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September 12, 2011

NY, PA Flooded; WEEI Moves to FM

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*From the moment sports talk began spreading to FM a few years back, the rumor mill in MASSACHUSETTS has been churning: when will Entercom migrate WEEI, one of the nation's most consistently successful sports outlets, from 850 on the Boston AM dial to a new home somewhere on FM?

It didn't happen five years ago, when Entercom added another FM signal (now WKAF 97.7) to its Boston cluster. It didn't happen two summers ago, when CBS upped the Boston sports ante by launching its own FM sports entry, "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM (98.5). It didn't happen later that fall, when the collapse of "ESPN Boston" WAMG (890) made the ESPN Radio affiliation available, nor did it happen a year later, when another rumor made the rounds about Entercom buying WFNX (101.7) as part of a deal that would have shifted WEEI to FM.

But at 6:00 this morning, it's happening. As we learned Wednesday evening (and officially on Thursday morning) Entercom is pulling the plug on adult hits "Mike" (WMKK 93.7 Lawrence) today and flipping that FM signal to sports as WEEI-FM. At least for now, WEEI will simulcast on 93.7 and its existing AM 850 spot; around the region, Entercom will shuffle callsigns to make the WEEI-FM move possible, turning the current WEEI-FM (103.7 Westerly RI) into WVEI-FM and the current WVEI-FM (105.5 Easthampton/Springfield) into WWEI.

*Why make the move now? As Entercom hinted in its press release announcing the move on Thursday morning, it's become a now-or-never move: "Our research clearly shows expanding WEEI to FM will bring in a wider and more complete audience. 35-54’s will spend more time with us on FM, and younger demos will make WEEI part of their consideration set," said Entercom Boston VP/GM Jeff Brown.

What Brown's not saying - but plenty of others in Boston radio are - is that those 35-54s have been finding the "Sports Hub" in droves, leaving little room for growth at an AM-only WEEI and all but forcing Entercom into a move it long resisted, in part because the company, while a major player in Boston, has far from a full cluster in the market. Entercom has just three FMs in the Boston market, and since none of them enjoys a truly full-market signal, it already has to simulcast two of them (west suburban WAAF 107.3 and class A WKAF 97.7, which covers the city of Boston, the inner ring of suburbs, a chunk of southern suburbia and not much else), leaving it effectively with just two FMs (WAAF/WKAF and "Mike") and two AMs (WEEI and WRKO) to compete with much larger clusters such as Greater Media's four full-market FMs and CBS Radio's one AM and four full-market FMs.

So it's understandable that Entercom has been extremely reluctant to go from four revenue streams (and make no mistake about it, the jockless "Mike," even with middling ratings, has been a major revenue generator for the company) to the three it will have now: WAAF/WKAF, WRKO and WEEI on both AM and FM. But as Brown points out, "moving Sports Talk Radio to the FM dial is part of a growing national trend. Entercom recently launched 95.7 The Game, an FM sports station in San Francisco, and just this Tuesday, WIP in Philadelphia began simulcasting on FM."

There's an unspoken corollary here, too: with several years still remaining in a very expensive deal to carry Red Sox baseball, if there's any property in the Entercom fold that has to be protected, it's WEEI - even if that means shuffling "Mike" out of the picture, or at least over to the obscurity of an HD2 subchannel. And whatever short-term hit Entercom takes in revenue without "Mike" is bound to be less painful than the long-term effects of watching an AM-only WEEI decay (or at least one assumes that's what they're thinking in the executive offices at the New Balance Building...)

One more piece to the timing puzzle: by doing it now, WEEI gets the attention that will come from having the last few weeks of the Red Sox season (including, hopefully, a strong postseason run) on FM, just as WBZ-FM ramps up with the gems of its own play-by-play lineup, the Patriots and the Stanley Cup champion Bruins.

*What will WEEI's FM move do to the competitive landscape? Over at CBS, where FM sports has become one of the company's flagship formats (see "WIP-FM," above...), there's probably been plenty of surprise over the last few years that Entercom has waited so long to pull the trigger on WEEI-FM. Now that the move has become reality, expect the WEEI-FM/WBZ-FM rivalry to become one of the most hotly contested anywhere in the country.

WEEI-FM brings some powerful resources to the table: the Red Sox, of course - but also the Celtics, pending the end of the NBA lockout, as well as Boston College sports and the ESPN Radio affiliation that now fills the off hours. And while they're often controversial, established WEEI-FM hosts such as the morning team of Dennis and Callahan bring a loyal following to the FM dial against the newer voices on WBZ-FM.

As for signal parity: the new WEEI-FM signal, a class B facility transmitting from Peabody, is still something less than a full-market outlet, lacking the in-city building penetration WBZ-FM enjoys from its site in Newton, closer to the core of the market. WEEI-FM also falls short of WBZ-FM's coverage to the south and west of Boston, but listeners there are already accustomed to hearing WEEI's programming on FM out of Rhode Island via 103.7, the newly-renamed WVEI-FM. (Yes, the debate about whether to combine 103.7's ratings with the Boston WEEI ratings will continue in earnest...) The new WEEI-FM has its advantages, too: it's a stronger signal than 98.5 into the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire, and coupling it with the rest of the WEEI network (not just Rhode Island but also Worcester's WVEI 1440) will continue to give Entercom a stronger regional reach than CBS.

