In this week’s issue… FCC shuts down Dodge – Binnie buys in NH – Nexstar adds in RI – Bell grows up north – Neil Chayet, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Say you’ve flouted every imaginable FCC rule for decades. And say the Commission somehow decides to give you one last chance to restore your imperiled licenses and even to pocket a six-figure sum for selling some of your translators. For most of us, it’s an opportunity we’d grab with both fists – and we’d be sure to comply with every bit of the FCC’s conditions, right?
And then there’s Brian Dodge in NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT and MASSACHUSETTS, who got just that chance handed to him last year, and who now appears to have lost it all again for failure to follow the Commission’s directions about what needed to be done in order to salvage what was left of the radio group he once held across a big swath of New England.
Last week, the FCC sent Dodge’s Harvest Broadcasting a letter reminding him of the terms of the consent decree that he reached with the Commission back in October: by April 25, Dodge had to submit documentation showing that he was in compliance with all of the FCC’s rules for seven translators that had largely been off the air for years, or else he’d lose those licenses.
Dodge was able to sell one of those translators, W228AU (93.5 North Bennington VT), to WBLQ (1230 Westerly RI), and it now holds a valid CP to move down there. The other six, though? The only correspondence Dodge sent the FCC appears to have been a request in June, two months after the deadline, for extended special temporary authority to stay silent.
That wasn’t enough to keep the FCC happy, and now those translators have at long last been officially deleted. (The six were W240AK 95.9 Lebanon NH, W259AB 99.7 Marlboro VT, W232AJ 94.3 Greenville NH, W288AN 105.5 West Brattleboro VT, W288AZ 105.5 Bernardston MA and W257AU 99.3 St. Johnsbury VT.)
That last translator, W257AU, had an application pending to move to 93.3 in Madbury, where it would have become an FM relay for Dodge’s last remaining AM station, WWNH 1340 Madbury. WWNH, as NERW readers well know, had its own long strange saga that started with a construction permit back in 1990 but never actually included a full-fledged license, eventually ending with years of silence and the loss of the transmitter site. The FCC was (rather remarkably) willing to reinstate WWNH’s CP and let the little AM finally get licensed, if Dodge could show the FCC that “the WWNH facilities at present are consistent with the facilities authorized in the WWNH construction permit.”
He couldn’t do that, either – and so WWNH, too, has been deleted for good.
So what now for Dodge? The FCC’s consent decree last year still allowed him to walk away with $125,000 of the $225,000 he’d tried to raise from selling transmitters in the 2016 “250-mile move” windows, and the sale of the translator to WBLQ added another $40,000 to that total, making $165,000 as Dodge’s bottom line at what would appear to be the end of his career as a broadcast owner.
If nothing else, the consent decree and this subsequent follow-up have at least made it clear that Dodge’s filings will no longer be welcome at the Commission, whether under his own name or alter egos such as “Pastor Tim Allen.” Will he in fact stop making filings on his own (or against other broadcasters, as he’s done often in the past?) As we’ve been doing for 23 years now, we’ll keep watching.
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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.
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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 15, 2016
*We start our headlines in MASSACHUSETTS, where Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam reached a deal on Saturday to return WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and WLVI (Channel 56) to DirecTV viewers before the end of the Olympics.
The terms of the deal, as ever, were not disclosed, but it appears DirecTV parent AT&T was able to get a reduced carriage fee, in no small part because it’s increasingly clear that WHDH will in fact lose its NBC affiliation at year’s end.
*When John Saunders died Wednesday (Aug. 10) at 61, the headlines focused on his long run at ESPN – but we note, too, his earlier career in his native CANADA. Before going to Baltimore’s WMAR-TV in 1981 (and to ESPN in 1986), Saunders had worked at CHOO in Ajax, Ontario, CKNS in Espanola, CKNY-TV in North Bay and then CITY-TV in Toronto.
In London, Bell pulled the plug on CKSL (1410) Sunday night at midnight. (Which was, of course, just before we were due to pass through on Tuesday…) Bell says bits and pieces of the former “Funny 1410” comedy format will resurface on sister station CJBK (1290), likely at night or on weekends.
In Montreal, Dave Fisher wrapped up his long career as weekend host at CJAD (800) with a broadcast before a live audience on Sunday morning. Fisher had become a CJAD fixture in 32 years at the station.
