In this week’s issue: RI governor threatens WSBE funding cut – Merlin drops NYC all-news PD – Former Scranton owner’s sentence reduced – Format flip in Maine – Greater Media changes leaders in Boston
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*Less than a year after New Jersey governor Chris Christie handed over operation of the state’s public TV and radio network to out-of-state broadcasters, RHODE ISLAND‘s PBS outlet is facing the prospect of losing its state funding.
A budget proposal last week from governor Lincoln Chafee would reduce state support of Rhode Island PBS (WSBE-TV 36) from just under a million dollars in fiscal 2011-2012 to $425,000 in 2012-2013 and then to zero in subsequent years.
Beyond the end of state funding, Chafee apparently isn’t envisioning a complete shutdown of the “RI PBS” service. Like the old NJN networks, the WSBE license is held by a state agency, the Rhode Island Public Telecommunications Authority – but unlike NJN, “RI PBS” has long looked beyond state funding as its major source of support, depending on a combination of membership and underwriting ($1.2 million in last year’s budget) and Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants ($700,000 last year) to make up about 60% of its $3 million total annual budget. Chafee says the station should be looking to those sources, especially fundraising, to make up for the state budget cut, but station officials say underwriting support was sharply down last year, making that prospect doubtful.
“RI PBS” has always been a barebones operation compared to its New England neighbors, with limited broadcast hours and a relatively small staff. A Chafee spokesman specifically pointed to one of those neighboring stations, Boston public broadcaster WGBH, citing its wide availability on cable TV in Rhode Island as a reason why state support of the local station is no longer a necessity.
WSBE has faced funding cuts before; former station head Susan Farmer made a personal appeal to then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun to reverse a 1991 plan to eliminate state support, and the station’s current leaders tell WPRI-TV they plan to appeal to lawmakers to deny Chafee his budget cut.
*Meanwhile on the Ocean State cable dial, it’s the end of the “Rhode Island News Channel” on Cox Cable channel 5. The deal between Cox and ABC affiliate WLNE (Channel 6) to repurpose its newscasts in a rolling loop on channel 5 came to an end at the end of January, and now it’s NBC affiliate WJAR (Channel 10) providing programming on Cox’s channel 5.
*Up the road in MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a change at the helm of Greater Media’s five-station Boston cluster, where Tom Baker retires this month at the end of a three-year run as vice president/market manager. Baker says he’s looking forward to spending time with grandchildren on both coasts, and Greater Media’s wasted no time announcing a replacement: veteran Clear Channel executive Rob Williams, who’s most recently been in charge of Goom Radio and his own Digital Brand Connections, LLC, starts as the new VP/market manager in Boston today.
There’s another departure at Greater Media, too: after more than 20 years doing wakeup newscasts on WMJX (106.7 Boston), Gay Vernon is leaving her post as news director there. No replacement has been named, and the station’s apparently keeping the move low-key, announcing Vernon’s departure with only a one-line mention on her profile page on the station’s website.
There’s a lineup change over at Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston), where financial talker Barry Armstrong is now leasing two weekday hours, from 9-11 AM, for his “Financial Exchange” talk show. That show replaces Armstrong’s previous noon-1 PM “Lunch Money” and cuts Laura Ingraham back from a live 9 AM-noon clearance to the 11 AM-1 PM slot.
Translator news from the Merrimack Valley: W275BH (102.9), the Lawrence translator for Costa-Eagle’s WNNW (800 Lawrence), is not only now operating in HD, with special temporary authority from the FCC to operate its digital signal at 10% of the translator’s analog power (25 watts for the digital signal), it even has an HD2 subchannel!
102.9-HD2 is carrying the programming of Costa-Eagle’s English-language news-talker, WCCM (1110 Salem NH) – and no, we don’t quite understand why that logo appears to say “WCMC,” either.
*Blueberry Broadcasting is once again shuffling formats in Bangor, MAINE. Just months after moving Fox Sports WAEI-FM from the big Bangor-licensed 97.1 signal down the coast to the Brewer-licensed 104.7 and sending country “Bear” WBFB to 97.1, we’re hearing there’s another flip on 104.7, which has become classic hits “B 104.7.” That leaves Fox Sports in Bangor as an AM-only format, on WAEI (910).
The new “B 104.7” is announcing new calls of WBAK, which suggests that it’s being set up as a near-clone of Blueberry’s successful WABK (104.3 Gardiner) in the Augusta-Waterville market.
*The big news out of NEW YORK is once again at Merlin Media’s WEMP (101.9), where another of the station’s founding executives is out. Liz Aiello came in last June as vice president of programming, boasting a resume that included executive positions at Sirius XM and WABC-TV, but no all-news radio experience. With “FM News 101.9” still struggling to get ratings traction, Aiello’s last day at the station was Thursday; Tom Taylor reports the day’s cuts at WEMP also included production VP Jerry Rohira and senior director of digital programming Rich McLaughlin.
A former New York programmer has resurfaced in a new corporate role: Phil Boyce, PD at WABC (770) from 1995 until 2008, is moving from Talk Radio Network, where he was president of programming, to Salem Communications, where he started Friday as VP of spoken word formats. Boyce will be based at Salem’s New Jersey offices, home to WMCA (570) and WNYM (970) and home base of one of Boyce’s star personalities in his WABC days, WNYM morning man Curtis Sliwa.
