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January 23, 2006

The HD Alliance Makes its Moves

*There aren't many folks alive today who were listening to the radio when the first FM stations lit up the dial in the late thirties. Many of us - your editor included - are too young to have any memory of the first regular color TV broadcasts in the mid-fifties, or of the dawn of FM stereo in the early sixties.

So it's a neat thing, we think, to have a front-row seat for the debut of another new medium. While it may not have been immediately apparent to anyone but the tiny handful of HD Radio receiver owners (most of whom are also broadcast engineers or managers, anyway), last Thursday's coordinated announcement of new HD multicast formats from the big groups that are part of the HD Radio Alliance represented the biggest infusion of new radio formats on the dial at one time in history.

NEW YORK was one of the first markets to be announced (and, indeed, already had at least one multicast going, with the CBS-FM oldies format on the HD2 channel of WCBS-FM 101.1), and the announcement effectively launched no fewer than 11 new signals on the Big Apple dial.

In addition to the oldies, CBS Radio also unveiled (no surprise) "K-Rock 2" on the HD2 channel of WFNY-FM (92.3), continuing the format that's already available as a webcast from that station's previous incarnation as WXRK. Its third FM signal, WNEW (102.7), will carry "news," reportedly a simulcast of WINS (1010), which has signal deficiencies in much of New Jersey.

Clear Channel had its five FMs ready to go on Thursday. Perhaps the biggest news from that cluster was the return of country, on the HD2 channel of WKTU (103.5), which was the city's last full-signal country station back in its WYNY days. WHTZ (100.3) has "new top 40," featuring entire albums from the station's core artists. On WAXQ (104.3), it's "deep tracks," complementing the classic rock on the main channel. WWPR (105.1) has "Power Espanol," adding a Spanish-language flavor to the hip-hop that's on the main channel. And WLTW (106.7) has "Lite Classics," a sort of return to the softer sounds Lite played in its earlier years.

Emmis launched with one FM, WQHT (97.1), which is offering "Old School Hip-Hop" on its HD2 channel. Within the next few weeks, WRKS (98.7) will add gospel on its HD2, while WQCD (101.9) will put "Chill" on its HD2 channel.

The HD alliance also launched new formats in several other markets around the region, and we'll catch up on those as we go state-by-state this week.

From the little bits of the HD2 programming that we've heard on webcasts (which is where most listeners will catch the new stations, at least initially), the new medium is clearly in its very earliest days. With the exception of Z100's HD2 channel, which is voicetracked, the new signals are mainly jukeboxes for now. Whether they become more than that depends on whether or not the "Alliance" is correct in its gamble - that putting all these signals on the air at once, with the attendant promotion, will help crack the chicken-and-egg dilemma, giving listeners a reason to want to seek out receivers and giving manufacturers the justification to start making HD Radio receivers in quantity, thus bringing down the prices from the current $299-and-up levels. We'll be watching, closely.

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*In other news from the Empire State, Emmis is losing its market manager for its three New York stations. Barry Mayo, who took over from the legendary Judy Ellis in 2002, has decided not to renew his contract when it expires February 28. He'll remain with WQHT, WRKS and WQCD until a replacement is named, and he says he'll continue to consult the stations as well.

Over at WOR (710), it appears that Food Network personality Tyler Florence will fill at least one of the open slots on the schedule. The New York Post's John Mainelli reports that Florence will be joining the station for either the 11 AM food show recently vacated by Rocco DiSpirito, or the afternoon slot recently vacated by Bob Grant (and left doubly vacant when DiSpirito ended up leaving WOR rather than filling Grant's shoes in that slot.)

WLIB (1190) has pulled Air America's late-night talker Mike Malloy from its schedule. Replacing him in the 10-midnight slot will be ABC's "Satellite Sisters" show, which apparently wanted a New York clearance quite badly. Imhotep Gary Byrd's overnght talk show continues from midnight until 5 AM, when the Air America leased-time programming resumes.

Out on Long Island, two WHLI (1100 Hempstead) personalities have left the station. Morning man Gil David and afternoon jock Bill Houston both did their final shows last week. Paul Richards is now handling mornings, with Joe Satta taking over at noon and staying on the air until sunset.

