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September 28, 2009

NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia

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*If the big news story from PENNSYLVANIA last week was the G-20 summit that drew world leaders, protesters and news media to Pittsburgh, there's no question that the big industry news story was taking place 300 miles away across the state, where the NAB Radio Show drew some 2500 radio people to the Philadelphia Convention Center for three days of exhibits, conferences and awards.

You'll read comprehensive coverage of the whole event at your choice of national radio news sites (we recommend Inside Radio, especially because we work there) - so for NERW this week, we'll focus on what the convention meant to radio people here in the northeast.

Many of those northeast radio people didn't make it out to the big NAB Show in Las Vegas in April, when the economy (and travel budgets) hit a low point - but the convenience of a show that was within a few hours' drive or an easy train ride was too much to pass up, which may explain why we saw so many familiar faces on the show floor. (Below, we see New England group owners Bob Vinikoor and Dennis Jackson with Carl Strube and Pete Falconi of WNBP in Newburyport and Jon Becker of WSLP in Saranac Lake.)

This was, all in all, an optimistic show for small radio operators. While there weren't many deals actually being announced at this year's show, we left Philadelphia with the general sense that the decline in station prices is offering a real opportunity to broadcasters with the resources to start buying up stations from debt-laden bigger owners.

Owners of all sizes found good news on the show floor, too: while there were few ground-breaking new products, there were plenty of vendors offering inexpensive versions of their consoles, automation systems, transmitters and antennas aimed at stations looking to save money without compromising too much on quality.

There was good news in the session rooms, too: under the FCC's new leadership, the Media Bureau is promising quicker action to clear the backlog of indecency complaints and other issues that have been clogging the desks at the Portals.

There was controversy as well - we spent Friday morning in a session devoted to the thorny topic of an HD Radio power increase, a topic that's of particular concern in the crowded FM spectrum along the northeast corridor. Indeed, one of the key studies being debated looked at the tight spacing between Greater Media's WKLB (102.5) in Boston and Rhode Island public station WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier), which has complained of interference from WKLB's tests at increased digital power levels. The FCC appears to be waiting for industry leaders including Ibiquity, NPR Labs and the "Joint Parties" (the station owners and manufacturers pushing for a power increase) to come together on a solution - and at least on Friday morning, the sense was that a compromise involving small power increases and additional studies was in the works, but not finalized.

As for awards, four Marconi Awards went home with NERW-land broadcasters: Jerry Lee's WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) won hometown honors as both major-market station of the year and AC station of the year, while Matt Siegel of Boston's WXKS-FM won major-market personality of the year and Buffalo's WGR (550) won sports station of the year.

Next year, the NAB Radio Show moves down I-95 to Washington, where it appears NAB intends to use it at least in part as a major lobbying event, possibly with a smaller show floor.

*Philadelphia is mourning a familiar weekend talk voice. Steve Friedman was known as "Mr. Movie" for his talk shows that aired for decades on WWDB, WCAU and most recently on WCAU's successor, WPHT (1210). Friedman died September 20 after a battle with kidney disease. He was 62.

And more sad news from the Philadelphia radio scene - there's word that "Diamond Jim" Nettleton, one of the city's signature voices from his early days at WFIL to later work at WCAU-FM/WOGL and WPEN, is gravely ill. We'll keep you posted...

In Pittsburgh, David Edgar is the new operations manager at Clear Channel's six-station cluster. The veteran of Indianapolis' Emmis stations, where he was operations director, will also serve as PD for WWSW (94.5) and WKST-FM (96.1).

There are new calls at now-silent WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls): it appears the former urban station will be WAOB when it returns to the air with Catholic programming. Meanwhile, Steel City's WLTJ (92.9 Pittsburgh) is going urban AC in the evening hours, launching a new evening "Q in the City" show with former WAMO-FM PD Tracey Lee in hopes of picking up some of WAMO's former listeners.

In Huntingdon County, east of Altoona, there's once again a local radio station: Forever has flipped WBSS (106.3 Mount Union) from a simulcast of State College-based WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg) to oldies "Hunny 106.3," under new calls WHUN-FM. Most of the station's programming so far come from Scott Shannon's "True Oldies Channel."

In Scranton, Family Life Radio's new station, WCIG (107.7 Dallas), is hoping to improve its signal. It's applying to move from its present 1.25 kW/725' facility on Bear Mountain, in the Endless Mountains south of its old city of license, Tunkhannock, to a new 2.45 kW/518' DA signal from Lookout Mountain overlooking Pittston, with much stronger coverage of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.

