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October 12, 2009

WQXR, WCAA Make the Switch

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*More than 65 years of radio ownership by the New York Times came to an end just after 8 o'clock Thursday night, as WQXR-FM (96.3 New York) signed off from its Union Square studios, handing its powerful class B signal to Univision Radio's WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ) and its intellectual property to public broadcaster WNYC, which also acquired the class B1 105.9 facility from Univision. Seconds later, 105.9 came to life again as the new WQXR, now a noncommercial classical station operating from WNYC's Varick Street studios, starting a new era of classical radio in New York City.

Behind the scenes, there was plenty of drama in the final days before the transition, on both the engineering and programming fronts.

On the programming side, it appears that WNYC's plans for its new acquisition came together at the last minute - especially when it came to the decisions on which of the "old" WQXR's airstaff would be hired by WNYC for the "new" WQXR. It was only in the last hour of Times operation of WQXR, as staffers made their on-air farewells, that listeners learned that midday host Annie Bergen would be heard on weekends on 105.9.

And even as the Times was saying farewell to WQXR with an audio montage of station IDs going back to the earliest days of W2XR experimental operation in the 1930s, Univision was readying some big changes for its $33.5 million acquisition of the 96.3 spot on the dial. While initial reports had suggested that the "La Kalle" format long heard on 105.9 would be making a smooth transition down the dial to 96.3, it now appears that Univision is instead launching a new station identity on its new frequency.

"La Kalle" vanished from the airwaves around 5:00 on Thursday afternoon, leaving the last three hours of WCAA operation on 105.9 to be filled by a repeating loop advising listeners that "this number has changed" - and when the loop ended, a few seconds after it was moved to 96.3, listeners heard several dance tunes that were very much unlike "La Kalle." Even after the usual Spanish-language musical fare returned, it was running jockless, with repeated announcements to "mark your calendar with an X for October 15." What's more, the RDS display on 96.3 began showing "X 96" on Friday morning, strengthening speculation that a new format was on the way, along with new calls. On Thursday, Univision filed a request for "WXNY-FM" for 96.3, meaning those "WCAA New York" legal IDs now running will soon be collectors' items. (Never fear - we'll have several in this week's update over at

On the HD Radio front, the new WQXR programming showed up on the HD-2 subchannel of the more powerful WNYC-FM (93.9) signal, replacing the more esoteric classical fare that's now being offered as "Q2" on 105.9-HD2.

On the technical side, even the New Yorker noticed the flurry of activity surrounding the signal swap; a "Talk of the Town" item in the October 12 issue (available only to subscribers on-line) visited WNYC engineering director Jim Stagnitto as he worked on moving the 105.9 transmitter from Univision's 81st-floor room at the Empire State building to WNYC-FM's 79th-floor room.

The new website also offered video of Stagnitto turning on the 105.9 signal on Thursday night - but that was just the conclusion of a longer, more complex transition process that took several days of nearly nonstop work by Stagnitto and WNYC chief technology officer Steve Shultis, as well as Univision's Richard Ross and corporate engineer Mark Stennett, who came up from Texas to assist in the move. While they were relocating 105.9's main transmitter downstairs to the WNYC room, and while WNYC was preparing WQXR's new studios on Varick Street, WCAA remained on the air in its final days on 105.9 from an auxiliary transmitter a few blocks away at Four Times Square.

It was that Four Times Square transmitter that remained on the air with the "move to 96.3" loop Thursday afternoon - and by Friday, preparations were underway to move that auxiliary transmitter out of Univision's room upstairs to WNYC-FM's own auxiliary room at Four Times Square. Once that move is complete, Univision will move the 96.3 auxiliary transmitter from West Orange, N.J. to Four Times Square, adding 96.3 to the combiner system there.

Meanwhile, Univision takes over the 81st-floor 96.3 transmitter room from WQXR, leaving it largely intact for now, though the new WXNY is expected to add an HD Radio signal in the near future. (You can see that room, and the rest of the former WQXR 96.3 plant, over at Tower Site of the Week.)

