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: July 25, 2011 -
*One of NEW JERSEY‘s largest broadcast groups has a new name and new management this week. Ever since Oaktree Capital, parent company of Townsquare Media (the former Regent Broadcasting), took Millennium Radio New Jersey under its wing, rumors had been flying about the New Jersey stations becoming part of the Townsquare umbrella.
Those rumors became reality last week, placing the 11 Millennium signals in Trenton and on the shore under the Townsquare banner, where they join other NERW-land Townsquare clusters in Buffalo, Utica and Albany, as well as a slew of small-market Townsquare outlets elsewhere in the country.
The move to Townsquare pushes Millennium president/CEO Bill Sauer out of that post and into an “interim” consulting role; replacing him at the helm of the New Jersey stations (WKXW “New Jersey 101.5″ in Trenton; WOBM/WADB, WOBM-FM, WJLK and WCHR in Monmouth-Ocean and WENJ/WENJ-FM, WFPG, WSJO and WPUR in Atlantic City) is Zoe Burdine-Fly, who’d been GM of the Regent/Townsquare stations in Flint, Michigan.
*Radio People on the Move: Scott Taylor has returned to WAWZ (Star 99.1) in Zarephath as station manager, just two months after exiting the Pillar of Fire Christian AC outlet. Downstate, Paul Hunsberger is ending a remarkable 63-year career at WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton), where he’s been serving as an account executive and as host of the “Off the Cuff” show. Hunsberger is now 93, and he says he’s retiring at year’s end because of health concerns.
*The top story in NEW YORK this week, once again, is at 101.9 on the dial, where NERW was first to tell you that the new calls on the former WRXP would be WEMP. Those calls showed up on the air at 5 PM on Thursday (July 21), a full six days after NERW followers on Facebook and Twitter first heard about them.
But the new calls, so far, haven’t brought with them the full-fledged new format that’s been rumored for Merlin Media’s signal. Instead, the week brought more of the “FM New” AC programming that’s been occupying 101.9 (and 101.1 in Chicago, newly renamed WWWN) since Merlin took over from Emmis, killing off WRXP’s alternative format. (There’s alternative rock back on the New York airwaves now, at least for HD Radio owners; Clear Channel quietly flipped its HD2 channel on WAXQ 104.3 to its “Alt Project” national format last week.)
What’s next for 101.9? Merlin’s certainly still not saying – there’s still no website or stream for “FM New,” though very basic Facebook pages for the New York and Chicago outlets quietly appeared over the weekend.
*Once upon a time in an earlier incarnation as WPIX-FM, 101.9 was among the first FM stations to move its transmitter to the World Trade Center – and later, as WQCD, 101.9 became the first FM to return from the Trade Center to the Empire State Building to escape some of the multipath problems that existed with FM from Manhattan’s southern tip.
It has, of course, been almost a decade since the remaining FMs at the Trade Center were so abruptly and tragically forced to move their sites elsewhere, but now one of those FMs is at least talking about coming back. In a New York Times article last week, managers at Columbia University’s WKCR (89.9) raised the possibility that they might look at moving their transmitter from its current home at Four Times Square down to the new 1 World Trade Center skyscraper when it’s completed soon.
We hadn’t heard much talk about broadcast operations from the new 1WTC since the early stages of planning, when it appeared that the city’s TV stations (working under the Metropolitan Television Alliance banner) were planning to build a new master DTV site there to replace the somewhat makeshift DTV facilities that were built at the Empire State Building in the years after 9/11. But the MTVA’s plans had become hazy in more recent years; building a new master DTV site is an expensive proposition, after all, in an era when most New Yorkers get local TV from cable or satellite and when the Empire facilities, if not perfect, seemed to be functioning well enough.
There had been little talk at all about a new master FM operation at 1WTC. Commercial broadcasters were well aware that the signals that had been at WTC before 9/11 had experienced reception problems in parts of midtown Manhattan, and the cost of building a new master FM facility to replace or supplement the excellent facilities at Empire (and backups at Four Times Square) would have been prohibitive.
