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June 20, 2011

Arbitron Enters the "Hudson Valley"

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*Some radio markets are easy to define: it's not hard to come up with a coherent set of borders for "Boston" or "Philadelphia" or "Syracuse."

But the swath of NEW YORK that stretches from just north of New York City to just south of Albany has proved a bit more difficult for Arbitron to delineate, and now the ratings agency is taking a new stab at creating market lines there. Starting this fall, it will replace the current "Newburgh-Middletown" market, which covers only Orange County, with a new "Hudson Valley" market encompassing Orange, Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties.

The new market is much larger than the old one - with 1,471,000 people 12+, it's expected to rank at or about #38 on Arbitron's list, a hundred markets or so larger than the present Newburgh-Middletown - but it will also be something of an ungainly amalgam of two areas that receive different combinations of signals. The new part of the market, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, is already included in the New York City market, though most city-based FM signals struggle to be heard in the northernmost reaches of Westchester and Rockland and in most of Putnam County. The Orange County-based signals that were at the core of the old Newburgh-Middletown market can't be heard at all in most of Westchester or Rockland - and that's before we even get to the simulcasts that exist between several Orange County signals and stations in the neighboring Poughkeepsie market, which consists only of Dutchess County, never mind that most of the Poughkeepsie transmitter sites are across the river in unrated Ulster County.

Confused yet? Arbitron is hoping media buyers and station groups aren't - and it's evidently hoping to bring Cumulus back into its fold, since the company owns several signals that should rank well in this new top-50 market. (Pamal also stands to do well, especially since its powerful WHUD 100.7 in Peekskill is one of the few signals that's actually audible in most corners of Arbitron's "Hudson Valley.")

Unlike most top-50 markets, Arbitron has no plans to bring its PPM metering technology to the new market; instead, it will be surveyed by diary twice a year.

*Speaking of New York City, WPLJ (95.5) has found a new "news and entertainment director" for the Scott (Shannon) and Todd (Pettengill) morning show: veteran air talent Cooper Lawrence joins the Citadel hot AC station, replacing Patty Steele, who's now working with her husband Steve Kingston to launch WYRE-FM (105.5) down in lovely St. Augustine, Florida.

On TV, the early-evening local news scene in New York is in transition. Now that the "Oprah" juggernaut has moved on, and with it the lead-in that she drew to WABC-TV (Channel 7) at 5 PM, several stations are reworking their lineups. WABC itself has launched a 4 PM newscast to replace Oprah, and now WNBC (Channel 4) is shifting its entertainment/lifestyle "New York Live" (formerly "LX/TV") from 5 PM to 3 PM this fall to return a newscast to the 5 PM slot, the longtime home of once-dominant "Live at Five."

Out on Long Island's East End, Hamptons Community Radio is swapping calls on its two signals: WPKM (88.7 Montauk) becomes WEER and WEER (90.7 Easthampton Village) becomes WPKM.

Translators on the move: Digital Radio Broadcasting is picking up two more translators: it's paying Northeast Gospel Broadcasting $30,000 for W288BF, which was relaying WNGN (91.9 Argyle), and it's picking up translator, W214AT (90.7 Sidney) from Family Life Ministries, which no longer needs it now that it has a full-power signal in the area, WCIJ (88.9 Unadilla).

*From the obituaries: Jane Bartsch was most recently the GM of Beasley's WJBR-FM (99.5) in Wilmington, Delaware, but her resume also included several stints in New York radio, in sales at WCBS-FM and WYNY in the eighties and then at the helm of Barnstable's Long Island stations for much of the 1990s before heading west to run Tribune's Denver radio cluster. Bartsch died June 14 in Cortlandt, N.Y. after a battle with cancer.

In Albany, famed top-40 jock Joseph Motto, better known as "Boom Boom Brannigan," will be remembered Friday at a memorial mass just after noon at Historic St. Mary's Church. Motto died last October.

