In this week’s issue… Repack moves CW in RI, gives WGBH a new partner, creates studio issues for TBN – Rocket move impending in Erie – First Entercom spins hit Scranton market – Halls of Fame induct in Mass., VT, Buffalo
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Channel-sharing hits home for some RHODE ISLAND viewers today, at least if they’re fans of “Jane the Virgin” or “Supergirl” on the CW network. As of yesterday, the CW relocated from WLWC (Channel 28) to the 64.2 subchannel of WNAC, the result of Nexstar’s recent acquisition of WLWC’s “non-license assets” (essentially the CW affiliation and some syndicated programming) for $4.1 million. The “myRITV” subchannel that had been on 64.2 with MyNetworkTV moves to the 12.2 of sister station WPRI, which bumps Bounce to a new 12.3 subchannel there.
What’s left of WLWC stayed with OTA Broadcasting, and for now that’s just a license: WLWC’s RF 22 transmitter in Freetown, Mass. shuts off at 12:30 this afternoon, replaced by a channel-share that has WLWC’s 28.1 channel operating via the transmitter of Ion’s WPXQ (Channel 69/RF 17). Will OTA find someone who wants to buy the remains of WLWC, which is pretty much now the rights to one channel of cable must-carry in the Providence market?
(For now, that 28.1 designation is going to the Ion Life channel that had previously been a WPXQ subchannel; it appears that will give Ion Life cable and satellite carriage alongside the main Ion channel, though we’re still trying to figure out how cable and satellite providers will handle both the must-carry of “WLWC 28.1” and continued carriage of “CW Providence” via 64.2.)
But WLWC’s situation is far from the most unusual in this brave new world of repack – for that, follow us over the fold to the subscriber-only part of this week’s column for an exclusive look at what’s happening with a longtime staple of the Boston TV dial.
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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: October 3, 2016
*Quick – what NEW YORK radio host held the Guinness world record for longest-running show with a single host?
That was WNYC’s Oscar Brand, whose 70-plus years as host of “Folksong Festival” came to an end on Friday with his death at age 96. The folksinger’s career on radio started on a whim with a 1945 letter to the city-owned station offering to present a program of obscure Christmas songs. That one-off show turned into a fixture on WNYC’s schedule that survived, well, everything: Brand stayed on the station through the blacklists of the 1950s (he was listed in the infamous “Red Channels”), through its transition to an NPR outlet in the 1970s, through its move out of city ownership in the 1990s, right up until what turned out to be his final show Sept. 24.
Over all those years, Brand never had a contract with WNYC and never received a penny from the station for doing his show, which had most recently been relegated to a 10 PM Saturday slot on WNYC’s AM 820 signal.
And over all those years, Brand had everyone on his show, from a young Bob Dylan to a blacklisted Pete Seeger to Woody Guthrie and his son, Arlo, to the Weavers to…well, everyone in the folk community. All along, Brand carried on a prolific career as a writer and performer, receiving a Peabody Award in 1995 for his contributions.
In an autumn when we’re losing icons all over the place, including the retirements of Charles Osgood and Vin Scully, Brand’s death marks yet another end of an era, the last link between today’s big-budget WNYC and its early shoestring days when any New Yorker could get a shot at airtime just for writing a persuasive letter. We’ll not see his like again.
*A big station sale in VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE: after the death earlier this year of his wife, Sheila, Bob Vinikoor is selling his stations to a new group called Sugar River Media, LLC, headed by veteran broadcasters Rob and John Landry. Rob’s a familiar face around Boston, having served a long run as chief engineer at WCRB; his brother John is at Westwood One in New York. They’re paying $1.95 million to Koor Communications and the estate of Sheila Vinikoor for the station group that includes news-talk WNTK-FM (99.7 Newport NH), news-talkWUVR (1490 Lebanon NH)/W255CF (98.9 West Lebanon NH), oldies WCFR (1480 Springfield VT)/W293BH (106.5 Springfield VT), classic country WCVR (1320 Randolph VT) and country WCNL (1010 Newport VT)/W234BN (94.7 Claremont NH).
Sugar River is putting $97,000 down, paying $1.493 million at closing and paying the remaining $360,000 over 20 years. On the noncommercial side, the Sugar River Foundation will pay the Vinikoor Family Foundation $10,000 for classical WSCS (90.9 New London).
