In this week’s issue... WBAI's search for a savior - Mets, WOR pair up - Rush's new old Philadelphia radio home - K-Love adds in upstate NY - Connecticut AM sold
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*After more than half a century, the Pacifica Foundation is preparing to exit the radio business in NEW YORK. It's not a sale - at least not yet - of the massively valuable class B signal of Pacifica's WBAI (99.5) in New York City, but Pacifica's announcement that it's searching for an LMA partner to operate WBAI signals that the latest set of troubles there may have been the death knell for local Pacifica programming there.
Pacifica's request for proposals calls it a "Public Service Operating Agreement," or "PSOA," and if Pacifica can find a willing partner, that nonprofit will program WBAI, maintain a main studio for the station, provide office space for two Pacifica full-time staffers, and provide some space in the schedule for some Pacifica-provided programming, surrounding it with programming that will "serve programming interests otherwise unserved in the greater New York City area."
But even as Pacifica's national board is making plans to try to hand off WBAI to a new operator, local listeners to 99.5 are in the midst of a marathon pledge drive making no mention of the possible end to Pacifica's programming - and it's all happening without a studio (the station's live shows are coming from borrowed space in Harlem at tiny WHCR) and now without the most recent interim PD, Andrew Phillips.
"We are on a wartime footing," was Phillips' message to staffers in an October 5 memo, warning that an LMA might be not only imminent but necessary in order to save the station in the long term. But while Phillips was trying to make WBAI's morning programming more palatable to a larger audience and to minimize the use of pledge-centric programming like Gary Null's medical show, Pacifica's national programmers apparently had different ideas. On Thursday, Phillips reportedly sent a fiery e-mail to GM Berthold Reimers and interim national executive director Summer Reese complaining of being "blindsided" by a national mandate to run "Null's bombastic mish-mash of warmed-up Pacifica fare" in morning drive.
"Where is the diginity?" he asked. "So this is what WBAI became?"
Whatever WBAI is in the process of becoming, it's doing so without Phillips, who "has decided to move on," according to a memo sent out by Reese later Thursday night. Boasting that the drive is now pulling in "in excess of $30,000 a day," on track to a goal of $500,000, Reese says programming for now on WBAI will "be adjusted based on performance and data to achieve optimal results," a phrase it's hard to imagine emerging from Pacifica leaders of any previous decade. (Reimers is even more blunt in his own memo to staff: "If your show usually makes no money or very little, it does not make sense for us to put you on during these next 2 to 3 weeks.")
Responses to Pacifica's RFP are due November 6, and it will be interesting to see who enters the fray. While there are certainly nonprofits in the New York area that would love a chance to program the big 99.5 signal, it seems all but certain that Pacifica will be challenged over the way it's fundraising for programming that won't be around much longer - and possibly by members of the local station board who don't have a say in the change. That will be especially true if the LMA partner ends up being New York's mainstream public broadcaster, WNYC, which has been seeking a better signal for its classical outlet, WQXR (105.9). If it's not WNYC, it's not clear if other smaller players would have the resources to meet all of WBAI's demands, including reimbursing Pacifica for the substantial cost of Empire State Building antenna rental.
Even in the context of WBAI's long history of internal tension, this is proving to be a most unusual chapter. Can any vestige of the old WBAI survive? It's looking increasingly unlikely.
*It's looking all but certain, meanwhile, that the New York Mets have found a new radio home for 2014. The Daily News reported Friday that the team is close to finalizing a deal with Clear Channel's WOR (710), and that the deal would not include an FM simulcast.
When we gamed out the Mets' options a month ago in this space, we noted:
For a team like the Mets with limited out-of-market network coverage, WFAN’s huge AM signal was a huge asset that can’t be replicated by WEPN’s FM signal. The AM reach of either WOR or WABC would come close to duplicating WFAN’s reach – but the Mets picked up an FM audience this year on the WFAN-FM simulcast, and going back to AM-only in the core of the market would probably be seen as a step back. (And WOR, for its part, might be loath to interrupt its other new star attraction, Limbaugh’s midday show, for Mets day games.)
Will WOR indeed preempt Limbaugh for daytime Mets action? We'll have to await the official announcement of a Clear Channel-Mets deal to know for certain. In any event, the Mets will bring a new potential batch of listeners to WOR, especially if Clear Channel uses its big FM cluster to help promote the deal, so we're chalking this one up as a big win for Clear Channel. It's also something of a loss for ESPN's WEPN-FM (98.7), which remains without a summertime play-by-play attraction to go along with its winter lineup of Jets, Knicks and Rangers - and thus remains one step behind CBS Radio archrival WFAN, which will be making a big deal out of its switch from Mets to Yankees in the spring.
*Elsewhere in the Empire State, Family Radio gave way to EMF's "K-Love" last week east of Rochester, where Family pulled the plug on WFRW (88.1 Webster) as it consummated its sale to EMF. On Tuesday, 88.1 returned to the air with a bad stream of K-Love programming and new calls WKEL, simulcasting with EMF sister station WKDL-FM (104.9 Brockport) west of Rochester.
