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!)
NOT TOO LATE TO BUY THE CALENDAR!
We have shipped piles of our 2021 Tower Site Calendar, and we’ll keep on shipping until it’s gone.
This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the beautiful cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!
You can get the regular calendar, or you can order a storage bag for it if you keep them, or you can get it signed by Scott (and get a complimentary bag).
And when you’re purchasing your calendar, don’t forget to take a look at the other great products in our store.
Boston – Five full-power and two Class A stations give up their spectrum in this auction, and we already knew what several of them were going to be. Bill Binnie’s WBIN (Channel 50/RF 35) was already on the list for $68 million, and now we know that Sunbeam’s WLVI (Channel 56/RF 41) will get $162 million for its UHF spectrum. To that we can now add NRJ’s WMFP (Channel 62/RF 18), which gets nearly $93 million, as well as Daystar’s WYDN (Channel 48/RF 47) for $135 million. Ion keeps two of its three signals, Boston’s WBPX and New Hampshire’s WPXG, but sells WDPX (Channel 58/RF 40) on Cape Cod for $43 million. Class A WFXZ-CD (Channel 24) goes for a whopping $64 million, while WYCN-CD in Nashua (Channel 13/RF 36) nets $80 million for speculator OTA. All of these stations are listed in the FCC’s release as having channel-sharing agreements after the auction, but aside from WLVI, which will share RF 35 with sister WHDH (Channel 7), it’s hard to see any of their programming surviving after the repack.
But wait – there’s more! As we noted in our Extra on Thursday, WGBH walks away with $162 million and keeps both of its Boston TV stations, giving up WGBH-TV’s UHF spectrum and dropping down to low-band VHF on RF 5. The move should be nearly transparent to most viewers, since we’d imagine that WGBH’s main PBS programming will stay on UHF via sister station WGBX, moving to RF 32 from 43. (And remember – WGBX’s program streams will also be able to use virtual channel 2 if WGBH wants to do so, which means “2.1” with the main PBS signal could continue to be on a full-market UHF signal, and probably will be.)
And what about NBC Boston? Viewers who now see the Peacock on WMFP’s 60.5 subchannel will lose that when WMFP goes off the air. Comcast-owned WNEU in New Hampshire moves from RF 34 to 29 but won’t get a better signal into Massachusetts as a result. WBTS-LD (Channel 8/RF 46) might get to stay on the air by moving to an open UHF channel, but that’s not yet been determined, which leads us to suspect NBC is shopping for a new Boston partner for a channel lease. Could it be part of WGBX’s spectrum for an even bigger payout to WGBH?
With more than $800 million on the table for Boston-market spectrum, we also wonder, in retrospect, why Entravision chose to keep both its WUNI (Channel 27/RF 29) and WUTF (Channel 66/RF 27), and whether one of those signals could also become a possible new home for NBC Boston?
OTA Broadcasting’s speculation also paid off on CW affiliate WLWC (Channel 28/RF 22), which takes $125 million to give up its spectrum. (OTA paid CBS $13 million for that signal back in 2013.) The CW will live on by way of a channel share, and we’d suspect it might be with ABC affiliate WLNE, though nothing has been announced. ZGS Communications unloads Telemundo affiliate WRIW-CD (Channel 50/RF 36) for $34 million, also with a channel share.
We already knew public broadcaster WSBE (Channel 36/RF 21) was going to low-VHF channel 2, and now we know it gets $94 million into its hard-strapped coffers for that UHF spectrum. Also in the VHF landscape, we note that Nexstar’s WPRI (Channel 12) moves from VHF 13 to VHF 7.
Nexstar was on our radar for potential spectrum sale here, and indeed it’s giving up its UHF spectrum at MyNetwork outlet WCTX (Channel 59/RF 39) in New Haven for a tidy $109.5 million. “My9” will live on with a channel-share on ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8/RF 10). We knew, too, that CPTV was unloading WEDY (Channel 65/RF 41) in New Haven, which fetched just $19 million. In Hartford, Entravision takes WUVN (Channel 18/RF 46) off the air or possibly into a channel-share, for $126 million – and ZGS’ Telemundo Class A, WRDM-CD (RF 19) goes away for $11 million.
