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In this week's issue... No "33%" job cuts at ex-Clear Channel - Who's out at the top? - Veteran MA morning man fired - Share-times settle LPFMs in Boston, Philly, Providence

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*It happens every year around this time at almost all the big broadcast groups: in a push to make the numbers add up at the end of the year, good broadcasters get pushed out the door. This year is no exception. As you'll read later in the column, several prominent names are off the air this week around the region - but there's one story in particular that's getting a lot of attention. That's the report that iHeart Media, the former Clear Channel, is gearing up to make massive job cuts, supposedly up to a third of its entire radio workforce - and it appears, as best we can tell, to be a considerable exaggeration, at best.

ihm Predicting some cuts at Clear Channel/iHeart this time of year is about as challenging as predicting that the sun will rise or the Bills will lose: it's what the company does, year after year, to at least some extent. (In the interest of full disclosure, your editor was the victim of one of those cuts three years ago, when Clear Channel shut down the Radio Journal newsletter he'd edited for several years. Just so you know.)

This year's cuts seem to be aimed primarily at some big numbers on the payroll, including executives who haven't been at the company all that long. Most prominent last week was Greg Strassell, the longtime Boston-based executive for CBS Radio who jumped to Clear Channel in September 2013 to serve as senior VP of strategic services/national programming platforms. His time with the company ended abruptly last week when he and several other top names were ousted from iHeart's national offices in New York, and we're already hearing rumors that he may be on the way back to CBS, where his long programming career included the launch of WBMX on 98.5 back in 1991.

We're hearing reports, here and there, of other less prominent names being cut as well, especially those with long Clear Channel careers and thus decent salaries and benefits; here in Rochester, for instance, Tom Keller is out after 27 years doing on-air and production work with the cluster (and 37 years in radio overall in the market.)

But it's one thing to observe that iHeart is making some cuts and another thing entirely to put out a daily drumbeat of rumor and innuendo about large-scale cuts that not only don't appear to be happening but are almost impossible to conceive. As anyone who's spent any time inside an iHeart cluster knows by now, the cuts that were easy to make were already made long ago. In small and medium markets, many stations run with just one live daypart and spend the rest of the day tracked or syndicated. In bigger markets, iHeart shows no signs of cutting airshifts just to meet some mythical "33%" goal. And behind the scenes, the typical iHeart cluster is staffed about as thinly as it can be while staying on the air at all. Whatever fat might have been on the bones at most of the company's stations was cut years ago, and the muscle and bone started to go a few years back, too.

So what's going on here? While the "33%" story has drawn national attention, it comes from a single source with a long, long history of grudges and legal action against Clear Channel - and of pushing stories that haven't panned out. (Remember when Cumulus bought CBS Radio? Oh, right...that never did come true, did it?)

Here's our advice: if you work for iHeart - or for Cumulus, or Townsquare, or any of the big companies that have a history of year-end job cuts - it's the radio business in 2014 and no job is completely safe. But before you shell out money to subscribe to any newsletter (including this one!), consider what it is you're being sold. Here at NERW, we'd like to sell you a subscription, too, of course - but we stand by a 20-year history of not stooping to sensationalism or overselling a story to do it. When 2014 gives way to 2015 and we tally up how many jobs were really lost, we'll bet that our approach turns out to be the more accurate one. If we're wrong, we'll say so. And if you know of a job cut we're not reporting, tell us and we'll pass it along.

(One more bit of perhaps overly-full disclosure before we move along, because we don't like the thought of a hidden conflict of interest: your editor turned down a job offer from that other guy back in 1997.)

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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: December 9, 2013

Clear Channel unveiled its 2014 programming lineup for New York's WOR (710) this morning, and it's got a big surprise in the lead-off slot.

wor-newcclogoThe talk station with a reputation under previous ownership of appealing to an especially old audience is aiming for a much younger crowd by importing Elliot Segal and his "Elliot in the Morning" show from Clear Channel sister station WWDC (101.1) in Washington DC, where he anchors a lineup that's otherwise filled with rock and roll. Segal, a former morning co-host on New York's Z100 ("Elvis and Elliot," with Elvis Duran in the 1990s), will move his home base from DC101 to WOR's Manhattan studio, but will continue to broadcast back to Washington and to his Richmond affiliate, WRXL (102.1).

