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In this week's issue... Townsquare flips in Utica - WMGM-TV says farewell, for now - iHeart adds in Connecticut - Flip coming in Albany - Morning shift in Boston

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: ME - NH - VT - MA - RI - CT - NY - NJ - PA - Canada

*It's a new year here at NorthEast Radio Watch, and we kick off our 21st year chronicling the doings of radio and TV across the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada with what we hope will be some good news for many of you:

When we surveyed you a few months back about what you'd like to see more of in NERW, one answer came back loud and clear: many of you miss the weekly email version of the column that existed for many years. That got lost somewhere in the midst of our transition from newsgroup to mailing list to website, but it's coming back. Within the next few weeks (hopefully as early as next Monday's column), NERW subscribers will automatically get an email alert every time we post new material here on the fybush.com site. It's an extra service we're delighted to provide at no additional charge to subscribers, and it's not too late to join us and make sure you're on the list as soon as that first email goes out!

(If for some reason you don't want to get our emails, that's easy, too: just click the unsubscribe link on the first one, or drop Lisa a line this week to opt out ahead of time. Wish her a happy birthday while you're at it. And remember, we never share your email or other personal information with anyone else, ever, when you sign up as a member or buy any of the great items we offer in the Store.)

2014-yirtopOne more note before we get to the news: if you were lucky enough to be away from the computer through the holidays, perhaps you missed our big Year in Review package. Fear not - it's here for you all year long, and you can see it all right here.

*On with the first news of 2015, starting with the year's first format change, which comes from the heart of central NEW YORK.

wodz-eagle-lgThat would be the Townsquare cluster in Utica, where we'd heard some rumblings that changes were afoot at WODZ-FM (96.1 Rome), which had kept its "Oldiez 96" branding even as its music moved along from 50s and 60s pop to more recent classic hits.

Now "Oldiez" is gone (though the WODZ calls remain for now), replaced by "96.1 the Eagle." It's the second 96.1 that Townsquare has freshened up along the Thruway corridor in the last few months, hot on the heels of what's now "Mix" WMSX over in Buffalo.

The Utica rebranding comes with some staff and management changes: we're told Keith James is out in mornings, as is Greg McShea in afternoons. Eric Meier adds "brand manager" duties for Eagle to his existing job down the hall at WLZW (Lite 98.7); former Oldiez brand manager Dave Wheeler is still in the building as midday guy on "Big Frog" WFRG (104.3).

So far, there's just one jock listed on Eagle's website: Chris "CJ" Johnson in middays, who's actually cluster production director Chris Spiwak.

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You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

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You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

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You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

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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: January 6, 2014

with Rush Limbaugh now in place on Clear Channel's WOR as part of an audacious new talk lineup at 710, what would Cumulus do to replace Limbaugh in the noon-3 PM slot he'd occupied for two decades on WABC (770)?

wabc-curtiskubyThe new year came and went without an announcement from 2 Penn Plaza, and on New Year's Day the noon slot on 770 belonged to a "Year in Talk" special while a "best of" Limbaugh show inaugurated his new era on WOR. Cumulus finally made its move with a leak to the New York Times on Thursday morning: iconic WABC hosts Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby were coming to WABC, effective immediately, to revive their "Curtis and Kuby" show in the noon-3 slot.

And just when we thought we now had the full WABC daytime lineup - Noam Laden's "News Hour" at 5, Don Imus at 6, the newly local Geraldo Rivera at 10, Curtis and Kuby at noon, Michael Savage at 3, Mark Levin at 6 - Cumulus added another curveball: Pat Kiernan, the popular morning host on Time Warner Cable's NY1, joins WABC today to host an hour of news from 5-6 PM, preempting the third hour of Savage.

For a station that's been almost chained to the satellite receiver in recent years, the new scheduling moves will make WABC live and local for seven hours out of the day, plus the New York-centric Imus in morning drive and John Batchelor later at night. It's still a far cry from the all-New York talk that marked WABC's glory days in the format in the 1980s, but it's a welcome start from a company that's had a rocky relationship with the format in recent years. And with all that new talent in place, Cumulus also named a program director for WABC. Craig Schwalb is the first person to hold that title in a few years, since the departure of Laurie Cantillo; he comes to New York from Cumulus' WPRO/WEAN in Providence, where he'd been PD.

