In this week's issue: WCBS moves downtown - New CEO at MPBN - Brian Murphy, RIP - CT AM still silent - Cogeco sells in Quebec City
by SCOTT FYBUSH
For most of radio's first century, most of the major broadcasters of NEW YORK CITY had something in common: their studios were all tightly clustered within a few dozen blocks of midtown Manhattan, in close proximity to the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and - once upon a time - to the entertainment district around Times Square from which many of the performers of radio's heyday were drawn.
Over the last decade, though, the rise in midtown rents has been drawing stations south - and as of Friday afternoon, the last major English-language commercial station operating from north of 34nd Street has relocated to lower Manhattan.
That's WCBS (880), which moved in 2000 from CBS' "Black Rock" corporate headquarters on W. 52nd Street to the CBS Broadcast Center on W. 57th Street in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.
We've known for a few years that it was destined to follow its CBS Radio sister stations southward as they migrated from their own midtown studios to a cluster of new studios spread out over two floors of 345 Hudson Street (or, at least in the on-air announcements, "Hudson Square.") When CBS moved five of its stations - WXRK (92.3 NOW FM), WCBS-FM (101.1), WWFS (Fresh 102.7), WINS (1010) and WFAN (660) - into that building in 2009, it set aside a corner of one floor for a future move of WCBS(AM). That future arrived on Friday afternoon at 2, when WCBS wrapped up its last newscast from the Broadcast Center and began broadcasting from Hudson Square.
For those keeping score at home, the WCBS move now means that in not much more than a decade, nearly all of the city's major English-language radio stations have moved below Canal Street: CBS, Emmis and Merlin's WEMP are all lined up along Hudson Street, Clear Channel is in the old AT&T building on Sixth Avenue, WOR is now way downtown near Trinity Church and WNYC, once the only station with downtown studios, is in its new digs on Varick Street. The only uptown holdouts are Cumulus' WABC/WPLJ and ESPN's WEPN, at Penn Station; Inner City's WBLS/WLIB at 34th and Park; Bloomberg's WBBR at Lexington and 58th - and in Spanish, the SBS stations (WSKQ/WPAT) on 56th Street and Univision (WXNY/WQBU/WADO) in the old CBS building at 485 Madison, near 52nd Street.
On a practical level, aside from a new commuting pattern for the station's staffers, the WCBS move probably doesn't mean as much as some might think: despite sharing an address with the CBS Radio News national newsroom and WCBS-TV (Channel 2) for more than a decade, there was little synergy taking place within the Broadcast Center, where the 880 studios and offices were so isolated behind their own locked doors up on the eighth floor that at times, some of the network staffers downstairs didn't even know the radio station had moved into the building.
Likewise, while the move makes physical neighbors out of two stations that were long bitter rivals until coming under common ownership in the 1990s, it doesn't necessarily portend more cooperation between WCBS and WINS. The two all-newsers are on separate floors of the building (WINS and WFAN are on one level, while WCBS is upstairs with the three FM stations), and as long as each station remains among the top revenue producers in the market, they'll continue to be very separate operations.
*Upstate, we know what WBFO (88.7 Buffalo) general manager Mark Vogelzang will be doing next year: he's been hired by the MAINE Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) to take over as president and CEO, replacing Jim Dowe when he retires at year’s end after five years on the job.
Vogelzang came to WBFO two years ago in an interim capacity, hired by the State University of New York to oversee the station while it was in the process of being sold. That sale, putting WBFO in the hands of former crosstown rival WNED, will close early in 2012. By then, Vogelzang will be working out of MPBN's Lewiston and Bangor offices, managing the statewide radio and TV networks. The MPBN job will be his first in TV; his career thus far has been spent entirely in public radio, where he was program director of Philadelphia's WHYY and then spent 16 years at the helm of Vermont Public Radio.
It's that experience that helped win him the MPBN job: "Mark's long tenure as the leader of a statewide public media network in northern New England with a roughly equal number of stations, individual donors and corporate supporters, combined with his deep knowledge of non-profit fundraising, makes him the ideal candidate to lead MPBN into the future," said MPBN board chairman Henry Schmelzer.
(Disclaimer: your editor served as a consultant to VPR during Vogelzang's tenure, helping to guide the network's acquisition of the signals that would become the VPR Classical network.)
*Elsewhere, it was a fairly quiet week in the Empire State - though there was at least one station sale: Townsquare Media is paying Digital Radio Broadcasting $245,000 for Albany translator W256BU (99.1). The translator has been relaying WQSH (105.7 Malta), but we expect the simulcast of the main "Crush" signal will be replaced by an HD2 subchannel sooner or later.
