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NERW 5/20: This...is London

------------------------------E-MAIL EDITION-----------------------------
--------------------------NorthEast Radio Watch--------------------------
                               May 20, 2002


*ON THE ROAD: We Visit England and Wales
*MAINE: MPBC Launches Digital TV In A Big Way
*CANADA: Big Changes at Corus

-----------------------------by Scott Fybush-----------------------------

*It's been a quiet week in NERW-land, so now that we've brought you up
to date on what was happening here over the last few weeks, we'll
start off with a quick recap of your editor's recent travels (with
much more to come on future installments of Tower Site of the Week on

Our two weeks in England, Wales and France were officially billed as a
pleasure trip, but thanks to the kind cooperation of Mrs. NERW, there
were several opportunities to work broadcasting into the schedule,
including a most enjoyable dinner our first night in London with Mike
Brown, whose pages at mb21.co.uk cover UK broadcast facilities in even
more detail than our own Tower Site pages. 

Unlike the US and Canada, broadcasters in the UK don't operate their
own transmission facilities, instead leasing them from companies such
as Crown Castle (which took over the entire BBC transmission network
during a fit of privatization a few years ago) and ntl. (Yet another
company, Merlin, took over the BBC World Service international
transmission network around the same time.)

As a result, broadcast facilities for any given region tend to be far
more centralized than they would be in a comparable part of the US or
Canada. All of the broadcast television for London, for instance,
comes from the Crown Castle tower at Crystal Palace in South London
(except for newcomer Channel 5, which operates instead from the ntl
tower nearby in Croydon.) Crystal Palace is also home to BBC national
and local radio on FM, while Croydon is home to most of London's big
commercial FM stations. And a wire running from the side of the
Crystal Palace tower transmits Spectrum international radio on 558
kHz, Ritz country radio on 1035 kHz and a BBC Radio 4 relay on 720
kHz. Imagine a single site in the US with as much importance! (We'll
accept "Empire State Building" as perhaps the lone example, these

The radio dial in the UK sounds at once familiar and very unusual to a
newly-arrived pair of ears from the US. Formatically, commercial
stations in London like rhythmic Kiss (100.0), AC Heart (106.2) and
oldies Capital Gold (1548) sound like dead ringers for their American
counterparts, once you get past the "odd" (or should that be "even")

But local commercial radio is just one of the four pieces that make up
the British radio dial. The BBC operates five national radio services:
Radio 1, which aims for a youth audience with a very rhythmic CHR
sound (heard on FM transmitters between 97 and 99 MHz); Radio 2, which
aims for a somewhat older audience with AC music, news and some talk
(heard on FM transmitters between 88 and 91 MHz); Radio 3, the
"serious music" station (heard on FM transmitters between 90 and 93
MHz); Radio 4, the "serious spoken-word" station (heard on 198 kHz
longwave and on FM transmitters between 92 and 95 MHz) and Radio 5
Live, with lighter talk and sport (heard on 693 and 909 kHz, the
former medium-wave Radio 2 transmitters). In addition to the national
networks, the BBC provides about 35 local stations across England,
generally heard on FM transmitters in the 94-96 MHz range, with some
MW services as well. These usually offer local news, some talk and
inoffensive AC music, with overnights (except on the very largest
services, such as BBC London at 94.9 MHz) being a 5 Live
simulcast. The BBC also operates several "national region" radio
services: BBC Ulster in Northern Ireland (with a powerful transmitter
at Lisnagarvey on 1341 kHz and several MW/FM relays), BBC Scotland
(with powerful transmitters at 810 kHz and several FM relays, some of
which provide local opt-out programming) and two services to Wales:
BBC Radio Wales in English (using 882 kHz and the 92-95 MHz spectrum
used by Radio 4 elsewhere, which pushes Radio 4 on FM to the 104 MHz
area across Wales) and BBC Radio Cymru in Welsh (operating at various
spots in the 92-95 and 103-104 MHz range). 

