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In this week's issue: Is Family selling WFME? - Bills move shakes up western NY radio scene - Jerson out at NJ 101.5 - New "Energy" in Halifax

by SCOTT FYBUSH

*The FM landscape in NEW YORK City promises to be an interesting place in 2012. As the new year began, we already knew that financial woes at Inner City Broadcasting could lead to WBLS (107.5) going up for sale - but it now appears that WBLS may not be the only big New York FM signal to hit the auction block in the next few months.

At this time last year, Family Stations founder Harold Camping would have told you, if you'd asked, that the world wasn't even going to be around in 2012, and the cost of publicizing his prediction of global apocalypse in 2011 began to spark speculation of station sales long before we all found out that the world was going to keep on existing past May (and then past Camping's revised October apocalypse date.)

It turns out that the first two big Family FM signals to be sold - WFSI (107.9 Annapolis MD) to CBS, for $8.5 million, followed by WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ) to Merlin Media, for $22.5 million - may not have brought in enough cash to pay Family's bills. Now it's WFME (94.7 Newark NJ) that appears to be getting readied for a sale. Last week, Family asked the FCC to change the station's status from noncommercial to commercial, the same procedure that preceded  the sales of WFSI and WKDN last year.

So who might be in line to buy 94.7, and what about that signal?

As things now stand, WFME is a 37.2 kW/571' class B signal transmitting from First Mountain in West Orange, New Jersey, the same site it's used since the station signed on in the late 1940s as WAAT-FM. Back then, the First Mountain site was shared with WATV, Channel 13; in later years, WVNJ-FM (100.3) and WBTB (Channel 68) called the mountain home. All of those stations eventually moved to the Empire State Building to become full New York City signals - so it stands to reason that WFME could follow suit...right?

Not so fast.

While the FM dial was open enough in 1983 for 100.3 to cross the Hudson into the big city, 94.7 is a more crowded channel. WFME's biggest obstacle to a move is co-channel Citadel-turned-Cumulus station WMAS-FM, 201 kilometers to the northeast in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. We'll spare you the need to look up section 73.207 of the FCC's rulebook: it requires 241 km of space between class B co-channel stations and 211 km between a co-channel B and a B1, and Empire is only 194 km from WMAS-FM's tower site.

There's a potential escape clause for WFME, though - the FCC's rules grandfather existing short-spacings, provided that they already existed when the current spacing rules took effect in 1964. Under that set of rules, WFME can't increase the extent of interference it creates to (or receives from) WMAS-FM, but there's at least the possibility of wiggle room if either station (or both) were to install a directional antenna or reduce power. (There's another question here, too: in 1964, WMAS-FM operated with not-even-class-A facilities, 1.35 kW/175' from the WMAS AM tower - was it, in fact, short-spaced to WFME at the time?)

So we can't completely rule out the possibility of a 94.7 move across the Hudson - but it's not a slam-dunk, and it would result in a compromised signal that might well require either the use of a directional antenna (a logistical near-impossibility at Empire, where limited aperture space on the mast and stratospheric rental costs force FM stations to share a handful of master antennas, all non-directional) or a significant power reduction, or both...which means the signal that WFME now enjoys from New Jersey is the signal most potential buyers will likely expect to end up with. (It's not a terrible signal, really, what with all that raw power and a good line-of-sight across the Hudson into Manhattan, but it's less than ideal in Brooklyn and Queens, not to mention Westchester and Long Island.)

And that brings us to the short list of potential buyers for WFME:

We can rule out a few big names - Clear Channel is already maxed out with five full-power FMs in New York, and CBS hit the maximum as well when it agreed to buy WLNY-TV (Channel 55), triggering a lower radio/TV ownership cap that limits the company to its existing three New York FMs. Of the other big commercial players in the city, Emmis is in selling mode, and we've already noted Inner City's precarious financial condition. After the death of its longtime leader, we doubt Buckley Radio has much reason to dig deep to add an FM signal to WOR (710), and we also haven't seen much in the way of aggressive acquisitions lately from the big Spanish-language players, Univision Radio or SBS.

