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July 13, 2009

A Month On, DTV Transition Still Tangled

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FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE: With the death of Walter Cronkite at 92 Friday evening, you'll be reading plenty of tributes in the hours and days to come. They'll recognize, properly, the instrumental role Cronkite played in establishing TV news as a legitimate medium of record. They'll note his passing just days before the 40th anniversary of one of his seminal on-air moments, as he became the face and voice of man's landing on the moon. They'll assess the many ways in which Cronkite's successors, at CBS and elsewhere, have and have not lived up to the legacy he left.

But what you probably won't hear is the story of how Walter Cronkite, at a time when he was at the height of his influence, did something to help inspire a six-year-old boy with big media dreams.

The year was 1978, the boy was your editor, and as kindergarten drew to a close that spring, I was informing (or at least entertaining) my classmates by doing "newscasts" in front of the blackboard in the classroom. With six-year-old innocence, and at least a passing familiarity with the media thanks to an aunt who worked at the local CBS affiliate, it seemed entirely appropriate to send one of the scripts from our little kindergarten newscast to the man whose newscasts we watched over the dinner table every night.

So off went the letter, explaining - in kindergarten printing, I'm sure - how much I admired Mr. Cronkite and how I hoped someday perhaps to take his place behind the anchor desk at CBS.

A week or two went by, and right around the last day of school I came home to find a fat gray envelope waiting for me, with the CBS logo in big black print on the left side.

It would have been easy, and entirely reasonable, for the most famous TV anchorman in the world to have a staffer send off a form letter, or perhaps even an autographed photo. But that's not what Walter Cronkite did.

Instead, the fat gray envelope contained this letter, on CBS stationery, evidently typed by the man himself:

Dear Scott:

That was a fascinating newscast you and Jess and Jeffrey did on June 10th, and I'm very pleased that you sent me a copy of your script.

I have a feeling that if you keep up at this pace and get a good education in school, then one day all three of you will be at the CBS network.

Sincerely yours,

Walter Cronkite

June 26, 1978

But that wasn't all. In his own handwriting below the typed letter was this: "P.S. I thought you might like to see one of our scripts. W.C." And stuffed into that fat gray envelope was a complete teleprompter roll from those days before electronic prompters, dozens of pages long, right up to "And that's the way it is" - the very script that had rolled in front of Uncle Walter on the night of Tuesday, June 27, 1978.

So know this about Walter Cronkite: the man who told the nation about JFK and Vietnam and the moon landings and Watergate was not too big or too self-impressed to take a few minutes to write back to a starry-eyed kindergartner.

It took nearly twenty years for that six-year-old would-be newscaster to finally thank Walter Cronkite in person, and by then there was an interesting irony: having continued on a path into the news business, inspired in no small part by that letter back in 1978, your editor ended up at WBZ in Boston. By the time Cronkite showed up one night in the fall of 1996 to promote his new book, WBZ's owner, Westinghouse, had acquired CBS - and so that letter, long ago, that predicted that those kindergarten newscasters might someday "be at CBS" had come true, in a way.

Know this, too, about Walter Cronkite: even at the age of 80, he had already lost most of his hearing. So I'm not entirely sure that he understood - even as I showed him that letter he'd written me long ago - how much his small gesture back in 1978 meant to me.

So long, Uncle Walter...and thank you.

MORE TUESDAY UPDATES: The New York Times Company is exiting the radio business after 65 years with the sale of WQXR (96.3 New York). There are two buyers and a signal shuffle involved: Univision Radio is paying the Times $33.5 million for the 96.3 signal, and that's where it will move WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ). The 105.9 signal goes to the Times, which will then sell that license and the WQXR intellectual property to public broadcaster WNYC for $11.5 million, making the total sale price $45 million.

WNYC will operate the new WQXR 105.9 as a noncommercial fulltime classical station, which will allow WNYC-FM (93.9 New York) to drop its remaining music programming and run news and information 24/7.

The good news, of course, is that classical WQXR will survive under committed ownership; the bad news is that listeners in outlying areas, particularly on Long Island, will have a much harder time hearing 105.9 (a 600-watt class B1 signal from the Empire State Building, versus 6000 watts for the full class B signals on the same master antenna) than they now have with 96.3.

TUESDAY UPDATE: So long, WBCN! After more than 40 years as a rock station of one flavor or another, "The Rock of Boston" will cease to exist August 13, when CBS Radio will move hot AC "Mix" WBMX from 98.5 to 104.1, relaunching 98.5 as "The Sports Hub" with new calls WBZ-FM.

