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January 26, 2009

The Clear Channel Fallout

*This week's lead story is yet another one we'd really rather not be writing. The massive job cuts at Clear Channel made their way from rumor to reality on Tuesday, and if the nation's largest radio company really intended to use the headlines surrounding Inauguration Day in Washington as cover to bury the story of its cutbacks (a rumor to which we never gave complete credence), it didn't work.

The story not only dominated the radio trades all week, it made it into the mainstream media as well, even though the size of the Clear Channel cuts - 1850 jobs worldwide in its radio, outdoor and international divisions, about 9% of its total workforce - paled by comparison with the 30,000 jobs disappearing in the demise of Circuit City and other economic disasters.

As painful as the cuts were, especially in markets where longtime station veterans were marched out the door without even the opportunity to say farewell to their colleagues, some of the most dire predictions making the message-board rounds did not come to pass: there was no wholesale replacement of local air talent with national, satellite-delivered formats, no shuttering of local studios - indeed, with the exception of a few targeted cuts to local sports programming in several markets (Syracuse among them, but more notably Detroit and San Diego, where WDFN and KLSD were gutted), the cuts were largely behind the scenes.

But that doesn't mean they went unnoticed - or that their effects can or should be minimized. A brief commentary before we move on to the hard news:

We're not naive enough to believe that the broadcast industry can weather the current economic storm without some cutbacks; it stands to reason, after all, that advertising revenues will continue to decline if for no other reason than that potential advertisers (see Circuit City, above) are ceasing to exist.

And we're not expert enough on sales-related issues (this column has always been primarily about programming and engineering) to say whether the strategy of dramatically cutting back on sales staffing makes any sense or not.

But we did pick out a particularly disturbing piece of the Clear Channel strategy that appears to have gone largely unnoticed elsewhere: in many of the company's markets, including New York City, its job cuts included key promotions and marketing staffers - and that, we're quite certain, is very hard to square with the hot air about "focus" and "determination" and "long-term growth prospects" that made up the letter Clear Channel sent to its remaining employees.

At a time when radio should be working harder than ever to promote its advantages against an ever-growing sea of competition - and make no mistake about it, radio's universal reach and free price tag are real advantages in a sagging economy - it seems the height of short-sightedness to cut away at promotions and marketing, especially when it comes to reaching the younger listeners who are too often entirely unaware of what radio has to offer.

But short-sightedness seems to be the order of the day, not just at Clear Channel but across the industry. It's hard to square Mark Mays' talk of "long-term growth prospects" with a business model that seems to have no regard whatsoever for the long, or even the medium, term.

On with the week's news...

In New York City, on-air cuts were minimal, with WHTZ (Z100) night co-host Niko and Total Traffic's Brian de Masi the only personalities to lose their jobs. But behind the scenes, the cuts were more dramatic, with WKTU (103.5) local sales manager Mark Magnone at the head of a long line of ousted salespeople. The cluster's communications director, Josefa Paganuzzi, is also out. (And we ask again - how can radio expect to grow new listeners in the face of so many other entertainment options if it won't even make a minimal investment in continuing to promote itself?)

The cuts at Clear Channel in Rochester left 29-year news veteran Bill Lowe with no opportunity to say goodbye to his longtime listeners on the "Chet and Beth" morning show. Lowe, whose career started in his native Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania at WCNR (930, now WHLM) back in 1960, also spent time in Binghamton (WNBF) and Syracuse (WFBL) before coming to WHAM in 1979. Also out in Rochester were sports anchor Gene Battaglia, traffic guy Barry Vee, as well as several salespeople.

In Syracuse, the cuts hit hardest at sports WHEN (620), where Jim "Manchild" Lerch, who was PD and co-host of the afternoon "Bud and the Manchild" show, was let go along with producer Ty Doyle. Post-Standard sports columnist Bud Poliquin is also off the WHEN airwaves, whch are now entirely filled with national sports talk from Fox Sports, Dan Patrick and Jim Rome in a market that has distinctly local passions for its Orangemen. Also cut were Carole Fargo, promotions director at WBBS (104.7 Fulton), and several salespeople.

