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November 10, 2008

No Snow - But Lots of Holiday Music

*On Friday afternoon, your editor happily strolled down the street in shirtsleeves to grab some lunch, enjoying the sunny, sixty-something weather and wondering if it had been premature to put away the shorts for the season.

But you wouldn't know that it still feels almost like summer out there if you turn on the radio anywhere from upstate NEW YORK to - well, almost anywhere in NERW-land, actually, as stations all over the place seem to equate "first week of November" with "Christmas," at least where their playlists are concerned.

Utica's WUMX (102.5 Rome) was the first in the Empire State to make the flip last week, transforming "Mix 102.5" into "Christ-mix" for the duration. Also along for the sleigh ride is Galaxy sister station WZUN (102.1 Phoenix), playing holiday tunes for the Syracuse market.

Across town, Clear Channel's WYYY (94.5 Syracuse) is still playing its usual AC tunes on the air, but its webstream is "100% Christmas music," an odd twist on the increasingly common practice of adding an all-Santa stream that's separate from a station's regular on-air/on-line programming.

And Utica and Syracuse are hardly the only markets in NERW-land suddenly spinning Bobby Darin and Burl Ives instead of Matchbox 20 and Sara Bareilles - read on and we'll have the others, later in this week's column.

*Elsewhere in the state, budget cutbacks at Citadel claimed two jobs at the Buffalo cluster last week: morning co-host Gail Ann Huber is out at "Mix" WHTT (104.1), and night guy Slick Tom is gone at "97 Rock," WGRF (96.9). Will Citadel's other upstate cluster, in Syracuse, see cuts as well?

At Ithaca's WFIZ (95.5 Odessa), Corey P moves north from Atlanta's WWWQ (99.7), where he was a part-timer, to take the night shift vacated by PD Justin Wright in his move to mornings.

Here in Rochester, Clear Channel is revving up the publicity machine for next week's return of Brother Wease on "Fox" WFXF (95.1 Honeoye Falls) - but we're sure it was just a coincidence that the press release about Wease's return was issued just a day before the local paper deigned to finally print a story confirming the November 17 launch date for the revived Wease morning show (and all the staffing information you read about here back in our October 27 issue...)

One more Wease note: his morning-show debut will be preceded by the return of his popular Saturday music show, which starts at 10 AM November 15.

Could Albany be getting a new AM signal? Charles Hecht and Alfredo Alonso are applying to move unbuilt WVVT (670) from Essex Junction, in the Burlington, VERMONT market, south to East Greenbush, New York.

The relocated WVVT would run 15 kW by day, 11 kW critical hours and 260 watts at night from four of the six towers of WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer), shooting north into Albany with what would be a fairly substantial daytime signal.

If the new WVVT is to take air from Albany, it will have to do so fairly quickly: the station's construction permit expires in August 2009, though the construction deadline could be extended if it's sold to a small-business owner before that.

On Long Island, Dana DiDonato is exiting the morning shift at WBLI (106.1 Patchogue), leaving a big opening for PD Jeremy Rice to fill when she departs at the end of the year.

In TV news, Buffalo's WKBW (Channel 7) is using its 50th anniversary this year to bring back a name and a music package that were synonymous with the station's glory years.

"7 News" recently gave way to "Eyewitness News" on the station's newscasts, and the nondescript theme music of recent years is gone, replaced by the throbbing pulse of the "Move Closer to Your World" theme that was a Channel 7 staple all through the seventies, eighties and nineties. Will the combination of "new" music and a shakeup in viewing habits from market leader WIVB (Channel 4)'s recently-resolved carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable bring viewers back to Channel 7, which slipped precipitously from first place to third earlier in the decade? Stay tuned....

Up in Plattsburgh, WPTZ (Channel 5) has a new news director: Sinan Sidar moves within the Hearst-Argyle family (where he was assistant news director at KOAT in Albuquerque), just as his predecessor Kyle Grimes (now at WPBF in West Palm Beach) did. Sidar has roots in the region: he's a native of Ottawa and a graduate of Syracuse University.

