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

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*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.)

WBZ radio talk studioIt’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.

*In CONNECTICUT, Megan Stone is the new morning co-host at WEBE (107.9 Westport), moving from WEZN (Star 99.9) to join Jay Michaels’ “Wake Up Morning Show.”

*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.

*In NEW JERSEY, Edwin Guevara is now promotions director/afternoon host at WPST (94.5 Trenton), replacing Tom Shinn.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Entercom took over operation of WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) last week under an LMA, awaiting closing on its $57.5 million purchase from Jerry Lee Broadcasting LLC.

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.

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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: August 14, 2017

*Say you’ve flouted every imaginable FCC rule for decades. And say the Commission somehow decides to give you one last chance to restore your imperiled licenses and even to pocket a six-figure sum for selling some of your translators. For most of us, it’s an opportunity we’d grab with both fists – and we’d be sure to comply with every bit of the FCC’s conditions, right?

And then there’s Brian Dodge in NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT and MASSACHUSETTS, who got just that chance handed to him last year, and who now appears to have lost it all again for failure to follow the Commission’s directions about what needed to be done in order to salvage what was left of the radio group he once held across a big swath of New England.

Last week, the FCC sent Dodge’s Harvest Broadcasting a letter reminding him of the terms of the consent decree that he reached with the Commission back in October: by April 25, Dodge had to submit documentation showing that he was in compliance with all of the FCC’s rules for seven translators that had largely been off the air for years, or else he’d lose those licenses.

Dodge was able to sell one of those translators, W228AU (93.5 North Bennington VT), to WBLQ (1230 Westerly RI), and it now holds a valid CP to move down there. The other six, though? The only correspondence Dodge sent the FCC appears to have been a request in June, two months after the deadline, for extended special temporary authority to stay silent.

That wasn’t enough to keep the FCC happy, and now those translators have at long last been officially deleted. (The six were W240AK 95.9 Lebanon NH, W259AB 99.7 Marlboro VT, W232AJ 94.3 Greenville NH, W288AN 105.5 West Brattleboro VT, W288AZ 105.5 Bernardston MA and W257AU 99.3 St. Johnsbury VT.)

That last translator, W257AU, had an application pending to move to 93.3 in Madbury, where it would have become an FM relay for Dodge’s last remaining AM station, WWNH 1340 Madbury. WWNH, as NERW readers well know, had its own long strange saga that started with a construction permit back in 1990 but never actually included a full-fledged license, eventually ending with years of silence and the loss of the transmitter site. The FCC was (rather remarkably) willing to reinstate WWNH’s CP and let the little AM finally get licensed, if Dodge could show the FCC that “the WWNH facilities at present are consistent with the facilities authorized in the WWNH construction permit.”

He couldn’t do that, either – and so WWNH, too, has been deleted for good.

*Dodge’s latest adventures were hardly the only news out of the Granite State last week; to the north in Concord, Binnie Media made headlines several days running as it flipped formats, entered an LMA with a semi-competitor, and then filed to buy that station.

This story starts with WNNH (99.1 Henniker), which Binnie had been operating as a news-talk station under its “NH1 News” brand even after abruptly ending its NH1 News television product on WBIN-TV (Channel 50) earlier this year. That ended on Monday when WNNH flipped back to its previous oldies format as “True Oldies 99.1,” using Scott Shannon’s syndicated True Oldies format.

But Bill Binnie (himself a former candidate for the U.S. Senate) isn’t exiting the talk arena in the state capital: he immediately began operating talk competitor WTPL (107.7 Hillsboro) under an LMA with Lakes Media, which had just recently acquired “The Pulse” and two other stations from Great Eastern. And no sooner did that hit the trades than Binnie filed to buy WTPL outright, for $1.3 million. (Lakes, we’d note, belongs to Dirk Nadon, who’s Binnie’s VP of engineering; it paid $2.6 million for WTPL and two sister stations last year.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, Neil Chayet always described himself as a lawyer who just happened to be dabbling in radio – but the news of his death Friday made it clear that he was a valued member of the radio community, too, after four decades and tens of thousands of “Looking at the Law” segments. Chayet started the segment in the 1970s on WEEI (590), but its flagship for most of its run became WBZ (1030), where Chayet also hosted a weekend “Looking at the Law Live” talk show for many years.

