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March 13, 2006

WMGX Flips to "Coast"

*It's been a pretty quiet year in MAINE's biggest radio market, but just in time for spring, things are heating up in Portland.

On Thursday (March 9), Saga pulled the plug on adult contemporary WMGX (93.1 Portland), reimaging the station as "Coast 93.1" and adding more current tracks to become a hot AC. While Saga launched the station without jocks, most of WMGX's airstaff will return next week, including the morning show with Tim, Jaime and Eva.

The "Coast" moniker was used before - briefly - in the market; when WWGT (97.9) became WCSO in 1991, it was "Coast" until WQSS up in Camden complained, at which point it became "Ocean 98," before returning to its old WJBQ calls a few years later.

(And kudos to Saga for paying tribute to the long history of WMGX with a nice montage of the station's past, leading right into the 2 PM format change!)

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*There's a new morning show coming to Portland, too: Nassau is launching the "Free Beer and Hot Wings" show (based at WGRD in Grand Rapids, Michigan) on its "Bone" simulcast (WHXR 106.7 N. Windham/WHXQ 104.7 Kennebunkport) today. They replace Howard Stern in that slot, after several months jockless.

Way down east in Milbridge, WRMO (93.7) has had a hard time getting on the air. Its construction permit was close to expiration last year, so owner Lyle Robert Evans applied for (and apparently built) a minimal 130-watt facility to get the station on the air. Now there's word that Evans, who also owned stations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, died last Monday (March 6) at his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Evans was 64. (Is WRMO still on the air? We'd love to hear from any NERW readers who happen to be passing through the area.)

On the TV front, Portland now has a "My Network TV" affiliate: WB affiliate WPXT (Channel 51) will pick up "My" this fall. That leaves sister station WPME (Channel 35), now the UPN affiliate, to try to reach a deal with The CW sometime between now and September.

*Nassau has named a new station manager for its cluster in Claremont-Lebanon, NEW HAMPSHIRE and White River Junction, VERMONT. Shirley Clark, who's been local sales manager for Nassau's Lakes Region cluster, takes over at the helm of WHDQ, WXLF/WWLF, WTSV/WNHV and WWOD/WPLY-FM.

Over at "The Point" (WNCS 104.7 Montpelier, etc.), Charlie Padgett joins the AAA station for mornings, arriving from WDYL (101.1) in Richmond, Virginia. Zeb Morris, who's also the PD, remains on mornings as news anchor.

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*In MASSACHUSETTS, Phil Redo is returning to Greater Media's Boston cluster to replace the retiring Matt Mills as station manager. Redo is currently vice president for station operations and strategy at New York's WNYC, but he served as PD of Greater Media's WMJX in the late eighties, and worked on-air at the old WROR (98.5) before that. Redo starts his new job in early April, just in time to oversee some big moves at the cluster - Greater's reportedly about to announce the details of its purchase of WCRB (102.5 Waltham), which will in turn force the sale of one of Greater's other FM signals, and no doubt result in some format shuffles as well.

The ever-alert Mike Fitzpatrick of was in Boston over the weekend, and he snapped some nice shots of the new antenna for WFNX (101.7 Lynn), up there on the roof of One Financial Center in downtown Boston. (Look for the two bays on the right-hand tower - that's the new WFNX site.) WFNX will soon begin testing its signal from its new location, which should provide a much stronger signal to its core audience in Boston and Cambridge.

Over at WAMG (890 Dedham)/WLLH (1400 Lawrence), Duke Castiglione has joined the crew at "ESPN Radio Boston." The son of Sox announcer Joe Castiglione is joining Mike Felger during his afternoon show for spring training updates from Florida. The station will also be carrying the semi-final and championship games of the World Baseball Classic later this week.

She was known on the air as "Bette Day," but the pioneering Boston TV personality was really Elizabeth Kilham, and we're sorry to report that she died last Saturday (March 4) at her home in Peabody. After making a name for herself doing live commercial breaks on WBZ-TV in its early years, Day moved to radio, hosting shows on WHET (1330), WKOX (1200) and WXKS (1430). Kilham was 81.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Rick Everett leaves the PD gig at Hall's "Cat Country" (WCTK 98.1 New Bedford MA) after more than a decade, but he's not going far - he's still coming to work every day at the same building on Oxford Street in Providence, only now it's upstairs at Clear Channel's WSNE (93.3 Taunton MA)/WWBB (101.5 Providence).

