It's rare that we lead NERW with national news instead of a local item, but the FCC stunned us just moments after last week's issue went to press with an unbelievable about-face that's left us with little doubt about what LPFM will really sound like, if it isn't stopped dead in its tracks by the pending NAB lawsuit.
You'll recall that last week's NERW editorial hailed the FCC's ruling in the WQEX/Pittsburgh case as a milestone development with potential to stop the unbridled spread of "noncommercial" religious FM and translator networks around the country, to the detriment of would-be LPFM applicants, whose new stations have to protect existing translators.
Well, it wasn't much of a milestone. Almost from the moment the ruling was issued, the religious broadcasters began beating the drums loudly against the FCC. We saw a "news" item on Pat Robertson's CBN News that more or less claimed that the FCC was trying to wipe out religious radio and TV (which of course it wasn't; the ruling never would have affected any commercial religious broadcasters and didn't even explicitly apply to radio at all). Then the politicians came on the scene, flooding the FCC with concerned letters and phone calls -- and, in the words of Commissioner Gloria Tristani (our new hero here at NERW Central), "this supposedly independent agency has capitulated to an organized campaign of distortion and demagoguery."
What the FCC did was to vote to vacate the "guidance" provided by the WQEX decision, eliminating any ability in the future to cite the concerns expressed in WQEX as a consideration in other noncomm matters. Still not clear? Check out the concurring statement from Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth: "[T]here should be no doubt that the Mass Media Bureau is unauthorized to engage in any formal or informal practice of directly reviewing the substance of stations' programming...in order to obtain licensing approval."
In short, it's up to the broadcaster to act responsibly. In a sane world, we'd be standing up in cheering -- but this is the world of broadcast deregulation at the turn of the century, and anything goes.
As an example, we offer the "Family Worship Center," licensee of WJFM Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the week after the FCC gave the green light to LPFM, knowing that existing translators will receive protection from LPFMs while future ones won't, WJFM filed for, by our count, 130 translators in just about every corner of the country. WJFM may get this week's coveted Spectrum Hog award, but it's hardly alone. KAWZ Twin Falls, already the nation's biggest translator primary, applied for 14 more; Educational Media Foundation (the K-Love folks) applied for 9; and Broadcasting for the Challenged and the Calvary Satellite Network decided to shoot for new primaries instead, with BFC filing for four new stations and CSN for seven (several of which would be in New England...read on below for the details).
The point here is this: The FCC has rolled over and pretty much admitted it's not only willing to let the big religious broadcasters get away with a massive grab of the limited noncomm spectrum, but it's also shown by its actions that it will cave readily to any pressure from the religious broadcasters' cronies on the Hill. Don't expect anything different from LPFM -- if it survives the NAB (see "Spectrum Hogs," above) and if there are any frequencies left after the onslaught of translator applications over the next few weeks.
You can check out the FCC's decision, and you can see a sampling of the past week's translator apps if you have the stomach. And before we get on with the rest of the week's news, a reminder -- again -- that NERW is not opposed to religious broadcasting in general, just to the idea that any broadcaster is entitled to the huge chunks of spectrum being carved out by the biggest translator abusers.
Off the soapbox we go...and on to:
Down the hall at Alex Langer's other Boston-market station, WJLT (650 Ashland) received some good news from the FCC: it's been approved to go to 2000 watts daytime, directional from the five towers of the WBPS (890 Dedham) array in Ashland. Langer says the move will give WJLT a very usable signal in downtown Boston, something it doesn't have with its present 250 watts from the WKOX/WMEX sticks in Framingham.
Speaking of WKOX, we have word of yet another power-increase plan from Framingham's AM 1200. It seems WKOX wants to move to the current WUNR (1600 Brookline) site on Saw Mill Brook Parkway in Newton, blasting a full 50 kilowatts (by day, anyway) down the road into Boston. We're still waiting for the actual FCC filing on this; we'll keep you posted.
The lawyers at WUMB, WZBC, and WBUR could be busy for a while: Those applications from Educational Media Foundation for new religious FMs included three in the Bay State: 91.7 in Lexington, 90.5 in Scituate, and 91.7 in Gardner. The Lexington one should be quashed by WUMB with no problem; the other two may be a bit more difficult (in fact, 91.7 was used in Gardner over at the community college for a while, albeit before WUMB put 91.9 WBPR on the air in Worcester). We'll keep you posted...
