In this week’s issue… Cox seeks TV partner in Boston, Pittsburgh – Townsquare suspends hosts – Remembering Clark Booth – Seven Mountains eyes Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – New pubradio hosts in NYC, Boston



*Hey, wanna own – or at least run – a couple of big TV stations in Boston and Pittsburgh?

Cox Media Group is hoping someone out there says yes to that offer as it looks for a buyer or an operating partner for its 14 television stations nationwide, including Fox affiliate WFXT (Channel 25) in Boston and NBC affiliate WPXI (Channel 11) in Pittsburgh.

Why sell, why now…and to whom? While Cox has been a successful media operator across multiple fronts – newspaper, radio, TV, cable – going as far back as the turn of the 20th century, its broadcast operations haven’t kept up with the 21st century conglomerate model that values a broad nationwide footprint over dominance in any individual market.

[Read on in our subscriber-only section below…and hear more analysis in this week’s Top of the Tower Podcast, 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: July 31, 2017

*Grab a scorecard, if you will, because there’s an interesting shuffle about to happen in NEW YORK‘s Southern Tier between two FM stations that share the same tower but have different owners.

Sound Communications’ WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) has been broadcasting from South Hill since it first hit the air in the 1960s; Kevin Fitzgerald and George Hawras’ WPHD (96.1 South Waverly PA) is a much more recent arrival, having signed on only in 2003.

Last week, Sound and the Fitzgerald/Hawras partnership filed to swap licenses – but in a way that would leave Elmira-area listeners almost completely unaware that anything had changed. The application to exchange licenses says that Fitzgerald and Hawras will file to move the WENY-FM license from 92.7 to 96.1, using the exact facilities now occupied by WPHD, and will change calls to WPHD as well. At the same time, Sound will file to move the WPHD license from 96.1 to 92.7, using the current WENY-FM facilities, and change calls to WENY-FM.

If it’s granted by the FCC, the only thing listeners might notice (and only if they’re especially alert) is that 96.1 would become “WPHD Elmira,” while 92.7 would identify as “WENY-FM South Waverly.”

What’s going on here? As we explored last week in our “Top of the Tower” podcast, there’s only one reason for going through all of this FCC sleight-of-hand: a station licensed to Elmira, in Chemung County, is in the Elmira-Corning radio market for the purposes of the Commission’s ownership caps – but a station licensed over the state line in South Waverly is outside any rated radio market and thus governed by contour overlaps when it comes to determining ownership caps. And since the Elmira-Corning market is a strange beast that extends into sprawling Steuben County, far beyond the reach of the 92.7 or 96.1 signals, the use of contour overlaps just might allow Sound owner Paige Christian to do something she can’t do right now, which would be to add another FM signal to her existing holdings in the market.

*MAINE Public Radio is adding a new midcoast signal with the $550,000 purchase of Blueberry Broadcasting’s WTQX (96.7 Boothbay Harbor). The station has been relaying rocker WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan), but will join MPBN’s “Maine Public Classical” network this fall when the deal closes, under new calls WBQA.

MPBN has also filed for new calls for two of its new classical network stations: WFYB (91.5 Fryeburg) becomes WBQF, while WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) becomes WBQE.

Five Years Ago: July 29, 2013

indietoronto-logo*The newest commercial radio station in CANADA‘s biggest market is about to launch, bringing to a close a four-year battle for the future of the 88.1 dial position in Toronto.

As NERW readers know, Ryerson University’s CKLN lost its license for the frequency and went silent in 2011 after 28 years on the air. CKLN’s license revocation opened a CRTC free-for-all that saw 22 broadcasters apply for the last significant open spot on the Toronto FM dial. The winner in the scrum turned out to be Barrie’s Rock 95 Broadcasting, which is now just days away from launching its new signal as CIND, “Indie 88.1.”

After several months of streaming a preview version of “Indie,” the CIND on-air signal went live in test form late last week with a real-life “Rickroll,” playing a nonstop loop of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” ahead of its planned official launch on Wednesday at noon.

When “Indie” launches for real, its staff will include PD Adam Thompson, former CBC Radio 3 host Raina Douris as music director, and Canadian rock radio legend Alan Cross as “music guidance counselor.” CIND launches with just 500 watts from the roof of First Canadian Place, the old CKLN transmitter site, but it has a pending application to boost its power to 4000 watts DA from there.

*All that noise about “four layoffs per cluster” at Clear Channel? That overheated prediction hasn’t come to pass, but last week did bring a handful of high-profile talent departures at specific Clear Channel outlets. In Harrisburg, Bob Durgin announced his impending retirement after 24 years holding down the afternoon shift at talker WHP (580). Durgin’s last show will air this Friday, August 2, with a listener party and live broadcast from the Radisson Penn Harris hotel in Camp Hill; no replacement for the shift has been named yet, and the buzz seems to suggest that Clear Channel will plug the syndicated Sean Hannity into a live clearance in Durgin’s 3-6 PM slot.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, a veteran member of the WCVB (Channel 5) news team is planning her retirement next year. Susan Wornick has been with channel 5 since 1981, and has been anchoring the midday news since 1989, while also leading the station’s consumer reporting team. Wornick will be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame this fall, and in March 2014 she’ll leave the station.

