In this week’s issue… Sinclair-Tribune deal finalized – Martin family sells WCAX – Some post-NAB Show reflections – Police investigate late TV meteorologist
By SCOTT FYBUSH
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: Sinclair officially announced its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune this morning. Read on for more about what the deal will mean for NERW-land television – and of course much more upcoming on fybush.com.
*Way back in 1954, Charles Hasbrook added VERMONT‘s first television station, WMVT (Channel 3), to a small media empire that included the Burlington Daily News and WCAX radio. Channel 3 changed calls to WCAX-TV in 1955, passed from Hasbrook to his stepson Red Martin in 1958 and then to Martin’s son Peter in 2005, but all along, it proudly held the title of one of the longest-running family-owned local TV stations in America.
So it was understandable that the news that the Martin family is selling WCAX-TV to Gray Television rocked the local media landscape as it emerged late last week. Gray has become a popular buyer for the remaining family-owned broadcast operations; earlier this year, it bought the Hildreth family’s WABI-TV (Channel 5) in Bangor, Maine and its Florida sister station, ending another family TV tradition that stretched back to the mid-fifties.
It’s understandable, too, that the Martin family found this to be the right time to sell. As Alex Martin (Red’s grandson) explained in his memo to station staff on Thursday,
The Martin family believes that we have done all that we can do with WCAX. The world has changed profoundly over the last 63 years, but certainly the last 10 or so has changed more rapidly than we ever could have imagined. The business of broadcast TV in its current state is changing, and changing quickly. Viewers are being pulled in ever expanding directions with the growing popularity of OTT companies like Netflix and Hulu. Networks are exacting more than their pound of flesh during affiliate negotiations. Retransmission contracts with cable and satellite providers are becoming increasingly hostile. The local station business has become one of scale, and is undergoing ferocious consolidation. Being a single station in a small market is akin to being a small, open boat in an ever intensifying storm. The threats are many and the odds of survival are shrinking.
If anything, we’d say Martin understated the challenges: it’s also daunting for an independently-owned station like WCAX to compete for syndicated programming against the behemoths such as Nexstar and Hearst that own its Burlington competitors, and that’s not even factoring in the impending costs of the ATSC 3.0 conversion.
So why Gray? As Martin explained, “They have over a hundred stations in midsize to smaller markets. They exclusively buy quality stations in these markets. They understand that the reason these stations are already successful is because of the culture, the management and the employees. Gray does not want to mess with what has made WCAX successful for more than half a century. They are quality owners who have assured us that they will take care of our legacy – and more importantly, you. WCAX will continue to produce outstanding, award winning journalism and newscasts, just as we have been doing for generations.”
There are no guarantees, of course, that Gray’s $29 million purchase of WCAX will leave everything unchanged; it’s impossible for any out-of-state owner to fully retain the goodwill that the Martin family’s tight bond to Vermont has reaped for more than 60 years, for one thing. It’s likely that some of what WCAX has long done locally will slowly be outsourced (areas such as traffic and master control), and we’d suspect that some of the station’s quirks like its hour-long local newscast at 6 PM will eventually fade away, too.
For now, though, we salute the Martins for their long dedication to local ownership. Vermont was better for their time at the helm of Channel 3.
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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: May 9, 2016
*Local radio in small communities isn’t easy these days. For all of the FCC’s efforts to “revitalize” AM and reduce the paperwork burden on small operators, the vast majority of small-market stations out there are leading tenuous existences, fighting to keep aging equipment and tower sites alive and to keep audiences engaged against all the digital alternatives fighting for their attention.
In MASSACHUSETTS, Ed Perry is one of the exceptions, keeping profitable and successful at his WATD-FM (95.9 Marshfield) for going on 40 years now. Down the road in Brockton, he’s moving closer to a relaunch at his new addition, the old WBET (1460), more recently known as WXBR. Perry recently filed to change the calls at his new purchase to WATD(AM), one of several steps toward getting it back on the airwaves.
This is the second time the WATD calls have graced a Brockton AM; Perry had those calls on the former WOKW (1410), now Dedham-licensed WZBR, back in the early 1990s. With 1460’s one-year silent period running out and the old transmitter site gone, Perry has a plan to get the station back on the air: he’s applied for special temporary authority to use 1000 watts, daytime-only, into a longwire mounted on two 30-foot wooden poles behind the Temple Baptist Church in West Bridgewater. Perry tells the FCC an application for a new permanent 1460 facility will follow soon.
