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In this week's issue... TV pioneer dies - Big sale for little NYC signal - Cross-state sale for NJ pair - One Ontario FM goes as another arrives

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The last links to the pioneering days of television in the Northeast are rapidly leaving us, and as we prepare to close the books on the last regular NorthEast Radio Watch column for 2014, there’s news that we’ve lost a very big one.

wwlp-putnam-smWilliam Lowell Putnam III was the descendant of some very important New England families – his great-uncle Percival Lowell was a prominent astronomer whose Lowell Observatory was an important part of Putnam’s life – but he made his name in broadcasting in the earliest days of UHF television.

Fresh from service in World War II, a young Putnam lent his initials and his energy to the founding of Springfield’s first TV station (and New England’s first UHF outlet), which took his initials when it signed on in 1953 as WWLP-TV on channel 61.

Over the decades that followed, Putnam moved WWLP to its present channel 22, added (and then shut down) several relay stations, WRLP (Channel 32) in Greenfield and WWOR (Channel 14) in Worcester, and eventually took his Springfield Television group to new markets outside the region, most notably Dayton, Ohio and Salt Lake City.

And along the way, too, Putnam married his assistant, Katherine (Kitty) Flynn Broman, who ended up helping to run the company and lent her own initials to its Dayton station, WKEF (also on channel 22).

In 2012, the Putnams put down their stories in a joint memoir, “How We Survived in UHF Television.” By then, they’d long since sold WWLP and their other TV stations, and Putnam had turned his attention to other pursuits, including a passion for alpine skiing and climbing that began with his service in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Into his eighties, Putnam remained an avid climber, taking part in rescue missions for lost hikers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In his second home of Flagstaff, Arizona, Putnam served as sole trustee of the Lowell Observatory for a quarter of a century until passing the reins to his son, William IV, last year.

The Putnams were class acts all the way in the broadcasting world, and under their leadership WWLP and its sisters were exceptional television stations, deeply committed to local news and editorials and constantly involved in their communities. It’s a tribute to the reputation that Bill Putnam built that even after passing through the hands of several lesser owners in rapid succession, WWLP has remained a dominant force in its market for decades after his departure.

Kitty Broman Putnam died in January, at 97. Bill Putnam was 90 when he died on Saturday; a memorial service will be held December 27 in Springfield. (Read more from WWLP here.)

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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 23, 2013

*One of the oldest radio stations in NEW YORK is undergoing a big format shuffle for the New Year. No, not WOR (710), though we'll have more to say about its impending changes in just a bit. The change that came as a surprise when news began to emerge last week was a flip at the top of the dial, up at Access.1 Communications' WWRL (1600 New York).

wwrlThat signal still lives on in many New Yorkers' memories as the home of R&B music in the 1970s and 1980s, but for the last few years the former "Super Soul 16" has become primarily a clearinghouse for syndicated progressive talk personalities seeking airtime in the nation's biggest market.

After local morning host Marc Riley (a holdover from the old Air America days down the dial on WLIB 1190) and two hours of mid-morning leased time, WWRL has been carrying a lineup that has included Ed Schultz at noon, Thom Hartmann at 3 PM, Randi Rhodes at 6 PM, two more hours of leased time at 8, and then Phil Hendrie, Leslie Marshall and Alan Colmes overnight, with Caribbean music on the weekends.

That will apparently come to an end in January: WWRL's hosts have reportedly been told that they'll be replaced with some sort of Spanish-language programming, though the station hasn't yet revealed any details of its new format.

Even granted that WWRL has been barely a blip in the New York ratings for years (thanks in no small part to an antenna array that seems to send as much signal upward as outward), this flip comes as most unwelcome news to the stalwarts still trying to make a go of the progressive talk format. Many of those same syndicated hosts will also lose their Los Angeles outlet next week, when Clear Channel flips KTLK (1150 Los Angeles) from progressive talk to conservative talk as the new LA home of Rush Limbaugh. Absent a new New York progressive talk voice - and one seems unlikely right now - most of those hosts will now have Chicago's WCPT as their largest remaining outlet.

