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).
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*It’s been a long time since iHeart has entered a new market, and its entry into Erie will fill one of the company’s significant coverage gaps: once you get out of range of the iHeart Cleveland stations, the drive east on I-90 has long gone past both Erie and Buffalo before reaching the next iHeart market in Rochester.
Under Connoisseur, the Erie stations already run quite lean – it’s not uncommon to walk by the row of streetfront studio windows in the historic Boston Store building downtown without seeing anyone live on the air in any of them. When the deal closes, which is expected sometime in the second quarter, there won’t be much to cut if iHeart is looking to save expenses. Will some of its syndicated shows make an Erie appearance? Would Connoisseur’s “Wolf” morph into an iHeart “Bull”? Or “Star” into “Kiss”? We’ll be watching – as will the other big cluster in town at Cumulus.
(And as for poor little WLTM on the state line, we had to chuckle when we read the news release quoting iHeart regional VP Dan Lankford saying it was exciting to be entering the “Erie and Mina markets,” when Mina boasts just 1106 souls within the town boundaries.)
As for Connoisseur, Jeff Warshaw’s CONNECTICUT-based group has been focusing more tightly lately on markets that look more like Frederick than Erie, in suburbs and exurbs that ring top-ten markets. That makes WFRE/WFMD a good fit alongside Connoisseur strongholds in southern Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey, and it probably does nothing at all to tamp down the ever-present speculation that Warshaw is looking to sell the company.
*In the NEW YORK market, Entercom didn’t waste much time changing the wallpaper at WNSH (94.7 Newark), the country station it’s operating ahead of a swap with Cumulus. We didn’t expect Cumulus’ NASH brand to remain, and last week it was replaced by a simple “New York’s Country 94.7” branding, with no change in the station’s on-air lineup.
Up the Hudson River in Kingston, WKNY (1490) has spawned a new translator: W300DU (107.9) signed on Tuesday, augmenting Radio Kingston’s community programming as the noncommercial station starts building out its spiffy new studios.
*Over in NEW JERSEY, the borough of Pompton Lakes has found a new operator – and future owner – for WGHT (1500), the local AM daytimer that was donated to the community a little over a year ago. The signal was kept alive for a few months with a simulcast of Bud Williamson’s WALL (1340 Middletown NY), but went dark again a few weeks back. Now WALL’s Orange County competitor, Frank Truatt, is taking over operation of WGHT, which will begin simulcasting Truatt’s WTBQ (1110 Warwick) within a few weeks. The exact details of the arrangement between Truatt and the borough haven’t been disclosed, but local newspaper reports seem to indicate that initially, Truatt will only be required to pay the outstanding taxes on the station’s property, as well as making a commitment to bring back local programming on WGHT.
*Over in PENNSYLVANIA‘s Lehigh Valley, WZZO (95.1 Bethlehem) is going syndicated in mornings with “Rover’s Morning Glory,” starting today. The Cleveland-based show replaces Keith Moyer in mornings; he moves to afternoons, a little more than a month after his longtime morning co-host Bearman’s sudden death.
And in York, WOYK (1350) is now “SportsRadio 98.9 FM & 1350 AM,” with the debut of its new translator, W255DJ.
*In Burlington, VERMONT, mark down a new address for WVMT (620) and WXXX (95.5); the continued integration of those stations into new owner Vox AM/FM took them into Vox’s studio building at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, leaving behind only the WVMT transmitter at their longtime home on Malletts Bay Avenue. (Which, sadly, we never did get the chance to chronicle for our Site of the Week feature…)
You have to be versatile in radio these days, though, and so Chio’s joining Kira Lew on the new “Chio and Kira in the Morning” on WOKQ and its northern sister station, WPKQ (103.7 North Conway).
And there’s news from Chio’s predecessor, too, as Bill Fox makes the reverse drive south to take on mornings at WWZY (107.1 Long Branch)/WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton) on the Jersey Shore. At “The Boss,” Fox replaces Rob Acampora and Wendy McClure.
The music on the new “Energy 95.3” isn’t all that different from the top-40 it was already playing as “Fresh,” but the new morning show featuring Scott Tucker and Maura Grierson is much more Toronto-oriented, no surprise given that the duo had been doing mornings on Bell’s “Virgin” CKFM (99.9) until the shakeup there last November.
Former “Fresh” morning co-host Colleen Rusholme has moved to afternoons on Energy, following Emily Szabo in middays. Dave Blezard is on nights.
*In Toronto proper, the new board at JAZZ.FM91 (CJRT) seems to already be mending fences with some of the staffers who were alienated by previous management: Heather Bambrick has returned to the 9 AM to 1 PM weekday shift, and Jaymz Bee’s “Jazz in the City” is back on Thursday nights. And former CJRT leader Ross Porter has apparently done his last weekend show after working out the end of his contract.
