SHARE

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.

cumulus-frWhile 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?

We know what the new callsign on 94.7 will be, at least for now: while the station was still identifying itself (in a dual ID with WPLJ) as "WFME Newark" over the weekend, Cumulus had requested the new calls WRXP, which might be an indication that Cumulus is leaning toward a rock format that might pick up where the previous incarnations of WRXP on 101.9 (now WFAN-FM) left off. Or - and this, we think, is more likely - Cumulus had to put something on 94.7 to replace the WFME callsign, which stays with Family on WFME-TV (Channel 66, licensed to Oakland, N.J.) and which has quietly been requested as the new call on what's now WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco).

(It bears noting that Family will continue its operations for now from its studio in West Orange at the 94.7 site, where Charlie Menut and his small staff are still running WFME-TV, complete with WFME radio audio on its 66.2 subchannel, and where the eventual WFME AM will presumably someday make its home.)

Back to the new "WRXP": despite what you may be reading elsewhere, it's not going sports. While Cumulus is indeed partnering with CBS to distribute the new CBS Sports Radio Network, most of Cumulus' role in the deal involves much smaller markets where CBS Radio has no existing sports radio presence. In New York, however, CBS has the very prominent presence of WFAN (660) and WFAN-FM (101.9), and even though the launch of CBS Sports Radio didn't come with a format change on 660, it appears our speculation that the AM-FM simulcast would be only temporary was indeed correct. CBS Radio head honcho Dan Mason was quoted last week as saying that the AM side of WFAN will begin transitioning to "more national content," and if that doesn't mean a nearly-full New York clearance for the CBS Sports Radio lineup on 660 (and not on 94.7), why, we'll eat a Tower Site Calendar.

That still seems to point to country as the most likely permanent format choice for 94.7, perhaps with a swap of the WRXP calls (now in use on the air as of midnight) for the WNSH calls that Cumulus recently parked in Minnesota. Everything we're hearing also points to a "nationalized" format, with most of the programming decisions being made, Cumulus-style, from a centralized location outside the market. (If it's country, that probably means Nashville.)

But Cumulus still needs local management, and it has a new face in the role of market manager for WPLJ, WABC (770) and the future 94.7: Kim Bryant joins Cumulus after working as a top sales executive for Cinemoi, an international cable channel.

More Top New York Radio People on the Move: Steve Borneman, late of WABC/WPLJ, has been named station manager for Clear Channel's WOR (710), which has also named former WABC program director Tom Cuddy as its new PD. Across the Hudson at Salem's WMCA (570)/WNYM (970), Sean O'Neil is the new market manager and former WOR general manager Jerry Crowley has been named VP/general manager.

*Just a bit late for our "NERW Bookshelf" comes word of a new book about the station that once defined country radio in New York: longtime WHN (1050) PD Ed Salamon has written "WHN: When New York City Went Country," out next month - and there will be an on-air celebration of the book's release February 25 with a WHN tribute and reunion from 9 AM until 3:45 PM on WFDU (89.1 Teaneck NJ), which might not even be the only country station audible in New York City by then.

Mike Riley (WJYE)
Mike Riley (WJYE)

*In Buffalo, they're mourning two radio veterans this week: Mike Riley went from Erie's Gannon College (now University) to WBFO (88.7) as Morning Edition host in the early 1980s, then settled in for more than two decades as the overnight man on WJYE (96.1). He was still there at Townsquare Media as one of the few live overnighters in the region when he fell ill a week ago. Riley died last Tuesday, at just 55.

Ben Freedman, the Buffalo native who crafted the famous "Danny Moves Your Fanny" jingle for WKBW's Danny Neaverth, had been ill for some time at his home in Texas, interrupting the operations of the small jingle company he operated for many years as "The Jingle Guy." Freedman died January 9 in Plano, Texas, at age 63.

*In Syracuse, there's a new morning show on Cumulus' WAQX (95.7), as Brian Robinson (who uses only his last name on the air) returns to 95X a decade after he started there on the night shift. Now he's back on the Cumulus rocker as the morning man, replacing Hunter and Josh after their October move across town to Galaxy's "K Rock" trimulcast. Robinson had been on the loose since his most recent gigs in Rochester at Entercom's WCMF (96.5) and WBZA (98.9).

