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In this week's issue...WABC brings back old favorites - RIP, Bob Grant - Robin Hood grows - Rochester morning show shifts - What's up with a CT/RI FM shuffle?

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*Welcome to a new year of NERW and fybush.com - and a very important one, at that. As you may have noticed, we've freshened up our look this week with a new site design, courtesy of Lance Venta and our content partner at RadioInsight.com. We're proud to be a part of what's becoming broadcasting's most dynamic web presence, including Lance's up-to-the-second industry news feed, the fast-growing discussion forums at the RadioInsight Community, our neighbors to the west at Ohio Media Watch and much more to come.

2014 also marks the twentieth anniversary of this column, which traces its history back to the early days of Usenet and a little series of postings that went by "New England Radio Watcher." Over the years, we've migrated from Usenet to e-mail groups to PageMill to our latest WordPress incarnation, and we're grateful to everyone who's come along for the ride. We're just getting started with the celebration!

*And as we get started, we've got one busy first week of the new year to write about, especially where the NEW YORK AM dial is concerned - a surprise talent move, the death of a start talker, the launch of a new format and more.

The surprise talent move, of course, was the answer to that last lingering question from one of our Top Stories of 2013 (part of our big Year in Review package, if you missed it over the holidays): with Rush Limbaugh now in place on Clear Channel's WOR as part of an audacious new talk lineup at 710, what would Cumulus do to replace Limbaugh in the noon-3 PM slot he'd occupied for two decades on WABC (770)?

wabc-curtiskubyThe new year came and went without an announcement from 2 Penn Plaza, and on New Year's Day the noon slot on 770 belonged to a "Year in Talk" special while a "best of" Limbaugh show inaugurated his new era on WOR. Cumulus finally made its move with a leak to the New York Times on Thursday morning: iconic WABC hosts Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby were coming to WABC, effective immediately, to revive their "Curtis and Kuby" show in the noon-3 slot.

And just when we thought we now had the full WABC daytime lineup - Noam Laden's "News Hour" at 5, Don Imus at 6, the newly local Geraldo Rivera at 10, Curtis and Kuby at noon, Michael Savage at 3, Mark Levin at 6 - Cumulus added another curveball: Pat Kiernan, the popular morning host on Time Warner Cable's NY1, joins WABC today to host an hour of news from 5-6 PM, preempting the third hour of Savage.

For a station that's been almost chained to the satellite receiver in recent years, the new scheduling moves will make WABC live and local for seven hours out of the day, plus the New York-centric Imus in morning drive and John Batchelor later at night. It's still a far cry from the all-New York talk that marked WABC's glory days in the format in the 1980s, but it's a welcome start from a company that's had a rocky relationship with the format in recent years. And with all that new talent in place, Cumulus also named a program director for WABC. Craig Schwalb is the first person to hold that title in a few years, since the departure of Laurie Cantillo; he comes to New York from Cumulus' WPRO/WEAN in Providence, where he'd been PD.

Cumulus' big WABC moves are also also a blow to the station that's been trying hard to be at least a strong number-three player in the talk format in the last few years. Sliwa's return to WABC meant his abrupt departure from WNYM (970), the Salem talker where he's worked since 2010, hosting mornings and then coming back for an afternoon shift alongside former New York governor (and former WOR host) David Paterson.

And for Salem and WNYM, the timing couldn't possibly have been worse.

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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: January 7, 2013

*Greater Media has launched the official format on Boston’s 96.9. “Hot 96.9″ launched at 11 this morning on the former talk WTKK, ending a week of “micro-formats” and, as widely expected, putting Greater right into the rhythmic top 40 game against Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5) and WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and CBS Radio’s WODS (Amp 103.3).

*Next up, Philadelphia, where the new year brought the disappearance of two prominent names that were both fairly new to talk radio, WPHT (1210)’s Buzz Bissinger in afternoons and WWIQ (106.9)’s Larry Mendte in mornings.

Better known for his sportswriting (he’s the author who gave us the original book version of “Friday Night Lights”), Bissinger was a surprise pick last June when WPHT moved star talker Michael Smerconish from afternoons to the former Rush Limbaugh slot in middays. It was a curious choice, even with WPHT’s decision to pair Bissinger with one of the market’s longest-running and most versatile talk talents, Steve Martorano. In late December, Bissinger was suddenly absent from the show, and now he tells Philadelphia magazine that he resigned just before the end of 2012. Never one to spare a punch, Bissinger calls talk radio “fundamentally trivial,” and station staffers returned the favor, telling the magazine that WPHT needed to employ a second level of delay and dump button to keep Bissinger’s show within FCC standards. (And having said that: Bissinger also tells the magazine’s Victor Furillo that he actually enjoyed the experience, even if it “wasn’t meant to be.”)

