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October 2, 2006

Liu Moves Into TV Arena

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*There's a new broadcaster coming to the TV dials in MASSACHUSETTS and CONNECTICUT. Arthur Liu, whose Multicultural Radio Broadcasting has become a major force in leased-time radio in big cities from Boston to New York to Los Angeles, is entering the television arena with the $170 million purchase of Shop at Home TV's five UHF stations from Scripps Howard.

Liu is creating a new company, Multicultural Television Broadcasting, to operate the stations. Four of the five, including WMFP (Channel 62) in Lawrence, Mass. and WSAH (Channel 43) in Bridgeport, Conn., were full-time outlets of the former Shop at Home TV network, which Scripps also recently sold. Since that sale, they've continued to broadcast the network under its new owner, Jewelry Television.

That will surely change under Multicultural, whose model for TV will likely follow the company's successful radio model, under which all or nearly all of its stations' airtime is leased out to program producers, mostly in foreign languages or serving ethnic audiences.

For WMFP, which transmits from One Beacon Street in Boston and has nearly full-market cable carriage, that shouldn't be difficult. For WSAH, it will be a bit more of a challenge - while the station is technically in the New York City TV market, it has little cable carriage beyond Connecticut and no over-the-air presence in the city itself. Given its distance from the center of the market, and its history of non-carriage on New York and New Jersey cable systems, it may face a challenge in getting on cable in those areas, which would impair its reach.

The other Shop at Home stations involved in the deal are WOAC Canton (Cleveland), Ohio; WRAY Wilson (Raleigh), N.C. and KCNS San Francisco. KCNS was already running leased-time instead of home shopping for most of its day, and may well end up becoming the most lucrative piece of Liu's deal.

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*In other news from the Bay State, Jay Severin returned to his former radio home Monday, as the cancellation of his Westwood One syndicated evening offering freed him to return to the 3-6 PM slot on flagship WTKK (96.9 Boston). The move once again puts Severin head-to-head against Howie Carr on WRKO (680), and it pushes Michael Graham from WTKK's afternoon drive slot to evenings. Severin also says he's moving from Sag Harbor, N.Y. (where he's been doing the show via ISDN since its Boston-only days at WTKK) up to the Boston area soon.

Back in July, we reported that Mario Mazza was moving from the PD chair at WCRB (102.5 Waltham) to the station manager's chair at public station WHIL (91.3 Mobile AL), only to be met with a one-line e-mail from Mazza telling us, "you're wrong," followed by stony silence when asked for clarification. Now the Mobile Press-Register reports - guess what? - that Mazza officially started as station manager at WHIL last week. Did the veteran classical programmer have a change of heart once word got out that the WCRB classical format would survive under new ownership? Was he trying to back out of the Mobile move? We may never know...and we don't expect WCRB to fill the now-vacant PD position until Nassau takes over and the station moves to 99.5, which should happen sometime in the next couple of months.

In Fitchburg, change is in the air at WEIM (1280). We already told you, a few weeks ago, that longtime morning man Ray C was moving to nights. That move took place today, and so did the station's segue to a new slogan. It's now "AM 1280 the Blend, Hits and Information," with Ben Parker in mornings. Ray C's new show, "The Open Mic," airs Monday-Thursday from 6-8 PM and Sundays 9-11 AM.

And from the history files, the celebration of the Reginald Fessenden centennial will continue next weekend in Marshfield, as the Isaac Winslow House holds a symposium on the early history of radio. The event begins at 9:30 AM on Saturday, October 7, and features radio historians Donna Halper of Emerson College, Nick Mills of Boston University, Ed Perry of WATD and yours truly, along with veteran WHDH morning man Jess Cain. Registration is $35 and includes a luncheon to follow. (Hope to see you there!)

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*Two more CONNECTICUT notes: the new morning man at WEZN ("Star 99.9" Bridgeport) is Reno, who recently departed WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie) and whose resume also includes stops at WFLY in Albany, Z100 in New York and WBLI on Long Island.

Over in Norwich, we wish a very happy 60th anniversary to WICH (1310), which went on the air way back in 1946 as WNOC on 1400. The station brought former air personalities back to its morning show last week to reminisce about the early years - and to celebrate the local focus it's maintained ever since.

