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In this week's issue... Big honor for upstate engineer - End of the line for NBC affiliate - Fox, Cox complete Boston swap - iHeart signal swaps granted - More classical in NH - Plus: Hockey on the Radio - The Minor Leagues

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*Too often in this column, when we're singing the praises of one of the industry's pioneering engineers, we're doing it in the context of an obituary. So it's nice to be able to say by way of preface that Gino Ricciardelli is alive and well and still working, well into his 90s.

sbe-ginoAfter Wednesday's SBE 22 Expo at Turning Stone in Verona, the veteran Binghamton engineer can now add "Fellow of the Society of Broadcast Engineers" to his list of honors, and what a well-deserved honor it is! A World War II veteran (though his time with "submarines" was strictly with the cable variety, not the vessels, as he noted with a smile), Ricciardelli came back to Binghamton to find himself charged with learning how to build the market's first TV station, WNBF-TV (Channel 12). After flipping the switch to turn that station on, he went on to build the second station in the market, WINR-TV (Channel 40), as well as its first educational outlet, WSKG-TV (Channel 46).

Ricciardelli's colorful career included many decades with channel 40, now WICZ-TV, and with its parent company Stainless Broadcasting. How many engineers who built the first black-and-white analog stations in the 1940s went on to build out DTV conversions? Gino did, and he's still a consultant to WICZ and its corporate sisters.

His long history with the SBE goes back almost to the beginning: as member #117, he's both a life member and a charter member of the national organization and Binghamton's Chapter 1. And while he doesn't travel too much anymore, his fellow Chapter 1 members were happy to drive him to Turning Stone to receive a standing ovation at the SBE's national awards dinner, held as part of the SBE national meeting that was part of this year's SBE 22 Expo.

Congratulations, Gino!

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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, fifteen and - where available - twenty 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: October 14, 2013

*There's a country radio war brewing in NEW YORK's Capital District, and Bob Ausfeld is to blame.

Ausfeld led what's now the Townsquare cluster there for many years, helping big-signal WGNA (107.7 Albany) to stay reliably at or near the top of the ratings. Last year, Ausfeld retired from Townsquare and then reappeared just a few months later as the new market manager at Pamal's Albany Broadcasting cluster - and on Thursday, he made a swap there that he says he'd been wanting to do for a while, moving "Cat Country" from WZMR (104.9 Altamont) down the dial to WKLI (100.9 Albany).

wkli-catOn paper, the move takes "Cat" simply from one class A facility to another, but in the rather more complex real world of the FM dial there, the country station is getting a much stronger voice. While its existing 104.9 signal emanates from way up in the Helderbergs, home to most of Albany's big class B FMs, WZMR runs just 530 watts up there with a directional antenna that helps to wedge the 104.9 in against other existing signals that limited it when it moved eastward from Johnstown in 1999.

WKLI, by contrast, is one of the best class As in the market, with 6 kW/328' from a site centrally located between Albany and Schenectady (and just up the hill from Townsquare's Kings Road studios), and putting "Cat Country" there sets up a battle with WGNA that Ausfeld says he's been looking forward to entering.

"It is probably the best engineered frequency in the market," Ausfeld tells the Albany Business Review.

Cat Country's move to 100.9 wipes out "Rock 100.9," the active rock station that's been on that signal for two years - and it wipes out the entire staff there, including veteran morning man Bob "Wolf" Wohlfeld, his partner John Tobin, middayer Suzanne, PD/afternoon jock Tim Noble and night guy Mike the Enforcer.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there's a new AM signal about to hit the air within Boston city limits.

As the government was shutting down, station owner Alex Langer must have been breathing a sigh of relief, because his WMSX (1410 Brockton) was granted a construction permit to change city of license to Dedham in the final hours before the FCC's staff was furloughed. And with that eleventh-hour grant in hand, Langer wasted no time beginning construction on WMSX's new site in Readville, where there's now a Valcom fiberglass whip antenna in place - and where NERW readers are the very first to get to to see it!

