In this week’s issue… NBC plans Needham development – New format in southern NH – Buffalo mourns veteran reporter – Bell cuts again – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio, AAA edition
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*We may not know yet where “NBC Boston” will be found on the RF spectrum in a few years, but we know that parent company NBC Universal is getting ready to make a big brick-and-mortar investment in eastern MASSACHUSETTS.
Since launching its owned-and-operated NBC signal on New Year’s Day, it’s been a crowded house for Comcast’s local TV operations in the Boston market. NBC Boston is currently crammed in with sister stations Telemundo Boston (WNEU) and New England Cable News at the original NECN facility on Wells Ave. in Newton, while Comcast Sports Network is up in Burlington.
That’s about 375 employees in all, and late last week NBC Universal announced plans to bring them together under one roof on the Needham side of the “N-Squared Innovation District,” the development district that spans Route 128. Assuming Needham Town Meeting voters approve a $2.1 million tax break for the project, NBC plans to move all its operations into the former General Dynamics building on B Street, one of the last big unclaimed pieces of the Founders Park development (above).
The project will include about $63 million to renovate the building itself, plus another $61 million for new equipment; NBC says it will also upgrade shuttle service from Founders Park (already home to TripAdvisor’s headquarters, among other prominent tenants) to the Needham Highlands T stop as part of its commitment to its new home.
When the new NBC facility opens in 2019, it will create a significant media presence along the 128 corridor from Dedham (WFXT) up to Needham, where NBC will sit just one exit south of WCVB’s longtime home at the Highland Ave. exit.
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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: April 4, 2016
*That old saying about “can’t tell the players without a scorecard?” In Syracuse, NEW YORK this week, even a scorecard might not be much help, thanks to the latest moving parts in what’s turning out to be the biggest realignment in the city’s radio history in many years. (And most decidedly not the biggest news story in the city in general, thanks to the almost-made-it-all-the-way Orangemen and the still-might-make-it-all-the-way Orangewomen…)
If you’ve been following the twists and turns of the market so far, you know that James Johnson’s Leatherstocking group sold the signals of its WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) and WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida) to Family Life Ministries, and the intellectual property of WSEN-FM to Ed Levine’s Galaxy Communications, which moved the WSEN airstaff over to its WZUN (102.1 Phoenix).
Now we can put all the pieces together about what came next: as soon as Family Life signed the deal to buy 92.1 and 106.3, Galaxy’s rival Craig Fox swooped in (literally the next day, from what we hear) to make the religious broadcaster an offer it truly couldn’t refuse: a swap of Fox’s WOLF-FM (105.1 De Ruyter)/WWLF (96.7 Oswego) and translator W254BC (98.7 Camillus) for the 92.1 signal.
As soon as Family Life closed on its Leatherstocking purchases last Monday, Fox began moving the pieces around on his end: much to Galaxy’s surprise, 92.1 went from oldies not to Family Life religion but…back to more oldies, as a simulcast of Fox’s “Dinosaur FM,” which is heard on WNDR (103.9 Mexico) and a slew of translators. Except Fox’s real target turned out to be not Galaxy and 102.1 but the market’s behemoth, iHeart country signal WBBS (104.7 Fulton).
And so on Tuesday, 92.1 flipped from Dinosaur to “92.1 the Wolf,” picking up the country format that Fox had been running on WOLF-FM/WWLF. Here’s how it shakes out from here: after a temporary simulcast between 92.1 and 105.1/96.7, “Wolf” will make its permanent home on the class B1 92.1 signal, which is much better centered over the core of the Syracuse market to better challenge B104.7. Fanily Life, meanwhile, ends up with a much wider reach than it expected when it first did the Leatherstocking deal: the 105.1 DeRuyter signal is a huge class B that traces its roots to the old Rural Radio Network, reaching south into Cortland County and north almost to Watertown when combined with the class A 96.7 Oswego. And since 105.1 now overlaps so much of the class A 106.3 WMCR-FM signal to the east in Madison County, Family Life gets another bonus: it can now try to move 106.3 farther east into the Utica-Rome market, giving it a much-desired presence out there.
*In CANADA, the news of CJRS (1650 Montreal)’s demise may have been a touch premature. Your editor was actually in Montreal and settling in at the Jays/Red Sox exhibition game when CJRS was slated to end its life as Jewish-programmed “Radio Shalom” Friday night – but while Radio Shalom has indeed signed off as the only full-time Jewish station in North America, the CJRS signal lives on.
