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July 21, 2008

Route 81 Stations Hit Financial Snag


*The lead financier behind Route 81, the radio group that made a big impact in central PENNSYLVANIA and upstate New York in recent years, has taken over operations of the company's stations after a foreclosure sale last week.

WallerSutton owned 50% of Route 81's clusters in Elmira (WENY AM-FM, WENI AM-FM, WCBA, WGMM), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (WNAK, WCDL, WAZL, WLNP), Carlisle (WHYL) and Coatesville (WCOJ); now its subsidiary WS2K Acquisition has taken control of those stations in the wake of last Monday's foreclosure.

The stations remain on the air under their current management, though we hear there were some problems with last week's paychecks clearing, leaving employees unpaid for several days; we're also hearing there are new owners on the way to WHYL and WAZL. More next week...

(There's a Massachusetts connection to WallerSutton as well; in addition to Route 81, its other radio investment is in J Sports LLC, owner of "ESPN Boston" WAMG 890/WLLH 1400.)

Forever is shuffling its simulcasts in Huntingdon, east of Altoona. It's been a while since the AM/FM pair there has originated its own programming; in 2004, WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) began simulcasting news-talk WFBG (1290 Altoona), while the FM on 106.3, formerly WQHG, shuffled through callsigns as it flipped from a simulcast of oldies WALY (103.9 Bellwood) to "Froggy" country from WFGY (98.1 Altoona). The 106.3 signal changed city of license along the way, too; it's now WFZY, licensed to Mount Union. As of last Monday, WHUN is relaying news-talk WRSC (1390 State College), while WFZY is relaying classic rock WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), with new calls WBSS.

In Pittsburgh, Kiki is departing WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls) after 12 years, most recently as midday jock.

Another Pittsburgh veteran is departing, too - Porky Chedwick, "Your Daddio of the Radio," is moving to Florida now that he's turned 90, and he said farewell to the Steel City in a Friday morning broadcast on WKFB (770 Jeannette), his most recent home on the Pittsburgh dial. reports that the indefatigable Chedwick is already talking about starting a new show once he moves to Florida.

*WCBS-FM (101.1 NEW YORK) news director morning newsman Al Meredith retired last week, ending a 44-year career that started in Long Island at WGBB, WGSM, WGLI and WBLI. Meredith had been with WCBS-FM for 28 years, remaining as public service director during the "Jack FM" interregnum that ended a year ago last week and returning to the morning airwaves when "CBS-FM" relaunched.

Over at Clear Channel's "Power 105" (WWPR 105.1), Geespin is the new APD/music director - but he's not leaving his colleagues at WJMN (94.5 Boston) behind. Just as Cadillac Jack is now serving as PD for both WJMN and WWPR, Geespin will continue to be "mix show coordinator" for the Boston station, and he'll be heard in overnights on both stations as well.

*In Syracuse, the turbulent morning slot at WAQX (95.7 Manlius) is once again vacant. Citadel imported the syndicated "Opie and Anthony" show at many of its rock stations around the country two summers ago, but it left the Alabama-based "Beaner and Ken" in place on 95X until January 2007, when it installed O&A in the morning drive slot that Howard Stern had called home until 2004. (Back then, O&A had appeared on 95X for a short period immediately after Citadel pulled Stern off the air, in a day-delayed edited version of their satellite radio show.)

Turns out Syracuse was no friendlier to O&A than it had been to Beaner and Ken; as of last Monday, the boys from New York are off the air in the Salt City. reports that PD Alexis shifted from middays to mornings for a few days to cover, and now Paulie Scibilia is handling mornings "for the foreseeable future."

There's another Citadel connection to all of this: as they were complaining on-air last week about being dropped from 95X, Opie and Anthony mentioned that they came close to losing their clearance in Buffalo, where they replaced the longtime WEDG (103.3) morning team of Shredd and Ragan in 2006. They're still at WEDG, doing afternoons - was a return to morning drive being considered there?

