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February 2, 2004

WSNJ-FM Signs Off

*It was bound to happen, but inevitability doesn't make today's sign-off of WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton) any less bittersweet. One of NEW JERSEY's oldest FM stations, WSNJ remained a bastion of old-time radio in a voicetracked, consolidated world right up to the end, super-serving Cumberland County and surrounding portions of South Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware with everything from farm news to a swap shop program to lots and lots of local news and information.

But (as we learned from an article in Sunday's New York Times) if everything goes according to plan, sometime this afternoon (Feb. 2), the heirs of Ed Bold will receive a $20 million payment for the class B FM facility, at which point they'll pull the plug on WSNJ-FM for good. WSNJ (1240) will stay on the air, eventually changing hands to Millville mayor Jim Quinn, who'll keep its format mostly intact and begin simulcasting it on his WMVB (1440 Millville).

As for the FM license, as soon as it's off the air in Bridgeton, it'll be transferred to Radio One, which will move it to 107.9, downgrade it to class A and relocate it to the Philadelphia suburb of Pennsauken, transmitting from the WKDN (106.9 Camden)/WTMR (800 Camden) tower. How soon will that happen? We're hearing everything from the end of this week (unlikely) to the end of the year.

A brief commentary, if we may: There's a certain irony in the timing of WSNJ-FM's finale, coming as it does just one day after the 50th anniversary of the death of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio. (You can read NERW's tribute to the Major here.) In many ways, WSNJ-FM was one of the last surviving examples of Major Armstrong's original vision of what FM could be: with its high power, initially on 98.9 and later on 107.7, it served a much larger area than the WSNJ AM signal ever could hope to cover, providing a truly local service to many rural residents whose only other choices for radio reception - especially after dark - were distant signals from big cities. And there's something admirable in the way WSNJ-FM stayed the course all through the fifties and early sixties, even as other early FM pioneers gave up on the medium.

So it's hard to begrudge the Bold family - especially Ed Bold's 83-year-old widow - for taking advantage of the windfall the FM signal represented. Nor can we find fault with Ed Seeger for choreographing the move of WSNJ-FM to Pennsauken and the $15 million profit he'll receive for making the deal. No, the issue at hand is the sequence of regulatory changes that allowed the move to Pennsauken to become a possibility: specifically, the elimination of the anti-trafficking rule that would once have required a broker like Seeger to operate WSNJ-FM for three years before spinning it off to Radio One and the elimination of the main studio, community ascertainment and public service requirements that would once have made it more difficult for a "Pennsauken" station to market itself to all of Philadelphia without providing any distinct local service to Pennsauken itself. (We've ranted enough in the past about the inanity of the rules under which Pennsauken could even have been considered sufficiently distinct from the "Philadelphia Urbanized Area" to merit its own FM allocation.)

It's hard to imagine that the removal of this unique local service to the relatively underserved Cumberland County area, in exchange for yet another generic service in the crowded Philadelphia market, is really what anyone at the FCC means by "localism," and it's a shame that none of the proposals currently on the table to improve "localism" in broadcasting would close the "WSNJ loophole," and that's a shame.

*A weekend surprise in upstate NEW YORK: we didn't even know that Ed Levine's Galaxy group had its Utica properties up for sale until we received word on Saturday that they'd been sold - and to the new Route 81 Radio group, no less. Lloyd Roach's growing new company gets modern rock "K-Rock" WKLL (94.9 Frankfort), classic rock WRCK (107.3 Utica, with one of the best signals in the region) and standards WTLB (1310 Utica), with no word yet about the price or about Route 81's plans for the signals, which are currently programmed, at least in part, from Galaxy's Syracuse facility. (Levine tells the Utica Observer-Dispatch that the sale will help finance an expansion of the Galaxy group in the larger Albany and Syracuse markets.)

Speaking of Galaxy, it has new calls for its Albany-market classic country station: Scotia-licensed "Eagle 93.7," formerly WKRD, is now WEGB.

The Albany broadcast community was stunned last Monday by word of a family tragedy for WAMC Northeast Public Radio chief engineer James Scholefield: a fire at his Germantown home killed Scholefield's 11-year-old daughter, his mother-in-law and her 13-year-old daughter. Scholefield escaped the fire along with his wife and 13-year-old son, but all three suffered serious burns. The station has established a fund to assist the Scholefield family: you can send donations to ihe Scholefield Family Relief Fund, care of HSBC Bank, 899 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12203. Our prayers go out to the Scholefields as they try to recover from the fire, which destroyed their house as well.

More Albany news: Jeff Levack moves from mornings to nights at WQBK-FM (103.9 Rensselaer)/WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill), replacing Mike "The Enforcer" Spain; part-timer "Flounder" moves to mornings as the local host during the Howard Stern show.

On the LPFM front, the FCC is trying to clear out the backlog of mutually-exclusive applications, posting a list of "MX" groups in hopes that the applicants can negotiate time-sharing agreements among themselves. Four Binghamton-area applicants all applied for 95.7, with two of them earning the maximum number of points (for promising local origination and having an established local presence) to qualify for a time-sharing deal and a quick issuance of a construction permit; two Albany-area applicants on 94.1 (including one that misspelled "Niskayuna") also had the maximum number of points and can try to negotiate a deal.