*It's been a long time coming, but digital TV is finally a reality in VERMONT. Vermont Public TV's WETK (Channel 33) was the first station to sign on a DTV signal from Mount Mansfield a few days ago, and we hear that the other stations in the Mansfield tower consortium - CBS affiliate WCAX, NBC affiliate WPTZ, Fox outlet WFFF and ABC affiliate WVNY - will have their signals on within the next few weeks, too. (It's getting to be late in the season for us to get up there for an updated Site of the Week, but we're hoping to go back next spring to see the outcome of all the years of negotiations and a summer of busy construction at Vermont's highest point!)

*A MAINE television pioneer has died. Eddie Driscoll was a founding staffer at WTWO (Channel 2) in Bangor when it signed on in 1954, and he stayed with the station (which soon became WLBZ-TV) as its movie and kids' show host for 33 years, entertaining generations of northern Maine children, including a young Stephen King. Driscoll died Sept. 24 of Alzheimer's disease; he was 81.

*In upstate NEW YORK, the FCC gave Regent the go-ahead to begin an LMA of CBS Radio's five-station Buffalo cluster. As we go to press Monday, no changes have been heard yet at the signals (including market leader WYRK), but plenty of rumors are swirling. As always, stay tuned...

In New York City, WKTU (103.5 Lake Success) has a new PD, following the (involuntary, we hear) departure of longtime programmer Jeff Z. The PD chair at KTU is now occupied by Rob Miller, who keeps his existing PD duties at WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) as well. What's next for Jeff Z? He's getting married later this month, and he'll start looking for a new job after he gets back from a Caribbean honeymoon.

Binghamton will soon have a new radio station. George Hawras tells the Press & Sun-Bulletin that his new Windsor-licensed 106.7 signal, which recently got the calls WRRQ, will sign on within a few weeks as "Q107." It will be simulcast on Hawras' 104.5 translator in Binghamton, which currently carries sister station WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA).

In Utica, Stephen Lawrence departs as PD of Clear Channel's "Kiss" WSKS (97.9 Whitesboro)/WSKU (105.5 Little Falls) and "Mix" WUMX (102.5 Rome).

On the TV dial, former WROC-TV (Channel 8) reporter/anchor Rachel Barnhart has settled her lawsuit against the Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate, which challenged the non-compete clause in her contract. Barnhart has been off the air since January, but she's been working behind the scenes at WHAM-TV (Channel 13) since April. Now that the suit has been settled (with both sides barred from disclosing the terms of the settlement), Barnhart is free to return to the airwaves, and indeed, she was on the air at Channel 13 Sunday night.

*Philadelphia radio legend Hy Lit is returning to the terrestrial airwaves in NEW JERSEY. Lit's hylitradio.com is adding simulcasts on "traditional" radio, beginning today with initial affiliates WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton) and WMVB (1440 Millville) in south Jersey.

*Elsewhere in PENNSYLVANIA, Kelly West is back in morning drive alongside John London at WARM-FM (103.3 York), two years after she was replaced by Melanie Gardner in that slot. (She moves to middays on WARM.) Meanwhile, West's former morning co-host on WARM, Rick Sten, is now doing mornings on "Mix" WMHX (106.7 Hershey), where Ed Coffey, the longtime WTPA morning man, is out after a two-year run.

In Coudersport, WFRM-FM (96.7) has segued from Westwood One's "Bright AC" satellite service to WW1's "Sam FM" adult hits service.

In Pittsburgh, Alex Tear adds PD duties at oldies WWSW (94.5) to his existing PD gig at Clear Channel sister station WKST (96.1 Kiss FM); former 3WS PD Sheri Van Dyke remains the station's midday jock and music director.

Two obituaries to report this week: Hugh Clinton, former owner of WCTX (96.1 Palmyra), died Sept. 13 at 76.

And just across the border in DELAWARE we're very sorry to have to report the sudden death of Charlie Slezak, veteran engineer at Delmarva Broadcasting (WDEL/WSTW). Charlie suffered a heart attack Sunday (Oct. 1), at age 53, leaving behind wife Nancy Black and four children. He'd been at WDEL/WSTW for 25 years, and was our tour guide when we visited the stations in 2003 for Tower Site of the Week. (The cover of the 2005 Tower Site Calendar was shot on that trip.) We'd long been meaning to take Charlie up on his invitation to visit Delmarva's stations down on the shore some warm summer weekend, and we're sorry that won't happen, now.

*In CANADA, Fort Erie's CKEY (Wild 101.1) wants to move its transmitter. The station now operates from one tower of the 13-tower array of sister station CJRN (710 Niagara Falls), but it's asking the CRTC for permission to move north and west to the site of sister station CFLZ (105.1 Niagara Falls), where it would operate with 50 kW DA (13 kW average ERP) at 142.4 meters. The move, if granted, would also silence CKEY's on-channel repeater in St. Catharines, which would no longer be needed.

