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In this week’s issue… FCC denies translator objection – Toronto radio manager ousted – New TV at 1WTC – Buffalo FM meets deadline – Remembering Albany’s Martin

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*When the LPFM activists from the Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia joined with Common Frequency, Inc. and the Center for International Media Action to try to halt the FCC’s processing of new FM translator applications, they swung for the fences, filing an informal objection on May 16 against nearly a thousand pending applications.

It didn’t work, in the end: on Friday, the FCC dismissed the petition and immediately resumed granting translators – as you’ll read later in the column, several dozen construction permits were awarded just in the few hours between the dismissal and the end of the Audio Division’s work week Friday afternoon.

At issue, of course, is the filling of the FM dial. After thousands of applications for new FM translators were filed in what came to be known as the “Great Translator Invasion” window of 2003, there’s been a tug of war between LPFM proponents and full-power broadcasters for control of the limited FM spectrum that remained. LPFM advocates won passage of the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) in 2010, clearing away hundreds of translator applications that had been pending for years and opening channels for an LPFM application window in 2013.

More recently, the momentum has tipped back toward translators. The “AM revitalization” proceedings championed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai have been something of a misnomer – they haven’t done much to improve the lot of AM radio as a medium, but they’ve provided new opportunities for thousands of local broadcasters who have migrated their programming from AM to new FM translators. (And yes, by way of disclosure, Fybush Media has provided consulting services to many of them, just as we’ve done for LPFMs over the years.)

In a series of windows over the last few years, the FCC cleared the way for AM stations to move existing translators hundreds of miles to new channels, then provided two “last chance” opportunities for new translators, first in “Auction 99” in 2017 and then in this year’s “Auction 100,” whose first construction permits had just started to roll out of the FCC when Prometheus’ objection stopped all processing dead three weeks ago.

Prometheus’ claim was that the translator windows violated the provisions of the LCRA calling for LPFM and translators to be “equal in status” and for opportunities to exist for translators, boosters and LPFM all to apply for new channels. There were valid concerns there; Michelle Bradley at REC Networks conducted a study and found that translators might preclude new LPFM opportunities in several dozen congested markets.

But Prometheus and its partners drew immediate ire from much of the broadcast community with the broad extent of their objection, which also halted processing of translators in many areas where plenty of spectrum remained open for LPFM. For many of the small broadcasters who’d invested in translator applications, paid for structural analysis on towers and even signed leases for FM antenna space, the Prometheus objection added needless delay and expense, especially as the weeks began to drag on without a clear promise of a resolution. (It didn’t help, either, when Prometheus dropped several dozen of its objections and called on other broadcasters to reach out to Prometheus’ PR contacts to request that their applications also be dropped from the objection.)

In the end, the Prometheus objection turned out to be more of a speed bump than a brick wall: the FCC ruled on Friday, in essence, that Prometheus hadn’t done its homework, submitting only a “cursory examination” of ten applications and no evidence at all against 988 others.

Nor, said the Commission, did the LCRA obligate it to provide a 50/50 split of channels between LPFM and translator use.

“We reject Objectors’ conclusion that equality of status as secondary services necessarily implies that the Commission must ensure that all remaining available spectrum in all
markets is equally apportioned among FM translators, FM boosters, and LPFM stations,” the FCC wrote.

What’s next? There are still several hundred pending translator applications from Auction 100 beyond those granted on Friday. Most are “singletons” for which construction permits should arrive in the next few weeks; meanwhile, this week brings the end of a settlement window for several dozen applications that had been designated as mutually exclusive. Those that can’t be handled through settlements will eventually proceed to auction.

And then the fight will resume in earnest, as LPFM advocates push for a new filing window and rule changes to improve the quality of their service – and, no doubt, as translator proponents push back.

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.

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!

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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: June 12, 2017

*The ongoing cutbacks at CBS Radio have been hitting especially hard in eastern Pennsylvania, specifically at classic hits WOGL (98.1 Philadelphia).

Veteran afternoon talent “Cadillac Jack” Seville lost his job at WOGL on Tuesday, ending (for now) a long run in Philly afternoons that goes back to the old WTRK, “Electric 106,” back in 1991. He’d been in afternoons at WOGL since 2008. In a farewell message on Facebook, he told fans, “I hope that you think positive thoughts and have well wishes. Stay tuned. Bigger and better things are on the way. God Bless.”

