In this week’s issue… Listeners, union save WBZ jobs (at least for now) – CBS/Entercom/iHeart/Beasley head for closing – Bomb scares rattle TV stations – K-Love buys in Harrisburg – Engineers on the move – Newcap buys in NS
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*If the executives at iHeart Media thought they could come in to Boston and turn WBZ (1030) into a cookie-cutter version of the news-talkers they run across the country, they learned a powerful (and potentially expensive) lesson last week as they tangled with SAG-AFTRA union leaders and the advertisers and listeners they rallied in support of keeping WBZ’s distinctive local voice alive.
But while the union won a victory by getting iHeart to reverse its plans to force WBZ staffers to reapply for their jobs, there’s still caution in the air as the oldest radio station in MASSACHUSETTS prepares for the ownership change that could come as early as Friday.
Here’s where things stand after two days of tense meetings between union officials and iHeart executives, first at iHeart in Medford and then with WBZ staffers present last Tuesday at Soldiers Field Road: after initially sticking to their stance of cancelling the union contracts, iHeart reversed course, saying it will keep WBZ’s newspeople employed under their current contracts when it takes over.
There’s an unspoken “for now” tacked on to that, though, and plenty of unfamiliar turf ahead on both sides. At one point, iHeart’s executives even acknowledged that they have nothing like WBZ’s all-news format in their station portfolio right now, telling staffers “we drive Toyotas, and this is a Ferrari.”
And speaking as someone who spent a good chunk of last week driving an unfamiliar vehicle (albeit not a Ferrari!) on the left side of British highways, your editor can testify that there are plenty of hazards in taking the wheel in a situation like the one iHeart now faces. Even after winning this victory, the WBZ staffers we’ve talked to are still uneasy about their station’s future under a company that simply doesn’t have the resources to support all-news radio the way Westinghouse and CBS did. Will they stick around as iHeart moves them up to Medford? If there’s attrition in the ranks – as seems likely – will iHeart bring in new hires at the same union rates as the staffers inherited from the CBS era?
As always, we’ll be watching very closely as the new drivers take the wheel of this particular Ferrari – and we’d note that inexperienced drivers tend to have problems on the roads of greater Boston, don’t they?
*It’s certainly going to be a busy week for everyone involved in all corners of the Boston ownership shuffle, as work goes on behind the scenes to figure out who goes where as long-established clusters get broken up and reassembled. Behind the scenes, it’s bits as mundane as moving former CBS employees to Entercom email servers, and as complex as sorting out the physical moves that will eventually have to happen. For a short while, at least, it appears that the current CBS Radio FM studios at 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway could be occupied by stations run by three competing companies – iHeart’s WZLX (100.7), Entercom’s WODS (103.3) and WBMX (104.1) and Beasley’s WBZ-FM (98.5).
Stay tuned to this space – as we learn more about who ends up going where and how all these dust clouds will clear, we may well have NERW updates here, not to mention lots of capital-I Insight on Wednesday’s Top of the Tower podcast as we sort this all out with RadioInsight’s Lance Venta.
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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: November 14, 2016
*Yeah, yeah, it’s another week leading off the column with more news about NBC in eastern MASSACHUSETTS – but (a) we think this week’s news pretty much sums things up until the Peacock Network actually makes its move in six weeks or so, and (b) it’s either that or write about the election, and you’d rather hear about NBC Boston, right?
Thought as much. So: as of this past Thursday, “channel 8” has lit up for viewers near the Needham/Newton antenna farm, thanks to a reprogramming of the encoder at WBTS-LP (RF 46), which had formerly been using virtual channel 60 for its relay of Telemundo outlet WNEU from NEW HAMPSHIRE. Viewers who rescan their TVs can now see a temporary simulcast of Comcast’s New England Cable News on 8.1 (with NBC Boston promos and a few of the syndicated shows that will be part of the NBC Boston schedule in 2017), plus WNEU’s Telemundo programming on 8.2, Comcast’s COZI classic TV channel on 8.3 and Telemundo spinoff TeleExitos on 8.4.
Meanwhile on WNEU, it’s Telemundo on 60.1 – but the “NBC Boston Preview” is now being seen in New Hampshire and areas north of Boston on 60.2, with TeleExitos now shifted to 60.3 and COZI to 60.4. (This is a change from NBC’s initial announcement that NBC Boston’s programming would appear as virtual “8.2” from the WNEU transmitter; we’d assume that someone from Hearst raised concerns about signal overlap between WNEU and the western fringe of its WMTW signal from MAINE, which has been “channel 8” in the region for many decades.)
