In this week’s issue… One AM grows as another surrenders license – Pandemic prompts programming shifts – Virus kills Caribbean host – New TV studio in NY’s North Country – Canadian station founder steps down

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*NOT LAS VEGAS – In normal times, in a normal world, we’d be sitting poolside at the Tuscany resort just off the Strip right now, reporting to you on the first day on the floor of the NAB Show, on the sessions we’d been attending at the Public Radio Engineering Conference and PBS TechCon, on the Nautel Users Group event, and on the big show kickoff party that should be going on even as we’re typing this.

Alas, of course, we’re in our usual socially distanced spot on the sofa in western New York, wondering whether normalcy will resume in time for NAB next year. It’s actually been a rather busy week for us here, with more on-air work than usual – but we’ll get back in the swing of Top of the Tower Podcasts this week, we hope, and with any luck we’ll be able to offer you access to some of the same voices and ideas you’d have been hearing from us in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile back here in the northeast…

With some smaller radio stations succumbing to the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s surprising to see at least one AM signal making plans for expansion instead.

WTHE (1520 Mineola) nearly went off the air for good a little more than a year ago. The 1000-watt daytimer in Nassau County had gone silent in January 2018 amidst a dispute over its lease at its longtime Mineola studio/transmitter site. When Universal Broadcasting put the station back on the air just before the one-year silent deadline in early 2019, it ran into a challenge from a rival station owner, Dr. Richard Yoon of WNYH (740 Huntington) – he’d signed a lease deal for the Mineola site, and he challenged the legality of WTHE’s return to the air during the government shutdown, before the FCC could grant a proper STA.

The FCC eventually sided with Universal, which cleared the way for a $200,000 sale of the WTHE license to Cantico Nuevo Ministry, the Spanish-language religious broadcaster that operates several AM signals and translators in New York and New Jersey.

In the end, Cantico didn’t try to return to WTHE’s former site in Mineola; instead, it relicensed the station to diplex on one tower of the WHLI (1100) site a few miles to the south along the Southern State Parkway, where it’s been running since January with 1000 watts by day, 278 watts critical hours.

That, however, turned out to be only the first step in a bigger plan to expand WTHE’s reach, albeit at the expense of another AM signal in northern New Jersey that has also been struggling in recent years.

Last week, WTHE applied to move one notch up the dial to 1530, using the WHLI site with 10 kilowatts non-directional by day and 500 watts during critical hours. The move is only possible because the 1530 frequency in the greater New York area has been thinned out in the last few years: first, daytimer WDJZ in Bridgeport, Connecticut went out of business – and now, WJDM in Elizabeth, New Jersey has surrendered its license.

The 1530 daytimer in Elizabeth was just shy of its 50th anniversary, having been licensed in 1970 as WELA, part of the last gasp of new daytime-only AMs shoehorned into the region’s dial. WELA quickly became WJDM, taking the initials of its three new owners, including John Quinn, who eventually ended up as its solo owner.

Quinn ran WJDM for years, used its daytime-only status to spawn one of the first expanded-band AMs, now WWRU (1660 Jersey City), and finally sold both AM signals to Multicultural Radio. (The license status of the 1530 signal had been unclear for a while, as it and other expanded-band pioneers fought back against FCC attempts to enforce the “five-year rule” that was supposed to have seen 1530 go silent back in the early 2000s.)

With the WJDM tower site lease over and its tower gone (not to mention the end of a programmer’s lease), 1530 went silent in February 2019. And while it had filed several applications to move WJDM to other sites – at one point, it contemplated multiplexing with WPAT 930 and WNSW 1430 in Clifton; at another point, it applied to use the “HEBA” low-profile antenna atop a church roof in Elizabeth – Multicultural eventually threw in the towel. (Was there a deal with Cantico to do so? The quick timing of WTHE’s 1530 application would suggest it was all coordinated.)

What happens now? With WJDM’s license surrendered, there’s every reason to expect quick FCC approval of WTHE’s frequency change and power boost. After that, will Cantico keep its own programming on 1530, or lease it out, as it has with at least one of its New Jersey signals?

There’s no translator attached to WTHE, though not for lack of trying; Universal had applied for 99.1, but lost out in Auction 100 bidding for the signal last summer. WJDM did have a translator CP on 107.9, and it’s not clear whether that CP goes away automatically along with its parent AM, or whether Multicultural can find a way to transfer it to one of its other signals.

After all that work, is there a value to an AM signal that will cover a big chunk of Long Island, but only for a few hours a day in the winter? We’ll be watching to see what Cantico does with its new prize.

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*Who’s doing special programming for the pandemic era? Now that John Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Media is in control of NEW YORK‘s WABC (770), it’s adding weekend debate shows to its lineup. “The Right vs. the Left” debuted a week ago, and continued yesterday with two hours featuring morning host Sid Rosenberg taking on actor Michael Rapaport and midday host Curtis Sliwa debating Chris Hahn.

Over at iHeart’s WOR (710), news director Joe Bartlett delayed his plans to retire April 10; he’s staying around at least through May 1 to continue covering the news of the pandemic.

Out at the end of Long Island, JVC Media is importing some of its “Florida Man Radio” programming from its sister stations down south. Shannon Burke, who’s heard every afternoon on the JVC talk stations in Orlando (WDYZ) and Ocala (WYGC), is now sending his “Florida Man Friday Happy Hour” to JVC’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead), where he’s preempting Sean Hannity from 3-6 PM on Fridays for the moment.