In the Utica market, WOKR (93.5 Remsen) is applying for an upgrade; it hopes to move from its current 1150 watts/748' from Starr Hill, west of Remsen, to 3 kW/472' from a new tower in East Floyd, east of Rome and north of Utica. The new WOKR signal would be city-grade over Utica, which is now served by a translator, W231BI (94.1).

In Rochester, cutbacks at Stephens Media left Danni, who'd been PD/middays at WZNE (94.1 Brighton), out of a job when she returned from vacation; Terese Taylor adds PD duties at "The Zone" to her existing PD responsibilities for sister stations WRMM (Warm 101.3) and WFKL (Fickle 93.3). Stephens, incidentally, just closed last week on its $13.25 million purchase of the three stations from Entercom; it had been operating them under an LMA.

Where are they now? Kendis Gibson, who got his first big career break a decade or so ago at Rochester's WHEC (Channel 10), is moving from E! to San Diego's new Fox affiliate, where he'll be part of an expanded news team as Tribune's KSWB (Channel 69) segues from CW to Fox early next month.

And we're sorry to report the death of Bobby Murcer, who followed a long career in the outfield for the Yankees, Cubs and Giants with a second career as an analyst on Yankees broadcasts on radio and TV from 1983 until a brain tumor incapacitated him last year. Murcer was 62 when he died at his Oklahoma home on July 12.


Still haven't ordered your 2008 Tower Site Calendar? You do realize that it's, don't you? We're already down to the last 35 or so calendars, and they're going fast. The 2006 and 2007 editions of the calendar sold out, and this one will do so as well, possibly as soon as this month.

This year's edition is a particularly fine one, if we do say so ourselves. From the cover photo of KAST in Astoria, Oregon to the back cover shot of the Blaw-Knox diamond tower at WBNS in Columbus, this year's calendar features 14 all-new full-color shots of famous broadcast sites far and wide. There's KROQ in Los Angeles, KFBK in Sacramento, WESX in Salem, WGAN in Portland, Black Mountain in Vegas, Mount Spokane in Spokane, and many (ok, several) more.

The calendar is just $18 with shipping and handling included - or better yet, beat our move to mandatory subscriptions later this year and get a free calendar with your $60 subscription to NERW for 2008. (Remember, the proceeds from both the calendar and the subscriptions help keep NERW right here on the web, as we head into our fourteenth year of news and analysis.)

So click right here and you can be sure to have your very own Tower Site Calendar 2008! (And thank you!)

The 2008 Tower Site Calendar is dedicated to the memory of Robert Eiselen (1934-2007), whose digital imaging skills made even a bunch of pictures of radio towers look almost like art. His contributions were essential to the calendar's evolution from 2003 to the current edition, and he will be missed dearly.

*A NEW JERSEY morning show is returning to the Garden State airwaves. "Dave and Jerry" left WTKU (98.3 Ocean City) a couple of years ago; now David Allen Pratt (who was doing fill-in at WFPG-FM and WPUR) and Jerry Beebe are returning to the oldies station where they'd been working for well over a decade before they departed.

The longtime anchor of NJN's daily newscast is retiring. Kent Manahan has been with the statewide public TV network for 31 years, most of that time as anchor of the nightly NJN News. Now she's taking advantage of a state employee retirement program, which could lead to her departure as early as August 1, unless the state agrees to extend the deadline. NJN news director Bill Jobes is also retiring at the end of July.

*In CONNECTICUT, Tribune is dramatically increasing the news presence at WTIC-TV (Channel 61). By the end of the month, the Fox affiliate will start its morning newscast at 4:30, 90 minutes earlier than it presently begins, and will run the newscast until 9 AM instead of 8. WTIC-TV is also planning a half-hour 11 PM newscast to complement its existing 10 PM show; it plans to add as many as 25 new staffers to handle the expansion, reports Hartford Business.