On the broader question of "competitive landscape," there's also the question of what will become of the Mike-FM audience. For most of those listeners, WAAF (the last remaining music station in the Entercom Boston fold) probably won't be the right answer - and that's likely to send some new listenership over to CBS (where classic hits WODS, classic rock WZLX and hot AC WBMX all overlapped pieces of the WMKK playlist) and Greater Media (where classic rock WROR was probably the closest match to what "Mike" was doing.)

*What's the next chapter? Beyond the immediate relief of realizing we'll never again have to write a speculative "Is WEEI going to FM?" headline, Entercom's move raises some interesting questions about where the next dominoes fall. Perhaps the biggest question is about the future of the AM 850 signal - at 50,000 watts, it's pretty easily the second-best AM facility in the Boston market, albeit a distant second to WBZ (1030), the only AM in town with truly full-market coverage.

If Entercom's stated plan to simulcast on 850 and 93.7 is only a temporary one, as seems likely, what comes next for the AM? One option (and a frequent entry in the "WEEI-to-FM rumor mill top ten" over the years) would find 850 being used as an outlet for the national ESPN Radio programming that's now cleared in Boston only late at night and on weekends. Even if that option runs the risk of siphoning some listeners from WEEI-FM, it might also siphon some additional listenership from WBZ-FM - and it might provide an additional revenue stream to help (if only slightly) to offset the revenue loss Entercom will suffer when it pulls the plug on "Mike."

WEEI's effective departure from the AM dial could have other competitive effects, too: while Boston has been a relatively healthy AM market at a time when the senior band is rapidly in decline around the country, the move to FM leaves only two truly viable AM contenders in the top tier of the ratings: CBS Radio's WBZ and Entercom's own WRKO (680). Could WEEI's FM move provide an opening to relocate WRKO from 680 to the 850 signal? Both are 50,000-watters, but 850's Needham transmitter site (where a brand-new Harris Destiny 3DX50 transmitter is being installed this month) gives that signal the reach into MetroWest that 680 is notoriously lacking after dark.

And as we try to parse the many moving pieces in this chess game, here's a question for which we don't have an answer: by pulling still more listener attention (Sox games! Sox games! Sox games!) over to the FM dial and away from AM, does Entercom do more damage to CBS (by giving listeners less of a reason to find WBZ on AM) or to its own WRKO?

(One more small bit of irony before we move on: the return of the WEEI-FM calls to the Boston market comes almost three decades after they left; that happened in the early 1980s when CBS sold the original WEEI at 590. Under the rules then in effect, the calls of what was then WEEI-FM 103.3 had to change, becoming first WHTT, then WMRQ, and eventually settling down for a long run under their current identity as WODS, still part of today's CBS Radio cluster and thus a competitor to the new WEEI-FM on 93.7.)

Since "Mike" was running jockless, its demise doesn't mean too many lost jobs, though APD Mike Morgan is out as his station goes away.

*Speaking of CBS Radio and WBZ, Boston's oldest radio station has a big birthday coming up. September 19 marks the 90th anniversary of WBZ's first broadcast in 1921 (it came from the Big E in Springfield, where the station was then located), and the anniversary isn't going unnoticed. Tune in to the Steve LeVeille Broadcast early next Monday morning (September 19, or late night Sunday the 18th, if you prefer) as your editor joins Steve to talk radio history and the future of the medium - and call in to say hello, too! The Broadcast begins at midnight and I'll be on with Steve for at least the first hour or two.

*The week's other massive story, of course, was the monumental flooding that devastated parts of central PENNSYLVANIA and NEW YORK's Southern Tier. For radio and TV stations in the region, the flooding provided an opportunity to demonstrate, in a dramatic way, the importance of broadcasting in keeping the public safe and informed, even as the floodwaters threatened broadcast facilities all along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.

Several stations in low-lying areas were forced out of their studios as the waters rose: in Owego, west of Binghamton along the banks of the Susquehanna, the storefront studio of WEBO (1330) was inundated - but owner Dave Radigan and his staff quickly regrouped, turning a borrowed RV parked at the transmitter site just south of the river into a makeshift studio running on generator power and providing about the only source of constant information about road closures and power and water outages for hard-hit Tioga County.

As we write this week's column Sunday night, there's even worse news: WEBO's downtown studios, in the storefront of a century-old building, have been condemned due to problems with the building's crumbling foundation that reportedly have the first floor on the verge of collapse. Dave and his crew (including contract engineer Mark Humphrey) managed to get most of the station's gear out of the building undamaged, but it will be a challenging few months ahead as WEBO moves first into a temporary studio this week and then seeks new permanent digs on higher ground.

In Binghamton, the studios of Citadel's cluster (including the market's news-talker, WNBF 1290) are located in the basement of an office building in the flooded downtown area, and we're hearing they were forced to evacuate the building, though the station's intrepid staff continued to provide news updates simulcast on WNBF and its sister stations. The other big commercial cluster in town, Clear Channel, was better situated on the second floor of an office building in suburban Vestal, where its stations also went into nonstop flood-coverage mode. (Clear Channel in Binghamton has a new market manager, too: Tom Barney has returned to his hometown to take the chair vacated a few months back by Joanne Aloi. Barney had been working for Pamal in Albany.)

