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
*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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