*Just one bit of NEW JERSEY news: translator W220AA (91.9 Parlin) is back on the air, now relaying the "Bridge" religious format of owner Bridgelight's WRDR (89.7 Freehold Township). It's been almost two years since Bridgelight bought the translator from Maria Liadis for $55,000, with the stated intention of relaying WRDR.

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Just a few of our individually-numbered, hand-signed limited first edition are still in stock- and of course your purchase of any version of the calendar helps support the continued production of NERW and Tower Site of the Week.

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*A MASSACHUSETTS broadcaster is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Sandab Communications, which does business as Cape Cod Broadcasting, owns hot AC WQRC (99.9 Barnstable), country WKPE (103.9 South Yarmouth), AC WOCN (104.7 Orleans) and classical WFCC (107.5 Chatham), as well as the World Classical Network - and it says it owes M&T Bank $6.5 million dollars, as well as a $3.5 million debt to Charles River Broadcasting that still remains from the $7.5 million purchase of the Orleans and Chatham stations. Sandab says it will continue the stations' operations without change while it reorganizes.

There's just one other piece of Bay State news this week, and it comes from the unlicensed side of the dial: "WPOT," the Dorchester-based pirate that's already been visited once by the FCC, has changed frequencies. The former 97.5 operation is now on 87.7, though it's still calling itself "Hot 97."

*Jeff Shapiro's Great Eastern Radio is adding two more stations to its NEW HAMPSHIRE holdings with a deal to pick up WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) from Nassau Broadcasting, which had to spin those two signals to stay under FCC ownership caps. No sale price has been announced for that pair of signals; meanwhile, we hear that Great Eastern won't be closing on the $700,000 deal it announced almost a year ago to acquire WCVR (102.1) and WTSJ (1320) in Randolph, VERMONT from Ken Barlow's Vox group. WTSJ has already shifted programming, switching from a simulcast of Great Eastern's country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH) back to Vox's news-talk WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY).

*It's still licensed to Gloucester, Massachusetts - but translator W236BX (95.1) continues its march westward across southern New Hampshire to what we expect will be a new home in Fitchburg. We've been keeping track of W236BX's migrations, and the latest chapters found it moving across the Nashua area, from a site east of Nashua to another site just west of Route 3 and just south of Nashua. The latest construction permit puts W236BX just north of the state line and just south of Hollis, N.H. How many more hops until it lands in Fitchburg to translate WPKZ (1280)? Stay tuned...

*In southern MAINE, there's a new city of license for Saga's WYNZ (100.9) - it's now "moved" from Westbrook to South Portland, with no change to its physical facilities.

In Skowhegan, Mountain Wireless flipped WSKW (1160) from ESPN sports to "Legacy 1160," playing standards and oldies, on Sept. 6.

In Rockland, WMCM (103.3) has dropped the last of its local programming, along with its syndicated "Real Country" format, in favor of a straight simulcast with Blueberry Broadcasting's sister country station "The Bear" out of Bangor, WBFB (104.7 Brewer). Morning man Don Shields, a quarter-century veteran of mid-coast radio, is out of work as a result, reportedly notified only by a telephone call.

Budget-cutting at Blueberry has also added a third station to the WBFB simulcast, as WLKE (99.1 Bar Harbor) drops its local programming as well. We're also hearing that Blueberry is now originating its mid-coast sports network (WFAU 1280 Gardiner/WRKD 1450 Rockland/WIGY 97.5 Madison) from Bangor instead of Augusta - and that WAEI (910 Bangor) is signing off at night to save a few dollars.

And back in Portland, Citadel's WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) made some headlines over the weekend for an "incident" in which the station's jocks were said to have been suspended after deciding on their own to run a commercial-free weekend...though the whole thing smells suspiciously like a publicity stunt from where we sit.

*Two RHODE ISLAND noncommercial FMs are taking advantage of the disappearance of analog channel 6 from the Providence market to improve their signals.

The Wheeler School's WELH (88.1 Providence) already held a construction permit to boost power from its present vertical-only 150 watts, but with WLNE gone from channel 6, it's now been granted 4 kW/134' from a circularly-polarized antenna at a new site in Rehoboth, Mass. The new WELH directional pattern was coordinated with Bryant University's WJMF (88.7 Smithfield), which now holds a CP to boost its power from 225 watts to 1200 watts/535' from a directional antenna on Peck Hill in Johnston.

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*In upstate NEW YORK, broadcast veterans from two markets got together to honor themselves and their colleagues last week.

