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In this week's issue: WFNX deal nets Clear Channel third Boston FM - Blount buys WFEX - WXBR moves back in - WRKS calls go to Mississippi, its studio to WBLS - Baseball on the Radio: The Independent Minors

by SCOTT FYBUSH

*In the earliest years of this column, back in 1994 and 1995, one story dominated our headlines: the consolidation of Boston broadcast ownership under a handful of large cluster operators. Our first issues (then known as "New England Radio Watch") chronicled the disappearance of independent owners and the rise of the earliest duopolies and triopolies and, eventually, even bigger clusters.

But as the early Granums and Infinitys and Chancellors gave way to today's CBS Radio and Greater Media and Entercom, two things remained true in Boston: Clear Channel was trying to compete with a much smaller cluster than its rivals, and one old-line operator, Steve Mindich's WFNX (101.7 Lynn), remained staunchly independent, immune to the run-up in prices that led many other independents to sell out.

On Wednesday, that all changed with the surprise announcement that Mindich had struck a deal to sell WFNX's license - but not its call letters or modern rock format - to Clear Channel Media + Entertainment for a price widely rumored (but not yet confirmed) to be $11 million.

For Mindich, it means the end of a broadcast legacy that began in 1983, when the Boston Phoenix publisher paid $1.1 million for what was then WLYN-FM, a suburban signal that had recently segued from leased-time ethnic programming to "new wave" music as "Y-102."

Over the next 29 years,  101.7 established a niche for itself as the radio voice of Boston's alternative music scene, breaking bands, sponsoring contests and launching the careers of dozens of talented radio people who made their way through the studios that never moved from the old WLYN-FM digs, in a run-down building way off the beaten path in downtown Lynn.

(Just a sampling of the names with WFNX on their resumes includes Bill Abbate, later with WBCN and WZLX; Sharon Brody, now of WFNX; Nik Carter, later at New York's WXRK; Joanne Doody, later at WXRV; Tom Irwin, aka "Tai the Morning Guy" and later at WRKO and WROR; Juanita "the Scene Queen"; and Neal Robert.)

The WFNX studio in 2006

In an interview with WBUR after the sale was announced, Mindich said he'd received plenty of unsolicited offers for the station over the years, including some at the height of the market that would have paid him much better than the Clear Channel offer.

"I realized given that sustaining the station over the last four years in particular has been extremely difficult, and the recession has just really killed us, I made the decision. It had to be done," said Mindich, who was reportedly in tears when he made the announcement to the WFNX staff on Wednesday morning.

The station had approximately a dozen full-time staffers and several part-timers, and Mindich says "eight or nine of them" were let go immediately upon the announcement.

WFNX's airstaff (D-Tension and Henry Santoro in morning drive, station veteran Julie Kramer in middays, Adam 12 in afternoons and Jim Ryan at night) were promptly replaced by automation, though Kramer and Adam 12 were back on the air for farewell shows Thursday and Friday.

The sale to Clear Channel doesn't include an LMA, so the automated WFNX programming (and, Mindich promises, more farewell shows) will continue for the next several months until the signal is handed over to its new owner.

> See the WFNX studio and transmitter sites on this 2006 Tower Site of the Week installment <

*So what does Clear Channel plan to do with its new property? That was the, er, $11 million question on the minds of everyone in Boston radio as soon as the news began to spread.

It's not hard to see why Clear Channel wanted an additional FM outlet in Boston: it's the only top-ten market in which  the giant broadcaster is significantly underpowered when compared to other big clusters in town. While Greater Media boasts five FMs, CBS Radio has four FMs plus powerhouse AM WBZ (1030) and Entercom comes to the plate with three FMs (two of them simulcasting) and two AMs, Clear Channel has been competing with two class B FMs and two less than full-market AMs. The FMs, rhythmic top-40 "Jam'n" WJMN (94.5) and mainstream top-40 "Kiss 108" WXKS-FM (107.9), dominate the younger demographics in the Boston market, while the AMs are talker WXKS (1200) and Spanish AC "Mia" WKOX (1430).

It's "Talk 1200" that's been at the center of lots of the immediate format speculation for 101.7: after making a significant investment in upgrading the formerly Framingham-based WKOX into a Newton-licensed 50,000-watt signal featuring Rush Limbaugh and local hosts Jeff Katz and Jay Severin, the AM station has struggled to achieve even single-digit shares in the ratings.

