TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Greater Media has launched the official format on Boston’s 96.9. “Hot 96.9″ launched at 11 this morning on the former talk WTKK, ending a week of “micro-formats” and, as widely expected, putting Greater right into the rhythmic top 40 game against Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5) and WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and CBS Radio’s WODS (Amp 103.3). Here’s what Greater had to say just after the launch:
Hot 96.9, the Rhythm of Boston, will feature rhythm and dance music from today, along with throwbacks from the 80′s and 90′s, including artists like Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Usher, and Rihanna. Hot 96.9 Morning Show Personality Pebbles officially kicked off the new format in the studio this morning at 11am by playing the first of 13,000 songs in a row. “Throughout my years in radio, I’ve witnessed firsthand the rich history Boston has of embracing rhythmic hit music,” said Greater Media Boston Director of Programming Cadillac Jack McCartney. “We have identified a huge gap in the market to super-serve Adults who have graduated from the many teen stations currently in the city, but who still want a radio station that gives them some of the great throwbacks they grew up with, along with the best rhythmic hits of today, and without all the interruptions. Hot 96.9 is that station!” “The entire Greater Media Boston team has had a lot of fun over the past week with our format stunts, and hope that others have enjoyed it,” said Greater Media Boston Market Manager Rob Williams. “We are excited to introduce Hot 96.9 to Boston.”
We may be a little short on the ground in the next few days as we deal with two family health emergencies in two cities, so if you’re looking for additional updates and don’t see them here, please visit our colleague Lance Venta over at RadioInsight.com, too.
(And please allow a few extra days for calendars to be shipped out, since one of those emergencies involves Mrs. NERW, who’s usually handling order fulfillment…)
In this week’s issue… WTKK plays the “micro-format” game – Mendte, Bissinger out in Philadelphia – WOR, WABC swap talkers – FM jock heads to Utica AM dial – TV anchor moves to WPRO mornings – CBS Sports Radio launches across region – WFME flip gets nearer – Wolf howls again in Hudson Valley – and much, MUCH, more…
By SCOTT FYBUSH
NOTE TO READERS: It’s a new year at NERW, and we’re kicking it off with what may be the most extensive single NERW column ever…right on the heels of our big seven-part Year in Review series. We’re grateful to all of you who have subscribed to the column and helped continue to make it possible for us to bring you independent, comprehensive coverage of the broadcast scene in our region in the new year. And we’re offering you some new options to try out our coverage: in addition to annual subscriptions (as low as $15 a year), you can now try a one-week password for as little as $5.95 when you visit our Membership page. (This week, that adds up to about a dime a story for everything you’ll read in this jam-packed issue, plus bonus access to the complete Year in Review!) And it’s not too late to get your hands on a 2013 Tower Site Calendar at the Fybush.com Store!
*When we closed out our 2012 Year in Review less than a week ago, we labeled a whole bunch of stories as “stay tuned,” expecting some kind of resolution to come around sometime early in 2013. But little could we have imagined how quickly so many of those threads would all come together. The first few days of 2013 have included the launch of a new national sports radio network (leading to affiliation and format changes all over the region), the departure of two prominent talk hosts in Philadelphia, the move of another prominent host in New York, FCC approval for a big FM sale across the Hudson, a TV anchor becoming a radio morning host in southern New England, a longtime FM voice taking a turn at AM morning drive in central New York, and…oh yeah, the end of a long experiment in FM talk in Boston and the impending launch of a new music format.
Where to begin? If only for the sake of all the attention it’s received, we begin at WTKK (96.9 Boston). When last we checked in with a regular column in this space, it was already clear that the Greater Media station’s talk format was on its way out after 13 years. In the last hours of 2012, the last bits of the old format crumbled away with the announcement that the last remaining local talk show, Marjorie Eagan and Jim Braude’s morning show, was ending January 2.
WTKK’s demise as a talk station provided the second bit of very fortunate news in less than a year for the market’s longest-running talker, Entercom’s WRKO (680), which regained Rush Limbaugh last summer when Clear Channel pulled the plug on its lackluster “Rush Radio/Talk 1200″ experiment at WXKS (1200 Newton). And if WXKS’ downfall lay in its lack (whether perceived or actual) of a strong full-market signal, WTKK’s signal dominance was undercut repeatedly by a lack of a clear “stationality.” Was 96.9 the uber-conservative talker that Michael Graham represented in the afternoon? If so, and if it had made a stronger play for the rights to Limbaugh last summer, it might have used its signal advantage to outplay WRKO at its own game, especially as 680 struggled to find a morning host who worked. Was WTKK the sort of middle-of-the-road talker that Braude and Eagan and syndicated middayer Michael Smerconish represented? There was a full-service path to be pursued there, too, but only if accompanied by the kind of news-intensive image that has worked so well for so long for CBS Radio’s WBZ. But that takes more than just a NECN television simulcast and headlines piped in from Clear Channel.
