January 19, 2004
to read NERW's comprehensive 2003 Year in Review coverage
Anchor in Florida Lands 'BZ in Headlines
*It was a slow news week here at NERW Central,
and it seems to have been a slow news week overall in MASSACHUSETTS,
too - at least judging by the amount of attention devoted to
the "revelation" that WBZ (1030 Boston)'s veteran morning
news anchor does his broadcasting from his vacation home in Florida
several weeks a year.
way of disclaimer, it's no secret at all that your editor's resume
includes a stint (1992-97) at WBZ, much of that time as Gary
LaPierre's morning news writer - but LaPierre's Florida remotes
were hardly a secret to anyone in the Boston broadcasting community.
To the Boston Globe, though (and longtime readers of this
column know just what we think of that paper's coverage of the
broadcast scene), the discovery that some of LaPierre's broadcasts
were coming from St. Augustine was worthy of a long story, complete
with quotes from the "journalism ethics experts" whose
numbers must still have been in the Globe Rolodex from
the days of Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle.
The facts, first: LaPierre, who's now 61 and coming up on
40 years of doing news at WBZ, has been talking about retiring
for years. In his last contract negotiation, he asked the station
to let him work from Florida for half of each winter month and
for a couple of weeks in the summer, and the station was happy
to let him do so in exchange for his willingness to stay with
the top-rated broadcast. Though WBZ never explicitly told listeners
that LaPierre wasn't in the station's Allston studios (more on
that in a moment), LaPierre also never claimed to be in Boston
when he wasn't (and never denied he was working from Florida
when anyone asked.)
Now, the opinion:
We won't pretend to be unbiased about the station and the
anchor from whom your editor learned most everything he knows
about writing for radio news. That said, we also don't see what
all the fuss is about. After four decades of covering the news
in Boston, Gary LaPierre understands the city and its inhabitants
as well as anyone in local radio or TV, and that doesn't change
just because he's sitting in his condo in Florida instead of
the studio in Boston. Thanks to modern digital technology, his
Florida home studio has precisely the same access to information
(the AP news wire, audio from the CBS and ABC radio networks
and from WBZ-TV, the newsroom computer system and its internal
text messaging capability and, most vitally, the audio and text
generated by WBZ's own Boston-based reporters in the studio and
in the field) that he'd have in Boston. When your editor worked
at WBZ, the studios (only one of which even had an outside window,
we'd note) were down a twisty corridor from the (windowless)
newsroom, and most of the contact between anchor and newsroom
was via computer or intercom anyway - so, in effect, the only
difference is that the "corridor" is now a thousand
miles long instead of a hundred feet.
In today's radio environment, there's nothing at all unusual
about broadcasting from a remote or home studio. WBZ's own David
Brudnoy has been doing it for years, ever since his illness made
it impossible for him to return to the air nightly from the station.
Across town, WTKK (96.9) afternoon talk host Jay Severin does
his show most days from his home in Sag Harbor, Long Island.
And big names such as Rick Dees, Paul Harvey, Don Imus and Rush
Limbaugh all broadcast from their homes, often several time zones
from their main studios, for much of the year.
Yes, there's a difference in that Gary LaPierre is a news
anchor and not a talk host, DJ or commentator - but we'd contend
that his job, too, can be performed remotely and is not dependent
on being chained to his studio. What he - and any good anchor
- does is to synthesize the information that's coming in from
the front-line gatherers of news. It's vital that the men and
women who are out there reporting should truly be in the field
locally; you can't claim to be a local news operation any other
way. But an anchor who's already familiar with the community
- and with four decades of reporting and anchoring under his
belt, nobody meets that description better than Gary LaPierre
- should be able to do that job from just about anywhere, at
least on occasion, with the help of the many tools today's technology
In a nutshell: Unless there's a breaking news event taking
place in the small corner of the parking lot outside the WBZ
studio window, there's nothing Gary LaPierre can offer his listeners
from Boston that he can't offer them equally well from Florida.
And while the Globe "scoop" provided plenty
of fodder for the usual band of talking heads to expound in print
and in forums like WGBH's "Greater Boston," we suspect
WBZ's listeners aren't going to turn their dials elsewhere just
because the voice they've been listening to all these years sometimes
comes from sunny Florida. The audience isn't stupid - it knows
when it's getting something that's local (no matter where the
anchor may happen to be sitting) and when it isn't.
That said, we still have two concerns. First, in a business
where accuracy and integrity are everything - and WBZ's concern
for Gary LaPierre's integrity can be measured by the station's
longstanding refusal to allow him to do "live-read"
commercials - it was probably a bad idea to avoid any mention
of his whereabouts on the air or in other media. We agree with
WBZ program director (and our former boss) Peter Casey that there's
no compelling reason to clutter the already crowded formatics
by mentioning LaPierre's location in each half-hour's news open,
or even on a daily basis. But a well-placed feature story two
years ago about how technology made it possible for WBZ to keep
their popular morning anchor on the air and serving Boston listeners
would have forestalled the inevitable "gotcha" story
that was bound to show up in the absence of a more timely disclosure.
