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In this week's issue... Wolfe out at WEEI/WRKO - WPDH's "Coop" dies suddenly - WMJX picks morning replacement - New FM on Cape Cod - Format flips in Atlantic Canada

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*There was a time when Jason Wolfe was on top of the eastern MASSACHUSETTS radio heap. Within just a few years of his promotion to the PD chair at WEEI (850) back in 1997, Wolfe oversaw a run that took the station to some of the highest ratings of any all-sports format in the country, bolstered by a lucrative association with the two-time world champion Red Sox, not to mention the '08 champion Celtics.

Jason Wolfe (WEEI photo)
Jason Wolfe (WEEI photo)

Wolfe's star kept rising as WEEI expanded to cover most of central and northern New England via a network of affiliates, and in 2006 he picked up the title of "VP for AM Programming" at Entercom as he assumed oversight of talker WRKO (680 Boston) as well.

But all good things come to an end eventually (just ask the 2011 and 2012 Sox), and in recent years Wolfe had a more difficult job. After fending off less-potent sports challengers over the years, CBS Radio's launch of "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM (98.5) in 2009 stole away much of WEEI's younger audience just as the big-ticket Entercom/Sox contract was beginning to take its toll on WEEI's bottom line. Down the hall at WRKO, ratings eroded in the face of potent competition from Greater Media's WTKK (96.9) and less potent competition from Clear Channel's WXKS (1200).

While WRKO recovered somewhat as its competitors flipped formats, it's been a bigger struggle for WEEI, where Entercom waited two long years to bring the sports format to an FM signal that could better take on the Sports Hub. Veteran WEEI voices such as Dale Arnold, Pete Sheppard and Glenn Ordway exited - and last week, it was Wolfe's turn.

"The company has to do what the company has to do in order to protect its interests and build going forward," Wolfe told the Herald after GM Jeff Brown gave him his notice.

Wolfe's dismissal takes away the last major link to WEEI's 1991 start as an all-sports station, when a young Wolfe came on board as a producer, later rising to assistant sports director and then PD. There's no official announcement yet, but it's widely rumored that Kevin Graham, currently the PD at KFNZ (1320) in Salt Lake City, is headed to Boston to replace Wolfe; there's no word yet on who'll be programming WRKO.

Over at Greater Media, there's a new morning team for WMJX (106.7 Boston) following the retirement of Mike Addams after a long run in that slot. Boston radio veteran David O'Leary (formerly of mornings at sister station WBOS and more recently working as production director at WMJX) takes over the morning slot alongside Candy O'Terry, starting today.

And up in Medford at Clear Channel's WJMN (94.5), Maverik (aka Kahleil Blair) is the new afternoon drive jock. The Boston College graduate interned on WJMN's Ramiro morning show and had been hosting nights on Jam'n; he replaces Bobby Blaze, who exited the station a week ago.

codcommThere's a new signal signing on today on Cape Cod. WKFY (98.7 East Harwich) is the fourth FM in John Garabedian's Codcomm cluster, joining adult hits WFRQ (Frank 93.5), top-40 WHYA (Y101) and classic rock WPXC (Pixy 102.9). The class A signal transmitting from Chatham lit up Friday with a loop of Patti Page singing "Old Cape Cod," promoting a launch today as "Koffee 98.7," offering something "not found on any radio dial or stream." What will that sound like? GM Tim Levesque says it will be a mix of “oldies, classic album cuts and modern artists loved by older listeners."

It's been almost six years since WPEP (1570 Taunton) turned in its license to allow co-channel WNSH (now WMVX) up in Beverly to expand its signal, but the old WPEP tower on County Street (Route 140) never came down - and now it's lighting up again. Steve Callahan has received an experimental license to transmit with up to 1000 watts from the old WPEP site, under the call WV1XBF on 1640 kHz, to run measurements to determine whether that tower could become the new home of his WVBF (1530 Middleborough Center). That would be a fitting full-circle end to this story, since some of the former WPEP programming moved to WVBF after 1570 fell silent.

wpdh-cooper-sm*The top story of the week from NEW YORK was a sad one indeed: the news on Wednesday that Mark Cooper, morning host at Cumulus' WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie)/WPDA (106.1 Jeffersonville), had died at age 49 after suffering his second stroke in a year. Cooper had been a morning fixture at WPDH since 1998, paired with partners including John Tobin, Mike Colvin and most recently Robyn Taylor. Cooper had gone on medical leave from WPDH in July, less than a year after his return to work following his first stroke in August 2012. Taylor's hosting mornings solo on WPDH for now; it's not clear when the grieving staff at WPDH will be ready to make plans for a permanent replacement.

Radio People on the Move in New York City: Theresa Angela is out at WPLJ (95.5) after a whopping 36 years at the station, most recently as director of promotions and marketing, though her importance to the station went far beyond that title.

Downtown at WLIB (1190), the YMF Media station is taking a break from its gospel format for two hours each weekday to pick up a live clearance of "Keepin' It Real with Al Sharpton." The Reach Media syndicated offering had been running in Sharpton's hometown on delay at WWRL (1600), but is now being heard from 1-3 PM on WLIB.

