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April 5, 2004

Corus, Astral Trade Quebec Stations

*It was a relatively slow week on the U.S. side of the border, so why not begin our report this week in CANADA? That's where Astral Media is trying yet again to unload the cluster of Quebec AM stations that the CRTC ordered it to divest several years ago. After its most recent plan to sell the stations to a management-led group derailed, Astral is back with another plan: it now intends to trade the group of stations to another big Canadian broadcaster, Corus Entertainment.

Here's how it will play out: Corus will get the Radiomedia AM stations (CKAC 730 Montreal, CHRC 800 Quebec City, CJRC 1150 Gatineau-Ottawa, CKRS 590 Saguenay, CHLT 630 Sherbrooke, CHLN 550 Trois-Rivieres/CKSM 1220 Shawinigan), CKTS 900 Sherbrooke (which relays Standard's CJAD 800 Montreal) and CFOM 102.9 Quebec City. In Montreal, that will put CKAC in the same ownership family as its new FM news-talk archrival CKOO (98.5), as well as French all-news CINF (690), English all-news CINW (940), English AC CFQR (92.5) and French top 40 CKOI (96.9).

Astral, meanwhile, will get five FMs from Corus in much smaller Quebec markets: CFVM (99.9 Amqui), CFZZ (104.1 St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, just south of Montreal), CJDM (92.1 Drummondville, which will pair with Astral's existing CHRD 105.3 there) and Rimouski's CJOI (102.9) and CIKI (98.7). Astral has already announced plans to use these new signals to expand the reach of its province-wide "Rock Detente," "Energie" and "Boom" French-language formats; we'd guess that CJOI and perhaps CFVM and CJDM will take Rock Detente, CIKI will take Energie and CFZZ will pick up Boom.

An interesting note here: this transaction shows both how eager Astral is to unload its AM properties after two failed attempts (the CRTC ruled against an earlier plan by TVA and Radio Nord to acquire the stations) and how little AMs are worth these days even in big Quebec cities - there was, after all, a time when 50 kW signals like CKAC and CHRC would have been the most valuable radio properties in Quebec, and now they're being traded for some awfully small FMs.

A few more quick Canadian notes: in Toronto, Dean Blundell's back on the air at the Edge (CFNY 102.1) after three performers from MTV's Jackass show staged a series of stunts in the station's Yonge Street storefront studio that included urinating on the studio floor. Blundell and his morning show co-hosts were suspended for a day before being reinstated. And down in Fort Erie, CKEY (Wild 101.1) PD Rob White adds PD duties at sister stations CFLZ (105.1 the River) and CJRN (710); he'll also host the River morning show.

*In NEW YORK, Air America Radio launched on schedule over WLIB (1190 New York) Wednesday afternoon.

At least for now, WLIB is Air America's only affiliate in the east (though there are strong rumors that Inner City Broadcasting sister station WHAT 1340 in Philadelphia will soon join it.)

You've probably already read half a dozen reviews of the programming, and the truth of the matter is that after being unable to get on the stream the first day, we haven't been back to try again - and in any case, if you're anything like most of the people we know in radio, you already know how you feel about this one without needing to we'll move on.

It was April Fool's Day, of course, and that meant some clever stunts and some not-so-clever ones. Howard Stern disappeared for the first hour or so of his show, with fellow staffers at New York's WXRK (92.3) doing a "tame music" show in his place; here in Rochester, WZNE (94.1 Brighton) replaced its active rock with country for morning drive...and the most famous radio station that never lived in Westchester County made a surprise appearance at Tower Site of the Week, too.

Not an April Fool's joke: this morning (Monday 4/5) is the scheduled launch of "The Peak" AAA format on Pamal's WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor); we hear the signal's been stunting with comedy routines all weekend. And we're delighted to wish a happy 30th anniversary to Rochester's WDKX (103.9), which signed on April 6, 1974 as the first black-owned station in town and which remains very proudly locally-owned and community-focused all these years later.

