In this week’s issue… K-Love grows again with RI buy – Will low sale price prompt legal action? – WBZ brings Binswanger back – More broadcasters join 1WTC mast – Remembering Jay Thomas, Wyoma Best
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*After half a century as a student-run operation on a commercial license that covers most of RHODE ISLAND, and after more than a year of uncertainty as a potential sale loomed, WBRU (95.5 Providence) is in its final days as a modern rock station.
As our content partner RadioInsight.com first reported exclusively on Friday, the secretive sale process around WBRU has produced a buyer for the class B license: EMF Broadcasting, which will turn 95.5 into another outlet for its national “K-Love” format under new calls WLVO.
The sale, reportedly for a price tag of $5.5 million, marks the second time in just a few years that a big Providence class B FM has suffered a reduction in local coverage. iHeart’s signal shuffle at WWBB (101.5 Providence) two years ago took that former class B down to a class A signal while leaving its local programming intact; this time, it’s the local programming that goes away, while the 95.5 signal will remain in place carrying EMF’s California-based programming.
While WBRU has made only a brief statement indicating that an FCC filing for the sale will be made in the very near future, RadioInsight’s closer scrutiny of other FCC filings turned up a call change at WPVD-LP (101.1 Providence). That’s the share-time LPFM construction permit that belongs to Brown Student Radio, a university group that has no direct connection to BBS or WBRU – but which has now applied to change its callsign to WBRU-LP.
Will there be legal fallout from the deal? Did EMF get a bargain? And what’s happening on the LPFM side of things? Here’s where we make our occasional pitch to remind you that if all you’re reading every Monday is our free top story, you’re missing most of the insight NERW has been offering you for almost a quarter of a century now. Subscriptions are as little as 29 cents an issue – and if you’ve had problems with our soon-to-be-upgraded signup system, Lisa is back from our summer travels (we saw the eclipse!) and ready to help you by email or phone. (Contact her here – or click here to subscribe.) And pre-ordering is now underway for the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2018 at the Fybush.com Store, too!
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*Back to our analysis of the WBRU deal, with an important caveat to start things off: for all the uninformed online chatter about “another college station bites the dust,” Brown University itself had nothing to do with WBRU itself or the sale. While the WBRU staff is made up of Brown students and the BBS board of current students and Brown alumni, it’s been BBS, not Brown, steering the ship at WBRU. And it’s BBS, not Brown, that will bear responsibility for whatever fallout the sale brings.
What will that fallout be? On the programming side, despite sagging ratings, WBRU’s modern rock was still a unique part of the Providence radio scene, holding on with that format even as others in the region (most notably Boston’s WFNX) fell by the wayside. BBS says it will keep the WBRU identity alive as an online stream, and the proceeds from the sale will help with that for a time, but it’s hard to see that surviving as a viable part of the Providence scene over the long term.
Will there be public outcry? For a time, no doubt – but WBRU has been slowly fading away for a while now, making the end of its format now anything but a surprise to loyal listeners. If they haven’t spoken out by now, it’s probably too late.
Another group, however, may have more leverage: there’s already buzz in town about a lawsuit over the sale stemming from internal disputes within BBS. As NERW readers already know, the decision to sell the 95.5 license took as long as it did in part because of a rift inside the board between one group that argued for keeping the FM signal and another that pushed for the cash the sale would generate.
The no-sale group could have good reason to challenge this deal, since the reported $5.5 million price tag is considerably on the low side for a class B FM in a market the size of Providence. Even in the reality of 2017 (in which major Providence operators iHeart and Cumulus are facing their own financial struggles and prospective buyer Rhode Island Public Radio just did a deal for a different full-market FM signal), it’s not hard to imagine the losing board faction suing the current board for failing to reap the full value of the class B 95.5 signal.
It’s unlikely (verging on impossible) that challengers will get the FCC to dismiss the license transfer to EMF, which is expected to be filed as soon as today. The FCC tends to keep its distance from internal strife, sending those challenges to civil court instead. But in a Rhode Island courtroom down the road, who knows what could happen?
