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April 20, 2009

Show Time For a Nervous Industry

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Can we settle for "not as bad as expected?"

The official attendance figures released Tuesday by the NAB say show attendance is down to about 83,000 this year, a drop of a little over 20% from last year, and even figuring in an ever-growing percentage of international attendees and a lot of radio folks who only show up for a day or two, that's still made for a reasonably healthy show floor, a fair number of people in the seats at convention sessions, and very long taxi lines at night.

From a northeast perspective, we're seeing fewer familiar faces than in past years. The big groups have almost all cut back travel budgets for the rank-and-file local engineers and managers who used to pack the show, and only the biggest of the local broadcasters (like longtime NAB fixture Jerry Lee of Philadelphia's WBEB) still make the show an annual destination.

But the word from the floor is that those who did attend are providing vendors with a serious, engaged audience. "A no-BS convention," was the assessment from Connecticut's irrepressible Tom Zarecki, who's now with the Jetcast streaming folks. (Tom tells NERW he's handed out more business cards this week than at just about any NAB show he can recall.)

We're not hearing much from the station brokers holed up at the Bellagio, as that market continues to await a rebound that's yet to happen - but several NERW-land consultants are out in force, including Rhode Island's Holland Cooke, New York's Valerie Geller, who reports that her essential "Creating Powerful Radio" book has just entered a new printing, and Long Island's Bob Perry, of "Jack FM" fame, who's now signed on to help develop and expand a radio format for kids called JENNiRADIO. (Its host, 12-year-old Jennifer Smart, has been in the business since she was six; suddenly, your editor feels very old.)

There was at least a bit of NERW-land presence at Tuesday's radio luncheon, where WGY (810 Schenectady) was one of ten stations nationwide honored with an NAB Crystal Radio Award - and those awards are getting some extra attention this year as the NAB pushes its community-service initiatives.

(There's some NERW-land presence on the TV here, too - as we're typing this, we're watching the morning news on Fox affiliate KVVU, and who should be out in the field for them but Mike Doria, late of Rochester's WHAM-TV?)

New technology - for radio and TV, anyway - was in relatively short supply on the floor. The Ibiquity booth (where staffers on hand included former CBS Radio Rochester chief engineer Mike Raide, now settling in at his new development job with the company) showcased a prototype portable HD Radio receiver, a little bigger than an iPod nano and claiming four hours of battery life. Too little, too late? By itself, certainly - but the goal here is to get the tiny chip that powers that radio into other handheld devices.

HD Radio - and radio in general - face some big competition in that portable space; TV broadcasters are abuzz this show about the prospects of using some of their DTV bandwidth for mobile services. On the distant horizon is the prospect for 3D TV in the home; there's even a display from a Japanese developer of live video holography, still in its earliest stages.

And one more sad note from back home: we've just received word that Bill Corbeil, the 40-year-old co-owner of WTSA AM/FM in Brattleboro, Vermont, succumbed to cancer yesterday. It was just a year and a half ago when Corbeil and his wife Kelli bought the stations, and since then they'd been busy moving them to new studios and building a real community connection in that small market. Our deepest condolences to Kelli, the two young Corbeil boys, and to the entire WTSA family...

LAS VEGAS, Nevada - "Oh good! Somebody's here after all."

That was the greeting we received from a fellow broadcaster in the hotel check-in line Sunday afternoon, and it pretty much sums up what many broadcasters - and the vendors hoping to sell them goods and services - are thinking as the doors swing open this morning on one of the more uneasy NAB Shows in recent memory.

For plenty of people in the business, this is a year without a Vegas outing, thanks to deep cuts in travel budgets - assuming, of course, that you even still have a job that could include a travel budget.

While some out west are getting to Vegas on their own dime this year, lured by rock-bottom hotel rates, that sort of last-minute decision is much harder for NERW-landers, separated by 3000 miles from Sin City and the big show. (Some more optimistic types think this could result in decent attendance in Philadelphia for this fall's NAB Radio Show as a result; we'll let you know when we get there in September.)

Stay tuned to NERW for a midweek update, once we've had a chance to walk the floor and sit in on some sessions...and of course complete coverage in next week's issue.

