The move itself is no surprise, at least if you've been reading NERW for a few years now, but the timing is.
Some history, first (with more to come on Wednesday at Tower Site of the Week): Four years after pioneering FM station WMNE (ex-W1XER, one of FM inventor Edwin Armstrong's initial sites) shut down, Mount Washington returned to the airwaves, on August 31, 1954, with the first broadcast of WMTW-TV, licensed to Poland Spring, Maine, some 48 miles away.
From its lofty perch 6,288 feet above sea level (at the base of the tower), WMTW-TV reached not only its intended market of Portland; it also served a wide swath of western Maine, northern New Hampshire, northern Vermont and southern Quebec that would otherwise be without TV service for many years. For decades, WMTW-TV would be the ABC outlet for places as distant as Burlington, Vermont and Montreal.
The advent of cable and digital television began to erode the advantages of broadcasting from such a height, though. When WMTW was granted its digital TV construction permit on channel 46, it was clear that a DTV signal would not reach Portland from Mount Washington with any reliability and the die was cast for a new tower just down the road from the existing WCSH-TV (Channel 6) site northwest of Portland for WMTW-DT.
Add into the equation the immense costs of operating a transmitter at a site that's accessible by road for only a few months of the year and must be staffed full-time by live-in crews through the brutal winter months, not to mention the approaching end of the lease on the mountaintop land used by WMTW-TV, and it also made sense to move the NTSC operation from the mountain down to the new DTV site.
While Portland-area viewers will notice little change in their WMTW-TV service, the move is causing some interesting side effects in the North Country. Cable systems in places like Berlin, Gorham and Lancaster all used WMTW-TV as their ABC affiliate, but they won't receive service from the new Sebago Lake site.
And that, in turn, ends up being very good news for Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR-TV (Channel 9), which has long operated two LPTVs in the North Country. W27BL in Berlin and WMUR-LP (Channel 29) in Littleton carried WMUR newscasts, but were barred from carrying WMUR's ABC programming because of WMTW-TV. With channel 8 gone from the area, both signals (which dropped Fox late last year and were running only the local newscasts) will begin carrying the full WMUR schedule to North Country broadcast and cable viewers this week.
The move leaves one big question unanswered: what will become of the two radio stations that use the mountaintop site? WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington, the former WMTW-FM) and WPKQ (103.7 North Conway) both depend on the power generated by WMTW-TV and on WMTW's engineers to keep the transmitters running through the long, cold winter months. The Mount Washington Observatory, too, depends on WMTW's power to make its observations (including 200+ mile-per-hour wind gusts!)
NERW suspects WPKQ's community change a few years ago, moving from Berlin to North Conway, was meant to position the station for a move to the valley south of the mountain should the top become unavailable; the relay of Dover's WOKQ sells its advertising mainly in the North Conway area and no longer sells on the coverage it still has out to Portland.
WHOM's situation is more of a challenge; it identifies as "Mount Washington-Portland" and has long operated from studios in Portland. We suspect it would attempt to move to the new WMTW-TV tower or a similar site near Portland if it can't stay on the mountain; that, though, would require a community change.
In any event, it's the end of a long, proud tradition in New England broadcasting. NERW salutes the engineers who have kept WMTW on the air through the worst of conditions up on "the Rock," and in particular Marty Angstrom, who spent decades up there as not only an engineer but a colorful on-air personality, reporting on the weather up there with the thickest New England accent imaginable.
A new guyed steel tower may deliver a stronger signal to Portland, but there's no way it can compare with the romance of the Rock.
(LATE UPDATE: WMTW signed on the new transmitter on Tuesday afternoon. Much more next week...)
On a much less graceful note, we hear WHOB (106.3 Nashua) and night jock Donnie White have parted ways after the latter reportedly posted a far-too-revealing photo on the Web. (What was that about "a face for radio"?)
And did we mention WMTW-TV is moving its transmitter? Guess so...
(Alas, only those within range of the WBCN signal were able to hear Gil and Gino's call of the game; NFL rules restrict home-team coverage to flagship stations only, so the rest of New England had to listen to the Westwood One network coverage.)
