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Before we move on with the week's news...

...and there's a lot of it, too - we'll ask, again, for your subscription support as we head towards 2006.

NorthEast Radio Watch is part of an ever-shrinking breed of radio industry websites open to anyone without a password or a mandatory payment. (Just in the last few days, in fact, one of our colleagues out on the West Coast switched from open access to a mandatory subscription fee.)

Here at NERW, we still believe that it's not an especially efficient use of our time to be issuing passwords and renewal reminders. We'd rather be out there taking pictures of towers and twirling the dials to bring you actual news about radio and television across the northeast U.S. and eastern Canada, just as we've been doing, week in and week out, for over 11 years now.

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October 31, 2005

WCRB, Charles River For Sale

*While it may strike terror into the souls of classical music aficionados across Eastern New England, the news that Charles River Broadcasting has put its station group up for sale is anything but a Halloween prank.

On Thursday, the company's board of directors agreed to hire Media Services Group to explore the sale of some or all of its five stations - classical outlets WCRB (102.5 Waltham), WFCC (107.5 Chatham) and WCRI (95.9 Block Island RI), as well as rocker WKPE (104.7 Orleans) and all-news WCNX (1180 Hope Valley RI). The board also brought in veteran manager Herb McCord (former head of the Granum group) to manage the stations while CEO Bill Campbell is on medical leave; McCord was already a member of the Charles River board.

At least where WCRB is concerned, the move appeared at first glance to contradict the wishes of Theodore Jones, the station's founder. At the time of his death in 1991, it was widely reported that he'd created a trust structure to ensure that WCRB would remain classical for the next 99 years, leading many in the business to believe that the station (with one of only a dozen or so truly full-market Boston FM signals) would never go up for sale.

Charles River, however, sees things differently. Company officials say it's become impossible to operate as a small group in the era of consolidation and clusters, and they tell the Boston Globe that when Jones died, the trust he created stated that it was his "wish" that WCRB remain classical - but not a binding order. The board believes it can honor that wish by mandating that anyone buying WCRB maintain the classical format on an HD Radio subchannel, but leaving them free to program whatever they'd like on the main channel.

If that's the case (and we have no reason to believe otherwise), it could put WCRB - and Boston - in the same boat as so many other communities where commercial classical radio has either disappeared completely in the last decade (Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit) or has been relegated to a lower-power FM or even an AM signal (Cleveland, Kansas City, San Diego, Albuquerque). Based on the Street database, we now list only 27 commercial classical stations in the U.S., including the three Charles River owns. That list, in turn, includes a number of stations owned by nonprofit organizations (KFUO-FM St. Louis, KING-FM Seattle), by municipalities (WRR-FM Dallas) or by companies as concerned with the PR value of the station as with profit (the New York Times Co.'s WQXR-FM New York). Only three commercial broadcast groups of any substantial size own commercial classical outlets in large markets: Bonneville, with WGMS in Washington and KDFC in San Francisco; Entercom, with KXTR(AM) in Kansas City; and Saga, with WFMR in Milwaukee. (WFMR, which we visited over the summer, has New England native Steve Murphy at the programming helm and seems to be doing quite well for itself; WGMS and KDFC are perennial ratings successes in their markets; KXTR is a shell of what was once a thriving FM classical outlet, now relegated to a mostly-automated expanded-band AM - ironically, using WCRB programming for most of the day.)

So who'd be in line to spend the likely $70-80 million - perhaps even more - that the WCRB signal would fetch on the open market? While Infinity and Greater Media are at their market ownership limits already, two other big groups already in Boston - Clear Channel and Entercom - still have room under the caps to take on an additional FM signal. To that list, we'd also add Radio One and Salem, both of which have footholds in the Boston market and which have been acquisitive elsewhere.

And we can't leave out Marlin Broadcasting, which has deep Boston roots (in the person of principal Woody Tanger), deep classical roots (it owned - then sold - classical FMs in Philadelphia, Miami and Detroit, and it still owns classical webcaster and WTMI 1290 in West Hartford, Connecticut), and which wasted no time at week's end making it known that it's actively attempting to buy the Charles River stations.

