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July 10, 2006

Rhode Island's WRIB Falls Silent

*One of the dangers of leased-time broadcasting is, quite simply, that the broadcaster doesn't have full control of the station - so when a leased-time station is sold, as happened recently to WRIB (1220) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND - there's always the danger that the new owners will want to change the programming.

The ethnic broadcasters who have called WRIB home for decades are steaming this week, though, and given the way their broadcasts were abruptly ended, we don't blame them one bit.

The sale itself was no surprise - NERW reported the $1.9 million deal back in our October 17, 2005 issue - but when Seekonk, Massachusetts-based mega-church Faith Christian Center was making its plans to take over operations from longtime WRIB owner Carter Broadcasting, the expectation was that the Spanish, Portuguese, Armenian, Italian and other ethnic broadcasters, as well as the mainly Catholic leased-time religious programmers, would have 30 days' notice to allow them to transition to other signals in the market.

Instead, the end came with no warning at all. Last Friday, church attorneys simply pulled the plug on WRIB at 12:30 in the afternoon, giving several broadcasters just a few hours to remove their office equipment from the station's building and threatening them with trespassing charges if they didn't move quickly enough.

Whenever WRIB returns to the air, it will be from a new studio, with new calls (as we reported in April, Faith Christian Center has applied for new calls WSTL) and a religious format that will apparently be far less diverse than the old WRIB. (It'll also need a new engineer; contract engineer Craig Healy has ended his long involvement with the station as well.)

As for the programmers, some of whom have been with WRIB since the station signed on in 1947, they're now scrambling to find space elsewhere on the Providence dial. With no chance to tell their listeners about the transition, they stand to lose audience in the process. We hear several of them are planning protests at Faith Christian Center - they argue (and it's hard to disagree) that the way they were treated when the station changed hands wasn't very "Christian" at all.

INDEPENDENCE ISN'T EASY (OR FREE): Perhaps you saw the headline this past week - Radio & Records is being sold to the same conglomerate that publishes Billboard and other trades.

While it appears that R&R will keep publishing under its new ownership - and that much of its staff will stay employed - it's a reminder that independence doesn't come easily in today's corporate age.

Here at NERW, we pride ourselves on twelve years (and counting) of editorial independence. There's no filter on the news you read here. Our editorial staff of one answers only to you, our readers, and therein lies the catch:

It all depends on your continued support.

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*Across the border in MASSACHUSETTS, programmer Mario Mazza has exited WCRB (102.5 Waltham) ahead of the changes that will be coming to the classical station (and its associated World Classical Network) whenever its long-pending sale is consummated. Mazza came to WCRB in 1994, fresh from the controversial flip of classical WNCN (104.3 New York) to rock, and while he's been accused of "dumbing down" WCRB's format over his tenure there, it should also be noted that WCRB is - at least for now - still around and still doing fairly well in ratings and revenue, which is more than most of the commercial classical stations that were around in 1994 can say now.

Mazza's getting about as far from Boston as it's possible to get in the world of classical radio - he's taking the general manager post at public radio WHIL (91.3) in Mobile, Alabama, a community-operated station licensed to Spring Hill College.

(And yes, we'll throw a bone to the callsign fanatics in the audience and note that the WHIL calls have an entirely unrelated history in Boston, on the stations that are now WXKS and WXKS-FM...)

Roderick MacLeish, who died July 1 at age 80, wore many hats throughout his long career, including stints as an NPR commentator (where he was there at the birth of "Morning Edition"), a novelist and an arts critic. But he's still remembered in Boston for his days in the early fifties as news director of WBZ, a posting that set him on the path to even bigger things in the Westinghouse organization, which then had ambitions of rivaling the established network news operations. After his time at WBZ, Westinghouse sent MacLeish to London to start up a European news bureau for the company's stations, and he remained with Group W as a commentator into the seventies. MacLeish came from a prominent family - his uncle was poet Archibald MacLeish, and his son, Roderick Jr., known as "Eric," achieved some prominence in Boston more recently as the lead attorney in the sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

Over at today's WBZ, the question of the day appears to be whether or not to restore the "WBZ" branding to the television outlet that's lately been known as "CBS4." Credit (or blame) the Boston Herald for stirring up this pot . Business reporter Greg Gatlin asked the station's new GM, Ed Piette, whether the call letters might return to the airwaves - and Piette didn't say "no."

In fact, he almost said yes - "If viewers say it should be WBZ, then, you know what, that’s what it will be," was the quote in the Herald - and given Piette's success in keeping the generic "CBS" branding off his last station, WCCO-TV (Channel 4) in Minneapolis, another rebranding of Channel 4 in Boston seems at least somewhat likely.