The Boston Herald has made it official: next Monday morning (August 5) will bring the official launch of “Boston Herald Radio.” The streaming service will operate from a studio adjoining the paper’s newsroom, and the initial lineup of four three-hour shows will be heavy on veterans of other Boston talk outlets. Jeff Katz, who was the morning man on the former WXKS (Talk 1200), will handle 6-9 AM, followed at 9 by “Morning Meeting” with Jaclyn Cashman and Hillary Chabot. Michael Graham, late of Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9, now WBQT), will be heard from noon-3 PM, followed at 3 by “Sports Town with Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle.”

*In CONNECTICUT, Kim Zachary has returned to WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford) after almost two decades. Zachary did news on WDRC from 1991-1994 (and was then married to traffic reporter Jim Sharpley); later on, she moved up I-91 to Springfield and a long run co-hosting mornings on WHYN-FM (93.1) with her second husband, Dan Williams. Dan and Kim tried their hands at morning TV last year at Springfield’s WGGB (Channel 40) and had more recently been doing an online show; last week, Zachary joined the WDRC-FM morning show alongside Jerry Kristafer and Mike Stevens.

Ten Years Ago: July 28 & August 4, 2008

*It may be licensed to Hackensack, NEW JERSEY, but Salem Communications has big New York City plans for the former WWDJ (970).

After spending the last 24 years under various iterations of a religious format, WWDJ changed calls to WTTT late last week, swapping callsigns with Salem’s AM 1150 in Boston. (More on that in a bit.)

But the WTTT calls, installed in Boston in 2003 when Salem flipped that station to a talk format, aren’t going to be permanent fixtures on the New York dial. Instead, the station – which is in the process of completing its daytime power upgrade from 5,000 to 50,000 watts – will change calls again, possibly as soon as today, to WNYM, becoming “970 the Apple” and flipping to Salem’s in-house lineup of syndicated talk programming.

The new schedule includes Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America,” followed by Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt. Similar formats have failed to draw significant ratings in other big cities for Salem, at stations such as WNTP (990 Philadelphia), WIND (560 Chicago) and KRLA (870 Glendale/Los Angeles). But even if it doesn’t draw much in the way of numbers in New York, clearing the talk lineup in the nation’s number-one market is likely to allow Salem to charge more for national advertising during the shows – and indeed, many have wondered why Salem didn’t pursue such a format flip sooner.

Why the WNYM calls? There’s a history there – when Salem entered the New York market back in 1981 by purchasing the former WEVD(AM) on 1330, WNYM was the new callsign the company picked. That callsign lasted until 1989, when Salem sold WNYM (which had by then absorbed WPOW, the other half of the old 1330 share-time) and purchased WMCA (570). The former WNYM on 1330 is now WWRV, and continues to transmit from the site in Hackensack shared with 970.

As for that “Apple” nickname, that has a history in New York City, too – a quarter-century ago, it was the new moniker of the former WTFM (103.5 Lake Success), and for a few short years the renamed WAPP had some success as a top-40 outlet and a rocker before going urban as WQHT, “Hot 103.5.” (Today, the 103.5 facility is dancing as WKTU, another venerable New York call, while WQHT prepares to mark its twentieth anniversary on its current frequency, 97.1.)

*Even as the Hackensack station changes its call letters, the total number of religious AM stations in the Garden State will remain constant: Millennium Radio is selling WBUD (1260 Trenton) to the Domestic Church Media Foundation for $2.3 million. Domestic Church, based just across the Delaware River in Fairless Hills, PA, will flip WBUD from its current Fox Sports format, which has been in place only since April, to a religious format once the deal closes. The station is also likely to go non-commercial, we hear.

*Two obituaries from the Empire State: On Long Island, they’re remembering Kevin Jeffries, whose career began at college station WCWP and included stints at commercial stations WHLI, WPAC, WBAB, WRIV, WALK and WLNG. Jeffries also worked for Cablevision as a voiceover announcer. He was 59.

And Sherman Maxwell was known on the air as “Jocko” during a radio career that began way back in 1929, when he began announcing sports on WNJ in Newark. Later heard on Jersey City’s WHOM and New York’s WRNY, Maxwell boasted of being the first black sports announcer in America. While much of his coverage focused on the old Negro League, including a stint as stadium announcer for the Newark Eagles, his career outlasted the league; he remained active on the air as late as 1967. Maxwell died July 16 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, at the age of 100.

