In this week’s issue… Dozens file for new translators – KQV’s next chapter – TBN buys in NYC – King flips in Maine – FM eviction in Canada
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s a good morning to be Philadelphia’s WIP (94.1), isn’t it? The sports station has made a long-term bet on the Eagles, and it’s sure to pay off in a big way after the team’s Super Bowl win Sunday night in Minneapolis. We’d bet there are some very happy faces not only at WIP, but also at Entercom’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. After all, the matchup also gave Entercom’s WEEI (93.7) in Boston plenty to talk about, even after the station had to suspend host Alex Reimer for his insult aimed at Tom Brady’s young daughter. WEEI didn’t have the local call of the game – that was on WBZ-FM (98.5), now in Beasley’s hands – but it carried the network call via Westwood One, and its deal with the Patriots means Brady will be on the air on WEEI this morning to talk about the Pats’ loss.
On the TV side, NBC parent Comcast is also headquartered in America’s newest championship city. Once it figures out what went wrong with that spot break that went (very expensively) to black during the TV broadcast, NBC executives will probably be taking a very close look at the local ratings for the game in the Boston market: if a Patriots Super Bowl (and upcoming Winter Olympics) isn’t enough to get viewers to sample the ratings-challenged “NBC10 Boston,” after all, what else could possibly get them to find NBC’s new home on their dial?
*Beyond the big game, there was really just one big story this past week: while the FCC calls the process “AM revitalization,” there are few broadcasters who’d argue that the ongoing process of granting FM translator signals to AM stations is actually revitalizing an increasingly moribund AM band.
When the Commission closed its final window for AM broadcasters to apply for translators on Wednesday, more than 850 AM stations had applied for their own little slices of the FM dial, hoping to put their programming where more of today’s listeners are. (Meanwhile, the FCC continues to crank out construction permit grants for nearly 1000 stations that applied in last year’s window, which was limited to small class C and D stations.)
Much of this week’s NERW is a comprehensive list (the first, we believe, to appear anywhere) of those applications in the “NERW-land” territory we cover. You’ll see how several AM stations on the verge of going dark are hoping to use translators as a last gasp for survival – and how some much bigger (and still successful) AMs are hedging their bets with FM applications, just to make sure they’re not left out down the road.
A few notes on the process: the applications you’ll see below are “short-form” proposals that aren’t required to have complete technical details or even be grantable on the frequencies they’ve proposed. In some cases, applicants deliberately file for ungrantable channels in order to be able to modify their proposals later on when the FCC opens a window for complete “long-form” filings.
What happens now? In the next week or so, we expect the FCC to release its official list of applications, sorted into “singletons” that had no competition for their proposed channels and mutually-exclusive (“MX”) groups of competing applicants. Those MX groups will then proceed to a settlement window later this year where they can buy each other out or find suitable technical modifications that resolve their MX situation. And if they still can’t reach a deal? There will be an auction – but that’s a last-choice alternative for broadcasters trying not to spend too much on translators. Last week, the FCC released a list of 12 MX groups from its 2017 filing window that will now proceed to auction; in NERW-land, that included just one pair of competing applicants, Stephens (WMSA) and Waters (WPDM) in Massena for 92.9 and 93.3, respectively, with a proposed starting bid of just $750.
(By way of disclaimer, Fybush Media assisted many of this window’s translator applicants, both in NERW-land and around the country; we’ve noted those clients in italics in our state-by-state look at all the applications that were filed, which awaits subscribers just below…)
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Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
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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 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: February 6, 2017
*Is the impending merger of CBS Radio into Entercom going to be “the biggest story of 2017,” as our colleague Tom Taylor declared Friday? That might be a premature declaration – but there’s no question the multi-billion-dollar deal is going to be a huge topic in the months to come.
In our NERW Extra on Thursday, we answered some of the immediate questions that arose from the deal, but those were just the beginning of what’s going to be a complex process. (If not necessarily a slow one – Entercom showed its determination to move this deal forward quickly when it announced Friday that it’s returning its license for KDND in Sacramento. That’s the station that got in FCC hot water with its “Hold your wee for a Wii” contest a few years back in which a listener died, and rather than wait out the wheels of FCC justice, Entercom decided sacrificing a license worth perhaps $20 million was a reasonable price to pay to get faster FCC approval for the CBS Radio deal.)
Who’s looking for trades? To comply with FCC ownership caps, Entercom plans to get rid of at least 14 stations nationwide in addition to shutting down KDND. Those include signals in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco/San Jose, Seattle and of course Boston, where at least three of the combined ten CBS and Entercom stations will have to go.
In its conference call, Entercom said it intends to pursue tax-free swaps instead of sales. So who’s out there who might want some combination of spinoffs from the CBS and Entercom clusters in Boston? The likeliest contender is iHeart, whose Boston cluster of three FMs (“JAMN” WJMN, “Kiss” WXKS-FM, “Bull” WBWL) and two AMs (talk WKOX and business WXKS) has always lagged in size behind Entercom, CBS and the Greater Media cluster that’s now part of Beasley. Indeed, iHeart may be the only logical suitor for one especially troubled Entercom property, talker WRKO (680). Could Rush Limbaugh, now in high-dial AM exile at WKOX, make yet another return to WRKO in the end?