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Radio One is on the move again with its Philadelphia FM cluster. On Tuesday, gospel “Praise 103.9” (WPPZ Jenkintown) and classic hip-hop “Boom 107.9” (WPHI Pennsauken) traded spots on the dial, returning the WPHI calls to the 103.9 facility they called home from 1997 until 2005. The “WPHI” identity has now gone full-circle around the Radio One cluster, having spent time at 100.3 (now WRNB) from 2005 until 2011. Moving “Boom” to the 103.9 signal, a class A from the Roxborough tower farm, gives the format somewhat better suburban coverage, trading off with better in-city coverage from Praise’s new 107.9 home, on the One Liberty skyscraper in Center City.
Along with the frequency change comes a shift in the musical mix at “Boom,” replacing some classic hip-hop with a more straightforward classic R&B sound.
Five Years Ago: October 1, 2012
*The last time we wrote about the Plum TV network in this column was back in February, when we noted that “(u)nless you vacation in a high-end hotspot such as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket or the Hamptons, you’ve probably never heard of” the network aimed at upper-crusters. At the time, Plum’s future looked a little shaky; the network was in the midst of a bankruptcy sale that put it in the hands of a new group called PMG Media, headed by the team that had created the “LX.TV” lifestyle network and sold it to NBC Universal.
This week, Plum gets to play on a bigger stage: effective today, Plum programming moves beyond its traditional home on leased cable channels in ritzy resort areas into full-market coverage in Boston, replacing MeTV’s retro programming on the 62.1 main channel of WMFP-TV. While it’s licensed, ironically enough, to the very un-glitzy, un-resort city of Lawrence, WMFP’s over-the-air signal comes from the centrally-located Needham/Newton tower farm, and the station has cable and satellite coverage across most of eastern MASSACHUSETTS and NEW HAMPSHIRE.
*As we get ready to ship out the first batches of Tower Site Calendar 2013, it turns out we have a little competition in the arena of “tower-site illustrators.” Randall Munroe’s xkcd.com has long been a favorite of ours for its thrice-weekly mix of “romance, sarcasm, math and language,” and the Somerville-based artist way outdid himself with his recent “Click and Drag,” a massive (165,888-pixel wide!) entire world inside a single cartoon. (After you’ve spent some time clicking and dragging, you can find a zoomable version of the entire thing here.)
The big revelation here, at least for NERW-land, is that Munroe is apparently a closet tower-geek: among the things you’ll spot as you click and drag your way around Munroe’s cartoon world is the KVLY-TV tower in North Dakota, the tallest in the nation – and another hilltop site that, upon closer examination, turns out to be Great Blue Hill in Milton, complete with the observatory and a rendition of the WGBH (89.7)/WKAF (97.7) tower that includes a bit of artistic license: Munroe chopped off WGBH’s main antenna on top, but left its auxiliary/HD Shively there on the left side, very much recognizable, albeit with a bit of extra mechanical beam tilt!
(Could Munroe have been reading our tour of that very site just a few weeks ago?)
*Speaking of competing tower-site illustrators, there’s some big news from our very good friend Mike Fitzpatrick, proprietor of NECRAT.us. Mike’s day job is TV engineering, and starting next week he’ll be doing it as a transmitter engineer for Fox owned-and-operated WFXT (Channel 25) in Boston, a nice move up from his current engineering post at LIN’s WPRI (Channel 12)/WNAC (Channel 64) in RHODE ISLAND. (Congratulations!)
*VERMONT Public Radio’s expansion continued in late September with the official debut of two new signals. WVBA (88.9 Brattleboro) signed on last Monday (Sept. 24), bringing VPR’s main network to a full-power facility in the state’s southeastern corner for the first time. WVBA replaces VPR’s current Brattleboro translator at 94.5. which will slide over to VPR’s classical network once the transition is complete; it also comes with a new Brattleboro studio at the Marlboro College Graduate Center. Over the weekend, VPR held its annual listener picnic in Brattleboro, featuring an appearance from “Splendid Table” host Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
VPR Classical also arrived in the Rutland area earlier in the month, as the network moved translator W223AV (92.5) from the Manchester area over to its Grandpa’s Knob transmitter site, where its 114-watt signal brings classical programming to Rutland and vicinity for the first time.
