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March 16, 2009

"Now," NY's K-Rock is History

*There's a good old-fashioned top-40 war underway in NEW YORK for the first time in many years - or at least a good new-fashioned top-40 war, the kind with a bare minimum of air personalities and a distinct lack of street promotions.

In one corner, of course, is veteran Clear Channel outlet WHTZ (100.3 Newark) - and its upstart competitor, CBS Radio's WXRK (92.3 New York) didn't miss a chance to emphasize Z100's 26-year history in the format as it relaunched itself last Wednesday at 5 PM as "92.3 Now."

Just as CBS hot AC station WWFS (Fresh 102.7) built much of its initial imaging around the idea that Clear Channel's WLTW (106.7 Lite FM) was "old," the opening montage on "Now" was heavy on the idea that Z100 was a force to be reckoned with - back in the eighties, that is, when laser sound effects were all the rage.

The attempt to pick a fight with Z100 continued on Friday afternoon, when the first "Now" air talent debuted. Afternoon jock Tic Tak comes to New York from Detroit's WKQI, and before that at Philadelphia's WIOQ (Q102), and he cracked the mike for the first time in New York by calling on Z100 operations manager Tom Poleman to, er, "resign."

So far, only one other "Now" air talent has been announced: Lisa Paige, late of middays at Q102, moves up to New York to start her shift today. There's still no word on a morning show at "Now" - just the word that Chris Booker, who'd been rumored to be waiting for a flip to CHR while doing afternoons at WXRK in its "K-Rock" incarnation, wasn't kept on for "Now."

Indeed, it appears that the entire K-Rock airstaff is out of work, though middayer Nik Carter already has a new fill-in gig at Emmis' WRXP (101.9 New York), where he'll reportedly be covering afternoons for a while, filling the slot left vacant by music director Bryan Schock's return to the west coast.

Carter and former K-Rock afternooner Matt Schwenker visited with WRXP's Matt Pinfield Thursday morning to talk to listeners and to promote the Emmis rocker as an alternative to the now-defunct K-Rock. (Well, mostly defunct - the rock will live on, for now, as an automated HD2 subchannel on WXRK, displacing the "K-Rock2" automated modern rock that had been on 92.3-HD2.)

Oh, and as for those WXRK calls? Despite what you might read elsewhere, they're staying in place, at least for "now"...

*Elsewhere on the New York dial, it was a busy week for noncommercial FM stations looking to relocate to Manhattan from the outer boroughs - or even across the Hudson, where WBGO (88.3 Newark NJ) is now eyeing a move to New York City.

After nearly thirty years of operating from the National Newark Building, the tallest structure in downtown Newark, WBGO has applied to move its transmitter to the Trump World Tower apartment building just north of UN headquarters on Manhattan's east side. From there, WBGO would run 2500 watts/869', using a complex directional antenna to prevent any new interference, at least on paper, to adjacent-channel WXBA (88.1 Brentwood) on Long Island and WNJP (88.5 Sussex NJ).

Will the Long Island station - which has long enjoyed a sort of artificial "terrain protection" from WBGO's Newark-based signal thanks to all those tall Manhattan skyscrapers in the way - object to the move? Stay tuned...

Meanwhile, city-owned WNYE (91.5 New York) has completed its move from its longtime (70 years!) home atop Brooklyn Technical High School to its new transmitter site at Four Times Square in Manhattan. From there, it's running 2 kW/922', providing somewhat less signal to Brooklyn than the old 18 kW/430' from Brooklyn Tech did, but with a much improved signal over Manhattan and the Bronx. The Brooklyn Tech site will be retained as an auxiliary transmitter location for WNYE.

And one more note from the bottom of the dial: even as Mega Media struggles to find financial success with the audio carrier of its pseudo-FM station WNYZ-LP (Channel 6), which it operates as dance outlet "Pulse 87," it's now looking to expand the "Pulse" concept to other big markets. Mega has signed a deal with LPTV operator Venture Technologies to lease two other channel 6 outlets - WLFM-LP in Chicago and KSFV-CA in Los Angeles - which will soon begin operating as "Pulse 87" as well.


