In this week’s issue… NBC Boston’s next landing spot – More repack news from NY, NJ – AES, NAB meet in New York, NYSBA inducts Hall of Famers – NYC talk vacancies – Vermont AM array coming down
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*While we wait to find out more about who’ll end up with the stations CBS Radio and Entercom are spinning off in Boston, we return this week to our other favorite topic of Hub broadcast speculation: where will viewers see NBC Boston when all the dust settles from the upcoming TV repack?
We’re fast approaching the first anniversary of Comcast’s launch of its new Boston O&O, which ended up reaching over-the-air viewers via three transmitters: full-power Comcast-owned Telemundo outlet WNEU (Channel 60/RF 34) up in New Hampshire, low-power WBTS-LD (Channel 8/RF 46) at the Cedar Street tower in Needham, and a lease of a subchannel (designated “60.5”) from the big UHF signal of WMFP (Channel 62/RF 18) at the Chestnut Street tower in Newton.
It’s that “60.5” signal that has been the most potent delivery method for NBC Boston since it signed on New Year’s Day – but the use of WMFP may become more challenging when WMFP’s owner, NRJ TV, takes its spectrum auction payout for agreeing to move the station down to high-band VHF on RF 10. (That move, when it takes place, will also change WMFP’s city of license from Lawrence to Foxborough.)
Given the known issues with DTV on VHF, we suspected NBC was going to look elsewhere for a post-repack home, and indeed it is: the network’s next new home will be on a portion of the UHF channel 32 spectrum where public broadcaster WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43) will move in the repack. What? Why? How? Read on…
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*The key to NBC’s new home came in a channel-sharing filing made last week by OTA Broadcasting’s WYCN-CD (Channel 13/RF 36) up in Nashua, N.H. OTA took a hefty incentive payment to give up its UHF channel, and now it’s entering into a channel-share deal with WGBH to host the WYCN license on WGBX’s UHF spectrum.
The 25-year deal filed last week looks like a typical channel-share deal at first, until you read down to the part about how “NBCU Boston shall have completed its purchase of Sharee’s station.” Which tells us this: when the WYCN license leaves UHF in Nashua and lands on some of WGBX’s spectrum (the agreement calls for it to get only enough for one SD channel), it will be owned by NBC and presumably carrying NBC Boston, substituting “13.1” for the “60.5” on WMFP that is, we’d guess, going to go away when WMFP goes to VHF.
There’s one more twist that may yet play out: the agreement filed last week allows NBCU to substitute any other station into the WGBX channel-share at its discretion. So instead of WYCN’s license and virtual channel 13, NBC could also take its own WBTS-LD license (which can’t stay on RF 46 and doesn’t yet have a post-repack home of its own) and put that on the WGBX share, using virtual “8.1” instead of virtual 13. That move would sacrifice the rest of the services now on WBTS – relays of Telemundo and TeleXitos from WNEU and Cozi on 8.3 – but if WBTS is going away anyway, those may be a moot point anyway.
For Comcast, this set of moves ensures a full-market home for NBC Boston, since WGBX operates as part of the group of stations with maximum signals from the master antenna at Cedar Street. (And we learned something else from this filing: as we’d suspected, WGBX will have a new full-power auxiliary facility over at American Tower’s Cabot Street site in Needham; we’d assume the other stations using the Cedar Street master will also have auxes there as the repack rolls on.)
For WGBH, the repack just keeps paying out: it’s banked $161.7 million already for moving WGBH-TV from RF 19 to low-VHF RF 5, it’s getting the donation of a commercial low-power license, WFXZ-LD, to share on RF 5 – and now it’s getting what we’re assuming will be significant lease money in perpetuity from Comcast to host NBC Boston on WGBX.
*Who else is channel sharing? New York’s WNET (Channel 13), for one – it’s receiving a donation of low-power commercial station WMBQ-CD, which sold its channel 46 RF spectrum in the incentive auction. Now WMBQ and WNET have executed a channel-share agreement under which WMBQ will get at least one SD channel’s worth of bandwidth over WNET’s RF 13 facility, which will soon migrate from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center. What will WNET do with its new commercial license? We’re still waiting to see…
Across the Hudson, the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority sold its RF channels for WNJN-TV in Montclair and WNJS in Camden, but it’s keeping both licenses alive, filing channel-share agreements that will see the WNJN license hosted on WNJB (Channel 58/RF 8) in New Brunswick and WNJS on WNJT (Channel 52/repack to RF 22) in Trenton.
