In this week's issue: Bell wants a language shift in Montreal - TTP seeks new 600 - A new 1220 in St. Catharines? - One more year for Gil Santos - Jim Horn to retire from WSBA
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*Even as regulators in CANADA have been relaxing many of the onerous rules that have long governed broadcasting north of the border, one policy has held fast: stations licensed in English have to keep broadcasting in English, and stations licensed in French have to keep broadcasting in French. But with the AM dial in Montreal already poised for some very big changes in the next few months, media giant Bell Canada is asking the CRTC to allow it to flip one of its AMs, CKGM, from English to French - at the same time a rival broadcaster is asking the CRTC for permission to start a new English-language signal.
When Bell announced its acquisition of Astral Media earlier this year, there was an obvious problem: adding Astral's CJAD (800), CJFM (95.9) and CHOM (97.7) to Bell's existing CKGM (990) would have put the company over the three-station cap for English-language ownership in the market. (French-language Montreal is considered a separate market with a separate ownership cap.)
What to do? CKGM's "TSN Radio" sports format is the lowest-rated English signal in the market, and it was widely expected that Bell would put it up for sale. Instead, Bell shocked the market last week by telling the CRTC it plans to shift CKGM to a French-language sports format under the "RDS" branding ("Reseau de sports" is the Bell-0wned, French-language cable sports network that's a sister to TSN), possibly as early as January 2013 if the agency gives its approval.
Bell's plan looks like this:
The cornerstone of the TSN Radio programming, English-language Canadiens hockey broadcasts, will move to market-dominant CJAD, further solidifying its hold on the English talk landscape (at least for now - but we'll get to the Tietolman group in a moment!) In French, meanwhile, Bell sees a hole for French-language sports talk after Cogeco flipped CKAC (730) from sports to all-traffic last year. At least for now, CKAC's valuable sports rights - yes, the Canadiens - have moved over to Cogeco's' French talker, CHMP (98.5), in an odd preview of the move Bell wants to make with CJAD, but since the Habs are already on RDS for most of their TV games, it's not hard to imagine that Bell will make a play to move the team to RDS Radio as well.
And there's another (quite literally) moving piece to all this: by the time "RDS Radio" launches, if it gets the green light to launch, CKGM won't be on 990 anymore. Before the Bell/Astral deal went down, CKGM won CRTC approval to move down the dial to 690, the channel that was long home to Radio-Canada flagship CBF and then to French all-news CINF, which was closed down by Corus in 2010 shortly before the company sold its Quebec radio operations to Cogeco.
Here's where it gets really interesting: at last year's hearings for the frequency, the specific rationale Bell cited for needing to move CKGM from 990 to 690 was the restrictive directional pattern on 990...which excluded much of the area west of Montreal where the English-speaking audience lives. Had 690 in fact gone English, it would have been the first time the frequency (the only former I-A clear channel in Montreal) had spoken anything but French in its long history.
(Another little bit of irony in a story that's full of it: in CKGM's glory days as a music station in the 1970s, back when it was at its original 980 spot on the dial, jocks such as Marc "Mais Oui" Denis shot the station to the top of the ratings by speaking both English and French on the air. The polarized language politics of the day eventually forced the CRTC to outlaw bilingual operation, and so CKGM stopped speaking French on January 1, 1980.)
On September 10, Bell will get to explain its plans to the CRTC at a public hearing in Montreal, and we have a preview of how the argument will go. In its application to shift CKGM to French, Bell notes that the Montreal markets have become unbalanced, with one English-language station for every 169,000 listeners and one French station for every 370,000 listeners, and it says there's a void for French-language sports programming since CKAC's flip to traffic. That's the carrot; the stick is a threat from Bell that if the language flip isn't granted, or if the CRTC decides it justifies a call for competing applications for 690, that Bell will simply shut down CKGM or try to put it up for sale.
Listeners to CKGM's current format may be few in number, but they're fiercely loyal: the announcement of the move prompted a flood of message-board postings and online petitions. You won't hear anything about it on TSN 990's shows, though; the order went down immediately from Bell that CKGM staffers aren't supposed to discuss the change on the air or allow listeners to bring up the topic when they call in, at risk of being left jobless even earlier. (And therein lies yet another twist in this very complex story: it's been only a few short months since CKGM brought veteran Montreal radio personality Ted Bird back to town, and the rumors are already swirling about Bird being moved to Astral's CHOM 97.7 to be reunited with longtime on-air partner Terry DiMonte.)
