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December 11, 2006

Progressive Talk Fades Away in Boston


It's that time of year again...

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*Progressive talk will soon be history, it seems, in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, as Clear Channel's continued corporate retreat from the format brings a format change at WKOX (1200 Framingham) and WXKS (1430 Everett), which have struggled to find an audience since flipping from leased-time Spanish (on WKOX) and standards (on WXKS) in October 2004.

Almost from the first day of the new format, rumors began flying about its possible demise. In the last few weeks, as Air America's financial struggles worsened and other progressive talkers slipped away from the format, the rumors began getting louder. Then, last week, Brian Maloney's "Radio Equalizer" blog spotted a Clear Channel help-wanted ad for salespeople for the new "Rumba 1200/1430," and while the company still hasn't officially confirmed the move, it's becoming clearer that the progressive talk format will be replaced by Spanish tropical music within the next few weeks.

Much has been written, here and on the message boards, about the challenges WKOX/WXKS faced in finding an audience, most notably a pair of night signals that served only listeners in the MetroWest and north suburban areas, completely missing Boston, Cambridge and much of the rest of the market. Unlike some of the more successful progressive talkers around the country (most notably two other Clear Channel signals, KLSD San Diego and KPOJ Portland, Oregon), WKOX/WXKS never added any local personalities to the national lineup of Air America and other syndicated hosts it carried. In a market so intensely focused on its local politics, many interpreted the lack of local presence as a sign that Clear Channel wasn't committed to the format in Boston over the long term.

In the end, though, local factors may not have determined the demise of progressive talk on WKOX and WXKS. Instead, it was a national trend within the company, which is in the process of pulling the format off the air in markets from Madison, Wisconsin to Cincinnati to - rumor has it, at least - Los Angeles. With questions arising about the future of Air America as a 24-hour programming network, it's understandable that broadcasters looking for a turnkey syndicated product are getting uneasy about sticking with progressive talk, and we should note that Clear Channel's hardly alone in that respect, with companies such as Citadel (in Binghamton) and Entercom (in New Orleans) also dropping the format in recent weeks.

Could progressive talk find a home on another signal in town? There are always "what if" options in play, it seems, and it's never out of the question that a committed, deep-pocketed investor could purchase WWZN (1510) from Sporting News Radio, for instance, and move the format there. (We'd note that Sheldon and Anita Drobny, who were early investors in Air America before selling their stake, have been trying to grow their new Nova M talk network, for instance.)

Beyond WWZN, whose signal problems and transmitter-site lease issues have bedeviled owner after owner, there's Radio One's WILD (1090), which is also for sale. WILD quietly moved from black gospel back to Radio One's syndicated talk format in the last few weeks, for whatever that's worth.

So what, then, of "Rumba"? For a market that's 7% Hispanic overall (with much higher densities in the city of Boston and several neighboring communities), Boston has long trailed other similar-sized cities when it comes to Spanish-language radio. Mega Communications tested the waters for several years with its "Mega 890/1400" (WAMG Dedham/WLLH Lowell), before it exited the Northeast completely and those stations flipped to sports. Today, Spanish-speaking listeners in Boston have to tune to several weaker AM signals (WRCA 1330 Waltham, WLYN 1360 Lynn, WUNR 1600 Brookline) that carry a variety of leased-time programming - or they have to struggle to hear the Spanish-language signals from Costa-Eagle's WNNW (800) and WCEC (1110) up in the Merrimack Valley.

The arrival of "Rumba" promises to upset that balance. Clear Channel has shown a strong committment to Spanish-language radio both nationally and regionally - most notably, in NERW-land, with the flip of WSNI (104.5 Philadelphia) to "Rumba 104.5" as WUBA this past August. In Philadelphia, Clear Channel had the benefit of a five-FM cluster to work with, providing full-market coverage from day one for "Rumba." In Boston, "Rumba" will face some of the same signal problems progressive talk did on the 1200 and 1430 signals, especially in the Merrimack Valley, where neither signal is very good even by day, and along with that, the strong preference shown by Hispanic audience nationwide for FM music signals over AM. But with no Spanish-language FM in the market, "Rumba" promises to be the strongest option on the dial - and it will be stronger still when construction is complete on the long-pending WKOX move to Newton and power increase to 50 kW. (NERW research director Garrett Wollman drove by the Oak Hill transmitter site last week and reports that after many delays, construction is now underway out there.)

