In this week’s issue… Albany cluster goes silent – Translators on (temporary?) hold – Upper Valley format flip – Boston legends reunite 



*The AM dial in NEW YORK‘s state capital is quieter than usual this week. After selling off its FM flagship WJKE (101.3 Stillwater) last year, Empire Broadcasting filed for silent STAs last week for its three remaining AM signals, taking them – and an FM translator – dark to avoid continued losses.

Empire took in $550,000 from EMF Broadcasting when WJKE became part of the K-Love network last fall. That, said Empire founder Joe Reilly, was enough to pay off Empire’s debt but not to keep the three AMs sustainable on their own. WJKE’s former “Jockey” AC format, focused on Saratoga Springs, landed on WAIX (1160 Mechanicville) and translator W291BY (106.1) after 101.3 was sold; WAIX’s former “X” AAA format moved down the dial to WABY (900 Watervliet), while the third AM, WPTR (1240 Schenectady), had been carrying “Empire News Network” news/talk, the last remnant of a format that had earlier been on the other AMs as well.

All three AMs had CPs or pending applications for additional AM translators: WABY a CP for W231DU (94.1) from a site in Clifton Park, WAIX an application on 93.3 from a site near Skidmore College in Saratoga and WPTR a CP for W246DS (97.1 Ballston Spa) from Bald Mountain near Troy.

What happens now? It’s likely the stations will all go up for sale as the Empire partnership breaks up almost six years after Reilly and his partners paid $1.2 million for the former Ernie Anastos stations. Reilly, the only broadcaster in the partnership, came to Empire after several decades at the helm of the New York State Broadcasters Association; before that, he’d owned 100.9 in Albany, the old WWOM (now WKLI). Despite reports in several trades, Reilly tells Albany’s Times Union that the decision to take the AMs silent wasn’t related to his retirement – that, he says, was a choice he made last fall.

The signals on 900, 1160 and 1240 join another silent AM in Albany. Crawford Broadcasting’s WDCD (1540 Albany) is approaching its one-year silent mark after concluding it couldn’t afford to keep operating at 50,000 watts, and it too remains on the market.

And there’s another interesting complication for WAIX and many other AMs that were awaiting grants of translators in the FCC’s current “Auction 100” window: on Thursday, LPFM advocate Prometheus Radio Project joined with two other advocacy groups to file an informal objection to the WAIX CP grant and hundreds of other pending translators. The objection temporarily froze the issuance of permits, which the FCC had been granting at the rate of dozens a day – and you can read our thoughts about it in a guest commentary we wrote for our content partner, RadioInsight.


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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: May 22, 2017

*By the time the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks rolls around in a few months, there will once again be regular TV broadcasting from NEW YORK‘s World Trade Center.

As TVNewsCheck reported last week, NBC/Telemundo’s WNJU (Channel 47/RF 36) has its transmitter in place and will begin overnight test transmissions from the new 1 World Trade Center mast this week, followed very quickly – as soon as a week’s time – by a full-time move to 1WTC as its main transmission site.

The Durst Organization, which manages the site, has already installed one of two UHF master antennas and a VHF master antenna, with work underway to install the second UHF master antenna. When complete, the three antennas will reach from 1626 to 1706 feet above ground level – and they’ve added an additional tenant as well. In addition to the previous announcements that NBC (WNJU and WNBC, though WNBC will end up channel-sharing with WNJU after the repack), CBS (WCBS-TV), ABC (WABC-TV) and WNET (Channel 13) will be using 1WTC, ion Television has also signed up with Durst to put WPXN (Channel 31) on the tower.

WCBS will be the next station to move its main transmitter from Empire to 1WTC in the next few months. We’ll be following the process closely as the rebirth of Trade Center broadcasting continues.

(We send our congratulations, by the way, to Durst vice president of broadcasting John Lyons, who was honored by the NAB with its Television Engineering Achievement Award last month in Las Vegas.)

*Plans for a new FM station in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA are on hold after the FCC dismissed the ERIE Radio Company’s application for the construction permit it won at auction back in 2015.

Happi's downtown studioAs we’ve reported here, the $535,000 winning bid for a class A signal on 100.9 in Westfield, New York would have filled the gap left behind when competitor Connoisseur finally makes its long-delayed move of WRKT (100.9 North East) to 104.9, with an improved Erie signal for what will become “Rocket 104.9.”

How fierce is the radio rivalry in Erie? It was Connoisseur that asked the Commission to dismiss the 100.9 CP, noting that ERIE’s down payment for the winning auction bid was late arriving at the FCC. ERIE principal Rick Rambaldo – who, we’d note, sold WRKT and its sister stations to Connoisseur before launching ERIE as a competing operation – told the FCC he was out of town when the money was due, and his bank said it was an error at their end that kept it from being delivered properly.

ERIE later made the full payment for the construction permit several days early, but the FCC is taking a particularly strict “rules and rules” stance in this case: not only does Rambaldo lose the construction permit, he’s also out the $107,000 down payment plus an additional default penalty that will be assessed once the 100.9 Westfield allocation goes back up for auction.

Five Years Ago: May 20, 2013

*It’s been a week of big changes in western NEW YORK broadcasting, and nowhere, perhaps, bigger than in the newsroom at WBEN (930 Buffalo). News director Steve Cichon has become a fixture in the market over his 20-year career, starting out as a producer at WBEN, moving down the hall to WIVB (Channel 4) and then to the program director’s chair at the old WNSA (107.7) before returning to WBEN in 2003.

Cichon (photo: WBEN)
Cichon (photo: WBEN)

As news director at WBEN in recent years, Cichon has been as Buffalo as Buffalo gets – and when he”s not running the newsroom, he”s been busy writing books about the history of the Parkside neighborhood where he lives (“A Complete History of Parkside“) and about Buffalo”s legendary Channel 7 news team (“Irv! Buffalo”s Anchorman: The Irv, Tom and Rick Story“) – and blogging constantly about Buffalo history at StaffAnnouncer.comand on Facebook.