Every UHF in the market shuffles, and the tight co-channels remain a problem for several stations – CBS affiliate WFSB (Channel 3) moves from RF 33 to 36 but stays co-channel with New York’s WCBS-TV, while Fox affiliate WTIC (Channel 61) moves from RF 31 to 34 and stays co-channel with Boston’s WFXT.
The big news here continues to come from WGBH, which will shift WGBY (Channel 57) from RF 22 down to RF 13 for a $57 million payout. Will that make WGBY reception more challenging in hilly western Massachusetts?
The biggest repack impact in this sprawling market happens at its southeastern corner, where spectrum is most valuable. We already reported on Vermont PBS’ $56 million selloff of WVTA (Channel 41/RF 24) in Windsor, which will be replaced by a broader reach from sister station WVER (Channel 28/RF 9) in Rutland, moving to RF 10. Now we also know that Hearst’s lone spectrum sale nationwide is WNNE (Channel 31/RF 25), which gives up its UHF signal from Mount Ascutney for $50 million, depending on cable and satellite to continue delivering parent station WPTZ to the region.
Nexstar ABC affiliate WVNY (Channel 22/RF 13) moves down the VHF dial to channel 7, remaining co-channel with WNYA in the Albany market. (And, we think, explaining why there’s an Albany double-switch that takes Fox affiliate WXXA from 7 to 8 and WNYA from 13 to 7; the result will be somewhat less co-channel interference among all those channel 7s out there.)
All of the UHF signals in the Portland market move, but otherwise the repack largely is a non-story in the Pine Tree State, where no spectrum was needed in the auction and no stations move in the Bangor or Presque Isle markets.
New York City
Beyond the big WNBC headlines, there was another $1.2 billion of spectrum sold in market #1.
At the market’s core, Univision pockets $199 million for the spectrum of WXTV (Channel 41/RF 40), which will channel-share with UniMas sister WFUT (Channel 68/RF 30) on new channel 26.
Speculation was very rewarding for class As WMBQ-CA ($28 million), WEBR-CD ($73 million for OTA Broadcasting) and WMUN-CD ($23 million for Local Media TV).
Across the river, New Jersey gets $194 million for WNJN (Channel 50/RF 51) in Montclair, plus another $138 million for WNJT (Channel 52/RF 43) down in Trenton. The NJTV public network operated by New York’s WNET will stay alive (and on cable in the New York and Philadelphia TV markets) on its remaining signals, WNJB in New Brunswick and WNJS in Camden. What will become of the radio tenants on the old NJN towers? The Trenton tower, in particular, is home to “New Jersey 101.5” WKXW.
Then there’s Family Stations, which nearly went broke after that botched prediction of the end of the world a few years ago – and which now takes in $121 million from the sale of WNYJ-TV (Channel 66/RF 29) in Milford, New Jersey. Will Family use that money to re-invest in radio signals?
Up the Hudson Valley, TBN gets $162 million for WTBY (Channel 54/RF 27) in Poughkeepsie, and we’ve already noted the $211 million that the French family pockets for the spectrum of WRNN (Channel 48).
And in Connecticut, CPTV ends up keeping WEDW (Channel 49/RF 21) in Bridgeport, which it had been marketing for sale through speculator LocusPoint. (LocusPoint also didn’t sell WDVB-CA in Edison, New Jersey.) Speculator NRJ, meanwhile, pulls in a cool $192 million for WZME (Channel 43/RF 42) in Bridgeport, which is a truly unexpected ending for a signal that, long ago as WICC-TV, couldn’t give away a $100 bill on the air for lack of viewers.
Nexstar’s WCDC (Channel 19/RF 36) in Adams, Massachusetts will get $35 million as the lone signal sale in the market, ending six decades of simulcasting with Albany parent WTEN (Channel 10). When WCDC goes away, what will become of its Mount Greylock transmitter site? That will be an important question for Nexstar’s tenants there, including public broadcaster WAMC (90.3) and a translator of Albany competitor WNYT.
Most of the rest of the market’s UHF signals shuffle, and Sinclair’s WRGB stays put on channel 6.
No sales, and of the full-power signals, only Nexstar’s WFXV (Channel 33) moves UHF channels.
