In this week”s issue: Nassau bankruptcy auction brings new owners to NJ, New England – Analyzing Townsquare”s new holdings – Clear Channel shifts more Rochester signals – Boston TV antenna coming down – Rogers adds Montreal TV
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*If there was a poster child for all the woes that were visited on small-market radio by the combination of ownership-cap deregulation and speculative investment, it was probably Nassau Broadcasting. Over the course of just a few years, Nassau exploded from a small NEW JERSEY-based operator with a handful of heritage stations in the Princeton/Trenton area into the largest station owner (at least by number of signals) in New England, entering markets as small as White River Junction and as large as Boston.
Then, of course, it all came crashing down: after holding off creditors by selling some assets (most notably Boston-market WCRB 99.5), Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti was finally unable to avoid the pressure of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in debt. Last October, Nassau filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and last Thursday the winning bids in the company”s liquidation auction were opened.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the remaining Nassau assets in the 2012 marketplace aren”t nearly enough to make a significant dent in what Nassau owed its creditors, led by Goldman Sachs – and indeed, bids for some of the stations weren”t even high enough to exceed the bidding credits Goldman itself applied in the auction to secure its interests.
At least until a judge considers objections to the auction results (expected to happen later today), here”s how this all appears to be shaking out:
*The gem of Nassau”s remaining holdings was probably its Trenton FM signal, heritage top-40 WPST (94.5), a class B facility that would have paired nicely with Townsquare”s other Trenton B, “New Jersey 101.5” WKXW. Townsquare reportedly offered $16 million for WPST, but that wasn”t enough for Goldman Sachs, which bid $22 million as a “credit bid” and is hanging on to WPST for now, along with sister AM signals WCHR (920 Trenton) and WNJE (1040 Flemington), for which Goldman entered a $700,000 credit bid.
Goldman also used a credit bid of $14 million to keep classic rock WODE (99.9 Easton) and its sister AM signals (WEEX 1230/WTKZ 1320) in the fold, fending off an $11 million bid from Cumulus, which hoped to augment the two-station Lehigh Valley cluster (WCTO 96.1/WLEV 100.7) it recently picked up from Citadel. Also staying in Goldman”s fold for now are the Nassau stations in the Poconos – WSBG (93.5), WWYY (107.1), WVPO (840) and WPLY (960).
(NERW notes that it”s not in Goldman”s long-term interest to continue operating radio stations, so it”s reasonable to assume that negotiations will soon be underway, if they”re not already, to see if Townsquare and Cumulus are interested in edging up from what were presumably low-ball bids for those stations.)
*On Cape Cod, veteran Massachusetts broadcaster John Garabedian is getting back into the game with a $2.7 million bid for rocker “Pixy” WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) and the “Frank” adult hits pair of WFRQ (101.1 Mashpee)/WFQR (93.5 Harwich Port). The move returns Garabedian to one of his early broadcast haunts – back in the late 1970s, he put WGTF (93.5 Nantucket) on the air, the ancestor of what”s now WEII (96.3 Dennis).
*The rest of Nassau”s New England clusters are spread across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and nearly all of those stations appear to be headed to a new ownership group that includes one of the principals of the old Vox group. Back in 2004, when station values were hitting record highs, Vox pulled in more than $31 million in three separate sales that formed the core of Nassau”s holdings in Vermont and New Hampshire – so it was remarkable that the winning bid unsealed Thursday was just $12.5 million for most of those stations, plus the bulk of Nassau”s Maine signals.
That winning bidder is a partnership between former Vox principal Jeff Shapiro and Bill Binnie, the New Hampshire politician-turned-broadcaster who”s been building a TV network in New Hampshire based at WBIN-TV (Channel 50) in Derry. Assuming the deal doesn”t get slowed down by any objections in court today, Shapiro and Binnie will end up with Vermont radio clusters in Montpelier-Barre (WSNO 1450/WWFY 100.9/WORK 107.1), the Upper Valley (WHDQ 106.1/WFYX 96.3/WWOD 104.3/WXLF 95.3/WZLF 107.1/WTSV 123o), Rutland (WEXP 101.5/WTHK 100.7) and way up north in Newport (WIKE 1490/WMOO 92.1). In New Hampshire, Binnie and Shapiro get Nashua”s WFNQ (106.3), Concord”s WNHW (93.3)/WJYY (105.5) and three Lakes Region signals (WEMJ 1490/WLNH 98.3/WLKZ 104.9). But the real prize may be in Maine, where that $12.5 million appears to also include two big Portland signals (WTHT 99.9/WFNK 107.5), plus relays of those stations” “Wolf” country and “Frank” classic rock formats (WBQQ 99.3 Kennebunk, WBYA 105.5 Islesboro), plus “Bone” rock WHXR (106.3) in Portland, plus two AMs (WLVP 870 Gorham/WLAM 1470 Lewiston), plus the northern two-thirds of the classical “W-Bach” network (WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor/WBQX 106.9 Thomaston).