Upstate, Taughannock Media is filing for a shift at its new FM translator in the Ithaca market. W297BI (107.3 Danby) is relaying ESPN Radio outlet WPIE (1160 Trumansburg), but the translator's now seeking a slide down the dial to 107.1, where its license would read "Ithaca" instead of rural Danby.

*Our PENNSYLVANIA news begins in Philadelphia, where CBS Radio has parted ways with WPHT (1210) PD Ed Palladino. Palladino had been with the talk station since 2007 and had been PD since 2009. His exit comes as CBS prepares for another shuffle of studio locations: it's moving all-news KYW (1060) from 4th and Market in Center City to the KYW-TV (Channel 3)/WPSG (Channel 57) facility at 15th and Spring Garden, freeing up space for WPHT to move from suburban Bala Cynwyd into the 4th and Market facility, also home to all-sports WIP (610/94.1).

The KYW move reverses the separation of radio and TV that happened in 2007, when the longtime KYW facility on Independence Mall East was redeveloped and the stations moved to different locations. (CBS split other longtime radio/TV pairs around the same time, relocating KNX and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles from the historic Columbia Square and moving WBBM and WBBM-TV out of their Chicago home of more than a half-century.)

*At the other end of the state, Sinclair is making plans to further consolidate its new holdings in the Johnstown/Altoona/State College market. In May, Sinclair closed on its purchase of Johnstown-based NBC affiliate WJAC (Channel 6) from Cox, which was already providing local news to Fox affiliate WWCP (Channel 8). Now WWCP's owner, Horseshoe Curve Communications, has reached a $12 million deal to sell channel 8 to Cunningham Broadcasting, the arm's-length company that works in tandem with Sinclair in dozens of markets around the country. Assuming the deal goes through amidst tighter FCC scrutiny of such arrangements, Sinclair will end up operating WWCP and its LMA partner, Palm Broadcasting-owned ABC affiliate WATM (Channel 23), presumably all from WJAC's Johnstown studios. If that happens, the only commercial competition to Sinclair in the market will come from Nexstar's Altoona-based CBS affiliate, WTAJ (Channel 10), and in State College from MyNetwork LPTV WHVL (Channel 29).

Bob Stevens' Broadcast Communications Inc. is buying the FM translators it's been leasing from EMF Broadcasting for the last few years. Stevens will pay $310,000 for W231BM (94.1 Clairton, relaying WKHB 620 Irwin) and W248AR (97.5 Monroeville, relaying WKFB 770 Jeannette).

*The fallout from the 2003 translator window produced another batch of construction permit applications from "singleton" applicants last week. Here's the latest group, all of which should be granted fairly smoothly: 106.3 Lehigh Township PA, 106.3 Kutztown PA and 92.1 Allentown PA (WJCS 89.3 Allentown) by Beacon Broadcasting, 103.3 Erie PA (WCGF 89.9 Cambridge Springs), 97.1 South Williamsport PA (WCOG 100.7 Galeton) and 100.5 Dunkirk NY (WCOM 89.3 Silver Creek) by Family Life Ministries; 93.9 Altoona PA (WTLR 89.9 State College) by Central Pennsylvania Christian Ministries; 92.5 Connellsville PA (WYRA 98.5 Confluence) by EMF Broadcasting; 93.3 Denver PA (WRTI 90.1 Philadelphia; moved from 92.7 Millbach) by Airport Investors; 106.1 Monroe NY (WRPJ 88.9 Port Jervis) by Mary Katonah; 105.7 Millville NJ, 99.5 Rio Grande NJ and 100.9 Manahawkin NJ (WJPH 89.9 Woodbine) by Maranatha Broadcasting; 105.5 Lewiston ME (1240 WEZR Lewiston) by Edgewater Broadcasting; 95.9 Hebron NH (WVNH 91.1 Concord) by New Hampshire Gospel Radio; 103.7 Georgetown CT (90.1 WJZZ North Salem NY) by Dennis Jackson.

ckdh*It was a busy week for CANADA's Maritimes Broadcasting System in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - in fact, MBS made three format flips on a single day on Thursday.

In Saint John, New Brunswick, MBS shuffled two stations' formats at the stroke of 8 AM, as CJYC (98.9) flipped from classic rock "Big John FM" to classic hits "Kool 98" and CFBC (930) dropped its oldies/classic hits mixture in favo(u)r of a country format.

Across the Bay of Fundy in Amherst, Nova Scotia, country was the new format of choice later that day at CKDH (101.7), which abandoned the adult contemporary format it had moved over from AM 900 back in 2011 to become a country station.

In Peterborough, Ontario, My Broadcasting is trying something different as it takes control of CJMB (90.5) from McNabb Broadcasting. After almost a decade as a Christian station (dating back to its previous callsign of CKKK on 99.5), My will flip the station to sports talk as soon as it can complete construction of new studio facilities at 727 Lansdowne Street West. The switch to a spoken-word format instead of the AC music My usually uses at its stations gets neatly around the CRTC requirement that 95% of the music played on CJMB be Christian: with no music to be played, that condition of license simply won't apply, or so CJMB hopes. The station will have a local news-talk show in morning drive and will use CBS Sports Radio for some of its programming; it will also continue to carry Peterborough Petes junior hockey as well as Toronto Blue Jays and Maple Leafs broadcasts.

