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May 17, 2004

Remembering Nick Berg

*Nick Berg's name and his tragic story have been all over the national headlines this week - but for many radio folks in PENNSYLVANIA, NEW YORK and NEW JERSEY, the tower worker who was beheaded in Iraq is more than just a name in the papers.

Before Berg headed over to Iraq earlier this year, he was up in the air (and down on the ground) at tower sites all over the region, operating as "Prometheus Tower Service" at sites that included Ingraham Hill in Binghamton (where he installed the new WHWK 98.1 antenna, apparently his last job in the U.S.), WNGZ in Montour Falls, N.Y., the New Jersey Meadowlands and WPLY in Philadelphia, where our friend Mark Humphrey recently used Berg to install a new auxiliary antenna.

Mark writes:

Nick impressed me as a very bright, resourceful and dedicated individual who cared a great deal about improving our quality of life by applying his skills and knowledge. Nick not only possessed the necessary physical ability and stamina to do the job, but had also studied engineering at Drexel, Penn, and Cornell, so I felt very comfortable letting him handle our work. I knew that he wanted to grow his own business, and I felt obligated to give him that opportunity.

He had all sorts of ideas to bring technology to less-developed parts of the world, including a concrete tower which could be fabricated in remote parts of the world using locally-available materials, thus avoiding the problems of shipping steel in the absence of a good transportation network.

In fact, at last year's PAB Engineering Conference in Hershey, he and his father (who served as business manager of the company) displayed a prototype modular structure called "Bovl Blocks", made of interlocking concrete blocks that could be cast on site, then stacked to the desired height. He thought this product would be particularly useful in the African interior, where cellular networks are just beginning to be built out.

Why did he go to Iraq?

He was aware that some towers were damaged last year during bombing missions, and many more had been looted... copper lines removed, diagonal members taken out, etc. Few obstruction lighting systems were functional -- he mentioned an 800 foot tower two miles from an airport (used by our military) that was totally dark. So he first went over in December to see if he could help to assist in the reconstruction, restore Iraq's broadcast services, and repair the serious structural damage that endangered the lives of their citizens.

I received the following email message from Nick in early January:

"About Iraq- I am taking photos - where allowed. It's actually pretty sad - I just got off one of two 320 meter monster towers in Abu Gharib (also home to the main political prison) which use to support most of Baghdad area's VHF and UHF. Both have been badly looted, including 4000 feet or more of flexible 6-1/8" heliax, two full 12X4 panel TV antennas, and even some structural members. I was also in the North as I mentioned, but here there wasn't as much damage. I'll definitely share some of these pix with you and others next time I'm in the area - I'd love to put together a little presentation for SBE or PAB in about six monthes after I've been on every site and fixed some of them."

He returned to Philadelphia in late January to catch up on some domestic business -- then in early February, tackled an antenna replacement job at our aux site, which he had quoted last summer. This proved to be more complicated than either of us had first assumed (a three-bay DA with two vertical and four horizontal parasites per bay) but he honored his original quote. The work took place in sub-zero windchills... my feet were getting plenty cold just standing out in the cornfield as we aligned the azimuth, it must have been brutal up on the tower, but he took it in stride.

After Nick completed assembly and we purged the system, I ran the pressure up to 5 PSI and closed the valve on the nitrogen tank. I came out at 430 AM the next morning to run some power into the new antenna, and as the transmitter ramped up to full output, I saw *zero* reflected. (I tapped the meter to make sure it wasn't stuck!) We had a perfect installation, no split or missing bullets, etc. And I haven't seen *any* pressure loss since then (actually, the gage reads between 7 and 8 now, due to the warmer weather.)

I knew that Nick was planning to return to Irag in March, but hadn't heard any word from him over the past two months, which had me concerned. Then I received the message from his parents and my heart sunk. I was at lunch when the news broke about his brutal murder, and I was devastated.

If you've been following all sides of this story, you may have read that his parents did not receive much cooperation from our Federal Government when trying to learn his whereabouts, which is very disturbing. He had reportedly booked a March 30 flight back to New York, but missed it because he had been detained by our military. The "spin" on the story is that they told him to get out, but I'm not buying that.

Let's keep his family in our thoughts and prayers. Our industry (and humanity) has lost a very fine person.

NERW echoes Mark's sentiments, and our prayers are with the Berg family. We're keeping tabs on an industry effort to create a scholarship in Nick Berg's memory, and we hope to have details to provide by next week's issue.

*Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Pegasus Communications is converting its time-brokerage agreement with WSWB (Channel 38) in Scranton to outright ownership, asking the FCC for permission to buy the WB affiliate from KB Prime Media for just over $2 million. Some history here: Pegasus used to own channel 38, when it was Fox affiliate WOLF-TV. In 1998, Pegasus moved WOLF's Hazleton satellite signal, WWLF (Channel 56) north to the Penobscot Mountain antenna farm that's home to the rest of the market's big signals, moving the WOLF-TV calls to channel 56 and selling channel 38 to KB Prime Media, which then contracted out to Pegasus for operation of what became WSWB.

