In this week’s issue… NJ AMs go dark, Adirondack group in turmoil, historic New England signals for sale – WTC lights up with TV for good – Remembering Gabe Pressman – New Montreal signal on air
By SCOTT FYBUSH
In the Garden State, the week brought news of problems at two small AM stations that had been among the last to be squeezed on to the dial back in the 1960s and 1970s. WKMB (1070 Stirling) signed on in 1972 and played country music during daylight hours before being sold to the Rev. Gary Kirkwood’s King’s Temple Ministries in 2003. The black gospel station was deleted by the FCC on a “red light violation” for failing to pay its regulatory fees.
While the deletion of WKMB picked up plenty of attention in the trades, it’s not necessarily final; the FCC will often reinstate a “deleted” license once the fees are paid, and we’re hearing WKMB may be back to licensed status soon.
*Make your way way up I-287 toward the New York state line and you’ll hear “North Jersey 1500,” John Silliman’s WGHT in Pompton Lakes, which announced later in the week that it will be ending its commercial existence in August after 53 years on the air. The former WKER signed on in 1964 and has been in Silliman’s hands under its current calls since 1993, when he bought it from founder and namesake Robert Kerr.
The 1000-watt directional station has struggled with its daytime-only status on a frequency dominated by Washington’s powerful WTOP (now WFED), and it has a few more strikes against it: its equipment, we’re told, is in need of a near-complete overhaul and its low-lying transmitter/studio site is ever more susceptible to catastrophic flooding.
The future for WGHT is, as yet, a bit uncertain; we’re told that Silliman intends to donate the license, at least, to the local school system so it can be used as a training ground for students. Will the school have the resources needed to rebuild the AM signal, or to seek out an FM translator in the limited window that opens one month from today?
*It’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to say that a local daily newspaper has covered a radio story more comprehensively than we can, but the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake hit it out of the park with their story Wednesday about the mess that’s become of Ted Morgan’s Saranac Lake Radio group of stations.
It’s widely believed that Morgan overpaid for WNBZ (1240 Saranac Lake) and what’s now WNBZ-FM (106.3 Saranac) when he bought them in 1998, and even more so for the Nardiello family’s Radio Lake Placid group (WIRD 920/WLPW 105.5 Lake Placid and WRGR 102.1 Tupper Lake) in 2004. And we’ve heard plenty of stories in the years since about Morgan failing to pay bills and moving transmitters without telling the FCC.
But the Enterprise‘s Chris Knight started digging in more deeply after hearing complaints that several of the signals were off the air and the Radio Park building in Saranac Lake had been abandoned, and what he found was disturbing indeed: a long trail of unpaid tax, utility and rent bills and an owner apparently over his head and then some. The Radio Park building, which Morgan narrowly bought back from foreclosure a few years ago, is once again set for a foreclosure sale this fall.
Worse yet, once this story catches the FCC’s attention, there’s sure to be scrutiny of what appears to be a routine practice of moving the FM signals from site to site after rent bills go unpaid – all without actually filing for legal site changes.
Knight reports that right now, only WRGR and WNBZ-FM are on the air, operating on autopilot from a rented space in Plattsburgh; WIRD was deleted by the FCC earlier this year for a “red light” issue, WLPW lost its tower lease – and WNBZ(AM), which would soon have turned 90, has been off the air for over a year.
*Which brings us across Lake Champlain to VERMONT, where a very long family tradition is coming to an end.
Ken Squier’s father put WDEV (550 Waterbury) on the air back in 1931, and the station has been in family hands ever since as a paragon of what good local radio can sound like. With top-notch local and regional news coverage and a constant sense of community, WDEV and its newer sister, WDEV-FM (96.1 Warren), have long been staples of life in central Vermont.
So it was a bit of a shock last week when Squier announced that he’s looking to sell his Radio Vermont group, which also includes AC/full-service “101 the One” (WCVT 101.7 Stowe/WEXP 101.5 Brandon) and country WLVB (93.9 Morrisville).
“We’re hoping to find a Vermonter or some Vermonters who are interested and dedicated to local programming,” Squier told Burlington’s Seven Days. “We’re unique and special. We don’t want someone to take it over and do just another music format.”
The news was especially jarring on the heels of the recent sale by the Martin family of Burlington’s WCAX-TV, which was very similar to WDEV in its quintessential Vermont-ness. While the radio business hasn’t become quite as centralized and nationalized as “local” TV, where the economics of an independent WCAX simply didn’t work any longer, it will be challenging for any new owner to keep WDEV going in its present form, too.
Squier tells Seven Days there’s no buyer in line just yet for WDEV and its sister stations, and that he’s willing to wait for the right one to come along.
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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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 27, 2016
*”Dandy” Dan Daniel was one of the giants of NEW YORK radio, both physically (he stood 6′ 5″) and on the air, where his long career spanned four big radio homes.
