In this week’s issue… WBRU sale nears reality – New owners for silent NY AMs – Broadcasters spar over PA AM – Maison Radio-Canada rebuild moves ahead – Honoring Binghamton’s engineering dean
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Sound Communications’ WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) has been broadcasting from South Hill since it first hit the air in the 1960s; Kevin Fitzgerald and George Hawras’ WPHD (96.1 South Waverly PA) is a much more recent arrival, having signed on only in 2003.
Last week, Sound and the Fitzgerald/Hawras partnership filed to swap licenses – but in a way that would leave Elmira-area listeners almost completely unaware that anything had changed. The application to exchange licenses says that Fitzgerald and Hawras will file to move the WENY-FM license from 92.7 to 96.1, using the exact facilities now occupied by WPHD, and will change calls to WPHD as well. At the same time, Sound will file to move the WPHD license from 96.1 to 92.7, using the current WENY-FM facilities, and change calls to WENY-FM.
If it’s granted by the FCC, the only thing listeners might notice (and only if they’re especially alert) is that 96.1 would become “WPHD Elmira,” while 92.7 would identify as “WENY-FM South Waverly.”
What’s going on here? As we explored last week in our “Top of the Tower” podcast, there’s only one reason for going through all of this FCC sleight-of-hand: a station licensed to Elmira, in Chemung County, is in the Elmira-Corning radio market for the purposes of the Commission’s ownership caps – but a station licensed over the state line in South Waverly is outside any rated radio market and thus governed by contour overlaps when it comes to determining ownership caps. And since the Elmira-Corning market is a strange beast that extends into sprawling Steuben County, far beyond the reach of the 92.7 or 96.1 signals, the use of contour overlaps just might allow Sound owner Paige Christian to do something she can’t do right now, which would be to add another FM signal to her existing holdings in the market.
Is there a deal in the works for Sound to add to its cluster, which includes AC “Magic” on 92.7 and WENI-FM (97.7 Big Flats), 80s/90s hits WGMM (98.7 Corning) and country WKPQ (105.3 Hornell)? Not that we’ve heard yet – and for that matter, we haven’t even seen FCC applications for the actual facility swaps proposed in the exchange agreement. Will the FCC let 92.7 “become” 96.1 in a minor change, and vice versa? We’ll be watching…and keeping you posted.
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
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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: August 1, 2016
The NBC and CW stations disappeared from Dish Network several weeks ago, and now they’ve been pulled from DirecTV as well in what’s shaping up to be a somewhat unusual variation on the typical retransmission-consent dispute. Normally, of course, station owners play up the value of the network content they carry, especially on a week like this when NBC is getting ready to kick off its Summer Olympics coverage from Rio.
This time, though, the satellite companies know that whatever deal they make based on NBC’s value to their customers will vanish in just a few months when Comcast pulls the NBC affiliation away from Sunbeam and WHDH. Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin knows that if he tries to drive satellite customers over to cable to see his stations, they’ll just be enriching the pockets of his arch-enemy Comcast. And while he won’t come out and say it, Ansin probably sees a long-term value to the dispute, if it gives him financial damages that he can show against Comcast for pulling the NBC affiliation. (Not to mention giving NBC lower national ratings for a do-or-die Olympics broadcast if big chunks of market #10 can’t see the broadcast!)
And in the meantime, there’s more drama playing out across town over at WFXT (Channel 25), Cox Media’s Fox affiliate in Dedham. The huge studio/newsroom complex there has been off viewers’ screens for the last few days while newscasts originate from the old studio down the hall. Behind the scenes, the newsroom is being renovated, we hear, into a more traditional studio setup that won’t take full advantage of the enormous two-story space. Over in the corner, news director Lee Rosenthal has exited, less than two years after Cox moved him across the country in its Fox swap with KTVU (Channel 2) in Oakland.
Cox management has gone so far as to send a memo to WFXT employees saying there’s no truth to rumors than NBC is looking to acquire channel 25 – but there’s clearly something happening at a station that’s been dealing with declining ratings and in-house instability lately, and we note, as always, that Comcast/NBC has still yet to say definitively where “NBC Boston” will be landing on TV dials January 1.
*On the translator front back in MASSACHUSETTS, Radio One is doing a quick turnaround on the signal it’s moving into Boston. W231BI (94.1 Utica NY) will go to 106.1 in Boston, where Radio One had paid EMF $40,000 to use it as a relay for WILD (1090). But now Beasley is paying Radio One ten times as much – $400,000 – to instead use the translator to relay its own WRCA (1330 Watertown). Will WRCA stay with its leased-time ethnic format, or will Beasley use the powerful translator to add a new FM format to the cluster it’s acquiring from Greater Media?