*So what does EMF do in the meantime? With K-Love launching on 95.5 any day now under an LMA, we expect the format will also continue to air for at least a little while on its current Providence homes, eastern rimshot WTKL (91.1 North Dartmouth MA) and its 104.7 Providence translator. If and when the 95.5 situation is fully settled legally, we expect WTKL and the 104.7 translator to go to EMF’s second network, Air1.
*What about that LPFM on 101.1? It’s a bit of a messy situation, with a CP that expires in January and a confusing share-time schedule that will find Brown Student Radio occupying just under half the signal’s airtime, swapping off in six-hour increments with two community groups, AS220’s WFOO-LP and Providence Community Radio, which doesn’t even have a callsign yet. Is the move of the “WBRU” callsign there anything other than a chance for BSR to get some visibility for its piece of the 101.1 pie? It’s hard to see the 100-watt LPFM as being any sort of real replacement for what WBRU once was.
And yes, it’s sad to see WBRU end in this particular way. Over the years, it’s been a consistently interesting destination on what’s otherwise become a very corporate radio dial, not to mention a launching pad for student broadcast careers. EMF, for all its professionalism, will do what EMF always does – WLVO will be a rack of equipment pulling down a satellite signal from California, with no significant local presence in the Ocean State. If you’re a college student in Rhode Island looking for something on the radio that speaks to your interests (or provides you a place to learn about doing radio), there will be one more reason to click on Pandora or Spotify instead. And so it goes…
(Disclaimer: Fybush Media provided consulting services to WBRU at an earlier phase of the sale decision; it had no involvement in this sale.)
*Across town, Rhode Island Public Radio is selling its original AM signal. It was back in 2011 that WRNI (1290 Providence) was leased out to Latino Public Radio as part of the deal with the Wheeler School that moved RIPR’s Providence flagship signal from 1290 to Wheeler’s WELH (88.1), where LPR had been operating for part of the day. Now that RIPR is in the process of migrating to an even better signal, WXNI (89.3 Newport), the 1290 AM facility had become redundant – which is why RIPR told LPR last fall that it had to either buy the AM station outright or it might be sold to another buyer. Now LPR has agreed to pay $400,000 for 1290. That’s a steep drop from the $1.8 million RIPR paid for 1290 when it took ownership local – but that cost included the studios and programming that WRNI had developed under its previous Boston University ownership, which formed the core of what’s now RIPR on four FM signals statewide.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, it’s a happy reunion between CBS Radio’s WBZ (1030) and Josh Binswanger, who produced and hosted the weekend “Kid Company” show there from 1990 until 1995. Binswanger began doing television work at WBZ, too, co-anchoring the noon news on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) for a year before following former WBZ colleague Tom Bergeron to the new FX network, where he was an on-air host. That launched him into two decades as a talent on cable TV, where he’s been the face and voice of numerous documentaries and other programs over the years.
And now he’s headed back to WBZ to take over early next month as co-anchor of the morning news block, a role that’s passed through several hands in the decade since Gary LaPierre retired. (Most recently, it was Joe Mathieu in that seat alongside Deb Lawler; he left a few months ago and has since joined WGBH as local “Morning Edition” host.)
*The death of Jay Thomas on Thursday produced plenty of obituaries remembering his gifted turns as a comic actor on “Murphy Brown” and “Cheers,” not to mention his long run as a Christmastime staple on David Letterman’s “Late Show.” But in NEW YORK – and in Charlotte and Los Angeles, too – he’s still well-remembered for his long radio career, too.
The native Texan started his radio career down south, most notably working for (and apparently even owning a piece of) Stan and Sis Kaplan’s stations, including WAPE in Jacksonville and WAYS in Charlotte. It was while he was at WAYS that New York came calling, luring him to mornings at WXLO (98.7) at the height of its “99X” glory days.
Thomas was arguably the first of the city’s top FM morning men, moving from WXLO over to WKTU (92.3) not long after ‘KTU dethroned WABC to become the first FM station to top the New York ratings. His run at WKTU lasted until the station’s end in 1985, when its flip to “K-Rock” as WXRK brought in Howard Stern from WNBC to do mornings. While Thomas would later do more radio – in Los Angeles at KPWR (105.9) and at SiriusXM – the rest of his career would be known more for television comedy.