Tuesday night was Hall of Fame night for the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, and what a show they put on at the WNED studios downtown!

This year's living Buffalo honorees included longtime WIVB-TV reporter Marie Rice, former WKBW-TV reporter Don Polec (who later spent many years in Philadelphia at WPVI and is now syndicating his own feature segments), top-notch voice talent and ex-DJ/programmer Pat Feldballe, and Tribune CEO Randy Michaels, whose broadcast career began in western New York in the early seventies.

Michaels came from Chicago with an entourage that included WGN general manager Tom Langmyer, himself a Buffalo native, and "Radio's Best Friend" and itinerant videographer Art Vuolo. And for someone who's received plenty of honors over a long career, Michaels was genuinely moved at the honor from his old Buffalo colleagues.

"Based on what I did here, I don't think I deserve this," Michaels said of his early years in Buffalo radio.

The Buffalo event on Tuesday also honored the late Fred Klestine, whose DJ career included stops at WWOL, WBNY, WKBW, WADV and WBUF, as well as the 50th anniversaries of WGRF (97 Rock), WBFO (88.7) and WNED-TV (Channel 17).

On Saturday, it was Binghamton's turn, as Ray Ross and his crew staged the biennial Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion. This was the third time that Binghamton radio and TV veterans got together to share memories and honor their history, and it was a packed room at the Binghamton Regency hotel downtown.

This year's Binghamton honorees included a special honor to WNBF newsman Bob Joseph (who received a new Audio-Technica mic for his newsgathering), "Broadcaster of the Year" to WHWK morning man Glenn Pitcher, "Living Legend" Bill Flynn, whose polka shows have been fixtures on Binghamton radio since the seventies, and a one-time-only "Dean of Broadcasting" award to Bill Parker, who's been active in Binghamton radio and TV since the start-up of WNBF-TV (Channel 12, now WBNG) back in 1949.

The family of late WBNG/WICZ-TV engineer Ron Shoemaker was on hand for a posthumous honor - and at the end of the night, his fellow organizers surprised Ross himself with a plaque honoring the hard work he's been doing for the last six years to keep the legacy of Binghamton broadcasting alive.

*In New York City, Air America is staying put at Access.1's WWRL (1600) after all. Following reports last week that suggested the station would be dropping its limited carriage of the progressive talk network, WWRL and Air America have renewed their contract, keeping the 5-6 AM delayed hour of Rachel Maddow's show in place, as well as the 3-6 PM Montel Williams and 6-8 PM Ron Reagan shows.

Down the dial at WABC (770), morning man Don Imus moves this week from the station's own studios at 2 Penn Plaza to Fox Business Network's studios at Rockefeller Center, in preparation for next month's launch of Imus' new FBN TV simulcast. The 5-6 AM hour that had been hosted by Imus newsman Charles McCord is gone from the WABC schedule, replaced by a new local show with rotating hosts; this week, it's Doug McIntyre, just cut from the schedule at Citadel sister station KABC (790 Los Angeles).

CBS Radio's "Fresh 102.7" (WWFS) has named its new morning show. Jim Douglas and Kim Berk will move the "Jim and Kim" show west from their present home at Barnstable's WKJY (98.3 Hempstead) beginning Oct. 12, replacing the now-cancelled Dave and Danni morning show on Fresh.

Out on Long Island, Principle Broadcasting's WLIE (540 Islip) is getting still more power. It's been granted a construction permit to increase daytime power from its present 2500 watts to 10,000 watts - a move made possible by the final dismissal of a long-dormant construction permit for never-built WXNH (540) up in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

On Long Island's East End, Long Island University is now reviewing four bids from broadcasters eager to take over WLIU (88.3 Southampton) and sister station WCWP (88.1 Brookville). One bid comes from Peconic Public Broadcasting, a local group that would continue WLIU's present public radio programming; Newsday reports that the other three bids are from evangelical Christian broadcasters. LIU hopes to have the station in the hands of a new operator by December 3, when the lease expires on WLIU's present studio space on the former LIU Southampton campus, now part of SUNY Stony Brook.

*Moving back upstate, Chuck Benfer is out as VP/general manager of the Cumulus cluster in the Hudson Valley. Cluster sales director Rob Vanderbeck takes over Benfer's responsibilities at the stations, which include WPDH, WRRV/WRRB and WCZX ("Mix 97.")

In Gloversville, Michael Sleezer's WFNY (1440) is applying for a power boost from 3600 watts to 5000 watts by day.