Who's left? Two big names have been at the top of most observers' lists whenever the topic of 94.7 has come up: Cumulus has plenty of reason to want to bolster the small cluster (WABC 770/WPLJ 95.5) it took over from Citadel, and Disney has been rather openly in the hunt for an FM replacement for its signal-challenged ESPN Radio flagship, WEPN (1050). Would Cumulus want to add to its debt load from the Citadel acquisition to make what's likely to be a $50 million purchase? The Atlanta-based broadcaster has one big factor working in its favor: the Citadel buy also brought WMAS-FM under the Cumulus banner, which could make it far easier to arrange for a signal modification, especially one that could lead to a significant downgrade of the Springfield signal. But it's Disney that has the deep pockets and the strongest motivation to add an FM to its portfolio, and even with its existing signal, WFME would fill in the biggest gaps in the 1050 signal on the New Jersey side of the market. (At one time, we'd have suggested that Disney could even throw in one of its AMs, either WEPN or Radio Disney outlet WQEW 1560, to reduce the cash cost of the purchase and give Family a continued presence on the New York dial, but Family's actions in Philadelphia and Washington suggest it's serious about exiting the market completely.)

A few other less-likely possibilities: Merlin Media would appear to have its hands full with WEMP (FM News 101.9) and its sisters in Chicago and, soon, Philadelphia - but it, too, has deep pockets, not to mention a history of buying from Family Stations. Out west, Family sold a Sacramento FM, the former KEBR-FM 89.3, to public broadcaster KQED; could WNYC be interested in 94.7 as a better classical signal to replace the challenged 105.9 facility of WQXR? And there are suburban broadcasters who could conceivably be interested, too, though it's hard to imagine the high price tag of 94.7 would make it attractive as a stand-alone New York FM for a Greater Media or Press, much less the financially-challenged Townsquare.

So the stage is set for an interesting next few months. If Family's sales in Philadelphia and Washington are any indication, it will move quickly to take bids for 94.7 and to close on a sale. Will that push Inner City and its lenders to move more quickly on WBLS than they'd planned? We'll be following the process, every step of the way.

*A few more New York City notes before we move upstate: WXRK (92.3 Now FM) morning man Nick Cannon is off the air for the moment; he's hospitalized in Los Angeles for kidney failure. Cannon underwent surgery on Friday, and he tells his fans he's recuperating and hopes to be back in action soon.

And there's a new face at the helm at Univision Radio's WXNY/WADO/WQBU: Felix Perez moves to Univision from Davidson Media Group, where he was president and CEO.

*In Syracuse, Cumulus started the new year with a talk-to-rock format flip: WXTL (105.9) went to a TV-themes stunt after the Bob & Tom morning show on Friday morning, followed at 1:05 PM with the launch of "The Rebel," a new classic rocker.

"We’re giving central New York a new and different choice for rock, with deeper album cuts and true variety," said operations manager Tom Mitchell.

Aside from Bob & Tom, whose syndicated morning show continues, there's no airstaff yet at the station, which is being programmed by WAQX (95.7) PD Hunter Scott - but there's almost nobody in the market who's failed to notice that the launch of the Rebel came just days after veteran WTKW (99.5) jock Dave Frisina got his walking papers from Galaxy Communications.

*As noted on our mid-week update, there's plenty of disruption elsewhere on the upstate airwaves: not only are the Buffalo Bills moving to a new radio home - Entercom's WGR (550) - this fall, there's a schedule change at their former flagship. Yup, it's Cumulus again: at the former Citadel Buffalo cluster, Shredd and Ragan are returning to morning drive on WEDG (103.3 the Edge) today after more than five years in afternoons. The popular duo were displaced to make room for Opie and Anthony in the mornings, but they stayed in afternoons long after O&A decamped for satellite radio. Their return to mornings shifts Rich "The Bull" Gaenzler back to afternoons.

Here in Rochester, Pete Kennedy is back on the air in a familiar location: he worked at the HSBC Building when the 16th and 17th floors were home to WPXY (97.9) under CBS Radio, then followed "98PXY" to new owner Entercom, which shifted him to sister station WBZA (98.9) before cutting him loose last year. Now the "Mayor" is back at HSBC, where he started last week as morning man on WDVI (100.5 the Drive). Down the hall on the 16th floor, WHAM (1180) talker Bob Lonsberry is getting used to his new schedule, which finds him working 9 AM-1 PM on WHAM and then 3-5 PM on WSYR (106.9/570) in Syracuse. WHAM's schedule shift displaced the syndicated Michael Savage show, but it wasn't gone from the market for long: Savage is now being heard at night on Bob Savage's WYSL (1040 Avon) and its Rochester translator at 92.1.