As WOGL gets ready to make its move from 400 Market Street (in the old KYW 1060 space, still occupied by sister stations WPHT 1210 and, just downstairs, WIP-FM 94.1) back out to Bala Cynwyd, Cadillac Jack isn’t the only staffer who won’t be coming along. Overnight jock Ron Cade (below), who’d been with WOGL all the way back to 1988, is also out, as is promotions director Samantha Simon.

*Statehouse reporters are a dying breed, and Hartford is all the poorer this week with the end of the CONNECTICUT Radio Network’s daily broadcasts. Steve Kotchko had been covering the statehouse there for 44 years, while his colleague Mark Sims brought 25 years of experience to the job, but CRN says the loss of local radio ownership and local newsrooms across the state had reduced demand for the service and made it impossible to keep it operating profitably.

*By the time you’re reading this Monday morning, we’ll likely be tuned in to (and maybe even on the way to) CANADA to check out the launch of the CBC’s new London radio operation.

The new local studio in the London Public Library starts its new morning show today at 6, and it takes over origination of the late afternoon regional show from CBC Windsor this afternoon. The new local morning show replaces the Toronto-based regional “Ontario Morning” on CBCL (93.5) – and with any luck, they’ll still have some of the swag around that they handed out Friday when London’s mayor came over to dedicate the new station at a big launch party. (photo: Susan Toth/Twitter)

Five Years Ago: June 10, 2013

*Seven years after an upstate NEW YORK state college entered the public radio business, it has abruptly shut down its station, leaving behind plenty of questions about a newly open space on the dial.

SUNY Oneonta put WUOW-LP (104.7) on the air in 2007 to help provide emergency communications in town in the wake of devastating flooding in the region, and just last year it returned the LPFM license and signed on a new full-power outlet, WUOW (88.5 Milford), along with an Oneonta translator, W217BY (91.3), for which it paid $12,500.

Even though that move had already been planned and paid for, it appears that the Oneonta campus had by then already decided to pull the plug on its venture into public radio. From an initial staff of three (plus a part-timer), WUOW was down to just one staffer – and on Thursday, that staffer, SUNY Oneonta communications lecturer Gary Wickham, had the sad duty of signing the station off.

With a mixture of AAA music and some local talk, WUOW had competed against relays of two larger public stations, Binghamton’s WSKG (via WSQC 91.7 Oneonta) and Albany’s WAMC (via two translators in the area). Will either of them (or someone else) end up with the WUOW licenses? For now, SUNY isn’t saying whether it still plans to sell the licenses, though it had offered them for sale back in 2011. (In the meantime, WSKG is finding other ways to expand in Otsego County: it’s paying Bud Williamson $20,000 for translator W290CI on 105.9 in Cooperstown.)

*We still think of Bruce Mittman primarily as a Massachusetts broadcaster, but he’s becoming a bigger name in upstate New York radio. Last week, Mittman’s Community Broadcasters (which he owns along with Jim Leven) filed a $3.6 million deal to buy Backyard Broadcasting”s stations in the Elmira/Corning and Olean markets. In Elmira, Community picks up a cluster of three FMs and two AMs: top-40 “Wink 106″ WNKI (106.1 Corning), the only class B signal in the core of the market, along with country “Big Pig” WPGI (100.9 Horseheads) and classic rock “Wingz” WNGZ (104.9 Montour Falls), plus talker WWLZ (820 Horseheads) and WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen), which relays WNGZ when it”s not carrying auto racing on the weekends. In Olean, Community picks up market-leading country giant WPIG (95.7) and oldies WHDL (1450).

*Welcome home, Adam Rivers! The CONNECTICUT native spent some time down south programming Clear Channel’s WKSI (98.3) in Winchester, Virginia, but he starts a new gig today back in the Nutmeg State, where he’s now assistant PD and afternoon jock at sister station WKCI (101.3 Hamden). Before his Virginia excursion, Rivers had previously worked at WKSS (95.7) in Hartford, WILI-FM (98.3) in Willimantic and just across the state line at Springfield’s WMAS-FM (94.7).

Ten Years Ago: June 9, 2008

*CANADA‘s second-largest market is about to lose its second-largest English-language commercial news-talk station.

Corus’ CINW (940 Montreal) has failed to make a dent in the ratings pretty much from its first day on the air back in 1999, when the former CIQC (600) relocated up the dial to the frequency formerly occupied by the CBC’s CBM. The station launched as an all-news outlet, “940 News,” in parallel to French-language CINF (690), but while the vibrant Francophone market supported an all-news entrant, Montreal’s declining Anglo population remained locked to Standard’s CJAD (800) and to the CBC.

