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December 21, 2009

KDKA's Fred Honsberger Dies

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(Had enough of 2009 by now? We sure have - so this week's issue will be our last regular NERW of the year. Unless something huge breaks, in which case we'll post an update here, expect us back with the next regular issue of NERW on January 4, 2010. In the meantime, follow our Twitter feed for breaking news...and check out our 2009 Year in Review, now available at the link below.)


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*We start with some sad news from western PENNSYLVANIA, where KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) lost one of its signature voices last Tuesday morning.

Fred Honsberger made a name for himself in the early seventies with stints as news director at WKBO (1230 Harrisburg) and at WRSC/WQWK in State College, and it didn't take him long to make it back to his native Philadelphia, where he did news for KYW (1060). He moved to sister station KDKA in 1979, just in time to cover the Three Mile Island disaster, for which he won an Alfred I. DuPont award.

Honsberger became KDKA's news director in 1984, then moved over to the talk side in 1989, most recently in the noon-3 PM slot. For nearly a decade, he also hosted a TV talk show on the PCNC cable channel, before a series of illnesses forced him to give up that job.

In recent years, Honsberger had been doing his show from his home in Monroeville, and it was there that he died on Tuesday, at the age of 58.

Tributes to Honsberger quickly began pouring in, including a page of memorials in the Post-Gazette (and a fine obituary at from our colleague Jason Togyer), and a memorial service Sunday at the Salvation Army's Pittsburgh Temple.

From this end, we'd add one memory of Honsberger that hasn't been mentioned much in the official obituaries: in the early years of the Internet, Fred was one of the first big-name talk hosts to experiment with the new medium; for a while, he was a regular and enthusiastic participant in the newsgroup that also birthed the earliest version of this column more than 15 years ago - and we join in sending our condolences to Honsberger's family (including wife Christine and sons Kyle and Kevin) and to the KDKA family.

*NEW JERSEY-based Press Communications has lost the first round in its attempt to move new TV stations into the Philadelphia and New York City markets. As we reported back in June, Press bought two small TV stations out west - KJWY (Channel 2) in Jackson, Wyoming and KVNV (Channel 3) in Ely, Nevada, and then hoped to use an obscure clause in the FCC rules to force the Commission to reallocate those stations to Wilmington, Delaware and Middletown Township, N.J., respectively.

The clause in question provided that any licensee that notified the FCC that it was willing to accept reallocation to a VHF-less state would immediately be granted a license for the moved operation, bypassing just about every other provision of the Act except for spacing requirements, and Press hoped that by notifying the FCC that it was "willing to accept" a reallocation of KJWY and KVNV it could transform those low-cost rural licenses into full-power DTV signals transmitting from the Roxborough tower farm and Manhattan's 4 Times Square.

The FCC wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the idea. In a letter it released last week, the Commission took a narrow view of the meaning of "reallocate," interpreting the rule to allow only mutually-exclusive moves of stations in nearby states - like the one the law was originally intended to enable, the 1986 shift of channel 9 from New York City to Secaucus, N.J.

Since it's possible to continue to operate channel 2, for instance, in both Wyoming and Wilmington, the Commission concluded that the proposed KJWY move didn't qualify as a "reallocation," and it denied the KJWY and KVNV applications.

What the FCC did do, though, was to honor what it interpreted as the spirit of the rule by instead proposing to creating two new VHF allocations for Delaware and New Jersey - channel 5 in Seaford, Delaware, at the southern end of the state outside the Philadelphia TV market, and channel 4 in Atlantic City, N.J.

This is by no means the end of this interesting story: since the low-VHF spectrum in the mid-Atlantic region is now wide open, it's highly likely that the FCC's proposals will be met with counter-proposals to instead allocate VHF channels that would be closer to the big audiences (and eventual cable must-carry) in Philadelphia and New York City.

And given the ambiguity of the "reallocation" language, not to mention the potential profit awaiting Press if it can move KJWY and KVNV east, it's also highly likely that Press will appeal the FCC's ruling, tying this whole proceeding up in court for some time to come.