In Oshawa, CKDO (1580/107.7) is getting ready for a big 60th birthday celebration later this week. It'll put on a special broadcast Thursday night (Oct. 5), from 9 PM to 2 AM, featuring former staffers from the station's long history as CKLB, CKAR and CKDO - and soliciting reception reports from DXers far and wide on its new 1580 signal. Meanwhile, CKDO is also looking for more power for its FM relay signal. It's asking the FCC to let it boost power there from 250 watts to 2 kW DA (665 watts average ERP) at 86 meters, to overcome co-channel interference from WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield NY).

And in Windsor, CKUE (95.1 Chatham) has won CRTC permission to move its transmitter there from 95.1 to 100.7, with 3.84 kW DA. That'll eliminate interference between the Chatham and Windsor transmitters, providing a better signal for drivers on Highway 401 between the two cities. (It'll also provide a cleaner signal in Detroit, with no co-channel interference from WFBE in Flint.)

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 LARadio.com for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

October 3, 2005 -

  • At Entercom Boston, two well-known talk hosts are out. First, WRKO (680 Boston) announced on Monday that morning co-host Peter Blute wasn't renewing his contract, which was to expire today. Blute joined the station from the world of politics in 1999, working first with the late Andy Moes, then with John Osterlind before WRKO launched him on his current partnership with Scott Allen Miller in 2003. Miller will continue doing mornings solo for now; we wouldn't be surprised to see Blute re-enter the political arena. (And we're most curious to see what other moves WRKO's new operations manager, Brian Whittemore, has up his sleeve.)
  • A few days later, down the hall at sports giant WEEI (850 Boston), came word that longtime night host Ted Sarandis was, er, "leaving to pursue other interests." Sarandis joined WEEI in 1992, not long after the station's shift to sports, and his "Ted Nation" show had been a 7-midnight fixture there even as much of the rest of WEEI's schedule shifted. There's no word yet on a permanent replacement, or on what Sarandis will do next. He'll remain the voice of Boston College basketball, and it's not hard to imagine that he'll be talking to the new "ESPN Boston" (WAMG 890 Dedham/WLLH 1400 Lowell), too.
  • Our best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to WBZ (1030 Boston) morning institution Gary LaPierre, who underwent triple-bypass surgery last week after suffering a heart attack. He's recovering and resting at his North Shore home, and we hope he's back in the anchor chair soon.
  • From CONNECTICUT comes word that a well-known morning voice has been silenced. Ron Rohmer came to the New Haven area from his native Canada to play hockey in the fifties, but moved into radio at WELI (960 New Haven) in 1961. He became the city's most popular radio personality during his long run in morning drive there, but an ownership change in 1995 pushed him out of the slot. Rohmer sued Clear Channel for age discrimination, and the company soon brought him back at sister station WAVZ (1300), from which he retired in 1999. Rohmer died last Sunday (Sept. 25); he was 74.
  • Today's launch day for PENNSYLVANIA's newest sports station. WPEN (950 Philadelphia) said goodbye to its oldies format, with Jim Nettleton as the last live jock Friday night, and today it enters the battle against entrenched market leader WIP (610).
  • In Scranton, the "Chet" stunt at WWRR (104.9) came to an end on Monday, when the station relaunched as "105 the River." At least in its initial days - it's kicking things off with a 5,000-song "River Cruise" - the station's music mix seems like the "variety hits" formats known elsewhere as "Jack," "Ben," "Mike," and so on. GM Bob VanDerheyden tells the local papers that the River won't have the same attitude as the "Jack" clones, though, and he prefers to think of it as an AC with a particularly broad playlist.

