In this week’s issue… Hockey on the Radio – Public radio leader exits – Silence for a venerable AM – NY translator, NJ AM sold – New lineup at the Fanatic
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The NHL season is underway, and that means it’s time for our annual Hockey on the Radio update – a somewhat unusual one this year, since two teams in NERW-land are no longer “on the radio,” per se.
The New Jersey Devils had already been primarily depending on streaming to reach radio listeners, using their “One Jersey Network” they created with then-CBS Radio last season in conjunction with a partial on-air schedule over WFAN (660/101.9) when those stations weren’t in conflicts with other teams. The New York Islanders, of course, have struggled for years to find a radio voice, landing on Hofstra’s WRHU (88.7) and, out east, JVC’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead).
For the 2018-2019 season, both teams will make Entercom’s Radio.com their flagship, joining a switch that started with the Los Angeles Kings’ decision to use iHeart’s streaming platform as their main audio source. The Devils and Islanders streams will be heard on radio.com’s app and website, as well as on the NHL and team website and apps; both teams will get at least occasional appearances on WFAN, and the Isles will continue to be heard on WRHU and WRCN this season as well.
We’re contractually obligated here in the lead space of this column to ask, “is this really a trend?” – and the answer is “yes, to some extent.” The NHL, of course, is a relatively minor major league when it comes to radio. Unlike bigger players (especially Major League Baseball), the NHL doesn’t charge for its radio streams, nor does it block broadcast affiliates from providing games on their own streams. That means passionate hockey fans may already be in the habit of getting their game coverage on streams. (And, honestly, as good as a radio hockey call can be, you simply don’t see many fans in the stands listening to broadcast coverage during the game…not that we see it that much these days even in baseball or football, either.)
And New York is something of a special case, too, since WFAN’s broadcast airwaves are already pretty full this time of year with Nets basketball, Yankees postseason baseball (sigh…), Giants football and college sports, leaving less room for two rival NHL teams’ games than you’d find in other markets. (And yes, logic would dictate that this season is an ideal opportunity for splitting WFAN’s AM and FM simulcast for game coverage, but logic and Nielsen Audio rules don’t always occupy the same zip code…)
So will other teams and other sports follow suit? It’s not likely to be a wholesale exodus, and there’s still a place for hockey on the radio (keep reading to the end of the column for our rundown on where the rest of the NHL finds itself on the NERW-land airwaves this season) – but we can easily imagine more of these streaming-first deals in the seasons to come. We’ll tackle the minor leagues of hockey (AHL and ECHL) next week, and as we track those radio rights deals from season to season, we expect to see more streaming-only deals at those levels of play, too.
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*Up the NEW YORK Thruway in Albany, DJRA Broadcasting returned the license for silent WDCD (1540) at the end of September, ending the 70-year history of the station that had been known for most of those years as WPTR.
As we explore in considerable detail in this week’s Top of the Tower Podcast, it was a difficult but inevitable decision by the time Don Crawford, Jr.’s company made it; the 50,000-watt signal suffered from a challenging directional pattern that left out big chunks of the market, and the market itself has almost completely migrated to FM, leaving few holes left for an AM that’s expensive to keep running.
(Even in its heyday, you could argue that WPTR succeeded as well as it did not because of its signal but in spite of it – if you were an Albany-area listener in the 1960s, you either worked to dial in 1540 for top-40 or you listened to out-of-market signals. And at times, WPTR had a more robust following from outside the market than from within; it’s still fondly remembered by listeners from small-town New England for whom it was often the biggest top-40 signal at night.)
The demise of 1540 leaves three more Albany-market AM stations silent and on the market. But as Empire Broadcasting tries to sell WABY (900 Watervliet), WAIX (1160 Mechanicville), WPTR (1240 Schenectady) and their translator CPs, it’s at least managed to find a buyer for its fourth translator. WMHT Public Broadcasting is paying $275,000 for W291BU (106.1 Troy), which had been rebroadcasting WAIX – and we expect that means a bigger signal for WMHT’s AAA format, heard on WEXT (97.7) west of Albany in Amsterdam and on the HD2 of WMHT (89.1).
*There are more honors for New York broadcasters in the autumn air. We’ll be in New York City next week for the joint NAB New York and Audio Engineering Society conventions (where your editor is moderating a panel on “Modern Transmission Systems” next Thursday afternoon, and where other special events include a Friday night session marking the 80th anniversary of the original “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast), and we’ll be at the New York State Broadcasters Association’s luncheon on Thursday as well.
We’d already found out a few of the honorees this year, but now we know the whole list: ABC World News anchor David Muir, a Syracuse native, will be honored as Broadcaster of the Year. NYSBA Hall of Fame inductees will include not only WHAM-TV’s veteran anchors Ginny Ryan and Doug Emblidge from Rochester but also the late Dan Ingram of New York’s WABC and WCBS-FM, Dave Davis from WABC-TV and ABC News in New York and Yankees announcer Michael Kay.