Uptown at WOR's new home at Sixth and Canal, John R. Gambling said farewell to his listeners Friday morning, signing off an 88-year legacy of John Gamblings in New York morning radio, most of it right there on WOR. Gambling's grandfather, John B., launched "Rambling with Gambling" way back in 1925, handed it off to his son John A. in 1959, and then John R. came on board in 1985 and became solo host in 1991. John R. moved over to WABC (770) in 2000, but returned to WOR in 2008.

Gambling's last show included an exit interview with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's also leaving his job at year's end. He signed off just before 10 AM Friday by playing "Happy Trails to You," closing the books on decades of middle-of-the-road talk at 710 on the dial.

The "new" WOR, of course, launches in January with Elliot Segal rocking morning drive in search of a much younger audience than the one that tuned in to Gambling and his news anchor, J.J. Kennedy, who's also retiring from radio with the end of the Gambling show.

*Up the Hudson Valley, it appears time is drawing short for WGHQ (920 Kingston). The Pamal talk station, which has mostly been simulcasting "Hudson Valley Talk Radio" with sister outlets WBNR (1260 Beacon) and WLNA (1420 Peekskill), will sign off at the end of December, according to the Kingston Community Radio programmers who've been leasing the 7-9 AM weekday slot from the station.

KCR says it's trying to raise money to buy WGHQ from Pamal, or failing that to locate available time on another station. WGHQ's 5000-watt day signal and its 78 watt night signal come from a three-tower array on a big piece of land near the Hudson River south of Kingston; it's a pretty solid bet that the land is now worth more than the AM license itself, and as a late arrival on the dial, WGHQ is tightly wedged in among older stations on 920 and adjacent channels, making a big directional array an unfortunate necessity.

*Larry Lujack didn't last very long as a DJ in MASSACHUSETTS - but Boston's loss was Chicago's gain. The man who'd become Chicago's "Superjock" spent a few months in late 1966 working for the notorious Richmond brothers at WMEX (1510), where he was renamed "Johnny Lujack" to avoid confusion with the two Larrys already on the air in town - and where he bristled at Mac Richmond's attempts to rein in his sarcastic personality and mold him into a DJ who'd fit WMEX's restrictive format.

In his autobiography "Superjock," Lujack recounted the story of how he complied with Richmond's demand that he record a tracked weekend show to run after his last live shift at WMEX - and how he tracked that show full of station IDs for archrival WBZ. By the time it aired, Lujack was already on his way to Chicago, where he spent a few months at WCFL (1000) before settling in for a long and fantastically successful run on the legendary WLS (890), where features such as "Animal Stories" became staples of a format that influenced jocks around the country throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Lujack left WLS in 1987 and eventually retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he died Wednesday (Dec. 18) after a battle with esophageal cancer that he'd been keeping private. He was 73.

*Jacques Proulx was a morning radio fixture in CANADA's biggest Francophone market for two decades, holding down the morning slot on top-rated CKAC (730) from 1968 until 1987. Proulx remained with CKAC until his retirement in 2000, and had been fighting cancer in recent years. He died December 13, at age 78.

In the anglophone world, Geoff Stirling was at the center of broadcasting in Newfoundland for decades. He put the island's first post-Confederation radio station, CJON (now CJYQ 930 St. John's), on the air in 1950 and went on to pioneer FM at his "OZ-FM" network and to control commercial TV broadcasting in the province at his NTV network. NTV broadcast 24 hours a day in an era when most TV stations signed off at night and didn't return to the air until late morning, and it was in the forefront of innovations such as music videos on TV and late-night political talk. In recent years, as so much local Canadian broadcasting came under the thumb of giant conglomerate ownership, NTV and OZ-FM remained fiercely independent and distinctively Newfoundland-owned.

Stirling died Saturday night at age 92.

Five Years Ago: December 21, 2009

We start with some sad news from western PENNSYLVANIA, where KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) lost one of its signature voices last Tuesday morning. Fred Honsberger made a name for himself in the early seventies with stints as news director at WKBO (1230 Harrisburg) and at WRSC/WQWK in State College, and it didn't take him long to make it back to his native Philadelphia, where he did news for KYW (1060). He moved to sister station KDKA in 1979, just in time to cover the Three Mile Island disaster, for which he won an Alfred I. DuPont award.