Is that a function of 1200's limited directional signal, which misses much of the outer suburban reaches most likely to be amenable to the talk format? Or is it simply a matter of being on the AM band while many listeners won't venture away from FM? In recent years, Clear Channel has become more aggressive about moving its talk formats to FM in search of larger, younger audiences, thus far with mixed results - while Pittsburgh's WPGB has been a success, Minneapolis' KTLK-FM retreated to AM in favor of FM sports, and the jury is still out on more recent AM/FM simulcasts in Syracuse and Albany.

In this particular case, the outlook for a 1200/101.7 simulcast appears questionable at best: if the AM signal on 1200 struggles to reach the talk audience out along the I-495 outer beltway, especially at night, the class A FM signal on 101.7 from downtown Boston's One Financial Center gives up the ghost not far outside Route 128, limiting its reach to Boston and its inner suburbs, not the area that's traditionally been a stronghold for WXKS' flavor of talk.

As for a big signal increase on 101.7, it's unlikely at best. While Clear Channel controls several of the bigger signals short-spaced to WFNX nearby on the dial, including WWBB 101.5 in Providence and WGIR-FM 101.1 in Manchester, a signal shift to upgrade 101.7 still remains almost impossibly challenging. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the intermediate-frequency (IF) spacing protection between 101.7 and WBUR-FM on 90.9 that would require any higher-powered signal on 101.5 or 101.7 to transmit from outside the core of the Boston market, surrendering the one big advantage WFNX gained in its 2006 move to its current site - good building penetration in the downtown core. (That factor alone may be enough of an advantage over the 1200 signal to justify putting talk there.)

What else could arrive on 101.7 if it's not talk? Some flavor of male-leaning rock is a possibility, complementing the female-leaning WJMN and WXKS-FM and competing with CBS Radio's classic rock WZLX, Entercom's active rock WAAF and Greater Media's alternative rock WBOS and classic hits WROR. Less likely are country (which would nibble away at Greater Media's surging WKLB-FM but would be hampered by a weak suburban signal) and some flavor of adult contemporary, which could cannibalize Clear Channel's own Kiss 108.

There's a very real, very substantial hole on the Boston FM dial for two more formats as well, both of them fitting nicely with the existing 101.7 signal. A straight-on urban format like the ones that have brought Clear Channel big success in New York (WWPR) and Philadelphia (WUSL and WDAS-FM) might cannibalize too much of WJMN's listenership. What about a Spanish-language format? Clear Channel has tried several AM approaches to the largely Dominican and Puerto Rican Spanish-speaking communities in the market, including the current "Mia 1430." But the company's attempts at Spanish-language FM in bigger markets have fallen somewhat flat in recent years, with a full-scale retreat in Philadelphia (where "Rumba" WUBA went from a full-market FM to a partial-coverage AM to oblivion) and only mixed results at WNUA in Chicago.

One more possibility that's received relatively little speculation: even without acquiring WFNX's branding, music library and staff (some of which Mindich may yet repurpose into a streaming-only version of 'FNX), could Clear Channel keep 101.7 playing some form of alternative rock? Assuming it's not off-limits due to a non-compete (which we'll know more about when the sale agreement is filed, perhaps as early as today), modern rock is a format Clear Channel knows well in big markets including Los Angeles (KYSR 98.7) and Philadelphia (WRFF 104.5), it's a good fit for 101.7's strong signal over Boston's college neighborhoods, and it's a niche that will otherwise be left unfilled when Mindich signs WFNX off the airwaves for the last time sometime this summer.

No matter what comes to 101.7, or what sort of stripped-down "FNX" might survive online, that will be a sad day for Boston radio. In its heyday, WFNX was more than just a radio station. It was a cultural touchstone for two generations of young Bostonians, an entry point into the city for uncounted thousands of college students arriving from elsewhere, and a vital part of one of the best live-music scenes anywhere in the country. (Read Sharon Brody's memories of her time in the unique WFNX culture here.)

And it was, of course, one of the last independents left standing, leaving in its wake only Steve Silberberg's WXRV (92.5) up in the Merrimack Valley as a big stand-alone commercial FM voice in a city where WBCN and WCOZ and WCGY once defined what independent rock radio could be.

*As for the other remaining station in a WFNX network that once stretched from Rhode Island to Maine, Mindich also found a buyer for NEW HAMPSHIRE's WFEX (92.1 Peterborough) last week. The Peterborough station came to Mindich in a $1.5 million 1999 purchase, and we don't yet know how much religious broadcaster Bill Blount is paying to add it to his own regional network that includes WBCI (105.9) in Bath, Maine and AM stations in Connecticut (WFIF 1500 Milford, WSDK 1550 Bloomfield), Rhode Island (WARV 1590 Warwick), central Massachusetts (WVNE 760 Leicester) and Derry, New Hampshire (WDER 1320).