What happens next on 104.9? For now, it's simulcasting with 100.9, but Pamal promises a new format there soon. Will it stunt with Christmas music in the meantime? Stay tuned...

Five Years Ago: October 12, 2009

More than 65 years of radio ownership by the New York Times came to an end just after 8 o'clock Thursday night, as WQXR-FM (96.3 New York) signed off from its Union Square studios, handing its powerful class B signal to Univision Radio's WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ) and its intellectual property to public broadcaster WNYC, which also acquired the class B1 105.9 facility from Univision. Seconds later, 105.9 came to life again as the new WQXR, now a noncommercial classical station operating from WNYC's Varick Street studios, starting a new era of classical radio in New York City.

Behind the scenes, there was plenty of drama in the final days before the transition, on both the engineering and programming fronts.

On the programming side, it appears that WNYC's plans for its new acquisition came together at the last minute - especially when it came to the decisions on which of the "old" WQXR's airstaff would be hired by WNYC for the "new" WQXR. It was only in the last hour of Times operation of WQXR, as staffers made their on-air farewells, that listeners learned that midday host Annie Bergen would be heard on weekends on 105.9. And even as the Times was saying farewell to WQXR with an audio montage of station IDs going back to the earliest days of W2XR experimental operation in the 1930s, Univision was readying some big changes for its $33.5 million acquisition of the 96.3 spot on the dial. While initial reports had suggested that the "La Kalle" format long heard on 105.9 would be making a smooth transition down the dial to 96.3, it now appears that Univision is instead launching a new station identity on its new frequency.

"La Kalle" vanished from the airwaves around 5:00 on Thursday afternoon, leaving the last three hours of WCAA operation on 105.9 to be filled by a repeating loop advising listeners that "this number has changed" - and when the loop ended, a few seconds after it was moved to 96.3, listeners heard several dance tunes that were very much unlike "La Kalle." Even after the usual Spanish-language musical fare returned, it was running jockless, with repeated announcements to "mark your calendar with an X for October 15." What's more, the RDS display on 96.3 began showing "X 96" on Friday morning, strengthening speculation that a new format was on the way, along with new calls. On Thursday, Univision filed a request for "WXNY-FM" for 96.3, meaning those "WCAA New York" legal IDs now running will soon be collectors' items.

On the HD Radio front, the new WQXR programming showed up on the HD-2 subchannel of the more powerful WNYC-FM (93.9) signal, replacing the more esoteric classical fare that's now being offered as "Q2" on 105.9-HD2.

On the technical side, even the New Yorker noticed the flurry of activity surrounding the signal swap; a "Talk of the Town" item in the October 12 issue visited WNYC engineering director Jim Stagnitto as he worked on moving the 105.9 transmitter from Univision's 81st-floor room at the Empire State building to WNYC-FM's 79th-floor room. The new WQXR.org website also offered video of Stagnitto turning on the 105.9 signal on Thursday night - but that was just the conclusion of a longer, more complex transition process that took several days of nearly nonstop work by Stagnitto and WNYC chief technology officer Steve Shultis, as well as Univision's Richard Ross and corporate engineer Mark Stennett, who came up from Texas to assist in the move. While they were relocating 105.9's main transmitter downstairs to the WNYC room, and while WNYC was preparing WQXR's new studios on Varick Street, WCAA remained on the air in its final days on 105.9 from an auxiliary transmitter a few blocks away at Four Times Square. It was that Four Times Square transmitter that remained on the air with the "move to 96.3" loop Thursday afternoon - and by Friday, preparations were underway to move that auxiliary transmitter out of Univision's room upstairs to WNYC-FM's own auxiliary room at Four Times Square. Once that move is complete, Univision will move the 96.3 auxiliary transmitter from West Orange, N.J. to Four Times Square, adding 96.3 to the combiner system there.

