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In this week's issue: New AMs in Toronto, Montreal - WDAS revival in Philadelphia - EMF sells in Central New York - Cumulus cuts jobs at ex-Citadel stations

by SCOTT FYBUSH

*Over the last few years, we've spent a lot of time chronicling the gradual disappearance of AM radio in CANADA. Since the CRTC began routinely allowing AM stations to migrate to the FM band more than a quarter-century ago, the AM band has fallen all but silent everywhere outside Canada's biggest cities, leaving sizable communities such as Halifax, Moncton, Sherbrooke, Kingston and Sudbury with no AMs at all.

But as the Canadian FM dial, once sparsely populated, has filled to bursting, broadcasters seeking dial space in a few of the largest Canadian cities are turning back to the AM band, and this week we can report on new AMs coming to both the Toronto and Montreal markets in the months to come, as well as a new format that's about to make a big splash on the Canadian AM dial.

In the Greater Toronto Area, the CRTC approved a brand-new facility last week: sports marketing agent Elliot Kerr (on behalf of a corporation to be incorporated) will get 2 kW days/280 watts at night on 960, serving Mississauga. That's a frequency that has never before been used in Toronto, though it did see use 80 km to the west in Cambridge, where CFTJ/CIAM used 960 from 1977 until it moved to FM in 1998 (it's now Corus' CJDV 107.5).

In its new Mississauga incarnation, 960 will be a local station for an area that's struggled to retain a local media identity. While Mississauga is Canada's sixth-biggest city, boasting a population of more than 700,000, it's always been very much in the shadow of the much bigger Toronto media right next door. Broadcasters have tried to serve Mississauga in the past, most notably in the form of the Caine family's CJMR (first on 1190, later on 1320) in the 1970s and 1980s, but the call of the larger Greater Toronto market has been hard to resist - which is why CJMR is now a full-time ethnic outlet with Toronto's skyline at the top of its website. There's not even a local daily paper serving the city; the parent company of the Toronto Star puts out a thrice-weekly freebie and that's it.

Elliott Kerr

And while Astral (which owns several Toronto stations) commented on Kerr's application, suggesting that he should be barred by condition of license from marketing to Toronto or other nearby communities such as Oakville, Kerr says the signal limitations of his proposed facility will force him to be Mississauga-only. Kerr says the signal was specifically designed to avoid reaching most of Toronto even by day, and he says it will have trouble serving all of Mississauga at night. Despite those limitations, Kerr has ambitious programming plans that include 126 hours a week of news and talk, most of it live and local and "including coverage of city council, local business issues, and community related political and social events."

Can Kerr succeed where others have failed? While his application predicts revenue of more than $7 million within five years, his new station will face plenty of challenges - but being on the AM dial might not be as much of an obstacle as one might assume: listeners in the area are already trained to find the middle of the AM band by listening to top-rated stations such as Astral's CFRB (1010), which will become the next-door neighbor to Kerr's new AM 960. (For some listeners in the GTA, the new 960 signal might be an obstacle, too: it will block some Toronto-area reception of Buffalo's WNED 970, which has been the only broadcast source for NPR news in the region - but with WNED's news-talk programming set to move to WBFO 88.7 next year anyway, it's not clear how much longer 970 was going to remain a Toronto NPR option. If WNED intends to sell the 970 signal, though, the presence of the new 960 in Mississauga could make 970 less desirable for would-be purchasers hoping to hit a cross-border audience...)

The new 960 signal is planned for a site on Cancross Court, off Hurontario Street near the 401 interchange.

*If AM is staying alive in the Toronto area, it's crawling back from near-death in Montreal. Over the last two decades, we've chronicled the demise of most of the mass-market AM signals that once dominated the field in Canada's largest Francophone community: the Telemedia-Radiomutuel merger that silenced CJMS (1280) in 1994, the demise of CKLM (1570) the same year, the CBC/Radio-Canada moves to FM in 1999 that took away CBF (690) and CBM (940), the subsequent moves of CKVL (850) and CIQC (600) to the former CBC frequencies, the sudden silencing of those new 690 and 940 signals (now CINF and CINW) in early 2010, and then the equally sudden silencing of French-language sports on CKAC (730) earlier this year to clear the way for a provincially-subsidized all-traffic service. That left just a pair of English-language players keeping the AM band alive: Astral's market-dominant CJAD (800) and Bell's "TSN Radio" sports outlet, CKGM (990), along with a motley assemblage of smaller signals broadcasting to niche audiences.

