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In this week's issue... NYC's Now is now Amp - Rochester morning team axed - CBC: No shutdown of Radio 2...yet - Cape noncomm dial lights up - Dodge LPFM rescinded - Knowlton Nash, RIP

By SCOTT FYBUSH

(Another brief note before we launch into the column: Lisa is back in Rochester, but remains hospitalized, 25 days and counting. We're attempting to get caught up this week on orders from the Fybush.com Store, but NERW posts may still remain brief and delayed for some time to come. Thanks, once again, for your patience as we try to get through our latest ordeal.)

*The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a remarkable thing. It protects my rights - and yours, on this Memorial Day - to stand on our front lawns, or in the town square, or here on the Internet, and proclaim our opinions as loudly as we'd like about just about anything. But what it doesn't do - and has never done - is to guarantee us the right to use a soapbox we don't own to express an opinion without backlash and consequences. Over the years, we've chronicled the misfortunes of plenty of broadcasters who've forgotten that distinction, and last week it hit home again right here in this column's hometown of Rochester, NEW YORK, where Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck are now the former morning hosts at Entercom's WBZA (98.9 the Buzz).

wbzaEntercom moved swiftly to dismiss them on Thursday after a social media firestorm kicked up around comments they'd made on Tuesday over the city's decision to provide medical coverage for transgendered employees and employees' partners. For a morning team that's made its mark in town by turning a jaundiced eye on many community developments, that particular segment of the "Kimberly & Beck Show" wasn't all that out of the ordinary, but it touched a particular nerve within the local GLBTQ community when Ray brought up a specific incident involving a transgender student at a local high school.

The backlash caught the pair at a bad time internally, too; they'd just returned to the air less than a week earlier after spending most of early May off the air in an unrelated suspension that reportedly had to do with on-air criticism of a station sponsor, and that no doubt made them more expendable to Entercom management.

(As for last week's comments? They're pretty much exactly what you'd expect, but if you must, you can hear excerpts in this WROC-TV story about the firings, which also includes an interview with your editor, or find the entire clip in this RadioInsight story.)

While there's some speculation in the local media community that the firings were themselves a publicity stunt during a ratings period, and that the 13-year veterans of the Buzz will be back on the air once the attention dies down, NERW's sense is that this one's for real, leaving Entercom looking for a replacement morning show that can hold the high ratings Kimberly and Beck drew in the station's target demographics. Given how unusual the Buzz is - it's a rare female-leaning rocker operating just down the hall from a more traditional male-heavy classic rock station, WCMF (96.5) - that may be a challenging assignment.

*Another local media personality found himself caught in some of the crossfire from the Kimberly & Beck incident: WHAM (1180) talker Bob Lonsberry was his usual outspoken self in a commentary he'd posted about the city's new policy on the WHAM website earlier in the week. After Kimberly & Beck's comments made the issue more of a hot potato, Clear Channel executives pulled the Lonsberry commentary from the site and disavowed it; Lonsberry, who's been at the center of a few similar firestorms in his career at WHAM, remained on the air at week's end.

wnow-amp*The big format change leading into the Memorial Day weekend was no surprise to readers of NERW or our sister site, RadioInsight, who've known for months now that "Now" wasn't going to be around much longer at CBS Radio's WNOW-FM (92.3 New York).

After bringing in a new PD - Rick Thomas, late of KRTH in Los Angeles - and then letting most of its airstaff go last Monday, CBS finally pulled the trigger at 2 PM on Thursday, flipping the top-40 station to a new brand, "AMP Radio," and reworking its playlist to emphasize "new music," with a particular lean toward electronic dance music and more of a Hispanic flavor than your typical mainstream top-40.

(You can hear the flip at another of our sister sites, FormatChange.com.)

Thomas has plenty of work ahead of him now at "AMP": he'll have to hire a new airstaff for the new station, which launches with commercial-free weekends through Labor Day, and he'll have to steer a careful course between going so heavy on new tunes that "AMP" edges out of the mainstream, and drifting closer to mainstream top-40 and back into the direct competition with Clear Channel's Z100 (WHTZ 100.3) that "NOW" was losing.