*From NEW JERSEY comes word of the death of Mario Comesanas, who got his start in radio at Seton Hall's WSOU (89.5 South Orange), where he created the "Under the Stars" specialty show and served as music director. More recently, Comesanas had been hosting "Liquid Metal" on Sirius/XM satellite radio. He was just 30 years old.


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*In western PENNSYLVANIA, staffers at Duquesne University's WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) have received their official termination notices as the university prepares for the July 1 transfer of the public station to the new Essential Public Media partnership between WYEP (91.3) and Public Radio Capital.

Of more than 20 employees now working at WDUQ, only two will remain on board with Duquesne during the transition period, when the station will be managed by Essential under an LMA that will run until the sale closes.

It's still not clear how many of them might end up working for the new incarnation of 90.5; Essential has posted a page of job listings but has not yet begun hiring a staff to operate the station less than two weeks from now.

*On TV, ion Media has begun programming on its new Pittsburgh acquisition, WINP (Channel 16, formerly WQEX). Prior contractual committments mean that ShopNBC remains in place on WINP's 16.1 channel (and thus on cable), pushing the main ion service to 16.2, Qubo to 16.3 and ion Life to 16.4. Meanwhile, Cox's WPXI has shifted its 11.2 subchannel from Retro TV to the Chicago-based MeTV network.

*In Philadelphia, WXPN (88.5) is renaming "Y-Rock on XPN," its online modern-rock service. With memories of its ancestor, the old WPLY (100.3), now fading somewhat, it's being rebranded as "XPN2, indie.modern.alt.rock."

Down the dial, WNWR (1540 Philadelphia) has been largely silent since most of its leased-time multilingual programming moved down the dial to Beasley's WWDB (860) a week ago; at least one listener has reported hearing some China Radio International programming in English on WWDB.

Another Philadelphia AM signal is reaching out just a little stronger: Greater Media's WPEN (950) is on the air with its daytime power increase, taking the signal from 25 kW to 43 kW from its original transmitter site on 77th Street; the separate 21 kW nighttime operation out in East Norriton (at the same site used during the day by WWDB) remains unchanged.

Family Life Network is changing callsigns up along the New York border: WNAE-FM (102.7 Wattsburg), the Erie-area move-in it acquired from Iorio Communications, has now become WCGM; the WNAE-FM calls are now parked on an unbuilt FLN CP at 91.7 in Belfast, NY that was formerly WCGM.

Another regional religious network, the State College-based "Rev FM," has added a new signal: WRYV (88.7 Milroy) is now on the air serving Lewistown and vicinity.

*WYFM (102.9 Sharon) has a new morning show. The Youngstown, Ohio-market classic rocker recently parted ways with morning man Scott Kennedy after his arrest for possessing child pornography on his computer; his co-host Wendy had been carrying the show solo, but she's now been replaced on "Y103" by the syndicated Michigan-based "Free Beer and Hot Wings." As for Kennedy, he pleaded guilty to the charges and now faces up to 10 years in prison when he's sentenced.

*Two Keystone State obituaries this week: in northeastern Pennsylvania, Jack Griswold was one of the market's best-known personalities from the 1950s into the 1980s. A native of Amsterdam, NY, Griswold started out in radio at WKRT in Cortland and WCSS in Amsterdam before moving to Scranton's WQAN (630) in 1953. The station soon became WEJL, and Griswold served as its morning man, news director and sports director for an amazing 26 years. After leaving WEJL, Griswold worked as PD at WSCR/WBQW (1320) and then at WWAX (750 Olyphant, now WQOR) before retiring. Griswold died Wednesday (June 15) at 86.

And in Du Bois, they're mouring Gary Stormer, longtime PD and morning man at WCED (1420). Stormer, who started at the station in 1973, died last Monday (June 13) of pancreatic cancer; he was just 57.


