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April 19, 2010

Back Home From an Upbeat NAB

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*It's never good form to complain about a trip to Las Vegas to commune with the rest of the broadcast world, but now it can be told: the last few years at the NAB Show have been downright depressing. The 2009 show was especially difficult - attendance was sharply down, new products were few and far between, and even if they'd been on the floor in abundance, nobody could have afforded to buy them.

So it's with great pleasure that we can report that the 2010 show was a distinctly more pleasurable experience. While attendance was still nowhere near the six-figure peaks a few years back, there were plenty of familiar Northeast radio faces to be seen on the new terrain of the Las Vegas Convention Center's central hall, where radio exhibitors were relocated this year after more than a decade over in the north hall.

Those exhibitors had some neat new stuff to show off, perhaps most notably in the arena of audio processing, where it's been a long time since the "big guys" have had shiny new boxes to offer. It's hard to make intelligent comparisons on a noisy show floor where it's impossible to A/B competing processors at separate booths, but our (far from sophisticated) ears gave the nod to the new Omnia 11 over Orban's new Optimod 8600 and Wheatstone's latest Vorsis box; what we can say with certainty is that the processing geeks out there will have plenty to debate for some time to come. (And if your favorite major-market FM sounds a little different in the next few weeks, it's a good bet that there's a quiet test of one or more of those processors going on for the benefit of corporate engineering...)

Even more heartening than the sight of all that new gear was the good news we heard from many of the exhibitors on the floor: radio companies are once again buying equipment for more than just emergency repairs. On just the second day of the show, we talked to one well-known vendor who reported having already booked orders well into six figures - and you can no doubt imagine how big the smiles were that accompanied that statement!

It's a good thing the vendors and the engineers were smiling, because upstairs in the session rooms, the executives weren't having as good a time, at least not while listening to regulators. Your editor wasn't around back in the sixties when FCC chairman Newton Minow was all but run out of an NAB show after his famous condemnation of TV programming as a "vast wasteland" - but we got a taste of that kind of tension while watching Minow's present-day successor, Julius Genachowski, attempt to triangulate his broadband goals with broadcast industry realpolitik during his Tuesday-morning keynote address.

If Genachowski truly believes, as he told broadcasters, that he can free up significant new spectrum for broadband data without forcibly taking it away from TV owners, he was clearly the only one among the thousands in the room who believes such a move is possible. (The challenge, of course, is that the big urban markets where that spectrum is most urgently desired are also the markets where TV stations are already using that spectrum most heavily; in Los Angeles, for instance, where we spent some time before the show, essentially the entire UHF TV dial is already full to bursting.)

Perhaps the more telling statements came later in the day. Genachowski didn't stick around for the "Regulatory Face-Off," bolting back to Washington for a Senate hearing without even taking audience questions, but his colleagues Michael Copps, Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Atwell Baker sat down with the NAB's new president, former Oregon senator Gordon Smith, to debate the issues at greater length.

There were few surprises from the FCC commissioners - Copps hewed to his activist tendencies with a push for further discussion of public funding of investigative journalism, drawing a decidedly mixed response from the crowd; Clyburn focused heavily on minority participation in broadcasting and Baker pushed a strictly free-market approach to regulation - but Smith was unusually candid for an NAB president, all but admitting that the era of free, over-the-air TV will come to an end sooner rather than later. As for Genachowski's concept of voluntary spectrum give-backs being rewarded by broadcaster participation in the reveniue stream from auctioning that spectrum, Smith turned to his legislative background to observe that Congress is far more likely to claim spectrum revenue to help close deficit holes than to reward broadcasters for "spectrum that we didn't buy, but serviced and developed."

Will Genachowski's vision of a refarmed UHF spectrum dedicated primarily to broadband ever come to fruition? Smith's NAB promised to lobby against any attempt to use broadcasters' spectrum as "an ATM" to be plundered at will - but the skepticism from within the commission itself may be a formidable obstacle, too, if the reactions from Copps, Clyburn and Baker were any indication.

