In this week’s issue… Region digs out from big snowfall – Big departure at WOR – WGBH hires Braude & Eagan – WMVY yields to WBUA – Brian Dodge resurfaces in Pioneer Valley – Pennsylvania AM goes dark
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*In nearly 20 years of writing this column, we’ve covered plenty of storms as they’ve raged across the territory we cover. From coastal hurricanes to derechos to big winter snowfalls, we’ve seen pretty much everything nature can dish out at a broadcaster. So by those standards, the blast that hit NERW-land beginning on Friday was at most a medium-big deal, inconveniencing many with as much as 40 inches of snow but inflicting little to no permanent damage.
For hundreds of thousands of people from the Maritimes to Long Island, of course, that was cold comfort as power lines went down and roads jammed. Where were radio and TV in the midst of all that? On the air, mostly – there’s no word of any tower collapses or even many extended station outages. (One exception was in southern MAINE, where NBC affiliate WCSH Channel 6 in Portland was knocked off the air for reasons that remain vaguely unclear, with the station telling viewers its transmitter had been “fried” by the storm; there were also stations knocked off by power outages in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including big-signalled WCTK 98.1 New Bedford/Providence and the Quincy-based main signal of WUMB-FM 91.9 Boston.)
There were plenty of good stories of radio and TV stepping up to the plate with extended coverage: plenty of TV newsrooms went wall-to-wall with snow coverage, of course, and our old colleagues at WBZ (1030 Boston) were on the air non-stop with coverage, for instance, as were WPRO in Providence, New York’s WCBS and WINS, and some smaller outlets such as WSAR in Fall River.
But there were also some disturbing signs that things out there are changing. Take, for instance, the major radio group that proudly sent out a press release over the weekend touting the public service it offered during the storm – noting that one of its flagship stations had “kept its listeners safe and informed throughout the blizzard via social media with continuous updates about concert postponements, traffic bans, power outages, and [transit] service closings.” That was no doubt a comfort to listeners with access to power, but probably wasn’t much help at all to hundreds of thousands of people without electricity or broadband access. Isn’t that what radio itself was supposed to be for?
We’re still waiting for more word on conditions to emerge from the area that was hit hardest by the snowfall, along Long Island Sound in southern CONNECTICUT. With as much as 40 inches of snow falling in parts of New Haven and Fairfield counties, even the best-prepared stations had crisis moments, such as Cox’s WPLR/WEZN/WFOX, which put out an on-air plea for plows to help dig out the parking lot of its Milford studio complex.
With travel bans in effect across most of southern New England, and travel impossible anyway, it was a long, long weekend for many station staffers camped out on conference-room floors and break-room sofas all over the region (or, for the luckiest, in hotels within convenient walking distance of studios and transmitter sites), and we heard from plenty who pulled multiple-day shifts away from home to keep the public informed.
One of the oddest bits of timing involving the storm and radio happened off the MASSACHUSETTS coast last Friday night.
The end of WMVY (92.7 Tisbury) wasn’t meant to coincide with a massive winter storm, to be sure, but the sale of the class A FM signal from Joe Gallagher’s Aritaur Communications to Boston University’s WBUR-FM (90.9) closed…and once it had closed, the AAA programming that had been airing for three decades on 92.7 had to give way right on schedule at midnight to WBUA, the new simulcast of WBUR-FM.
For WMVY”s programmers, of course, the end of 92.7 is the start of a new road. As we’ve been reporting here in NERW, the nonprofit “Friends of MVY” helmed by PD Barbara Dacey had just two months to raise $600,000 to buy the station’s studios and intellectual property in order to keep it going as a noncommercial streaming operation. They made their goal with a few hours to spare, and so the end of WMVY over the air on Friday was less of a funeral than a celebration of what was coming next.
Dacey and the rest of the WMVY airstaff were in the studio (“at the end of a dirt road on Martha’s Vineyard”) for the final couple of hours on 92.7, playing some of their favorite songs and giving shout-outs to listeners on the Vineyard and all over the world, but as they were broadcasting, the weather was worsening outside…and so while the final 20 minutes of WMVY programming on 92.7 leading up to the midnight handoff to WBUA/WBUR were the sounds of an ocean’s waves, streaming listeners lost the signal a few minutes earlier when WMVY’s net connection went down in the stormy weather.
