NERW 8/13/2012: A Funny Thing Happened to Boston’s Talk 1200

In this week’s issue: Clear Channel gets WOR – Rush back to WRKO as “Talk 1200″ folds – WGBH partners with NH Public TV – WMCA owner Peter Straus dies – Tower down in Binghamton

by SCOTT FYBUSH

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE:Clear Channel may be exiting talk in Boston – but it’s entering the arena in a big way in New York City, where it’s buying WOR (710) from Buckley Broadcasting a year after the death of Rick Buckley. The sale was announced to WOR employees in a meeting this morning, with terms yet to be announced. It’s a big shakeup for the world of New York talk: a Clear Channel-run WOR is almost certain to become the new home of Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks talent, most notably Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh, of course, is the staple personality just up the dial at Cumulus’ WABC (770). Big changes ahead…and we’ll be on top of them right here at fybush.com, and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

*Clear Channel had big hopes for WXKS (1200 Newton) when it launched the station as eastern MASSACHUSETTS‘ newest big-ticket talker back in 2010. By pulling Rush Limbaugh over from Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston) and building a new “Rush Radio” around him, Clear Channel would take its Premiere Radio Networks talent in-house in a top-ten market, carving a hole out of the talk landscape that it hoped would drive either WRKO or Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9) out of the crowded format.

But despite the “expert” predictions at the time that WRKO would suffer a “a slow and painful demise” without Limbaugh, Entercom’s talker just kept on going, locking disgruntled afternoon host Howie Carr into a series of contract renewals and somehow surviving questionable hires like former state House speaker Tom Finneran. And by hanging on, WRKO has now thwarted Clear Channel’s plans for 1200, forcing the newcomer out of the talk format and apparently into a comedy format beginning this morning.

The story played out in installments all last week, beginning with the news that Limbaugh’s show would be returning to WRKO along with Premiere’s “Coast to Coast AM,” followed by the news that the local staff at WXKS – morning man Jeff Katz, afternoon host Jay Severin and PD Paula O’Connor – was history.

With Katz and Severin off the schedule, “Talk 1200″ (which had dropped the “Rush Radio” name after it failed to catch fire in the market) briefly rolled out an interim lineup of third-tier syndicated talent, but that turned out to be a smokescreen for a bigger change: on Friday, 1200 began stunting as “Gaffe 1200,” playing a ten-minute loop of political mishaps.

And that turns out to be a prelude to a truly new format launching this morning on the 1200 signal: “Comedy 1200″ is the result of Clear Channel’s taking control of the “24/7 Comedy” network, which has achieved surprising ratings success as a niche format in markets such as Norfolk and Kansas City.

In Boston, it appears Clear Channel will be using one of its star personalities, veteran WXKS-FM (107.9) morning man Matt Siegel, to help drive ears to its new format. Lance Venta over at Radio Insight notes that the company has registered several domains such as “MattyComedy1200.com.”  Will Siegel’s heavily-promoted “major announcement” at 8:30 this morning be the launch of comedy on 1200? It makes perfect sense: why not take advantage of the big “Matty in the Morning” audience on Kiss 108 to promote the new comedy format on its almost-unknown AM sister?

Like Clear Channel’s other recent format launch in Boston, July’s “Harbor 101.7″ (WHBA), the new “Comedy 1200″ won’t be a ratings giant. But it will be cheap to run, especially compared to “Talk 1200″;  it’s almost sure to exceed the 1 share that was about the best WXKS(AM) could do in 31 months of talk; and it will bring in a younger demographic than the aging Rush audience…and there’s nothing funny about that.

*Over at Entercom,  the return of Limbaugh to the n0on-3 PM slot promises to help WRKO regain at least some of the dominance it once enjoyed on the Boston talk landscape.  Once the dust settles (no later than next week, though the imminent launch of comedy on 1200 may push things up sooner), WRKO’s lineup will look like this: Michele McPhee, recently rehired to fill the ex-Limbaugh slot, will move from 11 AM-3 PM to morning drive alongside Todd Feinburg. Barry Armstrong’s “Money Matters Radio” will continue to lease the 9-11 AM slot, followed by an hour hosted by Washington-based talker Jeff Kuhner at 11 to lead into the one-two punch of Limbaugh at noon and Howie Carr at 3.

