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Year in Review 2013: Format flips and station sales

Year in Review 2013: Format flips and station sales

CENTRAL NEW YORK — As the year winds down to a close, it’s time to begin our annual look back at 2013.  We have a four-part series of Year in Review which stretches from today, right up to New Year’s Eve.  In part one, we recap the many changes in terms of station ownership (especially in Syracuse and Utica TV), radio station formats and other significant branding/imaging changes.

January

  • 13-0111-tCBS5 (WTVH) debuts a fresh-looking news set and logo, replacing a look that had been in use for several years prior.
  • The new format for Rome’s WKAL 1450 will remain a mystery a bit longer.  The owner asks the FCC for another extension to its “special temporary authority” to remain silent, citing a need for more time for studio construction.
  • Not quite a format change, but a notable imaging changeClear Channel replaces the “News/Talk 106.9 and 570 WSYR” imaging it’s been using for two years by giving top billing back to the original AM frequency: “News Radio 570 WSYR… now on 106.9 FM.”

February

  • news-13-0228-swapmeetSinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of Syracuse’s Fox 68 (WSYT), announces it’s buying Barrington Broadcasting‘s entire portfolio of 24 stations in 15 markets nationwide — including Syracuse’s NBC3 (WSTM-TV) and CW6 (WSTQ-LP).  To comply with FCC regulations, Sinclair says it plans to spin-off WSYT.

March

  • Arjuna Broadcasting adds the syndicated “True Oldies Channel” around the clock at 1420 WNRS Herkimer.  ”TOC” replaces a hybrid sports/news talk format that was filled by Fox Sports Radio and Bloomberg Financial Radio.  No change to the station’s moniker “1420 AM The Fox” or its carriage of Don Imus in morning drive.
  • Saga Communications wins FCC approval to buy translator W249CD, which will provide a 97.7FM simulcast of Progressive Talk 1470 WNYY.
  • Time Warner Cable announces it’s considering a new name for all of its local cable news channels across the country, including the various YNN channels covering most of upstate New York.  (This plan would come to fruition by year’s end…)

May

  • wnyy-2013Follow-up from March: Saga Communications launches translator W249CD, providing a 97.7FM simulcast for Progressive Talk 1470 (WNYY) in Ithaca.
  • Time Warner Cable announces a massive shuffle of its channel lineups, bundling channels by types (news, sports, entertainment, etc.).  Central New York is the pilot for a plan that could spread to other Time Warner markets nationwide.  The story managed to stay in our “Most Viewed Stories” sidebar almost non-stop for months afterwards.

June

  • wpie-200Ithaca’s Cayuga Radio Group, owned by Saga Communications, is getting bigger: it’s buying 96.7FM translator W244CZ.  Although initial FCC paperwork shows the new translator will simulcast Q-Country 103.7 (WQNY), the company eventually moves it’s Triple-A property, (formerly 98.7) The Vine (WYXL-HD3) to the new frequency.
  • Taughannock Media purchases the construction permit for an as-yet-unbuilt FM translator, which will eventually simulcast ESPN Radio 1160 (WPIE).
  • Changes within the ownership structure of Galaxy Communications result in the company’s Syracuse cluster losing its “grandfathered” exemption to the FCC‘s ownership limits.  One station has to go: Sunny 102.1 (WZUN) is being spun-off to “WZUN Communications,” but the changes will be invisible to the average listener; one of Galaxy’s primary investors is lending WZUN Communications the $1 million it needs to buy the station, with an option for Galaxy to buy it back if conditions ever change to allow such.

July, August, September

  • CNYRadio.com and CNYTVNews.com took an extended “hiatus” from regular publication.

October

  • The earliest-ever start for 24/7 Christmas music on the Syracuse radio dial arrives October 5, when locally-owned WOLF Radio, Inc. replaces “Love Radio” with “Holly-FM on 103.9 (WVOA-FM Mexic0) and 95.3 (W237AY DeWitt).  It soon becomes apparent that “Holly-FM” is an extended stunt for a brand new format as Love Radio resurfaces on 87.7FM, and a series of call sign changes are filed with the FCC.
  • nashlogoA brief scare for staffers at Cumulus Media rocker 95X (WAQX), after a new website and Twitter feed claim a new country station called “Nash 95” will be “coming soon” to the market.  Although the effort initially appears to be credible, given Cumulus’ rollout of the “Nash” brand elsewhere, local management denies any format flip plans.  Over two months later, it’s business as usual at 95X.
  • Utica NBC affiliate NewsChannel 2 (WKTV) is being sold for $16 million.  Smith Media, LLC has filed FCC paperwork to sell the station to Heartland Media, LLC, owned by former Gray Television head Robert S. Prather, Jr.  The sale of WKTV seemed to be a matter of not if, but when, ever since Smith sold the rest of its remaining stations last year.
  • Part of Syracuse ABC affiliate NewsChannel 9 (WSYR-TV) is being sold.  The station occupies two different buildings practically next door to each other in East Syracuse — the main building which houses news and production, and an office building which houses sales and management.  Owner Nexstar is putting the latter up for sale, as it begins an expansion of the former.
  • After years of going all-Christmas on November 1, Galaxy Communications stations Sunny 102.1 (WZUN) in Syracuse and Mix 102.5 (WUMX) in Utica announce they’re delaying the 24/7 holiday tunes this year.  WZUN delayed its flip to the mid-November opening of the annual “Lights on the Lake,” while WUMX held off until Thanksgiving.