Thomas had been suffering from cancer; he was 69.
*On TV, Fox is the latest broadcaster to sign on with the Durst Organization to make 1 World Trade Center the new home for its DTV broadcasts. Fox and Durst announced last week that WNYW-TV (Channel 5) and WWOR (Channel 9) have signed contracts to join the new master antenna atop 1WTC. The move gives Durst and 1WTC more critical mass in the hard-fought battle with the Empire State Building for TV broadcast dominance in New York, with Fox now joining CBS, NBC/Telemundo, WNET and ion’s WPXN on the 1776-foot spire at the southern tip of Manhattan. (On FM, meanwhile, allocations spacing and technical issues continue to make Empire the more desirable site; so far, no FM signals have signed on at 1WTC, though we understand negotiations are still underway with several broadcasters.)
Over at Cumulus’ WNBM (103.9 Bronxville), Marc Clarke has exited after three years doing nights amidst the mostly-syndicated “Radio 103.9” lineup. Clarke, better known for his many years on Washington radio, had been commuting home to DC on the weekends.
*Here in Rochester, we’re mourning Wyoma Best, who was the first black reporter on local TV when she joined WHEC-TV (Channel 10) back in 1972. Best pioneered the “Crimestoppers” segment on the station’s top-rated newscasts, among other firsts. She left WHEC in 1980 (replaced by Janet Lomax, who’d go on to spend 37 years there before retiring earlier this year) and had a long second career with the local chamber of commerce as well as making a name for herself as an artist and art collector. Best, who died Friday, was 74.
*A format flip across Lake Champlain in VERMONT: on Friday at noon, Vox flipped Burlington-market WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY) from “Planet 96.7” to “Hot 96.7,” adding more of a hip-hop edge to the music as it attempts to challenge entrenched top-40 institution WXXX (95.5). The new “Hot” swaps out morning shows, replacing Elvis Duran with John Moug and Heather Collins, syndicated out of Las Vegas.
*A small correction from our MAINE story next week: the sale of WKTJ (99.3 Farmington) to the owners of WSYY (1240/94.9) in Millinocket doesn’t exactly unite longtime rivals, as we’d inadvertently suggested; the two towns are about 120 miles apart, so the stations will continue to serve separate audiences even under common ownership. NERW regrets the error and really needs to get back to Maine to do some visiting sometime soon…
*In the northern tier of PENNSYLVANIA, Seven Mountains is pulling the plug on WQYX (93.1 Clearfield), counting down to a relaunch tomorrow as “Pop 93.1” under new calls WPQP. The station will segue from hot AC to CHR and add more local voices, replacing Bob & Sheri in mornings with Sara, now heard on State College sister station WBHV.
*Can we avoid mentioning the news out of Philadelphia, where Beasley’s WBEN-FM (95.7 BEN-FM) used Amazon’s Alexa as a “guest DJ” Friday afternoon? No? OK, then: the stunt was a promotion for Beasley’s company-wide rollout of Alexa “skills” for each of its stations, allowing Echo users to easily access the Beasley stations.
And the move of the WLVO calls to Providence means K-Love’s station on 88.5 in Halifax, north of Harrisburg, will go back to its previous calls of WKHW.
*In CANADA, today is launch day for the new local 5 PM newscasts on CTV’s local stations, including CJOH in Ottawa, CTV Northern Ontario in Sudbury, CKCO in Kitchener and CFCF in Montreal; in the Maritimes, CTV Atlantic has been doing news at 5 for many years, going back to its days as ATV, and in Toronto, CFTO has been simulcasting the 5 and 5:30 PM segments from sister all-news channel CP24 for the last few months.
Steve Faguy reports Evanov’s CHSV (106.7 Hudson/St.-Lazare) has moved its studios on to Montreal Island, relocating to a new storefront home in Plaza Pointe-Claire on the western end of the island. Its a move that carries some political baggage because Evanov’s license was granted to communities off the island, with a promise not to become another signal aimed at the suburban Anglo communities on the West Island; Evanov tells Faguy they’ll continue to provide coverage of off-island communities in the more rural area to the west where the station is licensed.
