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In this week's issue... A ratings holiday surprise - WOR's new old morning show - Joe Franklin, RIP - More AM-to-FM in Ontario

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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

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*The weather outside is frightful...but inside, it was so delightful - at least if you were at one of the Christmas-music stations that opened up the holiday Nielsen ratings last week.

After a few seasons in which stations that flipped to all-Christmas were rewarded with decent but not earth-shattering ratings, market after market posted numbers this year that were nothing short of historic.

wmjx-christmasConsider: in Boston, Greater Media's WMJX (106.7) checked in with a whopping 16.5 share in the holiday ratings period. That's substantially better than the 11-ish range WMJX posted in 2012 and 2013. It's triple what second-place WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) posted. And when we asked ratings guru Chris Huff when anyone else in Boston pulled numbers that high, he had to dig all the way back to the summer of 1971, when the old WHDH (850) pulled a 17.9 share in a marketplace with far less competition for listeners.

Boston's numbers were impressive, but no fluke: in New York City, iHeart's WLTW (106.7) shot up from a 5.6 in November to a 13.5 in the holiday period. We'd figured the last station to post numbers like that was WABC in its Musicradio days, but no - you have to go back to January/February 1970 and WOR's 14.3, Chris tells us. (WABC topped a 13 share only twice, once in 1965 and again in 1969. Now you know.)

In Philadelphia, Jerry Lee's WBEB (101.1 More FM) felt the bump, too, posting a 15.1 in a market where it wasn't even the only station to go all-Christmas. Add in WOGL's 6.1 (not budging at all from that station's usual classic hits numbers the rest of the year) and one out of every five people listening to radio in Philadelphia during the holiday season was tuned in to Christmas tunes. (Lee always seems to be a year ahead of everyone else: his 2014 numbers were actually down a bit from an amazing 17.2 in holiday 2013, a ratings number Huff says was last achieved by WIP in 1968.)

Smaller markets? Big numbers there, too: how about a 15.2 for Cumulus' WWLI (105.1) in Providence, or another 15.2 for CBS Radio's WRCH (100.5) in Hartford? In Pittsburgh, iHeart's WWSW (94.5) checked in with a 14.0, nearly doubling the 7.8 rating it posted in the month just before the holiday music kicked in. (Holiday-tunes competitor WSHH 99.7 doesn't subscribe to Nielsen Audio ratings, so we don't know what its numbers looked like.)

So...now what? A few observations:

One station per market gets the boost. Switching to holiday music didn't do a thing for WOGL, which was not only flat from its usual format but flat from last year's holiday format, too. Listeners seem to have a knack for finding "the" holiday station each year - and after a decade and a half of month-long Christmas format flips, that station seems pretty well established in most markets.

There's no obvious loser. All that listening that goes to the WLTWs and WMJXs and WBEBs isn't happening at the expense of any one other station in their markets. In New York, for instance, competitor WCBS-FM was off less than a point but still ended up in second place, 12+. It's increasingly clear that the Christmas format is that rare thing: a true mass-appeal radio format. But...

It has no legs. No matter how hard AC stations try to use the Christmas bump to keep listeners coming back after the calendar changes, those listeners who drift in from all over the rest of the dial seem to drift right back where they came from. Even with the added boost of a well-publicized format refresh (from "B101" to "More FM," WBEB's spectacular 17 share fell back to 6s and 7s during the rest of the year.

Can it start earlier or go later? We've seen the occasional small-market station (WEZW 93.1 in Cape May County, N.J., for instance) start all-Christmas music as early as October, and anecdotally, we hear it's done pretty well for them. Will this year's huge ratings lead some bigger stations to try an earlier-than-Thanksgiving start in 2015 - and will it work for them? And will everyone be so quick to drop the format like a hot potato on Boxing Day? There's at least one station - WECM 104.3 in the Burlington, Vermont market - that's still ho-ho-ho'ing away at the end of January, albeit as a stunt while it awaits new ownership and a "real" format.

