In this week’s issue: Family Radio returns to Philadelphia – WEEI splits AM, FM – Bob Grant takes a breather – Central Pennsylvania’s WGCB-TV sold – Translator battle in CT – Marconi Award winners
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*After nearly a year’s absence, Family Radio is returning to the radio dial in southeast PENNSYLVANIA and southern NEW JERSEY with the purchase of WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media.
A year ago, it appeared the network’s parent company, Family Stations, Inc., was nearing its own end times. The California-based religious broadcaster, once among the nation’s biggest, had spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign pushing founder Harold Camping’s warning that the apocalypse would begin in May 2011 (“It Is Guaranteed!,” boasted the billboards) and the network had put two of its big commercially-licensed signals up for sale to try to make ends meet.
By late 2011, Family had exited the Philadelphia market with the $22.5 million sale of WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ), which flipped to commercial operation as Merlin Media’s WWIQ. It appeared at the time that the network had no intention of coming back; after all, in its previous sales of commercial FM facilities in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, Family had remained on the air by purchasing or swapping for AM signals with reasonable coverage, but in Philadelphia it left the airwaves entirely. (Family’s other commercial sale in 2011 was Washington-Baltimore market WFSI-FM, which went to CBS Radio; Family already owned two Baltimore AM signals which retained the network’s programming in at least part of the former FM coverage area.)
And now that Family appears to have stabilized its finances under new management (Camping, now 91, is in poor health and largely removed from day-to-day operations there), it’s coming back to Philadelphia – and solving a bit of a quandary for Greater Media, too.
Earlier in the decade, Greater had invested millions of dollars in upgrading WPEN’s AM signal to become more competitive in the market, boosting daytime power at the station’s existing site in the Overbrook neighborhood and relocating 950’s nighttime service to the Germantown transmitter site of daytimer WWDB (860). While the technical improvements indeed made 950 available to more potential Philadelphia listeners, the future was clearly on the FM dial – and three years ago, that’s why Greater blew up top-40 “Now 97.5” (WNUW Burlington NJ) and replaced it with a WPEN-FM sports simulcast. “97.5 the Fanatic” has never quite edged out CBS Radio’s WIP (even before WIP made its own AM-to-FM move) in the ratings, but it’s been a success for Greater nonetheless, recently landing rights to 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey, should that season actually take place.
So what to do with 950? The AM signal, though branded separately as “950 AM ESPN,” was nearly a total simulcast of 97.5 – and it wasn’t even serving much of a purpose as a home for programming overflow; the Flyers, for instance, had already negotiated to have their games bumped to Greater Media rocker WMMR (93.3) in the event of a conflict with the Sixers. (Villanova University sports were AM-only, and it’s not clear where they’ll go now.)
The sale of 950 leaves Greater Media as a four-FM cluster in Philadelphia: WMMR, WPEN-FM, adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7) and classic rock WMGK (102.9). The terms of the deal haven’t yet been announced, though it appears Family won’t take control of the AM signal until closing – and it raises a few more interesting questions:
- What about New York? When it appeared Family was spiraling into financial crisis last year, the company converted a third FM signal from noncommercial to commercial license status. WFME (94.7 Newark NJ) was never openly listed for sale, but the class B signal in the New York City market was at least quietly being shopped around for a while, with signal tests being conducted to determine whether a different combination of power and antenna height might improve its signal. (For a variety of reasons, WFME can’t easily move its transmitter site from north Jersey to Manhattan.) Now that Family has once again made clear that it wants to at least retain a powerful AM presence in markets where it exits FM, could a deal still be in the works? The obvious player here is CBS Radio, which can’t add another FM to its existing three stations without shedding one of its three highly successful AMs; other potential traders might include Cumulus (WABC) or WNYC, which could offer Family both AM 820 and WQXR’s current 105.9 signal in exchange for the more powerful 94.7.