Cumulus' big WABC moves are also also a blow to the station that's been trying hard to be at least a strong number-three player in the talk format in the last few years. Sliwa's return to WABC meant his abrupt departure from WNYM (970), the Salem talker where he's worked since 2010, hosting mornings and then coming back for an afternoon shift alongside former New York governor (and former WOR host) David Paterson.

And for Salem and WNYM, the timing couldn't possibly have been worse.

Today was supposed to have been a big day for "970 the Answer." Newly ensconced in WOR's former facility at 111 Broadway, Salem just finished spending a lot of money to build out a new studio setup, complete with HD video capability for a planned simulcast of Sliwa's morning show on WWOR (Channel 9). For Salem, the rapid-fire changes at WABC and WOR ought to have been a big opportunity to showcase the familiar face and voice of Curtis Sliwa in the 7-8 AM slot on Channel 9 - but instead of launching that simulcast today, Salem is scrambling.

wnym-sliwaBecause of Sliwa's unusual split shift, his abrupt return to WABC (where he'd worked from 1990-1994 and 1996-2007) leaves WNYM in an especially precarious position, even beyond its lack of any discernible ratings: it now has no morning host, no 5-7 PM host (Paterson appears to be off the schedule for the moment as well), and for the moment its website also shows an 11 AM-1 PM gap that had been filled by Dennis Miller.

*The biggest irony of all, though, came just half an hour into Sliwa and Kuby's return to the WABC airwaves on Thursday afternoon: the announcement that one of their illustrious predecessors, Bob Grant, had died New Year's Eve.

Always controversial, Grant staked out the edge of what was acceptable in talk radio during a long career that started near the dawn of talk radio in New York and ended just a few months ago, when ill health finally made it impossible for him even to do his one weekend hour on WABC.

Born Robert Ciro Gigante in Chicago, Grant ended up working at KNX and KLAC in Los Angeles, where he learned the art of combative talk radio from one of its fathers, Joe Pyne. In 1970, Grant moved east to New York's WMCA (570), which was pioneering modern talk radio in the city.

"Get off my phone!," Grant would tell callers with whom he disagreed, and he disagreed a lot, especially with other WMCA hosts such as Alex Bennett who leaned more to the left. But Grant, though often described in shorthand as a "right-wing" host, was far less tied to a single ideology than many of his successors. While he was often critical of homosexuals and of the black community, Grant also took an early pro-choice stance.

Grant worked at WOR later in the 1970s, as well as a stint at WWDB (96.5) in Philadelphia, before returning to WMCA. In 1984, he joined WABC, just two years into its new existence as a talk station, and there he soon moved from nights to afternoon drive and into the top of the ratings. His cry of "Let's be heard!" pulled WABC from its early incarnation as a middle-of-the-road talker into a new era of more political, sharper-edged talk, and paved the way for later WABC talkers such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, both of whom would later cite Grant as an influence on their style.

No stranger to controversy, Grant was fired from WABC in 1996 after making remarks about a plane crash involving Commerce Secretary Ron Brown that appeared to wish him dead; always a survivor, Grant moved to WOR and spent a decade in afternoon drive there, part of it in national syndication over the WOR Radio Network.

In 2008, Grant was back in the headlines when Radio and Records pulled back from plans to give him a lifetime achievement award amidst protests over his views. Another magazine eventually stepped in with its own honor for Grant, and Grant went on to remain active in talk for a few more years, first at night on WABC, then on a webcast and finally in a weekend slot on WABC. That's where Grant was last heard a few months ago. WABC never officially cancelled his show, or even really acknowledged his absence, but word spread fairly quickly that Grant's health had failed to the point where he couldn't do even his one weekly hour.

Bob Grant was 84 when he died December 31. One can argue about whether his influence on the direction of talk radio - and on politics in general - was a good thing or a bad thing. One cannot dispute that he had a huge influence on the direction of talk radio.

Five Years Ago: January 4, 2010

As 2009 drew to a (merciful) close across the broadcast landscape, the obituary pages were full of notable broadcast names, seemingly nowhere more so than in NEW YORK, where the days around Christmas brought one piece of sad news after another.

