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August 31 & September 7, 2009

WAEB Tower Downed

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SATURDAY UPDATE: Vandals struck the tower sites of two AM radio stations around the country early Friday morning: KRKO (1380) in Everett, Washington, where the activist group Earth Liberation Front is taking credit for the bulldozer attack that took down two self-supporting towers at what's been a very controversial new transmitter site - and WAEB (790) in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the northernmost of five 1949-vintage guyed towers at the Whitehall, PA transmitter site was brought down by someone who snipped three sets of guy wires.

Coincidentally, the vandalism happened just hours before the start of the National Radio Club/Worldwide TV-FM DX Association convention - which means we're able to bring you these exclusive images from the site, a day after the devastation.

WAEB, a Clear Channel-owned talk station, is licensed to run 3600 watts by day using just two of the towers, with all five towers in use at night with 1500 watts - and the station has remained on the air, evidently using either the day pattern or lower power, non-directionally.

The tower that fell went down in one piece, which is unusual for a guyed tower, and its tip barely missed the guy wires for the next tower to the south, avoiding still more damage to the site.

An investigation into the vandalism is now underway, with the FBI involved. There's on-line speculation about connections between the WAEB attack and the KRKO attack just hours later; our semi-informed speculation would suggest that there's no obvious link between the two incidents, since WAEB - unlike KRKO - is a longtime fixture that's never caused much controversy in its neighborhood.

We'll have a full update in our next issue of NERW on Sept. 14 - and more updates in the meantime here if need be...

*Back in the day, a format war in a place like Syracuse, NEW YORK meant a head-to-head battle between two standalone stations - say, WOLF and WNDR - each one throwing everything it had at the wall in hopes of taking the competion down.

As of last Friday, there's once again a format war brewing in Syracuse - but this time it's a somewhat tamer fight, pitting two arms of a big corporate cluster against another signal recently spun off from that same cluster.

At least there's one thing the latest battle in the Salt City has in common with the wars of the last generation: it still involves a station called WOLF, broadcasting from the same little concrete-block building on Kirkpatrick Street that was the scene of so much good radio in the sixties and seventies.

The latest fight is in the country music arena, and here's how it's all playing out:

The dominant country station in Syracuse for more than a decade now has been Clear Channel's WBBS (104.7 Fulton) - but when Clear Channel had to unload another signal in its cluster, the former WWDG (105.1 DeRuyter), it inadvertently unleashed a competitor to "B104.7." As NERW readers know, the 105.1 signal went back to its former owners, Craig Fox and Sam Furco, doing business as Foxfur Communications. Foxfur initially took 105.1 back to its old calls, WVOA-FM, with the same religious/ethnic format it had used until 2001. But a couple of weeks ago, WVOA-FM flipped to a simulcast of Radio Disney (heard on Fox's WOLF 1490 and two sister AM stations) - and then, last Thursday, 105.1 flipped again, this time to "WOLF Country," going right up against B104.7 just two notches away on the dial.

Clear Channel, as it turned out, had some additional weapons in its arsenal: just a few hours after the launch of "WOLF Country," Clear Channel's WPHR (106.9 Auburn) abruptly pulled the plug on the "Power 106.9" urban format it had been running for most of the decade, replacing it with "Young Country 106.9," giving Clear Channel two FM country signals to flank Foxfur's one - and setting the market a-twitter (and in some cases, on Twitter) with speculation about what happens next.

For Clear Channel, the 106.9 flip is part of a bigger transition for the station, which is in the process of moving east from Auburn, where it's been licensed as a class B station since its days long ago as WMBO-FM and WPCX, to the Syracuse suburb of Solvay, where it will be a 9 kW/407' class B1 signal from a new site above Onondaga Community College, putting a stronger signal over Syracuse at the expense of the station's present broad coverage of the Finger Lakes.

How long will the battle last? "WOLF Country" says it will bring live air talent on board in at least three dayparts within a month or two, says CNYRadio.com - which also reports that call changes are in the works to change the calls of 105.1 from WVOA-FM to WOLF-FM. That means Fox's pair of "Movin'" FM signals will change calls as well - WOLF-FM (96.7 Oswego) becomes WMVN, while WWLF-FM (100.3 Sylvan Beach) becomes WMVU - and the WVOA-FM calls return to what's now WVOU (103.9 Mexico).

There's no word on air talent or new calls on "Young Country 106.9," and it's anyone's guess whether the country format is just a temporary way to lure listeners away from the new Wolf and back into the B104.7 family - or whether it will remain as the new 106.9 signal settles in.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: WPHR is reportedly back to its former "Power" urban format as of 8 AM. More to come...

