In this week’s issue… NAB Show wrap-up – Remembering Charlie Austin – Boston PD moves on – Station sale in Pennsylvania

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*Another NAB Show is in the books, and as always, there’s much more to see and learn than any one person can take in.

If there was one unifying theme we picked up on at NAB (and at the PBS TechCon the week before), at least on the TV side, it’s the continuing set of questions surrounding the DTV repack that’s underway and the conversion to the new ATSC 3.0 standard that will follow. On the repack side, channel changes are already going on – today, for instance, marks the move of Buffalo’s WIVB (Channel 4) from its own RF 39 signal at its tower in Colden, south of Buffalo, to a channel-share on RF 32 with sister station WNLO (Channel 23) north of town on Grand Island.

For TV equipment manufacturers, the repack means lots of work, at least for a few years, as transmitters, encoders, transmission line and antennas all get replaced from coast to coast. (But will there be a bust cycle to follow the boom?) In the more distant ATSC 3.0 future, there’s the potential for new spending on 4K or even 8K ultra-HD video, which produced some very dramatic demos indeed – if there’s consumer demand down the road for it. There’s business ahead for the lawyers, too: without new spectrum being allotted for ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, stations will have to negotiate with each other to determine who’ll be an “ATSC 1.0 lighthouse,” continuing to broadcast in the old standard, and who’ll use their signals to provide shared ATSC 3.0 facilities for multiple stations in their markets. (There are already sides being taken: two alliances, one under Sinclair and the other as “Pearl TV,” are conducting test broadcasts in Dallas and Phoenix, respectively.)

For radio, it was a year of incremental progress: new processors from all the usual suspects, including a new AM offering from Orban and the impending release of Wheatstone’s X4; virtualized everything, including lots of new AoIP-based intercoms and consoles; and transmitters that are ever more efficient, compact and (increasingly) liquid-cooled.

New York’s legendary Elvis Duran was inducted into the NAB’s Hall of Fame during the show, and his friends (and ours) from SAS Audio marked the honor by presenting him with his very own custom gold-plated SAS console, shown at left.

(We even got to chat with Elvis for a few minutes, and you can hear that conversation, and more, at this week’s Top of the Tower Podcast, back for a new season!)

The NAB’s Crystal Radio Awards included one NERW-land honoree, Entercom’s New York all-newser WINS (1010).

And we were thrilled to welcome more than a thousand of you to the top of Caesars Palace on Sunday night for the biggest Broadcasters Club Kickoff Party yet.

Want to see and hear more of what we were up to at NAB and the conferences that preceded it?

Here’s another Top of the Tower podcast episode, talking with David Layer from the NAB technology department about the show.

Here’s a Current article I wrote about public TV and radio stations joining forces to save money on buying equipment and services (with Boston’s WGBH, as ever, at the lead.)

Here’s another Current piece about public TV stations getting ready for the new ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard.

And here’s a page (and then some) of videos I shot with my friends at Wheatstone, talking with some of their experts – and others around the NAB Show hall as well.

The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!

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 (finally!) 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.

This week: Hubbard’s Dave Kolesar talks about his all-digital AM HD experiment

Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!

*Back home, it was a quiet week, except perhaps at iHeart in Boston, where Lance Houston departed his role as PD of country WBWL (101.7 the Bull) for an immediate start as the new PD and midday host at Chicago sister station WEBG (Big 95.5). Houston’s arrival there comes amidst some big changes, including the ouster of the station’s morning show. (Will Houston plug in iHeart’s syndicated Bobby Bones, as he did at the Bull in Boston? We’d expect so.) No replacement has been named in Boston.

Over at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), they’re mourning Charlie Austin, the versatile and thoughtful reporter who brought a deep faith to his on-air work there for 30 years. Austin started at WBZ as a film processor (remember those?) 50 years ago last week, eventually becoming a sports reporter and then a general-assignment reporter, part of a pioneering group of black reporters that included Sarah-Ann Shaw and Walt Sanders.

Austin’s long career at WBZ ended with illness, when prostate cancer forced his retirement in 2000. He was 73 when he died on Tuesday (April 10). We’ll remember him for his on-air work, of course – but also for his demeanor at work, where we fondly recall his doo-wop duets in the hallway at night with his WBZ radio colleague, the late Darrell Gould.

*In MAINE, Courtney Ross is the new morning co-host at WPOR (101.9 Portland), where she replaces Adam Rondeau on the early shift with Jon Shannon and Joe Lerman.

