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

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*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?)

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*Let’s start with the obvious: the rhetoric coming from Reimers over WBAI’s airwaves is silly and ultimately unproductive, and it’s also unique, so far, to WBAI. There’s no other noncommercial broadcaster we know of that’s making any similar claim of entitlement to free or even discounted rent on a commercially-operated tower site. Nor is there anything we’ve seen so far that would suggest (as Reimers does) that WBAI is being overcharged compared to other broadcasters that have leases with Empire.

The fact is, operating a master antenna site 1400 feet above midtown Manhattan is an expensive proposition. The FM stations that share the master antenna at Empire (we count 16 of them right now) all have to share the burden of maintaining a complex combiner system, keeping what’s now an almost 30 year old master antenna operating flawlessly, and planning for the next generation of antenna and combiner that will eventually be installed at Empire. That includes not only commercial stations for which a half-million dollars a year is relative pocket change compared to their annual revenues in market #1, but also the noncommercial operators over at WNYC-FM (93.9) and WQXR (105.9), who’ve never complained (at least publicly) about the cost of rent at Empire.

Reimers’ statements last week seemed to suggest that “political pressure” would somehow be brought to bear on Empire to reduce WBAI’s rent, but that’s unlikely, too, at least based on the few politicians who turned out the last time WBAI rallied for this particular cause in front of City Hall.

*At the same time, WBAI isn’t going to be evicted, and here’s why: as best we can tell, the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT) is far and away the biggest creditor that would have a claim on Pacifica’s assets if the dispute ends up in bankruptcy court. Over the last few years, WBAI has downsized the rest of its operation into near-invisibility, leaving behind its relatively expensive leased studio space in lower Manhattan for a much smaller building in Brooklyn and reducing its paid staff to a bare minimum. The rent at Empire is the one thing WBAI can’t reduce, though, and the longer the bills remain unpaid, the bigger a claim ESRT would eventually have against a possible liquidation of WBAI’s assets.

At the same time, there’s really only one big asset left to WBAI, and that’s the commercial-band class B signal in the heart of the market. We’ll explore the current value of that asset in a moment, but in the meantime, consider this: the signal has value in no small part because it continues to operate from the top of Empire. If it’s moved or downgraded – and in particular if it ceases to operate from Empire – that value gets diminished very quickly, leaving ESRT with less potential of recovering what it’s owed through a Pacifica liquidation. (Now, perhaps, does the strategy of keeping WBAI where it is begin to make more sense?)

So: if a bankruptcy finally forces Pacifica’s hand and WBAI goes up for sale, what’s the current best guess of what the signal is worth and who might be buying? We’ve looked before at the Family Stations sale of 94.7 in Newark almost exactly five years ago, when station valuations were still in a tailspin. That deal gave Family $40 million (plus 106.3 up in Mount Kisco) for WFME’s existing class B signal from First Mountain over in New Jersey – plus additional payments from Cumulus of $8.5 million or $10 million if 94.7 could be moved to Manhattan within five years as either a B1 or a full class B signal. That standard, then, might set the stick value of a class B in Manhattan (like WBAI’s 99.5) at just over $50 million, at least as of 2012.

(And pay close attention: with that five-year clock just about to run out, does Cumulus have any plans in the works to move 94.7, now WNSH, across the river to Manhattan once there won’t be any penalty payment to Family?)

Then there’s another 2012 sale, Merlin’s WEMP (101.9), which went to CBS Radio for $75 million to become WFAN-FM. Was CBS willing to pay a little extra because it already had a revenue stream (from WFAN’s AM presence at 660) to install at 99.5?

Another data point for valuing WBAI comes from Los Angeles, a market barely smaller in population than New York, where EMF just paid Entercom a little over $57 million for class B KSWD (100.3) and two small class A signals in the San Diego and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton markets.

With a price tag somewhere in the $50-75 million range, then, who’d be looking at buying 99.5 if it comes down to that?

EMF, of course, is an obvious contender for so many reasons: it has cash (and access to financing) that so many commercial operators now lack, it has a strong motivation to upgrade its New York presence beyond its current Westchester rimshot, WKLV (96.7 Port Chester), and it doesn’t need to pursue the cluster strategy that is the lifeblood of the commercial side of the industry these days.

Cumulus is the other “obvious” contender, since it’s operating a relatively small cluster of just one AM (WABC 770) and three FMs (WPLJ 95.5, WNSH and little WNBM 103.9 Bronxville). Could it muster the money it would need to put up at a bankruptcy sale, though, especially if it turns into a bidding war with other, deeper pockets?

