversions and reconstruction very quickly. There’s risk, too, though – while an October Pats game isn’t exactly the Super Bowl, it would have meant a big loss of revenue to CBS and WBZ if the game hadn’t made it to air.
Back in 2012, when it took most of the summer to get things back to normal at the Needham site, we wrote, “it’s a good bet that larger TV broadcasters will be thinking a little harder about the need for better backup facilities for their DTV transmissions.”
Will a second outage finally be the prod that’s needed to get a better plan in place to keep signals flowing to DirecTV, Dish, Charter and direct OTA viewers in Boston? And will other broadcasters look to this outage and make plans in case their antenna fails, too?
(Thanks to Mike Fitzpatrick at NECRAT.us for the handy infographic…)
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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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: October 26, 2015
*They kept us all on the hook for three years, but the commissioners at the FCC finally dropped more than 70 pages of First Report & Order, Notice of Proposed Rule Making and Further Inquiry on Friday afternoon, closing the first chapter in the long process of AM radio revitalization.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the marketplace has already decided AM’s fate and whether “revitalization” would have been more relevant several decades earlier, Friday’s lengthy document opens some interesting new doors for the broadcasters who are still trying to succeed on AM.
The big headline, at least for us, is that the FCC will provide four opportunities for AM stations to obtain FM translators. That’s a sharp change from the stance that chairman Tom Wheeler had taken as recently as the Radio Show in Atlanta earlier this month, and it appears that commissioner Mignon Clyburn was the negotiator who made the case for a compromise deal.
Here’s how it will work: initially – and soon – the FCC will open a six-month window in which class C and D stations (the old “graveyard” class IV channels and former daytimers) can move one commercial-band FM translator from as far as 250 miles away, and to any open commercial-band FM channel in the new market. That will be followed by three more windows: a three-month window for any AM station to do a 250-mile transmitter move, then windows in 2017 for C and D stations, then any station, to apply for a brand-new translator.
*An AM sale in northeast PENNSYLVANIA: GEOS Communications is selling WAZL (1490 Hazleton) to JMJ Radio for just $30,000. JMJ owns Catholic WQOR (750 Olyphant) at the north end of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market and will likely simulcast WQOR on WAZL.
In Albany, Empire Broadcasting has segued WABY (900 Watervliet) from standards toward oldies. In addition to adding more 60s and 70s tunes to a lineup that already included music from as far back as the 1930s, WABY is also now carrying the Don Imus morning show, which hadn’t been heard locally in the Capital District for a decade or so.
*Sad news from the Southern Tier: Kevin Doran, longtime owner of WLEA (1480) and WCKR (92.1) in Hornell, has died after a long illness. Doran had started in radio at WLEA in high school in the 1950s and later worked at competitor WWHG (later WHHO, now silent). He helped put several stations on the air in Mississippi and Alabama, worked briefly at WPGC in Washington, spent some time in Dubuque, Iowa at competitors KDTH (1370) and WDBQ (1490), then returned to Hornell to work as a high school teacher and newspaper reporter in the late 1960s. He bought WLEA from Charles Henderson in 1972, added WCKR a decade later, and also owned WBTA (1490 Batavia) in the 1980s and 1990s. Doran was 77 when he died on Wednesday. (You should read a nice recollection of Doran’s influence on another local radio voice over at Bob Lonsberry’s blog.)
Five Years Ago: October 24, 2011
*The first signs of Cumulus Media’s takeover of the Citadel radio group emerged late last week in NEW YORK, and they’re not pretty: at least a dozen people are out of work at the Two Penn Plaza headquarters of what are now Cumulus’ largest stations, WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5).
The cuts are most evident on the air at WPLJ, where Christine Richie and Dave Stewart are both off the air. Richie had been doing nights, and Stewart had been working the overnight shift, the latest stop on a 22-year career for him at the station. Stewart had another line of work going as well – he also runs his own production company, Creative Broadcast Audio – but the end of his run on overnights is still a sad sign of what’s coming as Cumulus tries to pay for its big Citadel purchase.
On WABC, Mancow Muller’s local weekend show got the ax, though he’ll continue with his national syndicated show over at Talk Radio Network.
