In this week’s issue… No affiliation change in Boston, but a new signal issue – Canadian AM returns – New partner for KYW – RI HOF class named

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*It’s been a little while since we’ve revisited the sometimes turbulent world of local TV in Boston, and this week gives us two stories from the Hub’s TV scene.

First comes the revelation (which, to be honest, isn’t really that big a surprise) that Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam TV has been seriously talking with Fox about grabbing the affiliation away from WFXT (Channel 25), the Cox-owned station that’s been the Fox outlet in Boston since the network began. (Way back then in the mid-80s, who could have predicted it would be the Fox affiliate that would end up as the very last station in town never to have changed its affiliation?)

Ansin holds the Fox affiliation on his other Sunbeam station, WSVN in Miami, and it’s been no secret that he’d hoped to leverage that valuable connection to lure Fox over to WHDH (Channel 7) in Boston, which just marked three years as an independent station after Comcast pulled the NBC affiliation away to its startup, WBTS, at the dawn of 2017.

In 2020, though, a two-station group doesn’t have much leverage against the much bigger station groups that dominate the industry. Whatever uncertainty there might have been last year when Apollo Global Management bought the Cox stations from their longtime family ownership, the appeal of remaining tied to the larger Cox group clearly outweighed any appeal Fox might have found from transferring its Boston affiliation to the higher-rated WHDH from WFXT.

Fox, of course, has owned WFXT twice, most recently trading the station (along with WHBQ in Memphis) to Cox in 2014 in exchange for KTVU and KICU in the San Francisco market. WHBQ, along with WFOX in Jacksonville and KOKI in Tulsa, was part of the multi-year deal that will continue to tie the new version of the Cox group to Fox.

In Boston, that means the unusual five-way split of local news will continue for at least a while longer; few other markets outside the big three can boast that many separate local newsrooms doing so many hours of news every day. CBS owns WBZ, of course, and NBC just opened an expensive new facility for its WBTS, seeking to build up ratings against Hearst’s top-rated ABC affiliate, WCVB, as well as independent WHDH and Cox’s WFXT.

Ansin calls WHDH “the top independent in the nation,” and he’ll keep on going with a slate of newscasts (especially in mornings and prime time) that has remained potent in the ratings even after losing NBC. Over in Dedham, meanwhile, the rumors continue to swirl about a reversal of the 2014 Fox/Cox trade; the small print of the Apollo/Cox deal last year put WFXT in a separate subsidiary of the new Cox Media Group, leading to speculation that Cox might still have a deal in the works, perhaps to swap WFXT for Fox’s KRIV/KTXH in Houston, where Cox has a robust radio presence, something it’s never developed in Boston.

*Meanwhile, over-the-air viewers at the fringes of the Boston market might once again find themselves having trouble seeing most Boston signals other than Ansin’s.

The stations that share the master TV antennas in Needham – WBZ and CBS sister WSBK, WCVB, WFXT and public WGBX (which hosts NBC’s WBTS as a channel share) – have had more antenna problems in recent years than just about any other market in the country. Now NERW has learned that another transmission system failure over the weekend has left most of those stations at reduced power or on backup transmitters, all at one of the worst possible times in the complex repack transition process. [more below for subscribers or single-issue purchasers…]

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*With the exception of WFXT, those stations normally operate from a pair of antennas atop American Tower’s Cedar Street tower in Needham (the heritage WBZ-TV/WCVB site), while WFXT’s main signal comes from the former candelabra tower on Cabot Street nearby.

When the FCC repacked UHF frequencies into a narrower spectrum band, the stations worked with American Tower to carry out a complex dance: a backup facility at the Cabot Street site (seen at right last fall) went up last year to provide nearly full-coverage signals for WBZ, WSBK, WCVB and WGBX/WBTS on their new channels, as well as serving as the new main signal for WFXT. Over at Cedar Street, meanwhile, the old pre-repack transmitters and antennas were to be removed last fall, replaced by new transmitters and antennas on the stations’ new channels.

That Cedar Street site had already been the victim of several rounds of antenna and transmission line damage in recent years, leaving several of the stations at severely reduced power and even taking them off the air completely at times. That’s a big reason why the stations pressed for the full-power backup sites at Cabot Street, a level of emergency preparedness still rare in other markets.

