In this week’s issue… Detailing the ins and outs of the complex repack – Where will displaced radio stations go? – We wonder about NBC Boston (again) – Side effects north of the border – Format changes in PA, NJ
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*There’s one topic on the minds of most broadcasters getting ready to head west for the NAB Show, and that’s the massive DTV repack that’s now getting underway.
As you read in our NERW Extra Thursday afternoon, perhaps the biggest surprise in what did happen during the auction was Comcast’s decision to put much of its duplicate spectrum up for grabs, including its own flagship WNBC in New York.
That news lit social media on fire for a few hours – “WNBC is going off the air?!?” – but for viewers, Comcast’s $214 million payday from unloading WNBC’s spectrum will be all but unnoticeable. Channel-sharing will put NBC’s programming on some of the bandwidth of Telemundo sister station WNJU (Channel 47/RF 36, moving to RF 35), channel mapping will keep WNBC’s signal at “4.1” for over-the-air viewers, and the new rules about channel sharing mean that the “WNBC New York” license that dates back to 1941 will stay in effect as a nominally separate entity from WNJU.
Which raises another question that we suspect many will be asking as the impact of the auction begins to hit home: if NBC was able to get such a sweet deal without losing much of anything in the process, why did other broadcasters in a similar position hold back?
CBS, in particular, put almost nothing in the action except for one satellite station in rural Minnesota, which left plenty on the table. In NERW-land alone, CBS kept duplicate UHF signals in Boston (WSBK/WBZ-TV), New York (WCBS-TV/WLNY), Philadelphia (KYW-TV/WPSG) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV/WPCW), spectrum that could have been worth $600 million or more just through channel-sharing. Add in other duplicate markets the company kept – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas – and we’re edging close to the $1.7 billion CBS Corp. gets from spinning off the CBS Radio division, and all the revenue that division generates.
And what about Fox, which gets $161 million from its sale of WPWR in Chicago (that CW affiliate will share with sister WFLD)? It keeps its two UHF signals in New York (WNYW and WWOR), as well as duopolies in Dallas, San Francisco and elsewhere.
While we ponder those mysteries, read on for our market-by-market analysis of the results of the auction and the other questions it raises…
(And don’t forget to visit us at VegasRadioParty.com to learn more about the big radio party we’re throwing at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Sunday night, April 23 – if you’re headed west for the show, we hope you’ll join us!)
We hope everyone’s year has gotten off to a good start. Although our January started out rough, we’re chugging along now with another great offer from the Fybush Media Store.
For the entire month of January, all of our books are $2 off. Just enter the coupon code “readabook” in the coupon code field in your cart.
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Though the Radio Historian’s calendar is sold out, you can still get your copy of the 2018 Tower Site Calendar. You can even get the autographed and hand-numbered edition. Hurry, though — there are less than 10 left.
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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 18, 2016
LAS VEGAS – It’s that time yet again, as broadcasters from NERW-land and beyond gather here in the desert to see what’s new in technology and to try to divine the future of our business.
We’ll have some updates here on fybush.com during the week for subscribers – and this year we’ve partnered with our friends at Wheatstone for a series of video interviews with NAB newsmakers. Come see us at Wheatstone’s booth in the North Hall if you’re in town, or watch the Wheatstone website in the days to come for video!
Meanwhile, it’s been a very quiet week back home, so it’s just a quick NERW update this morning as we plunge into the chaos of the show.
The week’s biggest news came from the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast, where the second attempt to sell WTSN (1270 Dover) and WBYY (98.7 Somersworth) appears to be the charm. Last year, owner Garrison City Broadcasting announced plans to merge with Port Broadcasting and Aruba Capital Holdings to create a new group called Coastal Media Partners, challenging Townsquare and iHeart for dominance along the coast. While Port and Aruba indeed joined forces (linking Port’s WNBP Newburyport and WWSF Sanford with Aruba’s WXEX Exeter and WXEX-FM Sanford), the deal with Garrison never closed.