- Could WPEN be an all-digital test bed? The NAB has been rather secretive about the work of its AM Task Force, including the identity of the AM stations being considered as guinea pigs for a test to see whether all-digital operation on the medium-wave band will actually produce the sort of signal improvements (and reduction in interference to existing analog signals) promised by HD Radio’s promoters. This much we know: whatever AM signal gets tried out as a test bed will belong to one of the task force’s 14 members (of which Greater Media is one), and it will be a signal that can be easily sacrificed for the purpose. What better test bed could there be than a high-power AM, recently rebuilt to top-notch technical specs, with HD gear already in place – and one that’s about to be sold to a new owner anyway?
- Oh, and what about the WKDN calls? Family warehoused that callsign when it sold the FM station; “WKDN-FM” now graces Family’s signal in State College, formerly WXFR, and we’d expect 950 to become WKDN once the sale to Family (for terms that are as yet undisclosed) is complete.
*While Greater Media spins off its excess AM in Pennsylvania, Entercom is finding a new use for its extra AM signal in MASSACHUSETTS. It’s been just over a year since Entercom launched WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence) in the Boston market, and the rumors of a flip at WEEI (850 Boston) have been percolating almost from the moment the FM simulcast was first announced. Conventional wisdom suggested Entercom would flip 850 to a full-time ESPN Radio outlet, and conventional wisdom prevailed – once 850 was all done broadcasting the disaster that was this year’s Boston Red Sox, anyway.
The flip will happen on October 5, kicking off with a live broadcast of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” morning show from Gillette Stadium. The WEEI-ESPN deal includes a link from ESPN’s own ESPNBoston.com site to WEEI’s live streaming and from WEEI.com to ESPN’s video streaming. Entercom says the Sox will be heard in 2013 only on 93.7 in the Boston market. That’s now a pretty decent FM signal in most of the market – but we suspect that the Sox fan base (if there are any left by then!) will be registering more than a few complaints about that FM signal in areas such as the Back Bay and Newton/Needham where 93.7 can be drowned out on cheap radios by the market’s big master FM facilities, but where the 50-kilowatt 850 signal booms in loud and clear.
One more big WEEI note: whichever band it’s on, the sports station can now boast a Marconi Award, winning the “Sports Station of the Year” award at last week’s Radio Show in Dallas. (Additional NERW-land Marconi winners include WFAN’s Mike Francesa, for Major Market Personality of the Year, New York’s WBLS, for Urban Station of the Year, and Philadelphia’s WOGL, Oldies Station of the Year.)
*A few days before WEEI launches ESPN on AM 850, another Boston broadcaster will be launching a new service on a secondary channel: October 1 is the official launch date for the “MeTV” retro channel on WCVB-TV’s 5.2 subchannel in the Boston market. The arrival of “MeTV” on 5.2 will also mean its departure from its current home on WMFP (Channel 62), where owner NRJ TV says it has replacement programming in the works, though it hasn’t said just what that programming will be.
NRJ TV, in turn, was itself in the news last week with the announcement of a $9 million deal to buy WGCB-TV (Channel 49/RF 30) in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, four years after the death of station founder John L. Norris. At one time, Norris presided over an empire of religious broadcasting based at Red Lion, near York, that included AM, FM, TV and shortwave signals. The AM/FM incarnations of WGCB are now in Cumulus hands (as WGLD 1440 and WSOX-FM 96.1), and the sale of the TV station leaves Norris’ heirs with only WINB shortwave, just down the road from the WGCB-TV studio/transmitter site southeast of York.
So what becomes of WGCB-TV now? In the long run, the common wisdom (which NRJ publicly denies) is that NRJ is buying up small UHF stations around the country in hopes of cashing in down the road when the FCC’s eventual spectrum auctions allow licensees to shut down their signals in exchange for revenue from the wireless broadband providers eager for more of the UHF spectrum. In the short term, it’s likely WGCB’s existing programming will continue. NRJ continues to have a relationship with MeTV (it owns Me’s New York City-market affiliate, WZME 43 Bridgeport CT), and MeTV makes up much of WGCB’s schedule on 49.1, as well as being seen fulltime on 49.2.
Down the road in York, David Silverstein is the new news director at Tribune-owned Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43), arriving from the Pentagon Channel, where he was assistant news director. (It’s a return to the market for Silverstein, who started out at WGAL-TV over in Lancaster.)