WBZ had nothing to be ashamed of, and still doesn't.
Our second concern goes beyond WBZ itself, to the use of this
technology for less constructive purposes. While WBZ's mission
of providing local news continues to be maintained by the large
staff toiling behind the mikes and behind the scenes in Boston,
many other stations are using cheap ISDN and satellite connections
to avoid spending the money to generate news and public affairs
content locally. Whether it's Sinclair's "News Central"
operation, which every night offers the spectacle of a "Rochester"
(or "Pittsburgh," or "Flint" or "Las
Vegas") newscast that's anchored in large part from Maryland,
including a "local" weather segment in which the forecaster
has never even seen the market on which she's reporting, or a
"local" talk show being done on the cheap by a host
hundreds of miles away with no connection to the market in which
he's being heard, there are already too many examples of remote
broadcasting being done to the detriment, instead of to the advantage,
of local audiences. It's a shame to see someone with the experience
and, yes, the integrity of Gary LaPierre being tarred with that
Enough ranting - on with the rest of the week's news:
*Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, the ever-growing
Nassau Broadcasting is adding yet another set of stations to
its nascent New England cluster, as it picks up oldies WNNH (99.1
Henniker), oldies WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) and hot AC WHOB (106.3
Nashua) from Tele-Media, which bows out of New England with the
sale. No purchase price has been announced yet; the Tele-Media
stations join the clusters Nassau is buying in Maine from Mariner
and the WMTW Broadcast Group.
Concord, Harry Kozlowski checks in with an update on the construction
of WCNH-LP (94.7), the new classical music station that's getting
ready to sign on up there. Harry sent along this picture of the
2-bay Shively antenna that the folks from Prescott Tower in Vermont
rigged up over the weekend at the station's site on Little Pond
Road; he says transmitter tests will get underway as early as
the middle of this week, with the formal sign-on coming in February.
*One CONNECTICUT note: Samantha Stevens
exits middays at WKCI (101.3 Hamden); she's looking for a new
gig via her site at www.samanthastevens.net.
*Here in NEW YORK, we took a snowy
drive over to WGMC (90.1 Greece) last Wednesday afternoon to
see and hear the sign-on of the community jazz station's new
15 kW directional signal. The station is definitely getting out
much better than it did on its old 2050-watt signal, but we're
still plagued by an amazing amount of intermodulation from nearby
Pinnacle Hill at our NERW Central listening post, alas.
Speaking of power increases, WYSL (1040 Avon) has a big one
in the works. Before the FCC put a freeze on applications for
"minor" AM facility changes last week (in preparation
for a rare window for "major" changes next week), WYSL
owner Bob Savage slid in an application to take the news-talk
station from 2500 watts during the day to 20,000 watts daytime
and 13,200 watts during critical hours. (WYSL would still be
just 500 watts at night.) All that, and no changes to WYSL's
four-tower directional array - it's a long way from the 500-watt
daytimer that WYSL was when it signed on for the first time 17
years ago this month. (We have fond editorial memories of visiting
Bob at the station even before its official debut...)
In the Finger Lakes, CSN International briefly had their new
Geneva translator W216BR (91.1) on the air last month, but interference
complaints from Syracuse's WCNY (91.3) and Ithaca's WSQG (90.9)
quickly got it pulled from the air. CSN has now applied to move
the translator to 90.7, where we suspect it would still cause
interference to WSQG and to Rochester's WBER (90.5).
We hear there are some changes coming - perhaps as soon as
this week - as George Kimble and his crew take over at WFLR (1570/95.9)
in Dundee. Look for the AM side to join the "Finger Lakes
News Network" already heard on WGVA (1240 Geneva), WCGR
(1550 Canandaigua), WSFW (1110 Seneca Falls) and WAUB (1590 Auburn)
- and we hear the FM side will flip from AC to country when the
In Syracuse, Abbie Weber is leaving her duties as midday jock
and PD of "K-Rock" (WKRL 100.9 North Syracuse/WKRH
106.5 Minetto/WKLL 94.9 Frankfort-Utica) to take a job in sales
at Galaxy; corporate VP/programming Mimi Griswold will handle
acting PD duties while looking for a replacement. And Kevin Kline,
aka "F'n Kevin," has moved from nights to mornings
at K-Rock, replacing "Silent Bob" Staffa.
There's a PD opening in Albany, too - Donnie Michaels is heading
south, leaving behind his gig (including PM drive) at WFLY (92.3
Troy) to take over the APD/midday shift at "Y100" WHYI
(100.7 Fort Lauderdale-Miami).
WWLE (1170 Cornwall-on-Hudson) is another station looking
to increase its power - it's asking the FCC for permission to
move to 1150, where it would go from an 800-watt daytimer to
2500 watts day, 500 watts at night.