*The CBC's continuing shutdown of its low-power AM relay transmitters continues: in Kedgwick, New Brunswick, in the northwest corner of the province, it's applying to convert CBAF-20 from 40 watts on 990 AM to 50 watts on 98.1 FM; the application comes just a few weeks after the other Radio-Canada AM relay in New Brunswick, CBAF-21 (1230 Saint-Quentin), applied to move to 91.1. (And let us pause here for a moment to admire the CRTC's French-language term of art for "low-power FM," "faible puissance," which translates literally as "weak power.") Whether on AM or FM, both stations simulcast Radio Canada's CBAF (88.5) from Moncton.

It’s August and summer is winding down –just a few more months to enjoy your Tower Site Calendar. If you haven’t bought one yet, what are you waiting for? They’re 50% off the regular price and will be for the rest of this year, so get yours today! The months may have passed, but the pictures are timeless! (They make great posters, too.)

When you order the calendar, be sure to check out our other merchandise, including a scale model of the KSAN-AM radio tower.

And watch this space in the next few weeks as we begin pre-orders of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2014, which is now in production!

Who’ll be featured in the next edition of the world’s most popular radio tower calendar? Stay tuned…

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: August 20, 2012

*The NEW YORK City radio market is still digesting last Monday’s bombshell news: Clear Channel’s addition of WOR (710) to its five-FM cluster for a price that, we learned on Friday, is $30 million. Clear Channel will take over the talk station’s operations in November, under an LMA if necessary, and while there’s been no formal announcement yet about the station’s future, we can offer some well-educated speculation:

Clear Channel’s primary motive for the purchase was obvious – the larger its Premiere Radio Networks syndication arm becomes, the more vital it is for Clear Channel to own its own talk station to clear Premiere programming in the nation’s biggest market. WOR came with an added incentive in the form of the WOR Radio Network, once a major player in talk radio. The network’s weekday programming is much reduced these days (headlined by Dr. Joy Browne’s advice show), but it retains a cluster of weekend service shows (food, travel, etc.) that will make a lucrative addition to the Premiere lineup.

So what becomes of WOR’s existing programming? We’d be surprised to see Clear Channel replace John R. Gambling’s morning show, part of a family tradition at WOR that dates back to the 1920s; we’d be equally surprised if Clear Channel doesn’t move quickly to shift Premiere’s biggest name, Rush Limbaugh, from Cumulus’ WABC (770) down the dial to WOR.

It’s the rest of the day that gets interesting: will Clear Channel return Premiere’s Glenn Beck to New York in the late-morning slot now occupied by Mike Gallagher? And what about the afternoon slot, where WOR runs former governor David Paterson up against Sean Hannity on WABC. The Hannity show is jointly owned by Cumulus and Premiere, with Clear Channel holding distribution rights in markets where Cumulus doesn’t have stations.

*The WOR purchase may just be the first act in a broader Clear Channel-Cumulus battle: Cumulus has been deeply intent on pursuing a strategy that emphasizes its in-house content. The launch earlier this year of the midday Mike Huckabee show was a perfect example: even before Cumulus knew it would be facing off directly against Clear Channel on the New York AM dial, it wanted an in-house option in the Limbaugh timeslot, and it’s highly likely Huckabee will show up on 770 as soon as Limbaugh moves to 710.

The action may soon move to Chicago. In market three, Premiere now clears Limbaugh on Cumulus’ WLS (890) – but Tribune’s bankruptcy is expected to put rival talker WGN (720) on the market later this year. Will Clear Channel be eyeing that 50-kilowatt prize, too?

*In the meantime, life goes on at WOR for now; so far, there have been no staffing or scheduling changes, and it seems likely WOR will stay put at the 111 Broadway studios where it moved in 2005, since there’s no readily-available space for an AM talk operation at Clear Channel’s existing five-FM studio cluster in the old AT&T building at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street.

*Russ Kimble has been a Finger Lakes radio fixture since his teenage days in the 1960s, when he was a disc jockey on his father’s WCGR (1550 Canandaigua). Kimble and his twin brother George inherited WCGR at a young age when the elder Kimble died suddenly at age 4o; while George went on to build the Finger Lakes Radio Group that’s now the region’s biggest cluster, Russ settled in with ownership at WFLK (101.7 Geneva) and WYLF (850 Penn Yan).

Last year, Russ Kimble sold WFLK to his brother’s group, and last week he exited broadcast ownership with the $450,000 sale of WYLF to first-time owner Jeff Pearce, who’s been living in Florida and Montana. The sale comes as Russ turns his attention to a family health issue: after his wife Debbie survived an initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer four years ago, she’s once again battling both pancreatic and lung cancer. Russ Kimble had been WYLF’s morning man, too, a post he exited on August 3; we wish him (and Debbie) all the best in their fight.

*For decades now, Robert Pfuntner has been a high-profile station owner in New York’s southern tier and vicinity. Now he’s being forced to sell three of his signals, with several others possibly to follow. Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines stations in Bath (WVIN 98.3/WABH 1380) and Wellsville (WQRW 93.5) were recently forced into receivership, and station broker Richard Foreman is taking bids on the properties. There’s a “stalking-horse” bid of $510,000 for the Bath stations and $75,000 for WQRW from Corning’s Sound Communications, which already owns stations in Elmira/Corning and Hornell.