*Bell's CKGM application drew the biggest headlines, but it's not the only Montreal AM proceeding that will be in front of the CRTC on September 10. There's also an application from the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy (TTP) group to license a new English-language news-talk station on 600 kHz. That frequency hasn't been in use since 2001, when the former CIQC (descendant of Montreal's first station, CFCF) migrated up the dial to 940 as all-news CINW. Corus took CINW silent in 2010 at the same time it silenced CINF on 690, and the 940 frequency was awarded to TTP last year for a French-language news-talker.
At the time, TTP had applied for 690 as well, telling the CRTC that it needed to operate both in English and French to be profitable, but its bid for that frequency was trumped by CKGM's move. TTP had told the CRTC that it wouldn't consider any facility other than the 50,000-watt signals on 690 and 940, but it's now prepared to move forward with a 10 kW day/5 kW night signal on 600 and expecting speedy CRTC approval of the plan. If it's granted, TTP will operate both 600 and 940 from the Cogeco-owned Kahnawake transmitter site that was the historic CFCF/CIQC facility and was later home to CINW/CINF.
*So here's where the Montreal AM dial stands after a few very turbulent years: Astral's CJAD 800, soon to be Bell-owned, remains a rare bastion of stability, regularly attracting a full 25% of the English-language audience, and it's not going to do anything to imperil that - but even if CJAD can absorb some of the current CKGM listenership, its dominance stands to be challenged by TTP's entry on 600.
For Francophones, the AM dial has become nearly irrelevant: with CKAC's flip to traffic, only suburban CJMS (1040) and CJLV (1570) remain as mass-appeal French-language AM signals, but both stations are struggling for survival. With potentially three new French AMs ready to launch, will listeners return? Bell's application for CKGM predicts that "RDS Radio 690" will garner a 3.5% audience share by its seventh year in operation, and TTP expects similar numbers for its signal on 940. The third new Francophone player, Evanov's "Radio Fierte," is due to launch on 990 once CKGM moves down the dial, and it's a niche player aimed at the market's gay and lesbian community.
Even after all that shuffling, there's still one more Montreal AM channel that remains available for future use: 850 went silent when CKVL (the station founded by Jack Tietolman, father of TTP principal Paul Tietolman) became CINF on 690 back in 2001. If Bell's proposed CKGM language flip were to be denied, leaving 990-turned-690 to be spun off, does Bell remain committed enough to the RDS Radio business model to apply for a new French-language 850 signal? And then there's Cogeco, which flipped CKAC to French-language traffic in order to fulfill a contract with Quebec's transporation ministry to provide all-traffic radio in both French and English. Cogeco had originally planned to revive the 690 and 940 signals for those services, but withdrew after competing applications came in from TTP, Bell and others. Montreal media guru Steve Faguy observes that TTP's contract with Cogeco for the use of the Kahnawahke site explicitly bars TTP from running an all-traffic format of its own - does that mean Cogeco still hopes to do English traffic somewhere on the dial?
*There's big AM news from southern Ontario, too: almost two years after a massive series of CRTC rule violations led to the revocation of the license of CHSC (1220 St. Catharines), there's a proposal to revive the station. Late last year, a group led by Subanasiri Vaithilingam and Siva Kandiah bought the former station's nine-tower transmitter site on the Niagara Peninsula, and now they're asking the CRTC to license a new 10 kW 1220 signal using CHSC's former facilities.
When the CRTC hears the application at that September 10 hearing, it's sure to have some tough questions about the proposal. Over the last few months, correspondence has been flying back and forth between the applicants and the agency seeking more detailed information about several parts of the application that were incomplete (always a CRTC no-no).And given that the CRTC pulled the plug on the old CHSC in large part because it abandoned its local audience in St. Catharines in search of a bigger audience across the lake in the greater Toronto area, the CRTC will no doubt be suspicious of the promises from Vaithilingam and Kandiah that the "new CHSC" will return to a focus on St. Catharines, programming 88% of its hours in English. (Vaithilingam, it should be noted, recently put low-power CJVF 105.9 on the air in suburban Toronto to serve the Tamil community there.)
