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NorthEast Radio Watch: Nassau, Ackerley Grow; We Rant About LPFM
*Less than a year after assembling a mega-group in the northern
suburbs of New York, Aurora Broadcasting turned around this week and
sold its CONNECTICUT and NEW YORK stations to Nassau Broadcasting for
almost twice what the company paid.
Here's what Nassau gets for its $185 million:
-AC WEBE (107.9 Westport) and full-service WICC (600 Bridgeport), for
which Aurora paid $66 million last April. WEBE is a full class B, and
WICC (despite only 1 kW day and 500 watts night) has an outstanding
signal over Long Island Sound and vicinity.
-Rocker WRKI (95.1 Brookfield), oldies WAXB (105.5 Patterson NY), and
standards simulcast WINE (940 Brookfield) and WPUT (1510 Brewster
NY), which Aurora picked up in July for $11.5 million. WRKI is the
real prize here; between its full-B signal and boosters on the
Connecticut shoreline, it blankets Fairfield County and vicinity.
WAXB and the two AMs serve Danbury and environs.
-AC simulcast WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains) and WFAF (106.3 Mount
Kisco), and news-talk WFAS (1230 White Plains), covering affluent
Westchester County. Aurora paid $20 million for the three (including
106.3, which was then smooth jazz WZZN) in late April 1999.
While Aurora and principal Frank Washington walk away, by NERW's math,
with an $88.5 million profit on their $97 million investment, it's
not a bad deal for Nassau, either. That's because the Westchester and
Connecticut stations go a long way towards Nassau's goal of ringing
New York city with a solid chain of suburban clusters. It's something
the company is already doing in New Jersey, where it dominates markets
from the Jersey shore all the way through Princeton and Trenton to the
Poconos to Port Jervis, New York. The only piece of the ring still
missing is Long Island, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Nassau
make a move there eventually.
*The other bit of Nutmeg State news involves Prayze FM, the 105.3
pirate in Bloomfield that's been on and off the air since 1996. The
commercial religious station's operator, Mark Blake, was in federal
court in New York City Wednesday for oral arguments in his lawsuit
against the FCC. While the AP's Connecticut bureau seems to think
that Prayze's continued operation will give it a "low priority" for an
LPFM license, we here at NERW know better -- under the rules as they
now stand, Blake will be ineligible for LPFM (which is just as well,
as far as he's concerned; he says he can't run Prayze
non-commercially). Much more on LPFM later on in this week's issue...
*The upstate NEW YORK TV dial continues to spin, as Ackerley buys yet
again. Earlier this month, we reported on the company's purchase of
WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira, adding NBC service in Elmira and
Binghamton to the company's cluster of ABC stations in Binghamton,
Syracuse, Rochester, and Utica.
Now comes word that Smith Broadcasting, the seller of WETM, is also
selling Watertown's ABC affiliate, WWTI (Channel 50), to Ackerley.
Ackerley takes over via an LMA April 1, with the deal to close later
Smith keeps the Fox affiliation for Watertown, moving it from a
secondary status on WWTI to primary status on two LPTVs, W25AB
Watertown and W28BC Massena, both of which had been WWTI relays.
WWTI general manager Nickolas Darling will stay with Smith at the new
Fox affiliate, which the Watertown Daily Times reports will be on the
air by the fall.
NERW notes that WWTI is likely to join Rochester, Utica, and
Binghamton's ABC stations in having most of its technical and
back-office operations handled from WIXT in Syracuse, with a local
newsroom and sales office remaining in Watertown.
NERW also wonders how long it will be before Ackerley finds a way to
acquire the remaining ABC affiliates upstate, Albany's WTEN (whose
parent Young Broadcasting is extending itself trying to afford San
Francisco's KRON) and Buffalo's WKBW (owned by Granite).
Speaking of Buffalo (and vicinity), Newman Communications has been
granted a CP for the 106.9 in Lakewood that it won at auction a few
months back. The station will run 5200 watts from 218 meters above
average terrain from a tower site just south of Jamestown (and
actually across the state line in Pennsylvania). It looks to us like
this will serve both Jamestown and Warren, PA.
*Elsewhere in the Empire State, we have a handful of call changes to
report, starting in Rockland County at what was WLIR (1300 Spring
Valley). The standards outlet, which has absorbed many of the local
hosts who used to work at crosstown WRKL, changes to WRCR (we assume
that's for "Rockland County Radio") and eliminates the confusion with
separately-owned WLIR-FM (92.7 Garden City), whose modern AC signal
reaches Rockland fairly well.