Perhaps the hardest mood to judge is that of the station brokerage community, since so much of their NAB activity takes place behind closed doors at the Wynn or the Bellagio. Even there, however, the smoke signals appeared more optimistic than in past years, especially as news broke of the latest private-equity deal under which Cumulus management will control a new pool of money (well into the billions of dollars) that's expected to provide a long-awaited kickstart to sluggish station sales.

By itself, of course, NAB 2010 won't fix all the many woes afflicting the broadcasting industry (as we were reminded during dinner our last night in town, as a particularly cynical acquaintance revisited the litany of cuts that all but eliminated live programming at his old New England stations), but after so many dark years, we'll settle for any signs of optimism we can find, and last week in Las Vegas offered plenty of them.

Meanwhile, there was plenty going on back home, starting in MASSACHUSETTS:

*There's a new episode in one of the perpetual soap operas in Boston radio in recent years: the testy relationship between Entercom's WRKO (680 Boston) and its star talk personality, Howie Carr. On Friday, Entercom suspended Carr for a week, citing unspecified on-air comments that have badmouthed the station and the company.

"His behavior and his anger at the company is unacceptable because he denigrates the company, the medium, the station, the signal, and he’s a highly, highly, highly paid employee," WRKO VP Julie Kahn told the Globe on Saturday.

While this is hardly the first time Carr has sparred with Entercom - there's still plenty of bad blood from his unsuccessful 2007 attempt to break his WRKO contract in order to move to morning drive at Greater Media's WTKK (96.9) - it comes at a particularly bad time for WRKO, just weeks after the station lost much of its syndicated talk lineup, in particular Rush Limbaugh, to Clear Channel's new WXKS (Rush Radio 1200).

Those programming changes left Carr as the highest-profile talk host by far on WRKO, and apparently gave him the confidence to test the boundaries of his contentious relationship with management. Can Entercom afford to keep Carr off the air for more than a week if he doesn't ease up on the criticism - or will the reality of a weakened schedule anchored by Tom Finneran in mornings and Charley Manning in middays force WRKO to give Carr free rein to speak his mind in afternoons, as long as he keeps drawing an audience?

As always, stay tuned...

*Meanwhile out on Cape Cod, one of the founding jocks at WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) is out. Suzanne Tonaire was with "PIXY 103" for 23 years in middays; she parted ways with the Nassau station in late March.

And for those who'd contend that absolutely nobody cares about HD radio, we've been receiving a series of e-mails over at our sister site, The Archives @, inquiring as to the disappearance of the HD signal at WCRB (99.5 Lowell) over the last month or so. Has WGBH pulled the plug completely on digital transmission at the classical station? We're not sure - but we know there's at least one loyal listener who'd like it back (and who is apparently out of range of the other digital incarnation of WCRB, via the HD-2 of WGBH's main 89.7 Boston signal.)

*An unbuilt southern RHODE ISLAND station is changing hands: Colina Alta Ministries is donating the new 91.1 in Bradford to Horizon Christian Fellowship, which already operates WRYP (90.1 Wellfleet), WFGL (960 Fitchburg) and WJWT (91.7 Gardner) as well as a fleet of translators in nearby Massachusetts.

*What's new on the air in MAINE? Jim Bleikamp's WCME (900 Brunswick) is due back on the air any day now with its permanent format - and in the meantime, another small AM operator, Bangor's Dan Priestly, is about to add an FM translator. Priestly's Waterfront Communications is paying $25,000 to translator speculator Edgewater Broadcasting for W218BJ (91.5 Bangor), which will presumably be shifted into the commercial band to relay one of Priestly's AM signals, either WWNZ (1400 Veazie) or WNZS (1340 Veazie).


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*Valerie Smaldone, who's been off the air in NEW YORK City for too long, is returning with a new show later this week at WOR - but not on the air at AM 710. Instead, "Valerie's New York" will be a live one-hour show heard weekdays at 11 AM on

Smaldone is teaching a course at School of the Visual Arts on "how to be an internet radio personality," and the longtime WLTW (106.7) personality says she's excited about "cultivating a unique talk show on an internet radio station."

