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In this week's issue... Lee rebrands in Philadelphia - "Froggy" moves in Glens Falls - The new WOR takes shape - HD Radio multicast on air in Canada - WBZ picks overnight host - Leigh Chapple, RIP

By SCOTT FYBUSH

2014calendarBefore we begin with the news this week... A few quick bits of housekeeping: first, if you're hoping to have your 2014 Tower Site Calendar in hand by Christmas, please place your order at the Fybush.com Store by Wednesday, Dec. 18. They're going fast! (And don't miss the previews of each month's calendar page for 2014, running every Wednesday through this week as a Tower Site of the Week bonus right here on Fybush.com...)

Second, we're hard at work on our 2013 Year in Review, which will begin running here on Fybush.com next Tuesday, Dec. 24, exclusively for subscribers. A few choice advertising spaces still remain, and we'd love to have you as one of our sponsors. Contact Lisa for more information about our very affordable rates.

Third, if you missed the live show on Thursday, your editor was the special guest on This Week in Radio Tech, the weekly podcast all about broadcast engineering. Co-host Chris Tobin was live from the Four Times Square combiner room, too - so check it out and hear some great tower stories!

And finally, if you haven't found us yet, we're now up and running with lots of great radio and TV discussion on the RadioInsight Community, the new place for radio to talk radio. Along with RadioInsight's Lance Venta, your editor is part of the team that's working hard to create a fun, friendly place to discuss everything that's happening in the industry...and we're in it for the long haul.

*One of the rules that everyone knows about radio is that when you have a brand that works, you don't change it. If everyone in New York identifies "1010 WINS" with news, or if everyone in Boston knows that "Kiss 108" is the place to turn for hits, you leave those brands alone and let them keep doing what they do, for close to 50 years in the case of WINS and more than 35 in the case of Kiss.

wbeb-b101But as with so many "rules" of radio, someone forgot to tell PENNSYLVANIA's Jerry Lee, who surprised the entire industry on Thursday with the announcement that he's rebranding his WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) from "B101" to "More FM" right after Christmas.

It's not a format change - the station will still be playing a fairly hot brand of adult contemporary - and it's not coming with any changes in air talent, nor is it bringing a return to streaming the station's audio. So why turn "B" into "More"? Because, as one radio industry observer joked, Jerry Lee is that rare breed of owner who "doesn't even change the color temperature of the studio light bulbs without focus-grouping it."

Lee's not sharing the specific perceptual research that drove this upcoming change, but it's not hard to guess what his research told him: while "B" was a young, fresh brand when he rolled it out 20 years ago, the 25-54 listener base of 1993 is now 45 to 74 years old, and today's 101.1 isn't playing much Lionel Richie or Celine Dion. If that's the association younger listeners have with "B" in 2013, the logic goes, then it's time for a change.

wbeb-moreThat's nothing new for Jerry Lee: he rebranded the station originally known as WDVR as WEAZ, "EZ101," in the 1980s when the "EZ" brand was big, and then he abandoned "EZ101" for "B" when "EZ" began to seem stale a decade later. It's not even the first time he's made a move that suggests "B" is getting long in the tooth: in 2007, Lee bought the Philadelphia rights to the "Fresh" imaging that was sweeping the hot-AC universe, though the move turned out to be more about keeping any Philly competitors from becoming "Fresh" than about using the name on 101.1.

Will Jerry Lee win again this time? A lot of good broadcasters have bet against him in the past and lost badly. We'd be surprised if WBEB (which hasn't yet filed for new calls) isn't still at or near the top of the ratings a year from now.

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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: December 17, 2012

*Every broadcaster – every newsperson, anyway – dreams of the day when the “big story” will hit, when the nation’s eyes will land on their market for a few hours or a few days and they can show their skills to a larger audience. But it’s safe to say that no broadcaster, no newsperson, dreams of finding themselves where newspeople did on Friday as the tragic news began to emerge from Newtown, CONNECTICUT.