*Here in Rochester, the Rochester Media Association held its annual banquet Saturday night, presenting its Impact Awards to WHAM-TV’s Jennifer Johnson (TV), WXXI “Connections” producer Megan Mack (radio) and former Democrat and Chronicle arts reporter Jeff Spevak (print).
Spevak (shown at right with RMA president Juan Vazquez) delivered a barn-burner of a speech, which we were going to link here – but as of early Monday morning, his site at jeffspevak.com is down. (We’ll put the link up when it becomes available again.)
Radio People on the Move: Shawn Kennedy moves down Route 13 from Saga’s WQNY (103.7 Ithaca) to Community’s WNKI (Wink 106) in Elmira, where he takes over nights, as well as fill-ins down the hall at WPGI (100.9 the Wolf).
In Glens Falls, Ben Ryan moves from WKBE (107.1) to Pamal country sister WFFG-FM (100.3), taking over mornings after Kate Sullivan’s departure. Ryan will also be tracking middays on WNYQ (101.7).
And congratulations to Roger Neel, who started at Binghamton’s WNBF (1290) in October 1978 when he took the mic to call Broome Dusters hockey. Forty years later, Neel’s still at WNBF doing mornings, not to mention serving as brand manager for WNBF and sister sports station WYOS (1360) – and the station honored him last week with a luncheon once he got off the air for the day.
*In northern NEW JERSEY, World India Radio is selling WXMC (1310 Parsippany-Troy Hills) to a now-familiar buyer, Erick Salgado’s Cantico Nuevo Ministry. Salgado will pay $781,000 for WXMC and its translator, W232CY (94.3 Parsippany) – and they’ll presumably be flipping from their present Indian programming to Salgado’s Radio Cantico Nuevo network.
Earlier this year, Current reported that Gardella was the subject of an outside investigation into “serious management, human resources and communication issues,” and later on Monday NHPR announced that Gardella would retire at the end of 2018 – but that she wouldn’t be back in Concord, instead working off-site for the remainder of her tenure.
NHPR board chair Marshall Rowe sent a letter, reported by Current, saying Gardella’s departure was something “she’d been contemplating for some time and was not unexpected by the board.” Trustee Mark Kaplan will serve as interim CEO while NHPR looks for a permanent successor to Gardella, whose 13-year term included the network’s move into its new Concord facility.
*The CONNECTICUT Broadcasters Hall of Fame has named its second class of nominees, who’ll be inducted at its convention Thursday in Hartford. Walter Martinez of WRYM in New Britain, Charlie Parker of WDRC in Hartford, Barbara Davitt of WATR in Waterbury and Wayne Norman of WILI in Willimantic are this year’s inductees.
Over at Fox affiliate WTIC-TV (Channel 61) and sister station WCCT (Channel 20), Joe D’Ambrosio joins the sports team as a commentator, bringing his deep knowledge of UConn sports from his many years behind the mic covering Huskies teams for WTIC(AM) before the university moved its sports rights over to iHeart’s WUCS (97.9) this year.
And we remember Patrick Scully, whose obituary headlined his PR work as a Democratic spokesman in the state Senate and with a private firm. But before all that, Scully was a Syracuse University Newhouse School graduate, half of the “Ethan and Scully Morning Show” on WRKI (95.1 Brookfield) from 1992-97 and, later, a fill-in host on WTIC in Hartford. Scully was just 54 when he died Sept. 27.
*Radio People on the Move in MASSACHUSETTS: at Entercom’s WAAF (107.3 Westborough), Ron Valeri has departed after a long run in management. Valeri started at WAAF as marketing/promotion director in 1987, moved up to PD two years later, left in 1993 and came back in 2005 as brand manager/PD. No replacement has been named yet for Valeri, who says he’s off to do some “Rontrepreneurship” on his own.
Downstairs from the new studio where WAAF is about to move in Allston, WBMX (Mix 104.1) has parted ways with Mike Morgan, who served for seven years as executive producer of the “Karson and Kennedy” morning show.
And over at Beasley, Hannah Byrom is out as morning co-host on WKLB (102.5 Waltham) after a little more than two years with the country station, leaving Jackson Blue solo on the morning show for now.