*The FCC continues to dig through the big pile of applications it received when it opened a window for new noncommercial FM stations back in 2007, and this week it named a few more "tentative selectees" for contested frequencies. Three applicants wanted 89.1 in communities near Reading, and after analyzing the number of listeners who'd receive either a first or second new noncommercial signal from each applicant, the FCC awarded 89.1 to religious broadcaster Four Rivers Community Broadcaster, which will license its new "Word FM" outlet to Mohrsville, north of Reading.

To the east, Penn-Jersey Educational Radio Corporation won out over three other applicants with its proposal for 160 watts on 90.5 in Easton, which will presumably relay Penn Jersey's community station, WDVR (89.7 Delaware Township NJ).

Out west, it's another CP for the mysterious St. Joseph Missions, the Catholic broadcaster that owns the still-silent former WAMO/WAMO-FM/WPGR in the Pittsburgh market. St. Joseph competed with three other applicants (including "K-Love" parent EMF, Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp. and Appalachian Performing Arts Institute) in an area north and east of Pittsburgh, and its application for 91.7 in Ligonier won the FCC's "tentative preference."

*One more from the obituary file: Jim Keating, who programmed WCAU-FM (98.1 Philadelphia) back in the eighties, then went on to work in Washington, D.C. and Florida, died last Monday (Dec. 14) of brain cancer. Keating had most recently been market manager in Fort Myers/Naples, Florida for Clear Channel; he had retired from that job in 2005.

*Is there a post-Christmas format flip coming in NEW JERSEY? We're hearing word that Greater Media's WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin) won't return to its classic hits/oldies format after the holidays, instead becoming "Magic 100.1," a mirror of sister station WMGQ (Magic 98.3) over in New Brunswick. Stay tuned to NERW's Twitter feed for updates on this one...

Over at Millennium's New Jersey 101.5 (WKXW Trenton), Judi Franco is citing "family issues" as the reason for her departure from the midday "Dennis and Judi" show that she's been hosting for over a decade. Dennis Malloy is flying solo for now on that shift.


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*As we reported in an update to last Monday's NERW, an upstate NEW YORK AM tower collapsed during guy-replacement work on Monday afternoon, killing one tower worker.

The 400' tower of WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen) was built in 1968, when the station signed on as WGMF, a daytimer on 1500. (The original frequency helps to explain the unusual height; WGMF had to minimize high-angle radiation during critical hours toward co-channel WTOP in Washington.)

OSHA is now investigating last Monday's incident, in which climber Dirk Remington of Clyde, N.Y. was killed. Remington was working for Owego-based Demand Communications, and was reportedly about 50 feet up the tower when it began to topple.

WRCE has notified the FCC that it's off the air, and there's no word yet about rebuilding plans for the Backyard Broadcasting station, which was largely a relay of Elmira-based sister station WPGI (100.9 Horseheads), though it broke away on weekends for sports programming.

(And yes, there's the eerie coincidence that the tower, via the photo above, is this month's Tower Site Calendar image.)

This week's development on the AM-on-FM translator front comes from right here in Rochester, and it's a big one: Bob Savage is paying Family Life Network $75,000 for the translator formerly known as W220DE (91.9 Greece).

As we' ve already reported here on NERW, that translator now holds a construction permit to move from the west side of Rochester up to the centrally-located Pinnacle Hill tower farm, where it will run 99 watts on 92.1 as W221CL - and we can now report that it will become "NewsTalk 92.1," relaying Bob's talk programming from WYSL (1040 Avon), which puts a big daytime signal over Rochester but suffers at night from adjacent-channel IBOC interference from WBZ (1030 Boston). The new translator signal is expected to be on the air within the first couple of weeks of 2010, we're told.

There's a new callsign in Utica: WUTI is the new ID at the AM 1150 facility long known as WRUN; it continues to broadcast an automated music format that ranges from top-40 to classic hits.

Down the road in Johnstown, we're hearing that long-silent WIZR (930) is back on the air temporarily with a simulcast of co-owned WYJB (95.5 Albany), keeping its license alive for another year while Pamal continues to seek a buyer.

