In this week’s issue… Albany’s Cat Country moves – New AM signal prepares for Boston debut – Overnight jock out in Rochester – PA morning host retires
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*There’s a country radio war brewing in NEW YORK‘s Capital District, and Bob Ausfeld is to blame.
Ausfeld led what’s now the Townsquare cluster there for many years, helping big-signal WGNA (107.7 Albany) to stay reliably at or near the top of the ratings. Last year, Ausfeld retired from Townsquare and then reappeared just a few months later as the new market manager at Pamal’s Albany Broadcasting cluster – and on Thursday, he made a swap there that he says he’d been wanting to do for a while, moving “Cat Country” from WZMR (104.9 Altamont) down the dial to WKLI (100.9 Albany).
On paper, the move takes “Cat” simply from one class A facility to another, but in the rather more complex real world of the FM dial there, the country station is getting a much stronger voice. While its existing 104.9 signal emanates from way up in the Helderbergs, home to most of Albany’s big class B FMs, WZMR runs just 530 watts up there with a directional antenna that helps to wedge the 104.9 in against other existing signals that limited it when it moved eastward from Johnstown in 1999.
WKLI, by contrast, is one of the best class As in the market, with 6 kW/328′ from a site centrally located between Albany and Schenectady (and just up the hill from Townsquare’s Kings Road studios), and putting “Cat Country” there sets up a battle with WGNA that Ausfeld says he’s been looking forward to entering.
“It is probably the best engineered frequency in the market,” Ausfeld tells the Albany Business Review.
Cat Country’s move to 100.9 wipes out “Rock 100.9,” the active rock station that’s been on that signal for two years – and it wipes out the entire staff there, including veteran morning man Bob “Wolf” Wohlfeld, his partner John Tobin, middayer Suzanne, PD/afternoon jock Tim Noble and night guy Mike the Enforcer.
What happens next on 104.9? For now, it’s simulcasting with 100.9, but Pamal promises a new format there soon. Will it stunt with Christmas music in the meantime? Stay tuned…
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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: October 15, 2012
*What a difference a year makes! A year ago, CBS Radio was fending off what looked like it might have been a serious challenge to the massive revenue stream that flowed from its pair of NEW YORK all-news stations. WCBS (880) and WINS (1010), as well as Chicago’s WBBM (780). CBS Radio’s adversary back then was Merlin Media, the new group backed by deep-pocketed Chicago investors and headed by the colorful former head of Clear Channel and Tribune, Randy Michaels.
In Chicago, the threat from Merlin’s all-news FM station seemed sharp enough that CBS ditched “Fresh FM” on WCFS (105.9) in favor of an all-news simulcast of WBBM. In New York, CBS had no FM to spare, so it rolled the dice on leaving WCBS and WINS in place on AM, where their dominance was bolstered by several other strong AMs, including another CBS entry, all-sports WFAN (660).
As it turned out, of course, CBS won that bet in New York. Merlin’s “FM News 101.9″ went down as a legendary failure, WCBS and WINS survived unscathed – and it was WFAN that ended up facing a stronger FM challenge when ESPN Radio’s WEPN (1050) bought WRKS (98.7) from Emmis to launch WEPN-FM. That, in turn, is why it’s WFAN, not WCBS or WINS, that’s getting an FM simulcast now that CBS has found a way to add a fourth FM station to its holdings in the market: none other than its erstwhile rival, Merlin’s 101.9, which shifted to a stopgap modern-rock format and returned to its previous WRXP calls after “FM News” imploded over the summer.
Within the next month, WRXP will become WFAN-FM and begin simulcasting 660 under an LMA that will lead to a $75 million sale to CBS. And that has left the New York broadcast community with a lot of questions and speculation:
*As the new 1 World Trade Center rises into the lower Manhattan skyline, it’s still not clear how many FM and TV broadcasters will be attracted to the master antenna facility that’s being built on the 1776-foot spire of the tower – and it’s also not clear when that spire will be finished. The New York Post reported Friday that a dispute between the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey and a Canadian steel company is holding up delivery of the steel for the mast, and time is running short. If ADF Steel doesn’t get the metal moving, the winter closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway may prevent it from being delivered until the spring of 2013, putting the spire project behind schedule. The Post reports the Port Authority has sued ADF, claiming the steel company is holding up the 1WTC delivery while awaiting payment from the Port Authority for an unrelated project.