Instead, the Garrison stations now go to Bill Binnie’s Binnie Media, which is paying $2.1 million to add them to its media holdings that include clusters in Nashua-Manchester-Concord, the Lakes Region and Portland. The addition of news-talk WTSN and AC “Bay” WBYY fills in a big hole in Binnie’s radio coverage, complementing the area he’s already serving on TV with WBIN-TV (Channel 50).
*We now have all the details of the station swap between NEW YORK‘s Family Life Ministries and Craig Fox’s Foxfur and WOLF Radio. As we’ve been reporting, the two owners did what was essentially an even swap: Family Life gets Fox’s class B 105.1 DeRuyter/Syracuse (now WCIS), his class A 96.7 in Oswego (now WCIO) and translator W252AC (98.3 Fairmount), while Fox got WSEN-FM (92.1B1 Baldwinsville), the more centrally-located signal Family Life had just bought from Leatherstocking. Fox also gets W207BH (89.3 Baldwinsville), the translator Family Life was in the process of sliding up the dial to 100.1, where it would nestle against Fox’s WMVN (100.3 Sylvan Beach).
Behind the scenes, Family Life gets the WCIS transmitter site, a six-month, $3000 deal to keep W252AC on Fox’s tower near Onondaga Lake and a three-year deal to keep 96.7 on its temporary site while its own downed tower is rebuilt; Fox gets the WSEN calls and a subdivided portion of Leatherstocking’s WSEN transmitter site in Baldwinsville.
*In western MASSACHUSETTS, Red Wolf has swapped calls on two Springfield AMs. After a quarter-century as WSPR, the 1270 that will soon be carrying “Kool” oldies is now WACM, while the WSPR calls move to West Springfield’s 1490, ex-WACM.
Five Years Ago: April , 2012
*The week’s biggest story back east is just developing this morning in eastern PENNSYLVANIA: after more than four decades under Family Radio ownership, WKDN (106.9 Camden) is re-emerging under Merlin Media.
Early this morning, WKDN dropped Family programming and began running a loop of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” a not-so-subtle nod to the botched prediction of apocalypse that eventually led Family to sell WKDN and other signals.
As we told you in our mid-week update, WKDN won’t follow the same “FM News” pattern that’s vexed Merlin at its other recent launches, WEMP (101.9 New York) and WIQI (101.1 Chicago). Instead, the new 106.9 will include talk, starting off later today with a nonstop loop of Sean Hannity’s show, which has been off the air in Philadelphia since WPHT dropped him in November 2010.
And as we also explored in that mid-week update, WPHT will soon stop carrying the Rush Limbaugh show. Will that be showing up on 106.9? A well-placed Marlin source tells NERW they’re in “no Rush to reveal anything else” about future program plans on the station, which requested new calls WWIQ in late March. (The “Net Gnomes” over at RadioInsight.com have picked up on domain registrations for “IQ106.com” and “IQ1069.com,” giving a pretty good idea of what the new station’s branding will be.)
*We’re remembering Steve Fredericks as part of the Pennsylvania section of NERW this week – but the versatile sports talk host is still fondly remembered in MASSACHUSETTS, too, where he spent some important years in his career.
Born Steven Frederick Oxman in Philadelphia in 1939, he began his broadcast odyssey with Armed Forces Radio in Japan, then came back to attend Temple University and work at WCAU (1210), where he’d spend much of his career.
In 1965, Fredericks came to Boston’s WMEX (1510) to fill the slot that had been occupied by Jerry Williams, who was off to Chicago and WBBM. For six years he made the late-night slot on WMEX his own, often making the Vietnam War his topic, but working sports into the mix on a regular basis, too. He jumped to WEEI (590) in 1971, went back to WMEX in 1975, returned briefly to WEEI not long afterward, and then returned to Philadelphia when CBS transferred him back to WCAU.
