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In this week’s issue… Sinclair sends WPIX to “third party” – iHeart’s Boston Rush shuffle – Cichon joins WECK – Public broadcaster fights cable company – Bell adds in central Ontario

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*Tribune Broadcasting’s exit from the television landscape is getting closer, at least if purchaser Sinclair Broadcast Group gets its way with the FCC.

Sinclair filed a plan last week that will put several big-market Tribune stations, including NEW YORK‘s WPIX (Channel 11), into a divestiture trust – but while that sparked a few hours of intense speculation about who’d be buying the city’s oldest independent station, it quickly became clear that Sinclair isn’t really giving up its shot at the nation’s biggest market at all.

Pushed up against the FCC’s cap that limits any individual owner to covering no more than 39% of the nation’s TV households (adjusted for the obsolete and now meaningless, but still in force, “UHF discount”), Sinclair had to demonstrate that it wouldn’t take on the 6.39% of US population reached by WPIX. And so the CW affiliate, along with stations in several other markets, will go into a divestiture trust if the FCC approves.

Sinclair, however, tells the FCC “an agreement to sell WPIX(TV) to a third [party] has been executed” – and, in a footnote, that “upon closing of the sale of this station, Sinclair
will enter into an option and master services agreement with the buyer of this station.”

And that, as anyone who’s followed Sinclair knows well, means that WPIX’s license is headed to one of the shell companies (Cunningham, Deercliff or Howard Stirk Holdings) that are controlled by Smith family members or close friends of the company, which means the only thing that won’t actually be Sinclair on WPIX will be the name on the license and the copyright at the end of the newscast. (We see this here in our hometown market of Rochester, where ABC affiliate WHAM-TV is licensed to Deerfield but is operated entirely as a Sinclair property in tandem with Fox affiliate WUHF.)

In another NERW-land market, Sinclair doesn’t even want to bother with the Deerfield/Cunningham/Howard Stirk shell game, as subscribers will read just over the fold…

The Fybush Media podcast is back!

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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Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

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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 27, 2017

*When news broke from NEW YORK about the death of Alan Colmes Thursday morning, the headlines were predictable – “Liberal half of Hannity and Colmes dies,” and the like. But in the extended universe of radio people, Colmes enjoyed a much longer and larger legacy in a five-decade career that included multiple stops in Boston, New York City and elsewhere. The Long Island native worked at WRHU (88.7) while attending Hofstra, then started his professional career at WERI (1230/103.7) in Westerly, RHODE ISLAND in the early 1970s. He did mornings at Boston’s WEZE (1260) from 1972-1975 as the station went through a brief spurt as an oldies/top-40 mix, later working at WACQ (1150), New Haven’s WNHC (1340), New York’s WHN (1050) and back in Boston at WZLX (100.7) in the early 1980s.

Moving from music to talk (and making use of his skills as a stand-up comic), Colmes joined New York talker WABC (770) in 1984 as morning host (“W-Alan-B.-Colmes”), then segued over to WNBC (660), where he became the last voice heard on the station when it signed off in October 1988. Colmes also worked at WMCA (570) for a brief time before the station was sold to Salem and went religious, and he signed off WEVD (1050) after it was leased to Radio Disney.

By the early 1990s, Colmes was a successful second-tier syndicated talker, which led to “Hannity and Colmes,” which ran on Fox News Channel from 1996 until 2009. Colmes remained with Fox News as a commentator right up until his death Feb. 23. Ironically enough for the last voice heard on “66 WNBC,” Colmes was 66 years old.

*Along MAINE‘s Mid-Coast, Binnie Media has realigned its radio properties. The end of classical “W-Bach” on WBQX (106.9 Thomaston) last Monday moved classic hits “Frank” from the lesser signal of WBYA (105.5 Islesboro) up the dial to the bigger 106.9 signal. And after a week of simulcasting and stunting, Binnie flipped 105.5 on Friday to country as “The Wolf,” sharing talent with sister “Wolf” WTHT (99.9 Auburn) in the Portland market. WTHT also resumed its downtown Portland simulcast on translator W245AA (96.9), which had been carrying “W-Bach” via WTHT’s HD2.

*In CANADA, TVOntario did an about-face on its plan to shut down all but one of its remaining over-the-air transmitters. The provincially-funded public TV network said it could save C$1 million annually by turning off eight transmitters in markets as big as Ottawa, London and Windsor, leaving only its Toronto signal on the air; predictably, that prompted an outcry from viewers that in turn prodded the provincial government to allocate an additional C$1 million to keep those signals on the air.