More immediately, Channel 4 has signed former WHDH-TV (Channel 7) anchor Chris May to join its staff. And yes, that's former WBZ/WSBK anchor Ted Wayman getting a radio tryout, alongside Ellen O'Brien, in the Saturday 10 AM-1 PM slot on WRKO (680). The talk station seems to have a thing for Boston TV names at the moment - it's also hired Channel 7 political guru Andy Hiller to do a weekly political segment on the John DePetro midmorning show.

A few technical notes from the Bay State TV dial: we hear that Univision outlet WUNI (Channel 27/DT29) will be installing a new antenna on its tower in Boylston next weekend. The station will broadcast from an auxiliary antenna lower on the tower while the old antenna is lowered to the ground and a new antenna is lifted into place by helicopter. (With any luck, we hope to have some pictures to share with you next issue.) And Shop at Home's WMFP (Channel 62) has its DTV facility, on channel 18, operating from American Tower's "FM128" tower in Newton. (The analog signal for this Lawrence-licensed station comes from One Beacon Street in downtown Boston.)

And down in southeastern Massachusetts, EMF Broadcasting launched its satellite-delivered "K-Love" contemporary Christian format on WSMU (91.1 North Dartmouth) last week, after completing its purchase of the station from the University of Massachusetts. WSMU's former programming is now on WUMD (89.3 North Dartmouth), and 91.1 has requested new calls WTKL.

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*There's a new TV station coming to northern MAINE sooner or later, too. Western Broadcasting Company was the winning bidder for the channel 62 allottment in Presque Isle, but the construction permit granted last week was for channel 47 instead, since the channels above 52 will go away when the digital transition is complete.

The construction permit for the new channel 47 calls for 1000 kW of power from a tower on Castle Hill Road in Washburn, Maine, northwest of Presque Isle. We'd expect that when the station finally takes air, it will do so with a digital signal (why build an analog facility that will have to be turned off in just a couple of years?) - and no, there's no word yet on a network affiliation for the new station.

*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, there's a new translator on the air in Claremont. W255BQ (98.9) is relaying Saga's WKNE-FM (103.7 Keene) from a tower behind a Washington Street convenience store.

*VERMONT Public Radio has received a construction permit for its newest signal. VPR won the class A facility on 106.9 in Brighton, way up in the Northeast Kingdom, in the last FCC FM auction - and it now plans to build the station atop Haystack Hill in Island Pond, with 1420 watts at 207 meters above average terrain, into a directional antenna with a null to the east. (VPR has construction permits for two Island Pond translators, at 99.5 and 101.9, at the same location.)

*Across Lake Champlain in northern NEW YORK, we've been remiss in failing to note the upgrade at North Country Public Radio's WXLU (88.3 Peru), which has built out its new facility on 88.1. June 20 was the sign-on date for the new signal, which jumps the power from 200 watts to 1000 watts/341 meters, improving reception on the Vermont side of the lake as well. Way up there in the Adirondacks, NCPR has also moved its translator in Speculator, W207BP, from 89.3 to 97.5.

Back in more populated parts of the Empire State, former WQHT (97.1 New York) PD Barry Mayo has joined Radio One as a consultant. (While Radio One doesn't have any holdings in New York, it does operate stations in the region in Philadelphia and Boston.) Speaking of Hot 97 - which got itself featured in this week's New Yorker for all the violent incidents at its Hudson Street studios in recent years - it loses DJ Clue, who's heading uptown to do nights at rival WWPR (Power 105.1).

Heading back upstate, Brad Davies is moving on from his sports gig at WHAM (1180) and WHTK (1280) in Rochester. A native of Utica, where he worked at WIBX (950), Davies was the morning sports reporter for WHAM and midmorning sports talk host on WHTK, but now he's moving to Houston and mornings at Clear Channel sister station KBME (790), in a well-deserved promotion. (And a well-deserved, if unsurprising, raspberry to our friends at the local daily, which somehow turned the Houston station into "WBME" - and of course has failed to come through with the requisite correction.)

Davies did a couple of on-air auditions earlier this year down in Houston, where a co-host for his morning show has yet to be named. There's also no replacement yet for Davies in Rochester, where his busy schedule also included morning sports reports for Clear Channel outlets in Syracuse (WSYR) and Albany (WGY).

WHAM's about to have some more powerful competition in Rochester. Bob Savage's WYSL (1040 Avon) is just about to flip the switch on its daytime power increase, from 2500 watts to 20,000 watts, now that a long fight to get proper three-phase power to the studio/transmitter site is complete. The Nautel transmitter and Kintronics phasor are in place, and proofing on the new directional pattern should be underway later this month. The station's looking for part-time board operators, too - tell them NERW sent you!