The new sports station will bring some big guns to the fight with Entercom's established sports behemoth, WEEI (850) - it will have the Patriots play-by-play that's been the most successful part of WBCN's current programming, as well as the Toucher and Rich morning show that's now heard on WBCN. The new station will also be the new home of Bruins hockey, replacing longtime flagship WBZ (1030), whose contract ended this spring.

We'll have much more on this move in next Monday's NERW...

*Yes, the name of this column is still "NorthEast Radio Watch," but as we return from our holiday hiatus, the broadcast news around the region is still very heavily TV-related, especially at several stations around the region that are breaking new ground as they try to hang on to their old analog audiences in the new all-digital era.

Just as it was before the holidays, the spotlight for the last few weeks has continued to be on the relatively small number of DTV stations operating on the VHF spectrum - and especially the handful of big-market stations that made the controversial choice of a slot on one of the low-band channels, 2 through 6.

In the northeast, that's just two full-power channel 6 signals: ABC's WPVI in Philadelphia and Freedom's WRGB in Schenectady. Both stations have already increased power in an attempt to make up for reception woes they've been experiencing, especially among viewers using indoor antennas that are generally poorly designed for low-band VHF signals. But those power increases - to as much as 30 kW average power, compared with the 10 kW maximum the FCC had initially imposed for low-band VHF digital in the crowded northeast - may come at a price for the noncommercial FM stations whose homes in the 88.1-91.9 MHz band have long been uncomfortable next-door neighbors to the channel 6 signals occupying 82-88 MHz.

That discomfort grew stronger late last week when WRGB made good on its promises to return an analog audio signal to the air. Like all analog channel 6 stations, WRGB had an audience around the region for its audio signal, which was transmitted at 87.75 MHz. The CBS affiliate already raised some eyebrows prior to the June 12 digital cutover when it revealed that it was seeking experimental authorization to keep running the audio signal, with vertical polarization, alongside its horizontally-polarized digital signal.

But when the analog audio returned, it had edged up the dial a bit: it's now at 87.9 MHz, and there are reports that WRGB has pared back the bandwidth occupied by its digital signal a bit - possibly as far down as the 5.5 MHz used by several digital LPTVs on channel 6, such as WNYZ-LP in New York - in order to alleviate co-channel interference between the digital datastream and the analog audio.

We've yet to locate WRGB's experimental authorization in the FCC database, but we'll be watching this story closely to see what sort of precedent it sets. Will the FCC's rush to pacify agitated TV broadcasters (and the lawmakers who mandated the DTV conversion) create new interference to the already densely-packed noncommercial FM band? For that matter, is the continued provision of analog audio on channel 6 even legal under the terms of the law that mandated the digital transition? And in the end, will the bet made by stations such as WPVI and WRGB - that the lower power bills on channel 6 would outweigh potential reception issues - pay off, especially in a DTV world that seems to be moving toward the mobile services that are only practical on UHF channels?

*At least one VHF DTV operator is tacitly acknowledging that it placed its bets on the wrong band. In Boston, Sunbeam's WHDH-TV (Channel 7) is asking the FCC to modify the DTV table of allocations so that it can dump its VHF channel in favor of a permanent return to the transitional UHF channel, 42, that WHDH used for a decade before moving its digital signal to VHF in June. Even after being granted a power increase on channel 7, WHDH found the challenges of indoor reception - especially in areas relatively close to its tower site in Newton - to be insurmountable.

Just days after the June 12 cutover, WHDH had asked the FCC for temporary permission to reactivate the channel 42 facility, and it's been running both 7 and 42 ever since.

WHDH's situation is an unusually fortunate one: its transitional digital channel was within the new core (channels 2-51), and it remained both available and fully spaced after the transition, providing an easy solution to its VHF troubles, albeit a somewhat costly one - its channel 42 transmitter is relatively old, as DTV transmitters go, while its brand-new digital 7 transmitter will have to be removed and the antenna system atop its tower reconfigured, assuming the move back to 42 is granted.

For most DTV broadcasters still trying to reach viewers unable to see their signals, any solutions will come more incrementally, and more painfully. In Philadelphia, for instance, there are simply no open UHF channels where WPVI could move, should it seek to abandon VHF, and the situation is little better in markets such as New York and Chicago where VHF DTV has been troublesome.