Utica's WIBX (950) debuts its new morning show with Bill Keeler today - and it says goodbye to another longtime fixture. CNYRadio.com reports that the Townsquare Media talker quietly ended the nightly "SportsWatch" show on Friday after many decades as a 6 PM weeknight staple.

*Colonial Media has already moved one station across the state line into the Olean market, when it moved then-WFRM-FM (96.7 Coudersport PA) to Portville, where it's known today as WVTT. Now the growing regional broadcaster wants to move another signal closer to its Olean home base: it's applying to move WBYB (103.9) from its longtime home in Kane, Pennsylvania to a new city of license of Eldred, Pennsylvania, just south of the state line. The station would move to the tower east of Smethport now shared by Colonial's WXMT (106.3 Smethport) and L-Com's WHKS (94.9 Port Allegany), putting a 60 dBu signal over most of Olean.

In Binghamton, Matt Gapske moves up from assistant PD to PD at WMRV (105.7 Endicott), filling the hole left by Gary Nolan's departure last month to Clear Channel's WPAP in Panama City, Florida. (Another Binghamton "Where Are They Now?": former WHWK 98.1 programmer Don Brake is now assistant PD at WFRE in Frederick, Maryland, one of the Clear Channel remnant stations now in the Aloha Station Trust, which last week named Patrick Shea VP of programming for its stations in Frederick and on Long Island, where he's PD of WALK-FM.)

Meanwhile in the Hudson Valley, Brian Dodge is exiting WCKL (560 Catskill) after just under three years running the station. Dodge's Family Broadcasting and Media is selling "Family 560" to Love Church, Inc. in nearby Greenport, for a yet-to-be-disclosed price. First order of business for the new owners, perhaps, may be fixing a transmitter problem that's resulting in WCKL being widely heard on harmonic frequencies at several multiples of 560 kHz.

Down the valley, Jolana Smith (formerly of WEZN in Bridgeport, Connecticut) is the new director of programming for Cumulus' WFAS-FM (103.9 Bronxville) and WFAS (1230 White Plains). She'll be doing middays on WFAS-FM and overseeing what's been a quiet transition from soft AC to talk on the AM signal.

*One more bit of NEW JERSEY news: Rob Acampora has been downsized out of the afternoon slot at Townsquare's WSJO (104.9 Egg Harbor City) and is now looking for new work.

wyne*Our PENNSYLVANIA news starts up in the state's northwest corner, where Tuesday at noontime brought a format change at Mercyhurst College's WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie). After many years of jazz, WMCE has taken over the oldies format that's been playing on sister station WYNE (1530 North East) - and as of Tuesday, the North East signal is now WMCE(AM), simulcasting with the FM.

(A little closer to downtown, the weekend marked the 40th anniversary for Gannon University's WERG, originally on 89.9 and now on 90.5; the station and the Gannon broadcasting program have launched a lot of careers around the region over the years!)

Radio People on the Move: in Philadelphia, WDAS-FM (105.3) has dropped the syndicated Michael Baisden show from afternoon drive, and it's looking for a local replacement.

Up the road in the Lehigh Valley, Tori Thomas is back on the air after losing her post at WZZO (95.1 Bethlehem). From Clear Channel, she's moved across town to Cumulus' WLEV (100.7 Allentown), where she's now co-hosting mornings with Scott Evans.

In Easton, there's a new signal on the air: WPNJ (90.5) is the latest expansion from Penn-Jersey Educational Radio, which does community radio on WDVR (89.7 Delaware Township) and will now extend its reach deeper into the Pennsylvania side of the region.

*An obituary from Altoona: David "Rod" Wolf, former owner of WRTA (1240 Altoona) and the 1240 Associates ad agency, died on Saturday at Altoona Regional Hospital. He was 82.

Trailer in the 1970s
Trailer in the 1970s

*You'd think our lead story from MASSACHUSETTS would be the final format change at WTKK (96.9 Boston), and we'll get there - but it was overshadowed a bit by a sadder story a few days later as news spread that Rex Trailer had died.

If you didn't grow up around Boston, or if you're younger than about 50, that name might not mean much. But for New Englanders of a certain age, Trailer was once as big a name as ever graced local TV, thanks to his 18 years as the star of "Boomtown" on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). No phony TV cowboy, Trailer (whose real name was, in fact, Rexford Trailer) grew up on a ranch in north Texas before coming east to work at the new DuMont TV network, where he hosted the "Oky Doky Ranch" show in the late 1940s. That led him to Westinghouse in Philadelphia, where he was on the air at WPTZ (Channel 3) from 1950 until 1956, when Westinghouse's forced sale of Channel 3 to NBC gave Trailer the choice of moving to sister stations in Cleveland or Boston.