The Pats' win will be one of the last big stories to be covered on Fox Sports New England's late-night "Regional Sports Report." Budget cuts at the regional network mean FSNE's 10 PM and weekend reports will be cancelled at the end of this week, leaving only the 6:30 PM show. Among the job cuts: anchors Eric Frede and John Holt.
Radio One isn't off the hook with the FCC over an inspection at WBOT (97.7 Brockton) in March 2000 that found the station lacking a public file, an operations log and a working EAS unit. The company appealed a $21,500 Notice of Apparent Liability, saying it had just purchased the station (formerly WCAV) five months earlier; the FCC rejected that appeal this week, saying the company "should be well aware of its responsibility" as a group owner of long standing.
Radio People on the Move: Veteran Boston jock Neal Robert joins WBOS (92.9 Brookline) in the afternoon slot last held by Jack Lawrence. Across town at WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), Skip Kelly is switching coasts, leaving the late night slot at Kiss 108 to go to Los Angeles and evenings at KYSR (98.7). And former New England programmer John Frawley (WBZ, etc.) gets promoted from VP/Broadcast Operations at Shadow/Metro Networks to senior VP/Broadcast Operations...congratulations! Meanwhile, AllAccess reports Jay Bailey has left his post as operations manager at Worcester talker WORC (1310).
The Calvary Satellite Network folks have modified their application for a 91.7 signal in Gardner, and in a very strange way indeed. The original application, filed back in January 2000, called for 630 watts at 161 meters from a site near Mount Wachusett, with a directional antenna nulled to the south and pointing north towards Gardner. This week, though, CSN filed an amended application - and the new site is a good 35 miles to the south, not far from Old Sturbridge Village and a long way from Gardner. We don't think the proposed 880 watts at 138 meters will do much to reach Gardner from the new site, and we're wondering if there's not a typo somewhere in the coordinates...
Finally, though we don't often report on unlicensed broadcasters here, we need to tip our hat to "EBRadio," which served a small East Boston neighborhood with a part 15 micro-signal since February 1995. After moving from 101.3 to 97.9 to 89.3, EBRadio pulled the plug on its broadcast signal last Saturday night, as its owner relocates from the neighborhood and spectrum space gets ever more crowded. The good news? We're told the station will soon be back as a Webcaster, via radiodestiny.com.
Up in the New Haven area, WQUN (1220 Hamden) is getting ready to replace its two towers at the top of Denslow Hill Road. We saw the pieces of the new tower when we stopped by in December; now we can tell you they'll be put into place, one at a time, in April or May. WQUN will operate non-directionally with 160 watts as each of its existing towers is taken down.
On the TV side, Connecticut Public Television's WEDN (Channel 53) in Norwich will be powering down a bit as it moves to a new tower at its site in Bozrah, just a bit northwest of the current tower. WEDN will drop from 794 kW visual (at 207 meters) to 630 kW visual (at 204 meters) when the new stick, which will also accomodate WEDN-DT (Channel 45) goes up.
The winds of change continued to blow hard at the Entercom cluster in the Queen City earlier in the week, as Clip Smith was informed (upon arriving to work on Tuesday) that his 6-10 PM talk show on WBEN (930) had been cancelled and his services were no longer required. Smith, a former sports anchor at WKBW-TV, came to WBEN in early 2000 as part of the format changes that turned his former home of WGR into an all-sports station.
Smith's time slot is being filled by an hour of news at 6, followed by the Laura Schlessinger show formerly heard from 9 AM until noon. Moving into that slot is Tom Bauerle, who finally leaves the WGR sports format in which he'd been an uncomfortable fit since being paired with Chris "Bulldog" Parker in 2000. There's already plenty of speculation in Buffalo media circles that Bauerle's being groomed for morning drive at WBEN - and that the Laura move is just a prelude to her disappearance from the Buffalo airwaves.
Meanwhile, Buffalo now has no local talker after 6 at night, and WGR is looking for a new co-host for Parker in mornings.
(A footnote: Bill Lacy, the WBEN morning man who was the victim of an earlier round of budget cuts at Entercom/Buffalo, was back on the air last week, filling in across town at Citadel oldies WHTT 104.1 for the vacationing Danny Neaverth.)