That means the FCC is focusing on other potential technical improvements, such as the use of circular polarization and beam-tilt to better reach the areas near transmitter sites that have been unexpected reception trouble spots. Those solutions aren't cheap, either, since they require new antennas and more transmitter power for potentially minimal benefit.

Another somewhat costly solution is already being deployed by some stations across the region: digital replacement translators, which the FCC is authorizing on a fairly rapid basis for stations that have lost coverage with the switch from analog to digital.

In NERW-land, those facilities are still fairly rare: in New York, WCBS-TV has applied for one on channel 22 in Plainview, Long Island (the former WLIW-DT transitional facilities), while Albany's WNYT has applied for translators on 45 in Glens Falls and 18 in Fort Troy. In Pennsylvania, there are a bunch in and around Scranton: 36 for WSWB and 47 for WOLF, as well as 25 and 28 in Waymart for WYOU and WBRE, respectively. Johnstown's WJAC has applied for three: 22 in Altoona, 30 in Bedford and 26 in Du Bois. And in Pittsburgh, KDKA-TV has applied for 31 in Morgantown, WV and 40 in Johnstown, while sister station WPCW wants one on 27 in Johnstown.

One more DTV note: Sunday marked the end of the road for the last remaining analog full-power signals on the U.S. side of the border, as "nightlight" operation came to an end at Boston's WGBH-TV, WBZ-TV and WCVB; New York's WCBS-TV; Philadelphia's KYW-TV and Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV and WTAE. Rochester's WXXI-TV ended its nightlight operation Friday morning at 10.

*Meanwhile, the financial picture for many smaller TV station owners isn't getting any clearer, either. Tomorrow the assets of bankrupt Young Broadcasting will go on the auction block, including Albany's WTEN/WCDC. But if the reports in the big TV trades are any indication, there aren't many potential buyers eyeing Young's stations, even at a bargain price. The company says it has assets of about $575 million against liabilities that total just under a billion dollars, and it bears noting that it was less than a decade ago that Young paid a whopping $823 million for just one of those stations, KRON in San Francisco.

And the news about TV news isn't all that bright this week either, especially if you're in NEW JERSEY, where whatever was left of the commitment WWOR (Channel 9) made to the Garden State when it moved to Secaucus from New York City in the eighties is evaporating still further. Effective tonight, the Fox-owned station, sister to New York's WNYW (Channel 5), is no longer competing with the mothership at 10 PM, having cancelled its nightly "My 9 News at 10" in favor of a half-hour at 11 PM, with no weekend news at all. Replacing the news in the 10-11 PM hour on weeknights will be the new Wendy Williams talk show, which is also being seen weekday mornings at 10 on WNYW.

One more bit of TV news news - New York's WPIX (Channel 11) is reportedly planning an early-evening newscast, likely at 6:30 PM, to complement its existing morning and 10 PM shows.

In other Garden State news, Rick Brancadora has closed on his purchase of WILW (94.3 Avalon), clearing the way for the station to become WIBG-FM any day now...and for Rick to move ahead on his application to move the station north with an improved signal over Atlantic City.

Over in Bridgeton, the economy is being blamed for layoffs at WSNJ (1240), where PD Fred Sharkey and night jock Jonathan P. Casey are out. Jim Williams replaces Casey at night, while Brian "Corky" Warren adds PD duties to his sales responsibilities.

And they're mourning Cleo "Don" Brooks, former chairman of the New Jersey Broadcasters Association and former owner of several South Jersey stations. Brooks put WTTH (96.1 Margate) on the air, later adding WBNJ, WDOX, WMID, WZBZ and WSAX to his group before selling the cluster in 2002. Brooks also programmed WWIN in Baltimore. He died in late June at age 68.

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*Back in NEW YORK, we start the week's news on the Buffalo TV scene, where WIVB (Channel 4) parted ways with meteorologist Mary Beth Wrobel and reporter Rob Macko last week. Veteran anchor/reporter Mylous Hairston was also missing from the Channel 4 airwaves after suffering a heart attack. Hairston went to the doctor after feeling a tightness in his chest while anchoring the Sunday night news June 28; he underwent two surgeries and is expected to be back on the air in a couple of weeks.

In Binghamton, WBNG (Channel 12) general manager Matt Rosenfeld is off to Granite sister station KSEE in Fresno to serve as president/GM, and that means a promotion for Greg Catlin, who'd been serving as VP of news for WBNG. Catlin had also been overseeing the newsroom at Granite's WTVH in Syracuse until that operation was taken over by Barrington's WSTM earlier this year.

