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February 7, 2011

Will New York Outlaw Pirate Radio?

*Will NEW YORK become the latest state to make pirate radio a crime? Beset by a growing number of unlicensed broadcasters and an understaffed FCC that can't keep up with the interference they cause, state lawmakers in Florida and New Jersey have passed laws in recent years giving state law-enforcement officials the power to investigate and shut down unlicensed broadcasters.

Now the Empire State is poised to join them, as Albany lawmakers consider a pair of bills (A.326 in the state assembly, S.2737 in the state senate) that would make a class D felon out of anyone who "knowingly makes or causes to be made a radio transmission in this state without first having obtained a license or an exemption from licensure" or "acts, whether directly or indirectly, to cause an unauthorized radio transmission to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station...or to enable the radio transmission or interference to occur."

The bill has the support of the New York State Broadcasters Association, whose members (especially in the New York City area) have long been plagued by pirates that interfere with their signals and, in some cases, their business. So it's not surprising to see the outspoken Bill O'Shaughnessy, whose WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle) broadcasts leased-time programming to many of the same audiences targeted by the pirates, making a strong case for the anti-pirate law.

O'Shaughnessy praises the dedication of the "legitimate entrepreneurial minority broadcasters who play by the rules and serve a wide range of constituencies with community programming broadcast in many different languages," but he warns that "their dedication and hard work is seriously threatened by the 'fly by night' pirates who are in clear violation of Federal laws concerning the integrity of the spectrum." And he says the situation has gotten so out of control that "FCC field agents have actually been threatened when, with their limited staff resources, they tried to move on the pirates."

But the broadcast community in New York is far from unanimous in its support of the bill. The Society of Broadcast Engineers has opposed state involvement in broadcast regulation, warning that the establishment of state jurisdiction in one context (pirate radio, in this case) could lead to states asserting regulatory authority over other aspects of broadcasting as well - including areas such as tower siting where broadcasters have traditionally relied on federal preemption of state law to get around local authorities that have tried to restrict their operations.

"The bill as New York has configured it is preempted on its face by the Communications Act of 1934. The case law is very clear. It is subject to challenge, just as the New Jersey and Florida statutes are," said SBE general counsel Chris Imlay in a message to New York members.

There are other concerns about the proposed new law as well: in a state that's already struggling to find money for essential services, some broadcasters ask, where would the funding come from to track down pirates and bring them to justice? And there are questions about whether the law is written in an overly broad way that could affect licensed amateur operators or Part 15 broadcasters operating legally without licenses.

The bill was referred to committees in both the Assembly and Senate last month; we'll be following its progress through Albany's legislative morass in the months to come.

*One of the bigger ratings surprises in recent years has come from Rochester, where a plucky little oldies station called "Legends" emerged from obscurity to settle into a comfortable spot in the middle of the market's top ten stations.

Rochester's "Legends," WLGZ (102.7 Webster), changed owners last year from Don Crawford's Crawford Broadcasting to DJRA Broadcasting, owned by Donald Crawford Jr., and last week the younger Crawford shipped "Legends" down the Thruway to his other upstate signal, Albany-market WPTR (96.7 Clifton Park).

Albany's new "Legends 96.7" replaces a Christian contemporary format, "Pulse 96.7," and Crawford openly blames the arrival of an out-of-town competitor for the format's demise. In a letter to listeners, Crawford acknowledged that much of his audience was being lost to EMF Broadcasting's "K-Love" (heard in Albany on WYKL 94.5) and "Air 1" (WOOB 93.7).

"Unfortunately, there are not enough Christian listeners in the Capital Region to support three nothing-but-music Christian radio stations," he wrote. "Because we must air commercials to survive, and most do not want to listen to them, most will resort to another source for Christian music, whether the Internet, Satellite radio, or another radio station. Therefore, we can neither compete nor continue to morally or confidently bring on new advertisers, knowing they will not get the support they need to at least break even on their advertising investment."

Crawford says the plan is to use increased revenues from WPTR's oldies format to help sustain sister station WDCD (1540 Albany), still owned by Crawford Broadcasting and carrying a Christian teaching format. Former WPTR afternoon host Alison Stevens moves to mornings on WDCD - and at least for now, "Legends 96.7" is using an on-air lineup that comes mainly from Rochester's "Legends," where jocks are voicetracking shifts for Albany.

And yes, WPTR's shift to oldies means that Albany once again has a format battle between stations called "WPTR" and "WTRY." It's a far cry from the hard-fought AM top-40 war between WPTR on 1540 and WTRY on 980 that lasted all through the sixties and seventies, but the new Legends is competing directly with Clear Channel's classic hits WTRY (98.3 Rotterdam).

One more Clear Channel Albany note: D. Scott is the new afternoon jock at WKKF (102.3 Ballston Spa), providing some local content in a "Kiss" lineup dominated by syndicated jocks Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest.

*Radio People on the Move in New York City: Heather Walters is out of middays at CBS Radio's "Fresh" WWFS (102.7), replaced by former WLTW (Lite 106.7) weekender Karen Carson, who's just departed the Clear Channel AC signal to rejoin her former PD Jim Ryan down the street at Fresh. Carson had also been voicetracking for Clear Channel's KOST (103.5) in Los Angeles.