Five Years Ago: February 25, 2013

*Once you’ve launched the first country format on a full-market NEW YORK signal in almost two decades, how do you follow up your initial splash? If you’re Cumulus’ WNSH (94.7 Newark NJ), you give away enough tickets to pack the Roseland Ballroom for three nights of the “NASH Bash” with headliners including Kix Brooks, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton and Sara Evans – and then as soon as that’s over, you announce the first pieces of your inaugural airstaff.

As seems to be typical these days, “Nash” isn’t naming a morning show right away, instead launching with a midday and afternoon show, drawing from two very different sources of talent.

For middays, WNSH has picked a jock from outside the company with plenty of country experience. Kelly Ford signs on today in the 10 AM-3 PM slot, fresh from a speedy cross-country move that plucked her from Denver, where she’d spent 20 years in morning drive at Lincoln Financial Media country powerhouse KYGO-FM (98.5). Ford left KYGO last summer in what she described as a “mutual decision.”

She’ll be followed at 3 by Jesse Addy, who moves within Cumulus but outside the format where he’s been working: Addy comes to New York from hot AC WDVD (96.3) in Detroit, where he was doing afternoons.

*Around this time last year, we reported on the pending sale of a pair of MAINE TV stations for what appeared to be absurdly low prices. In the end, New Age Media was unable to close on its attempted sale of Portland’s CW affiliate, WPXT (Channel 51) and its MyNetworkTV sister station, Lewiston-licensed WPME (Channel 35), but now it’s back with a new deal for 2013. Last year, it looked as though New Age was selling WPXT to Tyche Broadcasting, while sister company MPS Media was selling WPME to Triumph Broadcasting, both for $75,000 each.

That seemed like quite the bargain price at the time, and the deals filed last week for WPXT and WPME tell a somewhat different tale: New Age now proposes to sell WPXT to Arizona-based Ironwood Communications for $1,525,000 – still a low price for a station that was once Portland’s Fox affiliate, but at least a reasonable figure – while WPME would go from MPS Media to Cottonwood Communications for just $75.000. That low price reflects what Cottonwood is really buying, which amounts to the WPME license and programming. Just as MPS has done, Cottonwood will enter into a deal with WPXT under which Ironwood will operate the My affiliate, selling air time and providing operational services for WPME for a fee of $30,000 a month. But wait, there’s more: the deal also includes a spinoff of WPXT’s real estate in Westbrook, for which Ironwood will assign purchase rights to Admiralty Properties, LLC for $1.3 million.

*It’s the end of an era in CANADA, even if nobody much noticed: last Sunday (February 17) was the end of the line for CKOT (1510 Tillsonburg ON). Tillsonburg Broadcasting put the station on the air in 1955 as a 250-watt daytimer, and it signed the station off 58 years later as a 10,000-watt daytimer, the very last daytime-only AM operation in all of Canada.

In 1965, CKOT spawned an FM sister, CKOT-FM (initially on 100.5 and later on 101.3), and the two simulcast for a few years before the FM went its own way in 1970. The AM side of CKOT tried several times to move to better AM frequencies (including 1600, which instead went to CHNR in nearby Simcoe, and later 1200) and to move to FM, but without success until 2007. That’s when Tillsonburg Broadcasting was finally granted a second FM signal, CJDL (107.3) – and since then, CKOT’s AM side has functioned only as a sunrise-to-sunset relay of “Country 107.3.”

Ten Years Ago: February 25, 2008

*It’s all too common at the moment to hear about radio stations firing veteran air talents as they seek to cut costs. It’s much more unusual to hear about one of those veteran jocks getting a new job – and all but unheard of to see that jock go right back to his old shift at his old station.But then there’s nothing normal about the soap opera that’s surrounded upstate NEW YORK‘s classic rocker, WCMF (96.5 Rochester), in the year and a half since Entercom announced plans to acquire it and several sister stations from CBS Radio.

No, Brother Wease isn’t back on the air at WCMF (though we hear he’s now working behind the scenes, doing sales across town at Clear Channel) – but the station is returning ousted midday host Dave Kane to its airwaves today, not quite three months after he did his “last show” under the old CBS ownership before the station changed hands to Entercom.