South of the state line, some of the worst damage from the flooding was in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where Nexstar's WBRE-TV (Channel 28) was forced to evacuate its studios on Thursday. In good cooperative fashion, Fox affiliate WOLF-TV (Channel 56) offered the use of its studios, and within hours WBRE was back on the air with nonstop flood coverage from the WOLF facility, bumping the NBC coverage of the start of the NFL season over to My Network outlet WQMY (Channel 53).

Outlying parts of the market depended on radio for local information, and stations such as WHLM in Bloomsburg and WKOK in Sunbury rose to the occasion with wall-to-wall coverage, as did stations in the Harrisburg market to the south, where most studios and transmitter sites are more safely elevated out of harm's way.

Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the flooding was the outage it caused in the fiber connectiom between Newport Television's Syracuse master control hub and its Elmira NBC affiliate, WETM (Channel 18). That fiber feed was the only way WETM could get NBC programming, or to send its newscasts to Binghamton sister station WIVT (Channel 34), which simulcasts WETM in the morning and at noon, and Newport engineers scrambled to get a temporary replacement in place, eventually using an internet connection to feed standard-definition video from the hub to Elmira.

*Another big piece of news from the Keystone State came from the Cumulus cluster in York, where WARM-FM (103.3) abruptly dropped its long-running adult contemporary format on Wednesday, flipping to hot AC as "Wink 103."

That's a nickname and format already heard in the region on another Cumulus station, WNNK-FM (104.1 Harrisburg). The new "Wink 103" follows closely in the mold of "Wink 104," simulcasting its morning show and the syndicated Billy Bush at night and closely paralleling the Harrisburg playlist the rest of the day, albeit with York/Lancaster-focused jocks and news.

Why duplicate "Wink" so close to Harrisburg? While the two signals have plenty of overlapping coverage, and while York and Harrisburg are part of a common television market, the two cities make up separate radio markets, and Cumulus seems to believe it can appeal to a new audience with a York-Lancaster "Wink" that might not be listening to its Harrisburg sister.

Cumulus' Harrisburg cluster was in the news for something else last week, too: the Justice Department filed suit to stop Cumulus from acquiring Citadel, but quickly reached a settlement allowing the deal to move forward. Under the agreement, which keeps the companies under the 40% radio revenue cap the antitrust division sought to enforce, Cumulus will still sell the two signals it had planned to spin off, the class A facilities of WWKL 92.1 Palmyra and WCAT-FM 102.3 Carlisle. But to satisfy the antitrust enforcers, Cumulus also agreed to unload the intellectual property of its classic rock WTPA, now on Mechanicsburg-licensed 93.5. So WTPA will move to 92.1 to be spun off fairly quickly along with 102.3, leaving Cumulus with the rhythmic top 40 "Hot" format (now on 92.1) on the 93.5 signal it's keeping.

*Radio One completed its format swap in Philadelphia last week: with adult R&B WRNB now installed on the cluster's biggest signal, the Media-licensed class B facility at 100.3, the former home of WRNB has picked up the hip-hop format that used to be on 100.3. WPHI-FM is now at 107.9, the Pennsauken, N.J.-licensed class A signal that transmits from the One Liberty skyscraper in Center City Philadelphia, and as of Friday it's now "Hot 107.9," with Sarah O'Conner as PD and the syndicated Ricky Smiley show in morning drive.

The venerable WYSP calls that left Philadelphia last week with the launch of WIP-FM on 94.1 have found a new home: Kevin Fitzgerald's Telikoja Educational Broadcasting, which has parked several heritage calls in the region, has grabbed WYSP to replace WPYT on 88.1 in Dushore. (That same facility is also where Pittsburgh's WAMO calls were parked before returning to that market.)

And speaking of WIP-FM, it's picking up a simulcast at the NEW JERSEY shore: Longport Media's WBSS (1490 Pleasantville), now in a temporary simulcast with sister talker WOND (1400), will reportedly begin carrying WIP programming soon. It's the second time WIP has extended its reach to the Atlantic City market: a few years back, WIP's sports talk was heard over WBSS' sister station at 102.7, now WWAC.

*Philadelphia's other sports talker isn't taking WIP-FM's arrival lying down: Greater Media's WPEN (97.5/950) has hired back veteran host Tony Bruno as a local voice. Bruno has been part of the Fox Sports Radio team, hosting late nights on the network, but he's moving east to Philadelphia next month to co-host a shift on WPEN with Harry Mayes.

*More callsign news: in Pittsburgh, Essential Public Media has picked "WESA" as the new callsign to replace WDUQ on 90.5 once the transfer of the station's license from Duquesne University is complete. The WESA calls have some history just south of Pittsburgh in Charleroi, where they lived on 940 (now WFGI) and 98.3 (now WPKV).

Among the new hires at the new WESA is reporter Deanna Garcia, who returns to NERW-land after five years as "All Things Considered" host at Colorado's KUNC. Before heading west, Garcia was in the same position at Rochester's WXXI, where she worked with your editor.

*Our non-flooding news from the Empire State starts with a format change over Labor Day weekend in Albany, where Pamal/Albany Broadcasting pulled the plug on adult hits "The Bridge" at WKLI (100.9), replacing it with active rock as "Rock 100.9." No airstaff has been named yet for the new incarnation of WKLI.