There’s nothing at all that we can say about that event itself (as we look across the room at our own young children) that hasn’t been said elsewhere, and better. And it happens that your editor was traveling for much of the day on Friday and missed the initial coverage. The best we can offer, then, is some brief observations of the coverage we’ve seen and heard about.

The TV stations in the Hartford/New Haven market, as well as those from nearby New York City and other surrounding markets, went – and have remained – wall-to-wall with their coverage, and for much of Friday the networks followed suit, preempting most of the daytime hours and carrying specials in the evening.

On radio, several stations in the region went wall to wall with their coverage right away, most notably Hartford’s WTIC (1080) and New York’s all-news WCBS (880) and WINS (1010). You’d expect the all-news stations to do that, of course, but it was more of a surprise to find New York’s WEPN-FM (98.7) and WFAN (660) breaking from their sports formats to take calls. On the FM music side, many stations in the region also dropped format and kept morning teams in place to talk to listeners and relay information, including Clear Channel’s WKSS (95.7) from Hartford and WKCI (101.3) from New Haven. We note, too, that at WPLR (99.1 New Haven) and WFOX (95.9 Norwalk), the morning team of Chaz and AJ dropped plans to be on vacation this week; instead, they’re sticking around to help with extended coverage of the aftermath, including a live broadcast last night of the Newtown memorial service.

*At the start of 2012, the talk radio market in eastern MASSACHUSETTS was a crowded one indeed. Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston), with three decades in the format, squared off against its Greater Media FM competitor of more than a decade, WTKK (96.9 Boston) and a newer entry from Clear Channel, WXKS (1200 Newton). Despite pulling big-name hosts including Rush Limbaugh over from WRKO, WXKS didn’t make enough of a dent in the market to survive, and it soon flipped to a low-budget syndicated comedy format, returning Limbaugh to WRKO and giving that station a shot in the arm as it ramped into a busy election season and launched a new morning show.

That left Greater Media’s WTKK as the ratings laggard in the format, and as 2012 draws to a close, it appears the company may be ready to pull the plug on “NewsTalk 96.9.” That’s what our colleagues over at RadioInsight have pieced together from a series of new domain registrations made over the last few weeks. What do “969theBeat.com,” “969BostonsBeat.com” and other similar domains point to? Insight’s Lance Venta believes – and Greater Media hasn’t exactly denied – that the next move for 96.9 will be some sort of rhythmic, urban or top-40 format. That’s also a crowded arena, up against Clear Channel’s powerful “Kiss”/”Jam’n” combo and CBS Radio’s more recent entry, WODS (Amp Radio 103.3), but it offers a much more appealing demographic for sales than the aging talk audience does.

There’s a talent pool available for a new rhythmic launch, in part thanks to recent Clear Channel exits: longtime WJMN morning co-host Pebbles is gone from “Jam’n” in the latest round of cuts there, and we’re not alone in noting that longtime WJMN/Kiss programmer “Cadillac Jack” McCartney is also on the market after his recent departure from Clear Channel in New York.

*The first of several prominent obituaries in this week’s column comes from western Massachusetts, where we’re saddened to share news of the death of Tom Jaworski, known to generations of listeners in the southern Berkshires as “Tom Jay” on WSBS (860 Great Barrington). From 1967 until 2008, Tom was WSBS’ news director and at times its chief engineer as well. He suffered a heart attack on December 6 and never recovered, dying last Wednesday (Dec. 12) at a hospital in Springfield. Jaworski was 70.

*Down the road in Waterbury, Connecticut, a former owner of several area broadcast stations has died. Preston Gilmore became part of the WATR (1320 Waterbury) family in 1950 when he married Florence Thomas, the only child of WATR founder Harold Thomas. Under Gilmore, WATR grew to include not only the original AM station but also an FM station (now WWYZ 92.5) and a TV outlet (originally WATR-TV 53, now WCCT-TV 20), as well as a second AM station, WNAB (1450 Bridgeport, now WCUM). The company eventually sold off everything but the original AM station, now in the hands of Gilmore’s sons Mark and Steven. Preston Gilmore died December 10th, at age 89.