Why? WNJN and WNJB are both in the New York DMA, while WNJS and WNJT are both in Philadelphia’s DMA, and by keeping two licenses in each market, NJTV can in theory get two program streams on cable must-carry in each market.
*NEW YORK City hosted a bevy of out-of-town broadcasters this past week, there for the double whammy of the Audio Engineering Society and NAB New York conventions, held in adjoining exhibit halls at the Javits Center.
On the AES side, highlights of the show included several of David Bialik’s special sessions on the broadcast track: a tour of the new 1 World Trade Center TV transmission facility Wednesday night (left) and a chat with the audio team from “The Late Show” on CBS Friday night. The NAB New York show is primarily aimed at TV broadcasters, with plenty of sessions covering ATSC 3.0 and other hot tech topics, plus tracks focusing on the business of TV and on podcast production.
The New York State Broadcasters Association took advantage of all the visiting broadcasters by hosting several of its events at Javits, too, including a Thursday afternoon meeting with local FCC agents to talk about pirate broadcasters and the statewide EAS system. Earlier in the day, NYSBA honored iHeart CEO Bob Pittman with its Broadcaster of the Year award (an event some smaller broadcast owners pointedly shunned, in criticism of iHeart’s effect on the larger industry) – and with the induction of three broadcasters into its Hall of Fame.
This year’s honorees were Buffalo radio stalwart Sandy Beach, now of WBEN (930), who brought previous inductee Danny Neaverth along for moral support; longtime Rochester TV anchor Janet Lomax (right, with Hall of Fame chair Ed Levine), recently retired from WHEC (Channel 10); and Art McFarland, veteran education reporter at New York’s WABC-TV (Channel 7).
*There were two talk vacancies in the city while we were in town, including a fairly prominent one in the morning: iHeart’s WOR (710) now has Len Berman flying solo on the wakeup show after Todd Schnitt did his last shift on Thursday. On Friday morning, Berman told listeners that iHeart had been unable to reach a new contract deal with Schnitt, who’d been part of the WOR show since 2015, frequently from his home base down in Tampa. Schnitt’s syndicated afternoon show (which isn’t heard in New York) will continue.
Uptown at Cumulus’ WABC (770), Eboni K. Williams is out in middays, where the Fox News contributor had been co-hosting from noon-3 PM since June, when she replaced Ron Kuby. No replacement has been named there, either.
In Albany, Crawford Broadcasting has once again taken WDCD (1540) silent after the FCC turned down an application to reduce its power under special temporary authority. Was Crawford simply too honest in telling the FCC it wanted to try taking WDCD from 50 kW down to either 25 kW or 10 kW to see if it could still cover the market with a lower power bill?
*There’s a new LPFM signal on the air in Syracuse, but it has a history that stretches back to before there even was an LPFM service. Remember the old Syracuse Community Radio, which had big plans for translator coverage into the core of the city but only ever made it to air via WXXE (90.5 Fenner), far to the east of town? That full-power FM license (albeit only 49 watts) was sold off to WRVO public radio and is now WMVQ, making way for SCR’s principals to get the new LPFM license for WSPJ-LP (103.3), transmitting from a very low antenna on a phone pole in a sports park next to the Thruway in Liverpool. The new “Spark Radio” community programming is also being heard on translator W229CU (93.7) at the studio location in the Westcott Community Center in the city proper.
*In Buffalo, our colleague Tom Taylor of Tom Taylor NOW picks up on an interesting Cumulus story: the Buffalo cluster that includes 97 Rock and 103.3 the Edge is working on building an 11-acre festival site next to its studios on James E. Casey Drive right off the 190 southeast of downtown.
“We can control our own logistics and work around our schedule, not someone else’s schedule” for station events, Cumulus market manager James Bearance told Buffalo Business First about the plans for the space
*The New York City TV community is mourning Michele Marsh, who was a fixture on the city’s newscasts from 1979 until 2003 at WCBS-TV (Channel 2) and then WNBC (Channel 4). Marsh, who’d started her TV career up in MAINE at WABI-TV (Channel 5) in Bangor in the 1970s and then worked in San Antonio, was just 25 when she began at WCBS as 11 PM anchor. She moved from channel 2 to channel 4 in 1996 after newsroom layoffs that ousted several WCBS-TV staffers, and anchored the 6 PM news at WNBC until leaving the station in 2003. Marsh had been fighting breast cancer when she died Tuesday at home in Connecticut; she was just 63.