There’s also a foreclosure in the works against Pfuntner’s Elmira/Corning stations (WLVY, WOKN, WELM and WEHH), his Olean/Salamanca signals (WOEN/WMXO Olean, WGGO/WQRS Salamanca and WZKZ Alfred) and his partial interest in Waynco’s WACK/WUUF in Wayne County, as creditors attempt to recover more than $1.8 million in unpaid loans.

*It’s the callsign that won’t die: after many decades on Albany’s AM 1540 (where it stood for original owner “PaTRoon Broadcasting”) and a detour to several spots on the FM dial, the WPTR calls are landing on Schenectady’s WVKZ (1240) as that station changes hands from Ernie Anastos to Joe Reilly’s new Empire group. Reilly has also requested the calls “WJKE” for Anastos’ WQAR (101.3 Stillwater) – is a return to 101.3′s old “Jockey” identity around the corner?

*Back in New York City, Barry Siegfried retired from WCBS (880) on Friday, ending a 37-year run in the engineering department of 880, sister station WCBS-FM (101.1) and the CBS Radio Network. We wish him all the best on a well-deserved retirement.

*And we offer a belated obituary for Don Roberts, who ran Binghamton-market WENE (1430)/WMRV (105.7) and Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY‘s WMID (1340)/WGRF (99.3) for Merv Griffin in the 1980s. Roberts had owned stations in northern Michigan and Wisconsin before working for Griffin, and after Griffin sold his stations, Roberts became a well-known station broker, working with Elmira’s Dick Kozacko. Roberts died July 23 in Virginia, at age 85.

*Over-the-air TV viewers in eastern MASSACHUSETTS are once again scrambling for decent signals from Boston’s NBC, ABC and PBS outlets, but with any luck the latest work on the tower they share in Needham will be the last for a while. The 50-foot-long, 1600-pound upper master antenna on the tower burned up back in April, and it’s taken several months to get the antenna down from the tower and shipped north to the factory in Maine to be rebuilt.

The antenna came back to the Needham site last week, allowing rigging to begin for the arduous task of re-mounting the antenna at the top of the 1300-foot tower. While the upper master antenna was down, WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30), WCVB-TV (Channel 5/RF 20), WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43) moved to the lower master antenna that’s usually home to WGBH (Channel 2/RF 19), sending WGBH to a temporary side-mounted antenna for the duration. On Tuesday, crews are scheduled to begin hoisting the new antenna to the top, and that will mean reduced power for WGBH and the master-antenna signals while crews are on the tower. The work is expected to be completed by next weekend, and you can keep track of its progress on WGBH’s tower page.

As Boston.com’s new “RadioBDC” settles in as an online replacement for the old WFNX (101.7, now WHBA), the Phoenix is making moves to keep its own streaming WFNX.com relevant after many of its staffers migrated to the Globe: WFNX.com has hired Kurt St. Thomas to be the streaming station’s new “executive producer”, returning him to WFNX after a very successful 1987-1995 run as program director there.

We’re sorry to report the death of Tighe Jensen, who was most recently doing voiceover work on Cape Cod. Johnson was the son of longtime Boston announcer Leif Jensen, who died in June, and the brother of former WBZ (1030) anchor Gregg Jensen. Tighe Jensen started out doing voices for several Boston morning shows, including Dale Dorman on the old WVBF (105.7), and he’d worked in radio at WCOD on Cape Cod and at stations in New Hampshire and Buffalo, NY. Jensen was killed in a car crash on Cape Cod Monday night. He was 53.

*CONNECTICUT talk host Dan Lovallo lost his gig at Buckley’s WDRC (1360 Hartford) in a round of budget cuts this past February, but now he’s back on the air on the noncommercial FM dial. Starting today, Lovallo and George Gombassy will be heard from 3-5 PM weekdays on WAPJ (89.9 Torrington), where they’re doing a show that’s a spinoff of their CTTalking.com blog.

(And no, we don’t know whether Buckley’s sale of WOR augurs changes at the company’s remaining signals, including WDRC, its AM talk network sister stations and oldies WDRC-FM in Hartford.)

*In RHODE ISLAND, perpetual controversy magnet John DePetro spent part of last week from his talk show on Cumulus’ WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) after commenting off the air about a lawsuit filed against him for allegedly sexually harassing a co-worker. DePetro is expected to be back on the air this morning.

Five Years Ago: August 18, 2008

*After more than 18 years at the pinnacle of the NEW YORK sports-talk radio scene, "Mike and the Mad Dog" are history at WFAN (660).

Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo spent very little of the summer working together, separated by alternating vacations amidst newspaper headlines suggesting increased tension between the long-running co-hosts. And then, on Thursday, the memo came out - Francesa had signed a new long-term contract to stay at WFAN, while Russo was gone from the station that made him famous.

Russo's next career move is unclear right now. While rumors have him heading for satellite radio - and a noncompete clause in his contract (which remains in effect) bars him from competitor WEPN until next spring - the Dog was back on the WFAN airwaves Friday, calling in to his former show to say goodbye.