As expected, WQXR listeners in outlying areas - Long Island, southern Connecticut, northern Westchester, central New Jersey - soon began filling WQXR's message boards with complaints about the 105.9 signal, which runs just 600 watts from the Empire master antenna, against 6000 watts for 96.3 and the other class B signals. (Beyond the raw signal-strength issues, there are also numerous short-spaced signals - WBLI 106.1 on Long Island, WHCN 105.9 in Hartford, WISX 106.1 in Philadelphia and WCHR-FM 105.7 at the Jersey shore - that cut into the new WQXR signal on the fringes.)

At least two of those areas will soon get a WQXR signal restored. Once some reception issues at privately-owned translators W244AS (96.7 Oakhurst NJ) and W279AJ (103.7 Highland NY) can be rectified, those translators will switch from relaying 96.3 to the new 105.9. WNYC/WQXR is also promising to pursue additional translators and station acquisitions to extend the range of the classical service. (NERW wonders whether Albany's WAMC has been approached about its unbuilt WWES 88.9 in Mount Kisco, which would neatly fill in a significant 105.9 signal gap in northern Westchester.)

And what becomes of the WQXR studios at 122 Fifth Avenue, built two decades ago as some of the finest acoustical spaces in the city? They're still in the hands of the Times, and at least for now, they sit empty and (very) quiet, with their future still uncertain. (Former WQXR chief engineer Rodney Belizaire remains with the Times at least through the end of the year, overseeing the disposition of the space and the equipment within. Some of it - along with the WQXR record library and much of the station's archives - is headed to WNYC; the fate of the rest remains unclear.)

*WQXR wasn't the only New York station making a big move in the last few days: Friday was the last day for CBS Radio's WFAN (660) at its longtime studio home deep in the bowels of the Kaufman Astoria studio complex in Astoria, Queens, several floors below the "Sesame Street" studios.

WFAN's move out of Kaufman Astoria came 22 years almost to the day after the pioneering all-sports format signed on from that space, though it was on 1050 AM back then.

(Indeed, the studios even predate WFAN on 1050, having been built in 1986 for what was then WHN and sister FM station WAPP 103.5; having visited them several times in later years, we'll profile them later this winter on Tower Site of the Week.)

Also gone with the move is the by-now-legendary phone number for WFAN call-ins, as 718-937-6666 gives way to 877-337-6666 to reach the new Manhattan studios.

We hear the Astoria space will remain in CBS Radio's hands, to be used as an emergency backup studio should the new space in lower Manhattan that WFAN now shares with four other CBS stations become unusable.

*Facebook? Twitter? MySpace? Meet "The NA710N," the new social-networking offering from New York's WOR (710). The Buckley talker unveiled the new site (pronounced "Nation," we assume) last week, as both a place for its listeners to gather and a way to disseminate news and conversation from the station's own hosts.

"THE NA710N will continue to keep WOR on the front lines as the Internet becomes a more significant distribution platform for radio content," said the site's creator, WOR's Director of Interactive Jared Lapin. (And of course we'd note that Lapin started his broadcast career here in Rochester, as station manager of the University of Rochester's WRUR-FM a few years back...)

WOR had one more announcement last week: it's adding former WNBC (Channel 4) sports director Len Berman to its roster. Berman will be delivering sports commentaries at 8:10 AM on Mondays and Fridays on WOR's John Gambling morning show.

On the TV side, public broadcaster WNET (Channel 13)/WLIW (Channel 21) wants to downsize from its current home at 450 W. 33rd Street.

The New York Observer reports that the stations are looking for a new space of about 100,000 square feet, roughly half the size of the facility they now occupy in the building the paper aptly describes as an "eyesore" a couple of blocks west of Penn Station. WNET has another ten years remaining on its lease there, but after significant staffing reductions in recent years, the public station no longer needs that much space. (WNET is also backing out of plans to build a street-level studio as part of the Lincoln Center redevelopment uptown.)

*Out on Long Island's East End, Long Island University has picked a buyer for its public radio station - and to nobody's great surprise, it's the local group called Peconic Public Broadcasting, led by the current management of WLIU (88.3 Southampton) and WCWP (88.1 Brookville).

Peconic's bid, said to be in the $2 million range, reportedly beat out at least two other offers, which were apparently from rival public broadcasting groups, not religious broadcasters, as had originally been reported.

