Archive for Overmodulation

Another suitor for Tribune

Exit Sinclair, enter Nexstar:

Nexstar Media Group Inc. agreed to buy Tribune Media Co. for $4.1 billion, creating the largest owner of local-TV stations in the U.S., according to a person with knowledge with the matter.

Nexstar outbid private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC with an all-cash offer that values Tribune at about $46.50 a share, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the purchase isn’t yet public. An announcement could come as soon as Monday.

The deal would create a new king of local TV, unseating Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. Four months ago, Sinclair was forced to abandon its own takeover attempt for Tribune after the $3.9 billion transaction drew the ire of regulators. Nexstar had been interested in Tribune last year before Sinclair had agreed to buy it.

Tribune is now set to fetch a higher price from Nexstar — and a 15 percent premium over its closing price of $40.26 at the end of last week.

Locally, this deal creates no complications: Tribune Media owns KFOR-TV and KAUT-TV in Oklahoma City, and the licenses could be passed on to Nexstar more or less intact. Nexstar owns stations in Texas and in Arkansas; their Fort Smith-Fayetteville cluster, with NBC and Fox affiliates, reaches a few homes in far-eastern Oklahoma.

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You’re watching Collusion Television

And even if you’re not, apparently the Department of Justice is:

The Department of Justice announced [Tuesday] that it has reached a settlement with six broadcast television companies — Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.; Raycom Media Inc.; Tribune Media Company; Meredith Corporation; Griffin Communications; and Dreamcatcher Broadcasting LLC — to resolve a Department lawsuit alleging that the companies engaged in unlawful agreements to share non-public competitively sensitive information with their broadcast television competitors.

“The unlawful exchange of competitively sensitive information allowed these television broadcast companies to disrupt the normal competitive process of spot advertising in markets across the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Advertisers rely on competition among owners of broadcast television stations to obtain reasonable advertising rates, but this unlawful sharing of information lessened that competition and thereby harmed the local businesses and the consumers they serve.”

According to the complaint, the six broadcast television companies agreed in many metropolitan areas across the United States to exchange revenue pacing information, and certain defendants also engaged in the exchange of other forms of non-public sales information in certain metropolitan areas. Pacing compares a broadcast station’s revenues booked for a certain time period to the revenues booked in the same point in the previous year. Pacing indicates how each station is performing versus the rest of the market and provides insight into each station’s remaining spot advertising for the period.

Was this happening here in the 405? Almost certainly; Sinclair owns two local stations (the Fox and CW affiliates), and Griffin owns two local stations (the CBS and MyNetworkTV affiliates). What’s more, before the deal was called off, Sinclair was about to acquire two more stations (the NBC affiliate and an independent) from fellow culprit Tribune Media, and then spin off Fox 25 to pay lip service to the FCC’s ownership limitations. That’s six Oklahoma City stations that could have been involved in this particular brand of skullduggery.

(Via Catherine Sweeney.)

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A Nice win

Her birth certificate says “Alberta Nicole Swanegan Owens,” but no matter. She’s been Nikki Nice for years, a name she built for herself working for Russell Perry’s urban-formatted radio stations, and a name she’ll undoubtedly continue to use as Ward 7’s representative on City Council.

And apparently she’s going to have to look for another radio job, since Perry let her go the day after the election: “We’ve taken a different direction,” he said, saying it had nothing to do with her winning the Council seat.

Nice will be sworn in on the 19th, and she’ll draw her Council salary starting from then. It’s not enough to live on, though: Council members are paid $12,000 a year. (The Mayor gets twice that.)

Addendum: I was pointed to this video from her watch party Tuesday night:

It wasn’t even close: she got over 70 percent of the vote.

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And now here’s Jim Donovan

The Cleveland Browns Radio Network includes a couple dozen signals in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania, one in West Virginia — and one in Norman, Oklahoma:

Norman’s KREF (SportsTalk 99.3 FM and 1400 AM) announced Friday it will broadcast all Cleveland Browns games for the remainder of the season, giving Oklahoma fans the opportunity to follow former Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield.

The radio station will also broadcast pregame and postgame coverage, as well as Browns coach Hue Jackson’s weekly show on Monday nights.

Which is not unheard of for KREF, which picked up Rams games (from, um, St. Louis) while Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was A Thing. But Bradford was lost for a season with an ACL tear after a particularly vicious sack, and the Rams dealt him to Philadelphia.

If you’re keeping score, Bradford was done in during an exhibition game against, um, the Cleveland Browns.

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Not so much sparkle

This sounds like something thought up by the Safety Über Alles bunch:

Fireworks to be aired on radio

Miss Cellania explains it all:

Yeah, this sounds weird, but they do it where I live, too. What it means is that the soundtrack music for the choreographed display will be broadcast, so you can listen to it while you watch the fireworks.

Oh.

Never mind.

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We want more

No matter what it is, someone wants more of it. As the FCC begins its quadrennial review of terrestrial radio, this is what the National Association of Broadcasters wants:

  • In the top 75 Nielsen Audio markets, allow a single entity to own or control up to eight commercial FM stations, with no limit on AM ownership;
  • To promote new entry into broadcasting, an owner in these top 75 markets should be permitted to own up to two additional FM stations (for a total of 10 FMs) by participating in the FCC’s incubator program; and
  • In Nielsen markets outside of the top 75 and in unrated markets, there should be no restrictions on the number of FM or AM stations a single entity may own or control.