CJRS had been only a “24/6” operation, handing off its Friday night and Saturday airtime to Andre Joly’s evangelical Christian programming. during the Jewish sabbath. After concluding it couldn’t make the finances work for Jewish programming, Shalom is now letting Joly program the 1650 signal full-time; Steve Faguy tells us (in person, no less) that the plan is to eventually sell 1650 to Joly unless another buyer emerges who’d bring back Jewish programming to the station.
Five Years Ago: April 2, 2012
*It is, by far, the biggest station sale in NEW YORK State – and indeed, in all of NERW-land – so far in 2012. But perhaps the biggest news about Barnstable Broadcasting’s sale of its four Long Island signals last week is the price tag: just $23 million for class A FMs WIGX (94.3 Smithtown), WKJY (98.3 Hempstead) and WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) and AM daytimer WHLI (1100 Hempstead).
It’s a far cry from the huge prices that even suburban signals once fetched, and it’s arguably even a cut below the $15 million that Cox took in when it sold then-WCTZ (96.7 Port Chester) to EMF Broadcasting in 2010. It’s hard to make a direct comparison, since WCTZ’s price included the value of the station’s relocation from Stamford, Connecticut to New Rochelle, with partial New York City coverage; the WCTZ sale, unlike the Barnstable sale, included none of WCTZ’s intellectual property or billing. In 2010, we’re told the Barnstable cluster billed about $12 million in all, with more than half of that attributable to WKJY, and that suggests these stations changed hands for something ar0und four times cash flow, which would have been an unimaginably low multiple at the top of the market.
The sale takes Barnstable out of the market, and indeed out of the radio business entirely after decades in which the Massachusetts-based company grew to encompass more than twenty signals. And it brings Jeff Warshaw’s Connoisseur Media into a market just across Long Island Sound from its Westport, Connecticut headquarters.
*On TV, CBS has taken over operations of WLNY (Channel 55). The Long Island-based independent station did its last 11 PM newscast from its Melville studios Thursday night. and by Friday morning the station’s operations had been moved to the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in Manhattan. Gone in the move were WLNY’s longtime syndicated staples, “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”; it’s competitor WABC-TV that has the New York City rights to those shows, and while WABC was willing to let WLNY carry them as well when the Pascucci family owned the station, it’s apparently not so eager to let CBS run them.
WLNY gets a new logo out of the move (with a distinct similarity to that of KCAL-9, a similar CBS-owned independent that’s in a duopoly with Los Angeles O&O KCBS-TV), it’s now broadcasting in HD, and it will get newscasts again at some point in the not-too-distant future (reportedly mid-June), though surely not at 11 PM against WCBS-TV’s own newscast. Will WLNY follow the lead of KCAL in running local newscasts at non-traditional times such as 3 PM, 8 PM and 9 PM?
The Melville studios will remain open as WCBS-TV’s Long Island bureau, with WLNY anchor Richard Rose and some 30 other staffers staying on board; about 20 other staffers lost their jobs in the transition.
*A format change in VERMONT: after two years as active rock “The Wire,” Steve Silberberg’s WIER (102.3 Grand Isle) flipped to hot AC as “Mix 102.3” on Friday.
The new Mix is competing against Vox’s WEZF (Star 92.9), which has a new morning team. Afternoon host Mary Cenci shifts to wakeup duty alongside Tim Kavanagh. Former host John Nolan is out, and his co-host Tara Madison is moving to afternoon drive to replace Cenci.
Ten Years Ago: April 2, 2007
*There’s an unusual ownership dispute playing out in NEW YORK‘s Southern Tier, where the future of WKPQ (105.3 Hornell) has been up in the air for several years now, as longtime owner Bilbat Radio fights a planned sale to Robert Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines group that apparently went sour somewhere along the way. We’re not quite sure how the whole dispute got started, but it’s outlived one of Bilbat’s principals – Richard “Bat” Lyons died last year, leaving Bill Berry to carry on his fight to keep the sale to Pembrook Pines from going through.
The latest installment of the saga finds control of WKPQ passing from Bilbat, which had been LMA’ing the station to Sterling Management, to Anthony Panetta, who began running the station under an interim LMA Sunday morning, en route to a settlement that will put WKPQ in Pembrook Pines’ hands in exchange for WABH (1380 Bath).
Bilbat, which continues to operate WHHO (1320 Hornell), is still fighting the transfer; the website for WKPQ’s now-former “Freedom 105” format offers information to listeners about how to challenge a license transfer. It appears that the “Freedom 105” programming has migrated down the dial to WHHO; we can’t hear the AM signal here at NERW Central, but a check of the big FM signal Sunday afternoon found it running satellite-delivered AC as “Power 105,” a return to an earlier WKPQ slogan.