Upstate, Craig Fox shifts calls at his "Border" CHR combo in the
Watertown market. WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) has been simulcast for
the last few years on WWLF-FM (106.7 Copenhagen); now the 106.7 gets
WBDI calls to match. The WWLF calls replace WKGJ on 1340 down in
Auburn, fitting with 1340's Radio Disney simulcast with WOLF Syracuse
and WOLF-FM Oswego. (WOLF-TV is Fox's, er, Fox network outlet
licensed to Hazleton and serving the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre market;
ironically, that channel 56 outlet was once known as WWLF-TV when *it*
simulcast the original WOLF-TV on channel 38 in Scranton...)
Mike Roach checked in from the Northern New York bureau to let us know
that the "Bolt in the Morning" show that's been on WRCD (101.5 Canton)
since the station took on its rock format in 1998 is no more; Dave
Bolt has been replaced by Don Imus.
And a follow-up on WNUC (107.7 Wethersfield) and its slight format
shift to "The Bullet": Owner John Casciani tells the Buffalo News that
the goal is to appeal more to young male listeners...which we guess is
happening during the daylight hours when the station is live and
local; the satellite service that runs nights and weekends is still
heavy on Dixie Chicks and the like (not that NERW sees anything wrong
with that, mind you!) WNUC's downtown Buffalo translator, W287AE
(105.3), is applying to boost power from 13 watts to 90 from the
Marine Midland, er, HSBC Tower.
*Elsewhere in New England, it's been the quietest of quiet weeks. On
the call-change front, Steve Mindich applies for WFEX for what's now
WNHQ (92.1 Peterborough NH), as the station enters Phoenix Media Group
ownership and a simulcast with WFNX Lynn-Boston. Down in Rhode
Island, Citadel gets new calls for its rock simulcast: WZRI replaces
WHKK on 100.3 Middletown, while WZRA supplants WHCK on 99.7
Wakefield-Peace Dale (ex-WXEX, WDGE, and WUAE).
*Play ball! The major league season is just underway, and the minors
swing into action soon, and that means NERW takes its annual look at
radio and TV coverage of our national sport.
We'll start things off in the majors, where four of the five teams in
NERW-land are still with the same flagships as last year. In New
York, that means WABC (770) for the Yankees and WFAN (660) for the
Mets. We'd tell you more about the networks for each team (33
stations for the Yanks, 6 for the Mets), but that info is nowhere to
be had on either team's Web site at the moment. On TV, the Yanks get
50 games on Fox's WNYW (Channel 5) and the rest on MSG; the Mets get
50 games on Tribune's WPIX (Channel 11) and the rest on Fox Sports
NY. (And if you think it still looks weird to say "Mets" and "Channel
11" in the same sentence, join the club!) The Mets will also be heard
in Spanish on WADO (1280) for 94 games.
The Red Sox radio network remains largely unchanged (though we wonder
whether now-Spanish WARE in Ware is really an affiliate as claimed),
with 56 affiliates and flagship WEEI (850) in Boston (though
Hartford's WTIC on 1080 will continue to be the signal of preference
for Sox fans outside the region). It's (pardon the expression) a
whole new ballgame on the TV side, where Gene Jankowski's JCS deal is
no more, replaced by a three-year deal with Fox's WFXT (Channel 25).
WFXT is paying $8.7 million for rights to 67 games this year, on a
network that will include WTXX in Connecticut, WLNE in Rhode Island,
WPME in the Portland market, and a split between CBS affiliate WABI-TV
and low-power WBGR in Bangor. Vermonters will see the Sox on
low-power WBVT, while fans in western Massachusetts will need cable or
a good line of sight to Connecticut. NESN, which is half-owned by the
Sox, will do 85 home games again this year.
On the Canadian side, no changes in the Blue Jays' network of 30
stations fed from CHUM (1050) in Toronto (with CHML 900 in Hamilton
still the DX'ers choice for hearing the Jays) or in the split of
rights between CTV Sportsnet and TSN (which is being bought by CTV
anyway) on the TV side.
And then there are the Expos...who can't even seem to give away their
broadcasting rights for free. Late word out of Montreal is that CKAC
(730) is close to a deal to carry the team's games in French, but
there's still no resolution with potential English outlet CJAD (800).
No TV for the Expos, either.
Down in the minors, here's how things look heading for Opening Day:
In the International League, status quo reigns: Buffalo Bisons' games
will interrupt the CHR simulcast on WWKB (1520); the Rochester Red
Wings' weekday games will be heard on WHTK (1280), with weekend games
on the 50 kilowatt blowtorch of WHAM (1180); the Syracuse SkyChiefs
continue to be heard on WHEN (620); and we believe the Pawtucket Red
Sox will be heard on WSKO (790) -- where fans won't have to see that
new mascot! It's not clear that there's any radio deal this year for
the Ottawa Lynx (the capital city's sports station, CFGO 1200, has the
Jays again this year), but Rogers Cable channel 22 will carry about a
dozen games on TV.