Back at WSYR, news director Chris Barnes is departing: he's among a host of newspeople hired by WNEW-FM (99.1 Bowie MD), the new CBS Radio all-news operation in the Washington market that's due to launch later this month.

*We're very sorry to report the death of Mike Bostic, former chief engineer of WKLX (98.9 Rochester). Bostic had also worked at WCMF (96.5), and in recent years he'd been handling engineering for Companion Radio, the Rochester-based service that operates low-power signals at nursing homes and senior centers. Bostic died Tuesday (Jan. 3) at 64, of complications from a recent surgery.

And we've been extraordinarily remiss in failing to note the death of Ron Smith back in December. While best known for his many decades of talk at Baltimore's WBAL (1090), where he worked from 1973 until he became too ill to go on the air late in 2011, Smith had NERW-land roots, too: he worked briefly as a DJ at WHAV (1490 Haverhill MA) in 1962, then spent several years at WTEN (Channel 10) in Albany before moving to Baltimore.

*In NEW JERSEY, Townsquare started the year without several on-air personalities. At WKXW-FM (101.5 Trenton), "New Jersey 101.5" is looking for a new evening show after dropping Michelle Jerson's "After Hours" relationship-talk program; Steve Trevelise is filling in on the shift for now. Down the shore, the "Just a Bit Outside" evening sports-focused show at WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin) is gone, as are hosts Mikey Krenek, Joe Giglio and Tyrone Johnson. Krenek and Giglio were also doing afternoons on sports talker WENJ-FM (97.3 Millville).

*In PENNSYLVANIA, it was Cumulus making some cuts once again at a former Citadel property: Jim Bone is gone at WBSX (97.9 Hazleton), and the syndicated Michigan-based "Free Beer and Hot Wings" morning show is now being heard instead at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton active rocker. Across town at Entercom, veteran talk producer "Bosco" is reportedly out at WILK after several decades with the station.

WIOO's studios, 2008

In Lancaster, Toby Knapp is back on the air, but the former WLAN-FM (96.9) morning man isn't quite local - he's tracking nights from his current gig at Clear Channel sister station WIHT (99.5) in Washington.

Up the road in Carlisle, WIOO (1000) isn't back home just yet, but the classic country station (also heard on WEEO 1480 Shippensburg and two FM translators) is at least in temporary quarters after the fire last week that heavily damaged its York Road studio building. The fire apparently started in electrical wires in the first-floor ceiling, just a few minutes after PD Ray Thomas had left the building for lunch on that holiday Monday. It's still not clear when (or if) WIOO will be able to move back home.

At the other end of the state, Chris Lash's WHYP (1370 Corry) has a new home: PBRTV.com reports the station has relocated to a new storefront studio in the heart of downtown Corry at 122 North Center Street. (We'll have to stop by and visit sometime soon...)

Over in Erie, Rick Rambaldo has located a new transmitter site for his new Lawrence Park-licensed signal on 92.7. The Erie Times-News reports he's now applying to put the class A station on a 78-foot mast atop the ten-story South Shore Place apartment tower on the Lake Erie shore west of downtown Erie. From there, 92.7 will be able to use a directional antenna to null its signal across the lake toward co-channel CJBX in London, Ontario, while still providing a city-grade signal over much of the Erie market. (We'll know more once the application is filed with the FCC.)

*A quiet week indeed in New England - but in MASSACHUSETTS, we note the 30th anniversary of Boston's "Magic 106.7"; it was on January 6, 1982 that Greater Media launched WMJX on the facilities of the former WBZ-FM, which Westinghouse had sold for less than $4 million in a breathtaking display of short-sightedness the year before.

Up the road in Haverhill, there won't be a new PD at WXRV (92.5 Andover) to replace the departing Catie Wilber; instead, consultant Mike Henry will be programming the station's music.

*And there are just two big stories to report from CANADA this week: in Halifax, Evanov's CKHZ (103.5) segued from mainstream top 40 ("Z 103") to rhythmic top-40 as "Energy 103.5," making the flip at 1:03 PM last Friday (January 6).