A lost net connection is a pretty serious inconvenience to a broadcast station these days, of course – but it’s a death sentence to an all-streaming operation, especially one like the reborn “mvyradio.com” that’s still trying to provide a local community service to an isolated area that really needs a local source of weather and emergency information. (In fairness to the mvyradio.com folks, they’re still trying to find a new FM home for their programming so they can go back to the vitally important work of, you know, being a radio station.)
And there’s one more interesting piece to the WMVY puzzle:
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*It’s 2013! Do you have your 2013 Tower Site Calendar yet? It can be on your wall in just a few days, if you order right now!
This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.
The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.
This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We’ve also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don’t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding — your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.
Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you’re at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.
For more information and to order yours, click here!
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 and – where available – fifteen 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 13, 2012 -
*Of all the big names who graced the airwaves at WBZ (1030 Boston) over the decades, few wore as many hats as gracefully as Dave Maynard, who died Friday in Florida at age 82.
Dave Maynard in the 1980s
After beginning his career at two smaller stations, Medford’s WHIL (1430, later WXKS and now WKOX) in 1952 and then Boston’s WORL (950), Maynard came to WBZ in 1958 as part of the legendary “Live Five,” the station’s crew of top-40 DJs. But while most of those jocks moved on in the sixties, Maynard became a WBZ fixture, shifting from evenings to late mornings, then to afternoons in 1976.
By then, Maynard had become much more than just a radio host, taking over the reins of WBZ-TV’s “Community Auditions,” introducing the “Phantom Gourmet” to WBZ radio’s weekend lineup, making appearances on WBZ-TV’s “Evening Magazine” and, for a few years, serving as the one and only voicetracked host on the otherwise-neglected WBZ-FM (106.7). It was rather surprising, then, when new management at the station moved Maynard to the overnight shift in 1979 – but instead of working out the remainder of his contract and moving on, the versatile host flourished as a late-night talker, putting him in the right place at the right time a year later when WBZ’s venerable morning host Carl deSuze retired after nearly four decades on the job.
“Maynard in the Morning” quickly became a WBZ tradition in its own right, spawning a never-ending series of community fundraisers and some of the most memorable TV commercials in radio history. For the station that had long branded itself as “The Spirit of New England,” Maynard embodied that spirit, leading the show to a decade at the top of the ratings.
WBZ’s shift toward all-news moved Maynard back to late mornings in 1990, and a year later he retired from full-time work after more than three decades with the station. For several years afterward, Maynard and longtime producer Ruth Clenott were still occasional presences at WBZ, where your editor was fortunate enough to be a producer and writer on a series of features that Maynard hosted during the station’s all-news blocks. In 2009, Maynard was inducted into both the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the WBZ Hall of Fame, where he became the third member alongside his longtime colleagues Gary LaPierre and Gil Santos. (In 2011, they were joined posthumously by Carl deSuze.)
There’s a new callsign on the Nutmeg State’s newest station: WPKX (97.9 Windsor Locks-Hartford) is now WUCS, with the “UC” apparently standing for the University of Connecticut and the “S” for sports – and that’s fueling speculation that Clear Channel’s new “97.9 ESPN” will be gunning for the UConn sports rights long held by CBS Radio’s WTIC.
The WPKX calls are being parked in NEW HAMPSHIRE, on the former WGIN (930 Rochester), but they’re expected to return to their old home in western Massachusetts, where WRNX (100.9 Amherst) has picked up the “Kix” country format that went with the WPKX calls in the Springfield market.
*The news early last week that Dom Theodore was departing CBS Radio, where he was the national top-40 program chief and PD of NEW YORK‘s WXRK (92.3 Now FM), sparked a new round of message-board rumors about format changes. But so far, any talk of a “WFAN-FM” on 92.3 is just talk, and the FM signal’s still pumping out the hits.
There’s one change that we do know will be coming to WFAN this spring: Josh Lewin has been picked as the successor to Wayne Hagin alongside Howie Rose in the Mets’ play-by-play booth. Lewin is best known for his play-by-play work on Texas Rangers TV broadcasts from 2002-2010, but he’s also done baseball play-by-play for Fox network broadcasts and he’s the voice of the San Diego Chargers on the radio. And Lewin has strong New York roots: he grew up here in Rochester, where Lewin cut his teeth as broadcaster for the Rochester Red Wings back in the 1980s and 1990s (and where he went to high school with your editor!)
*There’s a new simulcast in central PENNSYLVANIA, where Clear Channel quietly pulled the plug on oldies at WLAN (1390 Lancaster) last week, replacing it with news-talk from nearby WHP (580 Harrisburg). (How quietly? The WLAN Facebook page, which was never even updated with the oldies logo, is still cranking out automated news updates related to the oldies format.)
