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August 17, 2009

Sports Hub Swings Into Action

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*There was a common thread to a lot of the commentary about the big radio changes last week in MASSACHUSETTS: if CBS Radio's WBCN (104.1 Boston) had sounded all along the way it did in its final days, wrapped in a powerful web of nostalgia for 41 years of rock radio, it might still be thriving, rather than relegated to an HD-2 subchannel on the station's successor, "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston).

It's true that the last gasp of WBCN was great radio, as jocks from throughout the station's long and storied history returned to say goodbye, even if the moment was marred a bit by the curious decision by CBS management to bar even the mention of the name of one of the station's most important personalities, longtime afternoon jock Mark Parenteau, whose career-ending legal issues came long after he'd departed Boston.

In a week full of manufactured nostalgia for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, though, the farewell to a station that predated that festival by a year felt both more genuine and more heartfelt, especially in the final hours of WBCN's four-day retrospective. As the clock neared midnight on Tuesday (Aug. 13), WBCN went out in about as eclectic a way as possible, ending with Frank Sinatra's "That's Life," followed by Cream's "I Feel Free" (the first song played on WBCN as a rock station back in 1968) and then by Pink Floyd's "Shine On (You Crazy Diamond)," which gave way to a montage of WBCN IDs, followed by two hours of simulated static and then the launch of the new "Mix 104," WBMX.

And what was that in between Sinatra and Cream? One last stopset - a reminder that this is first, last and always about business, and that the cost of running a station like the "old" WBCN is probably more than any commercial broadcaster could bear in 2009.

*On, then, to the future, which came a day and a half after WBCN gave way to "Mix" on 104.1. By Wednesday morning, WBMX's old home on 98.5 was broadcasting a loop reminding Mix listeners to head up the dial, and Thursday morning brought a soft launch of the "Sports Hub," as WBZ-FM debuted with encores of several of the Patriots' recent Super Bowl wins, leading into the station's official debut with the Pats' first pre-season game that afternoon.

Here's how the new station's lineup shapes up: in addition to former WBCN morning jocks Toucher and Rich handling wakeup duties, WBZ-FM features Gary Tanguay of Comcast SportsNet and ex-Pats QB Scott Zolak from 10 AM-2 PM, CSN's Michael Felger and the Globe's Tony Massarotti from 2-6 PM, and Damon Amendolara, late of Miami's WQAM, from 6-midnight. Sporting News Radio's syndicated sports talk fills out the overnight and weekend lineup for now.

Felger, interestingly, can now claim to have worked at all three of the market's sports stations in just over a year, as he's bounced from ESPN outlet WAMG (890) to Entercom's WEEI (850) to the new WBZ-FM, where he's now a key player in what's shaping up to be a most interesting battle between established behemoth WEEI and the new "Sports Hub."

*Over at Entercom, there were some distractions from that fight last week, thanks to WAAF (107.3 Westborough) morning co-host Anthony "Spaz" Parziale, whose on-air comments about President Obama prompted the Secret Service to pay the station a visit. Parziale says he's writing a note of apology to the president - and hoping to sit down with him for a beer.

*And we're sorry to report the passing of a longtime friend of this column: Ira Apple, whose long career included stints as PD of WBZ (1030 Boston) and sister station KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh), as well as at Baltimore's WBAL. Apple also taught at Emerson College and worked in sales for CBSI. Most recently, he had been working with the Traffic Directors Guild of America as its liaison to state broadcasters associations. Apple suffered a series of aneurysms last month, and he died August 11 at a hospice in Maryland. He was 74.

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*While Boston's 104.1 was saying farewell to its past, a co-channel station in western NEW YORK was turning back its own format clock. Citadel's WHTT (104.1 Buffalo) went through a slow transition from oldies to adult contemporary over the last few years, culminating in the summer of 2007 with a slogan change to (ironically enough) "Mix 104." But the station was never able to overtake the market's longtime AC leader, Entercom's WTSS (Star 102.5) - and last week, WHTT quietly retired "Mix" in favor of a return to classic hits.

The WHTT on-air lineup remains unchanged for now, including market veteran Bill Lacy in morning drive and the syndicated John Tesh at night.

*Downstate, it came as no great surprise late last week when Mega Media Group filed for bankruptcy. Mega owns "Pulse 87," the dance station that leases the audio carrier of LPTV station WNYZ-LP (Channel 6) - and it reports that it owes $3.5 million against assets of just $180,000. Mega says it hopes to continue operating Pulse while it restructures under Chapter 11.