*Down the Thruway in the Albany market, the analog audio signal at 87.9 MHz that WRGB (Channel 6) had been running is now off the air. We'd been wondering about the authorization for that signal, which is even closer to the bottom of the FM broadcast spectrum than the old 87.75 MHz audio of WRGB's old analog channel 6 - and it appears that there simply was no authorization from the FCC for the signal, which disappeared last Monday.

"We do not have FCC authorization to transmit an analog signal. We only have authorization for a digital signal at this time," said WRGB VP/general manager Robert Furlong in a statement last week. "We are reviewing our options and I apologize for any inconvenience to our audience."

*Elsewhere in upstate New York, there's a station sale in the Elmira market, where Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls will get $275,000 as it transfers WREQ (96.9 Ridgebury PA) to Europa Communications, which already owns classic rock WMTT (94.7 Tioga PA) and oldies WPHD (96.1 South Waverly PA) in the market. WREQ also comes with a 99-watt on-channel booster in Elmira.

Rochester's oldest noncommercial FM station is going home. WIRQ, the student-run station at Irondequoit High School, has been bounced around the dial repeatedly since signing on 50 years ago. It was displaced from its original spot on 90.9 when the FCC relocated most class D FM stations in the eighties, then shifted from 93.3 to 94.3 to its present 104.7 as other new commercial FM stations came on the air in the nineties. Now the FCC has granted a waiver that will allow WIRQ to move from 104.7 back to 90.9, getting out of the way of the recently-upgraded WKDL (104.9 Brockport).

Syracuse University sports have a new radio home in the New York City market: Salem's WNYM (970 Hackensack NJ) has signed a deal to carry Orange football and men's basketball for the next two years, giving the teams a radio voice in a city that's full of Syracuse alumni.

While we're downstate, we note that Emmis' WRXP (101.9 New York) has a new TV presence: morning co-hosts Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram shot a pilot called "NYFM" that's been airing in weekend slots on WNBC (Channel 4), presenting live performances and interviews with the rock musicians heard on WRXP.

*Back upstate, the Buffalo Broadcasters Association has announced the Hall of Fame lineup to be inducted at their annual banquet Sept. 22. The lineup this year includes Tribune's Randy Michaels, the western New York native who built his early successes at WGR/WGRQ into a long career running Jacor and Clear Channel Radio; veteran DJ Fred Klestine (best known for his many years at the old WADV-FM); production guru Pat Feldballe; longtime WIVB-TV reporter Marie Rice and Don Polec, who was at WKBW-TV for many years before moving to Philadelphia's WPVI in 1982.

The banquet will also honor the 50th anniversaries of WNED-TV, WBFO-FM and what's now WGRF (97 Rock).

Not to be outdone, the Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion, which takes place Sept. 26, will award a one-time "Dean of Broadcasting Award" honor, which is going to veteran radio and TV broadcaster Bill Parker. The "Living Legend" award this year goes to Bill Flynn, who came to Binghamton from Scranton in the early seventies and is best known for his weekend polka show - and "Broadcaster of the Year Honors" go to WHWK (98.1) morning host Glenn Pitcher.

Family Life Ministries has call letters to go with its newest FM construction permit, in the Allegany County town of Belfast: the signal on 91.7 there will be WCOM-FM.

*In Watertown, they're mourning George Neher, whose death on Tuesday ended four decades on the air in the North Country, most of it at WWNY-TV (Channel 7) and its former AM sister station, now WTNY (790), where he served as PD and operations manager and most recently had been host of the morning news block for the last decade. Neher was 65.

*The NEW JERSEY public radio station that's moving its transmitter to Manhattan is halfway there, at least as far as the paperwork goes. WBGO (88.3 Newark) was granted FCC approval last week to move from its present downtown Newark site to the Trump World Tower next to the United Nations. But while WBGO intends to make good on its plans to cross the Hudson, it's planning to amend that application to instead specify the Four Times Square tower on Manhattan's west side.

THE 2010 CALENDAR IS ALMOST HERE!

The brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2010 will soon be back from the printer and ready for shipment, complete with more than a dozen full-color images of sites from Deer Point in Boise to KYPA in Los Angeles to Mount Mansfield in Vermont.

If you order now, you can be one of just 50 lucky recipients of our individually-numbered, hand-signed limited first edition - and of course your purchase of the calendar helps support the continued production of NERW and Tower Site of the Week.

