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Big Broadcasters Bet on Talk, Sports

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*When Clear Channel began working to upgrade its AM signals in eastern MASSACHUSETTS more than a decade ago, rumors ran rampant all over the mailing lists and message boards about a possible flip of WKOX (1200) to talk.

It was a long time coming, but it appears those rumors will soon be reality. Last year, WKOX completed its upgrade, changing city of license from Framingham to Newton and powering up to 50,000 watts fulltime from the rebuilt transmitter site in Newton's Oak Hill neighborhood that originally belonged to WUNR (1600 Brookline). And last week, Clear Channel announced that it will soon swap calls between WKOX and sister station WXKS (1430 Everett), ditching the "Rumba" Spanish tropical format now on 1200 in favor of a talk lineup drawn heavily from Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks.

A few of the key pieces of that lineup - most notably Glenn Beck's late-morning show and Sean Hannity's afternoon-drive show - are already available for immediate clearance in Boston, and Clear Channel has made no secret of its intention to eventually fill the slot between them with its top-name talent, Rush Limbaugh, who's long been heard on Entercom's WRKO (680 Boston).

Limbaugh's contract with WRKO reportedly runs through late 2012, and at least for now Clear Channel says it intends to be "as respectful as possible with some of the current contractual obligations with WRKO." But the company hasn't hesitated to shift Rush to its own stations in other markets, most recently in North Carolina with the launches of "Rush Radio" talkers in Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem/Greensboro earlier this month.

The speculation is already flying hot and heavy over what a third talk station might do to the competitive balance between WRKO and its fierce rival, Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston). Even with 50 kilowatts, the signal of the new WXKS 1200 won't have the full-market coverage that WTKK enjoys, and will arguably enjoy even less useful nighttime coverage outside Route 128 than the already signal-impaired WRKO. What's more, the "Rush Radio"/Premiere model relies heavily on out-of-market syndicated talent - and Boston is not a market that's ever taken to national talk in the way it responds to local talkers.

Would Clear Channel make the investment in local talk that WRKO and WTKK have made? It's already hired a general sales manager for the new station with local talk experience - Alan Chartrand, who's worked at both Entercom and Greater Media as a top sales executive - and more staffing announcements are expected soon.

(There's no word yet on exactly what becomes of Clear Channel's present Spanish-language AM programming, though it seems likely that the higher-rated and more established "Rumba" now on WKOX 1200 might replace the newer "Mia" Spanish AC format running on what's now WXKS 1430.)

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Clear Channel already launched a talker a few years back - WPGB (104.7), which grabbed Rush and the Pirates baseball rights away from CBS Radio's long-established KDKA (1020). Now it's CBS' turn to aim for a piece of the FM spoken-word market. The rumors began on the message boards late last week, and quickly spread to the Post-Gazette, which confirmed on Friday that CBS is planning to launch an all-sports FM station, most likely on "B94" WBZW (93.7 Pittsburgh), which has struggled in the top-40 war with Clear Channel's WKST-FM (96.1 Pittsburgh). Is it just coincidence that CBS moved B94 morning co-host BuckHead to Detroit last week to do afternoons on its new "Amp 98.7" (WVMV), leaving the morning show as just "Bubba and Melanie"?

Unlike Boston, where CBS launched "Sports Hub 98.5" WBZ-FM last year with two franchises that were already in its local lineup - the Patriots from WBCN and the Bruins from WBZ(AM) - the big sports franchises in Pittsburgh are all locked up (for now) with the two existing AM sports players in town. Clear Channel has all three pro teams: the Pirates on WPGB, the Steelers on WDVE (102.5) and the Penguins on WXDX (105.9), with Fox Sports outlet WBGG (970) also carrying the latter two teams. University of Pittsburgh sports also air on Clear Channel's WWSW (94.5) and WBGG. The other existing sports talker, ESPN-owned WEAE (1250), offers Penn State sports.

Does that leave room for sports on a future "KDKA-FM"? There's plenty of local sports-talk talent available at the moment, including longtime WPGB/WEAE host Ellis Cannon, who was ousted from his 6-9 PM slot on WPGB last week due to budget cuts. Michael Savage's show, which had been heard on delay, moves to a live 6-9 PM clearance on WPGB, followed by a delayed hour of Glenn Beck.

