Is the regulatory tide turning against big clusters and consolidation? A proposed Clear Channel purchase in MAINE is one of three deals facing a level of scrutiny the FCC hasn't employed in decades.
Clear Channel has been operating WSKW (1160 Skowhegan) and WHQO (107.9 Skowhegan) under an LMA from Mountain Wireless for several years, ever since Mountain's proposed sale of the stations to Cumulus fell through due to financial problems at the Cumulus end.
Last October, Clear Channel filed to convert the LMA to ownership, a deal that would give Mountain Wireless $1.8 million and add WHQO and WSKW to the rest of the Clear Channel Augusta-Waterville cluster, a group that includes WFAU (1280 Gardiner), WCTB (93.5 Fairfield), WKCG (101.3 Augusta), WABK (104.3 Gardiner) and WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan, another former Mountain Wireless station).
WHQO has been simulcasting the talk programming from Clear Channel's WVOM (103.9 Howland) in the Bangor market, while WSKW has been sharing a sports format with WFAU and WIGY (97.5 Madison, just returned to the air this week after suffering tower damage). For the last few months, the Mountain stations have even operated from the same Augusta facility as the other Clear Channel central Maine stations.
The hitch? If the deal is approved by the FCC (it already has Justice Department clearance), Clear Channel and Citadel (which has WMME/WEZW and WEBB/WTVL in the market) would share a whopping 99.5% of the radio revenues in the market, with just a handful of commercially-licensed religious stations (WMDR 1340, WWWA 95.3) as "competition" for radio ad dollars.
So the FCC has designated the WHQO/WSKW sale, along with a Clear Channel purchase in Youngstown, Ohio (WRTK 1540 Niles OH, WAKZ 95.9 Sharpsville PA, WICT 95.1 Grove City PA, WBBG 106.1 Niles OH) and another one in Killeen-Temple, Texas, for a hearing on market concentration. Stay tuned as the Commission sets what promises to be a new precedent for acceptable levels of station revenue and ratings share...we'll keep you posted.
Back up in Bangor, Leo Johnson is the new morning guy on country "Bear" WBFB (104.7 Belfast). Johnson was formerly heard on Clear Channel sister news/talker WVOM; his move to mornings sends Dave Glidden back to afternoons on the Bear.
Saga is also applying for new calls for the two Keene stations it's buying from Scott Roberts. Oldies WXOD (98.7 Winchester) becomes WOQL, matching Saga sister "Cool" WQLL (96.5 Bedford) over in the Manchester market, while news-talk WKBK (1220 Keene) has applied to become WZBK, for reasons we still don't know.
Over on the AM side, Sporting News Radio's WWZN (1510 Boston) made the tweaks and signed on its new daytime pattern this week from its four-tower site near the Waltham-Belmont line. The new pattern keeps day power at 50 kW, but expands the signal a bit to reach some areas in the western and southern suburbs where 1510 used to protect now-defunct WNLC (1510 New London CT). No change to WWZN's 50 kW night signal, which is so deficient in parts of the market that even the station itself seems to think it runs only 5 or 10 kilowatts after dark!
Oops: You won't see home-shopping WWDP (Channel 46) on EchoStar's DISH Network any time soon. The station accidentally sent its must-carry request for EchoStar to competitor DirecTV instead, thus missing the deadline to elect mandatory carriage on the satellite system - and this week the FCC upheld EchoStar's rejection of WWDP's appeal. WWDP is running the ACN home shopping network, by the way....
You also won't be seeing any Bruins games on broadcast TV next season. The Boston Herald reports that the team will put all its non-network schedule next season on New England Sports Network (NESN), the first time since the beginning of broadcast TV in Boston that the team won't be available over the air. (WSBK, channel 38, had been the most recent broadcast rights holder.)
A strange one from Winchendon: in April, we told you that Toccoa Falls College and Friends of Radio Maria had settled their competing applications for 91.1 in Winchendon, with Toccoa Falls getting the CP. Now Toccoa Falls has applied to transfer the CP...to Friends of Radio Maria.
Over in Springfield, WSPR (1270) really is losing its two-tower site in West Springfield, so the station has applied to move its 5 kilowatts a mile or so to the northwest, diplexing on the existing tower of now-co-owned WACM (1490 West Springfield). WSPR would build a new top-loaded 56-meter tower to fill out its directional array. The new pattern would be tipped slightly counterclockwise from the existing figure-eight, but would still have broad nulls to the northeast and southwest.
Just up the valley, WRNX (100.9 Amherst) picks up flagship status for UMass sports for the upcoming season. WHMP (1400 Northampton) had been the longtime UMass flagship.
