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May 29, 2006

CBS To Sell Buffalo, Rochester Clusters

*CBS Radio's desire to sell some of its stations in smaller and slower-growing markets was one of the worst-kept secrets in the broadcasting world. Now it's official, and to nobody's surprise, the company's upstate NEW YORK holdings are among the ten markets on the list

In Buffalo, the CBS Radio cluster of four FMs and one AM includes two of the Queen City's most listened-to stations, country WYRK (106.5) and urban WBLK (93.7 Depew), along with AC WJYE (96.1), adult hits "Jack FM" WBUF (92.9) and classic country WECK (1230 Cheektowaga). In Rochester, CBS has four FMs: AC "Warm" WRMM (101.3), classic rock WCMF (96.5), top 40 "98PXY" WPXY (97.9) and modern rock "Zone" WZNE (94.1 Brighton).

Both clusters came intact to the CBS Radio family in 1998, part of a $2.6 billion CBS purchase of American Radio Systems that also included stations in Boston (WBMX, with the rest of the ARS cluster eventually being spun off to Entercom) and Hartford (WTIC, WTIC-FM, WRCH and WZMX).

Now CBS is ready to part with the Buffalo and Rochester stations - along with clusters in Columbus, Cincinnati, Greensboro, Kansas City, Memphis, Austin, San Antonio and Fresno - as it focuses its energies on major markets and a handful of medium markets where it holds a dominant market position.

The Buffalo and Rochester clusters both represent sizable market positions in their own right, albeit in communities that were among the smallest in CBS Radio's empire, and the rumor mill is already in high gear with speculation about their next owners.

It's somewhat unlikely that the existing competitors in either market will end up with any of the signals from either cluster. In Buffalo, Citadel and Entercom each have three FMs against a market cap of four, and Entercom's four AMs bring it right up to the limit of a total of seven stations there. In Rochester, Entercom's three FMs are already close to the cap of four - and with five FMs and two AMs, Clear Channel is already grandfathered above the current ownership limits.

With its substantial holdings in Buffalo, Syracuse and Binghamton, as well as its recent purchases in Erie, PA, it's not hard to imagine that Citadel might be interested in adding the Rochester stations, perhaps keeping one of the Buffalo stations to add to its cluster there. It's also possible, though, that Citadel has enough on its plate with its merger with ABC Radio to make these signals an unneeded distraction. Clear Channel, we're told, has passed up several opportunities in the past to enter the Buffalo market, and the company's been doing more selling than buying lately in any case. If you believe the speculation that CBS wants to sell the entire package of ten markets to a single buyer, Entercom might still be in the picture. As its ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of ABC Radio showed, it has the financing to make a big move, and the CBS stations would strengthen its position in several markets where it already has stations, most notably Memphis and Greensboro. While it would have to spin off stations in other markets (especially Kansas City), Entercom could at least use the opportunity to upgrade some of its weaker facilities in Buffalo and Rochester, dealing away the 107.7 signal in Buffalo and the 93.3 signal in Rochester and keeping the stronger CBS signals.

But the likeliest scenario, we suspect, involves brand-new entrants to the region. Cumulus has roots in Rochester, where Lew Dickey's father once owned WSAY, and the Buffalo and Rochester markets would be natural additions to its portfolio of medium-market stations. Regent is already an upstate player over in Albany, and the Buffalo and Rochester markets would become among its largest. NextMedia has done business with CBS in other markets, relieving it of some market-cap issues in San Jose not long ago, and it might want to extend its reach east from Erie into Buffalo and Rochester, too.

Most intriguing, though, is the speculation that the sale of the CBS clusters will provide a re-entry point for any of several players who've been out of the business for a few years, like former Clear Channel Radio honcho Randy Michaels. In some ways, the package seems almost custom-tailored for him, with its inclusion of the two markets (Buffalo and Cincinnati) where he cut his teeth in radio in the seventies. (WKRQ in Cincinnati, one of the four FMs CBS is selling there, was the scene of some of Michaels' biggest successes in the Taft Radio days.)

Stay tuned in the weeks to come, as buyers start kicking the tires on these properties - we'll keep you up to date on the progress of this sale.

STILL HERE - BUT NOT FOR FREE: If you're a fan of the national radio message-board sites, you're probably feeling a little disoriented lately by all the changes they're going through.

Here at NERW, we're now in our twelfth year of regular, uninterrupted service to our readers, and we're not going anywhere. Same address, same weekly columns, same old design. (OK, perhaps a few things could use some freshening this year.)

And if we've learned anything after all those years in the radio website business, it's this: good things don't come for free. Or at least when they do, they don't last forever. But thanks to our loyal subscribers and our growing fleet of advertisers, we've built a solid community here. We were here in 1994, we're here in 2006, and assuming there's still a radio dial to cover, we have every intention - with your support - of still being here in 2018. (I wish I could say the same about my hairline.)