*How about a surprise weekend format change? Hall Communications was secretive indeed about its flip in the New London market, where midnight this morning brought the end of the long-running oldies format on “Kool 100.9″ WKNL, which relaunches as hot AC “Roxy FM.” Much more on this one as the week progresses, no doubt.

*In MAINE, there’s another format change on the way in the Bangor market in the new year. We already know something new is coming to Stephen King’s WZLO (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft, ex-WZON-FM) when the Christmas music ends, and now there’s word from Townsquare that it will flip WEZQ (92.9 Bangor) from AC to sports as “92.9 the Ticket” on January 1. Dale Duff and Clem LaBree will host mornings, with ESPN Radio filling the rest of the day. The new “Ticket” will also carry Boston Bruins hockey (at least in theory) and Patriots football.

*Remember the big story three years ago about a very creative attempt to get new TV signals on the air in the New York City and Philadelphia markets by way of an obscure piece of legislation guaranteeing VHF allocations to the states of NEW JERSEY and Delaware? PMCM LLC, an arm of Jersey-based Press Communications, had cannily noted that the DTV transition moved both states’ lone commercial TV allocations over to the UHF spectrum, leaving open the possibility of invoking Section 331 of the Communications Act. That’s the bit of legislation that was inserted back in the 1980s to allow RKO to sell WOR-TV (Channel 9) by changing its city of license from New York to Secaucus, N.J., where it became WWOR- and with WWOR now on RF channel 38, Press applied to move KVNV (Channel 3) from Ely, Nevada to Middletown Township, N.J. (with a transmitter on Manhattan’s Four Times Square) and KJWY (Channel 2) from Jackson, Wyoming to Wilmington, Delaware (with its transmitter in Philadelphia’s Roxborough tower farm).

The FCC denied the applications, ruling that “reallocation” implied that the new allocation be mutually exclusive with the old one. That was indeed the case with WWOR, but would not have been the case with KVNV and KJWY. PMCM pushed for a ruling by the full Commission, which also turned down the applications – and in the meantime, the Media Bureau went ahead and created its own new VHF allocations in New Jersey and Delaware at less-favorable locations for serving adjacent big markets. One of those signals, WACP (Channel 4), is now on the air from Atlantic City.

PMCM, meanwhile, went to the courts for relief, and last week a federal appeals court in Washington agreed with its interpretation of Section 331, remanding the case to the FCC with an order to approve the KVNV and KJWY moves.

Where does this bizarre case go from here? If there’s no appeal from the FCC, it presumably means the New York area will soon have a new Channel 3, while Philadelphia will have a new Channel 2…and if WACP is any sort of precedent, both stations will probably be more likely to carry infomercials than anything actually serving their communities of license. (They will, however, be entitled to must-carry on cable and satellite, which is a good thing considering how poor their over-the-air signals will likely be.)

Five Years Ago: December 15, 2008

It's been almost 18 years since a massive ice storm paralyzed us here in the Rochester area, leaving some areas without power for more than two weeks. And it's been just over a decade since an even more massive ice storm struck an area stretching from northern New York up through eastern Ontario and into much of Quebec, knocking power out to some areas for as long as a month. By those standards, the ice storm that hit central MASSACHUSETTS, southern VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE on Friday was relatively minor - but even "relatively" minor is still a big deal for people everywhere from Fitchburg to Lowell to Peterborough to White River Junction, for whom it could still be a while before things are back to normal.

The good news is that, at least as this column is being written on Sunday night, there are no reports of any downed towers in the region. What the massive power outages are demonstrating, however, is a surprisingly large number of stations apparently lacking working generators at either studio or transmitter sites. Much of the Worcester market was knocked off the air in the storm's first hours, including both news-talk AMs, Clear Channel's WTAG (580) and Carter's WCRN (830). WCRN remained off through Saturday, but WTAG was soon back on the air with nonstop emergency information, and still going strong late Sunday. There have been widespread power outages along much of the Route 2 corridor to the north, with numerous stations off the air everywhere from Athol to Fitchburg to Lowell and Lawrence.