Once Blount closes on the purchase of WFEX, it will flip from a WFNX simulcast to a simulcast of WDER's Christian talk format, with a promise to add more local content from churches in the Monadnock region as the new station ramps up.

(What about the rest of the old WFNX network? Rhode Island's WWRX 103.7 was sold to Entercom in 2004 to become the Providence-market WEEI relay, and in Sanford, Maine, the combo of WPHX 1220 and WPHX-FM 92.1 was spun off last year to separate local ownership, with the FM going to Aruba Capital Holdings as WXEX-FM and the AM to Carl Strube and Pete Falconi as WWSF.)

*Back in the Bay State, WXBR (1460 Brockton) is returning to its 60 Main Street studios now that the station's outgoing owner, Michael Metter's Business Talk Radio, has settled a rent dispute that ousted the station earlier this month. Initially said to be $6,000 behind on its rent, WXBR was apparently more like $15,000 behind, but that amount will be paid out of the proceeds when its impending sale to a Florida broadcaster closes. It's not yet clear whether WXBR will remain in its longtime home once it's sold; it's the last tenant remaining in the building, once home to the Brockton Enterprise, the former parent to the station in its days as WBET.

*(College) Radio People on the Move: Graduation time at Emerson College means Mariel Wade moves up from music director to program director at WERS (88.9 Boston), replacing the departing Katie DiMartile. Kendall Stewart moves up from promotions to music director.

WAZK's new transmitter

*Out there on Nantucket, this is launch week for Jeff Shapiro's new WAZK (97.7), aka "97.7 ACK-FM." The new station came together very quickly over the last few weeks, with almost daily updates on its Facebook page chronicling the installation of a new antenna, transmitter and studio equipment. A signal could be on the air at 97.7 as early as today, and programming may start by "Thursday or Friday," the station says.

*Just three NERW-land stations were among the 31 around the country taking part in the first-ever "High School Radio Day" last Wednesday. Inspired by the success of the annual "College Radio Day" and timed to the anniversary of the May 1949 debut of WNAS (88.1 New Albany, Indiana), the nation's first high school FM station, the day was designed to draw attention to the remaining signals broadcasting from high schools around the country - including participants WAVM (91.7) at Maynard High School in Massachusetts, WLLO-LP (102.9) at Londonderry High School in New Hampshire and WWPT (90.3) at Staples High School in Westport, CONNECTICUT.

*EMF's "K-Love" is about to get a stronger signal in RHODE ISLAND, where translator W284BA (104.7 Warwick) is applying to relocate from Cranston to the WPRI-TV tower in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where it would boost power from 38 watts to 70 watts, running from a directional antenna 745 feet above ground.

To make the move possible, EMF is changing the translator's primary signal from WTKL (91.1 North Dartmouth) to WSNE (93.3 Taunton) - and if you're now asking, "what does Clear Channel's WSNE have to do with K-Love?," we can answer that question: Clear Channel and EMF have partnered up in several markets around the country to extend the reach of "K-Love" via HD Radio subchannels on Clear Channel's bigger FM signals, including, apparently, WSNE. (In exchange, EMF has transferred some of its surplus translators to Clear Channel.)

*We now know for certain where the WRKS calls are being parked after more than 30 years on the air in NEW YORK City at 98.7: as part of the intellectual property YMF bought from Emmis, they're being parked on one of YMF's former Inner City Broadcasting stations. The new "WRKS" is the former WZNO (105.9 Pickens MS), a Jackson-market station that, somewhat ironically, runs an FM sports format just like WEPN-FM (98.7), the former WRKS in New York.

And what becomes of the now-vacant WRKS studios in the Emmis complex at 395 Hudson Street? It appears they'll have a new tenant soon: YMF. As part of the Inner City Broadcasting bankruptcy that transferred WBLS (107.5) and WLIB (1190) to YMF, the stations have been looking for a new home to replace their expensive rented space on the top floor of the 3 Park Avenue tower - and now WBLS is reportedly heading to the former WRKS studio, which is sitting empty now that 98.7 is operating from the WEPN studios.

(WBLS' move downtown, if it happens, will leave even fewer studios in midtown Manhattan - only Cumulus' WABC/WPLJ and WEPN at 2 Penn Plaza, along with SBS' WPAT-FM/WSKQ-FM on West 56th Street and Univision Radio's cluster at 485 Madison Avenue; pretty much everyone else is now in lower Manhattan.)