"Valerie's New York" is the first show being produced specifically for the WOR website. It's being billed as lifestyle talk, with features on the city's nightlife, the worlds of theater and food and lots of personality.

In addition to the live run on the WOR website, Smaldone's new show will also be available as a podcast.

*More Radio People on the Move: CBS Radio has promoted WWFS (Fresh 102.7) PD Jim Ryan to vice president, adult contemporary programming. The move will keep Ryan in the PD chair at Fresh while also overseeing its sister station (WCFS) in Chicago and more than a dozen other CBS-owned AC stations around the country, including WRCH in Hartford.

Over at Citadel, Tony Mascaro has been promoted from music director to operations manager at WPLJ (95.5), where he's been part of the staff for thirteen years; before that, Mascaro was best known for his time in Providence at WPRO-FM.

Radio broker Dick Foreman was honored in Las Vegas by the National Association of Media Brokers last week for his charity work in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. Foreman flew supplies into Haiti in his own private plane, and his colleague Bill O'Shaughnessy of WVOX/WVIP reports that was just the latest in a long line of charitable deeds - in conjunction with his work at the Broadcasters Foundation of America, Foreman donated $50,000 a few years ago to assist broadcasters affected by Hurricane Katrina.

There's a new signal on the air in Manhattan: Fordham University-owned public broadcaster WFUV (90.7 New York) has signed on a second booster signal to improve reception in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. WFUV already operates one on-channel booster atop Riverside Church to aid its west-side reception, but that directional signal doesn't penetrate the canyons of midtown Manhattan. That's where the new 2500-watt WFUV-FM3 signal, atop a building on West 31st Street, comes in: it's aimed southwest, filling in a coverage gap down the lower East Side and into Brooklyn that's always been hard to reach from WFUV's main transmitter site in the Bronx. In a note to supporters, WFUV management says it's also in the process of negotiating for a translator signal in the Hudson Valley to further expand its reach.

*Near Rochester, Lloyd Lane and Mark Humphrey have a power increase in the works at WCJW (1140 Warsaw). They're applying to boost power at the daytime-only station from 2500 to 8000 watts, a move that will also increase the area WCJW can cover with its three FM translators in Batavia, Warsaw and Nunda.

In Elmira, Craig Morrison is the new VP/programming for Pembrook Pines Media, as well as the new morning co-host at WLVY (94.3); the other half of the new "Craig and Sam" morning show at 94 Rock is Samantha Adams, who's also Pembrook Pines' new website developer. Craig and Sam replace the former "Mike and Ryan Morning Rush" show, which featured Mike Strobel and Ryan Bombard, who remain with the station on other airshifts.

The new community station south of Albany will hold a "barn-raising" this fall as it gets closer to sign-on. WGXC (90.7 Acra) will be the first full-power signal to host one of the events with Prometheus Radio Project, which has held similar barn-raisings to get dozens of low-power FM signals on the air. WGXC's event will take place September 24-26, including not only construction sessions for the station but also panel discussions about community media. (Coincidentally, we're writing this week's column from the passenger seat of the NERW-mobile as we drive through WGXC's future coverage area in Greene and Columbia counties.)

Way upstate, Plattsburgh's WTWK (1070) has changed programming; the talk station formerly known as "Eve 1070" has shed its lineup of progressive talk and female-friendly shows in favor of Bloomberg business radio.

*"The Garden Hotline" was a longtime weekend staple on talk radio, and now the man who created it has died. Ralph Snodsmith was an Illinois native, but his radio career began in Rockland County, where he was the Cornell Cooperative Extension agent for many years. Snodsmith did local radio on WRKL (910 New City) before going national by way of WOR and the WOR Radio Network. In recent years, he'd been heard on Rockland's WRCR (1300 Spring Valley). Snodsmith served as director of the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing; he also appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and wrote several gardening books.

Snodsmith died Saturday morning in Virginia after suffering complications from an accident; he was 70.