Who'll try to jump on the bandwagon next year? Even if the numbers show a pretty clear "one-to-a-market" advantage, there are bound to be some owners out there in search of a piece of that magical 16 share. Will 2014's big numbers pull some stations into the holiday format that have avoided it in past years? (We'd look, in particular, to CBS Radio's struggling WBMX in Boston and even more so to iHeart's WISX in Philadelphia.)

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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 27, 2014

The WCVB team in its heyday
The NewsCenter 5 team in its heyday (photo: WCVB)

*In the pantheon of MASSACHUSETTS TV legends, only a handful of Boston TV news anchors have achieved first-name-only immortality. "Jack and Liz," of course - but before they ever paired up behind the desk at channel 4, there was the anchor team that set the standard. For anyone who watched the news in Boston from the 1970s into the 1990s, there was "Chet and Nat" and then there was everyone else.

Even if both Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson had long since left WCVB (Channel 5), even if their marriage had come to an end a few years ago, and even if we'd all known for months that Curtis' health was failing and the day would soon come, the news of his death on Wednesday still prompted a flood of memories and appreciations from across the media landscape.

Chet Kukiewicz was born in Amsterdam, New York, attended Ithaca College and began his broadcast career (very briefly) right here in Rochester, but it was quickly clear that he was destined for bigger things. Before he was 30, he'd worked at WTOP-TV (Channel 9) in Washington and at WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York. In 1968, he started as a reporter at Boston's original channel 5, WHDH-TV, and in 1972 he joined most of the WHDH-TV airstaff in moving over to its replacement, WCVB, which put him on the anchor desk at noon with a talented new star, Natalie Jacobson. They married in 1978, had a daughter, Lindsay, in 1981, and by 1982 they'd taken their place at the helm of the 6 and 11 PM "NewsCenter" broadcasts, where they'd reside comfortably at the top of the ratings for almost two decades.

Chet Curtis
Chet Curtis in 2013 (photo: Clark Smidt)

Curtis and Jacobson announced their separation and impending divorce in 1999; within a year, Curtis moved to WCVB's Sunday newscasts and by 2001 he'd left the station entirely, bringing his experience and on-air warmth down the street to New England Cable News, where he became the anchor for the flagship "NewsNight" broadcast. He never formally resigned from NECN, but his on-air appearances dwindled as he became ill with pancreatic cancer. His last public appearance came in the fall of 2013 at the Massachusetts Broadcasters' Hall of Fame induction, where he received an emotional standing ovation from a crowd of colleagues and admirers moved by his visibly frail state.

As news broke Wednesday of Curtis' death at age 74, his former broadcast homes went wall-to-wall with coverage; WCVB devoted much of its midday and early-evening newscasts to remembrances of its star anchor, as well as an entire special edition of the "Chronicle" magazine show that Curtis had anchored from 1978-1982. NECN offered extensive coverage - and even WBZ-TV (Channel 4), where "Jack and Liz" long competed against "Chet and Nat," led its evening newscasts with fond recollections of its former rival.

The days when a "Chet and Nat" can so dominate a market are gone now, of course. When Sunbeam blew into town at WHDH-TV (Channel 7) - can it really be more than 20 years ago now? - it brought with it a new model in which flashy graphics and plenty of live shots from the field took precedence over star anchors. Then came the explosion in the number of hours of news and the explosion of news sources that made the old "film at 6 and 11" model an anachronism.

For his part, Chet Curtis didn't want to be a star; he ended his career the same way he began it, as a newsman's newsman, a solid anchor who was always more substance than flash. But he was, nevertheless, a giant in a time when there were still giants on the local TV news scene, and he'll be remembered fondly.

*The week's other big broadcast news story came from upstate NEW YORK, where Monday brought a permanent format to Craig Fox's WNDR (103.9 Mexico) and its Syracuse-area translators at 95.3 and 98.1. The former WVOA shed its "Love Radio" religious/ethnic programming last October (now heard at 87.7 on the audio of WVOA-LP, channel 6) and stunted first as "Holly FM" and then as "WBTL" with nonstop Beatles music before launching with classic hits as "The Dinosaur."