Speaking of community focus and local ownership, we made the rainy trip down the Thruway last Thursday for a Syracuse University forum featuring FCC commissioner Michael Copps and several representatives of the upstate broadcast community. For those of us in the business, little new ground was covered, but there were a few revealing moments, especially when Clear Channel Television regional VP Steve Kimatian took the floor to answer questions about the shutdown of the news operation at Utica's WUTR (Channel 20), which changed hands from Clear Channel to Mission Broadcasting on Thursday (or so Kimatian said at the forum.)

In any case, the room was full of SU communications students and recent graduates of SU's Newhouse School, and given that so many of them launch their careers in nearby markets like Utica and Watertown, they were well aware of the lack of news at WUTR - so when Kimatian said "there's no news in Utica" in response to a question from the panel, it was all but inevitable that a voice in the crowd would respond, "there's plenty of news in Utica - you're just not covering it!" (And yes, we know he just meant that there's no news on channel 20, but hey, we laughed, too.)

*What's WPLJ program director/morning guy Scott Shannon doing on afternoon drive on a little AM daytimer in CONNECTICUT? Having fun, that's what - and launching a new format for WPLJ's parent company, ABC.

Shannon's "True Oldies" format launched last week on WREF (850 Ridgefield), right on the edge of the New York metro up there in northern Fairfield County, and it'll soon go out nationally as the latest format offering from ABC Radio Networks. No 70s material here - this is largely pre-Beatles rock'n'roll, with Shannon himself holding down that afternoon shift, and it sounds like a blast to listen to, at least from where we're sitting.

In Hartford, Star and Buc Wild debuted last week as the new morning team on WPHH (104.1 Waterbury), their first time back at work since they lost their gig at New York's WQHT last year.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, WRKO (680 Boston) marked April 1 by turning morning hosts Scott Allen Miller and Peter Blute to the left for the day; the two bashed Bush and stumped for Kerry and even signed off by announcing that Michael Dukakis would be up next.

Less amusing (by far) is the fate of former WBCN jock Mark Parenteau, who was sentenced to three years behind bars in the District of Columbia last week for sexually abusing a child. Parenteau pleaded guilty to the crime in exchange for the sentence, which also includes three years of probation and registering as a sex offender after he's served his time. Parenteau had most recently been working for Washington-based XM Satellite Radio.

*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Gary James pulled the oldies from his WMEX (106.5 Farmington) for the morning on April Fool's Day, going urban CHR as "X106" for 24 hours with his daughter Michelle (aka "Shelly James") taking the reins and spinning the tunes - club remote and all - for the day. (And was that Russ "Famous Amos!" DiBella doing the liners?)

WMEX wasn't joking, though, when it announced it was picking up the Portland Sea Dogs' games for this season, making the station the 11th affiliate on the network. (We'll do our AA baseball listings next issue...)

And congratulations to WMUR (Channel 9) in Manchester, which marked its 50th anniversary with a special last week. (We missed it - anyone get it on tape?)

*From MAINE comes a very well-sourced rumor that says Nassau's not done buying in the Pine Tree State. We hear the fast-growing company, which already owns more New England radio stations than anyone else, is close to a deal to add another Maine cluster to its arsenal, and we're hearing that Bangor will be the market in question, which narrows the possibilities quite a bit. Stay tuned...

*It didn't take long for Entercom to make a station move in northeastern PENNSYLVANIA: just a week after the FCC granted the construction permit for WAMT (103.1 Freeland) to move north from the Hazleton area to become an Avoca-licensed signal, engineers had completed the work to add 103.1's signal to the WDMT (102.3 Pittston) antenna near the interchange of PA 315, I-81 and I-476 in Pittston, and 103.1 reappeared last Wednesday as WFEZ, "Easy 103," with a soft AC format.

The move means listeners in the southern end of the market lose the "Mountain" format that WAMT had been simulcasting with WDMT, but it brings a new signal into the heart of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. It also means WKRZ (98.5) changes city of license from Wilkes-Barre to Freeland, with no technical or format changes...

In Philadelphia, Greater Media's been doing some hiring: it brings former Infinity Radio president/COO John Fullam on board as market manager for WMMR/WMWX/WMGK/WPEN, and it's hired Bill Weston away from WDYL/WKLR in Richmond as the new PD for WMMR (93.3); readers in RHODE ISLAND will remember Weston as a former PD of WHJY, and he did some time at New York's WAXQ as well.

