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May 10, 2010

Pittsburgh's WDUQ Gets 60-Day Reprieve

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*The future of public radio in western PENNSYLVANIA looks a little more secure this week, now that four Pittsburgh-area foundations have stepped forward with money to buy a 60-day option to purchase WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) from Duquesne University.

Grant Oliphant, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, told the Post-Gazette last week that the funding will provide "breathing space" to allow other local groups to work with his foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and a fourth anonymous donor to develop the "best possible offer" for the station, with a particular focus on public service journalism.

That mission would seem to fit with the work that's already been done by the new Pittsburgh Public Media group, the management-led consortium that's been bidding to buy the WDUQ license from the university. So far, PPM has been unable to agree on financial terms with Duquesne, whose leaders have been outspoken about their desire to maximize their income from selling the station, regardless of whether the current programming survives.

Last week's move, then, would seem to be a good sign for those hoping to keep WDUQ's news, talk and jazz on the air. Few other cities have the same historic legacy of charitable giving as Pittsburgh (Carnegie, anyone?), and if big names like Heinz and Mellon can't work out a deal in the next two months to keep WDUQ going independent from Duquesne, there's probably nobody who can.

*Meanwhile, there's a new FM signal on the air at long last to the south of Pittsburgh. Over the last few months, we've been chronicling the slow move of the old WANB-FM (103.1 Waynesburg). Bob Stevens changed his FM callsign to WKVE back in March 2009, then signed off the class A FM signal from Waynesburg in March 2010. In the two months since, he's been testing WKVE's new class B1 signal licensed to Mount Pleasant, firing it up from time to time with classic rock.

That classic rock format (jockless, so far) turns out to be WKVE's permanent format, and as of 8 PM last Tuesday (May 4), "103 KVE" is on the air for good from its new transmitter site overlooking Uniontown, with a signal penetrating at least the southern part of Pittsburgh.

*There's a frequency change in the Reading area for "The Word FM" contemporary Christian network. WYTL (91.7 Wyomissing) has moved to 91.9, bumping power up from 320 to 450 watts, albeit from a lower antenna at a different site south of Reading.

In Erie, Penn State Behrend's WPSE (1450) is asking the FCC to remedy a quarter-century-old power cut. Back in 1984, the station (then known as WEYZ) operated with a kilowatt fulltime from a rooftop tower at 12th and State Streets in downtown Erie, but when it lost the lease on that site, it relocated (same tower and all!) to a new site on the east side of Erie, reducing power to 623 watts day and night. Now WPSE has taken measurements on its co- and adjacent-channel neighbors, and it tells the FCC it can operate with 1000 watts by day, reducing power to 826 watts at night to protect CHUC (1450 Cobourg ON), notwithstanding CHUC's move to FM four summers ago.

*And there are two obituaries from the Keystone State this week: in Meadville, they're mourning "Crickett," the midday jock on "Froggy" WGYY (100.3 Meadville)/WGYI (98.5 Oil City). Her real name was Karie Shields, and she was just 41 when she was found dead at a friend's home last Monday morning.

Shields had been with Froggy since 2000, when she and husband Jim Shields, the general manager of Forever Broadcasting's Meadville stations, relocated to the market after Forever sold its Utica stations to Regent Communications. Jim Shields had been operations manager in Utica, reports, and Karie had been doing middays on Regent's "Big Frog 104.3," WFRG. Before that, she'd worked at WZOZ in Oneonta and WOUR in Utica.

Funeral services for Shields were held in Oneonta on Friday.

In central Pennsylvania, they're remembering David Bernstein, who started in radioat WGET in Gettysburg in 1959, later working at WHGB in Harrisburg and at stations in Virginia and Washington, DC before joining WSBA in York. Bernstein left WSBA in 1977 to work for Keymarket Communications in Reading and in South Carolina. In 1984, he formed Sunair Communications, which bought WYGL (1240) in Selinsgrove and expanded to own a network of FM stations in the Susquehanna Valley as well as stations in Troy, Canton and Bloomsburg.

