SHARE

In this week's issue... Storms test broadcasters' preparedness - Cipha Sounds out at Hot 97 - RI FM downgrade complete - Olean translators shuffle - VPR's Montreal signal safe, for now

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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

It's calendar time!

The 2016 edition is due to come back from the printer in just a few days, and it's ready for you to order!

But until the printer actually hands it over, we're offering both the regular and limited editions at a discount price, and one lucky winner might get a calendar for free.

Go to the bottom of the column for details.

Please contact Lisa with any questions.

Click Here To Register And Purchase This Column!!

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.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.

*As another winter storm bears down across a huge swath of NERW-land, broadcasters are still learning the lessons of last Monday's blizzard. It wasn't the apocalypse New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio anticipated - at least not in New York City. But for all the criticism DeBlasio took for preemptively closing down the city, and for all the criticism forecasters took for the predictions that led to near-shutdowns of not only New York but also New Jersey and beyond, it's hard to argue that anyone truly overreacted.

whya-snowJust ask anyone in eastern New England, where the epic storm that missed New York City wreaked havoc all along the coast and for many miles inland.

That's Cape Cod in the photo at right, and while most of the Cape's stations stayed on the air in the face of winds as high as 78 miles an hour, the islands off the Cape were battered.

On Nantucket, WAZK (97.7) had battery backup power at its studio and a generator at its transmitter site provided by landlord National Grid. But when the island's main power source (an undersea cable from Hyannis) failed, that generator didn't work, either, and so for just over 24 hours at the height of the storm "97.7 ACK" was off the air.

"We did Facebook updates while we were off the air," operations manager D.C. Collins tells NERW, and as soon as the power was restored at the transmitter site around 12:30 Tuesday afternoon, the station was ready to be the information source the island needed, broadcasting interviews with town manager Libby Gibson and other local officials.

Fortunately, WAZK and sister station WNCK (89.5) suffered little physical damage - "just a couple of shingles flying off the building" in the storm's high winds, Collins says - and we've heard no reports yet of serious damage at any other NERW-land broadcaster, either.

All over the region, many broadcasters did a fine job of getting ready for the storm, lining up hotel rooms for staffers and putting many on overtime to make sure things were covered even if roads and transit were shut down. Whether it was New York's WABC (770) adding extra live programming early Monday or Boston's WFXT (Channel 25) stationing an engineer at its Needham tower site to babysit the transmitter for several nights running, information got out there to the people who needed it. And as our preparedness guru Howard Price of ABC in New York keeps reminding us, it's far better to be overprepared than underprepared. (You really should read his wrapup of the storm coverage, here.)

Which brings us to the "overreaction" piece of things: from what we saw and heard, most forecasters out there did a solid job of being clear about the uncertainty levels of their forecasts. Pretty much all of them were dead-on right about the magnitude of the storm once it hit, and there were plenty of warnings out there about the multiple paths the storm might take, too.

Can news departments (and government officials, and the social media beehive that surrounds them) accept that even in 2015, nature is still fickle and unpredictable and we still have to prepare at times for storms that may turn in a different direction? We'll find out as this latest storm hits - and we're eager to hear from you about how stations in your markets are handling it.

Click Here To Register And Purchase This Column!!

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.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.

WHAT'S ON THE 2017 TOWER SITE CALENDAR COVER?
That's for YOU to decide.

We have so many beautiful photos set for the 2017 Tower Site Calendar. Several of them would make great covers. So this year, we want your input!

january-wbob-jacksonville-fl
COVER CHOICE ONE

Send your vote to Lisa by 11:59 PM on September 30. Everyone who votes receives a coupon for $1 off anything in our store and be entered in our drawing for a free 2017 calendar.

may-excksl-london-on
COVER CHOICE TWO
november-wbee-rochester-ny
COVER CHOICE THREE

Click Here To Register And Purchase This Column!!

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.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.

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: February 3, 2014

*The big news on an otherwise slow week comes from the southern tier of upstate NEW YORK, where bankruptcies are yielding new owners - and new ownership consolidation - for stations in Elmira, Olean and Ithaca.

