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November 22, 2004

WBIX: The Collapse

*It's becoming increasingly clear that there are no winners in the scandal that's had the attention of most of MASSACHUSETTS for the last week or so - and certainly not the staff or listeners at WBIX (1060 Natick), where afternoon host Mark Mills admitted on the air late last week that the people putting together the station's business format weren't getting paid and expected to be sent packing any minute.

Mills' announcement actually came a day before Chris Egan, the EMC heir who had been planning to buy the station from self-confessed swindler Brad Bleidt, said he was pulling out of the deal. Egan said that his withdrawal from the deal would cost him somewhere in the six figures, but that allowing the station to go through a court-ordered receivership sale would be more likely to put at least some cash back in the pockets of the clients Bleidt defrauded before attempting to kill himself.

Bleidt, meanwhile, ended the week under arrest on federal mail-fraud charges, two days after he checked himself in to the psychiatric ward of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The inevitable question: what now for 1060? With Egan out of the picture, the station's future now appears to be up to attorney David Vicinanzo, the court-designated receiver in the Bleidt case. At the head of the list of creditors, no doubt, will be Alex Langer, to whom Bleidt still owes at least seven million dollars for the WBIX license. (Bleidt paid more than $13 million for the station, most of it in the form of a loan from Langer.)

But Bleidt's accused of taking roughly $35 million from investors, and if WBIX is in fact the only significant asset that's left from his activities, it will be up to Vicinanzo to determine how to wring the most cash he possibly can from the station. That, in turn, may mean not a continuation of the business format but rather an outright sale to another operator - and that, in turn, means there may not be much point to trying to continue the station's operations under the current format. Several staffers are already gone from WBIX, including Mills' afternoon producer, and the rest are expected to learn more about their fate this week. We'll keep you posted.

*Meanwhile out on Cape Cod, GBH Telecommunications (a partnership between Boston's WGBH and funder Public Radio Capital) remained the leading bidder at week's end for the new 94.3A allocation in Brewster, holding steady with its bid of $3.927 million. Other notable leading bidders in this FM Auction #37 include "RadioActive, LLC" (the return of former Clear Channel radio honcho Randy Michaels), with bids of $2.695 million for 97.9A Dannemora NY, $301,000 for 92.5A Old Forge NY and $570,000 for 107.1A Saranac Lake NY; Nassau Broadcasting, with $879.000 for 97.3A Jefferson NH and $762,000 for 105.9A Hardwick VT; Vermont Broadcast Associates, with $936,000 for 100.3A Barton VT; Double O Broadcasting, with $399,000 for 97.5A Delhi NY; PPRE, LLC, with $144,000 for 96.5A Speculator NY; and Iorio Broadcasting, with $208,000 for 102.7A Clarendon PA. The auction resumes with round 53 on Monday morning...

The all-Christmas bandwagon made a stop on Birmingham Parkway last week, as Infinity's WODS (103.3 Boston) flipped from oldies to holiday music for the season. Last year, Entercom's WQSX (93.7 Lawrence) made the flip, too - will it do so again this year?

*A long-running dispute that threatened to take a northern MAINE radio station off the air has been resolved, at least for now, as WSYY (94.9/1240 Millinocket) buys its studio site from landlord Katahdin Timberlands LLC - and, more importantly, signs a lease for its Hammond Ridge tower site. WSYY had been operating without a lease on the Katahdin Timberlands-owned site since January, and had been threatened with eviction. It's now safe at least through 2006, though the proposed construction of a resort next to the tower site may still pose a problem down the road.

*There's a brand-new radio station on the air in NEW HAMPSHIRE as of Friday (Nov. 19), as Bob Vinikoor flips the switch to launch WUVR (1490 Lebanon) onto the Upper Valley's airwaves.

WUVR is the first AM station licensed to Lebanon, and Bob tells us it's operating from a Nautel XL-1 transmitter and a Kintronics folded unipole tower, with the site designed by Bill Sitzman and engineered by Russ McAllister.