 

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*As we told you in an update to last week's NERW, the Cumulus cluster in Danbury, CONNECTICUT launched a new country format last Monday afternoon. After a weekend of stunting, the former hot AC "Y105" WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) flipped to "Kicks" at 1:05 in the afternoon, bringing the format back to a market where it's been missing for a while now. "Kicks" retains the former Y105 airstaff, including Bill "Mr. Music" Trotta, who'd just moved over to Cumulus a year ago after a long run at crosstown competitor WDAQ.

In Hartford, "Skillet" is vacating the stovetop - well, the evening shift, anyway - at Clear Channel's WKSS (Kiss 95.7). The jock, whose real name is Nate Halegua, will be "Brody" at his new station, WXXL in Orlando, where he'll start in afternoons Feb. 1. No replacement has been named yet at WKSS.

And in New Haven, today marks Vinnie Penn's return to the air from Radio Towers Park, where he co-hosted the WKCI (101.3 Hamden) morning show (including a brief stint with Glenn Beck) until five years ago. As we told you a while back on NERW, Penn's new gig is on talker WELI (960), where he replaces Don Imus in morning drive. New Haven Imus fans can still hear the I-Man direct from New York flagship WABC (770), should they so desire.

*The Boston-based WEEI network has lost its northernmost affiliates, up in Bangor, MAINE, where Blueberry Broadcasting has flipped WAEI-FM (97.1) and WAEI (910) to the Fox Sports national feed. Blueberry's Bruce Biette tells the Bangor Daily News that WEEI breached its contractual agreement with the Bangor station, but he's not saying what the details of the issue were; WEEI's Jason Wolfe says Blueberry "chose to end its contract with us," and we suspect the whole thing will end up in court before long. WEEI is still heard in southern Maine via WPEI (95.9 Saco/Portland.)

There are some shifts going on next week at two Bangor-area religious stations, co-owned WHCF (88.5 Bangor) and WHMX (105.7 Lincoln), as WHMX's morning team of Tim Collins and Morgan Smith move down the dial to WHCF, moving Pencil Boone from nights to mornings on 105.7. The current WHCF morning team of Penny Ayer and Joe Polek move to afternoons, a slot Boone has also been occupying.

In southern Maine, religious WSEW (88.5 Sanford) has moved up the dial to 88.7, boosting power from 100 watts/387' to 3.2 kW/564' from its existing tower site southwest of Sanford.

*Southern NEW HAMPSHIRE's My Network TV outlet is coming under new management. For the next three years, Diane Sutter's Shooting Star Broadcasting will be LMA'ing WZMY (Channel 50) in Derry to New Age Media, the Wilkes-Barre, PA-based company that operates WPME (Channel 35) and WPXT (Channel 51) in Portland. Will New Age listen to the Al Kaprielian fans who continue to clamor for the return of the popular WZMY weatherman?

New Hampshire Public Radio has picked calls for two new transmitters: mark down WEVF for 90.3 in Colebrook and WEVQ for 91.9 in Littleton.

*In other MASSACHUSETTS news, the FCC has granted a daytime site change and power increase for Alex Langer's WBIX (1060 Natick), which will trade its present 40 kW from the old WKOX site on Mount Wayte Avenue in Framingham for 50 kW from the five-tower array in Ashland that's already home to WBIX's night signal, as well as the day and night signal for WAMG (890 Dedham). When the move is complete, it will leave just one tenant on the Framingham towers that were once triplexed: WSRO (650 Ashland), which operates only by day.

There's another translator on the move out of Gloucester: Horizon Broadcast Fellowship's W279BQ (103.7) relocated from Cape Ann to Swampscott last year, and now it's applying for another move south, this time to a site on Route 107 between Salem and Lynn, where the relay of WSMA (90.5) will run 27 watts.

CBS Radio's WODS (103.3 Boston) has added a new HD subchannel: on 103.3-HD3, it's now carrying contemporary Christian "Mercy Rock."

We're just learning about the death of station owner Maurice "Moe" Polayes, who began in broadcasting as a Westinghouse engineer after World War II, then moved to the old WLAW in Lawrence before going into business selling industrial X-ray equipment. After retiring from that business in 1999, Polayes bought WADK (1540) in Newport, RHODE ISLAND, later adding what's now WJZS (99.3 Block Island) as a sister station. Polayes died Dec. 9 in a Needham nursing home, at age 86.