Out on Long Island, financial issues are putting the future of WLIU (88.3 Southampton) in some question. Long Island University announced earlier this month that its own financial issues will lead it to drop support for the public radio station in October - and the loss of that million-dollar annual subsidy, as well as of the station's leased home on the former Southampton campus of LIU, threatens to take the station off the air unless a new owner is found.

Fortunately for WLIU, the station has a passionate following in one of the state's wealthiest areas, and station manager Wallace Smith is now leading a charge to form a locally-run nonprofit to take over the WLIU license and move the station to a new location on the East End.

*Radio (and TV) People on the Move: One of upstate New York's most prominent public broadcasting voices is changing stations, as Susan Arbetter departs Albany's WMHT for a new post as news and public affairs director at WCNY radio and TV in Syracuse. Arbetter joined WMHT two years ago to produce and host the statewide "New York Now" public affairs show; before that, she'd been news director at Albany's WAMC public radio. At WCNY, Arbetter will be responsible for news coverage on both TV and radio, and the station says she'll be working on developing a statewide news service as well.

Down the road at Buffalo's WNED, Pamela Johnson exits as VP of education and outreach, while senior VP/broadcasting Dick Daly becomes a senior consultant to president/CEO Donald Boswell. Chief program officer John Grant takes over some of Daly's operational responsibilities, while news director James Ranney gets promoted to station manager of WNED(AM) and director of public affairs.

At New York's WABC (770), news anchor Bruce Anderson is retiring Sept. 18 after a quarter-century on the air at the station - and a career that included stops at WHN, WKHK and WBGO before that.

*And north of Utica, the furor over the new tower site of EMF Broadcasting's WOKR (93.5 Remsen) seems to have died down. The FCC sent a letter to area congressman Michael Arcuri that says it found no unusual radiation levels near the site, and the neighbors who'd been complaining about mysterious illnesses that started when WOKR moved there in April say they're feeling better now. Arcuri is hosting a town hall meeting this afternoon to discuss any remaining concerns with the station's neighbors.

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*There's a new nickname for Jeff Andrulonis' country stations in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA and across the state line in New York as well: "Bob FM" is the new identity for WLMI (103.9 Kane) and its translators in Bradford and Smethport, as well as for WBYB (96.7 Portville NY) in the Olean market.

The WLMY calls that briefly resided on 96.7 have resurfaced - this time on 107.9 in Williamsport, formerly WRVH.

Down in State College, news-talker WRSC moved to the FM dial August 3, when "QWK Rock" WQWK (103.1 State College) became WRSC-FM, displacing the long-running rock format to webcast-only status. Forever Broadcasting is keeping the WQWK calls in town, parking them on the former WRSC (1390), which continues to simulcast with the FM.

Radio People on the Move: at Clear Channel's Pittsburgh cluster, Dennis Lamme is the new president and market manager, taking over from John Rohm, who'd retained Pittsburgh duties even after adding Philadelphia to his portfolio. Lamme, best known in the region for his stint at the helm of Clear Channel Albany, had been market manager at Clear Channel's St. Louis stations. Down the hall, Alex Tear is departing as operations director; he's headed to Miami as OM for Clear Channel's cluster there. And former Entercom Scranton/Wilkes Barre market manager Phil Hoover is retiring after 45 years in the business, most recently at the helm of Entercom's stations in Indianapolis.

In Carlisle, WIOO (1000) has made its addition of an FM translator official: W250AP (97.9 Carlisle) is now broadcasting WIOO's classic country format 24 hours a day, even after its daytime AM parent signs off for the night.

Over in Lebanon, there's an LPFM call change: WOMA-LP (93.1) becomes WLEB-LP as it changes hands from Spanish-language Radio Omega to Calvary Chapel of Lebanon - and that means a format change to Calvary religion, too.

On the TV side of things, there's a new evening newscast in the Harrisburg-York market, as Tribune's WPMT (Channel 43) adds a 6:30 show to its existing morning and 10 PM broadcasts.

*NEW JERSEY's talk radio scene is a little quieter at night of late, now that Millennium's WKXW-FM (101.5 Trenton) has pulled the plug on the all-night show that had been hosted by "Tommy G," aka Tom Gordon. With his exit, "New Jersey 101.5" is now in rerun mode all night long, with "Best Of" shows replacing the live talk it had been running.