Honsberger became KDKA's news director in 1984, then moved over to the talk side in 1989, most recently in the noon-3 PM slot. For nearly a decade, he also hosted a TV talk show on the PCNC cable channel, before a series of illnesses forced him to give up that job. In recent years, Honsberger had been doing his show from his home in Monroeville, and it was there that he died on Tuesday, at the age of 58. Tributes to Honsberger quickly began pouring in, including a page of memorials in the Post-Gazette (and a fine obituary at PBRTV.com from our colleague Jason Togyer), and a memorial service Sunday at the Salvation Army's Pittsburgh Temple.

From this end, we'd add one memory of Honsberger that hasn't been mentioned much in the official obituaries: in the early years of the Internet, Fred was one of the first big-name talk hosts to experiment with the new medium; for a while, he was a regular and enthusiastic participant in the rec.radio.broadcasting newsgroup that also birthed the earliest version of this column more than 15 years ago - and we join in sending our condolences to Honsberger's family (including wife Christine and sons Kyle and Kevin) and to the KDKA family.

This week's development on the AM-on-FM translator front comes from right here in Rochester, and it's a big one: Bob Savage is paying Family Life Network $75,000 for the translator formerly known as W220DE (91.9 Greece). As we' ve already reported here on NERW, that translator now holds a construction permit to move from the west side of Rochester up to the centrally-located Pinnacle Hill tower farm, where it will run 99 watts on 92.1 as W221CL - and we can now report that it will become "NewsTalk 92.1," relaying Bob's talk programming from WYSL (1040 Avon), which puts a big daytime signal over Rochester but suffers at night from adjacent-channel IBOC interference from WBZ (1030 Boston). The new translator signal is expected to be on the air within the first couple of weeks of 2010, we're told.

There's a new callsign in Utica: WUTI is the new ID at the AM 1150 facility long known as WRUN; it continues to broadcast an automated music format that ranges from top-40 to classic hits.

There's probably no TV weatherman with a bigger cult following in the region than NEW HAMPSHIRE's Al Kaprielian, who's been the star personality on Channel 50 in Derry for more than a quarter of a century, sticking with the small UHF station as it's transitioned from independent WNDS to My Network affiliate WZMY and as the station has passed through the hands of several owners. But Kaprielian's TV run is scheduled to come to an end New Year's Eve as part of current owner Shooting Star's plan to end the remaining local programming on "My New England TV," which will mean job losses for seven other WZMY employees in addition to Kaprielian. Kaprielian's fans, who saved his job once before when it was threatened, have banded together again to try to keep the quirky weatherman on the air; if nothing else, he'll keep his radio gig across the state line at WCAP (980 Lowell MA).

In western MAINE, Dick Gleason's WOXO (92.7 Norway) is reaching a bigger audience, now that it's signed on its newly-upgraded signal from a site on Shaw's Ledge near Greenville, about eight miles north of its old class A (2 kW/361') site in Norway. From the new site, WOXO is a class C3 signal, with 5.2 kW/735', reaching deeper into Lewiston/Auburn (and north towards Rumsford) than it did before.

Ten Years Ago: December 20, 2004

It's a long way from NERW-land, but we can't help but start our update this week with a rather big news item from southern CALIFORNIA, where the 760-foot tower of KFI (640 Los Angeles) came crashing down Sunday morning after it was struck by a small private plane. Both the pilot and the passenger of the Cessna were killed, but amazingly enough, the tower didn't hit any of the industrial buildings that surround its base, nor was anyone on the ground killed by the impact.

KFI was back on the air within about an hour, running 5 kW (later boosted to 20 kW) into the auxiliary tower at the site in La Mirada, on the Orange/Los Angeles county line adjacent to I-5. We'll be following closely as this historic and important station works to rebuild this facility, which has been on the site since the thirties and has used this tower since 1947, when it replaced an earlier flat-top antenna. (Ironically, the guy wires on the tower had just been replaced this past spring.)