Because, you know, radio has improved so much since massive group owners took over.

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Where the Good Guys were

Found on a music board this past weekend:

To those of you in the NY area … If you take the NJ Transit train to Newark, and keep your eyes peeled when the train goes outside, you will see the transmitter shack of the old WMCA radio. It still has the “WMCA” sign on top. Its in the middle of NOWHERE, with nothing but reeds around it. Brave was the transmitter tech who had to go in there … no telling what animals he’d find in there trying to get warm.

And here’s that shack:

Old transmitter shack of WMCA New York

Once a Top 40 powerhouse, WMCA now runs a Christian format. And no, not from there.

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A hot wind on your shoulder

Something new on the Mexican radio:

A large Spanish-language radio station in Mexico will soon begin broadcasting in Chinese in a deal critics say will bring Beijing propaganda to Chinese Americans throughout Southern California.

A Federal Communications Commission filing on the sale of radio station XEWW AM 690 radio near Tijuana reveals the buyer has ties to Phoenix Satellite Television US, a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Phoenix TV.

According to government sources, signs that Phoenix is involved in the purchase of the radio station prompted the Trump administration last week to begin an investigation into the national security implications of the sale.

This is not Phoenix’s first try at establishing a SoCal beachhead:

The Chinese broadcaster tried to purchase radio station KDAY, an FM station in Redondo Beach, Calif., and turn it into a Chinese language broadcaster.

That deal was led by RBC Communications, a group of investors led by Phoenix and its editor, Anthony Yuen. The deal fell through in October 2013 after funding irregularities in the proposed $19.5 million purchase were discovered.

Which is a hell of a lot of money for a 4200-watt FM, even in America’s second-largest radio market. XEWW, with its 77,000-watt blowtorch (50k at night), can reach nearly to Bakersfield.

(Via American Digest.)

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Scripps scraps Tulsa cluster

The E. W. Scripps Company, owner of 33 TV stations and the National Spelling Bee, is getting out of the radio business, starting with its five Tulsa stations, one AM (KFAQ 1170) and four FMs (KBEZ 92.9, KVOO 98.5, KXBL 99.5, KHTT 106.9), which are being dealt to Grffin Communications, owner of two TV stations in Oklahoma City and two in Tulsa, for a reported $12.5 million.

“This transaction is a promising start to the sale of our entire radio station group, which was one of the pillars of our strategy for returning value to shareholders. We expect more announcements soon,” said Adam Symson, CEO of Scripps.

Griffin’s television division owns KWTV (9) and KSBI (52) in Oklahoma City, and KOTV (6) and KQCW (19) in Tulsa. Scripps will retain its Tulsa TV station, KJRH (2), named for longtime Scripps Broadcasting chairman Jack R. Howard.

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So far away

Yet another area where the Digital Age is no improvement over its analog ancestor:

[S]ometimes on summer evenings, you could play a little with “atmospheric skip” and get stations from farther away than you normally would. It was like dxing on a radio, but with a television)

(And for that matter: do kids today even know what dxing is? It was a thing my dad taught me about and it was kind of fun in that geeky way — “Oh, hey, I’m picking up St. Louis!”)

And St. Louis was one of the first places you’d get, assuming you lived somewhere east of the Rockies; in the middle of the dial, in the middle of the country, KMOX had 1120 kHz all to itself after dark, one notch above the station pairs on opposite coasts. (Example: KGO San Francisco and WGY Schenectady, New York, both running full time on 810 kHz, though KGO’s signal is slightly directional at night to protect WGY.) This clear-channel stuff was important to us in South Carolina, which had only two 50,000-watt signals, both way the heck up around Greenville and — wait for it — operating with that much juice only in the daytime. Down on the coast, our hardy Top 40 perennials ran 5,000 watts daytime, 1,000 watts night (WTMA) or 1,000 watts daytime, 250 watts night (then WQSN). We eagerly hunted down stuff like the Big Ape (WAPE Jacksonville, a mere 25,000 watts at night but so close by we could sometimes pick it up in the daytime. I remember once or twice managing to snag their competition, WPDQ, only 5,000 watts but still only a state and a fraction away.

I discovered Nashville early: they had two blowtorch AMs, WSM, then and now home of the Grand Ole Opry, and WLAC, now news-talk but back then a serious R&B outlet, anchored in the evenings by the legendary John R. (I regret to say I never made it to Ernie’s Record Mart in Nashville, a major John R. sponsor.) After you’d heard all the big boys, it became something of a game to try to locate low-powered rivals to said big boys. I think my single greatest night of DX was the night I got an amazingly clean signal from the amazingly weak WKWK (Wheeling’s Krazy, Wacky Kilocycles), 1,000 watts day, 250 watts night, not even a patch on the mighty WWVA just up the dial, but competitive just the same.

