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March 8, 2004

Change at "The Border"

*Country fans in Kingston, Ontario, CANADA have been without a local source for their favorite music for a few weeks, ever since Corus flipped CFMK (96.3 Kingston) from "Country 96" to "Joe FM." That will change this morning, though, when Clancy-Mance Communications drops WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent NY) from the three-station top-40 simulcast ("The Border") that also includes WBDI (106.7 Copenhagen/Watertown NY) and WBDB (92.7 Ogdensburg NY).

In place of "The Border," 102.7 will become "Kix 102.7," playing country music programmed to the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River. Kix will compete for Kingston ears with Regent's "Froggy," WFRG (97.5 Watertown), which puts a huge signal over Kingston but hasn't had an active sales force there for a while. Clancy-Mance, by contrast, has been a player in the Kingston ad market with the Border, which was splitting its ad load and running Canadian ads on 102.7 while targeting U.S. listeners with separate ads on 106.7 and 92.7.

*Just two other quickies from north of the border: in London, contemporary Christian CHJX (105.9) has been testing its new signal. The 10-watt station will be known as "Grace FM" and will cover the central part of the city from the same downtown office tower as CHRW (94.9). And in Ottawa, another cross-border competitor garnered some headlines this past week - Tim Martz' WRCD (101.5 Canton NY) flew a plane over the city carrying a banner reading "Go Leafs Go - CHEZ 106." The phones at the rock competitor were reportedly ringing with angry Senators fans; they take their hockey seriously up there, after all.

*The Mohawk Valley of upstate NEW YORK gets a new standards station this morning, thanks to Lloyd Roach's Route 81 group. After several days of simulcasting classic rocker WRCK (107.3 Utica), WKLL (94.9 Frankfort) will launch today as WTLB-FM, running in tandem with standards WTLB (1310 Utica). Down the Thruway a bit, the former WBUG (1570 Amsterdam) turns out to have flipped to talk - those new WVTL calls stand for "Valley's Talk Leader."

In the Finger Lakes, we hear George Kimble's Radio Group closed Friday on its purchase of WFLR (1570 Dundee) and WFLR-FM (95.9 Dundee); more on this one next week.

The New York Yankees are looking for a new radio home in western New York; WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield) announced last week that it wouldn't pick up the team's games this season - because there's no guarantee the station will still be under its current management in a few months. Word on the street is that the team's effort to buy yet another championship will be heard on Entercom's WGR (550) instead. (Thanks, but we'll be listening to our Sox on WTIC...)

The new left-leaning "Air America" talk network landed a home in market #1 this week. It'll be carried on Inner City Broadcasting's WLIB (1190 New York), displacing the station's current talk programming aimed at the city's black community. Air America's studios are located on the same floor of the same building as WLIB, and it appears that Inner City may lease or sell other stations it owns (including, perhaps, WHAT 1340 in Philadelphia and KVTO 1400 Berkeley CA?) to Air America as the network finds its legs. (NERW wonders: will Air America keep the "LIB"eral calls on 1190, or will it realize that those calls carry a very different heritage in New York from the image it's seeking?)

One more downstate note: WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) has signed up Chris Herrmann, former PD at Boston's WBOS (92.9 Brookline MA), to program its new AAA format.

And we're reminded that it was 50 years ago this past Saturday (March 6, also your editor's birthday) that New Yorkers last heard Major Edwin Howard Armstrong's pioneering FM station, W2XMN (aka WFMN, aka KE2XCC). After Armstrong's suicide, the Major's associates shut down the station, at 93.1 on the dial, on March 6, 1954; the frequency would return to use a few years later as WPAT-FM. (Read on for another important moment in broadcasting history from that same momentous week...)

*Speaking of WBOS, it jettisoned one of the longer-running jocks in MASSACHUSETTS last week, sending David O'Leary packing after more than a decade at the station. WBOS moves Amy Brooks into morning drive, shifting Kristin Lessard from evenings to middays and George Knight from morning co-host duties to evenings.

On the non-commercial end of things, Dick Pleasants will do his last "Folk Heritage" show on WGBH (89.7 Boston) next Saturday (March 13), ending a quarter-century run with the show. Pleasants, 57, will continue as morning host at WUMB (91.9 Boston), but he says he wants more time with his family.