WTKK’s demise as a talker after Braude and Eagan signed off Wednesday morning prompted some brief discussion of what would be next for the pair (in addition to Braude’s NECN work and Eagan’s newspaper column), and that question at least has a short-term answer: they’ll be guest-hosting “Boston Public Radio” tomorrow afternoon on WGBH (89.7), where managing director Phil Redo just happens to have been one of their former general managers at WTKK.
But further speculation about Braude and Eagan’s next moves, or the fate of the talk format in general, was quickly eclipsed by the bigger question of where 96.9 is headed next. Astute observers, led by the indefatigable detective work of Lance Venta’s RadioInsight.com, had already put together a few of the pieces: domain registrations pointed to some sort of urban-leaning format, longtime Boston top-40 programmer “Cadillac Jack” McCartney had just recently departed his programming role at Clear Channel in New York, and WJMN (94.5 Boston) morning co-host Pebbles had been let go after 17 years there.
So when Braude and Eagan gave way to a stopset, a legal ID and Rihanna’s “Diamonds” at 10 AM on Wednesday, it was all blindingly clear: WTKK had flipped to rhythmic top-40 as “Power 96.9,” taking on WJMN head-on. But then Rihanna gave way to some much harder-edged hip-hop and R&B, and Greater Media issued a curiously-worded release talking about more “surprises” coming to 96.9 over the following week, and the “Power” playlist began repeating itself every five hours – and it became clear that whatever 96.9 was going to be, “Power” wasn’t it.
Nor was the “Nova 96.9″ dance format that replaced “Power” on Thursday morning at 10, or the “Mike 96.9″ adult hits that began playing on Friday at noon, or the “Bone” active rock that kicked off at midnight on Sunday.
So what was going on here?
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*It’s 2013! Do you have your 2013 Tower Site Calendar yet? It can be on your wall in just a few days, if you order right now!
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!
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 9, 2012 -
*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.
*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.
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.
*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.
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.
Five Years Ago: January 7, 2008 -
*It was one of the biggest radio stories of the summer in NEW HAMPSHIRE, MAINE and the rest of northern New England last year: Entercom, programmer of Boston’s highly successful WEEI (850 Boston), was to partner with Nassau to spread WEEI’s sports format to Portland, Concord, the Lakes Region, the Upper Valley and Cape Cod – and in exchange, Entercom would take a half-interest in Nassau’s classical WCRB (99.5 Lowell) for the improbably-low-sounding sum of $10 million. (Nassau had paid $60 million for the station just a year earlier, after all.)
As 2007 wound to a close, Nassau began laying the groundwork for the format changes that would accompany the start of its WEEI simulcasts: in Concord and the Lakes Region, WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) moved from oldies to classic hits (“Frank”) to clear the way for classic rocker “Hawk” WWHK (102.3 Concord)/WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) to become WEEI affiliates. And the “Free Beer and Hot Wings” morning show heard on several Nassau stations started saying goodbye to listeners in Portland (“Bone” WHXR/WHXQ).
But then rumors started spreading about problems with the deal, and even as the champagne was being chilled and we were stepping away from the computer on New Year’s Eve afternoon, the companies pulled the plug on their plans for a network.
“The transaction hit an impasse,” was the word from Nassau’s Lou Mercatanti to Clea Simon at the Boston Globe, and we’ve still heard nothing definitive about what caused the deal to fall apart at the last minute.
So in the absence of hard fact, we’ll offer some educated speculation. First, from the Entercom side of the fence, there’s no question that the deal was more essential to announce in August than to close in December. In August, WEEI faced what could have been a serious challenge to its sports supremacy: while Entercom had locked up a long-term Red Sox contract, at no small expense, its morning stars John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were flirting with other suitors – not just the long-rumored Greater Media dream of flipping WBOS (92.9) to an all-sports format, but also a possible Nassau flip of WCRB to sports. Allying Nassau with WEEI took away that option for Dennis and Callahan, and it’s no coincidence that the pair re-signed with Entercom soon after the Nassau deal was announced.
With Dennis and Callahan safely under contract, and the Sox not only safely under contract but celebrating their second World Series in four years, the threats to WEEI are significantly blunted today as compared to last summer. And while WEEI could certainly have benefited from adding WCRB’s FM signal (with its strong reach from southern New Hampshire into Boston’s northern and western suburbs) to its existing network, we have no way of knowing if that simulcast was ever anything more than rank speculation, anyway.