The new station launched with most of a full airstaff on hand: PD Nick Caplan is handling mornings with Melissa Midgley (late of WZUN "Sunny 102") doing news, and former WSEN-FM (92.1) jock Bob Brown is doing afternoons. For now, Tony Fallico (formerly of Clear Channel's WYYY) is doing middays and CNYRadio.com's Peter Naughton is handling the evening shift - but they'll move to weekends when permanent hosts are named for those airshifts.

Five Years Ago: January 26, 2010

Fans of dance music in NEW YORK City are once again without a radio station. After less than three months, JVC Broadcasting abruptly pulled its "Party FM" dance/hip-hop format off the audio carrier of Island Broadcasting's WNYZ-LP (Channel 6) on Thursday, raising questions along the way about the future of the "Franken-FM" stations that have been using channel 6 LPTVs as pseudo-FM stations heard at 87.7 on the dial. "It's hard to invest in a radio station when you don't know if the government will shut it down tomorrow," said JVC CEO John Caracciolo in a statement announcing the end of the simulcast. Caracciolo says it's not clear how much longer the FCC will continue to allow analog LPTVs to continue without converting to digital, a move that would make the channel 6 audio unavailable to analog FM listeners.

"Party" continues to be heard on Long Island, via parent station WPTY-FM (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) on the East End and once again via translator W268AN (101.5 Plainview), which had been carrying JVC sister station "La Fiesta" WBON (98.5 Westhampton). As for WNYZ, it was off the air for a bit after the end of the "Party" simulcast, though it returned, at least briefly, with a simulcast of New York's WCBS-FM. An unsourced item on WNYZ's Wikipedia entry claims that the station will be leased out to Idaho-based CSN International for its religious programming, but we've been unable to confirm that. And as for those dance fans, it's been a tough year for them - first last October's shutdown of the always financially-shaky "Pulse 87" operation that had been leasing WNYZ, and now this. Will there be a third try somewhere down the road?

The final collapse of New York-based Air America Radio made big industry headlines at week's end, but the bankruptcy liquidation of the pioneering progressive talk network won't affect many timeslots on any NERW-land radio stations. There were no full-time Air America affiliates in the region, and hadn't been for several years, and even in New York Air America was only being cleared for a few hours a day on nominal flagship WWRL (1600): Montel Williams' mid-morning show was delayed to 3-6 PM, followed by Ron Reagan Jr. from 6-8 PM, and three overnight hours were filled with a delayed Rachel Maddow rebroadcast and "Clout with Richard Greene." There's no word yet on what programming will now be heard during those hours on WWRL.

This week's top story from PENNSYLVANIA is one of the worst-kept secrets in recent radio memory: CBS Radio is indeed pulling the plug on Pittsburgh's top-40 "B94" WBZW for a second time, replacing it with an all-sports format as "93.7 the Fan" under new calls KDKA-FM. The flip won't take place until February 15, but CBS isn't keeping B94 intact in the meantime. No sooner did the press release go out last Tuesday than the station went jockless - but at least some of its airstaff will stay with CBS on sister station WZPT (Star 100.7), which will add some of B94's top-40 playlist to its existing hot AC format. B94 morning man Bubba will join J. R. Randall and Shelley Duffy on the Star morning show, while Melanie Taylor moves from B94 to Star for middays.

The details of the new sports format on 93.7 are less clear. The new station has a program director - former ESPN Radio PD Terry Foxx - and a sports director, Jeff Hathhorn, who already holds that role for sister station KDKA (1020). And it sounds as though Gregg Giannotti, who's been a fill-in host and show producer at CBS sports flagship WFAN in New York, might be heading to the Steel City as well; he tweeted that he's "leaving N.Y. to host full-time in another market" soon. There's speculation, too, that CBS may be putting the pieces of a national sports network together, as Pittsburgh joins other recent CBS sports-format launches in Boston and Dallas and more established signals in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and several other big markets.