The next steps for Peconic will be both challenging and speedy: the group has to turn its celebrity endorsements from names such as Alec Baldwin and Jann Wenner into hard financial committments from listeners - and it has just a few months to get WLIU's studios off the former Long Island University campus in Southampton (now part of SUNY Stony Brook) and into new space in Wainscott.

*Heading north up the Hudson Valley, the FCC has finally announced the next step in the slow process that will result in a full-time AM signal for Rockland County on 1700 kHz. You'll recall that congressional pressure was brought to bear on the FCC back in 2006 to open a rare window for applications for a new station on 1700, with the ostensible purpose of providing better emergency communications in the event of an accident at the Indian Point nuclear plant across the river in northern Westchester County. The application window was opened as a result of an application by Alexander Broadcasting's WRCR (1300 Spring Valley) to move to 1700 with a better full-time signal - but in order to comply with current FCC policies, other broadcasters had to have a shot at it too, and that means there will be an auction for the frequency.

Before the auction, though, the four applicants (Alexander, Zev Brenner's Talkline Communications, S&B Broadcasting, and Polnet, which owns WRKL 910 in New City) have until December 9 to try to put some sort of settlement together. If they don't, then the 1700 facility will go up for auction in early 2010.

Clear Channel's New York-based Elvis Duran morning show has several new upstate affiliates: in addition to being heard on Rochester's WKGS (106.7 Irondequoit), Duran's show is now being heard up the Hudson Valley at another "Kiss," WPKF (96.1 Poughkeepsie), where he's followed by Ryan Seacrest in middays. That move knocks morning host "Annie" and afternoon host "DC" out of jobs, with Chris Marino (late of "Kiss" competitor WSPK) replacing DC on afternoons and as music director. Annie's former morning co-host CJ McIntyre moves across the hall to country WRWD (107.3 Highland)/WRWC (99.3 Ellenville), where he's now co-hosting mornings.

Across the Catskills, we've been remiss in not noting the changes at WVOS-FM (95.9 Liberty), where former afternoon jock Chris Ingram has replaced John Moultrie in mornings.

In Syracuse, James Johnson's new Leatherstocking group is making changes at the cluster it's buying from Buckley: starting this morning, the oldies that had been heard on WFBL (1390) have relocated down the dial to the lesser signal of WSEN (1050 Baldwinsville), which flipped to a WFBL simulcast from a simulcast of classic hits WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) a few weeks ago. reports that the new format on 1390 will be talk, though the only host announced thus far is the syndicated Laura Ingraham show from 9-noon. Will the new talk format - or the WSEN(AM) oldies - eventually replace the FM simulcast on Leatherstocking's nearby WMCR (1600 Oneida)?

Over at Finger Lakes Radio Group, they're looking for a new morning co-host to replace Sharon Thomas at WNYR-FM (98.5 Waterloo); her morning show had transitioned from "Mike and Sharon" to "Jim and Sharon" over the summer when Jim Schreck took over as morning host/PD and Mike Smith moved to afternoons. Meanwhile, the Finger Lakes stations are learning an expensive lesson about telling the FCC the truth: after admitting on their renewal applications that some issues and program lists from prior to 2001 couldn't be found in their public files, three of the stations - WSFW (1110 Seneca Falls), WAUB (1590 Auburn) and WNYR-FM - each face $10,000 Notices of Apparent Liability from the Commission. (NERW wonders how many stations out there with similar minor public-file issues checked "no" on their renewal applications anyway, and will never face scrutiny from an understaffed FCC...)

*The New York State Broadcasters Association is preparing to induct a half-dozen big names into its Hall of Fame at an event November 12 at the Paley Center for Media in New York City.

This year's class of inductees includes CBS newsman Charles Osgood and legendary New York morning man Harry Harrison as well as four upstate broadcasters: Syracuse's Rick Gary, currently host of WSYR-TV's "Bridge Street" and morning man on WZUN/WUMX; Brother Wease of Rochester's WFXF; longtime WGY (810 Schenectady) morning man Don Weeks and, from Buffalo, former WIVB-TV (Channel 4) reporter Marie Rice, who was just inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame last month.