Meanwhile, on with the headlines from back east:

*It was PENNSYLVANIA making the news all last week, first with the death of Harry Kalas (about whom, much more in a moment), then with the possible demise of once-legendary WARM (590 Scranton).

The AM station that once pulled a 70 share in the Electric City had long since become a forgotten spot on the dial even before falling completely silent a few weeks ago. Under current owner Citadel, transmitter maintenance was all but nonexistent in recent years, reducing WARM's once-booming voice across all of northeast Pennsylvania to a staticky, undermodulated signal that would have been hard to listen to, even if it had been programming anything listeners still cared about. (Not that it was; the most recent in a long string of automated formats was Citadel's "True Oldies Channel.")

WARM had occasionally gone off the air for short periods over the last couple of years, but the latest silent period may be more permanent. Citadel isn't talking about the future of the station, but NERW's hearing that the company is unwilling to make the big investment needed to reverse years of neglected work at the station's tower site, including a non-existent ground system and two nonworking transmitters.

Could the legendary WARM really be gone for good this time? We'd bet that it will at least be resurrected in time to avoid the loss of its license after a year of silence. Citadel has reportedly turned down several offers to buy the station in recent years, and might be even less likely to accept a lowball offer now that station prices are sagging. Any new owner would, of course, have a lot of work to do to get the signal humming again. But a new owner would also inherit plenty of good will from the community, at least if the coverage of WARM's apparent demise is any indication; the story led the TV news late last week, a rarity for any story about radio.

*Over on the other side of the Keystone State, TV news viewers in Erie will soon have just two news teams to choose from. A few years after NBC affiliate WICU-TV (Channel 12) and CBS affiliate WSEE (Channel 35) came under common management - and a few years after Lilly Broadcasting promised to keep the two stations' operations separate - they're moving in together at WICU's longtime State Street home and closing down WSEE's downtown Peach Street studio.

While owner Brian Lilly says no staff will be cut as a result, the Erie Times-News reports that several part-time photographers have lost their jobs at WICU. It's still not clear what the on-air result of the merger will be, particularly at times when both WICU and WSEE now have newscasts scheduled.

Down the road at Nexstar's WJET-TV (Channel 24), the end of analog operation April 16 provided an opportunity to honor station founder Myron Jones: just as he pushed the button to turn the station on back in 1966, he was there to take the analog signal dark for the last time.

Back to radio in western Pennsylvania: in Altoona, WBXQ (94.3 Patton) has dropped classic rock for country. It's now "True Country 94.3," using a satellite-delivered format, and former Q94 morning man Adam Erickson has moved to middays on sister AC station WBRX (94.7 Cresson) while WBXQ seeks a new local morning show.

In Pittsburgh, former "John Dave Bubba Shelley" morning show co-host Shelley Duffy is now the latest former WBZZ (93.7) staffer to land at CBS Radio's WZPT (100.7 New Kensington), as she replaces Kate Harris on Star 100.7's morning show. (It's now the "JR & Shelley Morning Show," with host JR Randall remaining in place.) Duffy continues as lifestyle reporter on CBS' KDKA (1020).

And of course Philadelphia - along with sports fans across the nation - is mourning Harry Kalas, who died last Monday in the place he loved best, the Phillies broadcast booth. Kalas was getting ready for a day game against the Washington Nationals when he collapsed; he died a short time later at a DC hospital.

Kalas, 73, was one of the longest-serving announcers in baseball, having started in 1963 with the Houston Colt .45s before moving to Philadelphia in 1971. When the Phillies won the championship in 1980, Kalas wasn't behind the mike, thanks to an MLB rule that gave the networks exclusive World Series radio rights. That rule was changed soon afterward, allowing local broadcasters to call the games on each team's flagship station; as a result, Kalas finally got to call a Phillies Series win last fall, capping a magnificent career.

In addition to his baseball work, Kalas succeeded Philly's John Facenda as the voice of NFL Films in 1975, making his rich baritone familiar to fans everywhere (and even to some non-fans who've tuned in to Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl," which also featured Kalas.)

