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
*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!
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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.)