The cost of a new standalone FM facility for WKCR would surely be quite high, too, and WKCR’s managers tell the Times they still haven’t done all the research to determine whether the move would be financially possible. And so for now, we’ll file away WKCR’s talk of a move as an interesting possibility that appears to be a long way from reality…
*Out on Long Island, WNYG (1440) has become The Station That Will Not Die. Widely given up for dead after Multicultural Broadcasting bought it and took it silent to improve sister signal WNSW (1430 Newark), the little AM signal at 1440 returned to the airwaves last week after a year of silence. WNYG’s old Babylon site is gone now, and instead the station is licensed to Medford, out to the east. The new WNYG is a 1000-watt daytimer diplexed off one tower of WLIM (1580 Patchogue), and it’s running Spanish-language religious programming from new owner Radio Cantico Nuevo.
*We’re sorry to report the passing of Sidney Sanft, former owner of WOKW (now WMSX 1410) in Brockton. Sanft got his start in broadcasting with Armed Forces Radio in World War II (as shown), and went on to a career with the federal government developing electronic processing of tax returns. He moved to Massachusetts in 1962, working on television productions and serving as a founding board member of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell as well as owning WOKW. That’s where his son, Marshall, got his start in radio – and today the younger Sanft, aka “Bruce Marshall,” owns his own station, WARE (1250 Ware). Sidney Sanft died July 8; he was 86.
*There’s HD local TV news in the news at both ends of New England this week: in Bangor, MAINE, ABC affiliate WVII (Channel 7) is trying to emerge from its perpetual third-place rut with a staff expansion, HD conversion and the addition of some new broadcasts. In September, WVII will launch a new 6:30 AM newscast,hosted by Clay Gordon and Nicole Gerber, followed at 7 by a local hour on sister station WFVX (Fox 22); the 10 PM show on WFVX, which drew attention when WVII began recording it right after its live 6 PM newscast, will also go back to being live this fall. The conversion to HD at WVII/WFVX will leave only one Bangor newscast in SD: NBC affiliate WLBZ (Channel 2), which originates much of its news from sister station WCSH in Portland.
In Providence, RHODE ISLAND, the race for full local HD is about to hit the tipping point: keen-eyed observers have noticed that CBS affiliate WPRI (Channel 12) and Fox sister station WNAC (Channel 64) are originating their newscasts from a temporary set this week. Once they’re done with their HD conversion, only ABC affiliate WLNE (Channel 6) will be in SD, and its new owners have also promised to convert to HD soon.
*There’s a format change in London: Corus’ CKDK (103.9), licensed to Woodstock, ditched its classic hits format (“Greatest Hits 103.9″) on Friday morning at 10:39, replacing it with a somewhat more recent gold-based format as “More 103.9,” promising “More 70s, More 80s and More 90s.”
*Two new signals are on the air in the Maritimes: Tantramar Community Radio’s CFTA (107.9) in Amherst, Nova Scotia hit the air at 1:07 PM on Thursday from its new tower (a monopole of the kind you’d normally see cellphone antennas mounted on) and Nautel transmitter. “So far today, we have had good signal reports from Northern Nova Scotia, Southeast New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island,” says CFTA operations manager Ron Bickle, who’s been working for years to get the community station on the air. And no sooner was CFTA on the air than its commercial competitor in town, CKDH, signed on its new FM signal on 101.7. Once CKDH-FM completes its testing, the clock will start ticking on CKDH’s AM signal at 900, which will have 90 days to sign off.
Five Years Ago: July 23, 2007 -
*The upstate NEW YORK market of Utica/Rome has been a problem for Clear Channel ever since the company announced it was shedding most of its smaller-market stations. With a cluster that exceeds current market caps, in an over-radioed market that’s at best stagnant, the group of four AMs and five FMs wasn’t included in the list of stations Clear Channel is selling to the Goodradio.TV group (which isn’t “Goodradio.TV” anymore, but we’ll get to that later in this week’s issue), and for a while it looked as though the company simply wasn’t finding a willing buyer for the stations.
That changed on Thursday, when Ed Levine’s Galaxy Communications announced a deal under which it will buy the Clear Channel cluster, spinning off four of the CC stations to another local broadcaster, Ken Roser, and one of the CC stations and one of Galaxy’s existing Utica stations to EMF Broadcasting.