Most of the other cuts at WPLJ and WABC happened off the air: WPLJ general sales manager Helen Hammel is gone, as is WABC producer Jill Vitale (known as “Flirty Flipper” during her days producing Sean Hannity).
So far, the latest round of Cumulus cuts seem to be limited to the former ABC Radio stations that passed through Citadel on the way to Cumulus; the stations that had been with Citadel longer, in smaller markets such as Syracuse and Portland and Erie, were already pretty lean when Cumulus took over and have thus far been spared much of the pain.
The Audio Engineering Society returned to New York City last week for their 131st convention, and your editor was honored to co-chair a particularly notable panel discussion Friday night commemorating the 50th anniversary of FM multiplex stereo in the United States.
What you see at left is a collection of some of the most important innovators in FM stereo’s history, including (second from left, seated) Dick Burden, the last surviving member of the 1961 committee charged with selecting a standard for FM stereo. The panel also included processing gurus Bob Orban, Frank Foti, Eric Small and Bill Sacks, as well as Belar founder Arno Meyer, engineers Richard Mertz and Herb Squire and the NAB’s Skip Pizzi. (It was webcast, and we’re hoping to be able to offer a link to archived audio and video in an upcoming edition of NERW.)
As Pizzi noted in his closing remarks, FM stereo has outlived a whole host of more highly-touted broadcast technologies – and as Sacks pointed out, it’s one of the few technologies that became a world standard, with the only competition, now defunct, coming from the Soviet polar-modulation scheme.
*New Jersey’s WSNR (620 Jersey City) and MASSACHUSETTS‘ WWZN (1510 Boston) are getting new owners – sort of. Peter Davidson’s Blackstrap Broadcasting is being transferred to Media Americas Corporation in a deal valued at $23.5 million plus assumption of debts. The transfer will reduce Davidson’s interest in the stations from 99% to just 45%; the remainder of the new Media Americas group will be held by the Rapoza Family Trust (Rhode Island’s Craig Rapoza, who owns WALE 990 in Greenville, R.I.) and Trilight Enterprises, controlled by Russell Jones, who’s been a board member at Blackstrap. No changes are expected to either station’s operation; WWZN is largely leased out to progressive talk programmer Jeff Santos, while WSNR programs mainly to New York’s Russian community.
*Norman Corwin’s name is no longer well known in the contemporary radio community, but there was a time when Corwin was a giant on the radio landscape.
A native of Boston, Corwin began his broadcast career in Springfield in the early 1930s as a newsman at WBZA, sister station to Boston’s WBZ. By 1936, he’d moved to New York City to work at the new WQXR, and two years later he was working for CBS as the creator of “Norman Corwin’s Words Without Music.”
World War II brought Corwin his biggest successes, including the valedictory show “On a Note of Triumph,” which aired to an audience of 60 million listeners on VE Day in 1945. Corwin went on to travel the world, producing the documentary series “One World Flight” before turning to screenwriting in the 1950s.
As he aged, Corwin remained remarkably active, creating a series of radio dramas for NPR in 1979 and then repeating the feat in 2001 (“More by Corwin”). Up until his 100th birthday last year, Corwin was still teaching at the University of Southern California – and answering e-mails from admirers, your editor included.
Corwin died last Tuesday (October 18) at age 101, perhaps the last great living link to the Golden Age of Radio.
Ten Years Ago: October 23, 2006
The AM dial in CANADA just keeps getting emptier – at least everywhere outside its biggest cities. Last week, three more AM signals in eastern Canada applied to move to FM, even as three other applicants filed for new AM signals in Toronto and Montreal.
The AM-to-FM moves first: CHUM Ltd. wants to get off the AM dial in Peterborough and Kingston, Ontario. In Peterborough, it’s hoping to move CKPT (1420) to 99.3, with 17 kW DA (5.7 kW average ERP)/91.5 meters, while in Kingston it wants to move CKLC (1380) to 98.9, with 15 kW DA (8.7 kW average ERP)/132.3 meters. If approved by the CRTC after a hearing December 18, the moves would leave each city with one AM (Corus’ CKRU 980 and CFFX 960, respectively), and would give CHUM three FM signals in Peterborough (counting CKLY in Lindsay) and two in Kingston. (It also raises the potential for still more interference across Lake Ontario, this time with WLLW 99.3 in Seneca Falls and WBZA 98.9 in Rochester.)
