By SCOTT FYBUSH
This is a developing story – more at RadioInsight, and stay tuned for updates!
Just over half a year after Seven Mountains Media reshaped the radio dial in the Elmira/Corning market with a massive format flip that merged what had been two competing clusters, the fast-growing company is poised to acquire parts of another competing cluster, leaving only two commercial players in the market while spinning off at least five stations to Family Life Ministries, the regional Christian broadcaster that’s been expanding its reach in both New York and Pennsylvania.
The details of the deal are still emerging as we post this on Friday morning, but it includes signals in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and in the Olean market as well. Here’s what we know so far and what we expect to learn as FCC filings are made in the next few days:
Family Life adds at least five FMs. The first official confirmation of all the rumors we’ve been hearing came out on the Family Life morning show on Friday, as president Rick Snavely announced that a deal that started with the planned sale of its WCIG (107.7 Dallas PA) had exploded into a much larger multi-market station swap.
Family Life had planned to sell WCIG, Snavely said, because the Scranton-market full-power signal was underperforming and could be replaced by two “super-translators” to be fed by an HD subchannel of Entercom’s WKRZ (98.5). Before the station could hit the market, though, Snavely said he was approached by a commercial broadcaster, one whose daughter was expanding her station holdings in the region. That, of course, would have been Forever’s Kerby Confer and his daughter Kristin Cantrell, who’s been growing the Seven Mountains cluster in a big way in recent years.
As Snavely explained, the unnamed “commercial broadcaster” was in the process of acquiring a competitor, which would result in the need to spin off at least three FM signals and potentially some AMs as well in both Elmira/Corning and the Olean market to the west.
Who would that competitor be? Snavely didn’t say – but there was only one competitor that would fit that bill, and it’s Bill and Paige Christian’s Sound Communications group.
In Elmira/Corning, Sound’s four FMs (country WKPQ 105.3, AC “Magic” WENY-FM/WENI-FM 92.7/97.7 and classic hits “Gem” WGMM 98.7) and two AMs (news-talk WENY/WENY 1230/1450) compete against the reconfigured Seven Mountains cluster, which sprawls across five full-power FMs, two AMs and multiple translators.
In Olean and nearby Alfred, Sound has three full-power FMs (hot AC WMXO 101.5 in Olean, rock WQRS 98.3 in Salamanca to the west and country WZKZ 101.9 in Alfred to the east), as well as two AMs (news-talk WGGO 1590 Salamanca and country WOEN 1360 Olean), both with Olean translators; they’re the only in-market competition to the cluster Seven Mountains is still reconfiguring, including its existing country giant WPIG 95.7, classic hits WOLY 1450 and its translator, and the former Colonial stations, silent full-power WUDE 96.7 and four translators whose sale to Seven Mountains recently closed.
A bonus for Family Life: A deal that Snavely said started with a swap of three FMs (one each in Corning, Elmira and Alfred) to FLN in exchange for the Scranton-market 107.7 ended up blossoming into five new FMs for FLN.
Here’s how it plays out: Sound’s WENI-FM (97.7 Big Flats) in the Corning market will go to FLN with new calls WCIG. Seven Mountains will shed two of its Elmira-market signals to FLN to stay under the cap: WPHD (104.9 Montour Falls) will stay in the Elmira market as WCIM, while WMTT (100.9 Horseheads) will move out of the Elmira market to Ithaca, moving to 101.1 as Enfield-licensed WCID.
In Alfred, Sound’s WZKZ (101.9) will go to Family Life under new calls WCOQ – and in Olean, WUDE will change city of license again. After Colonial moved it into Olean as a Portville-licensed signal, FLN will take over the 96.7 facility, moving it over the state line to Bradford, Pennsylvania as WCOR.
What remains for Seven Mountains and Sound: Here’s where more details have yet to emerge, but for now, this is how the new competitive landscape appears to shape up.
In Corning/Elmira, the huge prize for Seven Mountains out of the Sound deal is the big class B signal of WKPQ (105.3 Hornell). Its country format has been the major competitor to Seven Mountains’ reconfigured “Bigfoot” trimulcast, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bigfoot brand go on 105.3 to replace the current Hornell signal, WZBF (97.1 Canaseraga).
Seven Mountains will also add half of Sound’s “Magic” simulcast, WENY-FM (92.7) in Elmira, as well as the “Gem 98.7” signal in Corning. Those signals will join the two “Bigfoot” signals Seven Mountains is keeping, WCBF (96.1) in Elmira and WQBF (94.7) serving Corning, as well as its big class B hot AC/top-40, “Wink” WNKI (106.1 Corning) and two AMs.
We know there’s another big round of format shuffling coming, as Seven Mountains finds ways to retain the other formats that will lose their main signals: spinning off 100.9 takes away one FM signal from classic rock “the Met,” while spinning off 104.9 removes the main FM signal of classic hits “Cool.” Those formats also live on various AMs, HD subchannels and translators in the cluster, and we’re hearing that they’ll be moved around in a way that results in at least six formats still emanating from Seven Mountains’ College Ave. studio complex.
What will those be? The existing lineup is Bigfoot for country, Wink for top-40/hot AC, Met for classic rock, Cool for classic hits, Jamz for hip-hop/R&B, and Wingz for active rock. Will Seven Mountains preserve the AC format now on “Magic 92.7/97.7” somehow? And what becomes of the news-talk simulcast now on the WENY/WENI AM simulcast? We’ll be watching to see how that plays out – and how the last remaining commercial competitor in the market reacts. That’s Tower Broadcasting, which does a wide-ranging top-40 format on WLVY (94 Rock), country on WOKN (99.5), and oldies and classic rock on two AM/translator combos, as well as a smaller satellite cluster with AC and country up the road in Bath.
Another loose end, so far, is on the AM side. The ownership cap limits won’t allow Seven Mountains to take both of the Sound AMs along with its existing WMTT (820) and the Watkins Glen-licensed WNGZ (1490). Sound needed its AMs to provide program feeds to its translators, but Seven Mountains can feed them with FM HD subchannels – will some of those AMs end up going silent?
Meanwhile in Olean… The Seven Mountains/Sound combination will give Seven Mountains essentially full control of the core of the Olean market, adding at least two more FMs to its existing WPIG/WOLY combo. Will “Mix” on WMXO and the rock on WQRS stay put, or will they be replaced with some of the Elmira-based formats – and then how many more formats will get added by way of the two AMs and translators coming in from Sound, and the three more translators that Seven Mountains acquired from Colonial but hasn’t yet lit up?
And in Scranton? It’s a good bet that Seven Mountains’ entry into the Scranton market on 107.7 will mean a “Bigfoot” to compete with Entercom’s dominant country “Froggy” (WGGY 101.3) – but we have to believe there are more moving pieces coming there.
(Follow along with us on social media @scottfybush, and especially our news partner, RadioInsight, as Lance Venta and I piece together more of this very big deal. And I’ll have more analysis on Monday in our regular NERW column for subscribers.)