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
*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.
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!