And south of Rochester, there are new call letters at the Houghton relay signal for public broadcaster WXXI, as WJSL (90.3 Houghton) becomes WXXY. The WJSL calls, which originally stood for "Jesus the Salt and Light," remained in place for a decade after WXXI took over operation of the former Houghton College radio station. WXXY carries a split lineup of WXXI's radio programming, simulcasting morning and afternoon news blocks from WXXI (1370) and classical music from WXXI-FM (91.5) the rest of the day.

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

*One of CANADA's oldest radio stations is distancing itself from its venerable call letters. CFRB (1010 Toronto) is now branding exclusively as "Newstalk 1010," eschewing on-air mention of the callsign it's used since the 1920s, when the "RB" stood for "Rogers Batteryless" radios.

Will ceasing to use the callsign on the air be the magic that the Astral station needs to move its audience to a younger demographic? And if CFRB believes its own publicity about "ceasing to be CFRB," how will that square with the little-enforced Industry Canada rules that, at least on paper, still require hourly callsign IDs on Canadian AM stations?

In Ottawa, there's a new AM station on the way: Radio Ville-Marie has been granted a Gatineau,Quebec-based relay of its CIRA-FM (91.3 Montreal). The AM relay transmitter, one of only a handful of FM-on-AM relays in Canada, will use 1000 watts by day, 180 watts at night on 1350 kHz.

In Belleville, Ontario, Milkman UnLimited reports there's a morning show shuffle underway, as Ingrid Moore moves from CIGL (Mix 97.1) to competitor CJOJ (95.5) after 14 years. At CJOJ, Moore replaces Kathleen Rankine, who's now at sister station CHCQ (Cool 100.1), while Orlena Cain joins Sean Kelly for mornings at Mix.

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!)

September 29, 2008 -

  • One of the legendary voices of northeastern PENNSYLVANIA radio has died. Ron Allen joined Scranton's dominant top-40 station, WARM (590), back in 1958 as a member of the "Sensational 7" team of DJs, spending more than a decade doing afternoons and the Saturday countdown. But Allen long outlasted the top-40 heyday of WARM. He transitioned into WARM's sports director in the late sixties, starting the "Ron Allen Sportsline" show that continued into the early nineties, with a short hiatus in the 70s when he took a PR job at Pocono Downs. Allen made WARM the voice of high school sports in the region, and he was a major booster of the Red Barons minor-league baseball team when it came to town in 1989.
  • Allen had been off the air since suffering a stroke in 2000, ending his broadcast career, but he remained in close contact with many of his former colleagues. After his death last Tuesday, some of them traveled from around the country for a Friday wake. Allen's former colleague Dave Yonki, now proprietor of the "590 Forever" tribute site, reports that attendees included John Hancock, who was PD at WARM in the mid-eighties and now hosts a nighttime talk show on WBT in Charlotte, N.C. Ron Allen was 71.
  • Pittsburgh's controversial sports talker, Mark Madden, is returning to the airwaves, possibly as early as next Monday. Madden was pulled from the airwaves at WEAE (1250) after some uncomplimentary comments about Ted Kennedy, and now ESPN has released him from his contract (which reportedly had another year left on it) so he can go across town to Clear Channel's WXDX (105.9 the X). He'll take over afternoon drive at the station, which is nominally a modern rocker but has always had a strong talk component, going back to its days as Howard Stern's Steel City outlet. (And as our friends over at PBRTV.com point out, the last hour of Madden's 3-7 PM shift will find three sports talk shows emanating from Clear Channel's studios in the "Giant Flash Cube" in Green Tree - Madden on WXDX, Joe Bendel on WBGG 970, and Ellis Cannon on WPGB 104.7.)
  • A NEW HAMPSHIRE low-power FM station is getting a new full-power lease on life. The FCC has granted Highland Community Broadcasting, owner of classical WCNH-LP (94.7 Concord), a construction permit for a full-power signal on 91.5 in suburban Bow. Running 100 watts/439' from Wood Hill, south of Concord, the signal should be an improvement over WCNH's present 34-watt signal from just west of town. Most critically, the FCC has granted a waiver to allow Highland to continue to operate the LPFM signal while it builds the full-power signal, assuring a smooth transition from 94.7 to 91.5 when the time comes.
  • The MASSACHUSETTS Broadcasters Hall of Fame held its induction ceremonies Wednesday afternoon at the Dedham Hilton, and what a class of inductees it was! The roster included reporter/media critic Bill Buchanan, legendary DJ Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg, WBZ's Larry Glick, Bob Lobel, Sarah-Ann Shaw and Shelby Scott, veteran TV news anchor Jack Hynes, station owners Norman Knight (Knight Quality Stations) and Donald Thurston (Berkshire Broadcasting) - and that was just the living inductees. Honored in memoriam were WBZ hosts Carl DeSuze and David Brudnoy, WHDH's Bob Clayton, TV talk host Louise Morgan, DJs Norm Prescott and Sunny Joe White, and the dean of Boston talk radio, Jerry Williams.