*Community station CKWR (98.5) in Waterloo has quietly shifted its music mix a few decades forward, dropping its weekday lineup of standards for adult album alternative from the “80s, 90s and now.”
Over-the-air TV viewers in many small cities could lose some of their last remaining service if Bell gets its way. The broadcaster is asking the CRTC for permission to shut down rebroadcast transmitters, many of them still analog, in several dozen communities across Canada. The list includes two relays of Ottawa’s CJOH, CJOH-TV-47 in Pembroke and CJOH-TV-6 in Deseronto, as well as CTV signals in Huntsville, Oil Springs and Kearns, Ontario; Blackville, Doaktown and Boiestown, N.B. and Dingwall, Colchester and Bridgetown, N.S., all of which would close down in 2020 or 2021 if the CRTC approves. (More details at Steve Faguy’s website…)
*And as we segue into baseball coverage, we note that CKWS-FM (104.3) in Kingston is picking up a partial schedule of Blue Jays games this season, the first time in more than a decade that the team’s been heard locally in Kingston. “Fresh Radio” won’t carry weekday day games, but will interrupt its music format for weeknight and weekend games.
*Before our Baseball on the Radio action moves to the upper tier of the minor leagues, a big update to last week’s MLB summary: NERW was the first to report that there wasn’t going to be a Mets network this year, and after initially posting a small network lineup that included Galaxy’s Syracuse ESPN stations (WTLA/WSGO), WMML (1230) in Glens Falls and WPSL (1590) in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Entercom and flagship WCBS officially acknowledged late last week that only WCBS will have the Mets in 2019.
The Albany Times Union reports that the decision took even the remaining affiliates by surprise, and that Entercom isn’t saying why it chose not to run a Mets network.
On to the minors we go – with a note that this task gets harder and harder each year as an increasing number of teams try to push listeners to their online streams, which makes it a challenge sometimes to figure out who’s actually carrying games on the air.
In the AAA International League, the Pawtucket Red Sox are now firmly in lame-duck status as the team gets ready to move to Worcester in a couple of years. WHJJ (920/104.7) appears to still have the radio call for the PawSox this year, with Josh Maurer and Will Flemming in the booth.
To the west, it’s the Syracuse Mets this year, but the change in franchise name and affiliation doesn’t come with a change on the dial – just like last year’s Chiefs, the S-Mets will be heard on WSKO (1260) with Eric Gallanty and Steve Grilli in the booth. (Will there be some S-Mets games on TV, too? We saw a promo the other day touting MyNetwork affiliate WNYS Channel 43 as “home of the Mets.”) Our hometown Rochester Red Wings stay put on WHTK (1280), with Josh Whetzel on the call, and the Buffalo Bisons stay put on WWKB (1520), with Pat Malacaro in his second season doing play-by-play.
In Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are in the middle of their three-year deal with Bold Gold, which runs the games on its “GAME” network, WICK (1400 Scranton)/WCDL (1440 Carbondale), plus “River” WYCK (1340 Plains) to reach Wilkes-Barre; the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are likewise in year two of their three-year deal with Connoisseur’s WEEX (1230)/WTKZ (1320). The Pigs also maintain one of the most robust TV presences in the minors, with home games on Service Electric’s TV2 and weekend games on Allentown’s WFMZ-TV (Channel 69).
*In the AA Eastern League, the Portland Sea Dogs retain a sizable network in Maine, including flagship WPPI (95.5)/WPEI (95.9) in Portland and Saco, as well as WTME (780 Rumford) and WOXO (1450 South Paris) up north. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats stay put on WGIR (610) in Manchester, as well as WPKX (930) in Rochester, WZEI (101.5) in Meredith, WTPL (107.7) in Concord, WEEY (93.5) in Keene and WTSL (1400) in Hanover.
In Connecticut, the Hartford Yard Goats are on WPOP (1410) in English, WPRX (1120 Bristol) in Spanish. In New Jersey, it’s WNJE (920) for the Trenton Thunder. And in Pennsylvania, it’s year two for the Harrisburg Senators on WHGB (1400/95.3/96.5). In Reading, Kirsten Karbach replaces Mike Ventola in the Fightin Phils radio booth as he moves up to become the team’s media relations director. Karbach comes to Reading from the Clearwater, Florida Threshers, a couple of levels below the Phils on the Phillies’ minor-league ladder. The team’s games will air on Philadelphia’s WTEL (610) for a second year. The Altoona Curve are on WRTA (1240/98.5), plus WPHB (1260 Philipsburg) and WKMC (1370 Roaring Spring), and the Erie SeaWolves appear to be back on WFNN (1330).
And the single-A South Atlantic League’s Lakewood BlueClaws return for another season at the Jersey Shore on WOBM (1160)/WADB (1310).
As always, we’ll look at the independent leagues and the short-A New York-Penn League in the weeks to come…