How might a delay affect broadcasters? Probably not much: more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks destroyed the TV and FM facilities on the old 1WTC, nearly all of the broadcasters who used the Twin Towers are fully relicensed at other sites, mainly the Empire State Building but also 4 Times Square (which is, like 1WTC, managed by the Durst Organization for broadcast leasing) and several sites in New Jersey. With the predominance of cable and satellite for TV viewing, it’s not clear that broadcasters are feeling much pressure to upgrade the DTV signals that now come from Empire; indeed, plans to reconfigure the mast there for better DTV transmission have been stalled out as well. Even the FM stations that can’t be fully relicensed at Empire for spacing reasons seem to have settled in under Special Temporary Authority at slightly reduced power.
But there’s a huge symbolic value, of course, to returning broadcasting to the World Trade Center, where six TV engineers died in the attack eleven years ago, and for that reason alone we hope the dispute gets resolved quickly and the steel keeps rising atop the tower.
*Two CBS Radio obituaries this week: James McQuade had a long career in management at the company, starting in the 1960s as a sales executive and program director at WCBS (880) and the CBS Radio Network. In 1969, McQuade was named general manager of CBS’ owned-and-operated FM stations, including WCBS-FM (101.1 New York), WEEI-FM (103.3 Boston) and WCAU-FM (98.1). McQuade oversaw the stations’ conversions from automated operation to live and local formats, starting off with the “Young Sound” rock formats heard on many of the stations and then presiding over the risky (but ultimately very successful) shift to oldies at WCBS-FM. McQuade moved back to the AM side in 1980, serving as VP/GM of WCBS (880) until his retirement in 1986. He died October 4th in New Jersey.
And Wayne K. Brown worked his way up from the security desk to become WCBS’ general sales manager, a post he held until 1990, when he left CBS to continue his sales career in the south. Brown worked for Radio One for many years, becoming VP/general manager of its clusters in Charlotte and Atlanta. Brown died of liver cancer last Saturday (October 6); he was just 55.
*In the hall of fame of great radio nicknames, Russ Knight had one of the best. Born Russell Lee Moore, Knight wasn’t satisfied with just an air name, and so “Russ Knight” became “The Weird Beard” in the early years of top-40 AM radio. Most of Knight’s act played out on the airwaves far from NERW-land – he made a real name for himself at KLIF in Dallas and KILT in Houston in the early 1960s and later worked in Detroit and Cleveland – but he spent some time in our region, too, coming to New York’s WNEW (1130) in 1979 to serve as program director. Knight ended up living in Connecticut, and that’s where he died on Friday, at the age of 80.
*It’s been almost 75 years since a radio station in Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY has called itself “WPG,” but that’s about to change. The original WPG was a municipally-owned station broadcasting from studios at the famed Steel Pier, with a signal heard throughout much of the northeast. In 1938, the city sold off WPG to one of its channel-sharing partners at 1100 on the dial, WBIL in New York (an ancestor of today’s WADO 1280), and the callsign faded into the mists of history.
But during his morning show today on WENJ (1450 Atlantic City), veteran talk host Harry Hurley will announce the return of “WPG” to the Atlantic City airwaves. While it can’t actually retrieve the long-defunct three-letter call (it stood for “World’s Playground”), Townsquare-owned WENJ is changing its calls to WPPG as it segues from ESPN sports to an all-talk format anchored by Hurley from 6-10 AM. He’ll be followed by Glenn Beck (10-1), a yet-to-be-announced local show from 1-3 PM, Sean Hannity at 3, Mark Levin at 6, John Batchelor at 9 and Red Eye Radio at 1 AM.
(The memory of those old WPG calls survived elsewhere on the dial, too: what’s now WENJ signed on in 1940 as WFPG, and its sister station at 96.9 on the dial is still WFPG-FM.)
*Another AM station in CANADA is heading to the great “plates off” button in the sky, but unlike most of the station exiting the senuor band, CJRN (710 Niagara Falls) isn’t leaving voluntarily. Last week, the CRTC notified CJRN that its license will not be renewed, ordering the station off the air no later than November 30.
Why the “death penalty” for this venerable AM station, which traces its history back to 1946 and the old CHVC (1600)? Some history is in order: under longtime owner Keith Dancy, CJRN was a full-service signal into the 1990s, when it launched a low-power tourist information signal on 91.9 called CFLZ. A shuffling of the Niagara FM dial moved CFLZ to 105.1 with much higher power, and by 2002 the growth of FM and decline of AM made it tempting for the Dancy family to turn the FM signal into a full commercial operation. To make that happen, the Dancys asked the CRTC to shift the tourist information license to 710, and for a decade now the CJRN license has been constrained by license conditions that require it to carry only pre-recorded tourist information.