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The scourge of the Maryland ‘burbs

There are no municipalities of any size in Baltimore County, Maryland; it’s not obvious where one census-designated place ends and the next one begins. (Baltimore city is not located in Baltimore County.) One day I was wandering around Cockeysville, mostly to acquire familiarity with the place in a foolish attempt to impress New Jersey residents who weren’t aware of its existence, and then suddenly I wasn’t: I’d stepped over some hazy line and into Hunt Valley, which doesn’t even enjoy the luxury of being a census-designated place. Which may explain the vast number of corporate campuses in the Valley, one of the vastest being that of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest single television group operator, and a target of this week’s left-wing talking points for having had the temerity to have all its news operations reading off the same editorial. Anyone who had been paying attention knew that Sinclair tended to lean toward the right; there was, for instance, an episode of ABC’s Nightline in 2004 in which Ted Koppel read off the names of Americans killed in the Iraq war, and none of Sinclair’s seven ABC affiliates at the time carried the episode, by order of Hunt Valley.

Will Truman has some insights on how the Sinclair broadcast model could actually work in these days of consolidation:

There is a reason that there is a vacuum here for Sinclair to enter. Consolidation is occurring in good part due to an iffy financial picture. Local news organizations are expensive, and if people aren’t watching, there are a lot of cheaper things they can run in their stead. There is also a strong possibility that they will do it wrong. If they go full Fox Jr, people who aren’t in the choir will just change the channel. And the temptation to go that route will be strong. And lastly, there is a lot of competition, so for conservatives in general to succeed there, they would want Cox and others to join Sinclair the way that a lot of AM stations joined the bandwagon once that model was discovered. If they don’t, then despite the concerns Sinclair’s influence will be limited.

From what I gather, though, Sinclair stations are considered dangerous by some precisely because going full Fox Jr is not what they are doing. If they pepper their point-of-view in between reports on the cat show at the convention center and the carjackings on the southeast side of town, people will come for those stories, and also get a good dose of sermon about the Deep State. That’s how you do it, both commercially and politically. Further, although the market may be tough going forward, if they are committed to this, Sinclair will keep going while others fold. It’s not clear that several competing news organizations can thrive, but there is a strong likelihood at least one or two might with limited competition.

If nothing else, Sinclair management is known for its innovative methods of adhering to the letter of FCC rules. The company bought into the Oklahoma City market in 1996 by acquiring KOCB, then a UPN affiliate, and then signed a local marketing agreement with the then-owner of Fox affiliate KOKH-TV. (Not long after, Sinclair signed a deal with The WB to switch its UPN stations to the Frog.) Local marketing agreements had existed in radio before that, and still do — Champlin Broadcasting is the licensee of KQOB-FM, aka “Fun 96.9,” though the station is run by the local Cumulus group — but they were largely unheard of in television, which the FCC allegedly ran more strictly. (Champlin also owns KNAH-FM, which they operate themselves.) By 1999, the FCC had decided to allow TV duopolies, and Sinclair bought KOKH-TV outright.

The proposed acquisition of Tribune Media stations by Sinclair has caused some alarm, about which Truman says:

In response to this story, a lot of Sinclair’s critics keep pointing ominously to the fact that Sinclair stations reach 40% of homes, and if the FCC goes forward with some deregulation, that number could jump to 70%. Whether the deregulation is a good idea or not, that’s less scary than one might think. How many homes does CBS News have access to? Far more than 70%. Sinclair could have access to 100% and it still wouldn’t bother me. That’s the wrong thing to be thinking about. The right thing to be concerned about is how much of the various markets they control where they exist. It’s better that they be one of eight options in six cities than six of eight options in one city.

Speculation in OKC is that Sinclair will give up KOKH-TV and KOCB in favor of keeping Tribune’s KFOR-TV, a major NBC affiliate, and its independent sister KAUT-TV. We shall see.

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It helps to have an audience

Tam lives in Indianapolis, which is a pretty respectable TV-news town, as TV-news towns go:

[T]he quality of newscasts is driven by competition in the city. There are affiliates of all four networks plus one independent that each run a newsroom and compete for the local news eyeballs. As a result, the better stations here have news production values as good as I’ve seen from some stations in much bigger markets, like Atlanta or DFW.

And they have time to use, too: a couple of Indy stations run over 60 hours of locally-produced news stuff every single week.

Channel 2 in Terre Haute? Not so much:

WTWO this morning looked like it was being broadcast by a particularly on-the-ball high school A/V club.

Even in small markets, though, there are Standard Figures:

Among the most pathos-ridden figures at the tiny market stations are the Silver-Haired Newsreaders With Gravitas who realize that they’ve reached the Silver-Haired Newsreader With Gravitas phase of their careers without ever being called up to the show. They’re like the “Crash” Davises of broadcast journalism.

Almost coming to mind is Mitch English, who did lots of time at WTVY Dothan, Alabama; after co-hosting the syndicated The Daily Buzz and occasionally filling in at WCBS New York (New York!), he ended up at KOKH in Oklahoma City. Harry Chapin should have written a song about him.

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Where do they go from here?

Last we looked, Sinclair Broadcast Group was getting ready to buy Tribune Broadcasting’s stations, which would cement Sinclair’s position as the largest TV group owner in the country. Undecided at that time: how Sinclair and/or the FCC would deal with the Oklahoma City TV market, which is served by two Tribune stations and two Sinclair stations.