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*Speaking of radio wars, the sports battle in eastern MASSACHUSETTS continues to heat up - and there's no hotter property this time of year than the rights to carry Boston Red Sox games. Entercom, of course, is in the midst of a big-ticket, ten-year deal to broadcast the team's games, which have been running for the past two years on WRKO (680 Boston)...except when they've been on sister station WEEI (850 Boston) instead, generally on Wednesdays and on early-season day games and some weekend games.

Until last week, that is - when Entercom abruptly shifted the entire Sox lineup over to WEEI from WRKO. Why make the move? Competition, obviously - with WEEI's sports dominance suddenly under fire from CBS Radio's new "Sports Hub" (WBZ-FM 98.5), it makes more sense for Entercom to put its biggest sports programming on WEEI itself than to try to use the Sox to draw new listeners to talker WRKO.

But the move caused static - literally - for some Sox fans, since the WEEI night signal doesn't reach as well into some parts of the North Shore as the Burlington-based WRKO signal does. It also doesn't have as much punch in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE, which became a sudden problem when financial tensions flared between Entercom and Absolute Broadcasting, which has been carrying the Sox on WGHM (900 Nashua) and WGAM (1250 Manchester), which simulcast sports as "The Game."

Entercom pulled the games off "The Game" last Monday (Aug. 24), citing failure to pay the rights fees, something Absolute acknowledges - but Absolute says in light of the weak economy, it's giving its advertising clients more time to pay the stations, and therefore it requested more time to pay Entercom.

That dispute was resolved by the weekend, when Manchester and Nashua listeners could once again hear the Sox on WGAM/WGHM - but that may be the least of Entercom's headaches, since it's not clear, from what we're hearing, that the sudden change of Sox flagship AM signals was permitted by the company's contract with the team.

Could this be Entercom's way out of the expensive contract with the Sox? Could WEEI still compete with WBZ-FM if it doesn't have the baseball coverage - and would CBS make a play for the rights? Or will both sides work things out and carry on with business as usual?

As we stay tuned for the answers to those questions, there's another player making waves on the Boston sports scene: ESPN, which has been a weak player on the Boston dial via WallerSutton's WAMG (890 Dedham)/WLLH (1400 Lowell) for the last few years, launched a splashy new web presence at ESPNBoston.com last week - and it's now making noises about a move to a stronger radio signal. Who might that be? The rumor mill is buzzing about Clear Channel's WKOX (1200 Newton), which recently upgraded to a 50 kW signal...but those are, for now, just rumors.

*The death of Senator Ted Kennedy late Tuesday night, while hardly unexpected, came at a difficult time for Boston's radio and TV newsrooms. The announcement of his passing, around 1:30 AM, found stations lightly staffed - but they quickly rose to the occasion. WBZ (1030) had a pre-produced special about Kennedy's legacy that ran at 2 AM, and by the time it was over, evening host Dan Rea was back at the station alongside overnight host Steve LeVeille to talk about Kennedy's legacy while the morning team got an early start on the news. Public radio WBUR-FM (90.9) also geared up its morning crew early, as did all the TV newsrooms. WRKO (680) pulled its syndicated talk lineup off the air for the day, replacing them with extended shifts by its local talk hosts, and all three radio stations, as well as all four TV newsrooms, offered live coverage of the Friday night memorial service and Saturday's funeral mass and burial - though WBZ-TV (Channel 4) moved some of its coverage over to sister station WSBK (Channel 38) because of contractual obligations to carry a pre-season Patriots game.

*Back in NEW HAMPSHIRE, WDCR (1340 Hanover) returned to the airwaves last week, apparently for good. The station is once again simulcasting the "WebDCR" stream that's a sister station to student-run WFRD (99.3 Hanover).

*A familiar VERMONT morning team is coming back to the airwaves. "Corm and the Coach," who started on WIZN (106.7 Vergennes) before settling in for a long run on WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) that ended last year, have signed up with a new entrant in the market, Convergence Entertainment's WNMR (107.1 Dannemora NY).

That signal from across the lake was pretty weak in Burlington the last time we heard it, during its stint as WELX, a leased-time simulcast of WCLX (102.9 Westport NY), but it has upgrade potential for Convergence, which is apparently starting out with a lease of the signal from owner Randy Michaels.

After the morning show featuring Steve "Corm" Cormier and former UVM basketball coach Tom Brennan, the station will apparently be offering some flavor of FM talk to the Champlain Valley; the morning show will also eventually be simulcast on another new Convergence acquisition, WGMU-CA (Channel 39).

Over at Hall Communications, they're looking for a new night jock at WOKO (98.9), now that Chris "Dieter Hammerstein" Chase is heading back home again to Indiana to go to school at Ball State University, David Letterman's alma mater.