Following Elliot in the Morning at 10 will be current mid-morning host Mark Simone, then Rush Limbaugh at noon, Sean Hannity at 3, Andy Dean at 6 and Dave Ramsey at 9. With the retirement of current WOR morning host John Gambling next week, that leaves only one prominent veteran from the Buckley era to be accounted for, and we now know that Joan Hamburg will be shuffled from weekdays to a weekend role on the new Clear Channel WOR next year.

*There were lots of Radio People on the Move all over eastern PENNSYLVANIA in December's first week, including one veteran's retirement and another's return to a full-time programming gig.

The veteran is Charley Lake, who'll step down next month as program director of Greater Media classic rocker WMGK (102.9 Philadelphia), seven years after arriving in Philly from Phoenix, where he programmed CBS classic hits KOOL-FM (94.5). Lake's career has also included stops at WJMK in Chicago, WRNO in New Orleans and WLVQ in Columbus. No replacement has been named.

Up the Blue Route in Scranton, Jim Rising is back in the saddle. The veteran programmer ran WEZX (106.9 Scranton) in the 1990s, between multiple stints at WKRZ (98.5) and its now-Entercom sister stations. Now he's back on the top floor at 149 Penn Avenue, replacing Scott Laudani as PD of "Rock 107," where he's also handling afternoons. Tommy Ferguson, formerly with WOWY (97.1) in State College, arrives at Shamrock to program WFUZ (92.1) and the "NEPA ESPN" sports cluster of WEJL (630 Scranton)/WEJL-FM (100.1 Forest City) and WBAX (1240 Wilkes-Barre).

And there are new programmers in the house at Clear Channel's Allentown and Reading clusters. At WZZO (95.1 Allentown), Steven Mills starts today as PD, moving from his previous post as corporate PD at Pembrook Pines Media Group in Elmira, N.Y. Mills replaces Craig Stevens in the PD chair at WZZO; Stevens is moving to Reading to take over from the now-retired Al Burke at the helm of WRFY (102.5)/WRAW (1340).

*The flip hasn't happened yet, but our content partners over at RadioInsight.com have picked up another clue to the future of one of the smaller FMs in NEW YORK's state capital.

Back in October, Albany Broadcasting shifted "Cat Country" from WZMR (104.9 Altamont) down the dial to the better class A signal of WKLI (100.9 Albany), killing off the rock format there. Since then, the two FMs have been simulcasting, but RadioInsight has picked up on a prototype website for "104.9 the Peak," which would be a AAA sister to parent company Pamal Broadcasting's WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) to the south in Westchester County.

*In RHODE ISLAND, the Judson Group has sold the former WCRI (1180 Hope Valley) back to its original owner. The 1800-watt daytimer was originally WJJF, which stood for John J. Fuller, and it's always operated from a tower on property Fuller owns in the town of Hopkinton. Fuller sold the station to Charles River Broadcasting back in 2002 for more than half a million dollars, but he's buying it back for just $12,500. Last Saturday, 1180 dropped the simulcast it had been running of Judson's classical WCRI-FM (95.9 Block Island), and it's now reportedly playing oldies as "Kool 1180" under new calls WSKP.

*Montreal's newest TV station is set to launch Wednesday. Sam Norouzi's CFHD-DT (Channel 47) tested briefly over the summer and returned to the air with test programming last week. When it signs on for real, it will be the multilingual ethnic replacement for CJNT (Channel 62), the former ethnic station that's now in Rogers' hands as an English-language CityTV outlet. Rogers agreed to provide just over a million dollars toward a new ethnic signal, while former CJNT owner Channel Zero provided a hefty loan and master control operations for the new station.

Norouzi's new station will be branded as "ICI" (International Channel/Canal International), though he's still in the midst of a legal fight with Radio-Canada, which has been trying to rebrand its French-language services as "Ici." He'll start out carrying lots of Rogers' OMNI programming, last seen in Montreal on CJNT, but the new ICI is promising to do a lot of field-based local production as it gets up and running.

