Out Of The Box Monday

Items have been piling up, almost literally, over the weekend…so, let’s give them room to breathe free. But this update is so big, we’ll have to split it into two…with more coming later today…

WRUW BACK: Case Western Reserve University’s WRUW/91.1 Cleveland is back on the air again.

The non-comm station’s website has details:

We were able to turn on our transmitter again just after 9:30 am on Friday, December 5, 2008, after almost two weeks off the air due to a fire at our transmitter site in East Cleveland.

The fire was on the lower floors of the building, so our equipment remained unscathed, but the building has been without power for about 10 days. Residents of the 27-story apartment building were able to begin moving back in earlier this week.

As we noted, that building was the same building featured on local TV newscasts for the past couple of weeks. When we looked into news reports of the fire’s aftermath, it appeared that those who lived in floors above a certain level (like, the 10th floor) were allowed to return when power was restored, and of course, WRUW’s facilities are up on the roof of the building…

CRAIG LIKES THE WORLDWIDE LEADER: It should be no surprise to anyone who follows sports radio either here in Northeast Ohio, or in Milwaukee.

But Good Karma Broadcasting boss Craig Karmazin finally gets to unite his Madison WI radio station with his favorite sports radio network, The Worldwide Leader In Sports(we’re-pretty-sure-that’s-a-tm), ESPN Radio.

Karmazin’s WTLX/100.5 Monona WI, once an FM “hot talk” station and now a sports outlet, becomes “ESPN 100.5” in January – as the owner of Cleveland’s “ESPN 850 WKNR” and “AM 1540, KNR2” takes the ESPN affiliation in the Madison market from its longtime affiliate there, crosstown Clear Channel sports WTSO/1070.

The station will mix ESPN hosts like “Mike & Mike”, Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt with its established simulcast of local host Steve “The Homer” True in afternoon drive. True is based at Karmazin’s “540 ESPN” in Milwaukee. In Cleveland, “Mike & Mike” air on Good Karma’s WKNR, with Cowherd and Van Pelt on “KNR2”.

And like “KNR2”, the Good Karma Madison market station on 100.5 is getting a signal upgrade. WTLX is moving from its home as a rimshot out of Columbus WI to a tower in the heart of the Madison market…an upgrade Karmazin expects to be complete when the ESPN Radio affiliation starts.

Here, by the way, at last check, WWGK/1540 – the radio artist known as “KNR2” – is still broadcasting its 1,000 watt daytime-only signal from a tower next to a church and a drug store at 80th and Euclid Avenue on Cleveland’s East Side, the transmitting equipment in a temporary trailer setup. (We took a quick ride on RTA’s new “HealthLine” bus rapid transit system to get a look.)

“KNR2” is destined for a new 3,500 watt (still only) daytime signal diplexed with big brother WKNR at the station’s transmitter site in North Royalton, but a quick radio signal check the other day confirms that they aren’t there, yet…

RE-CLIPPED: A Columbus radio station is about to start another run as the flagship station of the AAA Columbus Clippers minor league baseball team.

If you guessed that the Central Ohio entrant in the International League will return to North American Broadcasting standards WMNI/920, you are correct.

Friday, the team and station announced a new five-year deal that will put every Clippers game on WMNI, starting with this season’s debut at the new Huntington Park ballpark in downtown Columbus’ Arena District.

Quoting the release:

The partnership will include all 144 regular season Clippers games, the broadcast of the annual Triple-A All Star Game, all post season games and the Triple-A Championship Game known as the “Bricktown Showdown.”

WMNI stepped in to carry Clippers games back in 2006, when former Clippers flagship WVKO/1580 went off the air in that mess between former owner Stop 26-Riverbend Productions and current owner Bernard Radio.

Bernard Radio took the station off the air after taking over the management of it, due to a lost transmitter site lease…and eventually returned WVKO to the air from a new transmitter site near an apartment complex on Morse Road.

But WMNI only ran a package of weekend games (“Weekend with the Clippers”) in both 2006 and again later in 2007.

The Clippers’ games then returned to WVKO, by then a liberal talk station operated in an LMA by Gary Richards’ Cowtown Communications, for the full 2008 season.

(A Columbus Dispatch article on the Clippers/WMNI signing doesn’t even mention WVKO by name or frequency, only calling it “the team’s radio affiliate” that went off the air in 2006.)

Both the article and release note that WMNI has history carrying Columbus baseball games even before it stepped in to air the weekend games a couple of years ago…the station was the flagship of the old Columbus Jets team in the 1960’s.

The team says broadcaster Scott Leo returns for 2008, and the Dispatch also reports that the games will be made available on the Internet.