*Where are they now? Former WROC-TV (Channel 8) general manager Marc Jaromin is still in Rochester - and now he's heading up a new ownership group called Roundtable Broadcasting, which just made an acquisition in Jackson, Mississippi. Jaromin will serve as interim GM of the Jackson station, Fox affiliate WDBD (Channel 40), where he's overseeing an initial round of cost-cutting that includes a temporary suspension of weekend newscasts and the elimination of at least 10 jobs.

And Dan Lay, who was the "Elvis" half of the "JV and Elvis" show that came east from San Francisco to New York's erstwhile "Free FM" (WFNY-FM 92.3, now WXRK) a few years back, is once again on the air out west, holding down mornings at the new "Now 104.3" (KFRH) in Las Vegas and the even newer "92.7 the Revolution" (KREV) in San Francisco.


The brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2010 is now shipping, 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.

Just one of our individually-numbered, hand-signed limited first edition remains 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.

And we still have a very small quantity of earlier calendars available, too, if you missed some...

Order now at the Store!

*Greater Media jumped on the FM sports bandwagon in eastern PENNSYLVANIA Friday afternoon, with a surprise format change that pulled the plug on AC "Now 97.5" (WNUW Burlington NJ) before that format had even reached its first anniversary on the air.

In its place, as of 5 o'clock Friday, is the Philadelphia market's first all-sports FM signal, "97.5 the Fanatic," picking up the programming that's been struggling to find an audience on Greater Media's lone Philly AM signal, WPEN (950), which has long been an also-ran against CBS Radio's sports behemoth, WIP (610).

The new "Revolution" lineup includes ESPN's "Mike and Mike" in morning drive, followed by a yet-to-be-named local show from 10-noon (ESPN's Steven A. Smith and Dan Schwartzman will be guest-hosting the shift this week), Harry Mayes and Vai Sikahema from noon-2, the flagship Mike Missanelli show from 2-7, a series of specialty shows at night, and ESPN's programming filling out the schedule.

For now, "the Fanatic" will be simulcasting on 950 and 97.5, but that's not expected to be permanent, and it's not hard to imagine 950 becoming a full-time home for ESPN's national feed, eventually.

*In Pittsburgh, the venerable WAMO calls are now up for grabs, now that St. Joseph Mission has changed the calls of AM 860 (ex-WAMO Millvale) to WAOB, matching the former WAMO-FM, now WAOB-FM. Will Eddie Edwards pick up the WAMO calls for his new purchase, WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg)?

*Over in NEW JERSEY, a religious station in the Atlantic City market is changing hands, as Spreading the Gospel, Inc. pays $375,000 to buy WEHA (88.7 Port Republic) from Vin-Lor Broadcasting, which has been LMA'ing the signal to Spreading the Gospel for the last few years.


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*With the baseball season now over in MASSACHUSETTS (Papelbon?!?!?! Really?), dispirited Sox fans will be following the rest of the playoffs from afar - and if they're doing so by radio, they once again have an ESPN Radio outlet in Boston.

As had been widely expected, ESPN has once again linked up with Entercom's WEEI (850 Boston), restoring an affiliation that the two sides broke off back in 2005, when ESPN signed on with upstart WAMG (890 Dedham), which had a four-year run as "ESPN 890" with only limited success.

Since "ESPN 890" went silent a month ago, ESPN's programming has lacked an over-the-air outlet in Boston, and most of its shows still won't be heard on WEEI, which will be carrying only the Jason Smith all-night show (replacing the Fox Sports programming now heard from 1-5 AM on weekdays) and some weekend programming - as well as play-by-play coverage, including the rest of the baseball post-season.

But the alliance sets the stage for further future cooperation between the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" and New England's sports giant, with WEEI personalities getting a national platform and ESPN voices such as Peter Gammons and Adam Schefter becoming regular guests on WEEI's local shows.

And of course there's that 50,000-watt gorilla over in the corner: the never-ending talk of an FM home for WEEI's local sports, which would free up the AM 850 signal for full-time ESPN coverage. The Globe seems to think such a move is imminent - "perhaps as soon as the end of the Red Sox' postseason run," the paper reported late last week - but at this point, having heard those rumors for many months now, we'll believe it when it happens and not a moment sooner.