Former ESPN talker Stephen A. Smith is rejoining the network, starting at its local stations in New York and Los Angeles. Smith is joining WEPN (1050 New York) for a new 7-9 PM local show, after which he'll stay in the studio to do a local show for KSPN (710 Los Angeles) that will air from 6-8 PM out there; it's expected that he'll also begin contributing to the network's basketball coverage.

Across the Hudson, Curtis Sliwa is adding even more airtime at Salem's WNYM (970 Hackensack). In addition to doing mornings six days a week on "970 the Apple," Sliwa is now also doing two hours of afternoon talk, from 5-7 PM, alongside Gerson Borrero.

TOWER SITE CALENDAR 2011 - IT'S HERE!

It's 2011 now - and that 2010 calendar on your wall won't do you much good, will it?

But lucky for you, we're here to help: Tower Site Calendar 2011 is now available, featuring more than a dozen great images of radio and TV broadcast facilities all over the country (and even beyond - this year's edition takes us to Mexico!)

Thrill to a night shot of KFI's new tower! Check out the WAEB Allentown array just after it lost a tower - or enjoy the history at venerable sites like those of KID in Idaho Falls, WCAP in Lowell, KTKT in Tucson and Rochester's Pinnacle Hill.

But wait - there's more! We now have a small supply of the new FM Atlas, 21st edition, as well as a limited supply of Tower Site Calendar 2010 as well - plus signed calendars, back isues and much more in the fybush.com store!

Orders of 20 or more calendars get a discount. We'll even add a bow or a gift card upon request.

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*One of CANADA's first black-owned radio stations has changed hands, and that's brought big changes in staff and programming at "Flow 93.5," CFXJ Toronto.

CTV closed on its C$27 million purchase of the station from founder Denham Jolly last week, and wasted no time moving the station's studios from 211 Yonge Street to the CHUM complex between Richmond and Queen streets.

With a new slogan of "Hip-hop, dance and R&B," CTV's version of Flow more closely resembles a rhythmic top-40 than the urban station Jolly was running - and along with the format shift came the departure of many of Jolly's employees, including PD Wayne Williams and much of the station's airstaff.

Will the "Flow" name survive the transition, or will CTV install the "Bounce" moniker it's been using on rhythmic top-40 stations in Edmonton, Halifax and elsewhere? Stay tuned...

*When we sat down to write last week's NERW, we didn't include an item about the "suspension" of the morning team at Ottawa's "Virgin Radio" (CKQB 106.9). Something about the story - perhaps the idea that the hosts were pulled from the air after disobeying orders from "the boss" to stop mentioning the station's former identity as "The Bear" - carried with it a strong whiff of eau de publicity stunt.

And sure enough, our nose wasn't steering us wrong: as of Friday morning, the "Virgin" identity, which never quite fit the rock format in Ottawa as well as it did at Astral's top-40 "Virgin" signals in Montreal and Toronto, is gone. 106.9 is now back to "The Bear" after just over two years - and the existing airstaff (yes, including the "suspended" morning team) remains in place.

*Corus has now completed its exit from Quebec, and Cogeco is already making changes at the stations it's acquiring in a C$80 million deal. The acquisition included a requirement that Cogeco spin off stations in Quebec City and Sherbrooke, but in order to hang on to a Sherbrooke outlet for its "CKOI" French-language hot AC network, Cogeco ended up swapping formats and calls there as the deal closed.

Cogeco will still sell the 104.5 facility in Sherbrooke, as the CRTC required - but that's no longer CKOY. It's now CJTS, carrying the "Souvenirs Garantis" French oldies format that had been on CHLT (107.7) - and 107.7, which stays with Cogeco, is now CKOY, carrying the CKOI relay.

*What's the largest Canadian city with no local CBC radio outlet? Hamilton, Ontario - but perhaps not for much longer. The national broadcaster unveiled its "CBC 2015" expansion plan last week, calling for additional local service in Hamilton and several other communities that now rely on CBC signals serving larger markets. The CBC acknowledges that there's no space on the FM dial for a new Radio One signal in Hamilton, but it says it may explore other ways to bring local service there.

*Radio People on the Move: Jamieson Bridal moves from afternoons on Brockville's CFJR (104.9) to mornings on sister station CJPT (103.7 Bob FM), replacing "Bob's Breakfast with Ali, Chris and the Lock." Ryan Valdron moves from CHST (102.3 Bob FM) in London to CFJR to replace Bridal, reports Milkman UnLimited.

Were you on vacation earlier this month? Away from the computer? Did you miss our giant 2010 Year in Review special? It's available all year, including the Rant, right here! And don't wait until NERW Monday for breaking news - follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates as they happen!

*In a week when PENNSYLVANIA, at least its western half, was paying more attention to football than radio for some reason, the biggest news was the weather. While Pittsburgh and vicinity ended up with rain instead of the predicted heavy snowfall, there was plenty of snow in the central part of the state, sending engineers scurrying to keep transmitter sites on the air as power failed in some areas.

In Harrisburg, ABC affiliate WHTM (Channel 27) lost its over-the-air signal for much of a day, which also knocked out the station's signal for Dish Network and DirecTV viewers.