*Among the casualties of the coronavirus was Gil Bailey, whose 50-year career programming Caribbean music on the tri-state airwaves took him to several stations, including WHBI/WNWK (105.9), WNSR (105.1), WPAT (930) and his own internet station. Bailey began his Caribbean music broadcasts around 1970 and was still on the air as recently as last month, before taking ill at home. He died Monday, at age 84.

*Upstate, there’s been another programming change at Buddy Shula’s WECK (1230/100.5/102.9) in Buffalo: former morning host Tom Donahue is returning to the station, taking back the morning shift, which sends Roger Christian to middays and Bobby O to a 2-7 PM shift.

*Here in Rochester, we send our very best wishes to Steve Hausmann, the retired WBEE (92.5) morning host who came back to the air a few weeks ago from his home studio to fill the slot vacated by Jeremy Newman’s exit. Hausmann revealed last week that he’s tested positive for COVID-19; the good news is that he’s already on the mend as he self-quarantines. (Hear about Steve’s career in a Top of the Tower interview we recorded last year after his retirement…)

And we’re saddened to report the death of Eric Melenbacker, whose long career in broadcast engineering in Rochester included stints as chief engineer at WHAM (1180)/WVOR (100.5) and then at WROC-TV (Channel 8), where we saw a lot of him in the waning days of analog TV. (That’s Eric in the striped shirt, at right with his WROC predecessor John Coon, signing off the analog signal in 2009.)

Melenbacker died April 16, at 73.

*Hearst’s WPTZ (Channel 5) may have moved its main newsroom and studio operations across Lake Champlain to VERMONT last year – but it’s investing in retaining facilities in Plattsburgh, its city of license.

Chief meteorologist Tom Messner remained based at WPTZ’s old Television Drive studios in Plattsburgh after the NBC affiliate relocated to Burlington, and he’ll remain in Plattsburgh along with a New York-side news bureau when WPTZ opens a new Plattsburgh facility sometime later this summer.

The new WPTZ bureau will be located in a former bank building at 308 Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh Plaza, returning Channel 5 to within sight of its roots: when it signed on in 1954 as WIRI, it shared space with WIRY (1340) at 301 Cornelia Street, now replaced by a pharmacy right across the street from the plaza. Hearst says it has already put the Television Drive facility, built in 1977, up for sale.

*Deeper into Vermont, there’s apparently a format change at Steve Silberberg’s WSKI (1240 Montpelier): without sports to talk about, it’s traded CBS Sports Radio for a simulcast of rock sister station WWMP (103.3 Waterbury).

*In MAINE, there’s word that the nationwide cuts Saga’s been making at its clusters has meant layoffs for most of the part-timers at the Portland Radio Group, though the morning shows remain intact at WYNZ (Rewind 100.9), WMGX (Coast 93.1) and WPOR (101.9).

(We haven’t heard yet whether there were similar cuts at other Saga clusters in the region, including the ones in Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE, Springfield, and Ithaca.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there’s some good news from the MIT radio station, WMBR (88.1 Cambridge) – its talented engineers have managed to get new programming back on the station’s stream and now its airwaves, working remotely since the campus is closed.

And there’s some bad news from iHeart’s WBZ (1030): at least for the duration of the emergency, weekend overnight host Morgan White Jr. is off the air, though his absence is being billed as only temporary while in-studio activity at the cluster in Medford remains limited.

*In NEW JERSEY, Dave Moore and Kristen James start a new morning show today at Pillar of Fire contemporary Christian WAWZ (99.1 Zarephath). Moore and James had been doing afternoons at “Star 99.1,” but the departures last year of PD Rick Hall and then last month of his morning co-host Mysti Jordan created an opening to move them into the morning slot. Beth Bacall is now on WAWZ’s schedule for afternoons.

Radio Managers on the Move: After four years as general manager of Townsquare’s WKXW (New Jersey 101.5), Ron deCastro is headed up the Turnpike and across the Hudson to take over as market president for the MediaCo cluster in New York. On Hudson Street, deCastro will replace Charlie Morgan, who left last month; he’ll oversee WQHT (Hot 97), WBLS (107.5), as well as MediaCo’s LMA of Emmis-owned WLIB (1190). New York is a familiar market for the sales pro: deCastro was general sales manager at then-CBS-owned “Amp” WBMP and at then-Clear Channel’s WWPR, and also worked for iHeart in Philadelphia before taking the Townsquare job.

*Townsquare wasted no time naming a replacement in Trenton: Brian Lang heads down I-95 from New England to become WKXW’s new market president and chief revenue officer. It’s an in-house transfer: Lang has been regional market president for the Townsquare clusters in Maine (Portland and Augusta) and New Hampshire (Portsmouth) since 2014.

And it’s an in-house promotion in New England: Christine Sieks, a veteran of the Portsmouth market at Clear Channel and then at Townsquare, replaces Lang in those markets. Sieks will continue to serve as regional VP/sales for Townsquare’s northeast region, a post she took on last November after three years as VP/sales for Portsmouth.

*In CANADA, Broadcast Dialogue reports Scott Jackson is stepping down as station manager and president of “Life 100.3” (CJLF), the Barrie-based Christian music station heard across much of northern and central Ontario. Jackson launched CJLF in 1999 after returning to Canada from working at Way-FM in Nashville. He’ll remain with the station as a consultant and on-air host.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Very sad to hear of Eric’s passing this week. He was one of the last of the original TV and radio engineers, going back to the 70’s.
    Paul Deeth

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