Since Kane’s departure from WCMF, he had been freelancing at WHAM-TV (Channel 13), contributing bits to the station’s morning newscast. For much of that time, though, Kane had apparently been negotiating with Entercom about a return to WCMF, which has been lacking in personalities since the start of the contract dispute that pulled Wease off the air just before Christmas. (In addition to releasing Kane, Entercom also chose not to keep night jock Dino Kay or weekender/production director Marc Cronin, leaving WCMF with only the Wease-less morning crew and with afternoon jock Big Marc.

With Kane’s return to the station, he’ll have a slightly different shift for his “Midday Mambo” (10 AM-3 PM, rather than his 11:15 AM-4 PM shift that followed Wease’s extended morning show), and he’ll have a new title, adding PD stripes. (And, we hope, restoring some stability to a station that’s desperately needed some after the turmoil of the last few months.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there’s an unfortunate budget cut at Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston): the talk station axed veteran weekender Moe Lauzier, and the Herald says Lauzier learned of his dismissal from a producer 15 minutes in to what turned out to be his last show Saturday morning. Lauzier, 66, tells the paper he hopes to be working somewhere else (crosstown WTKK?) within a few weeks – and WRKO will reportedly fill Lauzier’s slot with…infomercials. Lauzier would have celebrated his 25th anniversary at WRKO this June.

*EMF Broadcasting just keeps buying stations for its “K-Love” network, and the latest acquisition is in MAINE, where EMF is buying WCYI (93.9 Lewiston) from the Last Bastion Station Trust, which is holding the signal in trust for Citadel.

Since Citadel spun off WCYI (and former sister station WCLZ, now in Saga’s hands) last June, the station has flipped from a modern-rock simulcast of WCYY (94.3 Biddeford, still with Citadel) to a simulcast of WCLZ’s AAA format to a temporary all-blues format.

No purchase price has been announced for the deal, which will give K-Love its first full-power signal in Maine. (EMF has translators in Bangor and Orono, and it’s in the process of acquiring WMEX in neighboring Farmington, New Hampshire, with a signal that reaches portions of southern Maine.)

Fifteen Years Ago: February 24, 2003

The nightclub fire in West Warwick, RHODE ISLAND that killed nearly 100 people last Thursday night would certainly have been a big enough story for the area’s media outlets on its own — and will continue to be so for weeks and months to come. But this tragedy turned out to have an unusual amount of resonance within the media community, beginning of course with the club’s ownership. Jeff Derderian is a familiar name and face to TV viewers in eastern New England. Your editor remembers him from his early-nineties days behind the scenes at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston (when yours truly was toiling, equally behind the scenes, across the building at WBZ radio); later, he would work for WLNE (Channel 6) in the Providence market and then for five years as a reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7).

And, as the whole world knows by now, Jeff had just departed WHDH for a job closer to his Rhode Island home, starting just weeks ago at WPRI (Channel 12) in Providence. He’s been off the air there since Thursday night (when, ironically, he was working on a WPRI story about nightclub safety, using his own club as a source of B-roll video), and we wonder whether he’ll ever be able to work in the region again — assuming, of course, that he and his brother don’t end up facing criminal charges for the fire. More on this in the next few weeks, we’re sure. As we go to press Monday afternoon, meanwhile, among the dozens of people missing and presumed dead is Michael Gonsalves, the WHJY (94.1 Providence) overnight jock known on air as “The Doctor.”

The rest of the week’s news: in NEW HAMPSHIRE, WPKQ (103.7 North Conway) finally made it back on the air last Friday (Feb. 21), nearly two weeks after the fire atop Mount Washington that destroyed the power generators and the transmitter of sister station WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington). NERW hears that WPKQ is running at about 80% of licensed power while awaiting a more powerful replacement generator; its studio-transmitter link was damaged during the fire, so the signal from parent station WOKQ (97.5 Dover) is going by ISDN to the North Conway studios and then by analog microwave to the mountaintop. As for WHOM, we’re told the station’s main antenna suffered little damage; a replacement transmitter and STL could make it to the mountaintop later this week.

NEW YORK City has never been good territory for syndicated morning shows — just ask Tom Joyner. His show disappeared from Emmis’ WRKS (98.7 New York) this morning, replaced by a revived “Wakeup Club” with Jeff Foxx and Shaila, about a year after Joyner was brought in to replace the Isaac Hayes morning show.