Cuts at the Clear Channel Binghamton cluster included two salespeople and Don Giovanni, whose weekend Italian show on WINR (680) was the only local show on the station. As it turns out, Giovanni's show won't go away from WINR - he'll be leasing time there to continue broadcasting.

In the Hudson Valley, where at least six sales staffers and promotions director Rich McClane are all out at Clear Channel's Poughkeepsie-based cluster, there's one hire as well - Cody Allen joins the staff of WRWD (107.3 Highland)/WRWC (99.3 Ellenville) for middays, taking over from Paty Quin, who moves to afternoons and takes on interim PD duties, replacing Aaron "Dave" McCord, who exited earlier in January for a new job in Minnesota.

Albany's cuts, as best we can tell, were limited to the sales department.

*And it wasn't just Clear Channel making cutbacks in the Empire State: in Buffalo, it was Citadel firing staffers at week's end. WHTT (104.1) midday man Jim Pastrick, a veteran of Queen City radio, was missing from the "Mix 104" website as we went to press Sunday night, with afternooner Jim Siragusa listed with a noon-7 PM shift, no doubt heavily voicetracked. And we're hearing two salespeople are gone from the cluster as well.

In Rochester, Stephens Media made another morning show cutback - after reducing the "Tony and Dee" show on WRMM (101.3) to just "Tony" when it took the station over last year, Stephens has now cut the "Ace and Marti" show on sister station WFKL (93.3 Fairport) to just "Marti in the Morning," leaving veteran Rochester jock Marti Casper solo and her former co-host George "Ace" Acevedo, who came to town from California five years ago to work at WFKL's predecessor, WBBF.

In New York City, WINS (1010) cut weekend overnight anchor Chris Reilly. At only 29, Reilly is already a nine-year veteran of New York news radio, having worked weekends for WINS since 2001 and middays for WNYC (820/93.9) from 2000-2008. Are more cuts on the way at CBS Radio's New York all-newsers?

There was a new hire in New York, too: Citadel's WABC (770) has hired a new program director to replace the departed Phil Boyce. Laurie Cantillo comes to the Big Apple from Chicago, where her gig as PD of Oprah Winfrey's satellite radio channel recently ended; before that, she made a name for herself in Phoenix as PD of Clear Channel's KFYI (550).

(WABC has a new simulcast, too: it's now being heard on the HD3 subchannel of FM sister station WPLJ 95.5, joining FM HD subchannel simulcasts of CBS Radio's three New York AM signals and of public radio WNYC.)

Over at "Pulse 87.7," the struggling dance station heard on the audio of WNYZ-LP (Channel 6), music director/midday jock Jewelz is gone - for real this time, after rumors of her departure last fall. She'd been voicetracking for a station in Tampa, and she's now doing that job fulltime while Pulse seeks a replacement.

"Where are they now?" - former WBAB and WAXQ PD Bob Buchmann is trading his Long Island digs for the West Coast, as he heads to Los Angeles to replace the veteran Rita Wilde as PD of Citadel's legendary rocker KLOS (95.5).

In Utica, WIBX (950) is moving West Coast syndicated talker Lars Larson into the 6-8 PM slot that had been occupied by the departing Bill O'Reilly; that moves Laura Ingraham from mid-mornings to Larson's former 8-10 PM slot (and gives Jim Bohannon's show an extra hour, starting at 10 instead of 11). Glenn Beck's show will replace Ingraham from 9 AM until noon.

And catching up on a couple of Southern Tier format changes we missed late last year: WABH (1380 Bath) has dropped oldies for ESPN sports, while WHHO (1320 Hornell) has dropped oldies for Fox Sports Radio.

(If you're interested in some insight into the long, weird soap opera that's been WHHO and its sister station WKPQ over the last couple of years, there's a fascinating Q&A playing out at the Eye on Hornell Radio website, as visitors ask questions to former station manager Sue Macool about the stations' many changes in format and management control.)