South of Ottawa, former CKBY (101.1)/CJET (92.3) Smiths Falls program director Bob Anderson has died. Anderson was inducted into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006; he retired from the Rogers stations in 2012 at the end of a 35-year career in country radio. Anderson was 69.
We’re a community.
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 29, 2016
Five Years Ago: August 27, 2012
*As AM radio tries to find a foothold in the early 21st century, the hot format of the moment is all-comedy – a format that just picked up another convert in CANADA.
Astral Media pioneered all-comedy north of the border earlier this year at CKSL (1410) in London, Ontario, and apparently found enough success there that it’s replicating the format in the next big market to the east, where it flipped CHAM (820 Hamilton) from country to comedy at 8:20 Tuesday morning. Unlike CKSL, which is running a feed from the US-based “24/7 Comedy” network with little local content, CHAM has an “Ambassador of Funny” in the person of Mike Nabuurs, the lone on-air holdout from 820’s former country format. Nabuurs is contributing local entertainment news and traffic updates to CHAM during drivetimes, with “24/7 Comedy” supplying the rest of the content.
The move comes two years after CHAM returned to country from a brief stint with talk, only to run into the buzzsaw of a bigger FM country competitor, Durham Radio’s CHKX (KX 94.7).
*A veteran radio manager is returning to the business right where he left off in upstate NEW YORK. For more than a decade now, Bob Morgan has been in the tower business, serving as senior VP/broadcast for American Tower – but before he joined ATC in 1999, he was the market manager for American Radio Systems/CBS Radio here in Rochester. Now he’s right back in the former CBS Radio suite on the 17th floor of the HSBC Tower, which is now home to Clear Channel’s Rochester cluster, where Morgan stepped in last week to fill the VP/market manager slot vacated by Kevin LeGrett’s promotion to senior VP/operations. The move also reunites Morgan with some of the talent who worked for him at ARS/CBS, most notably Brother Wease, who’ll be facing a contract renewal soon at Clear Channel’s WQBW (95.1 the Brew).
Much of what’s now the Clear Channel Rochester cluster was once the Lincoln Group – and on Thursday, veterans of that old-line broadcast company learned that its founder had died.
Albert “Bud” Wertheimer was a second-generation broadcaster, son of FM pioneer Al Wertheimer, and when Bud entered the business in 1963 FM radio was just beginning to wake from its long 1950s-era slumber. Bud Wertheimer started Functional Broadcasting to secure the Muzak franchise in western New York, a franchise that required FM signals to carry the all-important Muzak subcarrier.
Thus were born WDDS (93.1) in Syracuse and WVOR (100.5) in Rochester, the stations that would eventually become the core of the Lincoln Group. In the group’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when Wertheimer had partnered with Rochester’s Jack Palvino, the group would come to own not only WVOR but also Rochester’s clear-channel AM giant, WHAM (1180), as well as WBUF (92.9 Buffalo) and stations in eastern Ohio. WVOR, in particular, epitomized the Lincoln Group’s ethos: the “Heart of Gold” was the first Rochester FM station to top the ratings, adopting many of the service elements (including a hefty dose of local news and constant community involvement) that were once the sole province of AM radio.
In the Lincoln Group’s last years, Wertheimer was a pioneer in building station clusters, taking advantage of relaxed FCC ownership rules to add two more FMs and another AM in Rochester before selling out to American Radio Systems in 1996 for $30.5 million. (It was that transaction, which would have created an eight-station cluster in town, that prompted Justice Department action that led to many of today’s ownership limits; it also forced ARS to divest much of the former Lincoln Group to Jacor, which begat today’s Clear Channel cluster.)
Ten Years Ago: August 27 & September 3, 2007
*It’s been literally years in the making, but VERMONT Public Radio is finally about to throw the switch on an expansion that will bring its second service, an all-classical network, to the state’s largest market.On Friday, August 31, VPR will take control of what’s now WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY), replacing that station’s Christian rock format with classical and changing the calls to WOXR.
“The calls signs don’t have any particular importance, other than an homage to the great New York classical station, WQXR,” says VPR president Mark Vogelzang. (He jokes that they could also stand for “Only eXcellent Radio.”)