*Veteran CONNECTICUT morning jock Sebastian is off the air at Marlin's WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford) as of this morning, the victim of budget cutbacks at the rock station. No replacement has been named at WCCC, which is running non-stop music this morning, and Sebastian is now looking for a new radio home.

Former WTIC (1080) talker and Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe has found a new spot on the dial: he's joining Connecticut Public Radio ("WNPR"), where he'll do a daily hour-long show at 1 PM that replaces the syndicated "Here and Now" on the statewide network.

*Stephen King is changing callsigns on one of his MAINE stations: the former WDME (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft) is now WZON-FM, matching the identity of the Bangor AM sports signal it now relays.

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*EMF's "K-Love" contemporary Christian programming is about to get a much bigger footprint in western PENNSYLVANIA, as EMF prepares to buy WOGI (98.3 Duquesne) from Keymarket Communications, removing that signal from the four-way "Froggy" country simulcast that rings Pittsburgh.

Keymarket will move the WOGI calls to another "Froggy" signal, the Moon Township-licensed WOGF (104.3) that overlaps most of WOGI's Pittsburgh coverage - and there are some interesting ideas making the rounds about potential signal improvements for the class A 98.3 facility, particularly in light of EMF's existing WKEL (98.5 Confluence) at the southeastern edge of the Pittsburgh market, not to mention the cross-ownership between Keymarket and Forever, which owns big-signal WFGY (98.1) over in Altoona.

No purchase price has been announced for WOGI, and there's no word about what will become of EMF's existing web of translators in the Pittsburgh market, though it seems likely that they'd end up with EMF's other network service, Christian rock "Air 1."

Radio People on the Move in Philadelphia: Greater Media's WBEN-FM (95.7) is down to just one air personality, morning host Marilyn Russell, now that budget cuts have claimed the job of afternoon jock Dave Cruise. Over at Beasley's WXTU (92.5), part-timer Jeff Ryan has been promoted to evening host, replacing Razz, who's now doing afternoons and working as the country station's music director.

In the Cumberland Valley, Bruce Apgar's Cumberland Valley Christian Radio is raising money to build its newly-granted signal, WPFG (91.3 Carlisle), with a target date of early 2012 for sign-on.

And we note the death of James Hazeltine III, better known on-air as Jim Rivers during a radio career that included time at WLAN in Lancaster and WIBG in Philadelphia, as well as later work in Rochester and in Ohio and Kentucky. He later went into academia, teaching business at Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University and the State University of West Georgia. Hazeltine died Aug. 1 in Atlanta; he was 67.

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

*The news from CANADA starts with more big changes on the TV dial: the "E!" network programming that had been on Hamilton's CHCH-TV (Channel 11) and Montreal's CJNT (Channel 62) is gone as of today, as Canwest Global shuts down the Canadian version of "E!" and spins off the Montreal and Hamilton stations to cable programmer Channel Zero.

The Hamilton station is ramping up its local news commitment, including all-news blocks in late morning and, starting next week, early afternoon. It's adding at least 12 news staffers, and will reportedly be opening a Toronto office as well.

Out west, Canwest is rebranding British Columbia's CHBC as "Global Okanagan" - and unless something changes by the end of the broadcast day today, the company says it will pull the plug on the remaining two "E!" affiliates, CHEK-TV in Victoria, BC and CHCA-TV Red Deer, Alberta.

*On the radio, Astral Media says it wasn't budgetary concerns, but rather a change in the station's direction, that prompted the dismissal of a dozen staffers at Toronto's CFRB (1010) late last week. Among those gone from the big news-talker are hosts Michael Coren, Jacqui Delaney and the homespun husband-wife team of Paul and Carol Mott, as well as newscaster Kris McCusker and operations manager Steve Kowch. Inbound as interim PD is Mike Bendixen, who just left Astral's CJAD in Montreal.

In Ottawa, PD Pete Travers and marketing and promotion director "The Real" Darren Stevens are both out at "Virgin Radio" CKQB (106.9).

In Sudbury, Newcap's brief "Kung Pao Radio" stunt on the new CIGM-FM (93.5) ended at noon on Tuesday (Aug. 25) with the launch of top-40 "Hot 93.5." Matt Sampaio and Sherri K are doing mornings on the station, with the rest of the airstaff coming soon.

And in Ottawa, they're mourning the founding PD of CHEZ (106.1). Chuck Azzarello put the station on the air in 1977, and later served as its president. He died Aug. 22 at age 60.

