NERW 1/27/2014: Remembering Chet Curtis

In this week’s issue… Boston loses a TV legend – YES swaps afternoon shows – Big fine for missing tower fences – “Dinosaur” roams Syracuse – Corus adds Ottawa FMs – Two new signals in Ontario

By SCOTT FYBUSH

A program note: just over a year since “Mrs. NERW” underwent her last major surgery, she’s once again in the hospital for a planned follow-up surgery. Thanks in advance for your patience for the next couple of weeks as I try to handle subscription inquiries myself – and please expect a slight delay in shipping on calendars and other products from the Fybush.com Store until we’re back in the swing of things!

The WCVB team in its heyday

The NewsCenter 5 team in its heyday (photo: WCVB)

*In the pantheon of MASSACHUSETTS TV legends, only a handful of Boston TV news anchors have achieved first-name-only immortality. “Jack and Liz,” of course – but before they ever paired up behind the desk at channel 4, there was the anchor team that set the standard. For anyone who watched the news in Boston from the 1970s into the 1990s, there was “Chet and Nat” and then there was everyone else.

Even if both Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson had long since left WCVB (Channel 5), even if their marriage had come to an end a few years ago, and even if we’d all known for months that Curtis’ health was failing and the day would soon come, the news of his death on Wednesday still prompted a flood of memories and appreciations from across the media landscape.

Chet Kukiewicz was born in Amsterdam, New York, attended Ithaca College and began his broadcast career (very briefly) right here in Rochester, but it was quickly clear that he was destined for bigger things. Before he was 30, he’d worked at WTOP-TV (Channel 9) in Washington and at WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York. In 1968, he started as a reporter at Boston’s original channel 5, WHDH-TV, and in 1972 he joined most of the WHDH-TV airstaff in moving over to its replacement, WCVB, which put him on the anchor desk at noon with a talented new star, Natalie Jacobson. They married in 1978, had a daughter, Lindsay, in 1981, and by 1982 they’d taken their place at the helm of the 6 and 11 PM “NewsCenter” broadcasts, where they’d reside comfortably at the top of the ratings for almost two decades.

Chet Curtis

Chet Curtis in 2013 (photo: Clark Smidt)

Curtis and Jacobson announced their separation and impending divorce in 1999; within a year, Curtis moved to WCVB’s Sunday newscasts and by 2001 he’d left the station entirely, bringing his experience and on-air warmth down the street to New England Cable News, where he became the anchor for the flagship “NewsNight” broadcast. He never formally resigned from NECN, but his on-air appearances dwindled as he became ill with pancreatic cancer. His last public appearance came in the fall of 2013 at the Massachusetts Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame induction, where he received an emotional standing ovation from a crowd of colleagues and admirers moved by his visibly frail state.

As news broke Wednesday of Curtis’ death at age 74, his former broadcast homes went wall-to-wall with coverage; WCVB devoted much of its midday and early-evening newscasts to remembrances of its star anchor, as well as an entire special edition of the “Chronicle” magazine show that Curtis had anchored from 1978-1982. NECN offered extensive coverage – and even WBZ-TV (Channel 4), where “Jack and Liz” long competed against “Chet and Nat,” led its evening newscasts with fond recollections of its former rival.

The days when a “Chet and Nat” can so dominate a market are gone now, of course. When Sunbeam blew into town at WHDH-TV (Channel 7) – can it really be more than 20 years ago now? – it brought with it a new model in which flashy graphics and plenty of live shots from the field took precedence over star anchors. Then came the explosion in the number of hours of news and the explosion of news sources that made the old “film at 6 and 11″ model an anachronism.

For his part, Chet Curtis didn’t want to be a star; he ended his career the same way he began it, as a newsman’s newsman, a solid anchor who was always more substance than flash. But he was, nevertheless, a giant in a time when there were still giants on the local TV news scene, and he’ll be remembered fondly.

wndr-dinosaur

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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 28, 2013

*After a whirlwind first few weeks of 2013, January is finally closing out on a more typical quiet note – even in NEW YORK, where the market continues to be abuzz about last Monday’s launch of the much-anticipated “Nash FM” from Cumulus. For all of the research and planning that went into the debut of the number-one market’s first big country signal in almost 17 years, there were some odd bits missing at 9:47 AM when WRXP (94.7 Newark NJ) spun out of its “wheel of formats” for the final time.

wnyw-wnshPerhaps most notably, the new country station launched with essentially no local staff in New York, which led to the odd spectacle of a TV reporter interviewing Cumulus’ New York market manager Kim Bryant in a studio that was otherwise empty and running on automation (a situation that found WNYW-TV entertainment reporter Jill Nicolini herself pretending to take over the air chair in what had been a production room at the WABC/WPLJ 2 Penn Plaza studios!) That will change relatively quickly; now that the “Nash” cat is out of the bag, Cumulus is advertising for air talent and a PD who “live the country lifestyle” and can relate to a New York audience.