Meanwhile on the Niagara Peninsula, Haliburton Broadcasting installed new callsigns on its newly-purchased FM signals on New Year's Day: "Ed 105.1" flipped from CFLZ-FM to CJED-FM, while "Z101" dropped the CKEY calls (which had decades of heritage across the lake in Toronto) to become CFLZ-FM.

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: January 10, 2011 -

Clear Channel is taking another stab at moving one of its western MASSACHUSETTS FM signals south to Hartford, CONNECTICUT - and the latest proposal to move WPKX (97.9) is part of a big batch of applications that could end up affecting at least four stations in the region.

Clear Channel had originally proposed relocating WPKX to downtown Hartford without changing its city of license from Enfield, right on the state line, but that application was withdrawn last year. The new application filed last week once again proposes to put WPKX atop the City Place I office tower in downtown Hartford, but now the station's city of license would change to Windsor Locks, closer to Hartford and more easily covered from the downtown transmitter site.

To maintain the legal fiction of "first local service" to Enfield, Clear Channel has struck a deal with Citadel to change the city of license of Citadel's WMAS-FM (94.7) from Springfield to Enfield; that's all that will change at WMAS, which will retain its present downtown Springfield transmitter site and studios at the Basketball Hall of Fame. (Citadel, in exchange, gets to use a Clear Channel-owned generator at the Sandia Crest master FM/TV site high above Albuquerque.)

The other two stations being shuffled are both on 100.9: Clear Channel's WRNX in Amherst and Hall's WKNL in New London. In order to move WRNX closer to Springfield (presumably to become the new home of the WPKX calls and "Kix" country format after 97.9 moves away, though Clear Channel's not saying as much), Clear Channel needed WKNL to agree to short-spacing.

Here's how that plays out: in exchange for agreeing to the short-spacing, Clear Channel will pay for a new directional antenna that will allow "Kool 101" to upgrade to 6 kW from its present 3 kW. Two other Connecticut stations, CBS Radio's WRCH (100.5) and Clear Channel's own WKCI (101.3), also had to sign off on the short-spacing in order for WRNX to move. Its new site will be on Mount Tom in Holyoke, not at the main tower farm there (the spacings don't quite work) but rather at the small tower to the north at the top of the ski area that's now home to WFXQ-CA (Channel 28). From there, WRNX will run 870 watts/859' into a directional antenna with significantly improved coverage of Springfield compared to its present 1350-watt/692' site on another ridge to the northeast.

Glenn Beck may originate his midmorning radio show from NEW YORKCity, but as of next Monday the show will be without an affiliate there. WOR (710) announced last week that it's replacing Beck with Mike Gallagher in the 10 AM-noon slot and extending John R. Gambling's morning show to 10 AM instead of ending it at 9.

Gallagher has a long history in the market, having been heard locally on WABC (770) before becoming a Salem syndicated talker. He's currently being heard in New York on delay, running in the 9 PM-midnight slot on Salem's WNYM (970), which hasn't yet announced its new nighttime lineup.

As for Beck, WOR PD Scott Lakefield minced no words about the reason he's losing his perch in the city where his show originates: "The reason is ratings," he told the Daily News. "Somewhat to our surprise, the show wasn't getting what we wanted." By our count, WOR is at least the third talker in NERW-land to pull Beck's show in the last few months - there's the high-profile programming shift underway at Philadelphia's WPHT (1210), of course, and the quieter replacement of Beck with Dennis Miller up in New Hampshire at WNTK (99.7), where ratings and revenues also didn't live up to expectations.

In Syracuse, the final pieces of the WSYR move to FM have now fallen into place. It took a few days for WSYR's new FM home on 106.9 to change the call letters it was using on the air; as late as Wednesday, it was still identifying as "WPHR-FM Solvay" even as its Clear Channel sister station in Florida had flipped from WSYR-FM (94.7 Gifford/Fort Pierce) to WPHR-FM. Now it's WSYR-FM in Syracuse, and we'll see in the months to come whether the simulcast on WSYR (570) is permanent or whether the AM signal will eventually flip to a new format.

As for the former "Power" urban format from 106.9, it's now on WHEN (620) and on WSYR-FM's HD2, where it trades places with the WSYR(AM) simulcast that used to be heard there. We happened across an interesting on-air moment on 620 over the weekend: the Saturday afternoon "Power Perspectives" local talk show spent some time talking about the station's shift from 106.9 to 620, and interspersed with the expected criticism of the move to AM were a surprising number of calls praising the AM station's considerable daytime reach across a much larger swath of central New York than its former FM home.

