A Dark Empire For An Empire State Pioneer

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On June 30, 2011, Joe Reilly concluded a remarkable 31-year run as the first and only full-time Executive Director of the New York State Broadcasters Association (NYSBA). 


But, Reilly wasn’t ready for retirement. One year later, he teamed up with five other individuals to become the 25% owner and President of Empire Broadcasting Corp.

Today, nearly six years after investing in three AMs, an FM and an FM translator in New York’s Capital Region, the Empire is smaller and silent.

On Sunday (5/13), Empire’s 1kw WPTR-AM 1240 in Schenectady, branded as “Empire News Network”; 5kw day/570 watts at night WAIX-AM 1160 in Mechanicville and FM Translator W291BY at 106.1 MHz in Albany, Adult Hits “106.1 The Jockey”; and 400 watt day/70 watt night Adult Alternative WABY-AM 900 “The X” turned off their respective transmitters.

There are two formal explanations for the silence.

In a request for silent STA and notification of suspension of operations filed Monday (5/14) with the Commission, Reilly — together with Garvey Schubert Barer attorney Lawrence Miller — explained that Empire recently sold its only FM station and that the remaining AM stations “are not financially self-sufficient.” As such, Empire wants the FCC’s OK to keep them dark “while it considers programming and operational changes that may, with the addition of authorized FM translators and a proposed new FM translator, make them a successful business that can renew public service to their communities.”

 

Local media including the Albany Times-Union received a different explanation.

The Hearst-owned daily newspaper received a PDF copy of an email from EVP Joe Tardi, who had been an air personality in the market, sent to COO Neerav Patel and two other Empire staffers. It directed them to tell any media or press that “the partner who was managing the stations has retired and the other partners have companies to run.” It added that “Empire Broadcasting is exploring all options of future broadcasting.”

ENTRY THROUGH ERNIE

For 42 years, Ernie Anastos has been a familiar face for TV news viewers in New York. He currently can be seen on WNYW-5, the city’s FOX O&O. But, Anastos began his long career in radio — as a news anchor for then-oldies WROR-FM 98.5 in Boston.

He never lost his love for radio, and became a lead partner in Anastos Media Group. Among the stations the company would own are the four properties that Empire Broadcasting acquired at its June 2012 founding.

Empire paid $1.2 million in cash to Anastos Media, with a $60,000 deposit held by brokerage Frank Boyle & Company LLC.

In addition to the three AMs, the deal included a fourth property — what was then Class A WQAR-FM 101.3, licensed to Stillwater, N.Y. Under Empire ownership, the station became WJKE-FM, and the first home for “The Jockey.”

The WJKE signal has limited coverage of much of the Capital District, and is best heard in Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa, to the north of Albany’s most populous areas. It also scrapes Glens Falls to the north, but not the popular vacation town of Lake George.

Ultimately, Empire opted to spin the FM. In November 2017Educational Media Foundation — the noncommercial giant that operates the Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) networks Air1 and KLOVE — acquired WJKE for $550,000 in a deal brokered by Michael J. Bergner.

This left Empire left with few options for financial success. Following the closing of WJKE’s acquisition by EMF, “The Jockey” moved to WAIX and its translator. This saw WABY take on the Adult Alternative format that had been on WAIX, replacing an Adult Standards format.

Ultimately, that didn’t stir up advertisers.

A LEGENDARY LEADER FOR RADIO

The silence for Empire’s remaining radio stations could be temporary.

And, in future months, it could be a blip in the career of Reilly, who as NYSBA Executive Director made the association of the nation’s strongest state broadcaster lobbying groups. It was influential in securing tax relief on broadcast equipment, the Albany Business Review recalls, and is largely responsible for the presence of cameras and microphones in New York courtrooms. Under Reilly, the Digital Media Leadership Academy was launched as a way NYSBA members could stay competitive against local digital media. Most recently, under his successor, Dave Donovan, the NYSBA was vocal in a February 2017 4-2 state appeals court decision that found the satellite radio broadcaster is not liable for payment of royalties from songs released in prior years.

Upon Reilly’s retirement, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith called him “not your ordinary Joe.” He said, “New York broadcasters have been blessed by the steady and genial stewardship of Joe Reilly. He has the heart the size of the Empire State Building, and his presence in this great business will be sorely missed.”

It is that strong heart that could bring new life to an Empire built by a man who did much for radio and TV across the Empire State for more than three decades.

RBR+TVBR