As of last week, that picture is about to change, and in a pretty dramatic way. The CRTC's approval of three AM applications in Montreal not only promises more options for Anglo- and Francophone listeners, it also sets the stage for still more AM frequencies to come back into play in Montreal.

Here's how it all plays out:

The two biggest signals on the table were the clear-channel facilities at 690 and 940 that were abandoned by Corus when it took CINF and CINW silent in 2010, and after expecting to end up with both of them without a competitive hearing, Cogeco emerged from the CRTC's speedy decision-making process with neither. As Montreal media writer Steve Faguy (who's quickly becoming a must-read) noted in his excellent analysis of the Commission's decision, Cogeco may have overplayed its hand by insisting that only those two 50 kW facilities would be suitable for the all-traffic formats it's trying to put on the air. (The French version ended up on CKAC 730 when Cogeco abandoned its 690 application; the English version was to go on 940, with Cogeco telling the CRTC it would accept no substitute.)

Instead, 690 goes to Bell, which will make that frequency the new non-directional home of its "TSN Radio" CKGM, vacating the directional 990 signal that, CKGM says, prevents the station from being heard well in the West Island neighborhoods where much of Montreal's Anglo community lives.

The move to the big 690 signal will make that frequency English-speaking for the first time in its Montreal history, and it will give CKGM's Canadiens coverage a wide reach over most of Quebec and the northeastern U.S. at night. (There's already some sentiment out there calling on Bell, which also owns CTV outlet CFCF-TV, to restore the historic "CFCF" callsign to radio when it moves the station down the dial next year.)

The 940 signal, meanwhile, will flip from a long heritage as an English-speaking outlet to French when its new occupant, the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy partnership, launches a French-language news-talk station there...assuming, of course, that the group doesn't stand by its own ultimatum to the CRTC, in which it had originally insisted it needed both French and English signals to make its plans for a new Montreal radio group successful.

The Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy plans were by far the most ambitious to come before the CRTC in this set of hearings: the group proposed a pair of stations with a staff of more than 150 and annual budgets of more than $5 million. (Partner Paul Tietolman knows all about big-staff, full-service radio in Montreal: he's the son of Jack Tietolman, who built the old CKVL 850 into a top-rated, top-notch station before selling it to Metromedia...which, ironically, ended up putting the station - by then CINF 690 - into the hands of Corus and eventually shutting it down, opening up the frequencies for which Paul Tietolman was applying. But we digress...)

With such an ambitious plan to make local radio relevant again, how could the CRTC have said no - even if there was plenty of doubt about whether Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy could live up to their big business promises? But as Faguy notes, the CRTC also hedged its bets by awarding TTP only one of the two big 50 kW channels, in effect calling the group's bluff to see whether it will go forward with only a French-language signal on 940 and no English on 690.

And then there's 990: unlike past CRTC proceedings, in which AM stations have been allowed to upgrade to better frequencies while leaving their old channels silent (as with the CFCF/CKVL moves from 600/850 to 940/690 more than a decade ago), this time the Commission is immediately assigning a new occupant to the 990 frequency being vacated by CKGM's move to 690. With neither Cogeco's traffic application or the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group expressing a willingness to use the 990 frequency, it goes (almost by default, says Faguy) to the last party standing: the Toronto-based Evanov group, which will use the channel for "Radio Fierté," a French-language version of "Proud FM" (CIRR 103.9), its Toronto signal aimed at gay and lesbian listeners. Evanov's application had called for the use of 690, diplexing on the CJAD (800) towers south of Montreal, and it's not yet clear whether they'll try to use that site for 990, or whether they'll attempt to use Bell's current CKGM 990 facility. While that South Shore site will remain in use for CKGM's new two-tower 690 operation as well, the CRTC ordered Bell to make it available for a new 990 signal as well, with lease terms to be decided via arbitration. (On 940, the TTP group plans to build two new towers at the South Shore site of CJMS 1040, which in turn is the old location of CKGM when it was on 980.)