*Broadcasters in CANADA are abandoning the AM dial in droves – and now competitors Newcap and Rogers have found a way to swap properties that will allow each of them to get rid of an AM signal, replacing it with an FM.

For Newcap in Halifax, Nova Scotia and for Rogers in Sudbury, Ontario, the CRTC rule limiting a single owner to no more than two FM signals in a market has been a problem. In Sudbury, Rogers has CJRQ (92.7), CJMX (105.3) and CIGM (790), the last remaining AM in the market. In Halifax, Newcap owns CFRQ (104.3), CKUL (96.5) and that market’s last AM, CFDR (780) – and when it purchased CKUL earlier this year, it was unable to carry out its application to move CFDR to FM, which the CRTC had granted in 2007 on the condition that Newcap sell its then-50% interest in CKUL.

So Rogers and Newcap are trading their AMs, giving Newcap a second station in Sudbury, where it owns CHNO (103.9), and giving Rogers a second station to add to its existing news station, CHNI (95.7), in Halifax. Rogers will pay Newcap C$5 million to even out the deal.

And since Rogers and Newcap each own only one FM in Halifax and Sudbury, respectively, there will be no ownership-limit issues with moving both CFDR and CIGM to FM. (CFDR’s application called for 21 kW on 88.9; there’s no word yet on what frequency or power CIGM will seek in Sudbury).

There was another AM-to-FM move in Ontario last week, but CHOK (1070 Sarnia ON) isn’t going silent. Because Blackburn Radio already owns two FM signals in Sarnia, CFGX 99.9 and CHKS 106.3, it can’t flip CHOK completely to FM. It can, however, add an FM booster for in-city coverage, and that’s just what happened last Wednesday (July 23) at 7:10 AM, as CHOK-FM1 signed on at 103.9. The station is now known as “Country 103.9,” and its airstaff remains intact.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 28 & August 4, 2003

*The news from CANADA this week seems to be the same as the news from Canada last week, and the week before…yet another station has dropped a top-40 format to stake its hopes for higher ratings on the classic hits/hot AC hybrid variously known as “Jack” (the original, developed down on Long Island by Bob “Cadillac Jack Garrett” Perry and friends), “Bob” and “Dave.”

When the CHUM Group does it in places like Ottawa and Brockville, it’s Bob – as listeners to London’s CHST (102.3) discovered Thursday night, when top 40 “Star 102.3” went away and resurfaced as “102.3 Bob FM.” What frontiers still remain for this format? Canada’s #1 market already has it, of course – though there’s an interesting rumo(u)r that CHUM actually contemplated flipping CHUM-FM itself to “104.5 Bob FM” before Rogers beat it to the punch and flipped CISS (92.5) from “Kiss” to “Jack” – but there’s still Montreal and Windsor to conquer. And we’ll be interested to see whether U.S. broadcasters begin taking note of Jack and Bob’s ratings success north of the border and hop on the Bob-wagon.

*Speaking of Toronto, CHIN-1-FM (101.3) is moving spots on the dial. We hear its new 91.9 signal is already being heard in the Etobicoke area; 101.3 will go away soon to make room for the new Canadian Multicultural Rado signal up there. (CHIN-1-FM simulcasts CHIN’s AM 1540 signal, a separate program feed from the big CHIN-FM 100.7 signal.)

*And a launch date has been set for Toronto’s new TV station. “Toronto One” will sign on September 19, promising a program lineup that includes locally-produced entertainment shows, “Monday Night Football,” the Toronto Raptors and Fox’s baseball playoff schedule, the World Series and all. Toronto One will appear for broadcast viewers as CKXT-TV (Channel 52), with a low-power relay on channel 45 in Hamilton. On cable, it’ll show up somewhere below channel 14, though a definite position hasn’t been announced yet.

*The newest radio station in PENNSYLVANIA signed on Friday. WPHD (96.1 South Waverly) is stunting as “Fab 96,” playing nothing but Beatles music for a coverage area that stretches north and east to Elmira, NY; that’s the same stunt that owner Kevin Fitzgerald used to relaunch what’s now “Cozy 104,” WCOZ (103.9 Laporte), a few months back.

*TV viewers in Utica had two choices last week if they wanted to see local news. This week, they’re down to just one after Clear Channel shut down the news operation at ABC affiliate WUTR (Channel 20), closing the books on a newsroom that’s struggled in second place in the Mohawk Valley ever since the station’s 1970 sign-on. For a little while in the mid-nineties, WUTR almost caught up to dominant NBC affiliate WKTV (Channel 2), but the station’s eventual sale to Ackerley – putting it in the same hands as ABC affiliate WIXT (Channel 9) 45 miles away in Syracuse – put the pieces in place for its eventual demise.