*Radio People on the Move: "Rockin' Rod" has left CKGE (94.9 Oshawa) after almost a decade at "The Rock," moving up to cottage country to become PD and morning man at CHGB (97.7 the Beach) in Wasaga Beach/Collingwood. In Ottawa, Joe Leary is out as morning man at CJOT (99.7 BOOM FM).
*Perhaps the biggest story stateside this week is the dispute between Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television that took Hearst-owned TV stations dark on many cable screens across the region.
The largest Hearst station in NERW-land, Boston's WCVB (Channel 5), is also one of those least affected by the fight: most cable systems in the Boston market these days are Comcast, and for now it's in good standing with WCVB, leaving only some systems in western Massachusetts that normally pick up WCVB but have the channel blacked out for now.
In northern NEW HAMPSHIRE and southern MAINE, it's viewers of two other Hearst-owned ABC affiliates, WMUR (Channel 9) from Manchester and WMTW (Channel 8) from Poland Spring, that are affected. Unlike the Berkshires system, which gets Albany's WTEN (Channel 10) as an ABC alternative to WCVB, the Time Warner systems in places such as York County, Maine have no alternate local ABC station available, so some viewers are left with the Hallmark Music Channel in place of WMUR or WMTW for the moment. In other areas, though, Time Warner is piping in out-of-market signals owned by Nexstar Broadcasting, which explains why viewers up in Berlin, N.H. are seeing WUTR (Channel 20) from Utica, New York where they'd normally see WMTW.
Time Warner customers in northern New York who normally get Plattsburgh's WPTZ (Channel 5) are instead seeing Nexstar-owned NBC affiliate WBRE (Channel 28) from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania - and they're in very good company: WBRE is also being distributed in place of local Hearst NBC affiliates as far afield as Orlando, Florida!
And it's not just WUTR and WBRE getting out-of-market exposure: WROC-TV (Channel 8) in Rochester showed up late last week on Insight Cable in Louisville, Kentucky, replacing Hearst-owned CBS affiliate WLKY (Channel 32). (Time Warner negotiates retransmission consent for Insight and Bright House systems around the country.)
In Louisville, the replacement of WLKY by WROC prompted an unusual reaction: a bunch of particularly snarky residents of the newly-redubbed "Rochestucky" started their own Facebook group, "Louisville Loves WROC-8," complete with nightly live-blogging of WROC's newscasts. Officially, Nexstar says Time Warner doesn't have permission to import its signals (though this isn't the first time Time Warner has used Nexstar out-of-market signals during retransmission disputes), but it's surely not just a coincidence that the group's founder, Louisville writer/editor Shannon Ragland, was the WROC "Fan of the Day" during Friday's newscasts...
(The remaining Hearst station in NERW-land, Pittsburgh's WTAE, is only slightly affected; the only Time Warner systems in its coverage area serve the Clarksburg/Fairmont, West Virginia area, technically outside the Pittsburgh market; it's not clear whether viewers there are getting WUTR fed to them.)
*back to MASSACHUSETTS: While we wait for clues on Clear Channel's plans for its new Boston-market property with less than a week remaining until it takes the keys to WFNX (101.7 Lynn), we know one thing that's not changing this fall in the Bay State. The Brockton Enterprise reports Gil Santos will be back in the booth this fall for his 36th and final season as the radio voice of the New England Patriots on WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston). Santos, who's now 72, had some health scares over the winter, leaving his return to the booth uncertain - and the Enterprise says his partner of 28 years, Pats Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti, won't be back, with former quarterback-turned-WBZ-FM-host Scott Zolak the most likely replacement.
MONDAY UPDATE: A request was filed Friday to change the callsign of WFNX to WHBA. What does it mean? We don't know yet - but we're sure the speculation will only intensify with the addition of this little detail.
*West of Boston, WSRO (650 Ashland) quietly turned up its power late last week, flipping the switch on a power increase that takes the Portuguese-language station from 250 watts (non-directional) to 1500 watts, directional, during daylight hours. The ceremony to mark the power increase was to have taken place a couple of weeks ago, but it's been postponed to this Tuesday, and we'll have coverage in next week's NERW.