The southern link in the “W-Bach” chain, WBQW (104.7 Kennebunkport), is headed to a new company called “Mainstream Media” with a $150,000 bid, while there”s a $250,000 bid to convert Catholic WXTP (106.7 North Windham) from an LMA to ownership by The Presence Radio Network.
We”ll have updates during the week here and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds as these deals make their way through the bankruptcy court process and we learn more about what the buyers have in store for these signals…stay tuned.
*After many months without many big radio deals to report, last week actually brought two of them: even before the fate of Nassau”s stations began to emerge, another group owner with a big presence in MAINE announced its plans to exit most of the Pine Tree State.
When Cumulus swallowed Citadel, it seemed to create an almost perfect storm of Maine radio: Citadel”s big Portland signals (WHOM, WCYY, WJBQ, WBLM) combined with the smaller Citadel clusters in Augusta and Presque Isle and with the Cumulus cluster in Bangor to put the merged Cumulus pretty much everywhere in Maine where there”s anyone listening to the radio.
But the massive reach of the new Cumulus (including some very big-market clusters in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas) is apparently making some of the merged companies” smallest markets redundant – which is why Cumulus struck a deal last week to send more than 55 of its smaller stations in 13 markets to Townsquare Media in exchange for two Illinois clusters and $116 million in cash.
While Portland stays with Cumulus, Townsquare is making its first move into New England with the rest of the Cumulus/Citadel Maine holdings. In Augusta, that”s top-40 WMME (92.3), country WEBB (98.5) and oldies WJZN (1400)/WTVL (1490). In Bangor, it”s soft AC WEZQ (92.9), classic hits WWMJ (95.7), country WQCB (106.5), top-40 WBZN (107.3) and standards WDEA (1370 Ellsworth). Up north in Presque Isle, it”s adult hits WQHR (96.1), country WBPW (96.9) and rock WOZI (101.9).
And Maine isn”t the only state in NERW-land where Cumulus is dealing away a non-core market. In Massachusetts, Citadel”s two New Bedford stations (top-40 “Fun” WFHN 107.1 Fairhaven and news-talk WBSM 1420) always functioned at a remove from the company”s much bigger cluster in nearby Providence. The Providence stations stay with Citadel, but the New Bedford pair go to Townsquare for the company”s first Bay State toehold.
And in upstate New York, Citadel”s not keeping the Binghamton cluster it inherited from Citadel – so you can add talk WNBF (1290), sports WYOS (1360), market-dominant country WHWK (98.1), classic rock WAAL (99.1) and top-40 WWYL (104.1) to the Townsquare fold as well.
For Townsquare, the deal makes a tremendous amount of sense: smaller markets like Binghamton and Bangor are exactly what the company specializes in. New Bedford and the Maine markets bring Townsquare into a new territory (its closest cluster to New England until now has been Albany), but they do so in a way that creates some critical mass from the beginning. In both Bangor and Augusta, Townsquare”s chief competition will be the smaller Blueberry clusters, though Stephen King is also a player in Bangor. In Binghamton, the soon-to-be-Townsquare stations will lose some operational efficiencies that have come from sharing services with former Citadel clusters in nearby Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – but they”ll gain connections with Townsquare clusters in Utica and Albany.
(The rest of the Cumulus markets going to Townsquare are scattered widely around the country – from Tuscaloosa to Sioux Falls to Grand Junction.)
*Here in Rochester, it”s been a busy week for the Clear Channel cluster, which kicked off a round of format shuffling last Monday at noon with the launch of a younger-leaning classic rock format called “The Brew” on what had been its older-skewing classic rocker, “95.1 The Fox” (WFXF Honeoye Falls).
“The Brew” may be new to Rochester, but it”s not new to Clear Channel – the format started in 2004 in Milwaukee on Clear Channel”s 97.3 signal, which had been doing adult contemporary as “Light 97” WLTQ. The Milwaukee station changed calls to WQBW, shot to the top of the ratings, and spawned other Clear Channel “Brew” entries in markets such as Omaha, Oklahoma City, Columbus and Seattle. Ironically, Milwaukee”s original “Brew” didn”t survive tough competition with three other rockers, flipping to top-40 as WRNW, “Radio Now” in 2010 – and freeing up the WQBW calls to eventually land on the Rochester-market Brew in place of the old WFXF calls. Here in Rochester, the younger target of “the Brew” appears to be squarely aimed at Entercom”s WBZA (98.9 the Buzz), which has seen considerable ratings success aiming its rock format at younger male listeners.