Here’s the problem, though: the antenna work over at Cedar Street to complete the repack ended up being pushed back to this spring from last November. That left the Cabot Street “backup” plant serving as the temporary main transmitter site for most of the stations – and for several, it was the only full-power transmitter site until the Cedar Street work (which requires multiple helicopter lifts) can be finished.

And so any failure at Cabot Street thus becomes extremely worrisome – and as we write this on Sunday night, it’s still not clear just how bad the problems there are. We’re told the Cabot Street stations are operating at just under half their licensed power for now, while American Tower works to get that antenna system repaired and, perhaps, to speed up the work to restore the Cedar Street site to full functionality and give the stations the redundancy they’d planned for.

(From what we understand, WFXT and WCVB at least have separate high-power auxiliary facilities at Cedar Street to keep them on the air, independent of the master antenna there; WHDH and sister station WLVI are on their own separate tower in Newton and are unaffected by the Cedar and Cabot outages.)

*Just as Entercom’s KYW (1060) was moving out of the Spring Garden St. studios of former CBS sister station KYW-TV (Channel 3) last Monday, it announced another break with the PENNSYLVANIA TV station that had been its partner for almost seven decades. Entercom is now using NBC’s WCAU (Channel 10) as its TV partner in Philadelphia, with weather coming from WCAU’s Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, news audio from WCAU reporters running on KYW radio, and at least some WCAU content being available to other Entercom stations. (That roster, of course, includes the former WCAU 1210, now talker WPHT.)

In Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Sun’s syndicated “Woody and Wilcox Show” starts today in morning drive at Shamrock’s “Alt 92.1” (WFUZ), where it had been an all-music morning show.

And we’re sorry to report the death of Tim Halloran, who’d been operations manager for Beasley’s Philadelphia AM stations, sports WTEL (610) and leased-time WWDB (860). Halloran, a Philadelphia native, had worked in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minnesota and elsewhere before joining Beasley in 2005. He was just 56 when he died suddenly last Monday (Feb. 10), and he’s being mourned by his many friends in Philly radio, where he was a beloved figure for years.

*In NEW JERSEY, we send our best wishes to Bill Fox, morning man at WWZY (107.1 the Boss) in Long Branch. He’s recuperating from open heart surgery and hopes to be back on the air in a few weeks.

*At Townsquare’s Buffalo, NEW YORK cluster, Chris Crowley moves up from brand manager at soft AC “Breeze” WMSX (96.1) and country WYRK (106.5) to become operations manager for the entire cluster; the promotions also include the removal of “interim” in front of the brand manager title for Yasmin Young at urban WBLK (93.7), where she succeeds Jay Hicks.

Here in Rochester, Stephens Media Group is advertising for a new operations manager – and that means local veteran Stan Main is apparently out after a long run there, overseeing variety hits “Fickle” WFKL (93.3), modern rock “Zone” WZNE (94.1) and AC “Warm” WRMM (101.3). Main had come to Stephens in 2010 from CBS Radio, where he’d been in management in Austin and before that at CBS’ former Rochester group, which included WZNE, WRMM and WCMF (96.5); he started his Rochester career at WCMF doing promotions way back in 1986.

In the North Country, Stephens was in the news last week with a new complaint against the union at its stations in Massena and Watertown. While Stephens had to rehire four employees in January after the National Labor Relations Board found it had improperly fired them for union activity, Stephens now says the NABET local there is refusing to negotiate in good faith for a new contract.

*Some early “Baseball on the Radio” as spring training (blessedly) gets underway down south: Spanish-language New York Mets broadcasts will return to Univision’s WQBU (92.7) for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons after spending the last seven summers on WEPN (1050). With WEPN having returned to English-language sports now that ESPN Deportes Radio is defunct, the broadcasts with announcers Juan Alicea, Max Perez Jimenez, and Nestor Rosario head back to “Que Buena 92.7,” produced by English-language rightsholder Entercom. (Entercom also produces Spanish-language Yankees games that air on WQBU’s sister station, WADO 1280.)