In Philadelphia, there's a new assistant PD/music director at Clear Channel's WUSL (98.9) and WDAS-FM (105.3). Kelly Mac moves north from WJMZ in Greenville, South Carolina to handle music and programming at "Power 99" and its urban AC sister station.

*In Pittsburgh, Birach Broadcasting's WWCS (540 Canonsburg) went silent last week, a month to the day after its former Radio Disney programming moved up the dial to Disney-owned WDDZ (1250 Pittsburgh, ex-WEAE).

WWCS had been broadcasting a loop directing listeners to Disney's new home, but after that extra month of leased time from Disney ended, and we hear that there was a scramble to figure out how to control the WWCS transmitter locally once that lease was up; it had been controlled remotely from the WEAE/WDDZ studios in the WTAE (Channel 4) building on Ardmore Boulevard in Pittsburgh.

*And just days before the Steelers hit the gridiron for Super Bowl XLV, the long-lost video footage of Super Bowl I surfaced in another corner of the Keystone State. For years now, the NFL and video historians have been searching diligently for any surviving copy of the first "Big Game" back in 1967, which was broadcast by NBC and CBS but which was not preserved by either network. Just last week, the Paley Center for Media in New York revealed that it's been restoring an incomplete copy of the game that was taped off Scranton's WDAU-TV (now WYOU-TV, channel 22) and then stored in an attic for decades.

The 2" tape actually surfaced back in 2005, but news of its existence remained under wraps while its owner, the son of the man (evidently an employee at WDAU-TV or a competitor) who recorded the video, negotiated with the NFL over rights to the video. According to the Wall Street Journal article announcing the discovery of the tape, the NFL (in good NFL fashion) asserted that it holds the copyright to the game footage, offering its owner a mere $30,000. For now, the tape, restored by the Paley Center, remains in legal limbo; here's hoping we get to see it in its entirety someday.

*NEW JERSEY's newest TV allocation will hit the auction block with only a few interested bidders. The FCC released its list of "qualified applicants" in the upcoming Auction 90 last week, and only three broadcasters bothered to fill out the paperwork and commit to bidding for either a new signal on channel 4 in Atlantic City or channel 5 in Seaford, Delaware. Notably absent from the list was PMCM, the sister company to New Jersey's Press Communications, which had started the whole process rolling with its attempt to use an obscure FCC rule to move two existing stations from small towns in Nevada and Wyoming to suburbs of Philadelphia and New York City.

As NERW readers will recall, the FCC sidestepped PMCM's application, which was premised on the lack of VHF signals in New Jersey and Delaware after the DTV transition, by instead allotting other VHF channels to communities in both states that are more distant from the big markets PMCM sought to serve. And if the FCC's intent was to create new allotments that wouldn't be very desirable to anyone else, either, it appears to have succeeded: of eight broadcasters who'd originally expressed interest in the new channels, the only ones left are Avinash C. Ahuja, Loop Media LLC and Western Pacific Broadcast LLC.

The FCC hasn't yet announced minimum bids for the Atlantic City or Seaford facilities; the bidding will start February 15.

*Radio People on the Move: former WPST (94.5 Trenton) morning man Tommy Jordan has landed in morning drive just south of the Mason-Dixon line, where he's joining WAFY (103.1) in Frederick, Maryland. Jordan had also been heard at WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin), where veteran Jersey jock Tripp Rogers has just signed on for afternoons.

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*As WCAP in Lowell, MASSACHUSETTS heads towards its sixtieth anniversary later this year, the station's owners are heading to court in a dispute over who's actually running WCAP's operations.

Veteran broadcaster Clark Smidt and Lowell businessman Sam Poulten joined forces in 2007 to form Merrimack Valley Radio, becoming just the second owners in WCAP's history.

But the Lowell Sun reports relations between the partners began turning chilly last summer, when Smidt demanded that Poulten meet him in mediation to resolve some management disputes. Smidt's lawyers say Poulten cancelled that meeting, and now Smidt is seeking to have Poulten removed from WCAP's daily operations, saying Poulten "refused to work on a regular basis to deliver significant advertising revenues, interfered with staff members' duties, failed to take part in managerial duties, failed to provide documentation to complete a Small Business Association loan application and failed to communicate in a factual, timely or helpful manner regarding the financial needs and responsible and profitable operation of Merrimack Valley Radio."

Poulten's lawyers tell the Sun that they're planning a countersuit, saying it was Smidt who refused to meet with Poulten; here at NERW, where we take a very personal interest in the station that gave your editor his start in broadcasting, we're hoping for an amicable resolution that can keep Lowell's hometown station going and avoid a sale that could mean the end of local broadcasting on the AM dial in Lowell.

*Some happier news: Pete Braley is celebrating 20 years on the air at WBSM (1420 New Bedford), and we're told he marked his 5,000th morning show last week. That's a lot of early wakeups - and a rare sort of longevity these days!

*There's a new FM station on the air - sort of - in Danbury, CONNECTICUT, where Berkshire Broadcasting has changed the callsign of WREF (850 Ridgefield) to WAXB, rebranding the station as "B107.3" as it makes its FM debut on newly-acquired translator W279AN (107.3 Danbury), transmitting from the tower of co-owned WLAD (800)/WDAQ (98.3). The new B107.3 keeps the same satellite-delivered True Oldies Channel format; its new calls, meanwhile, have a history in the market, having been heard on the competing station that's now WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) back when it was "B105.5" from 1996-2002.