And longtime WBZ-TV newswriter/editor Denny Geisen has died. The North Dakota native retired from the station in 2005 and had been traveling the country in a camper. He was just 66 when he died Jan. 11 at his winter home in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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*Our NEW YORK news begins with a deal that will give several DTV stations more power, if the FCC approves. New York City's WABC-TV (Channel 7) is at the center of the agreement, which will allow for a power increase in New York from 17 kW to 27 kW and eventually to 34 kW. To make that happen, ABC is paying the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority to put in a higher-powered transmitter at its WNJB (Channel 58/RF 8) in New Brunswick and to drop its interference complaint against WABC. And the increased power at WNJB will in turn lead to power boosts for WGAL (Channel 8) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and WBPH (Channel 60/RF 9) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, assuming the FCC signs on to the plan.

CBS Radio's WXRK (92.3 Now) launches its first morning show today, with Nick Cannon, the actor/comedian/spouse of Mariah Carey, at the helm. Across town at WBLS (107.5), word is that Jeff Foxx, last heard in morning drive at competitor WRKS (98.7), will be taking the afternoon slot last occupied by Wendy Williams. (And we've been remiss in not noting WBLS' addition of R&B star Keith Sweat as its new nightly "Quiet Storm" host, effective two weeks ago...)

A new signal in the Hudson Valley now has calls: mark down "WLHV" for Bard College's new 88.1 in Annandale-on-Hudson (and yes, that's the "My Old School" from the Steely Dan song; the band started at Bard when Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were students there in the late sixties.) WLHV will run 830 watts/417' DA from a tower near the Taconic State Parkway in West Taghkanic, about 10 miles northeast of the Bard campus.

Is there a format change coming in central New York? The new website for Leatherstocking's "CNY Talk Radio" is now up and running, and it shows not only the talk format's existing outlet, WFBL (1390 Syracuse), but also sister station WMCR (1600 Oneida) - which means that just as Leatherstocking promised when it bought the Oneida signals, a break is coming in the longtime simulcast between WMCR and WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida). The FM, incidentally, is now using the slogan "Mix 106."

Here in Rochester, Bob Savage's new FM translator took to the airwaves at 5:01 Friday morning. W221CL (92.1 Rochester) is the former Family Life translator W220DE (91.9 Greece), but now that it's moved up the dial and across town to Pinnacle Hill, "News-Talk 92.1" is covering a big chunk of Monroe County with the relay of Savage's WYSL (1040 Avon).

Two obituaries complete the week's Empire State news: Art Rust, Jr. was one of the first African-American sportscasters when he went on the air at WWRL (1600) back in 1954, kicking off a career that included TV work at WNBC-TV (Channel 4) in the sixties and seventies and radio gigs at WMCA, WINS, WABC and WBLS. Rust died Tuesday (Jan. 12) at 82, of Parkinson's disease.

And jazz fans are mourning Ed Beach, who started in New York radio at WNYC before moving to WRVR (106.7) when Riverside Church put the jazz station on the air in 1961. Beach hosted "Just Jazz" on WRVR almost to the station's end, leaving in 1976. Beach died Dec. 25 at age 86 at his home in Oregon.

*Aside from the FM sports talk in Pittsburgh, it was a quiet week in PENNSYLVANIA, save for a contract extension in Philadelphia, where Angelo Cataldi signed a new four-year deal to continue in mornings at WIP (610), where he's been a fixture for two decades now.

Up the road in Allentown, more cutbacks at Citadel's WLEV (100.7 Allentown): the "Saturday Night Live...Disco and Moore" request show that had been hosted by Kevin Moore is history after seven years on the air. Moore is still doing weekends at sister station WCTO (96.1 Easton).

*In the Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY market, WTAA (1490 Pleasantville) has applied to change calls to WBSS, a callsign that's best-known for its old "Boss 97" days on what's now WENJ-FM (97.3 Millville).

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*CANADA's highest-profile pirate radio station is silent again, this time by force. 14-year-old unlicensed broadcaster Jayhaed Saadé turned off "Mix 91.9" for a while in December after the authorities came knocking, but the high-powered signal was soon back on the air all over Ottawa, despite Saadé's promises that he'd wait to get a license before returning to the airwaves.

On Friday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers armed with a warrant to seize Saadé's equipment visited the Saadé International Inn, the motel/strip club owned by Saadé's father. Ottawa newspapers reported that Saadé refused to tell the police, or his father, where the 91.9 transmitter was concealed - and so they shut down the power to the hotel while they dismantled the antenna from the roof and followed the transmission line back to the equipment.

