In this week’s issue: Nassau New England stations re-auctioned – New Nantucket FM on air – New York’s Hal Jackson, RIP – New stations in Miramichi, N.B.
by SCOTT FYBUSH
TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: One of Boston’s more improbable morning men is departing radio. Tom Finneran, who left his position as Massachusetts House speaker in disgrace and then joined WRKO (680 Boston) as morning co-host in 2007, announced this morning that he’ll be leaving the station – and apparently the radio business – after Thursday’s show. Finneran told listeners he has other opportunities in “the real world.” For now, that leaves Todd Feinburg as the solo host of the “Tom and Todd” show, but that’s sure to change in a Boston talk market that’s already abuzz with speculation about a possible new FM entry from Clear Channel. Much more next week…
*It took a few extra weeks, but the Nassau Broadcasting signals in VERMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE and MAINE are now officially headed to new owners. While we’d reported that the initial bankruptcy auction of the Nassau stations had sent those licenses to a partnership of New Hampshire businessman-turned-politician Bill Binnie and veteran station owner Jeff Shapiro, Nassau’s lead creditor, Goldman Sachs, held up the sale temporarily.
Now it’s happening – and now we know the details of how the stations will be divided. On Tuesday, Binnie’s Carlisle Capital had its $12.5 million bid accepted for 30 licenses, 17 of which will stay with Binnie under his new banner, the “WBIN Media Company.” Binnie already owns full-power WBIN-TV (Channel 50) in Derry and several low-power TV licenses around the state, and those Granite State TV properties will be joined by WNHW (93.3 Belmont), WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WJYY (105.5 Concord) in the Concord market; WEMJ (1490 Laconia) and WLNH (98.3 Laconia) in the Lakes Region; WFNQ (106.3 Nashua) serving the Manchester/Nashua area and the “Wolf” country duo of WXLF (95.3 Hartford)/WZLF (107.1 Bellows Falls) in the Connecticut River Valley.
Binnie will also enter southern Maine, keeping all nine of the remaining Nassau signals there: country “Wolf” WTHT (99.9 Auburn)/WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk), classic rock “Frank” WFNK (107.5 Lewiston)/WBYA (105.5 Thomaston), active rock “Bone” WHXR (106.3 Scarborough), classical “W-Bach” WBQX (106.9 Thomaston)/WBQI (107.7 Bar Harbor) and oldies WLVP (870 Gorham)/WLAM (1470 Lewiston).
As for Shapiro, even after selling the huge Vox group in New Hampshire and Vermont (much of it to Nassau), he’s remained a player in the region through his Great Eastern Radio, which owns talker WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough) in the Concord market, sports WEEY (93.5 Swanzey)/rock WKKN (101.9 Westminster) in Keene and an Upper Valley cluster that includes talker WTSL (1400 Hanover), AC WGXL (92.3 Hanover), classic rock WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon).
Through another one of his groups, Vertical Capital Partners, Shapiro will pick up 13 more stations in and around his existing holdings: WIKE (1490 Newport)/WMOO (92.1 Derby Line) up in northern Vermont, WSNO (1450 Barre)/WORK (107.1 Barre)/WWFY (100.9 Berlin) in Barre/Montpelier, WTSV (1230 Claremont)/WHDQ (106.1 Claremont) and WWOD (104.3 Hartford)/WFYX (96.3 Walpole) to go with his existing Upper Valley holdings, and WEXP (101.5 Brandon)/WTHK (100.7 Wilmington) serving Rutland and southern Vermont. In central New Hampshire, Shapiro will add WWHQ (101.5 Meredith)/WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) in the Lakes Region.
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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 30, 2011 -
*The long wait for New York’s new “K-Love” signal finally ended on Monday, when WKLV-FM (96.7 Port Chester) signed on with the California-based noncommercial network’s contemporary Christian format. WKLV-FM is the relocated WCTZ, formerly part of Cox Radio’s Stamford, Connecticut cluster.
And a sad story from western Massachusetts: WFCR-FM (88.5) newsman and “Morning Edition” host Bob Paquette died suddenly over the Memorial Day weekend. Paquette had been with WFCR since 1991. He was just 55.
*The transfer of one of western PENNSYLVANIA‘s most prominent public radio stations is imminent. Essential Public Media says it will take over WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) on or about July 1, installing new calls on the station as it separates from longtime owner Duquesne University.
The new incarnation of 90.5 will lose most of the jazz programming that’s long been a staple of WDUQ, relegating jazz to just six hours a week on the station’s analog/HD-1 service, though its “JazzWorks” programming will run 24/7 on HD-2. Replacing the jazz will be more news and talk, including two new shows: a daily hour called “Essential Pittsburgh” and a weekly “audio collage” show called “Sounds of the City.” Essential says it will also beef up the station’s news staff.
