October 2015

Sci-Fi subchannel network Comet TV is set to launch on Oct. 31 with at least eight affiliates in the Upper Midwest, all of them owned by network partner Sinclair Broadcast Group. Comet TV's initial lineup includes cult classics "Outer Limits" and "Stargate SG-1" but also six hours per day of paid programming. The network's website is listing affiliates including WCGV/24.2 (Milwaukee), WCWF/14.2 (Suring-Green Bay), WMSN/47.2 (Madison), KGAN/2.3 (Cedar Rapids), KTVO/3.3 (Kirksville-Ottumwa), KDSM/17.2 (Des Moines), KMEG/14.3 (Sioux City), and KPTM/42.3 (Omaha). It appears Comet will displace getTV in Des Moines and Madison and Estrella TV in Omaha, unless they're moving to new channels. (10/29/2015)

Media General's KWQC-TV (Davenport) says it'll begin carrying Ion TV on channel 6.2 on Nov. 1, displacing a local weather channel. The station is a primary NBC affiliate and also carries Cozi TV on channel 6.3. KWQC appears to be only the second station nationwide to carry Ion on a subchannel, and one of only a few Ion affiliates that isn't owned and operated by the network. Ion carries reruns of recent network shows. (10/29/2015)

Scripps' KMTV (Omaha) has added Laff on channel 3.3, which is a new channel for the station. Laff carries comedy movies and sitcoms from the 1990's. KMTV is a primary CBS affiliate and also carries Antenna TV on 3.2. (10/29/2015)

A belated note that KNEN/94.7 (Norfolk) has switched from Classic Rock to an information-heavy Classic Hits format as "News Channel Nebraska." The name change coincides with the launch of low-power TV station KNEN-LD/35 (Norfolk), which also uses the "News Channel Nebraska" branding. The stations are owned by Flood Communications. (10/29/2015)

Bott Communications has withdrawn its application for a new station on AM 1130 in central Nebraska, saying concerns about interference to the FCC monitoring station in Grand Island make the project "not economically feasible." The Christian broadcaster had won the frequency in a 2014 auction. It had sought a station licensed to Ravenna using 12kW daytime, 3kW critical hours, and 600 Watts nighttime with a directional antenna pattern shooting east and west, but the FCC sought changes to protect its monitoring station. Bott says the changes to protect the monitoring station would require construction of a six-tower array and the resulting facility would not reach any major population centers. Bott already has FM translators in Grand Island and Hastings and owns KCVN/104.5 (Cozad), which delivers a strong signal to Kearney and Lexington. (10/28/2015)

A northeastern Twin Cities metro area church is buying an FM signal in the southeast metro. Forest Lake's Maranatha Assembly of God Church will pay Religious Information Network $52,000 for WAJC/88.1 (Newport), which transmits from the exurb of Coates and has a main coverage area including several southeastern suburbs. WAJC simulcasts a Christian Rock format called "The Remnant," which is produced by students at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and is simulcast on the HD4 signal of Northwestern's KTIS-FM/98.5 (Minneapolis). The format had been carried on HD subchannels of KTIS-FM prior to WAJC's sign-on in early 2013. (10/27/2015)

Edgewater Broadcasting is selling the construction permit for new translator K248CE/97.5 (Davenport) to Benjamin Shafer for $40,000. The CP calls for 41 Watts from central Davenport. Shafer, who has an address in St. Louis, is currently listed as an intern at a public radio station in Springfield, IL. (10/26/2015)

TV viewers in Rapid City may not notice any change to their channel lineup when Gray TV divests a station in the market. Though it'll be "moving" the ABC affiliation to a different station from a regulatory perspective, viewers will still find ABC on the same virtual broadcast channel and with the same callsign, according to an asset purchase agreement recently filed with the FCC. Gray TV will retain the rights to the KOTA-TV callsign and virtual channel 3.1 as part of its sale of the current KOTA-TV license to Legacy Broadcasting. The divestiture is needed because FCC rules prohibit co-ownership of both KOTA-TV, which Gray is buying as part of its purchase of Schurz Communications, and existing Gray FOX affiliate KEVN/7. The new virtual channel 3.1 could originate from either the current KEVN or new low-power station KEVN-LD, one of which will presumably take the KOTA-TV callsign.