Saadé's still not backing down; "Mix 91.9" is still streaming, and over the weekend Milkman UnLimited caught its teenage proprietor launching into a lengthy profanity-laden screed against the RCMP and Canadian officialdom in general, saying he needs a radio station "in order to live" - and vowing to be back on the air by Thursday with an even more powerful transmitter.

On the other side of the province, My Broadcasting's newly-acquired CIYN (97.9 Kincardine ON) is applying to add a 3.1 kW/155' transmitter on 90.9 in Port Elgin. This isn't the first time CIYN ha applied for that facility; under its previous ownership, the CRTC had granted the Port Elgin relay, but it was never constructed. When My bought CIYN, the sale contract included an additional C$125,000 payment if the Port Elgin relay was again granted within nine months. That clause ran afoul of the CRTC's rules, and now My has returned to the commission with a new agreement that allows it to apply for the Port Elgin relay without paying anything to CIYN's prior owners.

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!)

January 19, 2009 -

  • We're still not sure how much stock to put in the widely-circulating rumors about big cuts coming to Clear Channel this week, especially after the message-board echo chamber has had its way with them, but there's at least one sign of the company's downsizing: in addition to her duties as PD of NEW YORK's Z100 (WHTZ 100.3 Newark NJ), Sharon Dastur added the PD title last week at Clear Channel sister station WKQI (95.5) in Detroit.
  • Yes, that means a full-market top 40 station in a top-ten market will have a PD who's in town only a day or two each month. No, we're not sure this is a sign, as some have speculated, that the company is planning to massively nationalize its programming. (We're quite certain, for one thing, that the satellite receivers that have been installed at CC transmitter sites nationwide are not, as a prominent blogger has been suggesting, designed to eliminate local studios - they are, rather, part of the company's emergency response plan that was put in place after Hurricane Katrina wiped out its New Orleans studios, forcing its New Orleans stations to be fed via satellite from Baton Rouge.)
  • But no, this certainly isn't a good thing for anyone hoping for a sign that radio's biggest owners (as opposed to the small-market guys, who are faring pretty well, considering) have any real sense of how to renew their focus on quality content, rather than simply continuing to cut costs until there's nothing left that anyone would want to listen to.
  • The big news from the talk radio scene in eastern MASSACHUSETTS last week was what didn't happen: despite rumors that suggested WTKK (96.9 Boston) middayers Jim Braude and Margery Eagan might decamp for mornings at rival WRKO (680), they're instead staying put at the Greater Media FM talker, which signed them to a "long term agreement" keeping them in place on WTKK.
  • There was no movement, either, at WBZ (1030), where the Globe reported that fired weekend talk host Lovell Dyett met with station management Thursday to talk about the possibility of a return to the air amidst heavy community pressure for his reinstatement. When asked whether the latest round of cuts at WBZ was the last, GM Ted Jordan told the paper, "I can't imagine there would be more."
  • The new PD and morning man at Northeast Broadcasting's WXRV (92.5 Andover) is a familiar voice in the market: he's Beau Raines, who programmed WROR (105.7) from 1999-2002 and WZLX (100.7) from 2002-2005. Raines had most recently been in Denver, where he was programming Entercom's KQMT (99.5) until budget cuts claimed that job last fall.
  • Saga is adding to its cluster in Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE with a new top-40 station, "Hot Hits New Hampshire." Like its new outlets in Keene (as well as Ithaca, N.Y. and Asheville, N.C.), this one's a translator - two of them, actually - relaying the HD2 of a bigger Saga FM, in this case WZID (95.7 Manchester). In Manchester, "Hot Hits" is on W231BR (94.1), which had been relaying Saga's WMLL (96.5), while in Concord it's on W276BJ (103.1).
  • In CONNECTICUT, CBS Radio's WTIC (1080 Hartford) has apparently concluded that it can't win a fight with the FCC to retain the unusual condition on its license that allowed it to operate with its daytime non-directional facilities until sunset in Dallas, where co-owned KRLD shares the frequency. WTIC's grandfathered extended daytime operation was challenged by WOAP, another 1080 signal in Michigan, which won a signal upgrade by persuading the FCC that the post-sunset operation in Connecticut should receive only groundwave, not skywave, protection.
  • To prevent further incursion on its signal during the period before Dallas sunset (which falls anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes after Hartford sunset, depending on the time of year), WTIC has applied to the FCC for a license modification that will eliminate the special post-sunset conditions, instead switching the Hartford signal to nighttime directional operation (and the class A skywave protection that goes with it) at Hartford sunset.
  • There's a new station on the air in south central PENNSYLVANIA, where Harrisburg public broadcaster WITF flipped the switch to put WYPM (93.3 Chambersburg) on the air at 10 AM on Jan. 9. The new signal is the relocated former WROG (102.9 Cumberland MD), which former owner Bob Stevens moved out of the way of an upgrade to his WANB-FM (103.1) in the Pittsburgh area, then sold to WITF for $875,000. It's carrying an NPR news and talk lineup, with the same schedule that had been heard on the "Engage" HD2 service on WITF's main FM signal in Harrisburg.
  • About 15 miles west of Chambersburg, a fire Wednesday night gutted the transmitter building of WJAL-TV, the independent station licensed to Hagerstown, Maryland that serves viewers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. That, we suspect, means the permanent end of WJAL's analog signal on channel 68; as for WJAL-DT, which was to move from 16 to 39 after February, it too remains off the air, but WJAL is reportedly working on ways to use other stations' DTV subchannels to restore a signal to the air.