On Saturday, Phillies fans honored Kalas by packing Citizens Bank Park to pay their respects to Kalas' casket, which was placed behind home plate. The team is also displaying a memorial patch on its uniforms for the rest of the season.

*Another Philadelphia radio institution is being remembered this week, over in NEW JERSEY, where WILW (94.3 Wildwood) has reimaged itself as "Wibbage FM," adding jingles from the old WIBG (990 Philadelphia, now WNTP) to its existing oldies format.


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*In upstate NEW YORK, the bankruptcy of Equity Media Holdings means two small TV stations are changing hands.

Buffalo-market WNGS (Channel 67, licensed to Springville) and Syracuse-market WNYI (Channel 52, licensed to Ithaca) were among seven Equity stations bought at a bankruptcy auction last week by religious broadcaster Daystar, which will pay $7.4 million for the signals.

WNGS has already ended its collaboration with Granite's WKBW-TV (Channel 7), which found some WKBW sports programming running on WNGS and which put WNGS on WKBW's 7.2 DTV channel. It's also reportedly dropped its "This TV" network affiliation - and it will leave the broadcast airwaves for a while after the June 12 analog shutoff, since WNGS-DT (to be on channel 7) has yet to be built.

WNYI, meanwhile, has been running Univision programming, with a flea-powered over-the-air signal and cable carriage throughout the Syracuse market. Its WNYI-DT signal has yet to be built, and it too will go temporarily dark on June 12.

One more new station has reportedly taken to the air in western New York: WFBT-DT (Channel 14) in Bath has filed for a license to cover with minimal power. We've yet to see it on the air, so we can't say what it might be programming.

Several analog TV signals went away on April 16, one of the FCC's interim dates for analog shutdown: public broadcasters WNED-TV (Channel 17) in Buffalo and WMHT-TV (Channel 17) in Schenectady are now digital-only. In Binghamton, Fox affiliate WICZ (Channel 40) pulled the plug on its analog signal last week, too.

And one final upstate TV note: more than 15 years after Time Warner Cable rebranded its "GRC 9" local news operation as "R News," the cable news channel will be changing its name again this fall, becoming "Your News Now Rochester."

Why abandon a brand that's slowly clawed its way to respectability in a market that's slow to accept change? Because YNN Rochester will share news - and staffers - with Time Warner's newly-launched (and still apparently website-less) YNN Buffalo operation to the west.

(Disclaimer: your editor toiled for the soon-to-be-former R News, on and off the air, from 1997-2001.)

It was a quiet, quiet week in radio across the Empire State, with just two obituaries to note in the New York sports world:

Les Keiter was sports director at WINS in the 1950s and early sixties, calling Giants football, Knicks basketball, Rangers hockey and three seasons of San Francisco Giants baseball recreations on WINS after the team moved west in 1958. Keiter later moved to Philadelphia and then to Hawaii, becoming a prominent TV sportscaster there. He died April 14, at age 89.

And Merle Harmon called Jets games from 1964-1972, as well as baseball games for the A's, Twins, Brewers and Rangers. He died Wednesday (April 15) in Texas, at age 82.

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

*We begin our New England news in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where the disappearance of the morning host at WNTK (99.7 New London)/WUVR (1490 Lebanon) keeps getting stranger by the day.

Aaron Aldridge, who'd been at WNTK for less than a year, vanished last Monday along with his 19-year-old daughter. She turned up on Friday at Walt Disney World in Florida, but he's still missing as we go to the web on Sunday night.

It appears he may have good reason to have taken off: there's now an arrest warrant out for him, accusing him of producing and distributing child pornography.

"It's shocking and upsetting and we had no indication," WNTK owner Bob Vinikoor told WMUR-TV.

*Meanwhile in Concord, they're mourning Gardner Hill, who spent four decades at WKXL (1450) as a news and sports anchor. Hill, best known for his "Coffee Chat" talk show, joined the WKXL staff in 1968 and stayed with the station through ownership and format changes, departing in 2007.

He died on April 12, at age 62.

