In this week’s issue… DTV repack concerns loom large – WFMZ’s clever Philly repack play – PM change in Hartford – Remembering Stan Edwards
By SCOTT FYBUSH
LAS VEGAS – It’s a little later in the month than usual, but the NAB Show gets underway in earnest today at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And if last week’s sessions at the PBS TechCon and Public Radio Engineering Conference here were any indication, the overwhelming topic of conversation this week (especially on the TV side) will be the impending repack of the digital TV spectrum, followed by the conversion to the new ATSC 3.0 digital TV standard.
On the radio side, one big issue we’ll be following closely for our Fybush Media consulting clients is the status of the FCC’s next windows for AM owners to apply for new FM translators. Those windows were promised sometime in 2017, but with a third of the year already behind us, there will be lots of questions for the Commission’s staff and for commissioners themselves about when those applications might be accepted, and what pieces might be next in “AM revitalization.” On top of that, there’s plenty of justifiable worry about how the TV repack will affect all those FM stations that make their homes on towers that will be undergoing antenna moves for the repack. Can it all really get done in 39 months? And who’ll pay the price, when the $1.7 billion in expected federal funding for the repack isn’t available to FM stations that might be forced to move?
We’ll have much more coverage throughout NAB week – stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for regular updates on and off the show floor, and watch the Wheatstone homepage, too, as your editor hosts live video from the floor Monday and Tuesday for our partners there, too!
*One fascinating test of the new world of TV will come in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, where we’re learning more about an interesting repack story that has been hiding in plain sight since early 2016. That’s when Maranatha Broadcasting, owner of Allentown independent station WFMZ-TV (Channel 69/RF 46), announced that it had reached a deal to buy KJWP (Channel 2) from PMCM, which had then been operating the station for just three years.
Only Trip Ericson’s outstanding RabbitEars site picked up on the story back then, noting quite presciently that it represented much more than just a simple acquisition (and at an impossibly low listed price of $25,000, too!)
That $25,000 turned out to be just a small advance payment on a deal that couldn’t be completed until now, at the end of the spectrum auction that produced a whopping $140 million for Maranatha to give up its well-situated UHF facility at the northern end of the Philadelphia market. In order to stay on the air with its extensive local news coverage for the Lehigh Valley and Reading, WFMZ had agreed with PMCM that KJWP wouldn’t enter the auction, and would instead be guaranteed a chunk of WFMZ’s proceeds in order for the sale of channel 2 to close.
Some of WFMZ’s auction proceeds will also stay in the Lehigh Valley as part of a channel-sharing deal that hasn’t yet been fully disclosed; NERW anticipates it will involve a three-way share of spectrum by religious WBPH (Channel 60/RF 9) that will also include another big recipient of auction proceeds, public WLVT (Channel 39).
So how will it all play out for WFMZ as the transition takes place? Read on…
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*Remarkably, Maranatha will walk away with not only the remainder of its $140 million payout but also an even better signal and potentially more cable carriage in the region. Here’s how: in the Lehigh Valley, existing WFMZ viewers will rescan their TVs at transition time to get the new WFMZ signal that will (we think) share WBPH’s high-VHF signal but will still appear as “69.1,” “69.2” and “69.3” to its viewers.
To the south in the core of the Philadelphia market, viewers who have antennas that can pick up the potent KJWP signal on RF 2 will now get programming from Maranatha there, presumably including the current MeTV stream that’s now on 2.1 as well as, most likely, the WFMZ programming on “69.x” subchannels that will reach Philadelphia and south Jersey much better than it does now. (When WFMZ-TV signed on back in 1976 at the very top of the UHF dial, could its owners ever have anticipated eventually ending up on channel 2?)
And there’s more – as Trip also anticipated last year, the deal would allow Maranatha to claim cable must-carry across the sprawling three-state Philadelphia DMA for both “WFMZ” (as a channel-share on the WBPH RF spectrum, but still with its own license) and “KJWP,” adding even more value to the equation.
What’s the downside? For now, it’s mainly the issue of VHF digital reception, which is problematic at best with indoor antennas, especially way down at channel 2. That’s where the impending switch to ATSC 3.0 comes in: if it’s adopted quickly (which is still a big if for a voluntary transition), those VHF signals promise to perform better thanks to the switch to a COFDM-based transmission system. Will it be enough to make channel 2 fully competitive with the big megawatt signals on UHF? Maybe not, but when you’re walking away with tens of millions of dollars and staying on the air, it’s at least good enough.