There’s Entercom, for instance, which has never had a reason to get into New York City with just a single FM – until now, that is. Once it completes its acquisition of CBS Radio’s three AMs and four FMs, that cluster will gain the headroom to add a fifth FM, something it couldn’t do when it was combined with CBS-owned WCBS-TV (Channel 2). Would it be worth it to Entercom to get the FM facility it would need to begin migrating AM stalwarts WCBS (880) or WINS (1010) over to the FM dial once it takes over?

Then there’s Emmis, which has been busy divesting non-core assets as it focuses on making its remaining clusters as strong as possible. It took in more than $82 million by selling KPWR in Los Angeles earlier this year, most of which went to creditors – but could it be a bidder to add 99.5 to a New York cluster that now includes WQHT (Hot 97), WBLS (107.5), WEPN-FM (98.7, on a long-term lease to ESPN) and WLIB (1190)? It’s worth noting that WLIB has been for sale for a while now as one of those non-core assets, and that under saner circumstances, it would make massive financial sense for Emmis to do a deal in which Pacifica gets 1190 and cash (probably in the $40-45 million range) in exchange for 99.5. Such a deal could keep WBAI going for decades on the AM dial – but Pacifica’s political inertia has long made a sensible deal like that impossible internally.

The same is true of New York Public Radio, which has long sought a better signal for its classical WQXR (105.9), a short-spaced B1 from Empire that lacks the reach into the suburbs that it could get if it ended up on 99.5. While a cash-plus-105.9 deal for 99.5 would strengthen WBAI immeasurably (and give it more than enough money to pay Empire’s lease rates for years to come for 105.9), it’s once again a political impossibility – and while the WNYC folks could surely raise the millions for such a deal, could they do it quickly enough to make a successful bid in a bankruptcy auction?

There are longer shots, too, most notably the Meruelo group that bought KPWR from Emmis in Los Angeles. Rumors continue to swirl about a deal between Meruelo and SBS that would bring Meruelo to New York as the new owner of SBS’ two Spanish-language FMs, WPAT-FM (93.1) and WSKQ (97.9). Could Meruelo afford to add a third FM to that mix to even further solidify its position against Univision and its two FMs?

*Before any of those broadcasters can even start thinking about bids, though, WBAI would have to get to auction – and the road that leads there will first have to wend its way through appeals of Lebovits’ decision, not to mention the possibility that Pacifica finds enough fundraising pull to pay off the default judgment, keep WBAI at Empire and stave off bankruptcy. As always, we’ll be watching closely and helping to cut through the noise to tell you what’s really going on with this fascinating case.

*Upstate, the former Time Warner Cable systems now doing business as Spectrum have quietly pulled back from doing local sports. The former “Time Warner Sports Channel,” later “Spectrum Sports,” went dark on systems from Albany to Buffalo over the last few weeks, ending local coverage of a wide range of high school, college and pro sports across the region.

While Spectrum’s local cable news channels have begun carrying a Friday night high school football game of the week, the end of Spectrum Sports means plenty of other teams will be scrambling for new coverage options. That includes Syracuse University, which had a huge presence for years on the former Time Warner systems in the region, as well as professional teams such as the Syracuse Chiefs, Rochester Red Wings, Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Knighthawks lacrosse and others.

And it leaves uncertainty for many upstate viewers about carriage of the New York Mets’ two dozen or so games that are shifted in New York City from flagship SNY (partially owned by Spectrum) to WPIX-TV. Spectrum had been carrying those games on its sports channel in markets where no local broadcast TV outlet picked them up, and there’s no word yet on where they’ll be seen in 2018.

*The end of the Mets season also marked the end of another stab at Mets radio carriage in the Rochester market, where hometown hero Josh Lewin still has a following for his play-by-play. For the last two seasons, the Mets were heard in Rochester on “The Team,” Genesee Media’s CBS Sports Radio affiliate, but the Team ended when the Mets’ season did – and now its most recent broadcast homes, WRSB (1590 Brockport) and translator W248BH (97.5) are about to relaunch as the market’s first full-time commercial Spanish-language station.

When “Mi 97.5” debuts next Monday on WRSB (conveniently now standing for “We’re Rochester’s Spanish Broadcaster”!), it will feature a mix of Spanish-language hits and news and talk with a heavy focus on Puerto Rico. William Santiago of Uno Communications, a local Spanish-language marketing firm, will serve as general manager, bringing radio experience that includes many years as host of “Dimension Latina” on WITR (89.7 Henrietta) and other noncommercial stations around town.