Francesa, meanwhile, becomes the solo star of a show that thrived on his tension with his former co-host. While there will new cast members added to the afternoon shift by the time the show relaunches Sept. 5, Francesa says they won't fill the same co-host role that Russo did. For now, Francesa's show will continue to be simulcast on the YES Network (which replayed the Friday call-in several times).

For WFAN, this is just the latest disruption to a program schedule that had been set in stone for almost two decades. The station's morning shift, now featuring Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton, is still struggling to recapture the ratings and revenue Don Imus brought in for years - and rumors continue to circulate that the Mets, a staple of WFAN's lineup since the station's debut in 1987, may shift flagships next year.

(On a brighter note, we hear construction is finally getting underway in earnest at the new lower Manhattan studio complex that will eventually house WFAN, WINS, WCBS-FM and WWFS; might a move out of its dank Queens basement home change WFAN's fortunes later this year?)

There's a big Citadel change in Binghamton: after a quarter-century at WAAL (99.1), most of that time in afternoon drive, Thunder Reynolds has exited the classic rock station.

In Ithaca, Saga's WHCU (870) is shuffling its morning lineup, replacing Dennis Miller (10-noon) and the last hour of its local morning show with Glenn Beck, who'll now be heard from 9 AM-noon. Dave Vieser and Geoff Dunn will continue to be heard with "Morning Newswatch" from 5:30-9 AM. WHCU is also looking for an assistant news director to fill the shoes of Greg Fry, who's moved to the Albany market and a new news job with Clear Channel's WGY.

Here in Rochester, we've got "November 17" marked on our (Tower Site) calendars - that's the date Brother Wease will apparently be back on the air at WFXF (95.1 the Fox). On Thursday, current morning man J.P. Hastings (who'll move to afternoons once Wease takes over) announced that the "95-day countdown" to Wease's return had begun.

And what happens when the "Mike and Mike" morning show at Clear Channel sister station WHTK (1280 Rochester) moves over to crosstown WROC (950) with the rest of the ESPN Radio affiliation?

We hear that the new schedule on 950 will include much more ESPN content than "Sportsradio 1280" now clears - but it will also include a simulcast of Mike Schopp and the Bulldog from 3-7 PM, coming from Entercom sister station WGR (550 Buffalo). Irony alert: Schopp's sports-talk career took off here in Rochester almost a decade ago - on WHTK. (He later went to upstart Buffalo sports talker WNSA before landing at WGR.)

In the Finger Lakes, Bob Savage is now syndicating the Bill Nojay talk show that airs daily on his WYSL (1040 Avon) from 2-3 PM. Nojay's show is being heard at 3 PM on WLEA (1480 Hornell) and on a one-day delay at 11 AM on the Finger Lakes News Network (WGVA 1240 Geneva, WAUB 1590 Auburn and WFLR 1570 Dundee).

Speaking of WFLR, its AM signal was off the air due to transmitter troubles last Wednesday, and that gave us a chance to hear the AM programming being relayed over its new translator, W245BL (96.9 Dundee), with a signal that reached all the way up to Waterloo. For now, W245BL is usually relaying WFLR-FM (95.9 Dundee), but when that FM signal moves to Ithaca (as Odessa-licensed 95.5), the 96.9/1570 combination will replace the current WFLR-FM for Dundee/Penn Yan listeners.

The Buffalo Broadcasters have announced the lineup of honorees for their next Hall of Fame induction, to be held Sept. 23. This year's roster: pioneering sportscaster Roger Baker, talk host Art Wander, WKBW-TV program manager John DiSciullo, former WGR-TV weatherman Father Barry Lillis, NFL star/ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski, Regent chief engineer Bill Stachowiak and WKBW-TV itself, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in November. The induction ceremony will be held at the WNED-TV studio, with Don Paul (WIVB-TV) and Sue O'Neil (WKSE/WTSS) as masters of ceremony.

Three New York obituaries close our Empire State report this week:

When Le Roy Akins died last Sunday morning (Aug. 10), he was remembered for his most recent job: for the last two years, he's been mayor of Glens Falls. But as a teenager growing up in Glens Falls, he was "Roy Lee," boy DJ at WWSC (1450) - and from 1964-1971, Akins engineered and produced J.J. Jeffrey and George Michael's shows at WFIL (560) in Philadelphia. Akins later went into marketing before beginning his political career. He was 66.

Guy LeBow, who died Aug. 14 at 92, had a broadcasting career that included TV and radio sportscasting, acting, writing and even station ownership. LeBow recreated Giants baseball games on WMCA after the team relocated from New York to San Francisco in 1957, broadcast sports reports on WABC-TV's Eyewitness News in the seventies, and, as chairman of Global Broadcasting, operated WNWK (105.9 Newark NJ) for a decade after its previous licensee lost the station's license in 1982.

Unless you're a game show aficionado, you've probably never heard of David Zinkin. But the Rochester native, who died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, was an important link in the NERW chain, keeping us posted on radio and TV news from western New York during this column's early Boston-based years, filling us in on the worlds of cable news, local TV, free-to-air satellite, broadcasting history and many other topics after our move back to Rochester, and helping keep the computers at NERW Central up and running, too. David was also a close friend of your editor as far back as middle school, and his loss (at the far-too-young age of 37) leaves a big hole in this column.

