In this week’s issue… Repack window opens for many NE DTV stations – WEEU finds a buyer: what next? – Mass Broadcasters name HOF class – Remembering RI’s Taricani – Sports voice out in Toronto
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*You wouldn’t think WBNX-TV in Akron, Ohio would have much in common with WPXG in Concord, NH or WCPB in Salisbury, Maryland – and until now, you’d have been right.
But on Saturday, phase 4 of the FCC’s digital TV repack began, and with it six weeks of incredibly intense work that will end up affecting most of the TV stations in NERW-land (and a little bit beyond). (Phase 4 map below courtesy RabbitEars.info)
WPXG, for instance, moves from RF channel 33 to 23, clearing the way for Boston’s WCVB to move from 20 to 33 so its neighbor WBZ-TV can go from 30 to 20. That requires WCCT in Connecticut to go from 20 to 33 as well to retain its precise interference spacing to WCVB. And that requires WFSB in Hartford to go from 33 to 36, which in turn also sends WCBS-TV in New York from 33 to 36 – which requires WNJU (and channel-share partner WNBC) to clear off 36 with a move to 35, made possible by WVIT in Hartford shifting from 35 to 31, made possible by WFXT in Boston, WTIC-TV in Hartford and WPXN in New York going from 31 to 34.
Still with us? Good – because for WPXN to go to 34 required WCAU in Philadelphia to go from 34 to 28 (and that’s where WCPB down in Salisbury comes in, shifting from 28 to 16) and WMHT in Schenectady from 34 to 25. And for WMHT to go to 25 requires WCNY in Syracuse to go from 25 to 20, which was only possible because Ithaca-licensed WNYI goes from 20 to 13, which in turn was made possible by WHAM in Rochester going from 13 to 9 and CFTO in Toronto from 9 to 8. And while WCNY can’t coexist on 25 with WMHT, lower-powered WTVU-CD can make the move from 22 to 25 in Syracuse, clearing the way for Rochester’s WXXI to go from 16 to 22, which requires WFXP in Erie to go from 22 to 26 (made possible by WNYB in Jamestown taking auction money to go from 26 to 5). But for WFXP to go from 22 to 26 means WVIZ in Cleveland must go from 26 to 35 – and that creates adjacent-channel issues that force WYTV in Youngstown from 36 to 31, which would again create an adjacent-channel issue unless WBNX in Akron goes from 30 to 17.
Is your head completely unscrewed by now? Good – because that’s actually just a fraction of the 84 interlinked channel moves that all have to happen in a very specific order between now and the end of the phase on August 2.
Some of those 84 moves can happen early in the phase, but there’s an extremely complex set that has to happen essentially instantaneously, scheduled right now for 1 PM on August 1. That interlinked group includes WBZ, WCVB and WFXT in Boston; WFSB, WCCT, WVIT and WTIC-TV in Hartford; and WCBS-TV, WNBC/WNJU and WPXN in New York – and you know what, now our head is completely unscrewed as well. (Linked Station Set map courtesy RabbitEars.info)
Our friend Trip Ericson has summarized this particular tangled knot (“Linked Station Set 36“) and the entirety of Phase 4 at his outstanding RabbitEars.info site, and you’re welcome to peruse that in all its excruciating detail. But while you’re doing that, take a moment to contemplate all the engineers who’ll be working overtime in the next few weeks, installing new transmitters, juggling equipment orders and scheduling overworked tower crews as they try to get this whole knot untangled and all the new channels on the air by August 2 – at which point the tower crews and corporate engineers get to move south for Phase 5.
We’ll be following closely as all this work takes place on mountaintops, tall towers and skyscrapers across the region – and if you’re one of our readers who has a Phase 4 repack project underway, we’d love to see some pictures!
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*We’ll start the rest of this week’s report in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, where it appears WEEU (830 Reading) has found a new lease on life. Robert Lowe’s Twilight Broadcasting was the winning bidder in the auction for WEEU’s license, paying the Reading Eagle Co. $88,500. Twilight, which bought WKQW (1120)/WKQW-FM (96.3) across the state in Oil City last year, beat out three other bidders, the Eagle reports; one offered only $19,000, while others had contingencies on the deal that Twilight didn’t include in its bid.
As NERW readers know by now, this is really only half of the ultimate deal to save WEEU from the Eagle Co. bankruptcy; when Eagle’s bankruptcy sale to MediaNews Group closes on June 30, it’s MediaNews and not Twilight that will get all of WEEU’s non-license assets, including its transmitter site in Shartlesville, its downtown Reading studios and all the equipment at both locations.