The CRTC isn't done with Montreal AMs: it told the applicants that it will entertain new applications for the use of other vacant Montreal AM channels, including the 600 and 850 frequencies vacated by CIQC and CKVL. (To clear that path, the CRTC dismissed several lower-powered AM applications last week, including one for a religious signal on 600.) Assuming Cogeco reapplies for an English-language traffic service, it seems likely that 600 will be the next frequency it applies for; the old four-tower 600 site in Kahnawahke still stands vacant, having been used later on by CINW/CINF and transferred to Cogeco when it bought Corus' Quebec operations last year. That's a desirable site for English-language operators aiming at the West Island, but the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy group has complained that Cogeco has been unwilling to make it available on competitive terms. So would Tietolman attempt to reclaim the 850 frequency where his father made CKVL famous? As always...stay tuned.

One more Montreal note: one of those newer niche-market AMs, Haitian-targeted CJWI (1610), is temporarily broadcasting at night only. That's because of interference between CJWI's recently-relocated transmitter and a neighbor's phone system, and until the problem can be resolved, CJWI (which broadcasts as "CPAM Radio Union.com") is off the air from 7 AM until 6 PM on weekdays. It's a short-term issue, since CJWI has a permit to move from 1610 down the dial to 1410 from a different site.

*More news from around Canada: in Hamilton, there's another application to backfill a vacated frequency. Independent CHCH-TV (Channel 11) stayed on its VHF channel when it went digital over the summer, but it's finding (surprise, surprise!) that 4.5 kW of digital power doesn't come close to replacing its old 325 kW of analog juice from up on the Escarpment in Stoney Creek. So CHCH is asking the CRTC for permission to move to UHF, taking the RF channel 15 that had been occupied by the Hamilton relay of now-defunct CKXT-TV; on that channel, CHCH would run 132 kW max DA (59 kW average), using the antenna on the CHCH tower that had been used for the interim channel 18 digital operation of CITS-TV.

On the radio, Milkman UnLimited reports Mike Tyler has moved from afternoon drive and the PD chair at CHTZ (97.7 St. Catharines) to morning drive at CIXL (91.7 GIANT FM) in Welland, where he started last Monday.  Over in London, January 1 is the official start date for the new all-comedy "Funny 1410" format at Astral's CKSL, which will drop its current oldies programming - and our friends over at RadioInsight.com have picked up on a slew of additional "Funny" domain registrations from Astral for everything from "Funny1010.com" (CFRB Toronto) to "Funny650.com" (CISL Vancouver). Most are probably just placeholders; while CFRB, for instance, carries the "24/7 Comedy" network overnight, it's hard to imagine the programming expanding much beyond those hours at such a major AM signal.

*Crossing the border, we start our Thanksgiving-shortened news report in PENNSYLVANIA, where there's more good news for defenders of old-school AM radio: Clear Channel is bringing back a venerable callsign and format in Philadelphia.

For many decades, WDAS (1480 Philadelphia) overcame a lousy directional pattern and low power to become the voice of the city's black community. Civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X made regular visits to the WDAS studio/transmitter site at the city's edge to spread news and call for change, and the station built an outsized reputation as a major player in black radio through the 1960s and 1970s. That audience eventually segued over to WDAS-FM (105.3), and after experimenting with black gospel, 1480 flipped to Spanish-language programming a few years back as "Rumba 1480," WUBA. (That format had migrated down the dial from 104.5 FM, now WRFF.)

Now WUBA is history, and WDAS(AM) is back. Clear Channel relaunched the station on Wednesday with a mix of Christmas soul music, but after the holidays are over it will segue into a full-time classic soul format programmed by Joe "Butterball" Tamburro, whose roots with WDAS go back more than four decades. Like WUBA, the new WDAS will also be heard on the HD2 channel of Clear Channel sister WISX (106.1 Philadelphia).

*Radio People on the Move: Mike Miller is the new PD at WHKF (99.3 Harrisburg), where he does afternoons and had been serving as assistant PD. Miller fills the void left by J.T. Bosch's promotion to a regional programming role for Clear Channel. In the Pittsburgh suburbs, Dave Russell is the new PD at WOGG (94.9 Oliver), where he replaces Terry Hunt. Russell had been working at sister station WOGI (104.3 Moon Township).

*We send our best wishes to Susan Koeppen, who's been off the air at KDKA-TV (Channel 2) since suffering what the station calls a "serious heart problem" while jogging last weekend. Koeppen, a veteran of CBS News and of Pittsburgh's WTAE and Rochester's WHEC, had just joined KDKA two months ago to anchor the 6 and 11 PM newscasts; she'll return to the anchor desk once she's recuperated.

