In this week’s issue: Cannon departs “Now” morning show – Brockton’s WXBR sold – New talk lineups in Connecticut – Tower down in Vermont – Classical partnership in New Hampshire
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been just over two years since Nick Cannon took over morning drive on NEW YORK‘s WXRK (92.3 Now), and now he’s leaving the show under what he says are doctor’s orders.
Cannon, who made a name for himself as a comedian, actor, rapper and host of “America’s Got Talent” before marrying Mariah Carey, has been battling health problems for his last few months as Now’s morning man. Cannon was hospitalized in California in early January with kidney issues, and last week he went back to the hospital, reportedly to treat blood clots in his lungs.
In a statement released Friday, Cannon said the strain of the radio show had become too much:
“Under doctor’s orders, I have been asked to make my health first and cut back on some of my professional commitments in order to allow my body to get the rest that it needs to keep up with the demands of my multi-tasking schedule. It has been an absolute pleasure working with CBS Radio and the 92.3 NOW morning show team and I would like to thank them for their unwavering support. I will continue to host my syndicated Cannon’s Countdown weekend show and look forward to contributing to 92.3 NOW whenever possible. Even Superman has to sleep,” he said.
Taking Cannon at his word about his health issues (and we have no reason to doubt him about the stress level, especially as we’ve been dealing with repeated hospitalizations for Mrs. NERW at this end), his departure still raises some inevitable questions about the future of CBS Radio’s attempt to take on Clear Channel’s WHTZ (100.3) in the New York top-40 arena.
While “Now” and Cannon’s show have done respectably in the ratings in a little over a year on the air, they still lag far behind the dominant Z100, and the departure of PD Dom Theodore earlier this month started the rumor mill chugging about the possibility of a format flip. CBS attempted to quash those rumors by putting out a release announcing its intention to hire a replacement PD, but no new PD has surfaced yet – and now CBS has a relatively low-rated huge FM signal in market number one with no PD and no morning star. (Cannon’s co-host Sarah Lee is working with afternoon jock Lil Cee in mornings for now.)
Did we mention that the start of baseball season is just a few weeks away, and that CBS revenue behemoth WFAN (660) will be wanting to promote its new Mets radio team of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin? And that WFAN’s sports rival, ESPN Radio’s WEPN (1050), just got a big attention boost from the one-two punch of the “Lincredible” New York Knicks, for whom it’s the radio flagship, and the seven-week absence of Knicks TV games from the screens of New York’s Time Warner Cable customers? (Granted, the “Linsanity” may be subsiding a bit, and Time Warner Cable and MSG Networks came to an agreement Friday that ends the standoff, but we’d still expect at least a moderate boost in WEPN’s January and February numbers.)
As we’ve noted in the past, CBS Radio knows all too well how quickly a sports rival armed with high-profile play-by-play deals and a potent FM signal can damage a heritage AM sports outlet, thanks to its experience in Boston as the upstart (WBZ-FM “98.5 the Sports Hub”) that knocked down the heritage signal, Entercom’s WEEI (850), forcing it to eventually pull the trigger on its own FM simulcast, probably several years later than it should have. Is CBS nervous about WFAN playing the WEEI role in a New York version of that scenario, especially if ESPN can grab an FM signal for WEPN in the near future? Whatever it’s saying publicly about keeping top-40 on WXRK, it’s hard not to believe that CBS upper management isn’t at least plotting out a “WFAN-FM” scenario, and the question at this point isn’t “if,” it’s “when.”
*If you’ve carefully perused your 2012 Tower Site Calendar, you’ve probably noticed that it pays special tribute this year to all the heritage AM stations that can trace their history back to radio’s first boom year, 1922. That means this will be a year full of ninetieth-anniversary celebrations – and the first few are taking place this month. In New York City, WOR (710) celebrates its anniversary on Wednesday, and it’s kicking off with more than a week’s worth of archival audio on the air and a promise of a bigger anniversary celebration later in the year. Up the Thruway in the Capital District, WGY (810 Schenectady) hits its big milestone today.
*Out on Long Island, WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) has named its night jock, Syke, as music director.
Upstate, CNYRadio.com reports Marty Brandon has departed WQNY (103.7 Ithaca), where he was the afternoon jock. He’s bound for a new job outside of radio in the Albany area, and WQNY is now looking for a new afternoon host. (In the meantime, sister station WHCU still hasn’t filled its morning anchor job. That meant WQNY morning man/ops manager Chris Allinger was handling WHCU duty and Brandon had been covering mornings on WQNY; now Allinger will be back on WQNY in the morning and Geoff Dunn will cover WHCU until a new host is in place there.)