On TV, there's word (thanks to CNYRadio.com) that WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse has named a new news director: Rob Cartwright is moving north from KDAF, Tribune's CW affiliate in Dallas, where he's been assistant news director for three years.
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA, they're mourning Brian Murphy, a veteran weekend jock, production guru and occasional weekday morning fill-in at WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia). Murphy had been battling cancer for many years, and he lost that fight November 29, at age 57.
WBEB has put up a tribute page to Murphy here.
Around the corner at Clear Channel's WUSL (98.9), the night team ("The Hot Boyz") has been filling in on morning drive since "Power 99" abruptly parted ways with morning host Miss Jones last week, the latest time the controversial personality (real name Tarsha Jones) has landed a station in hot water.
Jones' previous history includes a suspension at New York's WRKS after being accused of racism for a song parody, as well as a short stint in Philadelphia at WPHI, then on 100.3.
This time, it was an on-air comment about a fight between two groups of teenage girls back in October. A caller to the "Jonesy" show identified the mother of one of the participants (apparently incorrectly) as the owner of a local day care center, and the fallout from that show included a defamation lawsuit against Jones and Clear Channel from the center owner, who says she lost business over the incident.
Across the street (literally!) at ABC O&O WPVI (Channel 6), there's a new vice president/news director, as Tom Davis moves up from assistant news director. Davis, who's been assistant ND there since 2004, replaces Carla Carpenter, who's now senior VP of digital media for all the ABC O&Os.
Not across the street any longer is CBS Radio's all-sports WIP: seven years after moving from Center City Philadelphia out to the massive cluster of studios and offices in suburban Bala Cynwyd, the station has moved back to Center City, taking the space at 4th and Market formerly occupied by WYSP (94.1, now WIP-FM). And there's still no confirmation that WIP-FM will be the new flagship for Phillies games next spring; while several reports have suggested that WIP-FM will share the play-by-play with the Phils' current home, CBS sister station WPHT (1210), the team hasn't made the news official yet. (There was one official play-by-play announcement last week: the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League have struck a deal to put their 2012 games on WBZC 88.9 in Pemberton, NEW JERSEY.)
One more bit of Philly news: the African-American-focused "Bounce TV" network has arrived in the market on the 44.2 subchannel of New Jersey-based WMCN-TV.
*In State College, Steve Jones is gone from WZWW (95.3 Bellefonte) after just over two decades in morning drive. Jones told the Centre Daily Times that he was given no warning and no severance pay when he was abruptly dismissed from the part-time job on Tuesday, and he says the move was related to 3WZ's recent format flip back to adult contemporary after a few months as a news/sports talker.
Even without the 3WZ job, Jones has plenty on his plate: he's also the play-by-play voice of Penn State football.
*There are some new noncommercial signals on the air around the Keystone State: in Bradford, Calvary Chapel of Russell has put WTWT (90.5) on the air after more than a year as a webcast-only religious station; the WTWT transmitter is actually across the state line in the hills above Olean, New York.
In St. Mary's, Invisible Allies Ministries has put WRVI (91.1) on the air as the latest link in its growing "Rev FM" Christian rock network, based in State College at WRXV (89.1); it joins WRQV (88.1 Ridgway), which signed on about a month ago.
*Ellie Padolf was heard for many years on the air in Pittsburgh, reporting traffic and hosting shows at stations such as WTAE (1250), WHTX (96.1) and WDUQ (90.5), and we're sorry to pass along news of her death November 22. She's survived by her husband of 57 years, as well as four children and six grandchildren.
And we send our best wishes to Susan Koeppen, the KDKA-TV (Channel 2) anchor in Pittsburgh who's been sidelined by heart problems. She tweeted on Tuesday that she'll soon be having surgery; while she's out, Kimberly Gill has been her primary substitute on the 6 and 11 PM anchor desk.
*One more bit of New Jersey news: we're hearing that WTOC (1360 Newton) has completed its transition from Clear Channel's Aloha spinoff trust to new owner Radio Vision Cristiana and is now carrying RVC's Spanish-language religious format, originating at WWRV (1330 New York).
*Most of the big MASSACHUSETTS news this week actually comes from outside the state, starting in San Francisco. That's where Cumulus swung a big budget axe at another former Citadel property on Thursday, firing most of the talk staff at the formerly market-dominant KGO (810) with plans to install an all-news format in their place.