*Radio news? Yes, there was some of that, too - most notably in Oneida, where new owner James Johnson is getting ready to make some changes at WMCR (1600) and WMCR-FM (106.3), including splitting the longtime simulcast, taking the stations to 24-hour operation and adding new computer automation behind the scenes. Judging by the new website at wmcronline.com, the FM side will stick with music, with an AC format playing "your favorites from the 80s, 90s and more," while the AM goes to news and information.

Just down the road in Utica, WRUN (1150) is being sold - or rather, traded, as Bud Williamson's Digital Radio Broadcasting acquires the AM signal in trade for translator W247BM (formerly W248AN) on 97.3 in Cooperstown, plus $20,000. WRUN's current owner, Albany's WAMC, apparently no longer needs the AM now that it has WRUN-FM (90.3 Remsen) on the air in the Utica market.

There's a new signal on the air in the hills between the Catskills and Binghamton along Route 17: WBZX (107.1 Hancock) is now relaying Scranton's "Rock 107" (WEZX 106.9) into that area, which means an extra choice in an area that doesn't have much radio to speak of.

We also noticed a shift in the translator landscape as we drove home from New York City early last week: W229BH (93.7 Newburgh) is now relaying religious WNYX (88.1 Montgomery), and it's changed owners, as Bud Williamson swaps that one to John Katonah in exchange for W239AC (95.7 Middletown) and W272AV (102.3 Newburgh). If memory serves, the Middletown translator was relaying WPLJ's HD2 oldies service as we drove through.

Congratulations to North Country Public Radio (WSLU Canton, et al) for winning several national Murrow Awards from the RTNDA: NCPR's "The Impact of War...at Home" won the national small market Murrow for continuing coverage, while a piece on "Native Americans in Baseball's Past and Present" won the Murrow for sports reporting.

VERMONT Public Radio took home a national Murrow for use of sound in a story called "Oxen Exam," and down in Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA, WITF won awards for hard news ("Aftermath of the Luis Ramirez Beating Death") and news series ("Impact of War.")

*More news from the Keystone State: in Pittsburgh, John Tesh moves from afternoons to nights at WJAS (1320) to make room for former morning co-host Chris Shovlin, who'll also serve as director of marketing and promotion for the cluster.

Meanwhile, Renda morning newsman Hank Baughman is now working from the company's Greensburg station, WGSM (107.1), which segues from adult hits "Sam FM" to classic hits "G-107." Baughman is still doing morning news for the Pittsburgh stations from Greensburg, as well as replacing Brent Whigham on WGSM.

Budget cuts at public broadcaster WQED claimed nine jobs last week, including Dave Rhodes, director of in-studio program and co-host of "Dave & Dave's Excellent Adventures." Meanwhile, budget cuts at FSN Pittsburgh meant the end of the long-running "Savran on Sportsbeat" show, which debuted on predecessor KBL back in 1991.

Longtime Pittsburgh talker Lynn Cullen is back behind the mic, doing a daily webcast that starts August 18 on the website of Pittsburgh's City Paper, which shares ownership with the Steel City Media radio stations.

Listeners south of Pittsburgh might be hearing a new signal: WKVE (103.1 Waynesburg) is now testing from its new home in Mount Pleasant, where it upgrades from class A to B1 with more coverage into the Uniontown area.

Moving north, Erie-market Christian broadcaster WCTL (106.3 Union City) is adding a relay signal in Youngsville, as it acquires WTMV (88.5) from Inspiration Time, Inc. for no cash outlay, just the removal of its equipment and tower.

There's a slogan change on the Pennsylvania border: Youngstown-market WEXC-FM (107.1 Greenville) has segued from "Freq 107.1" to "Indie 107.1," reports Ohio Media Watch, as the station plays up the "rock" part of its format, though it continues to play some religious tunes as well.

There's another call change on the New York border: after a short run with the WLMY calls, the former WFRM-FM (96.7 Coudersport) changes to WBYB as it prepares to move to Portville, N.Y., in the Olean market.

In York, Dave Russell is out as PD at WARM-FM (103.3), with budget cuts to blame.

CLEARANCE SALE! DON'T WAIT!

We thought we'd sell out of Tower Site Calendar 2009 without resorting to a clearance sale...but not quite.

