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June 18, 2007

Barnicle Out at Boston's WTKK

TOWER SITE CALENDAR 2007 - SOLD OUT!!!

*No sooner did Grace Blazer move from WPHT (1210 Philadelphia) to MASSACHUSETTS to take the PD chair at WTKK (96.9 Boston) than the wheels began to spin at the Greater Media FM talker, in a way that will give Blazer plenty of challenges as she starts her Boston tenure.

It's not as though there weren't already challenges at "FM Talk 96.9," beginning with the morning slot that's been officially vacant since the cancellation of the Don Imus show earlier this spring. As of late last week, though, the top contender to replace Imus on WTKK's morning shift says not only doesn't he want the job - but he's leaving the station entirely.

That contender, of course, would be Mike Barnicle, the venerable Boston newspaper columnist and local media icon who's been a star personality on WTKK since its debut. Most recently, Barnicle had been doing the 9-10 AM weekday show, and had added the 6-9 AM Imus shift most days since Imus' ouster.

Now Barnicle says he's busy enough with his work on MSNBC and in print, especially with the 2008 elections looming, that he can't keep doing even his daily hour at WTKK, much less the entire morning shift - and that means some big decisions for Blazer and her bosses. While Barnicle says he'll keep doing the morning show on a fill-in basis for the moment, WTKK is already trying other talent. Tomorrow morning, middayer Michael Graham will fill in, and we wouldn't be surprised to hear other WTKK personalities, such as early-afternoon hosts Marjorie Eagan and Jim Braude and maybe even PM drive talker Jay Severin, trying out for the shift.

If there's any bright side to WTKK's current morning troubles, it's that they come at a time when rival talker WRKO (680 Boston) is in equally dire straits during the daypart, as its Tom Finneran morning show struggles to find a rhythm and ratings.

Is it any wonder we're hearing growing rumblings - not just from Boston, but from his former home market as well - that an Imus return to the airwaves this fall might be a possibility?

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There's more bad news for Christopher Lydon's "Open Source" radio show: it's losing its Boston public radio outlet. Even though the program picked up enough funding (through an appeal to listeners) to keep it in production at least through the summer, its ongoing financial uncertainties finally proved too much for WGBH (89.7 Boston), which is dropping "Open Source" from its prime 7 PM Monday-Thursday slot.

In its place, WGBH (which had also been the home base for "Open Source", through rental of its studios) will expand its evening jazz offerings by another hour, and we'd suspect that means the end of the 7 PM Friday slot for "On the Media," which is at least also heard on WBUR over the weekend.

The loss of WGBH, along with last week's loss of network carriage by Public Radio International, may not be a death blow to "Open Source," which draws many of its listeners through its podcast, but it's not good news, either. Public radio programmers are as susceptible to peer pressure as anyone else, and WGBH is one of the most influential stations in the system.

(And with that said, it's also not at all out of the question that "Open Source" can still survive and even thrive outside the usual public radio system, leaning even more heavily on its podcast as a main distribution mechanism.)

In Worcester, WNEB (1230) makes a break from its usual religious format to add Sean Hannity's syndicated afternoon show.

And down in New Bedford, there's a new listening choice on the dial, via translator. W243BG (96.5) has just signed on, relaying the eclectic music format of WERS (88.9 Boston) to an area that had been on the deep fringe of the Emerson College station's signal. (Rick Levy's Broadcast Signal Lab did the engineering for the 55-watt translator, which broadcasts from the WFHN tower on Pope's Island.)

BEAT THE PASSWORD RUSH! We've been holding out against the inevitable for many years now, but the time has come. After six years of giving away NorthEast Radio Watch for free, and six more years of asking for voluntary subscriptions from our loyal readers, we can no longer deny reality: if NERW is to continue on as the authoritative source of Northeast radio and TV news that it's become, the burden has to be shared across all our readers, not just those who pay for it voluntarily. So this fall, current issues of NERW and most of the NERW archives from 2003 onward will become password-protected for access by paid subscribers only.