Radio (and TV) People on the Move: Constance Howard is on the move down the hall at Rochester's WROC-TV (Channel 8), where she's been promoted from executive producer to news director. Howard's current stint at WROC began last year, building on prior experience as a news director in Baltimore, Raleigh and Birmingham - and a long-ago gig as a reporter at WROC in the 1970s. She'll have only a few short weeks to oversee the other newscast that emanates from the WROC Broadcast Center: December 31 is the official date when Sinclair will move Fox affiliate WUHF (Channel 31) out of WROC, ending its LMA there and relocating to its new Sinclair-operated partner, ABC affiliate WHAM-TV (Channel 13). WHAM's current 7-9 AM and 10 PM newscasts will move from "CW Rochester" on 13.2 to WUHF on January 1. Meanwhile, WROC's Nexstar sister stations in Utica, ABC outlet WUTR (Channel 20) and Fox outlet WFXV (Channel 33), are getting a new news director/anchor. Don Dudley has worked on-air at WRNN and FiOS 1 downstate, as well as working as a consultant; he'll fill the slot left vacant by Joe Parker when he departed WFXV/WUTR in June.
On radio in Rochester, Scott Brooks is the new digital program director and promotions manager at Clear Channel's cluster, leaving the cast of the Brother Wease show on WQBW (95.1 the Brew) to take the new gig, which will also include some voicetracking on WQBW, WDVI (100.5 the Drive) and WKGS (Kiss 106.7).
In Buffalo, David Bellavia is getting a full-time gig at WBEN (930). The former Conservative politician has been a regular fill-in for WBEN's local hosts, and he'll continue to be available for that role when he takes over the weeknight 10 PM-1 AM slot soon, replacing the syndicated Jim Bohannon show. WBEN will also reportedly use Bellavia as a local host when Rush Limbaugh's on vacation, instead of using Premiere's substitute hosts.
At the edge of the Syracuse market, the return of the FCC to action revealed a call change we'd missed: when Craig Fox was moving calls around in Syracuse itself, turning WMBO-LP (Channel 6) into WVOA-LP as the new "Franken-FM" home for his Love FM format, he took the opportunity to send the WMBO calls home. They're once again in place on AM 1340 in Auburn, where they resided from 1934 until 1998. As far as we're aware, the revived WMBO on 1340 continues to simulcast Radio Disney with WOLF (1490 Syracuse).
A former Syracuse news anchor has died. Tara Howard Knauff was just "Tara Howard" in her years as part of the WSYR (570) newsroom from 1991 until 2000, before she moved to KTRH in Houston. Since 2005, she'd been an editor in New York City at ABC Radio News. Howard had been battling cancer for four years when she died last Monday; a memorial service was held over the weekend for her in Cazenovia.
And the engineering community in New York City and beyond is mourning Zaven "Doc" Masoomian, longtime chief engineer at WQXR (1560/96.3). Masoomian was a native of Worcester, Massachusetts and started in radio there way back in the 1930s before moving to WQXR as a studio engineer in 1941. He joined the Army Air Force a few months later, served as a pilot during World War II, was shot down and held as a POW in Germany until war's end, then returned to New York and WQXR in 1946, remaining with the Times-owned station until his retirement in the early 1980s, when he was succeeded by Herb Squire. Masoomian retired to Texas and worked in broadcast equipment sales. He died October 11 at age 90; a memorial service is being held today in Texas.
*There's a station sale at the southwestern corner of CONNECTICUT, as the last pieces of Business Talk Radio Network get sold off. BTRN owned just one broadcast license at the end, WGCH (1490 Greenwich), and it's heading to Rocco Forte's Forte Family Broadcasting for $250,000. “I am excited to be able to buy such a heritage station in Connecticut, and look forward to making the 50th anniversary year of WGCH a successful and even more profitable one,” said Forte, a Hartford native who's spent most of his career in the insurance business.
*Up north in Litchfield County, Marshall Miles is stepping down as president and a board member of Tri-State Public Communications, the tiny public broadcaster he founded and has been running as "America's smallest NPR station," WHDD (1020 Sharon) and WHDD-FM (91.9 Sharon). It's all about politics, in an interesting small-town way: after many years of being sharply critical of the way the regional school district is being operated, Miles is running for a seat on the school board - and his active political campaign prompted complaints to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting about potential conflict of interest.
"There is nothing wrong with Mr. Miles running for a seat on the regional board of education," wrote CPB ombudsman Joel Kaplan in a report comparing Miles' advocacy to his outspoken colleague Alan Chartock at WAMC up the road in Albany. "There is also nothing wrong with his presiding over a public radio station. What is wrong is that he should not do both at the same time."
After a conversation with Kaplan last week, Miles removed himself as president at least through the election next month, handing off the reins of Tri-State/WHDD to his partner Jill Goodman while continuing as a volunteer morning host. (And Kaplan weighed in with a followup column sharing some dissenting views from his original opinion.)
*In Hartford, WDRC-FM (102.9) is making its temporary morning show permanent: Kim Zachary and Mike Stevens stay on as co-hosts after former lead morning man Jerry Kristafer was ousted a few weeks ago.
*There's one fewer talk station in Portland, MAINE, where Saga quietly pulled the plug on its advice-talk format at WBAE (1490) early Sunday morning. The AM outlet is back to its former identity as "The Bay," running Westwood One's adult standards format.
*A NEW HAMPSHIRE radio veteran is moving on. Jordan Guagliumi has been with Saga's WZID (95.7 Manchester) and its sister stations for more than 15 years, most recently as director of interactive sales, but he announced last week that he'll be leaving in November to join the Boston office of ReachLocal, an online marketing firm.
The New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters held its annual banquet and awards ceremony on Thursday, and WCNL (1010 Newport) walked away with "Radio Station of the Year" honors, a tribute to the hard work its staff has been doing reviving the station from near oblivion a few years ago. Manchester's WMUR-TV (Channel 9) was named TV Station of the Year, and WMUR "NH Chronicle" host Fritz Wetherbee was named Broadcaster of the Year.