(And of course the next question is: what becomes of KJWP’s sister station, WJLP channel 33/RF 3 in New York, which was also moved eastward from the intermountain West in PMCM’s clever shuffle a few years back? We suspect it will come into play for PMCM as some of the New York signals that are being displaced by the spectrum repack look for new homes – or as an ATSC 3.0 counterpart while existing stations make their way through the transition from the current ATSC 1.0.)
*Jerry Lee, the legendary owner of Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1 More FM), will add another honor to his jam-packed case of awards soon. On May 7, the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters will give Lee its highest award, the Gold Medal, at its dinner at the Hotel Hershey. Lee will join broadcast icons such as Dick Clark and Walter Annenberg, as well as other legendary figures like Johnny Unitas and Arnold Palmer, as a Gold Medal recipient.
There’s a new translator on the air in Erie, where Cumulus quietly put W242CU (96.3) on the air last week; for now, it’s relaying the ESPN sports of its AM parent, WRIE (1260).
*We jump to CONNECTICUT, where CBS Radio made big changes last week to afternoon drive at WTIC (1080 Hartford). After Andy Gresh’s departure from afternoon drive to jump to Providence’s WPRO, the afternoon sports-talk block on 1080 gives way today to a return to conventional talk. Todd Feinburg, best known for his time at WRKO in Boston, arrives at WTIC to take the 3 PM shift; Gresh’s former co-host Joe D’Ambrosio will keep calling UConn men’s basketball and football and handle fill-in talk duties.
*In Dover, NEW HAMPSHIRE, the good folks at WOKQ (97.5) are mourning longtime colleage Stan Edwards, who died last week after a long fight with the throat cancer that took him off the air almost a decade ago. Edwards was the midday jock on WOKQ from 1990 until 2007, and had worked at other stations in the Granite State as well, including WNNH (99.1) in Concord.
*In an otherwise quiet week in upstate NEW YORK, there’s a new PD headed to our hometown of Rochester. Michael Gross, aka “Mud,” is headed to Entercom rocker WCMF (96.5), where he’ll start May 15 as the replacement for Chris Crowley, now departed for KGON in Portland, Oregon. Gross comes to Rochester from stints with iHeart in Miami and Nashville.
*At the far northern fringe of metro Toronto, CANADA‘s regulators have opened a call for new applications for stations to serve Georgina, Ontario. The call was triggered by an application from My Broadcasting for a 3 kW signal on 93.7, with competing applications due June 30.
Over in Dunvegan in eastern Ontario, Radio Communautaire Cornwall-Alexandria Inc. wants a high-powered rebroadcaster for French community station CHOD (92.1 Cornwall). The new signal will also be on 92.1, with 10.2 kW average/20.5 kW max DA/63 m.
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 25, 2016
*If we seem a little sleepy and jet-lagged this week, blame our annual excursion westward to the NAB Show in Las Vegas. It was great to see so many of you at our third-annual pre-show Radio Gathering Sunday night high atop the MGM Grand – we’re already looking forward to making the fourth edition next year even bigger and better.
As for the show itself, we find ourselves with surprisingly little to write about this year in this space. While the show floor was busy and full of familiar faces, there wasn’t much that was revolutionary this year. On the TV side, the impending spectrum auction/repack left most broadcasters and vendors in hurry-up-and-wait mode; nobody knows yet just what their RF needs will be in a year’s time, after all. In radio’s space in the North Hall, there were plenty of incremental improvements in areas such as audio-over-IP networking and ever more efficient solid-state transmitters.
On the regulatory front? More of the waiting game, especially with an election year promising change of some sort at the FCC in just a few months. Commission officials attending the show promised action soon on the latest round of the “AM revitalization” proceeding, among other pending matters.
And of course the other piece of the radio waiting game involved some of the industry’s biggest players: nobody knows yet just how the finances will shake out at troubled iHeart Media or Cumulus, and what may become of CBS Radio’s talk of selling its station assets or spinning off into a separate company. With all those potential deals landing on the market in months to come, the immediate deal-making scene over at Encore and the Bellagio was slower than usual this year.
