Closing Friday

Many of the items below have to do with the upcoming transition to digital TV, which is currently scheduled for February 17th, 2009.

But first, we’ve got an elephant in the middle of the room that we can’t ignore…

CLEAR CHANNEL RUMORS: We’ve touched on it before, briefly…the rumors that massive job cuts are in the works at Clear Channel clusters around the country, after an important managers’ meeting in Dallas a while back.

Since then, the radio rumor mill has pumped out January 20th – next Tuesday – as the likely date for the announcement of a slew of layoffs.

We filed that in the back of our head, but the New York Post is forcing us to pull it up to the front.

What the Post is calling a “$400 million restructuring” by Clear Channel is reported set to begin Tuesday, as rumored.

Quoting the article by the newspaper’s Peter Lauria:

According to three sources with knowledge of the plan, the restructuring will include layoffs across the company’s radio, outdoor advertising and international divisions as well as cuts to programming budgets and consolidation of back-office operations.

A precise headcount for the layoffs could not be obtained. Clear Channel has about 30,000 employees worldwide.

The company is also likely to move toward a “national programming” model that would require less local-level staffing, despite being criticized in the past for a similar action using centralized disc jockeys that made it appear as though they were broadcasting from local stations.

This has all been in the rumor mill for some time, but it’s the first time it’s made the mainstream print media.

The newspaper quotes its sources that the “initial” (yes, “initial”) round of layoffs at Clear Channel will start Tuesday, presumably allowing the company to make cuts “under the radar”…since the entire nation will be kind of pre-occupied on January 20th with a big event in Washington DC.

A source tells the Post that the plan was always in the works, but that the sharp economic downturn basically sped up the timetable.

Clear Channel told the newspaper that it wouldn’t comment on the report.

Now, a reminder here.

The New York Post is not infallable. Newspapers can make mistakes, or get things wrong, particularly in stories that quote anonymous sources like this one.

But it does seem that massive changes of some sort are in the works at Clear Channel, and they’re not likely to mean good news for employees. Here’s hoping the news isn’t as bad.

Whether you like Clear Channel or not, we don’t cheer on people losing their jobs in this or any economy…

DTV TEST: Your Primary Editorial Voice(tm) grabbed an analog tuner last night for one reason – we wondered if any of the Cleveland market TV stations would do something different in the 5 minute “soft test” of the planned February 17 analog signal shutdown.

They didn’t.

We don’t know who coordinated or produced it, but all local stations used the same, coordinated 5 minute video loop to provide viewers with information and help about the upcoming loss of analog signals.

The only difference we saw? For some reason, ideastream PBS affiliate WVIZ/25 Cleveland felt the need to superimpose its logo on the video.

As announced, Kent-based PBS affiliate Western Reserve PBS’ WEAO/49 Akron didn’t participate, so we got a snippet of “NewsHour”‘s Ray Suarez on our channel scan.

We didn’t get a chance to see TBN’s WDLI/17 Canton (we can’t pick up the analog on our indoor antenna), and by the time we got to infomercial outlet WOAC/67 Canton, it was in, well, an infomercial. We don’t know if they ran the test a minute earlier than the other stations – which was 7:31 to 7:36 PM.

We actually captured the video of all this, which basically turned out to be nothing more than changing analog signal strengths on the same video (except WVIZ’s logo).

We also recorded the 5 minute video loop off of ION’s WVPX/23 Akron via cable, since as noted last time, the station has no digital feed until it “flash cuts” in the transition…

THAT MOVE: And yes, we said “currently scheduled” above, as the move to change the digital TV transition date rolls on in Congress.

Broadcasting & Cable reports that June 12 appears to be the next target date. That’s the date included in the draft of a House bill in that body’s Commerce Committee:

According to a draft of a bill introduced by House Energy & Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the bill would change the DTV Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005 to insert the new date. It would also move the expiration date of any DTV-to-analog coupons that have expired to Sept. 15, 2009.

It would also include one replacement coupon per household for any coupons that had expired anytime during the life of the coupon program.

There are other considerations, including directing the FCC to figure out how new owners of the soon-to-be-vacated spectrum can access it. The spectrum will open up whenever TV stations on analog channels 52 through 69 shut off their analog transmitters.

This is still relatively early in the process. There’s no guarantee that the date will be moved at this point, though it seems to be rolling in that direction in Congress – the body which set the date in the first place back in 2005.

Our suggestion? If Congress does change the date, the slogan could be – “The DTV Transition – June 12, 2009 – WE REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME! HONEST!”

Just a thought…

NIGHTLIGHT: Meanwhile, B&C also reports that the FCC has implemented the so-called “Nightlight” plan, where some analog stations will be able to stay on air for a month past the digital transition to provide transition-related and emergency information.

Quoting B&C’s John Eggerton:

According to a source familiar with the item, which had not been released at press time, it allowed more stations to participate than originally proposed, will allow broadcasters to solicit limited sponsorships for the information on the analog signal, and will not require stations to broadcast all 30 days. The 826 broadcasters that the source said now qualify to keep the nightlight on will also have an easy route to requesting to do so, essentially sending an e-mail to the FCC.

Under the early version of the plan, very few stations would be able to take advantage. In Ohio, just a handful of stations were on the tentative list, including Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3 in Cleveland.

But Eggerton’s article says the FCC’s earlier estimate, taking into account station spacing and the like, was “conservative”…and that the agency will also encourage low-power analog broadcasters to provide information post-transition – presumably in markets that don’t have a full-power station that can’t stay on.

There’s still question what’ll happen if the transition date moves, though…B&C suggests it “may be as simple” as changing the bill’s effective date…

FROM DIGITAL TV TO ANALOG AM: Here’s one item definitely NOT related to the etched-in-water DTV transition date.

ESPN Radio is making some changes that are likely to affect both of the radio network’s Cleveland affiliates, Good Karma sports WKNR/850 “ESPN 850”, and “little brother” station WWGK/1540 “KNR2”.

The schedule changes are detailed in this Radio Business Report article.

On February 2nd, ESPN Radio will move evening host Doug Gottlieb into the 4-7 PM (ET) afternoon drive time slot. The change will mean Gottlieb’s exit from Cleveland radio, since both WKNR and WWGK carry other programming – WKNR with afternoon driver Michael Reghi and the first hour of evening host Kenny Roda, WWGK opts for Fox Sports Radio’s Chris Myers.

ESPN Radio evenings will be handled by SportsCenter anchor Brian Kenny (8-10 PM) and a new “live (sports) news and information block” from the network until 1, where “AllNight with Jason Smith” continues. This programming is heard after 9 PM on WKNR, except when the station runs its non-official local post-game shows about the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians.

Fast forward to March 16th, with daytime changes at ESPN Radio that will affect “KNR2”.

The midday show (“The Herd”) hosted by Colin Cowherd will expand by one hour, and will run from 10 AM to 2 PM. Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt’s show moves to 2 to 4 PM, and the move will end Van Pelt’s separate one-hour one-man show…

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