*The CONNECTICUT FM station that's moving across the border into New York State is changing its proposed transmitter site.

WCTZ (96.7 Stamford) holds a construction permit to change city of license to Port Chester, N.Y., with a new transmitter location in Roslyn, on the North Shore of Long Island - but now it's filed a revised application that would instead move the transmitter to Westchester County.

The new application calls for 3.3 kW/446' from the Archdiocese of New York's instructional TV tower on Seminary Avenue in Yonkers - a site that just happens to provide predicted 60 dBu coverage of most of Westchester and Rockland counties, Bergen County, N.J. - and, oh yeah, all of the Bronx and most of Manhattan and Queens, not to mention a chunk of northern Nassau County.

To make the move possible, another station on 96.7 has to move: Jim Morley's WTSX (96.7 Port Jervis), which had already agreed to install a directional antenna to make WCTZ's move to Long Island happen, has now filed a contingent application that would move the station to Lehman Township, PENNSYLVANIA, in the sparsely-populated mountains near the Delaware Water Gap. From there, the relocated WTSX would put a fringe signal into Stroudsburg, as well as over parts of Sussex and Warren counties in New Jersey.

What will Cox do with WCTZ once it's moved? That's anyone's guess - though we did catch the hint, over in Tom Taylor's daily column at, that Bloomberg Radio might be seeking an FM facility to go along with its WBBR (1130)...

*A venerable CONNECTICUT AM signal was the subject of a controversial FCC ruling last week.

Since 1941, CBS Radio's WTIC (1080 Hartford) has operated with an unusual privilege: rather than switching from its daytime non-directional operation to its nighttime two-tower array at Hartford sunset, it makes the flip an hour or so later, when the sun sets at the other big station on 1080, co-owned KRLD (1080 Dallas).

But in Michigan, a proposed upgrade to Detroit-market WCAR (1090) required a move to adjacent-channel WOAP (1080 Owosso) - and in the process of relocating that station from the Flint market to the Lansing market (with a new city of license - "neighborhood of license," really - of Waverly, Michigan), WOAP asked the FCC to clarify WTIC's protection status during the time between sunset in Hartford and Dallas.

In a decision released last week, the FCC's Media Bureau sided with the Michigan station, noting - incorrectly, as it happens - that two other stations on 1080 already impinge on the extra coverage WTIC enjoys during its extended hours of daytime-mode operation. (It's true that WKJK in Louisville, Kentucky is a full-time signal, but the Commission's decision inaccurately identifies Pittsburgh daytimer WWNL as a full-time station; indeed, WWNL reduces power from 50 kW to 25 kW during critical hours to protect WTIC.)

The FCC also rejected WTIC's claims that its status as a "Primary Entry Point" to the EAS system merited continued protection of the extra hours of operation. And it said CBS had failed to prove its case that Waverly doesn't qualify as a community of license for the relocated, 50 kW WOAP.

So what does it all mean? Assuming the ruling stands - and we suspect CBS has plenty of grounds to appeal - WTIC's skywave signal will receive a little extra interference from the new WOAP in the brief time (as little as half an hour at some points during the year) between sunset in Hartford and sunset in Michigan, when WOAP will drop to a directional 4500-watt signal.

That, by itself, is no big deal - but does it set a precedent that could affect the few other stations with similar extended daytime operation? We know of at least two - Disney's WQEW (1560 New York), which remains on day pattern until sunset at Bakersfield, California's KNZR (1560), and Clear Channel's WCKY (1530 Cincinnati), which stays on day pattern until sunset at co-owned KFBK in Sacramento.

*Over at Radio Towers Park in New Haven, Clear Channel's WELI (960) has made some changes in its afternoon lineup. After less than four months, Tom Scott is out as co-host of the 5-7 PM weekday talk show, leaving Ryan Jordan (who's "Jordan" in his other gig as morning host at Hartford sister station WKSS) handling the shift solo as "Ryan in the Afternoon."

