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April 4, 2011

NERW Special: Baseball on the Radio

NERW's in Ireland this week, so instead of our usual news update, it's our special Baseball on the Radio edition. We'll be back with a full NERW issue from the NAB Show in Las Vegas on April 11 - and in the meantime, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for breaking-news updates as they happen!

TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Entercom has added another FM news-talk simulcast to its growing list, killing off Buffalo-market AAA "107.7 the Lake," WLKK, in favor of a simulcast of news-talker WBEN (930).

*A few quick updates from the road on some headline news back home: in Boston, WTKK (96.9) afternoon talker Jay Severin is off the air at the Greater Media station, suspended indefinitely after making remarks on air about having had relations with young employees at a business he used to own. No word on when he'll be back, or if a permanent replacement is in the works. In Connecticut, WSHU Public Radio has quietly added a new signal to its stable: the programming on its "AM network" (WSHU 1260 Westport) is apparently now being heard on WYBC (1340 New Haven), where it replaces Yale University's student-run programming, which now appears to be streaming-only.

*We'll have a full news update next week; in the meantime, here's the first installment of our annual look at Baseball on the Radio, starting in the major leagues.

The Boston Red Sox, now past the midway point in their landmark ten-year deal with Entercom's WEEI, return to the WEEI stations and to their substantial network that stretches across New England, part of upstate New York, and down into south Florida as well. (WWCN 770 in Fort Myers and WZVU 960 in Palm Beach both carry at least some Sox games.) The big addition this year, at least for fans living west of route 128, is the return of Worcester's WCRN (830) to the network. That signal fills a major gap in WEEI's own coverage between its 850 Boston signal (nulled westward at night) and its 1440 Worcester signal, whch doesn't get very far east. The Sox TV coverage is, as always, entirely on the team's own NESN - and Spanish-language Sox fans can once again hear coverage on WWZN (1510 Boston) and the Spanish Beisbol Network.

The New York Yankees know where they'll be heard this year - once again on WCBS (880) and an extensive regional network - but it's only a one-year deal, with much speculation about an ESPN Radio bid for Yankees rights once the current arrangement ends. In Spanish, a multi-year deal with WADO (1280) remains in place, and of course the TV games remain with the Yankees' YES Network, which is again placing some games on a broadcast network that includes WWOR (Channel 9) in the New York market and a handful of stations upstate.

The New York Mets have no drama in the broadcast department this year: WFAN (660) remains not only the flagship but nearly the entire network, augmented mainly by WOFX (980) in the Albany market. Spanish-language coverage is again on WQBU (92.7), with the Mets' SNY Network handling TV and handing off some games to New York's WPIX (Channel 11) and an upstate broadcast network.

The Philadelphia Phillies are back on WPHT (1210) and an extensive regional network for another year, though like the Yankees, they're due for a bigger contract negotiation come 2012. WPHT ups the ante this year with a new all-Phillies HD Radio subchannel on sister station WOGL (98.1-HD4). The new service will include next-day replays of Phillies games as well as new audio content, says CBS Radio. Out beyond the Blue Route, there's one pretty big change along the network: Harrisburg's WHGB (1400) is the new Phillies affiliate in the state capital. Spanish-language Phils coverage stays on WUBA (1480), while TV games are shared by Comcast and WPHL (Channel 17), augmented by affiliates in Harrisburg and Scranton.

The Pittsburgh Pirates stay where they've been: Clear Channel's WPGB (104.7) and a huge network of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland stations. There's no Spanish-language radio, unsurprisingly, and TV coverage is all on cable.

The Toronto Blue Jays own their radio station - CJCL (FAN 590) in Toronto - and this year the TV rights are entirely on Rogers-owned Sportsnet, ending years of sharing rights with CTV's TSN. The Jays' outlying radio network shifts a bit this year: in Hamilton, the team is back on the bigger signal of CHML (900) after some time on CHAM (820), while in Ottawa the new Jays signal is CKBY (Y101.1) out of Smiths Falls.

And we mention the Baltimore Orioles this year because the resurgent team is making radio inroads into NERW-land: in addition to the return of WBAL (1090) and its big AM signal as the O's flagship, the team adds WIOO (1000 Carlisle)/WEEO (1480 Shippensburg) to its existing York-area radio coverage in Pennsylvania. And in Delaware, the O's appear this year on WWTX (1290 Wilmington), providing at least a fringe signal to parts of the Philadelphia market.