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*Longtime readers of this column may recall the rather glaring lack of objectivity this space displayed in the weeks around the 2004 World Series victory by the Boston Red Sox, and you'll have to take us at our word that we were nearly as ecstatic last week when another Boston team, the Bruins, brought the Stanley Cup to MASSACHUSETTS.

And while it's been a long time since this column made its base in the Bay State, your editor was able to tune in to Dave Goucher's call of the thrilling Game 7 win on the skywaves, thanks to a smart decision by CBS Radio, which simulcast the play-by-play on WBZ (1030 Boston) as well as on the team's current flagship, "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston).

The Bruins never had (or needed) much of a regional network in the days when WBZ(AM) was their flagship (disclaimer: your editor was working there at the time), and the lack of a network even now meant that large parts of New England faced being shut out of radio coverage if WBZ hadn't simulcast the game.

After the game was over, WBZ-FM stayed with local talk most of the night instead of turning to its usual Fox Sports Radio/"JT The Brick" feed, and of course both outlets - as well as NESN and the rest of the Boston TV universe - were on hand Saturday for the Bruins' victory parade, the latest in a quick succession of parades in what's now the most-winning city in America.

(OK, we'll try to stop gloating now...especially since our other "home" NHL team is the Buffalo Sabres, who've yet to hoist the Cup in the Queen City...)

*Speaking of the Boston TV universe, it's shifting slightly, at least where MyNetwork TV is concerned.

The ownership and call change at NEW HAMPSHIRE-based WBIN-TV (Channel 50, formerly WZMY) has meant more than the end of the station's "MyTV New England" branding; it's also meant the end of the affiliation, as WBIN goes its own way as an independent.

Where will MyNetwork end up next? While an official announcement hadn't been made at week's end, the network (officially now just a "programming service," supplying only 10 hours of TV a week) is expected to land on CBS-owned indie WSBK (Channel 38), where it would replace a prime-time lineup that now includes "The Insider," "Entertainment Tonight" and a 9 PM newscast produced by WBZ-TV.

WSBK wouldn't be the first CBS-owned station carrying the Fox-owned MyNetwork service; it's also seen on CBS-owned WBFS in Miami, another market where the CBS/Tribune-owned CW network landed on a Tribune station rather than a CBS O&O. (That was the case in Boston, as well, where CW landed on Tribune's WLVI; that station was later sold to Sunbeam to become a sister to NBC affiliate WHDH-TV.)

*Back on radio, there's a new lineup in place at Greater Media talker WTKK (96.9 Boston): Doug Meehan, who's been filling in on Jay Severin's old 2-6 PM shift for more than a month, gets the nod as permanent afternoon host. Meehan's best known for his time as the morning traffic reporter on WFXT (Fox 25), though he's also done some talk at WRKO. WTKK also made Philadelphia-based Michael Smerconish the permanent 6-10 PM host. Smerconish's show has been airing in evenings since Michelle McPhee's contract wasn't renewed a few months back.

WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) has named a replacement for longtime "Loren and Wally" sidekick Sue Cope: columnist Lauren Beckham Falcone moves over from the Boston Herald after 18 years to join the WROR morning team.

And one of Boston's most potent pirate stations spent some time off the air amidst rumors that it was the subject of an FCC raid. "Hot 97," which actually operates at 87.7, disappeared from the dial late last week, returning on Saturday with a much weaker signal. The operators of the station were already busted by the FCC a few years back on their original frequency of 97.5, and still haven't paid a fine stemming from that incident.

*Up in northern New Hampshire, unbuilt WUKV (97.1 Colebrook) has changed calls to WOXX, a similar-sounding call to new owner Barry Lunderville's "Kiss" WXXS (102.3 Lancaster).

*A station sale, of sorts, in MAINE: Gary Fogg's Wireless Fidelity of North America transfers unbuilt WGUY (1230) to Innovative Advertising Consultants (majority-owned by Dan Priestley's Waterfront Communications) for $44,000. WGUY has a pending application to shift its construction permit from Ellsworth to the Bangor suburb of Veazie, where Priestley owns WNZS (1340) and WWNZ (1400).