(We've been remiss in noting the announcement of the VERMONT Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame inductions, which will take place December 7 at the VAB Hall of Fame Banquet in Burlington: Louie Manno is being inducted for his work as morning host on the old WQCR 98.9 in the 1980s alongside now-VAB executive director Jim Condon, while Dan Dubonnet will join the hall for his years at the helm of Hall Communications, which owns the former WQCR - now WOKO - along with WJOY, WIZN, WKOL and WBTZ. Jeff Shapiro of Great Eastern Radio will be named Broadcaster of the Year. Longtime Vermont Public TV "Vermont This Week" analyst Ross Sneyd and Rutland morning man Brian Collamore will get Distinguished Service Awards, and community service awards will go to Jenny Day of WFFF/WVNY-TV and Judy Anderson of WJEN in Rutland.
*It's going to be one of those weeks in MASSACHUSETTS, the kind where everybody's sleep-deprived from late-night Red Sox World Series games for the third time this century. In the absence of any other hard radio news from the Bay State this week, this is probably a good spot to remind readers of the way the MLB's complex radio rights rules work: the dozens of Red Sox radio affiliates all over New England had to say goodbye to Dave O'Brien and Joe Castiglione after the exciting end to the ALCS Saturday night. They'll still have access to World Series radio coverage, but it will come from Dan Shulman and the ESPN national broadcast instead. ESPN's coverage will also air on most - though not all - of ESPN Radio's affiliate stations. And if we've figured it right, that sets up an unusual scenario in Boston this October: Entercom's WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence), the Sox flagship station, will be the lone place to hear O'Brien and Castiglione's local call, while the national ESPN call will air on sister station WEEI (850 Boston), a nice unexpected little bonus for Entercom from having put ESPN on 850 after completing WEEI's move to FM earlier this year.
*The talk landscape in eastern PENNSYLVANIA is about to be realigned with the impending demise of Merlin's WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ), and now we know where that station's two biggest syndicated talkers are heading. Back in August, we wrote that we'd "be surprised if [Rush] Limbaugh doesn’t return to WPHT fairly quickly, giving the ailing AM talker a much-needed boost and probably reducing WPHT’s current hosts to three-hour shifts instead of their current four-hour daily shows."
And sure enough, that's just what's happening, effective next Monday: Limbaugh will indeed be back in his old spot on CBS Radio's WPHT (1210), reducing Dom Giordano to a 9 AM-noon shift, with three-hour slots as well for Dick Morris and Gary R'Nel (3-6 PM) and Rich Zeoli (6-9 PM). We were wrong, however, in guessing that Sean Hannity would be without a Philadelphia radio home: he'll also join WPHT, on a six-hour delay that will find him running from 9-midnight when a Phillies game doesn't pre-empt that slot.
That announcement, in turn, means EMF's "K-Love" will likely make its move from current home WKVP (89.5 Cherry Hill NJ) to its new home on 106.9 sometime between Limbaugh's sign-off at 3 PM on Friday and the following Monday morning; so far, there's been no sign of a new callsign for 106.9 or for 89.5, though we'd expect the WKVP calls to show up at 106.9 eventually.
*At the other end of the state, there's a new lineup at Steel City's WLTJ (92.9 Pittsburgh), aka "Q92-9," where PD Zak Szabo is boasting of an all-native-Pittsburgher airstaff with the additions of middayer Joanna Campbell (coming from CBS Radio's WWMX in Baltimore) and evening host Debbie Wilde, who moves across the street from Clear Channel's WXDX (105.9).
With a name like Marvin Lee Goslin, it was inevitable that the longtime sports director of KDKA (1020) would be known as "Goose" - and "Goose" Goslin was a popular part of the KDKA airstaff from the early 1980s until he moved on to non-radio pursuits in 2003. Goslin died October 12, at age 64, survived by his wife, Shelley and a daughter, Jennifer.
*Two station sales at opposite ends of the state were among the first applications to be released by the revived FCC at week's end. In Northern Cambria, north of Johnstown, WPCL (97.3) is changing hands from one regional religious network to another. He's Alive, which has owned the station since 1997, will get $200,000 in cash when it transfers the class A signal to the Central Pennsylvania Christian Institute, which will use it as a western simulcast of WTLR (89.9 State College).
Meanwhile in Allentown, Family Life Ministries will get $140,000 when it sells translator W234AX (94.7) to Connoisseur Media. Will the translator become a relay for Connoisseur's sports-talk WTKZ (1320 Allentown)?
In Scranton, Nikki Stone is out at Shamrock's WEZX (106.9), with weekender Sean O'Mealy now holding down the afternoon shift at "Rock 107."
*It's still more than a week before Halloween, so of course it's time for the flood of all-Christmas stations to begin - and with the exception of between-formats WNDR (103.9) in the Syracuse market, the traditional front-runner in recent years has been Equity's WEZW (93.1) in Wildwood Crest, NEW JERSEY, which made the flip on Tuesday. We'll be tracking the usual flips as they occur over the next few weeks.
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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 22, 2012
*Over the last decade or so, this column has repeatedly wondered just how far the authorities in CANADA will allow media consolidation to proceed before deciding enough is enough. Late last week, just as we were processing the latest round of FM-cluster consolidation in the biggest market in the U.S. (about which, more in a moment), the CRTC declared that line had been reached, denying Bell’s C$3.38 billion proposal to add Astral Media’s 84-station radio group and 20-network cable TV portfolio to its existing roster of media and communications holdings.