Even after the all-news format gave way to a mix of news and talk as “940 Montreal,” ratings and revenues failed to improve, and late on Friday Corus Quebec VP Mario Cecchini took to the airwaves to announce that, effective June 14, CINW will flip to oldies as “AM 940 – Montreal’s Greatest Hits.”

The move will put 18 people out of work at Corus.

In Peterborough, the last of the old CKPT (1420) towers came down last Monday, nearly 50 years after the four-tower array was built on Crowley Line just south of the city. The AM signal went dark for good on May 5, and two of the four towers came down a week early because of structural deterioration, reports the Peterborough Examiner.

Meanwhile, the station’s FM replacement, CKPT-FM, moved up the dial from 99.3 to 99.7 last Monday, hoping to alleviate interference to the CBC’s CBCP (98.7 Peterborough.)

On the TV side, CTVglobemedia is once again rebranding the “A-Channel” stations it acquired as part of its purchase of CHUM Ltd. Starting this fall, those stations (including CHRO -TV Pembroke/Ottawa, CKVR-TV Barrie, CFPL-TV London and CKNX-TV Wingham) will be known simply as “A.” (Yes, they’ll be competing against Global’s “E!” stations, including CHCH-TV Hamilton; and, yes, we got a chuckle from the message-board wag who noted that, being Canadian and all, the stations should have rebranded as “Eh” Channel…)

*A veteran MASSACHUSETTS TV reporter is the latest departure from what’s become a fast-spinning revolving door at CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston.

Joe Bergantino, who’s been the head of the station’s “I-Team” investigative unit for most of his 22-year tenure there (in two stretches, one in the early eighties and again since 1991), took a buyout and departed at the end of May, two months after his I-Team producer was cut as part of the massive nationwide staffing reductions at CBS’ owned-and-operated TV stations. Among Bergantino’s accomplishments during his time at WBZ was breaking the first of the stories in the priest abuse scandal that tarnished the Boston archdiocese. It’s not clear whether WBZ-TV will continue the I-Team with another reporter at the helm, nor does Bergantino have any immediate plans, though we’re sure we haven’t seen the last of him. (He’s married to Candy Altman, vice president of news for Hearst-Argyle, which just happens to own WCVB, where his skills would make a nice fit.)

The end of May also brought farewells for two other WBZ veterans, arts reporter Joyce Kulhawik and anchor Scott Wahle, whose last assignment was on the 9 PM newscast WBZ produces for sister station WSBK (Channel 38).

Fifteen Years Ago: June 10, 2003

By itself, the news that WQDY (1230) in Calais, MAINE signed off for good and returned its license to the FCC at the end of May would be an interesting but not terribly unusual event. After all, the past two decades have seen a long parade of Maine AM stations move from graveyard channels to the radio graveyard. Fort Kent, Madawaska, Presque Isle, Houlton, Machias, Brewer, Belfast, Lincoln, Dover-Foxcroft, Auburn – the list goes on.

What makes this particular AM shutdown interesting, though, is the reason why it had to happen, what it says about the ownership-limit rules that were just tweaked by the FCC a week ago – and the fact that it puts one owner in control of pretty much every daily advertising opportunity in Washington County.

There’s a back story here, of course, and it goes like this: back in March, Citadel, owner of WCRQ (102.9 Dennysville), applied to the FCC to sell the station to William McVicar (for $185,000, which has to be a record low for a full class C FM facility!) McVicar already owned WQDY, WQDY-FM (92.7 Calais) and a half-interest in WALZ (95.3 Machias), the other three commercial stations in Washington County. (There are two noncomms as well: Maine Public Radio’s WMED 89.7 in Calais and high school station WSHD 91.7 in Eastport.) Under the FCC’s interim market concentration rules, an owner in a small market like Calais was allowed to have an attributable interest in no more than half the stations in the market. In the transfer application for WCRQ, Citadel and McVicar told the Commission that there were six stations in the Calais market: WCRQ, WQDY, WQDY-FM and WALZ, as well as CHTD (98.1 St. Stephen NB) just across the water from Calais and CHSJ (700 Saint John NB), whose signal reaches down the Straits of Fundy from 100 or so miles away. By agreeing to put WQDY(AM) up for sale, McVicar claimed, his new cluster of WCRQ, WQDY-FM and WALZ would make up only three of six stations in the market.