Buffalo-based Holy Family Communications continues to extend the reach of its Catholic programmig, this time into the northern Finger Lakes with the $1,000 acquisition of unbuilt WTMI (88.7 Fleming) from Tyburn Academy. The Auburn-market signal will run 1300 watts/603'; its construction permit expires next May.

There's a callsign now for the new noncommercial urban station coming to Binghamton: the 93.3 signal licensed to Susquehanna, PA will be WJOB-FM.

Radio People on the Move: Count former governor David Patterson among the ranks of New York's "Radio People" now, as he moves from occasional fill-in host to the new full-time afternoon talker at New York's WOR (710), where he replaced Steve Malzberg last week in the 4-6 PM slot. A few blocks away at Emmis, Karlie Hustle is the new music director, replacing Jill Strada. Hustle comes to town from Phoenix's KKFR (98.3).

TV People on the Move: Rochester's WROC-TV (Channel 8) is still looking for a news director after that chair's former occupant, Jerry Walsh, was promoted to a corporate position with parent company Nexstar. Walsh's new corporate job has found him back in his old market, Utica, for much of the last few months, helping with today's launch of the market's first HD newscasts. Nexstar's ABC affiliate WUTR (Channel 20) and Fox affiliate WFXV (Channel 33) sign on their new news operation tonight, and we'll be watching from an "undisclosed location" in the Utica area as the shows debut at 6 and 11 PM on WUTR and 10 on WFXV.

*And we can't let the week go by, of course, without noting yesterday's anniversary. There's not much we can say about the impact of September 11 on the New York City broadcast scene that we didn't already say on the first anniversary, when we brought you "9/11 Plus One," an in-depth look at the way the city's broadcasters regrouped and responded in the hours and days after the attacks.

But there is one piece of news about 9/11 and its aftermath this week: as the anniversary approached, public broadcaster WNYC-FM (93.9) has finally returned to fully licensed status from its transmitter site at the Empire State Building. WNYC-FM was one of four FM signals displaced from the World Trade Center on 9/11, but it wasn't able to go to full class B power (6 kW) from Empire because of short-spacings to CBS Radio's WZMX (93.7) up in Hartford. After years of negotiations (during which WNYC-FM was operating under Special Temporary Authority at 4 kW from Empire), the stations finally found a solution: WNYC-FM is now licensed with 5.2 kW from the Empire master antenna, slightly short of full class B power but still an improvement over its STA facilities.

Of the remaining radio stations displaced from the Trade Center by 9/11, WKTU (103.5) has since been licensed at Empire and Columbia University's WKCR (89.9) at Four Times Square; only Spanish Broadcasting System's WPAT-FM (93.1) remains on STA from Empire as it, too, tries to resolve short-spacing issues.

On TV, the transition to digital a few years back provided an opportunity for most of the stations that once used the World Trade Center to be fully relicensed at Empire; of the full-power signals that transmitted from WTC (WCBS-TV, WNBC, WNYW-TV, WABC-TV, WWOR-TV, WPIX-TV, WNET, WPXN and WNJU), only WWOR-TV continues to operate under Special Temporary Authority; the rest of those stations are now licensed at Empire, with the exception of WNJU, which is licensed from a site in New Jersey and experimenting with a Distributed Transmission System (DTS) to operate from multiple sites in the metropolitan area.

Delays in the construction of the new One World Trade Center, the sluggish economy and the decline in over-the-air TV viewership have combined to put talk of a new master TV site on the back burner; at least for now, the Empire State Building remains the dominant site for TV and FM in New York City, though there will apparently be provisions at the new One World Trade Center for a future master antenna facility.

*On a happier note, it's apparently reunion and awards season all over the region. In Rochester, veterans of the city's radio and TV stations will gather next Saturday (Sept. 17) for the first-ever Rochester Radio Reunion. Ticket sales end today, and we're looking forward to a big crowd here in the Flower City next weekend (especially because it will also be the coming-out party for the 2012 Tower Site Calendar, just back from our printer!) All the details, and a list of attendees, are at

In Binghamton, the Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion has been taking place every two years, and Saturday, September 24 is the date for this year's go-round. We're planning to be there, too, as organizer Ray Ross presents honors including "Living Legend" (to veteran broadcaster Tom Shiptenko), "Broadcaster of the Year" (to former TV anchor Steve Craig) and a "Special Achievement Award" to Citadel business manager Judy Z.

Special guests at the reunion will include legendary Chicago/Buffalo jock Dick Biondi, a native of the Binghamton area, and Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

And before that, it's Buffalo's turn: the Buffalo Broadcasters hold their annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet September 22. This year's class of inductees includes WGRZ sports director Ed Kilgore, former WBEN reporter Brian Meyer, the late Frank Benny, former WEBR managers Mary Brady and Margaret Russ-Guenther, founding NPR program director Bill Siemering (who invented much of the NPR sound at Buffalo's WBFO) and "Inside Edition" correspondent Les Trent, who got his start in TV at Buffalo's WGRZ and WIVB.

*From the obituaries: Larry Yount was a versatile news anchor in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, working at stations that included WVNJ, WRFM (and its sister shortwave station, WNYW) and WQXR. Yount died August 25 in Hickory, N.C.; he was 77.