Confused yet? That's just the BBC services; above 95 MHz and at
various spots on the medium-wave dial are two flavors of commercial
radio. There are three national commercial stations: CHR Virgin Radio
(using the old BBC Radio 3 transmitters at 1215, 1197 and 1242 kHz
across Britain, as well as 105.8 FM in London); classical Classic FM
(operating at 100-102 FM across Britain) and sports-talk Talksport
(using the old BBC Radio 1 transmitters at 1053 and 1089 kHz across
Britain.) And there's local radio in profusion, usually operating with
powers far lower than we're used to over here (1000 watts is a lot for
a typical local AM station, except for a handful in big cities, while
most commercial FMs in Britain would qualify as class A or C3 services
over here, running in the 4000-watt range or much lower, down into the
tens of watts in some cases.)

What's on the local dial? Like the US, a handful of big groups now
control most of the commercial radio over there, so the CHR heard on
Capital FM (95.8) in London bears a strong family resemblance to the
CHR heard on BRMB (96.4) in Birmingham or Invicta (103.1 and other
frequencies) in Kent. On the MW dial, "local" outlets of Capital Gold
and Classic Gold tend to have their own morning shows, then spend the
rest of the day rebroadcasting programming from a national
network. Yes, there's even Clear Channel: they own Jazz FM, which
operates on 102.2 in London and 100.4 in the Manchester area. There's
all-news radio in London, as well, thanks to News Direct on 97.3. And
there's ethnic programming in profusion in the big cities: the BBC
operates an Asian Network in several English cities, while commercial
stations such as Radio XL (1296) in Birmingham and Sunrise (1458) in
London run programming for the many foreign-language communities that
exist in their listening areas. (There's even programming in
"American" for homesick expatriates; London's Spectrum at 558 kHz runs
NPR's All Things Considered late at night and an "American Programme"
on Saturdays!)

One more unclassifiable broadcaster: at 252 kHz on the longwave dial
is "Team Talk," which took over the facility from the late, lamented
"Atlantic 252" earlier this year. While its transmitter is in Ireland,
252 targets the UK with its sports-talk format.

And there's pirate radio, especially on the weekends, with a profusion
of unlicensed transmitters on the air in London and other big cities
to rival Brooklyn and Queens on a summer holiday. 

What's more, there's digital terrestrial radio in the UK - but not in
IBOC form. Like most of the rest of the civilized world, Britain is
using the Eureka-147 system, with several multiplexes on the air in
most sizable cities offering the full bouquet of local radio as well
as a new crop of regional and national services (including the
wonderful new BBC 6 Music, which we've been enjoying in Webcast form
on this side of the Atlantic). Alas, digital radio is having a slow
start of things in the UK as well; we didn't see any portable
receivers for sale yet, and the few car radios we saw were priced far
out of the average listener's reach. 

(Even at that, digital radio is doing far better in the UK than
digital TV, which suffered a massive public-relations implosion during
our stay when the commercial operatior, ITV Digital, went bankrupt and
went out of business. More on that in a bit...)

It's a far cry indeed from the scene just 35 years ago, when the only
listening choices in most of the UK were three BBC offerings and the
now-legendary offshore pirate commercial stations. 

So how much of this did we actually see and hear? Our second day in
London began with a morning at Bush House, the sprawling warren that's
home to the BBC World Service, currently embarked on an ambitious plan
to convert all its audio production from the "razor blades and
splicing tape" school to a modern digital system, a project you'll
read more about in an upcoming issue of Radio World. 

The following afternoon, we boarded a double-decker bus to Crystal
Palace, where the tower erected by the BBC in the early fifties (to
carry a single channel of television) now brings London most of its
television and a good chunk of its radio. You'll see Crystal Palace in
a future Tower Site,we promise!