When we outlined the potential size of a Bell/Astral combination in the March 19 edition of NERW, it seemed like the perfect combination for Bell: Bell would propose to spin off radio stations that exceeded local market caps (as indeed it did), but would still end up with a much larger radio footprint that included plenty of smaller Ontario markets and a toehold in French-language Quebec radio that Bell had been lacking. On the TV side, Astral’s French-language cable holdings would have meshed nicely with Bell’s CTV broadcast and cable empire. And from all we could see back in March, there was no reason to think the CRTC would have departed from its usual policy of rubber-stamping every bit of consolidation that came its way.
But then came Montreal – and what just might have been the little bit of over-reach that doomed the entire deal. In addition to Astral’s two French-language FMs, Bell would have ended up with its own CKGM (990, moving to 690) and Astral’s three stations, CJAD (800), CJFM (95.9) and CHOM (97.7). That was one station too many for the English-language side of the Montreal market, but Bell didn’t want to put any of those stations up for sale, so it instead proposed converting CKGM from English-language “TSN Radio” to French-language “RDS Radio,” a move that would have shifted the signal into the French side of the market where the Bell/Astral combination would have remained beneath the ownership cap.
And even that move might well have passed CRTC muster…if Bell hadn’t just gone before the agency a few months earlier to plead for a signal upgrade for CKGM. Bell made some big promises during that hearing, arguing that it needed to shift “TSN 990″ to 690 in order to better serve the Anglo audience that’s predominantly based on the west side of the Montreal market. Against the backdrop of the language politics that have once again been flaring in Quebec this year, it’s no wonder that Montreal’s Anglophones felt angered and betrayed when Bell proposed to flip CKGM, just as the station was in the midst of making its big frequency change. Interventions opposing the Bell/Astral sale and the CKGM flip began pouring into the CRTC in record numbers, so many of them that CRTC officials openly complained that their summer holidays had to be cancelled to give them time to review all the public comments.
In the end, the CRTC says it received just shy of 10,000 public interventions “from broadcasters, distributors, independent producers and creative groups, citizen and consumer advocacy groups as well as from individuals from all parts of Canada.”
The CRTC’s response was scathing: “The proposed transaction would not only remove the last major independent, non-integrated broadcaster from the system, but transfer its undertakings to the largest vertically integrated broadcaster and telecommunications service provider in Canada. With the combination of the largest and third largest participants in discretionary television services (by revenue), one entity would control more than 63% of revenues from French-language discretionary services. This would represent more than five times the revenues generated by the next largest competitor in that market.” And despite Bell’s contention that the Astral deal would create an entity that could provide real competition to Quebecor’s dominant conglomeration of cable TV, broadcast and newspapers, the CRTC says it is “of the view that BCE did not demonstrate how the proposed transaction, which would result in the vast majority of French-language programming services being held by two large, vertically integrated competitors, would invigorate competition.”
Bell fared no better with its radio proposals. The CRTC says its proposed spinoffs of ten stations (including FM pairs in Ottawa and Toronto) “can be viewed as an attempt by BCE to trade underperforming stations for successful ones, which would not provide a benefit to the Canadian broadcasting system or create the conditions for healthy competition.” Oh, and as for CKGM? The CRTC didn’t say much about that proposal even as it rejected it – but it did indicate that it expects Bell to live up to its promise to continue to operate the station as an English-language outlet if the switch to French were not approved.
*What happens now? Bell quickly fired back at the CRTC with a petulant press release, vowing to appeal the denial to the federal cabinet, which has already said it won’t overturn the CRTC’s decision. In Montreal, media guru Steve Faguy reports that “privately,” staffers at CKGM were “thrilled” at the stay of execution they received…and that questions are already swirling about what might become of Bell’s plans for RDS Radio. The French-language network would have filled a void created when Cogeco abruptly flipped Montreal’s CKAC (730) from sports to provincially-subsidized traffic reports, but if it’s not going to happen on 690, the AM options have slimmed dramatically in recent years as other broadcasters have applied for and been granted new signals on previously-vacated channels including 600 (TTP’s proposed English-language talker), 850 (a newly-proposed TTP French-language sports-talker), 940 (TTP’s French-language talker) and 990 (Evanov’s Radio Fierte, due to launch next year after CKGM vacates 990 for good).
And then there’s Astral, which still holds a valuable portfolio of radio and cable networks, and is still presumably a target for acquisition by someone else. Could a smaller (but still substantial) player like Shaw, Corus, Newcap or Vista (which just received the CRTC’s blessing to buy Haliburton’s Ontario stations) or Evanov take a run at some or all of Astral? About the only players we can categorically exclude are Cogeco and Quebecor, which would create an even greater concentration of Quebec media ownership.
*While Canada pushes back against ownership consolidation, the trend pushes ever forward in NEW YORK, where the third big station sale this year had the market talking last week.
As you know from our mid-week update, Cumulus is adding a third station (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) to its New York cluster with the acquisition of WFME (94.7 Newark) from Family Stations.
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: We now know the price tag for the deal – as rumored, Cumulus will pay Family $40 million for the WFME license, and will transfer WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco) in northern Westchester County to Family. Family will lease Cumulus the current WFME transmitter facility for a dollar a year for five years, and then $1,000 a month for the following five years – unless Cumulus moves WFME into New York City, in which case it will pay Family an additional $8.5million (if it moves as a B1) or $10 million (if it moves as a class B signal.)
