In this week’s issue… Cumulus closes on WFME purchase – Remembering Rex Trailer – WTKK format wheel stops spinning – Spectrum speculator at play in Providence – Dodge sells WCKL – Hockey on the Radio (at last!)
By SCOTT FYBUSH
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US! This week marks the 19th anniversary for this column, which debuted as “New England Radio Watcher” way back in January 1994, sprung upon an unsuspecting Usenet at the behest of the late Bill Pfeiffer and rec.radio.broadcasting. Nearly two decades later, we’re still going strong, providing independent news coverage, analysis and the occasional juicy rumor about radio and TV in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. We continue to be grateful to all of you who have subscribed to the column- 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. (It’ll get you not only full access to NERW, but to our comprehensive Year in Review 2012, too, now available on a single page!) It’s still not too late to get your hands on a 2013 Tower Site Calendar at the Fybush.com Store!
And we’re grateful to all of you who’ve reached out with kind wishes for Lisa (aka “Mrs. NERW”), who’s been seriously ill all week and will likely remain hospitalized for some time to come. Her long-term prognosis is good, though she’s still in the ICU right now; if you’d been talking to her about subscriptions, calendar fulfillment or advertising on the site, please check in with me at some point soon and I’ll try to assist you, as it may be some time before she’s awake again and able to help out. Your subscriptions, calendar purchases and advertising help to keep us going at a time when her health makes it difficult for your editor to do much else outside the hospital and home. So…on with the news, in what’s now our twentieth year of NERW…
*When WFME (94.7 Newark) signed off for the last time as a Family Radio affiliate Friday afternoon, it marked the end of one of the longest-running formats not only in the NEW YORK market, but anywhere in the country. Family had owned the station since 1966, and if you rewind back to that era (say, through the excellent Broadcasting Yearbook archives at AmericanRadioHistory.com), you’d find only one other commercial-band FM station with an even longer run under the same owner and essentially the same format, that being WBAI (99.5 New York), running freeform under Pacifica ownership since 1960. On 94.7, Family’s religious programming actually predated its ownership; as far back as April 1963, the station then known as WJRZ-FM began leasing some airtime to Family, and by 1965 the station was in what we’d now recognize as an LMA, carrying Family’s programming nearly fulltime.
While LMAs are commonplace half a century later, Family’s $40 million sale to Cumulus did not include one – and so the timing of the handoff of 94.7 appeared to be tied directly to the last bits of closing paperwork being completed. It happened at 3:35 on Friday afternoon, and it happened fairly abruptly: as you can hear over on FormatChange.com, longtime WFME GM/chief engineer Charlie Menut broke into regular Family programming with what sounded like an unscripted announcement that after a week’s delay, the time had come to hand over the facility to its new owners. Menut acknowledged that while Family has been looking for an AM replacement for WFME, it hasn’t found one yet – and so in the meantime, those looking for the WFME programming can find it via streaming audio or Family’s other lower-powered signals in the region, including WFRS (88.9 Smithtown) on Long Island and WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco), the northern Westchester signal Family is acquiring from Cumulus as part of the WFME sale.
WFME was silent for only a few minutes before programming once again appeared on 94.7 – but as of Sunday night, we’re still not really any closer to knowing exactly what Cumulus has planned for its new acquisition. What appeared immediately on 94.7 was the audio of sister station WPLJ (95.5 New York), sometimes with HD Radio running, sometimes without, and with every indication that the Cumulus engineers are busy tweaking the 94.7 audio chain for whatever is coming next.
And what might that be?
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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 16, 2012 -
*We start this week in CANADA, because it’s up there that broadcasters are lining up for an oh-so-rare shot at a new FM signal in the country’s largest market. The 88.1 frequency in Toronto was vacated last year when student/community station CKLN lost its license after years of battling with the CRTC, and now the agency’s application window has closed for broadcasters hoping to replace CKLN on the dial. In all, 27 applications came in before the window closed earlier this month, and the list includes just about every existing commercial player already in the Toronto market, not to mention several from the outlying markets.
The CBC wants a shot at the frequency, presumably to relocate Radio-Canada’s CJBC (860) from the AM dial. So does Astral, which is already maxed out on station ownership in Toronto (but is an FM relay of CFRB 1010 in the offing?), and so do multicultural broadcaster CHIN, which already owns CHIN-FM (100.7) and CHIN (1540, which already has a low-power FM relay) and Moses Znaimer’s MZ group, presumably to replace or supplement “Zoomer Radio” CFZM (740).