Trailer chose Boston, of course, and the rest is history: "Boomtown" on WBZ-TV from 1956 until 1974, followed by stints as host of the syndicated "Earth Lab" and a full post-"Boomtown" career teaching at Emerson College, running a video production company, piloting planes and helicopters, advocating for children with disabilities and making nostalgia appearances all over New England as recently as his 84th birthday earlier this year.

As we told you last week, Trailer had become ill while visiting family in Florida at Christmastime, and he didn't recover; his website reports he died January 9, "surrounded by love and song from his family."

*On to 96.9: Greater Media's "wheel of formats" on WTKK finally came to an end Tuesday morning at 11, and as had been widely expected, the new rhythmic format is a shot straight up I-93 at Clear Channel's WJMN (Jam'n 94.5). "Hot 96.9" launched with 13,000 commercial-free songs in a row, which means it will be sometime in late February before PD Cadillac Jack launches the station's airstaff, led off by former WJMN morning co-host Pebbles in morning drive.

hot969-wtkkIs there much more we can say about WTKK that hasn't already been said? Only that the entrance of a fourth station playing a heavy dose of top-40 alongside WJMN, Clear Channel sister station WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and CBS Radio's AMP (WODS 103.3) is probably one more top-40 station than the market can support in the long term. Will WJMN return to its roots as a more urban station? And will Clear Channel now stick with "Evolution 101.7," the dance "micro-format" that it installed on what's now WEDX (101.7 Lynn) in what may have been an attempt to bait Greater Media into picking up the adult hits format formerly on 101.7, and thus to keep 96.9 out of competition with WJMN? Stay tuned...

*The other big story from the greater Boston market is a somewhat bigger signal for WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester) - and at least the remote possibility of a much bigger reach for the station in the future. On Thursday, owner Todd Tanger flipped the switch on WBOQ's new transmitter site along US 1 in Topsfield, about 15 miles west of its existing site in an industrial park west of Gloucester. The move from the old 3.2 kW/446' signal to the new 6 kW/322' signal shifts the coverage area of "North Shore 104.9" from an area that's about half ocean to one that's almost entirely over land, picking up a big chunk of the Merrimack Valley that will now get a much stronger signal.

Because of spacing issues to other nearby stations, most notably Cumulus' WWLI (105.1 Providence), WBOQ still has to use a directional antenna from its new site, keeping the station from being heard very well south of Route 128, despite the "Gloucester-Boston" legal ID now being used. But then there's this tantalizing hint from WBOQ"s press release announcing the move:

"The station's move may not be its last as the station still has the ability for another upgrade with approval from the FCC and cooperation of another New England broadcaster that would give WBOQ one of the largest FM signals in the Boston radio market."

It's not hard to guess who that other "New England broadcaster" might be - in addition to owning WWLI on the first-adjacent channel, Cumulus also owns WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg) on the second-adjacent, and those are two of the three signals that would need to be downgraded to move WBOQ all the way south into Boston with a significant power boost. Would Cumulus, which has no existing stations in the Boston market and no clear path to build a more sizable cluster, be interested in partnering to make such a move, which would also involve downgrading another owner's station elsewhere? It seems unlikely...but if there's a bigger swap to be made somehow, such a deal wouldn't be the most unlikely thing we've ever seen.

*Another Boston-area obituary: Harry Weinstein was an engineer at Channel 7 way back in the WNAC-TV era, and he stayed with the station through subsequent callsigns WNEV and WHDH-TV. In later years, he was known to WGBH (89.7) listeners for his regular appearances on Ron Della Chiesa's "Music America" show. Weinstein died January 9.

*There's a TV station sale to start the year in RHODE ISLAND - or at least in the TV market that serves the Ocean State, since CW affiliate WLWC (Channel 28) is actually licensed to New Bedford, Massachusetts, though its studio is in Providence. Channel 28 has been something of an ownership football in recent years, passing from CBS to Four Points to current owner Sinclair. But Sinclair prefers to own in markets where it can control multiple stations, and that's not an available position right now in Providence, so it's selling WLWC to OTA Broadcasting, one of several fairly new companies believed to be buying up TV licenses to speculate on the future value of their spectrum.