For those keeping track, there's still progressive talk on the air in NERW-land in western Massachusetts, at Saga's WHMP/WHNP/WHMQ trimulcast, as well as in Portland (WLVP 870 Gorham), Burlington/Plattsburgh (WTWK 1070 Plattsburgh), Rochester (WROC 950), Buffalo (WWKB 1520 and WHLD 1270 Niagara Falls), Ithaca (WNYY 1470) and of course in New York, at Air America-leased WWRL 1600.

One more Clear Channel Boston note: Deirdre Degata is out as midday jock at WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), with Shelly Wade of sister station Z100 in New York voicetracking the Kiss 108 shift in her place. Also out: Chris Kung, promotions coordinator at WJMN (94.5), as well as WJMN jocks Maverik and Hustle Simmons. Gee-Spin moves from middays to nights at Jam'n to replace Maverik, which means middays will be tracked from Los Angeles by Suzy Tavarez of KIIS (102.7).

*There's a changing of the guard at the helm of Boston's biggest public broadcaster. After 36 years with WGBH, the last 22 of them as the station's president, Henry Becton announced last week that he's stepping down next fall. Becton, who oversaw a huge expansion of WGBH's local and national production efforts, culminating in the station's impending move to a new studio facility overlooking the Mass Pike in Allston, says he'll remain with the station in an advisory role. Effective October 1, 2007, he'll be replaced by executive VP/COO Jon Abbott as WGBH president.

*The facility swap that moved classical WCRB (102.5 Waltham) to the Lowell-licensed 99.5 facility was heavily promoted - but even so, the word didn't quite get to everyone. With the WCRB website yet to relaunch (and no contact information available there at the moment), a few disgruntled listeners found their way to the WCRB page at our sister site, The, where they seemed to think they were writing directly to the station. The common thread? Nearly all of them were writing from Rhode Island and northwest Connecticut, areas that were on the fringe of WCRB's 102.5 coverage but well outside the reach of the Lowell 99.5 signal.

(And a parenthetical note: classical listeners in Boston are learning just how fortunate they are that WCRB has survived in any form. In Washington, it appears that Bonneville may be on the verge of selling classical WGMS to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, which puts the future of the classical format - already relegated to a pair of rimshot FM signals - in jeopardy there.)

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*On the western edge of PENNSYLVANIA - literally on the state line, in the case of one transmitter site - there's a format change to report at WLOA (1470 Farrell) and WGRP (940 Greenville). They've dropped their simulcast with Youngstown-market oldies signal WANR (1570 Warren) and are now running sports from Sporting News Radio.

A call change across the state: in the Scranton market, WPGP (88.3 Tafton) becomes WLKA as it joins EMF Broadcasting's national "K-Love" contemporary Christian network.

An update on that Scranton-area tornado that silenced much of the market's TV dial a week ago: on the radio side, WVIA (89.9 Scranton) was also off the air when the tornado cut power to Penobscot Mountain. The other FMs up there, WMGS (92.9), WBHT (97.1) and WBSX (97.9), reportedly stayed on with generator power. (And to clear up some confusion from last week, "Froggy 101," WGGY 101.3, is not at Penobscot - it's at the Bald Mountain site above Scranton.)

The Clear Channel budget-cutting ax swung in Harrisburg last week, leaving WHP (580) afternoon news guy Dave Eddy out of a job. (He tells NERW he's looking for new opportunities in the sports play-by-play arena, where he's spent much of his career.) Down the hall at "Kiss FM" WHKF (99.3 Harrisburg), PD/afternoon guy Jeff Hurley moves to Lancaster's WLAN-FM (96.9) for afternoons, replacing J.T. Bosch, who becomes PD of WHKF in addition to WLAN-FM. WLAN-FM morning guy Dennis Mitchell adds assistant PD duties there as well.