Then there’s the matter of those call letters: after drawing the desired “will it be rock?” response by parking the WRXP calls on the former WFME, Cumulus applied on Tuesday to swap in the “WNSH” callsign that it had quietly acquired from a small Boston-market AM signal (now WMVX 1570 Beverly) late in 2012.

*Upstate, it’s a Monday morning of new faces at Pamal Broadcasting in Albany. The most prominent is Bob “Wolf” Wohlfeld, who lands back in Albany at WKLI (Rock 100.9) after a whirlwind few months that’s found him moving from Clear Channel’s WPYX (106.5 Albany) to a controversial nine-day stint at WDST (100.1 Woodstock) that didn’t end well. Now “Wakin’ up with the Wolf” has reunited with former WPYX GM Bob Ausfeld, and Wohlfeld tells the Albany Times Union that it’s all “been like a blur.” (Meanwhile at WDST, Jimmy Buff has been named as Wohlfeld’s morning replacement, with former morning man Greg Gattine keeping his new afternoon slot.)

*Up north, Tim Martz is adding more stations to his cluster along the Canadian border. Martz kept WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay), WVNV (96.5 Malone) and WICY (1490 Malone plus translator W274BI 102.7) when he sold off most of his New York holdings five years ago. Now he’s buying WSNN (99.3) and WPDM (1470) in Potsdam from St. Lawrence Radio, with plans to split the “99 Hits” country simulcast and add more talk and sports content on the AM station. Martz is paying $225,000 for the stations, a steep discount from a much higher price the longtime owners had been seeking recently.

Two of the stations Martz sold to Stephens Media back in early 2008 are still struggling to get back on the air after losing their shared transmitter site to a fire caused by a lightning strike more than a week ago. WYSX (96.7 Canton) and WPAC (98.7 Ogdensburg) remain webcast-only while they try to get replacement transmitters in place in the midst of a North Country winter.

*Great Eastern is once again expanding the reach of its “Kixx” country brand across southern VERMONT. After adding WKKN (101.9 Westminster VT/Keene NH) as a simulcast of “Kixx” mothership WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH) last year, “Kixx” is now also being heard on WTHK (100.7 Wilmington) and its translator, W284AB (104.7 Jamaica). Those signals had been carrying the “Fox” classic rock from WEXP (101.5 Brandon/Rutland), but WEXP is headed to new ownership under Ken Squier.

*One of the stranger college radio stories of recent years is that of Thiel College in Greenville, PENNSYLVANIA, out there on the western edge of the state. For many years, Thiel operated WTGP (88.1), but in early 2007 it shut the station down, returned the license to the FCC and appeared to be leaving broadcast radio completely. When the FCC opened an application window for new noncommercial FM signals later in 2007, among the applicants was…Thiel College in Greenville, for 88.1. At the time, a Thiel spokesman explained to PBRTV.com that because WTGP had been off the air for more than a year, it would have been deleted anyway, and that the new FM would be more closely tied to Thiel’s communications program. Last week, the new 88.1 (with new calls WXTC) applied for its license to cover, returning the school to the airwaves after more than five years of dead air.

*There’s a studio move in NEW JERSEY: WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River) has moved out of its birthplace after nearly 45 years. The WOBM-FM transmitter will stay put along Route 9 in Bayville, but the studios relocate today to Townsquare’s new Monmouth-Ocean studios at 8 Robbins Street in downtown Toms River, where they join sister stations WJLK (94.3 Asbury Park), WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin) and WADB (1310 Asbury Park)/WOBM (1160 Lakewood Township). WOBM-FM has posted a tribute to its longtime home, complete with pictures, here.

Five Years Ago: January 26, 2009

This week’s lead story is yet another one we’d really rather not be writing. The massive job cuts at Clear Channel made their way from rumor to reality on Tuesday, and if the nation’s largest radio company really intended to use the headlines surrounding Inauguration Day in Washington as cover to bury the story of its cutbacks (a rumor to which we never gave complete credence), it didn’t work. The story not only dominated the radio trades all week, it made it into the mainstream media as well, even though the size of the Clear Channel cuts – 1850 jobs worldwide in its radio, outdoor and international divisions, about 9% of its total workforce – paled by comparison with the 30,000 jobs disappearing in the demise of Circuit City and other economic disasters.

As painful as the cuts were, especially in markets where longtime station veterans were marched out the door without even the opportunity to say farewell to their colleagues, some of the most dire predictions making the message-board rounds did not come to pass: there was no wholesale replacement of local air talent with national, satellite-delivered formats, no shuttering of local studios – indeed, with the exception of a few targeted cuts to local sports programming in several markets (Syracuse among them, but more notably Detroit and San Diego, where WDFN and KLSD were gutted), the cuts were largely behind the scenes.