With the prospect of a significant exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, expanding the sizable Puerto Rican community that already exists on the north side of Rochester, we’d think Genesee is poised for significant success with the new WRSB, which nestles up right against WEPL-LP (97.1), the market’s incumbent Spanish broadcaster. (It’s run by community group IBERO, which put it on the air two years ago; there’s also now a Spanish religious LPFM, WARI-LP 98.5, in the city.)

*Moving east, the death almost two years ago of John Tesiero, Jr. has finally prompted a transfer of control of the radio stations he owned in the Mohawk Valley. Tesiero’s Cranesville Block Co. had long owned WCSS (1490 Amsterdam) and had more recently added WIZR (930 Johnstown) and WKAJ (1120 Little Falls), the latter after a battle five years ago to salvage a construction permit that wasn’t built out on time. (You can read more about that if you scroll down to our NERW history section…)

Tesiero’s will gives IZ Communications (licensee of WCSS) to a trust for the benefit of his wife, Elizabeth, to be controlled by two of his three children. All three children get equal shares of Tesiero’s 84% interest in WIZR and WKAJ, and one of those children, Joseph Tesiero, already owned the fourth license in the Cranesville group, WYVS (96.5 Speculator).

(And speaking of WKAJ, it reportedly flipped a few weeks ago from oldies to “Outlaw Country.”)

*Albany was the venue this past weekend for this year’s Grassroots Radio Conference, the LPFM convention hosted this year by Grand Street Community Arts’ WCAA-LP (107.3 Albany). We weren’t able to make it over that way, but we’d love to hear (and share) reports from any readers who did attend, and we’ll try to share some stories from the event on our Top of the Tower podcast soon, too.

*On TV, Watertown is getting a 5 PM newscast next year, when CBS affiliate WWNY-TV (Channel 7) will launch “First at 5,” anchored by John Moore. (As the only local TV news outlet in the market, WWNY’s been largely immune from the pressure other stations have faced to keep adding more newscasts in more time slots.)

*And we remember Kris Earl Phillips, whose “town to town, up and down the dial” radio adventures brought him through NERW-land several times in the 1970s and 80s. In 1972, he came from Florida up to Lowell, Mass. to work at WLLH (1400), then got recruited away a few months later to do overnights for part of 1973 at Boston’s WRKO (680).

A decade or so later, Phillips was part of the startup team at WRKT (100.9 North East) as Rick Rambaldo’s “Rocket 101” took the Erie market by storm with Phillips in the PD chair. After a few more stops, Phillips ended up in NEW JERSEY working for Steve Kingston at WHTZ (Z100) as research director. More recently, he’d returned to his native Florida, doing voiceover and research work. Phillips died Tuesday in Daytona Beach, at 66.

*Our MASSACHUSETTS coverage begins with a preview of “Hockey on the Radio” (which continues later in this week’s column): in Boston, the Bruins waited until just before the puck dropped for the season to name a replacement play-by-play voice after Dave Goucher’s departure to Las Vegas’ new Golden Knights.

Judd Sirott, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks, had been one of the voices brought in for tryouts during the preseason, and as of last Wednesday he’s the permanent Voice of the Spoked B, occupying the WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub) booth alongside analyst Bob Beers. Sirott is, among other things, the nephew of Chicago broadcast icon Bob Sirott, and his new job in Boston is a big step up over his previous work as pre-game/post-game/intermission host for the Blackhawks on WGN (720).

*In Springfield, there’s a (sort of) new “Morning Edition” host at New England Public Radio (WFCR 88.5 and sister stations). Carrie Healy has been doing the wakeup shift on an interim basis for several months, but last week she got the permanent nod for the gig. NEPR also named Heather Brandon as its new Digital News Editor.

*There’s a new PD for Cumulus in RHODE ISLAND, where Neil Larrimore takes over programming duties at WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale). Larrimore arrives from Arizona, where he’d programmed talk KFYI (550) and sports KGME (910) in Phoenix; he replaces Tony Mascaro, who left the Salty Brine Broadcast Center back in August.

The new Catholic station in northern Rhode Island wants for a site change and power increase: WSJQ (91.5 Pascoag) has been granted an increase from 8.6 kW/19 m DA to 10.5 kW/12 m DA from a site slightly closer to Woonsocket, putting a little more signal north into southern Worcester County, Massachusetts and south into western Rhode Island, but still without quite reaching Providence.