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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: May 27, 2013

*Seven years after an upstate NEW YORK state college entered the public radio business, it has abruptly shut down its station, leaving behind plenty of questions about a newly open space on the dial. wuowSUNY Oneonta put WUOW-LP (104.7) on the air in 2007 to help provide emergency communications in town in the wake of devastating flooding in the region, and just last year it returned the LPFM license and signed on a new full-power outlet, WUOW (88.5 Milford), along with an Oneonta translator, W217BY (91.3), for which it paid $12,500. Even though that move had already been planned and paid for, it appears that the Oneonta campus had by then already decided to pull the plug on its venture into public radio. From an initial staff of three (plus a part-timer), WUOW was down to just one staffer – and on Thursday, that staffer, SUNY Oneonta communications lecturer Gary Wickham, had the sad duty of signing the station off. With a mixture of AAA music and some local talk, WUOW had competed against relays of two larger public stations, Binghamton”s WSKG (via WSQC 91.7 Oneonta) and Albany”s WAMC (via two translators in the area). Will either of them (or someone else) end up with the WUOW licenses? For now, SUNY isn”t saying whether it still plans to sell the licenses, though it had offered them for sale back in 2011. (In the meantime, WSKG is finding other ways to expand in Otsego County: it”s paying Bud Williamson $20,000 for translator W290CI on 105.9 in Cooperstown.) *We still think of Bruce Mittman primarily as a Massachusetts broadcaster, but he”s becoming a bigger name in upstate New York radio. Last week, Mittman”s Community Broadcasters (which he owns along with Jim Leven) filed a $3.6 million deal to buy Backyard Broadcasting”s stations in the Elmira/Corning and Olean markets. In Elmira, Community picks up a cluster of three FMs and two AMs: top-40 “Wink 106″ WNKI (106.1 Corning), the only class B signal in the core of the market, along with country “Big Pig” WPGI (100.9 Horseheads) and classic rock “Wingz” WNGZ (104.9 Montour Falls), plus talker WWLZ (820 Horseheads) and WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen), which relays WNGZ when it”s not carrying auto racing on the weekends. In Olean, Community picks up market-leading country giant WPIG (95.7) and oldies WHDL (1450).Read more at: http://www.fybush.com/nerw-5132013-oneonta-loses-a-radio-voice/

*For more than a decade, the migration pattern for radio studios in NEW YORK City has gone almost uniformly in just one direction: southward from midtown Manhattan to lower Manhattan. Emmis, CBS Radio, Clear Channel and WNYC have all spent millions in recent years to build out new studio facilities down below Canal Street.

But as of Thursday, one major New York radio station has reversed that trend, moving into new studios on the Upper West Side. ESPN Radio’s WEPN-FM (98.7) and WEPN (1050), along with their sister Web operation, ESPNNewYork.com, are now operating from the sixth floor of 125 West End Avenue, the facility that was the longtime home of the ABC Radio Networks.

ABC Radio, of course, largely ceased to exist after Disney sold its radio operations to Citadel, which eventually merged into Cumulus, and while Citadel had retained half of the sixth floor for its own network operations, that space became available when Cumulus completed folding the remaining pieces of the old ABC Radio Networks into its own network facilities. (The other half of the sixth floor is home to ABC Radio News, where Disney/ABC employees still work under contract to Cumulus.)

WEPN, meanwhile, kept its local operations commingled with former sister stations WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5) even after Disney sold off WABC/WPLJ to Citadel, retaining its ESPN Radio and Radio Disney local stations. (The New York Disney outlet, WQEW 1560, now maintains local offices and a nominal studio in the ABC television complex at 147 Columbus Avenue.)

The WABC/WPLJ digs at 2 Penn Plaza became extra-crowded when Cumulus added WNSH (94.7 Newark) to its cluster earlier this year, and now everyone can breathe a little easier with some extra space at both ends. For WEPN, the new studios include a large bullpen area and multiple on-air and production rooms – and a more spacious base from which ESPN Radio can originate programming in New York as well as from its mothership in Bristol, Connecticut. (Where we hear, incidentally, that last week’s ESPN-wide round of layoffs apparently largely spared the radio side of the operation.)