October 1, 2001 -

  • It's not often that we start a NERW report in NEW JERSEY, but this week, that's where the big story seems to be. To be precise, it's in Bridgeton, way down at the southern end of the Garden State, where aficionados of quirky local radio have long prized WSNJ (107.7/1240) as an exemplary specimen of the kind of full-service station that disappeared most places years ago. Under the ownership of Ed Bold, WSNJ today sounds pretty much the same way it did a couple of decades ago - everything from lost-dog announcements to school menus, with a few songs here and there, a top-hour ID that still proudly proclaims that the FM signal is "in stereo," and a midnight signoff.
  • But at the age of 82, Bold has decided to retire, and that means WSNJ has been sold. The Bridgeton News reported Thursday that Bold will receive $20 million for the station, including its real estate and prominent self-supporting tower, from an unidentified buyer "from South Carolina." That, in turn, immediatedly prompted speculation involving the Beasley family, which owns a Philadelphia cluster that includes WXTU (92.5) and WPTP (96.5) - though we'd be quick to note that Beasley Broadcasting is currently headquartered in south Florida. We'll be following this one closely in the weeks to come.
  • In CONNECTICUT, WGCH (1490 Greenwich) is trying to stay on the air in the face of an eviction notice. The little community station has known for two years that it will have to abandon its tower at 175 W. Putman Ave., a move it's wanted to make anyway, since new construction has blocked much of the signal from that aging facility. Now it appears WGCH's landlord has run out of patience, leading to a September 17 notice to vacate the site and remove the tower. WGCH's latest plan for a new site, in the face of what its owner calls the "severe, almost draconian zoning regulations" in Greenwich, involve the parking lot of the Cos Cob Marina on River Road, about two miles from the present site. WGCH has asked the FCC to move quickly on approving the use of a very short Valcom fiberglass whip antenna, a type only approved until now for daytimers (the first one being WSHP 1480 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania). We'll keep you posted on WGCH's status as the eviction notice works its way through the system; we believe the station remains on the air for now.

New England Radio Watch, October 9, 1996

  • The Fox that Growled: NERW was quite surprised during its trip up to Bangor, Maine a week and a half ago, when a quick check of classic rock WWFX (104.7 Belfast-Bangor ME) turned up country music instead. It seems the "Fox" has undergone a species-change operation, emerging on September 20th as "the Bear," playing "hot new country." This sets up not a cross-town rivalry, but an across-the-street rivalry with longtime Bangor country leader WQCB (106.5 Brewer-Bangor ME). Q106's studios are just half a block down Acme Road from WWFX in Brewer, Maine. The nice folks at WWFX weren't saying, but NERW suspects a call change is in the offing there. NERW editorial comment: The move to country is probably a sound one. WQCB has been without competition since 97.1 Bangor changed from country WYOU to modern-rock WWBX ("97X") a year or so ago. And between 97X and rocker WKIT, the rock wars were getting a bit heated in Eastern Maine.
  • One of Northern New England's biggest FM signals is temporarily off the air while it changes ownership. WZPK (103.7 Berlin NH), "the Peak," vanished from the airwaves not long after Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting closed on its purchase of the hot AC station last Friday. The Peak is reportedly undergoing technical improvements at its transmitter atop Mount Washington, and will reportedly be back on the air within a week or so. Stay tuned...
  • The WMEX calls that are a part of Boston's radio heritage have resurfaced, this time in Westport NY on the 102.5 construction permit last known as WADQ. Westport is across Lake Champlain from the already overbuilt Burlington, Vermont market. WMEX's last home, 1150 AM in Boston, is now WROR(AM) and will reportedly switch to the KidStar format sometime next week. WROR's sister station, WBCS 96.9 Boston, has now officially switched to the WKLB-FM calls adopted from what's now WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham-Boston), although 96.9 continues to mis-ID as simply "WKLB Boston."
  • Up in Vermont, WCMD (89.9) in Barre is now on the air, simulcasting religious WCMK (91.7) in Bolton. The 90.5 construction permit in St. Johnsbury, granted as WAQA, has filed to change to WCKJ. This will reportedly be another religious outlet. Not too far away, in Keene NH, WKNE AM/FM (1290/103.7) have reportedly been sold for a total of $6 million...more on this next issue.

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*It's here! Tower Site Calendar 2007 is now shipping, and if you took advantage of our pre-order offer, your calendar should be arriving in your mailbox any day now.

This year's edition features what we think are the finest tower images yet - from the cover image of WCCO Minneapolis all the way to the back-cover centerfold of WBZ in Boston, and from KGO San Francisco to KOIL Omaha to Philadelphia's famed Roxborough tower farm, captured in a dramatic dusk shot with the lights all aglow.

This sixth annual edition once again contains plenty of historic dates from radio and television history in the Northeast and beyond, and as always, it comes to you shrink-wrapped and shipped first class mail for safe arrival.

You can even get your 2007 calendar free with your new or renewal subscription to NERW at the $60 level.

Visit the Fybush.com Store and place your order today - and be among the first to get the Tower Site Calendar 2007, just as soon as it rolls off the presses in a few short weeks!

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.