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In this week's issue... "Harbor" yields to "Evolution" - Clear Channel blows out WOR staff - Family back in Philadelphia - CityTV granted in Montreal

By SCOTT FYBUSH

A SCHEDULING NOTE: Barring major breaking news, this will be your last regular NERW column for 2012. We'll be back with our regular weekly columns on Monday, January 7, 2013 - but you'll want to check out fybush.com all through the holidays, because NERW's Year In Review 2012 begins rolling out in daily installments right here, starting Monday, December 24! (Want to share your message with NERW's loyal readers? A few exclusive daily sponsorships are still available for a rate so low you won't believe it...contact Lisa right now at [email protected] for all the details.)

*If any broadcaster has perfected the art of nuclear-level security surrounding a format flip, it's Clear Channel in eastern MASSACHUSETTS. For several months after announcing its purchase of the former WFNX (101.7 Lynn) earlier this year, Clear somehow managed to keep almost everyone from sniffing out its plans to install an automated adult hits format on what became "101.7 the Harbor," WHBA.

And after just five months with that format, Clear Channel pulled out an even bigger surprise on Thursday night at 6, when it abruptly drained "The Harbor" and flipped WHBA to electronic dance music (EDM), essentially using the signal as a terrestrial simulcast of "Evolution," the company's online dance station that's been running for the last few months on the iHeartRadio platform.

There are few groups of music fans as passionate about their genre as EDM aficionados, who were celebrating the terrestrial launch of "101.7 the Evolution" within minutes after the surprise flip. But there were also cautionary voices pointing out that Clear Channel's commitment to the format in Boston may be only temporary. So what gives - is this a stunt or for real?

The Harbor, first off, was at least a qualified success given the relatively low stakes. The 101.7 signal, a class A facility broadcasting from One Financial Center in downtown Boston, sold for $11 million - not small change, to be sure, but far less than Clear Channel or anyone else would have paid for it just a few years ago. As a less-than-full-market player, the expectation was that Clear Channel would use 101.7 as a flanker to its much bigger FM sisters, top 40 WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and rhythmic top 40 WJMN (Jam'n 94.5). Those two stations have long enjoyed a near-monopoly of the youngest demographics in Boston radio, and everything else the Clear Channel Boston cluster does takes place in the context of protecting their revenue stream.

Without a local airstaff or much promotion, "Harbor" was surely an inexpensive format to run, and a profitable one even with ratings that hovered in the mid 1-shares. It probably could have stayed on the air, living its unremarkable radio existence, for quite a while longer - if one of the market's other big clusters weren't itself in the midst of what looks like a format shift. Over at Greater Media, there's still no confirmation that WTKK (96.9) will be abandoning its talk format after 13 years, even after the abrupt departure of midmorning host Doug Meehan on Monday. (He's pursuing a "major-market TV opportunity" yet to be disclosed.)  The domain-registration hounds over at RadioInsight quickly tracked down plenty of leads pointing to a rhythmic format landing at 96.9 in the new year, and that potential threat in turn appears to have prompted Clear Channel to make that speedy flip on 101.7.

So if you follow that theory, 101.7 - and by extension, the EDM community - is being used very much as a pawn in a bigger game. By lining up three younger-demo formats (Kiss, Jam'n and now Evolution) as a roadblock, Clear Channel apparently hopes to push Greater Media in a different direction with 96.9. That could mean staying the course with talk after all, or it could mean picking up adult hits to fill Harbor's void.

It's also possible, of course, that we're not giving Clear Channel's national format team enough credit here. As EDM fans won't hesitate to tell you, their electronic music really did catch a piece of mainstream fire in 2012, with top-40 hit after top-40 hit incorporating the work of dance artists. There's not a lot of overlap between the EDM crowd and the audience that tunes in to a more urban-leaning top-40 such as Jam'n. And 101.7's signal, while limited, does reach most of the colleges and clubs where "Evolution" is most likely to find an audience. So it's not at all out of the question that this is more than just a stunt - or perhaps, even, something that starts as a stunt and ends up doing well enough to stick around for a while...at least until there's some other potential threat to Kiss and Jam'n that needs to be countered more urgently.