*NEW JERSEY is already awash in former WCBS-FM personalities, and now two more of them have morning gigs. At Greater Media's WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick), Steve O'Brien starts his new morning show today. In addition to CBS-FM, O'Brien's career has included stops at New York's WYNY, WPLJ and WABC, WIBG in Philadelphia, WPOP in Hartford and WKNR in Detroit. (He's also done TV, at New York's WNYW and WNBC.)

Meanwhile, over at "The Breeze" (WWZY 107.1 Long Branch/WBHX 99.7 Tuckerton/WKOE 106.3 Ocean City), Mike Fitzgerald starts today as PD, and he's doing in mornings as well, joining his former WCBS-FM colleague Joe McCoy, who's consulting the Press Communications station.

A strange call change down in Ocean City: WTKU-FM (98.3) apparently applied for the WUSS calls when its sister station on 1490 in Pleasantville dropped them (becoming WTKU). But the WUSS calls weren't used on FM at all - and now 98.3 is back to WTKU-FM. (The station has a new morning jock, too, as Joe Ricci moves from nights to replace David Alan Pratt.)

*The big news out of NEW YORK was, of course, attorney general Eliot Spitzer's suit against Entercom for alleged violations of the payola laws at its stations in Buffalo (primarily WKSE, where former PD Dave Universal has become something of a poster child for the payola investigators) and Rochester (where country WBEE-FM somehow got tangled up in this mess, too.)

(Click here for the 28-page complaint against Entercom, and here for the 67-page exhibit of e-mails and other evidence against the company.)

Spitzer, who's the front-runner in the race for governor this fall, has already won high-profile settlements in his payola investigations of several record labels, but Entercom is the first broadcaster he's directly targeted. The suit offers evidence that top Entercom management, up to and including CEO David Field, pressured local programmers to meet ambitious goals to replace slashed promotional budgets with money provided by record companies or independent promoters, money that Spitzer alleges could only have come from what amounted to the sale of airplay.

The suit also presents details of several of the promotional plans that Entercom offered to record labels, in which their songs would be played during paid "CD Preview" and "CD Challenge" segments, regardless of whether they belonged on the playlist, thus adding to the number of spins counted by the BDS and Mediabase monitoring services. (There's an especially notable e-mail from WBEE's Billy Kidd complaining about how disruptive the segments were becoming to the station's programming.)

The case is unlikely ever to see the inside of a courtroom; the conventional wisdom is that Entercom will join the record companies in settling the suit before it can go to trial, especially with the license renewal process underway in New York right now. Spitzer's likely to file suit against other broadcasters as well, and at some point the FCC could yet get involved as well.

NERW's view: Spitzer's crusade against payola has been criticized by some in the industry as a publicity stunt aimed at bringing him national visibility, and there's certainly some degree of truth to that. It's true, also, that the issues Spitzer is addressing would probably be more appropriately handled by federal law enforcement. But in the absence of FCC action - and the FCC's been very noticeably absent - Spitzer does have a duty to enforce the law, however questionable that law may be.

And make no mistake about it: the payola laws as they now exist don't really make much sense. When they were enacted almost half a century ago, radio was the only place most people could hear new music, and radio listeners had an expectation that the music they heard on the air somehow reflected popular tastes.

Call me cynical, but do today's listeners really have that level of expectation about what they hear on the air? The original payola scandal, after all, affected the credibility of the disc jockeys themselves, in that long-gone era when DJs actually picked the music they played. It's hard to believe that anyone today still thinks the music they hear is chosen by the DJ - or, indeed, by anything other than the same focus-grouped, market-tested, lowest-common-denominator sort of process that governs just about everything that's on the radio or TV.

What's more, it's hard to see the whole issue of "spins" and chart rankings as being particularly relevant today. There are many other rankings of music popularity - SoundScan data on CD sales, iTunes downloads, and so on - that can act as a counter to whatever distortion of the charts is due to payola. Is there, furthermore, truly a public interest in the accuracy of the Billboard record charts - or is the whole thing really one big insider feedback loop that's not of particular interest to anyone outside the radio and music industry? Given that there are strong market forces to keep radio stations from playing music that people don't want to hear - too much of that, and the ratings will quickly head south, leaving an opening that competitors will surely fill - it may well be time to retire the payola laws and let the industry police itself, which is exactly what the FCC appears to be content to do for now.

