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In this week’s issue… Local studios still good business, say broadcasters – And next, ownership rules get reformed – Boston talent comes home – DePetro off the air – Remembering Frank Gottlieb

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*When the FCC took its long-expected vote last week to remove the main studio requirement for local radio and TV stations, it prompted an equally long-expected outpouring of expert opinion that soon enough, every radio station would uproot from its local community to operate from a server in a farm somewhere two time zones away – or so it seemed from the initial reaction to the decision.

We’ll dig into what the ruling really means in this week’s column, but we start with a reminder that for most small local owners, having a local studio is still what they’re all about, and that won’t change with this FCC ruling.

For example, Alan Bishop says he’s not planning any changes at his Finger Lakes Radio Group, just down the road from us in upstate New York: “For small market operators, being in or near the city of license has a direct impact on listenership and revenue,” he tells NERW. “At one time we had no presence in Auburn. We re-established that presence many years ago and saw the response to the stations and the revenue go up.

What will go away, we’re sure, are the studios that were “main” in name only. Entercom’s Buffalo cluster, for instance, has long paid WCJW in Warsaw to serve as a legal main studio for its WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield), which couldn’t legally have its main studio at the Entercom facility in Amherst, more than 25 miles away. No programming for WLKK ever originated from the Warsaw studios, and we doubt anyone ever showed up looking for the public file – and so it’s hard to imagine anybody even noticing that arrangement ending. iHeart’s two Rochester-market FMs (WVOR 102.3 Canandaigua and WNBL 107.3 South Bristol) that are more than 25 miles from downtown? They never originated programming from the storefront they had to lease in Canandaigua as a “main studio,” and in fairness never had much live content from iHeart’s Rochester studio either, which goes to show how toothless the old main studio rule was in the first place. (How many years has it been since Radio Disney pioneered the idea of a completely national network? Every minute of programming from coast to coast came from studios in Dallas and later Burbank, even if it was passed through local “main studios” in Boston and Hartford and so on…)

And since the rule was routinely waived for noncommercial networks, including giants like EMF’s K-Love, the end of the rule was welcomed heartily by commercial competitors such as New England’s Bill Blount, who’s had to maintain local offices in each of his single-station markets from Milford, Connecticut to Maine even though his programming is mostly centralized from New Hampshire.

Other “little guys” who may benefit are operators such as Bob Bittner, who’s had to bear the cost of “main studio” facilities in several markets even though his one-man stations have all really been run from his home base in Bath, Maine. There are plenty of Boston-market listeners who’ve found value in Bob’s WJIB (740) programming regardless of where it’s actually originated over the years, aren’t there?

*So what will the end of the main studio rule mean in the long term? Read on for some informed speculation…

Here in NERW-land, we got a tangible reminder this past week that winter is around the corner.

But no snow or ice will keep the 2018 Tower Site Calendar away from you.

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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 31, 2016

*The wheels of justice may grind exceedingly slowly, but they’ve at least finally ground out some small form of vindication for those who’ve followed the long, strange tale of Brian Dodge.

wckl-dodgeWe’ve been reporting on the New England broadcaster and his antics for most of the 22 years we’ve been writing this column, observing what have appeared to be repeated violations of FCC rules ranging from the use of fake names in filings to unauthorized transmitter sites and power levels to blatant violations of LPFM multiple ownership rules.

All the while, it had appeared that the Commission was turning a blind eye to most of the problems, allowing Dodge and his many aliases to clog the tubes of bureaucracy with repeated sloppy applications that sometimes blocked other, more responsible broadcasters from making their own legitimate moves.

Well, guess what? It turns out the FCC was paying attention all along – and on Thursday, it released a consent decree that it reached with Dodge to settle some matters that had been left hanging for literally decades.

Under the agreement, Dodge will surrender a number of his licenses and CPs, including WCKL (560 Catskill NY) and LPFMs in Westhampton MA (WDOE-LP 97.5) and Williamsburg MA (97.9). He’ll be granted a license for WWNH (1340 Madbury NH), which operated from 1989 until 2010 under program test authority but was never actually licensed. And he’ll be granted license renewals for three translators in New Hampshire and Vermont whose sales had been pending for most of the year.