Across the New Hampshire line, the worst of the outages have been on the state's western edge; there were numerous reports of stations off the air from Peterborough and Keene up through the Upper Valley, where most of the market's stations were still silent on Saturday afternoon. (Notable exceptions were Nassau's WHDQ 106.1 Claremont and Bob Vinikoor's cluster, where WNTK/WUVR in the New London/Hanover area, WCNL in Newport and WCFR in Springfield, Vermont were all on the air through most of the storm and its aftermath with local news and information.)

On with the rest of the week's news, starting with more big changes in Boston morning radio, where CBS Radio abruptly pulled the plug on WBMX (98.5 Boston) morning man John Lander after his Thursday show. In addition to Lander, who'd been at Mix since 1996, when he replaced Joe Martelle, sidekicks Kelly Malone, Alicia Love and weather guy Mike Ellis are all gone. Who's next for morning drive at the hot AC station? Over at Boston Radio Watch, Mark reports that Karson Tager, late of WHBQ-FM (107.5) in Memphis, will be coming to Boston in January along with his former co-host Kennedy Elsey, who's still at the Memphis station for now - and he says the new "Karson and Kennedy" show will be aiming for a younger demographic than Lander attracted. (Unspoken in that is the assumption that they'll work cheaper, too...)

On the TV side of things, we note the start of local HD newscasts at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and sister station WSBK (Channel 38) on Thursday, which we believe leaves only Fox's WFXT (Channel 25) as a major local-news player in Boston without HD. But WFXT has bigger concerns at the moment: after many months fighting problems with its aging analog transmission system, we're hearing that WFXT's analog signal finally gave up the ghost for good last week, leaving only WFXT-DT (RF 31), which is not yet at full power. Interestingly, WFXT had just last month submitted an STA application to the FCC asking for reduced analog power (293 kW visual) through the end of the transition period, due to "recent, partial damage to the licensed antenna."

Another Bay State analog TV station - albeit one that mainly serves RHODE ISLAND viewers - has gone dark. New Bedford-licensed WLWC (Channel 28), the CW affiliate for the Providence market, turned off its analog transmitter on December 9, leaving WLWC-DT 22 behind.

A veteran PENNSYLVANIA jock is back on the air: Greater Media has hired Glenn Kalina as the morning man on WNUW (97.5 Burlington NJ), making "Now 97.5" the latest stop in a career that's included WZZD, WCAU-FM, WIFI, WIOQ, WLCE and WMWX. Kalina starts at "Now" on January 5.

Ten Years Ago: December 15, 2003

The longest-running DJ on a single station in Rochester - and, we think, in all of NEW YORK - was shot to death Friday night in what appeared to be a robbery attempt. "Unkle Roger" McCall joined the staff of WCMF (96.5 Rochester) in 1974, and for most of the three decades that followed he served as the rock station's overnight jock and as the resident expert on local music, hosting the "Homegrown" show that spawned several CDs along the way. Police say McCall was collecting rent payments from tenants in a house he owned on Madison Street in Rochester when he was shot in the torso about 5:50 Friday evening.

As the news broke on Saturday, WCMF's jocks took to the air for a spontaneous remembrance of their colleague. It will continue throughout this week, when WCMF will open its phone lines each night at 10 for listeners to call in with memories of McCall. "He was one of the most beautiful people anybody has ever known," said WCMF morning host Alan "Brother Wease" Levin. "I am positive Unkle Roger didn't have one enemy in the world," he told WROC-TV (Channel 8). McCall, who was 59, is survived by his wife Denise and son Jason. At press time, no arrests had been made in the killing. (2008 update: Five years later, still no arrests, sadly.)

The northern half of Syracuse's "TK 99/TK 105" classic rock simulcast wants to move south. WTKV (105.5 Oswego) has already been granted a reallocation to Granby, in southern Oswego County, and now the Galaxy station has applied for new facilities just south of Fulton. If the move is approved, WTKV would move from its current 4kw/121m just south of Oswego to a new tower on Wilcox Road, just off NY 48, about 10 miles closer to Syracuse, where it would run 3.9kw/125m. (2008 update: The move never happened, scotched by an FCC policy edict - for which this was the test case - that prohibits stations from moving if they're grandfathered above current ownership limits, as WTKV is.)