Five Years Ago: August 13, 2012
Clear Channel may be exiting talk in Boston – but it’s entering the arena in a big way in New York City, where it’s buying WOR (710) from Buckley Broadcasting a year after the death of Rick Buckley. The sale was announced to WOR employees in a meeting this morning, with terms yet to be announced. It’s a big shakeup for the world of New York talk: a Clear Channel-run WOR is almost certain to become the new home of Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks talent, most notably Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh, of course, is the staple personality just up the dial at Cumulus’ WABC (770). Big changes ahead…and we’ll be on top of them right here at fybush.com, and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
*Clear Channel had big hopes for WXKS (1200 Newton) when it launched the station as eastern MASSACHUSETTS‘ newest big-ticket talker back in 2010. By pulling Rush Limbaugh over from Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston) and building a new “Rush Radio” around him, Clear Channel would take its Premiere Radio Networks talent in-house in a top-ten market, carving a hole out of the talk landscape that it hoped would drive either WRKO or Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9) out of the crowded format.
But despite the “expert” predictions at the time that WRKO would suffer a “a slow and painful demise” without Limbaugh, Entercom’s talker just kept on going, locking disgruntled afternoon host Howie Carr into a series of contract renewals and somehow surviving questionable hires like former state House speaker Tom Finneran. And by hanging on, WRKO has now thwarted Clear Channel’s plans for 1200, forcing the newcomer out of the talk format and apparently into a comedy format beginning this morning.
The story played out in installments all last week, beginning with the news that Limbaugh’s show would be returning to WRKO along with Premiere’s “Coast to Coast AM,” followed by the news that the local staff at WXKS – morning man Jeff Katz, afternoon host Jay Severin and PD Paula O’Connor – was history.
With Katz and Severin off the schedule, “Talk 1200” (which had dropped the “Rush Radio” name after it failed to catch fire in the market) briefly rolled out an interim lineup of third-tier syndicated talent, but that turned out to be a smokescreen for a bigger change: on Friday, 1200 began stunting as “Gaffe 1200,” playing a ten-minute loop of political mishaps.
And that turns out to be a prelude to a truly new format launching this morning on the 1200 signal: “Comedy 1200” is the result of Clear Channel’s taking control of the “24/7 Comedy” network, which has achieved surprising ratings success as a niche format in markets such as Norfolk and Kansas City.
Ten Years Ago: August 13, 2007
*Is there any other commercial station in MASSACHUSETTS that’s been in the same hands as long as WCAP (980 Lowell)?The station signed on June 10, 1951, owned by Maurice Cohen and his two brothers, and while the brothers have since passed on, the station has remained under Cohen’s control for all this time.
That’s about to change, as Cohen announced this morning on WCAP’s morning show. He’s selling the station to a group of local investors led by Chelmsford real-estate agency owner Sam Poulten, local developer Brian McMahon and Andover radio consultant Clark Smidt, under the “Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC” banner.
“It’s been almost a two-year courtship,” Smidt told NERW, describing his long negotiations with Cohen for the purchase of the station.
Smidt says he’s known Cohen since the early seventies, but it was only in recent years that he began exploring a purchase of WCAP.
“A good friend gave me the idea that rather than looking for stations in northern New England, this makes sense because it’s right next door to me,” Smidt said.
*It’s been in the works for a while, but now the demise of another Bay State AM station has become reality. WPEP (1570 Taunton) disappeared from the airwaves last week, clearing the way for former sister station WNSH (1570 Beverly) to make a big jump in power.
The latest version of the WNSH upgrade, for which a construction permit was granted in June, calls for 30 kW days, non-directional, from the present transmitter site on the Endicott College campus. WNSH’s present 85-watt night signal will be unaffected.
The elimination of WPEP will allow WNSH to drop the three-tower daytime directional pattern that must now null co-channel WPEP to the southwest (and even then, limits WNSH to 500 watts); it also removes a source of local programming for the Taunton area, which gets most of its “local” programming from Providence and Boston stations these days.
*In NEW YORK, we’re still waiting for the official confirmation of the new morning team on WFAN (660) – but it sounds like it’s pretty much a done deal that former football star Boomer Esiason and WKXW (101.5 Trenton NJ) afternoon host Craig Carton will be the permanent replacement for Don Imus on the radio side. We don’t expect Esiason and Carton to be simulcast on MSNBC – that slot will likely stay with Joe Scarborough, who’s been filling in on an interim basis – but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see YES Network end up carrying the show, just as it does the Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon show.