The filing also revealed that KOTA-TV satellite KHSD/11 (Lead) will be included in the sale to Legacy, which is a change from Gray's previous statement that it would retain KHSD. Besides the KOTA-TV and KHSD licenses, which will operate under new callsigns, Legacy's purchase also includes the current KOTA-TV and KHSD transmitter sites, KOTA-TV's translator on channel 18 in Rapid City, and the rights to the MeTV and ThisTV affiliations -- all for $1.

Gray will retain current KOTA-TV satellites KSGW/12 (Sheridan, WY) and KDUH/4 (Scottsbluff, NE), but switch them to relay other Gray stations. KSGW will relay NBC affiliate KCWY/13 (Casper, WY), while KDUH will relay NBC affiliate KNOP/2 (North Platte, NE). In a revision of its original September filing, Gray now says it will apply to change KDUH's community of license to Sidney, NE, legally removing it from the Cheyenne-Scottsbluff market, where Gray already owns KGWN/5 (Cheyenne, WY) and satellite KSTF/10 (Scottsbluff, NE). Sidney is in the Denver market. KDUH would not change its transmission facility as part of the community of license change. (10/26/2015)

As part of its AM revitalization plan, the FCC has set its sights on 25 stations that had been expected to sign off years ago, including three in the Upper Midwest: KCFI/1250 (Cedar Falls-Waterloo), KZOT/1180 (Bellevue-Omaha), and WLMV/1480 (Madison).

The stations were among those granted permits to move to the expanded band (1620-1700) during the 1990's, with the plan that the old frequency would sign off after five years. Stations were chosen to move to the expanded band based on the amount of interference that would be reduced by their old frequency leaving the air. Stations in Des Moines, Iowa City, West Fargo, and Sussex-Milwaukee were among those which surrendered their old licenses as planned, but the 25 remaining stations never voluntarily signed off.

The notice of proposed rulemaking calls for a one-year deadline, to begin at a future date, for the 25 remaining licensees to surrender either their original frequency or their expanded band station. (The expanded band counterparts of the stations listed above are KDNZ/1650 Cedar Falls, KOZN/1620 Bellevue, and WOZN/1670 Madison.)

The FCC is also asking for comments on whether there is enough room in the expanded band to add more stations without creating too much interference, and who should be allowed to apply for new stations in the expanded band. (10/23/2015)

The FCC's AM revitalization plan includes an order that creates two new opportunities for AM stations to get FM translators:

First, a filing window in 2016 will give AM stations a chance to move an existing FM translator up to 250 miles to serve as an AM-on-FM translator. Currently, such moves can be achieved with a waiver (which is limited to a shorter distance) or a lengthy chain-link "hop" consisting of a series of temporary facilities. Only class C and D stations, which are generally less powerful, will be allowed to apply for moves in the first six months, with class A and B stations joining the party for a subsequent three-month window.

Then, there will be a filing window in 2017 for new FM translator licenses, limited to AM stations that didn't get one in the 2016 window. Class C and D stations will again get first crack.

However, these windows may not be of much benefit to AM stations in major markets, where there does not appear to be room for any more FM translators with significant coverage. (10/23/2015)

The FCC's AM revitalization plan includes several orders intended to help AM stations upgrade, find better transmission sites, or reduce operating costs by:

-Eliminating the "ratchet rule" that prevents facility changes for most stations unless they can show the change will reduce skywave interference. Northern Minnesota broadcaster Edward De La Hunt was one of only two commenters to support keeping the ratchet rule, arguing that it protects stations from receiving new interference from other stations, but the FCC found this was a "disproven rationale." The FCC agreed with most commenters that the benefit of upgrading a signal was greater than the cost of interference from another station that upgraded.

-Loosening requirements for a strong signal to communities of license, dropping the required daytime 5 mv/m coverage from 80 percent to 50 percent of the community, and imposing a similar 50 percent standard at night for new or modified facilities. The stated intention of the change is to allow stations greater flexibility to find tower sites and continue to serve communities that are getting physically larger. However, the move could also potentially allow some suburban or exurban stations to move their transmitters closer to larger nearby cities.

-Allowing stations to use a technology called Modulation Dependent Carrier Level, which allows newer transmitters to briefly reduce power during quiet intervals, saving money on the electric bill.

-Reducing the minimum efficiency standard for AM towers by 25 percent in an attempt to allow transmitters to be placed at more compact sites.

The plan also includes notice of proposed rulemaking on several issues, including:

-Dropping all "critical hours" protection for class A stations, which are the large 50kW blowtorches formerly known as "clear channel" stations. Critical hours are the hours after sunrise and before sunset, and about 200 stations are currently required to drop power and/or use a more restrictive antenna pattern during critical hours to avoid interference to class A stations. The requirement is particularly troublesome for stations since critical hours occur during drive time most of the year. The FCC is seeking data to show whether class A stations would really lose any listeners if critical hours protections are dropped.