Our business manager (aka Mrs. Fybush) reports that a limited quantity of 2009 calendars are still available - and as we get ready to send Tower Site Calendar 2010 to the printer, we're clearing out the remaining 2009 editions.

The supply is dwindling fast at our clearance price of just $9 each, postpaid - that's half-off the usual price of $18. So place that order now - and get ready for pre-orders of the 2010 edition, starting next week!

Order now at the fybush.com Store!

*It was a quiet couple of weeks in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, unless you were former WBZ sports director Gil Santos, who became the newest inductee into the WBZ Hall of Fame on Thursday. Santos, who retired earlier this year, is the second WBZ veteran to be honored with a plaque outside the front door of the Soldiers Field Road studios, following longtime morning partner Gary LaPierre.

(NERW wonders who'll be next - surely that honor is overdue for legendary ex-BZ'ers such as Carl deSuze and Streeter Stuart, not to mention some more recent names like Maynard, Glick and Brudnoy...)

Over at public radio WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), news director John Davidow has been shifted to a new position as executive editor of the WBUR.org website, while Martha Little, late of the now-defunct NPR show "Day to Day," joins WBUR as news director. General manager Paul LaCamera says the website, which is now "under reconstruction," will relaunch later this summer with the goal of challenging the Globe's boston.com and WCVB's thebostonchannel.com as major online news players in the Boston market.

In Worcester, public station WICN (90.5) wants to move its transmitter site from Stiles Hill in Boylston (the WUNI-TV tower) to Mount Asnebumskit in Paxton. The proposed move would come with a significant power decrease (from 8.1 kW to 1.1 kW) but an even more significant increase in height (from 371' to 810'), taking advantage of Asnebumskit's commanding line of sight over much of central Massachusetts to improve WICN's signal over central and western Worcester County. And yes, we're well aware of the irony - Entercom's WAAF (107.3 Westborough) abandoned WICN's future home, the old Armstrong tower on Asnebumskit, to make the reverse move to Stiles Hill a couple of years ago.

Out west, WBSL (91.7 Sheffield) is now rebroadcasting community station WHDD-FM (91.9 Sharon, CONNECTICUT) when the Berkshire School isn't originating its own programming on 91.7. Local WBSL programming is heard during school sessions from 7-8 AM and 7-11 PM on weekdays and from 7-11 on Saturday nights; the rest of the time, it's now a WHDD simulcast, significantly extending that new station's reach to the north.

Two new callsigns: Mercysong's 91.9 in Stockbridge will be WDMY, while Light of Life Ministries' new 91.5 in Rockport will be WWRN.

*Light of Life has new calls for its new signals in MAINE, too: 91.5 in Fryeburg will be WFYB, while 91.7 in Ellsworth will be WRNM.

*DTV reception in RHODE ISLAND could soon get a little better: WJAR (Channel 10/RF 51) is in the process of replacing its side-mounted antenna with a new top-mounted antenna in the space where the old channel 10 analog antenna used to be.

We're indebted to our colleague Mike Fitzpatrick for passing along photos of the work going on at WJAR's site in Rehoboth, Mass. - and remember to look for his NECRAT tower photos at their new web address, www.necrat.us!

And while we're on the subject of WJAR, the station is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month, complete with a website, an anniversary special that aired last Friday, and memories from viewers celebrating their own anniversaries this July.

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

*News about the TV business dominated the headlines out of CANADA last week, too, with one station sale announced, another proposed sale cancelled, and at least some interim indications of the CRTC's future policy directions for local TV.

The newly-announced sale will take CHCH (Channel 11) in Hamilton and CJNT (Channel 62) in Montreal off the hands of CanWest Global, which has been trying to shed what it says are unprofitable operations at those "E!"-branded stations. The new owners of those stations will be Channel Zero, Inc., which is best known now for its specialty cable channels, including Movieola and Silver Screen Classics. No purchase price was announced for the deal, which Channel Zero says will transform CHCH into a news service by day, with movies at night.

Meanwhile, Shaw Communications has backed away from its audacious offer to buy CKNX-TV (Channel 8) in Wingham, CHWI-TV (Channels 16/60) in Wheatley/Windsor and CKX-TV in Brandon, Manitoba from CTV for a dollar. Shaw's not saying why it won't pursue that deal.

