In this week’s issue… New buyer for western MA cluster – Bloomberg moves in Boston amidst Pops controversy – Fairfield AM loses its lease – WMGM-TV’s next chapter – HD Radio lights up at CN Tower – PLUS: NERW’s new podcast debuts!

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*The cluster of commercial radio stations that makes up most of the radio market in the Berkshires is once again on its way to a new owner.

It was just last week that we reported that a $3 million deal to send WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield), WUPE (1110 Pittsfield), WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams), WNAW (1230 North Adams) and WSBS (860 Great Barrington) from Vox/Gamma to Galaxy Communications wasn’t going to be consummated. It was the second deal for the stations that failed to make it to closure; back in 2013, they were headed to Greg Reed in another deal that was never completed.

Instead, those six stations are now headed to Townsquare Media in a deal announced late last week. We don’t yet know how much Townsquare will pay for the six stations and two attached translators, which run a total of five formats: top-40 on WBEC-FM (“Live 95.9”), classic hits on “Whoopie” (WUPE-FM, WUPE and translator W277CJ 103.3 in Pittsfield), talk on WBEC and full-service/AC on WSBS (and translator W231AK 94.1 in Great Barrington) and WNAW.

For Townsquare, it’s a deal that makes plenty of sense: the company specializes in small and medium markets, and it has a footprint that already includes the Albany market just across the state line, as well as other nearby medium-market clusters in Utica and Binghamton. Will we see some simulcasting between Albany and the Berkshires, or at least some sharing of resources? And, first, will this deal do what the last two couldn’t and actually make its way to the finish line?

*Before we get to the rest of the week’s news, we’re excited to announce a new addition to the Fybush Media family. Many of you have been after us for a long time now to join the podcast world, and on the way back from a quick trip downstate this past weekend, we assembled a prototype edition of what we hope will become a new regular feature here on fybush.com (or your favorite podcast client!)

This first edition includes some more thoughts on Boston’s beleaguered WMEX, the upcoming translator window and even some brief airchecks from your editor’s guest stint as a DJ on Long Island’s legendary WLNG on Friday afternoon, complete with jingles and lots of reverb!

We don’t yet have a name for this new venture, and we promise we’ll have much better audio when we get into the studio instead of doing this from the driver’s seat of the NERW-mobile, but here’s “Episode Zero” for your enjoyment…and stay tuned for the next chapter!

THE CALENDAR IS COMING! THE CALENDAR IS COMING!

The 2021 Tower Site Calendar is in the final stages and heading to the press, and we are ready to take your order!

This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the beautiful cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!

And while you’re getting your calendar, don’t forget the other great products in our store.

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*We don’t usually have much to say about Bloomberg’s radio or television operations in this space, so it’s unusual to have not one, but two big Bloomberg stories out of MASSACHUSETTS this week.

Heading into the Fourth of July, a lot of people who never had any reason to know how to find Bloomberg Television were suddenly intent on finding the channel in the Boston market. Why? Because this year, Bloomberg’s exclusive sponsorship deal meant it was the only place to watch coverage of the Boston Pops’ annual concert on the Esplanade.

The good news for Pops fans was that the Bloomberg coverage was much more comprehensive than what we’d seen in past years on CBS or other previous TV partners; in particular, there was no cutting away from the “1812 Overture,” as CBS rather notoriously had done.

The bad news, of course, was that distribution of Bloomberg Television remains more limited than other providers: there was no over-the-air TV coverage for the first time in decades, and a few pay-TV providers such as RCN put Bloomberg on a higher tier that not all subscribers could view. Even in an era when the streaming coverage was as close as the nearest desktop or phone, the complaints about the lack of an over-the-air Pops broadcast were a reminder that there are still plenty of viewers who find OTA television important and relevant.

*On the radio, meanwhile, there were plenty of places to hear Bloomberg Radio, thanks to a new deal between Bloomberg and Beasley that puts the network on WRCA (1330 Watertown) and its new translator at 106.1, as well as on the HD2 of WBOS (92.9). While we know of at least one listener who was disappointed at the end of the temporary simulcast of Beasley’s Irish music HD2 format on 1330 and 106.1 (it lives on over WBQT’s 96.9-HD2), the arrangement with Bloomberg will bring a steady stream of income to Beasley to pay off its translator venture.