If you still haven't subscribed yet for this year, do it right now at our Support page - and enjoy another exciting year of NERW, guilt- (and password-) free. And if you have become one of our many subscribers, thank you!

(And about the whole message-board shakeups: we've pretty well settled on the new as the friendly spot to talk about all things radio and TV with a minimum of moderator interference and petty rivalry. Whatever may be happening behind the scenes between radioinsight and the new management at, it doesn't look very professional to reflexively delete every message that so much as hints at the existence of the other site, as the anonymous moderators at radio-info are now doing. Sure, we still read the boards there - but if you're looking for our "insight" about the industry, you'll find us doing most of our posting at these days. Now, if either board would just introduce a filter that would automatically dump every post explaining why every market in America needs a dance station...)

*Another station swap is underway in upstate New York as well, this one in the Hudson Valley south of Albany. We told you last week that Pamal is trading its WRNX (100.9 Amherst MA) to Clear Channel, and now we know what Pamal gets in return - five stations, including WBPM (92.9 Saugerties) and WGHQ (920 Kingston) in the Hudson Valley, WZRT (97.1) and WSYB (1380) in Rutland, VERMONT and one AM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Clear Channel acquired WGHQ as part of its 2000 purchase of Roberts Radio, and added 92.9 (then WRKW) about the same time when it picked up the Straus stations in the Hudson Valley. WZRT and WSYB came into the fold later that year, as part of the $5.5 million purchase of Excalibur.

For Pamal, the station swap gets it out of a tough competitive situation in Springfield, where WRNX competed as a single station against several larger rivals. In Rutland, Pamal will now dominate the market, adding top 40 "Kiss" WZRT and news-talk WSYB to its existing package of country WJEN (94.5), AC WJJR (98.1) and AAA WEBK (105.3 Killington). (It's not clear what becomes of WWWT 1320 in nearby Randolph, which has been simulcasting WSYB for the last few years.)

In the Hudson Valley, oldies "Cool 92.9" WBPM and news-talk WGHQ join AC WHUD (100.7 Peekskill), top 40 WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie), standards WBNR (1260 Beacon)/WHUD (1420 Peekskill) and AAA WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) as the northern links in a Pamal cluster that now stretches south from Poughkeepsie into New York City's northern suburbs. (They also link up nicely with Pamal's stations in its home base of Albany.)

*Elsewhere in the state, Clear Channel's WVOR (100.5 Rochester) quietly parted ways with morning host Chuck Kelley, then noisily issued a press release offering the morning gig to "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee. (The local paper, of course, obligingly reprinted the press release and never noticed Kelley's absence.)

On the TV side, Rochester's WHAM-TV (Channel 13) demonstrated the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" by promoting news director Chuck Samuels to replace the recently-retired Kent Beckwith as general manager of the city's top-rated station.

In Syracuse, the drunk driver who killed WSYR (570) anchor/reporter Bill Leaf entered a guilty plea to charges of second-degree manslaughter last week. Matthew Benedict, who was driving the wrong way on I-81 when he hit Leaf's car on January 9, will be sentenced to between six and 12 years in prison on June 23.

And this being Memorial Day, it's once again time for "Rewound" on WABC (770 New York). This year's lineup kicks off at 6 AM Monday with a Dan Ingram/Bruce Morrow aircheck from 1973 and runs right through to 6 PM, with an Ingram aircheck from 1966. There's streaming audio at - and of course tons of discussion and reaction at Allan Sniffen's New York Radio Message Board (which has a special "Rewound" board for the occasion.)

You can have your ad here! Click here for information on the most economical way to reach tens of thousands of Northeast radio and TV people each week.

*In MAINE, they're mourning one of the state's radio news legends. Dick Johnson began his career at WLOB in Portland in 1959, then moved to WPOR before joining WGAN (560), where he remained for an amazing 40-year run in the newsroom, where he covered pretty much every important event in Maine until he was sidelined in January by a heart attack. Johnson never fully recovered, and he died May 24 at the age of 69.

Johnson had been inducted into the Maine Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2003. He's survived by three sons and several grandchildren.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, WFNX (101.7 Lynn) is inaugurating its new signal by going commercial-free - sort of - for the summer. Last Friday (May 26), WFNX kicked off 40 days without its usual commercial load. Instead of the spots, WFNX has a single sponsor through the July 4 weekend. Snapple is paying WFNX an undisclosed sum to underwrite the station's "Free for All Summer," which will feature all sorts of Snapple-related promotions and programming. (WFNX says the value of the airtime involved is about $2 million.)

