In this week’s issue… Into the new world of channel sharing – Talent moves in Philly, Montreal and upstate – New FMs in Toronto, Ottawa – Remembering a religious radio pioneer – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio – The Minor Minors
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Think you understand what’s happening under the hood in the complicated world of local television broadcasting these days? Spectrum auction, repack, ATSC 3.0, UHF discounts…it all made for plenty of discussion at all sorts of levels at NAB in Las Vegas in April (and at an informative SBE Ennes Educational Seminar a week ago in Syracuse, too.)
And just when you think you might have a decent handle on all of the changes that are coming to the television landscape, you run across something like this, the 54 pages of legalese that was appended to the channel-sharing arrangement under which Bill Binnie’s WBIN (Channel 50) in Derry, NEW HAMPSHIRE will become a spectrum-sharing tenant on the RF 27 spectrum of Univision’s WUTF (Channel 66) in Marlborough, MASSACHUSETTS.
We’ll spare you all the verbiage (unless you enjoy that sort of thing, in which case, have at it) and skip to the interesting part: when Binnie and Univision entered into this deal back in January, they did more than just make the “usual” (by today’s standards) detailed agreements about who’ll cover what costs and how much bandwidth each station will get when they move in together at WUTF’s Hudson transmitter site and shut down WBIN’s much less potent OTA transmitter north of the border.
Here’s the more interesting part: Binnie has an option to sell off the WBIN license to Univision, by way of a put/call agreement that was included in the sharing deal. Within 60 days of the FCC’s announcement of the auction results (which came in May), either side can trigger that sale, putting what remains of WBIN in Univision’s hands for (if we’re reading this correctly) a $16.76 million payment to Binnie.
Less the $6.81 million that Univision pockets from the WBIN auction proceeds under the deal (10 percent of the $68.1 million total, in exchange for the 10% of WUTF’s digital capacity that WBIN would have taken under the channel-share deal), that means that Univision would pay out a net $9,956,000 to completely buy Binnie out of the WBIN license, trading his future contributions toward WUTF’s expenses (including the eventual conversion to ATSC 3.0) for continued sole control of all of the RF 27 spectrum.
It’s easy to see why the deal would be worth it for Binnie, who’d add even more cash to the very substantial proceeds he’s already received for WBIN’s spectrum. It also explains why Binnie was so quick to close down his NH1 TV news operation after the announcement that WBIN was going into the auction; what’s left on WBIN has been essentially filler programming, and the move to a channel share with WUTF wouldn’t have even allowed what remained of WBIN to broadcast in HD. (Binnie will, however, keep the WBIN calls; the deal explicitly states those don’t go to Univision if it buys the license.)
But what’s in it for Univision? Here’s what it looks like to us: if the sale goes through, the benefit to Univision is that it gets a second full-power TV license in the Boston market, effectively allowing it to turn its existing WUTF license into two stations that can each assert cable and satellite must-carry or negotiate for retransmission consent.
Could that eventually allow Univision to end its deal that allows Entravision to operate WUTF as a UniMas affiliate alongside Entravision’s own Univision affiliate, WUNI (Channel 27), instead letting Univision run both of its networks on WUTF?
Or – and here we’re getting purely speculative – could Univision have a deal in the works to sell the remnants of the WBIN license to NBC? Comcast doesn’t need the cable carriage, of course, but bandwidth on the WUTF Hudson transmitter would finally give NBC Boston what it’s still lacking: full over-the-air coverage all the way to the western and southern ends of the Boston market.
(And yes, in this brave new world of TV spectrum sharing, it’s not even impossible to imagine Comcast swapping spectrum on Univision’s WUTF for New Hampshire bandwidth on archrival Telemundo affiliate WNEU.)
Will Binnie or Univision actually pull the trigger on this deal? No such filing has been made with the FCC yet – but we’ll be keeping a close eye on the Commission to see if that changes in the next few weeks.
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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: June 20, 2016
*Ordinarily, we’d never think of leading a column by telling you that a cluster of radio stations is about to remain under the same management that’s been leading it for years.
But in the lovely Finger Lakes region of upstate NEW YORK, that’s actually pretty big news, because the transfer of the Finger Lakes Radio Group to current GM Alan Bishop puts to rest several years of uncertainty as the cluster (and the market) waited to see if Bruce Danziger’s Long Point Communications group could close on a $3,375,000 purchase of the cluster.