Pfuntner's Elmira facility, January 2014
Pfuntner's Elmira facility, January 2014

We'll start with the Elmira and Olean stations, where Robert Pfuntner's Pembrook Pines group has been in bankruptcy proceedings for a while now. Last October, NERW brought you news of a proposed sale of Pembrook's stations in Bath (WVIN 98.3 and WABH 1380) and Elmira (WELM 1410, WEHH 1600, WLVY 94.3, WOKN 99.5) to Titan Radio, operated by former Elmira TV manager Randy Reid. But that $2.75 million deal never closed, and broker/bankruptcy trustee Dick Foreman had the stations back on the market in January.

Now there's a new sale announced, though not yet filed with the FCC: the Elmira stations are now set to go to Great Radio LLC, while Pfuntner's WOEN (1360) and WMXO (101.5) in Olean and WGGO (1590) and WQRS (98.3) in Salamanca will go to Sound Communications. (2015 note: this sale was eventually withdrawn, and the stations are now headed to local tower owner Gordy Ichikawa.)

wfiz*Just up Route 13 in Ithaca, Saga Communications (doing business locally as Cayuga Radio Group) has been one of the region's most aggressive buyers when it comes to consolidating in small local markets. Over the last decade or so, Saga has rolled up a cluster that includes nearly all the commercial outlets in Ithaca: news-talk WHCU (870), progressive talk WNYY (1470), AC WYXL (97.3), classic rock WIII (99.9 Cortland) and country WQNY (103.7), plus five translators in Ithaca carrying both AM formats, plus HD-fed top-40 and AAA formats. And as of Friday, Saga's now added yet another full-power signal to the mix, as it closes on its purchase of top-40 WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) from ROI Broadcasting.

"Z95.5" was caught up in the bankruptcy of ROI principal George Kimble, who held 49% of WFIZ before a court ordered him to liquidate his interest in the station. Saga's $715,000 stalking-horse bid won the auction - and a cunning piece of legal work won the company the ability to add a sixth full-power station and eighth program stream to its cluster. Because Ithaca isn't rated by Nielsen Audio (which stopped rating the market after Saga stopped buying the book), the FCC applies its contour-overlap rules - and because a huge number of signals from outlying markets such as Elmira, Binghamton and Syracuse reach Ithaca, at least on paper, Saga was able to run up its ownership count in Ithaca, where the only commercial competition now comes from Todd Mallinson's WPIE (1160 Trumansburg) and from WVBR (93.5), which is run by Cornell students.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, WGBH-owned public station WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole) is celebrating the completion of its power increase. It's powered up from 1300 watts (vertical-only) to 12.5 kW from the WBUA (92.7) tower in Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, improving its coverage of the lower Cape.

Meanwhile, WBUA's former sister station on the mid-Cape, WBUR (1240 West Yarmouth), has exited its longtime simulcast with WBUR-FM (90.9) in Boston. The 1000-watt AM signal has changed hands to Alex Langer and changed calls to WBAS, and it's now running the temporary jazz format that Langer and engineer Rob Landry were running on another recent Langer acquisition. WZBR (1410 Dedham) is now simulcasting Portuguese-language programming from WSRO (650 Ashland).

Five Years Ago: February 1, 2010

Two of CANADA's biggest AM signals were abruptly silenced Friday afternoon in yet another sign of the continued slide into oblivion for the senior broadcast band north of the border. At 7:00 Friday night, Corus turned off the 50,000-watt transmitters at Montreal's CINF (Info 690) and CINW (AM 940), saying in a statement that the stations were no longer able to support themselves. "We put tremendous effort into trying to find the right format and content to grow our audience base and operate profitably, but after years of effort it is clear these AM stations are not viable," said Corus Québec vice president Mario Cecchini.