In Syracuse, we extend our best wishes to WTVH (Channel 5) news director/anchor Frank Kracher, who's recovering from head injuries he suffered in a fall. Kracher had emergency surgery, and the prognosis is reported to be excellent.

*WFMU (91.1 Jersey City) has always been a NEW JERSEY radio station - but its quirky freeform programming has long had a devoted following in New York as well. Now WFMU is hoping to serve that side of the Hudson River better, by applying for a 22-watt on-channel booster atop the Four Times Square tower on the west side of Manhattan. The proposed WFMU-1 signal would use a very directional Scala antenna, aiming its power in a tight north-south lobe that would put a 60 dBu signal over much of Manhattan.

Over the years, WFMU has sparred with its neighbors on the noncommercial dial, and we wouldn't be at all surprised to see objections filed from WFUV (90.7, which itself uses a booster atop Riverside Church to get more signal into Manhattan) and other neighboring stations. Stay tuned...

And stay tuned as well to WOR (710 New York), where Tom Ray checked in over the weekend to report that he's been conducting on-air testing of his new transmitter site in the Meadowlands, which just happens to be this week's Tower Site of the Week. While the tests have been at 25 kW, Tom hopes to have all the proofs done and be operating at full power within the next month or so.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Mike Lange is out of his longtime post as TV play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Post-Gazette reports that he's now talking to the team about returning to the radio booth.

*And in CANADA, the launch of CHTN-FM (100.3 Charlottetown) last Wednesday came with a big streetside live broadcast - but lost in the hoopla over the new "Ocean 100.3" was the end of oldies on Prince Edward Island, as CHTN (720) flips to an "Ocean" classic hits simulcast for the next three months, before going silent for good sometime between now and early October. Newcap now has calls for the Ocean's future sister station - it'll be CKQK, according to the latest Industry Canada database - but its application to use 105.5 instead of 89.9 hasn't been approved yet, and while initial reports said the station would be called "K-Rock," the Newcap corporate website calls the station "The Island." Stay tuned...

CHIN (1540 Toronto) is getting more power for its FM booster signal. CHIN-1-FM (91.9) has been granted a power increase, from 35 watts/101 meters to 350 watts (directional)/86 meters, and it's getting a new transmitter site, too, near the intersection of Bathurst and Sheppard.

Thanks to Bruce Elving's FMedia! newsletter, we now know the calls for Toronto's new station on 103.9: "Rainbow Radio," catering to the city's gay and lesbian community, will be CIRR, with 50 watts/131.5 meters, transmitting from the southeast corner of Yonge and Eglinton.

And as long as we're thinking about Canadian call letters, we note that Aboriginal Voices Radio is asking for new calls for its network-to-be. Northwest Broadcasters reports that CFIE (106.5 Toronto) will become CKAV, and the outlets in Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver will be CKAV-FM-1, CKAV-FM-2 and so on (not necessarily in that order!)

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!)

July11, 2005 -

  • The turnover in Boston morning show continues - and this time it's at eastern MASSACHUSETTS' classic rock station, where morning host Steve Sweeney disappeared from "Steve Sweeney's neighborhood" a couple of weeks ago for what was initially billed as a vacation. Now it turns out that Sweeney's not coming back, and in the great circle that is radio, his shift is being filled (for the moment, at least) by Bill Abbate (whose own WBOS morning show was axed a few months back) and fellow WBOS veteran Hutch.
  • Out in western Massachusetts, "Omelette" has vanished from the morning-show menu at WLZX (99.3 Northampton), where Leslie Hall is doing the show solo for now, while the station looks for a replacement.
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio has chosen a new leader to succeed Mark Handley when he steps down as the network's president in September. Elizabeth "Betsy" Gardella will come to NHPR from American Public Media in Minnesota. Before that, she served as executive VP and COO at New York's WNYC, guiding the station through its rebuilding efforts after its FM transmitter was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.
  • In Erie, PENNSYLVANIA, Gannon University's WERG has completed its move from 89.9 to 90.5, taking the station from 3000 watts at 124 feet below average terrain (on the Gannon campus near downtown Erie) to 2750 watts at 374 feet above average terrain, on a new antenna mounted on the WQLN-TV tower south of Erie.
  • The call changes in NEW YORK's Southern Tier have now been followed by some format flips at the Route 81 Radio cluster in Elmira-Corning: the oldies that had been on "Gem 97.7" follow the WGMM calls to what had been WCBA-FM (98.7 Corning), with "Gem 98.7" also being heard on WCBA (1350 Corning). WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) is now simulcasting with what's now WCBA-FM (97.7 Big Flats), and they're doing AC as "Magic." And on the AM side, WCLI (1450 Corning) changes calls to WENI, to match its talk simulcast with WENY (1230 Elmira). The stations have now moved into their new storefront studios on Corning's Market Street, and we'll have to get down there to check it out one of these days.