That KGO talk lineup included some legendary names such as Gil Gross and Ray Taliaferro - and Gene Burns, who made a big name for himself as the midday host ("we have successfully transited the meridian") at Boston's WRKO (680) from 1985 until 1992 before departing for a short run at New York's WOR (710) and then 17 years in the evening hours on KGO. Burns made a brief virtual return to the Boston airwaves in 2000, hosting a show for upstart talker WMEX (1060 Natick, now WQOM) from his San Francisco studio; it's hard to imagine that he'd come back now, or even that there would be a congenial slot for his erudite style on an increasingly coarse talk landscape, but one never knows...
Listeners in the Washington, DC market (or at least the northwest corner of the market) can now hear some Boston talk, courtesy of a hookup between progressive talker Jeff Santos and WCTN (950 Potomac-Cabin John MD), which is now carrying several hours of the Santos show, originating at Boston's WWZN (1510), complete with Boston traffic reports and commercials.
*Congratulations to a Boston media power couple on their new arrival: WFXT (Channel 25) anchor Sara Underwood and Comcast Sports Network anchor/WBZ-FM (Sports Hub 98.5) talk host Michael Felger are the proud parents of Tessa Rose, born Monday afternoon.
*A call change in VERMONT: WJPK (100.3 Barton) has dropped its original calls, which referenced its Jay Peak location, in favor of WJJZ. The WJJZ calls are most familiar to Philadelphia listeners from their several incarnations in the market on AM 1460 (now WIFI), 106.1 (now WISX) and 97.5 (now WPEN-FM); in the Northeast Kingdom, the call goes on a frequency that's been simulcasting "Magic" WGMT (97.7 Lyndon).
*A new signal on the air in Maine: WRPB (89.3 Benedicta) is simulcasting contemporary Christian WWWA (95.3 Winslow), serving a fairly remote area along I-95 between Millinocket and Houlton.
*TV people on the move in RHODE ISLAND: Irene Mahoney-Paige lasted just four months as news director at Citadel's WLNE (Channel 6) after moving east from WTIC-TV in Hartford; the Providence-market ABC affiliate has posted the opening, noting that prior experience as a news director is "required."
On the radio, WHJY (94.1 Providence) morning team Paul Fuller and Al Milukas will be in place on the "Paul and Al Show" for several more years to come: they've signed a contract extension that will keep them at the Clear Channel rocker through 2015, their 25th anniversary.
*There's a new owner for Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT's WSAH (Channel 43), but the outcome of the bankruptcy auction that awarded the infomercial/Retro TV station to NRJ TV LLC is being challenged by previous owner Arthur Liu. TVNewsCheck.com reports Liu is claiming the bidding process, which ended with a $22.8 million bid from NRJ, was not conducted in good faith. NRJ and Liu's Multicultural Television have a history together: NRJ bought two other former Liu stations, including Boston-market WMFP (Channel 62), in a bankruptcy sale earlier this year.
WSAH is an odd duck: while it's officially part of the New York City TV market and enjoys market-wide carriage on a handful of platforms (DirecTV and Verizon FiOS), it's not seen on cable in most of the market outside Connecticut. What will NRJ do with it? In Boston, the company is installing the MeTV network on WMFP, but there's widespread speculation that NRJ's real goals have nothing to do with TV broadcasting - instead, the company is believed to be betting that its stations' UHF frequencies will be worth more to broadband providers than for TV service if the FCC approves incentive auctions to repack digital TV service into a smaller chunk of spectrum.
*Meanwhile, one signal remains off the air more than a month after the October 29 storms that downed power lines and blacked out huge swaths of the Nutmeg State. WFNW (1380 Naugatuck) is still silent, though there's been no filing with the FCC to that effect.
*In CANADA, Cogeco is making good on its promise to the CRTC to sell several of the stations it bought last year from Corus. CJEC (91.9 Rythme FM) and CFEL (102.1 CKOI) would have put Cogeco above the market ownership cap in Quebec City, and after operating under a trustee they're now headed to Leclerc Communication. No purchase price has been announced, and Cogeco says it still hasn't found a buyer for the third station in trust, CJTS (104.5 Sherbrooke).
A few Radio People on the Move in Cornwall, Ontario: John Bolton has been a morning fixture on CJSS (101.9) and its sister stations for almost two decades, but he'll do his last show Thursday; he's moving out of town. Also departing the Corus cluster is news director Lorne Wiebe, who's been with CJSS/CFLG for 13 years. He's resigning, effective at the end of the year.
A few new callsigns, courtesy of Dan Sys' Canadian Radio News: mark down CFPP for the new "Moose FM" on 107.9 in Prescott, CFWN for the new community signal on 89.7 in Port Hope and CFRZ for the new First Nations signal on 98.3 at Walpole Island.