For WRKO, the added cost of Limbaugh’s rights fees, while substantial, is a small price to pay to consolidate the talk audience; even if it will never be the mass-market format it was in the days of Jerry Williams, WRKO’s talk still attracts a devoted listener base that’s especially attractive to advertisers in an election year, and losing a competitor promises to boost WRKO’s bottom line (and likely WTKK’s as well) in the short term. And for Clear Channel, it’s likely the rights fees WRKO will pay Premiere for Limbaugh will quickly exceed whatever profit (if any) the radio division made from Rush’s presence on “Talk 1200.”

*So what have we learned? Here’s NERW’s analysis:

Signal matters, but less than you’d think. Clear Channel spent several years and millions of dollars to move the former WKOX (1200 Framingham) from the western suburbs into the heart of the Boston market as a 50,000-watt fulltimer, and it was inevitable that the new 1200 signal would come in for plenty of scrutiny after the move. Like every Boston AM save for WBZ, the 1200 signal has impairments, especially after dark anywhere west of the Route 128 beltway.

Those signal flaws didn’t help “Talk 1200,” to be sure – but despite what you might read elswehere, they weren’t the main reason it failed, either. Within 128, and especially in much of the city of Boston at night, 1200’s signal is fully competitive with WRKO, yet the new station’s ratings were just as anemic in strong-signal areas as out in the suburbs where both 1200 and 680 struggle to be heard.

Promotion matters, even more than you’d think. Talk radio listeners are creatures of habit, and by definition, conservative talk listeners really don’t like change. When Limbaugh’s show moved from WRKO to WXKS back in March 2010, it was immediately clear that not all his listeners got the message: the front-desk phones at WRKO were ablaze for days with angry callers who knew Rush wasn’t on 680 but didn’t know why, or where he’d gone. Most of Clear Channel’s attempts to promote Limbaugh’s new home up the dial were kept in-house, but no matter how often “Rush Radio” or “Talk 12oo” were promoted on co-owned Kiss 108, the message never completely got through: Limbaugh’s numbers on 1200 never came close to his audience on 680, and listeners who found Rush on 1200 didn’t automatically stay put for the rest of the new station’s lineup. Once WXKS launched its local lineup, its hosts (especially Katz) worked social media as hard as they could, but the followings they built were more loyal than numerous.

In talk radio, service elements really matter. With CBS Radio’s WBZ (1030) long established as the Boston market’s main destination for radio news, the other spoken-word players in the region have struggled to find the balance between cutting costs and maintaining the other elements that make a radio station more than just a collection of standalone talk shows. The former WHDH (850) tried to compete with its own all-news block in morning drive in the early 1990s, to no avail; WRKO, for its part, experimented with outsourcing local newscasts but eventually brought them back in-house, realizing that part of what has kept the station successful is its emphasis on the news and traffic that surrounds its talkers.

Over at Clear Channel, WXKS struggled with the question of “stationality”: it launched as a low-cost operation without much local Boston flavor to surround Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity, and while it added a small local news operation in drivetime, 1200 never picked up an image as a place to turn for breaking news, or for much else beyond its talk lineup. Might it have been different if 1200 had picked up even a second-tier sports franchise, or developed a signature community event? We’ll never know – but it’s safe to say that one reason WRKO retained listener loyalty even without Limbaugh was the reputation it built over decades of doing more than just talk.

Rush is a draw, but not enough to build a whole new station. Without Limbaugh, 1200 probably wouldn’t have registered in the ratings at all. But something didn’t go according to plan even with talk radio’s most powerful voice on board. Even limited to areas where both stations enjoyed competitive signals, Limbaugh’s audience from 680 didn’t (you’ll excuse the pun) “rush” to find him in his new home up the dial, and the “Rush Radio” branding from 1200’s launch didn’t even survive a year. It’s worth noting that after launching a flurry of new “Rush Radio” outlets prior to Boston, Clear Channel didn’t launch any new ones after WXKS made its initial flop. Will Rush’s return to 680 restore the ratings the station enjoyed before 2010? Those numbers will be closely watched, no doubt, in the next few months.