*In western MAINE, Dick Gleason is making some big changes today at his station group. Here’s how it all goes down: the successful new “Z105.5” format that’s been running on WEZR (1240 Lewiston) and its 105.5 translator is getting a new simulcast on WOXO (92.7 Norway), which becomes “Maine’s Big Z 92.7 & 105.5” as it changes calls to WEZR-FM. WOXO’s country format stays on simulcast WTBM (100.7 Mexico, which takes the WOXO calls), and it also relocates to WKTQ (1450 South Paris), which adds new translator W245CQ (96.9 South Paris). The new branding there will be “96.9/100.7 the Ox.”
Five Years Ago: July 30, 2012
*In a year that’s been full of natural disasters from coast to coast, the tornado that cut through Elmira, NEW YORK on Thursday didn’t get much national attention. But the 110-mph, EF-1 twister took a damaging course for the city’s broadcasters, knocking out power to the Hawley Hill TV/FM site on Elmira’s west side and then partially toppling a tower just south of downtown.
The storm’s immediate aftermath Thursday evening found power out in much of the city and most of Elmira’s radio and TV dial dark as a result. NBC affiliate WETM (Channel 18) was especially hard-hit, losing both power to its transmitter on Hawley Hill and the fiber connection to its hubbed master control at WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse. WETM was back on Time Warner Cable screens late Friday, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the over-the-air service (which also feeds satellite viewers and outlying cable systems) was fully restored – and in the meantime, it was ABC/CBS affiliate WENY-TV (Channel 36) providing coverage of the storm to viewers lucky enough to have power.
On the radio, most of the FM dial, including WENY-FM (92.7) on South Hill and WLVY (94.3)/WOKN (99.5) on East Hill, was also off the air Thursday night in the absence of generator power, returning on Friday as power was restored. Pembrook Pines’ WELM (1410)/WEHH (1600) remained on the air from their Lake Avenue studio/transmitter facility just north of the storm’s path.
But the worst damage came just south of downtown on Milton Street, where the city’s oldest AM tower, home to WENY (1230), did not survive the tornado’s fury.
The storm bent the top of the 430-foot self-supporting tower, damaging it beyond repair and taking the 1230 signal off the air indefinitely.
It also ended a long chapter in Elmira’s radio history, dating back to the early 1920s when the Elmira Star-Gazette (the first paper in the Gannett chain) partnered with Cornell University in Ithaca, 35 miles away, to put WESG radio on the air.
As a 1000-watt daytimer, WESG was licensed to Elmira, owned by Cornell, leased to the Star-Gazette and operated from studios in both Elmira and Ithaca in what must have been a most unusual arrangement for the time.
It wasn’t long afterward when the newspaper and the university went their separate ways: Cornell kept the 850 facility (moved to 870 in 1941) for what became WHCU, while the Star-Gazette won a new full-time license on 1200 (soon moved to 123o) under the WENY callsign. It was right about then – 1939 – that the Milton Street tower went up to serve WENY, and it had been there ever since, becoming a landmark for drivers along nearby Route 17.
Now owned by Sound Communications, WENY plans to replace this tower as soon as it can work out the insurance details; it’s not yet clear whether the new tower will be another self-supporter or a guyed tower, or whether it will be as tall as the now-damaged 1939 tower was. We’ll keep you posted…
*The week’s other big development from upstate New York was up in Utica, where what initially appeared to be an LMA of Roser Communications Network’s two AM signals instead has turned into a sale. CNYRadio.com reports former WKTV (Channel 2) executives Tom Coyne and Frank Abbadessa will pay Roser $350,000 for WUSP (1550 Utica, formerly WUTQ) and WRCK (1480 Remsen, returning to its WADR calls while Roser keeps “WRCK”), along with FM translator W238CA (95.5). Roser moved his soft AC/talk “WUTQ” format from the AM/translator combo to what’s now WUTQ-FM (100.7 Utica) earlier this year, and Abbadessa and Coyne’s “Good Guys Broadcasting Corporation” is already running the AMs and 95.5 under an LMA, programming a mix of sports and leased time.
*In Owego, Dave Radigan had plenty to celebrate last Friday: his WEBO (133o) marked both its 55th anniversary on the air and the grand re-opening of its downtown studios after last year’s flood forced Radigan and his staff out of their storefront studio across the street. The flood came less than five years after Radigan had bought the station and built the new studios (and a new transmitter site, plus a new FM translator at 107.9), and it’s a tribute to his dedication to the Owego community that he’s put everything back together so quickly.