Then there’s Merlin Media’s “IQ106.9,” where last year’s launch included a return to the airwaves for one of the city’s more colorful broadcasters. Larry Mendte made his name as a TV anchor before being ousted from KYW-TV (Channel 3) amidst a scandal that involved an affair with a co-anchor and a felony conviction for improperly accessing her e-mail, a charge Mendte is still fighting. That all made Mendte the perfect hire for Merlin’s colorful CEO, Randy Michaels, and Mendte says Michaels provided him with hands-on coaching as he learned to do talk radio alongside WWIQ PD Al Gardner and an eventual third morning co-host, New York’s Lionel.

In a posting to his blog on the Philadelphia magazine site, Mendte says he was fired just before Christmas, and while he praises Michaels, he hints that the station itself is headed toward a sale, following on the heels of Merlin’s sale of its New York station (the former WEMP/WRXP) last year. Mendte says his dismissal from WWIQ only “hit the pause button” on his talk career, but it’s hard to imagine where else he’d pursue it, at least in Philadelphia.

*In New York, we’re getting a much clearer view of what WOR (710) is going to look like under its new owner, Clear Channel. For those (including your editor) who expected the $30 million sale was going to turn WOR into a New York clearinghouse for Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Network syndicated offerings, 2013 is kicking off with a surprise: there’s much more local (or at least exclusive-to-WOR) content on the new schedule than almost anyone anticipated. Contrary to some rumors that had him leaving the station, morning host John R. Gambling stays in place in morning drive. Following Gambling at 10 AM, instead of Premiere’s Glenn Beck, WOR remains local with a new hire – none other than Mark Simone, the onetime FM music jock who’d reinvented himself as a talk host on crosstown WABC (770). Simone abruptly made the leap from Cumulus to Clear Channel as 2013 began, giving up a WABC gig that included two Saturday shifts and regular fill-in duty on several of the nationally-syndicated shows originating at WABC, including Don Imus. (More on the changes at WABC in a bit.) Joan Hamburg remains in place at noon, and WOR has renewed its deal to carry the syndicated Dave Ramsey financial-advice show from 2-4 PM, surprising those of us who’d expected Clear Channel to swiftly move its Rush Limbaugh show from WABC to WOR.

Following Ramsey, there’s a new local WOR offering replacing the station’s former David Paterson show: Rita Cosby, the former TV talk host who’d been a regular WOR fill-in, becomes WOR’s permanent 4-6 PM host, leading in to the syndicated Andy Dean show from 6-9 PM. And then at 9, there’s another unexpected twist to the schedule: John (Kobylt) and Ken (Chiampou) started their talk career in the northeast, rising to notoriety at WKXW (New Jersey 101.5), but since 1992 the duo have become afternoon institutions on the West Coast at KFI (640 Los Angeles). Now they’re back in New York, at least virtually: WOR is carrying the final hour of their Los Angeles show from 9-10 PM, followed by an additional WOR-only hour from 10-11 PM. The rest of the night is syndicated: Clyde Lewis from 11PM until 1 AM and then George Noory overnight.

*And then there’s CBS Sports Radio, which launched January 2 as a joint venture between CBS (which is providing most of the content) and Cumulus, which is syndicating the network and providing it with a lot of its initial distribution, as we’ll see when we work our way through the region in this edition of NERW. One of the most-watched carriage situations for the network is in New York City, where we’d expected it might find a 50,000-watt AM berth on CBS Radio’s own WFAN (660) now that WFAN’s local shows are being heard on the FM dial via WFAN-FM (101.9). That might still come to pass – but it didn’t happen on launch day. For now, CBS Sports Radio’s full-time signal in New York is relegated to an FM HD subchannel, on WCBS-FM (101.1)’s HD3. That’s the former simulcast spot for WCBS (880)’s all-news format, which is now heard on WCBS-FM’s HD2. The HD2 spot had been the home of “ToNY,” the adult-hits remnant of WCBS-FM’s flirtation with “Jack FM” back in 2005; now “ToNY,” too, appears to be history.