WHP’s signal covers most of WLAN’s territory just fine, especially after WLAN’s signal was neutered last year by the loss of the station’s directional transmitter site, but the addition of the 1390 signal will allow for local ads for Lancaster and vicinity to be split off from WHP’s Harrisburg-centric spotload.
For local Lancaster listeners, it’s the latest chapter in the branch-office-ization of what was once a community institution; on the FM side, the replacement of WLAN-FM (96.9)’s local morning show with the syndicated Elvis Duran is drawing local media attention, and not in a positive way, either.
Five Years Ago: February 11, 2008 -
*Just short of its twentieth anniversary as NEW YORK‘s smooth jazz station, Emmis’ WQCD (101.9) abruptly dropped the format on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 5), playing short pre-recorded farewells from several “CD101.9″ staffers before a 4 PM flip to WRXP, “101.9 RXP, the NY Rock Experience.”"Adult rock” is the company’s official name for the new format, a broad-based music mix that draws from alternative rock, AAA and classic rock, with an obvious debt to the former WNEW-FM (102.7), and perhaps a less-obvious debt to at least some of the previous incarnations of 101.9 itself in its WPIX-FM days, especially its flirtation with New Wave music in the late seventies.
WQCD PD Blake Lawrence is the only survivor from the old format, and he’s promising to hire an airstaff that will actually have input into the music they play. So far, there’s just one live jock on WRXP’s air – Bryan Schock, in afternoons.
The former “CD101.9″ continues on the HD2 channel of 101.9, and there are promises that it – and the main channel – will eventually be available as a webcast, too.
The demise of WQCD means the end of one of New York’s longest on-air tenures: Dennis Quinn had been with 101.9 since the early seventies, surviving all those format changes at WPIX and almost twenty years of WQCD; the rest of the airstaff, including middayer Deborah Rath, afternoon jock Paul Cavalconte and evening host Sharon Davis, had also enjoyed long runs at the station and are now looking for work.
*So are at least three New York program directors, thanks to the massive nationwide job cuts at one big broadcaster. Last Thursday, Tracy Cloherty lost her PD gig at CBS Radio’s WXRK (92.3 K-Rock) after just seven months on the job. At first, it seemed that Cloherty’s dismissal might be a sign of bigger changes to come at the revived K-Rock, which hasn’t yet found its stride, and which now faces a major challenge up the dial at WRXP – but then the news started coming fast and furious of other cuts across CBS Radio’s nationwide operations, apparently nearly 200 of them by the time the blood stopped flowing sometime Friday.
*We’ve seen several rumored launch dates come and go (and indeed, the station’s website still says “Coming January 2008″), but Mega Media says this morning will be the official launch of top 40
It’s technically a NEW JERSEY station – but New York listeners who still miss the Caribbean format that once filled much of the programming day on WLIB (1190 New York) can head down the dial to WSNR (620 Jersey City), where “One Caribbean Radio” launched late last week, with a staff that includes former WLIB PD Bob “Spiceman” Frederick. For the moment, the “One Caribbean Radio” website shows programming from 10 AM to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays – will that expand if there’s demand for the format?
There’s a new callsign in New Jersey, too: Youngshine Media’s new 88.1 in Hopatcong will take the calls WDNJ when it launches.
*Up in Rochester, the Brother Wease contract drama came to an abrupt end Thursday morning, when Entercom announced (on the air, during Wease’s former morning show on WCMF 96.5) that it was unable to come to terms on a new contract for the veteran WCMF morning man.
Despite rumors that Entercom might turn to a syndicated morning show to replace Wease, the company is sticking with the rest of his morning show cast for the moment. As of Friday, the former “Radio Free Wease” has become “The Men’s Room,” hosted by former Wease producer Bill Moran and sidekicks Tommy Mule and Sally Carpenter. Entercom says it will add additional talent to the show in the weeks to come.
As for Wease, he says legal concerns are forcing him to remain quiet for now (though he did make one brief on-air appearance Thursday, calling in to WHAM midday host Bob Lonsberry to thank him for his support), but he also says he’ll be back on the air in Rochester in some form, and that he may be doing some off-air work in the meantime. (And we’re hearing that Wease has been seen in the hallways of WHAM owner Clear Channel, as well as over at independently-owned urban outlet WDKX.)
