Back from California (about which more later), NYC (about which a bit more later), and buried under 19" of snow (about which the less said the better), we're back for a look at the last few weeks of radio doings in the Great Northeast, followed by an editorial view of the other big development, LPFM.
Programming on the new WMEX begins at 7 AM with business news from the Boston Business Journal, followed by an hour of Langer staple "Health and Fitness Today" with Frankie Boyer. At 10, WMEX is offering Marjorie Clapprood, returning to the air after her ouster last year from WRKO. The rest of the day continues the Boston-veteran theme, with Jerry Williams in-house at the new studios on North Washington Street in Boston, Gene Burns by satellite from San Francisco (with a 2-4 PM block intended solely for Boston), then Upton Bell, held over from the talk format's previous incarnation as WRPT 650 Ashland (which now becomes WJLT, J-Light).
We've already heard the usual carping about WMEX's lack of a night signal and about the start-up glitches that can plague any station. We tuned in ourselves (we have ways, you know...) to hear Williams and Burns already absent from the schedule, Burns due to a scheduled trip to Alaska and Williams for who-knows-what reason. And we're concerned about the lack, thus far, of any up-and-coming talk talent on WMEX, but we'll commit to this much: Between WMEX's lineup of veterans and the promotional punch of "FM Talk" WTKK, it's going to be an interesting year for WRKO...
Elsewhere in the Bay State, we're learning more about the collapse of Catholic Family Radio's deal to buy Ken Carberry's Carter Broadcasting stations. It seems nobody from CFR came to the scheduled November closing for the $15 million deal, even though Carberry had already offered two extensions. Carberry's telling the trades that he still intends to sell the station group, and he's disappointed it won't be to CFR, which he saw as an ideological soulmate. (NERW wonders if CFR perhaps spent too much on transit advertising for its KDIA Vallejo CA; we saw bus ads for the 1640 X-bander all over San Francisco!)
Waltham's WRCA (1330) is getting a new owner, as Beasley Broadcasting pays $6 million for the Spanish-language outlet. No word yet on whether changes are in store for the station, though we note that Beasley understands leased-time ethnic operations (like the company's WTEL 860 in Philadelphia).
Our condolences to family and friends of Charles "Captain Jack" Farrell, who died January 21 at age 48. Farrell made a second career out of radio sports-talk, doing his "Sports of Call" show at Quincy's WJDA and Boston's WBPS and WNRB.
And morning man R.J. Malyk is now calling Springfield's WPKX (97.9 Enfield CT) home, after leaving Cape Cod's WCIB (101.9 Falmouth). Malyk has some new morning competition in Springfield, too: WNNZ (640) has started running Don Imus, just down the dial from Imus mothership WFAN (660 New York), which puts an adequate signal into Springfield most mornings...
(NERW thinks this must be one of the larger clusters in which not one of the stations is actually licensed to the central city in the market, for whatever that's worth...)
Clear Channel's New York clusters now run seamlessly from Rochester east to Syracuse and Utica, south to Binghamton, and east again to Albany, not to mention the huge ex-Chancellor group in New York City.
While we're on the subject, Clear Channel launched its New York State news network, with reporters for WSYR and WGY filing stories to anchors based at Rochester's WHAM. Clear Channel is promising no layoffs, but the company has lost one veteran anchor/reporter: WGY's Peter Rief leaves to join ex-WGY talker Mike Gallagher on his syndicated show. Across town at CC/Albany, WXXA-TV (Channel 23) has launched a new 6:30 PM newscast, joining the Fox affiliate's existing 10 PM effort. And Clear Channel's WQBK-WQBJ and WHRL Albany have a new OM/PD: Susan Groves comes up from Columbia, South Carolina to enjoy the wintry weather in Rod Ryan's old job.
We're still not done with Albany: "Legends 1540" WPTR made its debut, at long last, January 9, kicking things off with Doris Day and "Que Sera Sera." Market veteran "Boom Boom" Brannigan is handling mornings at the Crawford standards outlet.
Moving west to Buffalo, things are changing fast in the newsrooms of Entercom's WGR (550) and WBEN (930), as the long-awaited consolidation of the stations' separate newsrooms gets underway. Entercom's strategy: make WGR the sports station and WBEN the news-talker, which means the WGR news operation obsolete. Starting Monday, WGR morning host Tom Bauerle (best known now for his, er, probing questions to Hillary Clinton last week) gets Chris "The Bulldog" Parker (formerly WBEN's night sports-talk host) as his co-host in AM drive, WGR's Clip Smith moves to WBEN in the evening, the syndicated Jim Rome show shifts from WWKB (1520) to WGR, and Kevin Keenan becomes the lone newsperson at WGR. The station's longtime news director, Ray Marks, was offered a move to afternoons at WBEN but turned it down citing family concerns. The fate of the rest of WGR's seven-person news team will be decided over the weekend. Some will move to WBEN, others will be let go, and Buffalo will join Rochester and Syracuse on the roster of one-newsroom towns, at least where commercial radio is concerned. (Though NERW thinks we ought at least to be glad that WBEN's anchors will be in Buffalo, not halfway across the state...)