*A sad obituary from NEW JERSEY: Kevin Hodge, who'd worked the overnight shift at New York's WAXQ (104.3) as well as morning drive on WOBM-FM (92.7 Lakewood) and swing shifts on "The Breeze" (WWZY 107.1/WBHX 99.7), died Wednesday morning when a wave swept him off the jetty in the Shark River Inlet where he was fishing. Several onlookers pulled Hodge to the water's edge, reports the Asbury Park Press, but it was too late, and Hodge was pronounced dead a few hours later. Hodge was just 47.


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*The head of the NEW HAMPSHIRE Association of Broadcasters has died. Al Sprague was a force to be reckoned with on the Granite State media scene, as an advertising executive (for 19 years, he owned his own firm, bGG Advertising), a public relations specialist and, dearest to his heart, as an actor. Sprague died last Monday (Nov. 3) at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.; he was 62.

There's Christmas music in the air in Keene, but not on a full-power station. For the last few months, Saga's W276CB (103.1) had been simulcasting WZBK (1220 Keene), which itself recently flipped from standards to a simulcast of progressive talk WKVT (1490 Brattleboro VT). But Saga's been taking advantage of the recent FCC policy change that allows translators to simulcast the subchannels of FM HD signals - and so last week, 103.1 flipped to a simulcast of the HD3 channel of WKNE (103.7 Keene), which is carrying holiday tunes.

Will it go back to a WZBK simulcast in 2009 - or is there a new "station" on the way to southwestern New Hampshire?

*There's a new FM-on-AM translator coming to the New Hampshire-MASSACHUSETTS state line: Costa-Eagle is paying Airport Investors a whopping $65,000 for the construction permit to W275BH (102.9 Newton NH). We'd expect the translator to move south at some point, to relay one of Costa-Eagle's three AM signals in the area - Spanish-language WNNW (800 Lawrence) and WCEC (1490 Haverhill), or English-language WCCM (1110 Salem).

There's Christmas music in Boston, too: CBS Radio's WODS (103.3 Boston) and Greater Media's WROR (105.7 Framingham) both kicked off their all-sleighbells formats on Thursday (Nov. 6), almost a week earlier than last year's Nov. 12 flips at both stations.

It's interesting to notice the polarization of views on such early flips: while there are plenty of regular listeners who say they're turned off by holiday music in early November - just look at the comment section attached to WBZ-TV's story about the flips - there's also solid ratings evidence in recent years to show that the flips bring in added audience, no matter how early they happen. (And WODS wouldn't have been doing this every year since 2003 if it didn't work, right?)

Congratulations are in order to two Bay State radio icons: WRKO's Howie Carr and the late Jess Cain of WHDH were both inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in ceremonies Saturday night in Chicago.

The two Boston broadcasters joined a roster of 2008 inductees that included the late Bob Collins of Chicago's WGN, "Coast to Coast" host Art Bell, LA's Charlie Tuna and Dick Whittinghill and Mickey Luckoff, legendary manager of San Francisco's KGO. The event also included the induction of "Focus on the Family," a choice that prompted controversy and protests from those opposed to the show's political and cultural stances. (As a result, it's likely that next year's awards will use some method other than on-line voting to choose inductees.)

*A small RHODE ISLAND AM signal is getting some broader FM reach. New England Christian Radio, Inc., owner of WSTL (1220 Providence), is paying Calvary Radio Network $50,000 for W229AN (93.7 Providence).

The translator, currently silent, is licensed with 10 watts from a hilltop in Cranston, but has a pending application for 30 watts from the WSTL tower in the Seekonk River just across from downtown Providence - as well as a pending application for special temporary authority to relay WSTL's programming.