And speaking of WDAQ, it has a new PD: Rich Minor, 98Q's morning man, is now programming the station as well, taking over from the recently departed Zach Dillon. Dillon had also been doing afternoons, and that airshift has now been filled by former night jock Nate, who's also music director.

Meanwhile in New Haven, Juan Castillo moves up from PD to director of operations at WYBC-FM (94.3), while Anthony Brooks takes over as PD.

*Radio People on the Move in NEW HAMPSHIRE: in Concord, Ryan Seacrest is gone from middays at WJYY (105.5), where morning co-host Mya will now be heard in middays, while the syndicated interactive Jelli takes over from 10 PM-midnight.

On the seacoast, Sean Sullivan departs WERZ (107.1 Exeter), heading for "ventures outside the broadcast industry." PD Jeff Pierce is tracking the afternoon shift until a permanent replacement is named.

*Across the state line in MAINE, religious WSEW in Sanford has completed its move from 88.5 to 88.7, more than doubling power from 3.2 kW/564' (vertical-only) to 6.5 kW/719' DA.

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.

One Year Ago: February 8, 2010 -

  • The three-way battle for talk radio listeners in Albany is down to two competitors. Albany Broadcasting is pulling the plug on talk at WROW (590), and we're hearing most of the station's staff, including morning host Steve van Zandt, was let go this morning. (Also out are news director Heidi Kelly and news producer Tom Rigatti; most of the actual WROW newscasts had already been outsourced.) The 590 signal will be simulcasting soft AC/standards WKLI (100.9) for the time being; WROW PD Jackie Donovan, who co-hosted the morning show, stays on as a WKLI jock, we're told. There's no word about a new Albany affiliate for the station's other local show, Susan Arbetter's "Capital Pressroom," which is produced by Syracuse public station WCNY.
  • WROW's demise is good news for competitor WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer), staffed in large part by former WROW staffers; Clear Channel's WGY (810 Schenectady) is the other talker left standing.
  • The "Magic" format from WKLI will apparently become WROW's new permanent format in a few months, when a new format arrives on 100.9.
  • Much more in next week's NERW...
  • *In the years just after World War II, Hornell, NEW YORK was a happening little place. The small city of 15,000 or so people boasted a daily newspaper, and beginning in 1946, its own FM station, WWHG-FM (105.3), named for newspaper publisher W.H. Greenhow. In 1948, a competing AM outlet, daytimer WLEA (1320), sprouted - and two years after that, the paper launched its own AM daytimer, WWHG (1590), then promptly bought out WLEA, silenced 1590 and moved WWHG down the dial to 1320. (A new WLEA quickly returned to the airwaves as yet another kilowatt daytimer, operating on 1480, where it continues to this day.)
  • In later years, the AM station on 1320 became WHHO, while the FM became WKPQ. And as of last week, the AM station is off the air, its license cancelled by the FCC for failure to live up to the terms of a 2008 consent decree.
  • That agreement, which we reported in NERW back on April 7, 2008, obligated licensee Bilbat Radio to pay $20,000 to settle allegations of public-file discrepancies at WHHO and WKPQ. The payments for WKPQ were apparently made, since the FM station was successfully transferred to a new owner (which also ended up with the studio building and transmitter site for both stations, by way of a 2007 foreclosure sale), but the picture for WHHO and owner Bill Berry was less rosy.
  • Despite an installment-plan agreement under which Berry could have paid WHHO's $10,000 fine (er, "voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury") in ten installments of $1,000 each, it appears that not even a single payment was made.
  • "Lack of revenue prohibited the timely payment of the fine," Berry said in a statement he released after the FCC sent him a letter denying WHHO's license-renewal application. And by Thursday, the 1320 frequency had fallen silent in Hornell for the first time in more than sixty years.
  • Assuming this is really the end for WHHO ("deleted" doesn't always mean dead and gone at the FCC, which has been known to reinstate "deleted" stations when an unpaid fine is paid at the last moment), this brings to an end a long, sad saga for WHHO, which has been struggling for survival since Bilbat co-owner Richard "Bat" Lyons fell ill a few years back. (Lyons died in 2006.)
  • The mess apparently began with several failed attempts to sell WHHO and WKPQ, first to Pennsylvania's Sabrecomm, then to Elmira's Pembrook Pines group; the collapse of the latter deal landed Berry and Lyons in a nasty court battle with Pembrook Pines that found control of the FM station passing back and forth in 2007.
  • At one point, there was a tentative solution in which Pembrook Pines would have ended up with WKPQ while Berry kept WHHO and received Pembrook's WABH (1380 Bath) as well. That, too, was never consummated, and the foreclosure of the WKPQ/WHHO properties soon followed, along with the sale of the FM license. (WHHO continued to operate out of the joint studio facility, most recently with a format that mixed Fox Sports Radio with some syndicated talk.)