For now, it's simulcasting Bob's talk station, WNTK (99.7 New London) - but when Bob gets sister station WQTH (720 Hanover) on the air in the next year or so, he hopes to make WUVR a good old full-service community station for Lebanon. Neat...

Meanwhile, the all-Christmas flip took place at Clear Channel's WGXL (92.3 Hanover) last week.

And a native New Englander is back home after a long stint in the desert. Angela Anderson was most recently doing news at KXNT (840) and the rest of the Infinity cluster in Las Vegas, but the Emerson graduate just landed a new gig as news director of WGIR (610 Manchester) and its Clear Channel sisters in the Granite State. Welcome home!

*More all-Christmas sounds in CONNECTICUT: WBMW (106.5 Ledyard) and WXLM (102.3 Stonington) both made the flip on Friday, bringing lots of "ho-ho-ho" to the Norwich/New London/Groton area.

*Our top story out of NEW YORK this week is the return of a very old set of call letters to the Rochester TV dial, as Clear Channel announced Friday that it will flip WOKR (Channel 13) to WHAM-TV in January 2005.

The WHAM-TV calls belonged to Rochester's original TV station, first on channel 6 and then on channel 5, from 1949 until 1956, when it and WHAM radio were sold to separate owners and the TV side became WROC-TV (which moved from channel 5 to channel 8 in 1962). WHAM (1180) and WOKR have been co-owned for several years now, and they've experimented with some newsgathering cooperation and cross-promotion since then.

The call change, however, takes that cooperation to a new level - and while both sides emphasized that the radio and TV stations will operate under separate management from separate facilities (indeed, Clear Channel's been busy renovating its downtown Rochester radio studios), the local media scene was quickly abuzz with jokes about WHAM talk host Bob Lonsberry anchoring the news on WHAM-TV 13 alongside WOKR fixture Don Alhart.

(And down the Thruway, the rumor mill has been buzzing for a while about a call change in Syracuse that would flip Clear Channel's WIXT, channel 9, to WSYR-TV, the calls that graced channel 3 - now WSTM - as recently as 1980. There's even some talk that Clear Channel's Albany Fox affiliate, WXXA-TV, could rebrand as WGY-TV.

It goes without saying, of course, that the local daily rag performed its usual mediocre job of press-release regurgitation, duly repeating several errors in the WHAM press release, including the claim that WHAM-TV became WROC-TV in 1962. We're taking bets from Rochester-area readers on how many months will elapse before said rag's Sunday TV book reflects the call change in each of the three different places that the "WOKR" calls appear...)

*The WHAM-TV call change may have led channel 13's newscasts (really!) at 5 and 6 on Friday, but it wasn't even the most consequential piece of broadcast news out of the Flower City this week. That honor - if that's the right word - goes to Infinity's sudden dismissal of John McCrae as operations manager/PD of its Rochester cluster, which includes classic rock WCMF (96.5), top 40 WPXY (97.9), AC WRMM (101.3) and active rock WZNE (94.1 Brighton).

None of that "philosophical differences" or "pursuing different interests" business here, either - the New York Times reported Saturday that McCrae was fired for taking gift certificates (we hear they were for Best Buy) that were meant for contest prizes and using them for personal use. The Times says the McCrae incident was one of the concerns that led Infinity to announce this week that it was implementing a group-wide ban on the use of independent record promoters.

(The local rag? Guess nobody's sent them a press release yet; there's been nary a word about this story in its pages, which may explain why the Times sells as well as it does up here...)

Another all-Christmas convert, and it's no surprise: Entercom's WBBF (93.3 Fairport) made the flip early last week, just as it did last year around this time.