Now that the initial buzz around the deal has had a few days to die down, let’s take a deep, NERW-style look (based, as usual, on a mix of our own market analysis, insight from trusted industry sources and some informed speculation) on what Cumulus can do with its new toy:
*Elsewhere in New York, the big action last week came in Syracuse, where Hunter Scott and Josh Grosvent disappeared very abruptly from their morning show on Cumulus’ WAQX (95.7 Manlius) after dropping a series of clues about a “zombie attack” on the show’s Twitter feed on Monday and on the air on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the news broke that crosstown Galaxy had dismissed most of the airstaff at WKRL (100.9 North Syracuse)/WKRH (106.5 Minetto)/WKLL (94.9 Frankfort-Utica). Gone from “K-Rock” were Dex Mitchell (mornings), Nixon (middays/PD) and Candace Curby (nights). And on Thursday, CNYRadio.com confirmed the speculation: Scott and Grosvent had signed on as the new morning team at K-Rock. By Friday morning, Cumulus had served a cease-and-desist letter on Scott, Grosvent and Galaxy; instead of signing on at 6 on Friday morning at K-Rock, Scott and Grosvent reportedly spent an hour and half talking things over with Galaxy CEO Ed Levine before deciding to go on the air anyway.
“Slavery was outlawed 150 years ago in this country,” Levine told the Post-Standard on Friday. Scott and Grosvent say they can’t possibly be in violation of the terms of their expired Cumulus contract, which required them to at least negotiate in good faith for a new contract before heading across town. That, the duo says, is because Cumulus refused to talk to them…until the moment the C&D letter arrived. Will there be legal fireworks coming as the 95X/K-Rock battle enters its next chapter? Bet on it.
*NEW JERSEY’s most unusual radio station is about to expand its reach in New York’s Rockland County. WFMU (91.1 East Orange) has been relaying its freeform independent programming into the Orange County area for many years now on WMFU (90.1 Mount Hope), and now it’s adding a translator to fill part of the gap between the two signals. WFMU’s licensee, the nonprofit Auricle Communications, will pay Digital Radio Broadcasting $125,000 for translator W219DQ (91.7 Dillyville), but it’s moving the translator from its present location in Orange County, where it’s been relaying Sound of Life’s WLJP (89.3 Monroe), to New City in Rockland County. Once the translator moves to 91.9, it will have new calls W220EG – and we suspect the main reason it’s worth so much to WFMU to be heard in Rockland and Orange counties has to do with the station’s long-running “Jewish Moments in the Morning” show, and with the huge population of Hasidic Jews in the region.
*The biggest AM array in PENNSYLVANIA has fallen silent for now. With nine towers, the 10 kilowatt signal of WKGE (850 Johnstown) has been a challenge to maintain for several owners and operators.
Most recently, it’s been owned by Birach Broadcasting (best known for its leased-time ethnic stations) and operated by Mike McKendree’s “Edge” talker, WWGE (1400 Loretto) – but that lease ended last week, and now 850 is silent under special temporary authority. Birach has put the station up for sale and is actively seeking buyers through Pittsburgh broker Ray Rosenblum; in the meantime, it may return to the air with an interim format.
*It was a busy radio week in MAINE, starting in Bangor, where “Mike and Mike” are ending a 15-year run at Blueberry Broadcasting’s “Kiss” (WKSQ 94.5 Ellsworth), with Mike Dow heading to WBAK (104.7 Belfast) and sister station WABK (104.3 Gardiner) and Mike Elliott joining Katrina Walls on WBFB (97.1 Bangor) and its “Bear” country sisters in Rockland and Bar Harbor, WMCM (103.3) and WLKE (99.1).
Up the coast in Brunswick, Jim Bleikamp became the second independent local AM operator in the region last week when he flipped the switch to return WCME (900) to the airwaves. It was a long road back for the little station, which had started out as WCME back in 1955 and spawned an FM sister on 98.9 that eventually became Portland-market WCLZ-FM.
A sale of the FM station took away the AM facility on the FM tower, and the silent license was sold to Bob Bittner, who kept it alive through brief periods diplexing on his own WJTO (730 Bath) tower before selling the license to Bleikamp, who’s best known for his long run as the voice of the Wall Street Journal‘s radio service. And Bleikamp (with the assistance of engineer extraordinaire Mark Humphrey) in turn went through a long fight to find a new tower site.
Now the fight is done, and the station took the air to the sounds of John Lennon’s “Number 9 Dream” on Tuesday, kicking off a new full-service format that Bleikamp describes as “70s-focused hits with some surprises in the form of “lost” classics and rock ’n roll from the garage,” and that he says will ultimately evolve into “local-local-local,” with a morning show and hourly local newscasts coming in a month or so.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, questions are still swirling around the sudden departure of Chris Garrett from the PD chair at Clear Channel sister stations WGIR-FM (101.1 Manchester) and WHEB (100.3 Portsmouth). The “Doctor of Rock” started at WGIR almost 30 years ago, moved to WHEB a few years later, and eventually added WGIR-FM back to his portfolio when Clear Channel combined management of both stations.
*Christmas music returned to the eastern MASSACHUSETTS airwaves this week, at least for HD Radio owners. CBS Radio’s WODS (103.3 Boston) was usually one of the first stations to start ho-ho-ho’ing this time of year, but its main channel flipped from classic hits to top-40 “Amp” earlier this year, and so this year the Christmas tunes are on WODS-HD3.
The Christian contemporary “Mercy Rock” format that had been there has reportedly shifted over to WBMX (104.1)’s HD3, displacing the psychic talk that was heard there. (Did they see it coming?)
*Joseph Rosenmiller was Peter Bordes’ partner way back in 1956 when the two young broadcasters bought WESO in Southbridge, and the little company they founded back then grew into something much bigger. That, of course, was Greater Media, and Rosenmiller retained partial ownership of the company until 1994. He died in New York last Sunday (Oct. 14) at age 87.