  • Under its new ownership, WKPQ at least appears to have once again found some stability. As for its erstwhile AM sister, if WHHO is truly dead, the frequency may stay dead for a while: it would take another AM filing window for new applications for 1320 to be accepted, and the FCC no longer grants new class D facilities like WHHO's 5 kW daytime/22 watts night, non-directional, which means a new 1320 would have to employ a more expensive directional antenna system - assuming that other stations in the region don't claim the frequency first by filing minor changes in the meantime.
  • And perhaps the time for such a facility has simply passed: Hornell's population now numbers barely more than 9,000, and in addition to WKPQ there's radio competition from WLEA and its sister FM, WCKR (92.1), not to mention the daily Tribune. That's a lot of media for a small town, even without one venerable AM station.
  • *As one western New York station died last week, another was being born. Go west from Hornell 60 miles or so and you come to Little Valley, in Cattaraugus County, where the Seneca Nation signed on WGWE (105.9) last Monday morning at 6, kicking off the broadcast with a traditional Seneca prayer of thanksgiving. WGWE's regular format is Citadel's satellite-delivered classic hits, but the station also has a local morning show and noontime request show, hosted by Mike Smith, aka "Smitty," who left a long stint at Olean's WPIG to join the station. It's based in a former convenience store in Salamanca, and its 7 kW/626' class B1 signal reaches north almost to Erie County and west almost to the Pennsylvania state line. WGWE (the calls come from a Seneca word that means "what's up") is also carrying Buffalo Bandits lacrosse games, and plans to add high school sports to its schedule as well.
  • Out on Long Island, Barnstable is about to pull the plug on its AC format at WLVG (96.1 Center Moriches), using the signal to simulcast its Nassau County "K-Joy" (WKJY 98.3 Hempstead) to Suffolk County listeners. March 1 is the target date for "KJOY 96.1 Suffolk" to make its debut, replacing the former "Love 96."
  • And we note with sadness the passing of Cecil Heftel, the entrepreneur who built several clusters of radio stations including the group that became the core of today's Univision Radio, over four decades in the business. Heftel's first northeastern acquisition was Pittsburgh's WJAS (1320) in 1973, which was soon renamed WKTQ ("13Q") for a short but very memorable run as a screaming top-40 station. Heftel sold WKTQ in 1976 when he entered the world of politics as a congressman from Hawaii; while he removed himself from day-to-day operations, his company went on to buy WWEL/WWEL-FM in Boston in 1979, relaunching the stations as top-40 "Kiss 108" WXKS-FM and "Music of Your Life" WXKS 1430. (The original Heftel group was sold off not long after that; by 1982, WXKS/WXKS-FM were in the hands of Pyramid Broadcasting.)
  • After serving five terms, Heftel lost a 1986 bid for governor of Hawaii. That same year, he returned to radio, entering the New York market with the purchase of WADO (1280) and later WPAT (930 Paterson). A decade later, he merged his company with Texas-based Tichenor Media to create a larger Heftel group, which added WNWK (105.9 Newark, later WCAA and the ancestor of today's WXNY 96.3) to the cluster in 1998 in exchange for WPAT and $115 million.
  • Heftel also served as a congressman from Hawaii from 1976-1986. He died on Friday (Feb. 5) in San Diego, at age 85.
  • Three stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market changed hands last week as WS2K Radio LLC (the remnant of the old Route 81 group) exited the market, closing on its sale of WLNP (94.3 Carbondale), WNAK (730 Nanticoke) and WCDL (1440 Carbondale) to Bold Gold, which paid just $500,000 for the three stations - barely more than the $475,000 that Route 81 paid for WNAK alone back in 2003. (WCDL and what's now WLNP came as part of a $2.5 million purchase from Citadel that also included WAZL in Hazleton and WHYL in Carlisle.)
  • Bold Gold adds the three signals to a cluster that already includes WWRR (104.9 Scranton) and the "Game" AM network (WICK 1400 Scranton/WYCK 1340 Plains/WFBS 1280 Berwick); for now, WLNP is in a temporary simulcast of WWRR ("The River") while the AMs are silent awaiting a new format.
  • More NEW JERSEY news: Tommy Jordan is out as morning man at WPST (94.5 Trenton) after a decade and a half; Chris Rollins is now helming "Chris & Crew" in morning drive at PST.
  • One of CANADA's oldest TV newsrooms is a smoky, waterlogged mess today, and it may be a while before the newspeople at CTV's CJOH (Channel 13) in Ottawa can return to their usual home base on the second floor of CJOH's Merivale Road studios in suburban Nepean after a fire ripped through the facility early Sunday morning.
  • Nobody was working in the newsroom when the fire broke out overnight, and by the time a security guard summoned firefighters, there had already been extensive damage (estimated at over $2 million) to the newsroom, including the apparent destruction of most of CJOH's archives.
  • The show must go on, of course, and CJOH's news staff is relocating to the A Channel (CHRO) newsroom at Byward Market in downtown Ottawa for the next few days, at least. Fortunately for them (if not for Ottawa news consumers), the space was available after CTV cancelled most of the local news product on A Channel.
  • As of Sunday afternoon, CTV was considering its options, which include the possibility of moving CJOH's operations out of the Merivale building for good. CTV sold the building several years ago and had been leasing it back.