*A few callsign changes in NEW JERSEY: in North Cape May, WSJQ (106.7) becomes WKOE, picking up the calls that used to be on 106.3 in Ocean City (now WBBO 106.5 Bass River Township). No format change yet, but we'll be listening.

NJN Radio has calls for its new 90.3 in Toms River: it will be WNJO, calls last heard in Trenton on 94.5, now WPST.

And veteran Jersey jock Zach Martin is back on the Garden State airwaves, doing fill-in and weekend work at WDHA (105.5 Dover). Martin had been doing production at New York's WFAN.

*The PD chair keeps spinning in PENNSYLVANIA's biggest market: Rick Vaughn is leaving WIOQ (102.1 Philadelphia) on Sept. 2. He's heading for Chicago's WKSC (Kiss 103.5), to replace the departing Rick Gillette.

In Pittsburgh, market veteran Zak Szabo is the new afternoon host at Steel City Media's WLTJ (Q92.9).

Down on the AM dial, the message boards have been buzzing about a new website that appears to be pointing the way to a new sports-heavy format at WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg) beginning today. The lineup advertised on the website includes "The Kegs and Eggs Morning Show," focusing on outdoor sports, as well as a new 2-6 PM "Barstool Talk" sports-talk show.

In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market, the AHL Penguins minor-league hockey team is changing affiliates this fall. The Pens will move from Shamrock's WEJL (630 Scranton)/WBAX (1240 Wilkes-Barre) to Entercom's "Mountain" WDMT (102.3 Pittston) under a multi-year deal.

And we remember Paul Norton, whose long broadcast career took him from Olean to Albany to Buffalo's WKBW and WGR to the Voice of America before he landed in Philadelphia in 1959. After a year at WFIL (560), Norton moved across the hall to become a staff announcer at WFIL-TV (Channel 6), and he remained on the staff at Channel 6 (now WPVI) until his retirement in 1997. Norton died of a stroke August 7 at a nursing home in Delaware. He was 79.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there's a new program lineup at "ESPN Boston" (WAMG 890 Dedham/WLLH 1400 Lowell). With Mike Felger's departure for WEEI, WAMG has picked up the "Mike and Lew Show" that had been heard (as a leased-time offering) in morning drive on WWZN (1510 Boston). Mike and Lew are now airing from 4-6 PM on 890, preceded from noon-2 by a new show hosted by WCVB (Channel 5) sports anchor Bob Halloran and WAMG's Mike Salk.

Down on the South Coast, UMass Dartmouth's WUMD (89.3 Dartmouth) was knocked off the air last Monday after a lightning hit damaged its transmitter. The station kept webcasting, and was back on the radio at low power by this past weekend.

*The FCC is forcing Nassau to unwind a long-running NEW HAMPSHIRE JSA - and quickly. The license to what's now WWHK (102.3 Concord) stayed in the hands of Capitol Broadcasting (aka Vox) when Jeff Shapiro and Bruce Danziger sold the rest of their cluster to Nassau back in 2004, and while WWHK has been functioning as part of Nassau's Concord/Manchester/Nashua cluster ever since, it's been doing so under a JSA with Capitol.

Nassau applied to buy WWHK outright in 2005, but the FCC dismissed the application, saying it would put Nassau over the four-FM limit for the Concord market. Nassau asked the FCC for a waiver, noting that the 102.3 signal had been "home" to the Manchester market at the time of the transfer application. But the FCC isn't buying the argument. It says Nassau should have ended the JSA in September 2006, when new rules went into affect that attribute JSAs and LMAs against ownership limits. Now the Commission is ordering the JSA to be terminated immediately, forcing Capitol to make other arrangements to sell WWHK's airtime - and it says the Enforcement Bureau will be weighing in on the case, too.

Barry Lunderville is changing calls at his new AM signal in Berlin: WRTN (1490) will now be WKDR, a longtime Burlington, Vermont callsign.

*Congratulations to VERMONT Public Radio, which will expand the reach of its classical service to the Route 7 corridor south of Burlington with the help of a newly-granted construction permit in Middlebury. The new signal on 90.1, with 1.2 kW/317' DA, will carry VPR Classical, replacing the present Middlebury translator service on W258AW (99.5).

*In MAINE, we're hearing that the cutbacks at Blueberry Broadcasting (the former Clear Channel group) hit even harder than we reported last week: we're told that of the 34 people working for Clear Channel at the Augusta cluster, just 22 still had jobs once Blueberry took over. Three jobs were cut in Bangor when the deal closed July 29th.

We're also hearing there may be some big changes coming at J.J. Jeffrey's Atlantic Coast stations: the rumor mill has sports WJJB-FM ("The Big Jab") moving to the big 96.3 signal now occupied by talker WLOB-FM, which would take WJJB's Topsham-licensed 95.5. We're also hearing that Atlantic Coast may replace rhythmic top 40 with WEEI's sports network on WRED (95.9 Saco).

Up north, there are reports that Allan Weiner's new 94.7 in Monticello is on the air, playing classic country as "WBCQ-FM" (Weiner's Monticello-based shortwave station also has the WBCQ calls); the FCC database still shows 94.7 as an unbuilt CP with no calls, but a request for the WBCQ-FM calls was filed August 15.