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At New York's ESPN Radio outlet, WEPN (1050): mid-morning host Max Kellerman and the station have "mutually agreed to end their relationship," effective after his show last Monday (March 9); evening host Brandon Tierney is filling Kellerman's 10 AM-1 PM slot for now. (And read on for more on WEPN's tower construction...)

The latest fallout from the payola investigation that caught several New York broadcasters in its web will mean an expensive payout for Albany's "6 Johnson Road Licenses," aka Pamal Broadcasting. The station group entered into a consent decree with the FCC last week that will find it making a "voluntary" $50,000 payment (in two installments over the course of 2009) to the federal treasury, as well as adopting a new compliance plan to ensure sponsors are properly identified when programming is paid for. In exchange, the FCC will drop its investigation into whether or not the 6 Johnson Road stations improperly broadcast music that had been paid for, without identifying the sponsor.

In the Hudson Valley, River Broadcasting's WGMY (88.1 Montgomery) is on the air with contemporary Christian music, serving the Middletown-Newburgh area. To the north, the new community station being planned by the "Free103point9" folks has calls: the signal on 90.7 licensed to Acra will be WGXC, reflecting its coverage of Greene and Columbia counties.

In Syracuse, reports that budget cuts have claimed another air personality at Buckley's WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville). This time, it's middayer Diane Wade, who's being replaced by voicetracks from Hartford and WDRC's Floyd Wright. Wright had been tracking mornings on sister station WFBL (1390 Syracuse), where middayer Dick Mastriano will move to morning duty, leaving middays jockless.

The FCC's next planned auction of vacant FM channels, now scheduled for September, looks as though it will have very little impact here in NERW-land: it includes only one frequency in New York State, 105.9 in the remote Adirondacks village of Indian Lake, with an estimated starting bid of just $2,500.

North Country Public Radio keeps growing: the public radio network based at St. Lawrence University's WSLU (89.5 Canton) has added another construction permit, this one on 88.3 in Tupper Lake, with calls WXLS.

Some TV news: in the Albany market, Hubbard-owned NBC affiliate WNYT (Channel 13) and Freedom-owned CBS affiliate WRGB (Channel 6) are in talks to share local sports video, easing the burden on shrunken staffs (and budgets) at both stations. Unions at the stations are complaining about the proposal, in part because they're afraid that the deal would eventually lead to the stations sharing news video as well, a possibility neither station has ruled out.

(Speaking of video, we're grateful to the several readers who responded with offers to help out NERW's video collection with dubs of the NBC "Late Night" shows we missed due to DVR, if anyone has video of NBC's election night coverage from last November, especially the hours after midnight, we'd really be grateful...)

Two obituaries from the Empire State this week: in Binghamton, they're remembering George Rossi, who served as general manager of WAAL (99.1) and WKOP/WRSG (1360, now WYOS) a couple of decades ago. Rossi, who also worked in his native western Pennsylvania and Ohio, died March 5 at his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., at age 75.

And when we look back at the short but fascinating existence of the DuMont Television Network and its New York flagship, WABD (Channel 5, now WNYW), we remember not only the New York station's namesake, network founder Allen B. DuMont, but his lifelong friend and chief engineer, Thomas Toliver Goldsmith, Jr., who not only oversaw DuMont's considerable technical accomplishments as research director of the company's New Jersey laboratories - he also gave his initials to DuMont's Washington outlet, WTTG (Channel 5).

Even as DuMont faded into obscurity (and eventually became best remembered by many as the butt of Simpsons jokes), Goldsmith lived on, serving many years on the board of Metromedia, which purchased the DuMont stations and eventually sold them to Rupert Murdoch to become the core of the Fox Network, and teaching physics for two decades at Furman University in his native South Carolina.

Goldsmith later retired to Washington State, living long enough to see high-definition TV become a reality, and to see a resurgence of interest in DuMont's pioneering work. He died March 5 at his home in Lacey, Washington, at the age of 99.