Where are they now? Weslea Neas was just plain “Weslea” when she was music director and afternoon jock at WBEE-FM (92.5 Rochester). Then she moved into the music business, working for Republic Nashville – and she’s just been named director of promotion for the southwest and midwest for CO5 Nashville.
*WXBR (1460) in Brockton, MASSACHUSETTS is indeed being sold. As we first reported a month ago, the buyer is indeed a Haitian broadcaster: Azure Media, LLC, which is paying Michael Metter’s Business Talk Radio $250,000, is owned by Florida-based Jhonson Napoleon and his wife Betsy. (He’s a US citizen; she’s a citizen of Haiti.)
Despite the huge hole in commercial radio for a Haitian-targeted station (filled out, of course, by a slew of pirates in the Boston and Brockton areas), it’s not clear that WXBR will leave its existing English-language talk format behind when it changes hands. Azure’s one existing station, WFHT (1390 Avon Park FL), is an English-language talker that runs mainstream shows such as Neal Boortz, Mark Levin and Michael Savage.
The quarter-million dollar purchase price, incidentally, is just a quarter of what Metter paid for the station (then WBET) in 2006; it’s also a significant discount from the $325,000 asking price for WXBR.
*There’s a new signal on the air on the east side of the Springfield market: WWQZ (89.5 Baptist Village) signed on for the first time on Saturday afternoon, the first New England outlet for the Greenville, S.C.-based “The Life FM” network. The new 33-watt facility in the hills between Hampden and Wilbraham was built by Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us tower-photo fame, and it will soon be joined by simulcaster WWQA (89.9 North Granby CT).
*Unless you vacation in a high-end hotspot such as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket or the Hamptons, you’ve probably never heard of “Plum TV.” But the denizens of the fancy restaurants and expensive boutiques in those resort areas (not to mention Sun Valley, Vail, Telluride and Aspen) have been tuning into the lifestyle-oriented cable channel for several years, though apparently not in sufficient numbers to save the network from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Plum TV founder Tom Scott (you might know him better as the co-founder of Nantucket Nectars juices) has found a savior for the network; “stalking horse” bidder PMG Media will kick off the bidding at $15 million when the auction takes place March 1.
*Jon Grayson got off to a bad start in the Boston market three years ago when CBS Radio decided to pull the plug on local overnight shows at several of its big signals, including WBZ (1030), and replace them with a new national “Overnight America” broadcast hosted by Grayson at KMOX (1120) in St. Louis. An outcry from fans and sponsors of WBZ’s Steve Leveille, whose local show was dumped for “Overnight America,” quickly restored local talk to WBZ’s late-night air. But CBS isn’t giving up on Grayson. It’s now syndicating the show (which really wasn’t all that bad, had it been a replacement for anything other than the beloved Leveille), and now Grayson has found a New England outlet. He’s being heard on WCRN (830 Worcester) from 1-5 AM, replacing “Red Eye Radio,” the Cumulus replacement for the former “Midnight Radio.” Ironically, one of the other big CBS stations that did successfully replace its local overnights with Grayson’s show back in 2009 was WCCO in Minneapolis, the original clear-channel occupant of 830.
*There’s an overnight change in RHODE ISLAND as well: WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) has replaced “Coast to Coast AM” with…Cumulus’ in-house “Red Eye Radio.”
*Radio listeners in NEW HAMPSHIRE are getting a better classical-music signal. Harry Kozlowski’s Highlands Community Radio recently moved classical WCNH from a low-power license on 94.7 in Concord (now WNHN-LP) to a full-power signal on 91.5, licensed to nearby Bow. But that turns out to have been just the first step in some bigger expansion plans: WCNH has now moved in with New Hampshire Public Radio at its Pillsbury Street studios in Concord as part of a partnership that also includes a simulcast of WCNH’s classical programming on the HD2 signal of NHPR flagship WEVO (89.1 Concord). Under the new brand “Classical NH,” WCNH is hoping the partnership will expand to additional HD signals around the state, as well as a more prominent streaming presence.
It’s the first time there’s been classical programming associated with NHPR since the main NHPR network went to a fulltime news-talk format in 2000.
*There’s a new 10 PM newscast coming to the Granite State, too: dominant ABC affiliate WMUR-TV (Channel 9) will add a prime-time newscast on March 5, airing on its “Me-TV” 9.2 subchannel. The new show will be anchored by Tom Griffith and Tiffany Eddy, who will hand over their current duties hosting “New Hampshire Chronicle” to Erin Fehlau and Sean McDonald; it will also compete with the 10 PM show that started last year on Bill Binnie’s independent WBIN-TV (Channel 50).