For a little while, Bloomberg will actually appear in five spots on the Boston dial: its lease arrangement with iHeart’s WXKS (1200 Newton) and WJMN (94.5-HD2) hasn’t yet run out, and so Bloomberg is still on those signals for a few more months. There’s no word yet on what iHeart will do when that deal runs out, though we’d suspect that the low-rated talk format that moved to WKOX (1430 Everett) will return to the much bigger 1200 signal.

(And we’d note, of course, that having that 1200 signal potentially available for a new tenant or format is yet another factor auguring against any attempts to revive the now-dark WMEX 1510 signal, too.)

*A surprise from CONNECTICUT: after more than a year on the air, the local full-service format at WSTC (1400 Stamford) is gone as of today. Mike Raub, the Fairfield County radio veteran who’s been leasing the WSTC signal from owner Sacred Heart University, broke the news Sunday that SHU isn’t continuing the lease, apparently sending 1400 back to its previous relay of public radio WSHU-FM (91.1 Fairfield).

“During this last arrangement, we crafted a station that I am extremely proud of,” Raub told WSTC listeners. “We were lucky enough to partner with so many like minded people who shared our dream and I thank each of you for what you gave us. There are those who feel that this market isn’t able to support local product, but even now I refuse to believe that. Hopefully, I will again soon be working with you to help bring our community closer through radio.”

NERW’s sorry to see this incarnation of WSTC end; Raub and his team were doing some great local radio for Stamford and lower Fairfield County, a region that’s lost too many local voices to corporate cluster radio in recent years. We’re hoping his group can find another way to keep their local programming on the air.

*The Independence Day weekend brought a new format to two NEW HAMPSHIRE AM stations: WGAM (1250 Manchester) and WGHM (900 Nashua) have ditched ESPN Radio sports in favor of oldies as “WGAM Oldies Radio.”

East of Concord, WQNH-LP (95.1 Northwood) has filed for its license to cover; the 5-watt signal belongs to New Hampshire Community Radio, Inc.

And on the Seacoast, iHeart’s WPLA (1380 Portsmouth) has been off the air for more than a year, which means the FCC has now cancelled its license and deleted the callsign that had been parked there. (The former WBBX had most recently been on the air as WMYF before going dark when the lease on its transmitter site expired last year.)

*The sad story of NEW JERSEY‘s WMGM-TV (Channel 40) turned another page last week with the announcement that spectrum speculator LocusPoint Networks is selling the station to Univision for $6 million.

That’s the same price that LocusPoint paid when it bought the station from Access.1 in 2014. At that point, the Wildwood-licensed station was losing its NBC affiliation and shutting down its local newscasts – but it appeared to have considerable potential for profit once the FCC began auctioning off UHF TV spectrum.

We may never know how much LocusPoint hoped to get from that auction, but we know its price wasn’t realized and so WMGM-TV, along with several other LocusPoint licenses, didn’t get taken in the auction. Without much of a future in its current format of mostly infomercials and brokered programming, it’s no surprise that LocusPoint wanted to unload the station, though the buyer comes as a bit of a surprise.

Univision already owns a full-power Philadelphia-market signal, WUVP (Channel 65), licensed to Vineland, N.J. but transmitting from the PENNSYLVANIA side at the Roxborough tower farm. And its second network, UniMas, already has a home on WFPA-CD (Channel 28), which is a fairly potent class A signal from Roxborough. So what’s the point of another signal way out there at the fringe of the Philadelphia TV market?

As best we can make out, there may be two reasons for Univision to add a second full-power signal: first, because WMGM may be able to claim full-market cable and satellite must-carry, which WFPA cannot. Second, Univision is fast becoming a big player in the new world of repack and ATSC 3.0 conversion – we’ve already noted how it’s buying the license of WBIN, which will share spectrum with Univision’s WUTF in the Boston market, and WMGM apparently already has a channel-share tenant that will bring in some revenue. And with a second full-power signal, Univision can experiment with ATSC 3.0 on WMGM while keeping ATSC 1.0 on WUVP, or vice-versa.

*It’s dead, Jim: WPAM (1450 Pottsville) has now had its license cancelled and callsign deleted after being silent for over a year.