Chayet’s segments were syndicated to other stations, too, including WCBS (880) in New York, making his voice and expertise familiar to listeners across the country right up until his retirement in June. At the time, he said he was fighting an aggressive form of prostate cancer but hoped to remain active writing a book; sadly, the disease moved too quickly.

Chayet was 78.

Five Years Ago: August 12, 2013

Big changes were coming to two big FM signals in the two biggest markets we cover along the East Coast. The first shoe to drop was in Philadelphia, where it was pretty much a given that Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media group was looking to unload WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ), the former Family Radio outlet it had purchased a year and a half ago for $22.5 million, apparently outbidding CBS Radio for the property. Merlin had big plans for WWIQ, pulling Rush Limbaugh away from his longtime home at CBS Radio’s WPHT (1210) and attempting to challenge CBS all-news sister station KYW (1060) with a morning show that was initially fairly heavy on news.

The sale of WWIQ’s New York sister station WEMP (101.9) to CBS removed some of the infrastructure on which WWIQ had depended for its news content, and within the last few months “IQ 106.9″ had eliminated nearly all of its local content in favor of the syndicated Don Imus in morning drive.

And then came the big announcement last week: Merlin was selling WWIQ – but not, as in New York, to CBS Radio. Instead, the class B signal at 106.9 is going to EMF Broadcasting, the California-based religious broadcaster that seems to have a bottomless wallet when it comes to acquisitions. The purchase price hasn’t been officially announced, but it’s rumored to be in the $19 million range, reflecting the softening marketplace for even the biggest of signals. Once the sale closes, 106.9 is expected to take on the “K-Love” contemporary Christian format now heard on WKVP (89.5 Cherry Hill NJ), while the small 89.5 signal across the Delaware River will likely take EMF’s Christian rock “Air 1″ format.

What happens to WWIQ’s current programming? We’d be surprised if Limbaugh doesn’t return to WPHT fairly quickly, giving the ailing AM talker a much-needed boost and probably reducing WPHT’s current hosts to three-hour shifts instead of their current four-hour daily shows. In a market that’s traditionally been resistant to syndicated talk, it’s unlikely the rest of the WWIQ lineup, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, will get full-market clearances in the near future.

Ten Years Ago: August 11, 2008

*Non-compete contracts became a thing of the past for broadcast employees in NEW YORK State as of Thursday, when Gov. David Paterson signed the Broadcast Employees Freedom to Work Act. The legislation was strongly supported by AFTRA, but faced intense opposition from the New York State Broadcasters Association, which attempted to rally its members to lobby against the bill.

The governor, however, was sympathetic to the case presented by AFTRA and its members. “The contract provisions we’re banning placed an unfair burden on these professionals by limiting their ability to move to other employers within the same market or within a certain time period,” Paterson said in a statement after signing the bill. “With the approval of this bill, we hope to empower broadcasters with greater independence as they pursue employment options.”

At least here in western New York, the immediate question raised by the bill’s passage was, “what happens to Brother Wease?” The former WCMF (96.5 Rochester) morning man has been off the air since his contract dispute with WCMF’s new owners, Entercom, flared up late last year; while he’s now working for Clear Channel, we’re told other provisions of Wease’s Entercom contract will still keep him off the air until around Thanksgiving, when he’ll reappear at Clear Channel’s WFXF (95.1 Honeoye Falls).

*Over on the New York AM dial, Wednesday (Aug. 6) marked the debut of Salem’s new talker. WNYM (970 Hackensack NJ) wrapped up several days of stunting (including an all-Sinatra day) with an hour of a countdown clock, followed by a brief welcome to its talk format, then right into the Mike Gallagher show. While there are no strictly local shows on WNYM, Salem is trying to create as many links as it can between its syndicated lineup and the city, most notably in the case of Gallagher, the former WABC morning man whose program originates from the Empire State Building. The rest of the lineup includes the Wall Street Journal Report (5-6 AM), Bill Bennett (6-9 AM), Dennis Prager (noon-3 PM), Michael Medved (3-6 PM), Hugh Hewitt (6-9 PM), Laura Schlessinger (9-midnight), John Gibson (midnight-3 AM) and Jim Bohannon (3-5 AM). WNYM brings Fox News Radio an hourly clearance in New York as well, with Metro Networks providing local news headlines.