-Reducing daytime contour protections for class B, C, and D stations, potentially allowing more stations to upgrade in an effort to overcome static and other manmade interference. (10/23/2015)

Red River Broadcast Co. is poised to launch classic TV channel Antenna TV in all three of its markets, according to the network's affiliate list. It lists the network as "coming soon" to KDLT/46.2 (Sioux Falls), KVRR/15.2 (Fargo), and KQDS-TV/21.2 (Duluth). KDLT, which is a primary NBC affiliate, currently carries Cozi TV on 46.2. KVRR and KQDS-TV are primary FOX affiliates and do not currently have subchannels. It's not immediately known whether Antenna TV will be carried on KDLT and KVRR's satellite stations. (10/23/2015)

Midwest Communications has brought the "Jack FM" Variety Hits format to northeastern Wisconsin, flipping WYDR/94.3 (Neenah-Appleton) from "The Drive" Classic Hits to "Jack." WYDR had carried "The Drive" for five years, mostly in a simulcast with WZDR/99.7 (Sturgeon Bay-Green Bay). 99.7 flipped to a simulcast of "Duke FM" (WGEE-FM/93.5 New London) as WDKF earlier this year. (10/23/2015)

Two of the four commercial radio stations in the Ironwood/Hurley area are getting new owners as Baroka Broadcasting buys WUPM/106.9 (Ironwood) and WHRY/1450 (Hurley) from Big G Little O, Inc. for $200,000. The buyer is headed by Jesse Baroka of Bessemer, who owns 60 percent of the company. WUPM carries an Adult Top 40 format while WHRY carries Oldies. (10/22/2015)

KLOH/1050 (Pipestone) will get an FM translator as owner Wallace Christensen buys K257FP/99.3 (Pipestone) from Refuge Media for $10,000. K257FP, which is not yet on the air, is currently permitted to transmit from a site south of town but has applied to move to the KLOH tower with 250 Watts. KLOH carries a Country format. (10/21/2015)

Santamaria Broadcasting is buying Davidson Media's KMNV/1400 (St. Paul) and KMNQ/1470 (Brooklyn Park) for $1.2 million. The buyer, headed by Maya Santamaria of Minneapolis, has been programming the stations for the past two years. They simulcast a spanish-language format as "La Raza," with KMNV serving the central part of the metro area and KMNQ serving the northern suburbs. (10/19/2015)

The TV industry is taking in the details of an upcoming FCC auction that could cause major change to the broadcast TV landscape nationwide, with potential that some broadcast owners could get tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to move to inferior channels, share spectrum with another station, or take their stations off the air for good.

The FCC on Friday released the opening bids for each TV station the upcoming spectrum auction, revealing for the first time the maximum amount TV broadcasters might receive. Since it'll be a reverse auction, prices will likely go down from the opening bid. The full list came out a day after the FCC released details of the auction, which has the ultimate goal of repacking the TV band to eliminate about 20 UHF TV channels that can then be sold to wireless providers.

Stations that reach larger populations and broadcast on UHF generally have higher opening bid prices. The highest opening bids in the Upper Midwest, topping $200 million, are for large UHF stations in the Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis markets. In contrast, some stations in very rural areas and those with small coverage areas are listed as "not needed" to be relinquished for the repacking to work. These include many stations in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and rural Minnesota.

There are four options: Go off the air completely, move to a VHF Low channel (2-6), move to a VHF High (7-13) channel, or share a channel with another station. (Readers should remember that many stations currently transmit on a UHF channel but remap to their former VHF channel number on DTV receivers.) Stations will have to tell the FCC during a December 1 to 18 filing window whether they are interested in participating, with the auction itself being held as soon as next spring.

TV NewsCheck reported earlier this year that Tribune, Univision, Ion, and Fox have stated their intention to sell some spectrum.

There's no way around the fact that the spectrum auction will lead to reduced broadcast TV service in several ways:
-Fewer news voices if TV stations with news departments shut down.
-The loss of programming when stations go off the air completely or have to drop multicast channels as part of a channel-sharing arrangement.
-Reduced picture quality for some networks because of channel-sharing arrangements.
-Signals that are more difficult to receive because VHF channels, especially VHF Low, are difficult to receive with indoor antennas and more suspectible to interference.