Now, about that weather: in addition to claiming the chimney cap and at least one chimney brick, not to mention the front screen door, here at NERW Central, the near-hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc on the broadcast scene. In Rochester, WLGZ (990) was without power and off the air from Friday morning until Saturday afternoon, with WXXI (1370) also losing power for a few hours on Friday. WRSB (1310 Canandaigua) was silent for much of Friday, while its sister stations WASB (1590) and WMJQ (105.5) in Brockport were silent until late Saturday or early Sunday. Out in Orleans County, WBJA (102.1) appears to be off even as we write this early Monday morning. On the TV side, WXXI-TV (Channel 21) suffered damage to its transmission line and spent the weekend operating at barely five percent of its usual megawatt of power.
One more Rochester note: WBBF (950 Rochester/93.3 Fairport) said farewell to PD/afternoon guy Bobby Hatfield (aka Joe Reilly) on Thursday. He's off to Bloomsburg, PA to spend full time at his new acquisition, WHLM (930); best of luck to him - and it was nice to hear from his former WBBF morning partner, Ellis B. Feaster, who checked in to the farewell show from his new gig doing mornings at WWKA (92.3) down in sunny Orlando!
Up in the North Country, Mike Roach checked in to tell us WYSI (96.7 Canton) and WRCD (101.5 Canton) were both off the air at the height of the windy weather on Friday. Still off as well, but for different reasons, is WWJS (90.1 Watertown); Mike reports that Joann Scott, the wife of Liberty Christian Center pastor Steven Bryant, is telling Watertown's WWNY (Channel 7) that she supports her husband in his dispute with Scott's parents, who had been operating WWJS until they were locked out of Bryant's building. Will WWJS ever return? Things aren't looking terribly bright for the religious station at this point...
From Syracuse comes word that WOLF (1490) wants its construction permit for a change to non-directional operation reinstated. The Radio Disney outlet has long been a directional station (a rarity on this graveyard channel), protecting now-defunct CFRC in Kingston, Ontario; it held a CP to go non-directional from a 5/8-wave skirt on the new tall tower at its Kirkpatrick Street site, but had been unable to complete construction before the CP expired. Now WOLF wants to try again; it needs to stop using that second tower to allow WSIV (1540 East Syracuse) and a new DeWitt-licensed CP for 720 kHz to be able to sign on from separate non-directional towers at the same site. (The 720 was to have been a frequency change for WSIV; now it's been recharacterized as a new station to allow the existing 1540 to remain on the air, albeit from a new location on the WOLF property.)
Speaking of Syracuse - and Rochester, Watertown, Utica and Binghamton, too - Clear Channel now says it expects to close on its purchase of Ackerley by the end of March. We're still hearing very strong rumors that Clear Channel intends to sell the Ackerley TV group in upstate New York...we'll stay tuned to this one very closely.
And speaking of Clear Channel, it's granted a license to cover for booster WPHR-1 (106.9) in Syracuse. Thanks to FM Atlas publisher Bruce Elving for clearing up some confusion about this booster; though it was originally granted as an "Auburn" license, there was apparently a mix-up at the FCC over two separate cities named on the application (Auburn is the city of license of the primary WPHR signal), and the booster is quite definitely a Syracuse-licensed signal.
The weather was pretty lousy in Binghamton, too - but listeners there heard some different voices reporting it. Accu-Weather and WNBF (1290) parted ways last week (the Citadel news-talker switched to the Weather Channel), and that meant Dr. Joe Sobel and the rest of the State College crew are now being heard on WLTB (101.7 Johnson City) instead.
Over in Albany, WGNA (1460) remained in simulcast mode with country WGNA-FM (107.7) at press time, despite reports that the signal would make the switch to Radio Disney on Friday (February 1). We do hear, however, that Bill Edwardsen's Saturday morning standards show, which was the only break from the simulcast for the AM, is already a thing of the past.
In the Hudson Valley (and across the line in Connecticut, too), Cumulus was cleared by the FCC to purchase the Aurora group this week, removing the red flag for market-concentration review that had slowed the sale just a bit. No word yet on when Cumulus will close on the $230 million deal.