*In a very quiet post-holiday week in CANADA, about the only big technical news came from the top of the CN Tower, where there are now two HD Radio services on the air. HD has been a challenge up there because the 1970s-vintage FM combiner and master antenna aren’t set up to handle those digital sidebands – but Bell has installed a separate antenna system to allow for HD on its two CN Tower FMs.

As of last week, CFRB (Newstalk 1010) is heard on the HD2 of CKFM (Virgin 99.9), while CHUM (TSN Radio 1050) is on the HD2 of CHUM-FM (104.5). Competitor Corus has its Toronto AM, CFMJ (640), on the HD2 of its Hamilton signal, CING (95.3) instead of on Toronto sister station CILQ (107.1).

*In Montreal, the very tall CHOM (97.7) jock known on the air simply as “Too Tall” is retiring after a 40-year run in the market, all but one of those years at CHOM itself, where we had the pleasure of meeting him during a visit last year.

The midday host, whose real name is Robert Wagenaar, announced his impending departure on Wednesday, though he won’t be leaving until the end of September.

As ever, Steve Faguy has a nice look back at Tootall’s career and the reaction to the announcement, and you should be reading his site.

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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: July 11, 2016

*The big national headline last week was, of course, the news that CBS is moving forward with its plans to spin off CBS Radio as a separate publicly-traded company.

cbs_radio_650In our neck of the woods, that move will most affect CBS Radio’s clusters in New York (WFAN/WFAN-FM, WCBS, WINS, WCBS-FM, WBMP, WNEW), Boston (WBZ, WBZ-FM, WZLX, WODS, WBMX), Philadelphia (KYW, WPHT, WXTU, WIP-FM, WZMP, WOGL) and Pittsburgh (KDKA, KDKA-FM, WBZZ, WDSY), which will lose their existing pairings with the TV duopolies CBS is keeping in each city.

Whether intentionally or not, CBS had already moved most of those radio stations to separate facilities from their TV sisters. Only WBZ in Boston and KYW in Philadelphia share quarters with TV, and it seems likely that CBS would lease space to the radio stations going forward.

It’s all but certain, too, that the spinoff of the CBS Radio properties will include a long-term license to use their existing callsigns and branding. Just as with Disney’s spinoff of the old ABC Radio operation, in which identities such as “WABC” and “WLS” were retained on both radio and TV, CBS no doubt realizes the value that’s tied into branding such as “KDKA” and “WCBS.”

*Veteran western PENNSYLVANIA jock Jim Krenn is off the morning shift at Pittsburgh’s WLTJ (Q92.9). The Steel City Media station says Krenn will stay on staff as a “station ambassador,” but his other commitments made it hard for him to do the morning show fulltime. For now, mornings on Q92.9 are running jockless – as is the rest of the day.

*When Berkshire Broadcasting relaunched its 107.3 translator (W297AN) in Danbury, CONNECTICUT on Tuesday at noon, it was indeed as “107.3 the Bull,” doing a country format fed from WDAQ (98.3)’s HD3. The new “Bull” competes horns-on against Cumulus’ “Kicks” WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) and out-of-market iHeart entry WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury-Hartford). The new “Bull” shares a PD with its HD2-translator sister, “New Rock 103.7” (W279CI/WDAQ-HD2); Dan Hopkins is also the afternoon jock at WDAQ itself.

Five Years Ago: July 9, 2012

*When struggling noncommercial station WUCI (91.5) finally went dark for good back in 1991, Binghamton, NEW YORK lost its only station focusing on the city”s black community. But two decades later, urban radio has returned to Binghamton in the form of a brand-new signal.

WJOB-FM (93.3 Susquehanna PA) quietly signed on last week, complete with a website and a live stream of what sounds like a test format that runs the gamut from uncensored hard-core rap to classic R&B to Spanish-language pop, without much in the way of station IDs.

The new noncommercial class A signal is licensed to the Broome County Urban League, transmits from the Hickory Knob tower in Great Bend, PA that was the original home of WKGB (92.5), and claims a studio location at 122 State Street in downtown Binghamton. If that address rings a bell, it”s because it was the longtime home of WAAL (99.1) and WKOP/WRSG (1360) until those stations moved to their current downtown home in the 1990s.

