In this week’s issue… Tribune TVs head to new owners – Seven Mountains enters State College country battle – PA radio owner files bankruptcy – Remembering Bob Slade – Baseball on the Radio: The Major Leagues
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*If NEW YORK‘s CW affiliate WPIX (Channel 11) had been put up for sale in the early 2000s, at the height of the market, it could well have fetched close to a billion dollars all by itself. Even before the value of TV signals peaked, a far lesser New York facility, WNYC-TV (Channel 31), sold for $207 million and then $225 million in the late 1990s, without the kind of ratings and revenue that made WPIX an independent powerhouse for decades.
So when the news broke last week of Tribune’s spinoffs from its impending sale to Nexstar, the piece that grabbed our attention was the soberingly low price tag for WPIX in 2019: as part of Scripps’ acquisition of several stations Nexstar can’t keep, WPIX will go to its first new owner in 71 years for just $75 million.
That $75 million price tag is part of a much larger, $1.32 billion, set of deals that will also affect several other markets in NERW-land as Nexstar unloads the Tribune stations that would either put it over the national or local ownership caps.
In Hartford/New Haven, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WTIC-TV (Channel 61) and CW affiliate WCCT-TV (Channel 20) will go to TEGNA, while Nexstar keeps ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8) and My affiliate WCTX (Channel 59). In Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Tribune-operated ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16) will go to TEGNA, with Nexstar retaining its NBC/CBS pair, WBRE (Channel 28)/WYOU-TV (Channel 22). And in the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York market, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43) will also become part of TEGNA, while Nexstar hangs on to ABC affiliate WHTM (Channel 27).
The TEGNA deal, which also includes stations in Memphis, Des Moines and three other markets, is valued at $580 million; Scripps is paying $505 million for seven other Tribune spinoffs in six markets including Norfolk, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
For TEGNA, the new Tribune pickups in the northeast significantly expand what had been a relatively small footprint for the former Gannett TV group, which until now had included only WGRZ in Buffalo and WCSH/WLBZ in Maine.
For Scripps, New York will be by far its largest television market and WPIX its first top-ten TV operation, as well as the only market where it doesn’t have a Big Four network affiliation. WPIX will also be only Scripps’ second TV operation in NERW-land, five years after it entered the region with the purchase of Buffalo ABC affiliate WKBW (Channel 7), a more compatible match to the company’s typical pattern of owning ABC stations in medium markets.
What will Scripps do with WPIX? It will have some company in other large markets – the other piece of the Scripps deal includes standalone CW affiliates in Miami (WSFL-TV) and Phoenix (KASW). Those stations don’t do news, though, unlike WPIX’s hefty lineup of local newscasts in the morning, from 5-6:30 PM and its hour of news at 10. Can Scripps help pull up the ratings for those shows, which have struggled against former independent competitor WNYW, the Fox O&O?
This, of course, assumes WPIX stays with Scripps for the long term, which is far from guaranteed. As part of the deal, Nexstar hedged its bets against the possibility that the FCC will relax the nationwide ownership caps in a way that would allow it to own in New York as well as in the big Tribune markets it’s keeping (WPHL in Philadelphia, WGN-TV in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles). If those caps are lifted between March 2020 and the end of 2021, Nexstar has an option to buy WPIX back.
One more tidbit for the historically-minded: WPIX’s sale makes it the last of New York’s original 1940s TV stations to change ownership, since Tribune Broadcasting traces directly back to WPIX’s founding owner, the New York Daily News. And among the News‘ competitors back in those days when the city had as many newspapers as TV stations was the World-Telegram, which was owned by none other than Scripps.
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*The rest of our Empire State news starts sadly, with word of the death of Bob Slade. The veteran newsman and talk host began his career on Long Island doing news in 1971; in 1980, he moved to New York as news director of WXLO, which soon became WRKS (98.7), where his “Open Line” talk show became a public affairs fixture at the R&B station right up until its demise in 2012.
Slade was one of the WRKS personalities who made the move up the dial to former competitor WBLS (107.5), where he continued “Open Line” even as he battled kidney disease. That fight ended Sunday morning, and we’re hearing from lots of Slade’s colleagues testifying to his rare status as a true gentleman in the radio industry.
*Over at Entercom, the plan to move new acquisition WNSH (94.7 Newark) to a new transmitter site in the NEW JERSEY Meadowlands is still moving forward – but the original application to move WNSH down from First Mountain in West Orange to one of the WOR (710) towers in East Rutherford apparently neglected to provide appropriate interference protection to co-channel WDSD in Dover, Delaware. The application has been modified to add a little directional notch to the south for WDSD – and in the meantime, we’re following the reporting of our RadioInsight colleague Lance Venta, who’s picking up on a possible branding change as Entercom moves away from Cumulus’ “NASH” brand on 94.7.