Over at WNYH (740 Huntington), acting GM/PD Rob Jontay is also on the air for some pretty long hours, though it's all being done through automation. (The station has no studio for now, as it gets back on its feet after being silent for much of last year.) Tom Pantaleo (who's on air at WNYH as "Steve Ronson") is the other voice being heard along with the mix of oldies, big band and country that the station's programming while it looks for leased-time programmers and gets settled in under new owner Dr. Richard Yoon.

Heading upstate, public radio WRVO (89.9 Oswego) has finally said goodbye to the "temporary" studios in Lanigan Hall at SUNY Oswego that it ended up occupying for 37 years. Last week, the station flipped the switch on its new digs across an alleyway on the ground floor of Penfield Library, entering the 21st century with six studios' worth of Wheatstone digital consoles and other goodies. WRVO will hold its official grand opening of the new studios on June 10.

Is Sinclair about to pull the plug on its News Central operation for good? The Buffalo News' Alan Pergament reports that staffers at WNYO-TV (Channel 49) in Buffalo were told last week (unofficially, at least) that the 10 PM newscast, which has been soundly beaten by the WIVB-produced competion on WNLO (Channel 23) since both shows launched, may not be long for the world.

Add that to the recent closures of News Central newsrooms in Rochester and Pittsburgh (where Sinclair outsourced its news operations to larger stations), and to similar rumors in a number of other News Central markets (Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Birmingham), and NERW can't help but think that the company's getting ready to shut down the centralized newsroom in Hunt Valley, Maryland, leaving a handful of its stations (including flagship WBFF in Baltimore) running standalone newscasts and the rest either outsourcing their news or doing no news at all. Given the low ratings that almost all the News Central offerings have garnered, not to mention the generally lukewarm reception viewers have given to getting their "local" weather and national news from anchors hundreds of miles away, it's unlikely the product will be missed much if and when it disappears.

*From PENNSYLVANIA, there are more HD2 launches to report, though not quite as quickly as in New York.

Within a few months, there will be 11 new signals on the air in Philadelphia, and they'll break down like this:

Clear Channel will turn its HD2 signals on tomorrow, with WUSL (98.9) offering "Xtreme Hip-Hop," WIOQ (102.1) programming Hurban, WSNI (104.5) programming soft AC/standards, WDAS-FM (105.3) offering "R&B Love Songs" and WJJZ (106.1) playing AAA. CBS Radio will put alternative rock on WYSP (94.1), while WOGL (98.1) will play 70s oldies, which isn't that different from what's on the main channel. And Greater Media will launch its HD2 signals in the next two or three months, with "WMMaRchives" live performances and other material from the vaults on WMMR (93.3), "Club Ben," with a varied range of rhythmic music, on WBEN-FM (95.7) and "Deep Tracks" on WMGK (102.9).

There's also some news from the other end of the state - midday jock Big Ray Edwards is no longer with WKFB (770 Jeannette), with Frankie Day now handling that shift as well as mornings.

*CONNECTICUT will get HD2 launches soon as well, with Hartford fairly high on the list of markets targeted by the HD Alliance. Clear Channel will launch its lineup on February 1, with WWYZ (92.5) offering classic country, WKSS (95.7) running "Gay Radio/the Pride," WPHH (104.1) doing classic hip hop and WHCN (105.9) running "Deep Tracks." CBS Radio will also launch HD2 channels in the market soon, with WZMX (93.7) programming reggaeton, WTIC-FM (96.5) simulcasting WTIC (1080) and WRCH (100.5) running jazz.

Over in Danbury, WLAD (800) has named a replacement for Pete Summers, who moved to South Carolina last fall after 20 years in mornings on the station. Larry Caringer, who's worked at WEZN (99.9 Bridgeport) and WKCI (101.3 Hamden), and was most recently creative director at the All Comedy Network, has been named as WLAD's new morning man.

*Over in RHODE ISLAND, Pawtucket Red Sox play-by-play man Dave Jageler won't get to call this summer's Fenway Park matchup between the Pawsox and the Rochester Red Wings. That's because Jageler was just named to the radio team of the Washington Nationals. His calls will still be heard just fine in the Ocean State, though, since the Nats have signed with WTWP (1500 Washington) as their flagship, and that big 50-kilowatt signal (formerly WTOP) gets into New England just fine after dark. No replacement has been named yet by the Pawsox.