*Speaking of quiet launches, CBS used the sleepy holiday week to debut its new local programming on recently-acquired WLNY-TV (Channel 55). The independent station is still licensed to Smithtown and transmits from the east end of Long Island, but it”s operating from the CBS Broadcast Center on W. 57th Street in Manhattan, and it”s now carrying “Live from the Couch” on weekday mornings from 7 to 9 (with a cast that includes former WHTZ morning co-host Carolina Bermudez) and a 9-10 PM newscast on weekday evenings.

*With much of CANADA idled by the Canada Day holiday, it”s no surprise that our big news this week comes from the one part of the country that doesn”t much celebrate the July 1 holiday: in Quebec, one AM station spent the week recovering from a fire that heavily damaged its Montreal studios last Sunday night.

CJWI (1610) is better known as “CPAM Radio Union,” at least to the Haitian emigre community that depends on its programming to keep tabs on the island”s often-fractious politics, and station manager Jean-Ernest Pierre tells the Montreal Gazette that he believes arsonists attacked the station”s building in retaliation for its on-air calls for a criminal trial of Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

The station was off the air for only 10 hours, returning Monday from studio space donated by another Montreal broadcaster, and Pierre says he’ll rebuild and stay on the air despite the intimidation.

Ten Years Ago: July 9, 2007

*Thirty-five years after NEW YORK“s WCBS-FM (101.1) flipped to oldies, and two years after the station rocked the Big Apple radio world with a flip away from oldies to adult hits “Jack FM,” the message boards once again began buzzing last Thursday afternoon with word that the new management at CBS Radio was about to reverse course and restore oldies to 101.1.Whether or not the news was an intentional leak, it came at a perfectly slow moment in the larger news cycle, and by Friday it had moved beyond the radio message boards and e-mail lists and out to the TV newscasts and the headlines on WINS. By Saturday morning, it was even the front-page story in the Daily News, even though CBS had yet to confirm that the move was happening.

As we head for our Sunday night NERW deadline, there”s still been no confirmation from within CBS, but all the signs we”re hearing tell us that the rumors are true, and that at some point between today and Thursday, WCBS-FM will indeed return to some version of the oldies format it was using until that dark day in June 2005.

That”s good news for New York oldies fans, but perhaps not quite as much good news as some of them were hoping for. Despite the Daily News” claim that the station will be bringing back “real DJs,” our sources tell us that at least at first, the new CBS-FM will sound very much like the HD2/webstream version of CBS-FM that”s been serving as a stopgap replacement for the original station – no DJs, and a music mix that leans more heavily on the 70s and early 80s than the old CBS-FM did.

None of that should come as any surprise to anyone who”s been following the moves at CBS Radio since Dan Mason returned earlier this year to retake the reins from Joel Hollander. In addition to the mercy killing of what remained of “Free FM” in New York, returning “K-Rock” WXRK (92.3) to the airwaves, Mason replaced “Free FM” in San Francisco (KIFR 106.9) with a revived version of KFRC, leaning more toward classic hits than the oldies KFRC once played in its previous incarnation. The new KFRC launched jockless, and only slowly added air talent.

Who might be on the lineup at the new CBS-FM? Pretty much every name that”s graced the mike there over the last few decades has been suggested for the revived 101, and many of them would appear to be available. (What”s Micky Dolenz doing these days, anyway?) And of course there are plenty of talented jocks who”ve lost their full-time gigs in recent years to format changes and consolidation – anyone from Carol Miller to Bill Buchner to Pat St. John to Famous Amos would make great additions to the airstaff.

That”s all in the realm of speculation for now, though. Even though CBS has been making some solid moves recently (especially the launch of “Fresh FM” on 102.7, which has made serious inroads on longtime market revenue champion WLTW, a station that would face further challenges from a revived WCBS-FM), few of them have involved the kind of personality radio that made the original WCBS-FM so successful for so long. Fresh has eroded WLTW”s numbers with an approach that”s nearly jockless, and the revived K-Rock has been running mostly jockless as well, though that may change now that there”s a PD in place there.

*Elsewhere in the Empire State over the long holiday week: In the Albany market, public broadcaster WMHT pulled the plug on one of its two classical music services on Saturday, replacing “cool, comfortable, classical” WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam) with “Exit 97.7,” a new AAA format with new calls WEXT.