Here’s the way the market looks now:
| Clear Channel
| WIXT 1230/WRNY 1350/WADR 1480/WUTQ 1550 (sports)WOKR 93.5 (cl hits)WOUR 96.9 (rock)WSKS 97.9/WSKU 105.5 (top 40)WUMX 102.5 (hot AC)
|| WTLB 1310 (standards)WKLL 94.9 (modern rock)WRCK 107.3 (classic rock)
|| WBGK 99.7 (country)
|| WKVU 100.7 (K-Love)
|| WIBX 950 (news-talk)WODZ 96.1 (oldies)WLZW 98.7 (ac)WFRG 104.3 (country)
And here’s how it will look when all the deals close:
| WOKR 93.5WKVU 100.7WRCK 107.3
|| WTLB 1310/WRNY 1350/WIXT 1230 (sports)WKLL 94.9 (modern rock)WOUR 96.9 (rock)WUMX 102.5 (hot AC)
|| WSKS 97.9/WSKU 105.5 (top 40)WBGK 99.7 (country)
|| WIBX 950 (news-talk)WODZ 96.1 (oldies)WLZW 98.7 (ac)WFRG 104.3 (country)
So what does it all mean? For Levine, who just exited the Albany market with a sale of two stations (plus a Syracuse rimshot FM) to EMF, it means a much stronger position in a Utica/Rome market that’s suddenly far less crowded. Galaxy’s two rock FMs, modern rock “K-Rock” WKLL and classic rock-leaning WRCK, had been locked in a tight battle with Clear Channel’s rock WOUR and classic hits “River” WOKR. Levine tells NERW that WOUR’s strong brand and long rock history in the market persuaded him to keep the competitor he’s acquiring, while shutting down his own WRCK (and taking it out of commercial competition by selling it to EMF.)
Levine says he’ll combine the existing “Sports Stars” programming from the two AMs he’s acquiring (WIXT 1230 Little Falls and WRNY 1350 Rome) with the Syracuse University sports package Galaxy recently landed and with the strong signal of his existing WTLB 1310 Utica to create a new three-station sports network with a much more potent reach than the existing “Sports Starts” quad-cast, and he says no changes are planned right now for “Mix” WUMX.
For Ken Roser, the deal represents a homecoming: he’d owned 97.9 and 105.5, then “Wow FM” WOWZ/WOWB, before selling them to Clear Channel in 2002. Back then, Clear Channel paid $2.15 million for the two FMs and the Little Falls AM on 1230 (then WLFH). While prices aren’t being announced yet for the latest deal, it’s a pretty solid bet that Roser is paying far less than that to buy back his old FMs, as well as daytimer WUTQ (1550 Utica) and WADR (1480 Remsen). We’re hearing that Roser will keep the “Kiss” branding and top-40 format on the FMs, with no word on what becomes of the AMs. We also don’t know yet whether Roser will end up with the Genesee Street studios downtown that Clear Channel has been using; (Those studios came along with Clear Channel’s 1998 acquisition of WOUR and the rest of the then-Dame group; Galaxy will be moving WOUR out to its WTLB studio/transmitter facility in Washington Mills.)
For EMF, which has been growing with impressive speed across upstate New York, the deal will likely mean a move of its flagship “K-Love” contemporary Christian format from class A drop-in WKVU (100.7 Utica) to the massive class B WRCK signal on 107.3, transmitting from the market’s main Smith Hill tower farm. (Only the true Utica radio geeks will recall that 107.3′s origins, way back in 1962, were as standalone FM’er WUFM – and that WOUR, for that matter, began as a relay of Syracuse standalone classical station WONO.) That, in turn, means 100.7 will probably flip to EMF’s second network, Christian rock “Air One.” What about WOKR, the 93.5 rimshot signal from Remsen, north of Utica? It’s never reached Utica well, and would probably end up as another Air One relay if EMF keeps it at all.
Over at WFNX (101.7 Lynn), production director Jim Murray is taking an on-air role. Starting today, he’ll take over afternoon drive from PD Keith Dakin. (Keith’s a busy guy today, what with the launch of FNX’s new “Sandbox” morning show and all…)
Just a week after announcing her departure from WCVB (Channel 5), Natalie Jacobson said her goodbyes last week, first in a special “Chronicle” on Tuesday night and then at the end of her final newscast Wednesday. “It is not easy to walk away from this,” Jacobson said in her closing remarks. “But life moves on and I, like many of you, am ready for a new challenge.”
That Jacobson is still saying little about what that new challenge might be (some sort of multimedia venture aimed at retirement-age baby boomers, apparently) reinforces our sense that the abrupt departure isn’t as voluntary as Jacobson and the station are saying – especially when we look back at Jacobson comments in which she said she planned to be at WCVB for a while – “I do see myself staying here and yes I am happy here,” was the exact quote to the Herald as recently as late March.