On the TV side of things, Don Lark is out at Syracuse's WSTM (Channel 3), where he had been evening anchor for the NBC affiliate for the past 12 years. Lark came to Syracuse from another channel 3, WFSB in Hartford, back in 1997; he had most recently been anchoring WSTM's morning show.

Over in Buffalo, WIVB (Channel 4) is adding two hours to its "Wake Up!" morning show - but the new 7-9 AM portion of the show will shift over to sister station WNLO (Channel 23), where reporter Melissa Holmes will co-anchor with Joe Arena and Mike Cejka. ("Wake Up!" used to run until 8 AM on channel 4, until WIVB began carrying the full two hours of CBS' "Early Show" last year.)

And public TV is feeling the economic pinch, too: the parent company of New York's WNET (Channel 13) and WLIW (Channel 21) is cutting 85 of its nearly 500 jobs (proportionally, a hit twice as big as Clear Channel is taking.) Company president Neal Shapiro says the cuts won't mean the cancellation of any of the programs WNET/WLIW produce for local or national distribution, but there will be a slowdown in development of new programming - and potentially much more pain yet to come if state officials make good on their threats to slash funding for public broadcasting.

*The week's other big story, beyond the Clear Channel cutbacks, came on the NEW JERSEY shore, where Press Communications pulled the plug last Monday on "G-Rock Radio," the latest incarnation of the modern rock format that has given WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown) a loyal, if not huge, following for several decades.

106.3, and its simulcast down the shore on WBBO (106.5 Bass River Township), are now doing top-40 as "Hit 106." For the moment, the hits format is running without local jocks, using the "Hits Now" satellite service from Dial Global, and morning host Matt Murray is out, but some of the former G-Rock staff, including PD Terrie Carr, apparently remains on board - indeed, in an open letter posted on the G-Rock website and addressed to organizers of a planned protest at the station's studios on Saturday, Press CEO Robert McAllan promised that G-Rock jock Matt Knight would soon be back on the air from 3-7 PM weekdays.

As for that protest, it drew some 200 listeners to WHTG's studios in Neptune, some of them bearing signs aimed at Arbitron, a reference to McAllan's comments that the G-Rock audience had never been properly measured by the ratings firm.


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*In MASSACHUSETTS, Clear Channel was already running a fairly tight ship on-air, especially in Boston, where the company's two FMs, WJMN (94.5) and WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford) have already been through some stiff cutbacks that included shared PDs with CC's New York stations, and so cuts in Boston - and at the company's other Bay State stations, in Springfield, were limited to the sales and promotions departments.

Legendary Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling already had ties to Boston's sports station, WEEI (850), through regular blogging on the station's growing website - and now he's joining the station's on-air presence, too: he'll appear each Thursday on Glenn Ordway's "Big Show" or the Dennis and Callahan morning show, and once a month he'll be with Ordway for the full four hours of his show.

WEEI's sports rival, "ESPN Boston" WAMG (890 Dedham)/WLLH (1400 Lowell), is moving its studios: it's leaving the Schrafft Building in Charlestown to rent space at 750 South Street in Waltham from WCRB (99.5 Lowell). Two interesting bits of irony here: first, the Schrafft Building's original radio tenant, circa 1990, was none other than WEEI in its original incarnation on 590; second, the move to Waltham reunites two former sister stations, since 99.5 was the original FM counterpart to WLLH and remained co-owned with the Lowell AM station well into the eighties.

*In RHODE ISLAND, it wasn't just Clear Channel doing the cutting: on Friday, Citadel made some deep cuts to its Providence cluster, including WPRO-FM (92.3) night jock Kerry Collins (who'll be replaced by voicetracking from Ralphie at WBHT in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), WWLI (105.1) afternoon guy Charlie Jefferds and WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket) APD/afternoon DJ Joey Foxx.

As for Clear Channel's Providence cluster, Tuesday's cuts claimed more than a half-dozen salespeople, several members of the Paul and Al morning show - Johnny "Skidmarks" Hamblett and sportscaster Steve McDonald, aka "Jim Shorts," WHJJ "Helen Glover Show" producer Mike Fiske, and WHJJ weekend host Bruce Newbury.