Or - and this is purely speculative, we'd emphasize - could some sort of nonprofit ownership coalesce to preserve WCRB's format? The Boston Symphony Orchestra is already a part-owner of Charles River. (Its counterpart in Seattle is a key player in the nonprofit that owns KING-FM.) Then there's WGBH, which continues to have a committment to classical music even as it tries to balance other programming on its FM outlet. Was the $4 million that 'GBH just spent on a new Cape Cod FM merely an appetizer for something much bigger in Boston?

What about the other Charles River outlets? Nassau's just begun to make inroads on Cape Cod, and it's flush with cash (or soon will be) from the sale of its Lehigh Valley cluster in Pennsylvania, so it's not hard to imagine that two more big FMs would make an appealing investment for the growing company. We're not even going to try to speculate about the little signals in southern Rhode Island, where anything could happen, and probably will.

But the big ticket here is clearly 102.5 in Boston. Any time a big signal like WCRB is in play in a top-10 market, the stakes are pretty high, and you can be assured we'll be watching this one closely as it develops.

*WCRB's only one big headline in eastern MASSACHUSETTS this week, though. Up in Burlington, things got awfully quiet Thursday at WWZN (1510 Boston), where Sporting News Radio abruptly pulled the plug on the local programming it was originating at "1510 the Zone."

At the end, that meant two shows for the struggling station: "The Diehards" and Eddie Andelman's afternoon show. The paid programming that was running on the weekends and some evenings (including high school football) will continue, as will three WWZN staffers, including Diehards Anthony Pepe and Jon Anik.

A few moments of class marked the station's end: former GM Mike Winn, who's now with "ESPN Boston" WAMG/WLLH, was allowed to come back to WWZN for the last day there. And Andelman, whose history on Boston radio goes back 36 years, will get to do a farewell show Thursday (Nov. 3) from 2-4 PM.

After that, it's anyone's guess - there's pretty credible word that Sporting News Radio itself is struggling, raising questions about whether even the network sports feed will continue on what's now the number-three sports outlet in the market.

There's still another format change to note in the Boston market: no sooner did Radio One flip WILD (1090 Boston) to a black gospel format than it announced the impending debut - sometime in early 2006 - of a national talk network aimed at black listeners. WILD will be an affiliate of the network, of course, which means Boston listeners will get to hear the new Al Sharpton show from 1-4 PM, as well as "Two Live Stews" (a fast-growing sports talk show from Atlanta) from 4 until sunset, a yet-to-be-named national host from 10 AM-1 PM, and a yet-to-be-named local host in the mornings. We'd bet the black gospel continues on weekends.

A few more Bay State notes: in Dudley, Nichols College is selling its little class D FM outlet. The former WNRC (95.1 Dudley), now WXRB, is now owned by Peter George, the engineer (and good friend of NERW) who's been programming it for the last year or so, ever since WNRC moved to a more powerful 100-watt LPFM facility on 97.5. (Sale price: $1,000!)

A strange chapter in the strange story of WBIX (1060 Natick) is over, now that owner Brad Bleidt has dropped a court challenge to the planned sale of the station back to original owner Alex Langer. Bleidt initially told a federal judge that he was concerned that the sale (in which Langer would pay $1.5 million, forfeit claim to about $7.5 million he was owed by Bleidt and assume $433,000 in debt) wouldn't provide enough to adequately repay the investors Bleidt bilked - but he then withdrew the objection, allowing the sale to go through.

And we're sorry to report the death, on Oct. 21, of Jimmy Miades. The veteran Channel 7 director had been suffering from ALS ("Lou Gehrig's disease.")

*Then there's Howard Stern, who took away whatever suspense still surrounded the question of his replacement on Tuesday, when he introduced David Lee Roth as his successor, starting January 3, 2006, on most of his East Coast Infinity-owned affiliates.