SCHEDULE NOTE: We're off next Monday, September 7, for Labor Day - but we'll be back for the fall season September 14. See you then...and follow our Twitter feed @NERadioWatch for updates in the meantime!

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 25/Sept. 1, 2008 -

  • In Harrisburg, Cumulus has flipped WTCY (1400) to ESPN sports, returning the station to its original callsign, WHGB. But it's not the end of the line for the "Touch" urban AC format that WTCY was carrying - it's alive and well on WNNK-HD2 (104.1), and being heard by most of the market via translator W237DE (95.3 Harrisburg). Can a translator carry an FM station's HD2 signal? Cumulus believes it's on solid ground with the FCC here, and we've heard nothing from the Commission to contradict that. Meanwhile at WNNK's main channel, middayer Kelly Iris departs for Grand Rapids and the PD chair at Clear Channel's WOOD-FM (105.7).
  • In VERMONT, there's a new morning show to replace the long-running "Corm and the Coach" at "Champ" WCPV (101.3 Essex NY)/WCVR (102.1 Randolph). "Rich and Mary's Morning Mess" pairs Mary Cenci, who'd been doing afternoons at the station, with Rich Haskell, who returns to the station he programmed from 1997-2000. Steve Cormier retains his operations manager title as he moves to middays, and former morning show producer Carolyn moves to afternoons to replace Cenci.
  • The AM-to-FM drumbeat continues up in CANADA, where the latest batch of CRTC applications finds CJOY (1460 Guelph ON), CIGM (790 Sudbury ON) and CFDR (780 Dartmouth/Halifax NS) all applying for FM moves.
  • Corus' CJOY application - for 95.7, with 30 kW DA/176' - is part of a package of more than a dozen applications to be considered by the CRTC at a hearing October 20 in Cambridge, Ontario. There are also three applications for new signals on 101.5 in Guelph - Blackburn Radio wants a classic rock/new rock station, Durham Radio proposes a "new distinctive rock" format and Frank Torres wants an all-blues station.
  • Down the road in London, the CRTC will consider nine applications for new stations: on 98.1, Torres wants a blues station; Evanov proposes a "youth contemporary" format; Rogers proposes a hit radio station with "an on-demand, on air and on-line local radio experience;" CTV proposes a "modern hit" format; Durham Radio proposes a "pop/oldies" format and Blackburn proposes a AA format. Blackburn also submitted an alternate proposal to use 91.1, where United Christian Broadcasters proposes a religious station. Sound of Faith Broadcasting proposes a religious signal on 99.9, and in nearby St. Thomas, My Broadcasting proposes a "gold-based AC" format on 94.1.
  • Up in Sudbury, CIGM's move to FM - made possible by the swap that sends CIGM to Newcap and CFDR in Nova Scotia to Rogers - would find the 50,000-watt AM 790 facility moving to 93.5, with 100 kW/667'. At CFDR, which had previously been granted a move to 88.9 with 21 kW, the new application from Rogers would instead move the 50,000-watt AM 780 signal to 92.9, with 100 kW/643' DA.

August 30, 2004 -

  • Its long-term survival is still in question, but CANADA's most controversial radio station is at least assured of staying on the air beyond the middle of this week. CHOI (98.1 Quebec City) was due to have its license pulled this Tuesday (August 31) after the CRTC denied its application for renewal - but late last week a Canadian court told station owner Genex Communications that CHOI could remain on the air for now, as it challenges the license revocation in court. A bow to public opinion after CHOI brought some 50 buses full of supporters to Parliament Hill?
  • Across the border in upstate NEW YORK, a familiar midday voice is back on the air after nearly a year's absence. You'll recall that Bob Lonsberry made quite the media splash when he was ousted from the 11-2 slot on WHAM (1180 Rochester) last September after making comments that many interpreted as a racial slur on the city's mayor, who was then embroiled in a heated (and ultimately unsuccessful) race for Monroe County executive.
  • The other big story came from the other end of the Empire State, where Arthur Schwartz left his longtime post as restaurant critic for WOR (710 New York), in what was apparently a dispute over how much influence advertisers would be permitted to have over the content of his daily restaurant talk show. Substitute hosts filled that 11-noon slot last week; its long-term future is unclear.
  • In CONNECTICUT, WFSB-TV (Channel 3) will be moving out of the studio facility it's called home ever since its debut in 1957. Station owner Meredith is selling the building at 3 Constitution Plaza to the city of Hartford in exchange for a new site on the underdeveloped north side of I-84, along Main and Trumbull streets, where it will build a new studio that it plans to occupy in early 2007.

Sept. 3, 1999 -

  • (no issue)

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