In this week’s issue… After Sinclair, who’s next for Tribune’s TV stations? – WBZ readies big move – Maine TV station sells – Toronto morning team out
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When the news broke late last week that Sinclair’s deal to buy Tribune’s TV stations was dead, the national headlines focused on the Sinclair end of the deal – but there’s another story lurking beneath that political and regulatory morass.
Without Sinclair as a buyer, Tribune still hopes to unload its stations, which include four NERW-land markets with very different profiles that seem unlikely to all appeal to the same potential buyers.
In New York, Tribune’s CW affiliate WPIX (Channel 11) remains one of the jewels of the group, part of the huge-market trio that also includes WGN-TV in Chicago and KTLA in Los Angeles. Down the road in Philadelphia, My Network affiliate WPHL (Channel 17) is another former superstation, but unlike WPIX, WGN and others, it lacks a local news operation, save for a prime-time show produced by ABC O&O WPVI (Channel 6).
Down the road in York, Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43) is one of Tribune’s smallest markets, with solid local news but a challenging over-the-air reception situation since it sold its spectrum and began channel-sharing with Harrisburg public station WITF (Channel 33). And in Hartford, Fox affiliate WTIC-TV (Channel 61) is paired with CW outlet WCCT (Channel 20).
Who’s in line now as potential buyers? If Disney were in the market, WPHL would combine nicely with WPVI – but so far, Disney has resisted almost every chance to buy duopoly TV signals in its markets. Fox, which does do duopoly, has room to add a sister to its WTXF (Channel 29) in Philly, if it wanted to.
The other big existing owners in Philadelphia and New York – CBS and NBC/Comcast – already have duopolies, leaving them out of the picture, assuming the Tribune stations are even offered individually. Could a fast-growing medium-market operator like a Nexstar or a Gray go for these huge markets? Might Hearst or Tegna make a play for those big markets? Could someone pair the Tribune lineup with the similarly varied (and not very overlapping) portfolio of TV stations Cox just put on the market?
There’s lots of uncertainty ahead – and we’ll be following it closely in the next few months here in NERW.
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*Beasley will be on the move again in eastern MASSACHUSETTS before too long. It’s selling its building on Morrissey Boulevard in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, part of a $56 million transaction that also includes the larger Star Market building just to the north. Buyer Center Court Properties has been building up a substantial site in what was once Boston’s Media Row; last year, it also bought the long-vacant former WLVI (Channel 56) building just south of Beasley, and it attempted to buy the former Boston Globe building just south of that as well. Beasley just finished its buildout for new addition WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub), and we’re guessing the Sports Hub and sisters WBOS, WBQT, WKLB and WROR have a while longer at their Morrissey Boulevard address before demolition gets started. (In the meantime, the rumor mill is already getting started about where Beasley’s FMs might find a new home.)
It’s down to just a few weeks now before the big change at one of the oldest radio addresses in the country. WBZ (1030) has been at 1170 Soldiers Field Road in Allston since 1948, albeit in different studio spaces within the oft-renovated building. Its current space, adjoining the WBZ-TV newsroom on the east side of the complex, has been largely unchanged since 1996 – but on August 25, it will fall silent for good as WBZ’s new owner, iHeart Media, moves the station up to new digs in its Medford cluster complex on Cabot Road. Up there, it will join its new spoken-word sisters, WRKO (680) and WXKS (Talk 1200), as well as FM companions WJMN, WZLX, WBWL and WXKS-FM. We don’t yet know what CBS plans to do with the space WBZ radio is vacating in the Soldiers Field Road building, which has itself been a frequent subject of redevelopment rumors.
*RHODE ISLAND Public Radio has quietly changed callsigns on its FM signals: WXNI (89.3 Newport) is now WNPN (for “Newport”), while WRNI (102.7 Narragansett Pier) is now WNPE, to match WNPN. The change means the end of the “WRNI” callsign under which the state’s public radio operation first launched (on the AM dial) 20 years ago.
Over at Cumulus, WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7) picks up Providence College men’s basketball rights from Entercom’s WVEI-FM (103.7). The five-year deal keeps John Rooke and Joe Hassett in the booth and includes a show featuring coach Ed Cooley.
*The big news in MAINE during our vacation week (heck, the only big news at all that week, really) was Hearst’s purchase of a second TV signal in the Portland market. WPXT (Channel 51) was Portland’s first independent station and later its original Fox station, but in more recent years it’s been a market also-ran as the CW outlet for southern Maine.
Seller Ironwood Communications had already unloaded WPXT’s sister station, the former WPME (Channel 35), to Ion for just $900,000 earlier this year (it’s now WIPL), and Ironwood picks up $3.35 million from Hearst for WPXT.
Hearst, of course, already owns the market’s ABC affiliate, WMTW (Channel 8) – and nobody even needs to make any physical moves, since WMTW had already been leasing space in WPXT’s Westbrook building for its newsroom and studio.
*In NEW YORK, Ralph Howard was a newsroom mainstay for half a century after arriving in the big city from early gigs at WOTT in Watertown and WPDM in Potsdam. Howard freelanced his way through college at Columbia, went to Chicago in the early 1960s to work at WBBM and WIND, then came back to New York for good in 1975 at WMCA (570), where he co-hosted mornings at WMCA as “Ralph and Ryan” with WNBC-TV’s Bill Ryan. Howard went on to WCBS (880), then settled in for a long run at WINS (1010), where he spent 18 years as an anchor before finishing up his career as the newsman on Howard Stern’s “Howard 100” on Sirius from 2005 until 2013. Howard underwent a lung transplant a few years back; he died August 7 of pulmonary fibrosis, at age 77.
*On Long Island, “The Breeze” is down to just Suffolk County coverage – a year after launching its soft AC format over WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle)’s HD3 and translator W268AN (101.5 Plainview), that Nassau County signal has ended its lease agreement. That leaves “Breeze” only on its Suffolk County translator, W227CM (93.3 Coram), which is fed by WLIM (1580 Patchogue); in Nassau, meanwhile, 101.5 is now relaying WVIP’s main-channel Caribbean format while awaiting a new lease tenant.
East of Pittsburgh, WCNS (1480 Latrobe) is now “97.3 Lite FM,” reflecting the frequency of its newly-licensed translator. Down the road, WTYM (1380 Kittanning) signed on its new 103.7 translator over the weekend – but as PBRTV reports, owner David Croyle is facing some ugly accusations of sexual assault against a minor, which could put his qualifications as a licensee in serious danger.
Down by the West Virginia line, EMF changes the calls on WDKL (106.9 Masontown), which becomes WMKF so that the “KL” call can go to EMF’s newly-acquired 102.7 in the Detroit market (ex-WPZR).
*In CANADA, Corus pulled “Edge Mornings with Melani and Adam” off the air at Toronto’s CFNY (102.1 the Edge), sending hosts Melani Mariani and Adam Ricard packing (Ricard had been with the station for 12 years) and leaving the modern rocker without a morning or afternoon show for now. That’s because afternoon host “Fearless Fred” moves around the corner to sister station Q107 (CILQ), where he takes over afternoons on the classic rock format today.
In Halifax, N.S., Evanov is taking CKHY (105.1) in a more classic rock direction, rebranding from its former “Live 105.1” active rock identity to “Rock 105.1.”
South of Montreal, Steve Faguy reports community station CHOC (104.9 St-Remi) signed off for good last Monday, succumbing to a combination of signal problems and having overspent on a power increase that it hoped would fix those signal problems.
We’re a community.