Those renewals mean the sales of the translators (two to Costa-Eagle, for $150,000 total and one to RHODE ISLAND‘s WNRI 1380, for $75,000) will be allowed to proceed – but $100,000 of that $225,000 will go straight to the FCC as a “voluntary contribution” from Dodge that’s part of the consent decree.

*It’s only fitting that our NEW YORK news on this Halloween begins with the death of John Zacherle, who combined high camp and ghoulish scares in a career that stretched for many decades on radio and TV.

After serving in World War II, Zacherle did theater in Philadelphia, which led him into early TV with appearances on WCAU-TV (Channel 10), which led to his 1957 debut as horror movie host “Roland” (pronounced “roh-LAAAND,” of course.) And that quickly led to an even bigger hosting gig at New York’s WABC-TV (Channel 7), where “Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul” became an institution. Over the course of the next decade, Zacherle moved to WOR-TV (Channel 9), WPIX (Channel 11) and then to newcomer WNJU (Channel 47), where he somehow became a horror host who emceed an afternoon teen dance party show.

And that, in turn, led to a radio career, starting at WNEW-FM (102.7), then most famously at WPLJ (95.5), and finally at WXRK (92.3) for a few years in the 1990s. Along the way, Zacherle continued to appear in movies and at conventions well into his 90s. He was 98 when he died last Thursday in Manhattan.

Five Years Ago: October 29, 2012

The power and phone service are slowly being restored to parts of lower Manhattan after the devastation Sandy wreaked across the city’s infrastructure, and that’s good news for many of the broadcasters who call that area home. WOR returned to its 111 Broadway studios on Friday, and power came back on at its New Jersey transmitter site, too. The news was not so good for WMCA (570) and WNYC (820); their shared transmitter site in Kearny, N.J. had about 18 inches of water inside the building, and that means equipment damage that will take some time to replace. WNYC director of engineering Jim Stagnitto tells NERW 820 might be back on the air late this weekend if all goes well.

(New York had another big story overnight: at midnight, Suzyn Waldman launched CBS Radio’s new WFAN-FM on 101.9, a nod to the day 25 years ago when hers was the first voice heard on WFAN in its original incarnation at 1050 on the dial.)

Many of the Connecticut and Long Island signals that were silenced by power outages made it back on the air Thursday, including WLUX (540 Islip), WICC (600 Bridgeport) and WGCH (1490 Greenwich). We’ve been remiss, too, in not noting the simulcast of News 12 Long Island that went on for several days nonstop on WHLI (1100 Hempstead), which stayed on the air past its usual daytime-only hours to help keep Long Island informed.

The scope of the devastation along the Jersey shore is still not fully accounted for, at least from a broadcast perspective, but we know of at least one signal that won’t be back any time soon: Stagnitto tells us the transmitter of New Jersey Public Radio’s WNJO (90.3 Toms River) is “somewhere out at sea” after the Seaside Park community where it was located was hit by the worst of the storm surge.

Ten Years Ago: October 14, 2007

*The urban radio war in CONNECTICUT‘s biggest market is over, and CBS Radio’s WZMX (93.7 Hartford) is the survivor. Thursday morning at 10, Clear Channel pulled the plug on the “Power 104” hip-hop format at WPHH (104.1 Waterbury), a little more than four years after it went up against “Hot 93.7.”

While WZMX had an all-local lineup, WPHH used syndicated talent in morning and afternoon drive (Steve Harvey and Wendy Williams, respectively), and its ratings never quite measured up to its CBS competitor, even before the eventual arrival of the Portable People Meter in the market, with all the ratings headaches it’s brought to urban formats in the markets where it’s already launched.

So just as it did in Philadelphia, where Clear Channel killed off Spanish tropical “Rumba 104.5” in favor of modern rock “Radio 104” at WRFF (104.5), Clear Channel went to a modern rock format on the newly-renamed “FM 104one” in Hartford. And therein lies an irony: the “Radio 104” image that landed in Philly came right out of the old WMRQ in Hartford – an image valuable enough, apparently, that Clear Channel was keeping the old Radio 104 website alive in Hartford years after the format change to “Power,” complete with an automated webstream. (That site quietly went away after the “FM 104one” launch last week, replaced by a page that forwards to the new WPHH site.)