On the "ho-ho-ho" front: Clear Channel's WWBB (101.5 Providence) made the all-Christmas flip late last week, and the rumor mill is churning with suggestions that Citadel's WWLI (105.1) will follow suit as soon as today. This is the first year that B101 - er, "Christmas 101" - has made the flip; in previous years, it's been sister station WSNE (93.3 Taunton MA) that's been among the first in the country to deck the proverbial halls.

*In VERMONT, Louie Manno's return to radio after several years as a deli owner has come to at least a temporary halt: with the sudden flip to all-Christmas at WLFE (102.3 St. Albans) on Wednesday morning, Manno is out as that station's morning man. Will WLFE return to country when the holidays are over? It sounds like a change may be coming up north...

Over at Ken Squier's Radio Vermont cluster, Dana Jewell has retired after a decade as morning co-host at WDEV (550 Waterbury)/WDEV-FM (96.1 Warren). He's been replaced by Jon Noyes, who's done sports play-by-play for the stations. And with the departure of Rich Haskell from the news director's chair at WDEV (he's now part of the morning show at Burlington's "Champ" WCPV), former WCAX-TV sports anchor Brad Wright takes that post, reports the weekly Seven Days.

*Some TV news from MAINE: WCSH (Channel 6)'s contract to produce a 10 PM newscast for CW affiliate WPXT (Channel 51) has ended. The 10 PM show continues - but now it's being seen on the digital subchannels of WCSH-DT and its Bangor sister station, WLBZ-DT, instead.

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*In central PENNSYLVANIA, Citadel's cutbacks last week included two high-profile talents in the Harrisburg market: Brad Flick, who's been in the market 17 years, is out as morning co-host and newsman at WCAT-FM (102.3 Carlisle). Also out is "Red 102.3" PD Will Robinson, who'd been there four years. Morning host Rich Creeger was upped from assistant PD to PD, and part-timer Alex Harvey is doing afternoons there for now.

Ryan Seacrest's "On Air" is coming to Pittsburgh: the LA-based show started last week in the 1-4 PM slot on Clear Channel's "Kiss" WKST-FM (96.1). Meanwhile, holiday tunes have arrived in the Steel City, too, courtesy of Renda's WSHH (99.7), which made the flip over the weekend.

Up along the border with western New York, Farm & Home Broadcasting is selling WFRM-FM (96.7 Coudersport) to Backyard Broadcasting. Once WFRM-FM builds out its CP to move to Portville, New York, the $325,000 sale will make 96.7 a sister station to Backyard's existing duo in the Olean market, WPIG (95.7) and WHLD (1450). WFRM(AM) is not included in the deal, which Ray Rosenblum brokered for Farm & Home.

And in Philadelphia, they're mourning Austin Culmer, who died Oct. 30 at age 82. Culmer's day job was at the U.S. Postal Service, where he served as a public information officer, but at night he was the city's first African-American talk host, working at stations that included WHAT, WWDB and most notably WCAU, where he held down the all-night shift for several years beginning in 1984.

In TV news, some big changes are coming to Comcast's regional "CN8" channel, which has been programming talk, sports and some news since 1996 to an area that started out just as Philadelphia and south Jersey, but has since spread south to Washington and north to Boston and even southern Maine.

Early next year, Comcast will drop the network from its New England systems, where it's always been something of a second fiddle to New England Cable News, in which Comcast is a minority partner. (Indeed, CN8 vanished entirely from Comcast's analog tier a while back, and had been seen somewhere up on a triple-digit spot in the digital lineup.)

The "CN8" name, a misnomer on many systems, will also go away, replaced by "The Comcast Network" and a stripped-down staff and programming lineup. Comcast says "a majority" of the channel's 300 employees will lose their jobs in the transition.

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*One obituary from CANADA: Norm Marshall died last Wednesday (Nov. 5), closing a career that began in the thirties, when he was a child singer on CKTB in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Marshall moved to CHML in Hamilton in 1940, quickly becoming an on-air fixture there as sports director and voice of the Tiger-Cats football team. While he left Hamilton for work in Buffalo, Montreal and Detroit, Marshall returned in the mid-sixties to become sports director and, for twenty years, news anchor at CHCH-TV (Channel 11), where he became a Hamilton institution until his retirement in 1987.