*Over at WFNX (101.7 Lynn), Mike Tierney is inbound as the new VP/Broadcast Operations for the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. Tierney comes with a long resume, including a recent PD stint at New York's "K-Rock" (WXRK 92.3), as well as management roles in the music industry and in radio and TV programming.

Across town at Greater Media, veteran newsman Ed Cherubino is out the door at WTKK (96.9), where he'd been news director and afternoon anchor. Cherubino's history with the 96.9 signal extended back through its previous incarnation as smooth jazz WSJZ. Boston Radio Watch also reports that WTKK has parted ways with assistant PD Eric Caldwell and promotions coordinator Corey Anderson.

Out in western Massachusetts, they're mourning one of the region's most prominent broadcast owners. Donald A. Thurston came to the Berkshires from Vermont in 1960 to manage WMNB (1230/100.1) in North Adams for its then-owner, the North Adams Transcript. In 1966, Thurston formed Berkshire Broadcasting and bought the North Adams stations, followed two years later by WSBS (860) in Great Barrington.

Thornton was also active in the NAB's leadership, serving as the NAB's joint board chairman from 1977-1979 and coming within a few votes of becoming NAB president in 1982. Thurston also served two terms as chairman of BMI's board of directors. In the years since the 2004 sale of the Berkshires stations to Vox Media, Thurston had been suffering from Parkinson's disease. He died last Monday (Oct. 5) at 79.

"He was one of the finest broadcasters you would want to know," said Tom Jay, who worked for Thurston as morning man on WSBS for more than 30 years.

*While ESPN Radio remained missing from the Boston radio dial, the network is back on its former affiliates in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Absolute Broadcasting's WGAM (1250 Manchester) and WGHM (900 Nashua) lost that affiliation back in 2006, but it's back as of last Friday, just in time for ESPN's coverage of the baseball playoffs. "The Game" is also adding Boston Bruins hockey to its lineup, which should be welcome news in the Manchester area, where new Bruins flagship WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston) is weaker than its predecessor, WBZ (1030).

Meanwhile on Absolute's other station, Nashua's WSMN (1590), talk host Jennifer Horn is taking a leave of absence to take another shot at winning a seat in the U.S. House. Horn left WSMN for a year in 2008 to be the Republican candidate for the seat, but lost to Democrat Paul Hodes. This time, she's likely to face a GOP primary in the race for the second district seat, open this year as Hodes runs for the U.S. Senate.

Moving north, there's a format shuffle in the works as part of the station spin-off that's sending several Nassau stations to Great Eastern. On November 4, WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) will drop its "Frank" classic hits format (a Nassau trademark) and pick up the "Hawk" classic rock that's now on WWHQ (101.5 Meredith), which will get a new format that's yet to be announced. Expect a new format to replace Frank as well on the third station in the Nassau-Great Eastern deal, WNNH (99.1 Henniker) in the Concord market.

*In CONNECTICUT, Clear Channel's WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury) is shuffling its airstaff, moving Wendy Steele from afternoons to middays, replacing the voicetracked Kat Jackson, and putting PD Lance Tidwell on the air in afternoon drive.

And we note the passing of Bob Ellsworth, who came to Hartford's WTIC radio in 1956 and helped sign on WTIC-TV (Channel 3) a year later, becoming the station's first 11 PM news anchor. Ellsworth remained with WTIC for the next decade, and later worked at several other Connecticut radio and TV outlets before starting his own production business. In recent years, he'd been on the air at noncommercial WJMJ (89.9 Hartford) while battling the esophageal cancer that took his life Friday morning at the age of 83.

*VERMONT's WEQX (102.7 Manchester) kicks off its 25th anniversary celebration today, counting down "25 Years in 25 Days" each weekday on the way to November 14, the actual anniversary date. 'EQX will also be announcing anniversary concerts and an anniversary CD as the date gets closer.

Up in Burlington, Craig Bailey is syndicating his "Floydian Slip" show, an institution in the Champlain Valley for almost 15 years. The weekly Pink Floyd hour is heard locally on WIZN (106.7) on Sunday nights at 8, and now it's available to other stations with a six-week free preview at

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

*There's no radio market in eastern CANADA that's seen as much change in the last decade or so as Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has seen all three of its AMs move to FM with new formats, accompanied by another half-dozen or so new FM signals in recent years. Now Halifax is getting one more FM, a triple-A station on 105.1 from HFX Broadcasting, the Nova Scotia subsidiary of Toronto-based Evanov Broadcasting, which also owns "Z103" (CKHZ 103.5) in Halifax. Evanov beat out two other applications from Frank Torres and Acadia Broadcasting for the frequency.