Speaking of WEPN, it has ended its English-language ESPN simulcast on WNJE (1040) in Flemington, New Jersey: that signal is now carrying ESPN Deportes Spanish-language sports, a few months ahead of the planned flip to Deportes on WEPN's AM 1050 signal this fall. (It's likely a temporary format on 1040, which is heading from Nassau to Goldman Sachs as part of the Nassau Broadcasting bankruptcy.)

*It's almost Memorial Day weekend, and that means another installment of "WABC Rewound." The loving look back at Musicradio 77 hasn't been heard over the air on WABC in a few years, but it keeps on going over at Allan Sniffen's Rewound Radio, where it kicks off Saturday morning at 8 and runs through midnight next Monday.

Newman after the win

*We'll have another installment of our "Baseball on the Radio" series at the end of this week's column, but before we get there - how about a bit of lacrosse? On Saturday night, our hometown Rochester Knighthawks won their third National Lacrosse League championship, and that meant a great night for WBEE (92.5) morning co-host/producer Jeremy Newman.

He took over as the Knighthawks' arena host/announcer this season, and he was right out there on the Blue Cross Arena turf (wearing jersey number 92!) when the team hoisted the Champions Cup. (There was even a "Newman" bobblehead distributed to fans at one Knighthawks game earlier in the season...)

The Knighthawks, incidentally, are heard locally on WROC (950), the Entercom sports sister station to WBEE.

*A Syracuse-based sports talk show will be visiting the ESPN Radio mothership in Bristol, Connecticut later this week as part of the Worldwide Leader's annual "Audio Alley" event. "Upon Further Review" is heard in the afternoon on Galaxy's ESPN outlets (WTLA 1200/WSGO 1440 and FM translators at 97.7 and 100.1) and is simulcast on the 9.2 subchannel of ABC affiliate WSYR-TV, where the show originates. There won't be a video feed of hosts Chris McManus and Steve Infanti, reports CNYRadio.com, but WSYR 9.2 will simulcast the audio of the show and Infanti, WSYR-TV's sports director, will produce a report for the TV station's newscasts.

*Radio People on the Move: at WFAS-FM (103.9 Bronxville), Mike Allan moves up from part-time status to full-time middays, while former middayer Bobby Farrell moves to weekends.

*The Northeast Gospel Network, based at WNGN (91.9 Argyle-Glens Falls), has added a new signal northeast of Utica. WVVC (88.1 Dolgeville) is running 11 kW (vertical-only)/102' from a site near Caroga Lake, at the edge of the Adirondacks. (It's tied in with religious WVVC-LD channel 40 in Utica as well.)

*There's a morning show change in central NEW JERSEY, where WAWZ (99.1 Zarephath) parted ways last week with its morning team of Johnny and Stacey Stone. No replacement has been named yet.

*There's a translator on the move along the US 6 corridor in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA, where Frank Iorio's WNAE (1310 Warren) will soon have a 250-watt directional FM relay operating from its AM tower. The translator started out as W238BB (95.5) down the road in Corry, and it's been edging its way eastward, operating briefly as W241BM (96.1) from a site about five miles east of Corry before filing to move up the dial to 96.7 in Warren. WNAE runs a talk format, with local hosts Dale Bliss and Mark Silva in the morning and syndicated talkers the rest of the day. With 5000 watts by day, WNAE's AM signal gets out well in the Warren area, but it drops to just 94 watts at night, leaving a coverage gap the new FM signal will help to fill.

While Philadelphia's new talk station, WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ), waits for the arrival of Rush Limbaugh in its noon-3 PM slot, it keeps plugging interesting guest hosts into that daypart. Last week's roster included Casey Bartholomew, late of "New Jersey 101.5" (WKXW-FM Trenton); this week, veteran Jersey/New York City jock "Big Jay" Sorensen will be heard on Wednesday afternoon.

*In CANADA, Moses Znaimer's MZ Media has found a new frequency for the signal it's bringing to Collingwood, on the south shore of Georgian Bay. MZ had applied for 104.9, but the CRTC awarded that frequency to Bayshore Broadcasting instead, telling MZ to find another spot on the dial. That turns out to be 102.9, where the new MZ signal (which will bear the calls CFMO) will be adjacent to sister station CFMX (103.1 Cobourg). (Both CFMO and CFMX are, or will be, mostly simulcasts of classical CFMZ 96.3 in Toronto, with some local content inserted.)

In order to free up 102.9, MZ will pay to move CFGI on nearby Georgina Island from 102.7 to 92.3. On 102.9, CFMO proposes to operate with 9.37 kW (23 kW max DA)/255 m, while CFGI will run 600 watts on 92.3.