The news from CANADA this week starts with a format change in southwest Ontario: CJSP (92.7 Leamington) quietly ditched country on Tuesday (January 4) to become adult hits "92.7 Max FM."

Owner Blackburn Radio says that when it signed on CJWF (95.9 Windsor) with country, it found more overlap with CJSP than it had expected, and it's urging country fans in the Leamington area to tune to CJWF or to sister station CFCO (630) from Chatham instead.

In St. Catharines, there's a new morning team at CHTZ (97.7), where Chris Biggs and Jason Barr will launch their "Biggs & Barr" show next Monday.

Biggs had worked at Toronto-market stations including CKFM (999 Virgin Radio), CHUM-FM and CIDC (Z103.5); Barr was at CFNY (102.1 the Edge) for almost two decades. Meanwhile, HTZ-FM veteran "Iron Mike" Bensson returns to the station for afternoons.

Five Years Ago: January 7, 2007 -

The new year brought yet another new format to one of NEW YORK's more troubled FM frequencies of late, as CBS Radio made a January 2 (1-02-7, get it?) flip on WNEW (102.7 New York), ditching rhythmic AC "Mix 102.7" in favor of "Fresh 102.7" adult contemporary.

By the time the flip finally happened at 5 AM Tuesday, it was no big surprise - the entire "Mix" airstaff was already out the door before the format changed, and the new URL (fresh1027.com) had already been sniffed out by the usual messageboard crowds. The new format wasn't hard to figure out, either - after recent talent changes at Clear Channel's longtime market-leading AC "Lite" (WLTW 106.7), there's probably as much chance of stealing some of Lite's audience as there's been in years.

No airstaff has been announced yet for the new "Fresh," though we'd be stunned if they weren't at least talking with ousted Lite staffers such as Bill Buchner and J.J. Kennedy. One big change, though: after the WNEW calls survived FM talk, two incarnations of "Blink," and several versions of "Mix," they're finally being retired from 102.7 just shy of their fiftieth anniversary there. Mark down "WWFS" as the new calls for "Fresh" - and look for the WNEW calls to follow much of their old audience south to Florida, where CBS Radio will park them in its West Palm Beach cluster.

Speaking of heading south, that's where a lot of CBS Radio staffers will be heading in 2008, as the company prepares to move all of its New York radio stations except WCBS (880) to the 10th and 11th floors of 345 Hudson Street. The move will take WINS (1010) and WWFS from their aging studios at 888 Seventh Avenue, WCBS-FM (101.1) from its digs in the former WLTW space in the Viacom building at 1515 Broadway and WFAN (660) from the basement of the old Kaufman Astoria studios in Queens - and it will put them all in an area that's becoming a hotbed of radio, including the Emmis stations (WQHT/WQCD/WRKS) just up Hudson Street, the new WNYC studios under construction a few blocks away, and the upcoming move of Clear Channel's five FMs to 32 Avenue of the Americas.

Eight years after it brought Radio Disney to the New York City airwaves with a long-term LMA of WQEW (1560) from the New York Times Company, Disney is turning its management of the 50,000-watt AM signal into an outright purchase. It's exercising an option to buy WQEW for $40 million, with the deal set to close within a few months. The Times Company, which is also selling its TV station group (more on that in our Pennsylvania section, below), says it has no intention of selling its last remaining broadcast property, WQXR-FM (96.3).

Congratulations to Alex Roman - just a few years after coming to New York from California as chief engineer at WKTU (103.5 Lake Success), he's taking on one of the most prestigious engineering jobs in the city, replacing Kevin Plumb as chief engineer of WABC (770)/WPLJ (95.5).

We'll be looking forward to seeing Alex - and most of the rest of the New York engineering community - on Thursday morning, when WOR (710) tries again to take down its old three-tower array in Lyndhurst. An invitation-only viewing party will take place at WOR's new site a mile away in East Rutherford; we'll have pictures for you Thursday night on Tower Site of the Week, and maybe even some video, if we can make it all work right. Stay tuned!