*Radio People on the Move: Nick Cannon's not a "Radio Person," per se, but the actor, musician, host of "America's Got Talent" and husband of singer Mariah Carey has been picked as the new morning man at CBS Radio's "Now 92.3" (WXRK) in New York. Cannon, who's will start on the 6-10 AM shift January 19, becoming the first morning host on the station since it flipped from K-Rock back in March. No supporting cast for the show has been named yet.

Uptown at Citadel's WPLJ (95.5 New York), PD/morning veteran Scott Shannon (a "Radio Person" if ever there was one!) has a new title: he's now vice president of programming for the now-bankrupt Citadel. The promotion won't change most of Shannon's duties, since he'll continue to host the PLJ morning show and program the station, as well as programming and hosting Citadel's True Oldies Channel satellite service.

(And as for that Citadel bankruptcy: yes, it's a significant story, of course, but more so for the national financial press than for us here at NERW, where our focus is on the impact to Citadel's local radio stations around the region. If all goes according to plan in this "pre-packaged" bankruptcy, there won't be much, if any, immediate impact on those stations, most of which have already suffered severe staffing and budget cutbacks on the way to this unfortunate milestone.)

Where Are They Now? John Paul, former PD at Buffalo's WYRK (106.5), has a new gig with syndicator Dial Global, which just named him Senior Director of Country Programmer. Paul, who was more recently at KUPL in Portland, Oregon, will be based in Denver.


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*There's probably no TV weatherman with a bigger cult following in the region than NEW HAMPSHIRE's Al Kaprielian, who's been the star personality on Channel 50 in Derry for more than a quarter of a century, sticking with the small UHF station as it's transitioned from independent WNDS to My Network affiliate WZMY and as the station has passed through the hands of several owners.

But Kaprielian's TV run is scheduled to come to an end New Year's Eve as part of current owner Shooting Star's plan to end the remaining local programming on "My New England TV," which will mean job losses for seven other WZMY employees in addition to Kaprielian.

Kaprielian's fans, who saved his job once before when it was threatened, have banded together again to try to keep the quirky weatherman on the air; if nothing else, he'll keep his radio gig across the state line at WCAP (980 Lowell MA).

Up north, three broadcasters - New Hampshire Public Radio, Dennis Jackson's Foothills Public Radio and Bangor, Maine-based Light of Life Ministries - all competed for 88.3, and when the FCC crunched the numbers it found that Light of Life's application for a new signal in Wakefield would bring the most new noncommercial service to Lakes Region listeners.

But NHPR didn't come out empty-handed: it's been granted a CP for a new signal on 91.9 in Littleton. And down south in Derry, Fitchburg, Mass.-based Horizon Christian Fellowship has been granted a new signal on 90.5.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, former WCRB (99.5 Lowell) GM Nancy Dieterich is back with the station in its new WGBH-owned noncommercial form. She's been hired as director of local radio sponorship for "99.5 All Classical."

*In western MAINE, Dick Gleason's WOXO (92.7 Norway) is reaching a bigger audience, now that it's signed on its newly-upgraded signal from a site on Shaw's Ledge near Greenville, about eight miles north of its old class A (2 kW/361') site in Norway.

From the new site, WOXO is a class C3 signal, with 5.2 kW/735', reaching deeper into Lewiston/Auburn (and north towards Rumsford) than it did before.

Another win for Bangor-based Light of Life Ministries: the religious broadcaster beat out four competitors, including the University of Maine, for a new signal at the bottom of the dial in central Maine. The FCC determined that Light of Life's application for 50 kW DA/128' on 88.1 in Bowdoin, south of Augusta, will provide the most new service to the region.

*A shift change in RHODE ISLAND: at Hall's WCTK (98.1 New Bedford/Providence), Jess Tyler is the new morning co-host, with Loren Petisce moving from mornings to Tyler's former midday shift at "Cat Country."

*And we leave snowy New England with two bits of news from the vicinity of VERMONT, which (like us here in western New York) largely escaped the wild winter weather:

Across Lake Champlain in Au Sable, NY (near Plattsburgh), silent WYME (97.9) has changed calls to WZXP, fueling speculation that it'll be the new home of the "Musicheads" eclectic AAA format that started at the old WEXP (105.1 Plattsburgh, now WKOL) and was later heard at WCLX (102.9 Westport).