*A long-silent AM station in New York’s HUDSON VALLEY could soon be returning to the air under the management of one of New England broadcasting’s more colorful characters.
The Daily Mail of Catskill reports that WCKL (560 Catskill) will be back on the air June 15 after many years during which it’s appeared for just a few days each summer to keep its license alive. The station’s now in the hands of the Black United Fund of New York, which acquired the license from Clear Channel and has never operated it as a full-time station. The Daily Mail says WCKL won’t be operated by the Black United Fund when it returns, either; instead, it will be run under an LMA by “Harvest Broadcasting Services of Worthington, Mass.” until it can be sold to “Family Broadcasting & Media, LLC.”
And who are “Harvest” and “Family”? None other than Brian Dodge, whose adventures with the FCC and with his fellow New England broadcasters were a frequent topic during this column’s early years. (Here, for instance, is the text of a detailed complaint filed against Dodge and his “Harvest Broadcasting Association” in June 1997, accusing Dodge of moving several translators in Massachusetts and New Hampshire without authorization.)
Other issues with Dodge over the years have included the 1995 construction and brief operation of WRUT (107.5 West Rutland) after the station’s construction permit had expired. That station was eventually deleted by the FCC, as was an unbuilt AM CP in southwestern New Hampshire. In recent years, we’d heard less about Dodge, who was making his base of operations at WWNH (1340 Madbury NH) near the seacoast. WWNH received a construction permit back in 1988 and applied for a license to cover in 1989, but never received a license and is still on the FCC’s records as a construction permit, though it’s apparently been silent for nearly a year now.
As best we can tell, the FCC never did take much action on any of the complaints against Dodge, though several of the translators cited in the 1997 complaint were subsequently deleted.
The Daily Mail says Dodge is now living in Ghent, N.Y., and in contrast to his previous operations, all of which have been religious stations (often operating as “LOVE Radio”), Dodge tells the paper he’s planning a full-service operation at WCKL.
““We’re going local, live, 24 hours a day, June 15, ” Dodge told the Daily Mail, promising an ambitious schedule. “Our proposed programming will be family-oriented — everything from music to talk shows, and we’ll bring back some of the old things that WCKL used to do — like the Swap Shop, and the Talk of the Town, with people invited in.”
So is this a new Brian Dodge? We’re always willing to give a broadcaster another chance, and if Dodge can pull off what he’s planning (including a studio relocation to Greene County from his initial location in leased space at WCKL’s transmitter site in Greenport, still owned by Clear Channel and home to the studios of WCTW, WHUC and WZCR), the new “Family 560″ would be a valuable new addition to the radio dial in the upper Hudson Valley.
But can it really work in 2011 as a standalone AM signal in a market that’s been massively overbuilt by new FMs in recent years? With 1000 watts by day, WCKL does a decent job of covering Greene and Columbia counties and puts a tolerable fringe signal into Albany. But with just 43 watts at night, WCKL barely even makes it up the road into Hudson, the largest community in the market.
We’ll be watching closely to see if Dodge can live up to his promises this time, including “four to eight” new jobs at the station. Stay tuned…
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a new executive at the helm of WGBH-FM (89.7 Boston), but he’s a familiar name in Boston radio. Phil Redo is the former market manager for Greater Media’s Boston stations, and he worked with WGBH on its acquisition of WCRB (99.5 Lowell) from Nassau last year. Now he’s becoming WGBH’s “managing director of news and culture,” with programming responsibilities for 89.7, beginning June 13.
Five Years Ago: May 27, 2007 -
**One of the most controversial radio formats in NEW YORK history is now history itself. After a year and a half punctuated by incidents including the implosion of David Lee Roth’s morning show, the return of Opie & Anthony, the cancellation of JV & Elvis, the total lack of a permanent late-evening show and general ratings indifference to the rest of its lineup, “Free FM” breathed its last Thursday morning, as WFNY-FM (92.3 New York) spent the rest of the day stunting with construction noises before relaunching at 5 PM with more or less the same “K-Rock” format the station used in its prior incarnation as WXRK.
Those calls will be coming back from their exile in Cleveland (where the K-Rock outlet on 92.3 will take new calls WKRI), and Opie & Anthony will remain in morning drive, but the rest of the Free FM crew is out. PD John Mainelli returns to his consulting business, while midday host Nick DePaolo and afternoon host Leslie “Radio Chick” Gold are out of work for now, and evening hosts Ron & Fez continue their separate show on XM Satellite Radio.