On the very last page of Monday’s Oklahoman there was a brace of legal notices. The first:

On February 21, 2018, an application was filed seeking FCC consent to the assignment of KOKH-TV’s license from KOKH Licensee, LLC to Sinclair Divestiture Trust. KOKH Licensee, LLC is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. The officers, directors, and 10% or more shareholders of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. are David D. Smith, Frederick G. Smith, J. Duncan Smith, Robert E. Smith, Howard E. Friedman, Daniel C. Keith, Martin R. Leader, Lawrence E. McCanna, David B. Amy, Christopher S. Ripley, Lucy A. Rutishauser, Barry M. Faber, Steven M. Marks, Steven J. Pruett, David R. Bochenek, Rebecca J. Hanson, Delbert R. Parks, III, Donald H. Thompson, and Robert D. Weisbord.

The Trustee of Sinclair Divestiture Trust is RAFAMEDIA LLC. The Sole Member of RAFAMEDIA LLC is Richard A. Foreman, a respected long-time media broker who has no personal, familial or extra-trust business relationship with Sinclair or its affiliates.

A copy of this application can be found in the station’s online public inspection file at www.fcc.gov.

Second verse, same as the first, except it pertained to KOCB-TV, Sinclair’s other current OKC station.

If that word “divestiture” jumps out at you, well, here are some of the deets:

In an FCC divestiture plan released on February 21, 2018, Sinclair stated it intended to divest either KOKH-TV or KFOR-TV to an unaffiliated third-party buyer to comply with FCC prohibitions on common ownership of two of the four highest-rated local stations in terms of total day viewership, and put them and their respective duopoly partners (KOCB and KAUT) into a divestiture trust independently overseen by Rafamedia LLC (owned by media broker Richard A. Foreman) until a buyer for one of the two Big Four network affiliates is found. Sinclair would also divest either KOCB or KAUT to comply with rules barring singular legal ownership of more than two full-power television stations in a single market (should the buyer not be the acquirer of the divested Big Four outlet, Sinclair would have the option of operating either outlet under a shared services agreement following the completion of the sale).

So it’s sort of official: Sinclair appears to be keeping KFOR-TV (an NBC affiliate) and KAUT (an independent), and ditching KOKH-TV (Fox) and KOCB (The CW). Maybe. I will continue to watch for developments.

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Pursuing the wily ratings point

Brian J. has been subjected to an unusually large number of radio format changes lately:

So 106 “The River” in Springfield, the local “Jack” station, or whatever they call the variety format that plays a couple dozen hits from the 80s, a couple dozen hits from the 90s, and six or ten songs from after the turn of the century, has shifted its playlist to include Led Zeppelin and AC/DC.

The industry term for Jackalikes is “Variety Hits”; I note that Radio-Locator now lists KRVI as “Adult Hits.” (Weirdly, our local VH station, once branded as “Bob,” is now branded as “Alice.” Make of that what you will.)

So 104 “The Cave,” a classic hits (what we used to call Album Oriented Rock back in the day) determined it needed to compete with that format by playing MØAR POWER BALLADS.

The rock station that played new hard rock and metal, Q102, decided what it needed was alternative music from the 1990s. Friends, most of the rock music from the 1990s sucked. Sorry, but you know it’s true. Grunge corrupted everything it touched, and emogoth really loud is not rock.

I note for no good reason that of all the decades since my birth, the 1990s rank as the least represented on my workbox iTunes install.

US 97, which touts its long-standing rock heritage and pedigree dating all the way back to the Clinton administration, has added some newer songs but has also added more 90s rock and power ballads.

I note, again for no good reason, that of those four stations, only one — KXUS, “US 97,” is actually licensed to Springfield. KKLH, “104.7 The Cave,” is out of Marshfield; KRVI, “106.7 The River,” comes from Mount Vernon. Perhaps the oddest, though, is KQRA, “Q102.1,” which is licensed to Brookline, Missouri, a village that exists now only as a post office; it’s been merged into Republic.

And The Cave and Q102 are owned by the same group operator out of Madison, Wisconsin, which owns two other stations in town, neither of which are licensed to Springfield. I’ve been griping about this sort of thing for nigh unto twenty years.

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Moribund the K

A few days back, Roger had a nifty little feature on American radio stations, the K— and W— call letters, and various outliers on the “wrong” side of the dividing line. None of us knew at the time that one of those outliers was about to be euthanized:

It’s not that we had any illusions that KQV (1410) in Pittsburgh was especially healthy, as standalone AMs go. Its directional signal struggles to cover even a fraction of the market, and its programming, which mixes expensive hours of all-news radio during the day with talk and classic radio dramas at night, has been all but invisible in the ratings for years now. That didn’t matter as much when the wealthy Richard Scaife was subsidizing the station as part of a media group that also included the Tribune-Review newspaper — but Scaife sold his partial interest in KQV a year before his death in 2014, leaving the station in the hands of the children of longtime GM Robert W. Dickey, Sr., who had himself died in 2011.

In November came news of the death of Dickey’s daughter Cheryl Scott, who’d been KQV’s business manager for decades, leaving her brother Robert W. Dickey, Jr. running the station solo. That appeared to have been the last straw for KQV in its current form. With Scott gone and family members apparently at odds about whether to keep the station going, Dickey, Jr. made the announcement on Friday that KQV will cease operating at midnight on Dec. 31.

KQV perhaps is best remembered for its days as a dominant Top 40 station, its relatively weak signal (5,000 watts, and weirdly directional, especially at night) notwithstanding. From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, the Groovy QV, later 14K, brought you, if you were nearby, the latest hits. One of the voices between the singles in those latter days was one Jeff Christie, who’s still in radio today, though not in Top 40 and not on KQV. What’s more, Christie’s given up his pseudonym in favor of his real name: Rush Limbaugh.