*Syndicated morning host Big Boy will take his "neighborhood" to RHODE ISLAND Wednesday to celebrate one of his new affiliates: Citadel's WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket) is picking up the show, hot on the heels of its debut today at New York's WQHT (97.1). Kerry Collins moves from mornings at WWKX back to nights at sister station WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence).

WELH (88.1 Providence) is getting more power. The Wheeler School-owned station has been granted a construction permit to upgrade from its present 100 watts/66' to 1.2 kW/256', directional, from the WNAC-TV tower in Rehoboth, MA. The new signal, like the old one, will be vertical-only - but that could change (and WELH could get a power boost) when WLNE-TV signs its analog channel 6 signal off the air in February 2009.

And we note the passing of Thomas DeAngelis, better known as "Tommy Isuzu" to listeners of WALE and WICE over the years. His unusual nickname came from his day job as a car dealer; he died Tuesday (July 15) at age 50.

*Two MASSACHUSETTS radio giants are being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago this fall. Jess Cain, iconic morning host at WHDH for decades, will enter the hall posthumously, while Howie Carr of WRKO will get to enjoy the honor in person, having edged out Chicago's Steve Dahl and Howard Stern himself for the honor.

*St. Lawrence University's North Country Public Radio (based at WSLU 89.5 Canton NY) is jumping Lake Champlain to add a signal in VERMONT. It's been granted a CP for 160 watts, directional, on 90.5 in Vergennes. Vermont Public Radio withdrew a rival application for the frequency, which will serve the central portion of Lake Champlain but will not put a signal into Burlington, already served by NCPR's WXLU (88.1 Peru NY). North Country was granted another CP last week as well, on 88.1 in Cape Vincent, New York.

*It's a bit warm to be thinking about hockey, even in NEW HAMPSHIRE, but the AHL's Manchester Monarchs are staying busy in the off-season. They've just signed a two-year deal to move their games from Clear Channel's WGIR (610) to Absolute Broadcasting's WGAM (1250 Manchester)/WGHM (900 Nashua). Games will move to sister station WSMN (1590 Nashua) if there's a conflict with the Red Sox in the spring.

WGIR, meanwhile, has signed with Learfield Sports to carry University of New Hampshire sports this fall, including full seasons of football and men's hockey and partial coverage of men's and women's basketball and women's hockey.

On the Seacoast, EMF has pulled the plug on the two on-channel boosters that used to relay the former WMEX (106.5 Farmington), now "Air 1" outlet WNHI. WNHI-FM-1 was in Gilford, while WNHI-FM-2 was atop the old WMEX studios in downtown Rochester; both licenses have been returned and cancelled.

*In MAINE, Saga has finally won license renewals for WBAE (1490 Portland) after a delay of almost four years. What held things up? Letters from two listeners complaining about the station's preemption of its usual Music of Your Life format to carry Portland Sea Dogs baseball. The FCC reminded the complaining listeners that it doesn't interfere in stations' programming decisions,

*There's a PD move in CANADA: Pete Travers makes the long drive up the 401 and the 416 from CFCA (Kool 105.3)/CKKW (Oldies 1090) in Kitchener, Ontario to CKQB (106.9 the Bear) in Ottawa.

And we've just received word that a veteran CRTC staffer is retiring. While CRTC headquarters are in Gatineau, Quebec, the hub of the nation's broadcasting industry is in Toronto, and so the CRTC's regional office there is among the agency's busiest. For many years now, the face of the CRTC in Toronto was Margaret Kennedy, and while her official title was "administrator, CRTC client services," her real role was as a jack-of-all-trades, connecting broadcasters, would-be broadcasters and the public with the documents and information they needed. Kennedy is retiring on Wednesday, and she will be missed greatly by the entire industry.

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!)