Another all-Christmas signal to add to the list: Backyard Broadcasting's WRVH (107.9 South Williamsport) is calling itself "Holiday 107.9" for the moment, we're told...

*The syndicated Mancow show has a new affiliate in southern NEW JERSEY, as WJSE (102.7 Petersburg) picks up the show to replace "Scotty and Alex" in morning drive. (They've moved on to WYSP in Philadelphia.)

*Clear Channel is consolidating its five FM stations in NEW YORK into a single facility. It's reportedly signed a 15-year lease for more than 120,000 square feet of space on the first four floors of 32 Avenue of the Americas in lower Manhattan. Sometime next year, WHTZ (100.3 Newark) and WKTU (103.5 Lake Success) will move across the Hudson from their separate studios in Jersey City, while WAXQ (104.3), WWPR (105.1) and WLTW (106.7) will all move south from their separate facilities in Midtown Manhattan. (Clear Channel had earlier planned to move all five stations into the Manhattan Mall, but a lease deal there fell through.)

A weekend jock at WWPR was in critical condition Sunday after being shot 13 times during a robbery outside his northern Manhattan apartment early Friday morning. Carl Blaze, whose real name is Carlos Rivera, is normally heard Friday and Saturday nights on the station's mix shows. Police are looking for a suspect in the attack.

At WFAN (660 New York), overnight host Evan Roberts gets a big promotion: he's joining Joe Benigno on the 10 AM-1 PM weekday shift at the big sports station. Meanwhile, sister station WFNY-FM (92.3 New York) brought a New York institution back to the airwaves on Thursday, giving longtime WABC (and later WOR) talk host Bob Grant a one-hour tryout.

Syracuse isn't usually in the vanguard where new formats are concerned, but it gets the distinction of being the first market in NERW-land to get a "Movin" outlet, the Alan Burns-consulted rhythmic AC format that gained early toeholds in Seattle and Los Angeles.

The newest "Movin" is Craig Fox's trio of FM signals in the Salt City - WOLF-FM (96.7 Oswego), WWLF-FM (100.3 Sylvan Beach) and W243AB (96.5 Westvale), which made the flip from Radio Disney on Thursday. Radio Disney continues on the air in Syracuse on WOLF (1490), WWLF (1340 Auburn) and WAMF (1300 Fulton).

In Albany, WHRL (103.1) morning host Jason Keller has added a new gig: he'll also do an hour of talk, from 6-7 PM weeknights, for sister Clear Channel station WGY (810 Schenectady.)

Another small piece of fallout from the Clear Channel format shuffling in the Catskills: with 99.3 in Ellenville becoming country WRWC, simulcasting WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland) from Poughkeepsie, there's no more need for the country simulcast on WRWD (1370 Ellenville), so that small AM signal becomes WELG, with standards. (Its original calls, WELV, are now in use on an LPFM in Ellenville on 107.9.)

An early Buffalo traffic reporter has died. Jack Sharpe was working at WEBR (970, now WNED) when he became the second helicopter-borne traffic reporter in the nation in 1959. He left WEBR in 1974 to spend 15 years as town supervisor in Amherst. Sharpe was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1999. He was 80 years old.

*Some changes are on the way at Clear Channel's RHODE ISLAND talk station: WHJJ (920 Providence) is replacing longtime afternoon fixture Arlene Violet with the syndicated Sean Hannity show, effective today.

Also out is midday host Howie Barte; in his place, the station will move Helen Glover's local show to 12-3 PM, filling her former late morning slot with the Pittsburgh-based Quinn and Rose show on delay, from 9-12.

Violet, who served as Rhode Island's attorney general from 1985-1987, had been with WHJJ for 16 years. She says Clear Channel will pay her nine months' salary to end her contract, which was to have run through 2008.