The new share-time station on 91.5 in East Greenwich has calls: it'll be "WRJI" sharing the channel with WCVY (91.5 Coventry).

On TV, public broadcaster WSBE (Channel 36) has finally figured out a way to get its signal to DirecTV, so Providence-market customers of DirecTV now get WSBE instead of Connecticut Public TV's WEDN (Channel 53) from Norwich.

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*Eastern MASSACHUSETTS is about to become a major hotbed of HD2 activity, based on last week's announcements.

Greater Media already has HD Radio on the air at all five of its FMs, and now it's adding subchannels on all five. WBOS (92.9) adds "Coffee House," taking its main-channel AAA format more acoustic. WTKK (96.9) puts on "Classical 2.0," which we've got to think is a prelude to Greater's eventual purchase of classical WCRB (102.5). On WKLB (99.5), it's classic country, with "Laugh Tracks" comedy on WROR (105.7) and smooth jazz on WMJX (106.7), restoring one of the more notably missing formats to the market. (Which is only fair, since it was Greater Media's WSJZ 96.9 that last had the format in town.)

Clear Channel will launch January 27, with "Xtreme Hip-Hop" on WJMN (94.5) and "Artist Channel" top 40 on WXKS-FM (107.9). Entercom's WMKK (93.7) is carrying the "Star" rhythmic oldies format that used to be on the main channel in its WQSX days (and has lived on as a webcast ever since), while WAAF (107.3) will carry "Live Rock," featuring concerts from rock artists.

At CBS Radio, it's all-80s on WBMX (98.5), "Lost Classics/Deep Tracks" on WZLX (100.7), "Super Oldies" (from Elvis to the Beatles) on WODS (103.3) and "Indie and Ultra New Rock" on WBCN (104.1).

There's also some HD2 content coming to Springfield, with Clear Channel launching "new top 40" on WHYN (93.1) and Americana on WPKX (97.9) on March 31.

Meanwhile over on the analog dials, WRKO (680) made more programming tweaks last week, adding a substantial business element to its morning show. Under the "Boston Business Today" umbrella, WRKO's morning lineup will now include appearances from Globe columnist Steve Bailey and Herald business editor Cosmo Macero, as well as Wall Street Journal Radio elements. WRKO also shuffled its weekend schedule, dropping the Spencer Hughes show (which had been coming by ISDN from the West Coast) and adding "Recovery Road," a program about addiction and recovery, on Sundays from 4-5 PM.

Congratulations to WBIX (1060 Natick) - now back under the ownership of Alex Langer, officially, the station turned on its new Broadcast Electronics 4MX50 transmitter (the first in the country) last Wednesday at 8:30 AM. Chief engineer Grady Moates reports that the new box tuned up nicely into the unusual load of the triplexed antenna system (also home to WKOX 1200 and WSRO 650), and that it's sounding, as he'd say, "loud and clean."

On TV, "Candlepin Bowling" is returning to the airwaves. It'll be on WLVI (Channel 56) on Saturdays at 6 and Sundays at 2, starting March 4. WLVI's Frank Mallicoat and Mike Morin, of WZID (95.7 Manchester NH), will host.

And out west, Sean "Fish" Fisher is the new morning man at WLZX (99.3 Northampton). He comes from former sister "Lazer" station WLZR (now WHQG) in Milwaukee.

*One bit of NEW HAMPSHIRE news: WEMJ (1490 Laconia) has pulled away from its new travelers' information format, returning to its former talk format for part of the day to carry Rush Limbaugh and Howie Carr on weekday afternoons.

*And just a couple of bits of news from CANADA: Bill Gable, who's had a long and notable career at stations such as CKLW, KHJ, WEAM and WHBQ, joins CHWO (740 Toronto) for afternoon drive.

Up north, CHLF (100.3 Barrie) adds a new rebroadcaster: its Huntsville signal, on 98.9, will sign on this afternoon at 3, carrying "Life 100.3"'s contemporary Christian format deeper into Cottage Country.

*Didn't find a Tower Site Calendar 2006 under the tree/menorah/Blaw-Knox diamond tower model of your choice over the holidays? Our supply is running low, but you've still got time to place your order - don't wait!

We've got to say, we're especially proud of the way this year's calendar 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!

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 2006 by Scott Fybush.