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In this week’s issue… Full-time broadcasting resumes at 1WTC – Erie FM CP cancelled amidst bidding dispute – Mathieu goes non-comm – FM anniversaries in Canada

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*By the time the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks rolls around in a few months, there will once again be regular TV broadcasting from NEW YORK‘s World Trade Center.

As TVNewsCheck reported last week, NBC/Telemundo’s WNJU (Channel 47/RF 36) has its transmitter in place and will begin overnight test transmissions from the new 1 World Trade Center mast this week, followed very quickly – as soon as a week’s time – by a full-time move to 1WTC as its main transmission site.

The Durst Organization, which manages the site, has already installed one of two UHF master antennas and a VHF master antenna, with work underway to install the second UHF master antenna. When complete, the three antennas will reach from 1626 to 1706 feet above ground level – and they’ve added an additional tenant as well. In addition to the previous announcements that NBC (WNJU and WNBC, though WNBC will end up channel-sharing with WNJU after the repack), CBS (WCBS-TV), ABC (WABC-TV) and WNET (Channel 13) will be using 1WTC, ion Television has also signed up with Durst to put WPXN (Channel 31) on the tower.

WCBS will be the next station to move its main transmitter from Empire to 1WTC in the next few months. We’ll be following the process closely as the rebirth of Trade Center broadcasting continues.

(We send our congratulations, by the way, to Durst vice president of broadcasting John Lyons, who was honored by the NAB with its Television Engineering Achievement Award last month in Las Vegas.)

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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 23, 2016

*The ruling last Wednesday from a federal judge in MASSACHUSETTS wasn’t quite as stark as the old Daily News headline, to be fair – but now that WHDH-TV (Channel 7) owner Sunbeam Television has lost its bid to stop Comcast from pulling the station’s NBC affiliation away at year’s end, the future of Boston’s second-oldest TV station is now in a little more doubt.

whdh-nbcThe ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns was about as unfavorable as it could have gotten for Sunbeam and WHDH. While acknowledging that Sunbeam has legitimate reasons to fear financial harm to channel 7 from the loss of the NBC affiliation it’s had since 1995, “absent any actionable harm attributable to Comcast, it is simply an indurate consequence of doing business in a competitive and unsentimental market place,” Stearns wrote.

Stearns pointed out that Comcast’s action is far from monopolistic in a broadcast market that also includes “ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS affiliates, local cable stations, Verizon, RCN, Charter, and the DISH Network…carrying a wide spectrum of programming content.” And his ruling notes that there’s ample precedent for allowing a contract to expire, as NBC’s does with WHDH on January 1, 2017, without forcing the parties to renew.

*MAINE Public Radio didn’t take long to find a Portland outlet for its new Maine Public Classical network, which launched May 9 on translators in Bangor and Waterville and a few days later on WFYB (91.5 Fryeburg).

Now the classical signal is on the air in the state’s biggest city via W281AC (104.1 Portland), the 50-watt signal that’s been relaying WMPG (90.9), the community station at the University of Southern Maine.

We don’t have any details yet on the terms of the transaction, which moves the translator from one arm of the University of Maine system to another; we do note with some interest that WMPG’s disappearance from the 104.1 frequency went completely unremarked on the station’s social media presence. (Monday morning update: The sale price for the translator is an eye-popping $251,000, plus an additional $34,840 in promotional consideration for USM on MPBN’s radio and TV services.)

Five Years Ago: May 21, 2012

*In the earliest years of this column, back in 1994 and 1995, one story dominated our headlines: the consolidation of Boston broadcast ownership under a handful of large cluster operators. Our first issues (then known as “New England Radio Watch”) chronicled the disappearance of independent owners and the rise of the earliest duopolies and triopolies and, eventually, even bigger clusters.

But as the early Granums and Infinitys and Chancellors gave way to today’s CBS Radio and Greater Media and Entercom, two things remained true in Boston: Clear Channel was trying to compete with a much smaller cluster than its rivals, and one old-line operator, Steve Mindich’s WFNX (101.7 Lynn), remained staunchly independent, immune to the run-up in prices that led many other independents to sell out.

On Wednesday, that all changed with the surprise announcement that Mindich had struck a deal to sell WFNX’s license – but not its call letters or modern rock format – to Clear Channel Media + Entertainment for a price widely rumored (but not yet confirmed) to be $11 million.