July 11, 2001 -

  • It's every PD's dream to own a small-town radio station (isn't it?), and now Bobby Hatfield of WBBF in Rochester is living it. He's picking up WCNR (930) in Bloomsburg, PENNSYLVANIA from the local Press-Enterprise newspaper. The station sits just down I-80 from the big Scranton/Wilkes-Barre cluster belonging to his Rochester employer, Entercom.
  • Over in Syracuse, WBGJ (100.3 Sylvan Beach) made its on-air debut just before we left, with a simulcast of WOLF's Radio Disney programming that's said to be temporary. It's less clear whether the simulcast of market-leading country station WBBS (104.7 Fulton) on Clear Channel's new 105.1 DeRuyter signal is permanent or not; Clear Channel just flipped the DeRuyter calls from WVOQ to WXBB(FM), calls last heard in the region on what's now WSAK (105.3 Kittery ME).
  • Albany will soon have yet another FM drop-in, thanks to the Vox folks, who won FCC approval this week for their latest allocations swap. Here's how it will work: WHTR (93.5 Corinth) will move south to Scotia and up the dial to 93.7. But to prevent Corinth from being left (gasp!) without a "first local FM service", WFFG (107.1 Hudson Falls) will change city of license to Corinth, without changing transmitter site or power. Ah, bureaucracy...
  • Up in the Catskills, mark down two new formats for Liberty's WVOS and WVOS-FM. The FM, on 95.9, flipped from country to AC, while the AM side on 1240 picked up the country, ditching standards in the process.
  • The big news in MASSACHUSETTS came from WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), where PD John Ivey announced he's leaving the building to head up the biggest Clear Channel "Kiss" of them all, KIIS-FM (102.7) in Los Angeles. Expect the jockeying to succeed Ivey at Boston's "Kiss 108" to keep making headlines for several weeks...
  • The big deal in CANADA was, literally, a big deal: the long-dormant Standard group flexed its muscles this week with an agreement to buy 62 radio stations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia from Telemedia. The latter group already cashed out of its Quebec and Maritimes interests with a sale to Astral last month. The deal turns Standard into a 75-station group with outlets in almost every major community in Ontario, including a four-station cluster in Toronto that adds Telemedia's sports CJCL (The Fan 590) and AC CJEZ (EZ Rock 97.3) to Standard's news-talk CFRB (1010) and hot AC CKFM (Mix 99.9). No sale price has been announced.

New England Radio Watch, July 5, 1996

  • The new FM station in Bedford (Manchester) NH has new calls to match -- well, sort of -- its new nickname, "The Fox." The construction-permit calls of WAEF were replaced by WOXF over the Fourth of July weekend. 96.5 continues to crank out classic rock, with copious ads for MacNeil's Banquet Hall, which just happens to be owned by station owner Donna MacNeil.
  • Boston rocker WBCN (104.1) has finally filled its evening DJ vacancy. The 7 to midnight slot had been filled by part-timers since the April 1 shuffle that moved Howard Stern out of that slot and into mornings. Now "The Rock of Boston" has hired Nik Carter to do evenings full-time. Carter used to be heard locally on modern-rock competitor WFNX (101.7), then departed to do mornings on WDGE (99.7)/WDGF (100.3) in Rhode Island. No word yet on who fills his slot on Rhode Island's "Edge" stations.
  • From the radio-with-pictures file: Boston's WB affiliate, WLVI (56) was off the air for more than an hour Wednesday night, July 10, due to a power failure at the station's Needham, MA transmitter site. The power failure came right in the middle of "WB56"'s 10pm newscast, and blew out most of the "Star Trek" rerun that followed. Problems with the backup generator at their shared transmitter site also caused brief outages for WFXT (25), the Fox affiliate, and WSBK (38), the UPN affiliate. About a mile away from the shared 25/38/56 site above the Sheraton Needham hotel is the studio of WUNI (27), the Worcester- licensed Univision station, and their programming was also briefly interrupted. No interruption was noted on WCVB-TV (5), the ABC affiliate with studios just across the highway, or on any of the many FMs that share a nearby tower.

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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.