*Ted Bird's move to CKGM (990) was one of the worst-kept secrets in Montreal radio, and now it's out of the bag: just days after leaving CKRK (103.1 Kahnawake), he's joining Elliott Price and Shaun Starr on morning drive at "TSN Radio 990." Montreal media guru Steve Faguy reports Bird will get a salary bump from $50,000 or so a year at K103 to $250,000 (and a two-year contract) at CKGM. (And what about CKGM's move down the dial to a stronger signal on 690? That's still expected to happen sometime before autumn, Faguy says.)

*How about some more Baseball on the Radio? Around this time each year, we take a quick spin around the "independent" minor leagues, noting the handful of unaffiliated teams that still have radio deals in an age when most have gone to streaming - if they have any radio coverage at all.

In the Atlantic League, there's on-air radio for the Camden Riversharks, returning to WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) for a second season that will include the league's All-Star game; the Lancaster Barnstormers, moving from WLPA (1490) to WLAN (1390) this season while keeping Dave Collins behind the mike; the Long Island Ducks, in their second year of weekend games on WJVC (96.1 Center Moriches); the Somerset Patriots, back on WCTC (1450 New Brunswick); and the York Revolution, in the last year of a three-year deal on WOYK (1350 York).

Over in the Can-Am League (now down to five teams with the Brockton Rox on hiatus and playing collegiate-league ball this summer), there's a new radio deal for the Rockland Boulders, who'll have their second-season action carried on both WRCR (1300 Spring Valley, with studios right at the stadium, Provident Bank Park) and WFAS (1230 White Plains). Les Capitales de Québec remain on CHRC (800).

The Frontier League's easternmost outpost, the Washington (PA) Wild Things, remain on WJPA-FM (95.3) while sister station WJPA (1450) carries the Pittsburgh Pirates.

We've got one more installment left to go: our June 17 issue will include the radio lineup this year for the New York-Penn League, which starts its short season the following evening.

Play ball!

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: May 23, 2011 -

*Even if you weren't accosted by someone on a city streetcorner holding a sign and thrusting a tract at you, it was hard to escape the headlines these last few days: "End of the World?"

And as you know - since you're still here reading the column, and we're still here writing it - Family Radio's predictions of global earthquakes and rapture failed to materialize on schedule Saturday evening at 6. (The closest we could come to any evidence of the predicted devastation was the utter meltdown of the Red Sox bullpen later that evening, but that's another story...)

It didn't take long at all for the conversations to get going all over the radio landscape: after staking so much, including millions of dollars in billboards and other publicity, on the "guaranteed" end of the world, what happens now to Family Radio and its extensive network of stations, including its most valuable property, NEW YORK-market WFME (94.7 Newark)?

Here's what we know so far: for all of the apocalyptic claims being made by Family Radio founder and leader Harold Camping on his nightly "Open Forum" show and on the Family Radio website (above right), the rest of the network's programming carried on Saturday over WFME and Family Radio's other stations in its usual phlegmatic fashion, with nary a mention of the 6 PM deadline as it drew near. And whatever Camping may have said about having no "plan B" (as he left his Oakland, California studio after his "farewell" show Thursday evening, he reportedly told colleagues he didn't expect to ever be back there again), someone kept the network's automation running, not only into Saturday evening but into Sunday as well.

It's the long term that may prove more interesting. Camping gave an interview to the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday in which he pronounced himself "flabbergasted" that his prediction didn't come true - but he says he'll be back at work today to figure out what to do next.

Camping is one of four voting members on Family Radio's board, and while the network appears to run largely debt-free, it's been very much the product of Camping's vision over the last half-century, and little is known about how it might function if he doesn't remain at the organization's helm. Then there's the question of license renewal: the eight-year radio renewal cycle begins next month for stations in the mid-Atlantic region, and it's likely that all the publicity over Camping's blown prediction will lead to some sort of challenge against the renewal of Family Radio's licenses there (including a high-power commercial FM license in Annapolis/Baltimore) and perhaps to others down the road.

A challenge to Family's license renewals would likely be a long shot, given the specificity of the FCC's anti-hoax rule, which asks whether a "hoax" broadcast caused public panic, which Camping's broadcasts mostly did not. But whatever happens in the short term, it's certain that there will now be more scrutiny of Family's operations and more broadcasters eyeing the possibility of acquiring some of the network's big signals.

