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November 24, 2008

And The Job Cuts Keep On Coming...

*There's no point in sugar-coating it: these are tough times for the radio business, and that means far too many good radio people are heading into the holidays suddenly jobless.

By our count, about a dozen radio people across NERW-land were added to that list last week, and we begin our report in NEW YORK state:

On Long Island, veteran morning man Steve Harper is out after a year at his latest gig: he'd been PD and morning man at WBEA (101.7 Southold), where budget cuts cost him his job last week. Harper is best known for his years at WBLI (106.1 Patchogue), which, ironically enough, is looking for a new morning co-host at the moment as Dana DiDonato prepares to leave the station at year's end.

We now know what was behind the rumors of a spot on the New York City FM dial for Bloomberg Radio: the New York Times' WQXR (96.3) began outsourcing its newscasts to Bloomberg last week, replacing the hourly newscasts that had originated at the Times newsroom on Eighth Avenue with shorter briefs read by Bloomberg anchors.

The move appears to end the Times' plan to expand its radio news product from WQXR to other stations, and it appears to put two news staffers out of work: news director Steve Knight, after just over two years, and afternoon anchor Kathyrn Herzog, after one year at the station.

There's a change at the top at Emmis' New York cluster (WQHT/WRKS/WRXP), as Dan Halyburton departs his role as senior VP/general manager. He's heading home to Dallas to start a consulting firm, and sales director Alexandra Cameron takes over at the helm of the cluster.

The schedule is shifting a bit at Citadel's WABC (770 New York), where Curtis Sliwa's new syndicated evening show takes him off the 5-6 AM hour he was hosting as a lead-in to Don Imus. Instead, Imus newsman Charles McCord will host the "Imus in the Morning News Hour" in that slot.

As for the Sliwa syndicated show, it will be heard from 10 PM-1 AM on Boston's WTKK (96.9), where Sliwa was briefly occupying that slot with a "local" show he was doing from New York, and on WMAL in Washington and KABC in Los Angeles. Will it end up on WABC's own airwaves? Not on launch day December 1, we're hearing - but maybe at some point down the road. In the meantime, Sliwa continues to do a local WABC show from 10-11:45 AM, while Laura Ingraham's syndicated show is heard, delayed, in that 10 PM slot.

In Syracuse, Citadel's budget cuts claim the job of WNTQ (93.1) midday jock "Big Jim" Donovan after 16 years - and the station's being unusually open about it, including a note from operations manager Tom Mitchell on the 93Q website blaming the move on "a big business slowdown" and saying "we hope to get him back as quickly as possible." reports Mitchell is tracking the 10-noon shift, followed by a noon start for former 2-6 PM jock Rick Roberts and a 5 PM start for Mike Cauchon, who'd been doing 6-11 PM.

A translator swap in western New York: Lloyd Lane, owner of WCJW (1140 Warsaw), is trading W280EB (103.9 Alfred) to Family Life Ministries in exchange for W265BX (100.9 Ossian); both stations have been moved repeatedly in recent months in a chess game that will eventually yield WCJW an FM signal in southern Livingston County to go along with its translators in Warsaw (W279BO 103.7) and its just-debuted W286BQ (105.5) in Batavia.

More all-Christmas radio? Yup - just in time for the first snowfalls of the season, we added Albany's WTRY (98.3 Rotterdam), Rochester rimshotter WVOR (102.3 Canandaigua) and Buffalo's WJYE (96.1) to the list. And in New York, WLTW (106.7) made the flip Friday afternoon at 5, while crosstown competitor WCBS-FM (101.1) has been playing holiday tunes at night and on the weekends - and now it's putting classic hits on its HD2 channel, replacing the last lingering remnants of "Jack" and apparently clearing the way to go all-holiday on the main channel this week.

Back to Long Island for a moment for an update on KCBE (90.7 Napeague) - it appears that those will indeed be the calls for the Community Bible Church's religious station out near Montauk. It will operate from 7 PM-10 AM daily and all day Sunday, with the rest of the time on 90.7 being used by Hamptons Community Radio's WEER East Hampton, which will share a transmitter and antenna with KCBE.