*We remember Arthur Browne, who died November 18 at his home in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. Browne started his broadcast career at NEW JERSEY's WCTC (1450 New Brunswick), then went on to a long career at WABC (770), ABC Radio News, WABC-TV (Channel 7) and eventually as national editor at ABC TV news. Browne was also the voice of Army football on the radio in the 1970s. Browne was 75.

TODAY ONLY: Subscribers can use coupon code "TRANSMITTER" at checkout for extra savings on Tower Site Calendar 2012 (and the 2011 edition, too.) Happy Cyber Monday from Fybush.com!

*A station sale in upstate NEW YORK: EMF Broadcasting ended up with one station more than it needed to serve the Utica market, and now it's unloading its original signal there. The station on 100.7 was WVVC when EMF bought it for $1.25 million back in 2001, and it spent most of the next decade as "K-Love" outlet WKVU before a flip last December moved K-Love and the WKVU calls to the much bigger 107.3 signal, at which point the smaller 100.7 facility became an "Air 1" outlet as WRCK.

Now EMF is unloading the 100.7 facility - but not the WRCK calls or the tower site southeast of Utica - to Roser Communications Network, which will pay $425,000 for the 1.6 kW/623' class A facility. Roser isn't saying yet what its plans are for the new addition, which will join "Kiss" simulcast WSKS/WSKU, "Bug Country" WBGK and the WUTQ combination that includes two AMs (WUTQ 1550/WADR 1480) and an FM translator. Could 100.7 become the new WUTQ-FM?

Furst

In Syracuse, WSYR (570/106.9) PD Jason Furst is shifting his portfolio: he's handing off his PD responsibilities for top 40 WWHT (Hot 107.9) to a player to be named later, and in exchange he's adding the title of PD for WHAM (1180) and WHTK (1280/107.3) here in Rochester, 90 minutes down the Thruway in good weather. (In bad weather? Don't ask...) Furst, who was recently named one of Edison Media's "30 Under 30," takes over the programming portfolio last handled by Jeff Howlett before his departure over the summer. Will Rochester listeners soon be hearing more voices from WHAM's Clear Channel sister station in Syracuse, and vice versa? Bet on it...

Across town in Syracuse, the Cumulus budget-cutting ax has been swinging at the former Citadel cluster (WNTQ/WAXQ/WLTI/WSKO). CNYRadio.com reports top-40 WNTQ (93.1) is now jockless after 7 PM, thanks to the removal of night guy "Brandon C" from the payroll. With Brandon gone from the 5-11 PM shift, the rest of the day at 93Q gets rearranged: ops manager Tom Mitchell is now heard (largely tracked, we're guessing) from 10 AM-3 PM, instead of his previous two-hour 10-noon shift, while afternoon jock Rick Roberts moves to 3-7 PM from his old noon-5 PM shift. (We're also hearing rumors of other cuts behind the scenes over there on James Street; more next week...)

The relentless march of "ho-ho-ho" continued across the region last week, with new entries on the all-Christmas-music list including WLYK (102.7 Cape Vincent, aimed across the border at Kingston, Ontario), WDOE (1410 Dunkirk), WMXW (103.3) in Binghamton, WRMM-FM (101.3) here in Rochester and WVOR (102.3) in nearby Canandaigua and WHUD (100.7 Peekskill) downstate. Elsewhere in the region, additional all-Christmas entries included WFPG-FM (96.9 Atlantic City NJ), WXKC (99.9 Erie PA), WMVL (101.7 Lineville PA), WOGL (98.1 Philadelphia), WMGS (92.9 Scranton), WHLM (930 Bloomsburg PA), WRCH (100.5) in Hartford, WHOM (94.9) and WYNZ (100.9) in the Portland, MAINE market,  WCNL (1010) in Newport, NEW HAMPSHIRE, WWLI (105.1) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND, WMAS-FM (94.7) in Springfield, MASSACHUSETTS and WSRS (96.1) and WORC-FM (98.9) in Worcester, plus CHFI (98.1) in Toronto.

*More Radio People on the Move: Tracy Burgess is exiting the morning show at New York's WFAN (660) at week's end; she'd been working for Metro Networks and doing traffic for the "Boomer and Carton Show." Just up Hudson Street at the Emmis cluster, WRKS (98.7 Kiss FM) has edged its way into the...um, late 1990s, finally adding streaming audio after many years of holding out.