The auction will, of course, also mean job losses at stations that shut down completely. (10/19/2015)

Gray TV's WEAU/13 (Eau Claire) has made changes to its subchannel lineup, adding two networks but ending its 24-hour weather channel on 13.2. Antenna TV, formerly on 13.3, moved to 13.2, with Heroes & Icons added on 13.3 and Movies! on 13.4. WEAU is a primary NBC affiliate. (10/17/2015)

A belated note that classic game show network Buzzr debuted as expected on channel 9.4 of KMSP (Minneapolis) late last month, replacing Bounce on that channel. KMSP is a primary FOX affiliate and the addition of Buzzr is part of a national deal between Buzzr and Fox Television Stations. (10/17/2015)

KPVL/89.1 (Postville) went silent at the end of September and may never return, at least not as it had previously operated. The station had signed on in 2002 with the goal of building community in the small northeastern Iowa town, which had drawn national media coverage for tensions between longtime residents and immigrants who work at the town's meatpacking plant. However, longterm funding proved elusive. The station cites funding problems as the reason for going silent on its website but didn't mention financing in its official notification to the FCC, instead saying that the City of Postville had asked the station to remove its antenna from the water tower. KPVL had launched a studio to Decorah a few years ago but cited the poor signal to Decorah, which is outside of its 3kW signal's main coverage area, as part of its problem in attracting listeners. (10/15/2015)

Gray TV is buying several low-power TV stations in the Fargo market which could potentially be used to give a full-HD bandwidth home to the CBS programming currently seen on a subchannel of Gray NBC affiliate KVLY-TV/11 (Fargo). Gray is buying construction permits for new LPTV stations K30LT-D (Horace), K28MA-D (Argusville), and K30LR-D (Grand Forks) from Landover 2, LLC for $100,000. The Horace and Argusville CP's currently call for sites near Fargo, and the asset purchase agreement says Landover 2 will give Gray permission to file facility change application(s). CBS has been seen on channel 11.2 of KVLY-TV since last fall. (10/12/2015)

The University of Northwestern-St. Paul's KFNW/1200 (West Fargo) is operating at reduced power due to construction of an electical line near its transmitter site. The station normally uses 50kW day and 13kW night from a four-tower directional array, but tells the FCC that the electrical line construction is interfering with directional patterns. KFNW requested special temporary authority to transmit non-directionally with 10kW day and 3.25kW night until the situation is resolved. (10/12/2015)

NBC affiliate KARE/11 (Minneapolis) is back on DISH Network after a brief retransmission dispute between DISH and KARE owner Tegna, which was formerly Gannett's TV division. The outage began Friday night (10/9) and ended Sunday afternoon, affecting Tegna's top-ranked network affiliates in large and medium markets nationwide. The Minneapolis viewing area stretches west to the South Dakota border, north to Bemidji, south to Jackson and Blue Earth, and east to Menomonie and Rice Lake, Wis. KARE 11 says on its Facebook page that this is the first time it's ever been pulled from a provider in a retransmission consent dispute, but the post led to the predictable rants from upset DISH customers who blame local KARE 11 staffers for what is clearly a corporate dispute. (10/11/2015, updated 10/12)

Two AM-on-FM translators are likely for central Nebraska as the result of sales:

The Nebraska Rural Radio Association is buying K295BI/106.9 (Kearney) from Radio 74 Internationale for $22,500 to relay KRVN/880 (Lexington). K295BI is licensed for 250 Watts from a tower north of Kearney.

MWB Broadcasting II, LLC is buying K255BV/98.9 (O'Neill) from Edgewater Broadasting for $12,000. MWB owns stations in nearby Ord, including KNLV/1060, though a non-commercial station is specified in the application for now. K255BV is currently licensed for 10 Watts from O'Neill. The deal does not include any equipment, suggesting a new facility may be needed. (10/9/2015, updated 10/12 to remove incorrect reference to MWB owning KBRX)

The Des Moines Register and WHO-DT report that KBGG/1700 (Des Moines) plans to modify its format on Monday (10/12), picking up some of the Talk programming left homeless when sister Cumulus Media station KWQW/98.3 (Boone-Des Moines) flipped to Classic Hip-Hop as "The Vibe." "1700 The Champ" will become "Big 1700," carrying News/Talk programming from Midnight to Noon weekdays and Sports at other times. The current local morning show, hosted by Jim Brinson and Trent Condon, will move into the 12 to 3 p.m. slot, followed by the existing local afternoon show hosted by Marty Tirrell and Ken Miller from 3 to 6. CBS Sports Radio will continue in evenings and on weekends. The News/Talk lineup was not reported. (10/8/2015)