*And we leave the Empire State with the best news you're going to read all week (presuming, of course, that you share our passion for the life and legacy of radio's greatest inventor): thanks to a series of grants to the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation, archivist Jennifer Comins and a graduate-student assistant are now busy organizing and cataloging the Columbia University archives of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong. They're chronicling the project in a new blog, which received some nice attention in today's New York Times, and we're as excited as can be to see the results.

(It has not escaped our attention that this summer marks the 75th anniversary of Armstrong's seminal 1935 demonstration of FM - will 2010 bring a reprise of the big 70th-anniversary celebrations back in 2005?)

*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, "John Webster" was back on the air last week at the WILK talk network in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market, after a judge agreed that John Gasper could continue to broadcast under the air name he used for more than a quarter of a century at competitor WEZX (106.9 Scranton). Shamrock Broadcasting, Gasper's former employer at "Rock 107," had tried to win an injunction barring him from using the name at WILK; it did win a ruling from a Lackawanna County judge barring Gasper/Webster from using any of the characters he created for the now-defunct "Daniels & Webster" morning show.

At the south end of the market, Bold Gold has shed one of the signals it recently picked up out of the bankrupt wreck of the former Route 81 group: WNAK (730 Nanticoke) is changing hands again, this time to Ben Smith and Kevin Fitzgerald's GEOS group, which already owns several stations around the fringes of the market. GEOS apparently wants WNAK to serve as a primary signal for its Wilkes-Barre translator on 104.5, W283BJ, which has already filed to switch primaries from WGMF (1460 Tunkhannock), to move from Exeter to Wilkes-Barre, and to increase power from 1 watt to 99 watts. GEOS is paying $128,659 for the WNAK license, which has been on and off the air in recent months.

On TV, the Lehigh Valley's PBS station is getting ready to break ground on a new studio building. WLVT (Channel 39) now operates from a hillside building in Bethlehem, but it plans to move by mid-2011 to a new 29,000-square foot facility in the "SteelStacks" complex at the old Bethlehem Steel plant. The new building will include two studios where audiences can watch productions of the station's local "Tempo" shows, as well as commercial rental space.

In Pittsburgh, Duquesne University is reportedly mulling several offers for its public radio station, WDUQ (90.5), including one from the station's current management team. The Post-Gazette reports that Duquesne expects to make a decision in the next month or so about how - and whether - to proceed, including the possibility that the station may not be sold after all. (And having said that, sources close to the situation tell NERW that the P-G's reporting ought to be taken with a considerable grain of salt - and that there's no guarantee at all that whatever happens at WDUQ will keep the current public radio programming intact, a development that would be a big shock to a community that's already experienced a lot of radio changes in the last few months.)

Speaking of changes, the FCC just last week granted Alex Langer's application to sell WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg) to former Pittsburgh radio owner Eddie Edwards. At last report, Edwards had said health issues would keep him from consummating the deal and returning urban radio to Pittsburgh, so it's not clear whether the FCC is just signing off on stale paperwork.


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*Catching up on the news from CANADA (with big thanks to Milkman UnLimited, as always)...

In Toronto, Julie Adam hands off PD duties for CISS (Kiss-92.5) to promotions director Karen Steele. Adam is plenty busy even without the Kiss PD responsibilities; she's still PD of sister station CHFI (98.1) and VP/national programming for Rogers.

Ron Funnell is the new GM/general sales manager for "Sunshine 89.1," the station Bayshore Broadcasting will soon launch in Orillia. Funnell had been working at CIKZ in Kitchener until last summer, when budget cuts claimed his sales manager job.

In Ottawa, soon-to-launch "101.9 DAWG FM" has named its morning show: former CHEZ (106.1) jock Geoff Winter and Laura Mainella will be the hosts of "Dawg's Breakfast" when the blues-rock station launches sometime this summer.

Montreal radio veteran Ted Bird has an unusual new gig: he starts today as morning man at CKRK (103.7 Kahnawahke), the tribally-owned station on the Mohawk reservation south of Montreal. Bird will co-host the show with James "Java" Jacobs and Paul Graif.

In New Brunswick, the CRTC has approved a frequency change for French-language community station CJSE Shediac, which will move from 101.7 to 92.5 to clear the way for CKDH (900 Amherst NS) to make its move to FM on 101.7.