From the obituaries: George St. Andre spent decades as an engineer at WHDH (850/94.5) and the old WHDH-TV (Channel 5), and he also worked at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) before retiring in 1991. St. Andre, who specialized in engineering live sports remotes for Red Sox games, died June 28 in Braintree, at age 86.
*A call change in VERMONT: the state's department of transportation has flipped WDER-LP (98.3 Derby Line) to WAOT-LP, clearing away any confusion that might result when New Hampshire's WFEX (92.1 Peterborough) becomes WDER-FM under new owner Bill Blount.
*As Nassau gets ready to exit MAINE, it wants to move one of its FM transmitters slightly. WBQX (106.9 Thomaston) has applied to relocate to a new site about a mile and a half northeast of its present location west of Rockland. The move to the Time Warner Cable-owned tower on Mountain Road will keep WBQX at its present 633 feet above average terrain, increasing power ever so slightly from 29.5 kW to 30 kW.
*There's a new voice on NEW YORK's WCBS-FM (101.1): Al "Bernie" Bernstein is well known to listeners from nearly a quarter-century at WLTW (106.7), and now he's on the weekend roster at CBS-FM amidst lots of speculation that he'll become the permanent replacement for middayer Bob Shannon, who's been on long-term medical leave. Bernstein's been working up at WHUD (100.7 Peekskill) and doing voice-over work since losing his Lite-FM gig in 2007. (And no, we don't know anything more than anyone else about what's going on with Shannon...)
In Buffalo, Dick Greene's Culver Communications is buying translator W275BB (102.9), which it's been using to relay WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) for the last few months. The translator recently moved up to the HSBC Building, Buffalo's tallest skyscraper, and Greene will pay Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes $90,000 for the license.
It's been a busy week for Albany's WNYT (Channel 13): the Hubbard-owned NBC affiliate has flipped the switch on high-definition local news (joining CBS affiliate WRGB and ABC affiliate WTEN in the market), and it's added a new relay transmitter to serve the Glens Falls area. The 15 kW transmitter on RF channel 45 is licensed as a digital replacement translator, augmenting WNYT's sometimes troublesome VHF signal up in Glens Falls.
*Returning to "Football on the Radio," Saga's WIII (99.9 Cortland) is the latest addition to the New York Giants radio network, joining sister station WNYY (1470 Ithaca)'s carriage of the Buffalo Bills. Tompkins County listeners will get their choice of three NFL teams on the radio this fall: the Jets are heard in the market, too, on WPIE (1160 Trumansburg).
*A veteran PENNSYLVANIA broadcaster is retiring at the end of the month. Jim Horn has been at WSBA (910 York) for almost 34 years, most recently as program director and morning co-host alongside Gary Sutton. Horn will step down effective August 1, and no replacement has yet been named.
*And NEW JERSEY public radio station WWFM (89.1 Trenton) has added another HD subchannel simulcast to extend its reach. Since last fall, WWFM's classical programming has been available in New York City on the HD2 channel of Columbia University's WKCR (89.9), and now WWFM has added an HD2 that reaches at least part of the Philadelphia market, via K-Love's WKVP (89.5 Cherry Hill).
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: July 18, 2011 -
*GALLUP, N.M. - As we write this week's column in the midst of a cross-country drive (more on that in a bit), we're still waiting for the shoes to finish dropping at the 101.9 spot on the NEW YORK radio dial, where Randy Michaels' Merlin Media group took over WRXP from Emmis Communications on Friday.Here's what we know so far: WRXP in its current form came to a close Thursday, as the jock lineup (Steve Craig, Leslie Fram, Matt Pinfield, "Drelio") exited the station and said their on-air goodbyes. The music continued into Friday, when it was replaced by something called "101.9 FM New," which at least for the weekend appeared to be a female-friendly hot AC mix.
The week may also bring new calls to 101.9, which has requested "WEMP" (perhaps for the "EMPire State"?), a set of calls more familiar from their longtime use in Milwaukee. But what of the domain names that were registered for "WYNY" on 101.9? As always with Michaels and the programmers he's assembled, it's hard to tell what's smokescreen and what's real until it becomes official.