(This is as good a place as any to remind NERW readers about the recent return to the web of Clarke Ingram's outstanding DuMont web site, complete with spiffy new graphics courtesy of fellow historian Jason Togyer...)

*It was a quiet week in MASSACHUSETTS, and it will be an even quieter one ahead at the 91.5 spot on the dial around Medford, where Tufts University's WMFO left the air at noon Saturday for an eight-day absence. The break is tied in with Tufts' own spring vacation - but it's also to give WMFO a chance to replace its analog studio configuration, which dates back to the late 1970s, with a new digital audio system based on Axia's networked consoles. Funding for the project is coming largely from settlement money in a 2007 case in which Tufts administrators were accused of embezzling student-activity funds. WMFO will return to the air at noon next Sunday, March 22.

On the translator front, we're hearing that W221CH (92.1 Andover) has - as we expected - begun relaying the audio of Costa-Eagle's WNNW (800), with which it shares a tower.

There's a new noncommercial FM signal coming to the Berkshires: "Mercysong, Inc." has been granted a CP for 91.9 in Stockbridge.

And Northeast Gospel Network (the folks behind WNGN 91.9 Argyle NY) have call letters for two new signals: WNGB will be on 91.3 in Petersham, while across the state line in Swanton, VERMONT, the new signal on 89.9 will be WNGF.

The power increase is complete at Steve Silberberg's WLFE (102.3), which has changed city of license from St. Albans to Grand Isle in order to put a much stronger "Rock 102.3" signal over Burlington.

There's one Vermont frequency in the FCC's planned September FM auction - 94.5A in the Orleans County town of Albany, with a $30,000 minimum opening bid.

*Our NEW HAMPSHIRE news this week is all about ownership changes, starting with long-silent WWHK (102.3 Concord). You'll recall that the station went silent around Labor Day last fall, after operator Nassau was ordered to immediately unwind its LMA of the station from licensee Capitol Broadcasting (a remnant of the old Vox group).

The search for a buyer for WWHK ended last week, when Capitol filed to sell the station to a company called Birch Broadcasting, owned by one Andrew Sumereau. He's based in Pennsylvania, where his recent career included management stints at the Forever Broadcasting stations in State College and at Nassau's stations in the Poconos. Sale price is reported at $1 million - and there's no word yet on what Sumereau might have planned for his new stand-alone signal in central New Hampshire.

On the seacoast, WGIP (1540 Exeter) changed hands from Clear Channel's Aloha spinoff trust to Aruba Capital Holdings, LLC - and quickly dropped its former simulcast with news-talk WGIR (610 Manchester) in favor of an oldies format and of new calls, WXEX. The WGIR programming continues to be available on the seacoast via WGIN (930 Rochester).

*So what's Bob Bittner doing with his second MAINE AM station, WWBK (900 Brunswick)? Selling it, as it turns out - his Blue Jey Broadcasting will fetch $35,000 for the license, which he's selling to James Bleikamp.

Just south of Portland, the FCC has tentatively selected Community Radio Inc. as the winner of a new noncommercial FM construction permit. The New Jersey-based religious broadcaster's 450-watt station will operate on 91.7 from Oak Hill.

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*In PENNSYLVANIA, the biggest media headline of the week comes from WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia), where owner Jerry Lee says he's pulling the plug on the station's streaming audio to protest the new music licensing fees from SoundExchange, which he says "no longer make streaming a viable option." By 2015, Lee says, nearly half the station's revenues from streaming audio would go straight to SoundExchange, destroying a potential "growth business opportunity" for both stations and musicians.

With Lisa Paige's move from middays at Philadelphia's Q102 (WIOQ 102.1) to New York's new "Now," her old station is leaving the 1-2 PM hour of her shift jockless and shifting music director Joey Brooks to the 2-6 PM slot.

In State College, we're hearing that Magnum's "Joe FM" combo (WJOW 105.9 Phillipsburg/WZYY 106.9 Renovo) is adding some rock to its country format - and that some of the station's air talent may be out as well. More next week...