The Cape and Islands will have to wait a few more weeks for the debut of the new public radio station down there; WNAN (91.1 Nantucket)'s sign-on has been pushed back to March from the original January 31 target.
From the rumor mill: We hear Robin Young was calling her Friday morning show on WBOS her "last"; are changes afoot at 92.9? (Wait, we said we weren't going to indulge in 'BOS speculation this year...)
From the obituaries: Jim Pansullo, one of the best-known anchors at the old WEEI Newsradio 590, died Monday (1/31) in Quincy. Pansullo's Boston career dated back to 1952, when he joined the news staff at WHDH (850), adding duties at WHDH-TV (Channel 5) when that station signed on in 1957. A few years later, Pansullo moved to WEEI, where he handled everything from sports to hard news to the weekly "Topic Religion" show. Pansullo also worked for several years as color commentator on Celtics broadcasts, joining Johnny Most for memorable moments that included the "Havlicek stole the ball!" game in 1965.
Pansullo retired from WEEI when the station switched from news to sports in 1991. He had suffered numerous heart attacks and undergone several bypass operations. Pansullo was 74.
Two quick bits of Rochester TV news: WROC-TV (Channel 8) unveiled a new set and a new, very classy, on-air look on Monday. Now known as "News 8 Now," the 5, 6, and 11 shows add Kevin Doran as anchor, coming from WRTV (Channel 6) in Indianapolis. Across town at WUHF (Channel 31), "The Ten O'Clock News" expands to an hour next Monday (2/7). On the radio side in Rochester, WHAM (1180) is acknowleging its long history in an unusual way: a T-shirt featuring four historic logos, including one from the pre-NARBA 1150 days. (We hear you can get one by sending $15 to WHAM). The station's redesigned Web site, while missing niceties like a program schedule, is now touting a forthcoming live Webcast, which would be Rochester's first on the AM side.
A Syracuse correction: John Carucci is joining WSEN (92.1 Baldwinsville) for evenings, not mornings. That shift is being filled by former midday guy Gary Dunes, with Diane Wade moving from nights to middays.
More religious radio is on the way to Elmira and Corning: Family Life has been granted an 88.1 Elmira translator, W201CO, for WCII (88.5 Spencer), which is a little odd because Family Life already has its own Elmira primary, WCIH (90.3). Admittedly, the WCIH transmitter is south of the border in Pennsylvania and has problems reaching into some areas of Elmira...but still, shouldn't an Elmira translator have WCIH and not WCII as the primary? Just up I-86 in Corning, Family Worship Center's mammoth translator grab includes an application for 89.5; we wouldn't be surprised to see Geneva's WEOS (89.7) mount a challenge, and we wonder whether Binghamton's WSKG (89.3) will care, given that its signal is now heard in Corning on WSQE (91.1).
Downstate, some well-known jocks are joining WBAB (102.3 Babylon) out on Long Island. Ralph Tortora comes back to the Cox rocker for afternoons, and Donna Donna of WLIR/WDRE fame is now doing middays after a fill-in stint at New York's WAXQ. PD Eric Wellman is out; no word on a replacement.
Away from the CRTC, Canadian viewers who were watching TV via icravetv.com are out of luck for now. A temporary injunction issued by a Federal judge in Pittsburgh closed down the streaming TV service just before the Super Bowl; we'll keep you posted as the courtroom battles continue.
We'll close with one more obituary, this time on the national level: Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg died Saturday (1/29) at age 69 in Detroit, closing a four-decade career that all but defined black radio in America. Steinberg started in radio at the legendary WDIA (1070) in Memphis, moving to Detroit in 1963 to work at WCHB, then on 1440. In 1967, she moved to WJLB (1400/97.9), where she spent 48 hours on the air non-stop during the riots that summer in an attempt to calm tensions. When WJLB's owner sought to pull Steinberg's show off the music-oriented FM signal in 1982, she formed a group to buy WJLB(AM) from Booth, renaming the station WQBH ("Queen Broadcasts Here"). She bought WQBH outright in 1997. An inductee to the Black Radio Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Steinberg continued to host her daily "Inspiration Time" midday show on WQBH until just a few weeks ago. She'll be missed.
That's it for another week; we'll see you next Friday!