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
*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…
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*OK, then, what about that imagined nightmare future in which “local” radio from coast to coast is coming out of a server farm with no local offices from which local voices can be heard? You wouldn’t be wrong if you suspected that at least a few bigger national players have already been thinking about how they could close down at least some local facilities.
On a technological level, it’s already entirely possible – when your morning show comes from Nashville, your midday jock is tracked from LA, afternoons are from New York and the rest of the day is just automated, it already doesn’t matter whether the server playing out that content is in the market or a thousand miles away, does it? (And we can think of a few “local” clusters across NERW-land where that’s describes most of the stations in the group, even while the main studio rule was in full effect.)
On one hand, the argument goes, the logical next step is to let the lease expire on that local real estate where those empty studios sit all day, leaving whatever sales and promotions staff is left to work from home or from some centralized facility in the next market over, while a regional roving engineer fixes any transmitter glitches. (And we’ll have more in this week’s Top of the Tower podcast on Wednesday about the brave new world of “virtual studios” that allow programming to originate from just about anywhere.)
Yes, some groups will try such a tactic, and some may even find some success with completely nationalized formats sold at a national level without much in the way of local sales and promotion. But then – isn’t that basically what “NASH” has been for Cumulus, with at best mediocre ratings and revenue results in most of its networked markets?
Alan Bishop of Finger Lakes Radio Group, again: “It’s expensive to maintain offices and studios in Geneva, Auburn and, soon, Penn Yan. We haven’t done it because of regulation. We have done it because it’s good business!”
Will most local operators in the region continue to see “good business” in keeping local studios open? We’d bet on it. And even for the cluster operators, there’s still enough local programming coming out of most of their local studios that it would seem to us that some sort of local facilities will continue to be a necessity for some time to come.
*What’s next from the FCC’s deregulatory majority? Chairman Ajit Pai is already planning a vote on revised ownership rules, but this one doesn’t look like it will make anyone completely happy. Pai’s proposal calls for an end to the antiquated newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule (remember our speculation a few weeks back about a Boston Herald-WRKO combination?) and to the TV-radio crossownership rules that have largely been waived anyway. But the hard-core deregulatory crowd won’t be happy that Pai isn’t proposing an end to the current overall ownership caps, or to the current sub-caps that limit an owner to a maximum of five AM or FMs in any given market.
And CONNECTICUT‘s Jeff Warshaw has particular reason to be miffed: he’s been a proponent of eliminating one current quirk to the rules that counts embedded radio markets within the ownership cap of their larger parent market. That’s a particular problem for his Connoisseur group, which owns stations in the Stamford-Norwalk market and in Long Island’s Nassau-Suffolk market. Those stations don’t compete at all with the stations Beasley is rumored to be trying to sell in central New Jersey’s Middlesex-Somerset-Union market – but because all three of those markets are embedded in Arbitron’s New York market, Connoisseur is capped at eight signals total. And for now, it appears it will have to stay that way.
(We’ll have more thoughts on the ownership deregulation issue coming up in the Top of the Tower podcast this week…)
*You may have read some of the stories about how NEW YORK‘s WNYC has been helping fellow public broadcaster WIPR in Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, but did you know there’s another NERW-land connection here, too?
WNYC sent two of its engineers, Dannie Raghunath and Peter Polanco, down to Puerto Rico last week along with an emergency “RadioToGo” kit – an FM transmitter, basic studio gear and antenna – provided by CoastAlaska public broadcasting, which developed the boxes to assist its small stations in remote areas to survive emergencies. The extra NERW-land connection here comes in the form of the engineer in Juneau who got the kit together and shipped off to New York en route to Puerto Rico. That’s none other than Rich Parker, who worked for years at WHYY in Philadelphia and then ran the engineering shop at VERMONT Public Radio before moving on to Alaska a few years back. (It was during Rich’s VPR days that Fybush Media worked closely with him to help develop what became today’s VPR Classical service.)
Our editorial hat is off, in any event, to Rich and the WNYC folks for providing the help WIPR required to get an FM signal back on the air in San Juan at a time when its service was most desperately needed.
*Univision’s WXNY (96.3 New York) is picking up an afternoon show from its sister station in Miami. Jackie Guerrido’s “El Jangueo” show originates down there at WRTO (98.3), and features co-hosts Tony Banana and “El Primo.”
