Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Midweek Housekeeping

While sharpening our creative writing skills, some brief headlines of stuff we've not posted so far...and some fairly new stuff...

BELLO EXITS: AllAccess reports that Radio One urban AC WZAK/93.1 Cleveland assistant program director/music director/midday personality Terry Bello is no longer in the building on St. Clair Avenue.

In addition to his duties on WZAK, Bello was also program director of sister gospel outlet WJMO/1300 "Praise 1300"...

MR. BURBANK'S RETIREMENT: We regret providing the proper coverage for the departure of a Cincinnati radio icon.

Though we mostly "live" up here near home in Northeast Ohio, we were certainly aware of Gary Burbank, who did afternoon drive on Clear Channel talk WLW/700 for some 27 years until retiring at the end of 2007.

Burbank's syndication effort showed up briefly on at least one Northeast Ohio station, but his profile was large, popular and based in the Tri-State. In fact, Burbank will still syndicate his "Earl Pitts: Uhmerikun" commentaries...keeping 'ol Earl alive beyond retirement.

Recently, listeners across America who subscribe to XM Satellite Radio were able to hear the last part of Burbank's career on XM Channel 173.

Those tuned to that channel this week in afternoon drive - or to that certain 50,000 watt blowtorch at 700 AM - have finally heard Burbank's replacement show.

As expected, WLW has tapped veteran sister rock WEBN/102.7 "Dawn Patrol" morning host Eddie Fingers, a regular Burbank fill-in, teaming up with station weekend baseball postgame host Tracy Jones. (And no, no one was buying the announcement by midday mainstay Bill "Willie" Cunningham.)

Fingers is no "spring chicken", either...he's been at WEBN for 22 years, starting just five years after Burbank first took the microphone on "The Big One".

Cincinnati Enquirer radio/TV guru John Kiesewetter breaks the news on his blog, which contains a truckload of rather interesting comments from listeners, station employees in anonymous garb and random people on the Internet.

And no, not many of the comments are nice.

We've never heard Fingers on the air. We've heard Jones once or twice on his baseball postgame show, and we've not yet heard the two together. do you replace a legend?

Don't ask rocker David Lee Roth, who crashed and burned spectacularly when Howard Stern exited over-air radio for the Land of Sirius.

We're not saying "Fingers and Jones" will suffer the same fate,'s tough walking in the shoes of someone who defined not only his time slot on his station, but was a pillar in the foundation of talk radio in his home market.

Our next question: What happens to Fingers' role on the "Dawn Patrol" show? We don't know that answer, yet...

DIGITAL TV PUSH: With all of America's full-power TV stations set to shut off their analog signals in just over a year - February 17, 2009 - there's been a renewed push to remind Americans about the switch.

Hardly a day goes by that one local TV station or another here in Northeast Ohio isn't running educational spots for the digital TV transition, or doing a story about it on a newscast.

What they don't tell you - at least some stations will still be broadcasting in analog after that date next year, though it's anyone's guess as to how long those stations will be on the air.

They are the collection of low-power TV/Class A stations, which are not affected by the 2/17/09 date. It's not known right now when they will be forced to move to digital only - for one, the costs are pretty high for operations that run on a smaller budget.

Here in the immediate OMW coverage area, the LPTV stations providing "general entertainment programming" include:

* Media-Com's WAOH-LP/29 Akron-W35AX/35 Cleveland, collectively known as "The CAT",

* Image Video's WIVM/52 Canton-WIVN/29 Newcomerstown, which serve the Canton and Dover/New Philadelphia area,

* And two LPTVers serving as network affiliates for the Youngstown market, WYFX-LP/62 Youngstown-WFXI-CA/17 Mercer PA ("FOX 17/62", the FOX affiliate sister of New Vision CBS affiliate WKBN/27.

That listing doesn't even account for translators, like the W58AM/Youngstown relay of "PBS 45 & 49" (WNEO/WEAO), or the numerous TBN translators dotting the landscape.