*Radio People on the Move: Billy Teed is the new morning man at WPLM-FM (99.1) in Plymouth, where he replaces the previous morning show that had paired PD Kevin Cronin and veteran New Bedford voice Pete Braley. Teed, a Cape Cod native, had returned to the region last year after several years up in New York’s North Country at Martz Communications’ WYUL.
And while Kristen Eck is a new name at the “traffic on the 3s” desk at WBZ (1030), she’s got two decades of WBZ experience behind her as she completes her transition to female. WBZ handled the story in its usual classy fashion, telling listeners (and WBZ-TV viewers) about how Scott Eck had been increasingly uncomfortable before transitioning, a process that’s been underway for more than a year now. Eck joined WBZ in 1997.
*There are few jobs in radio as tenuous these days as being a medium-market iHeart air talent with several decades of service. In central NEW YORK, just ask Kathy Rowe, who had more than 30 years in at WYYY (94.5 Syracuse) when the axe fell on Tuesday after her Y94 morning show. Rowe, who’d also served as Y94’s program director, started at the former WSYR-FM back in 1982, when it was still “94 Rock.”
*In CANADA, “trash radio” may be fading away in Quebec, where the shock talk of hosts such as Jeff Fillion and Andre Arthur has become a fixture on stations such as CHIK (Energie 98.9) and CHOI (98.1 Radio X) in Quebec City.
Both Fillion and Arthur are suddenly off the air, Fillion fired from Bell’s CHIK after a tweet that made fun of a father whose son had killed himself, Arthur announcing his retirement from CHOI days later amidst rumors that he was about to be fired as well over comments he’d made after the March plane crash that killed political commentator Jean Lapierre.
“It’s not the first time I’ve lost a job in radio,” Arthur was quoted as saying in a CBC article last week, “but it’s the last time.”
Five Years Ago: May 7, 2012
*If there was a poster child for all the woes that were visited on small-market radio by the combination of ownership-cap deregulation and speculative investment, it was probably Nassau Broadcasting. Over the course of just a few years, Nassau exploded from a small NEW JERSEY-based operator with a handful of heritage stations in the Princeton/Trenton area into the largest station owner (at least by number of signals) in New England, entering markets as small as White River Junction and as large as Boston.
Then, of course, it all came crashing down: after holding off creditors by selling some assets (most notably Boston-market WCRB 99.5), Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti was finally unable to avoid the pressure of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in debt. Last October, Nassau filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and last Thursday the winning bids in the company”s liquidation auction were opened.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the remaining Nassau assets in the 2012 marketplace aren”t nearly enough to make a significant dent in what Nassau owed its creditors, led by Goldman Sachs – and indeed, bids for some of the stations weren”t even high enough to exceed the bidding credits Goldman itself applied in the auction to secure its interests.
At least until a judge considers objections to the auction results (expected to happen later today), here”s how this all appears to be shaking out:
*The gem of Nassau”s remaining holdings was probably its Trenton FM signal, heritage top-40 WPST (94.5), a class B facility that would have paired nicely with Townsquare”s other Trenton B, “New Jersey 101.5” WKXW. Townsquare reportedly offered $16 million for WPST, but that wasn”t enough for Goldman Sachs, which bid $22 million as a “credit bid” and is hanging on to WPST for now, along with sister AM signals WCHR (920 Trenton) and WNJE (1040 Flemington), for which Goldman entered a $700,000 credit bid.
Goldman also used a credit bid of $14 million to keep classic rock WODE (99.9 Easton) and its sister AM signals (WEEX 1230/WTKZ 1320) in the fold, fending off an $11 million bid from Cumulus, which hoped to augment the two-station Lehigh Valley cluster (WCTO 96.1/WLEV 100.7) it recently picked up from Citadel. Also staying in Goldman”s fold for now are the Nassau stations in the Poconos – WSBG (93.5), WWYY (107.1), WVPO (840) and WPLY (960).
(NERW notes that it”s not in Goldman”s long-term interest to continue operating radio stations, so it”s reasonable to assume that negotiations will soon be underway, if they”re not already, to see if Townsquare and Cumulus are interested in edging up from what were presumably low-ball bids for those stations.)