As for the 50kW blowtorch on 1520, well, that's the worst part. We hear that as early as Monday, it'll become nothing more than a simulcast of one of Entercom's Buffalo FMs (either CHR WKSE 98.5 or hot AC WMJQ 102.5). What a waste...
Speaking of Buffalo news, the Queen City is about to get a 10 PM TV news war, if the rumors we're hearing are true. April 1 is the target date for WKBW's entry, via soon-to-be-duopoly partner WNGS (Channel 67). But we also hear that WB affiliate WNYO (Channel 49) is reaching out to WKBW's competitors, WGRZ and WIVB, for proposals to get a 10 o'clock entry on the air ahead of the WKBW/WNGS offering. As for the market's Fox affiliate, WUTV (Channel 29) has been a notorious holdout in the news arena, even as sister Fox station WUHF in Rochester gets ready to take its 10 PM news to an hour next month.
Back in Central NY, John Carucci is vacating the PD chair at WOWZ/WOWB in the Utica market to head west to Syracuse, where he'll take over the morning drive chair at oldies WSEN (92.1 Baldwinsville) being vacated by Skip Clark. So who replaces Carucci? J.P. Marks returns to his old job, at least on an interim basis.
Up north, Tim Martz wants to crank up the power on his WVNC (96.7 Canton) through an allocation swap. The FCC proposal would swap WVNC's 96.7 for the 102.9 of WNCQ Morristown. In their new locations, both 96.7 and 102.9 would be able to boost power from class A (6 kW) to C3 (25 kW), if the FCC approves. Another Martz entry, WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay), has been granted a move down from its mountaintop transmitter site. WYUL changes from 1.75 kW at 635 meters to a full 50 kW at 137 meters, on a new stick to be shared with another Martz station that's raising power, WVNV (96.5 Malone), just south of Malone on county road 25. (Oddly, for a station largely aimed at Canadian listeners, the directional pattern of the new WYUL would shoot mainly to the southeast, away from Canada).
Houghton College has applied for a new station on 88.1, to replace the religious service the Southern Tier school used to run on 90.3 before selling that station, WJSL Houghton, to Rochester public broadcaster WXXI.
On the call letter front: WWHW (102.1 Jeffersonville) loses founder William H. Walker's initials, becoming WDNB to match co-owned WDNH (95.3) across the state line in Honesdale PA.
To go with its new "Rock 102" name and format, WVVE (102.3 Stonington) takes on the WAXK calls; those were last seen on the CP for what's now WRIP (97.9 Windham NY).
On the TV side, veteran WPRI (Channel 12) anchor Walter Cryan will retire in March. Cryan gave up the 11 PM half of his shift last year and had been doing just the 6 o'clock show. WPRI will air a special on Cryan's career Monday night (1/31) at 8:30; NERW'd love to see a copy!
VPR still hasn't decided whether to keep WBTN(AM) in the long term, but it's also showing some sensitivity to Bennington-area listeners' concerns. In addition to installing a new transmitter for 1370, VPR will break out of the FM simulcast that began Jan. 18 for local news updates during Morning Edition, including headlines from WBTN's Ben Patten and Monday-morning commentaries from WBTN veteran Bob Harrington. Another WBTN tradition, the morning obituaries, will continue to be heard each morning at 7:49.
Meantime up in the Montpelier/Barre area, the FCC has approved a station move that will put a new 50 kW signal in the state capital. You can thank station owner John Bulmer for figuring this one out; he obtained the CP for 93.7 in Hague NY a few years back, moved it to Addison VT, then traded it for 100.9 (then WGTK) in Middlebury. With that Middlebury class A license in hand, Bulmer was then able to persuade the FCC to move 100.9 (now WWFY) to Berlin, Vermont -- as a class C2 (the equivalent of a full B) allocation! But wait -- it just gets better: Montpelier Broadcasting, aka WNCS, opposed the move, asking instead to open up a new allocation at 100.7A in Hardwick, up in the hills north of Montpelier. The FCC hates to send anyone home unhappy when there's an FM dial to be filled, so Montpelier gets its class A allocation in Hardwick -- at 105.9 instead. No word yet on when the filing window on that one will be opened...