There were just two problems with this scenario. First, no buyer turned up for WQDY(AM), which was no great surprise; would you want to compete with what promises to be such a dominant FM cluster, armed with only a pipsqueak AM signal? Second, as alert NERW readers may recall, is that CHSJ in Saint John hasn’t been on the air at AM 700 for more than five years. The CHSJ calls and country format live on – but at 94.1 FM, on a signal that can just be heard in Calais and can’t possibly count against any conceivable market definition there. (The duopoly map submitted with the application even acknowledged, with respect to CHSJ(AM), “FCC unsure of operational status.” Too bad they don’t read NERW – or at least admit that they do!)

So instead of McVicar’s threesome making up half of a six-station market, they make up three of a four-station market – and that’s being generous and including CHTD, which is aimed almost exclusively at the Canadian side of the border. And unlike the much-cited case of Minot, North Dakota, where Clear Channel took advantage of loopholes in the ownership rules to end up with six commercial radio stations (albeit with a daily newspaper, several TV stations, two commercially-licensed religious stations and a public radio outlet as competition), advertisers in Calais have no daily newspaper or local TV stations to use as leverage should the rates get too high at WQDY/WALZ/WCRQ.

Now, the saving grace here is that McVicar’s not a bad owner. In fact, he’s a very good owner. WQDY has long been one of the best small-town operations in NERW-land, with excellent coverage of local events and support of local causes. WCRQ, by contrast, was voicetracked from Citadel in Syracuse, and will no doubt become a much more local station under its new ownership. And if you go back less than a decade, there was no WCRQ (or CHTD), so the only option for Calais advertisers was…WQDY. (What’s more, the new FCC market-definition rules will include noncommercial signals, so McVicar’s stations really will become three of six, against CHTD, WMED and WSHD.)

What does it all prove? To quote one of the most experienced industry sages we know, “Radio is full of so many different sizes and types of stations and markets that it is impossible to come up with a truly fair and consistent set of rules to govern it.”

As first hinted here on NERW a few months ago, there’s an allocations shift in the works for upstate NEW YORK, and it involves WMJQ (105.5 Brockport). Right now, George Kimble’s station is operating at low power with a directional antenna from one tower of WASB (1590 Brockport), whose religious and Spanish programming has been simulcast on the FM for a few years now. A CP to move to a taller tower a few miles north in the town of Hamlin has been stalled by local opposition. Now WMJQ has a new plan: an application to move down the dial to 104.9 and to move its transmitter site eastward, toward Rochester. From the new site in Ogden, alongside route 531, 104.9 would use 4900 watts at 111 meters above average terrain, which should put a much more respectable signal over the city than 105.5 currently does.

Twenty Years Ago: June 11, 1998

Just minutes after NERW went to press last week, CBS finally completed its $2.6 billion takeover of American Radio Systems, adding ARS’ clusters in Buffalo (WLCE, WBLK, WJYE, WYRK, WECK), Rochester (WZNE, WCMF, WPXY, WRMM), Hartford (WTIC AM-FM, WZMX, WRCH) and Boston’s WBMX (98.5) to its existing Northeast presence in Boston (WBZ, WZLX, WODS, WBCN, WBZ-TV) and New York City (WCBS AM-FM, WINS, WNEW, WXRK, WFAN). To satisfy FCC ownership limits, Boston’s WNFT is in a trust awaiting sale; CBS is still required under a separate agreement with the Justice Department to sell WRKO, WEEI, WAAF, and WEGQ within six months. Despite persistent rumors of a Jacor Boston buy, there’s no oficial announcement of a buyer so far. NERW notes that ARS’ Rochester stations had the new “CBS” IDs on the air as early as 6:00 last Thursday night.

WBPS (890 Dedham) won’t be Salem Media’s newest property after all. Salem subsidiary New England Continental Media asked the FCC this week to dismiss its proposed purchase of the station.

News from the noncomms: WBIM (91.5 Bridgewater) and WSHL (91.3 Easton) will both stay on the air 24 hours a day again this summer, relaying the Talking Information Center’s reading service for the blind. And WRPS (88.3) at Rockland High School is also going 24 hours, running an automated hot AC format when no students are around. WRPS is also now in stereo for the first time.

Less than a year after fire destroyed his radio station, WVIP (Mount Kisco) founder Martin Stone has died. Stone was hospitalized after watching AM 1310 burn to the ground last fall. He was 83 years old. The WVIP license remains active, but there’s no sign that the station will return to the air.