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*Play is now underway at the higher levels of the minor leagues, too, and we'll start as always with the AAA International League. The Pawtucket Red Sox remain in place on WHJJ (920 Providence) and a small regional network in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and the team will be seen a few times on NESN and more on Cox cable. The Syracuse Chiefs have a new home this year, moving from the former "Sports Animal," WHEN (620), now that that AM signal has gone urban, to Citadel's all-sports WSKO (1260). The Rochester Red Wings remain on Clear Channel's WHTK (1280/107.3), in the first full season since WHTK added the FM simulcast - and both the Chiefs and Wings will have TV coverage on Time Warner Cable's local sports channels in each market. The Buffalo Bisons continue on WWKB (1520), with TV mainly on Time Warner and a handful of games on SNY, the home of the parent Mets. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees remain on Bold Gold's "Game" sports network, based out of WICK (1400) in Scranton. And the Lehigh Valley IronPigs stay in place on WTKZ (1320 Allentown)/WEEX (1230 Easton) and an extensive TV platform that includes Service Electric Cable's SEC2 and Hazleton's WYLN. The 'Pigs have a new host for their studio broadcasts this year, as Michael Ventola joins the team.

In the Eastern League, the Portland Sea Dogs are in their seventh year on WBAE (1490 Portland)/WVAE (1400 Biddeford), as well as WEZR/WTME/WKTQ to the north and now WMYF (1380 Portsmouth NH) to the south. A handful of games will also appear on NESN. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have a new broadcast team, with veteran New England sports voice Dick Lutsk joining play-by-play man Bob Lipman in the booth. WGIR (610 Manchester) remains the flagship, augmented by stations in Rochester, Nashua, Hanover and, this year, Keene's WEEY (93.5). The New Britain Rock Cats continue their unique arrangement with WTIC, which broadcasts all the games on an HD subchannel of WTIC-FM (96.5) and 20 of the games on WTIC (1080) when there's no Red Sox conflict. The Binghamton Mets remain on WNBF (1290), as best we can tell, and the Erie SeaWolves on WFNN (1330). The Altoona Curve add a Cumberland, Maryland affiliate - WCBC (1270) - to a network based at WVAM (1430 Altoona) as well as signals in Johnstown, Loretto, Tyrone, Clearfield and, for some games, WBGG (970 Pittsburgh). The Harrisburg Senators remain on WTKT (1460), and the Reading Phillies are in their 12th season on WIOV (1240), with extensive TV coverage on SEC2, Blue Ridge Cable and WYLN. And in New Jersey, the Trenton Thunder have a new home: they're now on WTSR (91.3) at The College of New Jersey, replacing Rider College's WRRC (107.7) and its weaker signal at the ballpark.

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And one more before we leave you this week: The Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League are in Delaware, just outside NERW-land...but this year their games will be carried on a NERW-land station as the team moves from WWTX (1290 Wilmington), now an Orioles outlet, to WGLS (89.7) in Glassboro, New Jersey. The Rowan College station throws a fringe signal across the Delaware River into Wilmington.

We'll tackle the independent leagues and the short-season New York-Penn League later on; for now, greetings from Durrow, County Laois, in central Ireland - and we'll see you in this space once again next week from the NAB Show in Las Vegas!