That deal, inked in September 2014, was itself supposed to resolve uncertainty that stemmed from the personal bankruptcy of George Kimble. The veteran station broker owned two-thirds of the Finger Lakes Radio Group and its subsidiaries, continuing a family tradition that went back to his father’s ownership of WCGR (1550 Canandaigua).
At the bankruptcy auction, Danziger’s group outbid Bishop, who already owned a third of the cluster – and that led to the odd situation in which Bishop continued to manage the stations while waiting for Long Point to close on the purchase. Under Kimble and Bishop, the Finger Lakes group now includes most of the dial between Rochester and Syracuse: news/talk WGVA (1240 Geneva) and WAUB (1590 Auburn) plus translators; country WFLK (101.7 Geneva)/WCGR (1550, plus a translator); AC WNYR (98.5 Waterloo); rock “Wall” WLLW (99.3 Seneca Falls) and country WFLR (1570 Dundee, plus two translators).
And now those stations are, at last, headed into Bishop’s hands, thanks to a new deal with the bankruptcy trustees after Long Point’s repeated failure to close. While the FCC granted Long Point two extensions to consummate the deal, it never came through, and so Bishop will now pay $1,217,355 to acquire Kimble’s stock in Finger Lakes and its sister companies. Add in the $719,000 in claims against Kimble’s bankruptcy that Bishop will drop, and you get to nearly $2 million for two-thirds of the cluster, which puts the full value of the cluster not far from the $3.375 million that Long Point would have paid.
*Our NERW Extra on Wednesday told you about the FCC’s denial of the big Syracuse-market swap between Family Life Ministries and Craig Fox’s Foxfur group, and the $20,000 fine the Commission handed Foxfur for unauthorized transfer of control of what’s now WCIS (105.1 DeRuyter) as a result of Family Life’s LMA of the signal.
Now we can tell you a little more about how all this will play out: as of our (virtual) press time Sunday night, Family Life continues to operate Fox-owned WCIS and WCIO (96.7 Oswego) as religious outlets, while Fox’s “Wolf” country format stays in place on Family Life-owned WOLF-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville). How? Apparently by way of a new “Inner Harbor Radio” corporate entity that doesn’t have any overt involvement from Fox.
Because the FCC dismissed the original Family Life/Foxfur swap without prejudice, it can (and no doubt will soon) be refiled without the original LMA that created the ownership-cap issue that triggered the FCC’s attention; once the swap is actually complete, of course, there’s no issue with caps, since the swap of two FMs (105.1/96.7) for one (92.1) actually ends up reducing Fox’s attributable ownership in the Syracuse market.
*Al Dame was a legendary name in PENNSYLVANIA radio, with a career that started in sales in 1950 and ended with the last of two ownership groups a decade ago.
The Kittanning native was still in high school when he started working at WACB (1380 Kittanning, now WTYM). After graduating from Penn State, he ended up just a few years later managing a group of small western Pennsylvania stations, then, in 1967, becoming GM of WEEP (1080/107.9) in Pittsburgh. A year later, Dame became an owner in his own right, starting with WRSC/WQWK in State College, then adding WKBO in Harrisburg.
Dame Media was an early player in the deregulation game, creating clusters in Harrisburg (WHP/WRVV, WRBT, WWKL) and Albany (WGY/WRVE) that became the cores of Clear Channel’s presence in both markets when that mega-operator bought Dame out in 1999.
A year later, Dame was back in the game with a new group, Dame Broadcasting, that bought clusters in State College, Johnstown, Chambersburg and Hagerstown, Maryland before selling in 2005 in Dame’s final exit from broadcasting. By then he’d been inducted into the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, where he was part of the class of 2004.
Dame was 85 when he died June 5 in Phoenixville.
Five Years Ago: June 18, 2012
*Drive through the Mohawk Valley of upstate NEW YORK on scenic Route 5 and you’ll spot something odd as you pass through the pretty little village of St. Johnsville, an hour or so west of Albany: tucked in next to an abandoned industrial building just off the highway, there’s a four-tower AM directional array for a station that doesn’t exist – and apparently never will.
This was supposed to have been WKAJ, a 10,000-watt day/400-watt night signal on 1120, and in recent months licensee Cranesville Block Company has waged a battle to get the station on the air, enlisting the assistance of local elected officials and even the area’s U.S. congressmen, Paul Tonko and Richard Hanna, who took part in a conference call with FCC officials last month to plead for the station’s continued existence.