And in Westchester, Lisa Wexler brings her talk show across the state line from CONNECTICUT to WFAS (1230 White Plains) beginning next week. Wexler's show had aired on WSTC (1400 Stamford)/WNLK (1350 Norwalk) before Cox sold those stations to WSHU; it will be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM on WFAS, which has otherwise been largely automated.

If you missed last month's Audio Engineering Society panel discussion marking the 50th anniversary of FM stereo, the audio has now been made available at the AES website. Having moderated the event, I'm more than a little biased, of course - but it really was an amazing event, with contributions from a remarkable cross-section of engineering talent that included Dick Burden, the last surviving member of the 1961 standards-setting panel, as well as processing gurus Bob Orban, Frank Foti, Eric Small and Bill Sacks and many, many more. It's unlikely a group like that will ever again come together in one place, and it was truly an honor to be able to participate.

*A few more tidbits from an otherwise very slow week for New England news: the Citadel-turned-Cumulus budget axe has eliminated WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington/Portland) morning man GV Rapp; Tim Moore adds morning drive duties (and voicetracking up till noon) to his PD job there, while Sandra Harris handles noon-7 PM.

We note the passing of Maine's Gene Terwilliger, who started out on the air at WLOB (1310 Portland) but soon moved over to engineering, where he became a fixture in the Pine Tree State for many decades. Services for Terwilliger were held on Saturday.

A pair of call changes straddling the Massachusetts/Connecticut state line: new WJCI (89.5 Baptist Village MA) becomes WWQZ, while unbuilt WFSJ (89.9 North Granby CT) becomes WWQA. Both licenses are owned by the Power Foundation, and they'll serve opposite sides of the Springfield market with religious programming.

And WEDY-TV in New Haven is powering up at long last. The Connecticut Public TV outlet has been effectively a low-power TV station for many years, serving only the immediate New Haven area from its East Rock Park transmitter site on analog channel 65 and then on digital channel 6, where it ran a whopping 400 watts. At one point, WEDY held a digital assignment for channel 39, which it swapped to WCTX (Channel 59); now it holds a construction permit for RF channel 41, where it will run a much more potent 60 kW/308'.

*Finally this week, a status update on our relaunch: we're most grateful to the hundreds of you who've recognized the value of a strong independent voice covering radio and TV in the region by becoming subscribers. We're also grateful for your patience as we've ironed the bugs out of our new website - and we think we've got most of them now.

Some answers to a few common questions: if you haven't yet subscribed, you can find the signup page right here, or under the "Members" tab at the top of the page. That's also where you'll find a link to log in with your username and password, which you can also do at the bottom of the page (we know about the black text-gray background issue there and will be fixing it very soon!)

The "Members" tab is also where you'll find our new Member Archives link. If you're a subscriber (as little as a quarter a week!), that link will give you access to almost two decades of fybush.com content: we've already restored our full 2000-2011 archive of Tower Site of the Week, including a more comprehensive searchable index, and we'll have a new search page for NERW back issues ready soon as well.

If you created an account on our new site when it first launched in early November, but have not paid for a subscription yet, you'll want to check with our business manager, Lisa Fybush, to get that account reactivated once you've signed up for a subscription. We should be all caught up now on the backlog in that department, so if you've reached out to us and haven't yet heard back, please let us know.

What can you still see if you're not a subscriber? You'll still be able to see current issues of Tower Site of the Week, like this week's fun look at the history of WHAM in Rochester, as well as our new midweek headline updates, and on occasion we'll open up a few recent back issues of NERW for sampling purposes - but most of the good stuff is now reserved for paying customers. (Missed our explanation of the change back in September? Check it out here before you complain, if you'd be so kind...)

Over at the Fybush.com store, we've got the new 2012 Tower Site Calendar in a variety of options (including the new spiral binding), as well as a more comprehensive selection of back issues. (Were you looking for the rare 2006 or 2007 editions? We've located a very few extras of what we'd thought were sold-out products and they're now available in limited quantities.)

We're still tweaking a few other bits of the site following the big move: our Links page migrated over from the old site before we could get around to updating it, and we're working on that this week. (Have a suggestion for a good link? Let me know!) We're also still migrating some pieces of the old site, so if you bookmarked an old NERW issue or Tower Site of the Week, there may be a handful of broken images or links. If you see a major one, drop me a line and we'll get it fixed ASAP.