Crawford Broadcasting exited the crowded field of religious radio stations in the Rochester market Saturday night as it signed off “102.7 the Light,” WRCI (102.7 Webster), ending 15 years of Christian broadcasting on that frequency, originally WDCZ. The station returns to the air today as WLGZ-FM, “Legends,” simulcasting with Crawford’s WLGZ (990 Rochester) and adding oldies to the adult standards that have been heard on the AM side.
*Pamal shuffled its lineup in central VERMONT on Friday, pulling the plug on AAA WEBK (105.3 Killington) after 16 years and replacing it with the “Cat Country” format that’s been running on lower-powered WJEN (94.5 Rutland).
Pamal had kept the AAA format running (most recently as “The Peak”) ever since buying WEBK from original owner Dan Ewald seven years ago, but “it doesn’t have the numbers,” said Pamal GM Debbie Grembowicz in a Rutland Herald interview.
After several weeks of simulcasting, the 94.5 signal will relaunch under new calls WDVT and an as-yet-undisclosed format. WEBK jocks “Uncle Dave” Tibbs and James Emmons will stay with Pamal after the transition.
*Western PENNSYLVANIA‘s last live overnight talk show is history. As part of an overhaul of evening and overnight programming at CBS Radio’s KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh), Gary Dickson’s “After Midnight” is off the schedule, with former WTZN (93.7, now WBZW) hosts Scott Paulsen and John Steigerwald joining the KD roster next Monday (Feb. 18).
Here’s how it all shakes out: Paulsen (best known for his long run on WDVE) and Steigerwald (best known as a TV sportscaster) get a trial run, through the end of March, for a 7-10 PM talk show that replaces Neal Boortz’s syndicated offering. Bill O’Reilly remains in place from 10-midnight, followed in Dickson’s former slot by Dennis Miller, from midnight-3 AM, and the “Midnight Radio Network” (formerly “Midnight Trucker”) from 3-5 AM.
We don’t normally spend a lot of time on birthdays here at NERW – but we can’t let one important date pass without comment: last Monday was the 90th birthday of a Pittsburgh radio institution. Porky Chedwick is still going strong, more than half a century after his radio career began, and our hat’s off to him! (And to Jason Togyer over at PBRTV.com for noting the big day…)
And “Joe FM” (WJOW 105.9 Philipsburg) has added a second frequency: the country station is now simulcasting on sister signal WZYY (106.9 Renovo), replacing rocker “106.9 the Surge” and bringing the sounds of “Joe” to the Lock Haven area.
*In CANADA, the CRTC has denied an application from Bayshore Broadcasting for a high-power (5.4 kW) FM transmitter in Owen Sound to relay its AM signal there, CFOS (560). The CRTC says the proposed FM signal on 96.1 would extend beyond the 15 mV/m contour of the AM signal, in violation of its current policy that allows some signal-challenged AMs to operate lower-powered “nested” FM relays. It also says it would effectively give Bayshore three full-market FM signals in Owen Sound, in violation of current policy that allows only two FMs to an owner.
Ten Years Ago: February 10, 2003 -
For the first time in nearly half a century, the top of Mount Washington, NEW HAMPSHIRE is silent as NERW goes to press late Sunday night. A fire Sunday afternoon destroyed the former WMTW-TV (Channel 8) transmitter building atop the Northeast’s highest peak, more than 6200 feet above sea level. While channel 8 left Mount Washington almost exactly a year ago (NERW, 2/4/2002) for a new tall tower in Baldwin, Maine, its transmitter building remained behind on the mountaintop, home to generators supplying power to the entire mountaintop. The building also continued to house the transmitter of WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington).
The fire broke out around 4 PM, cutting off power to the Mount Washington Observatory nearby. Four observatory staffers were in the Sherman Adams Building that sits a few dozen yards from the WMTW building; they were evacuated Sunday night amidst concern that worsening weather over the next few days could leave them stranded for several days without heat or power. Sources tell NERW that by the time a snow tractor reached the summit Sunday evening, the WMTW building was “burnt to a crisp,” with only the entranceway still remaining. No damage was reported to the nearby Yankee Building (home to the transmitter and antenna of WPKQ 103.7 North Conway NH), or to the Sherman Adams Building. It’s not clear at press time whether the WHOM antenna suffered any damage.
