In this week’s issue… Formats flip in Lehigh Valley, Poconos – WNYC cancellation draws protests – Albany reporters change slots – TV repack’s next phase

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*Fans of alternative rock along the PENNSYLVANIA/NEW JERSEY border are spinning their dials looking for… well, for an alternative, now that Cumulus has pulled the plug on “Spin Radio,” the modern rock format that reached the Poconos and parts of northwest New Jersey on WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ) and the Lehigh Valley on translator W234AX (94.7 Allentown).

On Monday, Cumulus abruptly replaced the rock with an extension of its “Cat Country” format, simulcasting its WCTO (96.1 Easton) on the 107.1 signal while flipping 94.7 in Allentown to a new FM extension of sports WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown).

The move, a few months after Cumulus acquired WWYY and WCTO in a swap from Connoisseur, means the end of Spin morning man Riley Reed’s time with the station. The rest of the Spin staff had been doing double duty at the cluster and remain with the company – PD Sal Palazzolo also engineers, afternoon guy Becker is production director and night guy Joe Brown is also the sales manager.

For Cat Country, which unveiled a new morning show bringing Hannah Byrom alongside Sam Malone on the “Cat Morning Crew,” the addition of the Poconos simulcast provides a chance to sell a second set of localized spots (though we heard a bunch of PSAs on the 107.1 feed as we drove through last week). Might it also fend off the possibility of new Poconos owner Seven Mountains going to country on the AM/translator signal (WVPO 840/103.1) it’s acquiring from Connoisseur?

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*We’re just back from NEW YORK City, where broadcasters made their annual convergence on the Javits Center for the conjoined NAB New York/AES shows, full of the newest video gear alongside high-end audio, plus conference tracks on streaming, broadcast audio and much more.

The NAB/AES week also included the New York State Broadcasters Association’s annual luncheon and Hall of Fame induction. Who’s in this year? WFAN morning host Boomer Esiason, for one. Ted Long and Amy Robbins, the 30-year morning veterans of Syracuse’s 93Q (WNTQ), represented upstate radio, while Tom Jolls, who did the weather on WKBW-TV (Channel 7) in Buffalo and entertained the kids as “Commander Tom,” got the TV honors. Diana Williams, just retired from WABC-TV (Channel 7) in New York after 29 years, was honored for her tenure as an anchor and reporter there.

(And good for 93Q for making the most of that honor, putting Ted and Amy on billboards around town the morning they were inducted!)

*A noncommercial station in New York is in the midst of a fight between passionate listeners (and even some staffers) hoping to preserve beloved programming and managers looking to improve overall listenership and revenue. Oh, you thought I meant WBAI? No – that mess didn’t move next week, with a scheduled Friday court hearing postponed to this week. (You can hear some extended analysis of the WBAI debacle’s latest chapters on the new Top of the Tower Podcast, which also features an interview with Texas broadcaster Ben Downs.)

Instead, this story is about WNYC-FM (93.9), where the decision to cancel John Schaefer’s “New Sounds” music show after 37 years started a slow burn of protests, fanned by several Times articles. By Friday, WNYC itself was covering the protests on its newscasts -and the WNYC-owned Gothamist site covered a meeting between staffers and new WNYC CEO Goli Sheikholeslami that was supposed to have been a meet-and-greet and turned into a rally to save the show.

Sheikholeslami told staffers she’d spend the weekend considering whether to follow through with the change, which was meant to more or less complete WNYC’s slow evolution from a typical block-programmed public radio station in its days under city ownership to a full-time news and talk format (“NPR news and the New York conversation”) in today’s more tightly formatted world.

Monday afternoon update: WNYC has changed its mind, announcing that New Sounds will stay as part of the daily evening schedule. The station will still go forward with the cancellation of its “Sunday Show” of American standards music, though the format will continue on streaming. 

(A happier WNYC note: as the station’s centennial in 2024 approaches, archivist Andy Lanset, CTO Steve Shultis and chief engineer Jim Stagnitto dug deep into the station’s technical history for a fascinating presentation at the Audio Engineering Society’s convention on Thursday.)

*There aren’t many reporters covering the state capitol in Albany these days, and several of them are on the move. First it was Susan Arbetter, who’s been hosting the daily “Capitol Pressroom” public radio show for the last decade, moving on from that broadcast to take over as the new host of Spectrum News’ “Capital Tonight” at the end of October. In that new role, Arbetter replaces Liz Benjamin, who left for a new job outside broadcasting earlier this year; she’ll work on relaunching the Spectrum show by early next year.

No replacement has been named yet on “Capitol Pressroom,” which is produced by Syracuse’s WCNY and heard on public radio across the state (though, ironically, not on WCNY-FM itself; it airs on WRVO in the Syracuse market instead.)

Before there was “Capitol Pressroom” or “Capital Tonight” (and yes, they really do spell the C-word differently), there was “New York Now.” The statewide public TV panel show about Albany politics lost its host at the end of September when managing editor Matt Ryan left WMHT, which produces the broadcast. (You can see the WMHT studios in this week’s Site of the Week, incidentally.)

There’s no permanent replacement yet for Ryan, but WMHT has brought a public broadcasting veteran, Ray Suarez, in as temporary host of the show. Suarez started last week, adding that gig to his current work hosting “World Affairs” for San Francisco’s KQED; he formerly hosted “Talk of the Nation” on NPR and reported for the PBS NewsHour.