A cursory check of the FCC database shows that none of the above, except for W58AM, has applied for a digital companion channel - a move that would mostly be fruitless at this late date.

We have no idea how many of Northeast Ohio's LPTVers are readying for a digital-only future by cutting over to digital broadcasting, but we'd expect "few, if any" would be the answer.

"The CAT", the Akron/Cleveland simulcast run by Media-Com, is a sister station to talk WNIR/100.1, which pretty much defines the phrase "low-budget" all on its own. And TV equipment, of course, is much more expensive as a rule than radio equipment...let alone digital TV equipment.

We don't suspect the Image Video folks are running with a much larger budget in Canton, though they have another iron in the fire - they'll eventually have to upgrade some equipment to digital down the road as a major provider of outsourced production services to TV stations and even various cable sports networks. Still, we wouldn't bet the farm on WIVM or WIVN being digital on 2/17/09.

If we had to bet on the first digital LPTV operation in Northeast Ohio - aside from the W58AM translator on DT 44 - the bet would be on "FOX 17/62".

The New Vision outlet already provides a HDTV feed of its FOX signal to Armstrong Cable, and "WYFX" resides on the second digital subchannel of WKBN-DT (27.2). That means that only an over-air HDTV FOX signal would be missing even if the station doesn't make the digital "flash cut" switch next February.

The whole topic came to our attention courtesy of Metro Video's Greg Phipps, who owns four LPTV network affiliates in the western Ohio city of Lima.

Phipps' LPTV roster includes FOX affiliate WOHL-CA/25, CBS affiliate WLMO-LP/38, and ABC affiliate WLQP-LP/18. WOHL also carries MyNetworkTV programming in off-pattern hours. His group offers every network offered over-air in Lima aside from NBC, long-carried on full-power WLIO/35.

In an op-ed column in Sunday's Lima News, Phipps lays out his case for readers:

In Lima, our group of local network affiliate stations is not subject to the February 2009 cutoff date. Lima is in the unique position of being able to receive WLMO, WLQP, WOHL and MyNetwork TV on their existing traditional analog channels after the DTV cutoff.

I thank The Lima News and full-power station WLIO for reaching out and trying to educate viewers about the DTV transition. It’s important to make consumers aware of the coupon program and DTV changes. However, both fail to mention that three of our local major network affiliates, Fox, CBS and ABC, are not affected by the deadline and may continue to broadcast in analog for some time after the transition.

But here's the problem for Phipps and the other LPTV stations carrying "mainstream" programming, like major broadcast networks: With the LPTV DTV transition date up in the air, how many over-air stragglers will hang around the analog spectrum - assuming they don't already have cable, and aren't already getting all the stations on the same dial?

Phipps' concerns may be allevated by the fact that - as far as we know - all of his stations now have placement on most local cable systems in West Central Ohio, including Time Warner Cable's Lima system. It took them a while, but TWC in Lima finally added Metro Video's newest station - WLMO/38 "CBS 38" - to its roster.

All the other stations have some form of cable carriage, though not all ideal.

WAOH/W35AX are long-time residents of TWC Akron's cable channel 14, but haven't yet made inroads in most of the former Adelphia territories TWC has taken over in Cleveland.

And WIVM/WIVN gets high channel analog cable carriage in the former Adelphia territories south of Canton (99), but is relegated to digital cable channel 585 on TWC Canton.

We'll keep an eye on how the DTV transition affects these unique local stations...

AND CALL LETTER SHUFFLES: We haven't noted it here yet, but Clear Channel alt-rocker "Radio 106.7", the new entrant in the Columbus market that was once Marion country outlet WMRN-FM/106.9, is now sporting brand new call letters of WRXS with its new COL of Dublin.

And up the road at the station's former cluster in Marion, former AC outlet WDIF/94.3 has indeed picked up the WMRN-FM call go along with the "Buckeye Country" format it's been running since 106.9 went off the air in Marion...

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