*And in RHODE ISLAND, we send hearty congratulations to our friend (and Fybush Media consulting client) Bill Blount, who marked his 40th anniversary in radio ownership with a dinner Thursday night. From his 1978 purchase of WARV (1590 Warwick), Bill has grown his broadcast reach to most of New England, and we’ve been pleased to be able to assist him with FM translators and other projects along the way.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, the sports lineups are spinning again at Beasley’s “Fanatic,” WPEN (97.5 Burlington NJ). Starting today, NBC Sports Philadelphia host Marc Farzetta (formerly morning producer across town at Entercom’s WIP) and Tra Thomas will handle mornings on WPEN, which moves former morning co-host Anthony Gargano to middays alongside Jason Myrtetus. Bob Cooney and producer Jamie Lynch stay with the morning show, while Harry Mayes is out at middays.
Longtime WBEB (101.1) leader Jim Loftus, ousted during the station’s sale to Entercom, has found a new job: he’s now COO of the fast-growing Seven Mountains Media group, which has been building fast in northern and central Pennsylvania.
In Pittsburgh, John Robertson retired last week as PD of WRRK (96.9 Braddock) after spending more than 20 years with Bob FM and Steel City Media. Afternoon jock Sean Stevens adds PD duties there. Over at Martz Communications’ WAMO (660 Wilkinsburg, with translators at 100.1 and 107.3), Jonathan Steele comes on board as the new PD, moving east from WPIA in Peoria. Steele had already been programming Martz’ northern New York stations (WICY, WVNV, WYUL) remotely, and he’ll keep doing that from Pittsburgh.
And with the transfer of WQFM (104.5 Hancock NY) from Shamrock to Bold Gold complete, the former simulcast of rocker WEZX (106.9 Scranton) has flipped. The little 104.5 signal along Route 17 up in the hills is now relaying “Thunder Country” WDNB (102.1 Jeffersonville), and because Shamrock keeps its historic WQFM calls, 104.5 in Hancock is now WHNB.
(The WQFM calls that Shamrock kept? They’ve replaced the venerable WBAX calls on 1240 in Wilkes-Barre.)
One more call change, out west: Bob Stevens likes calls with “K” in them, and so it was probably inevitable that his Broadcast Communications Inc. would eventually change WQTW (1570 Latrobe) to something else…which it did last week, turning WQTW into WKHJ. (Stevens already had that callsign on FM across the Maryland state line.)
*Regulators in CANADA are considering several applications for new FM signals. North of Stratford in Listowel, Ontario, Five Amigos Broadcasting is applying for a new adult contemporary station on 100.1, which would run 4.9 kW average/8 kW max ERP/83 m. (Five Amigos owns CKXS 99.1 in Wallaceburg, east of Windsor.)
At the same CRTC hearing on Dec. 8, commissioners will hear an application from the Carlsbad Springs Community Association just east of Ottawa to convert their travelers information station, CJRO (107.7), to a low-power community FM station that can broadcast a broader range of progamming. The proposal also calls for a 1.3 watt rebroadcaster on 107.9 in Vars, a few km east of Cambridge Springs down Highway 417.
Up north, Vista Radio has proposed new signals in North Bay on 90.5 and in Timmins on 100.3; the CRTC will study those proposals to see if they merit a call for competing applications in those markets. Vista already has one FM in North Bay and a second down the road in Sturgeon Falls, competing with a three-station Rogers cluster; in Timmins, Vista’s “Moose FM” competes against two Rogers FMs.
*Which brings us back around to the rest of our Hockey on the Radio report:
The New York Rangers aren’t joining the rest of their market in moving to streaming-only – they continue to make their home on ESPN Radio’s WEPN-FM (98.7), via parent company MSG.
Down the newly-connected I-95, the Philadelphia Flyers and their goofy new mascot stay at home on Beasley’s WPEN (97.5 the Fanatic), where they just signed a multi-year contract extension last week. Games that compete with the 76ers for WPEN’s airtime will move down the dial to sister WMMR (93.3).
It’s status quo for the Pittsburgh Penguins and iHeart’s WXDX (105.9), where the contract extension signed last year will keep the team in place until 2021.
The Buffalo Sabres remain with Entercom at WGR (550), and the Boston Bruins remain in the middle of their multi-year deal with Beasley on WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub).
Across the border, it’s all status quo: the Toronto Maple Leafs continue their rights split, with an even mix of games on Rogers’ CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the FAN) and Bell’s CHUM (TSN Radio 1050) and an uneven mix of TV coverage over Rogers Sportsnet (56 games) and Bell’s TSN (26 games). The Montreal Canadiens keep Bell’s CKGM (TSN Radio 690) as their English radio home, with Cogeco’s CHMP (98.5) entering the last year of its deal as the French-language flagship. And the Ottawa Senators remain in place on Bell’s CFGO (TSN 1200) in English, with Bell placing French-language games on CJFO (94.5 Unique FM).
As ever, our friend Steve Faguy has an incredibly detailed rundown of the Canadian NHL rights situation from coast to coast that’s worthy of your perusal if you’re into stuff like that.