*Our best wishes for a speedy recovery to NEW HAMPSHIRE TV meteorologist Josh Judge of WMUR (Channel 9) in Manchester, who was injured in a hit-and-run accident early Friday morning in Windham. Judge was airlifted to Mass General after the crash, where he was reported in good condition over the weekend. Police have an arrest warrant out for a Salem man who admitted he was driving the other car and left the scene.

*A veteran VERMONT station manager has moved on to a new phase in her career. After 22 years in radio, Karen Marshall left Clear Channel Burlington, where she'd been general manager, in late November, and has started a new job as Northern New England area sales manager with Comcast's Spotlight advertising division. Tom Barney takes over as general manager at Clear Channel Burlington.

*In CANADA, CBC-TV is pulling the plug on its 6 PM "Canada Now" national newscast. As part of its plan to return its local stations to more local identities, "Canada Now" will begin to be phased out next spring, starting at CBUT in Vancouver. In its place, local CBC stations will return to the hourlong 6 PM newscasts they had been doing before the introduction of "Canada Now" a few years back.

At Montreal's CINW (940), they're mourning business editor Patrick Letang, who chronicled his battle with colon and liver cancer on a blog he kept on the Corus talk station's website. Pat was also a frequent contributor to several industry message boards, keeping us all abreast of the latest developments on Montreal's radio scene. He died Wednesday (Dec. 6) at age 46, survived by his three sons, Justin, Jordan and Jeremy and his wife Ana.

Another Montreal obituary: Jack Finnigan, a veteran host at CJAD (800), died Dec. 2 of diabetes and heart disease. Finnigan, who'd been with CJAD since 1972, was 65.

And in Kingston, CFFX (Oldies 960) has lost its morning host. "Andy K," whose real name was Andy Kuhn, died last Monday (Dec. 4) of pneumonia. His long career took him to stations such as CFOX, CHOM and CKGM in Montreal and CHUM in Toronto, and he was a frequent guest at the "Monday Nighter" radio gatherings in Toronto.

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!)

December 12, 2005 -

  • Three northeast PENNSYLVANIA radio stations will be able to stay on the air under new ownership, now that the FCC has agreed to allow their owner, who was convicted of child-molestation charges, to sell the stations rather than to surrender their licenses. Regular NERW readers already know the background here: Doug Lane, longtime owner of WWDL (104.9 Scranton, now WWRR), WICK (1400 Scranton) and WYCK (1340 Plains), was arrested in March 2004. Prosecutors say Lane's history of molesting teenage boys extended back several decades, with the statute of limitations having expired on some of the earliest incidents.
  • In the past, the FCC has handled similar charges against licensees (most notably Michael Rice, who owned stations in Missouri and Indiana) by revoking the stations' licenses - and indeed, to this day, Rice's former frequencies in Columbia, Missouri and Terre Haute, Indiana remain dark. In this case, though, prosecutors in Lackawanna County had a different idea. They asked the FCC to allow Lane to sell the stations to Bold Gold Media, which owns four nearby stations (WDNH/WPSN in Honesdale, WYCY in Hawley and WDNB in Jeffersonville, N.Y.) and which has been operating the Scranton stations under an LMA for several months. Out of the $1.9 million sale price for the stations, $300,000 would be set aside for reimbursement to victims and for contributions to victim-assistance agencies. The remainder would be put into a court-supervised account, with the money (plus interest) going to Lane if he wins the appeal of his conviction and to the county if the conviction stands on appeal.
  • There's probably nothing we can add to the media hype surrounding the impending departure of Howard Stern from terrestrial radio, so we won't even try. But there is some news surrounding his NEW YORK flagship station: the calls will apparently change from WXRK to WFNY-FM when it becomes "92.3 Free FM" in January (the WFNY calls are also in use on AM and for an LPTV up in Gloversville, and we're sure owner Michael Sleezer got a nice deal from Infinity to share them for New York City use.) The new WFNY-FM will have a new manager, as Mark Chernoff gets promoted from operations director at WFAN to VP/programming for both WFAN and WFNY-FM. And current WXRK afternoon guy Chris Booker will stay with 92.3 in its new incarnation, handling evenings.
  • CANADA's regulators are getting impatient with Aboriginal Voices Radio's repeated requests for extensions of time to build its stations in British Columbia, Calgary, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa. AVR, which currently operates only one station, Toronto's CFIE (106.5), asked the CRTC last week for a sixth extension in Ottawa and a second extension in Montreal (including an extension of time to find an alternate frequency, since it was denied its initial choice of 100.1), among other requests. The CRTC says it's putting AVR "on notice" that it will use this proceeding to decide whether to grant the broadcaster any further extensions for its unbuilt stations. In documents filed with the CRTC, AVR indicates that it still hasn't purchased a transmitter for the Ottawa station, and that similar purchases for Montreal are on hold until a new frequency (tentatively 106.7) is approved.