In any event, WCVB rounded up all the usual tributes – Red Sox management, Ted Kennedy, rival WBZ anchor Liz Walker – as well as a smallish batch of old clips for the “Chronicle” tribute, which had the feel of something hastily assembled, short of the tribute properly due to Jacobson, who truly paved the way for women in Boston television. After a remarkable 35-year run at one station, it’s not hard to think that Jacobson deserved a bigger send-off.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, the “Free Beer and Hot Wings” morning show disappeared from the airwaves for listeners around Philadelphia when WTHK (97.5 the Hawk) gave way to smooth jazz WJJZ (97.5 Burlington NJ) earlier this year. Now Greater Media is putting the Michigan-based show (also heard in the region on WWZZ 107.1 in the Easton area and WCHR-FM 105.7 at the Jersey Shore) back on the air in Philly, albeit at night. They’ll be heard on tape delay from 10 PM until 1 AM Monday-Thursday on WMGK (102.9 Philadelphia) beginning July 30.
Back up in the Lehigh Valley, the morning team of “Ken and Kitty” (Ken Anderson and Kitty McVay) are coming home. They left WCTO (96.1 Easton) for Cincinnati in the fall of 2004, but now they’re returning – this time to the morning slot on “Hawk” WODE (99.9 Easton).
*In CANADA, another AM station is heading for the FM dial, but not completely. The CRTC has granted Blackburn Radio’s CHOK (1070 Sarnia ON) permission to add an FM relay, but not at the frequency it requested. CHOK wanted to put the 615-watt FM booster on 100.9 to alleviate what it says are reception problems in Sarnia caused by the area’s petrochemical plants. The CRTC ruled that the CHOK booster wouldn’t “utilize the full potential” of that class A channel, and ordered Blackburn to find a different frequency for the booster within 90 days.
Ten Years Ago: July 22, 2002 -
Pittsburgh’s public television station is about to get at least $20 million richer – but PENNSYLVANIA will lose its last public TV duopoly, thanks to an FCC decision last week that will allow channel 16 in the Steel City to be used for commercial broadcasting.
WQED (Channel 13) was among the first public television stations in the country when it signed on in the spring of 1954 (KUHT in Houston beat it on the air by more than a year, but WQED claims to be the first community-owned station, while KUHT was and is owned by the University of Houston); five years later, the station took an old black-and-white transmitter and added WQEX (Channel 16) to its lineup. Initially intended to provide in-school educational programming, WQEX eventually became an “alternative” public TV outlet. After going color in the eighties, WQEX operated for a time under completely separate program management from WQED, with a schedule that included classic TV reruns and PBS programs that weren’t cleared on channel 13. By the late nineties, though, WQED became determined to sell WQEX, to help meet what the station said was a serious financial shortfall. In 1997, WQEX began simulcasting WQED – something WQED hoped would be a brief temporary move before selling the station completely.
One plan involved the fledgling Pax network, which lacked a Pittsburgh outlet. Pax planned to buy commercially-licensed WPCB (Channel 40) in Greensburg from religious broadcaster Cornerstone TeleVision, which would then purchase channel 16 from WQED and move the WPCB programming there. A brief gasp of courage from several FCC commissioners, questioning whether Cornerstone’s programming met the qualifications for a noncommercial channel, quashed that deal (although the FCC later backtracked on the new rules that were briefly put forth), and WQED then asked the FCC to “de-reserve” channel 16, allowing it to be sold for full commercial use. That prompted a community outpouring of opposition, with several groups asking the FCC not to allow the de-reservation, under which WQED proposed to sell WQEX to ShootingStar, Inc., a new company formed by Diane Sutter, former general manager of WWSW (970/94.5) in Pittsburgh, for $20 million.
Last October, the FCC denied the request, but opened a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on the case. That NPRM was closed this week when the FCC ruled that the de-reservation can proceed. Most of the commissioners agreed with WQED’s argument that it needs the money from the sale for DTV conversion (something the station hasn’t done yet, while working its way through the WQEX sale) and an upgrade of the WQED facility in Pittsburgh’s Oakland district. The ruling also acknowleged that Pittsburgh is under-served by television, with just seven commercial stations in the market (Viacom’s KDKA and WNPA, Hearst-Argyle’s WTAE, Cox’s WPXI, Sinclair’s WCWB and WPGH and Cornerstone’s WPCB).