*The week’s other big story came from San Francisco on Saturday – but the death of Gene Burns resonated powerfully on this side of the country too. A native of Hornell, New York, Burns quickly moved from hometown station WWHG (1320/105.3, later WHHO/WKPQ) to WSBA (910) in York, Pennsylvania – and then into a nationally-renowned career as a talk host in Baltimore (WCBM), Orlando (WKIS), San Francisco (KGO), and within the region in Boston and Philadelphia.

Burns’ Boston legacy started around 1970, when he moved from WCBM to WEEI (590), and while he lasted only a year at the CBS-owned news-talker before moving to Orlando and a role in station management, Burns came back to the region in 1981 for a brief run at WCAU (1210, now WPHT) in Philadelphia and then, beginning in 1985, a major role at WRKO (680) in Boston.

In the days before Rush Limbaugh owned the midday talk audience nationally, Burns boasted massive noontime ratings for his erudite brand of talk radio. (“We have transited the meridian and entered the afternoon incarnation of the broadcast day” was his trademark phrase at the top of his broadcast, part of a legendary WRKO lineup that also included the dean of Boston talk, Jerry Williams. In addition to his daily midday show, Burns was passionate about food, hosting a weekend show called “Dining Around” that continued long after he departed WRKO, and Boston, in 1992. (Burns would return to the Boston airwaves, briefly and from across the country, on the short-lived talk incarnation of WMEX at 1060 on the dial in 2000.)

After WRKO, Burns moved to New York and WOR (710), where he hosted both locally and on the WOR Radio Network; two years later, he was off to San Francisco for another round of radio success at KGO (810), where he worked as part of one of the nation’s legendary talk lineups until new owner Cumulus began dismantling the top-rated talker in 2011.

Burns had planned to follow several other former KGO colleagues to a rival talker, Clear Channel’s KKSF (910), but ongoing health issues intervened. He suffered a stroke in 2012 that robbed him of much of his ability to speak, and had apparently suffered another stroke last week. Burns was 72.

*Upstate, Rochester’s WHAM (1180) has hired a new news director, just over a month after the departure of longtime news director Randy Gorbman. Todd Hallidy comes to Rochester from Philadelphia, where he’s been handling broadcast duties at the local AP bureau. Hallidy’s radio career also includes stops at WDEL in Wilmington, Delaware and at WOGL in Philadelphia.

*A Williamsport radio veteran will sign off on Friday. In 43 years on the air, first at WWPA (1340) and then for the last quarter-century at WRAK (1400), Ken Sawyer has done pretty much everything there is to do on the air in town, including calling Little League games (which is a big deal in the league’s birthplace), hosting morning drive and serving as operations manager for the Clear Channel cluster. Now that he’s 65 and going on 66, Sawyer says it’s time to scale back – and so after Friday morning’s show, he’s retiring from WRAK. Sawyer won’t step away from the mike completely; he says he’ll continue to call the Little League World Series even after he leaves WRAK.

*Conventional wisdom says we”re living right now in a time of transformative media change, as established news sources come under siege from newer, more nimble ventures. wbin-smIn the world of local TV news, though, “new” doesn”t automatically mean “success” – especially in markets where a single player might have a six-decade head start on a newcomer. Markets such as, say, NEW HAMPSHIRE, which is where we start this week”s column with the news that Bill Binnie”s WBIN (Channel 50) has pulled the plug, for now, on the 10 PM local newscast that launched back in the fall of 2011.Read more at: http://www.fybush.com/nerw-20130506/