WQXR wasn't the only New York station making a big move in the last few days: Friday was the last day for CBS Radio's WFAN (660) at its longtime studio home deep in the bowels of the Kaufman Astoria studio complex in Astoria, Queens, several floors below the "Sesame Street" studios. WFAN's move out of Kaufman Astoria came 22 years almost to the day after the pioneering all-sports format signed on from that space, though it was on 1050 AM back then. (Indeed, the studios even predate WFAN on 1050, having been built in 1986 for what was then WHN and sister FM station WAPP 103.5.) We hear the Astoria space will remain in CBS Radio's hands, to be used as an emergency backup studio should the new space in lower Manhattan that WFAN now shares with four other CBS stations become unusable.

Out on Long Island's East End, Long Island University has picked a buyer for its public radio station - and to nobody's great surprise, it's the local group called Peconic Public Broadcasting, led by the current management of WLIU (88.3 Southampton) and WCWP (88.1 Brookville). Peconic's bid, said to be in the $2 million range, reportedly beat out at least two other offers, which were apparently from rival public broadcasting groups, not religious broadcasters, as had originally been reported. The next steps for Peconic will be both challenging and speedy: the group has to turn its celebrity endorsements from names such as Alec Baldwin and Jann Wenner into hard financial committments from listeners - and it has just a few months to get WLIU's studios off the former Long Island University campus in Southampton (now part of SUNY Stony Brook) and into new space in Wainscott.

Greater Media jumped on the FM sports bandwagon in eastern PENNSYLVANIA Friday afternoon, with a surprise format change that pulled the plug on AC "Now 97.5" (WNUW Burlington NJ) before that format had even reached its first anniversary on the air. In its place, as of 5 o'clock Friday, is the Philadelphia market's first all-sports FM signal, "97.5 the Fanatic," picking up the programming that's been struggling to find an audience on Greater Media's lone Philly AM signal, WPEN (950), which has long been an also-ran against CBS Radio's sports behemoth, WIP (610). The new "Revolution" lineup includes ESPN's "Mike and Mike" in morning drive, followed by a yet-to-be-named local show from 10-noon (ESPN's Steven A. Smith and Dan Schwartzman will be guest-hosting the shift this week), Harry Mayes and Vai Sikahema from noon-2, the flagship Mike Missanelli show from 2-7, a series of specialty shows at night, and ESPN's programming filling out the schedule.

Ten Years Ago: October 11, 2004

Whether you loved her or loathed her, there's no arguing that Jane Christo was one of the most prominent station managers not only in MASSACHUSETTS but in the entire broadcast community. But after 25 years in the saddle at WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), Christo announced last week that she's stepping down, closing a career that saw her transform WBUR from a better-than-average college radio station in dumpy quarters to one of the nation's top public radio stations, operating from state-of-the-art studios.

WBUR staffers reportedly gave the teary-eyed Christo, 62, a standing ovation after she announced that she'll resign this Friday - but it's not clear how much of that was appreciation for her work, and how much was relief at the departure of the boss who oversaw not only the creation of Car Talk and Here and Now but also controversies that included the departure of prominent talk show host Christopher Lydon and even a spat over the proper wording of underwriting announcements that led to the firing of an overnight board operator. That level of personal involvement with WBUR's product may well have spelled the end of Christo's leadership there. The fight over her plans to sell Rhode Island satellite stations WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly) opened floodgates of criticism that led to an anonymous letter from staffers accusing her of mismanaging station funds and, last week, the start of an investigation by Boston University and, reportedly, by Massachusetts' attorney general. The station reportedly owes Boston University more than $12 million, and ended 2003 $1.8 million in debt (though a BU spokesman told the Boston Globe that the station's 2004 budget would be balanced), undercutting WBUR's denials that the proposed sale of the Rhode Island stations, expected to net several million dollars, was financially motivated. In a statement, Christo said she believes that the investigation will determine that "the allegations of improper misconduct against me are baseless," but that her departure will allow WBUR to return its focus to its news and talk programming. An interim general manager for the station is expected to be named this week. As always, stay tuned...

Of course, we can't ignore the week's big news on the national radio scene - the announcement by Howard Stern that he's leaving NEW YORK's WXRK (92.3) and his national syndication slot to move to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006. (We can, however, forego the "Siriusly" puns that every other trade mag out there has been doing to death...)