Lots of news out of Albany itself this week: now that ESPN Radio affiliate WTMM has migrated from AM 1300 to FM 104.5, the AM signal, as expected, has relaunched as an outlet of Greenstone Media's female-oriented talk network. The new slogan is "Eve 1300," and the new calls for the Rensselaer-licensed station are WEEV. (Only the geekiest of radio geeks will note the similarity to 1300's original calls, WEEE, from back in the early sixties; yes, we count ourselves as part of that group.)

*Talk radio listeners in eastern MASSACHUSETTS had to rearrange their schedules as 2007 began, with some big programming shifts at both Entercom's WRKO (680) and Greater Media's WTKK (96.9).

At WRKO, Todd Feinburg's evening talk show is history, with Feinburg moving temporarily into the former John DePetro slot from 9-noon and Michael Savage filling the 7-10 PM slot, followed by Jerry Doyle. (On nights when there's Celtics basketball or - soon - Red Sox baseball in the evenings, Savage will be on delay following the game.)

WRKO's still looking for a permanent show for late mornings, though the station says Feinburg may remain part of that solution when it's launched. It's also still courting former House speaker Tom Finneran, who pleaded guilty to felony obstruction-of-justice charges last week, for morning drive.

Meanwhile at WTKK, Michael Graham has also moved from evenings to mid-mornings as part of a new lineup that cuts Don Imus off at 9, followed by an hour of Mike Barnicle, then Graham from 10-noon and an expanded three-hour "Eagan and Braude" show from noon-3. Bill O'Reilly now follows Jay Severin at 7, and then Laura Ingraham's on from 9-midnight.

All those changes leave WBZ's Paul Sullivan as the last local talk show standing in the evening hours, at least when the Bruins aren't on the air. And while we're on the topic of WBZ, our one-week break from regular NERW duty (you have checked out our 2006 Year in Review, haven't you?) means this is our first chance to recap the last day on the air for legendary morning man Gary LaPierre.

Reached by phone early that morning, Gary sounded more than a little uncertain about leaving the studios he's called home since 1964, but with the festivities already well underway, there was no turning back. Boston Mayor Tom Menino was among the dignitaries who stopped by in person to wish Gary well, and Governor Mitt Romney (who declared "Gary LaPierre Day" in the Commonwealth) and Senator Ted Kennedy were among the callers who made it on the air. (So did Boston broadcast legends Charles Laquidara and Jess Cain.)

Behind the scenes (though visible on the WBZ webcast hosted by Jordan Rich), the studios were packed with current and former colleagues, including many faces your editor recognized from his time at 1170 Soldiers Field Road in the early nineties. Gary's family was there, too, including his wife, Peg, and his children and grandchildren.

When the last newscast was over a few minutes past 9, Gary signed off with his usual class, thanking all the managers he'd worked for over the years (and drawing a huge laugh from the crowd when he called some of them "idiots") - and finally ending up in tears as he handed the mike over to his morning sports partner of many years, Gil Santos. (Gil, in turn, declared that there was nothing significant in the world of sports to talk about, then devoted his sportscast to saying goodbye to Gary.)

And a few minutes later, the entire staff of WBZ lined the long hallway that leads from the radio/TV newsroom up to the lobby, giving Gary and Peg a hero's farewell as he headed off into retirement.

(Meanwhile, the segue to new morning anchor Ed Walsh was seamless; after keeping an appropriately low profile on the air during the LaPierre farewell, Walsh was on the air with the 9:30 newscast.)

Ten Years Ago: January 7, 2002 -

We'll start this year's news out in Lakeside, NEW JERSEY - or is it Harriman, New York? In any event, the long-dormant construction permit for the 550 kHz frequency in that suburban area northwest of New York City may finally be on its last legs. Under the call WKNJ, this CP has lingered for years, unable to find a site on the New Jersey side of the line where a directional array could be built, and finally resorting to a plan to move across the state line and diplex with WRKL (910 New City) at its Rockland County site.

Just before the holidays, though, the FCC denied WKNJ additional time to construct the station. Permittee Steven Wendell was granted a three-year construction permit to replace his expired CP in December, 1998 (this on a CP that was originally granted back in 1998), and his request for additional time met with opposition from WLUX, the Long Island station just down the dial at 540. WLUX wants to add a second tower for higher power directional operation, and it appears that task would be easier without having to protect WKNJ's 250-watt daytime signal up in Rockland. It doesn't look like this fight is over, though; Wendell filed an application for special temporary authority, apparently to begin testing from the WRKL site, and while the FCC dismissed it as moot, we're fairly certain we haven't heard the end of WKNJ yet.