Five Years Ago: February 6, 2006 -

  • So much for the oldies on Buffalo's WWKB (1520) - after a three-year run with the format (almost to the day, actually), they're gone, as of 3 PM Monday, replaced with liberal talk. And that means two liberal talkers in Buffalo, unless Entercom's pre-emptive strike on 1520 knocks WHLD's plans out before the new station can even get out of the gate. Much more next week!
  • *There are certainly bigger stories making headlines in PENNSYLVANIA this week - especially for football fans anywhere west of Harrisburg or thereabouts - but for fans of old-time radio history, there's a pretty significant story developing in the small town of Grove City, halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie.
  • That's where one of the last vestiges of the early history of educational radio may now have breathed its last. WSAJ (1340) traced its history back to amateur station 8CO, which began operations in 1914. After being silenced by the war, Grove City College returned to the air in 1920 as 8YV, and in 1921, 8YV received a broadcast license as WSAJ, using a transmitter built by electrical engineering professor Dr. Herbert W. Harmon.
  • For most of its existence, WSAJ shared time with what's now WOYL in Oil City, and even after WOYL went full-time (with a directional antenna), WSAJ remained at 100 watts, operating only two days a week from the very same wire cage antenna (rebuilt in 2002) from which it signed on in 1921. There's very good reason to believe that the antenna atop Rockwell Science Hall is the oldest AM transmitter site in the United States, predating by several years the KGFJ (KYPA) site in Los Angeles.
  • Sadly, WSAJ's long run on the AM dial now appears to be over. The station added an FM service on 91.1 in the eighties, and the AM facility's been somewhat neglected ever since. Its 1950-vintage transmitter was out of service for a while, and the old cage antenna was damaged a few years ago. And while the antenna was fixed and a new LPB transmitter installed, WSAJ's management apparently lost interest in their historic little treasure somewhere along the way. Last week, word began circulating that there wouldn't be a renewal application filed for WSAJ(AM), and it now appears that the FCC has cancelled WSAJ's license and deleted the AM callsign.
  • That's stirred concern among some NERW readers, who wonder whether it's possible to save this nifty little relic of another era of broadcasting. From what we've heard, there are engineers and FCC experts out there who are willing to take on the task of trying to get the license renewed and putting the AM 1340 signal back on the air - and there's apparently a closed-circuit student station on campus that would no doubt appreciate having the over-the-air signal, even with only 100 watts. (Students are heard for four hours nightly on WSAJ-FM, which runs satellite-delivered classical and jazz for the remainder of its broadcast day.)
  • Does Grove City College know what it's on the verge of losing for good? And is it too late to do anything about it?
  • Elsewhere in the Keystone State, WAMO (860 Millvale-Pittsburgh) announced that it will join Radio One's new urban talk network beginning February 27, adding Radio One's 10 AM-7 PM schedule to a lineup that already includes Tom Joyner's morning show and the local Bev Smith talk show in the evening. WAMO had been carrying on the "Majic" R&B oldies format that was simulcast with the former WJJJ (107.1 Greensburg), which relaunched last week as "Sam FM" WGSM under new owner Renda.
  • Western NEW YORK is getting another progressive talk station, with a familiar Buffalo name at the helm.
  • Starting next Monday (Feb. 13), Citadel will lease WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) to "Niagara Independent Media," a consortium that includes longtime Buffalo newsman Ray Marks. He and Alex Blair will host a 6-10 AM talk show on the station, with programming from Air America filling out the day.
  • Alert NERW readers will recall a mention late last year of the WHLD calls appearing on - and then disappearing from - the Air America website, and now we know why.
  • Will WHLD do better than Entercom's WROC (950 Rochester), where a mediocre signal and a near-total lack of promotion (not to mention the disappearance of local content) have led to nonexistent ratings? It can't hurt to have Ray Marks involved, certainly, and the WHLD signal (diplexed with WNED 970 at that station's five-tower site in Hamburg) catches most of the areas in Buffalo and the Falls that would likely tune in to the new programming.
  • Speaking of WNED, the public broadcaster is joining forces with the state's other public TV outlets (WXXI Rochester, WCNY Syracuse, WSKG Binghamton, WPBS Watertown, WMHT Schenectady, WCFE Plattsburgh and WNET New York) to launch a fiber interconnection that will allow the stations to share programming statewide, including WNED's "ThinkBright" educational channel, which will be seen on DTV subchannels across the state once the interconnect is completed. The interconnect project, which will cost $1.35 million, is funded by a matching grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Sorry to report the passing of two New York voices: Al Lewis was best known as "Grandpa Munster," of course, but his long and varied career also included political activism and a Saturday talk show on WBAI (99.5), which had been hosted by his wife Karen in recent months as Lewis' health deteriorated. Lewis died Friday (Feb. 3); he was widely reported to have been 95, but his son says he was 82. And Michael O'Neil, whose deep tones were heard doing news on WMCA and WINS, died last week in Florida at the age of 74. O'Neil, whose resume also included a stint at Chicago's WCFL, retired from WINS in 1992.
  • It's the end of the line for more than half a century of community radio at two eastern MASSACHUSETTS AM stations. The Asher family, which put WJDA (1300 Quincy) on the air in 1947 (the calls stand for James D. Asher) and which has owned WESX (1230 Salem) for years, is selling the stations, for $4.5 million.
  • The buyer is Principal Broadcasting Network, with financial support from Mercury Capital Partners, and when the deal closes, Principal principal Otto Miller (who ran New York's WNWK and WKDM for Multicultural Broadcasting) will reportedly flip the stations to a religious format similar to that at WDJZ (1530 Bridgeport CT).
  • Over in Maynard, it was another tumultuous week for WAVM (91.7). The station's fight for survival was featured in a segment on NPR's "All Things Considered" last week (including an interview with your editor) - and in the meantime, WAVM and its partner, Boston's WUMB (91.9), rejected a proposal from Living Proof that would have settled the controversy over the FCC's tentative grant to the California religious broadcaster of a construction permit in Lunenburg.
  • While the deal would have given WAVM protected class A status, it would have required WAVM to build a complicated directional antenna - and it would have also granted a new class A signal on 91.7 in Lexington to another religious broadcaster, CSN International. As NERW had suspected, the prospect of a new adjacent-channel signal right along Route 128. WUMB and WAVM are proposing an alternate deal that would give them a class A on 91.7 in Maynard and still yield a class A signal out in Lunenburg for Living Proof - but that would shut out CSN, which would still have to agree to that deal before it can move forward. Stay tuned...
  •  