It's been just over a decade since CBC/Radio-Canada abandoned its use of the AM dial in Montreal, freeing up those big 50 kW allocations for new applicants. What was then Metromedia-CMR applied to move two of its smaller signals - French-language CKVL (850) and English-language CIQC (600) - to those class A clear channels. At the time, it seemed like a good move, giving both stations full-market coverage to compete with what were then several other strong AM outlets in the market, and Metromedia made a big splash with its launch of two new all-news formats, "Info 690" in French and "940 News" in English. Those ambitious ventures soon ran into static: on the English side, the move of CBC's CBM to FM took much of the Anglophone audience away from AM for good, leaving only the venerable CJAD (800), which continued to own the lion's share of what AM listening remained. After segueing from all-news to talk, CINW threw in the towel in 2008, going oldies (mostly automated) as "AM 940, Montreal's Greatest Hits." CINF, meanwhile, also struggled to find an audience, and its fate was probably sealed when a change in regulations allowed Corus to launch a spoken-word format on FM (CHMP 98.5). The 2004 launch of "FM 98,5" drew most of the remaining Montreal Francophone AM audience over to FM, weakening not only CINF but also sister station CKAC (730), which found a small niche as a French-language all-sports station. By late 2009, CINF had significantly cut back its programming, turning over late-night hours to Corus' regional "Souvenirs Garantis" oldies network, and in the most recent BBM ratings, "Info 690" drew just a 1.2 share of the Francophone audience, with barely 100,000 listeners a day tuning in. (CINW drew a more respectable 2.6 share of the smaller Anglo audience, while CKAC pulled a 5.7.)

In PENNSYLVANIA, KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) has reworked its schedule to fill the gap left behind by the death of midday talk host Fred Honsberger late last year. Mike Pintek, who's worked pretty much every shift on the KD schedule over the years, took over the Honzman's noon-3 slot last week, and Friday brought the announcement that Robert Mangino, who's been doing mornings at Clear Channel's WKBN (570) in Youngstown, Ohio, will make the move down I-76 to take over Pintek's former 6-10 PM shift at KDKA.

Ten Years Ago: January 31, 2005

It wasn't a good week at what is - or at least used to be - NEW YORK's biggest hip-hop station, Emmis' WQHT (Hot 97.1). It was bad enough, probably, that Clear Channel-owned rival WWPR (Power 105.1) had just launched a new morning show featuring the former top-rated Hot 97 team of Star and Buc Wild. But things took a turn for the worse when Hot's answer to Star and Buc Wild, "Miss Jones," began playing a parody song based on the 80s charity single "We Are The World." Instead of the upbeat message of the original, though, this version poked fun at the victims of the Asian tsunami, resorting to some awfully offensive stereotypes in the process.

And in today's hyper-conscious age, it didn't take long at all before the incident had escalated to cause celebre status, with Miss Jones and her morning crew first being suspended for a few days, then offering to donate a week's salary to charity, then being pulled off the air "indefinitely," which is where things stand at press time (along with several advertisers, most notably McDonald's, pulling their business from Hot until the matter is settled.)

A few other pieces of news from the city: Don Imus is saying farewell to the basement studio in Astoria, Queens that he's called home ever since joining WFAN (660) back in 1988. He's headed across the Hudson, to a studio custom-built for his show at MSNBC's Secaucus, N.J. facility, in a move that's probably been inevitable since the day MSNBC began televising his show.

Mets fans aren't alone in mourning the death of Bob Brown, whose career at the 970 spot on the dial (formerly WAAT Newark, later WJRZ Hackensack) included hosting the Mets pre- and post-game shows for much of the sixties and early seventies, including the "Miracle Mets" 1969 season. Brown also hosted New York lottery drawings on TV for many years. He died Wednesday (Jan. 26) of lung cancer, at age 79. And we note, too, the passing on Jan. 21 of John Hess, whose commentaries were a fixture on WBAI (99.5 New York.) He was 87.

And we're sorry to report the death of one of upstate New York's best-loved broadcasters. George Abraham was universally known as "Doc," and with his wife Katy he hosted the "Green Thumb" gardening show on WHAM (1180) for more than five decades. "The Green Thumb" was also seen on TV for a quarter-century (at WOKR 13, now WHAM-TV), and the couple wrote a syndicated newspaper column that was read in more than 150 papers at its height. Doc Abraham died Thursday (Jan. 28) of congestive heart failure, just a week before his 90th birthday.