*The other big New York headline is the continuing cloud that hangs over the future of David Lee Roth's CBS Radio morning show. Roth returned from vacation last week and touched off another barrage of tabloid headlines chronicling his feud with boss Joel Hollander over the direction of his show. And as NERW goes to press Sunday night, the New York Radio Message Board is abuzz with well-placed rumors suggesting that CBS may be ready to go in a different direction for its "Free FM" stations, working with XM to bring former WNEW afternoon talkers Opie and Anthony back to terrestrial radio with a cleaned-up simulcast of their XM show.

The duo are a proven success in New York, having set ratings records for WNEW before the "Sex for Sam" stunt blew up in their faces, and putting the XM stars in Howard Stern's former slot would surely bring some satisfaction to CBS managers who are still sparring with Sirius' top attraction.

Meanwhile at CBS Radio in New York, WCBS-FM (101.1 Jack FM) also has a new PD: Brian Thomas heads east from oldies KBSG (97.3) in Seattle to take the programming reins.

WNYC (820 New York) suffered damage to its transmitter Friday night, the result of brush fires near its transmitter in Kearny, N.J. The station was running at low power through the weekend because of damage to the transmission line feeding the three towers it shares with WMCA (570), which remained at full power.

Radio People on the Move: Nadine Santos returns to WWPR (105.1 New York) as assistant PD/music director. Gabrielle Vaughn moves from WPST (94.5 Trenton NJ) to middays at WBLI (106.1 Patchogue). Down the road, WLIX-LP (94.7 Ridge) parts ways with PD Tim Joseph; Scotty Hart will handle PD duties there for now. Upstate, Joe Limardi returns to the region from Nashville, where he was PD of WRQQ (97.1), to become PD at Cumulus' "Mix" WCZX (97.7 Hyde Park)/WZAD (97.3 Wurtsboro). Limardi was the first PD at Cumulus' WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY-Danbury CT) a few years back, and has also worked at several New England stations.

Both My Network TV and the CW made affiliation announcements in the Empire State last week. My added Albany-market WNYA (Channel 51) to its lineup, while The CW, to nobody's surprise, picked up Time Warner's cable-only "WRWB" in the Rochester market.

Sorry to report the death of Jack Lazare, who had a long and varied career in radio from Boston to New York City. Lazare was a jock at WEEI and WHDH in Boston, then came to WNEW (1130) to host "Milkman's Matinee." He went on to program WRCH in Hartford, and to own WMMW in Meriden, CONNECTICUT. Lazare died Feb. 25 in Essex, Connecticut, at 83.

*The "107.5 Alive" Christian format on WBYN (107.5) in Boyertown, PENNSYLVANIA had been on borrowed time since last fall, when Nassau bought the station from Lancaster's WDAC (94.5) and began simulcasting its programming on the former WYNS (1160 Lehighton).

On Wednesday (March 8), Nassau finally shifted the religion completely to what's now WBYN(AM), relaunching the FM signal (which covers the Lehigh Valley and the northern suburbs of Philadelphia) as "107.5 Frank FM," playing the same classic hits format that's already heard on Nassau's Franks in Maine and New Hampshire. (Nassau is also promoting its WCHR 1040 Flemington NJ, which runs a similar religious format, as a replacement for "107.5 Alive.")

Randi Ellis, formerly assistant PD/middays on Nassau's WTHK (97.5 Burlington NJ), becomes PD at WBYN-FM.

Philadelphia's WPEN (950) completed its big nighttime upgrade last year, going from 5000 watts at its old site on 77th Street to 21 kW from the WWDB (860) site in East Norriton, and now the Greater Media sports talker has been granted a daytime upgrade as well. It'll go to 25 kW from the 77th Street site.

Taylor Walet, formerly market manager of Citadel's Scranton-Wilkes-Barre cluster, has a new gig: he's now market manager for the four stations in the Richmond market owned by Pennsylvania-based Main Line Broadcasting.

Pittsburgh may be the "HD3" capital of America right now, with at least two stations now airing not only an HD2 multicast stream but also an HD3 stream. WDUQ (90.5) got there first, with blues on one of its streams and news-talk on the other, in addition to the jazz and news on its main channel. Now Steel City Media's WLTJ (92.9) is in the game as well, with classic rock on its HD2 channel and urban AC on its HD3.