*Conventional wisdom says we”re living right now in a time of transformative media change, as established news sources come under siege from newer, more nimble ventures. wbin-smIn the world of local TV news, though, “new” doesn”t automatically mean “success” – especially in markets where a single player might have a six-decade head start on a newcomer. Markets such as, say, NEW HAMPSHIRE, which is where we start this week”s column with the news that Bill Binnie”s WBIN (Channel 50) has pulled the plug, for now, on the 10 PM local newscast that launched back in the fall of 2011. In its year and a half on the air, that newscast suffered from two big drawbacks: first, it was never truly “local,” emanating from the centralized newsroom at INN (Independent News Network) in Davenport, Iowa, where an Iowa-based anchor introduced stories from three reporters based in New Hampshire; second, it attempted to compete not only against the very established Manchester-based WMUR (Channel 9), which offers its own 10 PM show on its 9.2 MeTV subchannel, but also against the big newsrooms to the south in Boston. (And even here, the advantage went very much to WMUR, which can draw on the considerable resources of Hearst sister station WCVB in Boston.) The Binnie group promised early on that the Iowa-based production would be only temporary while it worked to build a full-fledged news operation in New Hampshire, and as recently as February Binnie told the Concord Monitor that he was planning to “double his reporting staff” and expand the evening newscast to an hour. But we”re hearing that concerns with the quality of the Iowa-based production led WBIN to pull out of the deal with INN, abruptly replacing the 10 PM newscast with the syndicated “OMG! Insider.” WBIN WBIN”s inaugural newscast, 2011 Will news come back to WBIN? The station has retained one of the three local reporters on its staff, and weatherman Al Kaprielian is still on staff as well, doing hourly weather updates from afternoon into prime time (the former INN-produced newscast used an Iowa-based forecaster instead) – but the most that Binnie VP Periklis Karoutas would tell the Monitor is that Binnie “is doing news and will continue to do so.” As for some of the bigger plans Binnie”s been talking about for his fast-growing radio/TV group, including a statewide live morning news show, their failure to materialize just yet might well be taken as another sign that even for an owner with the considerable resources of a business magnate like Bill Binnie, getting into broadcasting in a big way is still harder than it looks.Read more at: http://www.fybush.com/nerw-20130506/

*Conventional wisdom says we”re living right now in a time of transformative media change, as established news sources come under siege from newer, more nimble ventures. wbin-smIn the world of local TV news, though, “new” doesn”t automatically mean “success” – especially in markets where a single player might have a six-decade head start on a newcomer. Markets such as, say, NEW HAMPSHIRE, which is where we start this week”s column with the news that Bill Binnie”s WBIN (Channel 50) has pulled the plug, for now, on the 10 PM local newscast that launched back in the fall of 2011.Read more at: http://www.fybush.com/nerw-20130506/

Five Years Ago: May 25, 2009

For the last decade, it's been a Memorial Day tradition for fans of classic NEW YORK radio: tuning in to WABC (770) or its webstream for a full day (give or take a Yankees game in the early years) of vintage Musicradio 77 airchecks, carefully reconstructed and introduced by legendary WABC production guru Johnny Donovan.

"WABC Rewound" began in 1999, following on a shorter "WABeatlesC" revival the previous year. But as New Yorkers mark the Memorial Day holiday today, they won't be greeted by the Beatles and the Stones on their AM dials. Instead, WABC's new management is sticking with the station's usual talk format, even though the holiday means Imus and Limbaugh and Hannity and the rest of the station's daily lineup will have the day off, replaced by third-string substitutes or canned "best-of" shows.

But while there won't be a "Rewound" on the AM airwaves for casual listeners, there's still a fat package of vintage audio available for die-hard Musicradio fans, thanks to collector (and former WHN/WQXR chief engineer) Herb Squire and "Rewound" producer Peter Kanze. These rarely-heard airchecks, largely from the early '70s, will get played at some point today on the HD3 subchannel of WABC's sister station, WPLJ (95.5) - but most people will hear them as downloads from WABC's own website, where at least one hour was apparently mislabeled as of Sunday night, or from Allan Sniffen's tribute site, which was offering faster downloads when we checked.

Is this curtains for "Rewound"? From all indications, yes - the airchecks that went into the 2009 edition were prepared (a time-consuming process indeed) when the producers still expected the package to air over 50,000 watts of AM. What's more, the pool of "new" vintage airchecks is reportedly drying up; what was fresh and long-unheard in 1999 has been ricocheting around file-sharing sites for a decade now.