A decade ago, it was just a goofy idea: "Hey, you should put some of those tower pictures into a calendar!"

But when Tower Site Calendar 2002 appeared, it was a hit - and ten years later, the fun still hasn't stopped.

And now it's that moment at least some of you have been waiting for: the grand unveiling of our latest edition, Tower Site Calendar 2012, seen for the very first time right here!

As befits a tenth-anniversary edition, this one's special: in addition to all the great tower photos and historic dates you've come to expect from our calendars, the new 2012 edition is our first-ever themed calendar, paying special homage to the many stations that began broadcasting during radio's first big boom year of 1922.

The 2012 edition brings something else that's new to the Tower Site Calendar: the option of a spiral-bound edition that will hang flatter on your wall.

The calendars will be back from the printer any day now, so don't miss your chance to be part of the very first shipments...or to make your 2012 calendar order part of the subscription you'll soon need to continue enjoying all of the features of

Order now - or subscribe - at the Store!

*RHODE ISLAND's CW affiliate is one of seven stations that's part of a $200 million group sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group.

WLWC (Channel 28), licensed to New Bedford, Mass., ended up in the hands of Four Points Media when CBS sold off some of its smaller signals a few years back; now Four Points is selling all its stations (including CBS affiliates in Salt Lake City and Austin) to Sinclair, whose holdings in the region already include CBS affiliate WGME-TV in Portland and a string of Fox stations in upstate New York.

WLWC doesn't do local news now, and that's not likely to change (nor is much else!) when Sinclair takes over.

*TV People on the Move in CONNECTICUT: Erik Schrader is inbound to WTNH (Channel 8), filling the news director chair left vacant when Kirk Varner moved to Cincinnati's WKRC-TV. Schrader comes to New Haven from Scranton's WNEP (Channel 16).

*In addition to its big FM move in Boston, WEEI made another expansion to its radio network last week in MAINE, where Atlantic Coast Radio's WLOB-FM (95.5 Topsham) returned to the WEEI network after spending the last few years simulcasting talker WLOB (1310 Portland). Atlantic Coast was already carrying the WEEI network to the south of Portland on WPEI (95.9 Saco); 95.5 changes calls to WPPI as it rejoins the network after just over two years. (95.5 used the calls WGEI in its last turn as a WEEI affiliate in 2008-2009.)

*In CONNECTICUT, community station WAPJ (89.9 Torrington) and its translator W286AP (105.1) are changing hands; they move from the I.B. and Zena H. Temkin Foundation to the Torrington Community Radio Foundation for a single dollar.


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*Most of the big radio news in CANADA over the last two weeks came out of Montreal, including the September 6 relaunch of Astral's CFQR (92.5) as rhythmic AC "The Beat, 92.5."

Cat Spencer (late of CJFM, "Virgin 95.9") and Sarah Bartok handle mornings, with AJ Reynolds in the afternoon. Several other jocks, including Chris Reiser and Donna Saker, stay on board from the old "92.5 the Q."

The hotter music mix comes with new call letters as well: the station has become CKBE.

*Over on the AM dial, our Labor Day update already brought you the news of Cogeco's decision not to wait for the CRTC to decide whether it can relaunch the old CINF (690) as a French-language all-traffic station.

With the powerful lure of $1.5 million a year in provincial transportation ministry funding dangling in front of it, Cogeco pulled the plug on French-language sports CKAC (730) last Tuesday, replacing it with traffic as "Radio Circulation" and moving some of CKAC's sports hosts to talker CHMP (98.5), now the only commercial mainstream spoken-word signal broadcasting in French in Montreal.

With Cogeco's application for 690 now withdrawn, the CRTC is moving forward on a planned October 17 hearing to decide who will get the 50,000-watt clear-channel signal. The remaining applicants are Toronto-based Evanov, which wants to use the channel for a French-language version of its "Pride Radio" gay-and-lesbian programming; the Tietolman-Tetreault partnership, which wants to do French news and talk (the Tietolman family founded the old CKVL 850, once a dominant bilingual voice in Montreal); and Bell, which wants to move English-language sports talk "Team 990" CKGM down the dial to 690 to better reach its target audience on Montreal's West Island.

The CRTC will also consider applications for 940 (the former CINW) at the October hearing: those include Tietolman and Tetrault, for English-language news-talk, and Cogeco, which is pushing hard to make 940 an English-language traffic station (and thus to reap an additional $1.5 million a year in provincial subsidies.)

*In Ottawa, there's a conclusion to the strange, sad saga of the teen radio pirate who made big headlines in early 2010 when he put a high-powered signal on the air from his father's hotel, defying Industry Canada regulators and threatening law-enforcement officials and DJs at the city's commercial stations.

A judge found Jayhaed Saade, now 15, guilty of unlicensed broadcasting as well as threatening government inspectors and two local air personalities. Under Canadian juvenile law, he was sentenced to 15 months of probation and 60 hours of community service; he's also barred from possessing radio broadcasting equipment or posting anything online about the DJs he threatened, though he will be allowed to webcast.

*Bob Laine was one of Toronto's best-known and best-loved DJs in more than half a century at CHUM (1050), where he started out as an overnight jock and retired a few years ago as one of the company's senior managers. Laine came to CHUM in 1958 from CFRS (1560) in Simcoe and spent nearly all of his career at 1331 Yonge Street, eventually moving up to afternoon drive on CHUM, program director of CHUM-FM (104.5) and then corporate vice president of CHUM Radio.