In any event, there's no change to 1450's satellite-delivered urban oldies format, still simulcast with WNBH (1340 New Bedford MA).
WNJU had been using the Armstrong FM tower in Alpine, N.J. as a temporary site for the last few months, with a weak signal over most of the city. It signed back on from the Empire State Building July 1, leaving only Pax's WPXN (Channel 31) operating from another site.
(WPXN appears to be planning to make its permanent home at the First Mountain site in East Orange, N.J. that's home to WFME 94.7 and was once home to the old WATV on channel 13.)
On the English side of the NBC family in New York, WNBC (Channel 4) is saying goodbye to president and GM Dennis Swanson, who's departing after a long career that included ABC Sports and six years at the helm of top-rated channel 4. Replacing Swanson is Frank Comerford, VP of sales and marketing for the NBC stations group. Swanson, meanwhile, takes on a much tougher task: he's headed to CBS to head up the network's struggling group of owned-and-operated stations.
Moving upstate, Dennis Jackson's WRIP (97.9 Windham) applies for a 35-watt directional booster. WRIP-1 (97.9 Hunter) will operate from Colonel's Chair at the Hunter Mountain ski area, a few miles south from WRIP in an area that's now somewhat shadowed from the main signal.
TV viewers in Binghamton, Watertown and Utica are again seeing early-morning newscasts on their ABC affiliates, but without a lot of the localism they're used to. After more than a month without any local news in those slots, WIVT (Channel 34) in Binghamton, WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown and WUTR (Channel 20) in Utica put "Daybreak" on the air last Monday to fill the 5-7 AM slot. The show, produced by parent Clear Channel at WIXT (Channel 9) in Syracuse, includes brief local news updates twice an hour, but most of the content is regionalized - a big cost savings, to be sure, but at what price to localism? (Especially since all three of the former Ackerley Group UHFs compete against a single strong heritage VHF in their respective markets...) As for weekends, those slots are still being filled (at least on WWTI and WUTR) with Conus' All News Channel national news, and we're told local news has also yet to return at noon in Watertown.
Watertown viewers have a new choice on cable, at least; Time Warner up there finally added WLOT-LP (Channel 66) to its lineup. WLOT has the UPN affiliation for Watertown, as well as doing local news at 10 PM against Fox outlet WNYF-LP (Channel 28), programmed by CBS affiliate WWNY (Channel 7).
Binghamton has a new choice on the radio, in a few blocks of the city's Hillcrest area, at least: the Wyoming Conference Children's Home is running micropower "WBTK" on 102.3, programmed by the kids who live at the center. Advising the station ("W-By-The-Kids") is former WNBF morning man John Leslie.
On the noncomm side of the dial, WIFF (90.1 Binghamton, heard better in most of the city on translator W285DI at 104.9) is being sold. Station founder (and anti-abortion crusader) Randall Terry (doing business as Jesus is King Communications) is selling the Christian rock outlet to CSN International for $67,000; look for it to become yet another relay on the Calvary Satellite Network as soon as the deal closes.
A big "thumbs down" to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, for continuing carelessness in covering the broadcast industry at a level that rivals our usual bete noir, the Boston Globe. Not only did the D&C have to correct itself after an item in its inane "Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down" column praised "WDKX-FM (104.3)" (the urban station is at 103.9 on the dial), but the paper's TV book still hasn't figured out that LPTV W59BV has moved. After two weeks of correctly listing the station as "W42CO" (on Sunday, anyway; the daily still read "59"), yesterday's TV book was right back to "W59BV." (What's more, the listings shown are for Buffalo's WNYB, channel 26 - but 59/42 now runs the satellite signal from parent Tri-State Christian TV, with a somewhat different program lineup!)
And while our friend Dave Hughes down at Washington's DCRTV.com enjoys busting the Washington Post for its inaccurate radio listings, there's at least one way in which the D&C is the Post's equal (and only one way, come to think of it): the radio listings in the Sunday TV book are so woefully out of date that at least a third of them are now completely inaccurate. Hmmph!
Heading over toward Buffalo, Family Life Ministries has applied to boost the power on WCOU (88.3 Warsaw) from 4 kW to 11 kW. It's part of an agreement with Conestoga College's CJIQ (88.3 Paris ON), which now has WCOU's blessing to upgrade to a full class B facility if it so desires.