The Double-A Eastern League will be all over the Connecticut airwaves,
thanks to the new network the New Britain Rock Cats have assembled.
WMRD (1150 Middletown) is this year's flagship, with the rest of the
network jumping in and out depending on the day of the week.
Buckley's AM stations (WDRC 1360, WWCO 1240, WMMW 1470, WSNG 610) will
carry Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday games; WPRX in Bristol, last
year's flagship, will carry Friday games; and WLIS (1420 Old Saybrook)
will carry what it can when there's no major league game to commit to.
The New Haven Ravens stay on WAVZ (1300), with bigger sister station
WELI (960) simulcasting on weekends, and the Norwich Navigators will
be heard on WSUB (980) in Groton.
Portland's Sea Dogs stay on WZAN (970), with a network that includes
WTME (1240 Lewiston), WKTQ (1450 South Paris), WOXO (92.7 Norway),
WTBM (100.7 Mexico), and WRKD (1450 Rockland) -- although WOXO and
WTBM are also on the Red Sox network.
The Binghamton Mets will be heard on WNBF, wherever it ends up on the
dial (although the deal to move it from 1290 to WINR's 680 spot
appears to be on hold for now).
And while the short-season New York-Penn League won't start playing
until June, here's what we know so far from its teams:
The Lowell Spinners stay on WCCM (800) out of Lawrence; the Pittsfield
Mets will be heard on WBRK-FM (101.7); the Vermont Expos show up the
parent team with a four-station network (WKDR 1390 Burlington, WFAD
1490 Middlebury, WWSR 1420 St. Albans, and WSKI 1240 Montpelier); the
Hudson Valley Renegades will be on WBNR 1260 Beacon; the Auburn
Doubledays' road games will air on college station WDWN 89.1; and the
Batavia Muck Dogs will be heard on SUNY Brockport's WBSU 89.1. No
radio, as best we can tell, for the Staten Island Yankees (where's
WSIA when you need it?), the Oneonta Tigers, the Utica Blue Sox, the
Jamestown Jammers, or the St. Catharines Stompers (actually, there's a
good reason for that last one...seems they're relocating to Brooklyn,
where they probably won't have radio coverage either).
We'll try to get up to speed on the independent leagues by next issue!
*Finally this week, a "Mini-Rant" on one of our favorite topics, LPFM:
Even as the FCC moved closer this week to opening the window for the
first set of LPFM applications, the powers that be at the House
Commerce Committee sent H.R. 3439 (the "Preservation of Broadcasting
Act") along to the full House for what's likely to be an easy
The approval comes amidst nasty words back and forth between the FCC
and the National Association of Broadcasters, whose high-powered
lobbyists distributed a CD on Capitol Hill that they claimed simulated
the kind of interference full-power stations would receive from LPFMs
on third-adjacent channels. The FCC says the CD blatantly
misrepresents the actual interference that might result; the NAB,
unsurprisingly, has filled its Web site with expert testimony to the
Meantime, the Senate version of the bill continues its path to a vote
NERW has little doubt about how this will all end. Money talks in
Washington, and the NAB and its members have plenty of it to spend.
They'll get their way in the end, and the idea of legal LPFM will
become not much more than an interesting footnote.
But we can't let it die without once more pointing out an amazing bit
of hypocrisy that, incredibly, has gone all but unmentioned by almost
everyone involved in the LPFM issue.
Sitting down? Good. Listen:
LPFM has existed legally in the United States for decades.
LPFM, as it now exists, is in some cases operating with precisely the
same technical specifications that the NAB and friends claim to be so
Many of the beneficiaries of LPFM as it now exists are precisely the
same broadcasters most vociferous in their support for the NAB's
campaign against LPFM as it might exist.
Longtime NERW readers will by now know exactly what I'm talking about;
the one word that's been all but verboten in the public LPFM debate:
It's been increasingly hard to sit quietly and watch the NAB, the FCC,
and everyone else claim that there's no way to tell what kind of
interference a station on a third-adjacent channel will give to a
full-power station, when the examples are all around us.
So the NAB claims full-power FMs will be permanently hurt by LPFMs
three channels away? Show me the public outcry from listeners to
Boston's WZLX, a full B at 100.7, then. After all, there's been a
legal LPFM operating on 101.3 less than a mile from WZLX's transmitter
for more than a year. (You could argue that the station in question,
WFNX's translator W267AI, is only 7 watts -- but it's up so high on
the Hancock Tower than once you adjust for height, it's not much
different from the FCC's proposed LP-100 service).