The weekend that followed found us renting a car and heading out of
London towards Wales. Thanks to the magic of RDS, it's possible to set
the radio to, say, "BBC R1" and leave it there for hours of driving,
with the radio automatically retuning to stronger BBC transmitters as
you exit and enter various coverage areas. (RDS is nearly universal in
Western Europe, which made it much easier to identify the various FM
signals we heard on the trip.)

There are still large chunks of the Welsh mountains where FM signals
are unreliable at best, so we were glad to have the powerful 198 kHz
longwave Radio 4 signal as company when FM faded away. Arriving at our
destination, Portmeirion (the Italianate village made famous as the
setting for the 60s TV show "The Prisoner"), we found the nighttime MW
dial to be full of stations from Ireland (RTE1 at 567 kHz), France
(France Bleu from Lille at 1377 kHz and others) and beyond. Later in
the trip, we taped Radio Manx from the Isle of Man (with a strong
signal in Liverpool on 1368 kHz), as well.

While making the Beatles rounds in Liverpool (a particular passion of
Mrs. NERW's), we noticed the Allerton Park tower, home to BBC Radio
Merseyside on 95.8, clearly visible from John Lennon's childhood home!

On the way to Stratford the next day, the rental NERW-mobile (a Fiat
Punto) pulled in at the Crown Castle Droitwich site southwest of
Birmingham, home to the half-megawatt of Radio 4 on 198 kHz, as well
as the usual complement of Radio 5 on 693, Virgin on 1215 and
Talksport on 1053, each with several hundred kilowatts!

The following day gave us a look at another powerful Crown Castle
site, the Brookmans Park site north of London that transmits Radio 5
Live on 909, Virgin on 1215, Talksport on 1089 and Sunrise on 1458
(the former BBC London MW facility) to the capital city. A few miles
to the south on the A1, we passed the four-tower array that carries
LBC talk radio (1152) and Capital Gold (1548) to London. It's a very
rare sight in the UK; most MW transmitters are much lower in power
than LBC's 97.5 kW, and most are either non-directional or operate
from single towers with a sloping wire ladder antenna providing some

And from there, it was off to France - but we'll tell you more about
that next week. In the meantime, here's what's been happening this
week in NERW-land:

*MAINE gets digital public TV across most of the state tomorrow
(Tuesday), with the official launch of three of the planned five DTV
outlets for Maine PBS. WCBB-DT (Channel 17) in Augusta, WMEB-DT
(Channel 9) in Orono and WMEM-DT (Channel 20) in Presque Isle will all
transmit a four-channel digital multiplex that includes the main Maine
PBS service, PBS Kids, PBS YOU (the national network's "how-to"
channel) and PBS Plus. 

(It appears Maine PBS plans to use the actual DTV channel numbers,
instead of programming the PSIP capability to mimic the old analog
channel numbers, which seems like an odd choice if the network
eventually intends to return Augusta and Presque Isle to their VHF
analog channels; we have no idea why.)

MPBC says the remaining two transmitters, WMEA-DT (Channel 45) in
Biddeford and WMED-DT (Channel 10) in Calais, will be on the air by
this fall, putting Maine far ahead of any of the region's other
statewide public broadcasters in the DTV race.

*In VERMONT, Jody Peterson is leaving WNCS (104.7 Montpelier) after a
20-year run, most recently as PD and midday jock.

*A MASSACHUSETTS radio legend will be back on the air later this week,
delighting graduates of "Glick University." Larry Glick turns 80 this
month, we're told - and he'll mark the occasion by spending three
hours with the current occupant of his old overnight shift on WBZ
(1030). Tune in Thursday night/Friday morning from midnight to 3
to hear Glick with Steve LeVeille on the 50,000-watt signal...