*North of Albany, Ricki Lee and Aaron and Jessica Ishmael cut the ribbon Friday morning on their Saratoga Springs studio for WSSV (1160 Mechanicville), which officially launched its new “Star Radio” classic hits format on both the AM and its new 93.3 FM translator.

In addition to Lee himself in afternoons, the new Star brings a bunch of Saratoga and Albany radio veterans back to the airwaves: John Meaney in mornings, closing the circle on a Saratoga radio career that started at the old WKAJ/102QQ; Walt Adams on Sundays with the Jazz Brunch; and Tony Izzo doing local sports.

*Station sales: in Canandaigua, just down the road from our Rochester headquarters, Genesee Media’s WOKR (1310) and translator W238DG (95.5) are headed to Tim Stratton’s Stratton Radio Broadcasting for $250,000. Stratton, who’s also buying WYLF (850 Penn Yan), apparently plans to keep the classic country format on WOKR. George Kimble handled the sale for Genesee.

We can now attach a price to the sale of WIRY (1340 Plattsburgh) to the Hometown Communications LLC group that’s buying it from longtime owner Bill Santa: they’ll pay $285,000 for the AM station.

*In VERMONT, Steve Silberberg’s WWMP (103.3 Waterbury) has dropped its variety hits “Free 103.3” format, flipping to rock as “Rock 103.3.” For now, the new station is running jockless and commercial free, calling itself “Everything that Rocks.”

*From CONNECTICUT, a belated obituary for Jack Kean, one of the pioneers of Connecticut Public TV. Kean, who died Oct. 4, entered broadcast engineering in the early 1950s after leaving the Navy, working in Springfield and Hartford before going to Boston in 1958 to work at WGBH-TV. At WGBH, Kean did everything from running cameras to maintaining transmitters, as well as developing the station’s early remote trucks.

In 1968, Kean came to then-Connecticut Educational Television as chief engineer, later becoming VP of engineering and operations. His career highlights included the development of a compact mobile color TV camera and two Emmys for his technical achievements. After retiring in the mid-1980s, Kean continued to serve CPTV and PBS as a consultant, working on the development of HDTV and digital transmission. Kean was 90.

*The big news from the TV repack last week was mostly in the midwest, where markets such as Chicago and Milwaukee saw most of their stations changing RF channels as the latest phase of the FCC’s spectrum shuffle came to a close.

But Phase 6’s end also affected eastern MASSACHUSETTS and adjoining RHODE ISLAND, with viewers in Boston and Providence needing to rescan their receivers to hang on to a few stations that weren’t part of Phase 4 across most of the northeast back in June. That included Boston’s WHDH/WLVI (Channels 7/56), which went from RF 42 to 35, and WSBK (Channel 38), which went from 39 to 21, both making their changes at the start of phase 7. In Providence, WSBK’s move to 21 sends public TV WSBE (Channel 36) to its new home on RF channel 2, where it’s likely to have the same low-VHF antenna issues for many home viewers that are plaguing big sister WGBH (now on RF 5) in Boston.

What’s left now in repack-land? Phase 7, which runs through January 17, also includes WCAX and WCFE in the Burlington-Plattsburgh market (along with several Vermont PBS and NEW HAMPSHIRE Public TV signals), WJAR in Providence, several signals in Elmira, NY and WPNT and WPGH in Pittsburgh. After that, phases 8, 9, and 10 later in 2020 mostly affect the high-VHF band (there are two big interlinked clusters of stations in Binghamton, Albany, Scranton, New York and Philadelphia), though Buffalo and Binghamton will also have a few UHF moves, as will Portland.

And of course just because a phase has ended and stations have changed channels doesn’t mean the work is over for them. In Boston alone, there’s still work underway to move most of those Phase 4 repacks to their new full-power signals instead of the lower-powered auxiliary antennas they’ve been using – and multiply that by all the markets around the country where hundreds of other stations are still chasing tower crews and equipment as winter fast approaches!

*One more Boston note: as public radio continues to innovate, WBUR (90.9) has a neat event coming up December 10. Its “BizLab” unit is holding a BizLab Summit, bringing together representatives from stations around the country (including VPR in Vermont) to share their experiences launching new products and growing revenue during the past year. At a time when all radio is in desperate need of both innovation and new revenue, we’re looking forward to hearing what comes out of this event very much.

*In southern MAINE, sports talker WPEI (95.9 Saco) applies to boost power from 4.1 kW to 4.7 kW, remaining at its present site near Old Orchard Beach, 121 meters above average terrain.

*And one more Pennsylvania note: at Entercom’s WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia), it appears Jessie Jordan quietly exited the 7-midnight shift at the end of September, ending a six-year run at B101 (with previous Philly duty across town at Q102.) Shelly Easton, whose day job is as an Entercom programming VP, is tracking the night shift on B101 now.

*One of the few remaining AMs in CANADA‘s Maritimes wants to downsize. CKAD (1350 Middleton NS) has been a 1000-watt fulltime operation, using three towers for its nighttime directional array and one tower by day. Now it’s applying to drop night power to 400 watts, non-directional, which would allow owner Maritime Broadcasting System to take down two of the three aging towers.

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