One more note before we head off into the chill winds of December: if you haven't joined the fun in our new comments section, below, I'd love to hear from you. The signal-to-noise ratio of your typical comments section (or message board) is pretty low, but we've got quite the distinguished and civilized group of subscribers here at the new fybush.com - so I'm trusting we can keep the conversation at a fairly high level.

Any questions or feedback? Is the site working OK on your browser and OS? (I'm especially eager to hear from mobile and tablet users about your experiences.) Let me know - I'm eager to make sure the new version of the website is as good an experience for all of you as it's been at this end.

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: November 29, 2010 -

Kevin McNicholas was a familiar voice on radio stations all over the Bay State that contracted with him to provide reports from the State House for many decades. Sadly, that voice was silenced last week when McNicholas, the dean of the Beacon Hill press corps, died on Thursday at 61. McNichols had been running the "Radio News Service" out of the State House since 1975, supplying sound from state political stories and other Boston news items to stations around the state that included WATD (95.9 Marshfield) and WFCR-FM (88.5 Amherst). He'd been suffering from cancer of the bladder.

There's still no word from WBZ (1030) about a permanent choice of a new anchor for its morning newscasts, but a very familiar voice will be back behind the mike for a few days next week. Gary LaPierre, who retired in 2006 after 43 years at the station, will be the guest anchor the week of December 6. And in the meantime, WBZ has announced that veteran Boston anchor Rod Fritz, who's been doing weekend news there, will be the temporary replacement for Ed Walsh after his last morning shift on Tuesday. Could Fritz be the permanent pick, too? That's certainly the consensus out there in message-board land, and it's hard to think of many other anchors out there who are as talented as Fritz, as experienced in Boston - and as available!

A format flip on the NEW HAMPSHIRE/MAINE state line: Clear Channel's WMYF (1380 Portsmouth) quietly flipped from standards to ESPN Radio as "The Sports Animal" early last week.

There's a morning show shift coming in NEW YORK City, where Patty Steele is leaving the "Scott and Todd Big Show" on WPLJ (95.5) next month after more than a dozen years alongside Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill. Steele and her husband, veteran New York City programmer Steve Kingston, are in the process of buying a station in Florida, WSJF (105.5 St. Augustine Beach), under the name "Cortona Media"; it's not clear whether her departure from WPLJ is related to the new acquisition.

In Binghamton, Equinox's WRRQ (106.7) has completed its relocation from Windsor, far to the east of town, to centrally-located Ingraham Hill. The move changes WRRQ's city of license from Windsor to Port Dickinson, significantly improving its coverage of the market and eliminating the station's need to rely on translators to reach Binghamton-area listeners. "Now, everyone can get Q106.7; no need to tune anywhere else," say the promos running (over and over again) on the new signal.

Five Years Ago: November 29, 2006 -

Who'll replace Gary LaPierre on the morning news at WBZ (1030 Boston)? Former WOR (710 New York) morning anchor Ed Walsh, that's who. Walsh has been working nights at WCBS (880 New York) for the last few months, and he'll take over from the veteran LaPierre on January 1, 2007.

Every year at this time, your editor puts on one of his other hats - news editor of 100000watts.com, the radio directory site - to help compile what we believe to be the most accurate list of stations flipping to an all-Christmas format during the run-up to December 25.

This year, there's an unusual flip amidst the normal batch of AC and oldies stations suddenly playing "Little Drummer Boy" over...and over...and over again. It's Clear Channel's WFKP (99.3 Ellenville), which last made headlines here in April 2005, when it flipped from top 40 "Kiss" (simulcasting with WPKF 96.1 Poughkeepsie) to soft AC "Lite" (semi-simulcasting with WRNQ 92.1 Poughkeepsie) by way of a couple of days as "Cupid 99.3."

Now WFKP is flipping again. Beginning December 25, it'll be simulcasting yet another of Clear Channel's Poughkeepsie-cluster FMs, market-leading country outlet WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland). But until then, it's playing a nonstop diet of country Christmas tunes. Once it flips, WFKP will help extend WRWD's reach into the Catskills to compete with Cumulus' "Wolf" country WKXP (94.3 Kingston)/WZAD (97.3 Wurtsboro); we'd note, too, that WRWD-FM is already simulcasting in Ellenville on WRWD (1370), though the AM signal doesn't reach down to Middletown as the FM does.