Here in Rochester, contemporary Christian WDCZ (102.7 Webster) will take on a new identity January 1, when the station changes calls to WRCI. The old calls came from the now-defunct simulcast with Buffalo sister station WDCX; now "The Light" wants calls that better reflect its identity as a Rochester Christian station.

Our best wishes go out to former Buffalo jock Tony Magoo (WJJL, WPHD, WBYR), who's suffering from a form of cancer ("metastatic squamous cell carcinoma") that's had him undergoing intensive radiation and chemotherapy and losing his teeth. That's bad enough - but on top of all that, he was fired from his job as morning host at Citadel's WFBE (95.1 Flint MI) a couple of weeks ago. There'll be a benefit auction for Magoo next month; stay tuned for all the details. (2008 update: Magoo is still in remission, at last word.)

A busy broadcast week in MAINE - and before we get to the update on the WMGX/WYNZ tower collapse, we have the arrival of a brand new player on the New England ownership scene.
Nassau Broadcasting, until now confined to New Jersey and Pennsylvania (with a brief foray into upstate New York and Connecticut), is paying $18.3 million for the six stations of Mariner Broadcasting. Louis Vitali and Alexander and Woody Tanger had assembled a cluster that included four classical "W-Bach" stations (WBQQ 99.3 Kennebunk, WBQW 106.3 Scarborough-Portland, WBQX 106.9 Thomaston, WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor), standards WBYA (105.5 Islesboro) and soft AC WQEZ (104.7 Kennebunkport). Will Nassau keep the classical format? Stay tuned...

On to the Portland tower collapse: as we told you in last Thursday's NERW Update, the 528-foot tower of WMGX (93.1 Portland) and WYNZ (100.9 Westbook) came crashing to the ground last Thursday afternoon, smashing several cars and trucks and narrowly missing a beer distributor's warehouse. (Though the tower was within a few hundred yards of I-295, the pull of its guy wires kept the wreckage confined to within a few hundred feet of the tower base and well away from the busy highway.)

WYNZ's oldies stayed on the air from an auxiliary site, but WMGX went silent when the tower went down. (Fortunately, the Arbitron book had just ended a day earlier!) WMGX quickly turned to Saga sister station WPOR (101.9 Portland), whose site on Blackstrap Hill north of town sprouted a new set of antenna bays on Friday, as WMGX set up shop there with a temporary facility that allowed it to be back on the air barely 24 hours after the tower collapse.

What brought down the tower, which was only 17 years old? They're still investigating - but weather didn't appear to be a factor; there wasn't any snow on the ground and winds were relatively light. The next step for the stations will be to rebuild, likely on the same site and probably quite soon if all goes well with the insurance company. (2008 update: A new tower was indeed built, close to the site of the old one.)

VERMONT's UPN affiliate appears to have met its demise: we'd heard that WBVT-LP (Channel 39) in Burlington and its relay stations were having financial problems, and now we're told that the stations are broadcasting an error message slate. The station's Web site has gone dark as well. (We'd also note that cable systems across the Green Mountain State carry Boston's WSBK, so UPN fans aren't completely out of luck.)

The newest talk station in PENNSYLVANIA is taking shape: sometime after the holidays, what's now WJJJ (104.7 Pittsburgh) will be reborn as "WPGB," and in addition to Jim Quinn's morning show, it'll carry Glenn Beck (9-noon), Neal Boortz (noon-3), Sean Hannity (3-6) and Michael Savage (8-11 PM). Clear Channel is reportedly seeking a local host for 6-8 PM, as well as overnight and weekend programming.

The Pittsburgh moves are resonating to the west in Wheeling, WEST VIRGINIA, where three more staffers have departed WWVA (1170) in the wake of the dismissal of morning man Jim Harrington last week. Talk host George Kellas and news director Tammy Beagle lost their jobs - and reporter Dave Demerest followed them out the door in protest. WWVA will simulcast WPGB's morning show, with local news inserts - and it sounds as though some of the rest of WWVA's day will now come from the Pittsburgh talk station as well. Meanwhile, Quinn himself will be replaced by the syndicated "Bob and Tom" show at his present home base of WRRK (96.9 Braddock), effective January 1.