In the meantime, though, the CRTC is issuing short-term license renewals to English-language local TV outlets across Canada in order to keep them on the air through the summer of 2010 while the agency formulates a comprehensive new strategy for commercial TV. Under the terms of the renewals, CKNX-TV will become a full-time relay transmitter for London's CFPL-TV (Channel 10), which has been providing the bulk of its programming anyway. The new short-term licenses also do away with two "regional" licenses that had barred Global from selling local advertising in Toronto and Montreal. Under the new licenses, Global's CIII-TV-41 (Channel 41) in Toronto will become its primary station for Ontario, while CKMI-TV-1 (Channel 46) in Montreal will take over from CKMI-TV (Channel 20) in Quebec City as the primary station for that province.

*On the radio dial, Evanov Communications is expanding its Ontario footprint west to Brantford, with the proposed acquisition of CKPC (1380) and CKPC-FM (92.1). Those Telephone City Broadcast Ltd. stations have been in limbo since owner Richard Buchanan died in January 2008. No purchase price has been announced for that sale, either.

"The addition of the Brantford stations will play a critical role on our expansion plans for the future," said Evanov president Bill Evanov in a statement announcing the deal. "We are both excited and eager to serve Brantford”.

Over in St. Catharines, troubled CHSC (1220) got slapped again by the CRTC last week. The station has been in the agency's crosshairs for several years, and now the CRTC has issued "mandatory orders" compelling the Pellpropco-owned station to broadcast in English to the Niagara Region instead of in Italian to Toronto on weekday mornings, to maintain logger tapes, and to comply with CanCon requirements. The CRTC warns that it could take more drastic steps - including license revocation - if CHSC doesn't come into compliance.

In Woodstock, Ontario, CIHR (104.7) has been granted a power increase - from an average ERP of 1.9 kW to 7.1 kW - over the objections of broadcasters in neighboring London and Tillsonburg, who complained that Byrnes Communications' "Heart FM" would create new competition in those markets.

In Peterborough, silent CKKK (90.5) is changing hands: Andy McNabb is buying the station from King's Kids Promotions Outreach Ministries, Inc. for $160,000, retaining its religious format.

And we close this week's column on a sad note: longtime CFNY (102.1 Toronto) jock Martin Streek, who was let go from the station in the midst of budget cutbacks in May, was found dead in his home last Monday (July 6), an apparent suicide. Streek was 45.

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. Note that 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!)

July 14, 2008 -

  • Central NEW JERSEY is a tough place to operate a local AM station these days, up against a dial full of FM signals from within the state and neighboring New York and Philadelphia, not to mention a plethora of other entertainment and information choices. So it was probably only a matter of time before Greater Media pulled the plug on most of the local programming at news-talker WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) and oldies WMTR (1250 Morristown). That day arrived July 2, as both stations flipped to satellite "Good Time Oldies," with only separate local morning shows remaining to provide some sort of local identity.
  • At WCTC, the format flip kept veteran jock Jack Ellery in the morning chair, once again playing the music that was a station trademark before it switched to talk, but it ousted afternoon talker Alan David Stein, middayer Lauren Pressley and a mid-morning block of financial and food talk. At WMTR, the move to satellite oldies knocked out local jocks MK Dombrowski and the "Golden Gup," Robert Gascoigne, who minced no words when he told the Star-Ledger, "Radio has become a waste of electricity." WMTR's local voice-tracked part-timers, including Mark Mitchell and Pete Tauriello, are also out, but at least they're able to keep their day jobs - Tauriello, for instance, is the morning traffic voice on WINS (1010 New York). Chris Edwards stays on board doing mornings at WMTR.
  • The biggest news out of PENNSYLVANIA over the last couple of weeks came from the State College area, where veteran station owner Cary Simpson handed over the keys to WGMR (101.1 Tyrone) to Forever on July 7, bringing an end to the station's many decades under those call letters, most recently with top 40 as "G101." To nobody's surprise (but lots of chatter on the message boards), Forever promptly flipped the station to country as "Froggy," using its big class B signal to give that regional brand new reach in the areas north and east of Forever's other Froggy stations in the area, WFGY (98.1 Altoona) and WFGI-FM (95.5 Johnstown). The WGMR calls are gone from 101.1, too, replaced at week's end by WFGE.
  • Froggy's former home in State College, WSGY (98.7 Pleasant Gap), was silent for a few days as its ownership transferred from Forever to 2510 Licenses, but it returned July 9 with adult contemporary music as "Wish," with new calls WWSH.
  • One of the true veterans of NEW HAMPSHIRE radio has retired. Paul Leblanc spent a remarkable 44 years at WTSN (1270 Dover), pretty much all that time as morning man. (His arrival at the station came right on the heels of the departure of a talented young newsman named Gary LaPierre; there must have been something in the water up there in the early sixties.) Leblanc's last "WTSN Morning Information Center" broadcast on July 11 was followed that evening by a big retirement dinner at the Great Bay Gallery in Somersworth, where Leblanc was honored with a "WTSN Lifetime Achievement Award" and a big-screen TV. General manager Mike Dafoe tells Foster's Daily Democrat that he hopes LeBlanc will return for some fill-in work down the road - and LeBlanc tells the paper he plans "to do a whole lot of nothing."
  • Just after our last issue before our holiday break came out, there was a format change in VERMONT: Northeast Broadcasting's WUSX (93.7 Addison) dropped its "US Country" format, which never made a dent in market behemoth WOKO (98.9 Burlington), in favor of oldies and a new nickname, "Cruisin' 93.7."
  • In Syracuse, WSYR-TV (Channel 9) reporter Mike Price retired July 3 after an amazing 45-year run at the station, all the way back to its genesis as WNYS-TV in the basement of Shoppingtown Mall way back when. Price was a staff announcer back then, best remembered for his portrayal of "Baron Daemon," host of horror movies late at night and the kiddie cartoons in the afternoon. (He even boasts the top-selling local record in Syracuse music history, the 1963 novelty tune "Transylvania Twist.") After a 1967 studio fire that destroyed his costumes and sets, Baron Daemon was retired, and Price became an audio operator and then a general-assignment reporter for Channel 9. More recently, he's been contributing "Good News" segments to the station's evening newscasts. Price says he's hoping to continue to do some voiceover and freelance work in his retirement.