A strange story from central MASSACHUSETTS this week: it's not every day that much of the staff of a radio station walks out, taking the station's music library with them. It happened at WESO (970 Southbridge), the result of a feud between the station's new general manager, Dick Vaughn, and his predecessor, Joe Grivalski. Grivalski, who's known as "Joe G" on the air, co-hosted WESO's morning show with Derek Moison until last week, when the two abruptly left the station. With no music on hand - Grivalski owned most of the station's CDs and took them with him when he left - WESO was left with dead air for a while Wednesday morning, until the station's Jones satellite classic country was put back on the air, reports the Southbridge Evening News. The paper quotes station owner Barry Armstrong (who also owns Concord's WBNW 1120) as saying Grivalski had been removed as GM because he failed to make the station profitable. For his part, Grivalski told the News that Vaughn wouldn't talk to him or Moison, calling Vaughn "the most unethical and unprofessional man I've met in my life." And Armstrong, in turn, told the News that Moison and Grivalski "took the coward's way out" by walking out of the station. (It's a change, anyway, from the usual "resigned to pursue other career interests" that we're so accustomed to...) For the moment, WESO's running the Jones satellite programming in morning drive, with no word on who might replace Grivalski and Moison in the long run.

Some good news, meanwhile, from Boston: WGBH broke ground last week on its new 330,000 square foot headquarters facility at Allston Landing. The complex will include an existing building and a new studio building (with a 200-seat auditorium, among other amenities) alongside the Mass Turnpike, where WGBH will put up a giant video wall to showcase its products to passing drivers. WGBH's current home, which now encompasses two connected buildings and a welter of smaller structures and trailers along Western Avenue, will become part of the new Harvard Business School campus once the new digs are ready in a couple of years.

There are some changes on the way to the radio landscape in Johnstown, PENNSYLVANIA, where Forever is about to move the "Key" AC format from WKYE (95.5 Johnstown) to newly-acquired (from Clear Channel) WMTZ (96.5 Johnstown). The country format that's been on 96.5 will move sometime today to the more potent 95.5 signal, but not under its current "Mountain" moniker. Is yet another "Froggy" on the way to western PA? Don't bet against it. (Ribbit.)

There's a format change to report in CANADA's Niagara Peninsula, where CHOW (91.7 Welland) dropped the country format it's had for decades (going back to its old AM 1470 days) over the weekend, ditching "Spirit 91.7" in favor of "Giant 91.7," playing a hot AC/classic hits mix that's said to be reminiscent of the "Jack" and "Bob" and "Dave" formats being heard elsewhere in Canada. New calls for Giant 91.7 are CIXL, as in "Extra Large."

Fifteen Years Ago: February 4, 2000

Things are settling in at Boston's newest talker, WMEX (1060 Natick). Already home to many former WRKO (680) hosts, WMEX added one more this week: Tom Irwin, aka "Tai," joined the station as a fill-in host. And while WRKO might be worried about WMEX, it apparently has nothing to fear from the new FM talk entry; it seems WTKK (96.9) didn't break a 1 share 12+ in the latest Boston ratings, while WRKO was strong and news/talk WBZ led the book.

Down the hall at Alex Langer's other Boston-market station, WJLT (650 Ashland) received some good news from the FCC: it's been approved to go to 2000 watts daytime, directional from the five towers of the WBPS (890 Dedham) array in Ashland. Langer says the move will give WJLT a very usable signal in downtown Boston, something it doesn't have with its present 250 watts from the WKOX/WMEX sticks in Framingham.

Speaking of WKOX, we have word of yet another power-increase plan from Framingham's AM 1200. It seems WKOX wants to move to the current WUNR (1600 Brookline) site on Saw Mill Brook Parkway in Newton, blasting a full 50 kilowatts (by day, anyway) down the road into Boston. We're still waiting for the actual FCC filing on this; we'll keep you posted.