Bernstein retired to Florida in 2004 and had been splitting his time between Selinsgrove and Destin, FL. He died on May 1 in Danville after undergoing major surgery back in January. Bernstein was 72.


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*The fight for the public radio news-talk audience in eastern MASSACHUSETTS kicks up another notch this afternoon, when WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston) launches the daily version of its "Radio Boston" talk show. Meghna Chakrabarti is the new host of the show, which was a weekly hour on Fridays at 1 least until WGBH (89.7) turned up the heat with its flip to a news-talk format that includes two daily hours of local talk hosted by Emily Rooney and Callie Crossley.

WBUR switched hosts and production teams for "Radio Boston," which moves from that Friday slot (allowing "Fresh Air" to be heard five days a week at 1 PM) to a daily 3-4 PM slot, taking the second hour of "Talk of the Nation" off the air in the Boston market and avoiding a head-to-head battle of local talkers against the noon-2 Rooney/Crossley lineup at WGBH.

How will the move play with listeners? In the public radio world, the verdict is more complicated than just the latest ratings book; that said, WGBH has thus far failed to make much of a dent in WBUR's audience numbers, and it stands to reason that more local content can only help WBUR hold on to its significant head start in the public radio news-talk arena.

*Out on Cape Cod, WGTX (102.3 Truro) is changing hands, as minority partners Ron Robin and Edmund Teo up their 25% and 24% interests in Dunes 102FM LLC by buying out Tom Troland's 51% interest in the station. The price tag is $450,000, and it will make Robin and Teo equal partners in the little oldies outlet.

*When WSMN (1590) in Nashua, NEW HAMPSHIRE lost its longtime studio/transmitter site at 502 West Hollis Street a few years ago, we pretty much gave the venerable AM station up for dead, at least in its 5 kW incarnation. Current owner Absolute Broadcasting received special temporary authority to keep WSMN on the air at greatly reduced power (just 200 watts) from the tower of its other Nashua station, WGHM (900), and in our usual cynicism we figured that would eventually become the licensed facility for whatever's left of WSMN.

It appears we may have underestimated Tom Monahan's Absolute group, which filed an application last week to build a new three-tower array for WSMN in wooded land alongside the Nashua River behind a self-storage facility at 1081 West Hollis Street, to the west of its licensed (but no longer standing) three-tower former home.

The FCC's controversial "ratchet clause" usually means a significant power decrease for any directional AM station that moves from an existing site, but WSMN's engineers did a careful job with this application, taking advantage of deeper directional nulls on the new array of adjacent-channel WUNR (1600 Brookline MA) to make the case that WSMN can remain at 5 kW both day and night from the new array, which will have two 154-foot towers on its ends and one 194-foot tower in the middle.

Can WSMN actually get a new directional array built amidst the NIMBYs of New Hampshire? We'll be watching...

*There's a silent AM in VERMONT: Nassau has asked the FCC for permission to keep WNHV (910 White River Junction) silent for up to six months while it repairs unspecified "failure of its transmission system." WNHV was simulcasting the "Score" sports format from sister station WTSV (1230 Claremont NH) - but that station has also been off the air since last spring, though it's expected back on the air soon.

*In MAINE, the FCC has granted WEZR (1240 Lewiston) a construction permit to move its tower some 275 meters to a new site, since it's losing the lease on its current transmitter location. WEZR will stay at 1 kW by day, but its night power will drop from 1 kW to 860 watts to protect the no-longer-extant signal of CJRW in Summerside, PEI, which moved from 1240 to FM a few years back.


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*Radio People on the Move in NEW YORK City: Nikki Hesse moves down the Long Island Expressway from mornings at JVC Broadcasting's WPTY-FM (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) to the much bigger morning platform of CBS Radio's WXRK (92.3 NOW FM), where she starts today as co-host with Nick Cannon. Out on the East End, "Party FM" will go with syndication in the mornings, adding Texas-based Kidd Kraddick starting a week from today. Meanwhile back in the big city, the schedule shuffles continue at Emmis' WRXP (101.9), with the "From the Basement with Brian & Chris" show moving from overnights to evenings next week. That fills the hole that was created when music director Brian Phillips replaced Nik Carter on RXP's afternoon drive.