*On TV, Spectrum’s NY1 has launched a new “Mornings on 1” show that’s far more personality-based than its usual news wheel. Veteran anchor Pat Kiernan remains at the center of the show. Upstate, meanwhile, Spectrum News is losing Albany-based anchor Kate Welshofer, who’s headed back here to western New York to join the staff of Buffalo’s WGRZ (Channel 2) in 2018. (Disclaimer: we toiled together at what was then Time Warner Cable’s R News a couple of decades ago…)
There’s some TV news being made here in Rochester, too: Nexstar’s WROC-TV (Channel 8) debuted a slick new studio rebuild on Wednesday, and we’ll take you on a tour of that facility soon. Sinclair’s WHAM-TV (Channel 13) is right behind, with its newscasts coming from its newsroom while a set rebuild is in progress – and at Hubbard’s WHEC (Channel 10), it’s a new face on a recently-redone set, with Jeremy Kappell joining the station this past week as chief meteorologist, a role last held by Kevin Williams. In a town that likes local talent, will viewers warm to Kappell, who comes from WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky?
*Back to radio: Sunrise Broadcasting has been tweaking its format lineup in the Hudson Valley again – at some point (we think fairly recently), WGNY (1220 Newburgh) and its 105.3 translator dropped the country format they’d been running since February, instead picking up a simulcast of “Fox Oldies” from sister station WGNY-FM (98.9 Rosendale) to the north.
*On Long Island, Texas-based Centro Cristiano de Vida Eternal has been granted a big move for its translator, W296CQ (107.1), which will move west from Hauppauge to Melville with 140 watts, covering a much more densely-populated part of western Suffolk County and parts of eastern Nassau County, too. The translator is on the books now as a relay of WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore), but we’d expect that to change at some point.
*Radio People on the Move in MASSACHUSETTS: Remember Annalisa? The Boston-area native started in radio at WBIM (91.5) at Bridgewater State and then went on to WAAF (107.3) and the morning show at WZLX (100.7). For 20 years, from 1996 until her departure last year, Annalisa was out west at the legendary KFOG (104.5) in San Francisco, where she became a midday fixture. Now she’s returning to Boston as the new afternoon jock at WXRV (92.5 Andover), where she takes the spot recently vacated by Matt Phipps.
“I was raised on Boston radio, was lucky enough to start in Boston radio and am excited to be welcomed back to it at the River,” she said in the announcement of her return. “It was important to me that I work at a radio station that respects their listeners, loves the community and loves to share their passion for music. The River stands out as an
independent station in a cookie cutter corporate radio world.”
*Over at Beasley’s WKLB (102.5 Waltham), Marissa Lanchak has signed on as the new night jock. She’s been a fixture at the other end of the Pike in the Albany market, where she’d most recently been doing middays at WGNA (107.7) for Townsquare.
*Out on Martha’s Vineyard, WMVY had been on the air for only a few years when Barbara Dacey came on board in 1985 as a part-time DJ. By 1993, she was WMVY’s program director, and in the years that followed she helped build the station into an important player in the AAA format, not to mention an essential part of life on the Vineyard. Dacey was instrumental in keeping WMVY alive after its commercial 92.7 FM signal was sold off in 2013, first as a webstream and then back on the air in its current noncommercial incarnation at 88.7 on the dial.
Last week, Dacey announced she’s stepping down from her roles as director of worldwide programming, midday host and board member at Friends of MVYRadio, the parent organization at WMVY. No successor has been named yet.
*Langer Broadcasting’s WSRO (650 Ashland) wants to get its translator closer to Boston. Currently licensed with just 40 watts from its AM transmitter site in Framingham, W271CU (102.1) is applying to relocate to Bear Hill in Waltham with 250 watts – and a complex directional antenna that would protect WSAK (102.1 Hampton NH) to the northeast and another Boston-area translator, W271CG on 102.1 to the southeast.
*We send our deepest condolences to our friends at WBZ (1030), who are mourning the death over the weekend of Jake Germano, an up-and-coming producer at the station. He and a friend were killed in a car crash in Rindge, N.H. on Saturday.
*Brian Stratton was just 49 when he died on Tuesday, and his passing leaves a big void in the South Shore music community, where he was well known as a producer, promoter and as a musician in his own right. Stratton did production at WATD (95.9 Marshfield) and hosted a weekly talk show there, “Friends with Benefits.”
*In RHODE ISLAND, Doug MacGunnigle has been promoted to assistant PD at Cumulus’ WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7), where he’d been producer and digital content director. MacGunnigle started at WPRO in 2002 (and also worked on-air at sister stations WPRO-FM and WWKX) before crossing town to WHJJ (920) in 2011; he returned to WPRO in 2015.
Meanwhile to the south, John DePetro’s done at WADK (1540 Newport), but he says he’s not leaving radio. The oft-controversial talk host landed in afternoons at the Newport station back in January (with a simulcast on WNRI 1380 in Woonsocket) after an on-and-off decade with WPRO. DePetro tells the Providence Journal he’ll be making an announcement this morning about his next radio gig, and we’ll update here accordingly.