*On Cape Cod, veteran Massachusetts broadcaster John Garabedian is getting back into the game with a $2.7 million bid for rocker “Pixy” WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) and the “Frank” adult hits pair of WFRQ (101.1 Mashpee)/WFQR (93.5 Harwich Port). The move returns Garabedian to one of his early broadcast haunts – back in the late 1970s, he put WGTF (93.5 Nantucket) on the air, the ancestor of what”s now WEII (96.3 Dennis).
*The rest of Nassau”s New England clusters are spread across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and nearly all of those stations appear to be headed to a new ownership group that includes one of the principals of the old Vox group. Back in 2004, when station values were hitting record highs, Vox pulled in more than $31 million in three separate sales that formed the core of Nassau”s holdings in Vermont and New Hampshire – so it was remarkable that the winning bid unsealed Thursday was just $12.5 million for most of those stations, plus the bulk of Nassau”s Maine signals.
That winning bidder is a partnership between former Vox principal Jeff Shapiro and Bill Binnie, the New Hampshire politician-turned-broadcaster who”s been building a TV network in New Hampshire based at WBIN-TV (Channel 50) in Derry. Assuming the deal doesn”t get slowed down by any objections in court today, Shapiro and Binnie will end up with Vermont radio clusters in Montpelier-Barre (WSNO 1450/WWFY 100.9/WORK 107.1), the Upper Valley (WHDQ 106.1/WFYX 96.3/WWOD 104.3/WXLF 95.3/WZLF 107.1/WTSV 123o), Rutland (WEXP 101.5/WTHK 100.7) and way up north in Newport (WIKE 1490/WMOO 92.1). In New Hampshire, Binnie and Shapiro get Nashua”s WFNQ (106.3), Concord”s WNHW (93.3)/WJYY (105.5) and three Lakes Region signals (WEMJ 1490/WLNH 98.3/WLKZ 104.9). But the real prize may be in Maine, where that $12.5 million appears to also include two big Portland signals (WTHT 99.9/WFNK 107.5), plus relays of those stations” “Wolf” country and “Frank” classic rock formats (WBQQ 99.3 Kennebunk, WBYA 105.5 Islesboro), plus “Bone” rock WHXR (106.3) in Portland, plus two AMs (WLVP 870 Gorham/WLAM 1470 Lewiston), plus the northern two-thirds of the classical “W-Bach” network (WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor/WBQX 106.9 Thomaston).
The southern link in the “W-Bach” chain, WBQW (104.7 Kennebunkport), is headed to a new company called “Mainstream Media” with a $150,000 bid, while there”s a $250,000 bid to convert Catholic WXTP (106.7 North Windham) from an LMA to ownership by The Presence Radio Network.
*It was a big week in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, too, including a second major play-by-play move from one of Philadelphia”s four big franchises. Hot on the heels of the 76ers shifting their playoff games (and their next few seasons of regular-season play) from CBS Radio”s WIP to Greater Media”s WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington), the Flyers announced they”ll follow suit next season. That move opens up the same potential for conflict that plagued both teams when they were sharing WIP”s airwaves; under the new deal with Greater Media, the Sixers will have priority on WPEN”s FM signal, with conflicting Flyers games heard on WPEN (950) and Greater Media rocker WMMR (93.3).
*The big story from CANADA this week is a TV station sale in Montreal, where Rogers is buying CJNT (Channel 62/RF 49) from Channel Zero.
Montreal”s smallest (mostly) English-language TV station has been through a few turbulent years, going from WIC (as an ethnic broadcasters) to Canwest (as part of the “CH” independent network) and then nearly shutting down when Canwest pulled the plug on its “E!” network stations in 2009. Canwest ended up selling CJNT, along with sister stations CHCH in Hamilton, to Channel Zero for just $12 and the assumption of the stations” debt. A third “CH”/E! station, CHEK in Victoria, went to a local ownership group out there.
In the three years since the sale to Channel Zero, CJNT has rebranded as “Metro 14″ (its cable channel number), mixing independent fare with the ethnic programming it”s still required to carry as part of its conditions of license.
Rogers” takeover of CJNT (for an amount jokingly said to be “more than double” the $12 Channel Zero paid) will make the station the easternmost link in the “CityTV” brand that Rogers has expanded since acquiring the original City stations in a spinoff from Bell”s purchase of CHUM Limited. (Confused yet? That”s the whole story of Canadian broadcast conglomeration in recent years…)
Ten Years Ago: May 6, 2007
*Clear Channel Radio is getting closer to its goal of selling off 448 stations in its smaller markets – including all of its holdings in the state of MAINE, which are among the stations being sold to a new company called “Goodradio.TV,” headed by former ion TV (ex-Pax) president Dean Goodman.We know, as this week”s NERW comes to you late Sunday night, that Goodradio will end up with about 180 of those 448 stations, and that Clear Channel has found buyers for another 182 stations, and we expect to find out for certain which of those stations go where before the week is out.