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!)

April 20, 2009 -

  • LAS VEGAS - The official attendance figures released Tuesday by the NAB say show attendance is down to about 83,000 this year, a drop of a little over 20% from last year, and even figuring in an ever-growing percentage of international attendees and a lot of radio folks who only show up for a day or two, that's still made for a reasonably healthy show floor, a fair number of people in the seats at convention sessions, and very long taxi lines at night. From a northeast perspective, we're seeing fewer familiar faces than in past years. The big groups have almost all cut back travel budgets for the rank-and-file local engineers and managers who used to pack the show, and only the biggest of the local broadcasters (like longtime NAB fixture Jerry Lee of Philadelphia's WBEB) still make the show an annual destination. But the word from the floor is that those who did attend are providing vendors with a serious, engaged audience. "A no-BS convention," was the assessment from Connecticut's irrepressible Tom Zarecki, who's now with the Jetcast streaming folks. (Tom tells NERW he's handed out more business cards this week than at just about any NAB show he can recall.)
  • We're not hearing much from the station brokers holed up at the Bellagio, as that market continues to await a rebound that's yet to happen - but several NERW-land consultants are out in force, including Rhode Island's Holland Cooke, New York's Valerie Geller, who reports that her essential "Creating Powerful Radio" book has just entered a new printing, and Long Island's Bob Perry, of "Jack FM" fame, who's now signed on to help develop and expand a radio format for kids called JENNiRADIO. (Its host, 12-year-old Jennifer Smart, has been in the business since she was six; suddenly, your editor feels very old.)
  • There was at least a bit of NERW-land presence at Tuesday's radio luncheon, where WGY (810 Schenectady) was one of ten stations nationwide honored with an NAB Crystal Radio Award - and those awards are getting some extra attention this year as the NAB pushes its community-service initiatives.
  • And one more sad note from back home: we've just received word that Bill Corbeil, the 40-year-old co-owner of WTSA AM/FM in Brattleboro, Vermont, succumbed to cancer yesterday. It was just a year and a half ago when Corbeil and his wife Kelli bought the stations, and since then they'd been busy moving them to new studios and building a real community connection in that small market. Our deepest condolences to Kelli, the two young Corbeil boys, and to the entire WTSA family...
  • It was PENNSYLVANIA making the news all last week, first with the death of Harry Kalas (about whom, much more in a moment), then with the possible demise of once-legendary WARM (590 Scranton). The AM station that once pulled a 70 share in the Electric City had long since become a forgotten spot on the dial even before falling completely silent a few weeks ago. Under current owner Citadel, transmitter maintenance was all but nonexistent in recent years, reducing WARM's once-booming voice across all of northeast Pennsylvania to a staticky, undermodulated signal that would have been hard to listen to, even if it had been programming anything listeners still cared about. (Not that it was; the most recent in a long string of automated formats was Citadel's "True Oldies Channel.") WARM had occasionally gone off the air for short periods over the last couple of years, but the latest silent period may be more permanent. Citadel isn't talking about the future of the station, but NERW's hearing that the company is unwilling to make the big investment needed to reverse years of neglected work at the station's tower site, including a non-existent ground system and two nonworking transmitters.
  • Could the legendary WARM really be gone for good this time? We'd bet that it will at least be resurrected in time to avoid the loss of its license after a year of silence. Citadel has reportedly turned down several offers to buy the station in recent years, and might be even less likely to accept a lowball offer now that station prices are sagging. Any new owner would, of course, have a lot of work to do to get the signal humming again. But a new owner would also inherit plenty of good will from the community, at least if the coverage of WARM's apparent demise is any indication; the story led the TV news late last week, a rarity for any story about radio.
  • And of course Philadelphia - along with sports fans across the nation - is mourning Harry Kalas, who died last Monday in the place he loved best, the Phillies broadcast booth. Kalas was getting ready for a day game against the Washington Nationals when he collapsed; he died a short time later at a DC hospital. Kalas, 73, was one of the longest-serving announcers in baseball, having started in 1963 with the Houston Colt .45s before moving to Philadelphia in 1971. When the Phillies won the championship in 1980, Kalas wasn't behind the mike, thanks to an MLB rule that gave the networks exclusive World Series radio rights. That rule was changed soon afterward, allowing local broadcasters to call the games on each team's flagship station; as a result, Kalas finally got to call a Phillies Series win last fall, capping a magnificent career. In addition to his baseball work, Kalas succeeded Philly's John Facenda as the voice of NFL Films in 1975, making his rich baritone familiar to fans everywhere (and even to some non-fans who've tuned in to Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl," which also featured Kalas.) On Saturday, Phillies fans honored Kalas by packing Citizens Bank Park to pay their respects to Kalas' casket, which was placed behind home plate. The team is also displaying a memorial patch on its uniforms for the rest of the season.