This saga’s clearly far from over; we’ll be keeping an eye on it.
*Here in Rochester, Entercom was in the headlines last week as it shuffled the lineup of stations it plans to keep when it completes its purchase of CBS Radio’s local cluster.
Entercom now says it will keep classic rock WCMF (96.5 Rochester) and top 40 WPXY (97.9 Rochester) from the CBS group, as well as its country WBEE (92.5 Rochester), classic hits WBZA (98.9 Rochester) and talk WROC (950 Rochester). That means former CBS stations WZNE (94.1 Brighton) and WRMM (101.3 Rochester), as well as Entercom’s WFKL (93.3 Fairport), will go up for sale.
The decision makes it clear that WCMF was the prize Entercom wanted from the CBS cluster, bringing veteran Rochester morning man Brother Wease into the Entercom Rochester fold. As for the rest of the stations, the sale of signal- and ratings-challenged WZNE was a given – but why keep WPXY and sell WRMM, which has higher ratings and revenue with its AC “Warm 101.3” format? NERW suspects the deal would have had a harder time winning Justice Department and FCC approval if Entercom had ended up with both WBEE and WRMM, which are usually two of the top three stations in town.
No buyer has yet been announced for the spinoff group (which will presumably remain housed at CBS’ facility in the HSBC Building, while WCMF and WPXY move to Entercom’s High Falls studios), which probably means there’s still some room for these station lineups to change before the deal is finalized.
WSLP (93.3 Saranac Lake) kicks off its regular programming this morning, and we hear there will be local hosts on the station’s airwaves once it gets up and running.
Downstate, New York’s “Fresh FM” (WWFS 102.7) has named a morning host: he’s Dave Packer, whose career has included weekends at WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) and a stint at WBGO (88.3 Newark).
*There’s an official format now at VERMONT‘s newest radio station. WTNN (97.5 Bristol) is now “Eagle Country 97.5,” challenging Burlington market leader WOKO (98.9) and Rutland’s “Cat Country” WJEN (94.5). So far, it’s all satellite-delivered, but that’ll be changing, we hear.
*A most unusual travel information station in CANADA is changing formats. CFYZ (1280) signed on a few years ago as the voice of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, and for a time it actually offered live drive-time programming aimed at travelers heading to or from the airport. Then the airport authority pulled the plug on the station’s funding, and CFYZ went silent. Now it’s back, under new calls and with a new programmer. Canada’s Business Network is providing a combination of business talk and syndicated talkers (including Dennis Miller and Glenn Beck) to the station, which will soon be operating under new calls CFBN.
Official sign-on for the new CFBN, which will operate from studios in Pearson’s Terminal 1, is set for next Monday, April 9.
And in Montreal, CKAC (730) relaunches today as a French-language all-sports station, replacing the RadioMedia talk that’s moving to FM across the province, as the venerable AM signal tries to find a way to bring back the listeners who have largely moved elsewhere in recent years.
Fifteen Years Ago: April 1, 2002
One of the best-known voices in Buffalo radio is without a spot on the dial this week – and alas, the end of Danny Neaverth’s morning show on WHTT (104.1) is no April Fool joke. The Citadel-owned oldies station began dropping hints late in March that it was looking to cut costs, dismissing Neaverth’s son (Dan Jr. had been doing sports on WHTT) and daughter-in-law (P.J. Fox, who had been doing part-time air work for the station. When Tony Violanti of the Buffalo News broke the news that Neaverth’s own contract would not be renewed, WHTT pulled Neaverth off the air after Wednesday’s show, calling at least a temporary halt to a career that began at WKBW in the fifties. There’s no word yet on what Neaverth’s next move might be – but WHTT didn’t wait long to fill his shoes, announcing Friday that veteran WBEN morning man Bill Lacy will take over morning drive in a few weeks. Lacy, who was let go in a cost-cutting binge at WBEN last year, had been heard filling in for Neaverth during several scheduled vacations recently.