Buffalo TV viewers are seeing more snow than they're accustomed to. At NBC affiliate WGRZ (Channel 2)'s site in the town of Wales, NERW found the analog antenna sitting on the ground, lashed to the base of the tower, when we stopped by last week. WGRZ is transmitting its analog signal at about half power from its low six-bay auxiliary antenna while work continues to install the WGRZ-DT (Channel 33) antenna and reinstall the analog antenna above it. We're told it will be late this week before channel 2 returns to full power.
Meanwhile up on Grand Island, we're told WNED (Channel 17) and WNLO (Channel 23) are also at reduced power while workers install the WNED-DT (Channel 43) antenna on the tower.
WAJW has largely been simulcasting WFMU; its sale to WBEZ (which will use it to boost its own coverage east of Chicago) puts $550,000 in Auricle's deserving (and needy) pockets.
On the radio side, WLEV (100.7 Allentown) takes the "interim" out of Sam Malone's PD title.
Over in Reading, it's the end of an era as the FCC wraps up its very last comparative renewal hearing. When WTVE (Channel 51) was up for renewal in the mid-nineties, licensee Reading Broadcasters Inc. was challenged by a competing application filed by a group called Adams Communications Corp. Adams was looking to challenge the license of a home-shopping station, and originally planned to make WHSH (Channel 66) near Boston its target.
When a proposed transmitter site for Adams' application fell through, the company turned its attention to Reading, looking for evidence that the home shopping format didn't meet the community's needs. After some missteps (the Reading resident hired by Adams to tape WTVE mistakenly taped several days of a cable home shopping channel instead), Adams produced evidence that suggested Reading Broadcasters' principals (the same folks behind Two if by Sea, the onetime licensee of channel 18 in Hartford and channel 46 in Norwell, Mass.) had been dishonest on at least one FCC application.
In April 2001, an FCC examiner granted Adams' competing application, but Reading Broadcasters appealed - and last week, the FCC closed the matter by finding Reading Broadcasters to be qualified as a licensee, rejecting Adams' application and allowing WTVE to remain in its current hands.
In the meantime, Congress changed the rules of the game, so today there's virtually nothing a licensee can do that would cause its license not to be renewed (and almost nothing a member of the public can do should a local station fail to serve the "public interest, convenience and necessity," a concept that now seems to be forgotten at the FCC.) The WTVE hearing was the very last to be resolved under the old rules.
Up in Wellsboro, WNBQ (92.3 Mansfield) is applying for a booster with a whopping 0.0002 kilowatts of power. That's two-tenths of a watt, folks - just twice the threshold for license-free broadcasting - but the station believes the signal (on the tower of co-owned WNBT 1490) would help it fill a little hole in the Mansfield signal over downtown Wellsboro.
NERW wonders if this is a prelude to the end of the simulcast between WNBQ and WNBT-FM (104.5 Wellsboro), which always did seem to have a lot of overlap; the WNBQ signal (when the processing is working, anyway) reaches north almost to Corning, N.Y.
In Johnstown, WQEJ (89.7), the relayer of Pittsburgh's WQED (89.3), has resubmitted its application to move from the current tower of WJAC-TV (Channel 6) to the nearby tower WJAC is building for DTV. WQEJ's first application was thrown out because the specified power (8.5 kW) slightly exceeded the class maximum for the station; it's resubmitted the application with 8.4 kW instead.
Sorry to report the passing of another Pittsburgh newscaster: Paul Long died Friday (July 12) at age 86. Long's Pittsburgh career began at KDKA radio in 1946 and expanded to KDKA-TV in 1956; he moved to WTAE-TV (Channel 4) in 1969 and remained there until 1994, when he retired at age 78.
Most of the applications are for 101.3 on the FM dial, a frequency that ethnic broadcaster CHIN has been using as a low-power relay to help its AM station (on 1540 kHz) reach areas outside its directional pattern. (Powerful CHIN-FM, on 100.7, runs separate programming from the 1540/101.3 simulcast.)
CHIN filed no fewer than three applications as part of the latest round, trying to maintain its dual spot on the FM dial. The station's preferred solution involves being granted a new license for 101.3 (with 90 watts), keeping the existing 1540 and 100.7 as separate stations and moving the 1540 relay from 101.3 (with 22 watts) to 91.9 (with 35 watts). If that's not granted, CHIN has a backup plan: it's also applying to shut down the 1540 signal, replacing its directional 50 kilowatts with a 90-watt FM signal on 101.3.
But CHIN has plenty of competition: other applicants for 101.3 include Ark Broadcasting (178 watts), Canadian Multicultural Radio (440 watts), Canadian Thamil Broadcasting Corp. (440 watts), Catholic Youth Services-KSM Inc. (1140 watts), CKMW Radio Inc. (446 watts; the company also owns CIAO 530 and CIDC 103.5) and Infinity Broadcasting Inc. (no relation to the US company by the same name, applying for 310 watts).