July 16, 2007 -

  • It was a huge week in broadcasting at both ends of the Boston-New York axis, and if you're looking for the big developments from the Big Apple, you may want to keep scrolling down a bit - we're leading off this week with some even bigger surprises from eastern MASSACHUSETTS.
  • The first came on the radio side of things, when lawyers for veteran WRKO (680 Boston) afternoon talk host Howie Carr announced last Monday that he would leave the Entercom talk station when his contract expires September 19. Instead, Carr's representatives said, the Boston Herald columnist would take over the morning shift formerly occupied by Don Imus on Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston), the FM talker that's been rapidly eroding the comfortable hold WRKO once had on the city's talk audience. For Carr, the move would mean head-to-head competition with WRKO's floundering Tom Finneran morning show - not to mention a higher salary, a more prominent role in a WTKK lineup that's live and local most of the day, and no more pre-emptions for afternoon Red Sox games. For Entercom, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars to renew its deal with the Red Sox in part to provide a promotional boost for the WRKO lineup, Carr's departure is a potential disaster, since his show represented the biggest revenue draw on the talk station's schedule (as well as a lucrative syndication offering to other stations around New England.)
  • As news of Carr's planned move splashed across the headlines in Boston, things started getting even testier. WRKO, which apparently had declined to exercise a one-year renewal clause in Carr's contract, told the Globe that it had the right to match any offer Carr received from Greater Media. Carr's lawyers responded with a lawsuit seeking to declare that clause unenforceable, thanks to the state's new ban on non-compete contracts - and they noted that while WRKO was willing to match WTKK's salary offer, it couldn't match the other terms of the new deal, most notably the morning slot on the FM dial. Carr was off the air at WRKO for most of the week, but returned on Thursday with a prepared statement that had been drafted for him to read. Any illusion that Carr might have agreed with the words he was reading ("My job is to provide you with the most entertaining and compelling show that I can do each day, not to discuss my personal matters") was carefully shattered with a few "it says here" comments inserted in the reading - and at week's end, the only certainties were that the lawyers on both sides will be paying for plenty of summers on Cape Cod with whatever time they'll lose this summer hashing this mess out, and that we'll be hearing a lot more about Carr's planned move in the next few weeks.
  • Even as Carr's news was all over the papers and websites Tuesday, an even more veteran Boston broadcaster was making headlines of her own. Natalie Jacobson, who's been part of the news team at WCVB (Channel 5) since the station's first day on the air more than 35 years ago, announced that she'll retire from the Hearst-Argyle ABC affiliate after next Wednesday's 6 PM newscast. Jacobson has been an anchor on WCVB since 1976, much of that time spent sharing the anchor desk at 6 and 11 with her former husband, Chet Curtis. He moved to New England Cable News after their 2001 divorce, while Jacobson slowly eased back on her workload at Channel 5, giving up the 11 PM newscast and concentrating on the 6, which she'd been co-anchoring with Ed Harding. Jacobson, 63, told the Globe that she'd been contemplating retirement for a while, and that her decision not to seek renewal of her contract at the end of July came as a surprise to WCVB management when she informed them in late June. We're hearing, though, that the decision may not have been Jacobson's - and the rather abrupt timing of her departure would seem to bear that out. (On the other hand, WCVB has no designated successor to Jacobson, and it will rotate reporters in her anchor chair for a while.)
  • There was just one big radio story in NEW YORK last week, of course, and we pointed the NERW-mobile south and east for the day on Thursday so we could be there as WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) relegated "Jack FM" to its HD2 subchannel and brought the oldies - beg pardon, the "classic hits" back to the main FM channel they'd occupied from 1972 until the abrupt switch to "Jack" in June 2005. That format change two years ago took place with no advance warning and no fanfare, but this time was different. Outside in Times Square, we spotted one lone CBS-FM fan holding a "welcome back" sign (with "Hit the Road, Jack" on the flip side), an echo of the street protests that quickly formed back in 2005 to protest the format flip.
  • Up on the 40th floor of the Viacom building at 1515 Broadway, guests stepping off the elevators saw no sign of "Jack" - just the new-old WCBS-FM logo all over the place, and more than a few magnets and stickers bearing the 2005-era logo adorning cubicles and filing cabinets as well. In the sales office, there was food (including an authentic New York hot dog cart) for invited guests and top CBS Radio management, at a level rarely seen for your usual format change. That included programming VP Greg Strassell, engineering honcho Glynn Walden - and, of course, Dan Mason, the CBS Radio president who's set in motion a whole series of changes since returning to that post a few months ago, including this format flip.
  • At 12:40, general manager Jennifer Donohue (below, left) and PD Brian Thomas (in the background, below left) entered the air studio to administer the last rites, as it were, to Jack. After a series of joking liners during the last day in which "Jack" (voiced by Canadian VO artist Howard Cogan) gets flowers from Bob Shannon ("Who's Bob Shannon?") and an unexpected delivery of moving boxes, the final "Jack" bit found him on the phone with Tony Soprano - and after an abrupt "gotta go," the strains of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" blasted from the speakers, the room applauded, and Jack was off to HD2 retirement. In good "Sopranos" finale fashion, the Journey tune abruptly cut off before its end - and the next sounds heard on 101.1 were radio static, the noise of a jukebox coming up to speed, and the strains of Frank Sinatra singing "Summer Wind," the infamous last song played on the old CBS-FM back in 2005. That, in turn, gave way to a long montage of songs, soundbites and news clips tracking the years from 1964 into the eighties, and as the montage plays on, the crowd in the studio kept growing.
  • As 1:01 PM approached, the montage wrapped up with a greeting from former mayor Ed Koch, acknowledging how rare it is for a big corporation to admit it "blew it," followed by "I Love New York" and the booming WCBS-FM legal ID, voiced - just as in the old days - by Ziggie Pelzer. The room cheered, the Beach Boys' "Do It Again" started playing, Shannon started dancing, and CBS-FM was back on the air.