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: April 5, 2010 -

  • The breathless TV news reports called it RHODE ISLAND's worst natural disaster in two centuries, though the Hurricane of 1938 might beg to differ. But whether it was "worst" or just "pretty bad," the flooding on the Pawtuxet and Blackstone rivers caused plenty of damage and kept broadcasters busy last week. Unlike the 1938 storm, which destroyed most of the state's broadcast infrastructure, the TV and FM sites and most of the AM sites, all east of Providence, remained safe and on the air. As best we can tell, only two riverside AM sites north and west of Narragansett Bay were inundated: Radio Disney's WDDZ (550 Pawtucket) along the Blackstone River and Hall's ESPN Radio affiliate WLKW (1450 West Warwick) along the Pawtuxet.
  • At WDDZ, the water that rose above the tower bases didn't knock the station off the air; even with the tower in water, the station's auxiliary tube transmitter was able to drive the unusual load and keep some signal getting out. WLKW fared worse; it was off the air for almost two days until the waters receded below the base insulator. The good news is that there was no apparent permanent damage from the floodwaters, and things are slowly getting back to normal.
  • In MASSACHUSETTS, Chris Zito is gone from the morning show at WODS (103.3 Boston), leaving veteran jock Karen Blake solo for now. Blake and Zito had been paired up since November 2008, when their "Zito and Karen Blake" show took the place of longtime WODS morning man Dale Dorman. Zito came to WODS from Worcester, where he'd been doing mornings at WXLO. Another morning show in the same CBS Radio building has a little more job security: WBZ-FM (98.5) picked up the "Toucher and Rich" show for what's being described as a "multi-year deal"; that deal doesn't include producer/sidekick Chris "Crash" Clark, who left the show Friday.
  • Also gone from the "Sports Hub" is Gary Tanguay, who was co-hosting the midday "Tanguay and Zo" show with Steve Zolak; replacing him is one of Tanguay's former Comcast SportsNet colleagues, Andy Gresh.
  • CONNECTICUT talk host Jim Vicevich is off the air again at WTIC (1080 Hartford), but this time it's for good. Vicevich was absent from the WTIC airwaves for a while earlier this year as he recuperated from a bout with auto-immune illness, and while the station saved his 9 AM-noon slot for him with a combination of an extended morning show and Sean Hannity reruns, budget cuts finally did the local mid-morning show in last week. "As of this morning at 8:30, I am no longer employed by WTIC 1080," Vicevich wrote on his radioviceonline.com site on Wednesday. "Over the course of four months, we were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract." Vicevich says he'll continue to blog and to do shows on his website.
  • And we send our deepest condolences to WQNY (103.7 Ithaca) morning man Chris Allinger on the death of his mother, Betty Cushing Griffin Allinger, who was herself a formidable figure in Utica broadcasting for many years. She actually began her broadcasting career in Boston in 1938, working at WHDH after attending Leland Powers School of Theater and Radio, but by 1939 she was back home in Utica as director of educational programming at what was then the city's only radio station, WIBX. During World War II, she became WIBX's production manager, as well as a pioneering female newscaster. In 1955, she married a fellow Utica radio personality, Ralph Allinger; in later years, she also served on the board of the New York State FM Network, and she was a frequent guest on her son's morning show even in her nineties. Mrs. Allinger died March 27; she was 93.
  • A long-running morning team in northeast PENNSYLVANIA split up last week, as John Webster departed Shamrock's "Rock 107" (WEZX 106.9 Scranton) to become the new morning co-host at Entercom's talker WILK, replacing the just-dismissed Kevin Lynn. Webster, whose real name is John Gasper, had been teamed up with Jay Daniels at Rock 107 since 1985, and Shamrock's not quite ready to let go of its star morning man: Gasper tells the Scranton Times-Tribune (which is co-owned with WEZX) that he's still trying to determine whether his six-month non-compete starts now, or whether it began when his contract ran out last year. It's also not clear whether Gasper can take the name "John Webster" down the dial with him, or whether that remains Shamrock's property.