On the TV side, "Rhode Island PBS," aka WSBE-TV, has gone digital-only - but not by choice. The station's analog channel 36 transmitter on Neuticonacanut Hill in Johnston - the last one ever delivered from RCA, we're told - suffered "major catastrophic failure" on January 15, and rather than attempting an expensive repair to keep the analog signal on the air for just a few more weeks, WSBE officials decided to shut it down for good. (WSBE-DT, on channel 21, operates from a new transmitter at a different site, the WJAR tower in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.)

Speaking of WJAR, it's added RTN (the Retro Television Network) on its 10.2 subchannel, formerly home to the now-defunct NBC Weather Plus.

And a special message to our Massachusetts and Rhode Island readers: weather permitting, we're coming to eastern New England this week! If you're free for a NERW/Boston-Radio-Interest dinner Wednesday night in Providence, drop us a line right away and we'll fill you in on all the details.

*Both of Clear Channel's CONNECTICUT clusters, Hartford and New Haven, suffered cuts on Tuesday. In Hartford, the job losses included WURH (104.1 Waterbury) PD Becky Pohotsky, along with multiple sales positions, while in New Haven, Chaz Kelly is out as PD and morning jock at WKCI (101.3), as is marketing/promotions director Kelly Colonghi.

*The cuts at Clear Channel in NEW HAMPSHIRE came mainly in sales, we're told, but promotions/marketing director John Pullo is out as well.

*Clear Channel is long gone from MAINE, but we can now put a price on the sale of two of its former stations in the Pine Tree State: EMF Broadcasting is paying Blueberry Broadcasting $550,000 for WFZX (101.7 Searsport) and WGUY (102.1 Dexter).

There are call letters now for Light of Life Ministries' new religious stations: 89.3 in Benedicta (near Millinocket) will take the calls WRPB, while 88.1 in Pittston Farm (deep in remote northern Maine, near the Canadian border) will be WHPF.


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*In PENNSYLVANIA, Clear Channel's cuts claimed two high-profile on-air jobs in its Philadelphia cluster - WDAS-FM (105.3) PD Jo Gamble and WIOQ (102.1)'s Diego Ramos, who was the local host during the New York-based Elvis Duran morning show.

Q102 is also adding the syndicated "On Air with Ryan Seacrest" to its midday lineup, which means some shuffling of airshifts: Lisa Paige moves from middays to 1-4 PM to make room for Seacrest from 10 AM-1 PM. That pushes Joey Brooks' afternoon shift back to 4-7 PM, and it means Jesse Jordan will start his evening show at 7 PM instead of 6 PM.

Also out behind the scenes are WIOQ sales manager Tom Interrante and cluster promotions director Renie Hale.

At CBS Radio's KYW (1060 Philadelphia), veteran financial reporter Fred Sherman is out after 25 years with the all-news station. The 85-year-old Sherman tells the Philadelphia Inquirer he offered to continue working for KYW for free, using his segments to promote his side career as a public speaker, but was turned down.

Across Independence Mall at public radio WHYY (90.9), local "Morning Edition" host Brenda Jorett is out - and the Inquirer's Michael Klein says she was fired just as she was about to take medical leave for foot surgery. The station is advertising for a replacement anchor.

In Harrisburg, there were cuts both at Clear Channel - where 14 people are out, mostly from sales and promotions, but also WHP (580) assistant PD Rob Wilbur and WRVV (97.3) morning news anchor Deena Joseph - and at Citadel, where production director Chris Hamm is out.

And at Clear Channel in Pittsburgh, where programming has already been through cutbacks, Tuesday's cuts were felt mainly in the sales and promotions departments.

News that didn't involve job cuts was in short supply across the Keystone State, but there is a format change to report in New Castle: our colleague at Ohio Media Watch tipped us to the flip of WJST (1280 New Castle) from satellite oldies to Fox Sports Radio. (OMW also notes a change just across the border on I-90: WWOW 1360 in Conneaut, Ohio, whose signal extends - just barely - into northwestern Pennsylvania, has dropped its Catholic format and returned to news-talk.)