Pittsburgh retains one K call from the old days: KDKA, owned these days by CBS.

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All static, all the time (2)

From 2015: “Two years from now,” they predict, there will be no FM radio in Norway:

Norway’s Minister of Culture announced this week that a national FM-radio switch off will commence in 2017, allowing the country to complete its transition over to digital radio. It’s the end of an era.

As Radio.no notes, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) will provide Norwegian listeners more diverse radio channel content than ever before. Indeed, DAB already hosts 22 national channels in Norway, as opposed to FM radio’s five, and a TNS Gallup survey shows that 56% of Norwegian listeners use digital radio every day. While Norway is the first country in the world to set a date for an FM switch-off, other countries in Europe and Southeast Asia are also in the process of transitioning to DAB.

As of yesterday, the deed is essentially done:

Norway on Wednesday completed its transition to digital radio, becoming the first country in the world to shut down national broadcasts of its FM radio network despite some grumblings.

As scheduled, the country’s most northern regions and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic switched to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in the late morning, said Digitalradio Norge (DRN) which groups Norway’s public and commercial radio.

The transition, which began on January 11th, allows for better sound quality, a greater number of channels and more functions, all at a cost eight times lower than FM radio, according to authorities.

Downside: DAB receivers start at around €100; only about half of Norway’s motor vehicles are equipped with DAB; and at least some of the radio audience is missing in action:

According to a study cited by local media, the share of Norwegians who listen to the radio on a daily basis has dropped by 10 percent in one year, and public broadcaster NRK has lost 21 percent of its audience.

Some local stations, not affiliated with the DRN group, are still running their FM transmitters.

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A decidedly cloudy forecast

Cumulus Media, which owns 446 radio stations in the US, has been in dire straits:

Atlanta-based radio giant Cumulus Media has filed to reorganize in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with $2.4 billion in debt. It has reached an agreement with 69% of its term loan holders.

Cumulus’ pre-packaged restructuring agreement with lenders will reduce the company’s debt by more than $1 billion. The filing took place at United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Earlier this month, Cumulus defaulted on a nearly $24 million debt payment to its lenders. The stock will continue to trade on the OTC (over-the-counter) market, where it moved after being delisted at NASDAQ last week.

Shares in CMLS are selling for a very non-NASDAQy nine cents a share. And speaking of shares, the top-rated Cumulus station in Oklahoma City, the nation’s #50 market, is WWLS, the Sports Animal, which scored a 4 share, fifth among local stations.

Required management jargon:

Cumulus president/CEO Mary Berner insisted the company will turn its fortunes around in her press statement. “Over the last two years, we have focused on implementing a business plan to reverse the company’s multi-year ratings, revenue and EBITDA declines, create a culture that fosters motivated and engaged employees, and build an operational foundation to support the kind of performance we believe Cumulus is capable of delivering. This has resulted in increased ratings, revenue market share gains, improved employee satisfaction, reduced employee turnover and, over the last several quarters, our return to year-over-year EBITDA and revenue growth — demonstrating that turnaround has not only been successful, but is continuing. However, as we have noted consistently, the debt overhang left by previous years of underperformance remains a significant financial challenge that we must overcome for our operational turnaround to proceed.”

Short version: “Most of this crap happened before I got here.”

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A cord you need not cut

Mark Hill (no relation) happened upon this 1960s artifact:

AM radio by Internet Radio (Product) Limited

An apt name, he says, despite the lack of historical connection:

The cream case, flat upright format, rounded corners, and “screen”-like black tuning display all recall Jonathan Ive’s now legendary design for the iPod. The Internet radio even has white earphones! I’m not accusing Ive of copying it of course, but the resemblance is striking and I wonder if these mid-century portable transistor radios (which often look alike) were an influence on his design.

This particular model was made in Hong Kong. The one I had came from Japan:

“Nine-volt batteries back then were like three for a dollar instead of $3 apiece,” I muttered to myself this week as I replaced the unit in my ancient Radio Shack Weatheradio.

(Via American Digest.)

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The Sports Vegetables

Doc Searls could have predicted it, I suppose, but being Doc Searls, he chose to do the research, and it turns out that he was right. The top radio market for sports is Boston, and nowhere else comes close:

Boston 11.0
Philadelphia 8.7
Minneapolis-St. Paul 6.9
Detroit 6.4
Middlesex-Somerset-Union, NJ 6.4
Oklahoma City 6.2
Baltimore 6.1
Nashville 5.9
New York 5.8
Pittsburgh 5.8
Kansas City 5.8

Now how does Oklahoma City rate sixth, ahead of New York fercrissake? Here’s his methodology:

My source is Radio-Online’s Nielsen Radio Ratings, current as of today. The big markets all last reported on September 29, and they are posted monthly. Some of the mid-markets reported on dates in October. All of the bigs and the mids report monthly. The small markets, such as Green Bay, report quarterly. While Green Bay was last updated on August 2, the last quarter listed is Spring of this year. I also include side-markets, such as those flanking New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

I list all the U.S. radio markets with a major league baseball, football, basketball or hockey team there or nearby.