Back in Philadelphia, Fredericks once again focused on sports, hosting “Sports Line” until the end of WCAU’s talk days in 1990, when he moved to all-sports WIP (610). Except for a brief detour to New York’s WFAN, WIP would be Fredericks’ broadcast home until he retired in 2004.
Fredericks died of pancreatic cancer on April 7 at his home in Florida; he was just short of his 73rd birthday.
*The other big story in Boston this week, of course, was the failure of the master digital TV antenna in Needham that carried the signals of WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30), WCVB (Channel 5/RF 20), WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43).
Those signals all went dark just before 8:00 last Sunday night (April 8), exposing a weak link in the DTV transmission system: even more than a decade in, many stations don’t have a backup transmission chain that can keep them on the air if their main transmitter or antenna fails. At the Needham site (which CBS sold to Richland Towers a few years back), only WCVB had a backup antenna, allowing it to return to the air with a low-power signal less than an hour later.
But for WBZ, WSBK and WGBX, the outage lasted nearly two days – and it affected more than just the small percentage of viewers who get their TV signals directly over the air. In addition to that number (estimated at less than 20% of the audience), it turns out the over-the-air signal feeds some outlying cable systems without direct connections to the stations’ studios, and in some cases even satellite providers depended on that signal. (Dish Network customers lost the affected stations, and so did Canadian viewers who get Boston stations on satellite.)
Ten Years Ago: April 16, 2007
*LAS VEGAS – As this year’s NAB convention gets underway, there’s one topic dominating conversation across the radio industry: the maelstrom of controversy, media self-absorption and deep-seated American cultural issues that all came together last week in a perfect storm that ended – at least for now – the long career of Don Imus.When we sat down to write last week’s column, we didn’t even mention the remarks Imus had made the previous Thursday. At that point, it didn’t look like a regional media story to us – just another set of media watchdogs trying to make political hay over what appeared then to be just another in Imus’ long history of incendiary remarks.
So what happened? Television, for one thing: Imus’ MSNBC simulcast provided video of the remark, which helped turn it into the lead story across the cable news channels (especially, interestingly enough, MSNBC itself) for several days running. It also provided a pressure point for the groups that quickly allied to try to get Imus off the air. By Monday night, MSNBC announced it would suspend Imus for two weeks, and his radio flagship WFAN (660) quickly followed suit. But the suspension wasn’t slated to take effect until today, to allow Imus to take part in WFAN’s annual radiothon on Thursday and Friday.
In a long list of bad decisions (beginning, of course, with Imus’ initial remarks), that one may prove to have been the worst, since it kept Imus in the public eye just as the storm was building to its crescendo – the Tuesday news conference with the members of the Rutgers basketball team that put human faces and voices to the caricatures Imus had tried to draw with that “nappy-headed hoes” remark, making him look (if possible) even worse than he already did.
Imus’ appearance on the radio show of Al Sharpton, one of his loudest (and most powerful) critics, proved to be another bad move, yielding more questionable remarks (most notably Imus attacking “you people”) and still more video to fuel the cable-news inferno through another news cycle.
Another source of fuel for that fire turned out to be the considerable tension between Imus and the rest of the staff at MSNBC, which had been simulcasting Imus’ radio show for a decade. In 2005, Imus began originating the show at MSNBC’s Secaucus studios rather than in the cramped, TV-unfriendly basement studios of WFAN in Astoria, Queens, and the marriage was never a comfortable one, with reports of questionable behavior by Imus toward some MSNBC staffers and long-running animosity between several MSNBC hosts (most notably Keith Olbermann) and Imus.
On Wednesday afternoon, MSNBC announced that it was cancelling Imus’ TV simulcast, effective immediately, with NBC News president Steve Capus blaming the action not only on Imus’ comments the previous week but on concerns expressed by many of the network’s employees about Imus’ history of behavior there.
With a full slate of guests scheduled to travel to the Secaucus studios Thursday morning for the start of the radiothon, there was no way to move the show, which set the stage for an uncomfortable morning: Imus, off the TV airwaves, still broadcasting from the studio of the network that had just fired him – and that network devoting most of its airtime to the story, complete with live reports from outside its own building.