Twenty Years Ago: February 26, 1998

The folks at Sinclair Broadcasting have been busy this week, as they prepare to sell off their Rochester radio group — while adding TV properties in Rochester and Buffalo. Entercom officially takes control of the former Heritage Media group in Rochester Saturday night, when Sinclair closes on its purchase of WBBF (950), WBEE-FM (92.5), WQRV (93.3 Avon), and WKLX (98.9) from Heritage, then immediately LMAs the stations to Entercom in preparation for sale. The official word is the standard “no immediate changes,” but NERW’s heard that one often enough…
On the TV side, Sinclair is buying 14 TV stations from Sullivan Broadcasting (owned by Boston-based ABRY), including Fox affiliates WUHF-TV (Channel 31) in Rochester and WUTV (Channel 29) in Buffalo. Sinclair is already a dominant radio player in Buffalo, with WGR (550), WBEN (930), WWWS (1400), WWKB (1520), WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls), and WMJQ (102.5) under its corporate belt — and it’s planning to apply for a waiver to keep all six plus the TV.

More from upstate NEW YORK: The third shoe dropped this week in the Jacor format shuffle in Rochester, as WMAX-FM (106.7 Irondequoit) and WMHX (102.3 Canandaigua) put their all-Delilah stunt format to bed in favor of very soft, gold-based AC as “Sunny 106.” NERW notes that Jacor’s new gold-based soft AC in Des Moines, also “Sunny 106,” has taken the calls KYSY; could the WYSY calls (last seen on 107.9 in suburban Chicago) be in the Flower City’s future? Jerry Reo’s handling mornings on Sunny; Delilah remains on the station from 7 till midnight.

Majac already owns the largest group of Binghamton market stations — WENE (1430 Endicott), WKGB (92.5 Susquehanna), WMXW (103.3 Vestal), and WMRV (105.7 Endicott) — and now it’s adding one more, with the granting of a new CP for 107.5 in Endwell, transmitting from the WMRV site above Endicott. An earlier 107.5 CP, with the calls WRGG, was never built, and the frequency has been in use by a pirate running right-wing talk programming. Down the road in Owego, we hear WEBO (1330) is splitting from its simulcast with soft-rock WGRG (101.7) to go modern rock. Yep, modern rock on AM. We’ll be passing through the area next month to bring you a complete report on this one.

Big doings in RHODE ISLAND this week, as Portuguese gets punted for public in Providence. Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9) is paying just under $2 million for Neto Communications’ WRCP (1290) in Providence, and (as NERW first reported earlier this month) the station will become a WBUR simulcast serving northern Rhode Island. 1290 may not be the first public radio outlet in the Ocean State, though — Rhode Island Public Radio has applied for a license to cover for its WBLQ (88.1 Westerly), and NERW can’t wait to hear from our readers in the area about that station’s on-air status.

If that’s not enough, Howard Stern is entering the Providence market next week. Stern’s newest affiliate is rhythmic CHR WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket)/WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier). He’s already heard in much of the market via Boston’s WBCN (104.1).

Moving north: Cumulus Broadcasting continues to gather strength in MAINE, buying Tryon-Seacoast’s Central Maine group. Cumulus already has WQCB (106.5 Brewer) and WBZN (107.3 Old Town) in the Bangor market and WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan) in the Augusta market. Now it’s adding WABK (104.3 Gardiner), WKCG (101.3 Augusta), WFAU (1280 Gardiner), WIGY (97.5 Madison), and WCME (96.7 Boothbay Harbor) to the group. Tryon-Seacoast owner Jeff Fisher keeps his New Hampshire properties in Franklin and Moultonborough.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, there’s a new format at WGXL (92.3 Hanover); “XL92” is moving from hot AC to full-out CHR.

Across the Connecticut River in VERMONT, Bruce James’ Vermont Broadcasting Associates is locking up the Northeast Kingdom with the $630,000 purchase of WSTJ (1340) and WNKV (105.5) in St. Johnsbury from Northeast Kingdom Broadcasting. James already owns WGMT (97.7) in Lyndon.

On the TV side, no sooner is Hicks, Muse’s Sunrise Television Corp. taking control of WPTZ (Channel 5) Plattsburgh and WNNE (Channel 31) White River Junction than it’s trading them away. Hearst Argyle gets WPTZ, WNNE, and KSBW (Channel 8) Salinas CA, and Sunrise gets WNAC (Channel 64) Rehoboth-Providence along with WDTN (Channel 2) in Dayton, Ohio.