We stopped by the final broadcast/station open-house party for departing WGMC (90.1 Greece) general manager Jason Crane on Friday to say so long, and while we were there we picked up some news about the station's new schedule, effective today: Crane's replacement, Rob Linton, will handle the midday shift from 11-2, while WGMC office manager (and veteran western NY broadcaster) Jack Mindy takes over Crane's old "Traffic Jam" shift from 2 to 6 PM.

One final Rochester note: Cary Pall, still well-remembered locally for his days at WKLX (98.9, now WBZA), is leaving his current post as PD of Columbus oldies station WODB (107.9 Delaware OH) at year's end, and it really is all about "new opportunities" - we hear he's looking to get into station ownership, and we wish him the very best in that endeavor.

Over in Buffalo, some good news for fans of Jackson Armstrong on WWKB (1520) - the station is pulling the plug on the sports play-by-play that pre-empted Armstrong many nights, sending University of Buffalo games over to Lockport's WLVL (1340) and telling the Buffalo Bisons baseball team to look for a new place to buy time for its games next season.

Speaking of Buffalo sports, Adelphia's Empire Sports Network is verging ever closer to extinction. With its star attraction, Sabres hockey, idled by the NHL strike, Time Warner Cable has decided to drop the network from its cable systems in the Rochester market, where it had already been exiled to a digital pay tier. (At the same time, Time Warner's raising cable rates, again. Hmm - a dish would look mighty nice atop NERW Central...)

In Albany, WROW (590) has finally picked a replacement for long-departed (we're talking last July) afternoon talk host Dan Lynch. It's looking south down the Thruway to pick up the Mike and the Mad Dog show from Infinity's WFAN (660 New York), providing the show with its very first out-of-market affiliate.

And congratulations to Ally Reid, who moves up one notch in alphabetical order as she trades middays on WFLY (92.3 Troy) for a new gig at WFLZ (93.3) down in Tampa, Florida.

Is a format change on the way at New York's WQCD (101.9)? PD Blake Lawrence has been on the air saying he's working hard on a project that's due Monday at noon, and the word is that the Emmis-owned station is segueing from smooth jazz to something called "chill," which is a sort of melange of smooth jazz, electronica, world beat, pop, dance, and...well, OK, we can't really explain it either. But it's doing OK out in Santa Fe, New Mexico at "Blu 102.9," KLBU, and now it's apparently coming to CD 101.9. More as it develops...

The New York Yankees lost the ALCS (it just never gets old, does it?), and now they've lost one of their announcers, too. Charley Steiner is reportedly heading to Los Angeles to join the Dodgers' radio team, and the rumor mill says Suzyn Waldman will end up in the Yankees booth alongside John Sterling for opening day. (Which, need we remind you, will pit them against the World Champion Red Sox...)

Pacifica's WBAI (99.5 New York) spent much of Wednesday off the air, thanks to a manhole fire that took out the station's link to its Empire State Building transmitter. WBAI was silenced about 4 AM and didn't get back on the air until 1:20 PM or thereabouts.

No surprise here, but it bears noting anyway: Morey's WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) has dropped its "Box" nickname and has assumed the identity of its predecessor, modern rock pioneer WLIR (92.7 Garden City, now WZAA). The Morey stations out there on the East End will reportedly be streaming their audio soon, too.

*An all-Christmas station has arrived in NEW JERSEY, as WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) tries to get attention for its new "Breeze" format by stunting with the holiday tunes. (The other two Breezes, WBHX 99.7 and WWZY 107.1, stick with the soft AC for now.)

*Lots of all-Christmas action in PENNSYLVANIA, where converts this week include Philadelphia's WSNI (104.5) and WBEB (101.1), Pittsburgh's WWSW (94.5), Allentown's WLEV (100.7) and Scranton's WFEZ (103.1 Avoca).

Radio People on the Move in the Harrisburg market: Melanie Gardner's departed Metro Networks (where she did traffic for Lancaster's WGAL-TV) to become morning co-host at WARM-FM (103.3 York), replacing the departed Kelly West. And ex-New Englander Tory Gates has left Metro in Harrisburg as well - he's headed to DC and a gig doing traffic reporting for XM's nationwide traffic service.