Five Years Ago: April 3, 2006 -

  • It's been a rough year for fans of oldies in the New York metropolitan area, what with the demise of WCBS-FM and all. But oldies aficionados in the CONNECTICUT suburbs and nearby parts of Westchester and Long Island still had somewhere else to turn - Cox's "Kool" WKHL (96.7 Stamford) - at least until last Wednesday night at 10, when the Box Tops' "The Letter" faded out, replaced by "The New 96-7, the Coast, Fairfield County's Greatest Hits." The new station, which is running jockless for now, kicked off with Billy Joel's "Big Shot" (a wee bit ironic, perhaps, for a station that's billing itself as being "all about Fairfield County" to debut with Long Island's favorite son?), and the music mix appears to be somewhere between all-out adult hits and mainstream AC. New calls for the station are apparently WCTZ.
  • Over in RHODE ISLAND, rumors began swirling late last week that Brown Broadcasting Service was preparing to sell WBRU-FM (95.5 Providence), the modern rock station that's operated (commercially) by a mostly-volunteer staff of Brown University students. An article in a local alternative weekly led to a story Thursday night on WJAR (Channel 10), and by Friday the message boards were aflame with talk of WBRU's imminent demise. Friday afternoon at 4, the WBRU jocks said their farewells, to the tune of Green Day's "Time of Your Life," and were abruptly replaced by an automated adult hits format as "Buddy FM," a nod to imprisoned former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci. The stunt lasted 20 hours, until the WBRU jocks "broke in" to the Benevolent Street studios Saturday afternoon and "liberated" the station from its new corporate overlords at "Initek."
  • Yes, it was April Fool time in the Ocean State. And yes, "Initek" is the infamously clueless corporation from the movie "Office Space." And, yes, it was fun watching the message boards - and the TV stations - take the whole thing seriously.
  • The big news in MASSACHUSETTS is all about signals - new ones and moved ones.From the "new" file, our ears on the South Shore have been hearing the initial testing of CSN International's new WSMA (90.5 Scituate), which is running 7700 watts horizontal, 5 watts vertical from a site 150 meters above average terrain off Route 3A down in Plymouth, using a directional antenna that throws most of its power north and southwest, with a deep null toward co-channel WICN (90.5 Worcester).
  • Out on Cape Cod, WWTE (90.1 Wellfleet) has applied for its license to cover, though we've yet to hear any reports from anyone who's heard the station on the air. WWTE changed hands late last month from Living Proof, Inc., the California religious broadcaster that's been fighting to get a station on the air in Leominster, to Horizon Christian Fellowship, a Fitchburg-based religious broadcaster. As part of the $150,000 transaction, Horizon also gets translator construction permits for W241AU (96.1 Plymouth), W258BH (99.5 Sandwich) and W296BR (107.1 Barnstable).
  • From the "moved" file, WFNX (101.7 Lynn) turned on its new transmitter site atop One Financial Center in downtown Boston late last week, dramatically improving its signal in the city. WFNX had been transmitting from the old WEEI-FM site on the Medford-Malden line since 1987, and from the WLYN (1360 Lynn) tower on Route 107 before that, never quite getting enough signal into the parts of Boston where most of the station's young audience lives, works and goes to school.
  • Out in Pittsfield, the moves begin this week at the Vox cluster. We hear that WUHN (1110 Pittsfield) will flip from standards to a simulcast of oldies "Whoopie" (WUPE 95.9 Pittsfield/WMNB 100.1 North Adams) on Wednesday, with Larry Kratka's "Upfront" talk show moving from WUHN to sister WBEC (1420) at 11 AM. April 17 is now set as the date for WBEC-FM (105.5) to begin simulcasting its "Live" top 40 on 95.9, which will become the sole home of "Live" when 105.5 moves to the Springfield market as a WEEI relay shortly thereafter.
  • There's a call change - and potentially a format tweak, too - at a NEW HAMPSHIRE sports station. WSNH (900 Nashua) changed calls to WGAM ("The Game") last week. And we're told the station has been telling listeners that it, and new sister station WKBR (1250 Manchester), may be losing their ESPN Radio affiliations. Stay tuned...