In addition to WFME, which has been in Family's hands since 1965, broadcasting a big class B signal that blankets most of the New York market, Family also owns a Philadelphia-market class B commercial signal, WKDN (106.9 Camden), as well as full-power noncommercial FMs in the Johnstown, Erie, Bedford, State College, Buffalo, Rochester, Kingston and Long Island markets, an AM daytimer in Connecticut (WCTF 1170 Vernon) and a slew of translators. Family also owns WFME-DT, a noncommercial religious TV station licensed to West Milford, N.J. and serving the New York market (and Philadelphia, too, via a subchannel of WYBE-TV.)

A sale of WFME or WKDN would be a big deal indeed: in the boom years of the mid-1990s, WFME's license could probably have fetched several hundred million dollars, and even today, it's likely that the signal could be worth close to nine figures to any of several potential buyers. We'll be watching closely to see what happens as Family Radio deals with the fallout from the world's failure to end...

(One more quick note here: there's no connection at all between the Oakland-based Family Radio, legally Family Stations Inc., and the "Family Life Radio" network that extends across upstate New York and Pennsylvania.)

2012 update: WKDN was indeed sold; WFME remains in Family's hands for now.

*Elsewhere in the region, it was indeed "the end of the world" for CONNECTICUT's "Coast 96.7" just after midnight on Thursday (May 19), as Cox shut down the Stamford transmitter site of WCTZ (96.7 Port Chester NY) in preparation for the sale of the license to EMF Broadcasting.

Typical of Cox Radio, in six years on the air, the AC station never stopped being "The New Coast," but in its last few months it had been running entirely on automation, serving little purpose other than to keep the license alive and some ad contracts fulfilled until the station can be transferred to EMF to become its new "K-Love" outlet for the New York market under the new calls WKLV-FM.

That could happen any day now, since the FCC has granted a license to cover for 96.7's new signal from the top of Trump Plaza in New Rochelle.

*There's once again an urban radio station in western PENNSYLVANIA. We've been telling you about Tim Martz's acquisition of WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg) and his plans to use translator W261AX (100.1 Pittsburgh) to augment the AM daytimer's signal, and it all came together over the weekend.

WPYT went silent late last week, but it returned to the air on Friday playing hip-hop and rhythmic top-40 as "The New WAMO 100, Pittsburgh's Home for Hip-Hop and R&B" - and on Saturday, the translator (which had been testing from KDKA-TV's North Hills tower with a relay of public radio WDUQ) lit up with the urban programming as well.

The "WAMO" identity (which doesn't yet extend to the actual call letters) comes, of course, from Pittsburgh's longtime urban outlet, which was sold off a couple of years ago to become Catholic WAOB AM/FM. The WAMO calls are parked, for now, on a noncommercial CP in northeastern Pennsylvania, but it seems likely that they'll migrate back to the 'Burgh to appear on 660 at some point.

And in good Martz fashion, the new "WAMO" launches with a full-frontal attack on Clear Channel's top-40 WKST-FM (96.1), which is clearly in Martz's sights as he seeks a segment of the Pittsburgh audience that's been unserved for a few years now.

*There's some sad news from Pittsburgh as well: John Cigna, veteran morning man on KDKA (1020) through the eighties and nineties, died Friday (May 20) after a battle with emphysema and a stroke.

Cigna came from Fort Wayne's WOWO (1190) to Pittsburgh in 1969 to work at WJAS (1320), but four years later he was back with Westinghouse as the evening talk host on KDKA - and in 1983, he succeeded Jack Bogut in KDKA's morning slot, a position he held until his retirement in 2001.

"John Cigna and the K-Team" became a Steel City morning staple, complete with Cigna's trademark spaghetti breakfasts for listeners and a series of comedic TV commercials for the show.

Cigna had been in declining health in recent months, especially since the death of his wife in January. He was 75.

Five Years Ago: May 20, 2007 -

*It seemed like a sure thing - put a Spanish-language format on an FM signal in PENNSYLVANIA's biggest market and watch the ratings soar.

But Clear Channel's experiment with Spanish tropical "Rumba" on WUBA (104.5 Philadelphia) never quite caught fire after the station signed on last fall, replacing the soft AC of "Sunny" WSNI. WUBA languished at the bottom of the ratings, with revenue to match, and the advent of the Portable People Meter in Philadelphia this year confirmed that it wasn't just an issue with under-representation of the Hispanic audience.

So on Thursday, "Rumba" disappeared from the big full-market 104.5 signal, moving down to WDAS (1480 Philadelphia), displacing black gospel from that frequency and its decidedly less-than-full-market coverage. (WDAS had picked up Spanish-language Phillies broadcasts at the start of the season, which should have tipped us off that something was up.)