*Radio People on the Move in CONNECTICUT (and beyond): in Hartford, Holden moves from afternoons to mornings at Full Power Radio’s WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury) as former morning man/assistant PD David Fisch leaves the group. (It’s been 25 years, incidentally, since what’s now Full Power Radio began with the launch of owner John Fuller’s first station, WJJF 1180 in Hope Valley, R.I. – congratulations, John!)

*Bill “Broadway” Bertsinger, meanwhile, has found a new radio home in western PENNSYLVANIA. Four months after exiting iHeart’s WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury) in the Hartford market, Broadway launches today as the new host of “Broadway’s Backyard” on CBS Radio’s WDSY (107.9 Pittsburgh). Y108 also lost its prior morning show back in June, when Ally Butler and Andy Davis left the country station.

While we’re in Pittsburgh, a tip of the radio cap to Deanna Garcia, who left public WESA (90.5) last week for a new job in PR for the Pittsburgh Foundation. (Much earlier in her career, she’d worked here in Rochester alongside your editor at WXXI…)

*In Johnstown, we salute Marty Radovanic of WJAC-TV (Channel 6), who anchored his final newscast at the NBC affiliate on Friday night at 6. Radovanic started as a staff announcer at WJAC in 1974, back when such creatures still roamed the earth; he moved into the newsroom in 1977 to cover Johnstown’s flooding and never left, anchoring memorable moments including the crash of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

*In Philadelphia, veteran sports talker Mike Missanelli has lost his TV gig on WPVI (Channel 6)’s “Sports Sunday” after he spoke out on his WPEN-FM (97.5 the Fanatic) radio show about ESPN’s use of a female broadcaster, Beth Mowins, on its NFL broadcasts last Monday. Missanelli said the use of Mowins “felt unnatural,” and that was enough for WPVI (which shares ownership with ESPN) to drop him from its panel; Missanelli said it was a “harsh result” but accepted blame for a poor choice of words.

*One of the newer stations in CANADA‘s biggest markets wants more power. CIND (88.1 Toronto) has been hamstrung from its start by co- and adjacent-channel stations that have limited its reach into Toronto’s northern and western suburbs, but it tells the CRTC that the move of CHES in Erin, Ontario from 88.1 to 91.7 has opened up a hole that would allow “Indie 88” to go from its present 2.1 kW average/4 kW max DA/281 m to 4.7 kW average/13 kW max DA/290 m.

The Indie 88 building
The Indie 88 building

The transmitter site would stay at First Canadian Place in downtown Toronto, but the directional pattern would expand considerably to the east and west, bringing about half of the total Toronto market population inside Indie’s 70 dBu coverage. Indie’s owners, Barrie-based Rock 95 Broadcasting, tell the CRTC that the move would add about a million dollars a year to CIND’s revenue, making it possible for the station to become profitable for the first time.

Up north, the CBC continues to file for modifications to its FM signals as it removes old TV antennas from its towers and puts up new directional FM antennas. In Owen Sound, Radio One outlet CBCB (98.7) would go from 100 kW/212 m ND to 39 kW average/100 kW max DA/210.6 m from a new antenna, while Radio Two outlet CBL-FM-4 (97.1) would go from 17.5 kW/212 m ND to 7.9 kW average/20.2 kW max DA/210.6 m from the same antenna. A similar application at CBON-25 (97.1 Timmins), the Ici Premiere outlet up there, just received CRTC approval last week.

*Back to Hockey on the Radio: while the Bruins and WBZ-FM have named their new play-by-play voice, there’s at least a hint of continued uncertainty over how those rights will play out going forward – we still don’t know how Entercom will divest the signals it needs to unload in Boston as part of its CBS Radio acquisition, so there’s always a possibility that the Bruins (and even more valuably, the Patriots) could stay with Entercom even if WBZ-FM were to be unloaded to a new owner. As always – stay tuned! (Bruins TV rights stay with NESN, of course.)

Down the road in the tri-state area, the New Jersey Devils have extended their radio deal with CBS Radio’s WFAN (660/101.9), and they’re bringing back Glenn “Chico” Resch as analyst alongside Matt Laughlin on play-by-play. The Devils will also webcast on WFAN.com and the “One Jersey Network.” While the Devils get priority on WFAN, the station will also carry a limited schedule of New York Islanders games when there’s no conflict; games that don’t get on WFAN will be heard on WNYM (970 Hackensack), and out east “LI News Radio” WRCN (103.9 Riverhead) is carrying the team, too, along with longtime flagship WRHU (88.7) at Hofstra University. All three New York-area teams have their TV broadcasts on various versions of MSG Network, as usual.