*In CANADA, the CRTC has granted licenses for two new stations in Montreal. Concordia Student Broadcasting Corporation will operate on 1690 kHz, with 1000 watts day and night, mostly in English. La radio communautaire de LaSalle gets 100.1 MHz, with 250 watts, for a community station that will be mostly in French, with about 18% English programming.

Up in North Bay, Ontario, Milkman UnLimited reports that the "Day of Radio" on March 3, honoring the 75th anniversary of radio there, was a huge success, with plenty of people turning out for live broadcasts from CKAT (600, successor to the original CFCH of 1931) and its FM sister stations. The Rogers stations put together a display of historic materials at North Bay's Capitol Centre, where they staged a re-enactment of the CFCH inaugural broadcast. Nice work!

*And finally, a few housekeeping notes:

If you're headed for NAB2006 next month in Las Vegas, be sure to mark down two events on your calendar. On Saturday, April 22, your editor will present a short talk on "Radio Towers I've Known," as part of the Society of Broadcast Engineers' Ennes Workshop. Ever wanted to see some of my favorite tower and transmitter pictures on a big screen? This is your chance - not to mention a nice little palate-cleanser amidst the hard-core engineering papers. And on Tuesday, April 24, I'll be moderating the "Improving Disaster Response" panel, featuring a presentation from the FCC's Hurricane Katrina Independent Panel and input from station managers along the Gulf Coast. Hope to see you there!

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Store, where the 2006 Tower Site Calendar is now on clearance! There aren't many calendars left, so don't miss out on this chance to get another copy - or to pick one up, if you haven't done so already. And there are some other great goodies there too, including the "RadioBook" (formerly the M Street Directory), in very limited quantities. Don't miss out!

From the NERW Archives

(Yup, we've been doing this a long time now, and so we're digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five and ten years ago this week, or thereabouts - the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as "New England Radio Watch," and didn't go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

March 14, 2005 -

  • Is a third all-sports station on the way to eastern MASSACHUSETTS? It certainly appears that way as we learn more about the impending sale of WAMG (890 Dedham) and WLLH (1400 Lowell and Lawrence) from Mega Communications to a new entity called "J-Sports." We've already reported theat the sale is financially backed by WallerSutton, the investment house that backed the Route 81 Radio acquisitions in Pennsylvania and upstate New York last year. But Route 81 doesn't appear to be involved this time, as it turns out. Instead, the key player is one Jessamy Tang, an MIT graduate who served as general manager of Pittsburgh ESPN affiliate WEAE (1250) until departing in 2002 "to pursue other interests." Those interests appear to involve a flip of WAMG and WLLH from their present Spanish tropical format to ESPN Radio, presently heard late at night and weekends on WEEI (850 Boston). And we hear that WEEI is dropping ESPN (we're guessing Fox Sports Radio will replace it), clearing the way for an ESPN move up the dial to 890, which was once the Boston flagship of the defunct Prime Sports Radio, circa 1995-96.
  • We can tell you more this week about Christopher Lydon's return to the public radio airwaves. The former WBUR (90.9) talk host will indeed be hosting a show on UMass Lowell's WUML (91.5 Lowell), but he'll be heard far beyond the Merrimack Valley. When "Open Source" debuts May 30, it will be produced at Boston's WGBH (89.7), which will also air the hourlong show Monday-Thursday at 7 PM, bumping back the start of the "Eric in the Evening" jazz show by an hour. Starting July 4, "Open Source" will also be syndicated via Public Radio International, which distributes WGBH's "The World" as well. And when new studios are ready at UMass Lowell in a year or so, Lydon will move production of the show up there.
  • In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Saga made a surprise flip at Manchester's oldies WQLL (96.5 Bedford) early last week, dropping "Cool 96.5" in favor of classic rock as "The Mill" (a reference to Saga's studio location in the historic mills of Manchester. New calls there are WMLL - and it'll soon have a Manchester translator as well, with the FCC's approval of translator W231BR on 94.1 (which can't be good news for fringe Concord signal WFTN-FM, also on 94.1 from Franklin.)
  • As expected, Nassau unleased its "Wolf" country format on VERMONT last week, putting the name (also in use in Concord, N.H. and Portland, Maine) on what had been "Bob Country" WSSH (95.3 White River Junction) and WZSH (107.1 Bellows Falls). The stations are now WXLF and WZLF, respectively. (And there are rumors that Nassau's "Frank" hot AC/classic hits blend, also in use in Portland, is en route to New Hampshire's WHOB...)
  • In NEW JERSEY, there's some interesting talk of cooperation between WAJM (88.9 Atlantic City) and WXXY (88.7 Port Republic). WAJM operates limited hours from Atlantic City High School, and WXXY broadcasts a 24-hour gospel format that has a hard time reaching listeners in Atlantic City because of first-adjacent WAJM. The Press of Atlantic City reports that WXXY management has approached WAJM to discuss cooperation, which might include broadcasting school sports and school board meetings on WXXY, and might include some evening and weekend simulcasts of WXXY programming on WAJM. (Then again, the Press also located WXXY at "87.7" and WAJM at "87.9," so we'd take the rest of the story with a grain of salt, too...)