WUNR (1600 Brookline) has been granted a power increase to 20
kilowatts day and night, but the CP is the least of the station's
worries here; it's contingent upon the plan to replace WUNR's current
two-tower array in the Oak Hill section of Newton with a new
five-tower array to be shared by WUNR, WKOX (1200 Framingham) and WRCA
(1330 Waltham). Yes, the new towers would be unpainted and unlit and
shorter than the current painted, lit WUNR towers, but that doesn't
seem to have any effect on the mood of the (famously NIMBY-ish) Newton

There's a new local show on Lowell's WCAP (980), as Gary Francis and
Ryan Johnston launch "Afternoon Live!" weekdays from 4 till 7. The
show displaces Tom Martino's "Troubleshooter" show, which moves to
Jason Jarvis' old noon-to-2 slot, followed by WCAP staple Chuck

WJLT (650 Ashland) has asked the FCC to cancel its unbuilt CP to go to
2000 watts from the WBPS (890) towers in Ashland; we suspect the
station will eventually file a modified version of the same
application to replace this CP, which was near expiration. Speaking of
WBPS, a report on All Access suggests the CNet programming currently
heard there and on KNEW (910 Oakland CA) will drop from WBPS at the
end of June; no word on what WBPS owner Mega might do with the station
if that lease ends.

And cable viewers on RCN's Boston system, Frontiervision's system in
Gloucester and vicinity and Adelphia's systems in southeastern
Massachusetts and Martha's Vineyard will have to live without WYCN
(Channel 48) from Worcester. The FCC dismissed WYCN's must-carry
complaints against all three companies, saying WYCN missed a deadline
in replying to RCN and that the station is simply too far from
Gloucester and the Cape to merit must-carry there. An interesting
footnote: while WYCN is licensed non-commercial, it doesn't qualify
for funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and is thus
treated as a commercial station for must-carry purposes. 

*There's a new morning show launching next week in CONNECTICUT, as
Dave Mester (from WYAY in Atlanta) joins Cory Myers in wakeups at WWYZ
(92.5 Waterbury) in the Hartford market.

*NEW YORK could soon have a new classic rocker. 100000watts.com (just
sold to Clear Channel-owned M Street) reports that WDRE (98.5
Westhampton) will soon break from its simulcast of modern AC WLIR
(92.7 Garden City) to become "the Bone." It will join a crowded rock
market in eastern Long Island, competing against Cox's WHFM (95.3
Southampton, relaying WBAB Babylon) and Barnstable's WRCN (103.9
Riverhead), not to mention AAA's WMOS (104.7 Montauk), which is now
targeting a cross-Sound audience in Connecticut but still puts a solid
signal across the East End.

In Westchester County, Rod Calarco has been named to replace Chuck
Benfer as market manager of Cumulus' local cluster (WFAS, WFAS-FM and
WFAF). Calarco has a long history in New York radio, running WCBS-FM,
Westwood One and more recently Worldspace and eMadison.

Mets fans in Albany can now hear all the team's games; WOXF (980 Troy)
is clearing the team's full schedule this season, moving Roger Wyland
to 10 AM-noon from his former spot in the evening. 

Up in the Adirondacks, we note a license renewal for WPSA (98.3 Paul
Smiths), the little 10-watter at Paul Smiths College that accidentally
had its license revoked by the FCC a while back. Maybe WPSA will be on
the air the next time we drive up that way; they were silent on our
last pass through in the summer of 2000...

Way up north in Malone, we hear Bill ("Billy K") Kingsley has parted
ways with WVNV (96.5 Malone) after more than half a decade in mornings
there; the departure apparently follows some heated disagreements with
station management there. Kingsley has a long history in St. Lawrence
Valley radio, all the way back to the old WSTS (now WYBG 1050) in
Massena in the mid-sixties.

Ithaca's WVBR (93.5) cut the last of its ties with its longtime home
at 227 Linden Avenue earlier this month; the station operated from the
building near the Cornell University campus from 1973 until two years
ago, when the city forced the station to move after citing structural
problems with the building. Now ensconced down the road at 957
Mitchell Street, the student-run station sold the Linden Avenue
building a few weeks ago.