*It was a quiet week in CANADA (at least in the area we cover, far from Vancouver), but it could get busier on the radio dial in two Maritimes cities. Newcap has filed applications for new FM facilities in Fredericton and Miramichi, New Brunswick - and that triggers a CRTC call for competing applications, which can be filed through September 12. A search of Industry Canada records shows a vacant class B allocation on 93.1 in Fredericton (and one on 107.9 in nearby Oromocto); Miramichi has no vacant allocations of its own, but there are vacant channels in nearby Bathurst and Allardville.

The CRTC denied an application from the Cobequid Radio Society for a 50-watt community station on 106.9 in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia; by majority vote, the commission decided that the proposed board of directors didn't comply with the campus/community radio policy that requires community participation, and that the proposed country format (a replacement for the former CFDR "KIXX 780") was too commercial to fulfill the diversity requirements of the campus/community policy.

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: June 21, 2010 -

  • The future of digital radio in the United States remains a hot topic for debate whenever broadcast people get together. North of the border in CANADA, however, the debate is over: the L-band Eureka-147 DAB system that launched to extensive fanfare just over a decade ago is now dead.
  • Last week, the CBC notified Industry Canada that it's pulling the plug on its DAB transmitters, beginning with the multiplex in Montreal that carried two English and two French radio signals. While the CRTC has not yet given public notice of CBC shutdowns at its other digital transmitters, we checked with the lone Canadian DAB receiver owner we know - and he reports that as of Friday, the CBC multiplex on "channel LF" (1461 MHz) was indeed off the air. (Thanks to Bill Hepburn for his monitoring assistance with these!)
  • With the CBC signals gone, it's a pretty good bet that the remaining commercial DAB signals will soon disappear as well. In Toronto, Bill reports that many of the stations on the three remaining multiplexes had no audio on Friday; out of 15 stations that were supposed to be available, only nine had audio - and that audio, he reports, was "internet-quality."
  • The demise of the CBC DAB signals reflects a reality that the CBC has been quietly acknowledging for some years now; the promises made for DAB circa 1999, including bouquets of new services aimed at niche audiences, never came true - and with only "improved audio quality" (and barely even that) to sell the new radios, the radios largely failed to sell. As early as 2003, the engineers maintaining the DAB transmitters at the CN Tower were already complaining that the signals were unreliable at best; most of the commercial signals in Toronto were apparently off the air for much of 2009 without much, if any, complaint from listeners. That should be no surprise: one estimate we've seen suggests that no more than 1,000 DAB radios ever found their way into listeners' hands during the years the system was in operation.
  • While digital radio fades away, the pressure for new analog signals continues unabated. This week marks the end of a frequency test aimed at squeezing yet another FM signal into the crowded Toronto dial. Since May 31, "CARN Radio" has been testing from the First Canadian Place transmitter site, reportedly with about 500 watts, as Fitzroy Gordon attempts to find a workable dial position for the Caribbean-focused station the CRTC licensed to him back in 2006. CBC, which operates Radio One outlet CBLA on 99.1 from First Canadian Place, objected to Gordon's proposed use of the second-adjacent 98.7 frequency, which would normally have been the end of that story - but Canada's heritage minster intervened to authorize the test on 98.7. It's not yet clear when a decision will be made about whether CARN can use 98.7 as a permanent frequency.
  • The week's big news from NEW YORK came from the Capital District, where veteran morning man Don Weeks announced that when his contract is up later this year, he's retiring from WGY (810 Schenectady) after 30 years on the job. Weeks, who's 71, has been on the air in the Albany market since 1956, including a stint as a top-40 DJ at WTRY (980, now WOFX) and a long run doing weather and hosting the kiddie shows on WAST (Channel 13, now WNYT). Last year, he was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame (and indeed, that's where this picture of him was taken!) "It has been a great run but I want time now to pursue some other interests," Weeks said in a statement; WGY says it will launch the proverbial national search to find a replacement for WGY's morning slot.
  • Rochester's Bob Lonsberry has lost one of his jobs: on Thursday, he was abruptly canned from his longtime morning gig on Clear Channel's KNRS (105.7) in Salt Lake City. For the better part of the last decade, Lonsberry had been doing the 6-9 AM show (8-11 Eastern Time) on KNRS, followed immediately by his 11 AM-2 PM talk show on sister station WHAM (1180 Rochester), usually from Rochester but sometimes from Utah. He told readers of his blog that it was the Salt Lake job that was providing him with most of his income, and he's blaming the arrival of PPM ratings in Salt Lake City for the weak numbers that led to his dismissal. Lonsberry also alleges that KNRS was uncomfortable with his endorsement in a recent Utah election campaign - but he says he's most upset that Clear Channel also fired his son, Lee Lonsberry, who had started out as a producer for other Clear Channel stations in Salt Lake before working on his father's talk show.

