In this week’s issue… WICU/WSEE gets Happi – Carlin out at WFAN – Christian finds new radio home – Maine broadcasters honored – WBZ’s Stevens steps back – PA station owner faces charges
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a busy year for radio stations in downtown Erie, PENNSYLVANIA. Back in the spring, iHeart acquired Connoisseur’s seven stations in the windows of the old Boston Store as part of a swap for two trust-bound stations in Frederick, Maryland. And now, just five blocks down State Street, another Erie station is changing hands with the sale of WEHP (92.7 Lawrence Park) from The ERIE Radio Company to SJL Broadcasting, LLC.
The ERIE Radio Company, of course, is Rick Rambaldo’s second go-round as an Erie radio owner after many years at the helm of WRKT and WRTS, which he continued to manage after selling to NextMedia. Once Rambaldo left those stations, he and local car dealer Dave Hallman created ERIE, outbidding Connoisseur’s Jeff Warshaw for the 92.7 frequency in 2011 and coming close to adding a second signal on 100.9 at another FCC auction a few years later. (A glitch with a bank’s missed payment in that auction cost Rambaldo that second signal, which would have done oldies alongside WEHP’s “Happi” top-40 format.)
SJL’s $1.33 million purchase of Happi will bring that FM signal into the same Kevin and Brian Lilly-controlled ownership group that also includes NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) under the SJL banner and CBS affiliate WSEE (Channel 35) under the Lilly Broadcasting banner. It’s Lilly’s second venture into radio in the region, following on the $900,000 deal back in the spring that added WRRN, WKNB and WNAE in Warren, an hour away, to the Lilly family.
In an environment where most broadcasters are rushing to split radio ownership away from TV (CBS and Entercom, for instance), Lilly’s move is a curious one: what does the company see in Erie that makes it think there’s a business advantage to running a top-40 FM station alongside two TV stations? It has, after all, been many years now since WJET-TV (then locally owned) spun off its last radio sisters to what are now the iHeart and Cumulus clusters, and even longer since WICU’s 1970s-era divestiture of what was once WICU(AM). We’ll be watching to see if Lilly has more radio moves in its future. (And, of course, to see whether WEHP stays in its downtown storefront home (seen on Site of the Week back in 2016) or moves south to the Lilly TV studios 22 blocks down State Street.)
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