In this week’s issue… Rush moves to WOR: What next for WABC? – Celtics seek post-WEEI radio home – Buffalo Broadcasters name Hall inductees – New TV on air in Montreal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The end to one of the biggest “what-if” scenarios in NEW YORK radio came quietly late last week, when Cumulus Media and Clear Channel came to terms on a new agreement that will keep Clear Channel’s Rush Limbaugh on the big former ABC/Citadel talk stations now owned by Cumulus in major markets such as Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington.
But while Rush won’t move from legacy affiliates including WLS, WBAP and WMAL (not to mention smaller Cumulus outlets such as WXLM 980 in Groton, Connecticut), the deal between Cumulus and Clear Channel will bring Limbaugh to a new spot on the New York City radio dial beginning in January 2014, as he leaves Cumulus’ WABC (770) after a quarter of a century in favor of Clear Channel’s WOR (710).
The reasonably amicable resolution of what could have been an ugly dispute (there are few good options for replacement Limbaugh affiliates in many of the big Cumulus markets) continues a pattern of cooperation between the two big “C” companies: Cumulus’ stations are part of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming service, while Clear Channel’s stations now take part in Cumulus’ SweetJack daily deal site.
Amicable as it may have been, though, the shift of Limbaugh from WABC to WOR will force some big changes on both stations’ schedules:
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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 27, 2012
*As AM radio tries to find a foothold in the early 21st century, the hot format of the moment is all-comedy – a format that just picked up another convert in CANADA.Astral Media pioneered all-comedy north of the border earlier this year at CKSL (1410) in London, Ontario, and apparently found enough success there that it’s replicating the format in the next big market to the east, where it flipped CHAM (820 Hamilton) from country to comedy at 8:20 Tuesday morning. Unlike CKSL, which is running a feed from the US-based “24/7 Comedy” network with little local content, CHAM has an “Ambassador of Funny” in the person of Mike Nabuurs, the lone on-air holdout from 820′s former country format. Nabuurs is contributing local entertainment news and traffic updates to CHAM during drivetimes, with “24/7 Comedy” supplying the rest of the content.
The move comes two years after CHAM returned to country from a brief stint with talk, only to run into the buzzsaw of a bigger FM country competitor, Durham Radio’s CHKX (KX 94.7).
*In Quebec, French-language talk dominated the week’s radio news, nowhere more so than at CKLX (91.9 Montreal), where the former “Planète Jazz” gave way to hot talk last Monday morning. RNC Media is still awaiting CRTC approval to fully convert the station from jazz to a Montreal clone of its successful Quebec talker, CHOI (98.1), so in the meantime it’s still programming jazz after 7 on weeknights and most of the day on Saturday and Sunday.
*A veteran radio manager is returning to the business right where he left off in upstate NEW YORK. For more than a decade now, Bob Morgan has been in the tower business, serving as senior VP/broadcast for American Tower – but before he joined ATC in 1999, he was the market manager for American Radio Systems/CBS Radio here in Rochester. Now he’s right back in the former CBS Radio suite on the 17th floor of the HSBC Tower, which is now home to Clear Channel’s Rochester cluster, where Morgan stepped in last week to fill the VP/market manager slot vacated by Kevin LeGrett’s promotion to senior VP/operations. The move also reunites Morgan with some of the talent who worked for him at ARS/CBS, most notably Brother Wease, who’ll be facing a contract renewal soon at Clear Channel’s WQBW (95.1 the Brew).
Much of what’s now the Clear Channel Rochester cluster was once the Lincoln Group – and on Thursday, veterans of that old-line broadcast company learned that its founder had died.
Albert “Bud” Wertheimer was a second-generation broadcaster, son of FM pioneer Al Wertheimer, and when Bud entered the business in 1963 FM radio was just beginning to wake from its long 1950s-era slumber. Bud Wertheimer started Functional Broadcasting to secure the Muzak franchise in western New York, a franchise that required FM signals to carry the all-important Muzak subcarrier.