From the obituaries: Jim Pansullo, one of the best-known anchors at the old WEEI Newsradio 590, died Monday (1/31) in Quincy. Pansullo's Boston career dated back to 1952, when he joined the news staff at WHDH (850), adding duties at WHDH-TV (Channel 5) when that station signed on in 1957. A few years later, Pansullo moved to WEEI, where he handled everything from sports to hard news to the weekly "Topic Religion" show. Pansullo also worked for several years as color commentator on Celtics broadcasts, joining Johnny Most for memorable moments that included the "Havlicek stole the ball!" game in 1965.

Into NEW YORK we go, then, with a bit more on the WGR/WBEN/WWKB consolidation in Buffalo. The sounds of hit radio returned to 1520 last Sunday morning (1/30), as the station began a partial simulcast with "Kiss" WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls). 1520 breaks away from the FM for Canisius College sports and for paid religion at night. We'll admit there's something fun about hearing Britney Spears on the AM dial, but it still seems like a waste of a good 50 kilowatts. Meantime down the dial, Chris "Bulldog" Parker indeed joined Tom Bauerle in mornings on "WGR Sportsradio 55", but at least one former WBEN colleague isn't making the move. Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff refused to join the WGR staff, saying the station's afternoon host, Chuck Dickerson, is biased against his team. That team, by the way, isn't on *any* of the Entercom stations -- it, along with the Bills, is on Citadel's FM group. Kudos to the Buffalo News for a cogent editorial alerting Buffalo to the loss of a news voice.

Two quick bits of Rochester TV news: WROC-TV (Channel 8) unveiled a new set and a new, very classy, on-air look on Monday. Now known as "News 8 Now," the 5, 6, and 11 shows add Kevin Doran as anchor, coming from WRTV (Channel 6) in Indianapolis. Across town at WUHF (Channel 31), "The Ten O'Clock News" expands to an hour next Monday (2/7).

Twenty Years Ago: February 6, 1995

An interesting week here in Beantown, at least on AM 890. This is the 3-month old WBMA Dedham (25kw day, 10kw night), owned by SRN Boston, the same people who owned the now-defunct WBIV 1060 Natick-Boston. WBMA operates from WBIV's former transmitter site in Ashland MA, uses WBIV's former transmitters (now retuned to 890), has been leasing all its time out to "Radio Emanuele," the Spanish-language religious broadcaster that used to lease out WBIV. And, SRN prefers to identify 890 as "WBIV" still (the legal IDs announce "WBMA Dedham, WBIV Natick.")

Strange enough, right? Not yet. Now comes word that 890 will change format by Feb. 15, to the satellite "Prime Sports Network," under new ownership. SRN management is claiming that "890's calls will change from WBIV to WBMA" when that happens. Uh-huh, right. The current manager of "WBIV," when asked by the Boston Herald about where the new owners are from, replied, "Hell." All of 890's staff is being laid off, apparently so a different group of board-ops can be brought in.

So why sports on 890? Well, it's just 40 khz above 850, the 50kw site of all-sports WEEI since August. Never mind that 850 is local from the end of Imus until nighttime, and the new 890 "might do an hour of local talk in the morning."

And what of 1060, the frequency WBIV/WBMA vacated when the station moved to 890 last fall? Well, it's allegedly for sale...but just the license. The 1060 transmitters are, as noted above, already retuned to 890. And whoever buys 1060 will not be allowed to diplex it off the Ashland site. The area where a new 1060 transmitter would have to go is some of the most expensive real estate in the state...so the odds of finding a new site are pretty small. About the only solution would be to diplex off WKOX-1200 in nearby Framingham. I've heard a rumor that one group might buy 1060 and use it as a daytimer (the old facilities were 25000/2500), running off the one WKOX stick that's not used in daylight. I'd say the chances of 1060 resurfacing are pretty slim. The whole thing is very odd...

Meanwhile in the Granite State: A trip up the New Hampshire seacoast Friday produced one bit of news: The "Rock Garden" moniker made famous in the '70s
by WCGY-93.7 Lawrence-Boston has resurfaced, trademarked no less, at the brand-new WRGW-98.7 Somersworth NH. The station is co-owned with WTSN-1270 Dover, which is renovating its studios on Middle Road to add space for the FM. Unfortunately, WRGW did not resurrect the freeform rock format that marked the original Rock Garden. The new Rock Garden is soft AC.