*In Albany, NEW YORK, Kristina Carlyle starts April 30 as morning co-host and music director at Pamal/Albany Broadcasting’s WKLI (100.9 the Cat), where she replaces Dana Race. Carlyle had been working in Tulsa at KVOO-FM (98.5) until departing last summer.

And in New York City, kids of a certain vintage will recall Chuck McCann, who hosted kids’ shows on DuMont’s WABD (Channel 5) in the 1950s and then on competitors WNTA-TV (Channel 13) and WPIX (Channel 11) in the 1960s, eventually returning to WABD’s successor, WNEW-TV. McCann went on to a long career as an actor and voice talent (among other things, he gave voice to the cuckoo in the Cocoa Puffs ads); he died April 8 in Los Angeles at 83.

*There’s a station sale in PENNSYLVANIA‘s Northern Tier, where WVYS (96.9 Ridgebury) goes from GEOS Communications to Southern Belle/Seven Mountains. Kristin Cantrell and her mother are paying $335,000 for the class A signal, its booster WVYS-FM2 in Towanda and translator W297BG (107.3 Ulster), which will flip from its present “Yes FM” AC format, which continues on simulcast WDYS (103.9 Dushore).

In Philadelphia, Mike Missanelli’s afternoon show on Beasley’s WPEN (97.5 the Fanatic) gets a TV simulcast; starting today, the 2-5 PM hours of the show will also be seen on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Where are they now? Andy Bloom, late of CBS Radio in Philadelphia, is returning to his native Minneapolis to become operations manager for the former CBS Radio, now Entercom, cluster there – WCCO (830), KMNB (Buz’n 102.9) and KZJK (104.1 Jack FM).

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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: April 17, 2017

*There’s one topic on the minds of most broadcasters getting ready to head west for the NAB Show, and that’s the massive DTV repack that’s now getting underway.

As you read in our NERW Extra Thursday afternoon, perhaps the biggest surprise in what did happen during the auction was Comcast’s decision to put much of its duplicate spectrum up for grabs, including its own flagship WNBC in New York.

That news lit social media on fire for a few hours – “WNBC is going off the air?!?” – but for viewers, Comcast’s $214 million payday from unloading WNBC’s spectrum will be all but unnoticeable. Channel-sharing will put NBC’s programming on some of the bandwidth of Telemundo sister station WNJU (Channel 47/RF 36, moving to RF 35), channel mapping will keep WNBC’s signal at “4.1” for over-the-air viewers, and the new rules about channel sharing mean that the “WNBC New York” license that dates back to 1941 will stay in effect as a nominally separate entity from WNJU.

Which raises another question that we suspect many will be asking as the impact of the auction begins to hit home: if NBC was able to get such a sweet deal without losing much of anything in the process, why did other broadcasters in a similar position hold back?

CBS, in particular, put almost nothing in the action except for one satellite station in rural Minnesota, which left plenty on the table. In NERW-land alone, CBS kept duplicate UHF signals in Boston (WSBK/WBZ-TV), New York (WCBS-TV/WLNY), Philadelphia (KYW-TV/WPSG) and Pittsburgh (KDKA-TV/WPCW), spectrum that could have been worth $600 million or more just through channel-sharing. Add in other duplicate markets the company kept – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas – and we’re edging close to the $1.7 billion CBS Corp. gets from spinning off the CBS Radio division, and all the revenue that division generates.

And what about Fox, which gets $161 million from its sale of WPWR in Chicago (that CW affiliate will share with sister WFLD)? It keeps its two UHF signals in New York (WNYW and WWOR), as well as duopolies in Dallas, San Francisco and elsewhere.

Five Years Ago: April 15, 2013

*What was keeping the MASSACHUSETTS radio landscape buzzing during NAB Show week? One big story, of course – a morale problem at Entercom’s WEEI that’s burst into the open in a big way with two prominent talent departures.

It started with Jon Rish, who’s been holding down what’s traditionally been a plum gig, hosting pre- and post-game Red Sox coverage on Entercom’s WEEI and filling in on play-by-play for the Sox at times, too. But as we told you in a mid-week update from Las Vegas, Rish wasn’t willing to stick around and take a reported 30% pay cut just to stick around at WEEI, and so he gave his notice just a few hours before the home opener.

Coupled with the reported threat from longtime Sox/WEEI sponsor Giant Glass to pull its very considerable ad dollars away from Entercom, the miasma of bad news brought the company’s head honcho, David Field, up to Boston on Friday for a town hall meeting with employees – though even that brought with it some negative coverage when unhappy staffers leaked word that Field was insisting that questions be submitted in advance.