*A NEW JERSEY translator has been sold to a Philadelphia broadcaster. Mega Philadelphia LLC, which owns WEMG (1310 Camden), is paying Hope Christian Church of Marlton $100,000 for W277BA (103.3 Millville). Will it begin migrating north toward Philadelphia, where WEMG is already heard on a potent 105.7 translator – or will it stay put, relaying WEMG’s Spanish-language programming for the sizable Hispanic audience in south Jersey?
*Is it even news anymore that Equity’s WEZW (93.1 Wildwood) is the first station in the country to go to an all-Christmas format? “Easy 93.1” has developed a tradition of flipping from its usual soft AC to holiday tunes the week before Halloween, and when it flipped last week, that was no exception to the rule. If past history holds, we’ll start seeing bigger signals such as New York’s WLTW (Lite 106.7) and Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1 More FM) making the flip within the next week or so, too.
*In western PENNSYLVANIA, the frequency change at Erie’s “Rocket” happened right on schedule at noon Friday, with “For Those About to Rock…” as the first song on WRKT’s new home at 104.9. Connoisseur’s frequency change kept WRKT licensed to North East, but the move from its former 100.9 transmitter site just across the state line at New York’s western tip over to the WRTS (103.7) site just above Erie means a much stronger in-town signal for what’s now “Rocket 105.”
(And did any of our Erie-area readers happen to record the frequency switch over the air? We couldn’t be there in person and would love to hear what it sounded like…)
In Pittsburgh, Salem talker WPGP (1250) has signed on its new translator, the former W279BK, which moved all the way across the state from Carbondale to the 1250 site just south of the Monongahela River, where it’s operating on 92.5 with 110 watts horizontal, 73 watts vertical.
*The smallest NPR affiliate in the country (or at least in the lower 48) is in CONNECTICUT, as you might now – and now WHDD (1020 Sharon) is back on the air with a new transmitter. Marshall Miles’ “Robin Hood Radio” had its old AM transmitter burn out a few weeks ago, but its listener base in the tri-state area of northwest Connecticut, western Massachusetts and the Hudson Valley came through with funding for a new Nautel, which went into service last week with the help of contract engineer extraordinaire John Ramsey, who sent along this photo. (Robin Hood stayed on the air via WHDD-FM 91.9, as well as its simulcasts over WLHV 88.1 in New York and WBSL 91.7 in Massachusetts.)
WHDD has found some interesting ways to raise money of late – it also received a donation of a drawing of the Empire State Building done by one Donald Trump, which was auctioned last week for $16,000 with part of the proceeds benefiting the station.
Oh – and a happy 65th birthday to Marshall, who marked his big day with a station party on Sunday!
Down by the Long Island Sound shoreline, WFIF (1500 Milford) is now reaching New Haven listeners 24/7 via new translator W296DB (101.7), which signed on from the West Rock tower farm last Monday. (Fybush Media was proud to provide consulting services to owner Bill Blount for this project.)
*It’s the end of the road for a venerable VERMONT directional array. WSYB (1380 Rutland) has operated for decades with 5000 watts non-directional by day, dropping to 1000 watts at night with a two-tower directional pattern that nulls southward toward New York City and westward toward a now-defunct co-channel station in Kingston, Ontario.
Now owner Pamal wants to take WSYB non-directional at night as well, dropping power from 1000 watts down to just 25 watts, while at the same time eliminating the expense of maintaining an aging directional system. For listeners in Rutland, WSYB’s programming will still be audible all night long on its new translator, W261DE (100.1).
*Back in MASSACHUSETTS, WNTN (1550) was slated to take a big power cut when it relocated from its home of nearly 50 years in Newton to become a diplexed tenant on the WJIB (740) tower in Cambridge. The initial construction permit for the move took WNTN down from 10 kilowatts daytime power to just 750 watts at the new site – but WNTN doesn’t want to stay there. It’s now applying to run 6700 watts by day from the WJIB tower, which will fill most of Route 128 with a 5 mV/m signal. (In effect, it will be about the same size signal as it had from Newton, since the Cambridge tower is significantly taller; the big difference is that the new coverage will shift eastward, losing some of the western suburbs for better city coverage.) At night, WNTN will still use only 3 watts from the Cambridge site.
*There’s a second 10 PM newscast returning to the RHODE ISLAND TV airwaves. WJAR (Channel 10) starts a new “10 at 10” show next Monday, airing on MeTV on 10.2 and on its OSN cable network. 11 PM anchor Patrice Wood and Dan Jaehnig will anchor the 10 PM show as well.
