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In this week's issue... Rush to be displaced in Steel City - Entercom faces ad backlash at WEEI - New PD at Hot 97 - Mass, Philly Halls of Fame name new classes - Morning host out in Rochester - More new FMs, AMs in Toronto?

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*A running thread in this column over the last few years has been the rise and gradual fall of traditional news-talk radio on the FM dial. This week's big chapter comes from western PENNSYLVANIA, where Clear Channel's WPGB (104.7) was an FM talk pioneer when it launched back in 2004. With Pittsburgh DJ-turned-talk host Jim Quinn in mornings, Rush Limbaugh in middays and, for five seasons, Pirates baseball in the evenings, "NewsTalk 104.7" aimed to replicate many of the elements that had long made CBS Radio's KDKA (1020) a Steel City success story.

wpgb-fmntFor a time, it worked, but then a funny thing happened: even without Rush or the Bucs, KDKA's relentless local focus overcame its AM dial position, while Clear Channel budget cuts began to erode whatever numbers WPGB had started to build up. The Pirates rights went back to CBS in 2012, landing on "Fan" KDKA-FM (93.7), and then last winter Clear Channel abruptly pulled the plug on the "Quinn and Rose" morning sho, replacing it with a regional show based at WWVA (1170) over in Wheeling, West Virginia. At one point earlier this year, KDKA(AM) boasted nearly four times as many listeners as WPGB, leaving 104.7 as by far the lowest-rated full-market FM signal in the Pittsburgh market.

So when rumors began to swirl this summer that WPGB was due for a format change, the only real surprise was that it had taken Clear Channel so long.

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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: July 29, 2013

indietoronto-logo*The newest commercial radio station in CANADA's biggest market is about to launch, bringing to a close a four-year battle for the future of the 88.1 dial position in Toronto.

As NERW readers know, Ryerson University's CKLN lost its license for the frequency and went silent in 2011 after 28 years on the air. CKLN's license revocation opened a CRTC free-for-all that saw 22 broadcasters apply for the last significant open spot on the Toronto FM dial. The winner in the scrum turned out to be Barrie's Rock 95 Broadcasting, which is now just days away from launching its new signal as CIND, "Indie 88.1."

After several months of streaming a preview version of "Indie," the CIND on-air signal went live in test form late last week with a real-life "Rickroll," playing a nonstop loop of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" ahead of its planned official launch on Wednesday at noon.

When "Indie" launches for real, its staff will include PD Adam Thompson, former CBC Radio 3 host Raina Douris as music director, and Canadian rock radio legend Alan Cross as "music guidance counselor." CIND launches with just 500 watts from the roof of First Canadian Place, the old CKLN transmitter site, but it has a pending application to boost its power to 4000 watts DA from there.

*All that noise about "four layoffs per cluster" at Clear Channel? That overheated prediction hasn't come to pass, but last week did bring a handful of high-profile talent departures at specific Clear Channel outlets. In Harrisburg, Bob Durgin announced his impending retirement after 24 years holding down the afternoon shift at talker WHP (580). Durgin's last show will air this Friday, August 2, with a listener party and live broadcast from the Radisson Penn Harris hotel in Camp Hill; no replacement for the shift has been named yet, and the buzz seems to suggest that Clear Channel will plug the syndicated Sean Hannity into a live clearance in Durgin's 3-6 PM slot.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, a veteran member of the WCVB (Channel 5) news team is planning her retirement next year. Susan Wornick has been with channel 5 since 1981, and has been anchoring the midday news since 1989, while also leading the station's consumer reporting team. Wornick will be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame this fall, and in March 2014 she'll leave the station.

The Boston Herald has made it official: next Monday morning (August 5) will bring the official launch of "Boston Herald Radio." The streaming service will operate from a studio adjoining the paper's newsroom, and the initial lineup of four three-hour shows will be heavy on veterans of other Boston talk outlets. Jeff Katz, who was the morning man on the former WXKS (Talk 1200), will handle 6-9 AM, followed at 9 by "Morning Meeting" with Jaclyn Cashman and Hillary Chabot. Michael Graham, late of Greater Media's WTKK (96.9, now WBQT), will be heard from noon-3 PM, followed at 3 by “Sports Town with Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle.”

*In CONNECTICUT, Kim Zachary has returned to WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford) after almost two decades. Zachary did news on WDRC from 1991-1994 (and was then married to traffic reporter Jim Sharpley); later on, she moved up I-91 to Springfield and a long run co-hosting mornings on WHYN-FM (93.1) with her second husband, Dan Williams. Dan and Kim tried their hands at morning TV last year at Springfield's WGGB (Channel 40) and had more recently been doing an online show; last week, Zachary joined the WDRC-FM morning show alongside Jerry Kristafer and Mike Stevens.