Don't count WKNJ (550 Harriman) out just yet; even though the FCC deleted the station's construction permit and call letters a few weeks ago, permittee Steven Wendell has asked for a review of the decision. We neglected to note, when this story last came around, that Wendell is also an applicant for 540 in Jaffrey, New Hampshire; an alert NERW reader wonders if that application was meant to hamper the expansion plans of WLUX (540 Islip) on Long Island, the station that was fighting Wendell's 550 plans across the Hudson River...
And we'll finish up with some good news indeed from New York City, where legendary jock Dan Ingram is on the mend after some pretty serious back surgery last week. Ingram, a veteran of both WABC (770) and WCBS-FM (101.1), was suffering from a condition known as stenosis, and we're told the surgery he underwent was quite risky. The good news is that he's expected to make a full recovery, though there's no word yet on when he'll be back on the air on his WCBS-FM weekend shift. Allan Sniffen's New York Radio Message Board has created a special board just for good wishes for one of the industry's true legends (it's at http://musicradio.computer.net/ingboard/wwwboard/ingboard1.html/ ), and we'll add our own best wishes right here, Kemosabe!
Forever Broadcasting is adding to its collection of small-town radio with two purchases in the Huntingdon area, deep in the valleys west of Harrisburg. The company is paying $875,000 for Ronald Rabena's two Bardcom stations, country WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) and classic hits WXMJ (99.5 Mount Union), and it's completing the set by paying Millennium Broadcasting (not Charlie Banta's New Jersey group!) $625,000 for oldies WWZB (106.3 Huntingdon), which was running satellite programming when we spent a pleasant hour listening to it one night last summer in a Huntingdon diner.
Over in State College, WNCL (107.9 Port Matilda) has new calls to go with the dance-CHR format that replaced the oldies there a few weeks back. Mark it down as WJHT now...
Meanwhile, back at Clear Channel's Fleet Street Pittsburgh cluster headquarters, Michael Hayes wasn't the only one leaving. We hear WDVE (102.5) morning sports guy Ed Crow, WWSW (94.5) morning news anchor Rose Ryan Douglas and WXDX (105.9) night jock Debbie Wilde all lost their jobs this week as part of continued cost-cutting there.
And across the state line in OHIO, Clear Channel lost an appeal in its long-running fight with the FCC over the transfer of control a few years back at WRBP (101.9 Hubbard), which Clear Channel was leasing from Stop 26 Riverbend. The FCC says Clear Channel went over the line and took control of the station despite Stop 26's efforts to end the LMA deal; now the Commission says Clear Channel's appeal should have gone to the Enforcement Bureau instead of to the full commission. We'll hear about this one again, no doubt...stay tuned.
Over in Montreal, the morning team of Andre Maisoneuve and Nat Lauzon at CJFM (95.9) has been broken up, with both jocks taking new shifts at "Mix 96." Lauzon moves to the midday shift, with Maisoneuve following her in afternoons. Cat Spencer and Ken Connors assume morning duties there.
North of Toronto, religious CJLF (100.3 Barrie) wants to add a 75-watt relay on 90.1 in Owen Sound. Way north of Toronto, religious CJTK (95.5 Sudbury) has been granted limited commercial status, broadcasting up to four minutes of commercials each hour. And over in Chatham, CFCO (630) wants to boost the power of its little FM relay. CFCO-1-FM (92.9) fills in some gaps in the AM signal in the downtown areas, and CFCO tells the CRTC it can do a better job of it with 250 watts instead of the present 50. The station celebrates its 75th anniversary on the AM dial this year, by the way!
And finally this week, a slightly belated "Happy Birthday to Us": last week's NERW marked our fifth anniversary of weekly publication as NorthEast Radio Watch. It was in January 1997 that we relocated from our old home base of Waltham, Massachusetts to Rochester and changed our name from "New England Radio Watch" (which had been published irregularly since 1994) to the weekly "NorthEast Radio Watch," and we've been here ever since, keeping track of this big, snowy region we call home. If you missed any of the more than 200 issues we've put out since then, pay a call on the Boston Radio Archives (www.bostonradio.org), where you'll find them all archived for you. Check out the region's radio dials there, too; we've just updated them and always appreciated your updates and corrections. And thanks, too, to the many of you who continue to send in your subscription donations.
That'll do it for another week; we'll see you here again next Monday.