*And back to Canada we go: Evanov (through its subsidiary Dufferin Communications Inc.) has been granted a second signal in the Montreal area. As we noted earlier in the column, Evanov will soon put “Radio Fierte” on the air on 990, serving the city’s gay and lesbian community in French – and now the CRTC has also granted its earlier application for a new 500 watt/94 m signal on 106.7 in Hudson/St. Lazare, out to the west of Montreal. The new station will broadcast in English, using the same “Jewel” soft AC format heard on Evanov’s CJWL (98.5 Ottawa) and CKHK (107.7 Hawkesbury).
Speaking of Ottawa, CFRA (580) has hired former Ottawa Sun publisher Rick Gibbons to host a new block of programming from noon until 3 on weekdays. The new CFRA schedule drops “Ottawa Noon,” Rick Corbett at 1 PM and the first hour of Rob Snow’s afternoon show to make room for Gibbons.
And in Windsor, the CRTC has given the CBC the go-ahead to move CBEF, its Radio-Canada premiere chaine affiliate, from 540 to 1550. CBEF will use the facilities vacated last year by the old CBE (1550, now CBEW 97.5); those towers were in better shape than the aging 540 transmitter site. CBEF will also add a new FM transmitter in Sarnia, at 98.3.
Five Years Ago: October 20, 2008
*Wall Street’s lack of confidence in radio stocks hit home in eastern MASSACHUSETTS in a big way late last week, as Boston became one of the Entercom markets to weather big job cuts as the broadcaster’s stock continued to fall. A year ago, ETM traded for more than $18 a share; it closed Friday at $1.40, matching other radio groups such as Citadel and Westwood One in their financial agonies.In addition to some company-wide austerity measures, including pay freezes and a halt on company contributions to employees’ 401(k) plans, Entercom cut staff at its stations around the country.
In Boston, the most visible cut was in mid-mornings at troubled talker WRKO (680), where Reese Hopkins had joined the station last December as its lone African-American host, drawing some rare critical praise for the station amidst its struggles with high-priced morning man Tom Finneran and afternoon star Howie Carr, whose attempt to flee to competitor WTKK was thwarted amidst some contentious lawsuits a year ago.
That didn’t make Hopkins any less expendable, though - and now he’s out the door, his local shift replaced by a live clearance for Laura Ingraham, whose syndicated offering had been heard in late nights on WTKK.
Also out at the Boston Entercom cluster: WRKO executive producer Andy Strecker and WAAF morning show producer Dave DiGando, along with at least nine others behind the scenes.
*When the Red Sox faced off against the Rays Saturday night for Game 6 of the ALCS, the game was missing from TV screens across Sox Nation thanks to a technical disaster at TBS headquarters in Atlanta.
No, it wasn’t a crazed Braves fan seeking revenge - as best we can tell from what TBS is saying publicly, it was a fluky set of circumstances involving a massive power surge that fried not one, but two routers and made it impossible for TBS (or several other Turner networks) to switch any external feeds out of the building.
Granted, if it had been up to us, we’d have bumped Headline News off the air and switched the whole mess from CNN’s New York control room, or given ESPN emergency clearance to put the international feed that it was producing on its domestic network until the TBS broadcast could be restored...but in any event, it gave the WRKO broadcast team a chance to reconnect with a Boston audience suddenly deprived of a video feed.
And in the end...well, if destiny calls for the Series to be played by a team playing in a large, dank parking garage with ugly carpeting where a field is supposed to be, then so it goes. (But, Tito, did you really have to leave Lester in that long? Really?)
Longtime NERW readers may recall that one of this column’s frequent topics in its early years was the woeful state of reporting in the Boston Globe about the radio industry. That changed a few years back, when Clea Simon took over the paper’s “Radio Tracks” column. Sadly, the ongoing cutbacks at the Globe have taken their toll on its radio coverage, and this past week’s column (which focused on our good friend Donna Halper, and also mentioned a certain Tower Site Calendar) marks the end of a good run for Simon - and, after one farewell column next week, of regular radio coverage in what was once New England’s newspaper of record.
The Globe’s impending redesign also means the end of the weekly TV listings book, which appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Globe for the last time.
And it’s not just Morrissey Boulevard facing cuts: in Chicago, Robert Feder, whose Sun-Times column was probably the best local newspaper column about broadcasting still being published, took a buyout offer and offered up his last column last week.
Here at NERW, we’re a little saddened to have outlasted these and other fine columns (Dean Johnson in the Boston Herald and Mark McGuire in the Albany Times Union come immediately to mind), and all the more committed to being here each and every week as we approach our 15th anniversary next year.
*NEW YORK’s only NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, won their matchup with the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon, but not without some headaches for anyone who wasn’t watching from the chilly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium.A stray helium balloon apparently floated into a high-voltage line next to the stadium just before game time, knocking out power to the stadium itself and to the broadcast trucks parked outside - and that meant that CBS viewers missed big chunks of the game action until power could be restored and the broadcast back to New York could get back on line.
Of course, many viewers in the Buffalo market weren’t seeing the game, anyway, as the carriage dispute between LIN’s CBS affiliate WIVB (Channel 4) and Time Warner Cable drags on. It’s reportedly costing WIVB in the form of significant drops in ratings and ad revenue - and while Time Warner says it’s not recording higher disconnect numbers than usual, we’re hearing that Dish and DirecTV installers have been very busy in the last few weeks.
While some Time Warner customers in Niagara County had access to the game broadcast (such as it was) on Toronto’ CFTO, the CTV affiliate was blacked out on cable in other parts of the market where it doesn’t meet the FCC’s “significantly viewed” standard.
So that left radio as the link between many Bills fans and the game, and flagship station WGRF (96.9 Buffalo) came through, putting its announcers on cell phones at one point to keep the broadcast going when the power failed in the booth.