And if Field hoped the Friday meeting would put a lid on the disgruntlement at Guest Street, he wasn’t counting on weekend host Pete Sheppard. Just after 6 Saturday night, Sheppard tweeted his followers that “Hey all, got something special for you at 6:15 on WEEI” – and then proceeded to quit on the air, reportedly telling listeners he couldn’t take it anymore at the station and pinning the blame on upper levels of Entercom management above local manager Jason Wolfe.

*The week’s big format change came from CANADA, and it came by surprise: at 9:53 Wednesday morning, Corus flipped CING (95.3 Hamilton) from classic hits “Vinyl 95.3” to hot AC “Fresh FM.”

cing-fresh-smBased on our listening much later that night as we headed home from the Buffalo airport, the new “Fresh” is a fairly hot brand of hot AC indeed, just a notch or two shy of an all-out CHR. Gone with the flip is any on-air attempt to target the much larger adjacent Toronto market – and gone as well are most of Vinyl’s airstaff, including afternoon jock Gord James, middayer John Novak, night guy Bob Saint and Michael Landsberg. The Vinyl morning team of Darrin Laidman and Colleen Rusholme stays in place with the flip.

Ten Years Ago: April 14, 2008

NEW YORK‘s WNYC and Public Radio International are just a week away from launching their new morning show, “The Takeaway.” Hosted by John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji, the new show will be heard on both of WNYC’s radio services – from 6-7 AM weekdays on WNYC-FM (93.9) and from 8-9 AM weekdays on WNYC (820), pre-empting portions of the current “Morning Edition” simulcast on the stations.

At ESPN Radio’s WEPN (1050 New York), the demise of the Stephen A. Smith radio show means a schedule shift to replace his two hours. From 1-2 PM, WEPN picks up an additional hour of the network’s Mike Tirico show, and Michael Kay’s afternoon show now starts at 2 instead of 3 PM.

In Albany, a long-dormant AM signal is back on the air with a new city of license and coverage area. WUAM (900 Saratoga Springs) lost its transmitter site years ago, and spent a long time operating at reduced power or off the air completely. Now the station has been moved to Watervliet, diplexing with WAMC (1400) from its tower just off I-90, giving it a decent daytime signal over Albany for the first time. Owner Ernie Anastos is leasing the signal to Time Warner’s Capital News 9, which is using it to simulcast the news channel’s audio for in-car listening.

Fifteen Years Ago: April 14, 2003

We’re back from Las Vegas – and there’s no question what the big story was back home in our absence: the relaunch of NEW YORK’s WNEW (102.7) following two months of stunting and several months of pointless meandering before that.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last week or so, you no doubt know by now that the new nickname is “Blink 102.7” and the format is a mixture of entertainment news, talk and a sort of hot AC-rhythmic CHR hybrid aimed at women ages 18-30, with actor Kiefer Sutherland handling imaging duties and Viacom properties MTV and VH1 contributing plenty of corporate synergy to the mix. And you’ve probably heard that former WPIX (Channel 11) morning personality Lynda Lopez is doing mornings with her boyfriend Chris Booker…and that the afternoon show will come from Hollywood…and that they’re holding an “open call” for a night show…and that they’re using AOL Instant Messenger (“blinkline”) to take requests.

So what else can we tell you? Just that we heard Blink for the first time during an early Saturday morning layover at JFK on the way back from the coast, and that absent the live talent (though we’re grateful at least for the disappearance of the infomercials that once marked WNEW’s weekend lineup) it sounded not much different from the stunting format that had been running since February. Oh – and that pink logo? We’re already hearing it called “Barbie Radio” on the message boards…

Just outside the city limits, there was big action in our absence at the former Big City quadcast, with three of the four “Rumba” 107.1 stations returning to the air with new formats (and, in one case, new calls!) Up in Westchester, WYNY (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) is being LMAd to Pamal, which flipped the calls to WXPK and launched the expected simulcast with top 40 WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie) last week. With new imaging as “K104-K107,” WXPK (and aren’t those calls awfully close to New York’s “K-Rock” WXRK?) has been enjoying an unusually good reach into the city with the temporary absence of WWZY (107.1 Long Branch NJ) from the airwaves. (More on Long Branch in a moment…) Out on Long Island’s East End, WWXY (107.1 Hampton Bays) returned to the air with a simulcast of Jarad’s modern AC WLIR (92.7 Garden City); Jarad will pay $2 million to buy WWXY from Nassau, which paid $43 million for all four “Rumba” stations from Big City just a few months ago.