Ten Years Ago: January 25, 2005

It's been an exceptionally quiet week on the U.S. side of the border (and it didn't help that the FCC had two days off, either), but at least our friends up in CANADA at the CRTC had a busy few days. The big headline from north of the border was Friday's approval of the C$11,000,000 deal that will put the Radiomedia chain of Quebec AM signals in the hands of Corus, which is trading them for five small-market FM stations that will join the Astral Media group.

The transaction closes the books on nearly three years of false starts and unconsummated dealmaking that began when Astral (successor to the Radiomutuel group) bought out Telemedia's half of its joint partnership in Radiomedia, which includes flagship CKAC (730 Montreal), CJRC (1150 Gatineau/Ottawa), CHRC (800 Quebec), CHLN (550 Trois-Rivieres), CHLT (630 Sherbrooke), CKTS (900 Sherbrooke) and CKRS (590 Saguenay), along with CFOM-FM (102.9 Levis) in the Quebec City market. In most of those markets, Astral already had one FM signal, and the addition of the FMs that it also got from Telemedia meant that the AM chain had to be spun off. A plan to sell it to CKAC management fell through, and so did an attempt to sell it to a partnership between the TVA television network and Radio Nord.

Now the stations are finally leaving the Astral fold and being transferred to Corus, which plans some big changes. Corus already operates a news-talker in Montreal, CHMP (98.5), which won official CRTC blessing for the talk format as part of the approval of the Radiomedia transaction, and it plans to flip CKAC to a format that's heavy on sports and "health" programming, with none of the political talk that's long been a hallmark of Quebec's oldest French-language radio station. (Corus tells the CRTC that it believes "general interest AM radio is a thing of the past," at least in major markets.)

In Quebec, CHRC will take on a sports format. The Gatineau, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivieres stations will take on a news-heavy format, fed largely from Corus' CINF (690) in Montreal. (Corus plans to establish a central newsroom in Montreal to service CINF, CKAC and CHMP, as well as providing news to the regional stations.) And CKRS up in Saguenay is apparently doing well enough to stay largely unchanged. The other half of the deal finds Astral picking up five Corus FMs. CFVM (99.9 Amqui) and CFZZ (104.1 St.-Jean-Iberville) will join Astral's "Boom" oldies network; CJDM (92.1 Drummondville) and CIKI (98.7 Rimouski) will join the "Energie" hits network, and CJOI (102.9 Rimouski) will join the "Rock Detente" soft rock network.

A neat community radio station in northwest CONNECTICUT will stay in local hands as it gets sold. Scott Johnson has reached a deal to sell WKZE (1020 Sharon) and WKZE-FM (98.1 Salisbury) to Will Stanley of Rhinebeck, N.Y. Anyone concerned about a change to WKZE's AAA format need have no worries - Stanley created one of the region's first AAAs at the old (and much-missed) WKXE (95.3 White River Junction VT), then repeated the feat at WRSI (95.3 Greenfield MA) a few years later.

One NEW JERSEY shift change: WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick) drops the evening show that David Allan Boucher had been tracking from sister "Magic" station WMJX (106.7 Boston); Leeza Gibbons' syndicated show replaces Boucher weeknights at 7.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 28, 2000

The big news in MASSACHUSETTS was the long-awaited return of the WMEX calls to Boston, as Alex Langer premiered his new talk format Monday morning (Jan. 24) on the 1060 signal licensed to Natick, ex-WJLT, WBIV, WTTP, and WGTR. This time around, 1060 is a 40-kilowatt daytimer running from the WKOX site in Framingham, delivering a surprisingly solid signal to most of the market.Programming on the new WMEX begins at 7 AM with business news from the Boston Business Journal, followed by an hour of Langer staple "Health and Fitness Today" with Frankie Boyer. At 10, WMEX is offering Marjorie Clapprood, returning to the air after her ouster last year from WRKO. The rest of the day continues the Boston-veteran theme, with Jerry Williams in-house at the new studios on North Washington Street in Boston, Gene Burns by satellite from San Francisco (with a 2-4 PM block intended solely for Boston), then Upton Bell, held over from the talk format's previous incarnation as WRPT 650 Ashland (which now becomes WJLT, J-Light).