*Back home, MAINE Public Broadcasting announced a move that had long been rumored: effective May 9, it will split its programming into two networks, creating a full-time classical service alongside a main network that will go full-time news/talk.
MPBN CEO Mark Vogelzang made a similar move a few years ago at his old job in Vermont (and we were pleased to be of assistance there, as we’ve been to MPBN). This time out, Maine Public Classical will make its debut over a network of translators, HD2 signals and streaming. In Waterville and Bangor, the classical stream has already soft-launched on translators at 99.7 and 106.1, respectively; those will be joined in western Maine by WFYB (91.5 Fryeburg), which MPBN is buying from Light of Life Ministries. In Portland, listeners will have to tune to the HD2 channel of MPBN’s WMEA (90.1), at least for now, but Vogelzang says MPBN is seeking to buy new signals there and in other parts of the state.
Maine Public Classical will be the new home for Robin Rilette’s 9-noon classical show, which will move from the main Maine Public Radio network. The rest of the classical lineup, at least initially, will come from Classical 24 and other syndicated offerings.
*In NEW YORK, as everywhere else around the country, the radio dial turned abruptly purple on Thursday as news broke of the death of Prince. Few artists in recent memory crossed so many format lines, and so it was no surprise to hear his music suddenly in hot rotation everywhere from AC to classic hits to rock to urban.
But if just about everyone played at least a little Prince (here’s how RadioInsight covered the dial in Minneapolis), a few stations went far above and beyond, often with the advantage of local ownership and all the extra flexibility it can provide to make big format moves on short notice.
In the Twin Cities, of course, the purple edge went to Minnesota Public Radio’s adventurous AAA outlet “The Current” (KCMP 89.3), which went nonstop Prince almost immediately and then garnered national attention with a 26-hour marathon of his music from A to W. (Did you know Prince had no songs that started with X, Y or Z? We didn’t either.)
Ratings guru Chris Huff tallied up all the monitored airplay of Prince at week’s end, and his statistics gave us a bit of hometown pride here, too: of all the stations Mediabase tracks around the country, the two that spun the most Prince tunes Thursday and Friday were XHRM in the San Diego market…and WDKX (103.9) here in Rochester. The locally-owned urban station went all-Prince as soon as the news broke and is still in “purple mode” as we write this on Sunday night.
Five Years Ago: February 7, 2012
*There’s some big tower work on the way in eastern MASSACHUSETTS.
It is indeed the worst possible scenario for the Boston TV stations that shared an antenna atop the old WBZ-TV tower in Needham: the upper master antenna that failed April 8 will have to be removed from its perch more than 1300 feet above Cedar Street in order for the damage to the power divider to be fully repaired. That’s a big project, and it means continued headaches for the stations that were using the antenna.
As we reported last week, WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30), WCVB (Channel 5/RF 20), WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43) have been temporarily relocated to the lower master antenna, which is still functioning – and which had been the home of WGBH-TV (Channel 2/RF 19). Because WGBH and WCVB can’t share the same antenna, WGBH has moved to WCVB’s lower-power standby antenna further down the tower, and now it appears the station will be stuck there for a while.
*All of America mourned Wednesday as news spread of the death of Dick Clark – but long before “the world’s oldest teenager” was a national TV and radio fixture, he was doing local TV and radio in upstate NEW YORK. For Clark, “it all started at a little 5,000-watt radio station in Utica,” where Clark was well-connected indeed. His uncle owned WRUN (1150) and WRUN-FM (104.3), and his father, Dick Clark Sr., was managing the stations when Clark made his on-air debut as a college student in the late 1940s.
Clark went across town to get his first full-time gig after graduating from Syracuse University in 1951, becoming “Dick Clay” on WKTV (then on channel 13), hosting an afternoon country music show called “Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders” – and it wasn’t long before Clark’s talent bought him a ticket south to PENNSYLVANIA and a new job at Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV (Channel 6), where the rest was history.
*In Philadelphia, Merlin Media’s WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ) enters its second week stunting as “Hannity 106.9”; while it’s widely expected that the station will be going all-talk soon, Merlin remains in “no Rush” to reveal its eventual lineup.