This is OTA's first network affiliate, joining existing holdings in San Francisco (religious KTLN-TV), Seattle (MeTV affiliate KVOS and multicultural KFFV) and low-power WEBR-CD in New York City. And the $13.75 million purchase comes with some questions already attached: how attractive will WLWC's current RF channel 22 spectrum be in a market that's right in one of the most spectrum-crowded parts of the country, especially with a major station (Media General's WJAR-TV 10) occupying RF channel 51, a channel that's now the upper end of the DTV dial and a channel wireless providers want to clear out to provide a guard band between high-power TV and their lower-power operations on the old channel 52 spectrum and above.

Will OTA look to put WLWC in the upcoming spectrum auctions, or perhaps negotiate a channel-sharing deal with another Providence broadcaster? We'll be watching...

*In CONNECTICUT, Danbury Community Radio is requesting a new frequency for its Naugatuck translator relaying Portuguese-language WFAR (93.3 Danbury). After many years on 97.9, W250AA is being displaced by Clear Channel's WUCS (97.9 Windsor Locks/Hartford), and Clear Channel handled all the engineering details of moving the translator to its proposed new home on 92.1, where it will jump from 55 to 99 watts.

*They're looking for a new talk host in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where Paul Westcott has departed Clear Channel's WGIR (610 Manchester) for a new gig doing mornings at sister station WTAG (580) in Worcester, where he replaces the recently departed Jim Polito.

For now, Westcott's new morning show will also be heard on WTAG translator W235AV (94.9 Tatnuck), but Clear Channel has an application now pending that calls for moving the translator from the WTAG studio site on Little Asnebumskit Hill in Paxton to the 100 Front Street (Mechanics Building) skyscraper in downtown Worcester, with a change of primary station to WJMN (94.5 Boston). Will the translator really be changing its programming? Stay tuned...

wezq-ticket*In our big New Year's roundup last week, we neglected to note two MAINE format changes that happened in the days after Christmas: Townsquare Media's WEZQ (92.9 Bangor) is now "92.9 the Ticket," carrying ESPN Radio with a morning show hosted by Dale Duff and Clem LaBree. WEZQ's flip from "Soft Rock 92.9" sends syndicated morning show Bob & Sheri to sister station WKSQ (94.5 Ellsworth) and Delilah's evening show to newcomer WRMO (93.7 Milbridge). And as we noted in passing during our Year in Review, Stephen King's WZLO (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft) emerged from all-Christmas stunting as AAA "103.1 the Loft."

*It's finally time for Hockey on the Radio, and we'll get to that in a moment, but first there's some Baseball on the Radio news from VERMONT, where the rights to the Boston Red Sox in the Burlington market are moving for 2013. The Sox have been on Hall Communications' WJOY (1230) for decades, but when opening day rolls around in just a few months, the team will move over to Vox's ESPN affiliate, WCPV (101.3 Essex NY).

*It's been a very quiet week in CANADA, but there's some good news to report from southern Ontario: two months after losing his longtime morning gig in Niagara Falls when CJED (105.1)/CFLZ (101.1) were sold, Rob White is back at work. Fired by Vista Radio as he returned from his honeymoon, White is now doing Saturday afternoons on on CHRE (105.7 EZ Rock) in St. Catharines.

And an obituary we noted only in passing in the Year in Review: Laurier LaPierre rose to fame in the mid-1960s as host of CBC's "This Hour Has Seven Days," but soon moved into the world of politics with a run for Parliament in 1968. He lost, returning to writing and broadcast journalism and eventually becoming a prominent gay rights activist. LaPierre was named to the Canadian Senate in 2001. He died Dec. 16, at age 83.

*Which brings us back to Hockey on the Radio, at long last. With the NHL set to finally kick off a strike-shortened schedule on Saturday, there are a bunch of flagship radio stations ready to start the season. In Montreal, it's CHMP (98.5) in French and CKGM (690) in English for the Canadiens. In Ottawa, it's CFGO (1200) in English and CKOF (104.7) for the Senators. In Toronto, a new rights deal for the Maple Leafs finds their schedule split between the city's two sports stations, CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the Fan) and CHUM (TSN Radio 1050).

Stateside, the Buffalo Sabres continue on WGR (550), which finally has a purpose to its daily morning block of hockey talk. The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils both show up on the FM dial this season, at WEPN-FM (98.7) and WFAN-FM (101.9), respectively, while the Islanders wait out their final years in Nassau County on Hofstra University's WRHU (88.7).