*Bouncing back to New England once more, October 1 is the date for big schedule changes at NEW HAMPSHIRE Public TV. Beset by budget difficulties after the state pulled its $2.7 million in annual funding, NHPTV is partnering up with Boston’s WGBH to manage many of its operations, including its programming – and WGBH plans to provide New Hampshire viewers with essentially the same schedule on NHPTV’s two channels that it already runs on its own WGBH 2 and WGBX 44 channels.
When those schedule changes take effect, NHPTV will be pulled from the Massachusetts cable systems that have long carried it, while WGBH will vanish from cable in New Hampshire, making room for additional feeds of WGBH’s World, Create and Kids multicast services.
WGBH will provide its nightly “Greater Boston” public affairs show to New Hampshire viewers over NHPTV, and yes, NHPTV will continue to carry the Lawrence Welk Show on weekends over its NHPTV Explore subchannel. (Welk fans in Massachusetts will be out of luck, at least for now, and we expect they’ll let WGBH hear aboutthat…)
*A few more tidbits from New England: Port Broadcasting’s WNBP (1450 Newburyport) is back on the air via its powered-up FM translator. 90-watt W291CC (106.1) is operating from the same Amesbury tower as WNEF (91.7); it had previously held a license for two-watt operation from that same site.
Out on Martha’s Vineyard, Dennis Jackson’s WMEX (88.7) has been granted a power increase, going from 400 watts/302′ to 1.7 kW/216′.
Where Are They Now?: Kwame “KD” Dankwa just departed the PD chair at VERMONT‘s WZRT (97.1 Rutland), and now we know where he’s headed – he’s the new night guy and imaging director at Clear Channel’s KWNW (101.9 Radio Now) in Memphis.
Yes, that was former WBZ (1030 Boston) overnight legend Steve LeVeille pulling a morning shift in Portland, MAINE on Friday. Before his fill-in debut at WHOM (94.9), LeVeille suggested that it just might be the very last time he’s ever on the radio; afterward, he acknowledged it was fun, but also noted just how much he’s enjoying his retirement…
And the latest battle for space on the crowded FM dial is happening in Fairfield County, CONNECTICUT, where religious WIHS (104.9 Middletown) has long enjoyed fringe reception…at least until Red Wolf Broadcasting powered up W285DE (104.9 Bridgeport) as a relay of its Spanish-language “La Bomba” (WMRQ 104.1-HD2). WIHS submitted three interference complaints to the FCC over the summer (including one from a listener across Long Island Sound and one, apparently from the station’s own chief engineer, alleging interference to mobile reception), and now the Commission has directed Red Wolf to report back within 30 days on a resolution to those complaints.
There’s a change of radio news providers on the AM dial in Fairfield County: WICC (600 Bridgeport) has switched from IRN-USA News to ABC Entertainment (which only makes sense, considering that WICC owner Cumulus now distributes ABC Radio News as well); Cumulus has also replaced CBS Radio News with ABC on WKNY (1490 Kingston NY).
*Radio People on the Move in NEW YORK: Steve Giuttari departed Clear Channel Poughkeepsie over the summer to become operations manager at Townsquare Media in Albany – and now recently-departed Townsquare Albany PD Terry O’Donnell has reversed the trip, joining Clear Channel in Poughkeepsie as PD of WRNQ (92.1 Lite FM, where he’ll also do afternoons), WPKF (96.1 Kiss FM) and WKIP (1450)/WJIP (1370). What becomes of current PD Chris Marino? He gets promoted to Giuttari’s old job, becoming operations director for the entire cluster; he’ll also continue to program WRWD/WRWB and WBWZ and do afternoons on WPKF.
*WGBH and NHPTV aren’t the only public broadcasters shuffling their schedules in the region. In New York City, WNYC’s decision to move “The Takeaway” from morning production to middays was just the beginning of some bigger changes at AM 820 and FM 93.9. “Morning Edition” is now simulcast on both services beginning at 6:30 AM, with “Takeaway” moving from morning drive on AM 820 to 9 AM on 820 and 3 PM on 93.9. On weekday evenings, 93.9 has made its 9 PM carriage of the CBC’s “Q with Jian Ghomeshi” permanent after a summer tryout. And on weekends, the big (and so far, most controversial) change finds Jonathan Schwartz’s Saturday standards show moving from its longtime noon-4 PM slot on 93.9 to the 8 PM-midnight slot. (And WNYC evidently avoided some controversy by reversing plans to remove the late Danny Stiles from his Saturday night slot on AM 820; tracks from the “Vicar of Vintage Vinyl” continue to be heard from 8-10 PM on the AM station for the time being.)
