In this week’s issue… Judge deals WBAI a blow – Rochester en espanol – Broadway in Pittsburgh – More FM power in Toronto? – Hockey on the Radio
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*If the troubled Pacifica Foundation thought it was going to get some sympathy in court for the rent shortfall that now has NEW YORK‘s WBAI (99.5) some $1.8 million in the hole, it’s in for what looks like an ongoing series of rude awakenings.
As our sister site RadioInsight reported on Wednesday, Judge Gerald Lebovits hit Pacifica with a summary judgment for its unpaid rent, which continues to accumulate as Pacifica insists that it has an oral agreement to pay $12,000 a month instead of the amount in the written lease, which escalates from $45,000 to $53,000 a month over the lease term.
The judgment also awards ESRT its legal fees, which brings the bill now due to Pacifica up to at least $2.4 million, according to the network’s press releases.
WBAI is trying to raise money to help pay the judgment against it, but it’s continuing to treat its contractual obligation more like a political football, too; on the air Wednesday afternoon, GM Berthold Reimers made the astonishing claim that as a “publicly licensed operation,” WBAI shouldn’t have to pay rent at all – and neither should any other broadcaster!
Where does this dispute go next? Why hasn’t the Empire State Building kicked WBAI off its antenna yet? Exclusive insight for subscribers continues… (and if you’re not yet subscribing, why not give us a try?)
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
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.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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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 10, 2016
*As we get closer to the end of baseball season, it’s time to start thinking about Hockey on the Radio – and this NHL season, at long last, finds one of the biggest-market teams in the league back on commercial radio at long last.
It was six years ago when the New York Islanders lost their deal with Long Island’s then-WMJC (94.3) and WHLI (1100), leaving them scrambling for a radio home and landing on Hofstra University’s WRHU (88.7), the college signal that came in well at the team’s old home in Uniondale but didn’t reach into New York City well.
The Islanders/WRHU relationship ended up being an enduring one: with a combination of students and professionals, the Hofstra station did an exemplary job of producing an NHL-quality broadcast even as the team moved from the Nassau Coliseum into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The team added affiliates, too: WRCN (103.9 Riverhead) now carries Islanders hockey for eastern Suffolk County, and last year city-owned WNYE (91.5) picked up Isles’ broadcasts for New York City listeners.
As the team continues to try to build more of a following in the city, it’s placing 30 of its games in the 2016-2017 season on CBS Radio’s WFAN (660/101.9), which will now carry both Islanders and New Jersey Devils games. The Isles’ games will continue to be produced at (and carried on) WRHU, and they’ll be heard on WRCN, too. The remaining 52 Islanders games that don’t fit into the WFAN schedule will go to Salem’s WNYM (970 Hackensack), which is fast becoming the default overflow location for New York sports.
The Devils, meanwhile, get 59 games on WFAN and 23 at a yet-to-be-announced overflow location, all of which begs the question: at what point does CBS Radio begin considering splitting WFAN’s AM/FM simulcast so it can keep more of this overlapping play-by-play in house?
*FM Radio principal Kerby Confer has been a busy man lately: in Maryland, Forever is buying WCEI (96.7 Easton) and WINX (94.3 Easton) from First Media Radio for $6.5 million – and in north central Pennsylvania, Confer’s wife and daughter are acquiring four FM stations and an AM from First Media for $4.5 million. Their Seven Mountains Media will take control of country WOWQ (102.1 Du Bois), hot AC WQYX (93.1 Clearfield), the “ZDB Rocks” rock simulcast of WZDB (95.9 Sykesville)/WZDD (101.3 Strattanville) and oldies WCPA (900 Clearfield). Will Seven Mountains do what it’s done elsewhere, rebranding “Q102” as “Bigfoot Country”?
*In MASSACHUSETTS, the TV news wars keep heating up ahead of NBC’s move from WHDH-TV (Channel 7) at year’s end. Cox’s WFXT (Channel 25) has added a weeknight 11:30 PM newscast, extending its late-evening news to a full two hours and offering a new option for night-owl viewers who don’t want to watch the network comedy shows on the “Big 3.” Meanwhile, New England One reports there’s a new studio being constructed at Comcast’s Newton facility for Telemundo Boston and New England Cable News, allowing the existing Studio A to be rebuilt as the main studio for NBC Boston, which looks more and more likely to be making its Jan. 1 debut on existing Telemundo outlets WNEU (Channel 60) and WTMU-LP. The LPTV station is now transmitting from Needham with the same virtual channel 60 that the main WNEU signal uses.