Still not enough new FM in Vermont for you? Good, because Christian Ministries (the WCMK/WCMD folks) have been granted 91.9 in Putney, too.
In the Lakes Region, we have it on good authority that Jay Williams is selling WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) to Tele-Media, which is doing a similar oldies format just down the road on WNNH (99.1 Henniker). Could a simulcast follow? And could the much-rumored sale of Williams' last two outlets, WIZN and WBTZ in the Burlington VT market, be next? (Our sources say yes...)
New Hampshire Gospel Radio has applied for a new 91.5 in Laconia, while up north in Gorham, WXLQ's country has given way to NH Public Radio's WEVC on 107.1. And can it be true? We hear the morning show on WKBR (1250) has moved its studios from WXRV down in Haverhill into Manchester itself...
Back in Portland, we hear Hal Knight has been pulled from nights at WPOR (101.9), where he's worked for decades, to run the board for Don Imus on sister station WZAN (970).
Up in Quebec, Radio-Canada wants to add transmitters in Gaspe (90.1) and Rouyn (89.9) to its "chaiîne culturelle" (second network) service.
College and community stations in Canada will soon have some new rules to contend with. The CRTC has issued a new set of guidelines; the highlights include a requirement that at least 25% of the broadcast week be spoken-word programming and a limit of 10% hit music (30% for stations that train broadcasters). And you want to talk real LPFM? The CRTC says it'll license stations under 5 watts to colleges and universities that want to develop radio operations.
And now that we've caught up on all the little stuff that's made up three weeks of Northeast radio, it's time to tackle LPFM.
The facts of the FCC's Report and Order have already been widely distributed, and you can check them out for yourself at the FCC's site, or, thanks to Harold Hallikainen, in easy-to-read HTML.
The key points:
So what, in NERW's opinion, does it all mean? We're glad you asked...
This is clearly a decision crafted by a committee, and as with all such decisions, there's no way it can satisfy everyone. (In fairness, we're convinced the only way NAB and Eddie Fritts can be satisfied is if individual station ownership were to be banned outright, while the lunatic fringe of pirate FM wouldn't be satisfied with anything short of the FCC publicly announcing it lacks jurisdiction over LPFM.) Now that it's here, though, let's look at how it will -- and won't -- further the idea of local community broadcasting that led to its creation.
We'll start by acknowledging that the FCC did a few things right. The initial proposal for LP1000 stations would have created a completely different beast; a commercial service that would have filled the role once served by the original class A stations. There may still be a place for such allocations, but all sides agreed pretty quickly that anything above 100 watts isn't "low power," and we're glad the FCC got the message.
A hundred watts is a reasonable power for serving a small-to-medium community, as the many college and community noncomms who already use such power through grandfathered class D and small class A licenses can attest. And in a sense, LP100 is just a way to shoehorn a few more such allocations into the spectrum. It's not a panacea -- in fact, a preliminary NERW study (and remember, your editor was a history major in college, not an engineer) suggests there's not a single frequency that could be used by an LP100 in or near Boston or New York City. (It didn't HAVE to be that way, but we'll have more to say in a moment about translator protection...)
Outside those big markets, though, we've found a few promising frequencies. Now it's time to ask the big question: who'll end up with them, and what will the public get from it all?
We're a little bit concerned about the "institutional" nature of the FCC's licensing preferences. By looking to "schools, churches, and non-profit community groups" instead of individuals to operate LP100s, the FCC seems to be compelling those individuals to form organizations to apply for LPFM licenses. So far, so good...but as brand-new creations, those organizations will fall behind on the FCC's point scheme when it comes to "established community presence" (with a few notable exceptions, like Steve Provizer's Community Media Coalition in Allston -- but then, there's no open LP100 channel there!). Even where there's a strong desire and committment to create such a group, the May filing window the FCC proposes doesn't leave much time for organizers to do all the legwork they'd need to form a licensee. That leaves us with schools, universities, and churches, precisely the groups that are already operating most of the full-power noncommercial stations on the dial.
Many of the remaining "NCE" (noncommercial educational) licenses are held by national religious broadcasters, and here we find another concern. If you've been reading NERW for any length of time, you know how we feel about the abuse of the translator rules that's yielded, in some cases, hundreds of translators around the country carrying the satellite feeds of single stations in Idaho or Oregon or California. The LPFM rules don't do enough to prevent this problem from getting worse. Here's why:
First, LPFMs will have to protect existing translators. This seems contrary to the definition of translators as a secondary service. It strains the bounds of logic to accept that a satellite-fed translator (explicitly barred from originating its own programming) provides greater service to a community than a local LPFM. Even where the translator is local (like the two in Boston/Cambridge, on 96.3 and 101.3), it often occupies the only frequencies on which an LP100 could settle. On the other hand, it might not matter, because...