Five Years Ago: July 27, 2009

NEW YORK's dance music station was back in the headlines last week, but it's still not clear what exactly was going on behind the scenes at "Pulse 87" (WNYZ-LP), the channel 6 LPTV license that's operated by Mega Media as an FM station at 87.7 on the dial. On Monday, Pulse's announcers began telling listeners that the station was in severe financial trouble and would be gone by week's end...unless those listeners came forward with donations to save the format. Listeners apparently responded - but the fund drive didn't last long. By Tuesday morning, the fundraising announcements (complete with premiums such as messenger bags and wristbands) had been pulled, the "donate" webpage on the Pulse website was gone, and the station was suddenly announcing that it had won a reprieve from its creditors thanks to an "overwhelming" response from listeners. But all that money pledged by the Pulse audience isn't staying with Mega Media - it's being returned to donors, the station says, leaving it rather unclear as to what the point of the one-day fundraiser really was.

So while the good news for New York's dance fans is that Pulse remains on the air, there are still plenty of unanswered questions - what prompted the drive in the first place, and why was it called off so abruptly? Even more curious is the low profile Mega's leadership has been taking; the announcements of the pledge drive and of its cancellation came from Pulse staffers, not from CEO Alex Shvarts, and the normally outspoken Shvarts hasn't been heard from at all during the latest series of events. Apart from a one-line posting to his Facebook page on Monday, he's had no public comment, and even the station's passionate fans, who've been outspoken about the latest developments on all the usual message boards, say they've heard nothing at all from Mega management to clear up what's going on. Mega's stock dipped below a penny per share last week, closing at $0.008 per share, and the company has now pulled back from its ambitious expansion plans for "Pulse." Mega had earlier announced that it wasn't going ahead with plans to launch "Pulse" on channel 6 LPTVs in Chicago and Los Angeles, and last week it dropped its plans to put the format on a channel 6 LPTV in the Washington, DC market.

After a tumultuous week in MASSACHUSETTS radio, things got back down to business as Boston's WBCN (104.1) prepared for its final farewell. The station's swan song will take place over four days, starting Saturday, August 8 and wrapping up Tuesday, August 11 with the three-way flip that sends WBCN to HD2 retirement on 98.5-2, moves "Mix" WBMX from 98.5 to 104.1, and launches the new all-sports "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM on 98.5's main channel.

There's a physical move coming as well: by early August, Mix will have finished its move from 1200 Soldiers Field Road, next door to WBZ-TV/WSBK-TV/WBZ(AM), down the road to the CBS Radio cluster studio at 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway in the former WSBK studio building - and that will end some two decades of radio at 1200 Soldiers Field Road, starting with WBOS (92.9), which was joined there by WSSH (99.5, later WOAZ) before those stations moved out and WBMX moved in as part of the big cluster shuffles of the late '90s.

The public broadcaster serving northwest PENNSYLVANIA is warning that its impending removal from the cable lineup in London, Ontario could be the last straw forcing it to close down. WQLN-TV (Channel 54)/WQLN-FM (91.3) has already been hit hard by budget cutbacks, including an $800,000 hit in state funding that forced the station to lay off staffers and cut pay for remaining employees. Losing its 1700 members across Lake Erie in London would reduce the station's donations by about 20%, says president Dwight Miller, removing another $150,000-$200,000 from the station's already tight budget. "It would seriously jeopardize our ability to stay open," Miller told the Erie Times-News last week, forcing WQLN to put itself up for sale or to investigate consolidating with other public broadcasters. WQLN says it's investigating the possibility of a fiber connection to Rogers Cable in London to replace the off-air pickup that Rogers says has been unreliable, leading to its decision to replace WQLN with Detroit's WTVS, effective August 18.

Today is the last day for AM radio in the largest city in CANADA's Maritimes, as CFDR (Kixx 780) in Halifax, Nova Scotia signs off, ending a 46-year run that's found the station on 790 and 680 as well as its current dial position. It appears that the CFDR staff, including morning host Frank Lowe, won't be making the move from current owner Newcap over to Rogers, which bought the AM license so it could be moved to FM as "Lite" CKLT (92.9), which officially launches today. (It's not yet clear whether CKLT will simulcast on the old AM frequency for a transition period, though we'd suspect they won't.)

Ten Years Ago: July 26, 2004

Another upstate NEW YORK TV market is about to become a one-newscast operation. It's already happened to Utica, where Clear Channel cancelled the local news on WUTR (Channel 20) before selling the station completely. And now the beleaguered, ratings-challenged newscast on Clear Channel's WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown is about to be cancelled for the second time in the station's short history.

Rumors have been flying for a while about the imminent end of WWTI's 6 and 11 PM newscasts, which have never even really challenged longtime market leader WWNY-TV (Channel 7) in the ratings; the station finally made it official this past week in a set of releases that tried to paint the move in the most positive terms possible.