Five Years Ago: June 19, 2006 -

  • In 43 years on the air, the 100.5 dial spot in Rochester, NEW YORK has seen a few formats come and go - automated beautiful music, "Heart of Gold" full-service AC, "Variety 100.5" AC and "Mix 100.5" hot AC. In all that time, one thing has remained constant, though: the WVOR calls that first appeared on the frequency way back in 1963. As of this past Thursday (June 16) at noon, WVOR's long run on the air is pretty much over. After stunting for a day as all-Dave Matthews "Dave FM," Clear Channel pulled the plug on "Mix," ran one liner jokingly introducing the station as "Country 100.5," announced "just kidding" - and relaunched the station as "100.5 the Drive."
  • While Clear Channel's initial press release described "Drive" as being a AAA (adult album alternative) format, the station appears to be running more of an adult hits format, not all that different from the old "Mix" format with a few more currents added here and there - and remarkably reminiscent of the very earliest days of "Mix," when the format debuted with a rather unusual variety rock approach that, in retrospect, was something of a precursor of the full-on "Jack"-type variety hits stations that came along a few years later. "Mix" was already running with a fairly light airstaff, after the departure of morning man Chuck Kelly earlier this year, and it's now running jockless as "Drive." If the initial positioning holds, the plan seems to be to market "Drive" as a low- to no-personality alternative to Entercom's adult hits "Fickle" (WFKL 93.3) and classic hits "Buzz" (WBZA 98.9). And about those calls - "WVOR" will give way, we're told, to WDVI as soon as the paperwork clears the FCC (and, presumably, the WVOR calls are parked somewhere else in the Clear Channel empire so they can't be grabbed by a competitor.)
  • NERW wonders: are memories of the glory days of WVOR, when the local Lincoln Group ownership ran the station as a top-notch live-and-local community voice, with heavy doses of local news and public service, still strong enough that anyone could resurrect the old "Heart of Gold" if they wanted to? Or can Rochester radio in 2006 really be summed up as... "Shut up and Drive"?
  • An LPTV in the Burlington, VERMONT market lost its former studio building to fire June 6. The old Hotel Holland in Rouses Point, N.Y. was the home of WWBI-CA (Channel 27) in its days as an independent, and continued to house equipment for the station in its more recent days as a Pax and Daystar outlet. The building was razed last week, and it's not clear whether WWBI is still on the air. (Local cable companies have been carrying the national Pax/i network feed in place of WWBI's signal for some time, anyway.)
  • The word from NEW JERSEY is that WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) has begun testing its new signal on 106.5, licensed to Bass River Township, north of Atlantic City. Are format shuffles on the way among Press Communications' "Breeze" and "G Rock" simulcasts up and down the Shore?
  • A well-known western PENNSYLVANIA sports radio voice is about to be silenced. Stan Savran's contract with WBGG (970 Pittsburgh) expires July 7, and the Clear Channel sports talker isn't renewing. Savran's 3-6 PM weekday slot is likely to be filled by Tim Benz, who's moving over from competing sports talker WEAE (1250). Savran keeps his TV gig, hosting "SportsBeat" on FSN Pittsburgh.
  • In the Scranton market, the standards simulcast between WNAK (730 Nanticoke) and WNAK-FM (94.3 Carbondale) has ended. The FM side flipped last Monday to "Lite 94.3," with the ubiquitous John Tesh in mornings. Standards remain in place on the AM side.
  • New calls for the new "Joe FM" in the State College market: WUBZ (105.9 Phillipsburg) is now WJOW.