(And about that “only NFL team” claim - last time we checked, the Jets and Giants both play their games in New Jersey, don’t they?)
*The Entercom cuts hit the Rochester cluster last week, too: cuts there included at least one on-air position: WCMF (96.5) night guy “Big Marc” Ferenchak, who’d been one of the handful of survivors when WCMF changed hands from CBS to Entercom a year ago.
(Ironically, one of the jocks who lost his job in that shakeup is returning to the air - Dino Kaye, who’s been doing sales for WHEC-TV since losing his WCMF gig, has been hired by Stephens Media to do afternoons at its WFKL 93.3. He’ll be selling for Stephens when he’s not on the air at “Fickle.”)
Bruce Mittman’s Community Broadcasting group is adding another signal to its Watertown-market cluster: it’s paying LiveAir Communications $200,000 for the construction permit of WEFX (94.1 Calcium). The new station will join a cluster that already includes talker WATN (1240 Watertown), ESPN outlet WBDB (1400 Ogdensburg), talker WQTK (92.7 Ogdensburg), oldies WGIX (95.3 Gouverneur), AC WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) and top 40 “Border” WBDR (106.7 Copenhagen).
Finger Lakes Radio Group is adding another translator in Ithaca. In addition to its existing mini-cluster of top 40 startup WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) and translator W242AB (96.3 Ithaca, relaying classic rock “Wall” WLLW 99.3 Seneca Falls), Finger Lakes is paying $2,000 for new translator W299BI (107.7 Ithaca). What will it relay? The company’s only other full-power FM in the region is AC WNYR (98.5 Waterloo), but now that crosstown Saga has set the precedent for HD2-translator relays with its “Hits 103.3” on WYXL (97.3-HD2) and W276AO (103.3), anything’s possible. (And we note that “Hits” is now streaming at hits1033.com.)
*We can now put a price on the VERMONT deal that moved Randolph’s WCVR (102.1) and WTSJ (1320) from Bruce Danziger and Ken Barlow’s Vox group to their former partner Jeff Shapiro’s Great Eastern: the stations sold for $700,000. And a correction from last week: the new slogan at WCVR is, logically enough, “World Class Vermont Rock.” WCVR and WTSJ will join all the other stations in the Upper Valley today as they remember the late DJ Pauline Robbins, who succumbed to breast cancer in January. Last October, the stations set aside competition for a day to honor the ailing Robbins with “Polly’s Think Pink Radiothon,” raising $37,000 for breast cancer awareness. Today, they’ll again join forces for “Think Pink II,” running from 6 AM until 7 PM on some 20 stations in Lebanon, Hanover, White River Junction, Randolph, Claremont and vicinity.
*The analog TV sunset will come a little early in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE. WZMY (Channel 50) in Derry is pulling the plug on its analog signal at noon on Dec. 1, reports Broadcasting and Cable. While the My Network TV affiliate is promoting the shutdown as an early opportunity for Boston-market viewers to make sure they’re ready for the big day in February 2009, NERW suspects there will be little, if any, reaction, since WZMY (and its predecessor on Channel 50, WNDS) has always been one of the most cable- and satellite-dependent signals in the market. (Indeed, its off-air signal was never seen in our old Waltham home base a decade or so ago...)
*In NEW JERSEY, they’re mourning Tom “Mr. Maze” Maciaszek. The longtime staffer at WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River) and WOBM (1160 Lakewood Township) died last week after three decades at the stations. Most recently, Maciaszek had been the producer for the morning show on WOBM(AM).
*An obituary in northeast PENNSYLVANIA as well: back in 1971, Tim Karlson came to the region from his native Baltimore (where he was born Tim Kidwell) to work at the now-defunct WSCR (1320), then moved to the market’s biggest station, WARM (590), in 1974. After a brief stab at doing TV weather in 1983 at WBRE-TV (Channel 28), Karlson made the move to TV for good as sports director at WNEP-TV (Channel 16) at the height of that station’s dominance.
In 1992, Karlson was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but he remained on the air during treatment, turning his hair loss into a signature feature of his broadcasts, wearing “Karlson’s Kaps” sent in by viewers. As the disease progressed, Karlson left the air in 2000 to work in creative services on the other side of the WNEP building.
Karlson was also a part of the broadcast team for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in that team’s early years.
Karlson died Thursday at his home; he was just 56.
*Christmas came early in Pittsburgh: WWSW (94.5) was in all-holiday mode over the weekend, but fear not: with more than a week yet to go before Halloween, the station isn’t on the all-Christmas, all-the-time bandwagon just yet, returning to regular programming this morning.
*A new station has formally launched in CANADA: CJLO (1690 Montreal) stopped testing and signed on for real last Wednesday (Oct. 15) at 1 PM, kicking things off with the Replacements’ “Left of the Dial.”
Ten Years Ago: October 20, 2003
*Forever Broadcasting is already a mighty big player in western PENNSYLVANIA, but it’s about to get even bigger in the Altoona market with a $2.1 million purchase of Vital Licenses’ top 40 WPRR (100.1 Altoona) and sports WVAM (1430 Altoona).
Forever already owns four stations in the heart of the market: news-talk WFBG (1290 Altoona), country WFGY (98.1 Altoona), oldies WALY (103.9 Bellwood) and classic hits WMAJ-FM (104.9 Hollidaysburg) - not to mention two simulcasts to the east, WXMJ-FM (99.5 Mount Union, simulcasting WMAJ) and WWLY (106.3 Huntingdon, simulcasting WALY.) And while Johnstown is a separate radio market from Altoona, it shares a common TV market and some signal overlap - and Forever has two AMs and three FMs there and is adding another one of each. NERW notes that the seller here, Vital, is controlled by Kristin Cantrell, the daughter of Forever principal Kerby Confer - and that when Vital bought WVAM/WPRR back in 1999, crosstown competitor WRTA (1240) raised the issue of common control of the stations, which both sides adamantly denied. At the time, Forever’s four stations controlled 58.5% of the market’s revenue, while the WPRR/WVAM pair had 18.8%.