Way upstate, the WSLU public radio network wants more power at its Plattsburgh-area station: WXLU (88.3 Peru) is applying to move down the dial to 88.1, boosting power from its present 200 watts to 1000 watts.

Syracuse became the first upstate market with all four big commercial networks represented on the DTV dial on Thursday, when WTVH-DT (Channel 47) made its debut. (We have a feeling that it was somewhat less than coincidental that the Granite-owned CBS affiliate made it to air just a few days before the Super Bowl!) The arrival of WTVH-DT seems to have meant the end of Rochester's WROH-LP on channel 47, and we note as well that WBXO-CA on channel 15 has been without its MTV2 feed for the better part of a week, running what looks like a DirecTV "no signal" screen.

In New York City, Dr. Dre abruptly disappeared from the WWPR (105.1) morning show last week after Clear Channel's "Power 105.1" declined to renew his contract; co-hosts Ed Lover and Monie Love are carrying on in Dre's absence, just as Lover once did at WQHT (97.1), amidst rumors that former Hot morning team Star and Buc Wild may be headed to Power's airwaves.

Over at WNEW (Mix 102.7), Carol Ford signs on for middays, moving over from Sirius (and before that, gigs at Z100, WRKS and WTJM); the station also adds Judy DeAngelis from sister WINS (1010) to do morning news updates.

And our best wishes go out to New York radio veteran Scott Muni (currently of WAXQ) as he recovers from the stroke he suffered in January.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, they're mourning one of the first DJs ever to spin Bruce Springsteen's records on the commercial dial. Ed Sciaky died Thursday (Jan. 29) while visiting New York City. His career began at Temple University's WRTI (90.1) in the sixties and included stops at WDAS-FM (105.3), WMMR (93.3), WIOQ (102.1), WYSP (94.1) and most recently at WMGK (102.9); it was while he was at WMMR in the early seventies that he became one of the Boss' early radio supporters, and at the time of his death he was hosting a weekend Springsteen show on WMGK. Sciaky was 55.

More Philly news: Paul Barsky's officially off the air at WLDW (96.5), though he remains at the station behind the scenes; the station no longer known as "Wild" also adds "Kannon" as its afternoon jock. Over at WDAS (1480), Joe "Butterball" Tamburro adds PD duties; he's already PD of sister WDAS-FM (105.3).

Over in Pittsburgh, the latest list of FM translator applications approved for processing includes no fewer than four from California's Educational Media Foundation, which hopes to bring its "K-Love" contemporary Christian satellite service to 99.3 in Pittsburgh, 94.1 in Clairton, 106.3 in Uniontown and 97.5 in Monroeville. The plan, apparently, is to daisy-chain the K-Love signal from primary WDKL (95.9 Grafton WV) through other translators at 103.3 in Mount Pleasant PA and 94.1 in Westover WV in order to reach the Pittsburgh translators. (NERW notes that the Mount Pleasant and Westover translator applications have yet to be approved by the FCC; that there's no way the Westover signal would be audible in Uniontown in any event - and that interested parties have 15 days from the posting date of the latest batch of applications to file petitions to deny.)

And we're hearing about still more new simulcasts in the Forever cluster in Altoona: WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) drops its country format and is now simulcasting talk from WFBG (1290 Altoona).

*We'll start our New England report this week up in MAINE, where Hearst-Argyle is spending $37.5 million to add WMTW-TV (Channel 8) in Poland Spring to its portfolio of stations in the region that already includes fellow ABC affiliates WCVB in Boston and WMUR in Manchester NH, as well as NBC outlets WPTZ Plattsburgh NY -Burlington VT and WNNE White River Junction VT.

The deal takes Harron Communications (aka "WMTW Broadcast Group") completely out of broadcast ownership (it's selling its five Portland-market radio stations to Nassau) and creates a potent regional station group in northern New England; indeed, rumors are already flying that Hearst-Argyle wants to add Bangor's WVII to the cluster to complete the set of ABC affiliates, as it were. In any event, Hearst-Argyle faces a challenge with WMTW: while most of its stations are #1 or a strong #2 in their markets, WMTW is the perpetual third-place news choice in Portland, with established challengers in Gannett's WCSH (Channel 6) and Sinclair's WGME (Channel 13).

An interesting irony here: the sale of the station was announced on the same day (Tuesday 1/27) that former Tonight Show host Jack Paar died. While Paar's obituaries focused on his stint in the national spotlight with Tonight and other network fare, he was also a former owner of WMTW-TV, having purchased the station from Horace Hildreth and his associates in 1964 (Paar did so as "Dolphin Enterprises" with his wife Miriam) and having moved to Maine for a time to operate channel 8 and host its Thursday night movies. Paar sold WMTW-TV (and WMTW-FM 94.9) to Paul Harron's Mid New York Broadcasting in 1967 for $3.6 million, a profit of less than $600,000, ending his brief career as a New England station owner. And Paar had another NERW-land connection way back at the start of his career - a few years in the early 40s as morning man on Buffalo's WBEN, where he apparently clashed with management and decided to head west, leaving the morning gig to Clint Buehlman, who'd keep it for more than three decades. Jack Paar was 85.