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Two more Radio People on the Move upstate - in Poughkeepsie, longtime WPDH (101.5) morning man John Tobin left the station after today's show, with no replacement (or new destination) yet named. Meanwhile here in Rochester, Clear Channel VP/market manager Karen Carey will be departing next month after almost seven years in the post and 14 years with the cluster; a search is underway for her replacement as well.

In Ithaca, the FCC has cleared out yet another complaint against Saga's market-dominating cluster. Like the one that resulted in a $10,000 fine last week, this complaint also came from competitor ROI Broadcasting (operator of WFIZ 95.5 Odessa), and this one also concerned Saga's use of two translators to relay HD subchannels of Saga's WYXL (97.3), effectively adding two more FMs to Saga's two-AM/three-FM cluster that controls most of the market's listenership and revenue. ROI argued that a power increase for translator W277BS (103.3, which operates as "Hits 103.3" relaying WYXL's HD2) would put Saga over local ownership limits, but the FCC once again disagreed, noting that its rules don't count translators against the ownership cap, and that translators can relay HD subchannels.

In Syracuse, the local sports-talk scene continues to expand as the city's three competitors keep adding programming. The latest local show comes from Galaxy's ESPN outlets (WTLA 1200 North Syracuse/WSGO 1440 Oswego and their translators at 97.7 and 100.1), which will debut "Disturbing the Peace" next Monday from 2-6 PM. The new afternoon show will be hosted by Chris McManus (a recent graduate of Syracuse University's WAER) and Anthony Riccobono, who used to produce the Brent Axe show that's now his competition over at Citadel's WSKO (1260).

Albany's Dan Lynch is retiring from the talk-radio scene. Lynch left WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer) last week, not quite three years after coming to afternoons on "Talk 1300" from the same slot on WROW (590). The former Times Union columnist is now blogging and working on several other projects under the "For People Who Think" banner; Kelly Stevens will be handling the 3-6 PM shift on WGDJ for now.

Public broadcasting behemoth WAMC-FM (90.3 Albany) now has call letters for its latest new signal: when it signs on at 90.1 in Stamford, that 200-watt signal will bear the calls WANZ.

In Rochester, Clear Channel honored five of its employees who have been with the company (or its predecessors) for 25 years or more. The new "Club 25" includes WHAM (1180) morning host Chet Walker and PD Jeff Howlett, each of whom has an even quarter-century with the station, human resources manager Bob Bussy (also with 25 years), and account executives Mike Whittemore (26 years) and John Palvino (27 years). John Palvino, of course, is the son of Rochester radio legend Jack Palvino, who was on hand to induct him into the club at last week's staff luncheon.

A Clear Channel move that we somehow missed when it was filed: "Kiss FM" (WKGS 106.7 Irondequoit) has applied to move its transmitter from the Seneca Towers apartment building on the city's north side to the Pinnacle Hill tower farm in Brighton. WKGS would remain a class A signal, but its new 4.6 kW/374' DA facility would be higher in power and in antenna height than its present 3.5 kW/266' signal from Seneca Towers. The move became possible when Clear Channel relocated Syracuse-market WPHR (106.9) from Auburn to Solvay last year, eliminating the very tight spacing that existed between those two adjacent-channel stations.

Where are they now? Jack Neal, the former program manager at Syracuse's WCNY, is leaving his post as station manager at Houston's KUHT to become general manager of WEIU-TV/FM at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill.

Meanwhile, there's a significant Syracuse obituary: Claude "Red" Parton began his career as an announcer at WSYR way back in 1939, later working in radio at WOLF and WNDR and as general manager of WPAW (1540 East Syracuse, now WSIV). Parton was best known as a sportscaster at WSYR-TV (now WSTM) and WNYS/WIXT (now, confusingly, WSYR-TV), as well as announcing games for Syracuse University, LeMoyne College and Ithaca College. Parton was inducted into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 1992; he died Wednesday (May 5) at age 90.