Up on the edge of Lake Champlain, WIPS (1250 Ticonderoga)
is changing hands: Patricia Knapp's "BisiBlue, LLC"
is acquiring the little community station from Empire State Radio
In New York City, ABC's WEPN (1050) has a new program director
- Mike Thompson, former producer of WABC's "Curtis and Lisa"
show and former sports PD in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas
- and a new local early-morning show, as Don Lagreca launches
"First Sports" from 5-6 AM starting today.
Out on Long Island's East End, the inevitable callsign shuffle
is taking place at the Morey Organization's three FMs: WBON (107.1
Hampton Bays) has taken the WLIR-FM calls from 92.7 (now WZAA);
WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) has finally become WBON, matching its
"Bone" rock format; and WXXP (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke)
takes the WDRE calls.
*In southern NEW JERSEY, WSNJ (1240
Bridgeton) is getting a new owner. Quinn Broadcasting, which
already owns WMVB (1440) in nearby Millville, will pay Ed Bold's
estate $550,000 for the AM station and the studio-transmitter
facility that's long been home to 1240 and its sister station,
WSNJ-FM (107.7). And while the FM station will have a completely
new sound in a few months when its sale to Ed Seeger's American
Media Services closes (and it's then moved to 107.9 in Pennsauken
and spun to Radio One to serve Philadelphia), Quinn's owner,
Millville mayor Jim Quinn, says the AM facility will keep the
hyper-local programming that's long distinguished WSNJ. Quinn
says some WSNJ programming will be simulcast on WMVB, and he
plans to add a Webcast as well.
*Forever Broadcasting finished reworking its station
lineup in Altoona, PENNSYLVANIA early last week,
returning a well-known set of calls to the airwaves in the process.
After several days of stunting on what had been classic hits
"Majic" WMAJ-FM (104.9 Hollidaysburg), the station
relaunched as "Rocky 104.9," playing some newer rock
along with the old, and applying for new calls WRKY - the same
calls that spent many years on co-owned 103.5 over in Steubenville,
Ohio, before it became "Froggy" WOGH.
The new 770 signal near Pittsburgh has new calls, as WKTW
disappears from Jeanette to be replaced by WKFB, matching sister
station WKHB (620 Irwin).
In Harrisburg, WTKT (1460) is applying for a new permanent
transmitter site. The Clear Channel sports station has been running
at reduced power from the site of sister WHP (580) for a few
years, ever since it lost its old site just west of Harrisburg.
Now it's applying to go to 2400 watts non-directional by day,
4200 watts directional at night from a new three-tower site just
east of the WHP site, along the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.
(Nearby WPDC 1600 in Elizabethtown wants to move as well; it's
lost the lease on its existing tower site and has been operating
from a 75-foot Valcom fiberglass whip antenna at a new site nearby;
it's now asking the FCC to make that site permanent, with 1000
watts by day and 35 watts at night.)
Over in Philadelphia, oldies WOGL (98.1) has shuffled its
lineup: Harvey Holiday moves from nights to a long 9 AM-3
PM shift (partially tracked, we wonder?), bumping Christy Springfield
(formerly 9-noon) to weekends and Mike St. John (noon-3) out
of the station completely. Bob Charger moves from weekends to
nights. Some good news from Oldies 98: morning guy Don Cannon
will be back on the air January 26 as he recovers from heart
*From CANADA this week comes word of two
new stations testing - Larche Communications' CIKZ (99.5) in
Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario (it'll be country), and more tests
from "Radio Nostalgie" on 1570 in Laval, Quebec. Sheldon
Harvey up that way reports no call letters are being heard on
1570's test broadcast, and despite the mention of other calls
a few weeks ago, the Industry Canada database continues to have
1570 as CFAV. (Sheldon also reports that the station hopes to
be on the air officially by late this month or early in February;
it has a Web site up now at www.nostalgie1570.com.)
A few tidbits from Milkman
UnLimited, too - former Toronto morning host Donna Saker
(CKFM, Q107) and London/Peterborough veteran Griff Henderson
(who also worked with Saker at CKFM) are the new morning show
at CIEZ (Classic Hits FM 96.5) in Halifax, replacing John Harada
and Kelli Rickard. And Rob Mise adds "CHR/Top 40 Format
Captain" for parent company NewCap Broadcasting to his OM
duties at Ottawa's "Hot 88.9" (CIHT).
*That's it for another week...except for a few housekeeping
issues. First, a reminder that while we don't ask you for a password
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here for our 2003 Year in Review package!
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Mountain above Denver, CKLW Windsor, WELI New Haven, WPTF Raleigh
NC, WBT Charlotte NC, WAJR Morgantown WV, WMT Cedar Rapids IA
and the mighty 12 towers of KFXR (the old KLIF 1190) in Dallas.
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2003 by Scott Fybush.