We've already heard the usual carping about WMEX's lack of a night signal and about the start-up glitches that can plague any station. We tuned in ourselves (we have ways, you know...) to hear Williams and Burns already absent from the schedule, Burns due to a scheduled trip to Alaska and Williams for who-knows-what reason. And we're concerned about the lack, thus far, of any up-and-coming talk talent on WMEX, but we'll commit to this much: Between WMEX's lineup of veterans and the promotional punch of "FM Talk" WTKK, it's going to be an interesting year for WRKO... (2010 note: is it ever not an interesting year for WRKO?)

Elsewhere in the Bay State, we're learning more about the collapse of Catholic Family Radio's deal to buy Ken Carberry's Carter Broadcasting stations. It seems nobody from CFR came to the scheduled November closing for the $15 million deal, even though Carberry had already offered two extensions. Carberry's telling the trades that he still intends to sell the station group, and he's disappointed it won't be to CFR, which he saw as an ideological soulmate. (NERW wonders if CFR perhaps spent too much on transit advertising for its KDIA Vallejo CA; we saw bus ads for the 1640 X-bander all over San Francisco!)

Waltham's WRCA (1330) is getting a new owner, as Beasley Broadcasting pays $6 million for the Spanish-language outlet. No word yet on whether changes are in store for the station, though we note that Beasley understands leased-time ethnic operations (like the company's WTEL 860 in Philadelphia).

We'll start NEW YORK, for a change, in Binghamton, until now the second-largest market in the state without a Clear Channel outlet (Buffalo, of course, being the largest). Not anymore: Lowry Mays & company are paying $20 million for the Majac of Michigan cluster that ranks #2 in market revenue.

Moving west to Buffalo, things are changing fast in the newsrooms of Entercom's WGR (550) and WBEN (930), as the long-awaited consolidation of the stations' separate newsrooms gets underway. Entercom's strategy: make WGR the sports station and WBEN the news-talker, which means the WGR news operation obsolete. Starting Monday, WGR morning host Tom Bauerle (best known now for his, er, probing questions to Hillary Clinton last week) gets Chris "The Bulldog" Parker (formerly WBEN's night sports-talk host) as his co-host in AM drive, WGR's Clip Smith moves to WBEN in the evening, the syndicated Jim Rome show shifts from WWKB (1520) to WGR, and Kevin Keenan becomes the lone newsperson at WGR. The station's longtime news director, Ray Marks, was offered a move to afternoons at WBEN but turned it down citing family concerns. The fate of the rest of WGR's seven-person news team will be decided over the weekend. Some will move to WBEN, others will be let go, and Buffalo will join Rochester and Syracuse on the roster of one-newsroom towns, at least where commercial radio is concerned. (Though NERW thinks we ought at least to be glad that WBEN's anchors will be in Buffalo, not halfway across the state...)

Twenty Years Ago: January 26, 1995

[no issue - NERW was traveling, and universal WiFi - indeed, WiFi, period, not to mention wireless broadband - didn't exist yet!]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, how many radio Disney stations are sold.? And how many radio Disney stations are left? Is anyone interested in 1250 Pittsburgh’s radio Disney?

  2. In 1974 Pres. Nixon started daylight savings time in January, allowing a.m. Daytime radio stations to sign on at 6 AM local time with low power. Was a study ever done to see if current daytime Radio stations could sign with low-power at 6 AM local time? We had a 250 watt station on 1510 and I believe we were allowed to sign on with 50 Watts ( not sure of power )at 6 AM local time. And it covered our main city of license.

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