The end of “Free FM” – complete with an on-air “apology” from GM Tom Chiusano leading into the first song on the reborn “K-Rock,” Nirvana’s “All Apologies” – shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s been following recent developments at CBS Radio, where Dan Mason is trying to clean up some of the messes created by his predecessors in recent years.
In the case of “Free FM,” it’s arguable that the initial concept was solid, as CBS tried to keep some of the young male audience that would otherwise have abandoned 92.3 when Howard Stern moved to Sirius in 2006. But a combination of questionable programming decisions (the disastrous Roth show, momentum-killing scheduling choices such as Jim Cramer’s money show) and a lack of promotional support helped to doom the station, and the newly-cautious talk radio atmosphere following the Imus debacle pretty much sealed WFNY’s fate.
Of course, the return of K-Rock is far from a slam-dunk, despite a massive promotional campaign that was already in high gear just a few hours after the format change. The old K-Rock was a success for one big reason: it had Stern in the morning. Opie & Anthony don’t bring anywhere near the audience to 92.3 that Howard did, and their suspension over on XM, of all places, is a reminder that they, like any edgy talkers in this era, are always skating one slip away from oblivion – and then what?
*In CONNECTICUT, the week’s big story was the flooding at the soon-to-be-former studios of Hartford’s WFSB (Channel 3) that knocked the station off the air Friday afternoon.
The problem was a water main break in the basement of the four-story Constitution Plaza studios, which sent 100,000 gallons of water cascading through the lowest level of the building. That’s where the station’s remote trucks are parked, where its studios are located – and where its electrical and telephone systems are located, too. The water damage took out power and phone service to the building, and that in turn took WFSB’s programming dark.
Network programming was restored, after a while, from the station’s Avon transmitter site, but local news was another matter: WFSB moved a skeleton crew down the street to the Connecticut Public TV studios, where they originated short-form inserts that aired on WFSB’s broadcast signal (using, we’d assume, CPTV’s microwave link to its old transmitter site on WFSB’s Avon property) but not on cable.
Also disrupted was programming on WFSB’s sister station, WSHM-LP in Springfield. Its downtown Springfield newsroom was unaffected, but its master control is co-located with WFSB in Hartford, and at various times over the weekend its “CBS 3 Springfield” IDs were being seen on WFSB, and vice-versa.
By Sunday night, the damage had been repaired sufficiently to allow WFSB to get back into its Constitution Plaza studios and back on the air – but we’re sure the staff there is just counting the days (about six weeks’ worth, we’re told) until the station’s shiny new facilities in Rocky Hill are ready for occupancy.
*RHODE ISLAND Public Broadcasting has completed the expansion of its now-statewide network, with the May 16 flip of smooth jazz WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) to WRNI-FM, simulcasting WRNI (1290 Providence).
With the acquisition of the southern Rhode Island FM signal, WRNI no longer needs its Westerly AM, WXNI (1230), and it’s apparently now headed to Chris DiPaola, who’s moving the talk/soft AC format of his WBLQ-LP (96.7 Ashaway) over to the AM signal, which will pick up the WBLQ calls. The LPFM will reportedly flip to modern rock as “The Buzz” when the transition is complete.
*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, things got a little less “EZ” at Entercom’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton cluster last week. On Thursday, the plug was pulled on soft AC “EZ 103,” WFEZ (103.1 Avoca), and on Friday morning it was replaced with the latest link in the “WILK News-Talk Network,” joining sister stations WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre), WBZU (910 Scranton) and WKZN (1300 West Hazleton) in that simulcast.
WFEZ will change calls to WILK-FM – and if that sounds slightly familiar, it should. Back in the fall of 1998, sister station WWSH (102.3 Pittston, now WDMT) briefly changed calls to WILK-FM, while 103.1, then licensed to Freeland, changed calls from WWFH to WILP-FM.
As best we can recall, the stations never actually joined the WILK simulcast back then, but clearly the idea’s been percolating for a while there.
Ten Years Ago: May 27, 2002 -
LPFM is on the way to VERMONT, but don’t expect much in the way of local programming in the Green Mountain State, at least judging by the initial list of uncontested applications released this week by the FCC. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, or “VTrans,” has 19 of the 23 LP-100 applications that the FCC proposes to grant if no petitions to deny are received by June 24. The other four? Rootswork, Inc., for 95.1 Warren; Voice in the Kingdom Radio for 96.1 Newport; Spavin Cure Historical Group for 98.1 Enosburg and Resurrection Ranch for 99.7 Rutland. The deadline for petitions to deny to be filed is June 24.