The only signal in this market that went to auction is one that most viewers don’t even know about: Daystar’s Ithaca-licensed WNYI (Channel 52/RF 20) drops down to VHF 13 for $2.3 million. All the UHFs in the market move except Nexstar’s WSYR-TV (Channel 9/RF 17).
No sales, and everyone in the market shifts channels except Hubbard’s WHEC-TV (Channel 10).
Nexstar’s CBS affiliate, WIVB (Channel 4/RF 39), is the oldest station in town, but it’s giving up its UHF spectrum for $46 million and entering into a channel share with sister CW affiliate WNLO (Channel 23/RF 32), in what may be one of the more prominent deals affecting a co-located radio station.
While WNLO leases space on the Grand Island tower of public broadcaster WNED (the former owner of channel 23), WIVB operates from a site some 20 miles away in Colden, in the hills south of Buffalo. Its 1000-foot tower is also home to former FM sister WTSS (102.5), a grandfathered superpower FM. Will WTSS owner Entercom end up buying the tower? We’ll be watching closely.
On the outskirts, TCT’s religious WNYB (Channel 26/RF 27) in Jamestown takes $32 million to downgrade to RF 5, while Vision Communications’ WVTT-CD in Olean gets $9 million to move to high-VHF at channel 11.
No sales, but all the UHF signals in the market change channels, which means an end to the tidy post-transition situation that found WETM (Channel 18) and WENY (Channel 36) remaining on their pre-transition analog channels.
No sales here, either, which is surprising considering how much this market’s signals had originally been valued before the auction. Everyone moves except class A NBC affiliate WBGH-CD, which stays on RF 20.
No sales, and everyone moves except Fox affiliate WNYF-CD (Channel 28/RF 35). That includes dominant WWNY (Channel 7), which moves to RF 8.
With $844 million to clear spectrum here, there were plenty of takers, including nine full-power stations and one class A. In the core of the market, that included NBC/Telemundo’s WWSI (Channel 62/RF 49) for $126 million (it will share with WCAU), Univision’s WUVP (Channel 65/RF 29) for $86 million (it will share with WFPA-CD), independent public broadcaster WYBE (Channel 35) for $132 million (it apparently plans to channel-share) and TBN’s religious WGTW (Channel 48/RF 47) for $81 million.
On the Jersey Shore, Lenfest’s WMCN (Channel 44) goes away for $63 million – and speculator LocusPoint somehow ends up holding on to WMGM-TV (Channel 40/RF 36), the former NBC affiliate that we’d all assumed would be quick to grab auction money and disappear.
In Reading, WTVE (Channel 51/RF 24) puts $94 million in the coffers of speculator NRJ.
And in the Lehigh Valley, things could get very busy for religious WBPH (Channel 60/RF 9): it stays put on VHF, and it appears to be the likely channel-share destination for both public broadcaster WLVT ($122 million for its RF 39) and independent WFMZ ($140 million for RF 46).
No sales, and everyone moves except Lilly’s NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12).
Cornerstone Christian TV takes in $10 million to move WKBS (Channel 47/RF 46) down to RF 6, one of just two stations anywhere in the country to be moved to channel 6 as part of the repack. Everyone else on UHF moves except public TV WPSU (Channel 3/RF 15).
Three UHF stations go into the auction here, all showing channel shares in the FCC’s database: $108 million for Howard Stirk Holdings’ WXBU (Channel 15/RF 23, formerly Sinclair’s WLYH); $84 million for NRJ’s WGCB (Channel 49/RF 30) – and $50 million for Tribune’s potent Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43/RF 47). We know that public broadcaster WITF (Channel 33/RF 36) had already announced a channel-share deal for $25 million with an “unidentified broadcaster,” so we think it’s pretty safe to say that WPMT will be making its new home on RF 36 alongside WITF. (Which brings up another tower issue: assuming the 36 signal stays at WITF’s home overlooking Harrisburg, what becomes of WPMT’s tower near York – and of its tenant, WARM-FM 103.3?)
We knew that public broadcaster WVIA (Channel 44/RF 41) was entering a channel-share with longtime partner WNEP (Channel 16/RF 50), and now we know that the $51 million sale of WVIA’s RF channel means both stations will end up back on RF 16 up on Penobscot Mountain. The stations already have adjacent sites, and WVIA will likely need to keep its own tower for WVIA-FM (89.9).