A few more recent grants from the FCC's noncommercial application window: in Cold Brook, just north of Utica, Mars Hill Broadcasting gets 91.1 with 1350 watts/200' DA, while Albany's WAMC has been granted another signal on 90.1 in Stamford, with 200 watts/-161'. And the "FREE103POINT9" collective, which promotes the use of radio in experimental art, has been granted 3300 watts/312' DA on 90.7 in Acra, near Catskill.

On the TV front, stations in Buffalo and Rochester are planning events to help get their viewers ready for the big DTV conversion that's now less than three months away.

In Buffalo, all of the market's stations will cooperate in a two-minute shutoff of programming on their analog signals at 6:28 PM on December 15, to be repeated on January 15. Public broadcaster WNED will host a phone bank that viewers can call with questions about the transition.

Meanwhile in Rochester, public broadcaster WXXI will carry two "DTV 101" broadcasts later today: an hour-long radio call-in at noon on WXXI (1370)'s "1370 Connection," and a live TV broadcast, including demonstrations of converter-box hookups and a phone bank, at 8 PM on WXXI-TV (Channel 21). While there won't be a simulated analog shutdown, there will be a red bar across the bottom of the analog broadcast to alert viewers that their sets aren't ready for the conversion.

(And, yes, there's that disclaimer again: your editor will be a co-host of both WXXI broadcasts...)

Downstate, New York's WNBC (Channel 4) unveiled its new look Monday, complete with new graphics and a new on-air studio immediately adjacent to its seventh-floor newsroom at 30 Rock, replacing the previous news set downstairs in studio 6B.

The moves are the latest piece in NBC's ongoing reinvention of its local news operations, which include job cuts and the eventual addition of an all-news subchannel on WNBC-DT.

There's something else new coming to WNBC and its sister stations: a news-gathering partnership that will find NBC's local newsrooms sharing video with their Fox-owned competitors. The project launched in Philadelphia, where NBC's WCAU (Channel 10) and Fox's WTXF (Channel 29) are already sharing "generic" video such as helicopter shots and fire and crime reports.

And as we go to press Sunday night, there's word of the passing Saturday night of Dave Charity, who came to the New York FM dial in 1975 from WALL (1340) up in Middletown. Charity spent more than a decade at WPLJ (95.5), surviving the station's early-eighties transition from rock to top 40. More recently, from 1990-96, Charity had been heard on WNSR/WMXV (105.1).


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*All-Christmas radio spread across PENNSYLVANIA last week: Philadelphia gained a third ho-ho-caster as WHAT (1340) segued to holiday music from its "Martini Lounge Radio" standards format, which will apparently return in the new year with a different moniker.

In Lancaster, WROZ (101.3) made the flip, as did nearby WARM-FM (103.3 York) and WQFM (92.1 Nanticoke)/WQFN (100.1 Forest City) in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.

In Smethport, WQRM (106.3) changes calls to WXMT under its new owners; we're hearing its country format (which had just arrived in September with new owner Colonial Broadcasting, replacing adult hits "Sam 106") will be replaced with something new after Christmas - and in the meantime, yup, it's holiday tunes there as well.

In Erie, reports a slew of job cuts at Citadel's cluster: afternoon jock Tony Jay is gone from WXKC (99.9), with middayer Ron Arlen's shift extended to 7 PM as a result; down the hall at WXTA (97.9 Edinboro), morning co-host Laurie is out as the station gets ready to pick up a syndicated morning show, sending Truckin' Tom to afternoons and displacing Johnny Marx, who'd just joined WXTA after losing his job at Connoisseur's WTWF (93.9 Fairview).

(And no, this column isn't getting any more enjoyable to write lately...)

Another new noncomm grant: Salt & Light Media Ministries (WGRC Lewisburg) gets 88.5 in Benton, with 1.5 kW/-29' DA, extending its signal into the Bloomsburg-Berwick area.

And we note the passing on November 15 of Beth Diane (Knipe) Skibbe, former owner of WNPV (1440 Lansdale), just shy of what would have been her 79th birthday this week. Last year, Skibbe had transferred most of her interest in the station to her children, who now control licensee WNPV, Inc. She is survived by her children and by her husband, John Skibbe.