Laine retired in 2003; he died August 31 at age 72.

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: September 13, 2010 -

  • Radio listeners in Monmouth and Ocean counties on the NEW JERSEY shore might be forgiven if they're a little confused by the end of this week. It was back in 2005 when Press Communications killed off the top-40 "B98.5" format on WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres), turning the station first into a simulcast of modern rock WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown) and eventually taking it country as WKMK, "Thunder Country," after flipping WHTG-FM to top 40 as "Hits 106" and adding a new simulcast on 106.5 in Ocean County, a station now known as WBBO. (Even loyal NERW readers can be forgiven for getting a little confused by now...)
  • On Wednesday, Press will hit a big cosmic "undo" button on several of those moves. The Ocean County 98.5 signal will return to top 40 as "B98.5," and we'd expect the WBBO calls to move back there at some point soon, too. And in exchange, "Hit 106" will be replaced on both signals (106.3 in Monmouth and 106.5 in Ocean) by "Thunder Country." The move will fill a format void in Monmouth, which has been without a country station since the demise of the old "Y107" quadcast in 2002; it's likely that the station will find country fans elsewhere on the southern side of the New York metro as well, given the absence of the format in the core of the market. Unfortunately, the return of B98.5 comes without most of its personalities, since Press let much of the "Hits 106" airstaff go last week. Among the casualties were Matt Knight, who started out 11 years ago at the old B and eventually became PD/afternoons at "Hit 106," and night guy Shawn Palmer.
  • Our colleagues over at Ohio Radio Watch lovingly called it the "Glunt Radio Empire" - but now the last vestiges of the small radio group assembled by the late Youngstown, Ohio steel magnate Harold Glunt have been dispersed to new owners. We told you last week about Chris Lash's plans for Glunt's two Ohio signals, WRTK (1540 Niles) and WANR (1570 Warren) - and now Glunt's heirs have sold his three stations just across the state line in PENNSYLVANIA. EMF Broadcasting, the nation's most active station buyer, is paying $225,000 for those stations: WEXC (107.1 Greenville), WGRP (940 Greenville) and WLOA (1470 Farrell). EMF is not known as an AM operator, and broker Ray Rosenblum, who arranged the deal, says those AMs will go to another buyer once the transfer closes. WEXC, meanwhile, had already flipped to EMF's "K-Love" contemporary Christian network Friday night, just hours after the sale was announced. (WGRP is also apparently simulcasting "K-Love" for now, at least temporarily.) For EMF, the purchase extends the K-Love network north and west from what's already become a stronghold in Pittsburgh, where EMF is leasing WPKV (98.3 Duquesne); for now, K-Love has little presence to the north in Erie or to to the west in northeastern Ohio, though sister network Air 1 operates WCVJ (90.9) in Jefferson, Ohio, feeding translators in Akron and suburban Cleveland.
  • Between the Labor Day holiday and the somber 9/11 anniversary, it was a quiet week downstate in NEW YORK, leavened only slightly by the latest chapter in the increasingly tedious "where's Howard Stern going next" saga. (For those still paying attention, Stern's now hinting that he'll leave Sirius/XM when his contract is up at the end of this year, possibly moving his show to some sort of subscriber-based podcast format.)
  • Upstate, it was a little more exciting - at least at Citadel's Buffalo cluster on Thursday morning, where a four-alarm fire that destroyed a nearby warehouse forced the studios and offices of WGRF (96.9), WEDG (103.3) and WHTT (104.1) to be evacuated for several hours at the height of morning drive, running on automation until it was safe for staffers to return.
  • After more than 30 years with Buffalo's WBFO (88.7), Mark Wozniak is retiring, effective October 1 - but WBFO listeners will continue to hear Mark's familiar voice in the afternoon, hosting the local segments of "All Things Considered," since he'll continue in a part-time capacity with the station while shedding his traffic director duties.
  • Western MASSACHUSETTS has a new NPR news/talk outlet. The former Deerfield Academy station, WGAJ (91.7 Deerfield), was just hours away from having its license expire for a full year of silence when it made it back on the air Thursday afternoon (Sept. 9) under new calls WNNZ-FM. Under its new owner, the WFCR Foundation, the 100-watt station is relaying the programming of WNNZ (640 Westfield), the secondary news-talk service programmed by Amherst's WFCR (88.5). Returning 91.7 to the air came with a host of technical challenges, reports WFCR chief engineer Charles Dube: with no line-of-sight path from WFCR's Amherst studios to the transmitter site, WFCR is using an audio-over-IP path to Deerfield Academy, then sending the signal over the old WGAJ STL path to the transmitter site. And up on the hill, the old WGAJ tower was deemed unfit for continued use, which meant the installation of a new tower and a new Jampro antenna. The new WNNZ-FM is operating under program test authority at half-power (50 watts) until the FCC issues a license to cover for its new facility.
  • VERMONT's oldest TV station is adding an additional early-evening newscast. WCAX (Channel 3) in Burlington has long danced to its own drummer where early news is concerned; it's one of the last stations in the country to run an hour of local news at 6 and the CBS network news at 7. That unusual schedule continues - but as of tonight, the 5 PM "Dr. Phil" is being replaced by two more half-hour newscasts, anchored by Roger Garrity and Bridget Barry-Caswell at 5 and by Kristin Carlson and Mike McCune at 5:30. In the meantime, WCAX has put its 10 PM broadcast (seen on its 3.2 DTV subchannel) on hiatus.