10 Years Ago: April 4, 2001 -

  • Back when we toiled in the radio business in MASSACHUSETTS, the buzzword du jour was "synergy," as radio stations, TV newsrooms and newspapers fought to see who could create the most alliances with erstwhile competitors. This week, though, the object of the game appears to be just the opposite, as radio, TV and newspapers all engaged in what looks like one big catfight. It all started, apparently, with the Boston Globe's 1999 decision to ban its sports reporters from the Glenn Ordway show on WEEI (850 Boston). That ban didn't provoke much of a media frenzy, but last week, when the Globe extended the ban to WEEI's morning show, hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan decided to make an issue out of it. Globe columnist Eileen McNamara fanned the flames when she then wrote a column (against editors' orders, it seems) about being banned. The Globe declined to publish the column, and McNamara then decided to go on the Dennis/Callahan show in violation of the ban.
  • That's not the end of the cross-media fireworks lighting the sky over Boston Harbor, though: WEEI itself has been playing the ban game, exiling Globe writers from its other shows (which were still acceptable to Globe editors, since the content actually focused on sports instead of the typical male-oriented morning show fodder.) Oh yeah...WEEI has also barred the Herald's Jim Baker from its airwaves.
  • Meanwhile, across town on Soldiers Field Road, the once-friendly relationship between WBZ (1030) and sister station WBZ-TV (Channel 4) turned sour last week when radio talk host David Brudnoy invited WCVB (Channel 5) anchor-icon Natalie Jacobson to be a guest on his 25th anniversary show. The Herald's Monica Collins reported Saturday that the guest stint, which put Channel 4 anchor Joe Shortsleeve in the odd position of having to do a radio cut-in promoting his 11 PM show right in the midst of his competitor's appearance, prompted a memo from 'BZ-TV general manager Ed Goldman that put the brakes on the long cooperation between the radio and TV sides at 1170 Soldiers Field Road. Collins says the memo bans (there's that word again!) WBZ radio personalities from appearing on Channel 4, stops radio news crews from using the TV side's gear, and halts the shared promotions between the two stations.
  • Elsewhere in the Bay State, the new formats are now fully in place on Ernie Boch's Cape Cod FMs. WTWV (101.1 Mashpee), now doing hot AC as "the Wave," even has an airstaff in place: Mina and Doug in mornings, operations manager Boy Troy in middays and music director Lisa Garvey in afternoons. Down the hall at modern rock WDVT (93.5 Harwich Port), music director Peter Maxx is also serving as production director for the entire Boch group. "The Vault" is jockless for the moment, but we're told that will change.
  • We'll make VERMONT our next stop as we flesh out the rumors to which we alluded last issue. Clear Channel is indeed shifting some of its Burlington-market signals, and it plays out something like this: The smooth jazz that was this year's format on WXPS (96.7 Willsboro NY) showed up on another spot on the dial Monday morning, replacing oldies on WLCQ (92.1 Port Henry NY). Once that temporary simulcast ends, 96.7 will reportedly become WXZO, "the Zone," simulcasting talk programming (including Imus in the Morning) from WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY). 96.7 was talk once before, doing sports back before its smooth-jazz days -- and it was simulcasting WEAV back then, too! We're also hearing about some tweaking going on down in the Middlebury area, as Steve Silberberg gets to work on WRRO (93.7 Addison). Gone, we're told, is much of the classic rock, replaced by AAA-ish fare such as Paula Cole and Elvis Costello. And if that sounds reminiscent of Silberberg's Boston-market "River" (WXRV 92.5 Haverhill MA), it should: we're also told the River folks are advising WRRO on programming.
  • Next stop, RHODE ISLAND and a surprise station sale and format change: Pawtucket's WICE (550) dropped its talk format ("550 the Buzz") Monday morning (4/2) to become the second Radio Disney affiliate in the Providence market. Owner AAA Entertainment (formerly Back Bay Broadcasting) is selling WICE to Disney for what we hear is a price north of $3 million.

15 Years Ago: New England Radio Watch, April 3, 1996

  • The big news is the April Fools' joke that wasn't: the move of veteran WBCN morning host Charles Laquidara to co-owned classic rocker WZLX, allowing Howard Stern to move from evenings on BCN (where he's been since March 1993) to morning drive. Here's what the fallout looks like so far: Most of Charles' crew moved with him to WZLX (the exception is sports guy Tank, who stays with WBCN to do Patriots games there), displacing morning host George Taylor Morris. Evenings are back to music on WBCN, with no permanent jock named yet. At his press conference today, Stern slammed all the usual Boston media suspects, but from what I'm told, said he's especially determined to beat the all-news station, which would be perennial AM drive leader WBZ.
  • Red Sox season is underway, on a radio network that includes flagship WEEI 850 Boston, and for AM DXers to the west, WTIC 1080 Hartford. TV viewers are still trying to find the Carmine Hose, who have parted company with WSBK-TV 38 after two decades. Thanks to its Sox, Bruins, and Celtics coverage, TV38 had built itself into a regional superstation found on almost every cable system from Long Island Sound north into Canada and west into upstate New York. The Sox' new flagship, WABU-TV, is a 3-station UHF network on 68 in Boston, 21 (WNBU) in Concord NH, and 58 (WZBU) on Cape Cod. Other areas are filled in with full-power TV (WGME and WPXT in Portland ME) or LPTV (WLNE-LP in Providence, WWIN-LP in Burlington VT, and WDMR-LP in Springfield). Berkshire County, in Western Mass., was a trouble spot, since neither WDMR-LP nor WABU reach out there. After weeks of confusion and distress among Sox fans, the local cable companies agreed to pick up a satellite feed of Sox games on basic cable. Nobody wants to drop WSBK for WABU, because of WSBK's Bruins and Celtics coverage and its stronger slate of syndicated programs and news.

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