Stern's move was cannily timed to be the talk of the NAB Radio Show out in San Diego, where we can confirm that just about every conversation we had started not with "hello" but with "what about Howard?"

So, what about Howard? There's some validity, to be sure, in the face most radio managers were putting on for public consumption - that Stern will inevitably lose some influence and power by going from his network of more than 40 stations and many tens of millions of potential listeners to a service that costs real money (think of it as $156 a year and you begin to understand both the cost to listeners and the potential revenue magnet that Stern brings to Sirius) and has just 600,000 subscribers right now. But it's also worth noting a few other comments we heard during the show - especially one from a prominent agent for several "shock jocks" who said that nearly all his clients have asked him to investigate satellite deals in addition to terrestrial radio. And those radio managers and executives would do well, too, to listen to syndicated talker Tom Leykis, who responded to our question about Stern thusly: "Asking me about Stern going to satellite would be like asking the Rolling Stones, when they were still putting out cassettes, how the move to CDs would affect them."

Translation: for those who provide the content (and, though they weren't saying so in an audience full of terrestrial broadcasters, those who manufacture the equipment), Sirius and XM are just...more radio. That's completely at odds, of course, with the official stance that satellite radio is a mortal enemy to terrestrial radio - but then, our editorial take, unpopular though it may be with some station owners, is that when all the dust settles, that's how listeners will see the satellite services, too. It's really not a change from the argument we've been making in this space for pretty much the entire decade this column has existed: terrestrial radio can and will survive by doing the things only terrestrial radio can do - which comes back to the mantra of "local, local, local." No satellite-delivered service will ever out-WINS WINS when it comes to giving New Yorkers the headlines, traffic and sports they need. No satellite-delivered service will ever connect to soccer moms in the Boston suburbs as well as WMJX does. No satellite-delivered service will ever, ever, ever sound like WLNG out on Long Island's East End (and speaking of that, our best wishes go out to Paul Sidney, who's been off the air battling kidney problems of late.)

The wise words of my colleague Sean Ross are worth heeding here: "There are 13,000 radio stations that already have to deal with not having Howard Stern as their morning host." (Read the rest of his cogent analysis at edisonresearch.com.) It's a pretty good bet that stations like WBCN, WCCC, WXRK and WYSP, which already have established identities in their markets separate from Stern, will survive and even thrive in Stern's absence; while their revenue streams will no doubt suffer from Stern's absence, they'll also be free of the burden of paying Stern's big fees. It will be more interesting, we suspect, to see what becomes of stations like WHXR/WHXQ ("the Bone"), WZNE and WRKZ, which have built their entire identities on being "the Stern station" in their respective markets. And if Stern continues to talk up satellite radio's virtues so extensively every morning, it's a good bet that at least some of his present affiliates will send his show packing even before the end of 2005. (More wise words from the NAB show floor: "This is a very good time to be a morning-show talent agent.")

Fifteen Years Ago: October 9, 1999

No question about where we start this first NERW from our new, more spacious location -- the Clear Channel/AMFM merger announced this week creates yet another "largest group in radio" and points the way to a divestiture that will itself be one of the largest group sales in broadcast history.

We've watched over the last few years as Clear Channel entered the Northeast, starting in New Haven, adding Radio Equity Partners' Springfield and Providence operations, buying TV in Albany and Providence, bursting into Albany and Utica with the purchase of Dame Media, then Rochester with the purchase of Jacor and Syracuse through a station swap with Cox. Meantime, AMFM slowly assembled itself through various Hicks, Muse-controlled entities, including Chancellor (which built groups in Boston through the purchase of Evergreen and in New York City through a series of acquisitions), Capstar (which first entered the region by buying Commodore Media in the New York suburbs, then swallowed Knight Quality Group, yielding stations from Burlington to Worcester, followed by SFX's Providence, Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, Long Island and Albany stations), and several TV groups. Now the two are coming together in a $56 billion merger (which might have been a big story in the business press if it hadn't been overshadowed by the even bigger MCI WorldCom-Sprint conglomeration), which will create an 830 station group and spin off nearly a hundred more.