(A few recent issues will remain accessible without a password, and we have no intention of excluding anyone who's truly unable to pay from reading the site. You'll be hearing more about those plans in the months to come.)

If you're already a NERW subscriber, nothing will change for you. Before the transition takes place, you'll receive a password and you'll continue to have full access to the site.

If you're not already a NERW subscriber, now's the time to do something about it. By becoming a charter subscriber now, you'll get the benefit of our current low subscription rates, and you'll have no worries about waiting for a password when the changeover happens this fall. And did we mention that you'll be first in line for the Tower Site Calendar 2008, free to our premium subscribers?

We've tried for many years to hold off this financial reality, but it's become hard to ignore. Not long ago, our pal Dave Hughes put part of his excellent DCRTV.com site behind a pay wall, and mandatory subscriptions are an established way of life at LARadio.com and reelradio.com, too, just to name a few. And even with a subscription model, we've just received word that the respected and venerable FMedia! newsletter has gone on what's likely a permanent hiatus.

We have every intention of keeping NERW going strong as we head for our 15th anniversary in 2009, and for many years thereafter, and we're deeply grateful to the many readers who've already come forward with their support in recent years, as well as to the advertisers who've learned how advertising on NERW can reach one of the best audiences in broadcasting at a very economical rate.

If you still haven't subscribed yet for 2007, do it right now at our Support page - and enjoy another exciting year of NERW, guilt-free. And if you have become one of our many subscribers, thank you!

*Albany's WAMC has lost its signal in central CONNECTICUT. The ever-expanding public broadcaster (which recently put new translators on the air in Oneonta at 99.3 and in Warwick at 107.1) had been transmitting from West Peak in Meriden over W220CE (91.9 Southington), a translator owned by WMNR (88.1 Monroe). As of June 1, that relay is over, and W220CE is again rebroadcasting WMNR's own signal. (We're guessing that Connecticut Public Broadcasting's WPKT 90.5 Meriden, which operates from West Peak with many of the same programs that WAMC carries, is glad to see the competition go away; we also strongly suspect that WAMC is far from finished in its attempt to expand its reach to the Nutmeg State.)

*Another major PENNSYLVANIA TV station is moving, and apparently not a moment too soon. Last Thursday, ABC's WPVI (Channel 6) held groundbreaking ceremonies for a new studio facility to be built next door to its 1964-vintage landmark building on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia. The new 110,000-square foot building will go up on land purchased from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. When it opens in 2009, the old building will be used for parking and for expansion space.

But no sooner had WPVI broadcast the groundbreaking event for the new building than a storm front moving through knocked the station completely off the air - and while it soon returned, the station faced an even bigger crisis on Friday, when a construction crew opened a hole in a 6-inch water main, sending a stream of water flooding into the first floor of the old building and forcing the entire staff to evacuate to a field next door, where the station's early-evening "Action News" broadcasts were assembled under a tent.

The water was shut off after about three hours, but the station's still cleaning up. (And after another flood a couple of weeks ago at Hartford's WFSB, and the recent fire at New York's WABC, we understand the folks in Baltimore are looking north and getting a little nervous about what might be coming next...)

Greater Media has completed its move of WJJZ (97.5 Burlington) into the Philadelphia market. Over the weekend, the station turned off its longtime transmitter site in downtown Trenton, signing on a new facility at the Wyndmoor tower it now shares with Clear Channel's WISX (106.1 Philadelphia). We're already hearing reports of a much stronger signal over most of the Philly market - and we're wondering if the next transmitter move will involve WMMR (93.3) and WRNB (107.9), whose Center City site atop the One Liberty tower is now shadowed by the taller Comcast Center skyscraper that just topped off practically next door.

Over at Radio One, Chester Schofield has departed as VP/GM of the cluster, with no replacement named so far.

In Scranton, they're looking for a new midday jock and imaging director after last week's departure of Joe Wowk, aka "Skeeter." He's now being heard, at least part-time, on WCTO (96.1 Easton).