Pegasus is also in the process of buying out its other TBA with KB Prime, WPME (Channel 35) in Lewiston, Maine. It's asking the FCC to approved the duopoly operation of WOLF-TV and WSWB under the "failing station rule," since it contends that WSWB would be unable to survive as a standalone operation in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.

The rest of the news from the Keystone State this week is all about translators. Five new ones were granted: W282AP (104.3 Bloomsburg), to relay WKAB (103.5 Berwick); W281AG (104.1 Waynesburg) and W286AL (105.1 Waynesburg), to relay WKJL (88.1 Clarksburg WV) and WRIJ (106.9 Masontown PA) respectively; and W254AV (98.7 Kittanning) and W253AL (98.5 Butler), both to relay WPCL (93.7 Northern Cambria, formerly Spangler).

And there are more applications that were accepted for filing: 100.9 Folstown (to relay WKAB), 94.7 Punxsutawney and 107.7 Du Bois (to relay WDSN 106.5 Reynoldsville-Du Bois), 101.7 Whites Crossing (WYCY 105.3 Hawley), 103.7 Hamburg (WBYN 107.5 Boyertown), 106.1 New Cumberland (WXPH 88.1 Harrisburg), 102.9 Carbondale (WXPN 88.5 Philadelphia), 103.1 Towanda and 103.5 Wyalusing (both for WPGP 88.3 Tafton).

*There's a new FM station on the air in NEW JERSEY: WJPG (88.1 Cape May Court House) signed on a few days ago, simulcasting the contemporary Christian music of WJPH (89.9 Woodbine).

A bit of a mystery in Piscataway: the FCC has apparently rescinded the renewal grant for WVPH (90.3), the high school station there. WVPH has filed a petition for reconsideration of the recission, and we'll keep you posted.

And one translator application made the list this week: 105.5 Atlantic Highlands, to relay WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown).

*Some talent on the move in upstate NEW YORK this week: at Clear Channel's WYYY (94.5 Syracuse), the husband-and-wife morning team of Pete Michaels and Brenda Bisset are out after three years, replaced by Rick Gary (of sister station WIXT-TV) and Kathy Rowe, who moves to mornings from middays. Replacing Rowe is Marne Mason, formerly of Galaxy's WTKW (99.5 Bridgeport)/WTKV (105.5 Oswego); she'll also be Y94's assistant program director. And replacing Mason alongside Glenn "Gomez" Addams in mornings on TK99 will be Galaxy programming honcho Mimi Griswold.

Meanwhile down in Binghamton, Heather Black is out as morning co-host on WHWK (98.1), with Glenn Pitcher flying solo for now.

In Rochester, our flies on the wall at the WRUR (88.5 Rochester) staff meeting last week report there were a lot of unhappy student and volunteer DJs, as you'd expect from anyone who now has to tape their shows two weeks in advance. And with no University of Rochester officials at the meeting to defend their policy decision, we hear station manager Jared Lapin bore the brunt of the criticism. (We also hear that he's the one who'll have to sit there and review all those taped shows before they can air.)

When WRUR's new schedule debuts June 1, we're told it will feature more of a block arrangement of programming, with specialty shows on the weekend, rock in the afternoon, oldies in the early evening, metal later at night and most urban-oriented programming after midnight, a time slot that didn't sit well with some of the jocks at the meeting. WRUR has also ramped up its simulcast of news-talk WXXI (1370), with much of WXXI's midday lineup being heard on 88.5 as of early last week.

Thus far, there's been little or no public outcry about the changes, but that may change next week when the alternative weekly City runs an article about WRUR's new mega-delay. (We're not holding our collective breath for the daily Democrat and Chronicle to pay any more attention to WRUR than it does to the rest of the radio scene locally.)

You can read the letter from the university to the students right here, by the way.

And on the translator front, "Radio Assist Ministries" (which, we're told in an e-mail from KAWZ station manager Don Mills, was founded by a former Calvary Satellite Network employee who left the station three years ago and has nothing to do with CSN/KAWZ) has been granted W295AM (106.9 Batavia), which will relay WZXV (99.7 Palmyra), which belongs to the Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes and carries some, but not all, CSN programming. Down in Bath, Robert Pfuntner's Pembrook Pines has been granted W261AG (100.1) to relay WVIN-FM (98.3 Bath). And Saranac Lake Radio (WYZY 106.3) has applications posted for 101.1 Dannemora and 105.9 Schuyler Falls.