November

  • 11-0408-tThere’s light at the end of the tunnel for 1450 WKAL Rome, which has been silent more often than not since Tune-In Broadcasting purchased the station in 2011.  The owners say they’re going to launch a news/talk format branded as “TalkRadio 1450″ and applications are being accepted for a morning show host, sales manager, and for a traffic manager who will double as on-air talent.
  • Some quiet behind-the-scenes changes allow ESPN Radio CNY‘s FM translators at 97.7 and 100.1 to legally air separate programming from their original “source” stations, 1200 WTLA and 1440 WSGO.  That’s because the translators are now simulcasting the HD-2 subchannel of sister station WZUN.  The arrangement means conflicts between live sports events can be handled by putting one game on the AM signals, and a second game on WZUN-HD2, which feeds the FM translators.
  • Saga Communications, which already owns the dominant radio cluster in Ithaca, is looking to grow again – by purchasing competitor Z95.5 (WFIZ), a CHR-formatted station owned by ROI Broadcasting.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filed by ROI minority owner George Kimble triggered the sale, which carries a $715,000 price tag.  Update 12/27 at 3:20pm: The FCC just today announced its approval of this sale, but it is also subject to bankruptcy court approval.
  • Oswego-based WRVO receives FCC approval to build a new translator at 92.3FM (W222BU) in Rome.
  • Clear Channel AC station Y94 (WYYY Syracuse) and Townsquare Media AC Lite 98.7 (WLZW Utica) temporarily shelve their regular playlists in favor of 24/7 Christmas music, starting November 15.
  • news-13-1122-sinclair36Remember the big Syracuse TV deal first announced back in February? (It’s the only thing listed for February in this article).  The FCC finally approved Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s plan to buy all of Barrington Broadcasting‘s stations in 15 markets nationwide, including Syracuse.  The deal closed just a few days after the approval.  Here’s a recap on the main points of the deal, including some new twists since February:
    • As expected, Sinclair now owns NBC3 (WSTM-TV) and CW6 (WSTQ-LP), and takes over the shared services agreement under which Barrington has been operating CBS 5 (WTVH) for Granite Broadcasting since 2009.  (Together, the three stations are operated under the “CNY Central” brand.)
    • As expected, Sinclair will be selling its Fox 68 (WSYT) to comply with FCC ownership limits.  The sale of WSYT includes a local marketing agreement and purchase option with RKM Media for My 43 (WNYS).  
    • New: Instead of selling WSYT to Cunningham Broadcasting, Sinclair sold the Fox affiliate’s license and assets to Bristlecone Broadcasting. But Sinclair continues to own the WSYT/WNYS office/studio building, transmitter building and tower — renting such to Bristlecone.
    • New: Sinclair continues to operate WSYT (and by extension, WNYS) through a “transition services agreement” for Bristlecone, basically giving Sinclair control over every commercial full-power TV station in the Syracuse market, except for Nexstar-owned ABC affiliate WSYR-TV.
    • Later in the month, Sinclair revealed it won’t be renewing its SSA with Granite for control of WTVH when the deal expires in 2017.  It remains to be seen whether that means WTVH will be evicted from the WSTM building, or if Sinclair simply wants to form a new deal with different terms.  Adding to the mystery of WTVH’s future are rumors about the sale of Granite.
  • news-13-1121-twcnewsTime Warner Cable announces a new name and brand new graphics for its YNN local news channels nationwide.  The company says by mid-December, YNN will become “Time Warner Cable News,” in response to research showing most viewers didn’t know YNN was only available on Time Warner Cable systems.

December

  • Nexstar Broadcasting adds a new digital subchannel to WSYR-TV.  Starting January 1, channel 9.3 will carry BounceTV, the first broadcast network geared toward African American audiences.
  • ESPN Radio Ithaca adds the “107.1” FM frequency to its logo and on-air IDs after the long-awaited launch of an FM translator simulcast, plans for which were originally announced in June.  It turns out the original frequency at 107.3 encountered interference from other signals, forcing owner Taughannock Media to apply (and wait for) FCC permission to move a notch down the dial.
  • wndr-hollyfmRadioInsight.com reveals two internet domain name registrations that could be clues as to the future permanent format for the “Holly-FM” stations that have been playing Christmas music since October 5.  Right after Christmas, the stations continue stunting with non-stop Beatles music, leaving observers guessing for a bit longer.
  • The FCC’s recent application window for new low-power FM stations results in one pair of applications competing to grab 92.5FM in Syracuse.  Unless either applicant withdraws or the two form a “timesharing agreement,” the FCC will use a point-based system to determine which applicant is more deserving.

2013 Year in Review: What’s Next

  • yir-13Saturday, December 28 at 9:00am: Remembering local broadcasters we lost in 2013.
  • Sunday, December 29 at 9:00am: The big list of “Comings and goings” in local broadcasting.
  • Monday, December 30 at 4:00pm: Deadline to submit your picks for the biggest story of 2013.
  • Tuesday, December 31 at 9:00am: The top 10 stories of 2013, based on site traffic stats — along with your picks for “the biggest story” of the year.
  • Click here for all Year in Review coverage from 2013 and previous years.

What do YOU think is 2013′s biggest story?

On New Year’s Eve, it’s our tradition to count down the top 10 stories of the year — but those are based purely on site traffic stats.  The numbers don’t always necessarily correlate with the importance or magnitude of a story.  So we want to know what YOU think was the biggest story in local broadcasting during 2013.  Click here to fill out our nomination form.  Your name is completely optional — so you can chime in without sharing your identity if you like.  Any nomination backed-up by a valid explanation will be considered.  Nominations are due by 4pm on Monday, December 30.

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