Whatever the new 101.9 format will be, it didn't materialize this morning: the "FM New" programming continued with longtime 101.9 veteran Paul Cavalconte hosting and former WINS (1010) traffic voice Jeff McKay giving the traffic information - but, as of yet, no sign of the news or talk that's been rumored for the station.
It's just that kind of chaos on which Michaels thrives; in Chicago, the rumors of his planned flip of WKQX (101.1) to all-news led CBS to pull the trigger on its own long-rumored addition of an FM simulcast of all-newser WBBM (780), which will be heard starting next week on WCFS (105.9), which had been struggling with the "Fresh" AC format. But CBS appears to be in no hurry to make a similar move in New York, where its three FM properties ("Now" WXRK 92.3, WCBS-FM 101.1 and "Fresh" WWFS 102.7) are finally healthy and profitable after years of their own format struggles.
One more loose end: the "RXP" branding survives, as does its sister "Q101" in Chicago, thanks to deals that Merlin struck to sell that intellectual property to a group that specializes in barter ad deals for radio. The new "RXP" continues as a jockless stream at 1019rxp.com.
*There was a format change in Buffalo, too, as Dick Greene's WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) pulled the plug on his attempt to go up against talk giant WBEN (930/107.7).
On Tuesday, WECK PD/afternoon host Brad Riter and midday talker Nick Mendola both lost their jobs, replaced temporarily by Fox Sports before Friday's format change to "The Breeze," an attempt to mix soft AC with some more contemporary tunes. (Coldplay, for whatever reason, kept getting mentioned as a core artist of the new format.)
Morning host Tom Donahue, a veteran of Buffalo music radio, continues with the new format.
*Radio People on the Move: Aaron Read has exited the GM post at WEOS (89.7 Geneva) after four years on the job - and he's headed all the way west to become chief engineer at KCSB (91.9) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (That explains why the column is coming from New Mexico this morning; your editor hit the road with Read, a longtime friend, to help him get to the West Coast quickly - and to experience the majesty of a coast-to-coast road trip. Expect some interesting Tower Site of the Week installments soon...) Back at WEOS, station manager Greg Cotterill has taken over from Aaron. 2012 update - Aaron didn't stay out west for long; he's now director of engineering at Rhode Island Public Radio.
*Could a new commercial FM signal be coming to PENNSYLVANIA's largest market? Family Stations quickly fell out of the headlines after founder Harold Camping's Judgment Day prediction went astray in May, followed by Camping's debilitating stroke in June - but alert observers noted that Family quietly applied last week to change its Philadelphia-market WKDN (106.9, licensed in Camden, NEW JERSEY) from non-commercial to commercial status.
Since Family Radio itself isn't commercial, rumors are swirling that WKDN, which has a big class B signal blanketing most of the Philadelphia market, might be up for sale, or at least for trade. It wouldn't be the first time Family has unloaded a big FM signal; in recent years, it has traded commercial-band FMs in San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento for AM stations. (And the rumor mill obligingly notes that Greater Media has recently upgraded a pretty big AM signal, WPEN 950, that's being underutilized as a simulcast of sports-talk WPEN-FM 97.5 - or could the other player be CBS, which did the San Francisco AM/FM trade with Camping and which would no doubt love to move its Philly sports-talker, WIP 610, to FM?) 2012 update: 106.9 went to Merlin, of course, and is now talker WWIQ.
Five Years Ago: July 16, 2007 -
*It was a huge week in broadcasting at both ends of the Boston-New York axis, and if you're looking for the big developments from the Big Apple, you may want to keep scrolling down a bit - we're leading off this week with some even bigger surprises from eastern MASSACHUSETTS.
The first came on the radio side of things, when lawyers for veteran WRKO (680 Boston) afternoon talk host Howie Carr announced last Monday that he would leave the Entercom talk station when his contract expires September 19. Instead, Carr's representatives said, the Boston Herald columnist would take over the morning shift formerly occupied by Don Imus on Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston), the FM talker that's been rapidly eroding the comfortable hold WRKO once had on the city's talk audience.
