In this week’s issue… Elevated price for NYC AM site – Jack hits the road – Comcast changes may cut local news access – More Rogers cuts in Canada – Remembering Buffalo’s Horohoe, Boston’s Tank

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*The top of the New York City AM dial has already been a turbulent place this year, and it’s about to get a little more complex. Just a few weeks after iHeart paid more than $8 million for WWRL (1600), Family Stations has sold the parcel of land on which its WFME (1560) sits, for the stratospheric price of $51 million.

As you might imagine with a price tag like that, the buyer isn’t a tower company or a radio broadcaster. It’s Prologis, a logistics company that specializes in providing warehouse and parking facilities for the ever-growing needs of companies like Amazon that are in desperate need of those sites to stage their fleets that service deliveries in big cities.

The WFME site, five acres in Maspeth, Queens, near the Brooklyn border, is suddenly a desirable location for that sort of thing, given its proximity to the Long Island Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and La Guardia and JFK airports. It’s a pretty remarkable turnaround for what’s otherwise a pretty unremarkable piece of land: while its street address is “48-00 Grand Avenue,” there’s currently no access into the site from the wall of warehouses that separate it from that artery to the north. Instead, it’s reached through the parking lot of the huge Manhattan Beer warehouse to its south and west, dodging trucks and forklifts on the way in.

The last two times the 1560 signal changed hands, it was for $40 million in 2007 (from the New York Times Co. to Disney), then for $12.95 million in 2015, when Disney sold then-WQEW to Family, which used the 50,000-watt AM signal to replace its former WFME-FM at 94.7 after selling that signal to Cumulus. Those values were largely based on the signal, and we’d bet that the tower site accounted for no more than perhaps a couple of million dollars each time.

But this time, Family got very lucky – and while it banks most of that $51 million windfall, there’s still the question of what becomes of the 1560 signal itself. In reporting on the deal, the Commercial Observer says WFME will continue to operate from Maspeth “as they transition to a new location,” and NERW hears that could be the end of January. But exactly where will 1560 land? That’s not known yet, and there are few options on the New York side of the Hudson. When WQXR moved to Maspeth in 1940, it had plenty of AM neighbors nearby – WEVD (1330), for instance, was just to the north along Newtown Creek, with other stations such as WLIB, WNYC and WWRL not far away.

Now, however, they’ve all moved to New Jersey; when WFME leaves Maspeth, the last AM transmitter site remaining within New York City limits will be the High Island site shared by WFAN (660) and WCBS (880). Can the 1560 signal find a new diplexed home in New Jersey? It will be a challenge, in part because most of the towers there are taller than would be ideal for a high-on-the-dial AM like 1560, especially one that needs to have a directional array with suitable geometry.

Or does Family use some of its $51 million to simply acquire a different signal? When the value of a station’s land becomes so much higher than the value of its license, the math and the strategies become interesting – and we’ll be here to chronicle the effects of that shift for WFME, and for other stations experiencing similar imbalances in this strange new era for the AM dial.

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7 COMMENTS

    • An excellent question! The FCC history cards put it at John V.L. Hogan’s laboratory, 31-04 Northern Blvd., Long Island City. It appears there’s a shopping center there now.

  1. Good reporting on the 1560 NYC situation. Who wouldn’t sell the underlying land? Here in Syracuse, a bit under the radar, the old WSEN, (no tie in to the current Craig Fox owned properties), Baldwinsville/Lysander building and tower site was sold November 9 due to overdue county and school taxes, for $108,000. WBVG, 1050 AM, which had still been on the air and on site with a two tower array has gone silent, no report for how long or where they’ll go.
    Anyone know?

  2. Regret to report the passing of Roger Laliberte, part owner of WNRI and host of Saturday & Sunday French programs on WNRI for the over 30 years. Roger was retired as Chief of the Coventry Police Dept. Leaves a wife, Claudette and two daughters who joined him on his popular radio show from time to time. Roger was 85.

  3. not the first time the real estate under one or more towers was worth more than the license and multiples of earnings. Look at the WLYN AM tower ( full disclosure I worked there) it was in the middle of a junk yard next to a river, the junk yard closed, friends of mine bought the property and remediated it. At some point there will be apartment buildings built around the tower, you can bet the farm on that.

  4. Another passing to report, from WLNG’s Facebook page last Monday: Joe Ricker, who started there not long after they first signed on (at 1600) as their first news director and also served as morning show host/co-host until he retired in 1994. He was 88.

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