Also speculative – but it’s a speculation we’re pretty comfortable making – is the notion that Nassau, in the end, needed Entercom more than Entercom needed Nassau. While Nassau could certainly still create a sports network out of the stations that were targeted to become WEEI relays, it’s hard to imagine the national sports coverage of ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio or any of their competitors having the same regional appeal as the non-stop Sox/Pats/Celtics (and occasionally BC Eagles and Bruins) talk that makes up most of WEEI’s programming day. (We can also speculate that Entercom won’t give up on the idea of an expanded WEEI network on stations other than Nassau’s.)
*The year’s first big station sale came early, and it involved a familiar face in VERMONT radio. Ken Barlow’s history in the Green Mountain State includes stints at WCFR in Springfield and WDOT in Burlington, then the launch in the nineties of WCPV (Champ 101.3) and WXPS (now WXZO 96.7). After his Dynacomm group sold those stations to Capstar in 1999, Barlow went on to join Bruce Danziger and Jeff Shapiro to build the Vox Radio Group, which at one point owned more stations in northern New England than any other broadcaster.
In 2005, Vox sold most of its stations to Nassau. Barlow and Danziger then formed Vox Communications Group, which picked up Vox Radio’s cluster in western Massachusetts.
And now Vox Communications is coming into Vermont with an $11 million purchase of Clear Channel’s Burlington and Randolph stations – including Barlow’s old haunts, WCPV and WXZO.
Here’s what the entire cluster looks like: there’s AC “Star” WEZF (92.9 Burlington), with a class C signal from Mount Mansfield that is, hands-down, the best commercial FM signal in Vermont. Classic rock “Champ” is now heard on both WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) in the Burlington market and on WCVR (102.1 Randolph) in central Vermont. WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY) now carries a talk format as “The Zone,” simulcast on WEAV (960 Plattsburgh) and WTSJ (1320 Randolph). South of Burlington, there’s also “True Oldies Channel” WVTK (92.1 Port Henry NY).
(NERW notes that these stations were originally among the big group of signals in small Clear Channel markets that were supposed to go to the Goodradio.TV group in that deal that never came to fruition last year; we also note that this is Clear Channel’s second New England spinoff to a group with roots in the old Vox Radio Group – the company’s stations in the White River Junction/Lebanon/Hanover market were sold last year to Jeff Shapiro’s new Great Eastern Radio group, which is now competing against the former Vox, now Nassau, cluster in that region.)
*In CONNECTICUT, Clear Channel’s WELI (960 New Haven) has named a replacement for Jerry Kristafer, who’s headed north to Hartford’s WDRC-FM for mornings. As had been widely rumored, WELI will pick up Don Imus for its morning drive slot, effective next Monday (Jan. 14).
*In addition to the Nassau/WEEI/WCRB developments we covered at the top of the column, there’s other news out of MASSACHUSETTS, starting with a new format on the AM dial. WJOE (700 Athol) quietly dropped its oldies format last Wednesday (Jan. 2), flipping to ESPN sports.
Ten Years Ago: January 6, 2003 -
Radio listeners in PENNSYLVANIA’s largest market can be forgiven if they’re a little confused in the morning this week — and it has nothing to do with New Year’s revelry, just some staffing changes at two Greater Media FMs.
We’ll start with struggling hot AC WMWX (95.7), which brought familiar Philly voice Glenn Kalina to its morning airwaves this week. Mix also brought Brian Murphy (a Philly vet most recently heard on Boston’s WODS) to middays, displacing Lauren Valle, and moved former morning guy Joe Mama to afternoons, replacing Rick Stacy. Just to complete the shuffle, the station won’t be carrying Delilah’s syndicated nighttime show any longer; her replacement on Mix has yet to be announced. Down the hall at WMMR (93.3), Paul Barsky’s latest Philadelphia gig has come to an end. With Barsky’s contract not being renewed, ‘MMR is using sports guy “Vinnie the Crumb” and former WHFS Washington jock Graeme to handle mornings until a permanent replacement is named.
Over in the Williamsport market, Backyard Broadcasting started the new year with a new set of call letters on WSFT (107.9), which relaunches with hotter AC as WRVH, “the River”. (NERW notes that Nassau was slapped with a cease-and-desist from Clear Channel after launching a “River” in Easton last year; this one is even closer to WRVV in Harrisburg, as it happens.)
While the rumor mill keeps churning in Buffalo (where both UPN viewers had to switch their dials from WNGS, channel 67, to WNLO, channel 23 when that affiliation moved January 1), there’s some actual news from elsewhere in NEW YORK.