Five Years Ago: October 8, 2012
*Merlin Media is exiting New York City after a tumultuous yearlong run that included a failed attempt to challenge CBS Radio’s all-news domination – and it’s exiting by selling its WRXP (101.9) to CBS, for a reported $75 million.
Beginning next month, CBS will LMA 101.9 from Merlin and use it to simulcast sports WFAN (660) on the FM dial.
*Out there in the Mohawk Valley of central NEW YORK, just off the side of Route 5 in a field next to an abandoned warehouse, there sits a four-tower array that’s never broadcast a watt of power.
As NERW readers well know from our previous coverage, this is – or at least was supposed to have been – WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville). When we last revisited the WKAJ saga back in June, the FCC had tossed out a “Petition for Waiver and Reinstatement” that permittee Cranesville Block Company had filed in a last-ditch attempt to get the Commission to grant a license to the 10,000-watt day/400-watt night station – even though construction on the facility wasn’t completed (or even substantially started) until January 2012, a month after WKAJ’s construction permit had expired in December 2011.
Two area congressmen weighed in on behalf of Cranesville and its principal, Joe Tesiero, but to no avail: rules are rules, they were told, and if WKAJ wanted to make a case that catastrophic weather and the sudden disappearance of its contractor had delayed construction, the time to do that was before the CP expired, not long afterward. But having sunk more than $300,000 into construction (and who knows how much now on legal fees), Cranesville wasn’t giving up so easily. Over the summer, it prevailed on Senator Chuck Schumer to intervene with the FCC. In a July letter to chairman Julius Genachowski, Schumer said “it is difficult to see what harm would be caused by the waiver” WKAJ sought, and noted that the challenges the station faced during construction were “extremely unforeseeable.”
In late September, Genachowski responded, writing, “I appreciate your interest in this matter and have directed the Chief of the Media Bureau’s Office of Communications and Industry Information to respond.” A letter the same day from that official, Michael S. Perko, tells Schumer that “Commission staff will complete its review of the [WKAJ] Application for Review and prepare a recommendation for the full Commission as expeditiously as possible. Please be assured that in reaching a disposition, the Commission will give careful consideration to issues raised by [WKAJ] and the views discussed in your letter.”
Will the intervention of one of the Senate’s most powerful Democrats (in an election year, no less) be enough to get the FCC to overlook deadlines and rules that are usually among the agency’s most rigid? And if WKAJ is allowed to sign on despite having started construction after an expired CP, how will the FCC thread the needle to avoid creating a precedent for other would-be late builders? Stay tuned…we’ll continue to watch this one closely.
Meanwhile, Tesiero appears to have learned from the WKAJ debacle; construction is reportedly well underway up in the Adirondacks on WYVS (96.5 Speculator), his new FM construction permit that was just granted in July.
*Along the NEW HAMPSHIRE Seacoast, Clear Channel is in the midst of a format flip at two of its FM signals. After several years of hot AC, WERZ (107.1 Exeter) returned to its top-40 heritage on Thursday, picking up the Premium Choice-driven lineup that’s been airing on sister station WSKX (95.3 York Center ME). The one piece of the “Kiss” lineup from 95.3 that’s not making the trip up the dial to the new “Z107” is the morning show: gone is the syndication of “Matty in the Morning” from sister station WXKS-FM down in Boston, replaced by Elvis Duran’s show from Z100 in New York.
So what becomes of 95.3? The “Net Gnomes” over at our partner site, RadioInsight, turned up a bunch of registrations for “95.3 the Coast,” which suggests pretty strongly to us that when WSKX relaunches on Tuesday at noon, it will be with some form of AC or perhaps adult hits, like Clear Channel’s recent launch of “101.7 the Harbor” down the coast in Boston. (This will thus mark the second time that Matty Siegel has lost an affiliate called “The Coast”; he’d also been heard on WSNE 93.3 in the Providence market for a time.)
Ten Years Ago: October 8, 2007
*Remember the TV show “Quantum Leap,” wherein a scientist named Sam Beckett was sent traveling through time and space, “striving to put right what once went wrong”?
It’s increasingly looking as though CBS Radio chief Dan Mason is trying to be the industry’s Sam Beckett, returning WCBS-FM and K-Rock to New York, KFRC to San Francisco, WYSP to Philadelphia, and now the legendary B94 to western PENNSYLVANIA.