Back to our home region we go, and we start in southwestern PENNSYLVANIA, where WRRK (96.9 Braddock) is spending the holidays in stunt mode, playing music test tapes (a la Syracuse's "Quick 108", circa 1996) and other out-of-format material. The stunting will end January 5, the station says, and the word is that a new format will replace "Channel 97"'s classic rock at that point. (NERW notes: WRRK lost a lot of steam when morning man Jim Quinn departed for the new WPGB 104.7 a year ago, and it gained some unwanted competition when Infinity flipped the former WBZZ to rock as WRKZ earlier this year. The rock market is a crowded one indeed in Pittsburgh...)

Over on the other side of the state, WYCR (98.5 Hanover) closed the book on three decades of top 40 last week, flipping to classic hits as "The Peak, 98.5." The station's running jockless now, we hear, though it sounds as though at least some of the 98YCR airstaff will stay with the family-owned station when jocks return to the air early in 2005.

In RHODE ISLAND, Citadel is paring its Providence cluster a bit, spinning off WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) and WKKB (100.3 Middletown) to Davidson Media Group, the Virginia-based owner of WALE (990 Greenville), WXCT (990 Southington CT) and a chain of mostly Spanish-speaking stations down south. WAKX has been the southern half of the "Kix" simulcast with WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket), which will keep its R&B/Howard Stern format, while WKKB has been operated out of Citadel's New Bedford, Mass. facility with classic rock and Stern. No word yet on what Davidson plans to do with the two stations, for which it will pay $7.5 million.

Fifteen Years Ago: December 18, 1999

Springfield's NBC affiliate is getting a new owner. WWLP-TV (Channel 22)'s owner, Benedek Broadcasting, is spinning the station as part of its purchase of Chronicle Broadcasting's Nebraska and Kansas properties (Chronicle flagship KRON-TV San Francisco just set a record for the sale of a single TV station, over $800 million, earlier this month).

Benedek is paying Chronicle $141 million for WOWT Omaha and KAKE-TV Wichita, in a roundabout transaction through which the stations are actually being sold to LIN Broadcasting. LIN will then transfer them to Benedek, in exchange for WWLP (valued at $123 million) plus $18 million cash.

The deal works well for LIN, since it creates a natural connection between WWLP and LIN's New Haven ABC affiliate, WTNH (Channel 8). WTNH engineering staffers will help WWLP with its move into new studios in Chicopee next year, and news partnerships between the two stations are expected as well.

Conn River Broadcasting is growing in both Massachusetts and VERMONT. Following its purchase of WHAI (98.3/1240) earlier this month, we hear Conn River is also picking up Bob and Shirley Wolf's WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and WCFR-FM (93.5 Springfield), which simulcast as "Magic." No purchase price just yet...

We've been hearing rumors about this one for a few weeks, and now it's official: WENY-TV (Channel 36) in Elmira, NEW YORK is being sold for $4.8 million. The buyer for the little ABC affiliate is Kevin Lilly's Lilly Broadcasting LLC, based in Natick, Mass. WENY-AM/FM (1230/92.7) aren't included in the transaction; wonder if this means the TV station can finally move out of the garage behind the radio stations in Horseheads (a landmark of sorts, considering all the upstate New York TV people whose careers have started there...) (2009 update: Nope - the radio stations moved, and the TV stations are still in the garage!)

Downstate, AAA Entertainment (formerly Back Bay Broadcasting) crosses Long Island Sound to pick up WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) and WBEA (104.7 Montauk). Those East End stations are now Webcasting, albeit with the technically-flaky Webradio service...find them at for WEHM's AAA format and for WBEA's hot AC format.

Listeners in CANADA have two new all-news sources, with Tuesday's launch of "Info 690" (CINF) and "940 News" (CINW) in Montreal. The 690 night signal is a new showcase for "Le Canal Nouvelles TVA", the French-language all-news TV service of commercial TV network TVA. LCN audio will run overnights beginning at 11, 10 on weekends, on CINF.

1 COMMENT

  1. WBIN 50.2 is running the LiveWell network, that will soon be shut down. 50.3 had been WeatherNation, but recently changed to GRIT. Good to see AntennaTV is finally coming to the Boston market. Although the over the air signal is small, they enjoy full market coverage on Comcast, where both sub channels are carried even where I am, south of Boston.

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