*An interesting long read from an otherwise quiet week up in CANADA: Steve Faguy points out that changes in NAFTA under the Trump administration could – could – bring about significant modifications to the current system under which Canadian cable and satellite providers don’t pay for carrying US-based network affiliates. If that happened, Faguy says, US broadcasters could get the same kind of retransmission-consent money from Bell and Shaw and Cogeco that they now get from Spectrum and Comcast and Cablevision. (And, he notes, the CBC and CTV could get retrans-consent dollars from US border systems that carry their programming.)
More dramatically, those changes could end the sim-sub rules that now dictate how prime-time schedules are constructed on Canada’s commercial broadcast networks.
Will it all happen? Maybe not – but read Steve’s analysis here.
*In suburban Toronto, the CRTC has approved Elliot Kerr’s latest application to relocate his as-yet-unbuilt CKNT (960 Mississauga) – but it can’t stay unbuilt much longer. Kerr has a drop-dead date of November 30 to get the new talk station on the air or lose his permit.
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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 24, 2016
*There’s not much bigger on New England TV than a Patriots game midway through a winning season. And so it was a heart-stopping moment, we’re sure, when an antenna failure knocked CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and four other Boston TV signals off the air Saturday, less than 24 hours before Sunday’s 4 PM kickoff between the 6-1 Pats and the Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
It’s still not clear exactly what went wrong 1400 feet above Needham, where this marked the second time in four years that the top master antenna at the 350 Cedar Street tower suffered a catastrophic failure. When the antenna went dark, it completely silenced WBZ, sister station WSBK (Channel 38) and public TV station WGBX (Channel 44) everywhere except Comcast cable, which gets direct fiber feeds of the stations. Hearst’s ABC affiliate WCVB (Channel 5) also uses the antenna, but it alone has a lower-power standby antenna mounted partway down the Cedar Street tower, allowing its signal to stay on the air for over-the-air viewers in the core of the market as well as for DirecTV and Dish Network viewers.
As with the 2012 failure, the broadcasters found a temporary solution over the weekend: the signals of WBZ (RF 30), WCVB (RF 20), WGBX (RF 43) and WSBK (RF 39) will be re-routed to the lower half of the master antenna, which normally transmits only WGBH (Channel 2/RF 19), while the WGBH signal is sent to WCVB’s lower standby antenna.
The temporary fix (plus a quicker fix on Dish Network, which routed Pittsburgh CBS station KDKA-TV to Boston-market viewers) got the Pats game back on most of the market’s TV sets in time for viewers all over greater Boston to see the team beat the Steelers. But it continues to expose one of the ongoing problems since the DTV transition: few broadcasters, even in big markets, have been willing to spend the dollars needed to build out redundant transmitter facilities. There’s a certain amount of logic to that; with the DTV repack and ATSC 3.0 conversion coming in the next few years, a facility that could cost into the millions to build will likely need expensive conversions and reconstruction very quickly. There’s risk, too, though – while an October Pats game isn’t exactly the Super Bowl, it would have meant a big loss of revenue to CBS and WBZ if the game hadn’t made it to air.
Back in 2012, when it took most of the summer to get things back to normal at the Needham site, we wrote, “it’s a good bet that larger TV broadcasters will be thinking a little harder about the need for better backup facilities for their DTV transmissions.”
Will a second outage finally be the prod that’s needed to get a better plan in place to keep signals flowing to DirecTV, Dish, Charter and direct OTA viewers in Boston? And will other broadcasters look to this outage and make plans in case their antenna fails, too?
(Thanks to Mike Fitzpatrick at NECRAT.us for the handy infographic…)
Five Years Ago: October 22, 2012
*While Canada pushes back against ownership consolidation, the trend pushes ever forward in NEW YORK, where the third big station sale this year had the market talking last week.
As you know from our mid-week update, Cumulus is adding a third station (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) to its New York cluster with the acquisition of WFME (94.7 Newark) from Family Stations.
We now know the price tag for the deal – as rumored, Cumulus will pay Family $40 million for the WFME license, and will transfer WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco) in northern Westchester County to Family. Family will lease Cumulus the current WFME transmitter facility for a dollar a year for five years, and then $1,000 a month for the following five years – unless Cumulus moves WFME into New York City, in which case it will pay Family an additional $8.5 million (if it moves as a B1) or $10 million (if it moves as a class B signal.)
Ten Years Ago: February 5, 2007
*If NEW YORK radio listeners – at least those who listen to WABC (770) in the mornings – are a little confused this week, we don’t blame them. After all, it’s been a week now since the Drudge Report “confirmed” that Don Imus would be heading to WABC for morning drive, beginning December 3.
