Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE BACK PAGE: Northern Star sold, northern Michigan could be seeing radio ratings again


Northern Star is sold while we could be seeing Nielsen ratings again
*NSB SOLD: Last week, it was announced that Del Reynolds' Northern Star Broadcasting was being sold to Detroit-area-based Black Diamond Broadcast Group for $1.95 million. NSB owns several radio stations up in the Traverse City-Petoskey market, including classic rock The Bear, Rock 105, Easy 95-5/106-3 and the Big Country Hits and Gold stations.

The price covers for the stations themselves; not included in the sale are the stations' transmitter sites (Del, a legendary engineer in the market will retain them) and The Bear simulcaster WCKC 107.1 Cadillac is being sold to radio legend (and Glenn Beck buddy) Dom Theodore, who owns CHR WCDY 107.9.

Black Diamond is headed by former Greater Media exec Mike Chires and partner Norm McKee, who runs several radio stations in San Diego and Tijuana including CHR Z90.3 and heritage alt-rocker 91X. The company also owns several stations in mid-Michigan including classic hits WUPS 98.5 and country 92.1 The Twister.

In a post on the Michigan Radio and TV Buzzboard, Del claims the sale is due to his wife, Mary's ailing health. He said that his 57-year-old wife had several strokes in the past year and even had neck surgery. As a result, she can no longer handle her job as co-owner and sales guru and Del felt that he couldn't handle her job, either.

Del and NSB go back to 1989 when Del and Mary bought WCBY-AM 1240 and WQLZ 105.1. WQLZ became classic rock WGFM "W-Gold-FM" and soon, Reynolds' media empire grew to stations from the Sault down to Cadillac. Previously, Reynolds owned heritage CHR WYSS "99.5 Yes FM" in Sault Ste. Marie. In 1998, Reynolds sold his company to the newly-formed Calibre Communications which re-branded WGFM as The Bear, re-branded KC Country to Big Country and killed smooth jazz Coast FM and replaced it with alt-rock as The Zone. Eventually, Calibre reorganized as Northern Star Broadcasting. The sale price was $7 million.

In the 2000's, NSB also purchased several stations in the UP, which they eventually sold to Sovereign Communications. In the mid-2000's, Del and Mary were brought back to manage the company and in 2011 re-bought the stations they sold for $1.6 million, a massive loss for the previous owners of the company.

Since re-purchasing NSB, there was some controversy when on April Fools' Day 2014, the popular Real Rock 105 and 95-5 simulcast was split and 95.5 Glen Arbor flipped to a simulcast of 106.3 Onaway as Easy 95-5/106-3. 105.1 was rechristened Rock 105 and dropped the popular Free Beer and Hot Wings morning show claiming that the ratings were no longer there. However, a peek at the Nielsen ratings showed that Real Rock was NSB's strongest station with twice the ratings of sister station The Bear, a station that had been the bitch of WKLT 97.5/98.9 for quite a while. The fact that Bob and Tom had seen better days didn't help matters, either. Of course, I even wrote a nasty letter to Del on Easy 95-5/106-3's Facebook page expressing my anger for his moronic decisions that was happily deleted from their page.

Look, I never wished ill-will on Del or any of his employees. True, I'm still very angry that the fat tub of goo known as Cartman Photoshopped a picture of himself urinating on 106 KHQ's van some 10 years ago and posted it on his MySpace page. But then, I posted it on the Buzzboard because hey, it's his MySpace page, right? Well, some rumor was passed that he told people that I made the image which was completely false. Of course, he's also doing afternoons at WIXX/Green Bay now. So, if Rock 105 dropped him, it wouldn't be a huge loss to him.

All I can say is that at church on Sunday, I asked the congregation to pray for Del and Mary. It's sad when anybody can have a stroke at an early age, but it happens. But I also hope that Mike and Norm can do something positive with the NSB stations and make them bigger players in the market. At least keep an active rocker on the air up north.

*COULD WE BE SEEING RATINGS? A friend of mine from Traverse City wrote to me that Midwestern Broadcasting, the owner of WTCM-AM/FM, WCCW-AM/FM and Z93 could be subscribing to the Spring 2016 Nielsen ratings for the first time in years. Traditionally, Midwestern's stations had been at or near the top of the ratings, but rumor has it that it's no longer the case.

The Traverse City/Petoskey market hasn't had access to the full Nielsen numbers for around ten years, and that was when Todd Martin, former PD of the now-defunct AC 106.7 You FM (now ESPN 106.7) and his family sent in fake diaries to the ratings service, tampering with the numbers. In recent years, Nielsen had been publicly releasing numbers from subscribing stations - namely MacDonald-Garber and Northern Star - but they haven't released a book to the public since Fall 2012. Traverse City/Petoskey is next to Altoona, PA as being the most-delayed Nielsen book.

One rumored reason for stations not subscribing to Nielsen is money. According to my source, it's $27,000 for a book. But without knowing how well a station is doing in the ratings, it's tough to determine what audience a station has, if any. With the sale of NSB to Black Diamond, station owners should worry.

IF the northern Michigan Nielsens are released, we should be seeing them this Summer.

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