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, Clear Channel dominated the news at the start of the week as we – and everyone else – waited for the launch of “101.7 the Harbor,” the new WHBA (101.7 Lynn). Clear Channel’s $14.5 million purchase of the former WFNX evidently took a couple of extra days to close, and so the WFNX webstream kept airing on 101.7 until about 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, when Clear Channel finally took over the facility.
After weeks of intense secrecy about Clear Channel’s plans for 101.7 (pierced only by our discovery of the WHBA calls a week or so ago and Lance Venta’s confirmation a few days later on Radio Insight that the new station would be called “The Harbor”), the reality turned out to be not very surprising at all. When Clear Channel finds a formula that works, it tends to repeat that format around the country – and so the recent launches of adult hits as “the Lake” in Cleveland and Charlotte ended up being pretty good previews of what was coming to Boston.
“Safe” is probably the best description of the new format, which is running jockless and commercial-free for the rest of the summer. It launched with Dierks Bentley’s “5-1-5-0” followed by the Standells’ “Dirty Water” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and the music that’s played since then has all been carefully-tested hits from the 1970s through today, interspersed with liners by actor Ken Hudson Campbell.
It’s about as far opposite as it gets from the modern rock that WFNX played, and ‘FNX (now in its online-only incarnation) isn’t holding its tongue about what’s become of its old FM home: in a Facebook post over the weekend, it referred to “the awful nonsense that now resides on 101.7 FM,” and then went on to take a slap at Boston.com’s “RadioBDC” (where many former WFNX staffers are now toiling) as “that New York-owned corporate newspaper’s knockoff station that hasn’t launched yet. ”
Ten Years Ago: July 30, 2007
*A venerable set of MASSACHUSETTS call letters will move to yet another spot on the dial (just over the state line in NEW HAMPSHIRE, actually) on Wednesday. That’s when Costa-Eagle will move the WCCM calls and talk format down the dial from its present home on Haverhill-licensed 1490 to the 1110 signal that’s licensed to Salem, NH.
1110’s current occupant, Spanish talk “Impacto” WCEC, will take over the 1490 signal – and listeners who’ve been following the “WCCM” identity around the dial will have to adjust their presents for the second time in five years.
It was back in August 2002 that Costa-Eagle dislodged WCCM from the most potent signal in its cluster, the Lawrence-licensed 800 facility that had operated as WCCM since 1947, in order to install Spanish tropical WNNW (previously at 1110) on the 800 signal. WCCM in turn replaced the equally venerable WHAV on 1490 – but that signal, while licensed for fulltime operation, was hard to hear in much of the Lawrence area even by day, and nearly impossible at night. That, in turn, made it vaguely pointless for WCCM to carry some of the Lawrence-oriented programming it had carried, not to mention Lowell Spinners baseball, which was heard on 1490 for several years as well.
The latest move will bring WCCM’s signal back to more solid coverage of Lawrence and vicinity, but at a price – the 1110 signal signs off at sunset, with no night power at all, so there still won’t be local sports on the “new” WCCM. As for WCEC on 1490, the Hispanic population in and around Haverhill continues to grow, so that half of the move promises to be successful – but we still vividly remember the days, not all that long ago, when Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell each had multiple local English-language radio voices, too, and it’s sad to think that the days of the old WHAV, WCCM and WLLH are long gone.
*In Worcester, Clear Channel has signed on a new translator for WJMN (94.5 Boston). W235AV (94.9 Tatnuck) runs 235 watts from the WSRS (96.1) tower in Paxton, reinforcing the “Jam’n” signal in Worcester County at the expense of the fringes of WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH).
*Back in 1980, NEW YORK‘s WNBC-TV (Channel 4) blazed a new path for TV news when it debuted “Live at Five,” one of the first local TV newscasts to air an hour earlier than the usual 6 PM slot. Now the station is getting out of the 5 PM news race, effective September 10. That’s when it will pull the plug on the latest version of “Live at Five,” moving anchors David Ushery and Linda Baquero to the 6 PM slot long held by Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons. That, in turn, frees up Scarborough to anchor a new 7 PM newscast, leading out of the Brian Williams national news at 6:30, while Simmons will cut back her schedule to 11 PM only. The 5 PM slot will be filled by “Extra,” followed by the “News 4 You” feature-laden 5:30 newscast anchored by Perri Peltz. The station will also add hourly news updates from 11 AM until 5 PM on weekdays.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 29, 2002
*The long-rumored sale of WBEC (1420) and WBEC-FM (105.5) in Pittsfield, MASSACHUSETTS, from Tele-Media to Vox is finally becoming a reality – and it includes WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY) as well. The move puts Vox in a new market not far from its existing strongholds in southern Vermont, the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts and New York’s Glens Falls market, and leaves Tele-Media with only WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg NY) remaining from its former Albany-centered cluster.