Five Years Ago: December 7, 2009

The big news out of NEW YORK on Thursday came as no surprise to anyone who'd been even vaguely aware of media-business developments - but the official word that Comcast was indeed acquiring a majority stake in NBC Universal didn't bring much clarity to the questions that continue to surround the deal as it heads to regulators for what's likely to be a lengthy approval process. Much of the transaction, including Comcast's acquisition of the cable networks and Universal production business, will be outside the purview of the FCC, and of this column as well. The FCC will, however, have the chance to weigh in on the transfer of NBC's broadcast licenses from GE to the Comcast-controlled joint venture, including three owned-and-operated NBC TV stations and two Telemundo TV stations in NERW-land.

While there was some speculation that Comcast might seek to take NBC out of the broadcast business, perhaps turning NBC into a high-profile cable channel, the announcement of the merger played up the importance of the local stations. "We intend to preserve and enrich the output of local news, local public affairs, and other public interest programming on NBC O&O stations," it read. That puts the ball in the FCC's court, where there's sure to be close scrutiny of the deal - especially in Philadelphia, where NBC-owned WCAU (Channel 10) operates in a market that's not only home to Comcast headquarters but is dominated by Comcast-owned cable systems. The situation is somewhat different in New York, where WNBC (Channel 4) and Telemundo's WNJU (Channel 47) have relatively little Comcast presence in the market, which is dominated by Time Warner and Cablevision. In Boston, Telemundo's New Hampshire-based WNEU is a very minor player in a Comcast-dominated cable market, and in Connecticut, where Comcast is a major cable player, NBC had been attempting to sell WVIT (Channel 30). There's no longer an absolute prohibition on cross-ownership of cable systems and broadcast stations within a market, but there are still plenty of reasons for regulators to be concerned. (How, for instance, might a Comcast cable system handle a retransmission dispute with a CBS- or ABC-owned station that's competing with its own NBC station in the market?)

Curtis Sliwa has a new home on the dial: after 18 years at WABC (770 New York), he's signed on with Salem's WNYM (970 Hackensack NJ) to become the new morning man at "970 the Apple," beginning January 11. Sliwa's will be the first local show at the station, which has been carrying a slate of Salem's syndicated talkers since its launch last year. That includes Bill Bennett's "Morning in America," which will lose its New York clearance when Sliwa signs on. Will Sliwa's debut bring some attention to "The Apple," which upgraded its signal to 50 kW daytime but hasn't made much of a mark on the New York radio scene since the format flip? Stay tuned...

Utica's WRUN (1150) has changed programming. Last Monday marked not only the end of November, but also the end of the station's ownership by Albany's WAMC. The Utica AM station marked the western edge of WAMC's expansion when it went on the air with public radio in 2005, but it became surplus property after WAMC's decade-old application for a Utica-area FM facility was granted in 2008. WAMC-FM (90.3 Remsen) signed on a year ago, and back in July, WAMC traded the AM signal (plus $20,000) to Bud Williamson's Digital Radio Broadcasting in exchange for a Cooperstown translator. The deal closed last week, and now Williamson is operating the AM station, running automated current hit music for the moment (or so our ears on the ground in the Utica market tell us...)

In southern RHODE ISLAND, WXNI (1230 Westerly) is now under new management. It took more than three years for Chris DiPaola to wend his way through the legal maelstrom that surrounded the station, which was tied up in the fight between Rhode Island state officials and Boston University. But now that Rhode Island Public Broadcasting has been fully separated from its erstwhile parent organization, BU's WBUR - and now that WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier) is fully covering the southern part of the state, rendering the need for the 1 kW AM signal moot - DiPaola, doing business as Diponti Communications, has closed on his $350,000 purchase of the AM station. As of November 16, DiPaola's local programming has replaced the Providence-based WRNI feed on the AM 1230 signal, with new calls WBLQ. The new AM 1230 programming was at least temporarily parallel to LPFM station WBLQ-LP (96.7 Ashaway), which DiPaola operates for the nonprofit "Washington County Chamber of Commerce," though the FM station has applied for new calls WYCM-LP.