The WMTW building was built in 1954 for the start of TV service on the mountain, which had already become an important broadcast facility thanks to Edwin Armstrong’s FM experiments there in conjunction with the Yankee Network, which lasted from 1938 until 1948. WHOM’s presence on the mountain dates to 1958, when 94.9 signed on as WMTW-FM. Its two transmitters sat near the door that connected the TV/FM transmitter room in the WMTW building to the living quarters there. Until last summer, when WMTW-TV removed the last of its equipment, channel 8 staffers were stationed on the mountain all year long, working rotating shifts and living at the transmitter building for weeks at a time. (NERW wonders whether an on-site engineer would have caught the fire before it could have done any damage; we may never know.)
With its transmitters destroyed, it will likely be late into spring or early summer before WHOM can resume its broadcasts from the mountain, which reached listeners within about a hundred-mile radius — south to Boston, north well into Quebec, east to central Maine and west to Lake Champlain and beyond. In the meantime, Citadel, which owns WHOM and WPKQ, has moved WHOM’s soft AC format to WCYI (93.9 Lewiston), breaking the modern rock “CYY” simulcast with WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) for the duration. We’re told WHOM will apply for special temporary authority to use the licensed auxiliary facility of Citadel’s WBLM (102.9 Portland), running 100 kilowatts at 150 meters from a site in New Gloucester, Maine.
As for WPKQ, its transmitter and antenna are intact at the mountaintop but lack any source of power. The observatory, which took over responsibility for power generation on the mountain when WMTW left, plans to attempt to get a generator to the top of the mountain on Monday, so WPKQ’s broadcasts could be restored this week, if weather permits — a big “if” on a peak known for having some of the worst weather in the country. (At the time the fire started, Mount Washington was reporting temperatures of 1 degree Fahrenheit, 54 MPH winds, blowing snow and freezing fog — and that’s a good weather day up there!)
Al Makkay has sold his three FM stations on MASSACHUSETTS’ Cape Cod. CHR WRZE (96.3 Nantucket), oldies WCIB (101.9 Falmouth) and rock WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) make up one of the biggest clusters on the Cape, and their new owner knows more than a little about clusters. Frank Osborn’s “Qantum Communications” (no “u” there) is paying $32 million for the three stations (WRZE and WCIB are full Class B facilities; WPXC is an A with a pending application for B1 status). Osborn’s name should sound familiar; he ran the Aurora Communications cluster in Connecticut and downstate New York (now part of Cumulus), and before that ran his own Osborn Communications group, subsequently sold to Pilot and now part of Citadel.
The big news from CANADA was Friday’s noontime launch of Ottawa’s newest radio station, Newcap’s CIHT (89.9). The station shed its tentative nickname of “the Planet” during its pre-launch stunting, debuting instead as “Hot 89.9″ with a format that leans much more strongly towards urban CHR than the dance-heavy programming promised in CRTC hearings. Does CHUM’s CHR entry in the market, “Kool” CKKL (93.9), have anything to worry about? We’ll see when the next round of BBM ratings comes out….
Fifteen Years Ago: February 12, 1998 -
Radio Disney is coming to the Nutmeg State. Hibernia Broadcasting, the Craven/Thompson owned group that runs Mouse affiliates WPZE (1260 Boston) and WHIM (1450 West Warwick RI) is buying WRDM (1550 Bloomfield) from Ital-Net Broadcasting, which has been running Spanish programming on the 5000/2400 watt DA-2 Hartford-market AM. No word yet on what happens to WRDM’s affiliated LPTVs, WRDM-LP 13 Hartford and WDMR-LP 65 Springfield MA.
Elsewhere in CONNECTICUT, it’s the sounds of silence for WNLC (1510 New London). The standards station is temporarily dark while engineers try to find a permanent fix for problems stemming from a fire in one of the doghouses of the (eight-tower) AM array last year. The standards roll on for now on co-owned WNLC-FM (98.7) East Lyme.
In NEW YORK, it’s been a big week here in NERW’s hometown. First, the University of Rochester’s WRUR-FM (88.5) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a fifty-hour broadcast that started Saturday night and wrapped up Monday. NERW notes that the FM actually goes back only to 1966 — but 1948 was the start date for the carrier-current AM on 640.
Jacor finally made a move early Thursday morning with long-neglected AC WVOR (100.5). Despite the heritage calls and the killer signal, WVOR has been sagging in the ratings, dropping into a tie for ninth place in the Fall book. Now WVOR’s changed positioners, becoming “Mix 100.5,” with liners promoting “the best music of the 80s, 90, and 70s” — in THAT order. Music thus far has ranged from “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers to “No Rain” by Blind Melon. (We kid you not…we just heard that very segue.)