There's a call change south of Pittsburgh, where Bob Stevens' WANB-FM (103.1 Waynesburg) is changing calls to WKVE as it prepares to move to Mount Pleasant and boost power to reach Uniontown and vicinity. Those WKVE calls came from one of EMF's "K-Love" outlets down in North Carolina - but they had a history before that, since Stevens used them on 97.5 up in St. Mary's (now WDDH) from 1994-1997, when he was running that station as a rocker.

Two obituaries we've been remiss in not noting: Tod Jeffers, who started his career in State College at WMAJ, then went on to work at Harrisburg-market stations WRKZ and WRBT, had settled down in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he was working as a talk host on WKKX (1600) when he died March 1 at age 67. His was the second death at the station in just two weeks; veteran Wheeling sports reporter George Kellas, who'd been doing afternoons at WKKX, died Feb. 19 at 53.

*The big story from NEW JERSEY continues to be the construction of the new tower site for WEPN (1050 New York), just south of the exit 16E tollbooths in Secaucus. A lot of radio people go past that site by car, train or bus on the way into the city each day - and that means we continue to have fresh pictures to show you. This week, it's WWPR (105.1) chief engineer Jeff Smith checking in with a picture from Thursday, showing one tower complete and a second nearly done - and number three expected to follow this week.

Elsewhere in the Garden State, Curtis Kay is the new PD at Greater Media's WDHA (105.5 Dover), moving up from assistant PD.

*Out-of-market voicetracking has been a relative rarity in CANADA, but it's coming to one of the country's biggest markets, reports Milkman UnLimited. Samantha Stevens of CJAQ (92.5 Jack FM) in Toronto is now tracking middays on Rogers sister station CHEZ (106.1 Ottawa), replacing Jacki Navratil. And Milky reminds us that CHEZ has a new PD, too - Gayle Zarbatany, who moves to Ottawa from the Rogers cluster in Winnipeg.

Up in Sudbury, Ontario, Newcap is applying to boost the power of CHNO-FM (103.9), going from 11 kW/121 m to 100 kW/203 m and to move the station's transmitter to the tower it will be using for its move of CIGM (790) to FM on 93.5.

There are two new FM signals on the air in Nova Scotia: in Bedford, the Bedford Baptist Church now has CHSB (99.3) on the air, broadcasting from the church's steeple as "Hilltop FM."

And Wayne Harrett's "Seaside FM" (CFEP Eastern Passage) officially made the move to its new higher-powered signal at 105.9 on Friday afternoon, giving the station much better reach over Metro Halifax than the station's old 50-watt signal on 94.7. It's been a long fight for Wayne and the Seaside crew, including a battle with broadcasting giant Maritime Broadcasting System over interference to its CKWM (94.9 Kentville NS), and they deserve congratulations for their big accomplishment.

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!)