More news from NEW YORK: We took a ride out to East Barre, Orleans County last week just to see whether the Calvary folks have really built WBJA (102.1 Albion), and the answer is an unqualified "yes." This brand new tower, complete with two-bay directional antenna, appears to be all ready to go, but WBJA wasn't yet on the air when we drove out there December 29. 102.1 was hardly an empty frequency in Albion, though; parked at the base of the tower, we were getting a city-grade signal from Toronto's CFNY, just across the lake on 102.1. We know the FCC and CRTC have decided to abandon essentially all protection for FM signals across the border, but they can't repeal the laws of physics - and we suspect WBJA won't be terribly pleased with all the signal from CFNY wiping its own signal out in much of Orleans County and beyond. (On the other hand, this was essentially a throwaway allocation; it began as 95.5A, but then-Jacor, after applying for and winning the CP, had it moved to 102.1 to allow WNVE on 95.1 to move its antenna closer to Rochester. With that accomplished, Clear Channel then donated the 102.1 CP to Calvary.) One more note on this one before we move on: The FCC seems to be confused about what channel WBJA is really on; several database entries put it on 89.9, but we believe that's an inadvertent typo.

And up on the North Shore, WUMB has been testing its new signal. WNEF (91.7 Newburyport) will have its inaugural broadcast at 3 PM, Sunday, January 13, with special guests Cheryl Hoenemeyer, Cormac McCarthy and Taylor and Jake Armerding. The transmitter is located at the Adelphia Cable tower in Amesbury; it'll bring WUMB's folk signal to an area north of Cape Ann that's never heard the station before, while protecting co-channel WMWM (91.7 Salem) to the south. The calls, by the way, stand for "We're New England Folk."

Fifteen Years Ago: January 8, 1997 -

The big news as '97 gets rolling here in New England is coming from American Radio Systems' flagship talker, WRKO (680) Boston. Here's what we know for sure: After decades of weekday work in Beantown, Jerry Williams is about to be retired to a weekend slot on "The Talk Station." Williams wrapped up his 10-AM-to-noon show Tuesday by noting that he'd be on the air the rest of the week...but would announce on Wednesday what would happen after that. Sources tell NERW that Williams will move to the 1 to 4 pm spot Saturdays and Sundays, with the weekday timeslot to be given to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, who's already heard from 10pm to midnight on 'RKO. Williams has been a Boston institution for more than 30 years, with stints on WMEX, WITS, and WBZ, among others, before joinig WRKO. His stature at WRKO has been slowly diminishing over the last few years, as he's been shuffled from afternoon drive (displaced by Howie Carr) to the present two-hour midday spot.

Meantime, the morning picture at 'RKO remains hazy. Co-host Marjorie Clapprood walked out on the air Thursday morning, and WRKO pulled her counterpart, Pat Whitley, to give both of them a "cooling-off period." Pat and Marjorie's ratings have been on a steady decline -- and NERW wonders if this could be a publicity stunt to get them some attention, or perhaps a sign that Herald columnist Howie Carr (whose PM drive talk show on WRKO and several other New England stations has been the lone bright spot for 'RKO lately) will soon be moving to mornings.

A death in the family: Alan Okun, the owner of WGFP (940) and WXXW (98.9) Webster MA and president of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, died on December 31 in his hometown of Rochester NY. Okun was only in his forties. He bought WGFP about a decade ago, and put WXXW on the air in the early nineties. No word on what will become of the stations.

In print: WBZ (1030) talk host David Brudnoy has been reaping the publicity bonanza with the release this week of his new autobiography, Life is Not a Rehearsal. Favorable notices have included a review in last Thursday's New York Times, as well as numerous TV appearances.

From the Connecticut bureau: WREF (850) Ridgefield CT has started simulcasting WLAD (800) Danbury, as WLAD owner Berkshire Broadcasting prepares to buy WREF for $550,000. UConn basketball is being seen on Connecticut Public TV (with former UConn star Rebecca Lobo offering commentary) and heard on WTIC (1080) Hartford, displacing some Whalers games to WTIC sister WZMX (93.7).

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