Marshall also taught at Mohawk College for more than a decade, and worked in public relations as founder of Norm Marshall and Associates. Marshall was 89; he would have turned 90 in just a few days.

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!)

November 12, 2007 -

  • It's always nice to see radio stations join together to raise money for a good cause - but the impromptu collaboration of an entire NEW HAMPSHIRE radio market last week was truly something to behold. We told you last week that Pauline Loyd (aka "Polly Robbins" of WWOD, WXLF, WNTK and several other Upper Valley stations) was struggling in her fight against breast cancer, and even as we were typing our news item, those stations were banding together for a one-day radiothon to raise money in Pauline's name.
  • "Polly's Think Pink Radiothon" took over the airwaves of pretty much the entire market - all the stations owned by Koor Communications, Nassau Broadcasting, Great Eastern and Dartnouth's WFRD/WDCR - for a 13-hour simulcast last Thursday based at a phone bank at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth College. It's a small market, but by the time the phones stopped ringing and the simulcast ended Thursday night, the effort had raised over $37,000. Nice work, and a tribute to the good work broadcasters can do when they work together.
  • Our NEW YORK news starts in Buffalo, where cutbacks at Entercom claimed the jobs of the entire airstaff at WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield) on Friday. PD Hank Dole remains in place, with automation running on the air while part-timers are brought in to replace the former "Lake Guides." Also out, we're told, is Brian B. Wilde, music director/APD at WKSE (Kiss 98.5).
  • "Wake up with Whoopi" is losing big-market affiliates right and left - first Chicago's WLIT dropped Whoopi Goldberg's New York-based show, and now in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, Philadelphia's WISX (My 106.1) has pulled Goldberg off its schedule, effective last Friday morning. She's being replaced by former WISX afternoon jock Logan.
  • One of CONNECTICUT's oldest TV stations broke ground last week for its new studios. NBC's WVIT (Channel 30) has been in the same facility in West Hartford since it signed on in 1953 as WKNB-TV; sometime in 2009, that building will be demolished and the station will move across the parking lot to the new facility where construction started on Monday.
  • It was a quiet week in eastern CANADA - one station left the air for good (CHUC 1450 in Cobourg, Ontario, which gave way to its FM sister on schedule at 5 PM Wednesday), while one station was new to the airwaves. Religious broadcaster UCB Canada, which already operates CKJJ (102.3 Belleville), put its new signal, CKGW (89.3 Chatham-Kent), on the air Nov. 3 at 11 AM. The new signal had been testing on and off since April, while UCB tried to raise the money it needed to get the station on the air for real.