For now at least, Rochester”s “Brew” remains a split-personality station just like the “Fox” was: until 10:30 in the morning, it”s the home base for Brother Wease and his crew; after that, the signal is mostly automated, boasting “ten commercial-free hours a day” and promising to eventually add some personalities. (About that 10:30 end time for Wease: it was 11:00 in the “Fox” days, and the flip to “Brew” also appears to mean the end, at least for now, of the Saturday show that was heavy on Wease”s favorite “longhair” classic rock.)
Our colleague Lance Venta over at RadioInsight.com was the first to pick up on the “951thebrew.com” domain registration, and he noted early on that it coincided with several other Clear Channel domain registrations, including “RushRochester.com,” “HitsRochester.com” and “OldiesRochester.com.” Over the weekend, it became clear where the last of those is headed: on Saturday morning, Clear Channel pulled the plug on the FM side of its sports simulcast, WHTK (1280 Rochester)/WHTK-FM (107.3 South Bristol), with a short loop on the FM directing listeners to “WHTK Sports 1280” to keep hearing Fox Sports, Jim Rome, Red Wings baseball and the local John DiTullio talk show.
Having lasted two and a half years, the WHTK-FM simulcast was actually one of the more stable formats in the relatively brief, turbulent history of the 107.3 signal, which has boasted nine callsigns and at least eleven formats since Clear Channel”s predecessor, Jacor, bought the station in 1998. As a sports companion to 1280, it seemed to us that the rimshot 107.3 signal had finally found a decent reason for being: after being moved to the southeastern edge of the market in 2001 to allow for a big upgrade to the bigger 95.1 facility, 107.3″s 650-watt/994″ class A signal from Bristol Mountain became one of the weakest in the market – but its coverage of Ontario County and the affluent southeastern Rochester suburbs nicely complemented the 1280 signal, which goes directional at night with a deep null to the southeast toward co-channel WADO in New York.
So what”s next for 107.3? In the decade before it went sports, its jaunt around the “wheel of formats” (which was itself a stunt format used on the signal at one point!) seemed to serve two purposes – at times, it launched new formats that eventually migrated to better Clear Channel signals in town (both top-40 “Kiss,” now on WKGS 106.7, and the “Fox” format and WFXF calls that moved to 95.1 started on 107.3); at other times, it was used as a flanker to shave some ratings away from stations in competing clusters.
The “Country 107” format that ran from 2007-2009 targeted Entercom”s WBEE-FM (92.5), and it appears the next competitor in 107.3″s sights is DJRA Broadcasting”s oldies WLGZ-FM (Legends 102.7), which has drawn surprisingly high ratings in recent years despite its own fairly small class A directional signal.
After running a loop all weekend pointing sports listeners to 1280, 107.3 is relaunching today as “Oldies 107.3,” with a requested new callsign of WODX, proclaiming itself “Rochester”s ONLY oldies station,” up against WLGZ”s “Biggest hits in the history of the world.”
(NERW notes that one element in WLGZ”s success is the roster of local, live jocks that has helped the small station forge a strong connection to its listeners; based on the history of 107.3 so far, it seems highly unlikely the new WODX will follow suit. The new OldiesRochester.com website shows only “Coming Soon” for DJs.)
Monday morning update: The new format launched at 9 AM, promoting “Rochester”s Motown soul and great rock and roll.”
*In Syracuse, there will be a new play-by-play voice for the Syracuse Crunch hockey team this fall on WSKO (1260). CNYRadio.com reports Jason Lockhart”s two-year run with the team came to an end when the Crunch exited the AHL playoffs last week. Next year will find Lockhart announcing games for another minor-league team in San Francisco, not far from the Bakersfield arena where he”d been working before coming to the Crunch in 2010. So far, no replacement has been named in Syracuse.
*In New York City, YMF is adding more content from the former “Kiss 98.7” (WRKS) to its weekend lineup at WBLS (107.5). Perhaps the biggest weekend name to move over as part of YMF”s acquisition of the Kiss intellectual property is Bob Slade, who was with WRKS even before it became “Kiss” 31 years ago. His “Open Line” show will move to WBLS from 10 AM-noon on Sundays, followed from noon-3 PM by Felix Hernandez”s “Rhythm Revue.” Also moving over is Fred “Buggsy” Buggs, who will be on WBLS Saturdays from 10 AM-2 PM in the slot recently made open by the death of Brian Carter.