But under new owner Andrew Ferri, whose Northguard Capital (via its subsidiary Radio 710 AM Inc.) has controlled the station since 2005, those terms haven’t always been followed. The CRTC began inquiring into CJRN’s programming in 2009, putting the station’s license under several short-term administrative renewals while it requested program logs and logger recordings, and it didn’t like what it found. Some logger recordings were missing (Radio 710 AM blamed that on a split in duties between its employees and those former sister stations CFLZ-FM and CJED-FM, which shared the studio with CJRN even after being sold to Halliburton). Other tapes showed that in addition to tourist information, CJRN had been carrying religious programming aimed at the Muslim community during Ramadan, Punjabi-language live shows aimed at Toronto, and live sports updates. (At one point, CJRN was apparently leasing airtime for Canisius College sports play-by-play, aimed over the border at neighboring Buffalo.)
Despite protests from CJRN, the CRTC is taking a very strict view of its rules for tourist-information stations, ruling that the broadcast of national and international news items constituted “programming [that]was not solely directed to visitors to Niagara Falls and cannot be defined as tourist information.”
CJRN has the opportunity to appeal the ruling. It’s not clear yet if it will do so; the 710 facility appeared to be off the air when we checked late last week.
Five Years Ago: October 13, 2008
*It’s been a few weeks since we’ve led off with big news from NEW YORK – but this week, there’s big news indeed from two of the city’s biggest stations.After 14 years at the helm of what’s arguably the most important talk radio station in the country, Phil Boyce announced on Thursday that he’s leaving the PD chair at WABC (770) – and by the end of the day, he was out the door at the 17th floor of 2 Penn Plaza.
The official word from Citadel was that Boyce’s departure was entirely of his own doing, and while Boyce didn’t immediately announce where he’s headed next, Sean Hannity – one of Boyce’s proteges at WABC – hinted that whatever Boyce is doing next, he’d be involved in it somehow. (It bears noting that Hannity just announced contract extensions with both of his employers, Citadel and Fox News Channel.)
Whatever the official announcements may have said, speculation was rampant heading into the weekend: why was Boyce’s departure so abrupt, and might it have had something to do with Citadel’s truly dreadful financial picture, as the company’s stock remained mired below the $1 level, raising the spectre of de-listing from the New York Stock Exchange?
Another question about the timing of the announcement – if it was indeed entirely voluntary on Boyce’s part, why was no succession plan immediately in place for the station that’s been Boyce’s baby for over a decade? (And speaking of pet projects – with Boyce out the door, what becomes of the annual “Rewound” nostalgia festival on Memorial Day, and the popular “Saturday Night Oldies” that Boyce implemented at WABC a couple of years back?)
*Those looking for certainty in the world of New York radio could find it last week at the Clear Channel cluster, though it may not have been the kind of certainty that fans of local radio would seek: once again, local content and local talent is giving way to national syndication.
This time, it’s the relentless march of Ryan Seacrest across the nation’s airwaves. As his “On Air” show has moved east from its Los Angeles home base, it’s displaced local midday and afternoon jocks all over the country, and last week it was Shelley Wade’s turn. The veteran middayer at WHTZ (100.3 Newark) is still at Z100, at least for now – but instead of her familiar 10 AM-3 PM shift, she’s suddenly on overnights, replaced by the inevitable Seacrest, who at least made the right noises in the press release about how he’s “always wanted to play those Z100 jingles,” never mind that it’s the automation in Manhattan that will be doing that, not Seacrest in Hollywood.
This is actually the second time Wade has been bumped by Seacrest – when he arrived at Boston’s Kiss 108 earlier this year, it marked the end of Wade’s voicetracking for the Boston station from New York. (We think there’s some kind of irony there, but it’s probably too depressing to contemplate.)
And there’s a bit of news from CBS Radio, too – it’s finally turned on the HD Radio multicast channels on WXRK (92.3 New York). On 92.3-HD2, it’s the “K-Rock 2″ modern rock format that has been running as a webcast for the last few years, and on 92.3-HD3, it’s a simulcast of sports WFAN (660).
*In New York, WINS (1010) is mourning one of the anchors who helped launch its all-news format back in 1965. Lew Fisher was with the station for 36 years, starting back in WINS’ music era in the fifties. He was 90 when he died on Sunday.
*And here in Rochester, we remember one of the city’s veteran broadcast engineers. Stan Manson came to WOKR (Channel 13) forty years ago, and remained at the station (now WHAM-TV) for his entire career, most recently as engineering manager. Manson, who was in his early sixties, died Tuesday (Oct. 7).