Other news from around NEW YORK: Binghamton’s WMRV (105.7 Endicott) is the target of a lawsuit from the husband of a woman who died during a station promotion in June 2000. Susan Santodonato, 37, was one of about a hundred Britney Spears fans who turned up at WMRV’s old Endicott studio building after the station announced the pop star would be visiting. Spears wasn’t there, of course – but the Clear Channel CHR station had hired an actress to impersonate her and several “guards” to keep fans at a distance. Santodonato fell and hit her head on a garage door during the chaos, and the $1.2 billion suit filed by her husband says the injury, which led to her death a few hours later, was caused by one of the guards pushing her. The lawsuit names Clear Channel and Visions Federal Credit Union, which owned the Country Club Road building where WMRV’s studios were then located. (The station moved to a new studio in Vestal a few months ago.)
To PENNSYLVANIA we go next, and the next installment of the Harrisburg CHR wars. Last week, we told you that Cumulus had pulled the plug on the format at WNNK (104.1 Harrisburg), shifting “Wink” to a hot AC in the face of tough competition from Clear Channel’s “Kiss” WHKF (99.3). But it turns out that was only half the story: this week, Cumulus flipped oldies outlet WWKL (92.1 Palmyra) to CHR as “Hot 92,” launching a new challenge to Kiss, albeit on a signal that’s weak over much of the market. WNNK PD John O’Dea is overseeing the new entry as well, and he’s running it jockless for now. The irony here? Those WWKL calls and that oldies format were last heard in the market on…99.3, just before it flipped to “Kiss” last year!
Twenty Years Ago: April 3, 1997
New England is recovering from a freak April snowstorm, and we here at NERW headquarters are suddenly having no regrets whatsoever about making the move to Rochester – and to think of all the ribbing we took for moving to “snowy” Upstate New York! Anyway, the storm is our top story this week, so on with the news:
The storm took several stations completely off the air, including WSSH (101.5) Marlboro VT and WDIS (1170) Norfolk MA. Several others, including WZSH (107.1) Bellows Falls VT, WHDQ (106.1) Claremont NH, and WVAY (100.7) Wilmington VT stayed on the air but without any audio. WLKW (790) Providence was noted with a phone-line audio feed to its East Providence transmitter. Most of the stations are now back on the air, with the exception of WDIS, which remained silent as of Wednesday morning. WBZ (1030) in Boston suffered a lightning strike to one of its two towers in Hull, Massachusetts, forcing the station to run from its backup 10 kilowatt transmitter at the Brighton studios for several hours on Tuesday while repairs were being made. ‘BZ ditched its usual taped overnight newscasts Monday night and Tuesday morning, keeping Don Huff in the studios with live newscasts all night.
On the radio-with-pictures side of the aisle, Boston’s network affiliates dumped most of their daytime programming Tuesday to stay with the big story. CBS O&O WBZ-TV was on the air from 5 AM until 1 PM, pulling veteran storm reporter Shelby Scott out of retirement to stand amidst nearly three feet of snow in Worcester. WCVB (Channel 5) was on from 5 AM until 2 PM, and WHDH-TV (Channel 7) outdid ’em all with coverage from just before 4 AM until 3 PM, pausing for an hour before picking back up at 4. As for Fox O&O WFXT (Channel 25), they were plagued by a power outage at the Dedham studios, which knocked out their 10 PM newscast. Backup power, Mr. Murdoch?
April Fool! Several Northeast stations got into the spirit of the day Tuesday, including Syracuse’s WNTQ (93.1), which spent the morning telling listeners their cash was about to be replaced by a new series of bills. The stunt was not appreciated by area banks, which had to spend the rest of the day persuading 93Q listeners that there was no need to come in and exchange their bills. Here in Rochester, WHAM (1180) went small-town for a few days, replacing the last hour of its midday talk show with “Tradio,” giving listeners the chance to call in and sell their household items. (We think that was an April Fool joke…)
News from all over: Providence’s WPRO AM/FM (630/92.3), WLKW (790), and WWLI (105.1) have new owners. Citadel Broadcasting is moving beyond its current markets in the midwest and out west to buy Tele-Media, whose holdings include almost 20 stations in its home base of Pennsylvania as well as the Providence stations and stations in Quincy IL. Purchase price for the whole package is $117 million, according to Inside Radio. WPRO and WLKW are the market’s AM leaders, with news/talk and standards formats, respectively. PRO-FM is the market’s CHR station, and “Lite 105” is one of two ACs. Format changes? One never knows…
Up in New Hampshire, the new owners of Lebanon’s 100.5 FM have put a new format and calls on the former WVRR (ex-WNBX, ex-WUVR, etc.). As of March 24, 100.5 is now “KIXX country,” picking up the WXXK format and calls from co-owned 101.7 Newport NH. 101.7 becomes WVRR, “V-101,” with a satellite adult-rock format.