March 12, 2001 -

  • You know it's a slow week when...a format change in Glens Falls, NEW YORK tops the news -- and it's not even much of a surprise. Vox Media did some call-letter swapping a few weeks back, moving the WHTR calls that go with the "Wheels" oldies format from 107.1 in Hudson Falls to 93.5 in Corinth, heretofore a country station under the WZZM-FM calls. When 107.1 then got the calls "WFFG," speculation ran rampant that the "Froggy" name and country format that's hopped all over the northeast was about to set down roots in the region. Sure enough, that's just what Vox did today (March 12), installing "Wheels" on the 93.5 spot (continuing an oldies battle with WCKM-FM 98.5 Lake George) and launching "Froggy 107." In addition to a better signal, the new dial position sits just below Albany country behemoth WGNA-FM (107.7), which regularly shows well in the Glens Falls ratings. We hear both stations will be doing more live and less off the satellite...ribbit.
  • Another format change long ago given away by the calls: in Watertown, the R&B oldies finally vanished from AM 1410, giving way to sports "ESPN 1410 - The Winner," matching the WNER calls that replaced WUZZ a few months ago. Also in Watertown, WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) finally gets a license to cover its power increase (to 1800 watts from 870).
  • From PENNSYLVANIA comes word of the imminent demolition of a radio landmark. The garage on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg where Frank Conrad put amateur station 8XK on the air in 1920 will soon be removed to make way for a fast-food restaurant, and the National Museum of Broadcasting/The Conrad Project is trying to raise the money needed to dismantle the building and put it in storage for future restoration.
  • What's the big deal about an old garage? Only that 8XK evolved, later in 1920, into a little station called KDKA down the road in Pittsburgh. Whether or not you buy the Westinghouse PR machine's "first radio station" claim, there's no doubt that Conrad's work was significant and that the loss of the garage would be a tragedy.
  • We'll keep you posted as efforts continue to raise the needed money...

New England Radio Watch, March 14, 1996 -

  • The mega-opolizing continues in northern New England. Saga Communications has agreed to pay $10 million for Ocean Coast Properties' WPOR AM-FM. The AM is a 1kw fulltimer on 1490, the FM is a full B on 101.9, and they simulcast country except when the AM breaks away for local sports play-by-play. Saga already owns news-talk WGAN 560, hot talk WZAN 970, classic rock WMGX 93.1, and oldies WYNZ 100.9 in the Portland market, so this deal makes it far and away the dominant owner up there. Only Fuller-Jeffrey comes close, with modern rock WCYY 94.3/WCYI 93.9, AOR (and blowtorch grandfathered-100kw) WBLM 102.9, and pending acquisition of hot AC WZPK 103.7.
  • A few new sets of calls: WBLQ 99.3 on Block Island RI has applied for WERI-FM, to match the calls of new owner Philip Urso's WERI 1230 in nearby Westerly RI. Urso's southern-RI holdings now include WERI, WERI-FM, Newport's WADK 1540 (which is not off the air, despite reports to that effect in one hobby periodical) and WOTB 100.3, and modern-rocker WDGE 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale, which is a Providence rimshotter. Meanwhile up in southern Vermont, the WSSH calls that recently vanished from the Boston area have reappeared, on the CP for 101.5 Marlboro VT (formerly WAIG). This station looks like it might actually be on the air soon; it's applied for a slight power increase as well.
  • A few more station sales: WHOU-FM in Houlton ME, a class A on 100.1, goes from a bankruptcy trustee to local County Communications for $31,500. WHOU had been co-owned with dark WTOX 1450 and WHMX 105.7 Lincoln. And Biddeford, Maine's WIDE 1400 goes from Witham-Rhodes Communications to Saco Bay Communications group for $80K.

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*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 we have a few still available at special clearance prices!

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.