Thus were born WDDS (93.1) in Syracuse and WVOR (100.5) in Rochester, the stations that would eventually become the core of the Lincoln Group. In the group’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, when Wertheimer had partnered with Rochester’s Jack Palvino, the group would come to own not only WVOR but also Rochester’s clear-channel AM giant, WHAM (1180), as well as WBUF (92.9 Buffalo) and stations in eastern Ohio. WVOR, in particular, epitomized the Lincoln Group’s ethos: the “Heart of Gold” was the first Rochester FM station to top the ratings, adopting many of the service elements (including a hefty dose of local news and constant community involvement) that were once the sole province of AM radio.
In the Lincoln Group’s last years, Wertheimer was a pioneer in building station clusters, taking advantage of relaxed FCC ownership rules to add two more FMs and another AM in Rochester before selling out to American Radio Systems in 1996 for $30.5 million. (It was that transaction, which would have created an eight-station cluster in town, that prompted Justice Department action that led to many of today’s ownership limits; it also forced ARS to divest much of the former Lincoln Group to Jacor, which begat today’s Clear Channel cluster.)
More big news from Buffalo: after 34 years on the air, Joe Chille is leaving his morning host/PD position at Townsquare Media’s WJYE (96.1) later this week. Chille has been a Buffalo fixture since joining “Joy 96″ in its easy-listening days back in 1978, and he says his next move involves “exploring new opportunities” in public relations. Chille’s last show on WJYE is slated for Wednesday, and no replacement has yet been announced.
*Some good news from eastern MASSACHUSETTS: the TV antenna that failed in April has finally been repaired and returned to its perch 1300 feet atop the Richland tower in Needham, restoring WBZ-TV (Channel 4/RF 30), WCVB-TV (Channel 5/RF 20), WSBK (Channel 38/RF 39) and WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43) to their usual spot at the top of the tower. The return of that upper master antenna to full-power service on Friday allowed the identical lower master antenna, which had been a temporary full-power aux for those four stations, to be returned to WGBH-TV (Channel 2/RF 19), allowing WGBH to go back to full power for the first time since April.
*A veteran VERMONT broadcaster is starting a new gig at the other end of the Green Mountain State. Steve Cormier is best known as the longtime co-host of the “Corm and the Coach” morning show on several Burlington stations, but he’s now making his home down in Brattleboro as the new morning man at WTSA-FM (96.7) and station manager for WTSA-FM and WTSA (1450). In Brattleboro, Cormier is working for station owner Kelli Corbeil, whose late husband Bill was a good friend of Cormier’s.
*In MAINE, Rick Foster says the decision to leave WDEA (1370 Ellsworth) was “totally mine.” Foster departs the station, which just changed hands from Cumulus to Townsquare Media, on Friday – which happens to be the 50th anniversary of his start there. He’s spent most of his time at WDEA doing mornings, and no replacement has yet been named.
Five Years Ago: August 25, 2008
Last week, NERW broke the story of a major rearrangement of Atlantic Coast Radio’s Portland-market signals, and this week we can fill in all the blanks – and tell you about some changes down the road at the Nassau stations, too, not to mention a big change up in Bangor.
First, Atlantic Coast: As we reported last week, it’s the end of the line for “Red Hot 95.9.” That station – WRED (95.9 Saco) – will become half of a new Atlantic Coast sports station in the market, as owner J.J. Jeffrey affiliates with Boston’s WEEI and puts its sports programming on 95.9 and on WJJB-FM (95.5 Topsham), which had been half of the locally-programmed “Big Jab” sports signal.
The Big Jab will stay in the market on a stronger signal, replacing talk on what’s now WLOB-FM (96.3 Gray) and remaining on WJJB (1440 Westbrook). And the talk programming will stay in place, too, but only on WLOB (1310 Portland).
Those changes will all take place Sept. 1, and there will be new calls, too – 96.3 will become WJJB-FM, 95.5 will be WTEI and 95.9 will be WPEI.