March 17, 2008 -

  • Sports radio fans in RHODE ISLAND have one fewer choice this week. Last Monday, Citadel abruptly pulled the plug on its "Score" sports simulcast at WSKO (790 Providence)/WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), ending just over a decade of sports on the AM frequency and nearly six years of the FM simulcast. The Score format had been hit hard by competition in recent years from Entercom's WEEI-FM (103.7 Westerly), which came into the market four years ago with a simulcast of Boston's WEEI (850); its demise puts seven people out of work, including local Score talk hosts Andy Gresh, Scott Zolak and Scott Cordischi.
  • In the place of sports, Citadel has flipped 99.7 to a simulcast of its news-talk WPRO (630), while 790 spent last week running the ESPN Radio network feed before flipping this morning to Citadel's satellite "True Oldies Channel," with Don Imus continuing in morning drive. (The stations had split their morning feeds, with 99.7 carrying Opie & Anthony, now heard in Rhode Island only via Boston's WBCN.) For now, 99.7 is using the WEAN calls that spent so many years on 790, while 790 is using the calls WPRV. We're not sure that will turn out to be permanent - will Citadel move the WPRO-FM calls from their longtime home on "92 Pro FM" at 92.3 over to the AM simulcast at 99.7, and could WEAN end up back on 790? (2009 update: Not yet.)
  • One of upstate New York's biggest TV groups has a new owner. Late on Friday, Clear Channel quietly resolved its disagreement with Providence Capital Partners over the value of its 56 TV stations, allowing the sale to go forward at a revised price of $1.1 billion, $200 million less than the companies had originally agreed on last April. Providence will sell several of Clear Channel's West Coast stations, operating the rest of the group under the Newport Television name.
  • In our region, Newport picks up these stations: WHAM-TV (Channel 13 Rochester/ABC-CW), WSYR-TV (Channel 9 Syracuse/ABC), WWTI (Channel 50 Watertown/ABC), WIVT (Channel 34 Binghamton/ABC), WBGH-LP (Channel 20 Binghamton/NBC), WETM (Channel 18 Elmira/NBC), WXXA-TV (Channel 23 Albany/Fox), as well as WHP-TV (Channel 21 Harrisburg/CBS) and WLYH (Channel 15 Lebanon/CW) in central Pennsylvania. The sale to Newport separates the Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany and Harrisburg stations from Clear Channel radio clusters in those markets, and that could lead to a bit of disruption for some of the joint operations there. (That said, Clear Channel never built up the promised synergies it hoped to achieve between radio and TV; there had been talk of building a common studio facility for radio and TV in Rochester, for instance.)
  • It's been a quiet week in MASSACHUSETTS - except where the region's numerous pirate stations are concerned. The FCC's been issuing a flurry (relatively speaking) of violation notices and forfeiture orders, including a big one against a prominent pirate. "Touch 106.1" was very visible in the Boston media last year, and it's paying for its visibility now. The FCC visited the station's Dorchester studios in January 2007, only to be denied entry for an inspection of the station. That may have been an expensive mistake for Charles Clemons, who was operating "Touch" - he also failed to respond to the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability, and he's now on the hook for a $17,000 forfeiture. (That's $10,000 for unlicensed operation, and another $7,000 for refusing the inspection.)
  • In Brockton, FCC agents visited Patrick St. Martin on March 6, warning him to shut down his 1620 kHz signal immediately or face fines; a day earlier, Homer Alcindor of Brockton got the same warning for his pirate on 105.5.
  • There's a new city of license for a big FM signal in southern MAINE: Saga's WCLZ (98.9) is no longer licensed to Brunswick - it's now officially a North Yarmouth station. The move didn't (and won't) relocate WCLZ's transmitter site, which is still in Brunswick behind its old studios - so what's up? By "moving" to North Yarmouth, WCLZ brings its main studio (in South Portland) within 25 miles of its city of license. (It's just a hair over 25 miles from Saga's South Portland studios to Brunswick.)

March 15, 2004 -

  • Nassau has bought again in New England, and in a big way. For $22 million, Lou Mercatanti's group is picking up most of what's left of Vox: the Barre-Montpelier cluster of WSNO (1450 Barre VT), WWFY (100.9 Berlin VT) and WORK (107.1 Barre VT); the Upper Valley cluster of WNHV (910 White River Junction VT), WTSV (1230 Claremont NH), "Bob Country" WSSH (95.3 White River Junction VT)/WZSH (107.1 Bellows Falls VT), "Oldies 104" WXOD (104.3 Hartford VT)/WCFR (96.3 Walpole NH) and the big signal of WHDQ (106.1 Claremont NH). That leaves Vox with the stations it's upgrading in Albany NY and Springfield MA (below), as well as small clusters in Pittsfield/North Adams/Great Barrington MA and Jamestown/Olean NY and single stations in Rutland (WEXP 101.5 Brandon VT) and Bennington (WZEC 97.5 Hoosick Falls NY); we hear the ownership of those stations will be reorganized under Vox principals Bruce Danziger and Ken Barlow, with Jeff Shapiro exiting the group completely.
  • The bidding's all done, and western NEW YORK's FM sports station will soon have a new owner. Amidst the debris of Adelphia's bankruptcy, WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township) and its translator W297AB (107.3 Williamsville) will go to Entercom for $9 million as soon as the courts approve. The purchase gives Entercom a signal that covers most of the Buffalo market - and neighboring Rochester, too - and it includes a newly-renovated transmitter plant and tall tower in Wyoming County. And it's already got the rumor mills flying about what comes next for 107.7.
  • Vox has some big plans to rearrange the high end of the FM dial in New York and nearby MASSACHUSETTS - and it plays out like this: WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) is supposed to be moving south to Malta (in the Albany market) as a class A signal, but it's now applied to upgrade to a 25 kW B1 signal (essentially the same as the present Queensbury facility.) To make that happen, Vox has to move WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) out of the way. It's applying to relocate the class A 105.5 signal to Easthampton, in the Springfield market some 40 miles east of its present location.