10 Years Ago: February 5, 2001 -

  • Radio listeners in western MASSACHUSETTS woke up to some changes on Thursday (Feb. 1), at least if they were fans of the adult album alternative sounds of WRSI or the country music on WPVQ.
  • We told you a few weeks ago that Vox's purchase of WPVQ from Cardwell Broadcasting would mean the move of WPVQ's country from the Turners Falls 93.9 signal to WRSI's Greenfield-licensed 95.3, with WRSI's "River" format drifting downstream to 93.9 and its translators, W246AM (97.1) in Amherst and W287AK (105.3) in South Hadley. And indeed, the switch happened right on schedule at midnight, accompanied by days of reminders on both stations (though, oddly, very little on either station's Web site.)
  • But as country listeners move over to 95.3 (now known as "The Bear"), River fans have still one more frequency to check for their station. In addition to the former WPVQ outlets, Vox also put the River on what had been WSSH (101.5 Marlboro VT), part of a three-station simulcast of soft AC (along with WZSH Bellows Falls and WWSH White River Junction) as "Wish."
  • The new calls on 101.5 are WRSY (the other two stations continue with Wish), returning the AAA format to an area WRSI used to serve when it was simulcast on still another frequency, the 100.7 in Wilmington, Vermont known as WVAY, then WMTT, and now WVAY again. (That station has been simulcasting Vox classic rocker WEXP Brandon-Rutland for the last few months.)
  • If Vox's moves aren't enough, here's one more in the Pioneer Valley: Saga, which is buying Greenfield's WHAI/WHAI-FM from the Haigis family, has filed to change the calls of WHAI(AM) (1240) to WHMQ. A few weeks ago, we predicted that the AM station would become a simulcast of Saga's WHMP (1400 Northampton)...looks like we were right. (With the other WHMP simulcast, WHNP 1600 East Longmeadow, the WHMP signal now reaches pretty much the entire Pioneer Valley.)
  • Meanwhile in Boston, WILD (1090) is facing some unwanted attention after the dismissal of a reporter who aggressively questioned Mayor Thomas Menino during a January interview.
  • Bernardine Nash, WILD's former owner (and now station manager since the station's sale to Radio One), tells the Globe that Rose Arruda acted more as an activist than a journalist when she asked Menino about stalled contract talks with city firefighters and other issues.
  • Menino tells the Globe he asked his press secretary after the interview to make sure there were no repercussions over Arruda's behavior.
  • (The paper speculates that Nash dismissed Arruda in part to "curry favor for a possible antenna in Boston," confusing WILD, whose tower is in Medford, with its FM sister WBOT Brockton, which can't move north to Boston anyway because of stations in Winchendon and Dover, N.H.)
  • Easy come, easy go: Boston's newest independent TV station, WHUB-TV (Channel 66 Marlborough), quietly ended its run on Wednesday after less than half a year with the format. The station is back to the Home Shopping Network fare it used to run (as WHSH), while it awaits the sale of parent USA Broadcasting to Univision, expected in the next few months. Looking for WHUB-TV's local sports (like the upcoming Beanpot hockey tournament?) You'll find many of them on AT&T Cable's channel 3.
  • Radio People On The Move: John "Hutch" Hutchinson is leaving his afternoon slot at Plymouth's WPLM-FM (99.1) to return to Boston -- and to start a new career as an account executive at Greater Media's WROR (105.7 Framingham). Hutch's distinctive accent will still be heard on the weekends on WROR and on his old home, WBOS (92.9 Brookline). Remember Rico Petrocelli and Stu Taylor from their "Home Team" morning show a few years back on WBPS (890 Dedham)? They're back -- on the same towers, even -- doing the "Home Team" on weekends on WBIX (1060 Natick).
  • A strange story from NEW YORK's Capital Region just got a lot stranger. We've been telling you about the return of WPYX (106.5 Albany)'s Bob Wolf after his breakup with co-host John Mulrooney, ending Clear Channel's attempt to keep the show on the air in both Cleveland (where Wolf and Mulrooney moved last year) and Albany.
  • Now Mulrooney's facing harassment charges brought by Wolf (whose real name is Robert Wohlfeld), which culminated in Mulrooney's arrest a week ago when he returned to Albany for a visit.
  • Wolf says Mulrooney threatened him by phone over money Wolf owed from a loan last year, leading him to file the harassment complaint, saying he feared for his family's safety. Police in the Albany suburb of Colonie arrested Mulrooney, 42, at a gun shop.
  • Mulrooney was released on his own recognizance and was back on the air this week at Cleveland's WMMS, albeit without another former member of the "Wolf and Mulrooney Show." Newscaster Ellen Z. (Thaler) followed Wolf back to Albany to rejoin him at WPYX, along with another of Wolf's former colleagues.
  • John Tobin, who worked with Wolf at Poughkeepsie's WPDH (101.5) in the mid-nineties, left WPDH last week to join Wolf on the "Wakin' Up with the Wolf" show, in turn leaving the "Tobin and Cooper" morning show on WPDH with just one host.
  • New York listeners might not have Juan Gonzalez anymore, but they're getting a taste of one of Rochester's top-rated morning hosts, thanks to a bit of Infinity corporate synergy. "Brother Wease," whose gravelly voice was waking up WCMF (96.5 Rochester) listeners when Howard Stern was still a nobody in Connecticut, is now being heard on WNEW (102.7 New York) via a Saturday "best-of" show. Will Wease (aka Alan Levin) make sense in the Big Apple, or is he one of those local tastes that just can't be exported (like white hots, for instance)? We suspect the latter...but offer Wease our best wishes anyway.
  • Last year's fad format was "Jammin' Oldies." This year it's 80s pop, and it was no great surprise to discover that one of Rochester's most inconsequential stations made a weekend format flip from the one to the other. Clear Channel's WLCL (107.3 South Bristol) dropped its "Cool 107" identity to become "Channel 107.3" -- the second all-80s station in Rochester, following on the heels of last fall's switch at Entercom's 98.9, now WBZA "the Buzz," which has a far superior class B signal and will soon have jocks and a morning show and all the things that used to be considered more than optional for a radio station.
  • Two questions come to mind: first, will this incarnation of WLCL be any less of an identity-free jukebox than the Jammin' Oldies version (which never did anything substantive by way of local jocks or promotion, and second, will Clear Channel ever build out the CPs that will move 107.3 from its short tower south of town in Bloomfield to the much taller Bristol Mountain, way out of town, while at the same time moving WNVE ("the Nerve") from Bristol to Baker Hill in Perinton. (And is it legal for WLCL to be using South Bristol as its community of license when it barely pumps any signal over the hill into that small town from its current site?)
  • Oh yeah, a third question comes to mind: does anybody, anywhere, really need to be able to hear A Flock of Seagulls on two stations in one market?
  • Back to New England for a few minutes: in MAINE, J.J. Jeffrey has made the format change on his WLOB stations (WLOB 1310 Portland and WLOB-FM 96.3 Rumford), dropping the religious programming that ran in the stations' Carter Broadcasting days in favor of news, talk, and classic jingles as "Newstalk WLOB."
  • Meanwhile, the erstwhile third wheel of the WLOB simulcast, WLLB (790 Rumford), is now simulcasting with WTME (1240 Lewiston) and WKTQ (1450 South Paris) under its new Gleason Group ownership.
  • And way, way, way Down East, our loyal listener Rod O'Connor checks in to report a format change at WQDY (1230/92.7 Calais) and WALZ (95.3 Machias), which replace their mix of AC and country with classic hits as "Classic Hits 92.7, 95.3."