In New York City, on-air cuts were minimal, with WHTZ (Z100) night co-host Niko and Total Traffic’s Brian de Masi the only personalities to lose their jobs. But behind the scenes, the cuts were more dramatic, with WKTU (103.5) local sales manager Mark Magnone at the head of a long line of ousted salespeople. The cluster’s communications director, Josefa Paganuzzi, is also out. (And we ask again – how can radio expect to grow new listeners in the face of so many other entertainment options if it won’t even make a minimal investment in continuing to promote itself?)

The cuts at Clear Channel in Rochester left 29-year news veteran Bill Lowe with no opportunity to say goodbye to his longtime listeners on the “Chet and Beth” morning show. Lowe, whose career started in his native Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania at WCNR (930, now WHLM) back in 1960, also spent time in Binghamton (WNBF) and Syracuse (WFBL) before coming to WHAM in 1979. Also out in Rochester were sports anchor Gene Battaglia, traffic guy Barry Vee, as well as several salespeople.

In Syracuse, the cuts hit hardest at sports WHEN (620), where Jim “Manchild” Lerch, who was PD and co-host of the afternoon “Bud and the Manchild” show, was let go along with producer Ty Doyle. Post-Standard sports columnist Bud Poliquin is also off the WHEN airwaves, whch are now entirely filled with national sports talk from Fox Sports, Dan Patrick and Jim Rome in a market that has distinctly local passions for its Orangemen. Also cut were Carole Fargo, promotions director at WBBS (104.7 Fulton), and several salespeople.

And it wasn’t just Clear Channel making cutbacks in the Empire State: in Buffalo, it was Citadel firing staffers at week’s end. WHTT (104.1) midday man Jim Pastrick, a veteran of Queen City radio, was missing from the “Mix 104″ website as we went to press Sunday night, with afternooner Jim Siragusa listed with a noon-7 PM shift, no doubt heavily voicetracked. And we’re hearing two salespeople are gone from the cluster as well.

In Rochester, Stephens Media made another morning show cutback – after reducing the “Tony and Dee” show on WRMM (101.3) to just “Tony” when it took the station over last year, Stephens has now cut the “Ace and Marti” show on sister station WFKL (93.3 Fairport) to just “Marti in the Morning,” leaving veteran Rochester jock Marti Casper solo and her former co-host George “Ace” Acevedo, who came to town from California five years ago to work at WFKL’s predecessor, WBBF, out of work.

The week’s other big story, beyond the Clear Channel cutbacks, came on the NEW JERSEY shore, where Press Communications pulled the plug last Monday on “G-Rock Radio,” the latest incarnation of the modern rock format that has given WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown) a loyal, if not huge, following for several decades. 106.3, and its simulcast down the shore on WBBO (106.5 Bass River Township), are now doing top-40 as “Hit 106.” For the moment, the hits format is running without local jocks, using the “Hits Now” satellite service from Dial Global, and morning host Matt Murray is out, but some of the former G-Rock staff, including PD Terrie Carr, apparently remains on board – indeed, in an open letter posted on the G-Rock website and addressed to organizers of a planned protest at the station’s studios on Saturday, Press CEO Robert McAllan promised that G-Rock jock Matt Knight would soon be back on the air from 3-7 PM weekdays. As for that protest, it drew some 200 listeners to WHTG’s studios in Neptune, some of them bearing signs aimed at Arbitron, a reference to McAllan’s comments that the G-Rock audience had never been properly measured by the ratings firm.

In RHODE ISLAND, it wasn’t just Clear Channel doing the cutting: on Friday, Citadel made some deep cuts to its Providence cluster, including WPRO-FM (92.3) night jock Kerry Collins (who’ll be replaced by voicetracking from Ralphie at WBHT in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), WWLI (105.1) afternoon guy Charlie Jefferds and WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket) APD/afternoon DJ Joey Foxx. As for Clear Channel’s Providence cluster, Tuesday’s cuts claimed more than a half-dozen salespeople, several members of the Paul and Al morning show – Johnny “Skidmarks” Hamblett and sportscaster Steve McDonald, aka “Jim Shorts,” WHJJ “Helen Glover Show” producer Mike Fiske, and WHJJ weekend host Bruce Newbury.

It’s not just US broadcasters getting chilled by the current economic climate – it’s happening up in CANADA as well, where Newcap cited “seriously deteriorating credit markets” in announcing last week that it was pulling out of its deal to buy 12 FM stations in northern Ontario from Haliburton Broadcasting Group. The C$12 million deal would have added “Moose FM” stations everywhere from Huntsville and Bancroft up to North Bay and Timmins and west to Kapuskasing and Hearst to Newcap’s existing holdings in the Sudbury market – and while Newcap says the stations are still “assets we would like to own sometime in the future,” the deal is apparently dead for now.

