In this week’s issue… Erie cluster swaps ownership – “New York Country” rebrands – New operator for NJ AM – Baseball on the Radio: The Minor Leagues
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*At first glance, Erie, Pennsylvania and Frederick, Maryland don’t seem all that dissimilar – both are down in the 170s and 180s on Nielsen Audio’s market rankings, both live at a remove from much larger markets not too far away (Cleveland and Buffalo for Erie, Washington and Baltimore for Frederick).
So the math behind a station swap announced last week looked a little odd at first: Connoisseur is sending its entire seven-station cluster in Erie to iHeart in exchange for just two stations in Frederick that have been held for years now in iHeart’s Aloha trust.
Why was the math so unbalanced? Because one of those two Frederick stations, country WFRE (99.9), far outguns its market size on paper: in addition to reaching Frederick and the immediate vicinity, “Free Country” easily reaches – and frequently sells to – the fast-growing, very wealthy I-270 suburban corridor that now stretches almost unbroken from Frederick through Maryland’s Montgomery County to the DC line.
Frederick’s proximity to Washington is the reason WFRE and sister talk station WFMD (930) have been in the Aloha trust for years in the first place: the restructuring of then-Clear Channel eliminated the grandfathering that allowed WFRE to legally stay under the ownership caps that also include the company’s five-station Washington cluster. But while the FCC forced WFRE into a divestiture trust, it didn’t seem to be in any hurry to actually force the station’s sale, allowing it to hang around under the leaky umbrella of the trust – and hang, and hang, and hang.
Back in 2006, Connoisseur came into Erie with the $17.35 million purchase of what was then NextMedia’s cluster, and it’s made only a handful of changes since. The big gun in that cluster is top-40 “Star” WRTS (103.7), accompanied by country “Wolf” WTWF (93.9, ex-WUSE), variety hits “Bob” WXBB (94.7, ex-oldies WFGO) and classic rock “Rocket” WRKT, which Connoisseur upgraded from a 100.9 rimshot to a full-market signal on 104.9. That move-in process yielded another new rimshot FM, WLTM (95.9 Mina NY), which doesn’t even really reach Erie. And there are two AMs in the cluster, sports WFNN (1330) and talk WJET (1400).
(more analysis continues for subscribers…)
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