*A veteran NEW HAMPSHIRE sportscaster is changing stations. After more than three decades with the station that’s now WKBK (1290 Keene), Bob Lund has joined Great Eastern’s new WEEY (93.5 Swanzey). For now, he’s doing local sports inserts during WEEY’s programming from Boston’s WEEI network.
There’s a call change just to the north – WPLY (96.3 Walpole) becomes WFYX; will a change from its current simulcast of oldies WWOD (104.3 Hartford VT) be next?
*Budget cutbacks hit WDRC in Hartford, CONNECTICUT at week’s end: five full-time and four part-time positions were cut at the stations, including WDRC-FM afternoon jock Doug Taylor and WDRC(AM) mid-morning talker Mary Jones. Her slot will be filled by the syndicated Glenn Beck show, while on the FM Larry Wells moves from middays to afternoons, with Floyd Wright moving into middays from overnights.
*A big PENNSYLVANIA FM signal was knocked off the air by vandals early Thursday morning. The transmitter site of WILQ (105.1 Williamsport) is in a fairly remote spot, high above the city on Skyline Drive – but it wasn’t remote enough to keep a big piece of logging equipment called a skidder from slamming into the building around 4 AM Thursday. Backyard Broadcasting chief engineer Tom Atkins says the vandals apparently hot-wired the skidder and went for a joyride, which didn’t last long.
The ride ended when the skidder slammed into a corner of WILQ’s concrete-block transmitter building, knocking the station off the air. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the transmitter wasn’t hit; the bad news, however, is that the transmitter building was a total loss. WILQ quickly got back on the air from an auxiliary site, and Atkins and his crew salvaged what they could from the building. (We’re writing this, oddly enough, from the laptop in the passenger seat of the NERW-mobile as we drive through Williamsport, and WILQ’s signal – at least over the weekend – is pretty good in the city, though not as good as its usual booming full class B.)
The damage was still being assessed of press time; initial estimates were in the low six figures, and the vandals still hadn’t been caught as of Sunday night.
In TV news, Erie public station WQLN-TV has turned off its analog signal for good. WQLN’s analog and digital signals both went off the air when the station’s tower suffered a lightning strike a few weeks back, and the original plan was to restore the analog Channel 54 signal at low power for the few months remaining before the February sunset. The station has now changed its mind; while it’s restored WQLN-DT (Channel 50) to the air on a temporary auxiliary antenna, it now says the analog signal won’t be returning. Cable customers in London, Ontario, who’ve been without WQLN service for a few weeks, should have the station’s signal back soon as well. (They’ve been getting Buffalo’s WNED in its place.)
Ten Years Ago: October 13, 2003
*It must be an exciting week for the folks at Boston’s sports talker, WEEI (850) – after all, they’re the flagship station for baseball’s next World Champions. (This week’s NERW is being written Sunday night in lieu of the rained-out Game 4 of the ALCS; we reserve the right to dream and to dream big, and you Yankees fans can keep it to yourselves.)
*But in the midst of all that excitement, WEEI will be without its popular morning team for a while longer, thanks to the continued fallout from an offhand remark John Dennis and Gerry Callahan made a couple of weeks ago as they discussed a newspaper photo of a gorilla that had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo.
*As we reported last week, WEEI initially suspended Dennis for two days for remarking that the gorilla was a “METCO (urban-suburban exchange student) gorilla waiting for a bus to Lexington.” That wasn’t enough for the coalition of city officials, religious leaders and other civic groups protesting the comments, though, and after a meeting with METCO officials last Tuesday, WEEI suspended Callahan as well, extending the suspensions for both hosts for two weeks. (2008 note: OK, it didn’t happen in 2003 – damn you, Aaron #@!%^ Boone! – but a year later, well, that was a different story. And what are the Yankees doing this October?)
*In Springfield, MASSACHUSETTS, TV viewers are about to get something that more closely resembles a local CBS affiliate. For decades, CBS service to Springfield and the Pioneer Valley has come from CONNECTICUT’s WFSB (Channel 3) – but now WFSB is getting ready to launch a separate service to the Massachusetts side of its market. It’ll still be “CBS3″ on cable, but WFSB owner Meredith has bought W67DF (Channel 67) in Springfield from Trinity Broadcasting, and it will soon move to channel 45 and increase its power from Mount Tom, selling local ads and increasing WFSB’s presence in Springfield. (WFSB has experimented over the years with local ad sales and even local news inserts on Springfield cable, but this will be its first stab at a Springfield broadcast signal.)