Christmas Eve brought word of the death of a legendary top-40 voice, George Michael, who went on to a second incredibly successful career as a TV sportscaster. After an early stint as a music promoter followed by DJ jobs at stations in Wisconsin, Missouri and Colorado, Michael shot to fame as one of the original "boss jocks" on Philadelphia's WFIL (560) back in 1966, and he was the second big WFIL personality we lost in 2009, two months after the death of his colleague Jim Nettleton in October. As WFIL's night jock, "King George Michael" quickly became a legendary figure, winning numerous awards and dominating the ratings. Michael moved north to New York's WABC in 1974, replacing Bruce Morrow on the night shift at "Musicradio 77" and becoming one of the dominant voices of the station's last decade as a top-40 giant. The next phase of Michael's career began in New York, where he worked as a weekend sports anchor on WABC-TV, a gig that led him to fulltime TV work beginning in 1980 as sports director at Washington's WRC-TV, a job he held for more than a quarter of a century. Along the way, a local sports highlight show evolved into the syndicated "George Michael's Sports Machine," one of the most successful syndicated shows in the history of local TV. Michael had been fighting cancer since 2007, though he was well enough to travel to Philadelphia in 2008 to be inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. He was just 70 when he died December 24.

MAINE's own Stephen King is taking a chance on progressive talk at one of his Bangor-market FM stations. WZON-FM (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft) moved to a new tower site with improved reach into Bangor not long ago, and it's dropping its relatively short-lived simulcast with sports WZON (620 Bangor) effective today to become "The Pulse." The new station's lineup includes syndicated liberal talkers Bill Press (6-9 AM), Montel Williams (9-noon), Ed Schultz (noon-3 PM), Randi Rhodes (3-6 PM), Ron Reagan Jr. (6-9 PM), Stephanie Miller (9 PM-1 AM), Joey Reynolds overnight and a 5 AM replay of Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, as well as local news and CNN Radio national news. The station may add a local talk show in the future as well.

The weeks around Christmas and New Year's are typically very slow ones in CANADA - but this year brought one big format flip in the nation's largest market. Astral's CJEZ (97.3 Toronto) emerged from all-Christmas with new calls and a new format, ditching AC "EZ Rock" for classic hits with a strong 80s flavo(u)r. The new format, called "Boom," is an import from Astral's network of stations in Quebec, where the music is similar but the announcers are in French. Toronto's new CHBM (Boom 97.3) has some familiar English-language voices behind the mike, carrying over morning hosts Humble Howard and Colleen Rushholme and afternoon jock Kris "KJ" James and adding former CHUM-FM jock Maie Pauts for middays.

Ten Years Ago: January 4, 2005

The new year brought a new format to MAINE, where Cumulus flipped Bangor-market oldies WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) to classic hits just after Christmas. Newspaper ads for "Classic Hits I-95" had been running for several weeks, so the flip wasn't much of a surprise for the market.

It was one of the first stations in the region to go all-Christmas, and now the NEW YORK Capital District's smooth jazz outlet appears to be the last to stay with the format. WZMR (104.9 Altamont) said it would go back to its urban AC/smooth jazz "Love 104.9" format when the holiday was over, but as late as press time Sunday (Jan. 2), it was still in all-Christmas mode. Hmmm...

Here in Rochester, New Year's Eve brought a big farewell celebration for WHEC (Channel 10)'s anchor of 29 years, Gabe Dalmath. His usual newscasts at 5:30 AM and 5-6 PM were filled with tributes and old clips, and Gabe ended up anchoring at 6 as well in place of his successor, Brian Martin. After Dalmath's farewell words at the end of the newscast, his co-workers came on to the set with a cake, and the newscast ended with a well-deserved round of applause.

In PENNSYLVANIA, Route 81's WCDL (1440 Carbondale) began testing right around Christmas, and it returns to the air for real today (Jan. 3) at noon, running a classic country format from its studios in Carbondale's municipal building.

Over in Williamsport, WLYC (1050) spent a few days stunting before making a format flip today, dropping Westwood One's standards format and picking up ESPN sports.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 7, 2000

On we go into 2000, beginning in CONNECTICUT, where the waning days of 1999 brought one last format change. Under its new Citadel ownership, WVVE (102.3 Stonington) dumped oldies, spent a few days running the Citadel format-change "atomic clock" (last heard at WCLZ in Maine), then went into an active-rock format as "Rock 102" (no relation to that other "Rock 102," WAQY Springfield, whose fringes overlap the WVVE service area). It's the first all-out rocker in the New London market since the days of WXZR on 98.7 a few years back.