*Two format flips in MAINE: WGUY (102.1 Dexter) and WFZX (101.7 Searsport) are now carrying new owner EMF's "K-Love" contemporary Christian format, replacing the oldies that they had been simulcasting.

In Lincoln, mark down WMWR as the new calls for Sonlight's religious construction permit.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, WJIB (740 Cambridge) owner Bob Bittner has once again hit his goal for listener donations, raising $100,000 to cover the cost of music licensing fees and the other operational expenses for the station, and guaranteeing that its unusual mix of oldies and standards will survive for another year.

Out in Springfield, the analog signal at WWLP-TV (Channel 22) didn't survive the night of April 16 - that's former WWLP engineer (and proprietor) Mike Fitzpatrick doing the honors of silencing his old station, with chief engineer Dave Cote looking on. With WWLP gone, public station WGBY-DT can finally complete its move to channel 22 and an improved signal.

Other analogs that shut down on April 16 included WWDP (Channel 46) in Norwell, where engineer Peter George flipped the switch, closing a circle that started two decades ago when he was the last operator at an earlier incarnation of channel 46, WHRC; down in the Providence market, WLNE (Channel 6) closed down its analog nightlight service as well, leaving Rhode Island with no analog TV at all.

That's it for now from Las Vegas - we'll be back with an update midweek, and our usual full report next Monday...

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!)

April 21, 2008 -

  • The oldest broadcast studio site in continuous use in MASSACHUSETTS could have another occupant soon. WBZ (1030) began building its broadcast center at 1170 Soldiers Field Road in 1947, and along with sister station WBZ-TV (Channel 4), it's called the site home ever since. Through multiple renovations and expansions over the years, the building has also been home to WBOS shortwave, WBZ-FM (100.7/92.9/106.7), WODS (103.3) and today to WSBK (Channel 38). But more than a decade after its last major expansion, the building's prominent site near the Charles River is being targeted by Harvard University, which has itself been growing by leaps and bounds on the Allston side of the Charles. Just last year, Harvard relocated WGBH from its longtime studios on Harvard-owned land along Western Avenue to a new facility on Market Street. Last week, the Globe and the Harvard Crimson both reported that Harvard is in talks with CBS to acquire WBZ's nine-acre site.
  • Almost a quarter of a century after it signed on from studios on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, Z100 is now broadcasting from NEW YORK City itself. WHTZ (100.3 Newark) became the latest Clear Channel station to move into the company's new cluster studios at 32 Avenue of the Americas last Friday, when it said farewell to the Jersey City studios (and amazing view of lower Manhattan) that the station has called home for most of the last decade. With WKTU (103.5 Lake Success) having moved to Sixth Avenue from its own Jersey City home at the end of March, that leaves only WLTW (106.7 New York) yet to move downtown; it's still at 1133 Avenue of the Americas, for the moment.

April 19, 2004 -

  • MAINE radio listeners are finding their way around the many changes in the radio dial wrought by Nassau last week, and now we can report a slew of call changes, too: "The Bone," the simulcast of classic rock and Howard Stern on 104.7 and 106.7, is now WHXQ (104.7 Kennebunkport, ex-WQEZ) and WHXR (106.7 North Windham, ex-WMTW-FM). "Frank" on 107.5 Lewiston is now WFNK, formerly WTHT. We assume the WTHT calls will replace WMEK on 99.9 Auburn, the new home of the "Wolf" country format formerly on 107.5, but that call change hasn't been filed. WLAM (1470 Lewiston) keeps its calls, and WMTW (870 Gorham) becomes WLVP, which we're guessing stands for "Liberal Voice of Portland."
  • It's "Know-Nothings on Parade" yet again in Charlotte, VERMONT, where a fight continues over the Pease Mountain transmitter tower of WIZN (106.7 Vergennes). Vermont's Environmental Board was scheduled to hear testimony last week about whether to revoke the land-use permit granted in 1999 (after the station had already been in place on the mountain for 12 years) over the NIMBYish howls of the neighbors. (We've been to Pease Mountain, and the site is nearly impossible to see from any distance.)
  • The neighbors' attorney (who, we'll editorialize, apparently never heard of the inverse-square rule) told the Associated Press that "it's clear that there is radiation in the community. The energy from the signal heats human tissue." (NERW wonders if he was talking on a hand-held cellphone at the time.)
  • RHODE ISLAND listeners got an early introduction to their newest radio station last Friday, when Entercom launched WEEI-FM (103.7 Westerly) two weeks earlier than planned, changing calls (from WWRX) and flipping to the sports format simulcast with Boston's WEEI (850) - except during Red Sox games.