The Texas native, who died Tuesday at 81, came to New York in 1961 from stints at WDGY in Minneapolis and KXYZ in Houston. At WMCA (570), Daniel was at first the overnight jock, soon moving to afternoons as part of the classic “Good Guy” lineup that made WMCA a fierce top-40 competitor in the Beatles era. Daniel moved to mornings at WMCA before leaving in 1970 to do network announcing (NBC’s “Monitor” and several game shows).
His second New York chapter came a few years later at WYNY (97.1), NBC’s adult contemporary FM, followed by time at WHN (1050), its country successor WYNY on 103.5, and then WCBS-FM (101.1), where he worked middays from 1996 until his retirement in 2002.
ABC News Radio made a quiet move last week, decamping from its home of a quarter-century at 125 West End Avenue to rejoin the network mothership along W. 66th Street. The radio network newsroom was the last vestige of the old ABC radio at the West End Ave. facility; the radio network studios across the hall from the newsroom became the new home of Disney-owned WEPN-FM (98.7) a few years ago.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Jeff Andrulonis’ Colonial Media + Entertainment is exiting the Alle-Kiski Valley after just a few months in town. Earlier this year, Colonial paid $50,000 to Evangel Heights Assembly of God for the then-silent WAVL (910 Apollo). Now it’s selling WAVL to Laurel Highland Total Communications, which will pay $310,500 for the AM signal and the translator (W230BO Olean) that Colonial is moving to Latrobe. That’s where LHTC already owns WCNS (1480), which had its own translator application bounced back by the FCC for filing ahead of the class B window for which it would have been eligible.
Five Years Ago: June 25, 2012
*In the long history of Boston radio, there have been plenty of juicy rivalries: WBCN and WCOZ, WRKO and WMEX, WEEI and the Sports Hub…and increasingly, the public radio news/talk battle between WBUR-FM (90.9) and WGBH (89.7) appears to be poised to join those ranks.
In 2010, WGBH shifted its classical music programming to sister station WCRB (99.5 Lowell) in order to take its daytime hours to news and talk, and now 89.7 is following suit in the evening as well. Sometime later this summer, Eric Jackson’s long-running evening jazz show (formerly known as “Eric in the Evening”) will be cut back from four nights a week to three, shifting from 8 PM to midnight on Monday through Thursday to 9 PM to midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and knocking another WGBH veteran, Friday night jazz host Steve Schwartz, off the schedule completely.
Beginning July 2, WGBH will also rearrange its daytime schedule, taking away live clearances of the “Takeaway” morning show (a co-production of WGBH and New York’s WNYC) at 6 and 9 AM and replacing them with two more hours of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Diane Rehm’s Washington-based show will be cut back to a one-hour clearance from 10-11 AM, with an hour of “The Takeaway” running on delay at 11. “Tell Me More” replaces “Fresh Air” at 2 PM, eliminating a bit of duplication with WBUR (which carries the show at 1 PM), and the replay of “The World” (a WGBH/BBC co-production that airs live at 3 PM) will shift from 6-7 PM to 8-9 PM, replaced by an additional hour of “All Things Considered.”
*Why was CBS Radio keeping an AM-FM sports simulcast going in eastern PENNSYLVANIA after launching WIP-FM (94.1 Philadelphia) last year? The answer, we now know, is that the company had other sports plans for WIP’s legacy home at 610 on the AM dial.
Beginning January 2, 2013, it will be the new full-time home of “CBS Sports Radio,” a new joint venture between CBS and Cumulus. The new network will include both a 24-hour service (which will also replace ESPN Radio on Cumulus’ WHGB 1400 in Harrisburg and Yahoo! Sports on Cumulus’ WSKO 1260 up in Syracuse, New York) and hourly updates; much of the programming on the 24-hour service will be produced by CBS Radio’s growing roster of major-market all-sports stations, including WIP-FM, WFAN (660 New York), WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston) and KDKA-FM (93.7 Pittsburgh), all of which will also be clearing the hourly updates and presumably using the 24-hour service during the off hours that they now fill with content from Yahoo! Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and other sources. (There’s already speculation about whether the CBS offering, as well as the new NBC Sports Radio from Dial Global, will end up killing off one or more of the weaker existing players in the sports network arena.)
*Radio CANADA International left the shortwave bands last night, signing off its transmitter site in Sackville, New Brunswick nearly 70 years after the first shortwave signals were broadcast from that location in the Tantramar Marsh.
The last English-language program to go out over the air on RCI was the weekly “Maple Leaf Mailbag” show, and for some reason RCI broadcast a repeat of last week’s program instead of the scheduled new episode.
The end of shortwave is effectively the end of RCI as Canadians and global listeners have known it: an 80% cut in the service’s budget (the result of an overall 10% cut in funding to the CBC, which operates RCI) means the end of most original RCI programming, though a skeleton service will continue to stream over the RCI website.
Ten Years Ago: June 25, 2007
*Add another to the list of job openings for talk hosts in MASSACHUSETTS – and this one’s an especially sad one.As he continues to recuperate from his fourth brain surgery in less than three years, WBZ (1030 Boston) evening talk host Paul Sullivan announced last week that he’s giving up the shift, which he inherited after the death of David Brudnoy in 2004.