Fifteen Years Ago: December 18, 1998

Must be the first big snowfall of the season, because suddenly things are hopping up in VERMONT.
Most of this week's action in the Burlington market happened with the Capstar stations, and it started with a new home for two of them. Last Sunday (12/13), rocker WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) and sports-hot talk WXPS (96.7 Vergennes)/WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY) moved in with AC WEZF (92.9 Burlington) at Fort Ethan Allen. The facility includes three air studios and three production studios.

Next shoe dropping: WXPS/WEAV's new studios came with a new format. On Monday, the talk (with the exception of Imus in the Morning) disappeared, replaced by "KIX" hot country. The new format is the first in-market challenge to the dominance of Hall's WOKO (98.9 Burlington), the longtime market leader. PD Brian Ashton, from WCPV, handles 2-7 PM duties, while Tim Buskey is on air from 10-2 and the syndicated Nashville Nights show is on in the evening.

And the third shoe (?) dropped with a transmitter move for WXPS that will give it better coverage of Burlington. From its old site in Westport NY, WXPS moves to Willsboro NY and Rattlesnake Mountain with 1500 watts at 740 feet AAT. In the process, WXPS' city of license changes to Willsboro NY from Vergennes VT.

There's still more news in the Burlington market: Vermont Public Radio is wrapping up the first week of a month-long experiment aimed at bringing VPR listeners a second public radio service. "VPR World Channel" will run from Dec. 14 until Jan. 14 on WWPV (88.7 Colchester), the St. Michael's College station that would otherwise have been dark during the school's holiday. Programming on "World Channel" includes BBC World Service, CBC's As It Happens, The World (from WGBH and PRI), The Connection (from WBUR), and other international programming from WRN. NERW wonders: How does the proposed VPR-New Hampshire Public Radio second service in the Upper Valley fit in with this experiment?

Nothing from the Granite State this week, but we'll stay in ski country and head to MAINE, where Cumulus Media added three more stations to its Bangor-area group late this week. The upstart group owner will pay $4 million to buy standards WDEA (1370 Ellsworth), soft AC WEZQ (92.9 Bangor), and oldies/Imus WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) from Dudman Communications. Cumulus already owns country gaint WQCB (106.5 Brewer) and CHR WBZN (107.3 Old Town) in the market, as well as five stations in Central Maine. NERW's sorry to see Dudman get sold -- group head Martha Dudman has been an industry leader through her work with the NAB and other trade organizations -- but at the same time, we've got to admit that Cumulus has done a decent job with its strategy of small-market clusters.

NEW YORK's big news begins with a $7.5 million station sale in Albany. Paul Bendat is cashing out on WABY (1400), WKLI (100.9), WABY-FM (94.5 Ravena), and WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg), which go to Tele-Media of Eastern New York. No word yet of any format or personnel changes at standards WABY AM-FM or the hot AC "K-100" simulcast.

Downstate, a heritage call sign is back on the air for the first time in a few years. WYNY, last heard with the demise of country music on 103.5 Lake Success-New York, is the new callsign for what was WWXY (107.1 Briarcliff Manor), the north suburban part of Big City Media's "Y-107" quadcast. (Oddly, Big City's press release calls the new WYNY-FM just "New York," and almost every single trade we've seen has swallowed it whole...) The other three parts of the 107.1 simulcast -- WWVY Hampton Bays, L.I.; WWYY Belvidere NJ; and WWZY Long Branch NJ -- keep their calls.

WNEW (102.7 New York) has hired Steve Mason as its new morning host. Mason comes from Jacor's "XTRA Sports" (XETRA Tijuana/KXTA Los Angeles) out West, and was also the last host of the "Late Late Radio Show" on CBS. By the way, we neglected to mention last week that Scott Muni's new Big Apple radio home is at classic rocker WAXQ (104.3).

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