For years now, listeners to "NEW JERSEY 101.5" have heard announcements promoting the talk station's simulcast serving south Jersey - but the latest home for the simulcast, WXKW (97.3 Millville), is apparently on the verge of a format change. Instead of "serving South Jersey on 97.3," the station's listeners have been hearing announcements promoting the station's webcast and its main Trenton-based signal, WKXW (101.5). What's in store for the big class B signal on 97.3? Stay tuned...

TUESDAY UPDATE: Tom Taylor of Radio-Info.com reports that the new format on 97.3 will be ESPN Radio, presently heard on WXKW's sister station WENJ (1450 Atlantic City).

At least one MASSACHUSETTS victim of budget-induced layoffs has his job back: Tom Cuddy quietly returned to the afternoon sports shift at CBS Radio's WBZ (1030 Boston) last week, five months after he became part of the big staffing cuts at the station just before the new year. WBZ's afternoon news anchors had been reading the sports in the interim.

In Erie, PENNSYLVANIA, the days are numbered for WSEE (Channel 35)'s separate operation. Now that the station's off-air technical employees have been laid off, the CBS affiliate will close its studio at 1220 Peach Street on June 1, with its remaining staffers moving in with sister station WICU (Channel 12) at its State Street facility.

Where are they now? Veteran central Pennsylvania broadcaster Chris Lash, who recently lost his wife Karen to cancer, is keeping busy by launching a new FM signal just outside Dayton, Ohio. Lash just put WYNS (89.3 Waynesville) on the air as "Hybrid FM," playing a mix of AC and country.

Ten Years Ago: May 24, 2004

It was a quiet week in NERW-land...so quiet, in fact, that we're leading with a not-all-that-exciting stunt just down the road from us. WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield) dropped its weeklong simulcast of sports WGR (550 Buffalo) on Friday and began running a repeating loop of splashing water and cricket noises. A cicada invasion? Nope - it seems to be the prelude to "107.7 the Lake," or so the local rumor mill would have it.

Entercom has reportedly hired Hank Dole (late of WZBA Baltimore and KHHL Leander-Austin TX) as PD of the station, which we're hearing will be a AAA-ish classic rocker. Across town at Citadel, they've gone and registered www.107thelake.com, which was being forwarded to the WHTT-FM site for a while. What next? Stay tuned...we'll be listening.

MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: WNSA relaunched at 3 PM as - yup - "The Lake," with a rather esoteric blend of classic rock and 80s pop and whatnot. First two songs: "Swimming in Water" by Peter Gabriel and "Radio, Radio" by Elvis Costello; subsequent listening has turned up everything from Traffic to Bonnie Raitt. New calls are apparently on the way, too, judging from the bare-bones Web site (1077thelake.com), as the station picks up the WLKK calls that lived for many years down the Thruway in Erie, Pennsylvania.

In southeastern PENNSYLVANIA, a widely-heard pirate radio station is off the air - and it turns out that "El Sol 95.3" was actually operating from across the river in Pennsauken, NEW JERSEY. It took a team of federal agents to do it - and when they did, they found the station being operated by a group called "The Moors," who say they're not subject to U.S. law because they've lived here for thousands of years. (They showed agents a "license" signed by one "Queen Ali.")

Fifteen Years Ago: May 21, 1999

NEW HAMPSHIRE's public radio network will soon have a new link. NHPR announced this week that it plans to purchase WXLQ (107.1 Gorham) from current owner Gladys Powell. WXLQ has been running a satellite classic rock format of late, although NERW still vividly remembers hearing the station with satellite country a few years back, complete with odd little cueing tones where they shouldn't have been heard. In any event, the addition of the Gorham signal will provide a significant northern extension to the NHPR network, whose WEVO (89.1 Concord) goes only as far as the southern flanks of the White Mountains, while WXLQ's signal is heard only to the north of Mount Washington. No word yet on when the sale will close.

Just up the seacoast in MAINE, Steve Mindich has applied for the WPHX and WPHX-FM calls for what are now WSME (1220) and WCDQ (92.1) in Sanford. Expect the WFNX simulcast to start any day now on the FM side.

