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
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
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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
(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
in Springfield, the analog signal at WWLP-TV (Channel 22) didn't
survive the night of April 16 - that's former WWLP engineer (and
NECRAT.com 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...
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 LARadio.com 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
- 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 -
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- 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
- 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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2009 by Scott Fybush.