Ten Years Ago: January 26, 2004

The eyes of the political world are on NEW HAMPSHIRE this week, of course, but so are the eyes of the radio business world in New England – as, yet again, New Jersey’s Nassau Broadcasting Partners L.P. has picked up another radio group in northern New England. In the last couple of months, Nassau has bought clusters from Mariner and WMTW in Maine and then from Tele-Media in New Hampshire, and now Lou Mercatanti’s group is shelling out $5 million for the three Lakes Region stations that are all that remains of the Sconnix Broadcasting empire. At its height in the eighties, Sconnix owned stations from Kansas City to Miami to Boston (WHDH, WBOS and WCOZ at various times), and for a few years it even had a headquarters office (thanks to partner Ted Nixon) right here in NERW’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y. More recently, Sconnix has been operated out of Vienna, Virginia, and all it had left in its portfolio were hot AC WLNH (98.3 Laconia), classic rock WBHG (101.5 Meredith) and news-talk WEMJ (1490 Laconia), which now join Tele-Media’s oldies WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) in Nassau’s new Lakes Region cluster.

Is MASSACHUSETTS just not ready for two all-Christmas radio stations? That’s what WQSX (93.7 Lawrence) seems to believe – unlike many of the stations that went to all ho-ho-ho weeks before the holiday, “Star 93.7″ saw its ratings slump after making the flip. The Entercom station tells the Boston Herald it “probably won’t do all-Christmas again,” and if it does, it’ll be just for a day or two before Christmas. (Boston’s other early all-Christmas adopter, WODS, did see a ratings boost from the move.)

Some big doings this week in the Capital District of NEW YORK state, especially at the Galaxy stations in and around Albany. Ed Levine pulled the plug on modern rock “K-Rock” at WKRD (93.7 Scotia) Thursday, playing construction noises until 3 PM, when 93.7 flipped to classic country as “The Eagle.” WKRD is also picking up NASCAR race coverage in a bid to siphon at least a bit of audience from perennial market-leading country outlet WGNA (107.7 Albany), though the station’s signal has nowhere near the coverage of WGNA.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 29, 1999

Au Revoir, CBF: Radio-Canada pulled the plug on Montreal’s 50kw French outlet Thursday night (1/21). 690 is now running a repeating loop in French urging listeners to move to the new FM frequency, 95.1, which signed on last year. CBM on 940 will go silent in March, according to the Montreal Gazette. If you can read French, you’ll find more on CBF at <www.radio-canada.ca>.

NERW was in Buffalo on Wednesday for President Clinton’s visit to upstate NEW YORK, and we really enjoyed hearing the local news and talk on co-owned, but competing, WGR (550) and WBEN (930). Our joy was tempered slightly when we picked up the Buffalo News to read that WBEN/WMJQ staffers have decertified their union, which apparently clears the way for more WGR/WBEN shared programming. On a cheerier note, congratulations to WBEN’s Tim Wenger and Susan Rose, proud parents of a baby girl born just hours before the presidential visit.

Downstate, the big news is an unusual FM-to-AM move in the Big Apple, as Rocky Allen’s “Showgram” switches from afternoons at WPLJ (95.5) to the morning slot at WABC (770). The mouse hopes Allen’s show will bring some permanence to the morning slot at WABC, which has been one of the least stable spots in New York radio.

It’s musical program directors in CONNECTICUT this week. Ed Sabatino moves from WKCI (101.3 Hamden) to the PD chair at WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), while Dave Hill moves up from APD/MD to PD at WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), replacing Jay Beau Jones, who’s now in Chicago at WUBT (103.5). lately.
Steve Silberberg buys again, this time WVFM in Campton, NEW HAMPSHIRE. The 105.7 outlet atop Waterville Valley Ski Area has been simulcasting the oldies from WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro). Silberberg reportedly paid Daphne Corcoran’s White Mountain Radio $325,000 for the station.

Comments

  1. michaelputnam says

    Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. received a construction permit today, Monday January 27th , for a new lpfm station located at 107.1. The station will serve North Berkshire County in Western Massachusetts when it signs on the air.

  2. richardgrimsell says

    The old format would show the number of comments each article had on the home page. Any chance this could be brought back?

  3. laurenceglavin says

    The championship of Major League Baseball is available only to proprietary franchises in North America, only one of which is NOT located in the United States. And they call the winner “World Champion”? I think not.

  4. paulmount says

    Ownership logistics aside, they ought to put WCTC itself on the 92.7 translator. I listen regularly (5+ days a week) and there are many places within 10 miles of that puny tower that you can hear other stations under WCTC (and no it’s not ‘bleed’ from 98.3).