*Bill Britten was a staple of early kids’ TV in New York City, where he hosted “Time for Fun” as “Johnny Jellybean” on WABC-TV (Channel 7) starting in 1956, then became Bozo the Clown on WPIX (Channel 11) in 1960. Britton later worked as a program director at WNYC under city ownership and taught drama at the Performing Arts High School. (That was the “Fame” high school, and Britton, who was also an actor, had a role in the 1980 movie). Britton died Feb. 4, at 87.

*And we note the death of Roger Conklin, who worked radio sales in Binghamton at WKOP and WINR, then went on to spend many years as vice president/general manager of WNBF, WHWK, WAAL and WYOS through several changes of ownership. Conklin died Feb. 13, at age 84.

*The RHODE ISLAND Radio and Television Hall of Fame unveiled its latest class of inductees last week: Karen Adams, former WPRI (Channel 12) anchor; Frank Colletta, longtime WJAR (Channel 10 anchor); John Ghiorse, former WJAR and WLNE (Channel 6) meterorologist, now with GoLocal.com and Davey Morris, afternoon jock at WPRO-FM (92.3) will all be inducted in person at the ceremony April 30 at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. The Executive Award goes to Mitch Dolan, now with Great Lakes Media but formerly with ABC Radio’s O&O stations and before that at WPRO/WPRO-FM. And a posthumous award goes to Jim Taricani, the late investigative reporter at WJAR.

*There’s a TV affiliation change at a small MASSACHUSETTS station, where the RNN group has moved its infomercial programming from the .2 subchannel to the .1 main channel at WMFP (Channel 62) south of Boston. WMFP sold its UHF channel in the repack auction last year, moving to RF channel 10 on a channel-share with WWDP (Channel 46) and changing its city of license from Lawrence to Foxborough. In practice, most WMFP viewers see the station on cable, and so the move of RNN infomercials from 62.2 to 62.1 means that’s what now fills WMFP’s must-carry slot on cable and satellite. The SonLife religious network, which had been on 62.1 and thus on cable and satellite, moves to 62.2 and is now seen only by over-the-air viewers who can get WMFP’s VHF signal.

*Where are they now? Vezzy Parmesan, aka Mike Vezzola, was on the air at WZMX in Hartford and WWKX in Rhode Island, and had most recently been doing part-time work for Entercom at WODS in Boston and at WZMX. Now he’s westbound, headed for a new gig under his real name as the new morning co-host at Entercom’s KRSK (105.1 the Buzz) in Portland, Oregon, where he starts Feb. 25.

*It’s rare to see a new AM signal on the air in CANADA, but there’s one on the Niagara Peninsula – well, sort of new, anyway.

CFAJ (1220 St. Catharines) is a new license, though not a new facility – it revives the old CHSC, which lost its license after the CRTC determined it was aiming its programming not at Niagara but across the lake at ethnic audiences in Toronto. The new CFAJ purchased the old CHSC transmitter site and began testing there last week. For now, it’s running 1000 watts, non-directional, while work continues on rebuilding the phasor to resume a full 10 kW signal from all nine (!) towers. New owner Sivanesarajah Kandiah is apparently planning an oldies format; that’s the music that’s being heard during testing, along with a Toronto phone number for reception reports.

Across town, Bell’s CHTZ (97.7) has hired a new morning show. Matt Soper, who’s been doing mornings at CIKR (105.7 K-Rock) in Kingston, starts tomorrow alongside Carl Brown, who’s been doing sales for Rogers in British Columbia. Soper and Brown had been paired up before out west, co-hosting mornings at CISQ in Squamish, B.C. They replace Doc and Woody, who left HTZ last summer to go to sister station CHEZ in Ottawa.

*It was a tearful week in Toronto media as news spread of the death of reporter and columnist Christie Blatchford. In addition to her work over the decades at all of the Toronto papers (including many years as a Sun columnist and as one of the big names at the founding of the National Post), Blatchford was a frequent broadcast personality, most recently as a commentator on Bell’s CFRB (Newstalk 1010).

Blatchford was diagnosed with lung cancer last fall, and had left the Post and CFRB to undergo treatment. She died Feb. 12, at age 68.

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