For Carr, the move would mean head-to-head competition with WRKO's floundering Tom Finneran morning show - not to mention a higher salary, a more prominent role in a WTKK lineup that's live and local most of the day, and no more pre-emptions for afternoon Red Sox games. For Entercom, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars to renew its deal with the Red Sox in part to provide a promotional boost for the WRKO lineup, Carr's departure is a potential disaster, since his show represented the biggest revenue draw on the talk station's schedule (as well as a lucrative syndication offering to other stations around New England.)
As news of Carr's planned move splashed across the headlines in Boston, things started getting even testier. WRKO, which apparently had declined to exercise a one-year renewal clause in Carr's contract, told the Globe that it had the right to match any offer Carr received from Greater Media. Carr's lawyers responded with a lawsuit seeking to declare that clause unenforceable, thanks to the state's new ban on non-compete contracts - and they noted that while WRKO was willing to match WTKK's salary offer, it couldn't match the other terms of the new deal, most notably the morning slot on the FM dial.
Carr was off the air at WRKO for most of the week, but returned on Thursday with a prepared statement that had been drafted for him to read. Any illusion that Carr might have agreed with the words he was reading ("My job is to provide you with the most entertaining and compelling show that I can do each day, not to discuss my personal matters") was carefully shattered with a few "it says here" comments inserted in the reading - and at week's end, the only certainties were that the lawyers on both sides will be paying for plenty of summers on Cape Cod with whatever time they'll lose this summer hashing this mess out, and that we'll be hearing a lot more about Carr's planned move in the next few weeks.
*Even as Carr's news was all over the papers and websites Tuesday, an even more veteran Boston broadcaster was making headlines of her own. Natalie Jacobson, who's been part of the news team at WCVB (Channel 5) since the station's first day on the air more than 35 years ago, announced that she'll retire from the Hearst-Argyle ABC affiliate after next Wednesday's 6 PM newscast.
Jacobson has been an anchor on WCVB since 1976, much of that time spent sharing the anchor desk at 6 and 11 with her former husband, Chet Curtis. He moved to New England Cable News after their 2001 divorce, while Jacobson slowly eased back on her workload at Channel 5, giving up the 11 PM newscast and concentrating on the 6, which she'd been co-anchoring with Ed Harding.
Jacobson, 63, told the Globe that she'd been contemplating retirement for a while, and that her decision not to seek renewal of her contract at the end of July came as a surprise to WCVB management when she informed them in late June. We're hearing, though, that the decision may not have been Jacobson's - and the rather abrupt timing of her departure would seem to bear that out. (On the other hand, WCVB has no designated successor to Jacobson, and it will rotate reporters in her anchor chair for a while.)
In any event, Wednesday's farewell will include a special edition of "Chronicle" devoted to Jacobson's career. After that, Jacobson says she's going to work on a multimedia venture aimed at baby boomers in their retirement years.
*There was just one big radio story in NEW YORK last week, of course, and we pointed the NERW-mobile south and east for the day on Thursday so we could be there as WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) relegated "Jack FM" to its HD2 subchannel and brought the oldies - beg pardon, the "classic hits" back to the main FM channel they'd occupied from 1972 until the abrupt switch to "Jack" in June 2005.
That format change two years ago took place with no advance warning and no fanfare, but this time was different. Outside in Times Square, we spotted one lone CBS-FM fan holding a "welcome back" sign (with "Hit the Road, Jack" on the flip side), an echo of the street protests that quickly formed back in 2005 to protest the format flip.
Up on the 40th floor of the Viacom building at 1515 Broadway, guests stepping off the elevators saw no sign of "Jack" - just the new-old WCBS-FM logo all over the place, and more than a few magnets and stickers bearing the 2005-era logo adorning cubicles and filing cabinets as well.
In the sales office, there was food (including an authentic New York hot dog cart) for invited guests and top CBS Radio management, at a level rarely seen for your usual format change. That included programming VP Greg Strassell, engineering honcho Glynn Walden - and, of course, Dan Mason, the CBS Radio president who's set in motion a whole series of changes since returning to that post a few months ago, including this format flip.
Half an hour before the scheduled 1:01 PM format change, the assembled media (including Daily News radio columnist David Hinckley, at left above, and most of the city's TV stations) began moving down the hall toward the studios.