July 21, 2003 -

  • A short column this week (is everyone away on vacation?) - but some big news to tell you about in MASSACHUSETTS: Sporting News Radio laid off about 20 staffers at its struggling WWZN (1510 Boston) last week, axing its morning show and its ties to the Boston Globe in the process. Among the layoffs announced Friday were morning hosts Kevin Winter and Holden Kushner, who had been doing that shift with Ryen Russillo. Russillo stays with WWZN as part of an expanded "Die Hards" afternoon show (with current hosts Anthony Pepe and Mike Winn); Eddie Andelman and Dave Jageler stay on board as well with their noon-3 PM show, and the station still has the Celtics' broadcast rights. Other than those shows, though, WWZN will now be a relay of Sporting News' national network programming...and Boston has never been a kind market to nationally syndicated sports talk.
  • In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Barry Lunderville is about to add another station to his growing holdings, as he gets ready to take over operation of WMOU (1230 Berlin) from Steven Griffin's Jericho Broadcasting. Lunderville, who owns WLTN (1400 Littleton), WLTN-FM (96.7 Lisbon) and WXXS (102.3 Lancaster), tells the Berlin Daily Sun that he had the chance to buy WMOU three years ago and regretted passing it up. He'll take over with an LMA from Jericho on July 28, adding a simulcast of WLTN-FM's morning show (with local inserts); it appears that WMOU's long-running "Forum" talk show may be over, now that host Rod Ross has left the station and moved to Florida.
  • We'll start our NEW YORK report way out on the East End of Long Island, where WWHL (92.9 Southampton) changed calls to WHBE last week. 92.9 is still carrying the AAA programming of "EHM," while WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) itself has flipped to Bloomberg business news. A call swap is expected; meantime, the WEHM Web site is a confusing mess, with graphics that still proclaim "96-7 EHM" and text that reads "92-9"...
  • In CANADA, CIZN (92.9 Cambridge ON) quietly left the air on Sunday afternoon (7/20), making way for the Monday morning debut of its new incarnation as CJDV (107.5), with higher power and less interference from Buffalo's WBUF - and a new format, too. "Dave 107.5 FM" is playing "80s, 90s and whatever," the latest take on the Canadian trend towards classic hits/hot AC mixes, as seen in Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere on similar stations branded as "Jack" and "Bob." Will the trend head south of the border? We'll be keeping an eye on it...
  • Up in Cottage Country, new CKHA (100.9 Halliburton) signed on over the weekend, playing a wide variety of music with a staff of community volunteers. It's calling itself "Canoe FM," we're told.