Strange as that was, it was about to get stranger: on Thursday afternoon, word began circulating that Imus would lose his radio gig after the Friday show. In fact, he didn’t even get to do a last show, as CBS bowed to the pressure and pulled him off the air immediately, prompting an on-air protest from WFAN’s afternoon hosts, Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, attacking their bosses for what they called an over-reaction. (Behind the scenes, we hear the staff at WFAN was stunned at how quickly matters were going downhill; Imus’ show was responsible for something in the neighborhood of $15 million of the station’s $60 million or so in annual revenue, and until the final moments, few inside WFAN thought CBS would pull the plug on that income stream.)
That evening, Imus met with the Rutgers team at the New Jersey governor’s mansion, though without Governor Jon Corzine, whose vehicle was in an accident on the way to the meeting, leaving him hospitalized.
On Friday morning, the radiothon was once again broadcast from Secaucus, this time with Deirdre Imus at the helm, in what we hear was an even stranger atmosphere than Thursday’s show.
*If not for Don Imus’ misadventures, our lead story this week would have been across the Hudson, out at the East Rutherford, NEW JERSEY transmitter site of WEPN (1050 New York).
With the huge new Xanadu retail-entertainment-hotel complex rising right next to the WEPN site, it’s been no secret for a while now that the days were numbered for the 67-year-old transmitter building and towers, which we profiled on Tower Site of the Week in 2005 and featured just last month in the Tower Site Calendar.
A few years back, WEPN built an auxiliary transmitter facility at the Lodi, N.J. site of soon-to-be-ex-sister station WABC (770) to allow it to stay on the air during Xanadu construction. And now that all of Xanadu’s steel is in the air just a few hundred yards from WEPN’s northernmost tower, Disney is throwing in the towel and applying to the FCC to move the ESPN Radio flagship to a new tower site.
The application filed last week calls for three new 484-foot self-supporting towers to be built in what’s now swampland just south of Routes 3/495 and east of the New Jersey Turnpike’s exit 16E/18 toll plaza in Secaucus, a mile or so to the southeast of WEPN’s existing site. With the same 50,000 watts day and night, and a nearly identical pattern to its current facility, there shouldn’t be much change in WEPN’s signal reach when the new site is built. (And we’ll do our best to chronicle the construction of the new site as it gets underway, too.)
*Our MASSACHUSETTS news this week starts out on Cape Cod, where Sandab Communications is swapping calls and formats at two of the stations in its newly-expanded cluster.
On Tuesday, soft AC WOCN-FM (103.9 South Yarmouth) will move from its class A signal to the much more powerful class B signal of WKPE-FM (104.7 Orleans), with the “Rocket” classic rock format from 104.7 moving down to 103.9. Sandab already owns WQRC (99.9 Barnstable), and it’s acquiring both WKPE-FM and WFCC (107.5 Chatham) from Charles River Broadcasting. (No changes to WFCC’s classical format are expected.)
Meanwhile, the dormant WCDJ (102.3 Truro) is getting new calls – WGTX – as it changes hands from Karl Nurse to “Dunes 102 FM,” a partnership that includes former Boston jock Ron Robin, who plans to launch an oldies format on the small Outer Cape signal.