A note on the transfer of WRNX from Pamal to Clear Channel: the deal does not include WRNX's sister station, WPNI (1430 Amherst), which is that rarest of things, a commercial license that's LMA'd to a noncommercial broadcaster. WFCR (88.5 Amherst) programs NPR news and talk on WPNI, and that service is expected to continue even after WRNX changes hands. (It's been many years since WRNX had its studios in the Amherst building that houses WPNI's transmitter and its own former studios from its days as WTTT.)

Also out in western Massachusetts, RJ McKay is departing WPKX (97.9 Enfield CT) and WNNZ (640 Springfield), where he's served as Kix afternoon jock and as PD of both stations. He's heading for Reading, Pennsylvania and the PD gig at WIOV-FM (105.1 Ephrata), where he replaces Dick Raymond.

*The "W-Bach" classical network in MAINE (WBQW 106.3 Scarborough, WBQQ 99.3 Kennebunk, WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor, WBQX 106.9 Thomaston) have a new manager, as Brian Strack returns to Nassau to run the four-station chain, effective June 30.

*One CONNECTICUT move to tell you about: JoJo Brooks is out as afternoon jock/MD/APD at Clear Channel's WKSS (95.7) in Hartford; the station's now advertising to fill that position.

*One PENNSYLVANIA move to report as well: Jason Barrett is out as PD of WPEN (950 Philadelphia); he's following family obligations west to St. Louis, we're told.

In Allentown, public station WDIY (88.1) has a new interim manager. Consultant Roland Kushner replaces Burr Beard as executive director, while Beard leaves (voluntarily, he says) to oversee programming at Lehigh Carbon Community College's WXLV (90.3 Schnecksville), which is currently simulcasting WDIY after its own volunteer staffers were pulled off the air a few months back.

Will Alex Langer beat the FCC deadline to get WFYL (1530 McConnellsburg) moved into the Philadelphia market? While the original construction permit to make the move expired in 2004, it was "tolled" for judicial review, buying Langer more time to find a site where he can erect a Valcom antenna to get the station on the air as a daytimer on 1180 licensed to King of Prussia.

Langer's latest application, filed last week, proposes 420 watts from a Valcom fiberglass whip antenna that would be located in the rough "between Fairways #5, #8 and #9" of the Jeffersonville Golf Course off Route 363 in East Norriton. It's a far cry from the 3 kW directional signal WFYL originally planned, but if it can get at least get on the air at its new frequency and location, power increases can take place later on.

*And we close with one obituary from CANADA: John "JD" Dale was the first voice heard on CFNY (102.1 Brampton ON) when that station signed on in 1976, and he worked at a string of Ontario stations for many years thereafter, most recently at CHAY in Barrie. Dale died Friday (May 26) of cancer. He was 54.

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!)

May 30, 2005 -

  • Even as "Jack FM" and its "adult hits" clones have been invading the English-language radio dial from one coast to the other, Spanish-language radio has been upended in the last year or so by a format that's being called "Hurban" - a high-energy mix of the Spanish-language rap music called "reggaeton" and hip-hop, usually delivered by bilingual announcers. On Friday, the format arrived in NEW YORK, as Univision Radio flipped WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ)/WZAA (92.7 Garden City) from "Latino Mix," the Spanish hits format that had been running on 105.9 for a few years now, to "La Kalle 105.9 y 92.7, hip hop y mas."
  • The radio dial in Rochester is a little poorer this week, in two ways. Gary Smith's retirement from WHAM (1180) closes a 50-year career that's included stops at WSAY, WVET/WROC, WNYR/WEZO and WVOR. Most recently, Smith had been doing morning traffic on WHAM and tracking middays on sister station WISY (102.3 Canandaigua), as well as plenty of sports announcing for both local pro and college teams. And the death of Katy Abraham ends a career that included 50 years as co-host (with husband Doc Abraham, who died in January) of "The Green Thumb" on WHAM (not to mention a quarter-century on TV at WOKR, now WHAM-TV.) Katy Abraham died Tuesday night (May 24) at her home in Naples, N.Y.; she was 83.
  • There's another tower down in PENNSYLVANIA. We're told WCBG (1380 Waynesboro) lost its tower last week, temporarily silencing the ESPN Radio outlet. (It's the second time those calls have gone silent recently in the Chambersburg area; the original WCBG on 1590 went dark for good a few months ago.) (2006 note - 1590 returned, at low power, as WHGT a few months later.)
  • In CANADA, an unusual travelers information station has gone silent. CFYZ (1280) at Toronto's Pearson International Airport was an unusal station, operating at relatively high power (400 watts) and offering live programming during drive times - but it was also relatively expensive for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to operate. Milkman UnLimited reports that the official word from the GTAA is that "service has been suspended pending exploration of alternatives," and that listeners are hearing a dead carrier on 1280.
  • On the TV side, CKXT (Channel 52) - aka "Toronto One" - is cancelling its flagship nightly news program. "Toronto Tonight" will go off the air July 15, as the station prepares to change hands from Craig Media (which is being sold to CHUM Limited, which already owns two stations in the market) to Quebecor. (2006 note - Anybody ever get any tape of "Toronto One"? We never got any for the NERW archives, and would very much like to see what this short-lived station looked like...)