And we can't leave the obituary column without mourning one of the greatest sports radio voices of all time. Ernie Harwell was best known, and rightfully so, for his four decades behind the microphone for the Detroit Tigers - but before his days with the Tigers, Harwell called games for the Brooklyn Dodgers, who acquired the Georgia native's contract from the Atlanta Crackers in 1948 in exchange for a catcher, making it the only trade in history of a player for a broadcaster. Harwell was the voice of the TV broadcast of Bobby Thomson's "shot heard around the world" in 1951, but that call was lost to posterity in those days before videotape. Harwell later broadcast for the Giants and the Orioles before coming to Detroit in 1960.

Ironically, there was one more New York connection for Harwell: on the night after his death last Tuesday (May 4), Harwell was to be honored with the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting at WFUV's spring gala. The gala went on Wednesday night, of course, with Tigers outfielder Al Kaline accepting the award on Harwell's behalf; CBS' Bob Schieffer and Levon Helm of the Band were also honored at the event, which raised a cool half-million dollars for the Fordham University public radio station.

Ernie Harwell was 92.

*It was a quiet week in CANADA, at least for anyone not affected by the news about Canwest's pending sale of its TV assets (including the Global TV stations in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes) to Shaw, a C$2 billion deal that's likely to face some static from competing bidders and perhaps from regulators.

A much smaller operation was making headlines in Toronto late last week, as CIRR (103.9 Proud FM) sent most of its airstaff packing. Morning hosts Patrick Marano and Deb Pearce and afternoon host Shaun Proulx and Mark Wigmore are all gone from the station, which signed on three years ago with a mission to serve Toronto's gay and lesbian community.

The cuts to Proud FM's airstaff came just after the station received CRTC permission to boost its power to cover more of Toronto - and that's prompting considerable speculation that Evanov Broadcasting, which owns CIRR in a partnership with several investors, intends to turn the station into a Toronto repeater of its cash cow up in the northern suburbs, top-40 CIDC (Z103.5).

For now, Proud FM lists just "music" in its morning and afternoon drive slots, while its midday and evening personalities remain in place.

Meanwhile, Evanov has installed its "Jewel" branding on one of its recent purchases. CKPC-FM (92.1 Brantford) retains its soft AC format, but it's now "Jewel 92," matching other Evanov outlets in suburban Toronto (CKDX 88.5 Newmarket) and Ottawa.

Speaking of Ottawa, new blues-rock station CIDG (101.9 Dawg FM) named a new midday host: "Ali Cat" is already known to Ottawa listeners as Ali Misener in her current role as midday jock at CHRI (99.1 Ottawa), reports Milkman UnLimited.

And MMU tells us that the former general manager of Ottawa's CFRA (580) has died. Terry Kielty was part of the station's founding staff in 1947, anchoring the late-night news and broadcasting sports. He became general manager in 1960, holding that post until his retirement in 1993; for nine years, from 1977 to 1986, he did double duty as president of the Ottawa Rough Riders football team. Kielty also chaired the CFL's board of governors. Kielty died April 4, at age 86.

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!)

May 11, 2009 -

  • There are few relationships as fraught with tension right now as those between broadcasters and bankers. As station values have dropped in recent months, we've heard from plenty of broadcasters who'd like to be station buyers, not to mention station brokers who'd very much like to complete sales, only to be thwarted by an almost complete freeze on lending for station purchases. Ask the bankers and venture capitalists, of course, and they'll tell you that radio is just too volatile and risky a business to be pouring money into right now...especially with station values continuing to slump. It's not just would-be buyers affected by the credit crunch - just ask any station owner facing a big credit line that's coming due.
  • Our latest example is one of the region's largest station groups: Nassau Broadcasting, which has been negotiating with its biggest lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, ever since its credit came due last September just as the market began its tumble. The immediate impact on Nassau was limited - the company backed out of LMA-to-purchase deals for WFKB in the Reading, PA market and for a station in Maryland - but the long-term problems were potentially severe. Last week, Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti reached a deal with Goldman that will keep the company alive, but at the expense of a significant loss of control of the company, not to mention the sale of stations in NEW HAMPSHIRE and MAINE. Here's how it plays out: the Goldman-led lender group will trade two-thirds of Nassau's outstanding debt for an 85% equity interest in the company, with Goldman taking a seat on the Nassau board of directors. That constitutes a change of control of Nassau, as far as the FCC is concerned - and that means Nassau gives up its grandfathered status in Concord and Portland, where its clusters exceed current market caps.
  • In Concord and the Lakes Region, Nassau will put classic hits "Frank" WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and classic rock "Hawk" WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) in a divestiture trust pending a sale, while in Portland, it's "Bone" rock simulcast WHXR (106.7 North Windham) that goes into the trust. Meanwhile, Nassau will restructure Boston-market WCRB (99.5 Lowell) and its Cape Cod cluster into separate companies to avoid ownership-attribution issues stemming from lenders' interests in other broadcasters in those markets. In a memo to Nassau employees, Mercatanti promised that "there are no other changes occurring in connection with this transaction that will impact the operations of the Company," vowing that he and the rest of Nassau's management team will remain in place.