In Boston, that means Roth will replace Stern on WBCN (104.1), but WBCN's rock format will continue for the rest of the day. That's not going to be the case on several other Stern stations - in particular, NEW YORK, where the end of the Stern show will also mean the end of "K-Rock" at WXRK (92.3). Stern has been a part of K-Rock since just a few months after it signed on in 1985. After he signs off in December 16, the rock will go as well - at least during the day - to replaced by the "Free FM" brand of talk that Infinity's launching in other big markets. So far, the only host confirmed for WXRK (besides Roth) is comedian/magician Penn Jillette.

The Roth show won't be heard in upstate New York. Instead, WZNE (94.1 Brighton) will bring "Rover's Morning Glory" to the Rochester market. Rover is the "nom de chien" (thanks to our pal Mike at Ohio Media Watch for that one!) of Shane French, who's been doing mornings on WXTM in Cleveland. His show will now be based at "Free FM" Midwest hub WCKG in Chicago, where it will feed WXTM, WZNE and affiliates in Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit and Memphis.

Then there's WBUF (92.9 Buffalo), which keeps its "Jack" format after Stern - to the extent that it hasn't announced any replacement for morning drive at all.

Speaking of Buffalo (and yes, we'll come back to Stern in a moment), the PD chairs have been spinning like crazy on the shores of Lake Erie this week. Over on the Canadian side, former WKSE (98.5) PD Dave Universal moves from consultant to full-fledged PD at CKEY (101.1 Fort Erie) - and we've got to admire the message-board poster who had the cojones to ask whether that means Universal (who was in the crosshairs of Eliot Spitzer's payola investigation) will now be asking the record labels for Leafs tickets...

On the U.S. side, Sue O'Neil reclaims the PD chair at WKSE, where she's now operations manager as well. O'Neil will keep the OM post at sister stations WTSS (102.5 Buffalo) and WWWS (1400 Buffalo), but a new PD for those stations is expected to be named soon.

An obituary from New York (by way of Seattle): Rick Johnson was known on the air as "Bwana Johnny," and while he spent most of his career on the west coast, he made one heck of an impact during his brief run in 1971 at top 40 WWDJ (970 Hackensack NJ), which was an amazing David to WABC's Goliath for a little while. Bwana Johnny had been in poor health lately, and he died Friday (Oct. 28) in Seattle, at age 56.

*Back to Stern, then - and perhaps the biggest news, at least in our region, comes from eastern PENNSYLVANIA, where the end of the Stern show Tuesday was followed with the launch of "94.1 Free FM" on WYSP (94.1 Philadelphia).

The new format had clearly been in the works for a while, since it launched with a relatively comprehensive schedule. The most notable addition is market veteran Paul Barsky, who resurfaces as the 10 AM-3 PM host (with former sidekick Vinnie the Crumb alongside him again.) Kidd Chris, already on WYSP, remains in afternoon drive. After 7 at night, the station will still be a rocker, with Couzin Ed moving to 7-10 PM and Matt and Huggy from 10-2.

WYSP also brings a familiar Infinity face back to the market: Tom Bigby, who moved from WIP to KRLD in Dallas last year, returns as OM of "94.1 Free FM." Gil Edwards moves up from APD to PD.

The rock will live on - albeit jockless - at; we'd sort of expect it to show up as an HD Radio multicast eventually, too.

At the other end of the state, we've heard that Infinity was all set to flip WRKZ (93.7 Pittsburgh) to "Jack" - after all, the station was created out of the ashes of the old B94 specifically to carry Stern last year - but instead, it's sticking with "K-Rock" on the frequency, at least for now. David Lee Roth will be the morning man there, as well as at WYSP.

(Jack did come to the area, after all - but over in Wheeling/Steubenville, where top 40 WOMP-FM 100.5 is now WYJK.)

And we're still not done with the Stern news, but we can't leave the Keystone State without a couple of obituaries, alas.

Glenn "Bumper" Morgan - real name Frederick Merrin - began his broadcast career in Binghamton at the old WKOP-FM, then spent almost a decade in New York radio at WXLO and WNBC. He came to Pittsburgh in 1984 to work for WWSW, and later worked at WHTX/WVTY, WSHH and WJJJ before ending up as station manager of WWNL (1080), the position he held when he died Wednesday (Oct. 26) of a heart attack.