10 Years Ago: June 18, 2001 -

  • The airwaves of central NEW YORK are undergoing some interesting transformations this week. We'll start in Utica, where Clear Channel finally stopped stunting on WRBY (102.5 Rome) last week, launching (as predicted here in NERW) a "Bob Country" format to challenge Forever's market-leading WFRG (104.3). There's not a lot of local content to be heard on the new "Bob"; mornings are handled by the syndicated team of Tim and Willy, while Lia and After Midnight take the evening and overnight hours. Still, it ought to be enough to shave a point or two off the "Frog," which seems to be Clear Channel's motivation here.
  • Down the Thruway toward Syracuse, WBGJ (100.3 Sylvan Beach) hit the airwaves this past week, initially with a simulcast of Radio Disney from WOLF (1490 Syracuse) and its sister stations. The signal's not drawing many raves so far, but we hear it's not yet at full power, either. (We'll have to head out that way once we get back to town to see what the site looks like.)
  • Michael Sleezer's new 1440 in Gloversville has calls: WFNY will be the ID on the brand-new AM there; those calls lived on a never-built Family Radio CP in Syracuse for a while in the 80s (it eventually took air at 90.3 as public radio WRVD).
  • In New York City, the "Save WEVD" folks have set Thursday (June 21) for a street protest in front of the Forward Association headquarters at 45 E. 33rd St. They're hoping to persuade WEVD (1050 New York)'s owners to keep the left-leaning talk station rather than selling it to Disney, as has been widely rumored. The protest is scheduled to run from 4 until 6 PM.

15 Years Ago: New England Radio Watch, June 18, 1996

  • Mega-opoly has reached its logical conclusion up in Portland, Maine, as Fuller-Jeffrey announces plans to trade its KKSO(AM)/KJJY-FM Des Moines for Barnstable Broadcasting's WCSO(FM) Portland, WLPZ(AM) Westbrook-Portland, and WHOM(FM) Mt. Washington NH-Portland. With this deal, all of Portland's major radio stations are now in the hands of just two owners, Fuller-Jeffrey and Saga. With the most recent Arbs I have access to, Fall '95 12+, Saga and Fuller-Jeffrey will control a total 61.1 percent of the Portland audience. (The rest is divided among some much smaller players, notably The Meg Company's AAA WCLZ 98.9, and the Wireless Talking Machine Company, which has an adult-standards simulcast on WLAM 870 Gorham, WZOU 1470 Lewiston, and brand-new WVYH 106.7 N. Windham, along with hot-AC WKZS 99.9 Auburn and country WTHT 107.5 Lewiston, for a 12.3 total share last fall.
  • Saga has been an increasingly aggressive player elsewhere in New England as well, especially by increasing the coverage of its flagship Manchester NH property, ac WZID 95.7. In addition to WZID's translator on 96.5 in Laconia NH, the station has applied for a translator on 101.9 in Peterborough NH, in the southwestern corner of the state. In other translator news, Rhode Island's first translator has been licensed. W243AI in Newport will rebroadcast the classical programs of WCRB 102.5 Waltham-Boston.

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