December 10, 2001 -

  • Listeners to Sporting News Radio in northern NEW JERSEY have long complained about the phasing problems that have made WSNR (620 Newark) almost unlistenable in most of the area. But if the Sporting News flagship is granted its latest application, those problems will be replaced by a powerful signal over the region. In its application, WSNR wants to build seven new towers (painted, lit and 107 meters tall!) in the Hatfield Swamp of West Caldwell, near where US 46, I-80 and I-280 all meet. That's not very far from the site in Livingston that AM 620 used for much of its life (as WVNJ, WSKQ and WXLX) before losing the land to residential development. Since that site was leveled in 1998, 620 (under later calls of WJWR and WSNR) has used a five-tower array it built just south of WLIB (1190 New York) in the Lyndhurst, N.J. tower farm. But while that site offered decent penetration into Manhattan, it forced 620 to throw a null over the very areas in New Jersey it was licensed to serve. That problem should be solved if WSNR is granted this application, which calls for 8200 watts day (from all seven towers) and 5000 watts at night (from five of the seven). We'll keep you posted...
  • We'll skip down to DELAWARE for the next bit of news: the return of WNRK (1260 Newark) to the airwaves. Local observers had given this one up for dead when it lost its transmitter site to development (detect a theme this week?) and signed off June 25, but we're happy to report that the station returned to the air November 21. The National Radio Club's DX News reports this week that WNRK was purchased by John Vincent (owner of nearby WAMS 1600 in Dover), who's got the station running Christmas tunes from a 197-foot longwire antenna at a site less than 1000 feet from the old WNRK location. The plans for WNRK call for its new 250-watt nondirectional signal to move to a Valcom fiberglass antenna (like the one in use at WSHP 1480 Shippensburg PA and proposed for WGCH 1490 Greenwich CT) sometime next year.
  • It's all about history in CANADA this week: Wednesday (Dec. 12) marks the centenary of Marconi's transmission of the Morse letter "S" to Signal Hill in St. John's, Newfoundland from Poldhu, Wales, and several big celebrations are planned. The CBC is pulling out all the stops for a "Tuning the World" special that will run from 8:30 AM until 1 PM on Wednesday on Radio One, featuring live broadcasts from around the world. There's more going on as well on the CBC; check out their special site at for all the details. (LATE UPDATE: A labor-management dispute at the CBC forced the cancellation of the live portions of the broadcast; taped segments were heard for much of the day on shows such as "This Morning" and "Ideas".)