Monday morning update: DePetro is moving his home base to WNRI, where he’ll be heard weekdays from 11 AM-2 PM starting today.
*We begin our PENNSYLVANIA coverage by remembering Frank Gottlieb. The Beaver County native and Vietnam veteran started his news career at the old WAMO (860), was a newswriter and producer at WTAE-TV and KDKA-TV, then went on to work in Columbus, Ohio at QUBE interactive cable TV and WCMH (Channel 4) before coming back home to spend the last 27 years of his career, at KQV (1410). As news director at KQV, Gottlieb was a stickler for old-fashioned newsroom values in a world that was changing quickly around him. He was also a passionate historian of Pittsburgh media. Gottlieb became news director at KQV in 1993 and retired from the station in 2012; since then, he’d been an avid traveler, including a cross-country trip earlier this year. He’d been ill with the flu recently; he was 72 when he died Tuesday (Oct. 24).
*Two new LPFMs have filed for licenses to cover at opposite ends of the state. In Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Asian Culture Center’s WQEW-LP (98.5) has assumed its half of a time-share there. (Its time-share partner, WJYN-LP, has been using the channel fulltime for the last year or so with its urban format and will now cut back to its 3 PM-3 AM schedule, giving WQEW the morning hours.)
In Erie, Hand Up Inc.’s WUTT-LP (95.5) filed for its license to cover, too; it will apparently be running an urban format serving Erie’s west side.
*And we wish a very happy 30th anniversary to “Radio Times,” the local talk show that’s become a fixture on WHYY (90.9 Philadelphia)’s morning lineup. Philadelphia magazine interviewed host Marty Moss-Coane about her long tenure there last week, which she described as “such a lucky, happy accident. There’s a certain pleasure about doing what you’re put on this planet to do. Radio is made for me,” she said.
*There’s a license to cover for a NEW JERSEY LPFM, too: Caribbean Sports International’s WZYE-LP (95.9 Maplewood) is part of a three-way time-share on that frequency, operating Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons and from midnight to 3 AM daily.
*We’re starting to see DTV stations leave the air as a result of the spectrum auction and impending repack. Family Stations’ WNYJ (Channel 66/RF 29) got $121 million from the FCC to give up its spectrum and didn’t enter into a channel-share deal to put its programming (mostly leased time to international news networks) on anyone else’s spectrum – so now the former WFME-TV is off the air for good. (And how things have changed for Family Stations in the years since it was forced to sell off WFME’s old 94.7 facility to help pay the network’s debts after founder Harold Camping’s botched end-of-the-world prediction – between the money it brought in from selling 94.7, Philadelphia’s WKDN 106.9 and now the TV spectrum, the network now appears to be in quite stable financial shape.)
In the Harrisburg-Lebanon-Lancaster-York market, the RF 30 signal of independent WGCB-TV (Channel 49) is dark now, with the MeTV affiliate having started its channel-share with Nexstar’s WHTM (Channel 27/RF 10). OTA Broadcasting is selling the WGCB license and its physical tower assets, to Red Lion 49 Media, LLC and Rocket Dog Media, LLC, respectively, for a total of $2.25 million.
The auction-driven shutdown also claimed three low-power stations in the Pittsburgh market, where OTA Broadcasting collected $74 million from the spectrum of the old Bruno Goodworth Network signals. WEPA-CD in Pittsburgh signs off Wednesday, as does WNNB in Beaver and WPCP in New Castle; five other signals that had been fed from WEPA will go dark for now but could return with new programming and ownership.
*And we know now how much NBC is paying for little WYCN-CD (Channel 13) from Nashua: OTA will get $225,000 for the license, which has surrendered its RF spectrum and will be channel-sharing (but just one SD service) on public broadcaster WGBX (Channel 44).
*In CANADA, Fitzroy Gordon’s CKFG (98.7 Toronto) is getting an unwelcome summons from the CRTC, which is calling the station to a license hearing January 11. The CRTC says the station has failed to meet a laundry list of license obligations in its first term on the air, including Can-Con rules, music logs, annual reports and a requirement to report on how “G98.7” is serving Toronto’s Caribbean and African communities with its music and spoken-word programming.
Think the CRTC’s not happy? “The Commission could conclude that the licensee has demonstrated that it does not understand its regulatory obligations,” it writes. “Because of this, coupled with the fact that the Commission has already required corrective measures by the licensee during the current licence term with which the licensee does not appear to have complied, the Commission has concerns regarding the licensee’s ability and commitment to operate the station in a compliant manner.”
We’ll be watching closely to see whether Gordon’s Intercity Broadcasting Network, Inc. can find a way to satisfy the CRTC’s concerns and keep its license.
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