Which brings us to the question we couldn’t answer last week. Joe Davis of Chesapeake RF Consultants unearthed the request that Comcast filed with the FCC in mid-October to use virtual channel 8 in Boston, and here’s their logic:
As we’d surmised in earlier columns, WBTS told the FCC that it can’t use virtual channel 46 in the Boston market, since that belongs to WWDP (RF 10) in Norwell. Nor can it use virtual channel 10, given the considerable overlap with Providence’s WJAR (RF 50). Because of its long period of silence, WBTS told the Commission that the marketplace had no familiarity with its previous analog channels, 32 and then 67, both of which would otherwise have been available for use as virtual channels in Boston. (As would “51,” which was WJAR’s original digital RF channel.)
Because it’s an LPTV, WBTS suggested to the FCC that the rules for assigning virtual channels should be interpreted a little more loosely, and since “8” was otherwise unused both in Boston and neighboring markets (except for WMTW, which doesn’t overlap WBTS itself), “8” it was. (NERW notes that other channels, such as 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and perhaps even 3, would also have worked just fine – but none of those will put NBC just one virtual click away from its soon-to-be-former home on WHDH, channel 7.)
*The region’s one and only big format change of the week comes from upstate NEW YORK, where Craig Fox’s WMVN (100.3 Sylvan Beach) dropped its “Movin” rhythmic AC format on Wednesday to go rhythmic top-40 at 4 PM as “96.5/100.3 the Beat.”
The 96.5 is translator W243AB Westvale, which fills in the rimshot 100.3 signal for central Syracuse, where the format is really aimed. It’s been a while since Syracuse has had a station targeting the urban audience (save for iHeart’s “Power 620” WHEN on the AM dial), and it appears the new “Beat” is trying to get that audience as well as pulling from the two mainstream CHRs in town, iHeart’s WWHT (Hot 107.9) and Cumulus’ WNTQ (93Q).
So far, there’s no airstaff announced for the new “Beat.”
*In CANADA, Erin Davis is leaving CHFI (98.1) – and Toronto, for that matter – after a remarkable 28 years on the morning show. Davis made the announcement on Wednesday’s show, and she’ll wrap up her time at the Rogers-owned AC station with a live broadcast December 15 from Casa Loma before relocating to British Columbia.
Five Years Ago: November 12, 2012
*It’s been just over a year since the public radio scene in western PENNSYLVANIA changed dramatically with Duquesne University’s sale of WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) to a new group called Essential Public Radio. Renamed WESA, 90.5 shed most of the jazz programming that had long been a staple there – and most of the former WDUQ staff, too. Many of those staffers had been involved with a rival bid for the 90.5 license under the “Pittsburgh Public Media” banner, and after losing out on the broadcast license, they remained active with other ventures. Even without a station to call home, former DUQ staffers kept the jazz format going by way of an online stream (“Pittsburgh Jazz Channel“) while planning more new formats to offer under the “PubMusic” banner.
It turns out they were planning something else, too: not long after WDUQ became WESA, Pittsburgh Public Media began negotiating to find a new FM home. On Friday, PPM announced it’s entered an agreement to buy WVBC (88.1), the radio signal of Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia, some 35 miles west of Pittsburgh. PPM openly acknowledges that the 1100-watt signal “is a station that needs signal improvements” before it can be easily heard in most of the Pittsburgh area, and NERW notes that will be a challenge, what with Carnegie Mellon’s WRCT (88.3) right in Pittsburgh and He’s Alive, Inc.s’ religious WRWJ (88.1 Murrysville) out to the southeast of town.
“We must start somewhere,” PPM says, and it’s now launching a fundraising campaign to bring in $150,000 for the purchase of WVBC by February 1, 2013. Once it’s on the air with its new 88.1 rimshot signal, PPM says it will be ready to go with a studio: it turns out WESA sold all of the old WDUQ studio gear to PPM when it built new South Side studios with quasi-sister station WYEP (91.3) late last year.
*When Infinity Broadcasting flipped NEW YORK‘s WKTU (92.3) to “K-Rock” back in 1985, could anyone have imagined that the WXRK calls would end up becoming among the city’s most enduring? Over 27 years, 92.3 saw the rise and eventual departure of Howard Stern, the ill-fated 2006 flip to talk as “Free FM” that briefly turned the station into WFNY-FM and the return of “K-Rock” and the WXRK calls in 2007. Even the flip to top-40 as “Now” in 2009 didn’t displace the WXRK callsign – at least, not right away. Why did it take until November 8, 2012 for CBS to finally change the callsign on 92.3 for good? We don’t know – but since the station is now WNOW-FM (a callsign that had been in North Carolina on what’s now WOSG 105.3 Gaffney/Charlotte and before that on what’s now WQXA-FM 105.7 in York, PA), it’s a good bet the “Now” format is sticking around for a while. (2017 note: we don’t get ’em all right, do we?)