And let’s face it, we have a hell of a lot of sports radio around here: three full-time AMs (KWPN, KGHM, KREF) and three FMs (WWLS-FM, KINB, KRXO-FM), plus the occasional translator, and KTOK carries much of the Los Angeles Dodgers season. Lots of signals for a market with one major-league team.

Now compare that to San Antonio, a somewhat larger market with one major-league team. There’s only one full-time sports station (KTKR), and they’re not the station carrying the Spurs, who are on WOAI.

Of course, we have OU and OSU to fill up space, especially during college-football season.

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Have your affiliate

One of those ultra-informative Roberta X footnotes says:

Networks don’t have licenses; individual stations do. Only a tiny fraction of U.S. TV stations are actually owned by the network they carry. Most people don’t know that and assume that the station they watch ABNBCBS on must, in fact, be that network. So when a President Tweets, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” he is channeling H. L. Mencken’s Everyman, and threatening his waiter for the misdeeds of the cook.

The phrase that caught my eye was “tiny fraction.” When I started paying attention to this stuff back around 1970, there existed something called the 7-7-7 rule, tucked handily into the FCC regulations: a single owner, individual or corporate, could own a maximum of seven TV stations, seven AM radio stations and seven FM radio stations. Since each of the three networks in this pre-Fox era had about 200 affiliates nationwide, “tiny fraction” described the situation rather precisely.

But that was nearly half a century ago; regulations have been loosened, and in some instances thrown out entirely. Does “tiny fraction” still apply? The answer, I learned, is yes: CBS owns about 30 TV stations, NBC 13, and ABC only eight.

Does CBS, then, have twice the reach of its rivals? Not even. Of the 30 stations owned by CBS, only 16 actually carry CBS programs. Eight carry the program schedule of The CW, a network owned half by CBS and half by Time Warner. Two more are affiliated with MyNetworkTV, a sister company to, um, Fox. The other four are wholly independent.

Before you ask: Fox owns 28 stations. The largest station operator is Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 173 stations, not including the Tribune Media properties which Sinclair has contracted to buy.

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In color where available

This dates to about 1965, or nine years before our thrifty-or-else family actually got a color TV. And yes, it was an RCA Victor.

1965 advertisement for RCA Victor color TV

Most of those sets were 21-inchers; the console with the stereo system says specifically it’s 25 inches. As always, the screen measurement is taken along a diagonal, since Pythagoras promised them it would be a bigger number.

And if you were alive in ’65, you might have seen these on the Big Three networks:

Of course, I got to see them in black and white.

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Nothing the least bit special

The big thing about cable television, back in the good old days (or maybe the old good days), was that you were presumably paying for higher-quality programming. Not anymore:

[T]hey start out with high quality and unique programming, but eventually every channel has its own variant on:

  1.   a show about a pawnshop or “antique pickers”
  2.   some kind of food competition show
  3.   a show about “tiny houses” with impossibly cute couples talking about how “great” it is to trade their big house for what’s essentially a stationary RV
  4.   some kind of freakshow thing about medical conditions
  5.   a fighting-family show, where either the family’s weirdness is the hook, or the fact that they all work in the same industry
  6.   some kind of show that maybe claims some kind of “anthropology” cred but is really voyeurism like all those shows about the Amish a couple years ago.

You could have seen this coming thirty years ago:

By the early 1980s, cable television had reached millions of American households and was starting to draw significant audiences away from the “Big Three” broadcast television networks. All three networks saw opportunities to expand into cable television in order to protect and grow their audiences, and they all experimented with niche programming. In fact, all three traditional networks introduced arts-related channels within one year of each other. CBS launched CBS Cable in 1981, which focused on “art house” and critical acclaimed programs; NBC, meanwhile, launched the similarly formatted The Entertainment Channel.

ABC partnered with the Hearst Corporation to create its own arts-oriented service, the Alpha Repertory Television Service. ARTS launched on April 12, 1981, focusing on highbrow cultural fare such as opera, ballet, classical symphonic performances, dramatic theater productions and select foreign films (besides CBS Cable and The Entertainment Channel, ARTS also competed with Bravo and the Public Broadcasting Service). Many cable providers had limited channel bandwidth at that time over their headends; as a result, CBS Cable struggled to find channel carriage and an audience, eventually folding in late 1982. However, while ARTS fared no better in finding viewers, it shared channel space with Nickelodeon, signing on at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time after the children’s television network ended its broadcast day. That shared channel arrangement was a perfect symbiotic scheduling match for the two networks given their respective audience demographics (the target viewership of ARTS either did not have young children or had sent them to bed by the time the channel began its programming).

What was ARTS is now, um, A&E, and it draws its programming largely from those half-dozen “ideas” above.

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Not their first 24-hour rodeo

FamilyNet television is no more. Say hello to the Cowboy Channel:

The cowboy’s lifestyle has long been one of fanciful dreams. Wide open spaces, lifelong friendships and shared experiences along with the special code of ethics that have made the cowboy a symbol of our American heritage and the West.

The cowboy represents a special type of person: fiercely independent, self-reliant, adventuresome, trustworthy and one of the first true environmentalists. His/Her lifestyle embodies many of the attributes we again are striving for in both our personal and professional lives.

There is a growing attraction to this philosophy among a wide cross section of Americans: business professionals, blue collar workers, among all age groups who feel integrity and honesty in business, and our personal lives, have been misplaced.