For Mindich, it means the end of a broadcast legacy that began in 1983, when the Boston Phoenix publisher paid $1.1 million for what was then WLYN-FM, a suburban signal that had recently segued from leased-time ethnic programming to “new wave” music as “Y-102.”

Over the next 29 years,  101.7 established a niche for itself as the radio voice of Boston’s alternative music scene, breaking bands, sponsoring contests and launching the careers of dozens of talented radio people who made their way through the studios that never moved from the old WLYN-FM digs, in a run-down building way off the beaten path in downtown Lynn.

(Just a sampling of the names with WFNX on their resumes includes Bill Abbate, later with WBCN and WZLX; Sharon Brody, now of WFNX; Nik Carter, later at New York’s WXRK; Joanne Doody, later at WXRV; Tom Irwin, aka “Tai the Morning Guy” and later at WRKO and WROR; Juanita “the Scene Queen”; and Neal Robert.)

The WFNX studio in 2006

In an interview with WBUR after the sale was announced, Mindich said he’d received plenty of unsolicited offers for the station over the years, including some at the height of the market that would have paid him much better than the Clear Channel offer.

“I realized given that sustaining the station over the last four years in particular has been extremely difficult, and the recession has just really killed us, I made the decision. It had to be done,” said Mindich, who was reportedly in tears when he made the announcement to the WFNX staff on Wednesday morning.

The station had approximately a dozen full-time staffers and several part-timers, and Mindich says “eight or nine of them” were let go immediately upon the announcement.

WFNX’s airstaff (D-Tension and Henry Santoro in morning drive, station veteran Julie Kramer in middays, Adam 12 in afternoons and Jim Ryan at night) were promptly replaced by automation, though Kramer and Adam 12 were back on the air for farewell shows Thursday and Friday.

The sale to Clear Channel doesn’t include an LMA, so the automated WFNX programming (and, Mindich promises, more farewell shows) will continue for the next several months until the signal is handed over to its new owner.

*As for the other remaining station in a WFNX network that once stretched from Rhode Island to Maine, Mindich also found a buyer for NEW HAMPSHIRE‘s WFEX (92.1 Peterborough) last week. The Peterborough station came to Mindich in a $1.5 million 1999 purchase, and we don’t yet know how much religious broadcaster Bill Blount is paying to add it to his own regional network that includes WBCI (105.9) in Bath, Maine and AM stations in Connecticut (WFIF 1500 Milford, WSDK 1550 Bloomfield), Rhode Island (WARV 1590 Warwick), central Massachusetts (WVNE 760 Leicester) and Derry, New Hampshire (WDER 1320).

*Out there on Nantucket, this is launch week for Jeff Shapiro’s new WAZK (97.7), aka “97.7 ACK-FM.” The new station came together very quickly over the last few weeks, with almost daily updates on its Facebook page chronicling the installation of a new antenna, transmitter and studio equipment. A signal could be on the air at 97.7 as early as today, and programming may start by “Thursday or Friday,” the station says.

Ten Years Ago: May 20, 2007

*It seemed like a sure thing – put a Spanish-language format on an FM signal in PENNSYLVANIA‘s biggest market and watch the ratings soar.

But Clear Channel’s experiment with Spanish tropical “Rumba” on WUBA (104.5 Philadelphia) never quite caught fire after the station signed on last fall, replacing the soft AC of “Sunny” WSNI. WUBA languished at the bottom of the ratings, with revenue to match, and the advent of the Portable People Meter in Philadelphia this year confirmed that it wasn’t just an issue with under-representation of the Hispanic audience.

So on Thursday, “Rumba” disappeared from the big full-market 104.5 signal, moving down to WDAS (1480 Philadelphia), displacing black gospel from that frequency and its decidedly less-than-full-market coverage. (WDAS had picked up Spanish-language Phillies broadcasts at the start of the season, which should have tipped us off that something was up.)

Replacing “Rumba” on 104.5 is Philadelphia’s first commercial modern rocker since the 2005 demise of the old “Y100” (WPLY 100.3 Media) more than two years ago. “Radio 104.5” is running jockless for now, with a logo (and programming) reminiscent of the old WMRQ (104.1) in Hartford prior to its switch to urban in 2003.

*Gus Saunders, veteran Boston Herald restaurant critic and longtime host of “Yankee Kitchen” on the old Yankee Network and later on WROL (950), died last Monday (May 14) at his home in Newton. Saunders was on the air with his food show for a remarkable 56 years, signing off for the last time in October 1999.