At 12:40, general manager Jennifer Donohue (below, left) and PD Brian Thomas (in the background, below left) entered the air studio to administer the last rites, as it were, to Jack.
After a series of joking liners during the last day in which "Jack" (voiced by Canadian VO artist Howard Cogan) gets flowers from Bob Shannon ("Who's Bob Shannon?") and an unexpected delivery of moving boxes, the final "Jack" bit found him on the phone with Tony Soprano - and after an abrupt "gotta go," the strains of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" blasted from the speakers, the room applauded, and Jack was off to HD2 retirement.
In good "Sopranos" finale fashion, the Journey tune abruptly cut off before its end - and the next sounds heard on 101.1 were radio static, the noise of a jukebox coming up to speed, and the strains of Frank Sinatra singing "Summer Wind," the infamous last song played on the old CBS-FM back in 2005. That, in turn, gave way to a long montage of songs, soundbites and news clips tracking the years from 1964 into the eighties, and as the montage plays on, the crowd in the studio kept growing.
As 1:01 PM approached, the montage wrapped up with a greeting from former mayor Ed Koch, acknowledging how rare it is for a big corporation to admit it "blew it," followed by "I Love New York" and the booming WCBS-FM legal ID, voiced - just as in the old days - by Ziggie Pelzer. The room cheered, the Beach Boys' "Do It Again" started playing, Shannon started dancing, and CBS-FM was back on the air.
The mikes finally opened after the Beach Boys song, as morning man Dan Taylor led the room in a shout of "We're back!," which led into Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "December 1963 (Oh What A Night.)" After that, Shannon's first on-air words in two years - "As I was about to say..." - poked fun at the afternoon shift he never got to do on that fateful day in 2005. Shannon then introduced the new DJ lineup, including former WKTU jock Broadway Bill Lee in afternoons, Joe Causi on weekends (and, for this first day, at night as well), and Jeff Mazzei, who programmed the HD2 incarnation of CBS-FM during the "Jack" era, on overnights. (From left to right, that's Lee, Taylor, Mazzei, Causi and Shannon in the jock photo above.) After Donohue joined Shannon to read a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had publicly proclaimed back in 2005 that he'd never listen to the station again, the guests eventually begin filing out of the studio, letting Shannon and then Lee bring the music (and, perhaps more important, the personality) back to CBS-FM.
*Heading up to CANADA, the CRTC's been busy approving new signals. In Sudbury, Ontario, six applicants (including incumbent broadcasters Haliburton and Newcap) responded to a call for applications last fall. The CRTC heard from the applicants at a hearing in March, and last week it ruled that Sudbury should get one new FM. Larche Communications was the winner, and it'll do country (probably under its "KICX FM" brand) on its new 50 kW signal in Sudbury.
In Leamington, Ontario, Blackburn Radio is getting a second signal to add to its existing CHYR-FM (96.7). The new station will run 960 watts on 92.7, with a country format.
Ten Years Ago: July 15, 2002 -
Is the regulatory tide turning against big clusters and consolidation? A proposed Clear Channel purchase in MAINE is one of three deals facing a level of scrutiny the FCC hasn't employed in decades. Clear Channel has been operating WSKW (1160 Skowhegan) and WHQO (107.9 Skowhegan) under an LMA from Mountain Wireless for several years, ever since Mountain's proposed sale of the stations to Cumulus fell through due to financial problems at the Cumulus end.
Last October, Clear Channel filed to convert the LMA to ownership, a deal that would give Mountain Wireless $1.8 million and add WHQO and WSKW to the rest of the Clear Channel Augusta-Waterville cluster, a group that includes WFAU (1280 Gardiner), WCTB (93.5 Fairfield), WKCG (101.3 Augusta), WABK (104.3 Gardiner) and WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan, another former Mountain Wireless station). WHQO has been simulcasting the talk programming from Clear Channel's WVOM (103.9 Howland) in the Bangor market, while WSKW has been sharing a sports format with WFAU and WIGY (97.5 Madison, just returned to the air this week after suffering tower damage). For the last few months, the Mountain stations have even operated from the same Augusta facility as the other Clear Channel central Maine stations.