*In another piece of Boston news, we've been woefully remiss in not noting the retirement of Dr. Timothy Johnson. The veteran medical reporter is the last remaining member of the original airstaff at WCVB (Channel 5) from that station's launch back in 1972. Johnson retires from the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate at year's end, capping a career that's also included network reporting for ABC.

Meteorologist David Brown is also leaving WCVB after 17 years with the station; he's headed to the Forsyth Institute, which provides free dental care to children, as that agency's Chief Advancement Officer.

WOR's 111 Broadway studios

*Meanwhile in NEW YORK, the week before Christmas brought a less pleasant surprise for many staffers at WOR (710). On Wednesday, Clear Channel closed on its $30 million purchase of the talker from Buckley, and as is typical in such deals, that meant the end of employment for Buckley's staff, with only some of them being offered jobs with the new ownership. WOR morning man John Gambling survived, as did veteran midday host Joan Hamburg, but several other prominent talk hosts are out: Dr. Joy Browne, who was heard both locally on WOR and in syndication, is gone, as is former New York governor David Paterson, who'd been doing afternoons. WOR's news staff is gone, replaced by Clear Channel's Total Traffic service. Behind the scenes, we're hearing at least one engineer and many of the station's board operators weren't picked up by Clear Channel, leading to some chaos as WOR's remaining operations staff tried to figure out how to keep things running in the short term.

WOR's syndicated lineup is changing as well: Mike Gallagher (mid-mornings), Jerry Doyle (6-8 PM) and Mike Huckabee (8-10 PM) are off the schedule, leading to an expected flip of syndicated product between Cumulus' WABC (which is expected to pick up Huckabee) and WOR, where Clear Channel is expected to install much of its Premiere talk lineup, including, possibly, the flagship Rush Limbaugh show that's been a WABC institution. And by mid-2013, it's also expected that WOR will relocate from its current 111 Broadway studios to the Clear Channel cluster facility at 32 Avenue of the Americas. Stay tuned; we're sure to have much more on this one in the new year.

*Upstate, Friday night marks the end of a Rochester TV era: after 36 years at WHEC-TV (Channel 10) as sports director and then main news anchor, Rich Funke signs off at the end of the 6 PM newscast, handing the reins to newcomer Don Hudson. Funke's retirement leaves just two longer-term veterans on the Rochester airwaves: his WHEC co-anchor Janet Lomax, and WHAM-TV (Channel 13) institution Don Alhart, now in his 45th year at that station and well on his way to a national record.

Over in Albany, WXXA (Channel 23) has changed hands from Newport Television to a new company called Shield Media. Shield is in the process of contracting out WXXA's operations to Young Broadcasting's ABC affiliate in town, WTEN (Channel 10), which has put both stations under a common general manager. For now, they're maintaining separate newsrooms, but WTEN reporters are already being seen on WXXA's newscasts and it's probably just a matter of time before "Fox 23 News" is emanating from WTEN's studio.

*Family Radio has been gone from eastern PENNSYLVANIA since April 16, when its sale of WKDN-FM (106.9 Camden NJ) to Merlin Media closed. But the California-based religious network known for founder Harold Camping's failed end-of-the-world prediction is now back in the Philadelphia market. Family sold 106.9 (now talker WWIQ) for $22.5 million, and it's now paid $8.5 million to acquire WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media. As of 6 PM on Friday, WPEN's sports format is gone from 950, living on via WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), and the AM signal becomes WKDN with Family Radio. (And no, it's escaped nobody's irony detectors that the flip takes place on December 21, another date that will go down in history for another "end of the world" that appears not to be happening.)