As part of the Halifax hearing, the CRTC also denied an application from the Parrsboro Radio Society to increase the power of its community station, CICR (99.1 Parrsboro), from 50 to 500 watts. The CRTC says Parrsboro's application sought to serve additional communities that were not part of its originally-authorized contours, putting it at odds with CRTC policy that requires unprotected low-power stations seeking more power to demonstrate that they can't adequately serve their existing coverage area at low power.

In Ottawa, Evanov's CJWL (88.5) is moving its antenna and raising power. "The Jewel" will go from 485 watts/117.5 meters, non-directional, to 2.5 kW (1.1 kW average)/100.5 meters from a new location on the Carlisle Building, a few blocks south on Lyon Street from its present downtown Ottawa transmitter.

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 for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

October 13, 2008 -

  • It's been a few weeks since we've led off with big news from NEW YORK - but this week, there's big news indeed from two of the city's biggest stations. After 14 years at the helm of what's arguably the most important talk radio station in the country, Phil Boyce announced on Thursday that he's leaving the PD chair at WABC (770) - and by the end of the day, he was out the door at the 17th floor of 2 Penn Plaza.
  • The official word from Citadel was that Boyce's departure was entirely of his own doing, and while Boyce didn't immediately announce where he's headed next, Sean Hannity - one of Boyce's proteges at WABC - hinted that whatever Boyce is doing next, he'd be involved in it somehow. (It bears noting that Hannity just announced contract extensions with both of his employers, Citadel and Fox News Channel.)
  • Those looking for certainty in the world of New York radio could find it last week at the Clear Channel cluster, though it may not have been the kind of certainty that fans of local radio would seek: once again, local content and local talent is giving way to national syndication. This time, it's the relentless march of Ryan Seacrest across the nation's airwaves. As his "On Air" show has moved east from its Los Angeles home base, it's displaced local midday and afternoon jocks all over the country, and last week it was Shelley Wade's turn. The veteran middayer at WHTZ (100.3 Newark) is still at Z100, at least for now - but instead of her familiar 10 AM-3 PM shift, she's suddenly on overnights, replaced by the inevitable Seacrest, who at least made the right noises in the press release about how he's "always wanted to play those Z100 jingles," never mind that it's the automation in Manhattan that will be doing that, not Seacrest in Hollywood.
  • They still call it the "Regional News Network," but the "news" is mostly gone at WRNN-DT (Channel 48). The Kingston-licensed station, seen on cable throughout most of the New York City TV market, has cancelled the last of its Hudson Valley-oriented news programming, leaving only "NewsCenter NOW Long Island" at 4:30 PM weekdays, as well as two talk shows later in the evening, surrounded by "Inside Edition," "Access Hollywood," "Law and Order" reruns and lots and lots of paid programming.
  • Budget cutbacks hit WDRC in Hartford, CONNECTICUT at week's end: five full-time and four part-time positions were cut at the stations, including WDRC-FM afternoon jock Doug Taylor and WDRC(AM) mid-morning talker Mary Jones. Her slot will be filled by the syndicated Glenn Beck show, while on the FM Larry Wells moves from middays to afternoons, with Floyd Wright moving into middays from overnights.
  • A big PENNSYLVANIA FM signal was knocked off the air by vandals early Thursday morning. The transmitter site of WILQ (105.1 Williamsport) is in a fairly remote spot, high above the city on Skyline Drive - but it wasn't remote enough to keep a big piece of logging equipment called a skidder from slamming into the building around 4 AM Thursday. Backyard Broadcasting chief engineer Tom Atkins says the vandals apparently hot-wired the skidder and went for a joyride, which didn't last long. The ride ended when the skidder slammed into a corner of WILQ's concrete-block transmitter building, knocking the station off the air. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the transmitter wasn't hit; the bad news, however, is that the transmitter building was a total loss. WILQ quickly got back on the air from an auxiliary site, and Atkins and his crew salvaged what they could from the building. (We're writing this, oddly enough, from the laptop in the passenger seat of the NERW-mobile as we drive through Williamsport, and WILQ's signal - at least over the weekend - is pretty good in the city, though not as good as its usual booming full class B.)