And Invisible Allies Ministries' new 88.7 in Milroy (north of Lewistown on US 322) takes the calls WRYV; it will be simulcasting sister station WRXV (89.1) over in State College.

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

*It's not just US broadcasters getting chilled by the current economic climate - it's happening up in CANADA as well, where Newcap cited "seriously deteriorating credit markets" in announcing last week that it was pulling out of its deal to buy 12 FM stations in northern Ontario from Haliburton Broadcasting Group. The C$12 million deal would have added "Moose FM" stations everywhere from Huntsville and Bancroft up to North Bay and Timmins and west to Kapuskasing and Hearst to Newcap's existing holdings in the Sudbury market - and while Newcap says the stations are still "assets we would like to own sometime in the future," the deal is apparently dead for now.

Also dead for the moment are plans by CJOY (1460) in Guelph, Ontario to move to FM. The Corus-owned oldies station applied last August to move to 95.7, at the same time three other broadcasters - Blackburn, Durham Radio and Frank Torres - applied for new Guelph signals on 101.5.

But the CRTC, unlike the FCC, takes local economic conditions into consideration when deciding to grant new licenses - and it says that "given the current economic slowdown," it can't justify adding new signals (or CJOY's FM conversion) to the Guelph market.

Another giant Canadian broadcaster, Astral Media, is cutting back as well: Milkman UnLimited reports CKQB (106.9 Ottawa) GM Eric Stafford is out due to budget cuts, with his duties being absorbed by Denis Bouchard, GM of Astral's French-language stations on the Quebec side of the market. In all, Astral cut 23 jobs across its cluster, including several at its Hamilton stations. We're hearing that newscaster Doug Cameron is gone from CKOC (1150) after 15 years (and nearly two decades before that at CHAM.)

Bad enough? There's more on the way - CTV is apparently next to be making cuts, with its "A" TV stations (including CHRO in Ottawa and CKVR in Barrie) targeted for cutbacks in their local programming, following on the heels of Global, which is cancelling its noon local newscast out of Toronto.

Up north on Manitoulin Island, CFRM (100.7 Little Current) is applying to boost its signal, upgrading from its present 1830-watt class A signal to 27.5 kW/155 m as a class B signal with wider reach. That still won't get CFRM into Sudbury, as it had hoped to do with a booster application there that the CRTC denied last year.

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, ten and - where available - fifteen 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!)

January 28, 2008 -

  • Now that NEW YORK's "Lite 106.7" has cut its ties to most of the airstaff who helped lead it to the top of the city's ratings and revenue charts over the last two decades, the station is also losing the program director who oversaw many of those successes. After 11 years at the helm of WLTW, Jim Ryan announced last week that he'll step down at the beginning of May to form his own consulting firm focusing on adult contemporary stations. And just as WLTW looked to Philadelphia's WBEB (101.1) to find Ryan back in 1997, the station is once again calling on a veteran of Jerry Lee's Philly AC giant as Ryan's replacement.
  • Chris Conley replaced Ryan at B101, but recently left the station to become vice president for AC programming at McVay Media. He'll leave that firm on May 1 to become WLTW's next PD, where he'll face some interesting challenges. Clear Channel budget cuts over the last year have left WLTW without most of its signature personalities, and the financial pressures of the company's impending privatization look to leave Conley without much in the way of resources to rebuild.
  • There's a call change to reports in NEW JERSEY: with the start today of the simulcast of WEPN (1050 New York) on WCHR (1040 Flemington), 1040's calls change to WNJE, which presumably stands for "New Jersey's ESPN." (For those obsessive types, we'll note that the WNJE calls were briefly parked on 920 in Trenton, ex-WPHY, which will again become WCHR.)
  • Where was MASSACHUSETTS programming veteran Jay Beau Jones headed when he left the PD chair at WORC-FM and WWFX in Worcester last week? Down the Pike to Boston, as it turns - he's been named PD of CBS Radio's WBMX (98.5 Boston) and WODS (103.3 Boston). At "Mix," Jones displaces Jerry McKenna, while at "Oldies" he replaces another PD, Pete Falconi, who also made the Worcester-to-Boston move a few years back. Jones has also programmed in Hartford (at the old WMRQ) and Chicago (at Clear Channel's "Kiss" WKSC).