November 10, 2003 -

  • In NEW YORK, WLTW (106.7 New York) announced last week that it will go to all-Christmas music the Monday after Thanksgiving. That's a move the Clear Channel "Lite" station hasn't made in years past - but then, this year it has competition from Infinity's new "Blink" WNEW (102.7), which was almost certain to try the stunt itself (and still might!)
  • Right in the heart of NERW-land, Rochester's WBBF (93.3 Fairport) also made an early jump. The Entercom oldies station already dropped morning jock Tom George last week; now middayer/PD Dave Radigan is out as well, heading down the hall to the big gun in the cluster, country station WBEE-FM (92.5 Rochester), to do nights.
  • The owner of two Northeast TV stations has died. Bob Smith founded the Smith Broadcasting Group in the eighties, on the heels of a career that already included a stint as an FCC lawyer and in the Carter White House. His holdings in the region at one time included Rochester's WROC-TV and Elmira's WETM; at the time of his death October 28, Smith Broadcasting owned WKTV (Channel 2) in Utica, WFFF (Channel 44) in Burlington VT and several stations in Santa Barbara and Alaska. Smith was just 59; he had been suffering from neuroendocrine cancer.
  • Just in at press time from MASSACHUSETTS is word that Vox's radio empire in Berkshire County is growing again. The owner of WBEC (1420) and WBEC-FM (105.5) in Pittsfield is getting ready to close next month on its purchase of crosstown WUHN (1110) and WUPE (95.9) - and now it's moving north and south on Route 7 with the purchase of Berkshire Broadcasting's WSBS (860) in Great Barrington and WMNB (100.1)/WNAW (1230) in North Adams, leaving only WBRK AM-FM in Pittsfield as radio competition.
  • It sounded like Christmas over the weekend in PENNSYLVANIA, too. WSNI (104.5 Philadelphia) was one of the first stations to go all-Christmas last year, and this year it started even earlier, running a full weekend of holiday tunes before going back to "Sunny" soft AC this morning. (It'll start the Jingle Belling in earnest right after Thanksgiving...)
  • Former Erie station owner Dr. Jerome Koeppel died November 7. Koeppel and partner Don Kelly founded K&K Broadcasting in the eighties and purchased WXKC (99.9) and WRIE (1260) in Erie, as well as WZVU (107.1) in Long Branch, N.J. Koeppel practiced medicine in Baltimore until his retirement two years ago; he was an assistant professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

November 13, 1998 -

  • It's been silent for more than a year, and now AM 1510 in New London, CONNECTICUT is history. The station known for most of its history as WNLC sent its satellite standards format over to the FM side (WNLC-FM 98.7, formerly WXZR, East Lyme) last year and shut down, supposedly to repair serious problems with the eight-tower array in Waterford. WNLC(AM) changed calls to WWJY earlier this year, and in April, notified the FCC it was surrendering its nighttime authority and removing five of the eight towers, leaving it as a 10 kilowatt, 3-tower daytimer...if it ever returned to the air. Now it appears to be gone, which leaves some potential for a certain other station on 1510, WNRB Boston. The presence of WNLC in New London always forced WNRB to have a huge null to the southwest. With WNLC's departure (and the disappearance of CKRS Sherbrooke QC some years back as well), WNRB just might be able to become a much more potent night signal than its current highly-directional 50 kilowatts can manage.
  • Some big changes are on the way to the 1060 frequency in MetroWest. Last week, we reported the FCC had granted Alexander Langer a power boost to 40 kilowatts daytime for the station now known as WJLT. Now we hear that when 1060 powers up, it won't be with WJLT's calls or leased-time religious format. They'll move up the dial, we're told, to "another Langer station that will become a daytimer from a new location"...which sounds an awful lot like WSRO (1470 Marlborough). As for 1060, get ready for local talk (hmm...could that include Upton Bell, who just started a talk show on two Langer stations) and the resurrection of an historic Boston callsign. NERW thinks WGTR would be awfully appropriate...
  • The top story from NEW YORK is still developing at press time. We hear WNEW (102.7 New York) has fired Scott Muni and Dave Herman. Both are longtime station veterans and Muni, in particular, has been associated with WNEW for decades. More on this next week...
  • Moving along to the Albany area, Capstar (er, Chancellor) is starting to make changes at its newest acquisition, WXLE (104.5 Mechanicville). Gone is the "Zone" moniker the station used for the last year or so -- the station's now "Magic 104.5," leading us to wonder if its AAA-leaning modern AC format is heading towards a more mainstream brand of AC.
  • Tuesday is moving day for Rochester's WCMF (96.5), the first of Infinity's Flower City stations to move from the current cramped space in Henrietta to spiffy new digs on the 17th floor of the Marine Midland Plaza downtown. Next to go will be WZNE (94.1 Brighton) and WPXY-FM (97.9, heading for its sixth studio space in 20 years). WRMM-FM (101.3), which was the first station into 3136 S. Winton Road a decade ago (as WEZO), will be the last to move as well. The stations' new address: 1 Marine Midland Plaza, Rochester NY 14604. New phone: 716-262-2720.

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