While WUTR got a snappy new graphics package from WIXT, it also lost much of its independence as Ackerley moved the station’s master control and, later, its morning newscast to Syracuse. Weekend news came and went on channel 20, setting in motion a vicious circle that gave WKTV more viewers and WUTR less money to work with. So it was no great surprise on Friday (Aug. 1) when WUTR’s 5 PM newscast failed to appear, and in its place was the WIXT broadcast, with all that news of Oswego and Auburn and Cortland and DeWitt that Utica viewers care so little about. And WIXT’s newscasts are all that WUTR viewers will see now, if they bother to watch. Clear Channel, which bought WUTR and WIXT (and four other upstate stations) from Ackerley, says it will provide additional coverage of Utica-area weather and news on the WIXT/WUTR newscasts – but do WIXT viewers want coverage of New York Mills and Herkimer? (We’d bet not.)

Twenty Years Ago: July 27 & August 3, 1998

*If at first you don’t succeed…shuffle your anchors around and try again. That seems to be the philosophy in MASSACHUSETTS at Boston’s WBZ-TV (Channel 4), where the latest anchor shuffle splits the team of Jack Williams and Liz Walker after almost 20 years together. Here’s how it plays out: Walker will move from co-anchoring the 6 PM newscast to a new hourlong newscast at 5. Williams will anchor the 6 by himself, at least for now (although Virginia Cha is rumored to be joining him there sometime soon), and Joe Shortsleeve gets promoted to co-anchor at 5 and 11. Getting ousted from their evening spots are veteran meteorologist Bruce Schwoegler and anything-but-veteran wrestling-announcer-turned-anchor Sean Mooney. Schwoegler moves to weekends for now, although NERW hears he’s looking at other jobs both on and off the air. Mooney goes to mornings after less than a year as 11PM co-anchor; always-tactful BZ chief Ed Goldman tells the Boston Globe he’s “not going to say we screwed up” by putting Mooney in such a high-profile slot. Ed Carroll, who came to WBZ from Springfield’s WGGB (Channel 40) a few years back, gets the top weather slots at 5, 6, and 11, with Barry Burbank joining Mooney, Suzanne Bates, and Scott Wahle on the morning crew in Carroll’s old spot. At noon, WBZ radio legend Gary LaPierre keeps his TV side gig. NERW’s sorry to see Schwoegler get demoted; as with Williams’ removal from the 11 last year, we don’t see what’s to be gained by taking a well-liked, well-respected broadcast veteran off the air.

*Somebody tell the folks at 5 TV Place they can go home now: This week’s issue of TV Guide has an article about children’s TV, with a mention of the “now-defunct WCVB” in Boston. (Well, it must be — after all, WHDH-TV is alive and well, right?)

*In NEW YORK, the morning team of Mason and Sheehan will soon be history in the Albany market. After moving from WPYX (106.5) to WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa) last year, the duo apparently failed to provide the ratings boost that the newer rock station hoped for, so WXCR is buying out their contract effective August 31. Across town at WFLY…was the Hillary Clinton banner stunt we told you about last week actually done with the full knowledge of station management? And was the one-day “suspension” of the jocks involved actually a planned publicity stunt? That’s what we’re hearing, and we’re not surprised. And, hey, it landed WFLY a mention in Time magazine this week…

*In the Albany market, funky little AAA WXLE (104.5 Mechanicsville) passes from Foley Broadcasting to the decidedly un-funky folks at Capstar, with a reported $2.6 million going the other way. It joins the former SFX Albany group — WTRY (980 Troy/98.3 Rotterdam), WPYX (106.5 Albany), and WGNA (1460/107.7 Albany) under the umbrella of the Hicks, Muse folks from Texas. Staying in the Capital District for a moment, we note a series of changes at Brian Larson’s religious stations north of Albany, with WNGX (91.9 Argyle) changing to WNGN and the former WNGN (97.5 Hoosick Falls) taking the WZEC calls in preparation for its future as a simulcast of Auritaur’s WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield MA). W04DA in Troy becomes WNGX-LP, just to keep the calls in the Larson family. And congratulations to veteran Albany broadcaster (and friend of this column) Joe Condon of WROW/WYJB. He’s been nominated for “Medium Market Personality of the Year” in the Marconi awards, and you can guess who NERW’ll be rooting for come October. (Other Empire State Marconi nominees: New York’s WQEW (1560) for Adult Standards Station and WSKQ (97.9) for Spanish Station of the Year.)

*In the Hudson Valley, it looks like WVIP (1310 Mount Kisco) won’t go permanently silent after all. Jonathan Becker’s Suburban Broadcasting, which owns WGCH (1490) just over the Connecticut state line in Greenwich, has agreed to pay the estate of Martin Stone $675,000 for the dark station. You’ll recall that WVIP was silenced last fall by a fire that destroyed its studio.