Additional applications include Humber College, for 60 watts on 91.9; Cooperative Radiophonique de Toronto, for 1200 watts on 91.7; Caribbean and African Radio Network, for 78 watts on 105.1 and an AM signal on 790, with 250 watts day and 50 watts night; Geetha Vanni, for 1 kW on 1650; San Lorenzo Latin American Community Centre, for 1 kW on 1610 and Magic 1610 Markham, for a new English-language station to serve suburban Markham with 10 kW day and 5 kW night on 1610.
And three applicants want new digital radio signals in Toronto: Korean Community Radio, Sur Sagar Radio and CHWO (AM 740).
Meanwhile, the folks at the CHUM Group have quietly pulled the plug on 1050chum.com. When CHUM (1050) flipped from oldies to sports in May 2001, the company said the Webcast would continue with the oldies format indefinitely; today, the company says site traffic didn't live up to expectations and "it no longer makes sense to continue."
Over in Windsor, the CBC has applied to add CBE (1550) and CBE-FM (89.9) to the digital radio dial, where the CHUM Group's four stations already have a construction permit.
London's Energy 103.1 (CFHK) dropped the last of its simulcast with its Corus sister station (CING 95.3 Hamilton) to go live and local 24/7 last week. Milkman Unlimited reports the lineup includes Andy and Marianne in mornings, Sarah Bartok middays and Oz in afternoons. Sister station "The Hawk" (CKDK 103.9) moves Kyle "the Sarge" McCone from afternoons to mornings with Derek "Rock" Botten next week. Dan Walker comes over from middays at CFPL-FM (95.9, "FM96") to do afternoons at the Hawk.
Up north in Orillia, the sale of CICX (EZ Rock 105.9) to Rogers didn't include Telemedia's "EZ Rock" trademark, so the station changed identities on Friday to "105.9 Lite FM."
Way up north, country music returned to the dial in Timmins on Friday morning, when CHMT (93.1) flipped from AC "Mix 93" to country "Moose FM." The area has been country-less since last year, when CKGB (99.3) dropped country for "EZ Rock."
There's a new station in Cobourg: the new 93.3 signal there began testing last week, and we hear it's already causing havoc to the recently-upgraded signal of WBBF-FM (93.3 Fairport) just across Lake Ontario (and vice versa, no doubt!)
Outside Ottawa, Algonquin College's CKDJ (96.9 Nepean) applies to change frequency to 107.9 and boost power from 8 watts to 100 watts.
The big news from Quebec was the death on Friday of Gord Sinclair, one of the most distinctive voices in Canadian radio.
Sinclair's career began at the old CHVC (1600) in Niagara Falls 55 years ago; he spent most of his career in Montreal, first at CFCF (600), then as owner and founder of CFOX (1470 Pointe Claire), then back to CFCF from 1975 until 1982, when he joined CJAD (800) as a news director, commentator and host of the daily noon news and a Saturday noon show.
Sinclair, the son of legendary Toronto broadcaster Gordon ("The Americans") Sinclair, was 74; he would have preferred that we say he was 39.
Elsewhere in the province, CHAA (103.3 Longueuil) was granted a move from its current transmitter site to a new one 8 kilometers to the west; the station will drop power from 104 watts to 53 watts.
In Quebec City, Radio-Canada's CBVT (Channel 11) was granted its move from its Ile d'Orleans tower, east of the old city, to the Mont Belair community antenna site west of town. CBVT will reduce power from 252 kilowatts down to 132 kW, moving up in height as it makes the move.
Yves Sauve's construction permit for CJRP St.-Nicolas (serving Quebec City) has a new frequency; he was granted a move from 1060 (the frequency of the long-dark original CJRP) to 980 (the frequency more recently abandoned by Radio-Canada's CBV, which moved to FM on 106.3 in 1998).
And we'll end in the Maritimes, with the biggest surprise of the week: the CBC is applying to move CBZ (970 Fredericton) from the AM dial to FM.
CBZ would run 3200 watts on 99.5 MHz if the move is granted.
Fredericton already hears CBC Radio One on FM, thanks to CBD (91.3 Saint John), which covers the city from its Mount Champlain transmitter site - but CBD runs local Saint John programming in drivetime, while CBZ runs programming targeted to the provincial capital. (The move would also force a call change for CBZ-FM, the CBC Radio Two outlet on 101.5 that serves Fredericton and Saint John from Mount Champlain.)
That's it for another week; we'll see you again next Monday on fybush.com!