May 21, 2001 -

  • The radio dial keeps spinning out on eastern Long Island as AAA Entertainment finishes reworking its four-FM group way out there. Here's how things are shaking out on the East End: Last week, the soft AC sounds of "Z-lite" WBAZ moved from Southold-licensed 101.7 to Bridgehampton-licensed WBSQ, which had been doing a slightly more active blend of satellite-fed AC. The new calls WCSO (remember those from Portland, Maine a decade ago?) landed on 102.5, but that appears to be temporary. When the dust settles, WBAZ will be the call on 102.5 - but don't mark WCSO down on 101.7, either. Late last week, that frequency began simulcasting local CHR outlet WBEA (104.7 Montauk), and sure enough, "Beach Radio" will make 101.7 its new home to better serve the more populated parts of the island that can't hear the 104.7 signal from the farthest eastern tip of the South Fork and to reduce competition with AAA's WKCD (107.7 Pawcatuck CT) across Long Island Sound.
  • So what lands on 104.7 at the end of all the shuffling? Adult standards, along with the WCSO calls (though the call swap hasn't been made official yet). So that means it'll be WBEA on 101.7, WBAZ on 102.5, WCSO on 104.7 and unchanged AAA-formatted WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) moving into renovated quarters on North Sea Road in Southampton later this summer. (Right now, WEHM and WBEA are in downtown East Hampton, while WBAZ and the former WBSQ are up on the North Fork in Southold.) And of course all four stations will still struggle to amass the East End listenership of the area's single oldest station, the legendary WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor), where Paul Sidney and the gang continue to pump out a wildly diverse mix of music, jingles, ship's bells and local news and information.
  • Elsewhere in NEW YORK this week, Utica listeners are also doing some dial-twisting, at least if they're fans of Britney and the Backstreet Boys. Clear Channel confirmed all those rumors this week when it announced it will relocate the "Kiss" format and jocks from WSKS (102.5 Rome) to the former "Wow FM" simulcast of WOWB (105.5 Little Falls) and WOWZ (97.9 Whitesboro). What goes in next on 102.5? The rumor mill is churning out suggestions of country, 80s, AC and the Clear Channel "Mix" format; expect to know later this week or early next what the actual choice will be.
  • Over in Jersey City, WFMU (91.1 East Orange) DJ Glen Jones sailed past the world record for longest on-air shift ever on Monday morning. The record, held by a British jock, was 73 hours, 33 minutes; Jones finally signed off on Tuesday just a few seconds after passing the 100 hour mark.

New England Radio Watch, May 28, 1996 (written by Garrett Wollman for the honeymooning Scott Fybush) -

  • Long-running construction permit WAEF, 96.5 in Bedford, N.H., is now on the air testing. The program seems to be an endless loop of 20 minutes of classical music and 40 minutes of silence, with no announcements or other identification. The station is directional to protect WSRI in Rochester, N.H., and WTIC-FM, but the signal is otherwise quite good for a class-A drop-in, reaching all the way to Boston's Route 128 beltway (about ten miles out of town). I had initially speculated that New Hampshire Public Radio might attempt to purchase this CP to jump-start their efforts at forming a second, all-classical network, but an official there states that they are not involved with WAEF.
  • A few formats get cleared up: Our spies in northern New England tell me WVFM 105.7 Campton NH is on the air, simulcasting oldies WLKZ 104.9 down in Wolfeboro for now. And WRDX (ex-WRGW) 98.7 Somersworth NH, on the seacoast, is again running AC, after a brief stint as standards "Radio Deluxe." Meantime in Rhode Island, the smooth jazz is dead on WOTB 100.3 Middletown-Newport. New owner Philip Urso is now using the station to simulcast his modern-rock WDGE 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale, "the Edge." There's a lot of overlap between those two signals in southern Rhode Island. The only remaining smooth-jazz outlet in the area now is WPLM-FM 99.1 Plymouth MA, which mostly runs SW Smooth FM, as does WKCD 107.7 Pawcatuck CT, which gets into some of the more remote parts of the former WOTB listening area on the seacoast.
  • WBFL in Bellows Falls, Vermont, has been sold. The station previously was part of a two-and-a-half-station adult-alternative network broadcasting from WUVR (now WNBX) in Lebanon, N.H. as ``The River''. WBFL and its Keene translator W288AM were observed Monday rebroadcasting a scratchy over-the-air pickup of White River Junction's WKXE ``Lite 95.3''. I did not have a chance to hear WNBX to see if the AAA format survives on that station.

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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.