We already knew that Ryerson University, once-burned by its testy relationship with the late CKLN, was applying for a replacement signal on 88.1, and we knew that Evanov Communications (dba “Dufferin Communications”) wanted to move “PROUD FM” (CIRR) from 103.9 to a higher-powered signal on 88.1 - but we now know as well that French-language community station CHOQ (105.1) and Fitzroy Gordon’s Intercity Broadcasting Network, which just put CKFG (98.7) on the air, are also in the hunt for better signals at 88.1. From around the region, there are applications from Doug Kirk’s Durham Radio (seeking a smooth jazz replacement for its CIWV 94.7, recently flipped to country), Barrie’s Rock 95 Broadcasting and Trust Communications Ministries (CJLF “Life 100 FM”), and Midland-based Larche Communications. From beyond the GTA, there are also applications from Newcap, from Montreal’s Tietolman-Tetreault-Pancholy group, which was recently granted a new Montreal AM signal, and from Frank Torres, who owns Ottawa blues-rocker CIDG (“101.9 the Dawg.”) And those are just the English- and French-language applicants: there are also more than a half-dozen applications that appear to be for foreign-language facilities.
*A veteran western MASSACHUSETTS morning team is out: Dan Williams spent 32 years at WHYN-FM (93.1), while co-host Kim Zachary had been there for 16 years – and after 15 years together in morning drive, they’re now gone from the Clear Channel Radio – er, “Clear Channel Media and Entertainment” – hot AC station. No word yet on who’ll replace them in mornings at “Mix 93.1.”
In Brockton, the sale of WXBR (1460) appears to be imminent. The Brockton Enterprise reports there’s a meeting scheduled for today between officials of current owner Business Talk Radio Network and the prospective buyer. (We’re hearing that it may be a Haitian broadcaster.) WXBR has been listed with broker Harold Bausemer at $325,000, a significant drop from the $1 million BTRN paid for the former WBET in 2006.
*Radio People on the Move in NEW YORK: Andrew Boris is off the air at WRRV (92.7 Middletown)/WRRB (96.9 Arlington/Poughkeepsie) after more than 15 years in morning drive. He remains PD at WRRV, and he adds PD duties at Cumulus sister station WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie)/WPDA (106.1 Jeffersonville), replacing Gary Cee, who exits due to budget cuts. No replacement has been named yet for Boris’ “Music All Morning” airshift.
Is there a format change on the way in Harrisburg? Cumulus is promoting that “something new” is coming to WMHX (106.7 Hershey) on Friday afternoon at 1:06, and there’s plenty of speculation that the 90s hits “Channel 106.7″ format will soon be history now that Cumulus has taken over from Citadel. (Online buzz suggests the station could return to the country format it used as WRKZ until a decade ago, possibly as a sister station to “I105″ WIOV-FM down the road in Lancaster.)
Five Years Ago: January 14, 2008 -
*There’s nothing terribly unusual about a contract dispute between a prominent radio personality and a radio station. But in the case of upstate NEW YORK‘s Brother Wease, who’s been off the air at WCMF (96.5 Rochester) since December 21, the dispute is playing out on newspaper front pages and even on the air.
That’s something most stations, and most air talent, try to avoid, but Wease has long prided himself on running what he calls an “honest show,” where he and his co-hosts talk frequently about internal business at the station. As WCMF has gone through a rocky transition from former owner CBS Radio to new owner Entercom, that’s made for some stressful times on both sides of the studio glass.
As we told you last week, Wease’s contract expired at the end of 2007, leaving the rest of the “Radio Free Wease” crew on the air without Wease himself. As contract negotiations between Wease and Entercom dragged on with no resolution last week, tempers began to flare on the air – and at one point, Entercom regional vice president Mike Doyle joined the Wease crew in the studio to take phone calls and talk about the progress of the negotiations.
The news wasn’t good – Doyle said he’d started out being “90 percent sure” that a deal could be reached to bring Wease back, but he told listeners he’s growing more doubtful. And Wease himself appeared briefly by telephone, sounding equally uncertain. (The station’s website changed to an “under construction” message around the same time, as Entercom finally took down the old Wease-heavy CBS site.)
It’s a high-stakes game for both sides: Entercom was clearly counting on Wease to be the face and voice of WCMF for some time to come, since it didn’t bring over most of the rest of the station’s airstaff from CBS, so it would be a big rebuilding effort if the station loses Wease – and Wease, for his part, doesn’t have many other local options if he can’t come to terms with Entercom.
With a ratings book now underway, how long will Entercom keep the rest of the Wease team on the air before it tries something, or someone, else in morning drive? It’s no wonder that they, too, are uneasy about the situation – and it’s admirable, we think, that they’re carrying on as well as they are under the circumstances.
*Some sad news from NEW HAMPSHIRE: Pauline Robbins, whose battle with cancer inspired the “Polly’s Think Pink Radiothon” that united Upper Valley broadcasters last fall to raise $37,000 during a daylong simulcast, lost that battle Saturday morning. She was just 30. Memorial services will be held Wednesday at the Ricker Funeral Home in Lebanon.