Elsewhere in Massachusetts, what started out as a quiet summer is heating up – literally and figuratively – with a new program director and a new morning show vacancy in Boston.
We’ll start with the vacancy, created when WZLX (100.7 Boston) sent morning guy Tai (Thomas A. Irwin) packing last week. Tai and comedian Steve Sweeny had held down mornings at the Infinity classic rocker for two years, following Charles Laquidara’s decamping to Hawaii in 2000. Sweeny remains on WZLX’s morning shift, with a new co-host not expected for a few weeks, at least. (One reason for the delay: WZLX’s new program director, Beau Raines, is just settling into the job, officially. Raines was picked for the post back in April [NERW 4/17], but contractual issues with his old employer, Greater Media’s WROR, kept the move from becoming official until just last week. And speaking of Greater Media and Infinity, we have it on good authority that the possibility of Loren and Wally making the jump from Greater’s WROR to Infinity’s WODS was more than just a rumor – it came close to happening before Greater came through with the contract Loren and Wally wanted!)
Tai will likely surface elsewhere on the Boston radio scene; in addition to his best-known gig as “Morning Guy Tai” on WFNX, he spent some time doing talk at WRKO as well.
A long-disputed FM channel has been granted in MAINE. Robert Scott Hogg (former owner of WMDI in Bar Harbor) and Lyle Robert Evans both wanted 93.7A in Millbridge, way down East between Bangor and Calais, and now a settlement has put the CP in the hands of Evans.
Up here in Rochester, WBBF (950) continues to stunt as “Swifty 950,” still playing a music-test tape of 70s and 80s pop and classic rock – but we now know at least one of the local personalities who’ll be heard on the station when it relaunches as a news-talker. Allan Harris left WHAM (1180) last week, ending a long career at the Clear Channel news-talk outlet, where he’d been a traffic reporter, fill-in news guy and late-night/weekend talk host. We hear he’ll show up on WBBF whenever the new format launches; in the meantime, the Michael Savage show has appeared in his old late-night slot on WHAM.
Twenty Years Ago: July 31, 1997
NBC will soon be reunited with one of its oldest owned-and-operated TV stations. Paramount agreed today to trade WVIT (Channel 30) New Britain-Hartford to NBC in exchange for WLWC (Channel 28) New Bedford-Providence and WWHO (Channel 53) Chillicothe-Columbus OH, which are owned by Fant Broadcasting and LMA’d to NBC. The deal would bring channel 30 back into the NBC family after nearly four decades. NBC bought what was then WKNB-TV (along with WKNB 1410 AM) back in 1956, as part of a project to develop UHF owned-and-operated stations by the major networks (NBC also owned a station in Buffalo, while CBS owned UHFs in Hartford and Milwaukee). The TV calls were changed to WNBC-TV, and then to WHNB-TV in 1959 when NBC sold the station to Transcontinental Properties. In 1978, WHNB-TV was sold to Viacom (now Paramount), becoming WVIT.
NBC and Paramount would both need waivers to make this swap work, since WVIT’s signal overlaps with NBC O&Os WNBC-TV (Channel 4) in New York and WJAR (Channel 10) Providence, while the WLWC signal overlaps with Paramount’s WSBK (Channel 38). If the deal is consummated, WLWC and WWHO would switch affiliations from The WB to UPN.
An ownership change on the way in MASSACHUSETTS: Curt Gowdy is preparing to bow out of Bay State broadcasting after nearly 35 years of ownership (and years of on-air work before that). Gowdy has reportedly reached a deal to sell WCCM (800) in Lawrence to Costa-Eagle Broadcasting, the partnership that owns WNNW (1110) Salem NH and operates WHAV (1490) Haverhill. Costa-Eagle may switch WNNW’s Spanish-language format to the WCCM signal, which covers the Hispanic market in Lawrence much better, while moving WCCM’s English-language talk to the less-potent 1110 operation. Auto dealer Charles Daher is reportedly upset with Gowdy; he says he was close to signing a purchase agreement for WCCM when Costa-Eagle stepped in with a higher offer. Gowdy bought WCCM and then-WGHJ (93.7) back in 1963. The FM was later WCCM-FM and WCGY; Gowdy sold it to American Radio Systems several years ago. Long retired and living in Wyoming, Gowdy still owns several stations in the Laramie area.