April 18, 2005 -

  • It was probably inevitable that eastern MASSACHUSETTS would see a station flip to the classic hits/hot AC hybrid that's making a name for itself around the country as "Jack," "Bob," "Simon," "Fickle," or what have you. But after Infinity's WBMX (98.5 Boston) and Greater Media's WBOS (92.9 Brookline) showed signs they might be leaning towards flipping, it was Entercom's WQSX (93.7 Lawrence) that beat them to the punch. On Thursday afternoon at 2, Entercom pulled the plug on the dance-top 40 "Star 93.7" format that had occupied the frequency since 1999, replacing it with "93-7 Mike FM," which follows closely in the "We Play Whatever" vein of all the other recent adoptees of the latest big radio fad. PD Jerry McKenna stays in place to program the station, but the morning team of Ralphie Marino and Karen Blake is out, as is middayer Mike McGowan, and "Mike" is running jockless for now.
  • In NEW JERSEY, it's the end of the line - again - for modern rock WDOX. The calls and format went away a few years ago on 93.1 in Wildwood Crest, where they began, and after being resurrected on the former WJNN (106.7 North Wildwood) in 2001, the new WDOX is flipping formats and calls. It's adding straight-ahead top 40 to its modern rock format and changing calls to WSJQ, we're told.
  • On the NEW YORK-VERMONT border, Vox is selling another of its rapidly shrinking stable of stations. WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls) is licensed to New York but serves Bennington, Vermont, and after beginning life as a religious station (WNGN) in 1991, it's heading back to religion as Vox sells it to Capitol Media for $1.1 million.

April 21, 2000 -

  • It's always nice to welcome a heritage call back home. It's even nicer when it's NERW's own home town in upstate NEW YORK, and it's nicer still to be able to report that NERW had a hand in making it happen!
  • You may recall our musing back on April 7 about how nice it would be to see the WMJQ calls return to Rochester after being dropped by Buffalo's 102.5, now "Star" WTSS. The idea struck a chord with station owner George Kimble, who promptly grabbed the WMJQ calls for Brockport's 105.5, the erstwhile WASB-FM. Overly alert readers of NERW might recall that 105.5 had been granted a call change to WRPO last June (and it turns out we weren't off-base in thinking that might have something to do with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), but that call was never actually used, and 105.5 remained a simulcast of religious WASB (1590 Brockport). We're told the WMJQ calls will be back on the Rochester airwaves on Monday (4/24), with a new tower site for the station to be announced soon as well.
  • Minor irony here: The original WMJQ in Rochester (92.5, now WBEE-FM) is now owned by Entercom, the same group that dropped the WMJQ calls in Buffalo last month. NERW's next project: getting the "WVET" calls back on Flower City radio...
  • Just over the state line from the Catskills, WPSN (1590) in Honesdale PA has been granted night power. WPSN keeps its 2500 watts by day, but builds a second tower for 200 watts directional at night. Down US 6 in the Scranton market, we left out the other adult-standards outlet remaining in the wake of the WEJL/WBAX format change to sports: WEMR (1460 Tunkhannock) added WKJN (1440 Carbondale) to its satellite standards programming when former sister station WKQV (1550 Pittston) went dark a few months back.

New England Radio Watch, April 17, 1995

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