Up in MAINE, Calvary Chapel was granted a frequency change for its Southwest Harbor translator. W218BD (91.5) moves to W217BK (91.3), wiping out reception of CBC Radio One (from CBD 91.3 Saint John NB) for folks on Mount Desert Island and vicinity, in favor of KAWZ from Twin Falls, Idaho.
Down in Portland, we hear WLLB-LP has made the move down the dial from channel 45 to channel 15, where it’s now testing with color bars.
RHODE ISLAND’s WOON (1240 Woonsocket) wants to make its new transmitter site official. The station has been running on special temporary authority since last fall, when city officials forced it off its longtime tower site on city property. WOON ended up diplexed with the city’s other AM station, WNRI (1380), at the WNRI studio/tower site on Diamond Hill Road, a stone’s throw from the Massachusetts border. But the STA included a power cut from 1000 watts to 650 watts during the day (WOON remained at a full kilowatt after dark), and now WOON is applying to the FCC to return to full power day and night from the WNRI site.
WZRA (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) has officially changed calls to WSKO-FM to reflect its new simulcast with Citadel sports sister WSKO (790 Providence). Actually, we should say “mostly simulcast,” since the FM side breaks away from noon until 2 PM daily for two hours of Bill O’Reilly (returning for the third hour of Jim Rome). WSKO-FM also carries the Yankees instead of the AM side’s Pawtucket Red Sox.
Fifteen Years Ago: May 29, 1997 -
We’ll begin this week’s survey of Northeast radio and TV news up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where the curtain has closed on “The Stage at 102.1.” As Fuller-Jeffrey prepares to buy WSTG Hampton NH, it’s turned off the AC format, replacing it with an automated countdown (coincidentally, the same way the Stage made its debut 18 months ago). “D-Day” is next Tuesday at 4PM, when Fuller-Jeffrey will debut WSTG’s new format, which (rumor has it) will be a simulcast of F-J’s AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington – Portland). That would put WSTG in direct competition with AC WBYY (98.7 Somersworth). We’ll see in a few days…
Over in Worcester, say goodbye to morning host John Taylor of WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg-Worcester). He’s departed the AC station for the sunny skies of Florida after many years in Worcester. Harry Jacobs, the former WXLO midday host who now runs the ARS stations in Rochester NY, filled in one day, while WXLO ops manager Jim McKenna will handle most of the fill-in duties until a replacement for Taylor is hired. By the way, an apology to Upton Bell — he’s still the midday talk host on Worcester’s WTAG (580); no “former” about it!
And out in the Springfield area, one translator is gone and another has taken the airwaves. W221AP, the Westfield-licensed translator that was supposed to relay WIHS (104.9 Middletown CT), was ordered off the air after the FCC discovered it was operating with 40 watts from high atop Mount Tom in Holyoke, rather than with 1 watt from down in Westfield as licensed. W221AP was relaying Brian Dodge’s “Love Radio” network from WGLV (104.3 Hartford VT), and is just the latest in a long string of cases in which Dodge has been caught breaking the FCC’s rules. Meantime, W246AM is on the air on 97.1 in Amherst MA, relaying the country sounds of WPVQ (93.9 Turners Falls). And congratulations to Sid Whitaker of WHYN (560 Springfield), who’s been named news director at the Clear Channel-owned news-talker.
Checking the news from MAINE, we start with another 560, WGAN in Portland, where morning talk host Pat Lamarche has resigned after not quite a year with the station. Lamarche was arrested on May 16 for driving under the influence of alcohol, and refuesed to take a breathalyzer test. She submitted her resignation a day before the story went public in the Portland newspapers, then devoted her last two shows to the subject before leaving the station last Friday. No word on where she’s headed next.
In VERMONT news, we now know more about the sale of Stowe’s WVMX (101.7). It is indeed going to Radio Vermont’s Ken Squier, Bill Riley, and Eric Michaels. Squier and Riley built the station back in its WRFB days. Their old business partner Brian Harwood will return to 101.7 to do mornings on the soon-to-be classical music station.
And finally, some quick news from around NEW YORK: WZOS (96.7 Oswego) has been sold to Craig Fox, owner of several other Central New York stations, including WVOA (105.1 DeRuyter-Syracuse). WZOS has until August to return to the air. Fox outbid two other bidders, paying $65,000 for the license. Up in Watertown, there’s hit radio on the dial once again. WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) is going by “The Border,” replaing longtime CHR outlet WTNY-FM (“T93″), which left the air earlier this year in a multi-station call and format swap. In Albany, the Northeast League Diamond Dogs have found a radio home on WQBK (1300). The Rensselaer-licensed talker will carry weeknight games live and weekend games on tape delay. Corning’s WCLI (1450) has moved its transmitter and is now on the air from its studio site on Davis Road, along with sister station WCBA (1350).