In Buffalo, Dick Greene’s WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) aims to make its FM translator a much more potent signal. W275BB (102.9) has been operating from the WECK tower on Genesee Street since last year, delivering decent reception of “102.9 the Breeze” in only a small corner of the Buffalo metro. But the translator (which is still licensed to Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes) has now applied to move from the WECK tower to the highest spot in downtown Buffalo, the roof of the 38-story One HSBC Center skyscraper. From there, it would run 220 watts, vertical-only, using a directional antenna aimed away from co-channel CKLH in Hamilton, Ontario – and covering much more of the Buffalo market. (By way of comparison, Rochester’s WDKX uses 800 watts from a skyscraper of similar height and is often among the top four stations in town.)
On the TV side of things, WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and sister station WNLO (Channel 23) launched the Buffalo market’s second fully-HD newscasts at 5:00 Wednesday evening, unveiling a $2.5 million makeover of the LIN-owned CBS/CW affiliate’s set and technical plant. For a top-50 market, Buffalo was slow to adopt HD. As late as last summer, only NBC affiliate WGRZ (Channel 2) was even doing studio production in widescreen SD; the ball started rolling when WKBW (Channel 7) upgraded to studio HD last August (with SD field production), followed by a full HD upgrade at WGRZ in the fall and now WIVB’s launch. (Time Warner Cable’s YNN does studio HD production, but widescreen SD from the field, and there’s no local news at Fox affiliate WUTV.)
In Syracuse, WCNY-TV (Channel 24) has named replacements for J. Daniel Pluff as hosts of the “Financial Fitness” talk show: after Pluff departed over complaints about the choice of substitute hosts, he’s being replaced by Jim Burns and Vicki Bracken.
Syracuse’s Craig Fox is selling another New York City LPTV. Brooklyn-licensed WMBQ-LP has just relocated from RF channel 3 to RF channel 50, and now it’s changing hands for $2 million. The buyer is Carlos Barba’s Buenavision TV Network NY, LLC, and it will continue to allow Fox to program one standard-definition channel on WMBQ with Cornerstone religious programming for the next two years, splitting the proceeds between Fox’s Renard group and Buenavision.
The almost-legendary “WVWA” call letters won’t be coming to the Finger Lakes after all: the construction permit bearing those calls for 90.3 in Auburn expired unbuilt at the end of January, victim of a change of control at permittee “Colleges of the Seneca,” aka Geneva’s Hobart and William Smith Colleges, which handed off operation of WEOS (89.7 Geneva) and then-unbuilt WITH (90.1 Ithaca) to Rochester’s WXXI two years ago. WXXI had filed to buy the WVWA construction permit late in 2011, but then withdrew that application, leaving the CP to fade away without being constructed. (Also gone without ever being built: St. Albans, VERMONT‘s WXCP 90.5, a CP granted in January 2009 to the Adirondack Center for Peace.)
And over in Glens Falls, the demolition of the WMML (1230)/WENU (1410) tower took place right on schedule last Monday – and the good folks up at Adirondack Broadcasting captured the moment on video so we could share it with you…
(The tower will be replaced sometime this week with a new, sturdier tower that will also carry Verizon Wireless antennas.)
*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, former station owner Doug Lane could be eligible for parole in as little as three years after striking a deal with prosecutors to end his appeals of his 2005 conviction for child sexual assault. Lane lost his station licenses, including WWDL (104.9 Scranton, now WWRR) and WICK (1400 Scranton), after being convicted; he was sentenced to at least 14 years in prison but had that sentence reduced to a minimum of eight years after reaching the deal.
We now know what direction Clear Channel is taking WLAN-FM (96.9 Lancaster) in after ditching the local morning show: it’s now carrying the syndicated Elvis Duran morning show out of New York’s Z100.
Up in Erie, the FM translator for Cumulus’ all-sports WRIE (1260) has a new frequency: W285AI is being displaced from 104.9 by the impending move of WRKT (100.9 North East) to that frequency, and now the translator has applied for a license to cover its move to 104.3, where it’s running 173 watts from the tower behind the WICU-TV/WSEE-TV studios on State Street, just south of downtown. Meanwhile, PBRTV.com’s Tom Lavery reports Cumulus has turned on the digital signal at WXKC (99.9 Erie), making “Classy 100” the first HD station in town, running only the HD-1 main channel.
And we offer a somewhat belated obituary for Andy Musser, the longtime Phillies radio voice who was in the booth from 1976 until 2001, including the team’s 198o championship run. (As we noted when Harry Kalas died, the local radio broadcasters didn’t get to call the World Series on radio back then, but Kalas and Musser did get to call the playoffs, including Mike Schmidt’s big home run.)
Musser also called games for the 76ers and the Eagles during a long career in Philadelphia sports radio. He died January 22 in suburban Wynnewood, at age 74.
*If it was a quiet week in the US, it was even more so in CANADA: the only radio headline we noticed during the week was the retirement of CBC Montreal “All in a Weekend” host Dave Bronstetter. As Montreal media blogger Steve Faguy reports, Bronstetter has been off the air for unspecified reasons since the fall, but he’ll return February 18th for a farewell show to close out a career that included many years hosting CBM (940)’s morning and afternoon drivetime local shows.