*Big news from eastern MASSACHUSETTS, and you read it first here in NorthEast Radio Watch: this fall's schedule at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston won't include news at 5 PM weekdays. Instead, NERW has learned that "CBS4" plans to move Dr. Phil from 3 PM to 5 PM (it can't air at 4 PM, against Oprah on WCVB Channel 5), where it will replace the hour of news that's been airing there for years. WBZ will then launch a 4 PM newscast to challenge WHDH-TV (Channel 7), which now has the local news audience to itself that early in the afternoon. (And we hear WBZ-TV will have a new news director very soon, too, as Jacques Natz returns to town from WTHR in Indianapolis to take over Peter Brown's old job; Natz is well-remembered in Boston for his stint at WHDH in the nineties.)

Out in western Massachusetts, Vox closed on its $2.025 million purchase of the three Berkshire Broadcasting stations last week, adding WNAW (1230 North Adams), WMNB (100.1 North Adams) and WSBS (860 Great Barrington) to a cluster that already includes WUHN (1110 Pittsfield), WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), WUPE (95.9 Pittsfield) and WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield), though the latter has a pending application to move out of the market to Easthampton.

And we hear that the leased-time Spanish religion on WCAT (700 Orange) has been replaced with a simulcast of talk WGAW (1340 Gardner) - and that the 700 transmitter's been on the air past sunset quite a bit...

*NEW HAMPSHIRE's independent TV station is changing hands, as CTV of Derry applies to sell WNDS (Channel 50) to Diane Sutter's ShootingStar. Sutter is a former Pittsburgh TV executive who made an unsuccessful attempt to buy WQEX (Channel 16) from WQED a couple of years ago; no word yet on what her plans for WNDS might be.

Meanwhile, WNDS evening news co-anchor Cherilee Budrick left the station last week.

A new translator for Radio Assist Ministries in the Granite State: W294AP (106.7 Claremont) will supposedly pick up the yet-to-be-built WKVJ (89.7 Dannemora NY) over the air, 90 miles or so across the Green Mountains of Vermont (and with the 100,000 watts of Boston's WGBH just off the back end of the receiving antenna, too!)

*All the translator action in VERMONT comes from Vermont Public Radio this week: VPR was granted W228BL (93.5 South Bennington), W266AK (101.1 Rupert) and W295AL (106.9 Woodstock), and its applications for 98.9 Montgomery and 107.5 Sharon were approved for filing.

*In MAINE, Carter Broadcasting applies to sell WLLB-LP (Channel 15) in Portland to the Word of God Fellowship.

*The FCC dismissed the application from WADK (1540) in Newport, RHODE ISLAND to add 20 kW at night to its 1 kW daytime signal.

And we've neglected to mention the blossoming of the DTV dial in the Ocean State: within the last few weeks, WJAR-DT (Channel 51) and WLNE-DT (Channel 49) have signed on with NBC and ABC HDTV programming from their shared site at the WJAR transmitter in Rehoboth, Mass., right around the corner from WPRI-DT (Channel 13), Rhode Island's first DTV station. Next up will be WSBE-DT (Channel 21), also from the WJAR site. (NERW notes that the debut of WLNE-DT from the Rehoboth site means the end to the long signal disadvantage that the New Bedford-licensed station has always had vis-a-vis its Providence competition - but will that change the station's perception among viewers as a perennial also-ran in the market?)

*Chris Conley is leaving CONNECTICUT: the WICC (600 Bridgeport) assignment editor is heading to WSAU (550 Wausau WI) to do news out there.

*Some big changes are on the way to CANADA's French-language public radio scene. Radio-Canada announced last week that it's restructuring its program lineup this fall, adding 12 hours of cultural programming to its "premiere chaine" service and completely reworking its "chaine culturelle" network (the old Radio-Canada FM stereo network that's gradually been expanding across the country and adding transmitters in Quebec and New Brunswick.)

Currently a haven for highbrow classical and jazz programming, the "chaine culturelle" will get a new (yet-to-be-announced) name and a new program schedule this fall. The classical and jazz will remain during the day, but late nights will be dedicated to listeners aged 16-34, with a "new focus on musical diversity" in the programming.

(NERW notes: now that pretty much all of the "premiere chaine," save for transmitters in Toronto and Winnipeg, has migrated to the FM dial, that network can take over some of the musical programming that was once exclusively the province of the old FM network. Could the CBC's English-language networks be similarly restructured down the road?)

And the Toronto Maple Leafs may be out of the Stanley Cup race this year, but the team has something to celebrate: it's signed a seven-year deal to extend its association with Corus' CFMJ (Mojo Radio 640). (And NERW notes that the Rochester Americans are still very much alive in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs...)

*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.

If you haven't ordered yet, what are you waiting for? 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 2004 by Scott Fybush.