Twilight says it plans to keep WEEU’s current programming and operations largely unchanged when it takes over under an LMA on June 30, which presumably means it’s also reached a lease arrangement for all of the WEEU assets in MediaNews Group’s hands. Will that lead to an eventual purchase of those facilities, too?
*Down the Turnpike in Philadelphia, there was a surprise announcement from public radio WXPN (88.5) and its nationally-syndicated “World Cafe.” After just two years as the new host there, replacing veteran David Dye, Talia Schlanger announced last week that she’ll be leaving the show this fall in pursuit of new “creative endeavors” that she says were inspired by all the talented guests she’s hosted at World Cafe.
Is a return to Canada in the works for Schlanger, who made a name for herself on the CBC before joining WXPN and World Cafe? Whatever the case, WXPN is now searching for a replacement.
Over at Entercom’s WXTU (92.5), interim morning co-host Dave “Cruise” Madden is now the permanent replacement for Frank Lario. Since Lario left last fall, Madden has been filling in, and now he’ll be a regular part of the “Andie Summers Show.”
*The MASSACHUSETTS Broadcasters Hall of Fame is out with its Class of 2019, including a few names that we’d have sworn were already among those hallowed ranks. There’s Dana Hersey, whose announcing career on radio and TV includes the iconic “Movie Loft” that ran for decades on WSBK (Channel 38). There’s Robert Bennett, one of the principals in the upstart Boston Broadcasters, Inc., which upended Boston TV when it edged out the Herald-Traveler for control of channel 5 in 1972. Bennett was the founding president/GM of the new WCVB and oversaw BBI through its decade of ownership before selling the station a decade later. And how has it taken this long for Jonny Miller, the stalwart field reporter for WBZ (1030) sports and one of the true “good guys” in local media, to join the hall?
The all-star class this year also includes Marjorie Arons-Barron, who was editorial director at WCVB in the glory years of TV editorials; Barry Burbank, long-running meteorologist at WBZ-TV; Andy Hiller, the sharp-edged political reporter who spent years at channel 7 as WNEV and WHDH-TV; Lisa Mullins, the local “All Things Considered” host on WBUR; and Bill Pepin, longtime general manager at Springfield’s WWLP. The ceremony Sept. 27 at the Boston Marriott Quincy will also include the Pioneer Award to Richard Chase, who spent 40 years as a news photographer at WBZ-TV.
*The rest of the Bay State’s broadcast news this week focused on the Merrimack Valley: in Lowell, Gois Communications made the official filing to shut down WLLH (1400) there, making the synchronous WLLH transmitter in Lawrence the main site and changing the city of license from Lowell to Lawrence. (WLLH had already filed under STA to shut down the Lowell site, promising the FCC that this license change filing would soon follow.)
To the east, Bloomberg filed for a pair of changes that will restructure its translators north of Boston. W221EE (92.1 Haverhill) and W291CC (106.1 Newburyport) both relay WNBP (1450 Newburyport), but they’ll essentially switch places – 92.1 will move from its current site on WXRV’s Haverhill tower to Topsfield, while 106.1 will move from Amesbury to the Haverhill tower, running 225 watts aimed mostly east. If all goes as planned, the 92.1 signal will fill the North Shore gap between Bloomberg’s pair of 106.1s, one in Boston’s Back Bay and the other in Haverhill. (Disclaimer: Fybush Media has been involved in Bloomberg’s interference dispute with WDER-FM 92.1 from New Hampshire.)
*In the long history of RHODE ISLAND TV, there was never another reporter quite like Jim Taricani. The WJAR (Channel 10) investigative reporter, who died Friday, was known for his dogged pursuit of organized crime stories – and for the four months he spent under home confinement in 2004 when he refused to divulge an anonymous source to a federal judge. That sentence was a bit of a compromise – Taricani could have been sent to prison, but he and his lawyers feared that health complications from a heart transplant could have resulted.
Taricani’s broadcast career started in 1974 at WKRI in West Warwick, where he was “Jim Roberts;” he moved to TV in 1978 at WPRI-TV (Channel 12), then quickly jumped to WJAR, where he stayed until his 2014 retirement, save for a brief stint as a state government spokesman.
Taricani’s health had been poor in recent years; he was 69.