Morgan was 57 - and we should hasten to point out that he's not the Bumper Morgan who's now at Cape Cod's WXTK/WCOD, and who also passed through Pittsburgh in the early 80s, though both Bumpers were active in the voiceover/imaging business.

And in Philadelphia, they're mourning "E.C. LaRock." The WDAS-FM (105.3) jock, whose real name was Erich Coston, died last Sunday (Oct. 23) of diabetes; he was just 47.

*What becomes of the Stern affiliates who aren't part of Infinity? We don't know yet who'll be doing mornings at Albany's "Edge" (WQBK/WQBJ), or at Portland's "Bone" (WHXR/WHXQ), or at Burlington's WIZN. But we can tell you that in NEW JERSEY, WJSE (102.7 Petersburg) will replace Stern with its present afternoon team, "Scotty and Alex," with Shawn moving from nights to afternoons.

*In CONNECTICUT, Marlin's WCCC (106.9 Hartford) apparently isn't impressed with the Roth offering. They're bringing some fellow named "Lance Christian" to the airwaves - and if that name sounds unfamiliar, perhaps you might recognize his alter ego, "Sebastian," as a fixture at WCCC and other Hartford stations in the 30 years since "Lance Christian" was last heard on WPOP. (And that's it for our Stern coverage this week - we promise!)

*In RHODE ISLAND, fans of AHL hockey will have some dial-spinning to do to find the Providence Bruins this year. Instead of the decent-sized signal of WDDZ (550 Pawtucket), this year's P-Bruins have WARL (1320 Attleboro MA) as their flagship, with additional coverage on WNRI (1380 Woonsocket), WQRI (88.3 Bristol), WBLQ (88.1 Westerly) and Saturday games on WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) - not one of which can be heard inside Dunkin Donuts Arena, we're pretty sure.

(We'll have more AHL information - plus a complete NBA rundown for NERW-land - in next week's issue.)

Another Ocean State note: Kristin Lessard moves from nights at Boston's WROR to mornings at WWBB (101.5 Providence), where she takes the co-host slot previously occupied by Keri Rodrigues.

*The big news from CANADA this week is the retirement of a broadcasting icon. Allan Waters didn't put CHUM (1050 Toronto) on the air, but he did build it from a tiny 1000-watt station into Canada's first top-40 giant. Waters went on to turn CHUM Limited into one of the country's largest radio and TV groups. Last week, he stepped down as a member of the board at CHUM Limited, which promptly named him an honorary director.

In Toronto, CHFI (98.1) made official what had long been rumored, here and elsewhere - Mike Cooper joins his former CJEZ (97.3) colleague Erin Davis in mornings.

In Kitchener/Waterloo, CJDV (Dave 107.5) has named Scot Turner as PD.

In Ottawa, Jack McGaw and his partners apply to use 104.7 (with 18 watts/115 meters) for the tourism information station they were granted in June.

And in Montreal, CanWest Global was dealt a blow in its attempt to turn CJNT (Channel 62) into more of a clone of its "CH" independent stations in Ontario and British Columbia, as the CRTC denied CanWest's applications to reduce the amount of ethnic programming CJNT is required to carry in prime time. (The CRTC did grant CJNT a reduction in the number of distinct ethnic groups it must serve.)

*Tower Site Calendar 2006 is just back from the printer, and we've got to say, we're especially proud of the way this one turned out.

Once again, we bring you more than a dozen images from the collection that have never seen print before, including that nifty nighttime view of New York's WMCA that graces the cover. You also get to see WSB, KTAR, Mount Wilson, CBV and many, many more, plus all those fun dates in radio and TV history, civil and religious holidays, a handy full-page 2007 calendar, and the always-popular hole for hanging.

And we do it all with no increase in price, for the fourth year running!

The calendars are shipping now, so there's no need to wait until the holidays to enjoy all that tall steel and all that broadcast history. Order now and beat the rush!

You can get one free with your 2006 subscription to NERW at the $60 level, or order the calendar (plus other goodies) at our brand new Store! We think you'll like this one - and as always, we thank you for your support.

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 2005 by Scott Fybush.