Commissioner Michael Copps dissented, calling public television stations the “gems” of the television system, and noting that once a station is de-reserved, it’s gone for good. No word yet on when WQEX’s simulcast of WQED might be replaced by commercial programming (from Pax, perhaps?) – stay tuned!
We’ll start our NEW YORK report right here in Rochester, where WBBF (950 Rochester) broke out of its simulcast with oldies WBBF-FM (93.3 Fairport) Friday evening just after 6, switching to a short playlist of songs drawn from WBBF-FM and its Entercom sister stations, classic hits WBZA (98.9) and country WBEE-FM (92.5) – with announcements proclaiming the station to be “News Talk 950.” (All of the music in the rotation, by the way, had either “News,” “Talk,” “Sports,” “Business” or “Weather” in the title or the name of the artist…) The 1000-watt signal on 950 covers Monroe County quite well (in its heritage top-40 days, it was regularly the number-one station in town by wide margins), but it’s a far cry from the market’s dominant news-talker, Clear Channel’s clear channel WHAM (1180). Expect to hear Bill O’Reilly on 950 – and we hear rumors about Dr. Joy Browne, Sean Hannity, Tom Leykis, some sports coverage and perhaps a local morning show.
Down in New York City, WOR (710) has signed on to test Ibiquity’s “in-band, on-channel” (IBOC) digital system. While WOR is making the right noises publicly about staying in the forefront of broadcast technology, behind the scenes it’s clear that this will be a critical test of the controversial IBOC system – largely because “IBOC” is a misnomer. Ibiquity’s system sends considerable signal out on the adjacent AM channels as well, and we expect WOR’s neighbors WLW (700 Cincinnati) and WGN (720 Chicago) to be watching this test very closely to see what the system really does at night when the skywave kicks up. (It’s yet to be approved for nighttime use, and many engineers are skeptical, at least in private, that it will really work in the after-dark RF environment.)
Fifteen Years Ago: July 24, 1997 -
We begin this week’s edition with some sad news from CONNECTICUT. Veteran newsman Walt Dibble died on Monday at age 67. Dibble had worked in Connecicut radio for 49 years, the last 20 of them at WTIC in Hartford. Dibble’s career began in 1948 at Stamford’s WSTC (1400), and included stints at WICC (600) in Bridgeport and WAVZ (1300) in New Haven, as well as a lengthy stay at Hartford’s WDRC (1360/102.9). Dibble came to WTIC as news director in 1977, replacing NBC’s hourly news with local news at the top and bottom of the hour. Dibble won a national award from the RTNDA for his investigative reporting, as well as awards from Ohio State University in 1981 and from the Connecticut AP Broadcasters Association (the Abrams award for excellence in radio journalism) in 1995.
Radio reporters all over New England knew Dibble as someone who was always willing to provide news sound out of Hartford, and to lend advice and job tips to those new to the business. In addition to his work at WTIC, Dibble was also an instructor at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and at Southern Connecticut State University. Dibble had been battling leukemia for some time before his death, and had just returned to work at WTIC (although not yet to the air) when he died. He’s survived by three sons (including Fox sportscaster and former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Rob Dibble) and three daughters, and by his wife, Barbara. In this era of shuttered radio newsrooms, Walt Dibble was one of the few remaining giants in the business. He will be sorely missed.
Plenty of news in MASSACHUSETTS this week, beginning with the sale of Webster’s WGFP (940; talk) and WXXW (98.9; oldies and talk). Owner Alan Okun died earlier this year, and his estate has now sold the station to Bengal Atlantic Communications LLC. No word on how much they’re paying for the southern Worcester county outlets.
We know more this week about the fate of Salem’s WPZE (1260) in Boston. Contrary to the initial reports, it seems WPZE will go to a company called Craven and Thompson Communications out of Philadelphia. We don’t know much about them, and there’s no evidence (at least in the FCC FM database) of any other station ownership by them.
Up in the Haverhill area, there’s a pirate on 88.7 that’s causing trouble for some listeners to WFCR (88.5) Amherst’s new improved signal.
And our best wishes go out to Kirby Perkins, veteran political reporter at Boston’s WCVB-TV (Channel 5), who suffered a massive heart attack while playing tennis on Monday and is now in a coma. Perkins is married to Emily Rooney, the WGBH-TV “Greater Boston” anchor/producer who’s also a former WCVB news director and ABC “World News Tonight” executive producer. (Editor’s note: We are saddened to learn that Kirby Perkins died late Thursday night after three days in coma. He is survived by his wife and only daughter.)