*Love him or hate him, Bob Grant is one of the legendary voices of talk radio in New York City, so the reports that his health issues might be causing him to hang up the headphones at WABC (770) caused some excitement last week. As it turns out, the 83-year-old Grant isn’t retiring from his Sunday afternoon shift after all, though he’s reportedly planning to take a month or so off.
Grant, interestingly, isn’t in the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but when the Hall grows by six inductees next month, his former WOR colleague Joan Hamburg will be one of them. Hamburg, who’s still heard in middays on WOR, will be honored for her four decades on the air in New York City. Scott Shannon, morning man at WPLJ (and before that at Z100) will be inducted for his three decades shaking up New York radio. Len Berman gets in for his long career in sports, most recently as sports director at WNBC (Channel 4). Mike Wallace will be inducted posthumously for his even longer career, which included a long stint in local New York TV before he became an iconic face of “60 Minutes.” And two retiring upstate TV icons will be inducted as well at next month’s ceremony in New York City: Jackie Robinson just signed off at Syracuse’s WSTM (Channel 3) and Rich Funke calls it a career later this fall at Rochester’s WHEC (Channel 10).
Speaking of WSTM, it reworks its news schedule rather dramatically this week: starting this morning, “Today in CNY” will take the Channel 3 airwaves at 4 AM, an hour earlier than its previous 5 AM start time and a half-hour earlier than the 4:30 AM start time at WSYR-TV (Channel 9). The shift to an earlier start also means an earlier end to the morning crew’s day at CNY Central – which means no more noon newscast on WSTM or sister station WTVH (Channel 5).
Translators in the News: Holy Family Communications’ Catholic station, WHIC (1460 Rochester), signed on its new FM relay last week from Pinnacle Hill. 250-watt W225AR (92.9) was actually picking up the AM signal over the air when we stopped by for a visit, but it was still in the process of completing its buildout from what’s now a fairly crowded American Tower site on the hill (also home to WUHF-TV, Entercom’s WCMF/WPXY and now Clear Channel’s WKGS as well!) Over in Buffalo, W207BG (89.3 Grand Island) is moving to 89.1 (as W206CA) now that Family Life Network’s WCOM (89.3 Silver Creek) is on the air and owning that channel across much of western New York; the Grand Island translator relays religious WXHL from Delaware.
*A little Buffalo radio history? The Buffalo Broadcasters Association inducted six more members of its Hall of Fame Thursday night at the usual gala ceremony at the WNED studios.
This year’s nominees included longtime Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret, veteran photojournalist Bill Cantwell, longtime WGR (550) talent Mike Roszman, MaryLynn Ryan, Tom Calderone, and newsman Lee Coppola, who became dean of the journalism school at St. Bonaventure University. The ceremony also marked the 50th anniversary of Buffalo’s 106.5 FM, now WYRK but for many years beautiful music WADV – and the WADV days at the Rand Building have now been chronicled in a wonderful history website at www.wadv-fm.org.
(Two of the state’s Channel 13s are also celebrating their 50th anniversaries this month: Rochester’s WHAM-TV, formerly WOKR, put on its “13 Stories in 50 Years” special last week and is streaming it on its website, and New York public broadcaster WNET is doing a multi-part “Pioneers of THIRTEEN” series.)
*After some very busy weeks for CANADA‘s broadcasting regulators, this was a quiet one: the only action from the CRTC this week involved CKBG (107.3 Middle Musquodoboit NS), which signed on two years ago but has already signed off for what licensee Paul Blackmore calls “economic reasons.” Blackmore asked the CRTC to revoke CKBG’s license, and it has obliged that request.
*You can be one of the first readers to own the 2013 Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.
The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.
This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We’ve also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don’t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding — your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.
Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you’re at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.
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