For that matter, where's the public outcry from WZLX listeners
affected by third-adjacent WBRS at 100.1 in Waltham, with its mighty
25 watts just 600 kHz away?
Why, for that matter, have big broadcasters like Disney/ABC rushed to
shoehorn second-adjacent allocations as close to their major market
stations as possible? (Case in point: KMEO in Flower Mound, Texas,
running a full 100 kilowatts just 0.4 MHz and sixty-odd miles on the
other side of the Dallas/Fort Worth market from ABC's highly
successful KSCS 96.3). How is it that listeners in the San Francisco
Bay Area have no problems with the San Jose stations on
second-adjacent channels from San Francisco? (While we're at it, what
about all the second-adjacent issues that you'd think would exist in
the 50 miles between Boston and Providence?)
Turn to the noncomm end of the dial and the engineering realities
become even more apparent: Just 3.1 miles of Beacon Street separates
WZBC's 1000 watts on 90.3 and WBUR-FM's 50 kilowatts on 90.9, yet the
public outcry from listeners "denied...clear reception of their
favorite stations" (the NAB's words) has been, well, less than
deafening. NERW suspects WBUR even has listeners in the very Boston
College dormitory where WZBC's antenna is located.
The point here is this: The engineering argument against
third-adjacent LPFMs is specious at best. It's clear from the real
world that third-adjacent spacing on FM works fine in cases involving
much more power than LPFMs would...and we haven't even had to turn to
Canada (where real live LPFM has existed without interference concerns
for years) to make our case.
It's no surprise to see the NAB and its allies on the Hill using this
engineering smokescreen; it certainly *sounds* persuasive to a
lawmaker with other things to worry about -- after all, who'd vote to
deny an elderly listener her favorite station? (Again, the NAB's
argument, not mine!)
And it's no surprise to see the word "translator" so obviously missing
from the NAB's arguments. After all, the National Religious
Broadcasters (NRB) is a major supporter of the NAB's efforts, and if
lawmakers understood that the thousands of KAWZ, WPCS, WJFM, and WJSO
translators out there were also "LPFM" -- and thus a threat (by the
NAB's logic) to the continued stability of American broadcasting (not
to mention the flag, apple pie, and possibly motherhood itself), who
knows what kind of legislation might result?
But it is surprising that Bill Kennard's FCC, otherwise so sensible in
its attempts to restore at least a bit of the broadcast environment to
the public, has been so quiet about the translator issue. We'd have
thought someone in the FCC might have come up with similar real-world
examples to the ones just offered...yet the word "translator" has been
just as absent from the FCC's vocabulary, even as behind the scenes,
KAWZ, WJFM, WPCS, and company are quietly getting to gobble literally
hundreds of frequencies a month that could have been used by LPFM if
it had been allowed to happen. It's amazing to pick up "M Street"
each week, see column after column of translator applications from the
same half-dozen broadcasters, and realize that nobody wants to touch
that part of the issue, or even acknowledge that it *is* an important
part of the LPFM fight.
It's even more surprising that the LPFM supporters have been so
understated about the translator land-grab of the last few years. We
can understand why the equipment manufacturers haven't said anything;
the same products they'd love to sell to LPFM stations are already
selling just fine to religious translators, after all. Where's the
NFCB on this issue, though? And what of the trade magazines that all
but ignore translators? (NERW wonders how many staffers at
Broadcasting & Cable even know what a translator is...)
It's no great surprise to us to see the LPFM battle of 1999-2000
ending this way. We just wish all sides had been a little more honest
about what was *really* at stake, instead of hiding behind the fraud
of "interference concerns." Shame on you, Eddie Fritts. Shame on
you, Mike Oxley. Shame on you, Bill Kennard. And shame on all of you
would-be LPFMers who haven't spoken out loudly enough. It will be a
long, long time before low-power broadcasting has another chance to
become a legal *local* reality and not just a tool to be abused by big
national religious broadcasters.
[Guess we need to add the usual disclaimer: NERW has nothing against
religious broadcasting, per se. Our bias is against the way a handful
of broadcasters have taken blatant advantage of an unintentional
loophole in FCC rules to create nationwide networks of hundreds of
low-powered stations explicitly forbidden to provide any local
programming, and against the FCC's continued willful blindness to the
monster it created when it allowed satellite-fed translators.]
*One more thing before we go: The Boston Radio Archives now provide
complete coverage of every radio market in New England. If you
haven't been by in a while, pay a visit to
<http://radio.lcs.mit.edu/radio/bostonradio.html> and check out the
updated radio dials and so much more.
*That's it for this week; back next Friday with the usual update. See
---------------------NorthEast Radio Watch------------------------
(c)2000 Scott Fybush
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