April 16, 1999 -

  • The nights will soon sound different on Boston's WBZ (1030), as one of the CBS station's talk hosts retires and another cuts back on his workload.
  • Bob Raleigh told listeners this week that he'll leave WBZ when he turns 65 June 9. Raleigh has been gradually shedding overnight hours for the last few years, going from five nights a week down to three, and giving WBZ a chance to try out some potential replacements, including Steve LeVeille, Jordan Rich, and Kevin Sowyrda. No permanent replacement for Raleigh has been named so far, and if the precedent set by the death of weekend overnight host Norm Nathan a few years back holds, it's likely the station will take its time with the decision.
  • The pre-midnight landscape on WBZ is shifting as well. David Brudnoy asked station management to cut his weeknight show back two hours, ending at 10 PM instead of the present midnight. Brudnoy tells the Herald's Dean Johnson that the decision has nothing to do with the AIDS virus that took him off the air entirely back in 1995, just that five hours of radio each night, in addition to his many other duties as college professor, movie reviewer, and commentator, leave him "tired." A new talk host will be hired for the 10-midnight slot; again, no names have surfaced (although NERW can't ignore the newsgroup buzz that's suggesting a Gene Burns return from the West Coast would be well-received).
  • Elsewhere in MASSACHUSETTS, the end of 65 years of English-language radio at WLLH (1400 Lowell/Lawrence) is finally in sight. The station has been running promos all week asking listeners to follow WLLH personalities (including newsman Bob Ellis) down the dial to "the New 800 WCCM." Mega Broadcasting is expected to begin programming WLLH from its Charlestown WBPS/WNFT studios next week. (Another English-language institution, also dating back to 1934, also comes to a close at midnight Saturday, as Mutual's last radio newscast hits the airwaves. While it had probably outlived its usefulness, it still seems strange to think that the words "Mutual News" will never be heard again.)
  • Entercom now has its new calls for "Star 93.7," with the FCC's approval of WQSX for the former WEGQ Lawrence-Boston. An unintentional meaning to the new calls, noted by WCAP's Bill O'Neill (who, by the way, is someone we'd listen to on WBZ overnight!): "SX" for "Essex" County, where the station's city of license is located. Of course, the AM in Salem beat them to it...
  • In RHODE ISLAND, morning host Mike Butts has parted ways with WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence) after a long run with the Citadel-owned CHR. Midday jock Giovanni is taking over mornings, and Pro-FM is looking for a new midday host.
  • The big news in VERMONT is the sale of one of the Green Mountain State's most powerful FM signals. Albany Broadcasting is buying WJJR (98.1 Rutland), along with "Cat Country" simulcast WJEN (94.5 Rutland) and WJAN (95.1 Sunderland), for a reported $6.1 million. WJJR's mountaintop transmitter covers most of Vermont, a good chunk of New Hampshire, and a swath of eastern New York north of Albany, where its new owner already controls news-talk WROW (590), CHR WFLY (92.3 Troy), AC WYJB (95.5), and dance-CHR WAJZ (96.3 Voorheesville). Will format changes be in order? We'll keep you posted.
  • We'll start NEW YORK's news with a format change in the Watertown market. WOTT (100.7 Henderson) dropped its "Fun Oldies" format after just over a year, resurfacing Wednesday morning as "Real Rock," claiming to play "the best classic rock and the best new rock." The Clancy-Mance station becomes a direct competitor to Forever's WCIZ (93.3 Watertown). Former morning host Mike "The Colonel" White will move over to sister station WATN (1240 Watertown) to replace Nat Natali, who retires at month's end. Mornings on the new WOTT will be handled by the syndicated "Bob and Tom" show from Indianapolis.

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