In the meantime, though, the news of Goodradio”s Maine plans leaked early – and we now know that our original speculation that Clear Channel would exit Maine completely proved to be correct.
(2012 update: Clear Channel did indeed exit Maine, but the deal with Goodman never closed; instead, the stations in Augusta and Bangor ended up in the hands of Blueberry Broadcasting.)
*There”s been no official announcement yet of the fate of Clear Channel”s remaining stations in VERMONT, but whoever ends up with them will get some new formats at two of the signals.
In Randolph, WTSJ (1320) had been simulcasting WTSL (1400 Hanover NH), which Clear Channel has already sold – so now it”s switching originating stations to CC”s “Zone” simulcast from Burlington, already heard on WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY) and WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY). Much of the syndicated programming already heard on WTSJ was on “The Zone” anyway, so Randolph-area listeners to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity won”t experience any disruption.
In the Burlington market, Clear Channel pulled the plug on “Kiss” top 40 at WVTK (92.1 Port Henry NY), replacing it with oldies from ABC”s True Oldies Channel, the service programmed by Scott Shannon. No local jocks here, and we wouldn”t expect to hear any until after the station and its Burlington sisters are sold, if even then.
*There was a tower collapse in CONNECTICUT during the big storm there last month: the 188-foot tower of WYBC (1340 New Haven) succumbed to the storm”s high winds late on the night of April 14, toppling into the swamp where it sits. (It took several days for the weather to calm down sufficiently for the tower”s remains to even be found in the swamp, we”re told.)
WYBC quickly returned to the air with a longwire antenna. The collapse was blamed on a guy-wire anchor that had corroded to “the thickness of a pencil,” says engineer Clif Mills, and a replacement tower will soon be erected at the same site.
*It”s been a long time coming, but MASSACHUSETTS finally has its own Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Massasoit Community College in Brockton is sponsoring the honor, and it inducted the first group of honorees Saturday night at one of its “RadioTV Classics Live” re-creations. And what a group it was – Bob and Ray (with Tom Goulding representing his late father), Jess Cain, Rex Trailer and Tom Bergeron.
*The start of May brought a format swap at two Nassau stations on the PENNSYLVANIA/NEW JERSEY line. Classic hits WSBG (93.5 Stroudsburg PA) lost morning man Gary Smith to the Imus fallout a few weeks back, and on Thursday, the station vanished completely when Nassau moved soft AC “Lite” down the dial from its former home at WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ). The new “Lite 93.5” is running jockless for the moment, as is the new format on 107.1 – classic rock “107.1 the Bone,” complete with the syndicated “Free Beer and Hot Wings” morning show.
Fifteen Years Ago: May 5, 2002
With the impending sale of Nassau”s WTTM (1680 Trenton) to Multicultural, the ESPN sports programming heard on 1680 moves down the dial to WJHR (1040 Flemington). WJHR had been relaying the business-news programming of Nassau”s WHWH (1350 Trenton), which picks up the Trenton Thunder games that had been heard on 1680. Expect 1680 to go ethnic when the sale closes; Multicultural has a pending, but on-hold, application to move the station south to Lindenwold in the Philadelphia market.
MASSACHUSETTS is getting a new radio station, but not a very powerful one. A settlement between Toccoa Falls College and Friends of Radio Maria will give Toccoa the CP for a new station on 91.1 in Winchendon. The station will run 155 watts at 63 meters above average terrain, from a site near the WINQ (97.7) tower just north of Winchendon. We expect all the programming to come from the college”s Georgia headquarters (the “TFC Network,” based at WRAF 90.9 in Toccoa Falls) – and as for listeners up there who try to tune in the local news and talk from WBUR (90.9) in Boston, well, they”ll have to comfort themselves that the “public interest, convenience and necessity” are indeed being served…
In NEW HAMPSHIRE, WKVT has applied for a 250-watt booster in Keene. The proposed WKVT-FM-1 would operate from a directional antenna aimed southeast from a tower on Route 12 northwest of Keene. Saga notes in its application, “with an overabundance of caution,” that it has a license for translator W272AX (102.3) in Keene, which relayed WZID from Manchester before being silenced due to interference concerns.