*We're saddened to begin our news from CANADA this week with two obituaries. Legendary jock Tom Rivers was one of the giants of Toronto radio, both in physical form (he was a towering 6'8") and in the impact he had on the industry during a career that began in Detroit and then included stops at CHUM, CFTR (where he defected from CHUM in 1983), CHOG (in its "Talk 640" era), CJEZ and most recently brief stints at CHWO (AM 740) and CJAQ ("Jack FM.") Rivers died Friday after a battle with cancer; he was 57.

And over in London, CHRW (94.9) is mourning the loss of its general manager, Kaarlo Korkiala, who was found dead in his apartment last Monday at age 38. Korkiala had been involved with CHRW since his days as a student at the University of Western Ontario in 1985; he had been the station's news and sports director since 2001 and had been named GM earlier this year. PD Grant Stein is serving as CHRW's interim general manager for now.

Toronto's "Jazz 91 FM," CJRT (91.1), has hired CBC host Ralph Benmergui as its new morning jock, replacing the departing Tish Iceton. Benmergui starts at CJRT in December.

The all-Christmas format's not unique to the U.S.; Toronto's CJEZ (EZ Rock 97.3) made the flip last week as well.

And if you're looking for a classic aircheck fix, you could do a lot worse than to visit our old pal "Mr. Aircheck," a.k.a. former CING (107.9 Burlington) oldies jock Russ Horton, who's streaming pieces of his collection 24/7 at Check it out!

*You're less than two months away from 2005 - so why haven't you ordered your Tower Site Calendar 2005 yet?

It's now for sale, among other outlets, at the NAB Store - yup, that was the 2005 edition on the counter in San Diego - as well as being on the racks at Universal Radio in Ohio.

And we're pretty sure the cover of the Tower Site Calendar 2006 has now been photographed - but we won't spoil the surprise just yet, will we?

This year's calendar begins with WSTW/WDEL in Wilmington, Delaware on the cover, ends with Sutro Tower in San Francisco on the inside back cover - and along the way makes stops at WNBF in Binghamton, CFNB in Fredericton, Poor Mountain in Roanoke, KXNT in Las Vegas, WBBR in New York, Gibraltar Peak above Santa Barbara, WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, WRIB in Providence, WOOD in Grand Rapids, KFJZ in Fort Worth, KYPA in Los Angeles and the top of Chicago's Hancock Tower.

We're holding the price from last year, notwithstanding increases in printing costs and PayPal fees - just $16 postpaid ($17.32 including sales tax to New York addresses). And as always, it's free with your $60 or higher subscription to NorthEast Radio Watch/ You can use PayPal, below, or send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush, to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618.

And here's an even better deal - We still have plenty of 2004 calendars left, so how about this? For just $20 postpaid ($21.65 in New York), we'll send you both the 2005 and 2004 editions. It's almost like getting an extra calendar free! (Or, if you just need the 2004 edition, that's still on clearance at $8 - and if you buy two 2004 calendars, your third is free!)

So why wait until the last minute? Why make us wait until the last minute? Why not let me park my car back in the garage where it belongs? Buy your calendars now, won't you?

Order the 2005 Tower Site Calendar for $16...
Order the 2005 and 2004 Tower Site Calendars together for just $20...
...or subscribe to NERW at the $60 level and get a FREE 2005 Tower Site Calendar
...and you can still order the 2004 Tower Site Calendar at our special clearance price of $8! (US and Canada only - e-mail us for overseas ordering information.)

Don't want to order by credit card? You know the drill by now - make those checks payable to "Scott Fybush," be sure to include sales tax (8.25%) for New York state calendar orders only, and send them along to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Sorry - we can't take orders by phone.)

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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.