May 9, 2005 -

  • After 46 years of family ownership, two CONNECTICUT stations are changing hands. For the last five years, Nutmeg Broadcasting's WILI (1400 Willimantic) and WILI-FM (98.3 Willimantic) have been controlled by the Herbert C. Rice Trust, a 30-year trust that expires at the end of 2005.
  • Last week, GM Michael Rice announced that the Rice family and the trust will sell Nutmeg Broadcasting to Hall Communications, which owns nearby WICH (1310 Norwich), WCTY (97.7 Norwich), WNLC (98.7 East Lyme) and WKNL (100.9 New London). Details of the transaction have not yet been disclosed (it had yet to be filed with the FCC at press time Sunday night), but Hall says all staffers will stay with WILI, with the exception of Michael Rice, who'll retire. Norwich market manager Andy Russell will add responsibility for WILI, but the stations will remain at their current Willimantic studio location, which Hall will purchase from the Rice family. No changes are anticipated to WILI's AC/talk format or WILI-FM's top 40 format.
  • MASSACHUSETTS is getting another 50,000 watt AM station, of sorts. Keating Willcox's Willow Farm won FCC permission last week to crank WNSH (1570 Beverly) up from 500 watts to 50 kilowatts by day, with a directional pattern that will serve the North Shore, much of coastal NEW HAMPSHIRE and Maine, and the tip of Cape Cod - but without much signal down towards Boston and the South Shore. At night, WNSH will remain an 85 watt, nondirectional signal serving the area near its transmitter at Endicott College and not much else. There's a tradeoff - the power increase at WNSH means the demise of another little local AM station, as WPEP (1570 Taunton) will surrender its license and go dark. Though it's only 1000 watts by day and 227 watts at night, WPEP has more than 55 years of history serving Taunton as effectively its only local station. (WSNE 93.3 is licensed to Taunton as well, but it's operated out of Clear Channel's Providence cluster and serves mainly a RHODE ISLAND audience.)
  • We don't spend much time writing about the tower business itself, but we can't ignore the biggest merger in the history of tower ownership, as Boston-based American Tower agrees to pay $3.1 billion to acquire competitor Spectrasite. The deal adds Spectrasite's 7800 towers in the U.S. to an ATC portfolio that includes 12,400 towers in the U.S. and 2400 more abroad - and it keeps American Tower's headquarters in Boston.
  • We'll start our NEW YORK report on Long Island, where WGSM (740 Huntington) remains silent as it heads for a second sale in one year. Atmor Properties, which just bought the station from K Radio License, is now selling it to Win Radio Properties for $2.2 million. Win, owned by Richard Yoon, also owns Spanish-language WCTN (950 Potomac-Cabin John MD); no word on what it might have in mind for WGSM.
  • There's apparently a new station coming to the bottom of the FM dial in New York City, but it's not really an FM station: we're hearing that when low-power TV station WNYZ-LP moves from channel 49 to channel 6, it'll use its audio carrier (at, of course, 87.75 MHz) as a radio station, broadcasting with a highly directional pattern from Long Island City that will primarily serve the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
  • Upstate, the FCC rejected a petition from the Finger Lakes Alliance for Independent Media (FLAIM) and a group of Ithaca residents, objecting to the proposed sale of Eagle Broadcasting's four Ithaca stations to Saga. The FLAIM petition argued that the Arbitron market definition that the FCC used, which claims nine stations within the Ithaca market, was flawed because of terrain irregularities that block several of those stations from being clearly heard in Ithaca itself. FCC lawyers studied the issue and determined otherwise, allowing the sale of WHCU (870), WTKO (1470), WYXL (97.3) and WQNY (103.7) to go forward. (The FCC also noted that even if the four stations control much of the market's revenue - which they do - that there's already an established history of allowing them to be commonly owned under Eagle, and thus a presumption that the public interest is being served by allowing the sale to Saga.)
  • In western PENNSYLVANIA, EMF Broadcasting's "K-Love" contemporary Christian format is now on three frequencies. We knew it was coming to WKVB (107.9 Port Matilda PA), which picked up K-Love early last week - but now it's on two more frequencies down in the Johnstown market. Here's how it shook out: Forever Broadcasting, which is selling its WUZI (105.7 Portage) and WUZY (97.7 Somerset) to Nick Galli's 2510 Licenses, shut down the classic hits "Wuzz" format on those two stations last week, replacing it with a loop directing listeners to new Forever acquisition WGLU (92.1 Johnstown), which promptly flipped from "Rock 92.1" to "Rocky," with new calls WRKW, closely paralleling Forever's "Rocky" WRKY (104.9 Hollidaysburg) over in Altoona. And 105.7 and 97.7 finished out the week by changing calls to WLKJ and WLKH, respectively, and flipping to K-Love - which just happens to take them out of commercial competition with the Forever group.