Second, LPFMs can, if they wish, run 24/7/365 off a satellite. Maybe we're just being paranoid here, but it's easy enough to imagine the religious translator networks working hand-in-hand with local churches to dominate the LPFM spectrum. As established local entities, the churches would have little trouble securing LPFM licenses (and in fact, many churches already serve as "home bases" for satellite-fed translators). Giving up a few hours of Sunday morning airtime for local services would be a small price to pay for the big satellite groups. (The FCC seems to think it can solve this problem by forbidding LPFMs to rebroadcast full-power stations, but the rule doesn't say an LPFM can't run the same programming that a chain's full-power stations are running, does it now?)
Of course, Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth's statement raises another question that we hope will draw some attention in the months to come. Furchtgott-Roth believes NCE radio operations should be guided by the same rules the FCC introduced to noncommercial TV in its decision on the WQEX Pittsburgh case last month. (If you weren't paying attention -- and shame on you if that's the case, because this is important stuff -- the FCC warned religious broadcaster Cornerstone TV that religious services and individual religious testimony wouldn't count as "educational" programming if Cornerstone moved its WPCB-TV from a commercial channel to WQEX's channel *16 allocation. Cornerstone subsequently pulled out of the three-way deal with public broadcaster WQED and Paxson.)
The FCC knows this one is a political firebomb -- just look at the way the National Religious Broadcasters jumped on the WQEX case -- and is being especially cautious with religious radio, so we're hesitant to hope for much of a breakthrough here. Even the NAB, which has been so very noisy about the alleged "breakdown of the FM spectrum" by the creation of LPFM, has been utterly silent about the translators that are already operating with the same powers and spacing LP100 stations would use. Hypocrisy? Looks more like fear to us. (And we'll close this portion by reiterating, as we so often do, that we are in no way opposed to religious broadcasting per se, just to the way certain religious broadcasters have tried to monopolize the spectrum to the exclusion of other voices.)
So where were we here? Oh yeah, the public. Maybe we're just being pessimistic here, but it just doesn't seem likely to us that the groups most in need of new radio voices (for instance, the Hispanic community in Rochester, the black community in Syracuse, or the Asian communities in Lowell) will be able to get organized in time to make the FCC's May filing window for LP100. Individuals look to be largely shut out, for reasons explored above. And that leaves us with schools and churches, offering what's likely to be a minor expansion at best of the existing non-comm primary and translator service. (In Rochester, for instance, that's six high school and college stations and five religious broadcasters. We need more?)
That, by the way, is the good news. The bad news comes once the initial five-day filing window closes -- because a year later, out-of-town broadcasters can begin applying for the remaining LP100 channels, on the FCC theory that anything is better than an unoccupied allocation. What can an out-of-town broadcaster do with a noncomm license that will serve a distant community? We're not sure we want to find out...and we know we don't want to watch an overburdened FCC actually try to enforce any sort of local-content rules.
What, then, of LP10? We're a little more hopeful about this service, for two reasons. First, LP10 offers the promise of open channels where they're really needed -- in inner-city neighborhoods and suburbs where LP100 channels won't fit. Second, the barriers to entry are so low: a few thousand dollars for studio and inexpensive transmitting equipment, a rooftop, and you're on your way. (Sound familiar? We used to call it Class D FM, and if that hadn't been wiped out in the seventies, we might not have needed this whole LPFM mess!)
Our hope, though, remains tempered. It's one thing to want to start a radio station. It's another thing altogether to keep that radio station running through budget crises, staff infighting (the rule of thumb here is: the smaller the station, the worse the office politics, with KPFA a notable exception), and the inevitable realization that most people would still rather listen to "the hits of today and the best of the 80s, 90s, and 70s on the official workday station with less talk and 55-minute music sweeps" than to Whatever-LP. A few brave souls will pull it off, and to them we wish only the best of luck. As for the rest, we're at least pleased to see that the FCC will require them simply to turn back the license when they're done playing with it. The 1990s were all the evidence we needed of the effects of radio profiteering and speculation, and it's nice to see that the FCC noticed, too.
What now? No doubt the NAB will go to court in another attempt to prevent the FCC from enforcing the new rules, to which we can only offer the observation that even the big broadcasters must know there's something missing in their definition of "community service" if they're this worried about a bunch of 10-watt noncommercial voices. As for what happens once the NAB loses in court, as it no doubt will (you don't win against the FCC, after all) -- well, that will be the fun part of writing NERW in 2000.
Next week, we'll look at the things we saw and heard out West and in a quick jaunt down to the Big Apple...plus all the week's radio doings from Chautauqua to Charlottetown. See you Friday!