*Add an all-Christmas station in NEW JERSEY: Greater Media flipped WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick) last week.

Edited by NERW's own Scott Fybush - on sale now as an e-book or printed volume!

*Progressive talk is returning to eastern MASSACHUSETTS, albeit in a more modest form than Clear Channel's experiment with the format as full-time programming on WKOX (1200)/WXKS (1430) a few years back.

This time, the venue is Blackstrap Broadcasting's WWZN (1510 Boston), and the medium is leased-time, as Jeff Santos, who'd done a weekend show on WKOX/WXKS, signs on to launch a 6-9 AM weekday offering beginning next week. The California-based Peter B. Collins show will be heard at night on WWZN soon, we're told, and if those shows find an audience, progressive talk could displace more of the station's current mixture of sports and religion. (The "Young Guns" sports talk show that had been heard in mornings on WWZN moves to afternoons when Santos launches his show Dec. 1.)

Northeast Broadcasting's WXRV (92.5 Andover) has a new general manager: Donald St. Sauveur, who's worked in sales management capacities at several Boston stations over the last couple of decades (most recently at Entercom's WRKO), took over at "The River" last Monday,

Brockton's WMSX (1410) has been sold again: Hispanic Broadcasting Asset Trust unloads the station for $540,000 to Kingdom Church.

*More budget cutbacks in MAINE: this time, it's Citadel's WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH) that's parted ways with morning man Dean Rogers, a 39-year veteran of Maine radio and an inductee into the Maine Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

*On the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast, WERZ (107.1 Exeter) has flipped to all-Christmas tunes; are changes coming to the Clear Channel CHR signal now that the company is also simulcasting Boston's "Kiss" a few miles away on WSKX (95.3 York Center ME)?

Along the Massachusetts border, it's curtains (or perhaps an empty bowl?) for "Chowder in the Morning," the talk show Arnie Arnesen was hosting on WCCM (1110 Salem). Arnesen's "Political Chowder" TV show continues on WZMY (Channel 50) in Derry.

And here's one that almost slipped by us - but not past the eagle eyes of NERW research director Garrett Wollman: Saga's WSNI (97.7) has applied to change its city of license once again. It was just a few years ago when the former WINQ moved from Winchendon, Massachusetts to Swanzey, NH, and now it's applying to "move" to Keene, though its facilities - already in Keene, up on West Hill - would remain unchanged.

*CBS Radio's budget cuts struck in CONNECTICUT last week: the Hartford Courant reports Dana McKay is gone from nights at WTIC-FM (96.5 Hartford), replaced by the syndicated Billy Bush; across the hall at WRCH (100.5 Farmington), Glenn Colligan is replaced by Delilah on weekend evenings, though he stays on board at WTIC (1080) for the Sunday morning "Tag Sale" show.

One new all-Christmas station to add to the Nutmeg State list: WBMW (106.5 Ledyard) is playing the holiday tunes as of last week.

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*In CANADA, the CRTC doesn't have the final word when it comes to issuing new station licenses. Those decisions can be reviewed at higher levels of the Canadian government, and that's just what happened in the case of two new FM licenses recently awarded in Ottawa-Gatineau.

After considering ten applications for new stations, the CRTC awarded a new signal on 99.7 to Astral Media, which already owns CKQB (106.9), while Frank Torres was awarded 101.9 for a blues station to be known as "Dawg FM."

As we reported in NERW back on Sept. 9, those decisions didn't even have unanimous support within the CRTC - commissioner Michel Mathieu believed Corus' application for a news-talk competitor to CTV's CFRA (580) should have been approved. And now the decisions have run afoul of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, which has referred the matter back to the CRTC for "reconsideration."

"Our Government recognizes radio's contribution to the vitality of Anglophone and Francophone minority communities. In referring the decisions back to the CRTC, we expect that it will reconsider what it decided about radio frequencies in Ottawa-Gatineau," said Minister James Moore in a press release.

"We want the CRTC to determine the views of residents of the region through a public hearing to start in January 2009. This will enable the CRTC to consider all viewpoints and identify the challenges to be met in providing Canadians with broadcasting services suited to their needs," he continued - and if we're reading this right, it sounds as though the government expects the CRTC to replace one of the English-language station grants with one of the French-language applications.