May 13, 2000 -

  • We begin this week in RHODE ISLAND, Westerly to be precise, where the FCC has hit little WBLQ (88.1) with a $1,000 Notice of Apparent Liability for stepping over the line that separates a commercial from an underwriting announcement.WBLQ argued that it didn't sufficiently understand the rules (an argument that's never carried any weight with the Commission), and that the rules weren't being applied equally to other noncomm stations in the region (fair enough, we suppose; we've heard plenty of similar language on other allegedly "noncommercial" stations in the region).
  • Some good news from MASSACHUSETTS for defenders of freedom of the press. The city of Lowell has backed down from its attempts to force WCAP (980) news anchor Lou Wannemacher to divulge the source of a news item about the city's police chief. The city tried to get Wannemacher and station owner Maurice Cohen to testify, but the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission ruled in the stations' favor. NERW's proud to see radio news standing up for its rights, and prouder still to see it happen at a station we once called home.
  • Our NEW YORK news begins with confirmation of Clear Channel's purchase of Eric Straus' Hudson Valley radio group. You heard about it first last week right here in NERW; now we can tell you that the deal will take effect with an LMA of all 10 stations beginning Monday (5/15). NERW expects some format changes and plenty of staffing consolidation with CC's other upstate groups. We'll keep you posted.
  • Just outside the region: Don Imus won't find many fans in Scranton, after throwing a tantrum when the hotel where he was staying the night before a remote (gasp!) failed to put a phone call through to his room. Imus packed up at 3 AM and drove back to New York to do the show. A few hours later, local affiliate WARM (590 Scranton) pulled the plug on the I-Man for good, replacing his show with a local news block.
  • And from CANADA this week: Belleville, Ontario will get a new radio station later this year. Anthony Zwig, owner of CJOJ (95.5 Belleville) was granted a new country outlet on 100.1 as well. Zwig says he needs the second station to compete against Quinte Broadcasting's market-leading combination of CJBQ (800) and CIGL (97.1). With 40 kilowatts, we expect to hear the new station here in Rochester when it launches. The CRTC also approved the CBC's new 10 kilowatt transmitter at Campbellton NB, a relay of Radio-Canada chaîne culturelle outlet CBAL Moncton to operate on 88.9 MHz.

New England Radio Watch, May 11, 1995

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