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In this week’s issue… CBS/Entercom prepare for spinoff trust – Host ousted in NE PA – Anchors shuffle in upstate NY – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio – The Major Leagues

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*When Entercom filed its applications with the FCC last week to acquire CBS Radio’s stations in big markets around the country, we had an initial glimmer of hope that we were all about to learn just which stations were destined to be spun off to keep the new Entercom under the FCC’s market caps in places like Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston.

Then we started looking through the filings as they hit the FCC’s website late at night, startled to see major CBS properties such as Boston’s WBZ and San Francisco’s KCBS appearing to be headed for the spinoff trust being administered by broker Eliot Evers.

“WHAT?” was roughly the tone of the text messages heading back and forth between the headquarters of NERW and our media partner RadioInsight, at least for the few minutes it took us to dig deeper into the hard work being done by the fleet of lawyers both companies have no doubt engaged.

And here’s what we can conclude after that deeper examination: at least for now, Entercom hasn’t actually decided which stations will be sold (with one exception in our region, which we’ll get to in a moment), and so it’s playing a clever waiting game with the FCC.

In its filings, Entercom acknowledges that it will have to sell at least two FM stations in the Boston market, but it’s asking the FCC for general permission to potentially put any of CBS Radio or Entercom’s current Boston signals into the eventual spinoff trust. That could include Entercom’s sports WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence), R&B WKAF (97.7 Brockton), rock WAAF (107.3 Westborough), or even AMs WRKO (680) or WEEI (850). On the CBS side, it could include sports WBZ-FM (98.5), classic rock WZLX (100.7), top-40 WODS (103.3), AC WBMX (104.1) or even the mighty WBZ (1030).

We can speculate endlessly, of course, about which signals might actually end up in other hands, and whose hands those might be, but there’s something else quietly telling about the Entercom filing: it strongly suggests that Entercom itself doesn’t actually have a buyer (or more likely, a tax-free swap partner) lined up yet, which means we may be in for a few months (if not longer) before we have any actual answers about what happens next and what the final picture will look like in Boston.

In the meantime, life goes on at the CBS Radio stations, including a big transition coming up at the end of the week as the CBS all-news stations launch their own internal traffic operations to replace the service (and the familiar voices) that have come from iHeart/Premiere’s Total Traffic for many years now. We still don’t know how many of the outside traffic personalities will end up working for CBS Radio itself, but it’s something we’ll be keeping an eye on (no pun intended) in the days to come.

As for that one station we know Entercom will be shedding? It’s in an unlikely spot at the fringe of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, where WGGI (95.9 Benton) is the Columbia County relay of country WGGY (101.3 Scranton). It was able to be part of the Entercom cluster under the old contour-overlap rules, and it remained grandfathered in along with WGGY, WMGS (92.9 Scranton), WKRZ (98.5 Wilkes-Barre),WMQX (102.3 Pittston) and WILK-FM (103.1 Avoca) when the rules changed. But that grandfathering goes away as part of the complex CBS Radio transaction – and so WGGI has to go into the spinoff trust and eventually must be sold off as a tiny part of this huge deal.

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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: March 28, 2016

*Now that it’s signed its first few tenants, NEW YORK‘s 1 World Trade Center has ordered TV antennas to be mounted on the distinctive spire that rises 1776 feet above lower Manhattan.

1wtc-2014The order goes to RFS, which conducted testing last year in conjunction with the Metropolitan Television Alliance and the Durst Organization, which manages the site. Last week, RFS announced that it will install a circularly-polarized VHF antenna (model 662-16D), as well as a PEP40E UHF antenna that will allow for variable polarization. That means that the UHF stations that end up at 1WTC will have a choice of operating either with the usual horizontal polarization or with a combination of horizontal and vertical, which many experts consider preferable for mobile and indoor reception.

The multi-million dollar question, of course, remains just who’ll be using those antennas. On VHF, we know so far that public broadcaster WNET (Channel 13) have signed deals to use the new 1WTC site. So has NBC, which is currently operating on UHF with WNBC (Channel 4/RF 28) and WNJU (Channel 47/RF 36), and CBS, which operates on UHF with WCBS-TV (Channel 2/RF 33).

*In Syracuse, today’s the day for a big shuffle in FM formats – and some of the moving pieces appear to still be in motion.

wsen-wzunHere’s what we know so far: with Family Life Ministries taking over WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) and WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida) from Leatherstocking, the oldies format on WSEN-FM disappears from 92.1 sometime today. The WSEN-FM intellectual property migrated up the dial last Monday at 3 PM to Galaxy’s WZUN (102.1 Phoenix), which has merged its previous AC “Sunny 102” format in a pretty remarkable way, keeping all of the WSEN-FM airstaff on board alongside its own existing crew.