*CONNECTICUT‘s WDJZ (1530 Bridgeport) is no more. Owner People’s Broadcast Network, LLC had told the FCC it was taking the station silent on Feb. 1, 2016, then applied for a second six-month silent period last September.
Because it didn’t return to the air by Feb. 2, 2017, the 5,000-watt daytimer has now had its license cancelled. Most of its leased-time programmers have found new homes in the year since WDJZ went silent; WNLK (1350 Norwalk) seems to have absorbed the majority of the former WDJZ programming.
*It appears last week’s dismissal of veteran CHUM-FM (104.5 Toronto) midday host Ingrid Schumacher wasn’t just a one-off event; Bell Media now says it’s making an unspecified number of job cuts across Canada. In Montreal, that included Heather Backman, who’d been co-hosting mornings at CHOM (97.7) with Terry DiMonte for the last five years, as well as CHOM part-timer Paul Beauregard.
Five Years Ago: February 4, 2013
*For decades now, broadcasters in the U.S. have played the move-in game: get licensed to a community somewhere near a big city, put a signal on the air and begin soliciting advertising from that larger market. (Just ask that station that’s getting all the attention in the New York City market right now – you know, WNSH 94.7 from “Newark, New Jersey”!)
But in CANADA, things work a little differently: if you’re licensed to Newark (so to speak), you’d better not be programming to New York. Or, to put it more concretely: if you’re licensed to St. Catharines, Ontario, you’d better not be programming to Toronto.
That, in a nutshell, is why the CRTC denied the latest attempt to revive AM 1220 in St. Catharines, the frequency vacated last year when the agency ordered that channel’s longtime occupant, CHSC, to leave the air. This time, the proposal came from Subanasiri Vaithilingam, who operates CJVF (105.9 Scarborough), a low-wattage ethnic station that really does serve part of the Toronto market. Vaithilingam’s proposal for 1220 in St. Catharines called for most of the station’s programming to be in English, but with 15 hours a week of “third-language programming in Filipino, Tamil, Russian, Portuguese, and South Asian languages” as well.
*Off the coast of MASSACHUSETTS, the nonprofit “Friends of MVYradio” has scored a big victory along the way to its goal of keeping the AAA format of WMVY (92.7 Tisbury) alive after Aritaur Communications completes its sale of the broadcast license to Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9). The “Friends” group, led by longtime WMVY programmer Barbara Dacey, set an ambitious fundraising goal of $600,000 in just two months to acquire WMVY’s studio facility on Martha’s Vineyard and relaunch the station as a web-only operation. As of January 25, the Friends announced they’d made their goal and will be able to keep ‘MVY alive on the web at least through the end of 2013. “We are already starting to look ahead,” says the group’s announcement, with plans to secure grants and underwriting support in hopes of also finding a new FM home once 92.7 switches to a WBUR simulcast under new calls WBUA. (The exact date for that switch hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s expected to happen within the next few weeks.)
Ten Years Ago: February 4, 2008
A surprise format change in New York – at 4 PM Tuesday, Emmis pulled the plug on smooth jazz WQCD (101.9), relegating “CD101.9” to the station’s HD2 channel (which wasn’t even on the air at launch time) and replacing it with a classic rock-leaning AAA format (they’re calling it “adult rock”), as “101.9 RXP, The NY Rock Experience.” New calls are WRXP, and there’s at least the start of a new staff – Brian Schrock is shown as music director and afternoon host on the station’s new website, while Blake Lawrence remains on board as PD.
*It’s been a popular parlor game in eastern MASSACHUSETTS radio circles for more than a decade now – when will Greater Media flip formats on its perennially ratings-challenged AAA station, WBOS (92.9 Brookline) – and to what?
If you had “February 1, 2008, at 5 PM” in the pool, and “classic alternative” as the new format, congratulations – you’ve just won something. If, on the other hand, you had “WBOS disc jockey” after your name, the news isn’t so good. The newly-renamed “Radio 92.9” has parted with its entire airstaff, with no plans to replace them any time soon.
Off the air completely are afternoon jock John Laurenti (late of WHJY in Providence), night guy Dominick Lewis and overnight voice Paul Jarvis, as well as the station’s weekenders, including Holly Harris and her Sunday night blues show. Morning host George Knight is gone from that shift, but his Sunday morning show remains in place. And middayer Dana Marshall is off the air, but she drops “interim” from her PD title and continues programming the new station.
So what’s this “classic alternative” business all about? Our best guess here at NERW is that it’s a play to siphon off some of the older listenership to Boston’s other “alternative” rockers, WBCN (104.1) and WFNX (101.7) – but after years of rumors about more dramatic format changes at 92.9, in particular some very credible reports that the station was on the verge of going sports a few months back, there’s reason to believe that Greater Media didn’t have any long-term plans of sticking with the long-running triple-A format, which had been running in one form or another on WBOS since its 1989 flip from country.