*In other Bay State news, WGBH is growing again. The Boston public broadcaster is picking up some of the slack across the border at NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Television after budget cuts severely reduced state funding for NHPTV. A new partnership between the two broadcasters will have WGBH handling programming duties for NHPTV – and that means a new schedule that syncs up the main “NHPTV Prime” service with WGBH’s main 2.1 channel and “NHPTV Explore” with WGBX 44.

The synchronized schedules will mean the end to cross-border viewing: NHPTV’s flagship station, WENH (Channel 11), will be removed from the Massachusetts cable systems that have carried it for decades, while WGBH will disappear from New Hampshire cable systems. Over the course of the next year or so, NHPTV members in Massachusetts will be encouraged to renew instead with WGBH, and vice-versa. Behind the scenes, NHPTV has shed 20 staffers, and it’s now an independent agency separate from the University of New Hampshire, which long held the licenses for WENH and its sister stations.

Local program production will continue at NHPTV’s Durham studio, but those productions will now be seen only in the Granite State, a big reduction in potential audience from the days when WENH was a welcome alternative to WGBH for many Boston-area viewers.

*Meanwhile, a southern New Hampshire TV icon is returning to the small screen. Charismatic weatherman Al Kaprielian was a staple on Derry’s channel 50 in its days as WNDS, and after a brief absence he returned to the station when it became WZMY. Its most recent flip to WBIN under new owner Bill Binnie once again pulled Kaprielian off the air, but you can’t keep a good screechy-voiced weatherman down: he’s back on WBIN doing hourly forecasts from 2-9 PM daily, starting next Monday.

Back in Boston, there’s a new DTV signal on the air: WCEA-LP, which moved around from channel 19 to channel 3 to channel 58, has signed on its digital signal on RF channel 45. The Spanish-language signal runs 15 kW from the John Hancock tower in Boston’s Back Bay.

*Radio People on the Move: Scott Zolak, the Patriots quarterback-turned-talk-host, is now officially part of the Pats’ radio team on flagship WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston), where he’s been named to join veteran play-by-play man Gil Santos for Santos’ final season with the team. Zolak replaces another former Pats player, Gino Cappelletti, in the team’s radio booth.

*Today’s launch day for “RadioBDC,” the new online alternative-rock station hosted by the Globe‘s Boston.com and staffed by many of the jocks and programmers who used to be part of WFNX (101.7), including PD Paul Driscoll and jocks Julie Kramer, Adam 12 and Henry Santoro. The new stream will officially kick off at noon, up against the “WFNX.com” online remainder of the old WFNX operation.

*In CONNECTICUT, WLAT (910 New Britain) wants to lose one of its four towers at night. Reducing its night pattern to just three towers will mean a power drop from 5000 watts to 2800 watts at the Gois Broadcasting station, which will remain 5000 watts non-directional by day. (It will also open up a big chunk of land that can apparently be sold off for new housing. )

On the FM dial, John Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting has expanded its reach to Bridgeport with the acquisition of translator W285DE (104.9). It’s broadcasting the “La Bomba” Spanish hits format from the HD2 of Red Wolf’s WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), which is also heard via translator in the Hartford market.

*There’s a tower missing in NEW YORK‘s Southern Tier, too, but WYOS (1360 Binghamton) didn’t intend to drop from three towers to two over the weekend – but it wasn’t counting on a tractor catching the guy wires, either, partially topping one of the end towers in the in-line array. WYOS normally runs 5000 watts during the day and 500 watts at night from all three towers, and the job of rebuilding the damaged tower gets to fall on a new owner, since the ESPN Radio affiliate just changed hands from Cumulus to Townsquare Media at the start of August.