Unfortunately for Cranesville, and for WKAJ, there’s a big obstacle to their quest: as NERW readers know, WKAJ’s construction permit expired (after two extensions) last December 15 – and at that point, as best anyone can tell, that plot of land next to the old warehouse in St. Johnsville was still an empty piece of land. From all accounts, the towers and transmitter building went up in January 2012, at a cost of $336,000.
Does the FCC look kindly on stations that commence construction after the expiration of their permits? As any competent communications attorney (or even your humble editor/consultant) could tell you: no, it does not, and never has. That’s a lesson Cranesville has been learning the hard way after exchanging its local law firm for a Washington lawyer, but no matter how well-connected the counsel, there are some precedents the FCC simply doesn’t want to alter.
And that’s where WKAJ sits, midway through what could have been its first year on the air: last week, the FCC once again tossed out the station”s latest procedural attempt to get its permit reinstated. This time around, the Commission didn’t even need to get to the substance of the “Petition for Waiver and Reinstatement”: procedurally, a waiver request had to be filed within 30 days of the February 23 FCC letter denying WKAJ a license to cover, but the petition wasn’t filed until April 23, a month after the deadline had expired. (Audio Division chief Peter Doyle strongly hints in the latest ruling that WKAJ wouldn’t have been reinstated even if its petition had been timely.)
*Anyone who had the pleasure of working with Joe Reilly during his long run at the helm of the New York State Broadcasters Association (NYSBA) knew that Reilly’s retirement a year ago couldn’t possibly keep him away from broadcasting for very long. Reilly came to NYSBA in 1979 from the world of broadcast ownership and management (including WERA in Plainfield, New Jersey and most notably WWOM in Albany), and now he”s returning to that world with the purchase of Ernie Anastos’ four Albany-area stations.
Reilly’s new Empire Broadcasting Corporation is paying $1.2 million for the signals, which include AC “Star” WQAR (101.3 Stillwater) and standards “Moon” WABY (1160 Mechanicville) in the Saratoga Springs area, oldies WVKZ (1240 Schenectady) and WUAM (900 Watervliet), which simulcasts the audio of Time Warner Cable’s YNN news channel and is also heard on translator W291BY (106.1 Albany). There’s no word yet on what Reilly and his partners have in store for their new acquisitions – but in the meantime, we welcome him back to the fray…even as it means the exit of veteran New York City TV anchor Anastos from radio ownership after several decades.
*Speaking of New York City TV anchors, Friday was the last day on the air for WNBC (Channel 4) icon Sue Simmons, and the station sent off the 32-year veteran with a full day of tributes during its newscasts, culminating with a six-minute “best of” montage at the end of its 11 PM show. Don’t call it “retirement” just yet; Simmons is hinting that she”d like to get back on the air somewhere in town before long.
Ten Years Ago: June 18, 2007
*No sooner did Grace Blazer move from WPHT (1210 Philadelphia) to MASSACHUSETTS to take the PD chair at WTKK (96.9 Boston) than the wheels began to spin at the Greater Media FM talker, in a way that will give Blazer plenty of challenges as she starts her Boston tenure.It”s not as though there weren’t already challenges at “FM Talk 96.9,” beginning with the morning slot that’s been officially vacant since the cancellation of the Don Imus show earlier this spring. As of late last week, though, the top contender to replace Imus on WTKK’s morning shift says not only doesn’t he want the job – but he’s leaving the station entirely.
That contender, of course, would be Mike Barnicle, the venerable Boston newspaper columnist and local media icon who’s been a star personality on WTKK since its debut. Most recently, Barnicle had been doing the 9-10 AM weekday show, and had added the 6-9 AM Imus shift most days since Imus” ouster.
Now Barnicle says he’s busy enough with his work on MSNBC and in print, especially with the 2008 elections looming, that he can’t keep doing even his daily hour at WTKK, much less the entire morning shift – and that means some big decisions for Blazer and her bosses. While Barnicle says he’ll keep doing the morning show on a fill-in basis for the moment, WTKK is already trying other talent. Tomorrow morning, middayer Michael Graham will fill in, and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear other WTKK personalities, such as early-afternoon hosts Marjorie Eagan and Jim Braude and maybe even PM drive talker Jay Severin, trying out for the shift.