*It’s another (mostly) bad week for AM in CANADA. Despite announcing that they’d seek buyers for the last remaining AM signal in Quebec City, and despite openly-expressed interest from two potential buyers of CHRC (800), the owners of “Quebec 800” pulled the plug on the station Sunday night, ending a legacy that dates back to 1926 and putting 14 people out of work. It’s not clear yet whether CHRC’s license has actually been returned to the CRTC or whether a sale to one of the station’s suitors is still a possibility.
Those suitors include Bell Media, which hopes to put a French-language “RDS Radio” sports station on the air in Quebec if it’s also granted permission to flip CKGM (690 Montreal) to French – and also TTP Media, which is building a new French-language talk station on 940 in Montreal and applying for an English-language talker on 600, and which Montreal media blogger Steve Faguy reports is now seeking further expansion.
Ten Years Ago: October 1, 2007
*A month after the death of beloved MASSACHUSETTS talk host Paul Sullivan, WBZ (1030 Boston) has named a replacement for its weeknight 8-midnight slot – and in keeping with tradition at the CBS Radio-owned news-talk station, it’s an in-house move.
“NightSide with Dan Rea” makes its debut Monday night on WBZ, and if it doesn’t sound like a major shift in the station’s sound, that’s the idea, since Rea has been sharing fill-in duties on Sullivan’s old timeslot for months now. (WBZ weekend/swing host Jordan Rich has been the other regular fill-in on Sullivan’s show; he’ll return to his usual duties now.)
Rea, of course, is best known to Boston audiences for his 33-year reporting career on WBZ-TV (Channel 4), which included the exoneration of convicted murderer Joe Salvati. But before he joined the TV side in 1974, Rea was a talk host on WBZ radio, so in a sense he’s coming home to his roots by rejoining the AM station.
*After years of effort and planning, VERMONT Public Radio achieved a long-held goal Monday morning, as it split its programming into two statewide networks.
The “original” VPR network (WVPS 107.9 Burlington, WVPR 89.5 Windsor, WVPA 88.5 St. Johnsbury, WRVT 88.7 Windsor, WBTN-FM 94.3 Bennington and several translators) has become a 24/7 news-talk service, with a new midday lineup that includes BBC news at 9, On Point at 10, The Story at 1 and Day to Day at 2. Meanwhile, the classical programming that was heard in middays on the main VPR network has moved to the new VPR Classical network, with new flagship WOXR (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY), WVTQ (95.1 Sunderland) and WNCH (88.1 Norwich), as well as HD-2 subchannels on WVPS, WVPR, WVPA and WRVT. VPR, which also launched a redesigned website at www.vpr.net as part of the relaunch, promises additional VPR Classical frequencies in the months to come.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news begins, sadly, with the death of a well-known local tower climber. Dan Plants Sr., whose Daniel Plants Tower Service was based in Triadelphia, WV, was killed last Monday (Sept. 24) when he fell more than 100 feet from one of the towers of WGBN (1150 New Kensington), where he was working on dismantling a self-supporting tower that was to be replaced after being damaged in a thunderstorm earlier this year. Plants, 51, had worked on many of the towers in southwestern Pennsylvania; OSHA is now investigating the fall that killed him.
In other Steel City news, the “Man Talk” format at CBS Radio’s WTZN (93.7 Pittsburgh) is over, just six months after “The Zone” was launched in early April as part of the company’s highly-touted “Free FM” talk initiative.
On Monday, the station began stunting with Christmas music, while dropping hints about a possible return to the frequency’s heritage with top 40 as “B94” WBZZ. (As we go to press Monday night, there’s a site up at www.pitts-urgh.com that makes copious reference to that “missing B” in the middle…get it?)
Out of work are midday host John McIntire, afternoon host Scott Paulsen and late morning host Paul Steigerwald – and off the air, at least for now, are syndicated hosts Opie & Anthony and Dennis Miller.
Fifteen Years Ago: September 30, 2002
It was supposed to be NEW JERSEY’s newest radio station, but 14 years after its first construction permit was granted, WKNJ (550 Lakewood) has become radio history — without ever broadcasting so much as a station ID. When the FCC cancelled Steven Wendell’s construction permit and deleted the call letters last week, it ended a story that began back in 1988, when Wendell originally proposed a station in the north Jersey community, just south of the New York state line. Neighbors of the proposed site on the New Jersey side of the line fought the construction, and when the FCC began cracking down on long-unbuilt CPs a few years ago, Wendell tried another tack to get his station built.