*More Radio People on the Move in New York City: Mark Austin Thomas is inbound from Los Angeles to become the new VP/news director at Merlin”s struggling WEMP (FM News 101.9), where he replaces Doug O”Brien. Thomas has worked as a news anchor or news director at almost every major radio newsroom in Los Angeles, including KFI, KNX, KABC, KLAC, KPCC and “Marketplace.”
Over at CBS Radio, Chris Cole has exited as imaging director at WXRK (92.3 Now FM); no replacement has been named.
*And you can subtract one low-power FM signal from the Empire State roster: SUNY Oneonta has returned the license for WUWO-LP (104.7 Oneonta) for cancellation. The LPFM became redundant once SUNY Oneonta”s public radio operation, WUOW, completed its move from 104.7 to a new full-power signal on 88.5 (augmented by an Oneonta translator on 91.3.)
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, they”re getting ready for a massive repair project at the Needham tower where a master digital TV antenna failed more than a month ago. The master antenna, mounted 1300 feet up at the top of the tower, carried DTV signals for WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30), WCVB (Channel 5/RF 20), WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43), and for the last few weeks those stations have been using the lower master antenna, normally home to WGBH-TV (Channel 2/RF 19), while WGBH has been borrowing WCVB”s backup antenna much lower on the tower.
Now it”s time to bring down the failed antenna so it can be shipped back up to Dielectric in Maine for repair or replacement, and our colleague Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us sends along this picture showing two new auxiliary antennas that just recently appeared on the tower, apparently to keep all the tower”s users on the air while workers are up by the top antennas. (Notice the man lift that”s also perched on the side of the tower now?)
Stay tuned – we expect to have some dramatic photos soon of the difficult and dangerous work up at the top of the tower to remove the damaged antenna and carefully lower it to the ground…
*Karen Blake is getting a new co-host in morning drive on CBS Radio”s WODS (103.3 Boston), two years after going solo with the departure of Chris Zito. The new “Breakfast Club with John and Karen” will pair Blake with another Boston-market veteran, John Laurenti, who”d worked for WODS” sister station WZLX (100.7) before going noncommercial three years ago as music director at WUMB-FM (91.9 Boston).
*There”s a new translator coming to southeast CONNECTICUT as part of the FCC”s slow clearing-out of the massive backlog from its 2003 filing window. The long freeze on thousands of those applications is finally thawing, and last week the FCC granted Red Wolf Broadcasting”s application for 99.5 in New London, tossing out objections filed way back in 2004 by Greater Media (which then owned WKLB-FM 99.5 in the Boston market), Cox (WPLR 99.1 New Haven) and Citadel (which then owned WSKO-FM 99.7 in the Providence market). It turns out that in 2011, the FCC actually called one of the WSKO-FM listeners cited by Citadel – only to find out that since the station flipped to talk WEAN a few years earlier, he “no longer listens to it” and thus wouldn”t be affected by any interference from the new translator, W258BI.
(NERW notes that the Citadel objections to the Red Wolf translator application back in 2004 touched off a long legal battle in which Red Wolf challenged Citadel”s “lack of candor” for allegedly failing to reveal that some of the objectors were relatives or friends of Citadel employees.)
*And there”s another translator battle brewing in the Nutmeg State: now that Clear Channel has WUCS (97.9 Windsor Locks) operating in the Hartford market as “ESPN 97.9,” it”s apparently trying to get a co-channel translator moved. As the callsign indicates, W250AA (97.9 Naugatuck) is a fairly old translator, bringing the programming of Portuguese-language WFAR (93.3 Danbury) to the Waterbury area since at least 1992. But translators are secondary service, no matter how well-established, and WUCS is now soliciting listener interference reports right on the front page of its website in an effort to make the case that the translator is impinging on its signal.
*It was a big week in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, too, including a second major play-by-play move from one of Philadelphia”s four big franchises. Hot on the heels of the 76ers shifting their playoff games (and their next few seasons of regular-season play) from CBS Radio”s WIP to Greater Media”s WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington), the Flyers announced they”ll follow suit next season. That move opens up the same potential for conflict that plagued both teams when they were sharing WIP”s airwaves; under the new deal with Greater Media, the Sixers will have priority on WPEN”s FM signal, with conflicting Flyers games heard on WPEN (950) and Greater Media rocker WMMR (93.3).
In addition to guaranteeing an FM berth for every game of Philly”s big four teams, the shift puts WPEN-FM on a more equal play-by-play footing with WIP-FM: CBS has the Phillies all summer and the Eagles all winter, while WPEN-FM gets the Sixers and Flyers to fill out its play-by-play roster in every season but summer. And if WPEN is still playing second fiddle to WIP in ratings and visibility, the Flyers and Sixers at least get a new radio home where they won”t end up as second fiddle to the Phillies for much of their seasons.