*In Hamilton, the Blue Jays baseball broadcasts are moving next season. After many years on CHML (900), which provided not only Hamilton-area coverage but also a big clear-channel signal over much of the northeastern U.S., the team moves in the spring to CHAM (820), whose new talk format is challenging CHML's longtime dominance. (The Jays will stay with their Toronto flagship, CJCL 590, for as long as the team and the station are both owned by Rogers, of course.)

To the east, CFAB (1450 Windsor NS) has won a one-year extension from the CRTC for its conversion to FM. The CRTC is giving owner Maritime Broadcasting System 60 days to find a frequency for the FM operation, after denying MBS' initial application for 23 kW on 92.9, a facility it says would have created prohibited overlap with MBS stations in the Halifax and Kentville markets.

And we omitted one application as we ran through the long, long list of applicants for new signals across Ontario being considered by the CRTC at a January hearing in Orillia. Add Bill Wrightsell to the list of those seeking to operate on 102.3 in Gravenhurst, Ontario.

Finally, it looks like it might be the end of the line for one of the most prominent broadcast facilities in Quebec. Under a development plan now under review, the 35-year-old Maison Radio Canada, the Montreal headquarters for Radio-Canada and the CBC's Quebec operations, would be converted into apartments or a hotel, with Radio-Canada/CBC moving its studios and offices to new buildings on the site along Boulevard Rene-Levesque. Much of the remaining land on the site would be redeveloped with new housing, office and retail spaces as part of the C$1.6 million project.

Read - or written - any good books lately? We're compiling a special NERW Bookshelf column that will appear next week in place of the usual column, and we're looking for books about radio or TV in our region, or written by radio or TV people. If you've got something to add to our list, let us know!