New England Radio Watch, December 10-12, 1996

  • Salem Broadcasting is wasting no time exercising its option to buy Boston's WBNW (590) from Back Bay Broadcasting. As of Sunday morning, December 15, WBNW will drop its business news and talk format to become the latest outlet in Salem's chain of religious and conservative-talk stations. WBNW was the product of American Radio Systems' purchase of the call letters and format of the old WEEI (590) in August 1994. At that time, ARS was not permitted to own three AMs in Boston, so it took the WEEI calls and sports format to the former WHDH (850), kept its talker WRKO (680), and sold the 590 facility to broadcaster Peter Ottmar, who also owned WARA (1320 Attleboro MA) and WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket-Providence RI). After a few weeks of rebroadcasting WEEI, WBNW debuted in September 1994 with a mix of Bloomberg Business News, local business talk, and satellite talk such as Bruce Williams.
  • WBNW's salespeople were dismissed on Monday, and it's not clear whether any of WBNW's other staffers (mostly board operators) will stay on under Salem. WBNW is likely to move from its current studios, the old WEEI facility in the Schrafft Center in Charlestown, to the studios of Salem's existing Boston operation, WEZE (1260), in Marina Bay, Quincy.
  • Salem will move WBNW out of its studios in the Schraffts Center in Charlestown (where 590 has been located since 1990, when it was still all-news WEEI -- how long ago that now seems!), and into the WEZE studios in Marina Bay, Quincy. A published report in the Boston Globe quotes WEZE execs as complaining about the high rent they'll also inherit for the 590 transmitter site in Medford...but there's not much they can do about that, NERW thinks. The existing 1260 site, south of Boston in Milton, Mass., would not be suitable for 590.
  • Fans of the Bloomberg business programming formerly heard on 590 won't be completely out of luck. WADN (1120) in Concord announced that it will be picking up Bloomberg business reports several times hourly during the day, as well as carrying three hour-long blocks of Bloomberg programming. WADN's signal outside the western suburbs is spotty to non-existent, though, and the business news isn't exactly an ideal fit to the station's nominal format of folk music. On the other hand, WADN is also reported to be in financial trouble, and anything that can draw a few more listeners will probably be tried out there.
  • One more brand-new station out there: WSHX is now on the air at 95.7 from Danville VT, joining sister stations WNCS (104.7 Montpelier VT) and WRJT (103.1 Royalton VT) as AAA "The Point." With the addition of WSHX in the Northeast Kingdom region, Northeast Broadcasting now reaches most of Northern and Central Vermont, from just north of Rutland up to the Canadian border. The Northeast Kingdom is getting awfully over-radioed, as WSHX joins existing AM-FM combos WIKE 1490 Newport/WMOO 92.1 Derby Center (locally owned and operated by Tom Steele), WSTJ 1340/WNKV 105.5 St. Johnsbury (which also own WMTK 106.3 Littleton NH), and WGMT 98.3 Lyndon, which holds a CP to increase power and move to 97.7. All that for a few thousand people and a lot of cows...yes, there's a reason Tom named his FM "WMOO"!
  • A familiar voice has returned to the Boston airwaves on WROR (105.7 Framingham-Boston). Joe Martelle, the longtime morning host at the original WROR (98.5, now WBMX) began his new afternoon shift at the new 'ROR last week, after his non-compete agreement with WBMX came to an end. It's been more than a year since Martelle's been heard in Boston; he was sidelined by illness, then ousted from his morning spot at WBMX in favor of John Lander.
  • The holiday spirit is in full swing on the New Hampshire seacoast, as WSTG (102.1 Hampton NH) returns to an all-holiday music format for the second year in a row. "The Stage" used holiday music for all of last December as a transition from its old "Seacoast 102" AC format to the current mix of AC and standards. This year's run of holiday music started December 1 and will last through Christmas.
  • Sold!: Clear Channel Communications has closed on its purchase of Radio Equity Partners, creating a new radio-TV combo in the Providence market, as WWBB (101.5 Providence, oldies "B101") and WWRX (103.7 Westerly, classic rock "WRX") join CBS affiliate WPRI-TV 12 under the Clear Channel umbrella. The deal also gives Clear Channel WHYN and WHYN-FM in Springfield MA. WHYN is a news-talker on 560, and WHYN-FM is hot AC on 93.1. Congratulations to WHYN PD Gary James and the staff, by the way, for what NERW hears was a phenomenally successful reunion sock hop last month!
  • Also closed is the deal that transfers news/sports WNEZ (910 New Britain-Hartford CT) from American Radio Systems to Mega Spanish Broadcasters. Look for a format change at WNEZ any day now; we'll keep you posted.

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*It's here! As seen in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Omaha World-Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times, Tower Site Calendar 2007 is now shipping!

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.

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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.