October 11, 2004 -

  • Whether you loved her or loathed her, there's no arguing that Jane Christo was one of the most prominent station managers not only in MASSACHUSETTS but in the entire broadcast community. But after 25 years in the saddle at WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), Christo announced last week that she's stepping down, closing a career that saw her transform WBUR from a better-than-average college radio station in dumpy quarters to one of the nation's top public radio stations, operating from state-of-the-art studios.
  • WBUR staffers reportedly gave the teary-eyed Christo, 62, a standing ovation after she announced that she'll resign this Friday - but it's not clear how much of that was appreciation for her work, and how much was relief at the departure of the boss who oversaw not only the creation of Car Talk and Here and Now but also controversies that included the departure of prominent talk show host Christopher Lydon and even a spat over the proper wording of underwriting announcements that led to the firing of an overnight board operator. That level of personal involvement with WBUR's product may well have spelled the end of Christo's leadership there. The fight over her plans to sell Rhode Island satellite stations WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly) opened floodgates of criticism that led to an anonymous letter from staffers accusing her of mismanaging station funds and, last week, the start of an investigation by Boston University and, reportedly, by Massachusetts' attorney general. The station reportedly owes Boston University more than $12 million, and ended 2003 $1.8 million in debt (though a BU spokesman told the Boston Globe that the station's 2004 budget would be balanced), undercutting WBUR's denials that the proposed sale of the Rhode Island stations, expected to net several million dollars, was financially motivated. In a statement, Christo said she believes that the investigation will determine that "the allegations of improper misconduct against me are baseless," but that her departure will allow WBUR to return its focus to its news and talk programming. An interim general manager for the station is expected to be named this week. As always, stay tuned...
  • Of course, we can't ignore the week's big news on the national radio scene - the announcement by Howard Stern that he's leaving NEW YORK's WXRK (92.3) and his national syndication slot to move to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006. (We can, however, forego the "Siriusly" puns that every other trade mag out there has been doing to death...)
  • Stern's move was cannily timed to be the talk of the NAB Radio Show out in San Diego, where we can confirm that just about every conversation we had started not with "hello" but with "what about Howard?"
  • So, what about Howard? There's some validity, to be sure, in the face most radio managers were putting on for public consumption - that Stern will inevitably lose some influence and power by going from his network of more than 40 stations and many tens of millions of potential listeners to a service that costs real money (think of it as $156 a year and you begin to understand both the cost to listeners and the potential revenue magnet that Stern brings to Sirius) and has just 600,000 subscribers right now. But it's also worth noting a few other comments we heard during the show - especially one from a prominent agent for several "shock jocks" who said that nearly all his clients have asked him to investigate satellite deals in addition to terrestrial radio. And those radio managers and executives would do well, too, to listen to syndicated talker Tom Leykis, who responded to our question about Stern thusly: "Asking me about Stern going to satellite would be like asking the Rolling Stones, when they were still putting out cassettes, how the move to CDs would affect them."
  • Translation: for those who provide the content (and, though they weren't saying so in an audience full of terrestrial broadcasters, those who manufacture the equipment), Sirius and XM are just...more radio. That's completely at odds, of course, with the official stance that satellite radio is a mortal enemy to terrestrial radio - but then, our editorial take, unpopular though it may be with some station owners, is that when all the dust settles, that's how listeners will see the satellite services, too. It's really not a change from the argument we've been making in this space for pretty much the entire decade this column has existed: terrestrial radio can and will survive by doing the things only terrestrial radio can do - which comes back to the mantra of "local, local, local." No satellite-delivered service will ever out-WINS WINS when it comes to giving New Yorkers the headlines, traffic and sports they need. No satellite-delivered service will ever connect to soccer moms in the Boston suburbs as well as WMJX does. No satellite-delivered service will ever, ever, ever sound like WLNG out on Long Island's East End (and speaking of that, our best wishes go out to Paul Sidney, who's been off the air battling kidney problems of late.)
  • The wise words of my colleague Sean Ross are worth heeding here: "There are 13,000 radio stations that already have to deal with not having Howard Stern as their morning host." (Read the rest of his cogent analysis at It's a pretty good bet that stations like WBCN, WCCC, WXRK and WYSP, which already have established identities in their markets separate from Stern, will survive and even thrive in Stern's absence; while their revenue streams will no doubt suffer from Stern's absence, they'll also be free of the burden of paying Stern's big fees. It will be more interesting, we suspect, to see what becomes of stations like WHXR/WHXQ ("the Bone"), WZNE and WRKZ, which have built their entire identities on being "the Stern station" in their respective markets. And if Stern continues to talk up satellite radio's virtues so extensively every morning, it's a good bet that at least some of his present affiliates will send his show packing even before the end of 2005. (More wise words from the NAB show floor: "This is a very good time to be a morning-show talent agent.")