On the full-power end of things, we knew already that WQED was taking in just under $10 million to move from high-VHF channel 13 to low-VHF channel 2. That’s dwarfed by the $73 million that OTA Broadcasting gets for its UHF spectrum from four class-A signals in outlying areas, not to mention $11 million to LocusPoint for WQVC-CD in Greensburg and $20 million to Local Media TV for WBOA-CA.
All the remaining UHF signals in town move except for CBS’ KDKA-TV (Channel 2/RF 25).
Across the state line in Youngstown, Ohio, Nexstar takes in $34 million for the spectrum of WKBN-TV (Channel 27/RF 41); it will channel-share with ABC sister WYTV (Channel 33/RF 36) on new channel 31.
The FCC’s release of its new channel assignments also includes data for north of the border. There’s no auction in Canada, and the repack process will take longer than it will in the US, but you can see the new Canadian assignments (and the US ones, too!) at the excellent Repack Tool Page that went live Thursday on RabbitEars.info. (Thanks, Trip!)
We start in western PENNSYLVANIA, where Forever broke part of its longtime “Froggy” country simulcast surrounding Pittsburgh on Wednesday. WOGH (103.5 Burgettstown) has flipped to classic country as “Willie 103.5” with new calls WLYI, and no new airstaff so far.
Froggy keeps hopping along west of Pittsburgh on WOGI (104.3 Moon Township), which overlaps much of the 103.5 coverage, as well as on WOGG (94.9 Oliver) to the southeast of Pittsburgh.
*In Philadelphia, Maureen Williams is reportedly out from her slot on the morning show at WPEN-FM (97.5 the Fanatic), raising more questions about how long Beasley will stay committed to the sports format it inherited when it bought Greater Media. How many questions? As of Thursday night, morning host Anthony Gargano had been off the air himself for two days running, with the Inquirer reporting that he’s protesting Williams’ dismissal.
In Reading, WVIA translator W296CL (107.1) goes to Osiris Fernando Guzman (aka “Quilvio Perdomo”) for $75,000; he’ll lease an HD4 subchannel from WLEV in Allentown to feed the signal.
*In Cape May County, NEW JERSEY, WJSE (106.3 North Cape May) flips today from alternative rock to classic hits as “106.3 the Shore,” with Mark Hunter of sister station WCZT (98.7 Villas) doing mornings, “Rudy on the Radio” in middays and the syndicated Ashley & Brad in afternoons.
An update to last week’s Baseball on the Radio – the class AA Trenton Thunder have a new radio deal this season that puts the team on WNJE (920 Trenton). When “920 the Jersey” is tied up with weekday Fox Sports Radio coverage, conflicts will move to WCHR (1040 Flemington).
*In Albany, NEW YORK, another piece of the morning show shuffle falls into place with the launch Monday of “The Fly Morning Rush” on Albany Broadcasting’s WFLY (92.3 Troy). The new show pairs Jake Allen (who’d been doing afternoons on WFLY and mornings on sister station WKLI 100.9) and Ashley Marie, who moves north up US 9 from WAFL (97.7 Milford DE). Dana Race continues solo on WKLI in mornings for now while Albany Broadcasting looks for a replacement there for Allen.
*There’s another new translator on the air in CONNECTICUT: Blount Communications’ WSDK (1550 Bloomfield) signed on translator W237EO (95.3) from Avon last week. (And Fybush Media was pleased to provide technical consulting services to make it happen!)
*In CANADA, the CRTC is hearing applications for a new French-language community signal in Gatineau to replace the now-defunct CIRA-5 (1350), which had been relaying Radio Ville-Marie from Montreal. Radio Communautaire Francophone et Francophile de l’Outaouais will present its proposal for 1000 watts day, 180 watts night, non-directional at a public hearing June 15 at CRTC headquarters in Gatineau.
Other applications being heard at the hearing include Evanov’s long-pending purchase of religious CFWC (93.9) in Brantford, Ontario, which now has a C$440,000 price tag attached to it, as well as an application from the Potlotek Communication Society for a 45-watt/23 m station on 93.7 serving the Potlotek First Nation in St. Peter’s, Nova Scotia.
We’re a community.
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.