July 18, 1998-

  • Can you say "rat's ass" on the radio in Boston? It's a safe bet that the folks at CBS-owned WBCN (104.1) wouldn't give a you-know-what if Howard Stern used the phrase in the morning -- but it was enough to end Bob Lobel's career on the radio side of (also CBS-owned) WBZ last Sunday. The WBZ-TV (Channel 4) sportscaster was hosting his weekly call-in show with Upton Bell when prolific caller "Butch from the Cape" dialed up to offer his comments about the World Cup, including the observation that most native-born Americans probably don't give a -- yes, that phrase -- about the competition.
  • Within seconds, the "batphone" at 1170 Soldiers Field was ringing, as program director Peter Casey ordered "Butch" to be cut off the air. And that was all it took for Lobel to leave the show. In following days, both sides of the controversy took to the pages of Boston newspapers (and to the mailing list associated with NERW) to make their cases. Lobel says he was "censored," while Casey argues that WBZ is a family radio station that shouldn't tolerate the use of such language on the air.
  • In any event, Lobel and Bell have been replaced with Steve DeOssie and Dan Roche for the time being, and "Butch" says he's taken WBZ off his speed-dial. As for us here at NERW, we'll keep you updated if we decide we give a -- oh, never mind!
  • Could Entercom become the new owner of WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WAAF? The radio trades were abuzz this week with rumors that CBS may swap the stations to Entercom, which has no Boston presence right now. Meantime at WBMX (98.5), the only ARS station CBS is keeping in Boston, APD/MD Michelle Engel departs for a PD gig out West at CBS's KBBT in Portland.
  • Lowell may soon be home to a 24-hour Portuguese station, albeit without a license. We're hearing rumors that a "WKNM" will start broadcasting August 2 at 1570 kHz.
  • One big piece of news in MAINE this week, as Mariner Broadcasting completes its set of the Pine Tree State's classical outlets, with the purchase of WAVX (106.9 Thomaston) from Jon LeVeen. Mariner put WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) on the air a few years back, and just took over WPKM (106.3 Scarborough), flipping it to WBQW and a simulcast of "W-Bach." LeVeen tells NERW he's not sure whether Mariner will continue originating programming at WAVX, or whether it will become a third simulcast.
  • Bowing to what we're sure was massive pressure to take its brokered-talk format nationwide, WALE (990) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND is now being heard in Arizona as well. Owner Francis Battaglia just bought KCCF (1100 Cave Creek), and as of this week, the Phoenix-market signal has flipped from adult standards (locally-programmed, no less) to WALE's "Renaissance Radio" mixture of UFO talk, health nostrums, and offbeat politics. We hear much of the programming is coming to KCCF by ordinary phone lines.
  • Call letter changes: WMKB (96.9 Ridgebury PA) in the Elmira market will become WMTT under its new owner, WDBA (107.3 Du Bois). The WMTT calls were last heard in the region on 100.5 in Conklin NY, now WCDW, when it was simulcasting "The Met" classic rock format with WPHD (94.7 Tioga PA) in the Elmira market. And Lyle Robert Evans' new 94.1 in Old Forge will be WDLS, calls last seen on 93.7 in Dallas PA.

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