15 Years Ago: New England Radio Watch, February 8, 1996

  • The WBPS saga continues, as Mark Shneyder has been reporting in the Boston Radio Watch. This ill-fated signal has been on the air for not much more than a year, most of it leased by owner Douglas Broadcasting to Prime Sports. Now that lease is over, and the last Prime Sports on 890 will have aired at noon on Thursday, 2/8. The 26000/3400 watt signal will go to music for a few days, then to leased-time ethnic next week. There's already leased-time ethnic in town on 950 WROL, 1150 WMEX, 1330 WRCA, 1360 WLYN, 1550 WNTN, and 1600 WUNR. I think on balance, I'd rather have WLS at night...
  • Kiss 108, WXKS-FM Medford-Boston, promotes itself as being "Where the Stars Come Out to Play"...and Kiss stars Matt Siegel, JJ Wright, Dale Dorman, et al. will be playing in the big leagues on Friday, That's when Kiss' new corporate owner, Evergreen, will be simulcasting Kiss-108 over WYNY-103.5 New York, as part of 'YNY's ongoing format change from country to something as yet unannounced. Other Evergreen stations getting a Big Apple tryout over WYNY include WRCX, Chicago; KKBT, Los Angeles; and KMEL, San Francisco.
  • Following up on the format and call swap late last year, WHIM 1450 in West Warwick RI now has new owners. Richard Muserlian's Providence Broadcasting will pay $200K for the 1kw AM which used to be WKRI. The spanish-language programmers who used to do weekends on WKRI 1450 are now full-time on the former WHIM facility at 1110 in East Providence, as WPMZ, "Poder Once-Diez."
  • Not emanating from New England, to be sure, but two expanded-band AMs are pounding into the region. WJDM on 1660, of course, with its new Radio AAHS format...and as I type this, I'm enjoying everyone's favorite Army experimental station, KTRK/ARMY/ABS on 1670 from Fort Meade MD.

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