Which is why it was rather a shock early last week to see Steve”s announcement – yes, right there on Facebook – that he”s moving on from WBEN, and from broadcasting, at least for now. Cichon will leave WBEN on May 31, and in June he”ll launch a new company called “Buffalo Stories, LLC,” where he says he”ll be “working with small businesses and non-profits to tell their story.”

No replacement has been named yet at WBEN – and in the meantime, we send our very best wishes westward down the Thruway to Steve on his new venture!

There’s a format change in Buffalo: Wednesday morning brought a flip from soft AC to standards at Dick Greene’s WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) and its FM translator at 102.9 in downtown Buffalo. The former “Buffalo”s Breeze” is now “Timeless WECK,” with Tom Donohue still in morning drive and Dial Global”s standards format filling the rest of the day. While the “Breeze” format went up against much bigger AC players including Townsquare’s WJYE (96.1) and Cumulus” WHTT (104.1), the new “Timeless WECK” has its format pretty much to itself after the demise last year of Cumulus’ “Swing 1270” (WHLD, now carrying CBS Sports Radio.) 2018 update: Cichon recently joined the staff of WECK, now in new hands, as morning news anchor and news director.

Ten Years Ago: May 19, 2008

If a PENNSYLVANIA shock jock plays a racially inflammatory song parody on his show March 21, does it make an impact? In the case of Kidd Chris, morning personality at CBS Radio”s WYSP (94.1 Philadelphia), the answer would appear to be “yes – but not until almost two months have passed.” Back in March, the show played a parody song called “Schwoogies,” which crudely stereotyped blacks. And while the song was reportedly played several times on March 21 and at least once more on March 24, CBS Radio management apparently didn’t learn about it until sometime very late last week.

Calling the song “highly offensive and completely inappropriate for broadcast on our airwaves,” WYSP fired Kidd Chris (real name: Chris Foley) and PD John Cook, and quickly cancelled a widely-publicized birthday party for Foley that had been set for Friday night.

Here”s what the official statement had to say: “When senior management of the station learned that it had been played, they took immediate steps to prevent it from ever appearing on the station again. At the same time, we launched an extensive internal investigation into the situation including a thorough review of the editorial controls and systems we have in place to prevent this type of content from airing. We instituted additional educational training for the station, and have taken appropriate disciplinary action, including termination of the individuals involved.”

And here’s what we’re wondering: given that the content of Kidd Chris’ show was hardly a secret, and given the kind of scrutiny CBS has faced in recent years over controversial content from Howard Stern, Opie & Anthony, JV & Elvis and so on, can we really believe that whatever “editorial controls and systems” CBS had in place could have completely overlooked the “Schwoogies” song for almost two months. And, furthermore, that CBS would just happen to have “learned” that the song had been played a few days after an e-mail went out from the group “Racial Dignity in Media” that (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer) called for complaints against the station?

Maybe we’re just cynical. Maybe it’s that we haven’t slept all week since welcoming a new baby to the NERW family last Tuesday morning (read on for the details)…but the whole thing seems more than a little odd from where we sit.

Fifteen Years Ago: May 19, 2003

NEW YORK’s oldies station is slowly returning some pre-1964 music to its playlist, after gradual changes over the past few years that removed pretty much everything from WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) that predated the Beatles. No, the “O” word hasn’t returned to the Infinity station’s imaging – and, yeah, there’s still some ’80s Billy Joel in the playlist – but the station made a concession to its older listeners over the weekend when it returned doo-wop music to its Sunday night schedule.

You’ll recall the outcry last August when CBS-FM eliminated the “Doo-Wop Shop” on Sundays; as of last night, it’s back, in a modified form – under the title “The Heart of Rock’n’ Roll,” and hosted by former WCBS-FM personality Norm N. Nite, who’s back in Cleveland and doing the show from the Alan Freed Studio at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Don K. Reed loses that Sunday night airshift, but remains on weekday overnights.

In Buffalo, we’d neglected to mention that WGRZ (Channel 2) dropped its 10 PM newscast on LMA partner WPXJ (Channel 51) a few weeks back, while we were out of town. We’ll miss the nice signal on the Buffalo news (WPXJ, licensed to Batavia, comes in quite well in Rochester!) – but we’ll be able to tune in to another sorta-Buffalo newscast in a few months, when Sinclair expects to launch its Maryland-based “News Central” on WB affiliate WNYO-TV (Channel 49); Sinclair’s bigger Fox affiliate, WUTV (Channel 29), will continue to carry syndicated shows at 10. The WPXJ newscast had been getting roundly beaten in the ratings by WIVB’s 10 PM news on sister station WNLO (Channel 23).

In NEW JERSEY, the last piece of the former Y107/Rumba “quadcast” returned to the air last week, as Press launched “107.1 the Breeze” on WWZY (107.1 Long Branch). The station shares its Jones soft AC format and “Captain Jack” Aponte morning show with sister WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton) down the coast; we hear it’s looking to return to the Long Branch transmitter site it used to use before Big City moved north to the current site at Atlantic Highlands, which improved New York City coverage at the expense of the Jersey Shore.

Twenty Years Ago: February 1, 1998

The FCC has granted WXPS (96.7) a move from Vergennes, VERMONT to Willsboro, NEW YORK, on the opposite side of Lake Champlain. The 96 MHz part of the dial is getting active in New York”s North Country; WVNV (96.5) in Malone has been granted a change of class from A to C3, and the FCC has allocated 96.5A to Speculator, a tiny village high in the Adirondacks.