Just as the buzz (no pun intended) on the message boards was speculating, the Christmas-music stunting at the former “Man Talk” WTZN (93.7 Pittsburgh) came to an abrupt end at 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, when the station launched into a retrospective of its 23 years as WBZZ, returning to its former top-40 format with Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” as its first song.
(Former B94 PD Clarke Ingram noted – within minutes, no less – that there were a couple of inaccuracies in the B94 retrospective: the station had signed on April 2, 1981, not April 1, and its first song in the new format was actually Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” not “You May Be Right.”)
Those technicalities aside, CBS is embarking on a format war with Clear Channel, whose “Kiss” WKST-FM (96.1 Pittsburgh) has owned the top-40 category in the Steel City for the last few years. The move also raises questions about the future of CBS’ hot AC entry, “Star 100.7” (WZPT New Kensington) – is a format change for that station in the offing, too?
No airstaff has been announced yet for the revived B94, though we’re hearing a lot of rumors that the John, Dave, Bubba and Shelly morning show is likely to make a return. There’s also no word about new calls. (The WBZZ calls are tied up in the Albany market these days, and for now the revived B is still legally WTZN.)
*There’s finally a fulltime CW affiliate in VERMONT: Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44) in Burlington has turned on a subchannel on WFFF-DT (Channel 43), providing an over-the-air signal for “CW Burlington,” which is also seen on most area cable systems on channel 20, replacing New York’s WPIX there. The September 27 launch of the CW subchannel clears the CW programming out of WFFF’s 10 PM-midnight timeslot, which makes way for the upcoming launch of a 10 PM newscast on WFFF soon.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 8, 2002
It’s been two months since J.R. Gach was last heard on the air in NEW YORK’s Capital District, and almost every day has brought e-mail from listeners wondering why the WGY (810 Schenectady) afternoon talk host suddenly disappeared without any notice to his fans. Thanks to the Albany Times Union and Mark McGuire (probably the best daily newspaper reporter covering broadcasting in the northeast right now), we have some answers to offer. Gach was diagnosed with bipolar II mental disorder, which his wife Suzie blames for the outbursts that marked his show’s final months on the air at WGY. In a lengthy narrative given to the paper, Suzie Gach says J.R. suffered a breakdown in mid-August while returning home from a weeklong vacation.
While Suzie Gach filled in on J.R.’s shift (she was eventually replaced on-air by Ed Martin, who continues to occupy the time slot), J.R. was undergoing inpatient, then outpatient treatment at a rehab center in Saratoga Springs. Gach is now back home, and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll ever return to WGY’s airwaves. Suzie Gach tells McGuire that her husband’s personality has changed since beginning treatment (he’s now going by “Jay” instead of “J.R.”), while WGY management declined to comment specifically. We’ll keep you posted here at NERW as we hear more, and we’ll be keeping the Gaches in our thoughts.
There’s a new format in NEW JERSEY, as Press Broadcasting takes over at WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton). The southern Ocean County station is doing a very soft AC format as “The Breeze,” after several days of stunting with songs that all mentioned wind and weather.
Twenty Years Ago: October 9, 1997
We’ll begin this week in upstate NEW YORK, where an unlikely pair of radio personalities have taken their dislike of each other to the airwaves. We told you in last week’s NERW about the dismissal of WCMF (96.5 Rochester) personalities Rich (“the Bull”) Gaenzler and Beth Donohue, along with night jock Zak Wood from sister station WRMM (101.3, and not “WRRM” as the local paper reported). Just hours after Donohue was fired, she turned up across town on Jacor-owned talker WHAM (1180), joining midday talk host Bob Lonsberry to vent her frustration with WCMF.
That was just the start of the feud, as Lonsberry kept up a running stream of commentary and calls on the state of WCMF, once the city’s lone progressive rocker, and now one of several rock stations vying for Flower City listeners. One WCMF listener who had participated in the station’s focus group the night before the firings called in to the Lonsberry show to talk about what he’d heard. That, coupled with Lonsberry’s assertion that veteran WCMF morning jock “Brother Wease” is sounding tired and old, was enough to get Wease back in the station for a rare afternoon appearance, as he turned WCMF into a talk station to sound off against Lonsberry, who then devoted much of Wednesday’s show to the issue, even inviting WCMF advertisers to jump ship to WHAM or its sister stations (including modern-rock competitor WNVE). It’s unusual (except on WJIB/WJTO’s “Let’s Talk About Radio”) to hear the nuts and bolts of the business — ratings, demographics, music tests — discussed on the air with as much passion as we’ve seen this week. We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.