*Even before WBOS made its surprise Friday flip, we were planning to lead this week’s column with a Boston format change: last Monday morning (Jan. 28), regular listeners to the conservative talk on Salem’s WTTT (1150 Boston), what few there were, awoke to a shock – instead of the lineup that included Bill Bennett, Sean Hannity, Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt, WTTT’s 5000-watt signal was running Spanish-language religion as “Radio Luz.”
In just over four years since launching its talk format in November 2003, WTTT never achieved significant visibility or ratings in the crowded Boston talk arena, despite several stabs at local talk and the addition of WBZ castoff Paul Harvey. “Radio Luz” enters a fairly crowded field, too, with Spanish-language religious programming already airing in the market on WESX (1230 Salem)/WJDA (1300 Quincy), but the leased-time programming will at least provide some steady revenue to bolster Salem’s bigger signals in town, religious WEZE (590 Boston) and WROL (950 Boston).
*Speaking of out-of-state religious broadcasters, California’s EMF Broadcasting is getting its first toehold in NEW HAMPSHIRE, with a $1 million purchase of WMEX (106.5 Farmington) from veteran New England broadcaster Dennis Jackson.
Fifteen Years Ago: February 3, 2003
CONNECTICUT’s longest-running morning team hung up their headphones last week after nearly two decades on the air — and not completely willingly. It’s been no secret for the last year or so that Bruce Barber was looking to leave the “Smith & Barber” morning show on WPLR (99.1 New Haven), but it still came as a surprise to listeners when the show was nowhere to be found last Friday morning.
Station officials say Barber had mentioned several times that he was getting bored with the show; they considered keeping co-host Brian Smith as a solo act, but decided instead to buy out the rest of the duo’s contracts. The decision came as a surprise to Smith, who tells Connecticut media outlets he wasn’t expecting the show to end when it did. The show’s sidekicks, Megan Doll and Billy Winn, will stay on board when WPLR’s new morning show launches later this month. Chaz and AJ come to the Cox rocker from Barnstable’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead) on Long Island; Chaz is a former night jock at WPLR.
MASSACHUSETTS is home to one of the two stations in America whose call letters are the same as its city of license (WACO in Waco, Texas being the other) — and listeners to WARE (1250) in Ware have something new to enjoy this week. New owner Success Signal Broadcasting (helmed by Marshall Sanft, former owner of WESO in Southbridge) launched an oldies format on WARE Saturday, featuring veteran central Massachusetts jock Fred King in morning drive, a daily “Polka Hour” from 11 to noon (and all morning on Sunday), and an interesting lineup of local talk shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Dennis Jackson (of WQQQ/WMEX/WRIP fame) has a hand in this one too; he and programmer Jay “Biggie” Fink are behind the deep, deep oldies format on the 5000-watter, which blankets the territory between Springfield and Worcester. (2013 note: WARE’s oldies format is still going strong, as is another project Dennis had a hand in launching that same week a decade ago, Phil Drumheller’s oldies WIZZ 1520 in Greenfield. Here’s to many more!)
Down to NEW JERSEY we’ll go, next, to find another change of simulcast at Millennium’s cluster in the Atlantic City market. WKXW (101.5 Trenton)’s talk programming moved last year from WBSS (97.3 Millville, now hot AC “Mix” WIXM) to WKXW (1450 Atlantic City, the former WFPG) — and at the same time, the hot AC moved from “Shore” WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) to WIXM. WKOE became CHR “Hot 106.3,” but it didn’t last; as of Saturday, “Hot” is gone and WKOE now carries the simulcast from “New Jersey 101.5.” What of WKXW(AM), then? It’s now doing ESPN radio, still with Harry Hurley’s local morning show.
Twenty Years Ago: February 5, 1998
Sinclair Broadcasting is leaving the Burlington-Plattsburgh TV market, just a few months after arriving. You’ll recall that Sinclair is buying the broadcast properties of Heritage Media from Rupert Murdoch. Yesterday, Sinclair said it will sell WPTZ (Channel 5) Plattsburgh-Burlington and WNNE (Channel 31) White River Junction, along with the LMA to WFFF (Channel 44) Burlington, to Sunrise Television for $72 million. Sunrise is the “small-market” television arm of media giant Hicks, Muse, Tate, and Furst. Elsewhere in the region, it owns WKTV (Channel 2) in Utica and WROC (Channel 8) in Rochester. Through its LIN Television arm, Hicks, Muse also owns WTNH (Channel 8) New Haven and WIVB (Channel 4) in Buffalo.
The broadcast scene in VERMONT was a busy one this week even before the WPTZ deal was announced. Up-and-coming rocker WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) is bringing back the “Corm and the Coach” morning show that was dropped last fall by rival WIZN (106.7 Vergennes). The show will replace Don Imus in morning drive on “Champ 101,” with the I-man reportedly moving down the dial to WXPS (96.7 Vergennes). Over at WIZN, station manager Mike Bussiere is reportedly taking over the morning airwaves of “The Wizard.”