Today (April 5) marks the end of religious WZZD (990 Philadelphia) and the launch of Salem's conservative talk format on the renamed WNTP.

And in Pittsburgh, move-in WFJY (660 Wilkinsburg) already gets new calls: WCIX.

*And with that, it's "Play Ball" - even though there are several inches of snow on the ground outside NERW Central as we type this, the baseball season's underway in the major leagues and will soon be underway at the AAA level as well, which means it's time for our quick spin around the dial to see where you can tune in the action around NERW-land this season.

We'll start with the majors, and with our team - the Boston Red Sox are in the last year of their deal with WEEI (850 Boston), with WROL (950 Boston) still on board as the Spanish-language flagship. Listeners in the vast Red Sox Nation territory outside New England will continue to get their Sox from Hartford's big WTIC (1080) signal - and this year, the network gets within striking distance of Yankees territory by adding WGCH (1490) in Greenwich, Connecticut! On TV, there's a slate of broadcast games on WSBK (Channel 38) and WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston, with the rest of the season on NESN (and the whole season on NESN outside the Boston market.)

The New York Yankees' bid to buy another championship will again be heard on WCBS (880 New York), where the opening games in Tokyo actually displaced the all-news format from morning drive for two days last week. Most of the remainder of the team's network remains unchanged from last year, except in Buffalo, where the team moves from soon-to-be-defunct WNSA (107.7) to WGR (550). On TV, it's the team's own YES Network and a slate of YES games on broadcast outlets that include WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York, WYPX (Channel 55) Amsterdam/Albany, WSPX (Channel 56) Syracuse, WWTI (Channel 50) Watertown and WPXJ (Channel 51) Batavia/Buffalo. WADO (1280) will carry home games in Spanish.

The New York Mets' bid to stay out of the standings cellar for another year will again be heard on WFAN (660 New York) and a much smaller network of stations, with WADO (1280) carrying games in Spanish. On TV, it's a mixture of MSG and Fox Sports NY for 100 games and WPIX (Channel 11) for 50 more.

The Philadelphia Phillies are again on WPEN (950 Philadelphia) and a big network in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware; TV games are mostly on Comcast Sports Net, with a few on WPSG (Channel 57) in Philadelphia and WSWB (Channel 38) in Scranton.

The Pittsburgh Pirates' long relationship with KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) continues into yet another season; most games are on TV on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.

The Toronto Blue Jays continue their affiliation with "Fan 590" (CJCL) this year, with 80 games on CHML (900 Hamilton)'s bigger signal (at least into the US side of NERW-land) and a network that stretches as far west as Vancouver - not to mention one US affiliate, WSPQ (1330 Springville), south of Buffalo. TV games split between Rogers Sportsnet and TSN.

And the hapless Montreal Expos move their French-language broadcasts to CKOO (98.5) this year - though CKOO's about to become a sister station to former flagship CKAC anyway, which means the team will likely end up right back on the Radiomedia network after all. And this year, the team starts the season with an English-language flagship as well, as "Team 990" CKGM signs up for another year of broadcasts.

In the minor leagues, we're almost as passionate about the Rochester Red Wings as we are about the Carmine Hose - and the Wings have a change in stations this year. Weeknight games remain on WHTK (1280), but the weekend games that used to be on WHAM (1180) move to WYSL (1040) this season; WYSL will continue to carry the weekday games it picked up last year as well.

The Buffalo Bisons remain on the huge WWKB (1520) signal this year, which is good news for Bisons fans on Long Island but means more pre-emptions for Jackson Armstrong.

The Syracuse Sky Chiefs change stations this year, moving from WNSS (1260) over to WFBL (1390) for the first year in a five-year deal, with Bob McElligott continuing as play-by-play announcer.

The Ottawa Lynx have only a partial broadcast package this year, with just 21 games on tap for CFGO (Team 1200) and Rogers Cable 22.

And the Pawtucket Red Sox remain on WSKO (790 Providence) for another season; no word on the size of their network this year, but we'll try to find out for next week.

Play ball! (If you can find it under the snow...)

*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 right) 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.