One more Maine note: WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) has returned to its old "River" nickname, ditching country (by way of several months of stunting) for classic hits.

*The NEW HAMPSHIRE Fisher Cats have added another outlet to their radio network, based at Concord's WKXL/WTPL. WFEA (1370 Manchester) will carry the team's entire 142-game season, with a signal that'll come in loud and clear at the team's home park in Manchester. (WFEA's crosstown AM competition, meanwhile, still is leading off its home page with a link to the "name the new baseball team" contest that ended in mid-December...)

*In southwestern VERMONT, WEQX (102.7 Manchester) is looking for another new PD; Tim Bronson is leaving the job after a little over a year.

*The big news in MASSACHUSETTS, of course, is the second Super Bowl win for the New England Patriots, and we can just imagine how thrilled the WBCN broadcast team of Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti must have been to announce the nail-biter win. The big weekend also provided an occasion for TV flagship WBZ-TV (Channel 4) to unveil its new "CBS 4" identity; both channel 4 and UPN sister WSBK (Channel 38) did full one-hour newscasts after the Patriots' big win.

It wasn't a good week for longtime WBCN (104.1) jock Mark Parenteau; the XM Satellite Radio programmer pleaded guilty in Washington to second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, a charge that could bring a sentence of up to 10 years and a $100,000 fine (and will bring at least three years' house arrest) when he's sentenced April 2.

We're hearing that "Radio Log," an unlicensed operation on 540 from the Log School in Dorchester, is being heard as far afield as Natick; the station has gotten some positive press for its mission of introducing underprivileged teenage girls to broadcasting, including an endorsement from Boston mayor Tom Menino.

Out west, Saga has a new PD at WLZX (99.3 Northampton) and WAQY (102.1 Springfield); he's Neal Mirsky (formerly of KQRC in Kansas City and WYSP in Philadelphia.)

*An LPTV change in CONNECTICUT: the former W11BJ in Hartford, displaced by DTV, has been granted a move to channel 28 as W28CT - and a relocation to Mount Tom in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

*Up in CANADA, the CRTC was busy handing out new licences last week: in Trenton, Ontario (now known as Quinte West through the miracle of governmental consolidation), CJTN gets to move from 1270 AM to 107.1 FM, where it'll run 3640 watts; in Pembroke, Standard's CKQB (106.9 Ottawa) gets an Ottawa Valley relay on 99.7 with 45.2 kW; and in the Mauricie region of Quebec, the Cooperative de solidarite radio communautaire Nicolet-Yamaska/Becancour gets 34 kW on 90.5 to serve the Becancour/Nicolet area with community programming.

One more Ottawa note: the new Kiss 105.3 (still using the CKBY call letters, so far as we can tell) names Scott Thompson (formerly of CHRE St. Catharines) and Samantha Stevens as its morning team.

And in Kitchener/Waterloo, Global's new CKBT (91.5 the Beat) stopped stunting and launched its urban format for real on Saturday; it's operating from a new storefront studio at 235 King Street East and has a preliminary Web presence at

*That's it for another week...except for our usual housekeeping notes. First, a reminder that while we don't ask you for a password to read NERW, this isn't a free product, either. Many of you have already sent in subscription payments for 2004, and to all of you we say "thank you." If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Your contribution - of any amount - makes it possible for us to keep NERW, now in its tenth year, coming to you week after week after week...and if you sign up at the $60 level, you even get a free 2004 Tower Site Calendar. For all the details - and easy credit card/PayPal payment links - just click here.

If you haven't seen it yet, don't miss our roundup of all the news that was fit to remember from last year... Click here for our 2003 Year in Review package!

*And if you still haven't ordered one, we still have plenty of 2004 Tower Site Calendars still available for your enjoyment!

Just as in past years, the calendar features a dozen spiffy 8.5-by-11 inch full-color images of tower sites from across the nation - everything from Washington's WTEM to New York's WCBS/WFAN (shown at left) to Los Angeles' KHJ to WCTM in Eaton, Ohio.

Other featured sites include Cedar Hill in Dallas, Lookout 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.

Unlike last year, this year's calendar features heavier paper (no more curling!) and will be shipped shrink-wrapped on a cardboard backing to make sure it arrives in pristine condition.

All orders received by January 31 have now been shipped, so if you've already ordered, you should be enjoying your calendar any day now. (And if you ordered before January 10 and haven't received your calendar yet, please let us know!)

If you haven't ordered yet, what are you waiting for? It's too late for Christmas gift-giving - but perhaps you still need a calendar for 2004...or maybe you didn't find one under the tree, despite all those hints you dropped.

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NorthEast Radio Watch is made possible by the generous contributions of our regular readers. If you enjoy NERW, please click here to learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW is copyright 2003 by Scott Fybush.