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 26, 2007 -

  • Entercom won't have to wait until Christmas to open the present that arrived in its mailbox on Black Friday: after more than a year of waiting, the company finally has FCC permission to add to its upstate NEW YORK holdings by purchasing CBS Radio's Rochester cluster, a deal that's part of a $220 million package that also includes CBS stations in Memphis, Cincinnati and Austin.
  • As expected, the approval comes with some conditions: because Entercom already owns three FM stations (WBEE-FM 92.5 Rochester, WFKL 93.3 Fairport, WBZA 98.9 Rochester) and one AM (WROC 950 Rochester) in the market, it can't absorb CBS Radio's four FMs (WZNE 94.1 Brighton, WCMF 96.5 Rochester, WPXY 97.9 Rochester, WRMM-FM 101.3 Rochester) without going over the ownership caps that would limit the company to no more than five FMs.
  • What held up the approval for so long? (The initial transfer application was filed back in August 2006.) There were a few factors: perennial Entercom opponent Royce International, which has been trying for years to undo a deal it made to sell a Sacramento FM station to the company, threw every objection in the book against the deal, including the infamous "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest that led to the death of a contestant at a different Entercom-owned Sacramento station. The FCC tossed out Royce's complaints, referring the company to civil court to settle its long-running dispute with Entercom.
  • In the end, the big delay was the Rochester ownership-cap question. It's worth noting that the CBS cluster in Rochester has its roots in a much earlier ownership-cap dispute, when the Justice Department first weighed in on the matter back in the mid-nineties as the old "one to a market" rules were falling by the wayside. So it's safe to say that this transaction has been on the DoJ's radar screen since the beginning, and indeed it was just over a year ago - at the end of October 2006 - that Entercom, CBS and the feds agreed on a plan under which Entercom would "pursue" divestiture of three of the seven FMs, with the stations to be placed in trust if no spinoff deal was consummated within 60 days of FCC approval.
  • Another bit of Rochester news before we move on: amidst all the local headlines in the last few weeks about the possible demolition of the Midtown Plaza complex downtown, there's been very little said about the fate of one of its biggest tenants: the Euclid Building, one of several older office buildings that were incorporated into the plaza when it was built in the early sixties, is home to Clear Channel's local radio cluster. That cluster almost moved out to suburban Greece a few years back - plans were drawn up, zoning permission obtained for an STL tower, and so forth - but a last-minute package of incentives persuaded Clear Channel to stay put and to embark on an expensive renovation project. (Suppose they'd be interested in the space CBS Radio now occupies a couple of blocks away in the HSBC Building?)
  • As the talk radio wars begin to heat up in Albany (Paul Vandenburgh's WCBI 1300 Rensselaer launched this morning), new WROW (590 Albany) PD/morning man Scott Allen Miller has made his first hire. Mark Williams returns to Albany (where he spent a few years in the late nineties at WGY) from Sacramento. He'd been working for KFBK there, then doing freelance talk hosting. At WROW, Williams will take the afternoon shift - which means the Albany simulcast of "Mike and the Mad Dog" from New York's WFAN will come to an end. (Most of Albany can hear WFAN itself just fine, anyway.)
  • In PENNSYLVANIA, there are new calls at Pittsburgh's B94 - mark it down as WBZW (93.7 Pittsburgh) instead of the former WTZN, effective tomorrow.
  • In Philadelphia, it's no surprise that WYSP (94.1) is moving Kidd Chris to mornings; that move will happen today. The CBS Radio rocker has also hired a new assistant PD, as "Spike" returns home from Chicago's WKQX for that job and an airshift to be named later.
  • In MASSACHUSETTS, the keys to Lowell's WCAP (980) officially changed hands last week, as Clark Smidt's "Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC" closed on its purchase of the station from Maurice Cohen, who'd owned the station since its first day on the air back in 1951. It didn't take long for Smidt and his management group to begin making some changes at the venerable station: the overnight oldies hours programmed by Gary Francis are now under the title "Beatles and Before," with voicetracks from erstwhile Boston announcer Dick Summer.
  • There's one more radio station in NEW HAMPSHIRE this week, though it's not a "new station," strictly speaking. Saga's WSNI (97.7 Winchendon MA) has been edging its way north into the Keene market for a few years now, having moved its transmitter over the state line to Fitzwilliam. Now the class A signal has completed its move all the way into Keene, changing city of license from Winchendon to Swanzey and moving its transmitter to Keene's West Hill tower site. That's becoming a busy spot - not only is Saga's WINQ (98.7 Winchester) already there, but Great Eastern's WTSM (93.5 Springfield VT) has a pending CP to change its city of license to Swanzey and to move to West Hill as well.

November 24, 2003 -

  • The top end of the AM dial in eastern MASSACHUSETTS could sound different soon if veteran broadcaster Keating Willcox has his way. His Willow Farm, Inc. is applying to boost WNSH (1570 Beverly) from 500 watts directional by day to a full 50 kilowatts, using the same three towers WNSH currently uses on the Endicott College campus in Beverly. To make the move happen will require the Bay State's other 1570 signal, WPEP in Taunton, to surrender its license - something we speculated about in NERW way back when Willcox bought WNSH in 1998.
  • In the meantime, though, Willcox sold WPEP (as well as his stations in Nashua and Woonsocket) to Ernie Anastos' Anastos Media Group, and so any thought of a "mega-1570" slowly vanished from the rumor mill.
  • What we didn't know, though - at least not until Willcox filed his application for the WNSH upgrade last week - is that Willcox has negotiated an agreement with WPEP that will now allow the Taunton station to go silent and WNSH to boost its power by a factor of 100. (As for "local service" to Taunton and Bristol County, the application notes that WSNE will continue to "serve" Taunton, at least as far as the FCC is concerned.)
  • That's the good news - the bad news is that even with all that juice, WNSH still won't be a potent signal in much of the Boston market. The combination of poor ground conductivity (WNSH's ground system is, as its application explains, laid over bare rock because there's no soil on much of the site) and the need to protect co- and adjacent-channel stations in New York (WQEW 1560, WFTU 1570 and WLIM 1580) mean WNSH's signal, with a directional pattern aimed north, will serve the North Shore, outer Cape Cod, coastal New Hampshire and Maine, and - well, we'll quote a local radio wag on this one - "I guess WNSH stands for Nova Scotia/Halifax?" (Actually, it'll be more of a Yarmouth signal from the looks of it...) And at night on a Canadian clear channel, WNSH will still be limited to 85 watts non-directional. In any case, we're happy to see Willcox's dream of a big power increase move closer to reality, and the 50kw WNSH will be a very potent signal all along the North Shore and Cape Ann if this application is approved.
  • The big news out of PENNSYLVANIA is the end of the hot AC "Point" format on Beasley's WPTP (96.5 Philadelphia), which came just after NERW went to press last Monday morning (Nov. 17). The ratings-challenged station spent Monday doing all-Christmas music before relaunching at 5 PM with nonstop rhythmic top 40, supposedly being programmed by station janitor "Rocco" from down in the 96.5 basement. ("Rocco" is even getting endorsements from Philly-area labor unions, which we've got to admit is a clever bit of stunting.) "Wild 96.5" is the station's new nickname, and we hear the entire airstaff, save for the Barsky morning show, is out the door as a result of the format flip. (We'd expect "Rocco" to be supplanted by a real airstaff in the next few weeks, too.)