*In Watertown, Intrepid Broadcasting’s WBLH (92.5 Black River) debuted for real August 1, ending a month and a half of stunting (we never did get to hear its 45-minute loop, alas) with the sign-on of an adult hits format as “Your Tunes 92.5.” WBLH’s studios are in the J.B. Wise Plaza, just north of Public Square in downtown Watertown.

Fifteen Years Ago: August 11, 2003

*One of CANADA’s largest broadcasters is taking an interest in the radio scene across the border. Standard Radio, which owns Toronto’s CFRB, Montreal’s CJAD, CJFM and CHOM and Ottawa’s CKQB, among others, bought a 25% interest (the maximum allowable to a foreign owner) in Martz Communications last week, giving it a piece of a broadcaster that’s been giving it headaches in Montreal.

*Tim Martz has long specialized in border broadcasting, buying and selling stations everywhere from Calais, Maine to northern Minnesota with an eye towards sending his signals across the border into Canada. At the moment, his station group includes nine stations in northern New York: top 40 WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay), oldies WICY (1490 Malone), country WVNV (96.5 Malone), top 40 “Yes FM” WYSX (98.7 Ogdensburg)/WYSI (96.7 Canton), AC WVLF (96.1 Norwood), oldies WMSA (1340 Massena), rock WRCD (101.5 Canton) and country WNCQ-FM (102.9 Morristown) – and of those, the one that’s the biggest concern to Standard is WYUL, which puts a signal into much of Montreal, yet is unbound by the Canadian regulations on hit music content, language (unlike the Montreal stations, it can give traffic reports in French and English) and Canadian music content.

*With Standard’s money in the picture, will WYUL ease up on its attacks on Standard’s CJFM (“Mix 96”), including the taunting Web site URL of www.nixthemix.com? Or will Standard put its hit-music energy into the cross-border signal and refocus CJFM in another direction? It should be interesting to watch…especially for Standard’s Montreal competitors.

*While we’re in the Seaway Valley, a surprise format change at Corus: it dumped the country at CJSS (101.9 Cornwall) on Friday afternoon, replacing “Blaze” with “Rock 101.9,” which looks like a carbon copy of Corus’ very successful CFMI (Rock 101) in Vancouver. Could this, too, be a reaction to the Standard/Martz moves, especially so close on the dial to “Fox” 101.5 over in Canton?

Twenty Years Ago: August 6, 1998

*Boston’s WB affiliate was knocked off the air Tuesday morning when a 42-ton crane crashed through the roof of its studio building. The crane was attempting to put the STL tower in place at the building next door to WLVI (Channel 56) on Morrissey Boulevard, which will be the home to Greater Media’s Boston group (WBOS, WSJZ, WKLB-FM, WROR, and WMJX) this fall. The crane flipped on its side, sending the 140-foot tower into the hallway at WLVI.

*The Channel 56 building was immediately evacuated, but engineers were able to get a signal back on the air from the transmitter site within about an hour. Later in the day, WLVI borrowed a satellite truck from New England Cable News to downlink the Kids’ WB programming from sister station WPIX (Channel 11) in New York. Meanwhile, WLVI’s news staff became the guests at WCVB (Channel 5), where they were able to produce a 10 PM newscast using WCVB’s equipment. At this writing, the exact cause of the accident still hasn’t been determined.

*In other MASSACHUSETTS news, Newburyport’s WNBP (1450) is being sold — and one of the new owners was there when the station first went on the air in 1957. Long before Bob Fuller was a station owner, he was a 16 year old kid from Newburyport whose first radio job was at the brand-new daytimer on 1470. Fuller went on to bigger and better things as a station owner, and WNBP eventually became WCEA, then WNCG, and then went back to its original calls while moving from 1470 down to 1450 and full-time status. Now Fuller is teaming with Al Mozier (an employee of Fuller’s Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting) to buy the station from Win Damon. Damon will stay on as morning host and sales manager; Mozier will become station manager.

*In NEW YORK, the big news this week is in the Albany market. Just a few weeks after getting FCC permission to change city of license from Johnstown to Altamont, WSRD (104.9) has applied to move its transmitter some 40 miles southeast to the WPTR (96.3 Voorheesville) site in the hills south of Schenectady. With 570 watts from the new site, WSRD will have decent coverage of most of the Albany market. Down the road a bit, someone called “Pee Wee Communications” tried applying to share time with SUNY Albany’s WCDB (90.9) — only to have their application tossed right back at them for failing to submit any engineering data.