The Bill O'Reilly show has surfaced in the Rochester market - but not
on WBBF (950), where it was rumored to end up. Instead, the Fox News
talker is on rimshotter WACK (1420 Newark), tape-delayed into the 4-6
PM slot. WACK's sister station, "Big Dog" country WNNR (103.5 Sodus),
has meanwhile added former WBEE-FM (92.5) jock Chuck McCoy for live,
local afternoon duty. (Mornings on WNNR these days feature the
syndicated Young and Elder Show.)

And we hear WJTN and WWSE in Jamestown have been sold, with James
Embrescia's Ohio-based Media One Group making the heritage stations
its first radio properties in the region. The Goldman Group gets a
reported $5.9 million for the news-talk WJTN (1240) and AC WWSE (93.3).

*In NEW JERSEY, the FCC gave the go-ahead to Millennium's purchase of the
Nassau stations in the Monmouth/Ocean market, allowing Nassau to
take control of standards WADB (1310 Asbury Park) and WOBM (1160
Lakewood), modern AC WJLK (94.3 Asbury Park), AC WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms
River) and CHR WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres), despite market-concentration
concerns. Millennium will have 64% of radio revenues in the
Arbitron-defined "market" (where one end can't hear most of the same
stations as the other end) when the Nassau stations are combined
with its other recent purchases, including WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) in
Trenton, which has a sizable audience in the area.

Speaking of Monmouth County, its WBJB (90.5 Lincroft) made a big
addition to its schedule this week, adding a new show from New York's
Pete Fornatale. "Mixed Bag Classic" is Fornatale's first venture since
taking a hiatus from WFUV (90.7 New York) a few months back; the
show, which airs Saturdays from 11 AM until noon, will revisit some of
the artists Fornatale featured in his heyday on WNEW-FM in the
seventies and eighties.

*Up in CANADA, there's a "new" station in Bracebridge, Ontario - well,
sort of. "99.5 Moosefm," which made its debut last Wednesday (May 15),
is actually the former CFBG (100.9), moving down the dial and up in
power to provide a better signal to Cottage Country.

There really is a new station coming to Cobourg: Kristy Scott and Joel
Scott (no relation, so far as we can tell) will be the morning hosts
at the new 93.3 facility, a sister station to CHUC (1450), when it
signs on within a few weeks. Joel Scott comes to Cobourg from CFLY in
Kingston; Kristy's moving across the country to take the job.

Corus has been shaking up its "Energy" stations in southern Ontario,
taking CHAY (93.1 Barrie) to a full live-and-local lineup between 5:30
AM and 7 PM weekdays. Mike Rose (late of CJPT in Brockville), Diana
Meder and Chris Kant are the new "Rosey, Di and the Other Guy" morning
show at the station. Meanwhile, "Energy 94.9" in Oshawa disappeared
May 3, as CKGE returned to its old modern AC format and "Magic @ 94.9"
moniker (thanks to the move of the Hamilton/Toronto Energy signal to
the powerful 95.3 transmitter, which made Oshawa redundant.) Aaron
Tompkins and Robin Mitchell handle mornings at CKGE, followed by
Energy holdover Kelia in middays and music director Andrew Long in

And Corus' London stations are on the move this week, as CFPL (980),
CFPL-FM (95.9), "Energy" CFHK (103.1) and "Hawk" CKDK (103.9) move out
of the London Free Press building (hence the "F-P-L" calls) into the
City Centre Building at 380 Wellington Street downtown. Jim McCourtie
moves from Corus' CFNY (102.1) in Toronto to become the new PD at FM96
next week, so he'll get a brand-new office out of the deal.

*That's it for another week; don't miss part one of our Atlanta trip
on Tower Site of the Week this Wednesday, and we'll see you back here
next Monday!

*One final request: If anyone out there has a copy of the March 4
issue of Broadcasting & Cable that they're done with, could you be so
kind as to drop me a line? Many thanks...

-----------------------NorthEast Radio Watch------------------------
                       (c)2001 Scott Fybush

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