New York Jets fansOur big headlines from MASSACHUSETTS this week are mostly TV-related, starting with the FCC's approval of Tribune's sale of CW affiliate WLVI (Channel 56) to Sunbeam Television, which already owns Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH-TV (Channel 7). Sunbeam has set a date - December 19 - for the launch of its own WHDH-produced 10 PM newscast on Channel 56, which means the current "Ten O'Clock News" will shut down sometime before that, putting a talented staff out of work just before Christmas. WHDH general manager Mike Carson tells the Herald that there may eventually be a morning newscast (again) on WLVI, but he won't be around to oversee it. He's retiring next July 1, handing the reins over to sales manager Randi Goldklank.

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Boston's CBS station, WBZ-TV (Channel 4), is preparing to ditch its unpopular "CBS 4 Boston" branding early next year, returning to branding itself simply as..."WBZ." (We're at least mildly amused to see the newspaper coverage that makes it sound as though the station actually changed its call letters or something; here at NERW, where we believe the callsign is sacred, we've never called them anything but "WBZ-TV.")

Speaking of WBZ, the radio side of the operation proved the value of a full-time newsroom last week when a chemical plant exploded early Wednesday morning. While WBZ's overnight local newscasts are pre-recorded, its talk shows aren't, and so WBZ listeners had updates from callers (and, soon, from WBZ reporters who awoke and rushed to the scene) while a certain other newsroomless talk station was deep in "Coast to Coast AM." (And, its posted schedule on its website notwithstanding, said station didn't have "Boston this Morning With Rod Fritz" on the air at 6, either.)

Speaking of WRKO, it had still more headaches last week, when its phone system failed, leaving Howie Carr and other hosts to try to take callers with just a single working phone line. Ouch...

won't have to adjust their dials for a while - the team's signed a new two-year deal to keep WEPN (1050 New York) as its flagship through the 2008 season. The games are also heard on WEPN's sister station, WABC (770), though the future of that simulcast may be in doubt when and if Disney completes the sale of WABC and the rest of the ABC Radio empire to Citadel. (The latest word is that closing on that deal isn't expected any time before July 2007.)

The two-year investigation into the finances of Boston University's RHODE ISLAND public radio stations, WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly), has wrapped up with a clean bill of health from state Attorney General Patrick Lynch. The probe began when the stations' parent operation, WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), announced in September 2004 that it was putting the Rhode Island signals on the market. Local donors who'd contributed much of the money to buy the signals from their previous commercial owners complained, and that triggered the investigation. BU backed off its plan to sell WRNI/WXNI, and Lynch agreed to close the investigation after the university named a full-time general manager and created a local advisory board for the stations. That GM, Joe O'Connor, tells the Providence Journal-Bulletin that "this chapter in WRNI's history is closed," and that "every penny that is donated to WRNI is specifically allocated just for this station."

Up in CANADA, Thanksgiving's been over for weeks now, and the CRTC was open for business all last week, granting Corus its move off the AM dial across most of Quebec.

CJRC (1150 Gatineau-Ottawa) will go to 104.7 (11 kW DA/95 m); CHLT (630 Sherbrooke) will move to 102.1 (23 kW DA/91 m); CHLN (550 Trois-Rivieres) will move to 106.9 (100 kW DA/87 m) and CKRS (590 Saguenay) will move to 98.3 (100 kW DA/148 m).

With the closure last week of CKTS (900) in Sherbrooke, that city will have no AM station once the CHLT move is complete, while the CKRS move will silence the AM dial in the Saguenay region and the CHLN move will leave only relay station CKSM (1220 Shawinigan) on the air in the Mauricie region.

Ten Years Ago: November 26, 2001 -

It's not exactly a "fad format," but there's no mistaking the wave of format changes sweeping across NERW-land over the Thanksgiving weekend: stations all over the country, in fact, are dropping AC and oldies formats to go all-Christmas music for the next month. It's largely a Clear Channel thing (and no wonder; it's easier to make a flip like this when you own eight stations in the market!), with that group's flips including WRNQ (92.1 Poughkeepsie), WALK (1370 Patchogue; the FM side stays AC), WTRY-FM (98.3 Troy), WMXW (103.3 Vestal), WYYY (94.5 Syracuse), WISY (102.3 Canandaigua) and WJJJ (104.7 Pittsburgh). But other groups are also getting into the holiday spirit: Barnstable, with WLVG (96.1 Center Moriches) on Long Island's East End; Vox, with the satellite standards on WENU in Glens Falls going all-Christmas; Citadel, with WLEV (100.7 Allentown); and independents WHLM (930 Bloomsburg PA, using the Christmas music as a stunt to launch regular programming early in 2002) and WLSH (1410 Lansford PA, which has done this every year since it signed on!)