From NEW JERSEY comes a new station sale and a station sale on hold, and both involve Millennium Communications. The company has slapped a temporary restraining order on Nassau for its proposed purchase from Mega of WEMG-FM (104.9 Egg Harbor City); Millennium says it violates a noncompete deal that Nassau signed when it sold its Jersey Shore cluster to Millennium last year. Meanwhile, Millennium is selling top 40 WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres) to Press – and that’s not the only station Press is picking up at the Jersey Shore. It’s also lined up to be the buyer (from Nassau, no less) of WWZY (107.1 Long Branch), which is silent for the moment.

Twenty Years Ago: April 16, 1998

One of the best-known callsigns in Rochester radio has been revived on FM. In the 60s and 70s, WBBF (950) ruled the Flower City dial with top-40 music, and now many of those same songs are being played on the “New 99BBF.”

On Monday afternoon, Entercom’s oldies station WKLX (98.9), a sister station to WBBF(AM), began calling itself “BBF” — and, more important, ditched the satellite-delivered oldies format that it’s been using in favor of live, local programming. The soon-to-be WBBF-FM is being programmed by Chris Whittingham (formerly with sister station “The River,” classic rock WQRV 93.3 Avon), who’s also doing middays. Former WKLX morning jock Mike Vickers moves to the 2-7 PM slot, and Ellis B. Feaster returns to Rochester from KBEE (98.7) in Salt Lake City to do mornings. Feaster handled AM drive duties on 98.9 in its WKLX incarnation before leaving for Salt Lake as well. NERW expects the WBBF revival to be just the first in a series of changes at the Entercom stations, which were purchased from Heritage (by way of Sinclair and News Corp.) just a month ago. Rumors are flying about a call change at WBBF(AM) to avoid confusion, although we’re told there may not be any truth to the speculation that the new calls will be WEZO, last heard on 93.3 — and before that on Rochester’s AM 990 (later WRMM, WCMF, and now WDCZ), and most memorably for 16 years on 101.3 FM (now WRMM). AM 950 is now local in morning drive, with operations manager Todd Blide spinning the standards. And morning drive at WQRV is being handled by fill-in jocks now that Whittingham is across the hall at BBF-FM. As for Entercom’s other Rochester outlet — well, you don’t fix what ain’t broke, so expect no changes at top-rated country station WBEE (92.5, and the original WBBF-FM back in the sixties).

NERW’s enjoying the “return” of a station we fondly remember from our younger days — and now we’re just waiting for some savvy radio operator in Buffalo to find a way to resurrect “KB”! (2008 update: Entercom did, five years later, but it didn’t stick…)

Across the border, Sunday is the big day for Toronto’s CBL (740) and CBLA (99.1), as the CBC officially moves its Radio One service from AM to FM. The event will be commemorated by an all-day open house at the CBC Broadcast Centre at 250 Front Street West, as well as by an hour-long broadcast at noon. As crushed as we are by the imminent loss of CBC service to upstate New York (the AM transmitter will be turned off for good sometime this fall), NERW can’t pass up a good open house, so we’ll be up there checking out the scene and rolling tape on the Big Moment.

On to MASSACHUSETTS, where we have more details on the changes to come at Costa/Eagle’s Merrimack Valley stations. An article in the Boston Sunday Globe’s North West Weekly section says the English-language programming and WCCM calls will move to Haverhill’s 1490 within a few months, possibly as an all-news outlet. Replacing WCCM on 800 in Lawrence will be Spanish-language programming now heard on WNNW (1110) in Salem, N.H. And 1110 will get the Spanish-language tropical music that’s currently on 1490 as WHAV. Costa tells Globe freelancer Christine MacDonald that he’s now scouting stations in Worcester and Springfield.

WBPS (890 Dedham) is getting a new owner, as John Douglas spins it to New England Continental Media…AKA Salem Media, the owner of WEZE (590) in Boston and dozens of other religious and conservative talk stations around the country. No word yet on format changes for the leased-time ethnic outlet. This is the second time in recent years that WEZE has had a sister station; Salem ran WPZE on WEZE’s old 1260 frequency for a year or so before spinning 1260 to Hibernia and Radio Disney.

Meantime, Marlboro’s WSRO (1470) is being sold by Great Radio to Alexander Langer, the owner of two other Metro West AMs, WRPT (650 Ashland) and WJLT (1060 Natick).