Remember the big move we told you about last week just west of the state line, the one that would have moved WREO (97.1 Ashtabula) from an Erie rimshotter to a Youngstown class A signal? No sooner did we report it than the plan was pulled from FCC consideration. What happened? It sounds to us like some combination of internal politics at Clear Channel, which owns WREO, and possibly the pending deal to sell WREO and its Ashtabula sister stations to a new group called "Sweet Home Ashtabula."

Up on the New York state line, our friends at PBRTV.com report that Bill Dorrion's out as morning host at WQFX (103.1 Russell) and Saturday night oldies jock at WWSE (93.3 Jamestown NY); the syndicated Bob and Tom Show is now being heard in mornings on WQFX.

*Speaking of NEW YORK, there's a change of plans for one Long Island AM station that's been looking to move. Multicultural Broadcasting's WNYG (1440 Babylon) had a pending application to move to Elizabeth, New Jersey and to operate on 1530, effectively replacing Multicultural's WJDM (1530 Elizabeth), which was to have gone silent as part of the FCC's "five-year rule" now that expanded-band sister WWRU (1660 Jersey City) is on the air.

But a change in FCC policy now allows WJDM to stay on the air, and in the meantime Multicultural needs WNYG off its current facilities so it can keep a more lucrative signal, WNSW (1430 Newark NJ) on the air. WNSW faces the impending end to its transmitter-site lease in Union, N.J., and so it has only until the end of July to build out its construction permit for operation from the Clifton, N.J. facilities of sister station WPAT (930 Paterson) - and that CP can only be built out if WNYG moves.

So the latest application calls for WNYG to stay on 1440, but to move out east, to a new city of license of Medford. It would diplex from the two towers of WLIM (1580 Patchogue), running 1000 watts by day and 190 watts at night, a significant increase from its present 38-watt night authorization.

Multicultural is asking for expedited processing of this application; stay tuned to see whether the FCC grants it all in time for these moves to be pulled off.

Where are they now? Former WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) PD Dave Logan has resurfaced on the opposite coast a year after the demise of CBS-FM. He's the new PD at Entercom's "don't-call-it-oldies-anymore" KBSG (97.3 Tacoma).

*VERMONT Public Radio took a big step toward its plans for a two-network future last week when it announced it's buying WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY) from Essex-based Christian Ministries, Inc. The $1.1 million purchase will give VPR a signal for its new VPR Classical service that will serve the state's largest city, Burlington, as well as the Plattsburgh, N.Y. area across Lake Champlain. (WAVX is a 2.7 kW/1074' DA C2 signal broadcasting from just west of Peru, N.Y.)

VPR started the classical service a couple of years ago on WNCH (88.1 Norwich), and recently added WJAN (95.1 Sunderland) to the network. It's also making VPR Classical available as a subchannel on the HD Radio signals of its main-channel stations. We'd expect those stations to eventually transition from a mixture of news and classical to all-news and talk as the classical network increases its distribution across the state.

Christian Ministries will keep its network of "The Light" religious stations across Vermont, based at WGLY (91.5 Bolton); we wouldn't be surprised to see the "Wave" Christian top 40 format that's been on WAVX resurface on an HD2 signal over that network eventually, too.

*MAINE Public Broadcasting Network is facing protests over its cancellation of Robert Skoglund's "Humble Farmer" program. MPBN dropped the show, which had been on the air for 28 years, in a dispute with Skoglund over political commentaries he made during the broadcast. Now a group of state lawmakers has signed a non-binding resolution calling on MPBN to restore the show to its airwaves - while Augusta's Kennebec Journal is calling on Skoglund to drop the commentaries and go back on the air playing music.

*It didn't take long for the TV ownership picture in CANADA to shift yet again after the CRTC denied CTVglobemedia's application to buy the CityTV group of stations (including Toronto's CITY-TV 57) as part of its acquisition of CHUM Ltd.

Rogers, which already had a deal with CTVglobemedia to buy the A-Channel stations (including CKVR Barrie and CFPL-TV London) that were to have been spun off from the CHUM purchase, quickly reworked its deal - and now CTVglobemedia will keep the A-Channel stations and Rogers will end up with the CityTV signals.