Syracuse’s new “Dog” (WWDG 105.1 DeRuyter) hired its first jock, bringing “Scorch” over from competitor WKRL (100.9 North Syracuse)/WKRH (106.5 Minetto). Scorch had been doing mornings at Galaxy’s K-Rock; he’ll be doing the 2-7 PM shift for Clear Channel’s new rocker. South of Syracuse, oldies fans in the Cortland area have a station to call their own again. A few months after WKRT (920 Cortland) switched from oldies to talk, locally-owned WXHC (101.5 Homer) has dropped its AC format to become “Oldies 101.5.”
Down in the New York market, the end appears to be very near for “Rumba 107,” the latest format on the Big City quadcast at 107.1 (WYNY Briarcliff Manor NY, WWXY Hampton Bays NY, WWYY Belvidere NJ, WWZY Long Branch NJ). With the stations changing hands to Nassau soon (for a reported $43 million), the Rumba Web site is already down and we hear the jocks at the Spanish-English hybrid CHR are out of work. We’ll be spending some time in the New York market later this month, so stay tuned for the latest on this one.
Fifteen Years Ago: January 8, 1998 -
Radio listeners in southern Vermont and New Hampshire are mourning one of the area’s best-known morning jocks. Ian Taylor died in his sleep New Year’s Eve, just a few days before he was to have started a new job doing mornings on oldies WXOD (98.7 Winchester NH). Taylor was born Edward O’Donnell in Utica, New York in 1952, and attended the now-defunct Grahm Junior College in Boston. After working at stations in Utica and Albany, his career included stops at WEQX (102.7) Manchester VT, WPYX (106.5 Albany), and four years as morning host at WKVT-FM (92.7) Brattleboro VT. In recent months, he had been working as a salesman for WYRY (104.9) Hinsdale NH.
The oldest TV station in MASSACHUSETTS has a new look. WBZ-TV (Channel 4) unveiled its new logo featuring a “4″ in a three-quarter circle Sunday night (you can see it at www.wbz.com, albeit in black and white), and was promptly dubbed “The Circle 4 Ranch” by sports anchor and station wag Bob Lobel. The retro-look logo accompanies the launch of BZ’s 50th anniversary campaign and revamped morning show.
Up the dial and down the road, future PaxNet affiliate WHRC (Channel 46, soon to be WIPX) in Norwell has launched a local newscast of sorts. “Norwell News” debuted last week on channel 46.
“Kiss 108,” WXKS-FM (107.9) Medford-Boston, has been shuffling its DJ lineup in the wake of J.J. Wright’s recent departure. Ed McMahon takes over Wright’s old 10 AM – 2 PM shift, while “Artie the One Man Party” follows Dale Dorman from 6-10 PM, Skip Kelly works 10 PM -2 AM, and Christine Fox gets the all-night shift. Also shuffling jocks is modern rocker WFNX (101.7 Lynn), where Julie Kramer is replacing Adrian in the 10 AM – 3 PM spot, Angie C. departs the morning show (with Chris Kennedy filling in as interim host), and Cruze, ‘FNX’s new program director, takes the PM drive slot.
In MAINE, Pilot Broadcasting is moving north from its Pine Tree State stronghold in the Waterville-Augusta market. Pilot is paying Tim Martz $5.2 million for his Maine stations. In Presque Isle, that’s market-dominating country WBPW (96.9), hot AC WQHR (96.1), and oldies WOZI (101.7). Pilot also gets WHRR (102.9 Dennysville), the Calais-area station that has yet to pick a permanent format.
As we’d suspected a few weeks back, RHODE ISLAND now has a Radio Disney affiliate. WHIM (1450 West Warwick) quietly switched from country to kids radio late last month, ending a 30-plus year association between the WHIM calls (for most of that time on 1110) and country music in the Ocean State.
The Rochester, NEW YORK market is getting a new low-power TV station. WBGT-LP (Channel 40) is owned by David Grant, a former Rochester TV engineer who now owns Fox affiliate WYDC (Channel 48) Corning-Elmira. Like WYDC, WBGT will go by “Big TV” on the air, and will feature a diet of sitcoms and old movies once it goes on the air later this month. This is the same license as the long-defunct W40AG, although it will transmit from the WRMM-FM (101.3) tower on Rochester’s west side instead of W40AG’s location on the WBEE-FM (92.5) tower east of town. If WBGT has already cranked up to its full 10 kilowatts, it will have serious signal problems south and east of town; here at the NERW listening and viewing post on the south side, the WBGT color bars are just barely viewable with an indoor antenna. Grant says he’s working on UPN affiliation and cable carriage for his new station.