October 9, 1999 -

  • No question about where we start this first NERW from our new, more spacious location -- the Clear Channel/AMFM merger announced this week creates yet another "largest group in radio" and points the way to a divestiture that will itself be one of the largest group sales in broadcast history.
  • We've watched over the last few years as Clear Channel entered the Northeast, starting in New Haven, adding Radio Equity Partners' Springfield and Providence operations, buying TV in Albany and Providence, bursting into Albany and Utica with the purchase of Dame Media, then Rochester with the purchase of Jacor and Syracuse through a station swap with Cox. Meantime, AMFM slowly assembled itself through various Hicks, Muse-controlled entities, including Chancellor (which built groups in Boston through the purchase of Evergreen and in New York City through a series of acquisitions), Capstar (which first entered the region by buying Commodore Media in the New York suburbs, then swallowed Knight Quality Group, yielding stations from Burlington to Worcester, followed by SFX's Providence, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, Long Island and Albany stations), and several TV groups. Now the two are coming together in a $56 billion merger (which might have been a big story in the business press if it hadn't been overshadowed by the even bigger MCI WorldCom-Sprint conglomeration), which will create an 830 station group and spin off nearly a hundred more.
  • As the last NERW went to press, the radio scene in Concord, NEW HAMPSHIRE was being upended with the announcement that Bruce Danziger's Vox Media would pay $3.6 million for RadioWorks' remaining stations, WJYY (105.5), WRCI (107.7 Hillsboro), and WNHI (93.3 Belmont). RadioWorks sold WNHQ Peterborough to Steve Mindich last month. Vox already owns WKXL (1450/102.3) in Concord, and the word is that WKXL-FM and WNHI will share a (country?) music format once the deal closes. The news-talk format of WKXL(AM) will be simulcast on WRCI, replacing the classic rock-and-Imus "I-station" simulcast that station now shares with WNHI. WJYY's CHR won't be affected, at least for now. All the stations will somehow squeeze into WKXL's Redington Road facility.
  • A familiar voice is back on the morning airwaves in RHODE ISLAND, as Carolyn Fox takes over wakeup duties on classic rock WWRX (103.7 Westerly). The veteran of WHJY and WPRO displaces Don Imus -- but don't weep for the I-Man; he ends up on sister station WWBB (101.1), in turn displacing Daria Bruno and Rockin' Joe Herbert, who are looking for a new gig elsewhere. Fox is no stranger to her new bosses at WWRX, since she worked for PD Bill Weston and GM Jim Corwin at WHJY not that long ago. (And in the funhouse world of late '90s radio, it's no surprise to note that WWRX/WWBB and WHJY are about to become sister stations anyway!)
  • Clear Channel is doing the format shuffle in Albany, as modern rock migrates from "The Edge" (WQBK 103.9 Rensselaer/WQBJ 103.5 Cobleskill) down the dial to the former home of smooth jazz, WHRL (103.1 Albany). That station flipped to "Channel 103.1, the new music alternative" just before midnight October 1, filling the void created a week earlier when the Edge stations switched to active rock as "Rock Radio, 103.5/103.9 the Edge." (NERW detects shades of the Rochester format change in January that moved then-Jacor-owned WNVE from modern to active rock). WQBJ/QBK PD Rod Ryan adds WHRL to his portfolio, with Edge middayer Jason Keller moving over to mornings at WHRL.

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