*Just across the state line in MAINE, Clear Channel is spinning the ol’ format wheel at WUBB (95.3 York Center), which serves the New Hampshire seacoast as well as southern Maine.
The country “B95″ format disappeared last week, replaced by a temporary simulcast with classic hits WQSO (96.7 Rochester NH), but the station has been dropping big hints about its next format – while its website boasts, “Coming Soon! Sports Radio!,” ads in local papers (and other clues on the website itself) point to top 40 and “Kiss,” possibly with some simulcasts from Boston’s WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford).
Up the coast in Portland, Don Imus is back on the air. Saga, which used to carry Imus on WZAN (970), says the “Bob and Tom” show is doing well enough in Imus’ old slot there to earn a permanent berth, so it will begin airing Imus next week on sister stations WBAE (1490 Portland) and WVAE (1400 Biddeford), which are playing standards the rest of the day.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, it was a quiet week in Boston radio, but there was plenty happening 40 miles to the west in Worcester.
For the second time in three years, Bruce Palmer has lost a job with Clear Channel. This time, he’s out of the early afternoon shift at WSRS (96.1 Worcester), replaced by Donna Mac, who’s been working part-time at WSRS and part-time at sister station WSNE (93.3 Taunton/Providence).
Down the hall at Clear Channel news-talker WTAG (580 Worcester), afternoon talker Jordan Levy has signed a new contract to stay at the station, telling the Telegram & Gazette that “there’s enough rollovers in the contract that I could be there until I’m 106.” Levy has been with WTAG for 15 years; many of his former colleagues there have decamped for competitor WCRN (830) in recent years.
*Over the Delaware River in NEW JERSEY, it didn’t take long for Nassau to pull the plug on ESPN at WPHY (920 Trenton) after signing the deal to lease out WCHR (1040 Flemington) to ESPN. The Philadelphia-targeted ESPN format on WPHY went away sometime during the day last Monday, replaced with a simulcast of WCHR’s religious format, which moves to 920 now that 1040′s becoming a simulcast of ESPN Radio flagship WEPN (1050 New York). WPHY PD and afternoon host Dan Schwartzman is out as a result of the format change.
And it turns out it’s not just an LMA – Disney has an option to buy WCHR from Nassau, for $8 million.
Ten Years Ago: January 13, 2003 -
It’s a hot New Year in RHODE ISLAND, thanks to Citadel’s purchase of urban “Hot” WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket) and WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) from AAA Entertainment. The deal adds “Hot” to an already significant Citadel presence in the Ocean State: talk WPRO (630 Providence), sports WSKO (790 Providence) and WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), CHR WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence), AC WWLI (105.1), as well as the adjacent New Bedford cluster of news-talk WBSM (1420), CHR WFHN (107.1 Fairhaven) and rocker WKKB (100.3 Middletown RI). For the $16 million purchase price, Citadel also gets to add one more station to its regional cluster: WMOS (104.7 Montauk NY), the Long Island station that markets to southeastern Connecticut from its studios at the Mohegan Sun casino in Ledyard, Connecticut.
CONNECTICUT’s Sebastian is about to add a station in his home state to his lineup, as WAVZ (1300 New Haven) picks up his 3-6 PM sports show from WNNZ (640 Westfield) in the Springfield, MASSACHUSETTS market. Both Clear Channel stations are imaging as the “Zone” already, so it won’t disrupt the flow too much — and Sebastian’s already familiar to New Haven listeners from his long run on FM in Hartford, anyway.
Fifteen Years Ago: January 12 & 15, 1998 -
Much of the upper Northeast remains paralyzed by the Ice Storm of ’98, with hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the border without power or heat. The storm has taken a major toll on the region’s broadcast facilities. NERW’s correspondents across the area have been checking in throughout the weekend with updates, and here’s what things look like for the broadcasters of the Northeast as of Monday evening, starting with the areas that have suffered the most damage:
QUEBEC – Montreal’s top-rated English-language news outlet, CJAD (800), lost all four towers at its South Shore transmitting site at the height of the ice storm early Friday morning. CJAD management decided not to move the news programming to their FM sister station, CJFM (95.9), and “Mix 96″ continued to play soft-rock tunes while 800 remained silent, adding only a top-hour newscast from CJAD to its usual morning show. That decision prompted CJAD news anchor Jim Duff to fire off an angry letter to station management, saying he’d rather quit than work for a station “that put the motive of profit ahead of public service.”