*A quiet week in CANADA; in fact, the most exciting item we could dredge up comes from Barrie, Ontario, where CHAY (93.1) has rebranded as "FM93, Barrie's Fresh Music Mix."

To the north, a proposed station sale that slipped by us when it was first announced back in May: Haliburton Communications, which is selling most of its English-language signals in Ontario to Newcap, also has a pending deal to sell its French-language network (CHYC Sudbury, CHYK Timmins, CHYX Kapuskasing) to Le5 Communications, helmed by Paul Lefebvre, for C$425,000.

And Ron Laidlaw, who was the first news director at CFPL-TV (Channel 10) in London, running the newsroom there from the station's 1953 debut until his retirement in 1985, has died. Laidlaw was credited with Canada's first local commercial newscast in color, and was the second president of RTNDA Canada in 1965-66. Laidlaw died Thursday (Aug. 14); he was 88.

Ten Years Ago: August 18, 2003

*As we go to press (so to speak) Sunday night, the Blackout of 2003 is well on the way to the history books: power is back on across the region, and the radio and TV dials are back to normal. But it's worth a moment to update our Friday recap of how broadcasters from Long Island to Cleveland handled the power failure - and to offer some lessons to broadcasters looking to make sure they don't go dark the next time the power goes off. We'll start with the market-by-market look at who stayed on and who didn't:

New York City: Up here at NERW Central, we spent much of our dark evening listening to the outstanding coverage on WCBS, which pre-empted the Yankees game to stick with news. WCBS was one of a handful of stations to stay on without significant interruptions; WOR kept its entire staff going through the night at its 23rd floor studios overlooking a darkened Times Square - and its transmitter site stayed up on generator power for more than 24 hours (on the old Continental 317, not the newer Harris - and with engineer Tom Ray going on the air to talk about the situation, then staying on by accident giving out the transmitter phone number!)

Bloomberg's WBBR is designed to stay on the air no matter what (two generators, two separate transmitter facilities, a UPS and a backup studio at its New Jersey transmitter site), and it did. WABC stayed up and running with only minor technical glitches; its programming was less smooth, however, as it moved from the scheduled Sean Hannity show, to news broadcast from the ABC network radio facility on West End Avenue, back to Hannity (who planned to send affiliates a taped "best-of" show but ended up going live to the nation with blackout coverage) from the WABC studios, and into the night with Steve Malzberg and Monica Crowley mixing news and rumors.

Less fortunate broadcasters included WFAN, which had trouble getting its generators working at its Astoria studios and its High Island transmitter and was off the air until just before the Yankees game, which it then picked up from WCBS, the Mets having been blacked out at Shea. WFAN then simulcast WCBS overnight before running a best-of Imus show on tape from the transmitter. Later Friday, Jody McDonald drove to Philadelphia to do the midday show from sister WIP - and then Chris "Mad Dog" Russo did five hours of live talk from the transmitter site, with no phones! WFAN was back to Astoria in time for Friday night's Mets game.

WINS lost power late in the afternoon at its New Jersey transmitter site, returning later in the evening with coverage that was simulcast on WNEW, which went "Blink"less from its auxiliary transmitter at the WINS site.

On the TV side, the Empire State Building was mostly dark, as only a handful of stations had generator facilities in the cramped transmitter spaces there. We've already noted that WCBS-TV (Channel 2) maintained its tradition of always being on in a crisis - but we neglected to note that WNBC (Channel 4) also had a generator at Empire that enabled it to stay on the air until 1 AM, when its live coverage (from the emergency studio 6C at 30 Rock, and later from a sixth-floor balcony) ended and the station shut down the generator overnight to move to its auxiliary facility at the Armstrong tower in Alpine, N.J. WABC, WPIX and WNET were all on from Alpine, it appears; WNYW and WWOR were off the air until late Friday when power was restored at Empire. (And Pax's WPXN stayed on the air from its New Jersey transmitter site with infomercials and Pax programming...) One more note: Cable TV news is not a useful medium in a blackout - and Time Warner's New York 1 proved the point, going off the air when the power (and cable) went out and staying off through midday Friday.

In MASSACHUSETTS, John "Ozone" Osterlind is taking an involuntary two-week break from morning duties at Entercom talker WRKO (680 Boston) after learning the hard way just where the boundaries to his "bad boy" act lie. Early last Tuesday morning (August 12), Osterlind and co-host Peter Blute were reportedly discussing the Palestinian situation when Osterlind suggested that the solution would be to eradicate the Palestinians. That was too much for station officials (though afternoon host Howie Carr can refer to "towelheads" without penalty) - and Osterlind was sent to the beach for two weeks, with a variety of guest hosts filling in.

A familiar station identity is back in CANADA, where Corus pulled the plug on "Energy 93.1" up in Barrie, Ontario - replacing it with soft AC sounds as "The New CHAY 93.1." The CHAY calls never legally disappeared from the powerful station north of Toronto, but they haven't been used much on the air recently; the move leaves just one remaining "Energy" station from Corus' chain, the 103.1 facility in London.