For Rogers in Toronto, CITY will pair up with the "Omni" multicultural TV stations the company already owns ("Omni.1" CFMT 47 and "Omni.2" CJMT 44, along with relays in London and Ottawa, where CITY also has relay transmitters), as well as with the Rogers radio cluster that includes CFTR (680 News), CJCL (Fan 590), CJAQ (92.5 Jack FM) and CHFI (98.1).

Perhaps the most visible change will come at street level, where CTV will keep the "ChumCity Building" at 299 Queen Street West, the high-profile home to CityTV (which will move its operations elsewhere within three years) and to the CHUM cable networks (most prominently MuchMusic) that CTV is retaining.

The deal, which also includes the CityTV stations in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, is worth C$375 million.

In other Toronto news, the CRTC has granted new ethnic station CHTO (1690) a transmitter-site move. The station, owned by Canadian Hellenic Toronto Radio, had hoped to build a tower at a site in Scarborough, but was unable to get a building permit there, so it's moved west to a different site in North York.

In Windsor, the CRTC is putting out a call for applicants for a new radio station. Applications are due August 7. The CRTC is also putting out a call for applicants for new HDTV services in most of Canada's big markets, after receiving an application from HDTV Networks Inc. for new services in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and other large cities.

In Quebec City, there's a new development in the long-running saga of Genex's CHOI (98.1), which lost its license over the antics of outspoken ex-morning man Jeff Fillion. Last week, Canada's Supreme Court refused to review Genex's appeal of the license revocation. The station remains on the air under new owners, Radio Nord, which purchased CHOI's non-license assets from Genex last year.

Over in Sherbrooke, Quebec, CJMQ (88.9) gets a power increase, going from 500 watts to 1670 watts to better cover the Eastern Townships. With the demise of CKTS (900 Sherbrooke), CJMQ also gets recategorized as a "Type A" community radio station, since it's now the only local English-language station in the market.

*It's time to wrap up our 2007 baseball previews, now that the short-season class A New York-Penn League is ready to celebrate Opening Day later this week. Here's where you'll find those eager young players on the radio as they try to make "The Show":

The Jamestown Jammers pick up a little bit of radio coverage this year, as local LPFM WRFA-LP (107.9) cooperates with students at Jamestown High School to broadcast four games (and to train the kids at the same time, a noble task indeed!) Our almost-hometown Batavia Muckdogs continue to broadcast their away games on WBSU (89.1 Brockport), with SUNY Brockport students at the mike. The Auburn Doubledays have signed with WAUB (1590 Auburn) to carry their full 76-game schedule this season. Over in the Albany area, the Tri-City Valley Cats will broadcast their full season on WVCR (88.3 Loudonville). The Hudson Valley Renegades continue their full-season coverage on WLNA (1420 Peekskill) and WBNR (1260 Beacon). The Brooklyn Cyclones continue their coverage on WKRB (90.3 Brooklyn), and there's no radio that we can find for the Oneonta Tigers or the Staten Island Yankees.

Crossing the border into Pennsylvania, we find the State College Spikes on WWZW (95.3 Bellefonte) and the Williamsport Crosscutters doing home games on WRLC (91.7).

In New England, the Vermont Lake Monsters are in their second season on WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY)/WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY), while the Lowell Spinners begin their first season with WLLH (1400 Lowell and Lawrence). The Spinners have a new play-by-play guy this year, too, as the "Dream Job" contest they held produces Siena College sports guy Mike Demos to call the games. (Last year, WCAP's Ryan Johnston did the honors, we think.)

Play ball!

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!)