Five Years Ago: September 11, 2006 -

  • There were two surprises in western NEW YORK when CBS Radio announced its exit from the Buffalo market last week - first, that the buyer of CBS' one AM and four FM stations wasn't Clear Channel, Citadel, Entercom or Randy Michaels, but rather Regent Communications, and second, the price tag, a whopping $125 million. That's about three times what Entercom is paying for CBS Radio's four-FM cluster in nearby Rochester, a market of similar size, but it gets Regent into Buffalo in a big way. For its money (nearly half the entire market capitalization of the rest of Regent), the company gets the market's dominant country station, WYRK (106.5), as well as a very successful AC, WJYE (96.1), a pioneering urban signal, WBLK (93.7 Depew), a strugglng "Jack" adult hits station, WBUF (92.9) and a litlle classic-country AM, WECK (1230 Cheektowaga). Buffalo becomes, by a pretty significant margin, the largest market in the Regent family, but it also makes for a nice combination with Regent's existing upstate clusters in Watertown, Utica and Albany. In all three markets, just as in Buffalo, there's a dominant country signal in the cluster ("Froggy" WFRY Watertown, "Big Frog" WFRG Utica and WGNA in Albany), so it's a good bet that Regent won't make many changes at WYRK when it takes control there. Few changes are likely at WJYE or WBLK, either - but the rumor mills are already hard at work about what Regent might do with WBUF if it pulls the plug on "Jack."
  • Regent's entry into Buffalo pretty much closes the door for now on the rumors that either Clear Channel would fill a notable gap in its lineup of top-100 markets with a Buffalo purchase, or that CC's former head honcho, Randy Michaels, would jump back into big-time radio in the city where he first rose to prominence. Clear Channel, we'd note, has been out of the station-purchase game lately to any significant extent, and as for Michaels, his history in the market was at two stations not included in the CBS spinoffs, WGR (now an Entercom sports talker) and WGRF (now a Citadel rocker). And what about the ideas that Entercom or Citadel, already at or near the market cap, would seek to upgrade their station lineups by buying the CBS cluster, keeping WYRK (and perhaps WJYE) and selling the rest? We'll chalk those up to message-board fantasy - not that we weren't enjoying the speculation, too.
  • At the other end of the Thruway, the Albany market was (pardon the pun) abuzz last week about the defection of the WYJB (95.5) morning team of Chuck and Kelly to Regent's WABT (104.5 Mechanicville). They'll start at "The Buzz" tomorrow, but they won't be on 104.5 for long. Last week, Regent confirmed the long-swirling rumors that the "Buzz" modern AC format will move to its new Albany-market entry, WNYQ (105.7 Malta), when that station signs on sometime soon. Expect 104.5 to simulcast with 105.7 for a while, as Regent transitions listeners to the new frequency. (No word yet on what might appear on 104.5 when the transition is complete.)
  • Here in Rochester, "Huge 107.3" indeed turned out to be a stunt (albeit a fun one); it flipped Tuesday at noon to rhythmic oldies as "Snap 107.3," with Whoopi Goldberg's morning show, followed by Marc Spencer in middays and former WVOR (100.5, now WDVI) morning co-host Andrea Holland in afternoons. Look for a call change to WSNP sooner or later, too.
  • And a sad note from the heart of NERW country: while it was hardly a surprise (except where the timing was concerned), we're still saddened by the demolition over the weekend of the three-tower array that was home to Rochester's AM 1460 (WHEC, WAXC, WWWG and most recently WHIC) until just a few weeks ago. The 205-foot self-supporting towers were built in 1947, when WHEC upgraded from 1 kW ND to 5 kW DA-N - and it was their lights that your editor saw blinking out his bedroom window as a child, which helped set us on the path we've been on ever since. WHIC now operates from the nearby WROC (950) site; its former home will eventually be filled with office-park buildings.
  • There's a storm brewing at Quinnipiac University in CONNECTICUT over the removal of the tower that carried WQAQ (98.1 ), the little class D campus FM station. University administrators apparently decided over the summer that the tower was an eyesore and ordered it taken down. That came as a shock to students, who returned to find no antenna for their station. They, along with alumni of WQAQ, are now campaigning to get the school to find a new home for the antenna. (Quinnipiac also owns AM station WQUN 1220 in Hamden, which is operated professionally; its tower is several miles from the campus.)
  • Maritime Broadcasting System (MBS) has been one busy company in eastern CANADA of late. Last week, it signed on its new FM signal in Charlottetown, PEI, and the arrival of country on CFCY-FM (95.1) meant the end of country on sister station CJRW (102.1 Summerside PEI). CJRW is now playing classic rock as "102.1 Spud FM." CFCY-FM will simulcast on CFCY (630) for 90 days, after which there will be no more full-power AM signals in Canada's smallest province.
  • MBS made another format flip in the region, too: CJYC (98.9 Saint John NB) ditched its old "C98" identity and picked up a similar classic rock format to CJRW, becoming "98.9 Big John FM."