To hear WWTI explain it, news won't be disappearing from channel 50's airwaves - it'll just be rearranged into 19 brief hourly and half-hourly news snippets (ending at 7:30 nightly) and local cut-ins on Good Morning America. The station will keep at least some of its news staff on duty, it says, even though after Friday, viewers will now see Entertainment Tonight at 6 and Frasier reruns at 11.

The move will, says WWTI, make the station "more competitive in a changing market place and changing industry."

In Albany, veteran morning man Bob Mason said farewell to the airwaves Friday, when he retired from his most recent gig on Galaxy's WRCZ (94.5 Ravena). Mason and partner Bill Sheehan made a name for themselves on WPYX (106.5) and later WQBK-FM (103.9) in the eighties; later on, the two were heard on the old WXCR (102.3) before leaving the airwaves for a while.
Here at NERW Central, our radio has spent much of the weekend tuned to CANADA's newest FM signal.

Right across Lake Ontario from us, in the city once known as Trenton but now amalgamated into "Quinte West," CJTN (1270) signed on the new CJTN-FM (107.1) last Thursday, and it's been running a nonstop loop ever since of nothing but songs about radio. From the classic "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)" all the way up to Nelly Furtado's (Cancon-friendly) "S**t on the Radio," CJTN-FM has been a fun listen - but we suspect the loop will give way to the real CJTN programming in a week or so, followed shortly by the sign-off of the AM signal. (Oh, and extra radio-geek bonus points to whoever at CJTN threw in a soundbite about the early days of FM radio from the Empire of the Air documentary - very cool!)

The selloff of the Vox group continued this week in VERMONT, where Rutland-market classic rock simulcast WEXP (101.5 Brandon)/WVAY (100.7 Wilmington) is going to ever-growing New England operator Nassau Broadcasting for $2.5 million. The sale will put WEXP/WVAY back under the same roof as the 10 other Vermont and New Hampshire stations Vox sold to Nassau earlier this year (NERW, March 22), and it brings Nassau's station count in New England to 32 signals.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 30, 1999

It's been a busy July for broadcasters across the region, with sales, format changes, new stations, call changes, and, sadly, more than a few obits.

We'll start with the biggest sale: Entercom's $821.5 million deal to buy Sinclair's radio division (with the exception of the St. Louis stations going to Emmis in a previously-announced purchase).

Entercom ends up with 43 stations, including the Sinclair cluster in Buffalo -- talk WGR (550), news-talk WBEN (930), R&B oldies WWWS (1400), sports WWKB (1520), CHR WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls), and AC WMJQ (102.5). The Buffalo stations make a nice complement to the Rochester stations Sinclair bought from Heritage back in 1997 and immediately spun to Entercom -- standards WEZO (950), country WBEE-FM (92.5), classic rock WQRV (93.3 Avon), and oldies WBBF (98.9). They will also be among the stations buying a total of $5 million a year in advertising on Sinclair's TV stations, including WUTV (Channel 29) and eventually WNEQ (Channel 23) in Buffalo, which now lose their radio sister stations but gain a more solid financial footing.

NERW will be watching most closely to see what happens to the news departments at WGR and WBEN, which have maintained two separate newsrooms despite being under common ownership (and by a company with a reputation for cost-cutting, at that). We're hoping Buffalo will continue to enjoy that rare luxury, but we suspect the worst, somehow. There are, of course, no other commercial radio newsrooms to speak of in the Queen City, with WBFO (88.7) holding the fort on the noncomm side more than adequately.

Sticking with Sinclair on the other side of NEW YORK state, the company has applied for new calls for Schenectady's Channel 45. WMHQ will become WEWB when it reverts to commercial operation as a WB affiliate sometime later this year.

While Albany viewers wait for the call change on TV, they can tune in something new on the radio. WRIP (97.9 Windham) began testing from its transmitter atop Ski Windham this week, and Dennis Jackson is inviting NERW readers to the official sign-on celebration on Thursday, August 5 at the station's studios, 134 South Street in Windham. WRIP's morning man will be Guy Garraghan, who handled wake-up duties for years at WCKL (560) in Catskill. You can find more about the station at its new Web page.

Onward we go, to VERMONT, where public radio listeners in the Northeast Kingdom now have a signal to call their own. Engineer Ira Wilner pushed the button to turn on the WVPA (88.5 St. Johnsbury) transmitter atop Burke Mountain at 3 o'clock on the afternoon of July 21. WVPA will provide reliable service to an area that previously had only the spotty signals of WVPS (107.9 Burlington) and WVPR (89.5 Windsor) for company.

Alex McEwing's Family Broadcasting is selling WGLY (103.3 Waterbury) to Jane Cole's Radio Broadcast Services for a reported $700,000. While we've yet to hear anything about changes in programming or staff, we do note that WGLY has filed to change its calls to WDOT, with the existing WDOT (McEwing's AM 1070 in Plattsburgh NY) becoming WGLY. More on this in the weeks to follow.