*A venerable MASSACHUSETTS studio facility was severely damaged by a three-alarm fire on Friday. Back in 1996, WBUR (90.9 Boston) moved out of its longtime home at Boston University’s College of Communications building at 630 Commonwealth Ave. to a new home up the road at 890 Comm. Ave., leaving behind its old studios to BU student station WTBU, which was mostly on carrier-current AM back then.

WTBU’s been at the 630 Commonwealth Avenue facility ever since, doing student-run radio from the same rooms where “Car Talk” got started. It’s not yet clear what started Friday’s fire, which left the studios covered in soot and silenced WTBU for the time being. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage to WTBU and other BU facilities in that 1950s-era building.

Five Years Ago: March 26, 2012

*Barnstable Broadcasting is exiting Long Island with the sale of WHLI (1100 Hempstead), WIGX (94.3 Smithtown), WKJY (98.3 Hempstead) and WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) to Connoisseur Media. NERW hears the deal was announced at an employee meeting this afternoon. RadioInsight reports the price on the deal is $23 million; we”ll have more in a mid-week update here and on Twitter and Facebook as it develops.

*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, Jack Williams has been a fixture behind the news desk on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) for as long as many of his viewers have been alive. That”s about to change, though: last week, the CBS owned-and-operated station announced that Williams, 68, is beginning to reduce his workload at the station after 37 years there.

Starting this week, Williams is off the 11 PM newscast, though he”ll continue to anchor at 6 and produce his long-running “Wednesday”s Child” segments.

Jonathan Elias takes over the 11 alongside Lisa Hughes starting tonight.

*About that high-powered pirate that was shut down by FCC agents earlier this month? “Hot 97 Boston” tells the Jamaica Star that it was making a “move from Terrestrial Digital Radio back to a Digital Internet Radio platform,” claiming that it was the station”s “tremendous success that led to us lending our amazing brand locally for simulcast on terrestrial radio.” Almost two weeks after the raid, there”s been no sign of a signal on the station”s former 87.7 MHz frequency, and no shortage of listeners on its Facebook page asking what happened.

*There are two new FM signals on the air in Down East MAINE.

WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) went silent after the death of owner Lyle Evans back in 2010. Evans” estate sold the station to Chuck Begin”s Pine Tree Broadcasting last year, and now WRMO is back from a new 22.5 kW/669″ class B facility on Martins Ridge, near Franklin, engineered by Washington, DC”s Chris Roth.

It”s now programming gold-based AC as “93.7 the Wave,” reaching Ellsworth and Bar Harbor with a city-grade signal and providing a fringe signal as far away as Bangor.

There”s also a new signal on the air from the Augusta-based Light of Life religious folks: WRNM (91.7 Ellsworth) applied for a license to cover its construction permit last week.

*In PENNSYLVANIA“s Poconos, Bud Williamson unveiled a new format and nickname at his newly-purchased WTSX (96.7 Lehman Township) on Friday. The new “Pocono 96.7,” which relocated from Port Jervis, New York to clear the way for K-Love”s WKLV-FM (96.7 Port Chester) New York City move-in, is playing the “Greatest Hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s” with a jock lineup that includes John Perry in mornings, John Harper in the afternoons and two former Clear Channel voices, middayer Lou Brown and night guy Rick Knight (Reg Osterhoudt).

Ten Years Ago: March 26, 2007

*RHODE ISLAND will soon have its first locally-owned public radio station. “Rhode Island Public Radio” is buying two Rhode Island radio stations – existing public radio outlet WRNI (1290 Providence) and WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier).WRNI has been providing NPR news and talk to northern Rhode Island since 1998, when Boston”s WBUR bought the station. It”s been an up-and-down ride ever since, as WBUR has weathered management shakeups, a Rhode Island state investigation into the use of money donated by Rhode Island listeners, and an aborted plan by former WBUR general manager Jane Christo to sell WRNI and its sister station, WXNI (1230 Westerly).

Now Boston University has agreed to keep WRNI in public radio hands, selling it for $2 million (paid over a ten-year period) to the Rhode Island Public Radio group, formerly known as the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio. WBUR will continue to provide engineering and programming assistance to WRNI for the next five years, and it will sell WXNI separately, since RIPR”s other purchase announced this past week will make the Westerly AM signal redundant. (Money from the WXNI sale will go towards reducing the sale price of WRNI.)

That other purchase is WAKX, for which RIPR will pay Davidson Media $2.65 million, funded by a loan from the Rhode Island Foundation.