The hitch? If the deal is approved by the FCC (it already has Justice Department clearance), Clear Channel and Citadel (which has WMME/WEZW and WEBB/WTVL in the market) would share a whopping 99.5% of the radio revenues in the market, with just a handful of commercially-licensed religious stations (WMDR 1340, WWWA 95.3) as "competition" for radio ad dollars. So the FCC has designated the WHQO/WSKW sale, along with a Clear Channel purchase in Youngstown, Ohio (WRTK 1540 Niles OH, WAKZ 95.9 Sharpsville PA, WICT 95.1 Grove City PA, WBBG 106.1 Niles OH) and another one in Killeen-Temple, Texas, for a hearing on market concentration. Stay tuned as the Commission sets what promises to be a new precedent for acceptable levels of station revenue and ratings share...we'll keep you posted.
Two MASSACHUSETTS PDs lost their jobs last week, both at Entercom stations in the Boston market. Jeff Scott, who came to "Star" WQSX (93.7 Lawrence) just this past April, was out the door last Monday, followed shortly by Dave Douglas, who'd helmed WAAF (107.3 Worcester) for several years. Douglas will be replaced by Keith Hastings, inbound from Saga active rocker WLZR in Milwaukee; no replacement has been named yet for Scott.
The NEW YORK TV dial continues to return to normalcy as the one-year anniversary of September 11 approaches. The latest station to return to full power after losing its World Trade Center transmitter is Telemundo's WNJU (Channel 47), licensed to Linden, N.J. WNJU had been using the Armstrong FM tower in Alpine, N.J. as a temporary site for the last few months, with a weak signal over most of the city. It signed back on from the Empire State Building July 1, leaving only Pax's WPXN (Channel 31) operating from another site.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 17, 1997 -
Our top story this week comes from MASSACHUSETTS, Springfield to be exact, where Clear Channel's WHYN (560/93.1) announced this week that its newsroom will close at the end of August, with Metro Networks taking over WHYN's news product on September 1. WHYN employed three full-time newspeople, and all of them (news director Denise Vozella, Sid Whitaker, and Bill Erickson) have been offered jobs at Metro's Hartford newsroom, which will provide news for WHYN.
WHYN's Gary James tells NERW that "this is an opportunity for the WHYN listeners to get even more local coverage because of the resources of Metro," and he says that while the WHYN/Metro news staff will be based in Hartford, they'll still do street reporting in Springfield and have an office at the WHYN studios. Other Springfield-area radio listeners aren't quite as optimistic; recently-retired WHYN anchor Ron Russell (DeMatteo) tells the Springfield Union-News that the change feels "like a death in my immediate family." And while WHYN management says listeners won't notice any difference on the air, NERW has learned that the current WHYN news staffers aren't in any hurry to accept Metro's job offers in Hartford, meaning WHYN listeners could soon hear a new set of voices at the top of each hour. NERW has also learned that Hartford's WTIC (1080), targeted as one of Metro's likely clients for the Hartford newsroom, has decided to stick with its own news operation because of concerns about the depth and quality of Metro's offerings.
Around New England: In MASSACHUSETTS, ARS has found yet another station to simulcast over its WNFT (1150) in Boston. The latest programming to show up on 1150 is sister sports station WEEI (850); no word on how long this one will last. In New Bedford, an organization called New Bedford Christian Radio has applied for a new station at 88.1; NERW wonders whether they'll co-locate on the Tiverton RI tower of New Bedford-licensed WLNE-TV 6 to minimize interference....or whether WLNE will quash the application from the start.
In VERMONT, WXPS (96.7 Vergennes-Burlington) is back on with a sports-talk format; the calls stay where they are for now. The FCC has granted a translator at 96.3 in Quechee. W242AG will be the new calls for the relay of religious WCMD Barre. Just to the north, we're told 106.3 will be the new frequency for the CBC's CBV (980) in Quebec City, while the plans are to move Ste.-Adele's CIME from 99.5 to 103.9, and Montreal's CBM from 940 to 88.5. The FCC is still sparring with the CRTC over plans to move the 88.5 allocation from Cornwall ON to Montreal; they're worried about interference to WWPV (88.7) Colchester VT and WXLU (88.3) Peru NY.