*VERMONT Public Radio took a big step toward its plans for a two-network future last week when it announced it’s buying WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY) from Essex-based Christian Ministries, Inc. The $1.1 million purchase will give VPR a signal for its new VPR Classical service that will serve the state’s largest city, Burlington, as well as the Plattsburgh, N.Y. area across Lake Champlain. (WAVX is a 2.7 kW/1074″ DA C2 signal broadcasting from just west of Peru, N.Y.)
VPR started the classical service a couple of years ago on WNCH (88.1 Norwich), and recently added WJAN (95.1 Sunderland) to the network. It’s also making VPR Classical available as a subchannel on the HD Radio signals of its main-channel stations. We’d expect those stations to eventually transition from a mixture of news and classical to all-news and talk as the classical network increases its distribution across the state.
Fifteen Years Ago: June 17, 2002
NEW YORK has a new radio owner, thanks to the $3.5 billion purchase of Hispanic Broadcasting by Univision. The deal means that WCAA (105.9 Newark) and WADO (1280 New York) join forces with Univision”s WXTV (Channel 41) and WFUT (Channel 68) to create a high-powered marketing machine for the Big Apple’s Spanish-speaking audience (and that’s nothing, compared to the combos created in markets like Miami, L.A., and the big Hispanic Texas cities…)
The big news out of NEW JERSEY may actually be big news in Philadelphia, at least if you’re not the FCC. When WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton) was sold last year, speculation immediately began building about where the big signal could be moved. WSNJ filed an application to move its city of license to tiny Elmer, N.J., which made very little sense to us – but now it’s all clear.
By “moving” from Bridgeton to Elmer, WSNJ positioned its next move to look even better to the FCC. The station now wants to relocate from Elmer to Pennsauken and change channels to 107.9, downgrading from a full class B facility to a class A. From the FCC’s point of view, it’s a move from tiny little Elmer to much larger (35,000 instead of 1,571) Pennsauken, neither of which have their own “local” broadcast facility – and thus looks better than a move straight to Pennsauken from larger Bridgeton (which keeps WSNJ’s AM sister on 1240 to pacify the FCC.) But from the point of view of WSNJ’s new owners, the station will now throw a city-grade signal over 1.5 million more listeners, since (even though Pennsauken is, as WSNJ goes to great lengths to demonstrate, an independent community) the new site would be just across the river from Philadelphia. The move does eliminate short-spacings between WSNJ and WPUR (107.3 Atlantic City), WBYN (107.5 Boyertown), WGTY (107.7 Gettysburg) and WFSI (107.9 Annapolis); it would also force high school station WHHS (107.9 Havertown) and translators W300AD (107.9 Philadelphia, relaying WWFM Trenton) and W300AA (107.9 Levittown, relaying WRDV Warminster) to find new spots on the dial.
Twenty Years Ago: June 19, 1997
Brian Dodge is no stranger to FCC controversy, and now he”s in for much more. The New Hampshire religious broadcaster is already the subject of a complaint from the New Hampshire attorney general”s office of charities, and now he”s also the target of a lengthy complaint just filed with the FCC by Carter Broadcasting, with the assistance of several other New England broadcasters. The complaint was just filed yesterday, and NERW”s copy has yet to arrive, but stay tuned for a special edition of NERW over the weekend with all the details; and, we hope, a response from Brian Dodge. (2012 update: 15 years later, the FCC has still never acted on the complaint, the full text of which can be read here.)
In MAINE, hit radio has returned to the Bangor market after a half-year absence. WBZN (107.3 Old Town) flipped from 70s rock to CHR Wednesday morning, under the consultancy of Clarke Ingram of WPXY in Rochester. The new “Z107” is being run under an LMA by the folks at country WQCB (106.5 Brewer), but will stay in its existing studios in Old Town. The last attempt at hit radio in Bangor came from WWFX (104.7 Belfast), which underwent a species transformation from “the Fox” to “the Bear,” WBFB, last fall.
One of NEW HAMPSHIRE”s oldest radio stations is getting a new owner. WKBR (1250) in Manchester is being sold to Northeast Broadcasting, the company that owns AAA WXRV (92.5) and Spanish WHAV (1490; leased to Costa Communications) in Haverhill MA, along with AAA WNCS (104.7 Montpelier VT) and satellite stations WRJT (103.1 Royalton VT) and WSHX (95.7 Danville VT). No word on how much Northeast (operating under the Devon Broadcasting corporate name) is paying for the 5 kW fulltimer, which is now owned by ethnic broadcaster George Ketrelakis, who bought the station from Bob Bittner a few years ago.