“The Cowboy Channel” is designed to bring the spirit of the American Cowboy to cable, satellite, and over-the-top audiences through extensive coverage of all western sports, documentaries, events, comedy, music and entertainment.

Projected audience: anyone who knows the words to “Don’t Fence Me In”; anyone who’s ever clambered down to street level, looked back at a rabbit warren of apartments and thought, “You know what? This sucks.”

McG notes:

RFD-TV [the Cowboy Channel’s sister station] has been sponsoring an annual rodeo called The American, the success of which has convinced the corporation there is sufficient demand for Western sports above and beyond what RFD, with its agribusiness and agrarian lifestyle focus, could offer.

I wonder if there’s any interest in cross-marketing with GunTV.

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Phone KOmrade-RU12

Niche-market radio station disappears, replaced by station with a different niche. Nothing new about that, with, um, one minor exception in the District of Columbia:

Those who’ve become accustomed to hearing bluegrass music when they turn the dial to 105.5 FM are in for a surprise—the bandwidth now broadcasts Sputnik, a “global wire, radio and digital news service” funded by the Russian government.

“It’s radio that brings you the views that you don’t get from other stations,” says Mindia Gavasheli, the editor in chief of Sputnik U.S.

And surely it doesn’t cost as much to operate as did the US branch of Al-Jazeera, though this makes me wonder:

Sputnik news feeds in English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese are available around the clock. Regional editorial offices in Washington, Cairo, Beijing and Montevideo work 24/7 to provide a non-stop newscast.

Sputnik has been carried on an HD subchannel of 93.9 WKYS, an urban-contemporary station; the bluegrass programming is now on a subchannel of noncommercial WAMU.

Still, I’m going to find it irresistible to crank up some Cold War parodies of Soviet-style broadcasting. From 1959, “Russian Band Stand” by Spencer and Spencer:

One of those Spencers is King of Novelty Dickie Goodman. (Side note: We had a temp who, after listening to about half an hour of my iTunes install, told me there was one record I couldn’t possibly have: this one. I duly jumped it to the front of the shuffle. He was gone after a few days.)

Eight years later, your favorite Russian disk jockey, Nikita the K:

Which, you’ll note, is the source of this otherwise-inexplicable title.

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Keepers of the sacred tablets

Welcome to Rare Disease Month. (Actually, I think that was February, but no matter.) This should make the producers of the few remaining soap operas very, very happy. Look what it did for ABC’s General Hospital:

A recent plot twist … had one character not just getting any cancer, but polycythemia vera (PV), a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN). In other words, a rare form of blood cancer for which the standard treatment is blood-letting and anticoagulants.

The TV patient, not satisfied with this prognosis, demands of the doctor, “This protocol sounds like you are treating the symptoms of this cancer; how do we beat it?” “I have to keep going to bloodlettings for the rest of my life?”

Now that’s the beginning of a story arc for the ages. And there’s technical assistance to be had:

Why is GH highlighting this incredibly specific cancer? It’s ostensibly the culmination of a partnership between a company called the Incyte Corporation and the producers of the show to raise awareness for MPNs as part of rare disease month.

Or, you know, not:

But in an opinion piece published this week in medical journal JAMA, Dr. Sham Mailankody of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Dr. Vinay Prasad of Oregon Health & Science University argue that this is really just stealth advertising for Incyte, which just so happens to make only one FDA-approved product, ruxolitinib, which (you can probably see where this is going) is used to treat MPNs, including PV.

Doesn’t sound like an off-label usage. What’s the problem?

But the fictional circumstances could make it seem like ruxolitinib is a first-line therapy for PV, which it is not, the doctors note.

“Instead it has a precise and narrow indication,” they write, explaining that the drug is approved only for patients with an inadequate response or intolerance to chemotherapy, who are dependent on blood-letting, and who have an enlarged spleen.

“Thus, if PV is rare, appropriate use of ruxolitinib in PV should be rarer still,” the doctors say.

On the other hand, you’re not going to see routine stuff like mere strep on General Hospital, fercrissake. And you don’t want to know how much Jakafi (the brand name under which ruxolitinib is sold) is going to cost.

Oh, you do? I checked prices in my neighborhood, and we’re talking $2,800.

For fourteen tablets.

Two hundred bucks, give or take a dollar or three, per tab. If you’re going to be able to afford that, it probably helps to have a steady gig on an ABC soap.

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Four’s a crowd

First, the jargon:

Sinclair Broadcast Group has set a $3.9 billion cash-and-stock agreement to acquire Tribune Media, a deal that will bring more than 200 TV stations under one roof and vault Sinclair into the big leagues of national TV.

“This is a transformational acquisition for Sinclair that will open up a myriad of opportunities for the company,” said Chris Ripley, president-CEO of Sinclair. “The Tribune stations are highly complementary to Sinclair’s existing footprint and will create a leading nationwide media platform that includes our country’s largest markets. The acquisition will enable Sinclair to build ATSC 3.0 (Next Generation Broadcast Platform) advanced services, scale emerging networks and national sales, and integrate content verticals. The acquisition will also create substantial synergistic value through operating efficiencies, revenue streams, programming strategies and digital platforms.”

