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Oct 07 2007

Eric’s Musings – Busy week for media in Pittsburgh

Bees are Buzzing again

It took CBS three years to realize that they made a huge mistake on June 30, 2004. In fact, it took a second mistake to come to the conclusion. Some folks might disagree with me, but let’s look at this from a realistic standpoint. 

CBS wanted to make sure Howard Stern was heard in the Pittsburgh market. (Recall he was on WXDX – a Clear Channel outlet – originally. Clear Channel dumped Stern altogether in February 2004.) Stern’s format certainly wouldn’t have fit the teeny-bopper format of B-94, so a format change to K-Rock was definitely on the horizon. Add to that B-94 “suffered” in the ratings against Clear Channel’s KISS-FM. There you have it, just cause to change a heritage station into something else regardless of how listeners would feel. Emails into the PBRTV Mailbag, all three major TV stations and even to the radio station itself showed that there were countless fans upset by the move.

Six months after the change, Howard Stern announced that he would be going off the air on terrestrial radio and heading to Sirius Satellite. It seemed that K-Rock 93.7 would be doomed a year later when he would make his move. The doom continued when David Lee Roth took over the program – not just locally but nationally. Ratings for K-Rock faltered further – making things far worse than what B-94 went through. Roth was fired and CBS brought on Opie & Anthony which didn’t seem to have a big draw in Pittsburgh. But nevertheless, it was the “replacement” program.

At the beginning of this year, rumors began to fly that the station would again flip formats to talk – for men. Bringing in local talent like John McIntire & Scott Paulsen would hopefully garner some attention – and it did, but not enough. The Zone seemed to keep the ratings down and the experiment – which seemed like a good idea – was over in five months. The week-long stunt began. It didn’t take long for the region to know what was missing from “Pittsurgh” and that the best “Christmas present” the station could offer would certainly be the return of B-94. And sure enough, it was.

Although I didn’t spend much time listening to B-94, I felt this odd vacancy in town over the last three years. Perhaps I took the station for granted – it was there for a long time and all of a sudden it was gone. I would never have guessed that it would be taken away – ever! But anything can happen in this day of corporate media. From what I was able to tell, there were very few people who could stomach the change when they flipped their dials to 96.1. Many have mentioned that while some of the songs on the playlist are the same, KISS-FM seems to have more of an urban/rap edge than B-94 ever did. Well, the competition is heating up again – perhaps people won’t take the power of a media corporation for granted this time.

I’m certain that many have wondered if the same airstaff will return to the 93.7 airwaves – especially in the morning. I would be willing to bet that Bubba and Shelley will re-assume their roles in the mornings – they haven’t left CBS Radio in Pittsburgh. Whether anyone else will return remains to be seen. The time off the air has been long enough that the others may have headed to greener pastures making it difficult to resume where things were left off. Time will tell.  

WPXI – the next 50

On my way to and from events which have taken me down I-279, I have watched the construction of the new WPXI studios. In my 30 years on planet earth, I don’t ever recall that any of our TV stations have ever moved. I know it has been done in the past – WQED moved from the corner of Fifth Av. and Bellefield St. to its present location many years ago. KDKA-TV had moved a couple of times before settling down at Gateway Center. But WPXI’s move is big! (Incidentally, PBRTV was supposed to get a tour of the new facility on 10/8 with a church youth group but that was postponed until the move is 100% complete – we’ll keep you posted!)

Fifty years ago, Channel 11 signed on as WIIC-TV and began broadcasting from a seemingly small building on the North Side – also known as the aptly named Fineview neighborhood. Although you would think that it would be perfect to place a TV station on top of a hill with a great view of the downtown vista, the route to take up there was certainly not easy – especially in the winter. However, the placement of a transmitter tower couldn’t have been any better for signal coverage. (In fact, there are two FM freqencies on the tower as well.) The station added on to the building a couple of times before settling down and realizing there was no other way to go but up! In the early 80s, WIIC became WPXI-TV to reflect their dedication to Pittsburgh. “PXI” literally stands for “Pittsburgh Eleven.” 

In 1991, a certain 14-year-old scored himself a tour of the station – on a Saturday. (For what it’s worth, we like to think that the station management was so impressed that a young boy, who was learning how to properly write letters, would take the time to write and ask for a tour that they said, “OK!” We’re not so sure that the 30-year-old version of that boy would have the same luck today.) 1991 was prior to the arrival of PCNC (Pittsburgh Cable News Channel) among other things. For as advanced as the early 90s were, one was still visiting a basic TV station. I can remember how busy things seemed – people bustling about the newsroom gathering stories, writing copy and planning. Seeing things operating from the other end of the camera really gave one a keen eye on what went on day to day just to bring you a simple 30-minute newscast. It seemed like the space was perfect to suit the needs of the station. The technology to create on-screen graphics was state-of-the-art for its time and only required a small piece of space. The news set was quaint, yet simple. (For what it’s worth, there is video evidence of this tour locked away somewhere. Unfortunately for you, it will NOT be posted to Youtube – or any other site for that matter – the 14-year-old singing the “Move Closer To Your World” theme while on the news set should not be seen or heard by anyone!) I don’t quite know what I’ll think when I get the chance to get to the new facility. From what I’ve seen, it’s going to be apparent that technology has gone a long way since 1991. The High-Definition signal, the large screens behind each anchor, the ability to see a bustling newsroom behind the news set already shows that things have come a long way.

I wasn’t able to catch the first broadcast from the new facility, but I did catch the second one. Whatever problems which seemed to plague the new automated computer system at Television Hill seemed to have been rectified at Evergreen Road. The HD picture was noticable on a 20-year-old television set with a Directv connection. Everything seemed to flow perfectly. The only downside was that Sports Anchor Bill Phillips and Weather Man Kevin Benson didn’t seem happy being so far away from the anchor desk. Both made the comment that they were “waaaaaaaaaaaaaay over here!” At Television Hill, the set allowed all four anchors to be together. Similar changes appeared on WTAE’s new set last month making it seem as though it’s becoming the norm.

I suspect that WPXI will find their new home to be suitable for many years to come – perhaps 50?!

Wow…it’s been a busy week in Pittsburgh media. A revered radio station has returned to the airwaves and for the first time in (at least 30) years a Pittsburgh TV station has moved to a brand new facility.