Fifteen Years Ago: May 20, 2002

MAINE gets digital public TV across most of the state tomorrow (Tuesday), with the official launch of three of the planned five DTV outlets for Maine PBS. WCBB-DT (Channel 17) in Augusta, WMEB-DT (Channel 9) in Orono and WMEM-DT (Channel 20) in Presque Isle will all transmit a four-channel digital multiplex that includes the main Maine PBS service, PBS Kids, PBS YOU (the national network’s “how-to” channel) and PBS Plus.

MPBC says the remaining two transmitters, WMEA-DT (Channel 45) in Biddeford and WMED-DT (Channel 10) in Calais, will be on the air by this fall, putting Maine far ahead of any of the region’s other statewide public broadcasters in the DTV race.

NEW YORK could soon have a new classic rocker. WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) will soon break from its simulcast of modern AC WLIR (92.7 Garden City) to become “the Bone”. It will join a crowded rock market in eastern Long Island, competing against Cox’s WHFM (95.3 Southampton, relaying WBAB Babylon) and Barnstable’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead), not to mention AAA’s WMOS (104.7 Montauk), which is now targeting a cross-Sound audience in Connecticut but still puts a solid signal across the East End.

In NEW JERSEY, the FCC gave the go-ahead to Millennium’s purchase of the Nassau stations in the Monmouth/Ocean market, allowing Nassau to take control of standards WADB (1310 Asbury Park) and WOBM (1160 Lakewood), modern AC WJLK (94.3 Asbury Park), AC WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River) and CHR WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres), despite market-concentration concerns. Millennium will have 64% of radio revenues in the Arbitron-defined “market” (where one end can’t hear most of the stations from the other end) when the Nassau stations are combined with its other recent purchases, including WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) in Trenton, which has a sizable audience in the area.

Twenty Years Ago: May 22, 1997

NERW went back to Boston this past weekend, only to find yet another station added to the American Radio Systems megaopoly. WNFT (1150 Boston) is ARS’ newest acquisition, to the tune of a reported $4.5 million from Greater Media. 1150 has been a troubled spot on the Boston radio dial for more than a decade, including stints as oldies WMEX (quashed by WODS’s arrival on FM), business WMEX (killed off by the recession of the early 90s), Spanish “Radio Continental”, leased-time ethnic brokered by WRCA (1330), the recent brief run as KidStar’s Boston affiliate (which ended when KidStar went out of business), and plenty of interim periods simulcasting WMJX 106.7 or WBCS/WKLB-FM 96.9.

ARS isn’t saying much about its plans for 1150, but rumor has it that the station will pick up some of the sports conflicts (Red Sox/Celtics, for instance) from WEEI (850). There’s also a pretty credible rumor that ARS will move 1150 to the WRKO transmitter site in Burlington, demolish the three AM towers and the FM backup tower on the WNFT site in Lexington, and build a taller FM tower there that can be leased out by subsidiary American Tower Systems. That could be profitable enough by itself to make WNFT’s profitability irrelevant, in fact…time will tell.

It will be licensed to New Hampshire, but the story of WLPL (96.3 Walpole) is really our VERMONT news this week: The Vermont Environmental Board is hearing another appeal to the 110-foot tower that WLPL owner Gary Savoie wants to build on Bemis Hill near Athens VT. Two adjoining landowners, Sarah Ann Martin and Veronica Brelsford, have kept Savoie tied up in appeals for several years, and in the meantime WLPL remains on hold. Meantime, WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) is crossing the border in the other direction, moving its studios from Woodstock across the Connecticut River to 52 Main Street in West Lebanon NH. And the next piece of the WVMX (101.7 Stowe) mystery has revealed itself: Sage Broadcasting has applied to sell the station to “Radio Vermont Classics,” which could be related to the Radio Vermont that owns WDEV AM/FM (550 Waterbury/96.1 Warren) and WLVB (93.9 Morrisville). Rumor has 101.7 going classical eventually.

Up in MAINE, a new station is about to make its debut. WHRR (102.9 Dennysville) has been testing its transmitter, starting back on May 12. Perhaps in response to the upcoming competition, WQDY-FM (92.7) in nearby Calais has gone to 24-hour broadcasting. Sister AM WQDY (1230) remains on a 7AM – 10PM schedule. And over in Eastport, we’re told high school outlet WSHD (91.7) is back on the air after some recent weather-related antenna damage. Advising the station is WQDY news director Tom McLaughlin, a onetime Boston broadcaster on WBCN (104.1) and the old WTBS (88.1, now WMBR).