June 19, 2006 -

  • In 43 years on the air, the 100.5 dial spot in Rochester, NEW YORK has seen a few formats come and go - automated beautiful music, "Heart of Gold" full-service AC, "Variety 100.5" AC and "Mix 100.5" hot AC. In all that time, one thing has remained constant, though: the WVOR calls that first appeared on the frequency way back in 1963. As of this past Thursday (June 16) at noon, WVOR's long run on the air is pretty much over. After stunting for a day as all-Dave Matthews "Dave FM," Clear Channel pulled the plug on "Mix," ran one liner jokingly introducing the station as "Country 100.5," announced "just kidding" - and relaunched the station as "100.5 the Drive."
  • While Clear Channel's initial press release described "Drive" as being a AAA (adult album alternative) format, the station appears to be running more of an adult hits format, not all that different from the old "Mix" format with a few more currents added here and there - and remarkably reminiscent of the very earliest days of "Mix," when the format debuted with a rather unusual variety rock approach that, in retrospect, was something of a precursor of the full-on "Jack"-type variety hits stations that came along a few years later. "Mix" was already running with a fairly light airstaff, after the departure of morning man Chuck Kelly earlier this year, and it's now running jockless as "Drive." If the initial positioning holds, the plan seems to be to market "Drive" as a low- to no-personality alternative to Entercom's adult hits "Fickle" (WFKL 93.3) and classic hits "Buzz" (WBZA 98.9). And about those calls - "WVOR" will give way, we're told, to WDVI as soon as the paperwork clears the FCC (and, presumably, the WVOR calls are parked somewhere else in the Clear Channel empire so they can't be grabbed by a competitor.)
  • The word from NEW JERSEY is that WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) has begun testing its new signal on 106.5, licensed to Bass River Township, north of Atlantic City. Are format shuffles on the way among Press Communications' "Breeze" and "G Rock" simulcasts up and down the Shore?
  • In the Scranton market, the standards simulcast between WNAK (730 Nanticoke) and WNAK-FM (94.3 Carbondale) has ended. The FM side flipped last Monday to "Lite 94.3," with the ubiquitous John Tesh in mornings. Standards remain in place on the AM side.

June 17, 2002 -

  • Despite a slew of rumors floating around western MASSACHUSETTS, one of Pittsfield's oldest stations isn't changing hands - at least not yet. Last week, rival station WUPE (95.9) reported that Tele-Media had sold WBEC (1420) and WBEC-FM (105.5) to Vox, the fast-growing group that already has big holdings up in Glens Falls, Vermont and New Hampshire. But a Vox official tells NERW there's no deal to buy WBEC in place.
  • If Tele-Media is selling WBEC, it would be a further exit from a region that it began leaving last year, when it sold its Albany holdings to Pamal and Ed Levine's Galaxy group. That move left the Pennsylvania-based company with the Pittsfield stations, WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY) serving Bennington, Vermont, and WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg NY) up in the Glens Falls market, where Vox is already a strong player.
  • We'll shoot up to MAINE for our next big story this week: after a couple of years doing mornings at Citadel's WCLZ (98.9 Brunswick), Lori Voornas is moving down the hall to a format that might fit her high-energy style better than the laid-back AAA that's played on "98.9 the Point." Voornas, who made a high-profile move from Saga's WMGX to join WCLZ (then WTPN) in 1999, is joining Meredith Manning and Jeff Parsons on the morning show at CHR WJBQ (97.9 Portland), leaving Pete Dubuc alone on wakeup duty at WCLZ for now.
  • Down in CONNECTICUT, a translator may soon leave the air. We hear Southington-licensed W220CE (91.9), which transmits from West Peak in Meriden, will likely be turned off by its owner (the Monroe Board of Education's WMNR 88.1 network), which hasn't had the listenership it expected when it leased space up on the hilltop last year. Another WMNR translator, W220CH (91.9) in West Hartford, has finally made the flip from relaying nearby WWUH (91.3) to WMNR itself, we're told.
  • NEW YORK has a new radio owner, thanks to the $3.5 billion purchase of Hispanic Broadcasting by Univision. The deal means that WCAA (105.9 Newark) and WADO (1280 New York) join forces with Univision's WXTV (Channel 41) and WFUT (Channel 68) to create a high-powered marketing machine for the Big Apple's Spanish-speaking audience (and that's nothing, compared to the combos created in markets like Miami, L.A., and the big Hispanic Texas cities...)
  • The big news out of NEW JERSEY may actually be big news in Philadelphia, at least if you're not the FCC. When WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton) was sold last year, speculation immediately began building about where the big signal could be moved. WSNJ filed an application to move its city of license to tiny Elmer, N.J., which made very little sense to us - but now it's all clear.
  • By "moving" from Bridgeton to Elmer, WSNJ positioned its next move to look even better to the FCC. The station now wants to relocate from Elmer to Pennsauken and change channels to 107.9, downgrading from a full class B facility to a class A. From the FCC's point of view, it's a move from tiny little Elmer to much larger (35,000 instead of 1,571) Pennsauken, neither of which have their own "local" broadcast facility - and thus looks better than a move straight to Pennsauken from larger Bridgeton (which keeps WSNJ's AM sister on 1240 to pacify the FCC.) But from the point of view of WSNJ's new owners, the station will now throw a city-grade signal over 1.5 million more listeners, since (even though Pennsauken is, as WSNJ goes to great lengths to demonstrate, an independent community) the new site would be just across the river from Philadelphia. The move does eliminate short-spacings between WSNJ and WPUR (107.3 Atlantic City), WBYN (107.5 Boyertown), WGTY (107.7 Gettysburg) and WFSI (107.9 Annapolis); it would also force high school station WHHS (107.9 Havertown) and translators W300AD (107.9 Philadelphia, relaying WWFM Trenton) and W300AA (107.9 Levittown, relaying WRDV Warminster) to find new spots on the dial.