If you’re reading this column before 10:00 Monday morning, the demise of WYOS’ tower might still be the biggest radio story out of the Empire State, but that could change soon: there’s a staff meeting at 10 at New York City’s WOR (710) at which it’s widely expected a new owner will be announced for the venerable 50,ooo-watt talk signal a year after the death of owner Rick Buckley. We’ll have updates here, and of course on our Twitter and Facebook feeds as well…

We’ll also keep you posted on any developments with Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5 New York), which has been skating on the edge of financial disaster for quite a while now. Several reports in the last week or so have suggested that WBAI’s money woes, including a huge monthly rent payment for its studio/office space on Wall Street, could force the station to go temporarily dark or even be put up for sale, and even with today’s depressed station values, a full class B FM signal from the Empire State Building would be worth many tens of millions of dollars if it were to come on the market.

*Back upstate, WUSP (1550 Utica) is now in the hands of its new owners-to-be, Good Guys Broadcasting. The new owners are moving quickly to separate the station from its former FM sister, WUTQ (100.7 Utica), which retained the AC/talk format that had been heard on 1550, its FM translator at 95.5, and WRCK (1480 Remsen). WUTQ’s weekend ethnic programming remains on the 1550/1480/95.5 trimulcast, which is also featuring Good Guys co-owner Tom Coyne in morning drive and veteran Utica broadcaster Hank Brown from 9 AM until noon. The new WUSP is carrying New York Mets baseball and will be picking up New England Patriots football in the fall.

In Dansville, WDNY (1400) made a format segue Friday afternoon, as owner Genesee Media flipped the station from adult standards to an adult hits mix that’s heavy on the 1970s.

Radio People on the Move: Bethany Watson is the new morning co-host on the Elvis Duran morning show based at New York’s Z100 (WHTZ 100.3 Newark). Watson moves to New York from KDWB in Minneapolis to take the role last filled by Carolina Bermudez. Back in the Finger Lakes, Sammy Carillo is the new program director at Bath-based Family Life Network, which added a new signal last week when WCOM-FM (89.3 Silver Creek) signed on along the Lake Erie shore south of Buffalo. Northeast of Buffalo in Medina, WFWO (89.7) has applied for a license to cover, though our ears in Orleans County don’t report having heard the black gospel station (programmed from Buffalo, in the old WKBW-TV studios at 1420 Main Street) on the air at all yet.

*In Syracuse, Saundra Smokes had just started her broadcast career a few weeks ago, building on her long experience as a Post-Standard reporter to host a Saturday talk show on Clear Channel’s urban “Power 620″ (WHEN). The veteran journalist died suddenly on Monday after suffering a heart attack and collapsing at home. She was just 57.

*In New York City, Peter Straus was one of the legendary names in radio ownership, making WMCA (570) one of the nation’s most distinctive radio voices during the three decades in which he controlled the station.

Straus took over WMCA from his father, Nathan Straus Jr., in the 1950s, and under his leadership the station became the top-40 home of the “Good Guys,” riding the wave of Beatlemania to a solid competitive spot against 50,000-watt competitors such as WMGM, WINS and WABC. But Straus’ WMCA did more than just play music: it offered incisive editorials penned by Straus himself, and in 1969 it began a transition that made it the city’s first full-time talk radio outlet.

With hosts such as Alex Bennett, Bob Grant, Barry Farber and “Long John” Nebel, WMCA offered a spectrum of opinions that would be unrecognizable in today’s compartmentalized talk landscape, and it held on against bigger competitors (once again, WABC) until 1987, when Straus sold the station for $10 million.

Straus also owned stations elsewhere, including WGVA (1240) upstate in Geneva, and he raised a third generation of Straus family broadcasters; his son, Eric, owned a cluster of stations in the Hudson Valley and later launched radiohelpwanted.com and several other sites linking radio to the Internet.

Straus served as director of the Voice of America under President Carter from 1977-1979 and held several other international positions as well. He died Monday at his Manhattan home, at age 89.

*On TV, today is launch day for the new MundoFox network, the bilingual effort by Fox to target Hispanic audiences. While much of MundoFox’s effort is being aimed at the southwest, the new web launches with three low-power affiliates in NERW-land: WPXO-LD (Channel 34) in New York City, WFXZ-CD (Channel 24) in Boston and WPSJ-CD (Channel 8) in Philadelphia.