The station is expected to sign off as WAVX on Wednesday, when VPR closes on its purchase of the station from Christian Ministries, Inc. It will return Friday at – when else? – 9:09 in the morning.
When it does, it will help to fill out the VPR Classical network that signed on in 2004 at WNCH (88.1 Norwich), serving the Connecticut River Valley. The network grew in a small way with translators, then added a second full-power signal, WJAN (95.1 Sunderland, now WVTQ), earlier this year – but until now, it’s been heard in Burlington and vicinity only via web streaming and the HD2 channel of VPR’s main network.
The 90.9 signal that’s being added to the network will reach some 175,000 new listeners, not only in greater Burlington but also across the lake in the Plattsburgh, NY area, where the transmitter is located. (It’s a 2.7 kW/1073′ class C2 signal, coming from the WPTZ-TV tower on Terry Mountain.)
As for the “Wave” programming, Christian Ministries will continue it – on HD.
It’s using some of the proceeds of the WAVX sale to upgrade its flagship station, WGLY (91.5 Bolton), and will put the Wave on WGLY’s HD2 signal.
(And full disclosure, since now it can be told – your editor has served, with no small amount of pride, as a consultant to VPR on this project.)
*The newest FM station in CANADA (for a few minutes, anyway) hit the airwaves in Peterborough, Ontario at noon on Tuesday. CKPT-FM (99.3) takes over where CKPT (1420) left off, freshening up the soft AC that was on the AM. The new “Energy 99.3” takes a hot AC approach, and it’s running jockless until September 10. (The CTVglobemedia-owned station will continue simulcasting on AM for 90 days before 1420 goes silent for good.)The next newest station in Canada will likely be My FM’s new outlet in Nappanee. CKYM (88.7) is close to completing its testing, and when it signs on, Milkman UnLimited reports Rob Calabrese will be doing mornings, with Matt McIntyre in middays and Jamie Cybulski in afternoons.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 26 & September 4, 2002
A country music war is brewing in the Upper Valley region of VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE, where the dial was spinning so fast last week that even some of the radio folks we know up there had a hard time keeping it all straight. Here’s what we know:
Vox Media returned the “Bob Country” name and format to the dial last Friday (Aug. 30), replacing “Star” soft AC on WSSH (95.3 White River Junction) and WZSH (107.1 Bellows Falls). The “Bob” nickname was last heard on WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and WCFR-FM (93.5 Springfield, now WXKK) a couple of summers ago, before being pulled by Clear Channel to leave its “Kixx” (WXXK 100.5 Lebanon NH) as the only country outlet in the market. Vox’s version of “Bob” includes original Bob PD Heath Cole, who also keeps his PD duties at oldies WWOD (104.3 Hartford)/WCFR (96.3 Walpole NH), with a slate of live and local voices to come.”The battle is on! Let the fun begin!” says Vox’s Ken Barlow of the format war with Kixx.
Elsewhere in the Green Mountain State, “The Lake”, WLKC (103.3 Waterbury), dropped its soft AC sounds over the weekend and began stunting with quiet nature sounds (mostly birds chirping, which has made for a relaxing afternoon putting this issue together!) and occasional IDs proclaiming the station to be “Pure Vermont Radio” and “environmentally sound.”
Tuesday (Sep. 3) marked the debut of WLIE (540 Islip), the new talker that replaces standards WLUX on the frequency. The lineup begins with David Weiss and Tracy Burgess doing a morning news block, followed by live, local talk with Ed Tyll, John Gomez and Mike Siegel. Other voices heard on the new station include Jim Bohannon, Mike Gallagher and Michael Medved (in late-night tape delay). Brokered programming continues in the evening on 540 for now.
Meanwhile up in Albany, we caught the first day of the new format on WHTR-FM (93.7 Scotia) and WHTR (1400 Albany), as owner Galaxy pulls the hot talk and replaces it with modern rock as “K-Rock.” The Albany K-Rock isn’t a straight simulcast of its sisters in Utica (WKLL 94.9 Frankfort) and Syracuse (WKRL 100.9 N. Syracuse/WKRH 106.5 Minetto), but the music mix sounded familiar.