Another local news operation in northeast PENNSYLVANIA is shutting down. The region already lost what was left of local news at CBS affiliate WYOU-TV (Channel 22) in Scranton earlier this year, and now plucky low-power WYLN in Hazleton is shutting down its daily newscast. The network of LPTV stations based at WYLN-LP (Channel 35) serves a swath of rural Pennsylvania stretching south and west from Wilkes-Barre to Shamokin and into the Susquehanna Valley, with extensive cable coverage - but after December 31, its local news at 5 and 10 PM will be history, with much of the eight-person news department being furloughed. WYLN officials tell the Hazleton Standard-Speaker that the station will continue to produce other local programming, including a new local 5 PM show to debut sometime in early 2010.

Ten Years Ago: December 6, 2004

Howard Stern has, as his website reminds us daily, just over a year left on his contract with Viacom - but his prolonged departure for his new gig at Sirius Satellite Radio just seems to get more and more tortured, especially for listeners in central NEW YORK. Syracuse Stern affiliate WAQX (95.7 Manlius) was the flashpoint last week of a dispute that had been brewing ever since Judy Ellis, COO of WAQX's parent company, Citadel, complained during the NAB Radio Show in early October about Stern's show turning into a non-stop ad for Sirius. So it was that 95X - along with Citadel-owned Stern affiliates in York PA (WQXA-FM 105.7), Providence (WWKX 106.3 Woonsocket/WAKX 102.7 Narragansett Pier) and New Bedford (WKKB 100.3 Middletown RI) - last week began cutting off the Stern show at 10 each morning and getting on with their usual weekday programming.

"It became too much," wrote 95X music director/midday jock Ryno on the station's website, saying Stern's show had, in effect, become a lengthy infomercial for satellite radio. And Stern, inevitably, turned the whole incident into his latest cause celebre, making Citadel's decision the focus of several shows later in the week - and announcing that he'd begin a $20,000 giveaway contest that would depend on clues that he'd only announce after 10 each morning.

In the Albany market, the impending move-in of WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) from the Glens Falls area to suburban Malta will get a boost from another allocation change across the state line, about which more in a moment. In any event, when Vox moves WNYQ south to Malta, it will be not as a class A signal (6 kW) but as a class B1 (25 kW), providing considerably increased coverage of the Albany market.

The other half of the WNYQ upgrade we alluded to earlier is in western MASSACHUSETTS, where Vox won the FCC's permission last week to move WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) some 30 miles east to Easthampton, which will land it squarely in the Springfield market on the other side of the Berkshires. The buzz in the Pittsfield market suggests that the "Live 105.5" top 40 format and the WBEC-FM calls won't disappear when the move takes place, likely landing at one of Vox's other FMs in the market, either WUPE (95.9 Pittsfield) or WMNB (100.1 North Adams).

Call it NEW JERSEY, or call it PENNSYLVANIA - in either case, the new 107.9 signal that's licensed to Pennsauken NJ and serves Philadelphia signed on for real last week. Radio One has already flipped the callsign again, from the interim WPPZ (which replaced the old WSNJ-FM calls from its days down in Bridgeton on 107.7) to WRNB. Those calls come from Radio One's Dayton, Ohio station on 92.1 (which reverts to its old calls of WROU-FM), and they signify the station's new adult R&B format. The rumor mill suggests, rather strongly, that the new WRNB will step up its challenge to Clear Channel's market-dominating WDAS-FM (105.3 Philadelphia) by making a play for the syndicated Tom Joyner morning show, which airs on WDAS but is now owned by Radio One.

It looks as though the saga of WCBG (1590 Chambersburg PA) has come to a close. The Verstandig Broadcasting station has been threatened for several years by the city's construction of a water tower a few hundred feet from its four-tower array near I-81. Construction of the water tower had to be halted because workers kept getting shocks from the high RF field created by the nearby transmitter (something Verstandig says consultants to the city should have anticipated), and that prompted city officials to try to condemn the land on which WCBG's towers sat, a move Verstandig fought fiercely. Both sides have apparently come to a settlement after nearly two years of legal tussles, and WCBG signed off Saturday night for what was apparently the last time. More on this, no doubt, next week. (WCBG had been running CNN Headline News.)