Ten Years Ago: April 23, 2007
*It was a rough weather week all over the region, but no broadcast facility was hit worse than the 445-foot tower of WCFE-TV (Channel 57)/WCFE-DT (Channel 38) in NEW YORK‘s Adirondacks, on Lyon Mountain about 10 miles west of WCFE’s city of license, Plattsburgh.The tower, built in 1976, collapsed shortly after 7 on Wednesday morning (April 18), taking WCFE (known on-air as “Mountain Lake PBS”) off the air just as the station was about to launch into its Art Auction, its biggest fundraiser of the year.
Early reports suggest that a combination of heavy icing and high winds brought the tower crashing down, damaging the transmitter building at the base of the tower as well.
WCFE had recently spent about $1.5 million to reinforce the tower and to build out its DTV signal, and the station says insurance won’t cover the full amount of the rebuilding effort, particularly because of the remote Lyon Mountain location, more than 3600′ above sea level and unreachable by car or truck.
(We’d never been up there ourselves, so we’re grateful to fellow tower hunter Rick Lucas, who hiked up there a few years ago, for sharing his “before” pictures.)
To make matters worse, unlike many TV stations that are now connected by fiber or microwave to most of the cable and satellite companies in their viewing area, WCFE depended on its on-air signal to reach the bulk of its viewership across Lake Champlain in northern Vermont and across the border in Quebec.
At press time Sunday night, WCFE was being seen only on the Charter Cable system in Plattsburgh, which gets a direct feed from the station’s studio; it’s working on ways to restore the feed to the other systems while it works on rebuilding. And NERW wonders – with just 22 months remaining for analog television, will WCFE even bother to rebuild the Channel 57 signal that will go dark for good in February 2009, or will this be the cue for Mountain Lake to go DTV-only on 38?
The storm did some damage elsewhere in the region, too – WGHT (1500 Pompton Lakes) in northern NEW JERSEY was silenced for a while when its low-lying transmitter/studio site was flooded, and WLIB (1190 New York) was at low power because of flooding that topped the base insulator at one of the towers of its Meadowlands transmitter site. We hear there was flood damage as well at the shared site of WWDJ (970 Hackensack) and WWRV (1330 New York), and power outages all up and down the Eastern Seaboard left many stations running on generator power at the height of the storm.
*In other NEW YORK news, Don Imus vanished quickly from the headlines last week as the tragic news from Virginia Tech took over the nation’s attention, but behind the scenes, things kept percolating at his former home base of WFAN (660 New York). Imus’ producer Bernard McGuirk, who instigated the series of remarks that doomed the show, has now also lost his job with WFAN, but newsman Charles McCord, who was with 660 (then WNBC) before Imus ever arrived, has also outlasted his former boss; he’s still being heard as part of the morning version of “Mike and the Mad Dog.”
The duo are being heard on at least some of the former Imus stations, but not all of them – WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), for instance, is taking ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” for now, but says if Imus ever returns to the air, it’ll gladly put him back on the air in the Mohawk Valley. And we neglected to mention WHEN (620 Syracuse) as part of the network – it’s now taking Fox Sports Radio in morning drive.
There’s a new owner coming for Clear Channel’s TV group, which includes WHAM-TV (13, ABC) and its CW subchannel in Rochester; WSYR-TV (9, ABC) in Syracuse; WIVT (34, ABC)/WBGH-LP (20, NBC) in Binghamton; WETM (18, NBC) in Elmira; WXXA (23, Fox) in Albany; WWTI (50, ABC) in Watertown and WHP-TV (21, CBS)/WLYH (15, CW) in Harrisburg. Providence Equity Partners will pay $1.2 billion for those and the rest of the 56-station group.
Fifteen Years Ago: April 22, 2002
It’s been a quiet week stateside, but a busy one for at least one media company in CANADA. Telemedia won permission from the CRTC late last week to spin off most of its radio holdings around the country, which is good news for NewCap, Standard Broadcasting, and Astral Media. While NewCap gets the Telemedia stations out west, Standard gets nearly 30 stations from Telemedia in Ontario, including Toronto’s CJEZ (EZ Rock 97.3), which will be paired with Standard’s existing CFRB (1010) and CKFM (Mix 99.9). Standard also gets three in Hamilton – country CHAM (820), oldies CKOC (1150) and AC CKLH (K-Lite 102.9) – and three in St. Catharines – full-service CKTB (610), rock CHTZ (97.7, once owned by Standard) and CHRE (EZ Rock 105.7). The company also keeps Telemedia’s London foursome – country CJBX (92.7), talk CJBK (1290), AC CKSL (1410) and CIQM (EZ Rock 97.5).