*Now that its “Hannity 106.9” stunt has run its course, Merlin Media”s new WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ) has begun rolling out its regular program schedule. Veteran Philadelphia news anchor (and frequent magnet for controversy) Larry Mendte has signed on as the morning man for what we can now confirm will be a talker called “IQ 106.9,” as we”d suspected.
Mendte”s 5-9 AM co-anchor (again, as widely suspected) will be WWIQ PD Al Gardner, and the follow-up from 9-noon will be Glenn Beck, whose show has lacked a full-market Philadelphia clearance for the last few years. Hannity will continue to be heard from 3-6 PM – and that, of course, leaves a conspicuous noontime gap that”s still widely believed to be the future Philadelphia broadcast home of Rush Limbaugh, soon to exit the WPHT (1210) lineup after many years on the CBS Radio talker.
Monday update: Though Mendte”s homemade YouTube video posted Sunday appeared to promise a Monday-morning launch, the “Hannity 106.9” stunt rolled on through morning drive; we”re hearing Beck”s show did launch on schedule at 9, however.
*Almost exactly a year to the day after Rick Rambaldo and Dave Hallman”s First Channel Broadcasting submitted the winning bid for 92.7 in the Erie market, they now have a construction permit for the station. The Lawrence Park-licensed class A signal plans to run 6 kW/10″ DA, an unusual set of parameters that reflects the tight allocation situation into which the station is wedged: it has to put a deep directional notch to the north to avoid interfering with co-channel CJBX across the lake in London, Ontario, and it needs to serve Erie as well as its city of license, a small suburb just east of the city. To make it work, the new 92.7 will land atop an apartment building right on the lakeshore just west of downtown Erie, throwing full power over the city to the south and east while putting the directional null entirely over water.
It”s not yet clear when the new signal will make it to air, or what format veteran Erie broadcaster Rambaldo will put there.
(One more Erie note that we”d missed: PressandTower.com reports the old WSEE-TV Channel 35 studio building at 1220 Peach Street in downtown Erie has been demolished, leaving an empty lot. Want to see what it looked like just as WSEE was moving in with new sister station WICU-TV? We chronicled it on Tower Site of the Week back in 2009.)
*Just across the state line, a big “welcome back” to our colleague over at Ohio Media Watch. After a long hiatus, the “Mighty Blog” is back in action covering the radio and TV doings in Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown (and even Ashtabula every now and again), and we”re hoping this time OMW is back to stay.
*The big story from CANADA this week is a TV station sale in Montreal, where Rogers is buying CJNT (Channel 62/RF 49) from Channel Zero.
Montreal”s smallest (mostly) English-language TV station has been through a few turbulent years, going from WIC (as an ethnic broadcasters) to Canwest (as part of the “CH” independent network) and then nearly shutting down when Canwest pulled the plug on its “E!” network stations in 2009. Canwest ended up selling CJNT, along with sister stations CHCH in Hamilton, to Channel Zero for just $12 and the assumption of the stations” debt. A third “CH”/E! station, CHEK in Victoria, went to a local ownership group out there.
In the three years since the sale to Channel Zero, CJNT has rebranded as “Metro 14” (its cable channel number), mixing independent fare with the ethnic programming it”s still required to carry as part of its conditions of license.
Rogers” takeover of CJNT (for an amount jokingly said to be “more than double” the $12 Channel Zero paid) will make the station the easternmost link in the “CityTV” brand that Rogers has expanded since acquiring the original City stations in a spinoff from Bell”s purchase of CHUM Limited. (Confused yet? That”s the whole story of Canadian broadcast conglomeration in recent years…)
The new “CityTV Montreal” will end up including some content from another Rogers brand as well, using some of the “OMNI.TV” multicultural programming originating at CFMT/CJMT in Toronto. At least for now, CJNT still has to air 14 hours of local ethnic programming, a requirement Montreal media critic Steve Faguy with reruns of programming produced back in the Canwest days. (Faguy also notes that even before the sale goes to the CRTC for approval, Channel Zero plans to affiliate CJNT with the CityTV network beginning in June.)
A Quebec presence for CityTV, coupled with Rogers” rebranding of the former Saskatchewan educational TV network as City, will leave only Atlantic Canada out of the City network, and Rogers officials say they”re working on that gap as well, with hope for a resolution in the next year or two.
*An odd format change from Brantford, Ontario: CKPC (1380) is still calling itself “Country 1380,” but from 1-7 PM weekdays, the Evanov station is now carrying “very easy-listening Christian music.”