*In NEW YORK, Batavia’s WBTA (1490) is changing hands from Kevin Doran (not the same Kevin Doran who anchors the news on Rochester’s WROC-TV) to HPL Communications, whose principal is Daniel C. Fischer (the same Dan Fischer who’s the general manager of Vox’s WKSN/WMHU in Jamestown.) Sale price: $275,000, not a bad deal for the only commercial station in Genesee County.
*RHODE ISLAND’s WPRO (630 Providence) was one of two Rush Limbaugh affiliates around the country to announce last week that they wouldn’t be carrying the substitute hosts being offered by Premiere Radio Networks during Limbaugh’s monthlong absence for drug addiction rehabilitation. Instead, WPRO PD David Bernstein planned to bring his old WOR colleague Joan Rivers to the 630 airwaves - until Premiere stepped in and put pressure on WPRO, as well as Baltimore’s WBAL, to stick with the fill-in hosts. WBAL actually carried its own hosts in place of Limbaugh for a few days; WPRO was to have put Rivers on the air today but reversed its decision late Friday afternoon.
*The student radio station at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell is about to get its third set of calls. Originally WLTI (“Lowell Technological Institute”), then WJUL (“University of Lowell”), the 91.5 facility is about to become WUML, reflecting the school’s current name. The station’s student leaders, still sore over university officials’ decision to hand the morning hours on 91.5 over to the Lowell Sun, say they’re not happy about losing their longtime calls but are powerless to do anything about it. (They also say UMass leadership is planning similar call changes for WSMU at what’s now UMass-Dartmouth and for WMUA at the flagship UMass campus in Amherst, and NERW notes that WUMD and WUMA are both available calls...)
Fifteen Years Ago: October 23, 1998
*Two of Boston’s biggest AM stations will soon have a new owner. The FCC gave its go-ahead this week to Entercom’s purchase of WEEI (850) and WRKO (680) from CBS, and the deal is expected to close within days. A few weeks later, CBS will pay Entercom $75 million for two Tampa Bay-area FMs, and only then will the deal wrap up with Entercom taking control of CBS’ WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence), WAAF (107.3 Worcester), and WWTM (1440 Worcester). In the end, $225 million will change hands from Entercom to CBS; the deal is being spread out for “tax reasons,” we hear. The Boston stations used to belong to American Radio Systems until CBS bought them out -- and now we know what some of that money is being used for. American Tower Systems, which is still controlled by ARS’ former owners, is spending $100 million to buy 322 radio towers in Atlanta, the midwest, and the southwest.
*You can’t keep them accurate: Boston’s largest daily told its readers on Thursday about new programming at “WGBH-FM (90.7).” By comparison, the newly-colorful tabloid competition was on a completely different plane of existence with Dean Johnson’s cogent, insightful summary of the Summer Arbitrons. Did we mention we’re glad to have Johnson’s column available on-line?
*A VERMONT college station is fighting for its life after its transmitter died Monday night. WWLR (91.5) at Lyndon State College went off the air when its transmitter on Vail Hill smoked out, and the station estimates the cost of replacement at $21,000. “Impulse 91.5” was one of the few bright spots on the Northeast Kingdom radio dial when last NERW was up that way a few years ago, and we’d hate to see it be silenced. Late word is that the station will be back on by next Wednesday at a quarter of its regular power; a new solid-state transmitter will follow to replace the old tube beast.
*Our NEW YORK news begins with a double swap of city of license. Jacor’s WMAX-FM (107.3) began identifying as “South Bristol,” rather than “Honeoye Falls” last week, while WNVE (95.1) now uses “Honeoye Falls” instead of “South Bristol.” What hasn’t changed -- yet -- is the actual transmitter sites, but when it does, 95.1 will move some 25 miles closer into Rochester by using the Baker Hill site in Perinton, while 107.3 effectively leaves the Rochester market to run a paltry few hundred watts from Bristol Mountain. And given that, at least for now, there’s no way the WMAX-FM signal actually reaches South Bristol city grade, NERW wonders if the changed COL is even legal. (And as we noted when this application was first filed, it’s all game-playing anyway; neither South Bristol nor Honeoye Falls has even the remotest importance to the Rochester-based programming of either station...)
*AM DX notes: Montreal’s CBF (690) has been missing from the airwaves, and we’re inclined to think CBF is now FM-only on 95.1. Toronto’s CBL (740), scheduled to sign off for good this past week, has won a reprieve. Because replacement FM CBLA (99.1) isn’t getting out as well as it was supposed to, and because relay CBLA-FM-1 (90.5 Crystal Beach) hasn’t even been built yet, 740 will stay on for at least a few more months, and we’ll still have something to listen to in the NERW-mobile. On the X-band, three new stations have lit up on this side of the continent: KCJJ (1630) in Iowa City, Iowa, joining the current 1560 there; WQSN (1660) in Kalamazoo, Michigan, taking its calls and sports format from the AM 1470 there, which becomes WKLZ; and WJNZ (1680) in Ada, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, the X-band offshoot of WMHG (1600) in Muskegon. 1680 has been widely reported by DX-ers who have heard its urban format, first under the assigned calls of WBHD, then as “Jamz 1680.”