Standard is spinning off much of the remainder of the Telemedia group in Ontario to Rogers, which picks up CJCL (Fan 590), the Prime Time Sports network and the Standard stations in Orillia (CICX), North Bay (CKAT/CKFX/CHUR), Sault Ste. Marie (CHAS/CJQM/CIRS), Sudbury (CIGM/CJRQ/CJMX) and Timmins (CKGB/CJOQ). Meanwhile in Quebec and the Maritimes, Astral Media gets the former Telemedia properties, including some of the biggest stations in Montreal and Quebec City. The catch? The company will be required to boost the amount of local news on the stations, as well as selling CFOM (102.9 Levis) in the Quebec City market.
Moving down to NEW YORK, the uneasy relationship between veteran jock Pete Fornatale and Fordham University’s WFUV (90.7 New York) frayed last week, as the public radio station announced a “temporary leave” for Fornatale as host of the Saturday-evening “Mixed Bag” show. Fornatale, best known for his many years at the old WNEW-FM, had sparred with WFUV management several times in recent months over political comments made during his show. WFUV will run “best of” programs for now; the station says it still hopes to get Fornatale back on the air soon.
Sorry to report the passing of a newsman who woke up millions of New Yorkers for more than two decades; Jim Donnelly died Saturday (4/20) of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Donnelly joined WCBS (880) in 1972, after a career that included KYW in Philadelphia and WNEW(AM) in New York; for most of the time from then until his retirement in 1992, he handled morning co-anchor duties on “Newsradio 88.” Donnelly was 69.
Twenty Years Ago: April 24, 1997
Crankin’ out FIFTY THOUSAND WATTS OF POWER!!!: That could be the slogan of Koor Broadcasting’s new station in Hanover NH, if Bob Vinikoor gets his way. We’ve finally seen the FCC filing for the 720 kHz application, and wouldn’t you know, it’s for 50 kilowatts by day, 500 watts by night, separate patterns, using 3 towers by day and 4 by night. The transmitter site would be in Lebanon, just north of the town center and east of route 120. It goes without saying that the new 720, if approved, would be by far the strongest AM signal in the Granite State. This should be interesting…stay tuned.
Some big shakeups on the radio dial here in Upstate New York, and most of them are at Heritage Media’s Rochester properties. Oldies WKLX (98.9) dumped most of its airstaff last weekend, and is now all satellite outside of morning drive, where market veteran Mike Vickers is now working. Down the hall at classic rock WQRV (93.3 Avon, “The River,”) Chris Wittingham has replaced Coyote Collins as morning jock. Collins returns to his duties at country WBEE-FM (92.5). Still no word on a possible buyer for the Heritage radio/TV properties, which also include WPTZ-TV (Channel 5) in Plattsburgh.
New call letters are in place at ARS’s modern AC “The Zone” (94.1 Brighton-Rochester). WZNE replaced WAQB last Friday. Over in Buffalo, meanwhile, “Alice at 92.9” is still hiding the old WSJZ calls at the top of each hour.
There’ll be a new AM signal on the air at night in the Rochester area soon. We’ve now seen it with our own eyes; Bob Savage has built three additional towers at the Avon NY transmitter site of his WYSL, as he gets ready to move the station from a 500-watt daytimer on 1030 to a fulltime facility on 1040, with 2500 watts by day and 500 at night. We’ll see whether he beats another new AM to the air; Canandaigua’s WCGR has built a new three-tower facility for its 1310 kHz construction permit, replacing the daytimer on 1550 kHz.
Speaking of new stations, there’s word from way up North that WYUL (94.7 Chateauguay) is about to hit the airwaves. Owner Tim Martz is no stranger to the Canadian border — he runs WQHR and WBPW in Presque Isle ME. His 50kW directional signal from Lyon Mountain, the WPTZ-TV (Channel 5) transmitter site near Plattsburgh, will head straight for Montreal, and the “YUL” in the calls is also the airport code for Montreal. Word has it that Martz is hiring bilingual DJs for the new station.