March 12, 1999 -

  • It was "So long, Johnstown" and "Hello, Albany" as WSRD (104.9) got down to "The Point" Wednesday morning. The station has changed its city of license to Altamont and its transmitter location to the WXXA-TV (Channel 23) tower up in the Helderbergs with the big Albany FMs, and under its new Albany Broadcasting ownership it's playing much the same blend of modern AC that was heard until recently on WXLE (104.5 Mechanicville). No jocks have been heard so far on "104-point-9, the Point," but NERW Albany bureau chief Gavin Burt reports the new transmitter site gives WSRD solid coverage all over Albany, with the only trouble spots being to the south and east, where first-adjacent WAMQ (105.1 Great Barrington MA) begins fighting it.
  • Heading north, it's the end of an 11-year era at WPAC (92.7 Ogdensburg), as Tony DeFranco leaves his morning drive slot to head to WIII/WKRT Cortland. NERW North Country correspondent Mike Roach reports the last song heard on DeFranco's last show on 93PAC was Sinatra's "My Way" (a bit out of keeping with the station's usual hot AC format!) Morning news guy Doug Craig takes over the slot, and WPAC is said to be seeking a replacement in the newsroom. And insomniacs in the St. Lawrence River valley will be pleased to hear that when Tim Martz takes over WMSA (1340 Massena) in a few months, the station will change its schedule. No more 10 PM signoffs (8 PM on Sunday!) -- WMSA will go 24/7 with syndicated shows.
  • Heading south again, the FCC has approved the sale of WODZ (1450 Rome) to Bible Broadcasting Network, so the call change to WYFY and the format change to BBN's religious programming is probably imminent.
  • More upstate New York sounds on-line: Geneva's WEOS (89.7) now has an on-line feed for its non-NPR programming (including what's probably the best lacrosse coverage on the radio anywhere in America); you can get there through the WEOS Web site. The site also lists March 21 as the target date for WEOS' transmitter to move to a new site on Lake to Lake Road, south and west of the studios on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. When the new 4000 watt transmitter signs on, WEOS will also add a Geneva translator, W212BA (90.3) with 88 watts, to serve the campus and other areas shadowed from the new site.
  • Heading back into New England, we'll start in Springfield, MASSACHUSETTS, where Gary James has left his position as GM of WHYN (93.1/560) and WNNZ (640 Westfield). His replacement, as of March 8, is Ron Roy.
  • We're told the FCC paid a call on the Spanish-language 94.3 pirate in Springfield earlier this week, but the word from western Massachusetts is that the station barely waited until the taillights on the FCC van had passed out of sight on the Mass Pike before turning the transmitter back on...
  • The FCC is paying close attention to the latest transaction in MAINE. It's flagged Cumulus' proposed purchase of WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) and WSKW (1160 Skowhegan) because Cumulus and Pilot together control upwards of 70% of the radio revenue in the Augusta-Waterville market.
  • We've solved one call change mystery from last week: WXHT (95.3 York Center) became WUBB because it's dropped its satellite modern rock for satellite country as "Continuous Country B95.3." An attempt by Capstar to shave a point or two off Seacoast ratings giant WOKQ (97.5 Dover), which consistently leads the market with its heritage country format? We can't imagine this little class A station chipping more than a point or so off WOKQ, in any event. Still no word from our Portland-area readers about the reported call change on WPOR (1490)...

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