*In Syracuse, Cumulus started the year with changes at two of its clusters: at rocker “Rebel” WXTL (105.9), afternoon host Dave Frisina is now also the PD, and he’s picked a new midday jock, Roger McCue, late of crosstown competitor WTKW/WTKV. McCue replaces Jessica Novak, who joined the station last March. (Yesterday, incidentally, was the first anniversary of WXTL’s switch from talk to rock.) Across the hall, the launch of CBS Sports Radio on January 2 meant programming changes at WSKO (1260 the Score), which has ditched Don Imus in the morning in favor of the network’s new morning offering with Tiki Barber, Brandon Tierney and Dana Jacobson. WSKO is also picking up the network’s Jim Rome show from noon until 3, which shifts local host Mike Lindsley to afternoon drive, replacing the recently-departed Brent Axe. (WSKO is also live and local from 10 AM until noon, covering up all but an hour of CBS Sports Radio’s John Feinstein in late mornings.)

In Utica, Townsquare has hired a new morning man at WIBX (950). Bill Keeler isn’t the usual AM radio morning fare: he’s best known for his many years on the FM dial as host of a sharp-edged talk show that’s been heard over the years on the old WRCK (107.3) and most recently at Mindy Barstein’s WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), where he bounced from mornings to afternoons to mornings before being replaced by the syndicated Bob & Tom in 2011. Keeler’s hardly been idle; he’s taken stabs at an online newspaper (the now-defunct “Utica Daily News”) and streaming radio (the now-defunct MOVARadio.com) and has been doing TV shows in Utica and Syracuse as well. As of next Monday, he’ll try his hand at a more structured morning talk environment, working alongside news anchor Kristine Bellino on a reworked “WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning.” It’s an innovative move on the part of Townsquare’s Utica market manager, Karen Carey, who we admired for her time in that post with Clear Channel Rochester a few years back.

*Is 2013 going to be the year of familiar personalities appearing on stations where you’d never think to find them? The latest such example is longtime morning man Bob “Wolf” Wohlfeld, who’s taken his “Waking up with the Wolf” morning show to stations in Albany and the Hudson Valley (most recently Albany’s WPYX) that have all had one thing in common: they’ve all been commercial active or classic rockers. But the latest stop for “the Wolf” is a little different: beginning today, he’s waking up at WDST (100.1 Woodstock), a station traditionally known for a much more laid-back AAA approach to the music. Wohlfeld’s arrival at WDST means some shuffling the rest of the day: Greg Gattine moves from mornings to afternoons, sending Jimmy Buff from afternoons to middays and Carmel Holt from middays to evenings. (And you’ve got to love Wohlfeld’s official statement on the move, wherein he calls WDST a “legendary station in its own right, owned and run by actual humans. Humans? Can you believe that?”)

Five Years Ago: January 5, 2009

Yeah, it looks like 2009 is shaping up to be another one of those years, at least judging by the last moments of destruction that 2008 wreaked on an already fragile radio business. The culprit this time was CBS Radio, both in Hartford, as we'll see in a moment, and in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where word began spreading during the day on New Year's Eve that more big changes were afoot at the once-mighty WBZ (1030 Boston). While so much of the industry had gone to syndicated programming outside of the major weekday drivetime slots, WBZ long prided itself on - and profited handsomely from - its steadfast determination to remain live and local all night long, with a stellar lineup of hosts in that slot over the years that included Dick Summer, Larry Glick, Bob Raleigh and most recently Steve LeVeille. Well, so much for that tradition. As of the new year, LeVeille - and his local "Steve LeVeille Broadcast," weeknights from midnight to 5 AM - is history at WBZ, as are Saturday night hosts Pat Desmarais and Lovell Dyett, the latter a 37-year veteran of the station.

Saturday nights are now occupied by the syndicated Kim Komando computer show - and weeknights on the mighty 50,000 watt voice of Boston will now come from...St. Louis, where Jon Grayson, who's been doing talk for a few years at CBS sister station KMOX (1120), will take his local show semi-national (as "Overnight America") beginning this week. In addition to WBZ and KMOX, Grayson's show will also air on WCCO (830 Minneapolis) and KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh).

Enough loss of local flavor for you? Wait, there's more: also gone, as part of the cutbacks, was WBZ's already fairly minimal committment to local news after 8 PM, when its daytime all-news format gives way to talk.

Over on the TV side of things, WCVB (Channel 5) starts the new year without a news director: after eight years on that job at the Hearst-Argyle ABC affiliate, and many years behind the scenes before that, Colleen Marren departed at the end of December, apparently after being unable to reach a new contract deal. Neil Ungerleider, the station's web guru, is handling the ND job on an interim basis. And down the street at New England Cable News, Boston TV veteran Tom Ellis is out of a job; his weekend shift on NECN ended in late December after 16 years at the cable network and decades in the industry.