And speaking of WCLX, its new programmer is ramping up the local content. Chip Morgan's eclectic "Farm Fresh Radio" now includes contributions from one of your editor's old colleagues.

Bill O'Neill, late of WCAP (980 Lowell), has been off the air since his day job took him up to Vermont some years back - but he's now toting a digital recorder as he travels the byways of the Green Mountain State, collecting stories and sounds for short pieces that he's now contributing to the Farm Fresh airwaves. Nice to have you back on the air, old friend...

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

*The bizarre saga of a teenage FM pirate and CANADA's broadcast regulators has come to a close, at least for now.

14-year-old Jayhaed Saade made headlines in Ottawa when he put a powerful signal on the air from the roof of the motel/strip club (yes, really!) that his father, a former mayoral candidate, owns. And for a while, the teen put up an assertive fight to stay on the air, defying Industry Canada's demands that he pull the plug on "Mix 91.9."

Whether it was the threat of a sizable fine or worse, something appears to have changed Saade's mind last weekend. On the night of Dec. 13, he shut down his transmitter (he's still webcasting), and he posted a contrite letter on his website:

I wish to apologize to the Canadian Radio Television Commission for broadcasting on radio waves 91.9 fm without proper permission and license. At their request, I have voluntarily shut down and will remain so until I can properly obtained their permission to broadcast.

I have disconnected my transmitter and excitor and have put it into third party storage until I can legally operate again. I have hired a broadcast consultant to work with me so that I can get back on the air with the approval of the CRTC.

Even though I am 14 years old and have had a life long passion – a life calling as it were - to be in the radio broadcast industry, I was in the wrong and should not have broadcasted without proper legal permission from the CRTC – our federal government commission that regulates the radio / TV airwaves for the benefit of all Canadians.

My passion for the industry led me from operating on the internet since I was 7, to desiring to broadcast on the airwaves. I wanted to continue to learn and experiment in this exciting radio industry, but I have come to understand that I was in error and wrong to operate without a proper license.

I sincerely apologize to all concern for my mistake and hope that my youthful enthusiasm will explain and hopefully mitigate somewhat this error.

I want to be a broadcaster amd wish to make it my lifelong career. I will be dedicating myself in the years to come to learn the industry so that I can become the best broadcaster possible.

Milkman UnLimited reports that Saade told webcast listeners he's hoping to receive a low-power broadcast license "within two weeks," a timeframe that seems awfully unlikely to anyone who follows Canada's oft-Byzantine licensing process. Industry Canada didn't comment on the claim in a statement to MMU.

*Out in the Maritimes, the CBC wants to add a fill-in Radio One transmitter in Sackville, New Brunswick, on the Nova Scotia border. Sackville listeners once received a massive signal from the CBC, back in the days when CBA (1070) transmitted its 50 kW clear-channel voice from the Radio Canada International shortwave complex right there in town. Even when the AM signal was relocated north to Moncton in the sixties, CBA still blanketed Sackville - but when the AM station was silenced and moved to FM (as CBAM 106.1), it was hard to receive in Sackville.

The CBC wants to add a 50 watt directional signal on 106.1 in Sackville to close that gap.

*And that's it for your regular NERW for 2009. Stay tuned to this space later this week for our 2009 Year in Review - and we'll be back January 4, 2010 with a whole new year of columns. In the meantime, all of us here wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year - and we'll see you next decade!

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!)