We'll start the rest of this holiday-shortened week in the one part of NERW territory where it wasn't a holiday: CANADA. While those of us south of the border were gorging on turkey and stuffing, Corus was busy getting rid of Howard Stern's last Canadian outpost. As of this morning (Nov. 26), Stern will be off Toronto's Q107 (CILQ 107.1), which was the first station in Canada to pick him up back in September 1997. Why drop Stern now? Q107 managers tell the Toronto Star ratings weren't a consideration, that it was simply time to refocus the station on the Toronto market. To that end, Q107 and its sister station "Mojo 640" (CFYI) will move this week from their studios on Yonge Street in North York downtown to the Hard Rock Cafe at Yonge and Dundas. (If that happens to help Corus' cost-cutting efforts, too, we wouldn't be surprised...) Replacing Stern in mornings will be current Q107 afternoon jock (and former FAN 590 morning guy) John Derringer. As for Stern-heads in Toronto, they'll have to point their antennas south to Buffalo's WBUF (92.9), which continues to carry Howard.

Fifteen Years Ago: November 25-29, 1996 -

Boston's business-radio station is raising a lot more questions than it's answering with its public pronouncements this week. WBNW (590) has been the subject of repeated sale rumors over the last few weeks, and now station owner Back Bay Broadcasting has gone to the trouble and expense of hiring veteran Boston PR man George Regan to spread the word that "there will be no change of owner." In an article in Saturday's Boston Herald, Regan is quoted as saying, "as far as (Back Bay owner) Peter Ottmar is concerned, no one has an option on the station." The very next paragraph begins by noting that Salem Communications has an option on WBNW. It also answers a question we've been puzzling over here at NERW headquarters: it seems Salem picked up the option on WBNW in the process of selling KDBX(FM) Banks-Portland, Oregon to American Radio Systems this fall. This is the first solid confirmation we've seen of the long-held speculation that ARS had an option to buy WBNW ever since the station went on the air in September 1994.

Back to the denials: Regan tells the Herald that the departure of WBNW's general manager, Peter Crawford, this week was a "mutual parting of the ways," and he says October was WBNW's most successful month yet. We'll be keeping a very close ear on 590...at least as long as the station audio isn't drowned out by all those denials.

It's the radio saga that just won't end: Alexander Langer's attempts to return two dark New England AMs to the airwaves. Last year, Langer bought WBIV (1060) in Natick, Mass., which had been off the air since selling its transmitter site and equipment to Douglas Broadcasting for the new WBPS (890) Dedham-Boston. Shortly thereafter, he picked up WRPT (1050) in Peterborough, NH, which has been off the air for about four years. Ever since then, we've seen application after application for different ways to put the stations back on the air, including a dismissed application earlier this year to move WRPT down to Foxboro, MA (a move of over 100 miles!) with a change of frequency and power, to 650kHz. Now Langer's trying again. An article in Tuesday's Middlesex News alerted NERW to his latest application, this time to move WRPT to Ashland, MA as a 250 watt daytimer on 650. The transmitter site being proposed is that of WKOX (1200) in nearby Framingham.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Having to scroll down all the way to the bottom to log in (and out) seems poorly engineered. It would be so much more convenient located at the top (as at most websites requiring login), confronting the reader immediately upon arrival.

  2. “…..we’ve got quite the distinguished and civilized group of subscribers here at the new fybush.com – so I’m trusting we can keep the conversation at a fairly high level.”

    Don’t worry. I’ll fix that. ;-D

  3. Scott, the site looks fine in Google Chrome, and Safari, and on my iPad. You might want to consider setting up a separate theme for mobile phones though – there are several available for WordPress sites, and many of those are free.

    • Thanks! It’s something I’m thinking about…though I’m actually quite pleasantly surprised at how usable the site seems to be on my Droid even without a separate mobile theme. Any other mobile users have an opinion to offer?

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