July 12, 2004 -

  • When we headed out on the road two weeks ago for the first of several bits of summer travel, we were already hearing rumblings about a big announcement from the Howard Stern camp - and sure enough, a few days after we departed for Colorado, Howard announced nine new affiliates, including replacements in Pittsburgh and Rochester where his former Clear Channel affiliates dropped his show back in February.
  • And in western PENNSYLVANIA, Stern's arrival on an Infinity-owned FM meant the demise of one of Pittsburgh's longest-running formats. Admittedly, the top 40 at WBZZ (93.7 Pittsburgh) had taken a beating in recent years as the station reinvented itself, first replacing "B94" with "93-7BZZ" and then with "B93-7." The 23 years of heritage CHR came to an end June 30, when B gave way to "K-Rock," with new calls of WRKZ following a few days later and Stern's arrival scheduled for July 19. (And yes, WRKZ is itself something of a heritage Keystone State callsign, but not to Pittsburgh ears - it was over in the Harrisburg market for most of the last two decades.)
  • The "Dave, Bubba and Shelly" morning show that was a 93.7 staple is gone, as are several other jocks at the former WBZZ calls - and the calls themselves were quickly packed in dry ice and driven out the Parkway West to be flown down to Tampa for another new Stern affiliate, "1010 the Buzz," the former WQYK (1010 Seffner FL).
  • And at the other end of the Keystone State, Radio One modified its application to move WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton) to 107.9 in Pennsauken, NEW JERSEY. Instead of the current CP, which calls for 1900 watts at 156 meters above average terrain on the WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ) tower in Camden, Radio One now wants to put WSNJ-FM right in the heart of Philadelphia - as in, two blocks from William Penn's statue atop City Hall. The new application for WSNJ-FM's 107.9 facility calls for 550 watts at 252 meters from the very same One Liberty Plaza skyscraper that's already home to WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia). Radio One has also applied for Special Temporary Authority for WSNJ-FM, presumably to allow the station to remain silent while it pursues this modified move in to Philadelphia.
  • Oldies have returned to the Ogdensburg area with the flip of AC "Yes FM" WYSX (98.7 Ogdensburg) to "PAC 98-7" WPAC. "Yes FM" sticks around on the simulcast frequency of 96.7, by way of a strange little swap of facilities. Grab a pencil, a piece of paper and a couple of Advils and try to follow along: The class A facility that was WNCQ (102.9 Morristown) upgrades to class C3, changes frequency to 96.7 and takes on the calls WYSX and the "Yes FM" AC format. The class A facility that was WPAC (96.7 Canton) moves to 102.9, changes calls to WNCQ and picks up the "Q Country" that's been on WNCQ 102.9 all along anyway. If this makes sense to you, you're probably an FCC lawyer; for the average listener in the North Country, the practical result is that "Q Country" more or less stays put on 102.9 (just changing its ID from Morristown to Canton) and "Yes" more or less stays put on 96.7, albeit with a power increase and a new Morristown city of license.
  • All of which brings us to a series of swaps that should be a little bit easier to understand: right on schedule at midnight July 4, Clear Channel flipped active rocker WNVE (95.1 Honeoye Falls) to classic hits as WFXF, "the Fox," moving WNVE's "Nerve" format up the dial - and down in power - to the former WFXF (107.3 South Bristol) facility. The Nerve led into the change with repeated spins of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," while the Fox showed a bit more creativity, leaving 107.3 behind with a playlist that included Bowie's "Changes," the Who's "Song is Over," the Eagles' "Already Gone," Bob Seger's "Night Moves" (it was a midnight swap, after all), Billy Joel's "Movin; Out," the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" and finally Genesis' "Follow You, Follow Me" (which cut off partway through, but now we're just being picky.)
  • So far, so good, right? Leave it to the local paper (the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which has now officially replaced the Boston Globe as this column's favorite example of one-stop-beyond-clueless radio reporting) to confuse matters. First came the "news" article, more than a week after even the slowest of the radio trades had reported the switch, almost two weeks after WFXF began promoting it on air and - yup - even a day after WFXF finally gave up waiting for a news article and took out an ad announcing the move, that somehow wound up with the claim that neither station would be using any live jocks - which had to have been a shocker for the live jocks who were (and still are) on the Nerve.