Another Pax TV outlet wants to move its analog service to its DTV allocation; in addition to the stations in Boston, Providence and Scranton, Pax”s WPXB (Channel 60) wants to shift its analog signal to channel 34. The transmitter location (atop Mount Uncanoonuc in Goffstown) and the power (1410 kW visual from 293 meters) would remain unchanged, but the new WPXB-TV 34 would alter its directional pattern, sending a bit more signal south towards Boston. WBPX carries ShopNBC home shopping, by the way; Pax service to New Hampshire comes from WPXG (Channel 21) up in Concord, relaying WBPX (Channel 68, applying for channel 32) in Boston.
Up north, WMTW (Channel 8) from Poland Springs, MAINE has applied for two new translators to help restore service to viewers who lost its signal when it left Mount Washington in favor of a new stick in Baldwin, Maine. The ABC affiliate was granted CPs this week for W26CQ in Colebrook, N.H. and W27CP in White River Junction, Vermont.
Twenty Years Ago: May 8, 1997
We begin this time in VERMONT, Brattleboro to be exact, where WKVT AM/FM (1490/92.7) and WVAY (100.7 Wilmington) have been sold to Richard Lightfoot, the owner of WKNE AM/FM (1290/103.7) across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. Lightfoot says he”s not planning any format changes at the stations, which are currently running talk on the AM and rock on the simulcast FMs. The seller of WKVT AM/FM is James Plante, who tells the Brattleboro Reformer that he”ll probably leave the area once the transition to new ownership is complete. WVAY is being sold by Martin and Robin Rothschild, who LMA”d the station to Plante earlier this year. The deal closes a circle that began back in 1959, when WKNE”s original owners built WKVT. Lightfoot is operating WKVT and WVAY under an LMA while he awaits FCC approval of the purchase. Once it”s complete, WKVT, WKNE, and WVAY will operate under the name “Northland Radio.” No word on purchase price; but NERW wonders if this isn”t the “NH/VT AM/FM Combo” that was being advertised in the trades this week for around $750,000…
NERW research director Garrett Wollman was watching the auction on New Hampshire Public TV (WENH-TV 11 Durham, etc.) this week, and noticed that several of the Knight Quality (soon to be Capstar) radio stations donated advertising time as an auction item! Lucky bidders could snag 30 sixty-second spots on WXHT (95.3 York Center ME) for a suggested price of $1100. WBHG (101.5 Meredith) also donated spots to the auction.
One bit of RHODE ISLAND news: “Mancow” Muller, the Chicago-based syndicated morning host, has signed WDGE (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) as his first East Coast affiliate. M Street says Block Island”s WERI-FM (99.3) has flipped from hot AC to AAA; we”d love to hear tape from anyone down in that area who can hear the signal. The FCC has granted WBRU (95.5) an extension of time to move to 50kw and move its transmitter from the WHJY stick in East Providence to Neuticonkanut Hill in Johnston, as well as granting WPNW (550) an extension of time to raise power to 4600 watts day, 3400 watts night.
From CONNECTICUT this week, the FCC has designated a hearing on the license of WHCT (Channel 18) in Hartford, to settle a very long-running dispute over this long-dark station”s license. Back in 1983, Shurberg Broadcasting filed a competing application against WHCT”s renewal, and rather than face a competitive hearing, WHCT”s then-owner, Dr. Gene Scott”s Faith Center, took advantage of the FCC”s distress-sale minority-preference policy and sold WHCT to Astroline Broadcasting for $5 million. So far so good…except that Shurberg alleged that Astroline was not in fact minority-controlled. The dispute percolated its way upward through the court systems, and in the meantime Astroline went bankrupt and WHCT went off the air. Last year, Two if by Sea Broadcasting took control of WHCT from the bankruptcy trustee, and this past February WHCT returned to the air running programming from Lowell Paxson. Meanwhile, Shurberg filed a petition to deny WHCT”s license renewal, and Astroline then filed a petition to deny against Shurberg”s Channel 18 application. Now, the FCC has denied Astroline”s petition to deny against Shurberg, and it will soon hold a hearing to determine the extent of minority control at Astroline. If the FCC finds that Astroline misrepresented the facts, we could see yet another change of control at poor old Channel 18…stay tuned.