After getting Rodney Dangerfield-style non-respect the past few years, the Clippers are becoming a hot ticket in Central Ohio…with the move to the new ballpark, and with the recently announced four-year development deal that makes the Cleveland Indians the team’s new parent club…

AND SPEAKING OF WVKO: Despite a number of issues, the aforementioned WVKO/1580 has made it through its first year as a liberal talk outlet.

WVKO hit the airwaves on December 3, 2007, offering a lineup of syndicated progressive talk fare once heard in the market on Clear Channel’s WTPG/1230, which is now WYTS “Your Talk Station”…featuring a decidedly non-liberal lineup.

Since then, WVKO has added local talk, including a weekday afternoon show now hosted by Dr. Bob Fitrakis (“Fight Back”), along with some local weekend shows (“Blue State Diner”, etc.).

It hasn’t been an easy year for Mr. Richards and company.

After enduring brickbats from, well, certain media blogs about a lack of satellite delivery for its syndicated programming and poor audio quality, WVKO hung in there…even while Mr. Richards and company expressed serious concern before the November election that left-leaning political candidates didn’t feel they “needed” to advertise to the audiences that would “already vote for them”.

And the station is still asking listeners for contributions, selling T-shirts and magnets online (with free bumperstickers and window clings), and looking for “progressive minded” sales people to help jumpstart commercial sales.

(Of course, the problem of selling commercials is not at all limited to any one station in the current economy. And really, what WVKO needs more than “progressive minded” sales people is “aggressive minded” sales people, but that’s another matter.)

After all of that, and in the middle of a breathtaking economic downturn, the station is still around to hold a shindig celebrating its first anniversary.

It’ll be held Tuesday night at Studio 35 Cinema in Columbus. The evening features a special movie double-feature aimed right at WVKO listeners’ political sweet spots – “Religulous” by Bill Maher at 7 PM, followed by Oliver Stone’s “W.” at 9 PM.

Doors will open at 6 PM, and the station says admission is free.

Now, we have a touchy history with WVKO.

When we first brought up the bad-sounding Internet-fed audio, we tweaked them here pretty good, which led a mini-army of WVKO supporters, staffers and those associated with the station to go after us on the station’s message board…saying we were, let’s see if we can remember, “right-wingers enjoying the station’s troubles”.

No, we are media professionals, who were calling out a top 40 market radio station for sounding like it was an Internet audio feed with an AM transmitter, that audio delivered by an unequalized phone line. (That’s all been fixed, as far as we know, and has been for some time.)

Politics had absolutely nothing to do with it. And remember, we’re big fans of one of WVKO’s most prominent national hosts, Dial Global’s Stephanie Miller.

Since then, it’s also become quite apparent to us that WVKO is, as has been put, a “below shoestring” operation…basically, it’s Mr. Richards’ one-man band with assorted help from some others.

We’re big fans of “the little guy” trying to make a go of it in a complex, big company-owned media world…especially one that puts his own financial livelihood on the line, literally putting his money where his (radio) mouth, er, microphone, is.

So, here’s hoping that WVKO actually hangs in there through what’ll be a very difficult time for all media outlets in this country.

The station operates in a niche, to be sure. It’s never going to give Clear Channel talk powerhouse WTVN/610 any indigestion, and it’s a high-band, modestly powered AM station.

But maybe WVKO’s very vocal and active supporters and listeners can help 1580’s current operation make it to its second anniversary…

ZANESVILLE CHANGES: An OMW reader reports that Zanesville hot AC WHIZ-FM/102.5 “Z102” has ended its long run on the frequency, as WHIZ Media Group prepares to move 102.5 to the Columbus ex-urb of Baltimore OH, presumably to sell it to a new owner at some point.

Our listener tells us that 102.5 is still on the air, from what sounds like its Zanesville transmitter facility, but running a crudely-put-together presumably automated country music format as “Highway 102.5”.

We have no other confirmation, other than our reader’s report.

But WHIZ has been simulcasting its FM side for some weeks now on WCVZ/92.7 South Zanesville, the former “92.7 the River” that WHIZ’s Southeast Ohio Broadcasting System is in the process of buying from Christian Voice of Central Ohio.

CVCO launched WZNP/89.3 Newark “89.3 The Promise” to nominally replace the 92.7 “River” CCM format in the region. CVCO, of course, owns the “River” mothership in the Columbus market – WCVO/104.9 Gahanna.

A quick check of the WHIZ website shows that they’ve even kept the WCVZ calls for the FM side, at least online, and the FM’s page now identifies it solely as “WCVZ Z92.7”, complete with the new logo pictured at right.

So, even though we can’t hear the country music said to be wafting over the airwaves on WHIZ-FM’s former home at 102.5, it sure looks like the WHIZ Media Group folks have “closed the books” on that frequency – with just some automated country music meant to keep the frequency warm, but also meant to make sure “Z102” listeners made the move to 92.7 permanently…

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