The exodus from the AM dial in Nova Scotia continues, too: Newcap is applying to relocate CFDR (780 Dartmouth/Halifax) to 88.9, with 50 kW DA (21 kW average ERP)/188.8 meters. If the move is granted, Newcap says it would divest its half-interest in CKUL (96.5 Halifax), since it also owns CFRQ (104.3 Halifax).
The December 18 hearing will also include three applications for new AM signals: Radio Humsafar wants 1400 in Montreal, with 1 kW; S.S. TV Inc. wants 1650 in Brampton, Ontario, with 1 kW day/680 watts night; and Neeti P. Ray wants 1650 in Mississauga, Ontario, with 1 kW. All three of these stations would be multi-ethnic.
In western MASSACHUSETTS, they’ve been wondering for a while about the status of WVEI-FM (105.5 Easthampton), the Springfield move-in that will become the newest relay of Boston’s all-sports WEEI whenever it finally gets on the air from Mount Tom. Now there’s a date – WEEI has been promoting October 26 as sign-on day for 105.5.
There’s a new station on the air in NEW YORK’s Southern Tier – Equinox Broadcasting’s WRRQ (106.7 Windsor) began broadcasting last week, doing AC as “Q107.” It’ll take over the 104.5 Ingraham Hill translator (W283AC Johnson City) that was being used by sister station WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA), and it’ll also be heard in downtown Binghamton on new translator W236AP (95.1).
It’s been a rough week for the folks at CBS Radio in New York. At the network level, they said goodbye to Christopher Glenn, the veteran anchor who retired in February. He died Tuesday (Oct. 17) of liver cancer, at 68. Upstairs at WCBS (880), they’re mourning Mary Gay Taylor, the station’s veteran City Hall reporter, who died Friday (Oct. 20) of breast cancer, at 71.
Two more from the obituary page: Mike Phillips, who made a name for himself at the old WXLO (98.7, now WRKS) and WWDJ (970 Hackensack) in the early seventies, died last Monday (Oct. 16) near Seattle, at 64. Phillips worked in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, in addition to a long run as PD of oldies KRTH (101.1) in Los Angeles. And while Bob Lassiter made his name in Florida and Chicago talk radio, he also worked at WOUR (96.9 Utica) and WJOI (93.7 Pittsburgh, now WRKZ) in the early seventies. Lassiter died Oct. 13, at 61.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 22, 2001
Radio People on the Move: Kevin Baker returns to Albany after his stint in Rutland, Vermont launching Vox classic rocker WEXP (101.5 Brandon) as “the Fox.” Baker will join Ed Levine’s Galaxy Broadcasting as it takes over WKLI (94.5 Ravena) and WABY (1400 Albany) and moves WHTR down to 93.7 in Scotia to serve the Albany market. Meanwhile, no replacement has been named at WEXP, where Baker was the founding PD and afternoon drive jock. Ted Edwards is leaving his PD job at WBAB (102.3 Babylon) on Long Island to become VP of operations and development at Jesscom, as well as PD of its new KFME (105.1 Garden City MO) in the Kansas City market. And Steve Andolino moves up from PD to OM at AAA’s WBEA (101.7 Southold) and WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) way out on Long Island’s East End; Brian Cosgrove takes his PD stripes.
We’ll hop across Long Island sound to CONNECTICUT next, just the same way WMOS (104.7 Montauk NY) is doing with its studios. The station’s call change (it used to be WBEA and was briefly WCSO) turns out to be no coincidence: owner AAA Entertainment has worked out a deal with the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville to base WMOS in a studio near the casino’s entrance, promoting it as “Mohegan Sun Radio.” Very clever! (And we can attest from personal experience that the WMOS signal blasts across Long Island Sound to that part of southeastern Connecticut…)
Look for C|Net Radio to land on WBPS (890 Dedham) beginning November 5; the tech-talk network (currently heard only on KNEW 910 in the San Francisco market) will take over programming 24/7 on the Mega Broadcasting station, putting an end to the “romantica” music now running there as “Amor 890.”