(A quick bit of NERW analysis before we move on: whether or not you believe the rumor that WEEI owner Entercom forced Atlantic Coast’s hand by threatening to move the valuable Red Sox radio rights elsewhere in the market, Jeffrey ends up with an interesting competitive position in southern Maine. While he won’t have a total sports monopoly in the market – Nassau’s WLVP 870/WLAM 1470 are fulltime ESPN Radio, and the Portland Sea Dogs are heard on Saga’s WBAE 1490 – Jeffrey will now have outlets offering both local sports talk and the Boston-centric WEEI product, not a bad hand to play if the goal is to deliver a young male audience.)
NERW readers with longish memories will by now have noted that the initial announcement of a New England-wide WEEI network last winter included numerous Nassau stations, WLVP/WLAM among them. As WEEI relaunches its regional network plans, Nassau is still absent – but there is now a Bangor affiliate. September 1 will also bring the WEEI network to Blueberry Broadcasting’s WABI (910 Bangor) and WWBX (97.1 Bangor), replacing talk on the AM side and top 40 “B97″ on the FM. That’s a pretty big signal for WEEI, and even if the WEEI network is being handled separately from the Red Sox rights, we have to wonder how much longer Stephen King will be able to hang on to the Sox over at WZON (620).
And returning to the Portland/southern Maine end of things, there’s a format shuffle coming from Nassau, too: In October, it will move classical “W-Bach” from its present homes on WBQW (106.3 Scarborough) and WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) to what’s now “Bone” classic rocker WHXQ (104.7 Kennebunkport). The 106.3 frequency will flip to “The Bone,” simulcasting with WHXR (106.7 North Windham) to blanket the Portland market, at the expense of York County; 99.3 will flip to “Wolf” country, simulcasting Nassau’s WTHT (99.9 Auburn) to improve the Wolf’s coverage of the full Portland market, where Nassau’s apparently looking at sagging ratings for Saga’s country giant, WPOR (101.9 Portland), and seeing vulnerability. (There are no changes planned – at least not yet – for the northern outposts of the “W-Bach” network, WBQX 106.9 Thomaston and WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor.)
NERW’s spending Labor Day weekend in western PENNSYLVANIA at the National Radio Club convention, and we’ll have a format change to listen to while we’re there.
Renda’s WPTT (1360 McKeesport) is trading its talk format for business talk, and that means the departure of one of the station’s fixtures, Lynn Cullen. She’ll do a final week of shows on WPTT this week, wrapping up on August 29, just a day before the station flips to its new format and new calls of WMNY. (Those calls were last seen in NERW-land a few years ago at the Buffalo AM signal that’s now WBBF.)
Meanwhile, construction is finally underway on a new tower site for Renda’s other AM in the Pittsburgh market, WJAS (1320). NERW readers may recall that WJAS lost its current site near the mouth of the Squirrel Hill tunnel after its landlord sold the property to the city of Pittsburgh, apparently ignoring a “right-of-first-refusal” clause in Renda’s lease. Renda ended up going to court, filing a suit that was settled when the city’s Urban Renewal Authority sold WJAS a new piece of land north of downtown.
While WJAS is building, WPXI (Channel 11) is tearing down. Now that the Cox-owned NBC affiliate is in its new home on the city’s North Side, wrecking crews were hard at work last week demolishing most of WPXI’s former studio building on Rising Main Avenue, just north of downtown. Only the original 1950s-era core of the building, still home to WPXI’s transmitters, will be saved; while WPXI had planned to move its tower to the new studio site, the neighbors objected, and so the transmitters will stay put at the old location.
In Harrisburg, Cumulus has flipped WTCY (1400) to ESPN sports, returning the station to its original callsign, WHGB. But it’s not the end of the line for the “Touch” urban AC format that WTCY was carrying – it’s alive and well on WNNK-HD2 (104.1), and being heard by most of the market via translator W237DE (95.3 Harrisburg). Can a translator carry an FM station’s HD2 signal? Cumulus believes it’s on solid ground with the FCC here, and we’ve heard nothing from the Commission to contradict that.