That would mean the end of the Curtis (Sliwa) and (Ron) Kuby morning show that’s become a fixture on WABC, and indeed, Kuby signed off last Monday by saying what sounded like a farewell to his audience…except that no official announcement of the change followed, and indeed, a week later there’s still been no confirmation from Citadel management that it’s bringing Imus back to the airwaves, or that Kuby’s really gone from the station.
Is Imus really coming to WABC? Probably…but we’d expect a more coordinated announcement from Citadel than what we’re seeing so far, if only to provide Kuby a more dignified exit. (Sliwa will stay with WABC, says the rumor mill, perhaps in what’s now John Gambling’s midday slot.)
Fifteen Years Ago: October 21, 2002
Like it or loathe it, Ibiquity’s “HD Radio” system now has the official blessing of the FCC (all day for FM, daytime only for AM) — and New York’s WOR (710) couldn’t wait to be first in the country to sign on with the system.
FCC approval came Thursday, October 10, and when the sun rose over New Jersey the next morning, “WOR-HD” was on the air, to decidedly mixed reviews. Since receivers for the digital system aren’t yet available, the initial reaction came from analog listeners. At least among the trained ears of the medium-wave DX community, the initial reports suggested that WOR’s analog audio, constrained by the bandwidth requirements of the digital signal, sounded much thinner than usual. And since the “in-band, on-channel” system actually utilizes bandwidth from adjacent channels as well, there were immediate reports of significant digital hash as far down the dial as 690 kHz and as far up as 730 kHz.
*The real “more power” winner this week was WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls), which left behind its old tower overlooking Beaver Falls (still in use by former sister station WBVP 1230) in favor of a new site in Wexford, along I-79 north of target market Pittsburgh. WAMO lost some Pittsburgh audience a few years back when it traded away its huge signal on 105.9 to Clear Channel (it’s now modern rock WXDX) in exchange for the Beaver Falls stick, which served Youngstown better than Pittsburgh most days; this move will help the urban station get its signal back to the neighborhoods it’s targeting anyway.
Twenty Years Ago: October 23, 1997
We’ll start, for a change, up in MAINE, where an out-of-state broadcaster is buying into the Bangor and Augusta markets in a big way. Cumulus Broadcasting, which owns 8 AMs and 27 FMs in the midwest, is picking up rocker WTOS (105.1) Skowhegan from Mountain Wireless, and country WQCB (106.5) Bangor and CHR WBZN (107.3) Old Town-Bangor from Castle Broadcasting. Mountain Wireless keeps its other Skowhegan properties (sports simulcast WSKW 1160/WHQO 107.9 and AC WCTB 93.5 Fairfield). WTOS has long been a dominant station in much of central Maine, with a potent signal from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (hence the “TOS” calls and the “Mountain of Rock” nickname) that reaches Augusta, Bangor, and south almost to Portland. WQCB, better known as “Q106”, is the market-leading country station in Bangor, while WBZN (“Z107.3”) is an up-and-coming CHR outlet.
Don Imus made the rounds of his Maine affilaiates this week, stirring the controversy over his Bangor affiliate’s aborted plan to decorate a local landmark in his honor. WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) was denied permission to put a “Welcome to Bangor, Mr. Imus!” T-shirt on the giant statue of Paul Bunyan downtown. To prevent future disputes, Bangor city leaders have now banned all clothing on city-owned statues in the future…and Imus devoted a chunk of Tuesday’s show in Bangor to ribbing the mayor and other officials about the decision. Imus also visited Portland affiliate WZAN (970), broadcasting from there on Wednesday.
Moving west to NEW HAMPSHIRE, Concord’s RadioWorks group is expanding its regional reach with the purchase of WNHQ (92.1) in Peterborough. WNHQ will drop its current AC format on November 3 to become a simulcast of adult CHR WJYY (105.5 Concord). The staions will be known on-air as “New Hampshire’s Hottest Hits, 105-5 JYY and 92-1 NHQ.” This will be RadioWorks’ second Granite State simulcast; classic rockers WNHI (93.3 Belmont) and WRCI (107.7 Hillsborough) have been simulcasting as the “I-stations” for several years.
Longtime WSMN (1590 Nashua) general manager Maury Parent has been dismissed by the station’s board of directors, after allegedly throwing a mouse pad at a WSMN employee, who then filed assault charges against Parent.
In RHODE ISLAND, Providence’s WLKW (790) made the long-rumored switch to an all-sports format Monday morning, sending the adult standards format (and eventually the WLKW calls) down the dial to WPNW (550) Pawtucket-Providence, which is using a not-quite-legal ID of “W-P-N-W-L-K-W Pawtucket/Providence” at the moment.