Twenty Years Ago: October 23, 1996
WBOQ (104.9), the classical outlet licensed to Gloucester MA, is now in very good new hands. Southfield Broadcasting LP transferred the license to Marlin Broadcasting on October 1st, in a deal that was all in the family (Southfield was owned by Douglas Tanger, and Marlin belongs to his brother Woody). Marlin owns classical WTMI (93.1) Miami, and recently sold classical stations in Detroit (WQRS 105.1) and Philadelphia (WFLN 95.7).
Across the state line in Ballston Spa NY, WZRQ (102.3) has dropped its Z-Rock format in favor of classic rock, as WXCR. Z-Rock was being discontinued at the end of the year anyway, and the modern-rock bent to Z-Rock’s programming was conflicting with WZRQ’s new duopoly partner, “The Edge” (WQBK-FM 103.9 Rensselaer/WQBJ 103.5 Cobleskill).
The 1150 spot on Boston’s radio dial is now home to yet another set of call letters, its third this fall. Sometime late Sunday night or Monday morning, Kidstar’s Boston affiliate quietly changed its call from WROR(AM) to WNFT(AM), which, according to the folks at station owner Greater Media, stands for “Nifty 1150.” The WNFT calls were last used in Jacksonville, Florida, on TV channel 47. (That station in turn picked up an old New England callsign — the WTEV(TV) calls that were used on Channel 6 in New Bedford MA from 1963 until the late seventies.
From the “What the….?!?!?!?” File: M Street this week reports that 1370 in Wickford RI has added Westwood One’s adult standards service to its local programming. So far so good; but M Street then goes on to identify the station as “WKFD,” and says it “uses the calls WEGM as a slogan.” That prompted a lot of head-scratching here at NERW headquarters, since when we visited the station in July (see the July 23 NERW for all the details), they were using WEGM as their sole ID. But sure enough, a check of the FCC database finds that the folks down at 1919 M Street still think 1370 is WKFD! So…either “WEGM” never actually applied for its new calls…or the FCC database is way off on this one. Go figure.
Just over the state line, there’s still more call-change action going on. Cobleskill NY’s WDCS 1190 has changed calls to WLAL. The daytimer was recently sold to a listener who was able to afford to keep it running, something the previous owners were apparently unable to do. And M Street says Poughkeepsie NY’s WNSX 96.1 is now on the air, running ABC’s satellite modern AC format. A visit to that part of the Hudson Valley is long overdue for the NERW traveling radio caravan…
A bit further afield in upstate NY, Remsen NY’s WUUU (serving the U-U-Utica market, of course) has applied for the WRFM calls on 93.5. Those calls were, of course, long resident on 105.1 in New York City. Syracuse newcomer WXCD (105.9) has changed calls to WLTI, formerly found in Detroit. WGLI (1290) in Babylon, Long Island — a station that’s been dark for years — has applied for WZZU. And NERW has applied for a grant for aspirin from the headache we get keeping track of all this movement!
A brief NERW this time around…as the region continues to recover from one of the heaviest rainstorms in recent memory. Some parts of Maine received over 19 inches of rain in just over a day, and many roads remain closed. One effect was clearly audible on the Boston dial: the absence of WNRB (1510) from the airwaves. WNRB’s transmitter is in a very low-lying area of Waltham, along a stream called Beaver Brook. When the waters began rising Sunday night, they flooded the parking lot in which the station’s four towers sit, then entered the concrete transmitter house, eventually rising more than a foot above the floor. Both the main 50kw Nautel transmitter and the backup suffered damage, and when NERW stopped by last night, an engineer was still removing water from the Nautel’s cabinet. It’s a credit both to WNRB’s engineers and to Nautel that the station is back up and running this morning. NERW wishes them good luck…and the good long rest they’ll undoubtedly need after all that bailing out.
It will take a lot longer for Portland, Maine’s WLOB (1310) and WLOB-LP (Channel 45) to make it back on the air. The station’s building on Warren Avenue in Portland was flooded to the roof, and word has it that damage inside was extremely severe. WGAN (560) has its transmitter just across the highway from WLOB, but remained on the air throughout the storm.