And speaking of WUMB - and of WBOS and its Greater Media siblings WTKK (96.9 Boston) and WROR (105.7 Framingham) - they've all added IBOC digital ("HD Radio") signals in the last couple of weeks.

*One CONNECTICUT note: Hartford's WKSS (95.7) is trying to fill a bit of the void left behind when sister station WMRQ (104.1) flipped from modern rock to R&B WPHH (Power 104) last year. It's now breaking from its usual top 40 each weeknight from 10 PM until 2 AM to play modern rock as "Channel 957."

*In VERMONT, Tim Bronson's sticking around as PD of WEQX (102.7 Manchester) after all. Up in Burlington, we've been remiss in failing to note that struggling UPN affiliate WBVT-CA (Channel 39) and its relays around the state have been sold to Equity Broadcasting, the Little Rock-based operator that seems to have a knack for making small operations like this succeed (in part by handling all master control functions out of Arkansas...)

*Even we'd long since forgotten about a pirate station in Portland, MAINE that came and went back in the late nineties - but it turns out that the saga of James Ganley and the short-lived "I 97.3" is just now coming to a close. Ganley, the former owner of WDME in Dover-Foxcroft, ran the station with about a quarter of a watt from his Portland apartment in early 1998 (NERW, 3/12/1998 and 3/19/1998), and that was enough to draw an FCC visit, which led to a federal lawsuit, which Ganley fought on the grounds that his broadcasts didn't cross state lines and were thus outside FCC regulations. The result - as others looking to make that same case might note - was the losing end of the suit, and a $5,000 fine, which Ganley recently paid.

And it appears WGAN (560 Portland) has dropped a tower from its array. WGAN normally runs 5 kW day and night, using two towers in each array with one tower shared for day and night use. But we hear there are now just two towers, instead of three, at WGAN's transmitter site, and the station has filed for special temporary authority to operate accordingly. More details as we get 'em...

*A new station on the way to NEW JERSEY: Maranatha Ministries was granted a CP for 88.1 in Cape May Court House; it'll run 550 watts, vertical only, at 65 meters above average terrain.

(And while it's not new - it's been on the air already for several months - the "Bridge FM" network that includes WRDR 89.7 Freehold Township NJ and the former "Jukebox Radio" signals in Fort Lee NJ, Pomona NY and Monticello NY had its official launch last week.)

*Smooth jazz came to central PENNSYLVANIA last week, as Hall Communications pulled the plug on the oldies at "Big 92.7" WHBO (92.7 Starview PA) last Monday, replacing it with "Smooth Jazz 92.7" under new calls WSJW.

And WHBO wasn't the only oldies station to disappear from the dials around Harrisburg - over in Carlisle, Route 81 dropped the 50s and 60s oldies it inherited from Citadel at WHYL (960), replacing them with a locally-programmed standards format starting Saturday morning (March 6). Route 81 also launched a morning show at WNAK (730 Nanticoke) and WNAK-FM (94.3 Carbondale), putting market veteran Terry McNulty back on the air.

Some call and format shuffling out in Johnstown: Forever moves the news-talk format of WNTJ (1490) down the dial to replace classic country at WLYE (850 Johnstown) and WVSC (990 Somerset), changing WLYE's call to WNTJ and WVSC to WNTW. 1490 goes sports as WSPO, a callsign previously heard on 850 (which most old-timers in the market probably still think of as WJAC...)

In Philadelphia, they're mourning a man whose voice is familiar to just about everyone who's ever turned on a radio there, whether they realize it or not. Dick Covington joined the staff of KYW (1060) in 1965, just as it was launching its all-news format, and remained there as an anchor and business editor until 1986 (and then stayed around as a part-timer until 1997). And for many years now, it's his voice that's heard on KYW's distinctive top- and bottom-hour IDs ("From Independence Mall, this is NEWSRADIO...")

Alas, Dick Covington died Wednesday (March 3) at age 77. His IDs, we're told, will live on at 1060 on the dial. (You can hear a recent sample from your editor's own collection - along with lots of other fine IDs from Philly and elsewhere - at the ever-growing site, a true haven for the obsessive ID geek. And if you've got to hear it with the magic "Westinghouse" ID, not to mention "AM stereo," Garrett Wollman's Boston Radio Archives has one of those right here...)