Replacing "Rumba" on 104.5 is Philadelphia's first commercial modern rocker since the 2005 demise of the old "Y100" (WPLY 100.3 Media) more than two years ago. "Radio 104.5" is running jockless for now, with a logo (and programming) reminiscent of the old WMRQ (104.1) in Hartford prior to its switch to urban in 2003.

*Gus Saunders, veteran Boston Herald restaurant critic and longtime host of "Yankee Kitchen" on the old Yankee Network and later on WROL (950), died last Monday (May 14) at his home in Newton. Saunders was on the air with his food show for a remarkable 56 years, signing off for the last time in October 1999.

 

It's become almost a tradition by now that nearly every time Clear Channel changes format on its Rochester rimshot at 107.3 (currently WSNP South Bristol), it stunts with country for a few minutes before adopting whatever format it's really moving to.

The latest 107.3 flip, which took place Friday afternoon, didn't include that stunt - because this time around, the format du jour is, in fact, country. "Country 107.3" is the new moniker, and we'd note that the previous occupant, rhythmic AC "Snap 107.3," lasted all of eight months and change, which means that maybe we weren't all that far off the mark, after all, when we called it a stunt format last September. (Conventional wisdom says putting country on 107.3 will serve as a flanker to shave just enough ratings points off Entercom's market-leading WBEE 92.5 to put Clear Channel's WHAM at the top of the ratings; we'll see how well that turns out.)

2012 update: Two formats and three callsigns later on 107.3...it's just flipped to oldies WODX.

Ten Years Ago: May 20, 2002 -

MAINE gets digital public TV across most of the state tomorrow (Tuesday), with the official launch of three of the planned five DTV outlets for Maine PBS. WCBB-DT (Channel 17) in Augusta, WMEB-DT (Channel 9) in Orono and WMEM-DT (Channel 20) in Presque Isle will all transmit a four-channel digital multiplex that includes the main Maine PBS service, PBS Kids, PBS YOU (the national network's "how-to" channel) and PBS Plus. (It appears Maine PBS plans to use the actual DTV channel numbers, instead of programming the PSIP capability to mimic the old analog channel numbers, which seems like an odd choice if the network eventually intends to return Augusta and Presque Isle to their VHF analog channels; we have no idea why.)
MPBC says the remaining two transmitters, WMEA-DT (Channel 45) in Biddeford and WMED-DT (Channel 10) in Calais, will be on the air by this fall, putting Maine far ahead of any of the region's other statewide public broadcasters in the DTV race.

NEW YORK could soon have a new classic rocker. WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) will soon break from its simulcast of modern AC WLIR (92.7 Garden City) to become "the Bone". It will join a crowded rock market in eastern Long Island, competing against Cox's WHFM (95.3 Southampton, relaying WBAB Babylon) and Barnstable's WRCN (103.9 Riverhead), not to mention AAA's WMOS (104.7 Montauk), which is now targeting a cross-Sound audience in Connecticut but still puts a solid signal across the East End.

In NEW JERSEY, the FCC gave the go-ahead to Millennium's purchase of the Nassau stations in the Monmouth/Ocean market, allowing Nassau to take control of standards WADB (1310 Asbury Park) and WOBM (1160 Lakewood), modern AC WJLK (94.3 Asbury Park), AC WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River) and CHR WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres), despite market-concentration concerns. Millennium will have 64% of radio revenues in the Arbitron-defined "market" (where one end can't hear most of the stations from the other end) when the Nassau stations are combined with its other recent purchases, including WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) in Trenton, which has a sizable audience in the area.

Fifteen Years Ago: May 22, 1997 -

NERW went back to Boston this past weekend, only to find yet another station added to the American Radio Systems megaopoly. WNFT (1150 Boston) is ARS' newest acquisition, to the tune of a reported $4.5 million from Greater Media. 1150 has been a troubled spot on the Boston radio dial for more than a decade, including stints as oldies WMEX (quashed by WODS's arrival on FM), business WMEX (killed off by the recession of the early 90s), Spanish "Radio Continental", leased-time ethnic brokered by WRCA (1330), the recent brief run as KidStar's Boston affiliate (which ended when KidStar went out of business), and plenty of interim periods simulcasting WMJX 106.7 or WBCS/WKLB-FM 96.9.