As the last NERW went to press, the radio scene in Concord, NEW HAMPSHIRE was being upended with the announcement that Bruce Danziger's Vox Media would pay $3.6 million for RadioWorks' remaining stations, WJYY (105.5), WRCI (107.7 Hillsboro), and WNHI (93.3 Belmont). RadioWorks sold WNHQ Peterborough to Steve Mindich last month. Vox already owns WKXL (1450/102.3) in Concord, and the word is that WKXL-FM and WNHI will share a (country?) music format once the deal closes. The news-talk format of WKXL(AM) will be simulcast on WRCI, replacing the classic rock-and-Imus "I-station" simulcast that station now shares with WNHI. WJYY's CHR won't be affected, at least for now. All the stations will somehow squeeze into WKXL's Redington Road facility.

A familiar voice is back on the morning airwaves in RHODE ISLAND, as Carolyn Fox takes over wakeup duties on classic rock WWRX (103.7 Westerly). The veteran of WHJY and WPRO displaces Don Imus -- but don't weep for the I-Man; he ends up on sister station WWBB (101.1), in turn displacing Daria Bruno and Rockin' Joe Herbert, who are looking for a new gig elsewhere. Fox is no stranger to her new bosses at WWRX, since she worked for PD Bill Weston and GM Jim Corwin at WHJY not that long ago. (And in the funhouse world of late '90s radio, it's no surprise to note that WWRX/WWBB and WHJY are about to become sister stations anyway!)

Clear Channel is doing the format shuffle in Albany, as modern rock migrates from "The Edge" (WQBK 103.9 Rensselaer/WQBJ 103.5 Cobleskill) down the dial to the former home of smooth jazz, WHRL (103.1 Albany). That station flipped to "Channel 103.1, the new music alternative" just before midnight October 1, filling the void created a week earlier when the Edge stations switched to active rock as "Rock Radio, 103.5/103.9 the Edge." (NERW detects shades of the Rochester format change in January that moved then-Jacor-owned WNVE from modern to active rock). WQBJ/QBK PD Rod Ryan adds WHRL to his portfolio, with Edge middayer Jason Keller moving over to mornings at WHRL.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The whole WFOX/Norwalk changing city of license situation makes no sense to me. Scott, your New Haven theory is a bit flawed since 95.9 is barely audible in New Haven, and it’s not even that strong in Bridgeport! 30 years ago when the late Bill McFarland worked at what was then known as “Q-96” (WLYQ), they unsuccessfully tried to sell to Bridgeport. The signal today is even worse with 96.1 on eastern Long Island causing problems. Just sayin…

    Marty Siegel

  2. Marty. I believe he meant that the station is entering the Bridgeport market, not the New Haven one. Southport is in the Bridgeport Neilsen market. It may not be that strong in Bridgeport, it still is part of the DMA. This happens often.
    (A better example of this is 99.9 in Athol, MA., which is in the Boston market… try listening to 99.9 in Boston sometime… )

    By changing the COL, it removes the station from the New York City sub-market of Norwalk/Stamford.

  3. Maybe you have a press release that says otherwise, but tonight the Hershey Bears were on WQIC-FM and last year’s members of the HB radio network: WTKT (AM sister of WHP), WOYK York, and probably on WLPA-AM Lancaster (FM had ESPN, which makes sense if FM rights were with WQIC). Maybe a mid-season change ?

    On a different Harrisburg note, one wonders if the 96.5 transponder (or current 95.3 transponder) might partner with CBS Sportsradio WGLD-1440 in York. This would allow WHGB-1400 and 96.5 or 95.3 to simulcast a new format. Maybe hip-hop, R&B ?

  4. Today (10/20) Michael Rosenfield was on the air on WBZ-TV and identified still as the Chief New Hampshire Correspondent. No change there.

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