December 22, 2008 -

  • Public radio listeners in northern and eastern MAINE are about to lose service, if MPBN (Maine Public Broadcasting Network) follows through on its threat to close its transmitter sites in Calais and Fort Kent to help balance a budget that's battered by funding cuts and the overall economic malaise. In what it says is an attempt to balance harsh financial realities with the need to continue to produce local programming, MPBN announced last week that it plans to cut $900,000 from its budget over the remainder of this fiscal year, eliminating eight jobs (out of a total employment of 86), signing off its TV network during overnight hours - and taking WMEF (106.5 Fort Kent), WMED (89.7 Calais) and WMED-DT (Channel 10) in Calais silent until at least the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
  • If the transmitters are shut down, MPBN will lose coverage of some of the most remote parts of the state, the far north and Down East areas that already live at a huge remove from the state's centers of population, finance and government to the south. Fort Kent listeners will still have a fringe signal from MPBN's powerful Presque Isle transmitter, WMEM (106.1) - but in Calais, two hours east of Bangor, the only access to MPBN signals will be via streaming audio for radio and cable or satellite for TV. (There's an impact on emergency communications, too, since MPBN's radio network is the state's primary EAS backbone.)
  • Predictably, the move has prompted an outcry from listeners and viewers complaining that they're being sacrificed for the benefit of southern Maine. And even more predictably, the state's politicians quickly began weighing in. "We can’t be leaving out any part of Maine in terms of access to this source of news, entertainment, and communications,” governor John Baldacci told the network's news department on Friday, promising to try to find "a strategy" to save the service to Calais and Fort Kent. (And leading NERW to wonder if that wasn't part of MPBN's own strategy all along...)
  • It was, at last, a quiet week in NEW YORK - which had to come as a relief to those broadcasters who haven't been hit by the layoff axe that's been swinging with abandon in recent months. Indeed, the two on-air talents who left the Big Apple's radio airwaves this week did so voluntarily: Ian Camfield is departing the struggling "K-Rock" (WXRK 92.3) to return to his native England and his old on-air home, Xfm in London; Chris Carlin, meanwhile, is reportedly leaving sister station WFAN (660) for a new on-air gig at the Mets' TV home, SNY.
  • How about a good news story, for a change? We find one in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where two broadcasting veterans are unwrapping the gift every radio person dreams of: their own radio station. It's WNBP (1450 Newburyport), which is changing hands from Todd Tanger's Westport Communications to a new company called Port Broadcasting. It's headed by Carl Strube, who owned WJTO in Bath, Maine (and worked at stations such as WLOB, WGAN and WJAB) before moving into the music industry, and by veteran programmer Pete Falconi, who most recently occupied the PD chair at WODS in Boston.
  • Along with local businessman Robert Couture, Strube and Falconi say they intend to continue WNBP's long tradition as a community radio voice. Once the deal closes next year, they plan to move WNBP's studios from Beverly, where it now shares space with Tanger's WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester), back to Newburyport. (This is not the first time WNBP has been in the hands of a former air talent, by the way: Tanger bought the station in 2004 from Bob Fuller, who was still in high school when he signed the station on back in 1957, when it was a daytimer on 1470.)
  • Rush Limbaugh is off the air in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA. Connoisseur Communications talker WJET (1400 Erie) says the rights fees being charged by syndicator Premiere were getting to be too high, and faced with the choice between continuing to pay for the Limbaugh show or keeping local staffers in place, WJET chose the local staffers. Dennis Miller replaces Limbaugh in the noon timeslot.
  • Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, KDKA (1020) has revamped its schedule, moving Fred Honsberger into the 12-3 PM slot that had been occupied for the last year and a half by Kevin Miller. Miller's out as part of the schedule changes, which expand the afternoon news block to 3-6 PM, followed by the return of former KD host Mike Pintek for the 6-10 PM slot, which knocks John Steigerwald off the lineup at KDKA after a year or so.