June 19, 1997-

  • Brian Dodge is no stranger to FCC controversy, and now he's in for much more. The New Hampshire religious broadcaster is already the subject of a complaint from the New Hampshire attorney general's office of charities, and now he's also the target of a lengthy complaint just filed with the FCC by Carter Broadcasting, with the assistance of several other New England broadcasters. The complaint was just filed yesterday, and NERW's copy has yet to arrive, but stay tuned for a special edition of NERW over the weekend with all the details; and, we hope, a response from Brian Dodge. (2007 update: Ten years later, the FCC has still never acted on the complaint, the full text of which can be read here.)
  • In MAINE, hit radio has returned to the Bangor market after a half-year absence. WBZN (107.3 Old Town) flipped from 70s rock to CHR Wednesday morning, under the consultancy of Clarke Ingram of WPXY in Rochester. The new "Z107" is being run under an LMA by the folks at country WQCB (106.5 Brewer), but will stay in its existing studios in Old Town. The last attempt at hit radio in Bangor came from WWFX (104.7 Belfast), which underwent a species transformation from "the Fox" to "the Bear," WBFB, last fall.
  • One of NEW HAMPSHIRE's oldest radio stations is getting a new owner. WKBR (1250) in Manchester is being sold to Northeast Broadcasting, the company that owns AAA WXRV (92.5) and Spanish WHAV (1490; leased to Costa Communications) in Haverhill MA, along with AAA WNCS (104.7 Montpelier VT) and satellite stations WRJT (103.1 Royalton VT) and WSHX (95.7 Danville VT). No word on how much Northeast (operating under the Devon Broadcasting corporate name) is paying for the 5 kW fulltimer, which is now owned by ethnic broadcaster George Ketrelakis, who bought the station from Bob Bittner a few years ago.

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*If you were waiting for Tower Site Calendar 2007 to go on clearance sale - sorry! As of June 1, the shipping department (which would be Mrs. Fybush, with an occasional assist from Ariel) informs us that the 2007 edition is now SOLD OUT.

Many thanks to all of you who've supported the calendar over the past six years, and stay tuned for details on the even better Tower Site Calendar 2008, for which ordering will begin later this summer. (You can be first on the list for the new edition, which will be back from the printer in early August, by subscribing or renewing at the $60 professional level!) And in the meantime, visit the Fybush.com Store for information on remaining back issues of the Tower Site Calendar.

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 2007 by Scott Fybush.