WMHT says the two-year experiment with WBKK, which had been a commercial classical station before WMHT bought it, found that there was a tremendous amount of listener duplication between 97.7 and the more established WMHT-FM (89.1 Schenectady), producing little in the way of new listeners or members to the station.

The new “Exit 97.7” will feature local jocks Dave Michaels in morning drive and Eileen Roarke in middays, with station manager Chris Wienk handling afternoons.

Programming will also include two daily runs of “World Cafe” from Philadelphia”s WXPN and the new age show “Echoes” (which was already being heard at night on WBKK), as well as a local music show called “Area 518” on weekends.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 8, 2002

The TV station atop NEW HAMPSHIRE”s highest peak is completing its move off Mount Washington. NERW research director Garrett Wollman made the trek up the Rock last week, and in addition to bringing back some gorgeous pictures of a rare clear summertime day on the 6288-foot peak, he reports that WMTW-TV (Channel 8) has reached agreement to sell its facilities on Mount Washington to the state of New Hampshire. WMTW moved its transmitter to Baldwin, Maine a few months ago, leaving the channel 8 building on Washington nearly empty (veteran transmitter engineer/air personality Marty Engstrom delivered his last on-air report from the mountaintop in May before retiring) – and leaving the Mount Washington Observatory and the two FM stations on the mountain (WHOM 94.9 Mount Washington and WPKQ 103.7 North Conway) to figure out how to get power, which had been provided by WMTW under contract. No word yet on the price or timetable for the transfer, but stay tuned to NERW for more in the weeks to come…

MASSACHUSETTS radio and TV have been busy mourning the passing of the legendary Ted Williams, of course, which gave us the chance to hear veterans like Johnny Pesky during the weekend”s Sox-Tigers series (not to mention the Tigers” Ernie Harwell, still sharp as a tack in his last season doing play-by-play at age 84) – but there was some other news in the Bay State this holiday week:

Twenty Years Ago: July 10, 1997

We”ll start this week in VERMONT, where the modern rock wars between WBTZ (99.9 Plattsburgh, “The Buzz,” LMA”d to WIZN) and WXPS (96.7 Vergennes, “The Pulse,” co-owned with WCPV) have come to an end, with the Buzz as the apparent winner. WXPS is reportedly off the air for now, and will return shortly with a sports-talk format. The Pulse was plagued for most of its yearlong life with a poor signal in Burlington, a problem rectified only recently by a 97.3 translator in the Queen City.

Also dark for now is WCVT (101.7 Stowe), but it should be on the air again any second now under the new ownership of Radio Vermont, running a classical music format.

Up there in MAINE, Dan Billings wrote to us from his trip Down East, with word that WMCS (1400) Machias remains off the air, while erstwhile sister station WALZ-FM (95.3) is in a triple simulcast with Calais” WQDY (1230/92.7) as “International Radio.” Not part of the simulcast is Houlton”s WHOU (100.1); it was doing its own thing when Dan tuned in. WHRR (102.9) Dennysville-Calais is on the air, running classic rock as “CD 102.9,” reaching a few thousand people, a lot of water, and many cows within reach of its 100 kW signal.

Moving along to NEW YORK, the big news this week is all in the Capital District, and most of it comes from Clear Channel”s Albany properties. On the AM side, WQBK (1300 Rensselaer) will switch from talk to sports on Monday. Morning host Scott Lounsberry and midday host John Howe are out of work; PM drive host Howie Green stays with the new “All Sports 1300” as operations manager. Most of the WQBK programming will come from One-on-One Sports. On the FM side, classic rocker WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa) made a big grab this week, stealing veteran morning team Mason and Sheehan from SFX”s WPYX (106.5).

While the CBC has yet to secure CRTC permission to move CBL to FM, it did get the go-ahead this week to move its Montreal outlets off the AM band. In a news release that was apparently translated from English to French and back again (after possibly making a detour into Swedish), the CRTC announced that CBF (690) will get to move to the 95.1 MHz spot. The release says CBM (940) will also get an FM slot, but fails to give a frequency. CIME (99.5 Ste.-Adele) will apparently change to an undisclosed new frequency to open 99.5 for a new commercial French-language classical station in Montreal. And Quebec”s CBV (980) also gets a new berth on FM; again, no frequency given.