*In Albany, iHeart rebranded its “Kiss 102.3” (WKKF Ballston Spa) for one day last Monday, changing the logo and imaging to “Ari 102.3.” The stunt was in honor of Ariana Grande, who kicked off her concert tour in Albany, and her catalog is big enough now that the station made its entire playlist all-Ari, all day.
*After more than 30 years in radio, Eileen Buckley has moved to TV news in Buffalo. Buckley started as a senior reporter at WKBW (Channel 7) last week, leaving WBFO (88.7), which was both her first stop (as an intern in the 1980s) and her last stop in radio news. Along the way, she’d also worked at pretty much every commercial AM newsroom in Buffalo, as well as a stint in Albany at WROW and WGNA.
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA, the Reading Eagle Company has been an interesting rule-breaker for many years: it held on to both newspaper (the Reading Eagle) and radio (WEEU) interests long after most such companies split their print and broadcast ownership; it has kept the Eagle more robust than most daily papers these days – and it has invested in AM radio, building a new high-power facility for WEEU as recently as 1999 and continuing to run the station with mainly local programming (and no translator!)
That’s all admirable, but alas, it hasn’t been a perfect recipe for success: last week, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The trouble, as the Eagle itself reported, stemmed from debts that began to mount after taking on a big loan in 2009 to build an expansion to the paper’s downtown Reading headquarters and production facility. The company defaulted on the loan, forcing members of the Barbey family, the longtime owners, to buy back the debt from Santander Bank to avoid foreclosure.
Late last year, the company hired a consultant to search for buyers for its assets, which also include a printing company along with WEEU and its newspapers. But after receiving only one bid by its March 14 deadline, the next step was bankruptcy, where the Eagle Company reported assets of $15 million against liabilities of more than $38 million.
What next? The Eagle and WEEU plan to continue normal operations while working through the reorganization process, but in the long run it’s hard not to imagine that asset sales will be on the table – and that the people of Reading and Berks County might end up with less local coverage in print and on the radio down the road as a result.
The new format takes a more classic country approach than the rest of Seven Mountains’ Bigfoot stations around the region (with more, perhaps, on the way as the company takes over the former Community stations in New York’s Southern Tier). There’s a family consideration here, of course: Seven Mountains’ Kristin Cantrell is the daughter of Forever Media’s Kerby Confer – and Forever dominates the market with its country “Froggy” WFGE (101.1), plus the extra push of a second “Froggy” on 98.1 from Altoona.
On 98.7, “Bigfoot Legends” and WLEJ replace “The Freq,” WFEQ, the AAA station Seven Mountains launched back in 2015. It had recently parted ways with PD/morning man Dave Snyder, but it’s not completely dead – “Freq” lives on as a streaming service, still with some voicetracked hosts.
*Down the road in Altoona, Forever has changed calls at WVAM (1430); with the impending addition of an FM translator and its flip from ESPN Radio to “Toona” classic hits, the venerable calls there have changed to WTNA.
*Changes keep coming at the top of the public radio landscape in MASSACHUSETTS, where Phil Redo announced last week that he’s stepping down next year after more than a decade at the helm of WGBH’s radio operations.
After a long and successful career in commercial media, including time at the helm of Greater Media’s Boston cluster, Redo joined WGBH in 2009 as a consultant and quickly rose to become general manager for radio and local news. In that role, he transformed the station, creating a programming lineup with a sound that’s unique to public radio. In competition with WBUR’s more established role as a news station, WGBH under Redo carved out its own space and its own audience, bringing over voices from the commercial landscape such as Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
Redo also oversaw big expansions of WGBH’s physical presence in the community (Braude and Eagan frequently do their “Boston Public Radio” show from WGBH’s new studio in the Boston Public Library atrium), its partnerships with the BBC and other news providers, and of course the station’s expansion into the podcasting space.
As he heads into retirement, it will be a long transition; Redo won’t leave WGBH until July 2020, giving the station plenty of time to find a replacement who can fill his big shoes.
*There’s a new local morning show at iHeart’s WJMN (94.5 Boston), where the syndicated Breakfast Club is out and Ashlee Feldman is in as the lead host of “Ashlee and the New Jam’n Morning Show.” The new show also features Santi Deoleo, a former WJMN morning team member who’s been working at WKLB (102.5), as well as mixer DJ Pup Dawg and DJ4eign.
The new show is a return to mornings for Feldman, who’s been doing afternoons since the Breakfast Club came in three years ago; previously, she’d been a co-host with Ramiro and Frankie V.
*In CONNECTICUT, Mike Raub had a long career in local radio in Fairfield and New Haven counties, starting back in 1981 at Norwalk’s WNLK (1350)/WLYQ (95.9). Raub went on to work at WELI/WKCI in New Haven, WQQQ in Stamford and eventually came full circle back to WNLK and Stamford sister station WSTC (1400), where he closed down the stations’ local programming when Cox sold them to Sacred Heart University, then returned later as operations manager when SHU leased WSTC to a local group. Raub was also known for the comics stores he owned in the region. He was 67 when he died Tuesday in Norwalk.