The top story in MASSACHUSETTS is the nasty rivalry between Infinity's WBCN (104.1 Boston) and Steve Mindich's WFNX (101.7 Lynn), which started when WBCN began running the "Loveline" show, long a WFNX nighttime feature. Mindich was telling Boston papers this week that he plans to sue Infinity for breach of contract -- and he's also been making loud noises about the rumors (apparently started on a Howard Stern fan page) that Infinity will soon require all Stern affiliates to clear a 24-hour lineup of talk radio. WBCN PD Oedipus told the Boston Globe this week that he'll wager $104,000 of his own money against Mindich's money that the rumor is untrue. Meanwhile, both stations are running "Loveline" for the moment.

Over at 116 Huntington Ave., "Star 93.7" unveiled most of its new jock lineup this week, with Ann Duran coming back to the region (after a stint in Los Angeles that followed the demise of the old WBIX in New York) to do 10-3PM, Michael Knight doing 3-7PM, Danny Meyers coming from WPLJ in New York for nights, and sole Eagle survivor Steve York handling overnight duties. Still to be named is a morning show. A note, by the way, to the usually reliable Dean Johnson at the Herald: the calls on that Lawrence-licensed station are now WQSX -- or is this just payback for the Other Paper continuing to call 93.7 "WCGY" for years after it changed to WEGQ?

Do Worcester TV viewers want to see religious programming from West Texas? Beats the heck out of us, but it's there if they want it, thanks to brand-new WYDN (Channel 48), which began operating late last month from Mt. Asnebumskit in Paxton, rebroadcasting the "Prime Time Christian Broadcasting" network from KMLM (Channel 42) in Odessa, Texas.

VERMONT's newest TV news operation is beginning to fill some key staff positions. WVNY (Channel 22) in Burlington named Eric Greene as main anchor and executive producer, as the ABC affiliate prepares for an autumn expansion to a full news schedule from the current 5-minute newscasts twice daily.

On the national front, pencil in a new name for Chancellor Media just as the company swallows all them Capstar stations. Now Chancellor is changing its name to "AMFM", to match its NASDAQ ticker symbol -- which might make more sense if it weren't for those rumors that the company is about to move its stock to the New York Stock Exchange, where it will be known as simply "AFM".

From CANADA this week comes word of a new owner for Ottawa's CJMJ (100.3) and CFGO (1200). Rawlco, which sold its Calgary stations to Rogers earlier in the week, will spin the outlets in the nation's capital to the CHUM group, which already owns CFRA (580), CKKL (93.9), and CHRO (Channel 43/Channel 5 Pembroke) in the market. CJMJ's soft AC "Majic 100" is the market's ratings leader, and CFGO's new sports format makes a nice complement to CFRA's news-talk dominance.

Twenty Years Ago: New England Radio Watcher, May 26, 1994 -

After an admittedly poorly-concealed courtship, American Radio Systems (WRKO-680/WHDH-850/WBMX-98.5 Boston) has agreed to buy WCGY-93.7/WCCM-800 Lawrence MA from Curt Gowdy for a reported $12+ million. WCCM will have to be spun off to meet the two-AMs to a market standard. ARS says it's looking for someone in the Lawrence community. As for album-rocker CGY, which uses 50kw from a 131 meter stick in Andover MA (20 miles N of Boston), ARS is saying there won't be much in the way of format changes...at least until they see what Pyramid (WXKS-1430/107.9) does with its now-finalized purchase of CHuRban WJMN-94.5. ARS is promising technical improvements to pump more signal into downtown Boston and the southern suburbs, where the CGY signal is shaky.

The other sale in the works is WMFP-TV Lawrence/Boston, the very independent Channel 62 that transmits from One Beacon Street in Boston, putting almost no signal over its city of license. Owner and former radio talk host Avi Nelson is selling out, in every sense of the term, to Shop at Home network. No more "interactive" video vaudeville...no more overflow for the NBC shows WBZ-TV declines to carry...no more MSTV public-domain '30s movies.