*There’s a schedule change at WKBK (1290 Keene), where Mark Levin’s syndicated show has been replaced from 6-8 PM weekdays by the “Wall Street Journal Daily Wrap.” More interesting, perhaps, than that minor shift is the string of e-mails from and about Levin uncovered by rival talker Ian Freeman over at his Free Keene site; chronicling the cancellation of Levin’s show at another affiliate, WSPD in Toledo, Ohio, they inadvertently raise some very interesting questions about how the ideological rifts within the Republican Party as a whole are playing out in at least one corner of the talk radio universe.
(We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below: Is it healthy for a station that was once a mass-market, full-service community voice – Toledo’s WSPD, in this case, not WKBK – to have its PD making programming decisions based on a host’s “common sense, Constitutional fealty and reasoned response” and his positions vis a vis obscure associates of Ron Paul? Somewhere, the ghost of Jerry Williams weeps…)
*There’s a tower down in VERMONT‘s Upper Valley: WNHV (910 White River Junction) went silent in May 2010 and had its license deleted last September. By then, WNHV’s owner, Nassau Broadcasting, had lost the lease on the station’s longtime tower site just off US 5 south of White River Junction, owned by former station licensee Great Northern Radio. Last week, Great Northern had the tower dismantled, removing the last physical evidence of WNHV’s half-century of existence. The land around it is being donated to the town of Hartford, which will use it for recreation.
*In CONNECTICUT, budget cuts have ended Dan Lovallo’s run as afternoon host on Buckley’s WDRC (1360 Hartford) and its sister stations WSNG (610 Torrington), WWCO (1240 Waterbury) and WMMW (1470 Meriden).
Lovallo had been with the “Talk of Connecticut” network since 2006; for now, WDRC and its sisters are carrying the Rita Cosby show, syndicated from Buckley’s WOR in New York, in the 3-6 PM slot.
In Bridgeport, WDJZ (1530) is making a full-fledged flip from gospel and ethnic programming to English-language talk. The station took the first step toward a format change in November, when John LaBarca brought his morning show over from WSTC (1400 Stamford)/WNLK (1350 Norwalk) when those stations were sold. LaBarca’s now being joined by Metro Networks’ Bill Buchner with news and traffic, and WDJZ says it’s looking for local hosts for additional talk dayparts.
*There’s more talk coming to western PENNSYLVANIA, too: public broadcaster WESA (90.5) launches its daily “Essential Pittsburgh” broadcast next Monday at noon, with a repeat at 8 PM. It’s been getting ready for the new show, hosted by Paul Guggenheimer, with Friday-afternoon preview broadcasts. To make room for the new local show, WESA will cut “On Point” down to an hour, shifting “Tell Me More” to 11 AM (from 1 PM) and “Here & Now” to 1 PM, from noon.
Local sports talk has disappeared at York’s WOYK (1350), where afternoon talker Adam McAllister told listeners last week he was quitting after two years with the station. WOYK will fill the slot with more Yahoo! Sports Radio syndicated sports talk.
There’s a new program director at WLAN-FM (96.9 Lancaster): Derrick Cole moves north from Clear Channel sister station WKSI in Winchester, Virginia to replace Jeff Hurley.
Mark Shepperd is moving down the Blue Route, leaving the afternoon slot at WLEV (100.7 Allentown) to do production work and weekends at Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1), where production director Brian Murphy died last November.
Joe Reilly’s Columbia Broadcasting is trying to get a new translator out of the way of some interference. W291BD (106.1 Bloomsburg) has been relaying Joe’s WHLM (930), but complaints of interference from the 250-watt translator to WLZS (106.1 Beaver Springs) prompted the translator to file for a frequency change to 105.9. The FCC rejected Columbia’s application to make the move under Special Temporary Authority, following up with a formal application for a construction permit if it’s satisfied that the move will work. The Commission says W291BD’s proposed move “involves allocation matters best considered within the context of an application for a construction permit, rather than an STA request,” and it says W291BD can request expedited processing of such an application.
And longtime WMAJ (1450 State College) general manager Milton “Mickey” Bergstein has died. Bergstein came to WMAJ as an announcer in 1953, a decade after he graduated from Penn State. Bergstein became one of the voices of Nittany Lions football, serving on and off as color commentator, analyst and play-by-play man between 1953 and 1970. Bergstein left radio in 1975 to become a full-time instructor at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. He retired in 2001, and died Tuesday at age 89.
*It was a quiet, quiet week in CANADA, but we’ve got this for you, courtesy of Dan Sys’ Canadian Radio News: in North Bay, Ontario, CFXN (106.3 Moose FM) has segued from adult hits to hot AC-leaning top-40.