*In other Nutmeg State news, Antonio Gois’ Gois Communications is paying $2.65 million to buy Spanish tropical WLAT (910 New Britain) and Spanish news-talk WNEZ (1230 Manchester) from the bankrupt Freedom Communications. Gois is no stranger to the Connecticut River valley; he sold WSPR and WACM in Springfield to Davidson a couple of years ago, and he still owns WORC (1310) over in Worcester. He’ll take over the Hartford-market stations via an LMA November 1.

*The big ownership shuffle that clears Clear Channel out of the Utica/Rome market closed Thursday, and the new owners wasted no time rearranging much of that area’s radio dial. Here’s how it’s all playing out so far:

Galaxy Communications bought the Clear Channel stations, and the big prize that it’s keeping is classic rocker WOUR (96.9 Utica), which moved from Clear Channel’s downtown Utica studios on Genesee Street to Galaxy’s New Hartford studios. For the moment, we’re hearing that the syndicated Bob & Tom show remains in morning drive, with Galaxy talent from Syracuse voicetracking the rest of the day.

Galaxy also gets hot AC WUMX (102.5 Rome), which is running automated outside of its syndicated drivetime shows, as well as sports talkers WRNY (1350 Rome) and WIXT (1230 Little Falls), which will end up as a sports simulcast with Galaxy’s WTLB (1310 Utica), flipping from standards.

Galaxy immediately spun several other Clear Channel signals to Ken Roser, who’s made no changes yet to top 40 “Kiss” WSKS (97.9 Whitesboro)/WSKU (105.5 Little Falls). Roser also gets the other two signals that had been part of the “Sports Stars” simulcast, and we’re told WUTQ (1550 Utica) and WADR (1480 Remsen) will end up simulcasting Roser’s “Bug Country” WBGK (99.7 Newport Village), at least for the moment. (Will Roser end up with Clear Channel’s Mayro Building studios, or will Kiss and the AM signals move up Genesee Street to the Bug studios? We don’t yet know.)

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, the simulcast of WBXQ (94.3 Patton) and WBRX (94.7 Cresson) has come to an end after 16 years. While 94.3 keeps its classiic rock format and longtime “Q94” identity, 94.7 has flipped to AC as “Mix 94.7,” using a Jones satellite service for now.

Fifteen Years Ago: October 28, 2002

It’s been ten months since Christian contemporary station WWJS (90.1) in Watertown, NEW YORK went silent, the victim of a nasty spat between owner Charles Savidge and his father-in-law, Rev. Robert Bryant, who owns the Liberty Christian Center that was the station’s home. And with the FCC’s strict rule about deleting stations that remain dark for a full 12 months, the deadline was fast approaching for something to happen with this frequency up there. And while it looked a little iffy (and sparked a new battle between Savidge and Bryant), WWJS made it back to the airwaves last Wednesday (Oct. 23), according to NERW North Country bureau chief Michael Roach. Actually, WWJS would have been back a few days earlier — but, Roach reports, Bryant hired workers to go to the WWJS transmitter site east of town on Champion Hill (also home to WWNY-TV and WTOJ 103.1) to remove, yes, the transmitter!

But the mess has caught the attention of Watertown’s other broadcasters, and in stepped David Mance, owner of WTOJ (as well as WBDI/WBDR, WATN and WOTT), who’s letting Savidge use one of his auxiliary transmitters for the moment. Expect another round (or three or six) of lawsuits, including one in which Bryant is apparently claiming that he owns the WWJS call letters! (NERW notes: there’s no trademark on “WWJS,” and nobody actually owns call letters, according to established case law.)