January 26, 2004 -

  • The eyes of the political world are on NEW HAMPSHIRE this week, of course, but so are the eyes of the radio business world in New England - as, yet again, New Jersey's Nassau Broadcasting Partners L.P. has picked up another radio group in northern New England. In the last couple of months, Nassau has bought clusters from Mariner and WMTW in Maine and then from Tele-Media in New Hampshire, and now Lou Mercatanti's group is shelling out $5 million for the three Lakes Region stations that are all that remains of the Sconnix Broadcasting empire. At its height in the eighties, Sconnix owned stations from Kansas City to Miami to Boston (WHDH, WBOS and WCOZ at various times), and for a few years it even had a headquarters office (thanks to partner Ted Nixon) right here in NERW's hometown of Rochester, N.Y. More recently, Sconnix has been operated out of Vienna, Virginia, and all it had left in its portfolio were hot AC WLNH (98.3 Laconia), classic rock WBHG (101.5 Meredith) and news-talk WEMJ (1490 Laconia), which now join Tele-Media's oldies WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) in Nassau's new Lakes Region cluster.
  • Is MASSACHUSETTS just not ready for two all-Christmas radio stations? That's what WQSX (93.7 Lawrence) seems to believe - unlike many of the stations that went to all ho-ho-ho weeks before the holiday, "Star 93.7" saw its ratings slump after making the flip. The Entercom station tells the Boston Herald it "probably won't do all-Christmas again," and if it does, it'll be just for a day or two before Christmas. (Boston's other early all-Christmas adopter, WODS, did see a ratings boost from the move.)
  • Some big doings this week in the Capital District of NEW YORK state, especially at the Galaxy stations in and around Albany. Ed Levine pulled the plug on modern rock "K-Rock" at WKRD (93.7 Scotia) Thursday, playing construction noises until 3 PM, when 93.7 flipped to classic country as "The Eagle." WKRD is also picking up NASCAR race coverage in a bid to siphon at least a bit of audience from perennial market-leading country outlet WGNA (107.7 Albany), though the station's signal has nowhere near the coverage of WGNA.

January 22, 1999 -

  • Au Revoir, CBF: Radio-Canada pulled the plug on Montreal's 50kw French outlet Thursday night (1/21). 690 is now running a repeating loop in French urging listeners to move to the new FM frequency, 95.1, which signed on last year. CBM on 940 will go silent in March, according to the Montreal Gazette. If you can read French, you'll find more on CBF at <>.
  • NERW was in Buffalo on Wednesday for President Clinton's visit to upstate NEW YORK, and we really enjoyed hearing the local news and talk on co-owned, but competing, WGR (550) and WBEN (930). Our joy was tempered slightly when we picked up the Buffalo News to read that WBEN/WMJQ staffers have decertified their union, which apparently clears the way for more WGR/WBEN shared programming. On a cheerier note, congratulations to WBEN's Tim Wenger and Susan Rose, proud parents of a baby girl born just hours before the presidential visit.
  • Downstate, the big news is an unusual FM-to-AM move in the Big Apple, as Rocky Allen's "Showgram" switches from afternoons at WPLJ (95.5) to the morning slot at WABC (770). The mouse hopes Allen's show will bring some permanence to the morning slot at WABC, which has been one of the least stable spots in New York radio.
  • It's musical program directors in CONNECTICUT this week. Ed Sabatino moves from WKCI (101.3 Hamden) to the PD chair at WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), while Dave Hill moves up from APD/MD to PD at WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), replacing Jay Beau Jones, who's now in Chicago at WUBT (103.5). lately.
  • Steve Silberberg buys again, this time WVFM in Campton, NEW HAMPSHIRE. The 105.7 outlet atop Waterville Valley Ski Area has been simulcasting the oldies from WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro). Silberberg reportedly paid Daphne Corcoran's White Mountain Radio $325,000 for the station.

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