*In CANADA, we’ll be listening closely tomorrow morning, when Corus in Hamilton, Ontario is teasing changes at CING (95.3). What will be the “electrifying change” at 8 AM? Based on the domain registration we mentioned last week for “energyfm953.com” (thanks to RadioInsight) and the dismissal of the CING morning team, it seems the hot AC “Fresh” format there is headed to the exits. Stay tuned…
*In Ottawa, Shawn Simpson moves up to a permanent morning slot at Bell’s TSN 1200 (CFGO), joining Matt Hamer and PD JR Rodenburg as the new morning show. They replace veterans Steve Warne, James Abson and Dean Roberts, whose positions were cut earlier in March.
So long, CKCI (103.3 Sarnia) – after being off the air for nearly two years, the native station has had its license revoked at the request of licensee Points Eagle Radio, Inc. Points Eagle had been using 103.3 to rebroadcast its main station, “The Eagle 107.7,” CKTI in Kettle Point.
And listeners up in Timmins won’t be getting a new radio station after the CRTC decided not to issue a call for applications for a new FM signal there. Vista Radio, which owns existing station CHMT (93.1 the Moose) in Timmins, had applied for a new station on 100.3, triggering a call for comments about whether the market could support another station. Rogers, which has a dominant position there with its English-language stations, CJQQ and CKGB, opposed the idea, as did LE5, which owns French-language CHYK. While the CRTC said the Timmins market remains profitable, it said the addition of another English-language station could damage CHYK’s listenership – and that the market therefore can’t sustain another station.
*And so we come to one of our favorite parts of the year, Opening Day. As Major League Baseball starts its season Thursday, our Baseball on the Radio coverage begins with more changes than usual for NERW-land’s hometown teams.
We start, for once, with the New York Mets, who make the biggest change this year as their radio rights move from iHeart’s WOR (710) up the dial to Entercom’s WCBS (880). We’ve already told you about the addition of Wayne Randazzo alongside Howie Rose in the play-by-play booth (replacing Josh Lewin), and about Ed Coleman’s move from clubhouse reporter to the pre- and post-game slots.
But there’s another piece here, too: the Mets have never had a very robust radio network outside New York City, but this year is a whole new story – we’re hearing (despite some stations being listed on the Mets’ own website) that there’s no Mets network this year at all, with Entercom preferring to draw out-of-town Mets fans to streaming audio. The team had already lost an affiliate in at least one key market, as Pamal’s WROW (590/100.5) in Albany declined to renew its most recent three-year deal when it ran out last year.
Mets Spanish-language radio remains on ESPN Deportes’ WEPN (1050), and TV of course is primarily on SNY, with 25 games airing on WPIX (Channel 11) and a small network of upstate stations.
*The Yankees, by contrast, are status quo this year: John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman back in the booth on WFAN (660/101.9) and the usual network of affiliates across New York, western New England, and a handful of Florida signals for expatriate New Yorkers. Spanish-language radio is on WADO (1280), and TV is on YES, with 21 broadcast games farmed out to WPIX.
*The World Champion Boston Red Sox aren’t making any changes in their affiliate lineup – WEEI-FM (93.7) is just a year into its latest contract as the flagship, with the usual extensive roster of affiliates around New England (and none outside!). The news for the Sox, of course, is the second chair in the radio booth alongside Joe Castiglione. Who’s on second this season? Depending on the day, it could be Sox TV veteran Sean McDonough, former Tigers voice Mario Impemba, former Mets voice Josh Lewin (now based in San Diego at Entercom’s KWFN), WEEI’s Lou Merloni or Dale Arnold, NESN’s Tom Caron, Chris Berman, or even current Sox TV voice Dave O’Brien, who’ll move to the radio side when the Sox are on national TV. Local TV, of course, is all NESN.
*The Philadelphia Phillies (hey, did you hear they signed Bryce Harper?) remain tightly bound to Entercom flagship WIP (94.1), which leads a regional network in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware that remains largely unchanged for 2019. Comcast has the TV rights, which are again split across NBC Sports Philadelphia, TCN and WCAU (Channel 10); the broadcast games on WCAU are also on a small network that includes WSWB in Scranton and WHP-TV’s CW subchannel in Harrisburg.
*At the other end of the state, the Pittsburgh Pirates stay put on Entercom’s KDKA-FM (93.7) and an extensive network across western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. TV stays in place on AT&T Sports Network. The big news this year is that it will be the last season in the booth for radio/TV analyst Steve Blass, who’s been a Bucs broadcaster since 1983. Blass is retiring after an amazing 60 seasons with the team, starting in the farm system in 1960 and ten years on the field with the parent team from 1964-74.
*Across the border, the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere with their broadcast rights, since the team is owned by broadcaster Rogers. CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the FAN) leads off the usual coast-to-coast network of radio affiliates, while TV broadcasts are on SportsNet’s TV properties.