Elsewhere in the Empire State, Sunrise Broadcasting has moved another step forward in its attempt to get something back on the air at 1200 kHz in the Hudson Valley. You may recall that Sunrise’s WGNY in Newburgh occupied that channel under special temporary authority for most of the 90s, in an attempt to win a permanent upgrade from its longtime spot at 1220 on the dial. But the upgrade of New York’s WLIB on 1190 doomed a fulltime 1200 signal in Newburgh, and WGNY had to slide back to 1220 a few years back. But Sunrise didn’t give up, and now its application for a new station on 1200 in Kingston, some 40 miles north of Newburgh, has been accepted for filing at the FCC. The new 1200 would run 2000 watts day from two towers and 400 watts night from five towers, which would require a rebuild of the existing WGHQ (920) site off Route 9W just south of Kingston.

Twenty Years Ago: October 30, 1997

It’s an early Halloween for pirate broadcasters in New England, and they’re not getting any treats from the FCC. On Tuesday afternoon, FCC agents visited Radio Free Allston (106.1) at its studios in an Allston art gallery, as well as Worcester pirate WDOA (89.3), ordering the stations off the air and threatening fines and jail time if broadcasts continued. RFA founder Steven Provizer was manning the board at the station when the agents arrived. He says they photographed RFA’s equipment and transmitter readings but did not confiscate anything, and he’s promising a renewed fight in court to make RFA legitimate. Provizer says the FCC told him it had received complaints from a licensed broadcaster (he says it’s WROR (105.7) that made the complaint). Other area pirates aren’t waiting for the FCC to come trick-or-treating; they’ve voluntarily suspended operations while waiting for things to quiet down. The web page for Rebel Music Radio in Boston (105.3) displays only color bars and the words “Sorry it had to happen…we’re off the air.” Also off the air is Radio Free Chelmsford, 88.3, according to its web site.

The battle between the pirates and the FCC is far from over; Provizer is already getting assistance from the ACLU in his case and he’s promising to see things all the way through in court. We’ll keep you posted…

In other news from MASSACHUSETTS this week: Keating Willcox’s Willow Farm Broadcasting has closed on its purchase of WPEP (1570 Taunton); staying at the station are George and Donna Colajezzi and their local morning show. A follow-up to last week’s mention of the sale of WBET (1460) and WCAV (97.7) in Brockton: new owner KJI Broadcasting has the same ownership as Pittsfield’s WBEC (1420/105.5) out in the Berkshires.

One of CONNECTICUT’s largest broadcast groups is for sale. At a staff meeting Tuesday morning, Capstar employees were told the company’s Fairfield radio group is on the block. Capstar’s Connecticut properties include news-talk trimulcast WSTC (1400 Stamford)/WNLK (1350 Norwalk)/WINE (940 Brookfield), oldies WKHL (96.7 Stamford), classic rock WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), and rocker WRKI (95.1 Brookfield). Rumor has Clear Channel eyeing the stations to add to its own 2AM-1FM group in nearby New Haven.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, the simulcast between WJYY (105.5 Concord) and WNHQ (92.1 Peterborough) started last Friday, more than a week ahead of schedule. Up in Manchester, WKBR (1250) has flipped back to the One-on-One Sports format, supposedly for good this time. WKBR was apparently having trouble getting a clear satellite signal from One-on-One; they’ve built a new dish to fix that problem.

Could little WGOT (Channel 60) in Merrimack become Boston’s latest network O&O? WGOT owner Lowell Paxson is talking about using his own group of UHF stations to create a seventh network. Labelling WGOT as the “Boston” affiliate would be a bit of a stretch; while the station has cable carriage through the northern half of the market and a translator (W54CN) in Needham, its over-the-air signal is weak to nonexistent in Boston proper. Paxson also controls WHRC (Channel 46) in Norwell, Mass. through an LMA; it too might become part of the network. Elsewhere in the region, Paxson stations include WTWS (Channel 26) New London CT, WPXN-TV (Channel 31) New York, WHAI-TV (Channel 43) Bridgeport, and the not-yet-built WAQF (Channel 51) Batavia-Buffalo.

Also making network noises is Barry Diller’s Silver King group, which includes WHSH (Channel 66) Marlborough-Boston, WHSE (Channel 68) Newark-New York, and WHSI (Channel 67) Smithtown, L.I. With Diller’s acquisition of the USA network this week, there’s growing speculation that he’ll use the Silver King stations as the core of a new broadcast network (in addition to his CityVision local programming plans).