September 27, 2004 -

  • Boston University's proposed sale of WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly) isn't a done deal, at least as far as some RHODE ISLAND state officials are concerned. Attorney General Patrick Lynch stepped into the fray last week, asserting his concern about the fate of donations made to the WRNI Foundation, the WBUR-controlled entity that handles the station's finances and holds their licenses. In the meantime, the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio, which says it's raised more than $3 million in donations to WRNI since the station went on the air in 1998, says it will fight to keep the stations on the air with their current public radio format - even as it tries to avert WBUR's effort to sell the licenses.
  • The WBUR organization, never known for its openness with information, acknowledged to the Boston Globe that WRNI supporters were "shocked" by the sale announcement, even as station managers made the claim that WBUR never intended to operate the Rhode Island stations for more than a few years, a position that WBUR somehow never took publicly at any point before it announced the impending sale a week ago.
  • The "WMEX" oldies are already history in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE, where WSNH (900 Nashua) ended its brief semi-simulcast of WMEX (106.5 Farmington NH) and flipped to ESPN sports last week.
  • Over in the Upper Valley, WTSL (1400 Hanover) has a new simulcast - it's being heard now on WXKK (93.5 Springfield VT), which had been simulcasting WTSL's AC sister, WGXL (92.3 Hanover).
  • In MAINE, supporters of Air America Radio are fighting to keep the liberal talk network on the air in Portland. They sent e-mails and letters to WLVP (870 Gorham) asking the Nassau-owned station to rethink its proposal to flip to ESPN sports, and it worked - sort of. WLVP now says it will keep Air America on the air through the elections, switching to ESPN November 8.
  • A well-known PENNSYLVANIA morning team is moving on: Ken Anderson and Kitty McVay of WCTO-FM (96.1 Easton) are taking their top-rated "Ken and Kitty" show to Cincinnati, where they'll be heard on "Star" country WYGY (96.5 Lebanon OH). WCTO PD Sam Malone and middayer Becca Lynn take over morning drive at "Cat Country."

September 24, 1999 -

  • There's so little going on this week, we'll start off with a format change in MAINE, Searsport to be exact. That's where Moon Song Communications has ended the simulcast of WVOM (103.9 Howland)'s talk format on WBYA (101.7). The Bangor-market station is now doing "Quality Rock" (sort of an AAA-ish thing) without jocks, except in morning drive when the WVOM simulcast continues. This is the first time in a few years WBYA has had its own format; before the WVOM simulcast, it relayed classical WAVX (106.9 Thomaston, now WBQX). We hear the Moon Song folks wanted to use the old "Wave" nickname, but WBQX (now "W-Bach") put a halt to that.
  • A quiet week this week in MASSACHUSETTS, with little but the rumor mill to keep us company. What's it telling us? That the new calls on 96.9 could well be WTKK (fitting, one supposes, in a market that's seen WKKT and WTTK in past years); that disgraced pol Peter Blute could soon be sailing into a new job as morning co-host (with Andy Moes?) at WRKO (680); that Judi Papparelli has landed in a new slot on Talk America from 10-noon weekdays -- actually, that's no rumor, it's reality as of this past Monday.
  • As goes Boston, so goes Albany? Maybe not...but we do note that smooth jazz is about to make an exit in New York's capital city, as WHRL (103.1) prepares to make a format change October 1. We hear station manager Peter Baumann is out and PD Brant Curtis has been bumped down to production director. Hmmm...Clear Channel, upstate New York...why do we suspect a CHR "Kiss" clone could be next?
  • Meantime across the border in CANADA, the CRTC will allow Bea-Ver Communications to build a new FM station in Chatham. The 50kW outlet on 94.3 will have a modern rock format, and will be co-owned with Chatham's CFCO (630) and CKSY (95.1).
  • And we note another possible reason for the CBC's haste in moving to FM in major cities: Only by having an FM signal like CBLA (99.1 Toronto) can the CBC lease out subcarrier space -- which is just what they're applying to do on both 99.1 and CBL-FM (94.1), apparently to Spanish and Portuguese broadcasters.

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