On the other side of the Nutmeg State, WKZE (1020 Sharon) rang in the New Year with an unusual nighttime broadcast. The 2500-watt daytimer (1800 watts during critical hours) pushed the boundaries of FCC regulation by signing back on at 11 PM and remaining on until just after 1 AM New Year's Day, with its usual music format but no commercials. Up here in Rochester, the frequency was still dominated by KDKA, but the WKZE broadcast was heard as far away as Albany and Stamford, at least.

So long, "News 4 New England," and welcome back, "WBZ 4 News," as Boston's number-three newsroom tries again to recover the momentum that disappeared around the time (can it be five years ago already?) the NBC peacock yielded to the CBS eye. Across town, Brian Leary is leaving WCVB (Channel 5) to start his own Web business, adding more uncertainty to an anchor roster already reeling from news of Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobsen's separation. Leary was one of the class acts in Boston TV; he'll be sorely missed.

Coming soon to an island near you: The folks at WGBH are almost ready to turn on the first half of their new service to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. WNAN (91.1 Nantucket) is slated to be on the air before the end of the month, with WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole) following as soon as some issues surrounding the Martha's Vineyard transmitter site can be resolved. The stations are in good hands, with veteran NPR producer (and head honcho of the very cool "Lost and Found Sound" project) Jay Allison running the show.

NEW HAMPSHIRE's newest station debuted Monday morning, as WKXL-FM (102.3 Concord) dropped its simulcast with WKXL (1450) (and now WRCI 107.7 Hillsboro) to go country as "Outlaw 102." Becky Nichols is holding down morning drive at the new FM; we assume a call change will follow sooner or later at both 102.3 and 107.7.

There's something about fires, Niagara Falls, and radio stations, or so it seems. Just a week after WJJL (1440) lost its Main Street studio in a fire, crosstown WHLD (1270) lost its Harris SX5 transmitter to flame. Fortunately, WHLD had a brand-new Harris DX5 waiting to go on the air at its new transmitter site (diplexed with WNED 970) down in Hamburg; that unit was moved to the old WHLD site on Grand Island and placed into emergency service.

Across the border in CANADA, a format change marked the New Year in the Ottawa market. Under new owner Rogers, CFMO (101.1 Smiths Falls) ditched the sleepy soft rock it had been running in favor of rock as "XFM @ 101," joining with sister station CHEZ (106.1 Ottawa; classic rock) to form a sort of bookend around standalone competitor CKQB (106.9 "The Bear"). Rogers pulled the same stunt in Vancouver, flipping CFSR (104.9) from sleepy AC "Star" to "XFM." (Does this mean we can go back to Vancouver now?)

Twenty Years Ago: January 5, 1995

In Albany, WTRY-FM 98.3 has broken its simulcast with oldies WTRY 980, and is now satellite-70's "Star 98.3." WTRY AM and FM are part of an agglomeration of six stations, all with their ad time sold by Liberty -- WTRY-AM, WGNA-AM (// country WGNA-FM), WWCP-FM 96.7 (WDRE prog rock), WTRY-FM, WPYX-FM (AOR), and WGNA-FM (country). That's something like 35% of the market, but since Liberty doesn't actually own WTRY-FM and WWCP-FM (Jarad Communications does), it's allegedly kosher.

Also in Albany, Amsterdam's WKOL-FM 97.7, after a brief stint as Christmas music, is now classical as WBKK.

Here in Boston, the switch has happened. WBZ-TV 4 is now CBS, after 46 years with NBC. WHDH-TV 7 is now NBC after 22 years with CBS (and 13 more years before that too, from 1948 till 1961, when ch. 7 went to ABC).

And despite the promise to go religious on 1/1, WSSH-AM 1510 is still brokered Spanish. The Spanish programmers had sued WSSH's owners Noble Communications for selling the station to Communicom just as the brokerage contract was being signed. When and if religion happens here, requested calls are WNRB.

1 COMMENT

  1. I cannot believe it has been 5 years since the death of George Michael. One of the class acts in Broadcasting, who I met years ago, when he came into Buffalo to record some waterfront promos for WKBW-TV. George Michael was to be interviewed on AM Buffalo around 1994, and I was on camera. About 15 minutes before air, he came up to myself and the other crew members, and introduced himself (like we did not already know who he was), and talked about his time working as a freelance still photographer with the Philadelphia Flyers, when they met the Sabres for the Stanley Cup Finals in 1975, and the infamous ‘Fog Game’ inside the old Memorial Auditorium. George Michael seemed like the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with.

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