December 20, 2004 -

  • It's a long way from NERW-land, but we can't help but start our update this week with a rather big news item from southern CALIFORNIA, where the 760-foot tower of KFI (640 Los Angeles) came crashing down Sunday morning after it was struck by a small private plane. Both the pilot and the passenger of the Cessna were killed, but amazingly enough, the tower didn't hit any of the industrial buildings that surround its base, nor was anyone on the ground killed by the impact.
  • KFI was back on the air within about an hour, running 5 kW (later boosted to 20 kW) into the auxiliary tower at the site in La Mirada, on the Orange/Los Angeles county line adjacent to I-5. We'll be following closely as this historic and important station works to rebuild this facility, which has been on the site since the thirties and has used this tower since 1947, when it replaced an earlier flat-top antenna. (Ironically, the guy wires on the tower had just been replaced this past spring.)
  • Back to our home region we go, and we start in southwestern PENNSYLVANIA, where WRRK (96.9 Braddock) is spending the holidays in stunt mode, playing music test tapes (a la Syracuse's "Quick 108", circa 1996) and other out-of-format material. The stunting will end January 5, the station says, and the word is that a new format will replace "Channel 97"'s classic rock at that point. (NERW notes: WRRK lost a lot of steam when morning man Jim Quinn departed for the new WPGB 104.7 a year ago, and it gained some unwanted competition when Infinity flipped the former WBZZ to rock as WRKZ earlier this year. The rock market is a crowded one indeed in Pittsburgh...)
  • Over on the other side of the state, WYCR (98.5 Hanover) closed the book on three decades of top 40 last week, flipping to classic hits as "The Peak, 98.5." The station's running jockless now, we hear, though it sounds as though at least some of the 98YCR airstaff will stay with the family-owned station when jocks return to the air early in 2005.
  • In RHODE ISLAND, Citadel is paring its Providence cluster a bit, spinning off WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) and WKKB (100.3 Middletown) to Davidson Media Group, the Virginia-based owner of WALE (990 Greenville), WXCT (990 Southington CT) and a chain of mostly Spanish-speaking stations down south. WAKX has been the southern half of the "Kix" simulcast with WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket), which will keep its R&B/Howard Stern format, while WKKB has been operated out of Citadel's New Bedford, Mass. facility with classic rock and Stern. No word yet on what Davidson plans to do with the two stations, for which it will pay $7.5 million.

December 17, 1999 -

  • Springfield's NBC affiliate is getting a new owner. WWLP-TV (Channel 22)'s owner, Benedek Broadcasting, is spinning the station as part of its purchase of Chronicle Broadcasting's Nebraska and Kansas properties (Chronicle flagship KRON-TV San Francisco just set a record for the sale of a single TV station, over $800 million, earlier this month).
  • Benedek is paying Chronicle $141 million for WOWT Omaha and KAKE-TV Wichita, in a roundabout transaction through which the stations are actually being sold to LIN Broadcasting. LIN will then transfer them to Benedek, in exchange for WWLP (valued at $123 million) plus $18 million cash.
  • The deal works well for LIN, since it creates a natural connection between WWLP and LIN's New Haven ABC affiliate, WTNH (Channel 8). WTNH engineering staffers will help WWLP with its move into new studios in Chicopee next year, and news partnerships between the two stations are expected as well.
  • Conn River Broadcasting is growing in both Massachusetts and VERMONT. Following its purchase of WHAI (98.3/1240) earlier this month, we hear Conn River is also picking up Bob and Shirley Wolf's WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and WCFR-FM (93.5 Springfield), which simulcast as "Magic." No purchase price just yet...
  • We've been hearing rumors about this one for a few weeks, and now it's official: WENY-TV (Channel 36) in Elmira, NEW YORK is being sold for $4.8 million. The buyer for the little ABC affiliate is Kevin Lilly's Lilly Broadcasting LLC, based in Natick, Mass. WENY-AM/FM (1230/92.7) aren't included in the transaction; wonder if this means the TV station can finally move out of the garage behind the radio stations in Horseheads (a landmark of sorts, considering all the upstate New York TV people whose careers have started there...) (2009 update: Nope - the radio stations moved, and the TV stations are still in the garage!)
  • Downstate, AAA Entertainment (formerly Back Bay Broadcasting) crosses Long Island Sound to pick up WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) and WBEA (104.7 Montauk). Those East End stations are now Webcasting, albeit with the technically-flaky Webradio service...find them at for WEHM's AAA format and for WBEA's hot AC format.
  • Listeners in CANADA have two new all-news sources, with Tuesday's launch of "Info 690" (CINF) and "940 News" (CINW) in Montreal. The 690 night signal is a new showcase for "Le Canal Nouvelles TVA", the French-language all-news TV service of commercial TV network TVA. LCN audio will run overnights beginning at 11, 10 on weekends, on CINF.

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