And there's a format change to report on Cape Cod: WKPE (103.9 South Yarmouth) came off its all-Christmas format to become "Cape Country," the first stab at that format on the Cape in a few years, since WCIB (101.9) made a brief flip to country a while back, and a pretty far cry from the top-40 format the signal had been running for just under a year.

The CBS "Happy New Year" cuts weren't limited to Boston - they hit hard in CONNECTICUT, too, claiming two of the biggest on-air names from the WTIC (1080 Hartford) roster and leaving that once-proud station as not only a shell of its former self, but also as the target of what's proving to be a pretty noisy public outcry. WTIC's staff cuts, made just as 2008 slumped to its unlamented end, eliminated the jobs of morning co-host Diane Smith, who left her TV news career a decade ago to join Ray Dunaway on "Mornings with Ray and Diane," and Colin McEnroe, the Hartford Courant columnist who had been WTIC's iconoclastic afternoon talk host since 1992. Dunaway will go solo, at least for now, as host of a morning block that will be trimmed back by an hour, ending at 9 AM to allow Jim Vicevich to start his talk show an hour earlier. In the afternoons, McEnroe's show will be replaced by a news block anchored by Bill Pearse and Aaron Kupec.

Up the Thruway in Amsterdam, Ken Roser is trading talk for music at WVTL (1570 Amsterdam), where Christmas tunes gave way to a standards/soft AC format (they're calling it "beautiful music") similar to his WADR (1480 Remsen)/WUTQ (1550 Utica) an hour to the west. WVTL's local shows, Bob Cudmore in morning drive and "Valley Talk with Mike Mancini & Sam Zurlo," from 9-10 AM, remain in place on weekdays.

VERMONT rings in the new year with a new rock station. After spending some time stunting with Christmas music, former country outlet WLFE (102.3 St. Albans) flipped to active rock as "Rock 102.3, Pure Rock Radio" as soon as the holiday was over. Mornings on the new signal come straight outta Nebraska, courtesy of the syndicated "Todd N Tyler Morning Empire" based at KEZO (92.3 Omaha), giving the show its only non-midwest clearance; the rest of the day, at least for now, is satellite - and there's a power increase still in the works; now that WRGR (102.3 Tupper Lake) over in the Adirondacks has moved to 102.1, WLFE can follow through with its move to Grand Isle, closer to Burlington, and power increase to class C3. (WRGR, though it also had a pending CP to go to C3 on 102.1, tells the FCC that due to financial constraints, it will remain a class A signal for now.)

So much for oldies - er, classic hits - in Altoona, PENNSYLVANIA: WALY (103.9 Bellwood) flipped to AC right after Christmas, as "The New WALY 103.9."

There's a new format to go with new calls in Laporte: the former WCOZ (103.9) is now WNKZ, and it's migrated from oldies (simulcasting "Gem FM" WGMF 107.7 Tunkhannock) to hot AC as "KZ104." The WCOZ calls haven't gone far, though - WNKZ co-owner Kevin Fitzgerald is also the president of the nonprofit Telikoja Educational Broadcasting, which now has the WCOZ calls on its new 90.5 construction permit in Laceyville, west of Tunkhannock.

Ten Years Ago: January 5, 2004

In NEW YORK, WNEW (102.7) is slowly firming up its new identity as "Mix 102.7," including the naming of a new morning team. At week's end, Gregg Daniels will leave MASSACHUSETTS and WBMX (98.5 Boston), where he was doing afternoons, and he'll head for the big city to join former WBMX morning sidekick Lynn Hoffman (now with VH1 Classic) to be the latest occupants of the morning chair at the latest occupant of the 102.7 frequency. No word yet on what becomes of Rick Stacy, who'd been doing mornings in the "Blink v.2" and holiday-music incarnations of 102.7 recently.
Heading up the Hudson Valley, Poughkeepsie's WRNQ (92.1) ended the year by changing its slogan - instead of "Q92," it's "92.1 Lite FM," a close clone of Clear Channel sister station WLTW (106.7) down in New York City.

In Syracuse, a new morning show launches today on WFBL (1390), as former WIXT reporter Bill Colley joins Buckley's talk station for 5-9 AM duties. In its previous incarnation on 1050, WFBL had a morning show that consisted of news headlines from Metro Networks and syndicated features; the addition of a real live local morning show, along with hourly news updates from Time Warner's News 10 Now cable network, is a sign that the new WFBL intends to be real competition for Clear Channel news-talker WSYR (570).