The Boston Bruins remain in place on CBS Radio's WBZ-FM (Sports Hub 98.5); in Philadelphia, CBS Radio has lost the Flyers, formerly on WIP, to Greater Media's WPEN-FM (97.5). And in Pittsburgh, the Penguins remain in their long-term deal with Clear Channel's WXDX (105.9).

*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.
Bath's WJTO (730) came back to life Monday morning, after being silenced by first a power failure and then a dead generator. WJTO is using only 400 watts for now, with station manager Tory Gates providing extra local newscasts and storm information. WLAM-FM (106.7 North Windham) is back on, but WLAM (870 Gorham) remains silent. In Sanford, WCDQ (92.1) has rigged a temporary antenna on the lower two-thirds of its (formerly) 240 foot tower, getting it back on the air with about 80 watts. 'CDQ's Russ Dumont tells NERW a new antenna is on the way, which will get Mount Rialto Radio up to about 500-750 watts until the tower can be replaced.

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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Does anyone know if 94.7 FM will be boosting its signal or has it already made any moves in signal strength and origin that it plans to? Signal doesn’t come in well in Fairfield County, CT, and I can get all the other NYC stations fine. Would be interested in the station’s new format, whether it’s rock or country.

    • Cumulus is certainly interested in improving the 94.7 signal. There’s a clause in the sale contract with Family that will give extra payments to Family if 94.7 can be upgraded to either a B1 or full B from a Manhattan site within a certain time frame. As we’ve explored earlier here, the biggest constraints on 94.7 moving to Manhattan are WMAS-FM in Springfield, which is now co-owned and would need only a minor directional antenna adjustment, and WWSK 94.3 on Long Island, which is not co-owned and which would have to be moved. Such a move won’t come easily, but is certainly possible.

      • Thanks, Scott. Yeah, signal is still pretty bad, which is a shame, because I’d like to be able to hear country on the radio again around here. Will have to keep checking on it, I guess…and of course continue to receive updates through NERW every week!

        I also send my best wishes to Lisa for a quick recovery!

  2. What are the chances 94.7 NYC becomes WABC-FM, simulcasting 770 for awhile, then 770 gets sold to Family? Sort of like what happened in Philly when Greater Media flipped 97.5 to sports, simulcasting their WPEN-AM 950. 97.5 eventually became the GM sports flagship WPEN, and 950 got unloaded to Family.

    Probably not prudent unless they can get their crack engineers to figure out some way to increase coverage (translators, downgrade to get onto Empire/4TS/WTC, signal swap with another station). But it would give them a leg up perhaps over a reconstituted WOR.

    • I doubt it, they’d have to give up a lot of their Long Island and upstate NY listeners because 94.7 gets swallowed by other local signals on 94.3 and 95.1. New commercial band translators would be hard to find because of the presence of other full powered stations coming from the east end and across the sound in southern Connecticut filling nearly every gap on the dial in much of Suffolk county.

      If Cumulus decided to sell 770, I can picture a bigger swap involving other broadcasters since it’s a Clear Channel signal. Something like another broadcaster like Salem getting 770, putting WNYM on 770, putting Christian WMCA on the stronger 970 and giving Family 570.

      • There’s no reason to think 770 is for sale, and WABC-FM doesn’t seem to the direction Cumulus is moving in. As for translators, you can only use them to fill in holes within the predicted coverage of a commercial FM, not to expand its reach. The only way to get a significantly better 94.7 signal into more of Long Island and Connecticut would be to move it to Manhattan, which may happen at some point.

    • Family Stations’ HQ *is* in Oakland… not the one on US 202 in Jersey, however, but rather the one about 3000 miles to the west..

  3. One very clear memory as a kid watching Rex Trailer’s Boomtown was the announcement that said “you are watching Boomtown on
    Westinghouse Stations WBZ-TV Boston and WJZ-TV Baltimore”

  4. OTA Broadcasting is owned by the founder and CEO of Dell Computers, BTW. Not techie at all, but supposedly the clearance is geared to channel 36 and down and channel 51 and down. Would 22 be less valuable than 34, say, or is this going to be a wholesale shuffle of frequencies where stations change channels all over the place to clear spots in the right area of the spectrum?

Comments are closed.