Fifteen Years Ago: August 17, 1998

There's been a lot of speculation over the last few months about the fate of American Radio Systems' Boston stations -- even an article in another radio column just a few weeks ago that authoritatively claimed Jacor would be the next owner of WRKO, WEEI, WAAF, WEGQ, and WWTM. As of this afternoon, the rumors are over. David Field's Entercom is paying $65 million to buy the stations from CBS, which was required to sell the stations as part of the antitrust settlement of its purchase of ARS. CBS also gets two Entercom stations in Tampa, WYUU (92.5 Safety Harbor FL) and WLLD (98.7 Holmes Beach FL). Although it's based in Philadelphia, Entercom's first entry into the Northeast radio market came just last year with its purchase of the former Heritage Media group in Rochester. The Boston (and Worcester) stations are the company's first entries in New England.

What happens now? Let's put NERW in analysis mode here and take a look at Entercom's new prizes: WRKO (680) tops the list in both ratings and prestige. With nearly two decades under its belt as a talker (after those 14 glorious years as a top-40 rocker), the 50 kilowatt giant remains a solid ratings performer, despite some recent turbulence in morning drive. Entercom's background is more on the FM side than AM, but recent acquisitions of AM giants like Seattle's KIRO and Kansas City's KMBZ and KCMO suggest that the company is getting more comfortable on the other side of the dial. With solid performers like Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, and locally, Howie Carr in the afternoons, changes at WRKO seem unlikely. WEEI (850) and mostly-simulcast WWTM (1440 Worcester) have carved out a solid niche in the sports arena, fending off competition from the now-defunct sports weekend at WBZ (1030), as well as the mostly-syndicated fare on WNRB (1510). Along with WAAF, they'll give Entercom a solid footing among younger male listeners. On the other side of the equation, neither of WEEI's major sports franchises (the Red Sox and Celtics) has been performing well of late, and despite WEEI's 1994 move from 590 to the former WHDH at 850, it's still saddled with a directional signal that misses many western suburbs at night. WWTM helps by day, but is no more effective at reaching Framingham or Natick after dark. Entercom's only other sports outlet is KFXX in Portland, Oregon.

On the FM side, Entercom gets two rimshotters. The better of the two signals, at least in greater Boston, is WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence). The erstwhile WCGY moved its transmitter to Middleton a few years back, improving reception around Boston, but it's still hampered by second-adjacent stations in Taunton and Providence to the south. As for format, classic rock is one thing Entercom knows how to handle. Will the company's solid grasp of the format help the "Eagle" differentiate itself from CBS' WZLX (100.7)? It had better, if only to pull WEGQ out of the 17th place spot where it landed in the Spring book...

Last on the list, but perhaps the most interesting, is WAAF (107.3 Worcester). For years, WAAF has tried to pretend it's actually located 40 miles east, even though its signal within the city of Boston can most kindly be described as "variable." But with the help of plenty of advertising dollars, along with publicity that can't be bought (like last spring's "Mayor Menino is Dead" April Fools' stunt), WAAF continues to do fairly well in the ratings. What's more, its active rock format is Entercom's specialty. So what happens next? Well, another Entercom specialty is frequency and call shifts. This is the company that traded KCMO's 810 dial spot for WHB's 710 in Kansas City, flip-flopped its sports (KFXX) and nostalgia (KKSN) outlets in Portland, and moved the legendary WBBF calls from AM to FM in Rochester. Could WAAF finally become a legitimate Boston signal on 93.7, with Eagle getting regional reach on 107.3 (a signal which regularly draws ratings as far away as Springfield)? Wouldn't surprise us.

One more note before we move on to the rest of the week's news: Besides keeping hot AC WBMX (98.5), CBS is hanging on to one other ARS station. WNFT (1150) was not included in the Entercom sale, which leads NERW to wonder what CBS has in mind with this often-ignored station that's currently pulling R&B oldies off the satellite. Could WBZ finally get the overflow outlet that it's wanted for years? With the Justice Department satisfied, could 1150 now be flipped to sports? And what of CBS's stated committment to find minority buyers? Is WNFT's current format a clue? We don't know...but we'll keep you posted.

We'll start the rest of this week's news in NEW YORK with the sale of Albany's second public TV outlet. Sinclair has agreed to pay $23 million for WMHQ (Channel 45), with the station returning to commercial operation once the sale closes (it began its life in the 80s as commercial independent WUSV before being sold to WMHT), either as a UPN or WB affiliate. Sinclair gets an upstate New York sweep with this one -- they now own or are purchasing WUTV (Fox) in Buffalo, WUHF (Fox) in Rochester, and WSYT (Fox, with an LMA on UPN affiliate WNYS) in Syracuse, as well as a large radio group in Buffalo.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I wonder if KYW will change their top-of-hour ID once they move. Currently, after the litany of call letters Michelle Durham recites, the late Dick Covington intones “All news, all the time. From Independence Mall, this is KYW Newsradio 1060, a CBS Radio station serving Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.” It’ll sound funny if they don’t, but not as funny as “From 15th and Spring Garden…” My guess is they’ll just edit ” From Independence Mall” out. Easy enough, and preserves Covington’s VO as well. Maybe a tiny issue, but really, the KYW ID has been as much an institution as the station itself. And keeping Covington on it for so long, even after his death, is a class act at a time when that’s not so much the case anymore in the biz.

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