There's a call change in the Atlantic City market, as WGXM (88.7 Port Republic) becomes WEHA. The station asked the FCC for special temporary authority last month to operate without EAS gear or a public file - it reports that former programmer Al Thomas absconded with the gear and the files, telling owner WXXY Broadcasting that he'd only return them if his demands were met. The police are now involved with the case, and WEHA has new EAS gear on order.

*A few bits of news from northern New England: in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Barry Lunderville's WKDR (1490 Berlin) is now on the air, simulcasting sister station WXXS (102.3 Lancaster)'s "Kiss FM" AC format; while in MAINE, there are some new callsigns to report for the Knights of Columbus' new stations - WTBP (89.7 Bath) and WWTP (88.5 Augusta).

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

*Our news from CANADA starts in Ottawa, where the CRTC has again granted new FM licenses to Astral Media and to Frank Torres, reinstating those grants after they were revoked by Canada's Privy Council over concerns that the CRTC had failed to award a new license for the area's Francophone community.

Now the Radio de la Communaute Francophone d'Ottawa (RCFO) group is getting a signal as well - it will operate on 94.5, a frequency suggested by Astral. Both Astral, which will operate the new "Eve FM" on 99.7, and Torres, who will run blues-rock "Dawg FM" on 101.9, will provide financial support for RCFO's new French-language signal on 94.5.

In Montreal, Astral cut a slew of jobs at CJAD (800) last week. Gone are midday co-host Kevin Holden, whose 2-4 PM slot is being filled by Dan Laxer while his wife and co-host Trudie Mason moves to the CJAD newsroom, as well as late-night host Peter Anthony Holder, weekend talkers Laurie MacDonald, Olga Gadzovic and Jake Lawrence, and news anchor Kathy Coulombe.

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!)

August 18, 2008 -

  • After more than 18 years at the pinnacle of the NEW YORK sports-talk radio scene, "Mike and the Mad Dog" are history at WFAN (660).
  • Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo spent very little of the summer working together, separated by alternating vacations amidst newspaper headlines suggesting increased tension between the long-running co-hosts. And then, on Thursday, the memo came out - Francesa had signed a new long-term contract to stay at WFAN, while Russo was gone from the station that made him famous.
  • Russo's next career move is unclear right now. While rumors have him heading for satellite radio - and a noncompete clause in his contract (which remains in effect) bars him from competitor WEPN until next spring - the Dog was back on the WFAN airwaves Friday, calling in to his former show to say goodbye.
  • Francesa, meanwhile, becomes the solo star of a show that thrived on his tension with his former co-host. While there will new cast members added to the afternoon shift by the time the show relaunches Sept. 5, Francesa says they won't fill the same co-host role that Russo did. For now, Francesa's show will continue to be simulcast on the YES Network (which replayed the Friday call-in several times).
  • The PD chair keeps spinning in PENNSYLVANIA's biggest market: Rick Vaughn is leaving WIOQ (102.1 Philadelphia) on Sept. 2. He's heading for Chicago's WKSC (Kiss 103.5), to replace the departing Rick Gillette.
  • In Pittsburgh, market veteran Zak Szabo is the new afternoon host at Steel City Media's WLTJ (Q92.9).
  • The FCC is forcing Nassau to unwind a long-running NEW HAMPSHIRE JSA - and quickly. The license to what's now WWHK (102.3 Concord) stayed in the hands of Capitol Broadcasting (aka Vox) when Jeff Shapiro and Bruce Danziger sold the rest of their cluster to Nassau back in 2004, and while WWHK has been functioning as part of Nassau's Concord/Manchester/Nashua cluster ever since, it's been doing so under a JSA with Capitol. Nassau applied to buy WWHK outright in 2005, but the FCC dismissed the application, saying it would put Nassau over the four-FM limit for the Concord market. Nassau asked the FCC for a waiver, noting that the 102.3 signal had been "home" to the Manchester market at the time of the transfer application. But the FCC isn't buying the argument. It says Nassau should have ended the JSA in September 2006, when new rules went into affect that attribute JSAs and LMAs against ownership limits. Now the Commission is ordering the JSA to be terminated immediately, forcing Capitol to make other arrangements to sell WWHK's airtime - and it says the Enforcement Bureau will be weighing in on the case, too.
  • Barry Lunderville is changing calls at his new AM signal in Berlin: WRTN (1490) will now be WKDR, a longtime Burlington, Vermont callsign.