Twenty Years Ago: August 27, 1997
Our top headlines come from the business section this week, where the investment firm of Hicks, Muse, Tate, and Furst made national news with its $2.1 billion acquisition of SFX Broadcasting. The deal give Hicks, Muse the largest station group by number of stations (314) and the third-largest by revenue. Here’s what it creates in the Northeast: Hicks’ Capstar group owns the old Knight Quality group (WGIR AM/FM Manchester NH; WHEB-FM, WXHT(FM), and WTMN in the Portsmouth NH market; WTAG-WSRS(FM) in Worcester MA; and WEZF(FM) in Burlington VT) and the old Commodore Media group (WINE, WSTC, WNLK, WPUT, and WFAS on the AM side and WRKI, WKHL, WEFX, WAXB, WZZN, and WFAS on the FM side in southwestern Connecticut and Westchester County NY).
Hicks’ Chancellor group has the big-market properties (WXKS AM-FM and WJMN in Boston, the amazing five FM combo in New York that now includes WAXQ, WHTZ, WKTU, WLTW, and WNSR (ex-WDBZ), and WALK AM-FM, WBAB-FM and WBLI on Long Island). And the SFX deal will bring into the fold still more properties in southern New England and vicinity. In Massachusetts, it’s WHMP AM-FM and WPKX(FM) in and around Springfield. In Rhode Island, it’s WHJJ, WHJY, and WSNE in the Providence market. In New York, it’s WTRY AM-FM, WGNA AM-FM, and WPYX in Albany and WGBB(AM) and WHFM on Long Island. And in Connecticut, it’s WHCN, WKSS, WMRQ, WWYZ, and WPLR on the FM side and WPOP(AM). Not to mention Hicks, Muse’s acquisition of LIN Broadcasting’s TV stations, which brings WTNH New Haven-Hartford and WIVB Buffalo into the fold.
NERW suspects Hicks, Muse may run into trouble keeping both WTNH and the enormous cluster of 8 FMs and 4 AMs in Connecticut, and even if that passes muster with the feds, there’s still that persistent rumor that Hicks, Muse’s next target is American Radio Systems — which would bring three more Hartford FMs into the mix, while bolstering Hicks, Muse’s presence in Boston and bringing it into the Rochester and Buffalo markets.
We’ll begin the rest of the week’s news with another buyout, this time in MASSACHUSETTS and for all of $8 million. WNRB (1510), the withered descendant of the once-mighty WMEX, is in for yet another new owner and format. Communicom and its religious programs will give way by the end of September to One-on-One Sports, the Chicago-based network that’s buying small AM facilities in big markets nationwide (they debut Monday in New York City on WXLX (620) Jersey City NJ). This will be something like the tenth format for 1510 in the last decade; you’ll be forgiven if you’ve lost track too. In any event, WNRB will have at least a bit of local sports. Boston University football will return to commercial radio this fall on WNRB, after several years on BU’s noncomm WBUR-FM (90.9). Giant Sports is handling the business end of the deal.
The much-hyped format swap between Boston’s 96.9 and Lowell’s 99.5 happened right on schedule last Friday at noon, with the new “Country 99.5” making its debut with “Gone Country,” while “Smooth Jazz 96.9” used “Smooth Operator” to mark its start. The legal calls remain WKLB-FM on 96.9 (they hide it in plain view by saying “If you’re looking for WKLB-FM Boston, tune to 99.5”) and WOAZ on 99.5 (where it’s being buried very quietly while the WKLB-FM calls get transferred). And the WOAZ website at www.woaz.com still bears a big “Oasis 99.5” logo. What will the new 96.9 call be? NERW’s been hearing it will be WSJZ, but M Street is reporting this week that 96.9 has requested WOAZ — even though the “Oasis” identity has dried up and blown away.
Another format change is reportedly on the way as well, down the AM dial at 1260. WPZE, the newest property of Hibernia Broadcasting, will reportedly take on Disney/ABC’s “Radio Disney” kids format. Disney’s been pushing the format hard around the country — it just debuted on 50kW KTZN (710) Los Angeles and there are rumors it might even show up on WABC itself.