Ten Years Ago: November 12, 2007
*It’s always nice to see radio stations join together to raise money for a good cause – but the impromptu collaboration of an entire NEW HAMPSHIRE radio market last week was truly something to behold.
We told you last week that Pauline Loyd (aka “Polly Robbins” of WWOD, WXLF, WNTK and several other Upper Valley stations) was struggling in her fight against breast cancer, and even as we were typing our news item, those stations were banding together for a one-day radiothon to raise money in Pauline’s name.
“Polly’s Think Pink Radiothon” took over the airwaves of pretty much the entire market – all the stations owned by Koor Communications, Nassau Broadcasting, Great Eastern and Dartnouth’s WFRD/WDCR – for a 13-hour simulcast last Thursday based at a phone bank at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth College.
It’s a small market, but by the time the phones stopped ringing and the simulcast ended Thursday night, the effort had raised over $37,000. Nice work, and a tribute to the good work broadcasters can do when they work together.
*Our NEW YORK news starts in Buffalo, where cutbacks at Entercom claimed the jobs of the entire airstaff at WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield) on Friday. PD Hank Dole remains in place, with automation running on the air while part-timers are brought in to replace the former “Lake Guides.” Also out, we’re told, is Brian B. Wilde, music director/APD at WKSE (Kiss 98.5).
Fifteen Years Ago: November 11, 2002
In MASSACHUSETTS, Arthur Liu is adding to his Multicultural Broadcasting holdings with a $1.8 million purchase of WSRO (1470 Marlborough) from Alexander Langer. WSRO isn’t much of a signal at the moment, operating under a long-running Special Temporary Authority since the city of Marlborough took its old transmitter site, but Liu isn’t buying WSRO for its current signal. The purchase price includes $150,000 to build out WSRO’s construction permit to change city of license to Watertown and transmitter site to the Lexington facility of WAMG (1150), which you can see on the October page of the 2002 Tower Site Calendar. When it’s moved and the purchase has closed, WSRO will join WLYN (1360 Lynn) in Liu’s Boston cluster.
We’ve been remiss in mentioning the latest addition to the schedule at Sporting News Radio’s WWZN (1510 Boston); Mike Adams has joined the station to do mornings, which means that 1510 is now running local all day long before joining Sporting News in the evenings (when there’s not a Celtics game, anyway.)
It could just as easily fall under the Bay State heading — but the “new” station serving Fall River and New Bedford is still licensed to RHODE ISLAND, as WKKB (100.3 Middletown). The Citadel rocker, formerly Providence-based 80s outlet WZRI (“Z100”) made its debut last Friday (Nov. 1), with a schedule that includes Patriots football and voicetracking (initally overnight and now middays) from “Brian the Pharmacist,” late of the FNX network.
On to NEW YORK, then: there will be a new addition to the skyline soon that should help the city’s beleaguered TV broadcasters restore a better signal to over-the-air viewers even in the event of problems at their primary Empire State Building site. Four Times Square, the “Condé Nast Building” on Broadway between 41st and 42nd streets, is already home to auxiliary FM transmitters for New York’s Clear Channel and Spanish Broadcasting System clusters, as well as public radio WNYC-FM (93.9). Now the building’s owner, The Durst Organization, plans to add another 200 or so feet to the mast atop 4 Times Square to provide auxiliary transmitter space for New York’s TV stations. (By the way, Durst has hired one of the city’s top broadcast engineers to supervise its own broadcast-leasing operations: John Lyons, the former chief engineer for Clear Channel’s WAXQ in New York, now calls Four Times Square home, which is only fitting, considering he had a huge hand in designing the broadcast facility there!)
Twenty Years Ago: November 14, 1997
The last major locally-owned radio station in Hartford is being sold — but WCCC AM/FM (1290/106.9) won’t become yet another outlet of the big group broadcasters. Sy Dressner’s Greater Hartford Communications Corp. has owned WCCC for 28 years, and now Dressner says it’s time to bring in some younger owners with fresh ideas. Dressner turned down several offers from the big groups and turned to Marlin Broadcasting, the family group that owns classical WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester MA) and WTMI (93.1 Miami FL). It’s not Marlin’s first time in the Hartford market; the company owned WKSS (95.7) from 1980 until 1983.
What’s in store for the rock and roll format at WCCC? Marlin says it’s committed to keeping WCCC-FM rocking, and it’s locked into a three-year contract with Howard Stern in morning drive. On the AM side, the West Hartford-licensed daytimer on 1290 could end up with a new format when Marlin takes over in early 1998. No purchase price has been announced.