That signal will give RIPR coverage of much of South County and Newport for the first time. (It”s currently LMA”d out with a smooth jazz format, which will continue to be heard on Davidson”s WALE 990 Greenville, at least when that station”s on the air – it”s been off again for a few days, we”re told.)

Joseph O”Connor, general manager of WRNI, will stay on the job when the station changes ownership.

*NEW YORK“s WNYC will partner with Boston”s WGBH, the New York Times, BBC World Service and Public Radio International to launch a new morning show next year. The show will be one of two new rivals to NPR”s “Morning Edition,” joining a new NPR-produced “alternative” morning offering. WNYC will continue to carry Morning Edition on WNYC-FM (93.9), while the new show will air on WNYC (820). (Will Boston”s WGBH, which currently runs Morning Edition at the same time as rival WBUR, carry the new show on its main signal? Stay tuned…)

On Long Island, it”s the end of the line (terrestrially speaking, anyway) for Scotty Hart”s modern rock “Radio X” network, anchored at WLIX-LP (94.7 Ridge), with translators W235BB (94.9 Hauppage) and W238BA (104.5 Selden). Next Sunday (Easter Sunday, as it happens), the stations will flip to a religious format, and they”ll soon add two more translators, W268AN (101.5 Plainview) and W243BF (96.5 Shirley). Radio X will live on, for a while anyway, on its webcast at radiox.fm.

*We know more this week about the new FM talk entry in western PENNSYLVANIA. When CBS Radio relaunches WRKZ (93.7 Pittsburgh) on April 2, it”ll have new calls, WTZN, and (as rumored in last week”s issue) a new identity, “The Zone.” Opie and Anthony remain on board for morning drive, followed by Dennis Miller”s new syndicated show at 10 AM, John McIntire (formerly of KDKA) at 1 PM and Scott Paulsen (late of WDVE) at 4 PM. The new “Zone” is being billed as a talk station designed specifically for men, whatever that might mean.

Fifteen Years Ago: March 25, 2002

CONNECTICUT is getting a new AM station on an old frequency. It”s been almost exactly ten years since WQQW (1590 Waterbury) went silent; soon, though, listeners in that area will have a new 1590 facility, licensed to nearby Oakville. The just-granted station, owned by Puerto Rico-based “Fair Communications Community,” will run 500 watts day, 220 watts at night from a two-tower array just west of Route 8 on Frost Bridge Road, a few miles north of Waterbury. The pattern will aim vaguely northwest by day; at night, it will be a figure-eight aimed north and south, a far cry from the huge signal WQQW used to pump out before being bought by New York”s WWRL and taken silent. (The CP expired, unbuilt.)

MASSACHUSETTS is also getting a new station, as New Bedford Christian Radio finally wins its long-sought construction permit for 88.1 in New Bedford. The 300 watt, vertical-only signal will come from 41 meters above average terrain from a site near the WJFD (97.3) tower just east of Sconticut Neck Road in Fairhaven.

Twenty Years Ago: March 28, 1997

Local music and talk are making a bit of a comeback in the Boston suburbs. WSRO (1470) in Marlborough is now being run by Lindsy Parker, ex-PD at the Talk America Radio Network and at WSAR (1480) Fall River. Parker and owner Doug Rowe say they”re committed to live, local talk. Further down I-495 in Norfolk MA, WDIS (1170) has dropped its Talk America programming, and is playing adult contemporary music with live, local DJs.

The FCC is out with its latest list of proposed expanded-band allocations, and once again the Northeast gets the very short end of the stick. Only two stations up this way receive spots in the expanded band under the new plan. WTRY (980) Troy NY would move to 1640, and WZNN (930) Rochester NH would move to 1700. Like earlier FCC lists, the latest proposal raises more questions than it answers. Among the stations listed is WJRZ (1550) Toms River NJ – whose construction permit expired without ever being built! If the Commission”s goal is to reduce interference, NERW thinks WJRZ(AM) has done its part for the cause without ever receiving an expanded-band slot. The FCC might also want to check the call letters on the list; many are quite outdated by now!

New England”s religious broadcasters are engaging in some territorial squabbling when it comes to new translators. Christian Ministries, Inc. is fighting a petition to deny that was filed against its proposed translator on 96.3 in Quechee VT, which would have relayed WCMD (89.9) Barre VT. CMI is also applying for 91.7 in Woodstock VT, just down the road. Meantime, the folks at WPVQ (93.9) Turners Falls MA are fighting a petition to deny filed by Harvest Broadcasting Association against their proposed translator in South Hadley MA.