*Arthur Liu is adding two more New York-market signals to his portfolio – though they’re both actually across the river in NEW JERSEY. Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting is spending $150 million to acquire Radio Unica’s 15-station group, which includes WWRU (1660 Jersey City) and WJDM (1530 Elizabeth). WWRU already shares the tower site of Liu’s WKDM (1380 New York) on Paterson Plank Road in East Rutherford; we expect it will drop Unica’s Spanish news-talk programming in favor of the same leased time fare that already runs on Liu’s WPAT (930 Paterson), WKDM, WNSW (1430 Newark) and WZRC (1480 New York).
*Meanwhile on the radio dial, the all-Christmas stunting on WKXP (94.3 Kingston) ended at 9:43 last Monday morning, as Cumulus relaunched the former oldies station (ex-WBPM) as “Kicks 94.3,” playing country and competing with Clear Channel’s WRWD (107.3 Highland). Former WBPM morning guy Nick Robbins moves over to sister station WKNY (1490 Kingston), while middayer Laura Smith and afternooner Chris Lucas are out. Replacing them are Buzz Stephens (from former country outlet WUSX in Huntsville, Alabama) in mornings and Beth Christy (from WKXP sister station WCZX) as PD/afternoon drive.
*The big story from CANADA was the death Tuesday (Oct. 7) of media mogul Israel “Izzy” Asper. Asper was a Manitoba banker in the early seventies when he acquired the physical assets of a tiny TV station on the North Dakota/Manitoba border and won a license from the CRTC to put it on the air in Winnipeg. KCND (Channel 12) in Pembina, N.D. thus went dark, with its tower and transmitter being trucked across the border to reappear as CKND (Channel 9), the cornerstone of what would become a media empire.
Asper went on to acquire an interest in the new Global network in Ontario, then bought Global outright and eventually built it into Canada’s third national network. Meanwhile, his CanWest Global was buying newspapers – from the Montreal Gazette to the Vancouver Sun and Province to the startup of the National Post – not to mention TV interests in Australia and New Zealand and, recently, several radio stations in Canada. Asper was 71 when he died; though he was still CanWest Global’s chairman, he’d ceded most of his power to his children last year.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 16, 1998
*With most of the big names in radio a continent away at the NAB Radio Show in Seattle, it’s been a quiet week back here in the Northeast, with all of one format change to tell you about. It’s in upstate NEW YORK, at the unusual two-AM combo created last year in Canandaigua. Alert NERW readers will recall that WCGR, the 250-watt daytimer at 1550 kHz, finally built its CP for a kilowatt full-time on 1310 — but then asked the FCC for permission to “recharacterize” the frequency change as a new station application, thus allowing WCGR to keep both 1310 (with a great signal toward Rochester but a bit of a null towards the city of license) and 1550 (with a good signal in Canandaigua and not much else).
*After a bit of confusion at the FCC, things settled down with the WCGR calls moving to 1310, 1550 picking up the WLKA calls that once graced a sister FM, and both simulcasting a (mostly-automated) 70s-heavy soft AC format. Until this week, that is…when hitting the “1310″ preset in the NERW-mobile produced not the usual Neil Diamond, but conservative Christian talk and USA news instead.
Here’s what’s happened: WCGR has LMA’d the 1310 facility to David Wolfe’s WASB (1590) in Brockport, in Rochester’s western suburbs. Under the new calls of WRSB, 1310 is simulcasting WASB 20 1/2 hours a day, with WCGR programming still being heard from 5 till 8:35 AM on weekdays (albeit without veteran upstate broadcaster Jack Mindy, who’s left the station). It makes for an interesting combination, since 1310 can be heard from Canandaigua up to the east side of Rochester, while 1590 can be heard from roughly one end of its own property to just short of the other end — and that’s on the days when the transmitter is actually working. Here at NERW Central, no more than 12 miles from WASB, the signal simply does not exist, except on very good days with a communications-grade receiver, a good antenna, and a high tolerance for co-channel stations in Auburn and Salamanca.
As for 1550, it’s reclaimed the WCGR calls and continues the AC format, but with a signal that’s hard to hear outside northwest Ontario County. We’re told Wolfe has an option to buy 1310 eventually; we’ll keep an eye on this one.
*Moving along to MAINE, the Saga stations in Portland have a new boss. He’s Cary Pahigian, who programmed WBZ in the 1980s and most recently ran Ernie Boch’s stations on Cape Cod. Now he becomes: vice president of Saga/New England, market manager of Portland Radio, and GM of WGAN, WZAN, WMGX, and WYNZ (which is to say, all of Portland Radio except WPOR AM-FM). Pahigian replaces the retiring Bob Gold.