*In CONNECTICUT, the Archdiocese of Hartford’s WJMJ (88.9) has pulled back from an interference conflict along Long Island Sound, filing an application to return translator W225DI (92.9) to its previous home on 93.1, with just 10 watts. WJMJ’s attempt to use 92.9 drew immediate interference complaints from listeners to the AAA format on WEHM (92.9 Manorville), both along the Sound in Connecticut and across the water on Long Island itself.
*In MAINE and NEW HAMPSHIRE, Stan Bennett has a new position with Binnie Media, where he’s now VP/programming. Bennett has been serving as PD for Binnie’s Maine stations and morning co-host on WFNK (107.5) in Portland.
Bob Carolin started in Syracuse radio after serving in the Navy, working the all-night shift on WFBL (1390) and then moving to WHEN (620), where he’d make his biggest mark. Starting on the air, Carolin moved to the PD chair, then eventually to the VP/GM seat for WHEN and its new sister station, WRRB (107.9).
“A good man who knew the business and knew how to have a great time doing great radio,” recalled CBS News anchor/reporter Peter King, who spent eight years at WHEN during Carolin’s tenure as general manager in the 1980s. Carolin stayed with the Roy Park organization later on at Park Outdoor Advertising and later worked for Verizon and Cumulus. He was 80 when he died Friday.
Dan Elliott may have been better known to most Syracuse audiences for his long-running band, “Dan Elliott and the Monterays,” but behind the scenes he was general sales manager for Craig Fox’s Inner Harbor Media stations (“The Dinosaur” WFBL/WSEN, WOLF-FM (92.1), “The Beat” WMVN and WOLF (1490/92.5). Elliott died over the weekend; full information wasn’t yet available, but we understand he’d been suffering from cancer for several years.
And Jean Smith, who died Thursday in Connecticut, was just 11 when she started performing on Utica’s WIBX radio. After graduating from Syracuse University, she worked at WJTN (1240) in Jamestown, then joined Syracuse’s WHEN-FM (then on channel 8) as the city’s first female TV host. She met her husband, the late Kendall Smith, at WHEN; in 1958, they moved to West Hartford, where she was involved in theater and video/audio production.
*Where are they now? Gary Blau engineered WNBC (660) in its last few years on the air, crafting some distinctive AM audio along the way; he also owned WALY in Altoona for a few years in the 1980s before heading south, engineering in Washington and for a time in Los Angeles and Phoenix before settling in Miami 20 years ago as director of engineering for what were then the Jefferson-Pilot stations, including WLYF (101.5). Blau stayed with the group under Lincoln Financial Media and then Entercom; now he’s retired for health reasons and living in Sebring, Florida.
*Both our major CANADA stories come from Toronto this week, including the surprise exit of the city’s dean of sports talk radio. Bob McCown started “Prime Time Sports” on CJCL back in 1989, when the station was still on 1430; on the strength of his show, the station began migrating to an all-sports format, Canada’s first, becoming “The FAN” in 1992 and moving to 590 in 1995. McCown, an Ohio native who came to Toronto as the PA announcer for the Blue Jays’ inaugural season, eventually took his show to national syndication.
Through multiple owners and identities (most recently, Rogers as “Sportsnet 590 the FAN”), McCown remained a staple of the station’s afternoon lineup – right up until the rumors started circulating mid-week that he was on the way out. McCown initially denied them, but ended Thursday’s show by announcing he’d do “one more” on Friday, which he closed out with just a brief farewell amidst hints that he’ll soon resurface elsewhere on the dial. Rogers says it will have a new host for “Prime Time Sports” this fall after using rotating fill-ins through the summer.
*Meanwhile on the FM dial, Rogers is applying for a directional shift at CKIS (92.5 Kiss FM), its top-40 station that’s always struggled for signal parity against its big Bell competitors, Virgin (CKFM 99.9) and CHUM-FM (104.5). Unlike those stations’ big CN Tower signals, CKIS runs from the lower First Canadian Place site, where it’s been required to use a directional antenna to protect co-channel WBEE (92.5) across the lake in Rochester.
Now Rogers wants to alter CKIS’ pattern, adding more east-west coverage out toward Oakville and Oshawa with a deeper null southward toward Niagara Falls and Buffalo. The new CKIS pattern comes with a power increase from 4.7 kW (average)/13 kW max DA/288m to 9 kW (average)/21 kW max DA/296 m.