*The Clear Channel management wheel is spinning in Philadelphia: Dennis Lamme has departed as market manager, southbound on I-95 to fill the void left in the Baltimore/Washington cluster when Thea Mitchem took the top job in New York City. Replacing Lamme in the top office in Philadelphia is Richard Lewis, who'd been VP/sales there.

In Pittsburgh, Mike Oliveira moves up from managing editor to news director at WPXI-TV (Channel 11), filling an office that had been vacant since Mike Goldrick left in October to head up the newsroom at NBC's WRC-TV (Channel 4) in Washington.

Speaking of NBC, it's launched a new subchannel on its owned-and-operated stations, including WCAU (Channel 10) in Philadelphia, WNBC (Channel 4) in New York and WVIT (Channel 30) in Hartford. "Cozi TV" is the latest in a group of retro-themed channels such as MeTV and Antenna TV, and it replaces the news-and-features "Nonstop" channels that had been running on the .2 subchannels of most NBC O&Os. (Some "Nonstop" programming will continue to be seen on those channels, at least in the short term.)

*We're still waiting to see just how the latest CONNECTICUT format flip shakes out: Hall's WKNL (100.9 New London) flipped from oldies ("Kool 101") to hot AC as "100.9 Roxy FM" last Monday at midnight, and so far it appears to be running jockless.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Tony Bristol is out at Cumulus' Providence cluster, ending a long career with those stations. Bristol was operations manager for the cluster, as well as PD for WPRO-FM (92.3) and WWLI (Lite Rock 105.1); no replacement has been named yet.

*In CANADA, Rogers is expanding its "CityTV" footprint into Montreal. The CRTC has approved Rogers' application to approve its C$10.3 million purchase of CJNT (Channel 62, known lately by its cable channel as "Metro 14") from Channel Zero, and to relicense the station as an English-language CityTV outlet. (Channel Zero has already been carrying some City programming on CJNT ahead of the purchase.)

Replacing CJNT's partial lineup of multicultural programming, the CRTC also approved the related application from a new group called “ici” (International Channel/Canal International) for a new TV station in Montreal that would be fully multicultural, providing shows in 15 languages aimed at 18 ethnic groups. The new signal will operate on channel 47, with 5.5 kW max DA (2,7 kW average)/196 meters, and it will share a common master control and a news staff with CJNT.

*Good news, everybody! A new shipment of the 2013 Tower Site Calendar is back from the printer, and on its way out to YOU! (You can even get yours by Christmas if you order right away!)

This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.

The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.

This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We've also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don't worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding -- your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.

Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you're at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.

For more information and to order yours, click here!

3 COMMENTS

  1. I listened to as much as I could stand of WHBA, and it’s sad that anyone attending college would tune in to this dreck. My parents didn’t go to college, but they listened to Rogers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Cole Porter (who like Wagner wrote his own words and music) and others of their ilk. (What is an ilk anyway). To call this cr*p primitive is to insult primitives. There was a motion picture last year called “Cave of Lost Dreams” about cave-paintings even older than the ones at Lascaux. They also found a bone with holes in it that may have been an Ur-flute. It had intervals close enough to Western music that one could play an close approximation to the “Star Spangled Banner”. Thus some of the earliest humans aspired to musical sounds with a range of pitches close to an octave. If it weren’t for auto-tune, WHBA’s selections wouldn’t have any intervals at all.

  2. On the Rochester note, does anyone know exactly how many years Don Alhart needs to log to get the national longevity record?

    Thank you for the great site and am so excited to finally be a subscriber!

    • Happy to have you here! Don’s been at channel 13 since 1966, if memory serves. I’m not sure there’s anyone active right now with a longer run at a single station. He’s still got a few years to go to beat some now-retired talent like KTLA’s Stan Chambers, who was with the station from 1947 until 2010. (But Stan was a reporter, not an anchor, and he was only very part-time at the end.)

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