This is where it gets interesting, at least in this market: Sinclair already owns KOKH-TV (Fox) and KOCB (The CW), while Tribune owns KFOR-TV (NBC) and KAUT-TV (independent). Up to now, the FCC has allowed no more than two stations per owner in a single market:

The rule allows an entity to own up to two TV stations in the same [Designated Market Area] if either (1) the service areas — known as “Grade B signal contours” — of the stations do not overlap; or (2) at least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (based on market share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination.

Condition 2 obtains here: KOCB doesn’t make it to the top four, as you might expect of an affiliate of the fifth-place network, and the Oklahoma City market has 13 full-power TV stations with 11 different owners. The third duopoly, should you want to know, is Griffin Communications’ KWTV-DT (CBS) and KSBI (MyNetworkTV).

Loosening of the FCC ownership rules is an ongoing process, headed by the FCC’s Ajit Pai, nomimated to the Commission by President Obama in 2012, and named Chairman by President Trump in 2017. However, I can’t see them loosening the rules enough to allow one entity to own four full-power stations in a single market; Sinclair, I’m thinking, will sell off one or two. And since KOKH and KOCB are pretty solidly integrated, I don’t expect Sinclair to break up the set; I mean, what would happen to the content verticals?

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Shutting the Fox up

WFXT in Boston, which was but is no longer owned by Fox Broadcasting, has been downplaying its network affiliation, apparently as a matter of branding:

FOX 25 Boston is dropping the FOX affiliation from its newscast names.

The station is switching to “Boston 25 News” starting April 24.

“The perception of what our TV news station does is not what we do. They perceive us to be part of the Fox News family,” said general manager of the Cox-owned station Tom Raponi.

The Fox 25 branding will remain for non-news shows, which presumably don’t embarrass leftish Bostonians the way Fox News apparently does.

(Via Patrick Phillips.)

Addendum: Then there’s this:

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Four channels and nothing on

An artifact from the early days of cable:

What I wanted to know is this: what four channels? Sault Ste. Marie had no TV stations of its own in 1969; WWUP-TV (UP, get it?), channel 10, rebroadcast WWTV, the CBS station in Cadillac, Michigan; WPBN-TV (then owned by the Paul Bunyan Network), channel 7, brought in NBC from Traverse City. There was no ABC affiliate back then, so those two split whatever ABC programs they thought might be worth carrying. (In 1971, WGTU, channel 29, would sign on from Traverse City as a full-time ABC affiliate; five years later they added a satellite on channel 8 in Sault Ste. Marie proper.) Educational TV? Maybe, if you could pick up WCMU-TV from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant — and if you were on the cable, you probably could, even though WCMU was way out on channel 14.

Still, we’ve accounted for only three channels. For the fourth, we must venture northward. In 1955, CJIC-TV signed on from the Ontario side of the river on channel 2; it became a CBC affiliate, closing down in 2002. (It’s now rebroadcasting CBC Toronto.)

As for prices, well, $3.99 a month (we’re extrapolating from “13 cents a day”) for four channels works out to about a buck a channel. Last time I rescanned the TV I was getting 106 channels for $86, 81 cents a channel. If there were economies of scale in the cable industry, they’ve long since faded away.

(I should point out here that I’ve spent maybe half a week of my life in Michigan, and none in the Upper Peninsula; I do have a lot of reference materials, and occasionally, I have time on my hands.)

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Clickbait for the eyes

“It is indeed a goddam noisy box,” Jubal Harshaw said to the Man from Mars. And of course he was right:

I think I’m done with local news. This morning they reported on a string of burglaries a couple counties south of me and spent about a minute on the story, and then lavished five minutes (roughly) on one of those “Florida Man” stories where someone gets themselves in trouble with the law in a highly stupid way and I was like, “I could use more detail about the LOCAL burglaries so I could know what to do to avoid becoming a victim” but of course, entertainment value and the freak-show that modern life has become seems to be more important and probably gets more eyeballs.

Once again, I think of my plan to offer a “Just News” channel that ran the important news stories — no celebrity fluff, no dumb-criminal stories, no oversweetened Human Interest stuff — and repeated it every 15 minutes or so. Or maybe devoted 15 minutes to Europe news, 15 minutes to The Americas, 15 minutes to Asia, and 15 minutes to Africa … and then loop it around. (And yeah: Australia would have to go in with Asia, I suppose.)

“You give us 22 minutes,” says WINS Radio in New York, “and we’ll give you the world.” And they’ve been doing that for over 50 years.

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Sort of a bandwagon

And a short bandwagon at that, but surely no harm is being done:

A Birmingham radio station is taking women hosts off the air and will only play songs by men as part of [today’s] “A Day Without a Woman” protest.

WUHT/Hot 107.7, a Cumulus Media station, said the change reflects the absence of women for the day. Midday host Tasha Simone and station voice Jeannie Johnson will be off air for the day and all songs played during non-syndication hours will feature men only.

“This was an easy decision for us,” said Ken Johnson, Operations Manager, WUHT-FM/Hot 107.7, and Vice President, Urban, Cumulus Media, said. “Women are our core listeners and these women contribute a great deal to our sound. Honoring women by highlighting to the community how important they are is a no-brainer.”

Wonder if DJ Big Sweatt will get his hours extended.

“Plus,” said Johnson, “hearing more Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross is not a bad thing.”

True that.

(Via Kirby McCain.)

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