*Finally this week, we turn to the wall of the NERW home office on which hangs a large poster of Edward R. Murrow as we recall that it was a half-century ago tomorrow - March 9, 1954 - that Murrow and Fred Friendly presented their landmark "See It Now" broadcast examining and exposing the methods of Senator Joe McCarthy. A few thoughts, if we may, on this anniversary:

It's depressing, first of all, to realize how few of today's younger journalists even remember Murrow. The man who was an icon for an earlier generation of reporters today seems to merit just a brief mention in the history lessons, and that's a shame, for there's much that today's news media can still learn from Ed Murrow.

Network executives were just as craven and politically motivated in 1954 as they are today. Even the "Tiffany network" era of CBS leadership, William S. Paley and Frank Stanton, gave Murrow and Friendly only weak support for their broadcast, declining to give it any promotion and forcing Murrow to pay for newspaper advertising out of his own pocket. (It must be noted that the stakes were even higher for Paley and Stanton than they are for today's Viacom leadership; while there's little danger today of license revocation, there were serious threats in the fifties of Congressional retaliation that could have stripped CBS of its key television licenses had the political winds not shifted against McCarthy.)

"See It Now" looks incredibly primitive by today's standards, of course - most of the McCarthy broadcast, in fact, is nothing but talking-head footage (in black and white, of course) of McCarthy giving speeches. The broadcast has no hidden cameras, no dramatized re-enactments, no fancy graphics or indeed any graphics at all, no incessant crawls or any of the other artifice of today's TV news. And while it's not lacking a point of view - there's no doubt about where Murrow and Friendly stood in opposition to McCarthy and his tactics - it's "fair and balanced" in a way that's rarely seen today on commercial television, using McCarthy's own words and statements to effectively let the senator demolish himself. (At the same time, the show was never less than respectful to McCarthy or his office; name-calling was not a part of the political discourse in which Murrow and Friendly engaged.)

The sort of thoughtful, long-form journalism Murrow and Friendly epitomized is far from dead today. It's in short supply at the network level, to be sure (indeed, even Murrow found CBS an increasingly inhospitable place to work after the McCarthy broadcast), but it lives on at PBS, on cable TV (though not to any extent at the cable news networks) and in the medium of documentary feature film that came to fruition in the years after Murrow.

What those venues lack, though, is the national reach that Ed Murrow enjoyed for a few shining years. On that night of March 9, 1954, even the most fortunate TV viewer in New York or Los Angeles had at most seven choices - and most of the nation still had just one or two channels to watch. So when Murrow and Friendly ascended their broadcast pulpit, it's no exaggeration to say that they had the eyes of most of the country.

That's something no broadcaster today can claim. Even the most-watched network news program - typically CBS' 60 Minutes, the most direct successor to the Murrow legacy - is lucky to draw 10 percent of the available audience. The nightly evening newscasts draw a small fraction of that, and cable news channels consider themselves lucky to pull a 2 share.

If Ed Murrow were alive today, much of what he would see on TV wouldn't surprise him. He'd be in no position to criticize the relentless drone of celebrity "news" - after all, his "Person to Person" show created the genre that would later yield "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access Hollywood" - though he might be taken aback by the way that strain of journalism has crossed over into what was once considered "serious" news. (Martha Stewart, anyone?) He'd be pleased, no doubt, at the amount of thoughtful coverage of important issues available on PBS and elsewhere.

But he'd be appalled, I suspect, at the splintering of the national dialogue and at the ease with which supporters of a partisan viewpoint can surround themselves with only the information and opinion that supports what they already believe. Could an Ed Murrow, in 2004, ever break through the din of all those websites, talk shows and hundreds of cable channels to get the kind of attention he drew in 1954?

And if he couldn't, then why can Janet Jackson?

*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 March 5 have now been shipped, so if you've already ordered, you should be enjoying your calendar any day now. (And if you ordered before February 28 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.

So order now and help support NERW and Tower Site of the Week. Better yet, place your subscription for 2004 at the $60 level by using the handy buttons below, and you'll get your 2004 Tower Site Calendar absolutely FREE. What more could you want? (Local news on the weekends, maybe?)

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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.