ARS isn't saying much about its plans for 1150, but rumor has it that the station will pick up some of the sports conflicts (Red Sox/Celtics, for instance) from WEEI (850). There's also a pretty credible rumor that ARS will move 1150 to the WRKO transmitter site in Burlington, demolish the three AM towers and the FM backup tower on the WNFT site in Lexington, and build a taller FM tower there that can be leased out by subsidiary American Tower Systems. That could be profitable enough by itself to make WNFT's profitability irrelevant, in fact...time will tell.

And one more personnel note: Steve Murphy is heading west after a five-year stint as PD and operations manager at classical WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester). Steve started at classical WFCC (107.5 Chatham) in 1988, detoured into easy listening at WQRC (99.9 Hyannis) in 1990, then arrived at WBOQ in 1992. Now he's off to classical WFMR in Milwaukee, where he'll be director of broadcast operations. Steve may be taking his life in his own hands -- he's vowing to keep wearing his Patriots attire in the heart of Packer country. Steve is also a past member of the board at the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, which has created a new award to honor the state's best broadcasters. It's called the Alan Okun Award, and it's named for the late owner of Webster's WGFP (940) and WXXW (98.9). Okun was named posthumously as the award's first recipient.

2012 update: After a long run in Milwaukee, Steve is now the morning man at KDB in Santa Barbara, California.

It will be licensed to New Hampshire, but the story of WLPL (96.3 Walpole) is really our VERMONT news this week: The Vermont Environmental Board is hearing another appeal to the 110-foot tower that WLPL owner Gary Savoie wants to build on Bemis Hill near Athens VT. Two adjoining landowners, Sarah Ann Martin and Veronica Brelsford, have kept Savoie tied up in appeals for several years, and in the meantime WLPL remains on hold. Meantime, WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) is crossing the border in the other direction, moving its studios from Woodstock across the Connecticut River to 52 Main Street in West Lebanon NH. And the next piece of the WVMX (101.7 Stowe) mystery has revealed itself: Sage Broadcasting has applied to sell the station to "Radio Vermont Classics," which could be related to the Radio Vermont that owns WDEV AM/FM (550 Waterbury/96.1 Warren) and WLVB (93.9 Morrisville). Rumor has 101.7 going classical eventually.

Up in MAINE, a new station is about to make its debut. WHRR (102.9 Dennysville) has been testing its transmitter, starting back on May 12. Perhaps in response to the upcoming competition, WQDY-FM (92.7) in nearby Calais has gone to 24-hour broadcasting. Sister AM WQDY (1230) remains on a 7AM - 10PM schedule. And over in Eastport, we're told high school outlet WSHD (91.7) is back on the air after some recent weather-related antenna damage. Advising the station is WQDY news director Tom McLaughlin, a onetime Boston broadcaster on WBCN (104.1) and the old WTBS (88.1, now WMBR).

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Google Maps appears to provide a better picture of the WAZK tower than Bing Maps (very often, Bin does a better job). Anyway, if you go to Google Maps and put in 215 Cliff Road, Nantucket, MA, select satellite and zoom in a little, you’ll see a tower at the bend of Cliff Road and Eel Point Road. That will do until Mike Fitzpatrick takes the ferry.

  2. Scott, while watching the ABC overnight news this morning at about 3:30 AM I saw two things involving towers that will interest you, I swear one of them appeared in tower site of the week.
    Watch for the new Essurance ad with a car speeding around a city.
    Just above the car at the end there is a tall old industrial building, possibly 10 stories with a very wide base self supporting tower on top…..maybe Milwaukee or Chicago…..sure looks familiar to me.
    Five minutes later ABC had a story detailing the blow up of what appears to be a 750-800′ broadcast tower at the Nevada test site.
    This tower was used to see what the effects of a medium yield
    atomic weapon would have on it….it was up over 55 years so I guess it was fairly well built. No more above ground testing on the mainland after the St. George, Utah death fiasco that gave half the population cancers of every conceivable variety. I have an RCA broadcast news of the 50’s describing the 1 KW RCA radio station installation that also survived a test. The RCA console was blown off the table they just picked it up off the floor, turned on the AC generator as the power lines were blown down. RCA boasted the station returned to the air immediately…..pretty good bragging rights I’d say.

  3. Scott, I subscribed just to read your take on FNX and you didn’t disappoint. Thanks. (I used to read your site years ago)

    As for FNX, as dumb as it sounds, they lost listeners because their format stagnated. As proud as they were of breaking new music, they sure spent a lot of time living in the past. There was still lots of Nirvana and not just on the leftover lunch.

    As for the future of the frequency, a talker seems likely. But I’ll hold out hope for a station that rocks. With a healthy variety that will keep listeners tuning in.

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