Changing the community of license to Harriman NY, Wendell modified the CP to specify 250 watts, daytime only, from the existing site of WRKL (910 New City), on US 202 in Pomona, Rockland County. But while WRKL rebuilt its site, adding two towers for night use, WKNJ remained unbuilt. The FCC said last winter that it would cancel the CP (which had been renewed most recently in December 1998), but Wendell appealed, telling the commission this year that he had been unable to build WKNJ because engineers in the New York area had been too busy with the World Trade Center recovery.
The FCC didn’t buy it, noting that Wendell made no effort to hire engineers from outside the area, and WKNJ is now officially gone. (The back politics here: WKNJ’s existence would have made the upgrade of WLIE, on 540 in Islip, impossible; while the Long Island station pushed to have WKNJ taken off life support, Wendell filed for another 540 facility, this time in Jaffrey, N.H. That application is still pending….)
An obituary to report in PENNSYLVANIA, but the passing of Walter Annenberg ends a broadcast chapter that extended far beyond the Keystone State. Annenberg’s Triangle Broadcasting group was best known for its ownership of WFIL AM-FM-TV (now WFIL 560, WIOQ 102.1 and WPVI-TV 6) in Philadelphia, but it also included WNHC AM-FM-TV (now WYBC 1340, WPLR 99.1 and WTNH-TV 8) in New Haven, Connecticut, WNBF AM-FM-TV (now WNBF 1290, WAAL 99.1, WBNG-TV 12) in Binghamton, N.Y. and WFBG AM-FM-TV (now WFBG 1290, WFGY 98.1 and WTAJ-TV 10) in Altoona, Pennsylvania, among others. Annenberg’s print holdings included the Philadelphia Inquirer and TV Guide, which he founded nationally in 1953. In later years, he served as ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. He died Tuesday (Oct. 1) at his home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, reportedly of pneumonia. Annenberg was 94.
Twenty Years Ago: October 2, 1997
Rochester, NEW HAMPSHIRE’s 96.7 unveiled its new format Monday morning, and it turns out to be oldies. The former WSRI is applying for the WQSO calls. Oldies had last been heard on the Seacoast on “Cool 95.3” WCQL (York Center, Maine), which is now hot AC WXHT. The new WQSO keeps Imus in the Morning from its previous modern AC format.
There’s a new program director at WEEI (850). Jason Wolfe had worked as the sports station’s assistant sports director. His first big task will be to oversee the new 10-noon talk show featuring John Dennis (formerly of WHDH-TV) and Gerry Callahan of Sports Illustrated, which replaces the Fabulous Sports Babe.
The long, strange saga of WVAY (100.7) in Wilmington, VERMONT has taken yet another turn: WVAY is now simulcasting AAA WRSI (95.3) from Greenfield, Mass. This is the fourth station WVAY has simulcast in less than three months. A simulcast with Richard Lightfoot’s WKVT-FM (92.7) Brattleboro ended August 1, when Lightfoot’s option to buy WVAY expired. Since then, WVAY has simulcast three different area stations owned by Jeff Shapiro (WHDQ Claremont NH, WSSH Marlboro VT, and now WRSI), as well as offering its own programming for a brief time when the deal to sell the station to Shapiro stalled.
On to NEW YORK, where there’s been a programming shakeup at ARS rocker WCMF (96.5) in Rochester. Nighttime DJ Beth Donahue and afternoon cohost “Bull” are out, with “BJ” going solo in afternoons and Uncle Roger taking over evening dutries. Down the hall at AC WRMM (101.3), evenings are now being handled by Audiovault automation.
In Buffalo, a successor has been named to replace Michael Collins as head of the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association. Donald Boswell comes to WNED-AM-FM-TV, WNEQ-TV, and WNJA-FM from North Texas Public Broadcasting (KERA FM-TV/KDTN-TV) in Dallas. He’ll start in January.
In the New York market, WXLX (620 Jersey City NJ) is set to go all-sports on Tuesday, and new owner One-on-One Sports has applied for the WJWR calls to go with the new format.
And just over the state line in Tunkhannock, Pa., the classic rock format of “Endless Mountains Rock,” WEMR-FM (107.7) has come to an end. WEMR-FM and its sister AM station on 1460 have been sold to Citadel, and it’s now rebroadcasting the CHR format of WBHT (97.1) Mountaintop-Wilkes-Barre. Citadel also owns WARM (590), WKQV (1550), WKQV-FM (95.7), WMGS (92.9), and WZMT (97.9) in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.