In a letter to his listeners and colleagues, Sullivan wrote, “The toll my surgeries and treatments have taken on me makes it unlikely that I will ever have the energy to return to a four-hour daily talk radio program.”
He’ll return to WBZ this Thursday night for a final “farewell” show, and he says he’ll continue to be a presence on the station as much as he’s able, whether through commentaries, website postings or occasional guest-hosting stints when he’s feeling up to it.
*The big news from PENNSYLVANIA is all about signal upgrades, starting with Greater Media’s WJJZ (97.5 Burlington NJ), which flipped the switch last week on its new class B signal from the Wyndmoor tower just north of Philadelphia. It’s now a 26 kW/682′ signal with a directional notch to the northwest protecting WRVV (97.3 Harrisburg), and early reports suggest a much better signal in center city Philadelphia than 97.5 enjoyed from its old site in Trenton.
Fifteen Years Ago: June 24, 2002
Arthur Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting is entering MASSACHUSETTS, paying $1.78 million for brokered ethnic WLYN (1360 Lynn), which has got to be some sort of record for a 700-watt former daytimer. The sale takes Peter Arpin’s ADD Media group out of the Boston market, an exit that began last year with the sale of WRCA (1330 Waltham) to Beasley.
After some bouts with dead air over the weekend, CNet Radio is back on the airwaves of WBPS (890 Dedham), but not for very long. The leased-time programming disappears at month’s end, and we hear Mega will begin leasing 890 to an outfit called “Air Time Media,” which will program a talk lineup that includes a localized version of the syndicated Doug Stephan wakeup show as well as Neil Boortz, Rusty Humphries and Michael Savage. (NERW says: Is there any niche at all for syndicated talk – syndicated right-wing talk, at that – in a market that’s never warmed up to most national talkers?)
Down in NEW JERSEY, Scott and Casey are gone again from talker WKXW-FM (101.5 Trenton)/WKXW (1450 Atlantic City). “New Jersey 101.5” had pulled the duo off the air earlier in the spring; now they’re headed to afternoons at Infinity’s WKRK (97.1 Detroit), where they’ll rejoin their NJ 101.5 predecessors, Deminski and Doyle. Replacing them in Jersey is former WFAN sportscaster Craig Carton, who’d filled in on the shift during their suspension.
In PENNSYLVANIA, Bruce Bond has returned to the airwaves of Harrisburg – or at least nearby Carlisle, where the former WNNK (104.1) afternoon talk-jock resurfaced this week doing mornings on 80s “Z102.3” WRKZ. The Citadel station also hired Bond’s WNNK sidekick “Stretch” to join him in mornings…and no sooner had the duo launched Monday than a lawsuit arrived from WNNK owner Cumulus accusing Bond of breaching his noncompete agreement and stealing WNNK’s trade secrets. More on this to come, we’re certain.
Twenty Years Ago: June 26, 1997
Broadcasters around the Northeast are reacting to last week’s FCC complaint against Brian Dodge with a mixture of surprise, anger, and resignation. NERW spoke this week with Paul Lotters, the general manager of WHAZ (1330) Troy NY, the station that’s currently being used as the primary for Dodge’s “Love Radio” translators in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The complaint filed by Carter Broadcasting claims Dodge has illegally taken financial support from WHAZ for the translators, as well as illegally taking control of those translators in the first place.
While Lotters hasn’t seen the actual complaint yet, he tells NERW he had no idea there were any problems with the operation. “I’m very perturbed. I’m very concerned about the whole situation, naturally,” Lotters said.
Lotters says WHAZ’s sole purpose is to bring religious programming to its listeners in the Albany area, as well as in the adjacent areas served by relays WMYY (97.3 Schoharie) and WBAR (94.7 Lake Luzerne), and while he was happy to have Dodge’s translators expanding that audience, he doesn’t want to do anything to get in the way of WHAZ’s main mission. And he tells NERW that WHAZ won’t continue its relationship with Dodge if he finds Dodge has broken FCC rules. “If there’s anything we shouldn’t have done, the connection [with Dodge] will be disconnected,” Lotters told NERW in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. Brian Dodge has not returned NERW’s phone calls; we’ll bring you his response as soon as he does. (2007 update: he never did.)
We’ll begin the rest of this week’s news in NEW YORK, where four of Buffalo’s biggest radio stations have a new owner. Charlie Banta’s Mercury Broadcasting gets $62 million for oldies WHTT-AM/FM (1120/104.1), modern rock WEDG (103.3), and classic rock WGRF (96.9), and Banta stays on board under new owner Buffalo Broadcasting Partners II. The company also has broadcasting interests just down the Thruway in Syracuse, where it’s the owner of Pilot Communications, which has rocker WAQX (95.7 Manlius), CHR WNTQ (93.1), AC WLTI (105.9), and news WNSS (1260) in its stable.