August 16, 2004 -

  • NEW YORK's WABC (770) holds an outsize place in the hearts of a lot of radio people in the northeast - and in large part, that's because of the jocks who dominated its airwaves (and thus the top 40 world) during its Musicradio heyday. This week, one of those All-Americans lost his fight with lung cancer, as Chuck Leonard died on Thursday (August 12). Leonard's broadcast career began in Baltimore, where he was heard on WEBB (1360) from 1963 until 1965, when he moved to New York's WWRL (1600). Within just a few months, Leonard was heard by WABC's Dan Ingram, who persuaded station management to bring him over to do nights, which he did from 1965 until 1979.
  • As the Musicradio era came to a close, Leonard moved on to FM, working at WXLO/WRKS and WBLS. In the mid-nineties, he was heard spinning standards on WQEW (1560) and oldies on Jukebox Radio (WJUX 99.7 Monticello/W276AQ Fort Lee NJ), and he'd recently been working at Sirius Satellite Radio, on the Swing Street and Soul Review channels. Leonard is survived by his wife, Pamela Horrell Leonard, and daughters Diana Leonard and Kyra Johnson. He was 67.
  • Meanwhile, back on today's radio scene, WNEW (102.7) lost its operations manager last week, as Infinity moved Smokey Rivers down to Dallas and the PD chair at KVIL (103.7). Rivers came in last year when WNEW was being relaunched as "Mix," with the apparent goal of turning the station into an AC challenger to Clear Channel's WLTW (106.7) - but now Mix has morphed into more of a rhythmic station under the programming leadership of Frankie Blue, which left Rivers' role undefined.
  • Heading upstate, WHEC-TV (Channel 10) in Rochester is losing the anchor who's been at the helm of its 6 PM newscast since way back in 1976. Gabe Dalmath has been taking a less prominent role at the station in the last few years, having been moved off the 11 PM show and on to the 5:30 AM broadcast in 2001 (not, as the local rag would have it, 1991) - and all that free time in the middle of the day enabled him to start a second career developing business for a local mortgage broker. Dalmath will move from the 6 PM news to the 5 PM news at the end of next week, and he'll leave the station completely at the end of this year, with Brian Martin replacing him at 6.
  • In Pittsburgh, Rush Limbaugh is heading for the FM dial. Clear Channel's pulling the talker (whose show is owned by CC subsidiary Premiere) over to its WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh) beginning Nov. 15; that'll leave a hole in the KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) midday schedule that will be filled by Bill O'Reilly (noon-2) and an extra hour of Fred Honsberger (2-3). (And our best wishes to Honz, by the way, as he recovers from gastric bypass surgery. He's been on the air from his home for the last week.)

August 20, 1999 -

  • It's been a slow, slow week in Northeast radio. How slow? So slow that a little FM in Attica, NEW YORK gets to top off this week's news. WXOX (101.7) is changing calls to WLOF, and changing formats from the modern AC mix known as "the Spot" to Catholic Family Radio talk. Is a sale in the works as well? Probably, but we haven't heard anything yet. WXOX was known for many years as WBTF, providing country music to Genesee and Wyoming counties (between Buffalo and Rochester), before deciding last year to target the Buffalo suburbs as "the Spot." Sister AM WBTA (1490 Batavia) seems to be unchanged at this writing.
  • Once again, it's good news for the remaining modern AC in the Buffalo area, CKEY (101.1) in Fort Erie, Ontario. "The River" lost its biggest competitor in June, when CBS flipped WLCE (92.9 Buffalo) from modern AC "Alice" to rhythmic oldies "B92-9." WLCE, by the way, is picking up a new and very familiar set of calls -- WBUF. Those calls graced 92.9 from the early 1960s until the mid-80s, when they were dumped for the unmemorable WFXZ, then retrieved a few years later and retained until the mid-90s switch to smooth jazz and WSJZ. It's good to have them back on radio in Western New York (they've been hiding in plain sight on LPTV WBUF-LP, Channel 39 in Hamburg, which becomes WDTB-LP now).
  • And after 75 years in Hartford, WTIC (1080) did its last broadcast from the 19th floor of the Gold Building Monday morning. The 10 AM legal ID was the last thing heard from the old studios, with the new ones in Farmington signing on with news immediately following. We hear the 'TIC talk hosts have been making repeated cracks about the (very) suburban nature of their new digs...
  • One -- count it! -- piece of news from MASSACHUSETTS: WEEI (850) will replace Don Imus with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan at month's end. The duo move to the morning-drive slot from their current 10AM-noon, with more schedule shuffling sure to follow.

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