*One of the MAINE FMs being spun off by Citadel has found a buyer. WCLZ (98.9 Brunswick) will join Saga’s Portland cluster, which was already near the market cap with four AMs (WGAN, WZAN, WBAE/WVAE) and three FMs (WMGX, WYNZ and WPOR). No sale price has been announced yet – and there’s still no buyer for the other Citadel spinoff, WCYI (93.9 Lewiston).
Fifteen Years Ago: August 19, 2002
The steady decline of standards formats – and the growth of all-sports radio – is about to claim another convert in central PENNSYLVANIA. NERW has learned that Clear Channel is readying a format flip that will shift WLAN (1390 Lancaster) from standards to sports as “The Ticket.” If the format and the nickname already sound familiar to listeners in the region, it’s no surprise: Clear Channel flipped WWKL (1460 Harrisburg) from oldies to standards two years ago as “The Ticket,” WTKT, with a programming lineup (heavy on Fox Sports offerings) very similar to what will be heard on WLAN after the flip takes place in the next few weeks. The new “Ticket” won’t have a couple of key sports franchises: the Phillies air in Lancaster on Hall’s all-sports WLPA (1490), while NASCAR is over on the FM dial at WIOV-FM (105.1 Ephrata).
Next stop, NEW YORK, where noncomm WFUV (90.7), still embattled in a fight over its unfinished tower in the Bronx, has won one fight to improve its signal in the Big Apple. The FCC rejected protests from second-adjacent WFMU (91.1 East Orange NJ) and granted WFUV permission to put on-channel booster WFUV-FM2 on the air from the old WRVR (106.7, now WLTW) tower atop the Riverside Church in upper Manhattan. The 600 watt booster will be very directional, aimed south into Manhattan while avoiding the Bronx and upstate areas that already receive a decent WFUV signal.
Still more good news for ‘FUV fans: after several months of repeats, Pete Fornatale has settled his dispute with the station and returned to his Saturday “Mixed Bag” show. Fornatale’s beef with WFUV stemmed from some comments he made over the winter that station management felt were too political; in the meantime, he had been doing some work with WBJB (90.5 Lincroft NJ) down in Monmouth County.
NEW HAMPSHIRE’s public radio network has a new voice, as of 5 PM last Wednesday. That’s when WEVJ (99.5 Jackson) signed on as the latest addition to the statewide web, bringing a stronger NHPR signal to the Mount Washington Valley, where NHPR has been heard only weakly via WEVC (107.1 Gorham) on the other side of the mountain. WEVJ’s running 4700 watts from 141 feet above average terrain, at a site just north of North Conway. (WEVJ’s debut ends a long struggle to get this frequency on the air; an earlier CP expired a few years back, and it ended up in NHPR’s hands as the settlement to a contested application process.)
Twenty Years Ago: August 14, 1997
This was a big week in MAINE radio, and that’s where we’ll start this edition of NERW, with the news that Tim Martz’s Martz Media is adding yet another station along the US-Canadian border to its portfolio. Presque Isle’s WOZI (101.7) is the new addition to the Martz family, joining “Hot Country 97” WBPW (96.9) and hot AC “Q96.1” WQHR in the Martz stable in Aroostook County. Rumors are already flying about a possible change to WOZI’s country format.
Northern Maine will be a busy place this weekend, as 50,000 fans are expected to fill the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone for “The Great Went,” a weekend-long concert event organized by the band Phish. You won’t hear many Phish songs on AC “Channel X” (WCXU 97.7 Caribou and WCXX 102.3 Madawaska), but the station is nonetheless going all-out with remotes and live simulcasts of the concert. What’s more, newspaper stories about the “Great Went” have been claiming that Phish has obtained an FCC license to use 88.9 for on-site broadcasts during the event. License or not, it sounds like that will be the frequency to listen to (and, we hope, aircheck) if any NERW readers are headed up that way.
In MASSACHUSETTS, we’re trying to sort out the FCC’s latest pronouncement on little WNSH (1570 Beverly). It seems a CP to go to 500 watts DA-1 from three towers off Summit Street in Peabody has been cancelled (we didn’t even realize it was there in the first place!) What’s interesting is that WNSH is listed in the FCC database as running 500 watts DA-2 from *two* towers on Clinton Street in Danvers (near the Liberty Tree Mall). This was, of course, the original two-tower WMLO site…but one of the towers has been gone for years, and the other is unfenced and appeared to have damage to the doghouse at the base when last NERW was up that way. The old WMLO studio building was heavily damaged by fire a few years ago and is quite vacant. We’ve heard rumors of an STA for 125 watts nondirectional, but there’s nothing to that effect in the online FCC database that we can find.