Here's something not to do if you work as a reporter for a radio station: don't call the operators of a political website and leave voicemail saying, "I wanted to tell you that you're evil, horrible people. You're awful people. You represent horrible ideas. God hates you and he wants to kill your children. You should all burn in hell. Bye." Or if you must, it would at least be a good idea not to leave your name and your office phone number, as Rachel Buchman of public radio station WHYY (90.9 Philadelphia) did when calling the folks at laptoplobbyist.com over Thanksgiving weekend. Buchman, who had also worked for WILM (1450) in Wilmington, Delaware, resigned from WHYY last week after the website made her message public; she had been a part-timer there, helping to produce the daily Radio Times talk show.

And out in western Pennsylvania, Nick Galli is getting back into broadcasting. Galli was one of the principals of the old Burbach Broadcasting group, and now he's paying Al Dame $8 million for his stations in the Johnstown and State College markets. In Johnstown, Galli gets rock WQKK (92.1), CHR WGLU (99.1 Ebensburg), oldies WCCL (101.7 Central City) and southern gospel WYSN (1330 Somerset); in State College, the cluster includes news-talk WBLF (970 Bellefonte) and WRSC (1390 State College), classic rock WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), rock WQWK (97.1 University Park) and rhythmic CHR WJHT (107.9 Port Matilda).

Fifteen Years Ago: December 4, 1999

It's not often that we begin our weekly report in CANADA -- but then, it's not often that the CRTC sets up a hearing as exciting as the one planned for January 31 in Toronto. That's when it will hear from all the applicants for the three available frequencies in Toronto: the 740 vacated by CBL, the 93.5 opened up by the move of CBCP Peterborough, and the 106.3 low-power channel.

So who's applying? For 740, the options are CHKT, Fairchild's multilingual station now on 1430; new stations from the current operators of CHIN-AM/FM (also multilingual) and CHWO Oakville (aimed at senior citizens); YTV Canada (kids' programming); the urban format proposed by Share newspaper; another multilingual format proposed by "914258 Ontario Ltd."; Aboriginal Voices Ltd.; and Andy McNabb's proposal for a Christian format. (No CHUM? So it seems...)

On 93.5, applicants include CHKT, McNabb, Share, as well as a proposed relay of the country format from CJKX-FM Ajax; gay-and-lesbian "Rainbow Radio" from the owners of CIAO 530; Good News Christian radio; and would-be urban operator Denham Jolly.

CJKX has also applied for 106.3, as has St. Sava's Radio for a multi-ethnic format and religious CHIM Timmins for a Toronto relay. Aboriginal Voices has also suggested using 106.5 if its 740 application is rejected.

Promotional loops continue to run on 690 and 940 in Montreal, with December 14 now the target date for "Info 690" and "940 News." We're hearing conflicting reports about whether the transmissions are coming from the Brossard site used by CBF and CBM, or whether they're coming from the sites of soon-to-be-defunct CKVL 850 and CIQC 600.

In MASSACHUSETTS, the dead air format that's thrilled listeners to Brockton's WBOT (97.7) finally came to a close at 7 Wednesday night (12/1), as a non-stop loop of Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" kicked in. Expect new calls when the real urban format finally hits at month's end.

From NEW YORK this week, a change of afternoon personalities at WAXQ (104.3 New York), as Boston veteran Mark Parenteau exits citing philosophical differences with management. Parenteau will be heard on Saturday back in Boston doing talk at WTKK (96.9), but he's not promising anything permanent to the FM talker, as he hints at a return to the WBCN alumni club at WZLX (100.7). Weekender Ken Dashow takes over Parenteau's slot on Q104.

Just south of the brand-new Interstate 86 (dedicated this week!) in Hornell, the newest outlet of the WSKG public broadcasting empire is on the air. WSQA (88.7) joins WSKG's relays in Elmira/Corning, Ithaca, and Oneonta, as well as the main station in Binghamton.