July 16, 1999 -

  • The student voice of Colby College is silent for the moment, as staffers of WMHB (90.5 Waterville) try to find out why their station has no current license in FCC records. The FCC still lists WMHB at its old 91.5 frequency, which the station vacated in the mid-80s to allow Maine Public Broadcasting to put WMEW on the air at 91.3 in Waterville. So how does MPBC repay the favor a decade later? The statewide public broadcaster applied back in January for a 90.5 transmitter in Camden, on the coast southeast of Waterville and mutually exclusive with the 90.5 facilities WMHB has been using for years. The FCC deadline for competing applications for 90.5 is Monday night, July 19, and thus far, MPBC's application is the only one.
  • The students who run WMHB tell the Central Maine Morning Sentinel that they never received the warning MPBC claims it gave Colby about the problem. In the meantime, they took WMHB off the air last Saturday (July 10) while they try to resolve the problem. Ironically, MPBC is funded in part by Colby College, thanks to the merger of the former MPBN network and WCBB-TV Lewiston, which was owned by Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin Colleges. (2009 update: This one had a happy ending, as MPBC helped WMHB find a new home down the dial at 89.7.)
  • Moving west to NEW HAMPSHIRE, Dennis Jackson checked in to report his WZEN (106.5 Farmington) is now operating 24 hours a day with its "real" format as "Oldies 106.5." The station is running in mono for better coverage, and using Portsmouth and Winnipesaukee in its IDs. Sign-on was last Friday (July 9) at 10 PM.
  • From RHODE ISLAND this week, we have two station sales that really are, and one that's not. The real ones are the Urso family's last Bear Broadcasting properties, WADK (1540) Newport and WERI-FM (99.3) Block Island. They're being sold, for a reported $1.8 million, to Maurice Polayes' Astro Tele-Communications of Needham, MA. Polayes is promising no changes to WADK's talk-and-jazz format and WERI-FM's AAA format, but we'll wait and see, thanks.
  • Now for the one that wasn't quite so: NERW was startled to find a notice in last week's issue of Broadcasting & Cable that Brown Broadcasting's WBRU (95.5 Providence) was being sold to Chancellor for all of $2 million. Not only did the price seem absurdly low for a class B signal in the Providence market, but we found it hard to believe Brown would have any reason to sell a station it's owned for half a century, or that B&C would list a sale long before it appeared in the FCC database or any of the on-line trade publications (which usually scoop B&C by a week or two).
  • Sure enough, we find next Monday's B&C will carry a correction indicating that such a sale is not, in fact, taking place. Could a company like Chancellor (now AMFM, Inc.) get a station like WBRU? Maybe, but we suspect the price would be more like $20 million than $2 million. Providence listeners will have to wait a while longer for "Jammin' Oldies," we guess...

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