KBGY/107.5 (Faribault) has switched to a simulcast of co-owned Country outlet "Bob FM" (KLCI/106.1 Elk River-Minneapolis), displacing what had been the oldest spanish-language format on FM in Minnesota. KLCI's signal is strong in the northwest metro, while KBGY delivers a rimshot signal to the far southern suburbs and both stations have fringe signals to the central Twin Cities. "La Mera Buena" had launched with a Regional Mexican/Tropical format on KBGY in 2004 and continues online and on KLCI-HD4. However, many listeners gone on La Mera Buena's Facebook page to complain about not being able to receive the station -- HD Radio signals do not travel as far as analog signals, and KLCI-HD only reaches the far northwest metro. The "Bob FM" simulcast competes with two core Country signals in the Twin Cities, as well as two local Country stations in the Faribault-Owatonna area. (10/7/2015)

After six days of stunting, Townsquare Media has debuted "Sasquatch 106.5, Real Classic Rock for the Northland" on W293CT/106.5 (Duluth) and WEBC/560 (Duluth). The new format debuted Tuesday (10/6) at 1 p.m. with an announcement taking swipes at heritage Red Rock Radio Classic Rocker KQDS-FM/94.9 (Duluth). The lineup will include the syndicated Alice Cooper and Bob & Tom shows, the latter of which was previously heard on two Midwest Communications stations before being dropped last year. WEBC had dropped ESPN Radio last Wednesday as it added the W293CT simulcast, first running all-Christmas and then switching to a repeat of Bro Smith's 1976 "Bigfoot" on Monday afternoon. (10/6/2015)

Cumulus Media has brought Classic Hip-Hop to Des Moines, replacing the longtime News/Talk format on KWQW/98.3 (Boone-Des Moines) with "The Vibe." Like Minneapolis, where Cumulus also recently launched "Vibe," Des Moines has no current Hip-Hop outlet; the city didn't even have a Top 40 station for most of the 1990's, meaning this is the first time many songs on the "Vibe" playlist have run on commercial radio in central Iowa. 98.3 had launched its Talk format as "Wow FM" in 2003 and changed its name to "The Torch" last year. Its departure leaves iHeartMedia blowtorch WHO/1040 (Des Moines) as the only secular News/Talker in the capital city. (10/5/2015)

Leighton Enterprises has flipped KHME/101.1 (Winona) from Light Adult Contemporary to Classic Hits as KRIV-FM following its purchase of the station from Jerry Papenfuss. "101.1 The River, Winona's Greatest Hits" debuted Monday (10/5) after a weekend of stunting with "river" songs. KHME had carried Light AC since it launched in 1992, first as "Home 101" and then "Soft Rock 101.1." The Leighton group in Winona also has FM Hot AC, FM Country, AM Classic Country, and AM News/Talk formats and competes with La Crosse stations for listenership. (10/5/2015)

NBC/FOX affiliate WLUC/6 (Marquette) is getting a new owner as part of a swap between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Gray TV. Gray announced Thursday that it will get WLUC in exchange for WSBT/22 (South Bend, IN), which Gray is receiving as part of its purchase of Schurz Communications. Gray already owns WNDU/16 (South Bend) and will keep WNDU, with Sinclair taking over WSBT. Though the South Bend market has nearly four times the population of the Marqette market, Gray says WSBT and WLUC are roughly equal in terms of cash flow due to WLUC's dominance of the Upper Peninsula TV market. WLUC carries NBC on 6.1, FOX on 6.2, and Grit TV on 6.3. (10/1/2015)

The Black Hills' oldest TV station, KOTA-TV/3 (Rapid City), is being sold off for $1 as part of Gray TV's purchase of KOTA-TV owner Schurz Communications. Gray owns FOX affiliate KEVN/7 (Rapid City) and had already announced that it would divest KOTA-TV and move its ABC programming to KEVN, which could carry ABC on a subchannel and/or a new low-power TV station. The company announced Thursday that the KOTA-TV license, along with the rights to its MeTV and This TV channels and some property, will be sold to Legacy Broadcasting for $1. Gray and Legacy have done business in similar situations before, with Legacy taking Gray's divestiture castaways in the Bismarck and Lincoln markets last year. Gray anticipates the transactions will be completed in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of next year. (10/1/2015)

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