*In VERMONT, there’s a new morning show to replace the long-running “Corm and the Coach” at “Champ” WCPV (101.3 Essex NY)/WCVR (102.1 Randolph). “Rich and Mary’s Morning Mess” pairs Mary Cenci, who’d been doing afternoons at the station, with Rich Haskell, who returns to the station he programmed from 1997-2000. Steve Cormier retains his operations manager title as he moves to middays, and former morning show producer Carolyn moves to afternoons to replace Cenci.
In Rutland, veteran sportscaster Jack Healey has left WSYB (1380), ending a career there that began in 1971. (He left in 1975 for now-defunct competitor WHWB, but returned in 1982.) Healey is heading for the world of webcasting, joining the crew at NortheastSports.net to do play-by-play for Castleton State University. Healey is also leaving his play-by-play gig as the voice of UVM hockey, a job that helped him win the “Vermont Sportscaster of the Year” award 18 times and landed him in the Vermont Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Ten Years Ago: August 25, 2003
It’s been literally years in the making, but VERMONT Public Radio is finally about to throw the switch on an expansion that will bring its second service, an all-classical network, to the state’s largest market. On Friday, August 31, VPR will take control of what’s now WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY), replacing that station’s Christian rock format with classical and changing the calls to WOXR. “The calls don’t have any particular importance, other than an homage to the great New York classical station, WQXR,” says VPR president Mark Vogelzang. (He jokes that they could also stand for “Only eXcellent Radio.”)
The station is expected to sign off as WAVX on Wednesday, when VPR closes on its purchase of the station from Christian Ministries, Inc. It will return Friday at – when else? – 9:09 in the morning. When it does, it will help to fill out the VPR Classical network that signed on in 2004 at WNCH (88.1 Norwich), serving the Connecticut River Valley. The network grew in a small way with translators, then added a second full-power signal, WJAN (95.1 Sunderland, now WVTQ), earlier this year – but until now, it’s been heard in Burlington and vicinity only via web streaming and the HD2 channel of VPR’s main network.
In Albany, Regent has not only returned to sports on WEEV (1300 Rensselaer) after the demise of the GreenStone Media talk network – it’s also returned to the station’s former calls of WTMM. Will the format change (which creates a simulcast with WTMM-FM 104.5 Mechanicville) be permanent?
Fifteen Years Ago: August 24, 1998
It’s not often that a brand new radio group bursts on the scene – and even less often that such a group does so by buying nearly a dozen stations in two states at once. But that’s what Lloyd Roach, owner of WCOJ (1420) in Coatesville, PENNSYLVANIA did last week, creating a new group that will be a major presence in one market, a minor presence in another and with the potential to add significantly to its holdings in the months to come.
Roach’s new “Route 81 Radio” launches with WCOJ and clusters in two markets. In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, the group is buying WKJN (1440 Carbondale), WCWI (94.3 Carbondale) and WAZL (1490 Hazleton) from Citadel and WNAK (730 Nanticoke) from Seven Thirty Broadcasters. WKJN, WCWI and WAZL have long been somewhat forgotten corners of Citadel’s big Northeast Pennsylvania cluster. WCWI does “Cat Country,”simulcasting out-of-market WCTO 96.1 Easton PA; it’s simulcast with WEMR 1460 Tunkhannock, which presumably needs a new format now. WKJN and WAZL have been simulcasting the news-talk of WARM 590 Scranton, which was itself rumored to have been for sale. WNAK is probably the best known of the four, running a standards format that has long shown up well in the ratings up and down the valley. The deal also includes WHYL (960 Carlisle), which has been doing oldies for Citadel on the fringe of its Harrisburg cluster.
Route 81 will make its biggest splash, though, in a market that’s not even near Route 81. The new company is buying the Eolin Broadcasting “Radio Works” cluster that includes talkers WENY (1230 Elmira) and WCLI (1450 Corning), AC “Crystal” simulcast WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) and WCBA-FM (98.7 Corning), oldies WGMM (97.7 Big Flats) and oldies WCBA (1350 Corning).