We’ll kick things off in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where Saga consolidated its grwoing hold on the southwestern corner of the Granite State by announcing a $2,625,000 purchase of WKBK (1220 Keene) and WXOD (98.7 Winchester) from Scott Roberts. The purchase comes in the same week as FCC approval for Saga’s previous purchase in the region, as the company adds Telemedia’s WKNE (1290 Keene) and WKNE-FM (103.7 Keene), not to mention WKVT AM-FM across the river in Brattleboro, Vermont, to a group that already includes a cluster to the south in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley (WHAI/WHMQ Greenfield, WLZX/WHMP Northampton and WAQY/WHNP Springfield) and one to the east in Manchester (WZID/WFEA). Expect WKBK, which runs talk, and WXOD, which does oldies, to leave their second-floor digs in downtown Keene and move in to an expanded WKNE complex. Saga’s saying there won’t be staffing or format changes, but anyone who’s worked in radio for more than a day or two knows how commonly that promise is made…
Plenty of radio and TV people on the move in MASSACHUSETTS, as well, and we’ll start on the TV side, where Jack Hynes announced he’ll step down from the weekend anchor seat at WLVI (Channel 56) after 18 years at the station and 47 years on Boston television. Hynes, 73, made the classy gesture to create a job for WLVI anchor Frank Mallicoat, who’s losing his own anchor seat with the cancellation of WLVI’s morning newscast. Hynes, whose resume includes 26 years at both of Boston’s channel 5s (WHDH-TV and WCVB) and a couple of years at WBZ-TV, will stay with channel 56 as a commentator and special-events anchor.
Meanwhile, the current WHDH-TV (Channel 7) is losing its last on-air link to its old days as WNAC-TV and WNEV with the departure of meteorologist Harvey Leonard. He’s headed out to Needham for weather duties at WCVB (Channel 5) sometime later in the year.
Twenty Years Ago: April 17, 1997
After nearly four decades of family ownership, Knight Quality Broadcasting is being sold to Capstar for $70 million. Capstar enters New England radio in a big way — it gets WTAG (580) and WSRS (96.1) in Worcester MA, WGIR AM/FM (610/101.1) in Manchester NH, WHEB (100.3), WXHT (95.3 York Center ME), and WTMN (1380) in Portsmouth NH, and WEZF (92.9) in Burlington VT. Patriarch Norman Knight had transferred the stations to his children last year; Inside Radio reports they’ll join Capstar’s management team once the deal closes. Capstar is already saying it will be making more acquisitions in New England in the near future. We’ll keep you posted.
There’s a brand-new station, right here in NERW’s new home town of Brighton NY. After six months of nonstop rock instrumentals, WAQB (94.1) got down to business last Friday afternoon with an Alanis Morrissette tune. The station’s new modern AC format is going by the “Zone” nickname, and for now it’s running jockless as it plays the first 10,000 songs commercial-free. Rick MacKenzie is the PD, and Bill Moran of sister station WCMF-FM (96.5) will move downstairs to do mornings on the Zone, which is expected to get new calls any day now. The Zone is aimed squarely at Rochester’s other giant radio operator, Jacor, which plays most of the same music on modern rock WNVE (95.1 South Bristol, “The Nerve”) and newly-purchased AAA WMAX-FM (106.7 Irondeqoit-Rochester and WMHX 102.3 Canandaigua). WAQB is the latest acquisition of American Radio Systems, which also owns WCMF-FM, CHR WPXY-FM (97.9), AC WRMM-FM (101.3), and is selling WCMF (990).
Another new sign-on is the long-awaited WLWC-TV (Channel 28) New Bedford-Providence RI. After several months of delays, WLWC signed on this past weekend, with a signal covering most of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. WLWC is operated by NBC’s WJAR (Channel 10) Providence, and is a WB affiliate. WJAR programs a 10pm newscast weeknights on channel 28.
Hartford’s WTIC AM/FM (1080/96.5) was the target of a bomb threat Wednesday afternoon. The station’s downtown studios were evacuated after a caller to nearby WFSB-TV (Channel 3) claimed there was a bomb in the building’s garage. WTIC staffers put hour-long tapes of Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the AM and generic music on the FM before evacuating. The FM tape repeated, but WTIC(AM) went into dead air for an hour before staffers were able to return to the studios. Transmitters for both stations are in Avon CT, and were not affected by the threat — so NERW wonders whether there’s any provision for WTIC programming to originate from the transmitter site in such instances. By the way, WTIC ended its 23-year career as the Hartford Whalers’ flagship station this week. WTIC broadcast the very first Whalers game in 1974, and now it’s also broadcast the last, as the team prepares to move for next season.