November 27, 1998 -

  • We'll have to wait a little bit longer to learn all the details of the deal between Boston urban daytimer WILD (1090) and public radio WUMB (91.9). WILD officials tell NERW they'll be making an announcement shortly about the deal...but they're not saying anything just yet.
  • As for last week's speculation about ARS' WNFT (1150) becoming part of the deal? The folks at WILD say there's nothing to it...and now we're hearing rumors that Greater Media may be talking to CBS about grabbing all of ARS' Boston AMs (WNFT, WRKO 680, and WEEI 850), leaving CBS with its existing 1 AM-3 FM group, plus WBMX (98.5), WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence), and WAAF (107.3 Worcester) from ARS. We'll keep you posted as we learn more.
  • Radio Disney is finally on the air in MASSACHUSETTS. Boston's WPZE (1260) changed hands last Friday afternoon, with new owner Hibernia unceremoniously ending the simulcast with Salem's religious WEZE (590) and throwing the Mouse on air shortly after 4:30.
  • Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Capstar continues to expand its portfolio. Nashua's WHOB (106.3) is about to become Capstar's latest Granite State outlet, starting with an LMA with owner Mario DiCarlo, and ending with what NERW hears will be a $4 million sale. Capstar owns WGIR AM-FM (610/101.1) in Manchester and WXHT (95.3 York Center), WHEB (100.3), and WTMN (1380) in the Portsmouth market, with the purchase of two more FMs from ARS/CBS pending. No word on potential changes to WHOB's modern-CHR format.
  • And just in time for the holidays, the FCC had a nice little present for Bob Vinikoor of WNTK AM-FM (1020 Newport/99.7 New London), granting his application for 50 kilowatts day, 500 watts night on 720 kHz. Expect construction to start in a few months on this one. (2008 update: Still waiting...)
  • Some new calls in RHODE ISLAND: Providence's 790, ex-WLKW, WWAZ, and WEAN, is now WSKO, "the Score." And 99.7 in Wakefield-Peace Dale, most recently WDGE, is now WXEX, matching its "99-7X" identity. We're still waiting for the third part of this transaction, in which the WLKW calls officially go to WPNW (550 Pawtucket), which has been using them anyway for several weeks.
  • A CONNECTICUT station is about to return to the air. WMMM (1260) in Westport will be back in a few weeks, simulcasting sister station WSUF (89.9 Noyock NY) with NPR talk during the week, and simulcasting its other sister station, WSHU (91.1 Fairfield) on weekends.
  • When Lowell Paxson's new PaxNet TV network opens for business next August, add Syracuse CP WAUP-TV (Channel 56) to the affiliate lineup. It's Paxson's latest purchase for the network, which will be almost entirely owned and operated by Paxson himself. Other affiliates include WAQF (Channel 51) Batavia-Rochester-Buffalo, WPXN-TV (Channel 31) New York, WHAI-TV (Channel 43) Bridgeport CT, WHCT (Channel 18) Hartford, WTWS (Channel 26) New London CT, WOST (Channel 69) Block Island-Providence, WHRC (Channel 46) Norwell-Boston, and WGOT (Channel 60) Merrimack NH.

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