10 Years Ago: September 10, 2001 -

  • The TV dial in southern MAINE will be doing some serious spinning on October 7, with some help from Pegasus Broadcasting. After more than a decade as a Fox affiliate, WPXT (Channel 51) in Portland will drop that affiliation in favor of the smaller WB Network, seen until now on LMA partner WPME (Channel 35) in Lewiston as a secondary affiliation. The move appears to be a Pegasus corporate decision, with fellow Fox affiliate WDBD (Channel 40) down in Jackson, Mississippi making the same switch on the same day. Why? NERW suspects an attempt to reap more affiliate compensation from Fox, which will now be left with no broadcast outlet anywhere in the Pine Tree State. To fill the gap, Time Warner has already announced that it will pick up the national FoxNet feed, which will appear on cable channel 14 for customers in Portland and vicinity. Elsewhere in the state, Fox will now have to negotiate with smaller local cable companies for carriage (most had been picking up WPXT via microwave relay for years). And for viewers without cable, it looks as though they'll have to get used to life without Homer, Scully, Ally and half the Sunday NFL schedule (unless, of course, other Maine network affiliates strike deals with Fox to pick up some of the network's sports).
  • The big news in the Granite State over Labor Day came courtesy of a Massachusetts broadcaster: Ted O'Brien, the veteran news voice of WNAC-TV, WRKO, WABU and now WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), who went hiking in the White Mountains on Sunday (Sept. 2) and didn't come back right away. A search that lasted through two nights ended Tuesday morning when O'Brien was found, tired but safe and apologetic about his unintentional adventure, which began when he wandered off the trail over Attitash Mountain. O'Brien admitted he wasn't properly prepared for the hike and had failed to anticipate how long it would take. And radio people being radio people, we hear his return to WBUR later in the week found a mock press release attached to his computer, announcing O'Brien's appointment as head of the Boston University branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club! All kidding aside, we're as relieved as anyone else to be able to report a happy ending to this story, which sparked a brief holiday-weekend media circus in Boston.
  • There's a new PD moving in at Albany Broadcasting's WFLY (92.3 Troy). Donny Michaels comes back to the market from a nine-month stint putting Clear Channel's "Kiss" CHR on the air at WFKP (96.1 Poughkeepsie) and WPKF (99.3 Ellenville). He won't have most of his morning team right away: Ellen Rockwell and Brian Cody are both on vacation in Aruba - but then, they should be away together: it's their honeymoon! The pair were married Saturday (Sept. 8).
  • Down in PENNSYLVANIA, "the Pickle" has officially launched in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Keymarket debuted the oldies format on a network of AM outlets (WASP 1130 Brownsville, WCVI 1340 Connellsville and WCLG 1300 in Morgantown, W.V.) over Labor Day weekend before returning the flagship, WPKL-FM (99.3 Uniontown) to the air on Tuesday. The rumor mill suggests that this format could end up on the 98.3 that's being moved from Charleroi up to Duquesne, but for now that frequency remains with Keymarket's "Froggy" country cluster.

15 Years Ago: New England Radio Watch, September 11, 1996

  • Hundreds of mourners turned out Wednesday afternoon to remember Boston radio legend Sunny Joe White. The 42-year old veteran of WILD, WZOU, WVBF, and most notably WXKS-FM was found dead in his Boston apartment last weekend, apparently of a heart attack. White came to Boston in 1977, near the beginning of a radio career that started at little WGIV in his native Charlotte, N.C. After two years at urban WILD (1090), White joined Rich Balsbaugh and the rest of the team that was launching "Kiss 108," WXKS-FM in Medford. First as morning jock/PD and later as evening jock/PD, White helped shape the disco sound that pushed the former WWEL-FM from worst to first.
  • White's later career was checkered, marred by frequent allegations of drug use (which the Boston Herald's Dean Johnson had the guts to mention in his obit) and a variety of stints at several smaller stations. After leaving Kiss, White spent some time programming and consulting rival CHR WZOU (94.5, now WJMN). The early 90s found him doing evenings on WVBF (105.7) during its "Boston 105" phase. That gig ended when WVBF became country WCLB in early 1993, and White left local radio for a time. He was just starting to make a comeback at the time of his death, with consulting and on-air work at WILD, and rumors of a new partnership with Balsbaugh to start a brand-new radio group. White was remembered Thursday night with an hour-long special on Kiss-108, which your NERW regrettably missed. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with a tape of that broadcast.
  • The Cape Cod airwaves just keep shifting 'round, and the latest changes come at the top of the dial. Classical WFCC (107.5 Chatham) was recently purchased by Charles River Broadcasting, and as of this morning, WFCC's entire air product is emanating from Charles River's WCRB 102.5 Waltham-Boston. It's not exactly a simulcast; though both stations will be playing mostly the same music with the same hosts, the on-air product will be customized for each station. WFCC goes 24 hours as a result of the change (the station used to sign off at midnight daily), and both stations get a new DJ lineup. Laura Carlo moves from afternoon news duty to mornings, working live 6am-noon and on tape from noon till 1. Ray Brown moves from mornings to afternoons, working the 1pm-7pm shift. And Larry King (a different one!) will be heard 7pm-6am, with overnights on tape. WFCC's former airstaff has been offered work as salespeople for WCRB.

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