Rochester religious outlet WDCZ (102.7 Webster) said goodbye to those calls after 11 years on the air New Year's Eve, replacing them with WRCI (and a new Web site at www.wrcifm.com, too!) The idea, we're told, is to give Rochester listeners easier call letters to remember when they write to the preachers who buy time on the station (who track mail based on call letter mentions, and who were apparently getting WDCZ confused with Buffalo sister station WDCX...)

In PENNSYLVANIA, Monday marks the launch of Clear Channel's WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh), with a talk lineup that includes Jim Quinn in the morning and Sean Hannity in the afternoon. A few final additions to the weekday lineup: Ellis Cannon moves over from WEAE (ESPN Radio 1250) to do sports talk from 6-8 PM, followed by Michael Savage from 8-11 PM and George Noory's Coast to Coast AM show (moving over from WPTT 1360) from 11 PM until 5 AM. And in addition to being heard over in Wheeling, West Virginia on WWVA (1170), Quinn's show will also air on WHLO (640) in Akron, Ohio.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 1, 1999

NEW YORK's WQEW shut down its standards format right on schedule at midnight Dec. 27 with little fanfare. After a rebroadcast of their tribute to the late Nancy LaMott, WQEW closed things out with "Stardust" and a one-minute message from Stan Martin, then dumped into Radio Disney with a Randy Newman tune. (Hanson, thankfully, didn't play until later in the hour!) The Disney automation crashed briefly about 15 minutes later while trying to play the legal ID.

With Disney on 1560, Long Island's WGSM (740) was released from its contract with the Mouse and promptly went to a simulcast of co-owned standards station WHLI (1100 Hempstead). The two are now claiming "35,000 Watts" of power -- too bad the math doesn't really work that way.

Meanwhile in MASSACHUSETTS, standards returned to the airwaves with the surprise format change at WPLM (99.1/1390) in Plymouth that dumped the smooth jazz of "Jazzy 99.1" for a female-oriented AC/standards blend as "Easy 99.1." The AM still splits from the simulcast in mornings for business talk. Also flipping to standards was WNBP (1450 Newburyport), which unveiled its new "Legends 1450" identity Christmas day.

Up in MAINE, we're told WJJB (900 Brunswick) is simulcasting sister FM WCLZ (98.9) for the moment. And we hear that WAYD (105.5 Islesboro) will be on the air by month's end as adult standards "The Bay," serving communities up and down the Maine coast from Camden north to Mount Desert Island. It's co-owned with WQSS (102.5 Camden) and will operate from WQSS's facilities.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's...1983 all over again? That's what the airwaves sounded like New Year's Eve, as stations that would ordinarily never play the Artist formerly known as Prince gave "1999" a spin to usher in the New Year. Our Boston-area listeners heard the Purple One on WEGQ, WJMN, WBCN, WXLO, and WMJX (which broke format in a big way to play it!). Rhode Island and southeastern Mass. heard it on WRIU, WPRO-FM, WBRU, and WFHN at midnight. WBMX, WROR, and WXKS-FM all hit it a few minutes after midnight. In northern New York, Mike Roach reports hearing it in full on CKKL Ottawa and in part on WYSX Ogdensburg -- but U2's "New Year's Day" was more popular, being heard on Ottawa's CHEZ and CKQB and on Brockville's CHXL (and on Boston's WBOS and WXRV, too.) Here in Rochester, we caught it on WZNE and WPXY. Just after the New Year rang in, we also caught a new TV spot for "The Nerve" (WNVE 95.1) promising a big expansion of the station's playlist. Formerly a straight-ahead modern rocker, the Jacor station is adding 70s and 80s hard rock like AC/DC and Aerosmith to its mix. An attempt to inflict further damage on CBS rocker WCMF (96.5)? Sure sounds that way...

5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s not easy keeping track with all the ownership changes lately, but Fun 107 WFHN is now owned by Townsquare.

  2. I would assume John Fuller is also claiming that Ledyard is not really losing local service thanks to WCSE-LP(FM) on 100.1 in Ledyard. And I have to assume that he’s using Bradford as a proposed COL since, as you note, there’s Class A (NCE) FM WXEV licensed there. One wonders if he’s planning on moving it again afterwards, or just preserving flexibility in the future.

  3. Aaron, don’t forget though that lpfms are not considered as a primary aural service, so Scott is correct that ledyard is losing its only aural service. I do agree that the app for 107.7 is likely for a tx move, probably closer to the more populated areas there in southern Rhode island.

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