The New York Rangers, via rights holder MSG, have their radio call back on WEPN-FM (98.7) for another season; down the Turnpike, the Philadelphia Flyers‘ deal with Beasley continues to split games between flagship WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ) and WMMR (93.3) when the Sixers take priority over on “the Fanatic.” The real story in Philly, though, is the rebranding of Comcast’s sports networks: CSN Philadelphia is now “NBC Sports Philadelphia,” while The Comcast Network becomes “NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus.” (And we should note that while no NHL hockey is involved, CSN New England is now NBC Sports New England, too.)

Heading west, the Pittsburgh Penguins defend their back-to-back Stanley Cups in the same radio spot they’ve called home for a while now, iHeart’s WXDX (105.9 the X), where they also program an all-Pens channel on HD2. On TV, the former “ROOT Sports Pittsburgh” is now “AT&T SportsNet.” Up the road in western New York, the Buffalo Sabres muddle along on flagship WGR (550), with TV games on yet another regional permutation of MSG Network.

North of the border, it’s another season of split radio coverage for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have half their games on Rogers’ Sportsnet 590 the FAN (CJCL) and the other half on Bell’s TSN Radio 1050 (CHUM). The Ottawa Senators stay put on TSN 1200 (CFGO) in English and Unique FM 94.5 (CJFO) in French, and the Montreal Canadiens remain fixtures on Cogeco’s CHMP (98.5) in French and Bell’s TSN 690 (CKGM) in English, with a huge province-wide French network.

And on TV? There’s not a soul alive who can make any sense at this point of the Canadian NHL TV landscape, where Rogers has the national rights to hockey and splits coverage up among its regional Sportsnet channels and over-the-air City TV signals, plus “Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday games that Rogers produces to air on CBC-TV. Steve Faguy makes a brave attempt to explain (and improve) it all over on his website this week.

*Down the ladder one rung at the AHL level, there’s some realignment this year: the Senators are no longer in Binghamton but now in Belleville, Ontario, where the arena won’t be ready until November and there doesn’t appear to be a radio partnership yet. The former Albany Devils are now in Binghamton, where they’ve promoted Rob Lippolis to be their new radio voice on WINR (680/96.9). (He’d been in Omaha and Corpus Christi before coming home to the Southern Tier last year to handle media relations for the Sens’ last year in town.)

Also new to the region is the Laval Rocket in suburban Montreal; they’re being heard on “WKND 91.9” (CKLX) in French and in English on TSN 690 (CKGM), at least for 11 games when the Habs aren’t playing there.

As for the teams that aren’t going anywhere: in New England, the Providence Bruins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers remain online-only with their games, while the Hartford Wolf Pack remain on iHeart’s WPOP (1410) and the Springfield Thunderbirds are in their second season with iHeart’s WHYN (560). In upstate New York, the Utica Comets and the Syracuse Crunch are both with Galaxy, on WKLL (94.9 K-Rock) for Utica and “ESPN Syracuse” (WTLA 1200/97.7 and WSGO 1440/100.1) for Syracuse. The Rochester Amerks (sigh…) are on Entercom’s WROC (950/95.7). And in Pennsylvania, the Hershey Bears remain on WQIC (100.1 Lebanon) and its network of signals across central Pennsylvania, while the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are on Entercom’s WILK-FM (103.1)/WILK (980) and their network of signals. In the Lehigh Valley, the Phantoms are on iHeart’s WSAN (1470), with some games also on WAEB (790). And as usual, the Toronto Marlies are pretty much streaming-only.

We’ll continue next week with a look at the ECHL!

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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.

islandersIt 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.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Can we also assume that if Fordham wanted to swap WFUV with WBAI, which it actually proposed a few years ago, it would be a political impossibility like the potential Emmis and New York Public Radio swaps you mentioned? I”m sure that the East Village, Williamsburg and Bushwick hipsters would love to see WFMU on 99.5, but I have the feeling that Ken Freedman would be scared to death that the move to a big stick would force the station to lose its idiosyncratic sound and become another public radio AAA.

    • Two things: yes, a swap seems to be impossible politically at the Pacifica end right now. Or rather, ANY actual decision making seems to be impossible politically at the Pacifica end right now. Would Fordham be a bidder if 99.5 went up in a bankruptcy auction, knowing that it could turn around and sell 90.7 (hi there, EMF or WQXR!) and make up a significant chunk of the price for 99.5? Maybe – but you’d have to imagine other players having deeper pockets. And it’s very hard to imagine WFMU being able to afford the price for 99.5 either, which is probably for the best. What would it have to sound like to raise the kind of dollars it would need to pay off 75 million in debt?

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