January 17, 2005 -

  • Radio listeners in NEW JERSEY's capital city are about to get a big shakeup on their FM dial. On February 14, Nassau will move WPST's calls and top 40 format from the 97.5 spot where it's been heard for nearly three decades to the 94.5 facility that's been classic rock "Hawk" WTHK. The Hawk, in turn, will move to 97.5 - but for how long? NERW notes that Nassau recently won FCC approval to move the 97.5 allocation from Trenton to Burlington, from which the facility will effectively become a Philadelphia-market signal.
  • The 94.5 half of the move is pretty obvious in that context: WPST is a dominant presence in the Trenton market (and a huge cash cow for Nassau), so moving it to a comparable facility (both 97.5 and 94.5 are class B signals) that will remain focused on Trenton will keep 'PST going for listeners there. But we strongly suspect that many more changes are in the works for 97.5, especially in light of the fact that Nassau has no other properties in the core Philadelphia market, and that it's a company that prefers to compete in suburban and small-city markets. (Not to mention that the cash infusion from an eventual sale of an upgraded Philadelphia-market 97.5 signal would more than pay for all the buying Nassau's been doing in New England and more recently in Maryland.)
  • The fight over payola allegations in upstate NEW YORK took some noisy new turns this past week, as former WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls) PD Dave Universal took to the trades to defend his actions while programming Buffalo's "Kiss." Universal told All Access that "Entercom and my GM knew that I occasionally went with record reps to various sporting events to build relationships. Never once was I told not to do this," adding, "With all that's going on in the state of New York, it was easier for them to get rid of me, than defend how I did business for them." Unfortunately for Universal, the publicity about the whole affair - coupled with the Armstrong Williams scandal in Washington - got the attention of FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who at week's end persuaded chairman Michael Powell to launch an Enforcement Bureau investigation into the case.
  • Meanwhile on the TV dial, the long-awaited call change at Rochester's channel 13 finally happened last Monday morning, with WOKR signing off for the last time at 1:42 in the morning (using original WOKR announcer Jerry Carr to make the final announcement) and WHAM-TV debuting minutes before the 5 AM newscast. (NERW was most amused by morning anchor Doug Emblidge, one of the wittier guys in the business, starting the first newscast by appearing to be taking notes on all the technical details - studio-transmitter link callsigns and the like - that were mentioned in the sign-on.) "13 WHAM News" brings with it a new graphics package and music; we're still waiting to see much of the promised closer promotional relationship with WHAM (1180), where we understand several anchors were still slipping up and referring to "News Source 13" instead of "13 WHAM News" for much of last week. (All in good time, we're sure...)
  • A veteran MASSACHUSETTS newscaster is saying farewell to the daily grind. After just under a quarter-century at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), Liz Walker announced Friday that she's giving up her anchor chair on the station's noon newscast to focus instead on her family and on her studies at Harvard Divinity School. (Walker left WBZ's evening newscasts in 2000 to begin her studies at Harvard.) Walker won't vanish from the CBS4 airwaves completely, though: she'll soon start a new Sunday morning public-affairs program called "Sunday with Liz Walker," to be seen each week at 11.

January 21, 2000 -

  • (No issue - NERW was traveling)

New England Radio Watch, January 19, 1995

  • (No issue - NERW was traveling)

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