In the meantime, the newly Duff-less CJAD leased time from Ottawa’s CFRA (580) for a bottom-hour newscast that reached listeners on Montreal’s West Side. CJAD also arranged to borrow the La Prairie, Quebec transmitter site of the former CFMB (1410). The foreign-language station moved to 1280 (the former CJMS facility) last September, leaving the fully-functional four-tower 1410 array standing but unused. CJAD turned on its temporary 1410 transmitter on Sunday, after securing a source of fuel for the generators at the La Prairie site. It will be Wednesday at the earliest before a temporary 800 kHz facility can be operating again at CJAD’s own site in Saint-Edouard. The 675-foot towers that had been standing there since 1962 were crusted with as much as 6 inches of ice on each face when they toppled.
ONTARIO – A wire-service photo that appeared on the front page of Monday’s Buffalo News (among other papers) showed the tangled wreckage of “a TV tower on Wolfe Island, near Kingston.” That tower carried CKWS (Channel 11) and CFMK (96.3); the CFMK web site still doesn’t reflect that station’s presumed off-air status.
Still dark is Cornwall’s CJSS (1220); its newscasts are being heard on Ottawa’s CFRA (580), which has been doing an extraordinary job of informing its own listeners in Ottawa, as well as filling the gaps of the missing stations in Cornwall and Montreal. CFRA can be heard on the Internet at www.cfra.com; it’s well worth a few minutes of listening.
NEW HAMPSHIRE – Worst damage in the Granite State was suffered by Laconia’s WLNH (98.3), whose 300 foot tower came down in the storm. With help from Manchester’s WZID (95.7), which loaned a remote truck, WLNH engineers were able to put a flea-powered signal on the air from the truck’s 30-foot mast. WLNH was a key station in the New Hampshire EAS system; the 14 Lakes Region stations that monitored it will have to rely on alternate sources until WLNH gets up to full power again. Chief engineer Dick Wholey came to town from WLNH corporate parent Sconnix to help restore the signal. Also affected by the collapse of WLNH’s 35 year old tower was WBHG (101.5 Meredith), which shared the tower. It’s been operating from a backup antenna with extremely reduced power, in part simulcast with WLNH. Laconia’s WEZS (1350), the former WLNH(AM), also helped out with a WLNH simulcast for part of the weekend.
NEW YORK – Only one station in St. Lawrence County has remained on with full power throughout the storm; it’s WMSA (1340) in Massena. Nearly everyone else in the St. Lawrence Valley has suffered at least on-and-off power failures, including Watertown TV stations WWNY (Channel 7) and WWTI (Channel 50). WWTI was off the air Friday and Saturday, and WWNY, which lost power at its studio, was programming directly from its live truck to its transmitter on Saturday. The WCIZ (93.5) tower on Perch Lake Road north of Watertown was reportedly toppled by the ice buildup, while sister station WFRY (97.5) is operating with only 20 watts or so from its exciter. WTNY (790) has been on and off the air since the start of the storm because of repeated power failures. NERW hasn’t heard anything yet on the status of stations in Potsdam, Ogdensburg, and Canton, areas most heavily affected by the storm. In Plattsburgh, WIRY (1340) has continued its long tradition of community service with comprehensive local information updates, as well as storm information and Real Audio on its Web site. WMEX (102.5 Westport) is reportedly silent.
MAINE – It appears the Pine Tree State suffered the worst damage from Ice Storm ’98, with several stations still off the air from the storm. Portland’s WBLM (102.9) remains silent because of the ice damage to its antenna. Its Fuller-Jeffrey sister stations, WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) and WCYI (93.9 Lewiston) have become the “Rock Radio Shelter,” adding ‘BLM’s album rock to their modern rock formats, and adding WBLM jocks (including morning team The Captain and Mark) to its usual voice-tracked format. (NERW would love to hear tapes of this one — and anyone else running storm-altered formats). The 102.9 signal may return with minimal power soon from a temporary antenna, perhaps just with a tape loop telling listeners to move down the dial to 94.3 or 93.9.
Portland’s four commercial broadcasters joined forces for a simulcast telethon that raised more than $300,000 for storm relief. The telethon was broadcast from the studios of WGME (Channel 13) and was also seen on WCSH (Channel 6), WMTW (Channel 8), and WPXT (Channel 51). WGME has been working with WGAN (560) to simulcast morning news programming, to reach the many Mainers who still have no power for their TVs. Knowing that some of them are listening to channel 6′s 87.75 MHz audio frequency on battery-powered radios, WCSH has been making sure to read closure information out loud in addition to putting it on screen.
We’ve finally heard from a NERW reader in Bangor; apparently the most damage up there was to WBFB (104.7 Belfast), whose tower on Mount Waldo collapsed. “The Bear” is back on from a backup site belonging to WKSQ (94.5 Ellsworth). WEZQ (92.9) remains silent after losing part of its tower. WKSQ has been on the air with public service broadcasts of storm information in place of its usual hot AC format. On the TV side, WLBZ (Channel 2) ran its own telethon the same night as the Portland simulcast.