*A year after its launch, western PENNSYLVANIA‘s new NPR news outlet is rebranding. Pittsburghers are modest people by nature, and when the former WDUQ (90.5) changed hands to a new group called Essential Public Media, the new “Essential Public Radio” branding for the station apparently came off a little heavy-handed, especially in the hands of the station’s mostly out-of-market new management. (“It turns out that the new EPR name didn’t work out very well,” says the station’s name-change FAQ.)

That’s why the station is now going just by its calls, WESA – and the identity change comes with a schedule reboot that includes an extra hour of “Morning Edition” from 9-10 AM in place of “The Takeaway,” which is itself about to reboot as a midday hour. WESA is also replacing “On Point” and “Tell Me More” with the “Diane Rehm Show” – and no, it says it won’t consider bringing back the jazz programming that went away with the demise of WDUQ last summer.

WDUQ’s former general manager is back in the world of public radio: after a year working with other nonprofits, Scott Hanley is on his way to Birmingham, Alabama to be the new general manager at WBHM (90.3), licensed to the University of Alabama – Birmingham.

*In Philadelphia, All Access reports WBEB (101.1) has cut several sales and engineering staffers as well as production guy/weekend jock Mark Shepperd, who’d been with the station only six months. Over at Clear Channel’s WIOQ (102.1), the search is on for a new program director as Tim “Romeo” Herbster moves up to a new national role as VP/national programming projects.

*The big news from CANADA continues to be the fight over Bell’s proposal to convert Montreal’s CKGM (990, soon to be 690) from English to French. Wrapped up in the larger issue of Bell’s as-yet-ungranted purchase of Astral Media, the CKGM conversion has drawn a record response at the CRTC. Last week, the Montreal Canadiens weighed in, asking the CRTC to grant Bell an exemption allowing it to exceed the usual ownership cap in order to keep CKGM’s English-language sports format; meanwhile, the Parti Quebecois, one of Quebec’s largest political parties, has weighed in opposing the sale of Astral to Bell at all.

*In Ottawa, veteran program director Doug Anderson has retired after 35 years in the business, most recently programming CKBY (Y101). Joel Lamoreaux moves from Rogers Radio in North Bay to replace Anderson in Ottawa.

By the shores of Georgian Bay, two stations are applying for power boosts: in Collingwood, Ontario, Corus wants to up CKCB (95.1 the Peak) from 350 watts/288.5 m to 9.7 kW (25 kW max DA)/293.1 m; while in Wasaga Beach, Bayshore Broadcasting wants to take CHGB (97.7 the Beach) from 200 watts (347 watts max DA)/100 m to 20 kW (75 kW max DA)/125 m.

And back in Quebec, Radio-Canada wants a power increase at CBV-7 (96.7) in St.-Georges-de-Beauce. The relay of CBV (95.3 Quebec City) would go from 84 watts/-6.5 m to 640 watts (2.5 kW max DA)/163.6 m.

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: August 15, 2011 -

*The low end of the FM dial in RHODE ISLAND has been going through a big transition this summer: first came Bryant University’s deal with Boston’s WGBH to put classical programming on the upgraded signal of WJMF (88.7 Smithfield), then the recent news that the Wheeler School had abruptly terminated its longtime lease of the evening hours on WELH (88.1 Providence) to Brown Student Radio. That move, we were told, was meant to clear the way for a new full-time tenant on WELH, which itself recently upgraded its signal – and now we know how all those pieces come together.

In a filing last week with the FCC, Rhode Island Public Radio revealed that it will soon become the new full-time occupant of Wheeler’s WELH, whch will become the new flagship signal for RIPR. The new RIPR will consist (at least initially) of three FM signals: WELH itself, covering Providence, Pawtucket and vicinity with its new 4 kW/135′ DA signal from a site in Seekonk, Mass.; RIPR’s existing southern Rhode Island FM voice, WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier); and to fill some of the gap between those two signals, WCVY (91.5 Coventry), where RIPR recently struck a deal to fill most of the airtime when high school students aren’t operating the station. WCVY is also on the upgrade path: it’s just filed an application to boost its power from 200 watts, non-directional, to 6 kW DA, with most of that power going west and southwest over rural central Rhode Island.

So what becomes of RIPR’s existing flagship signal, WRNI (1290 Providence)? According to RIPR’s application, the 10 kW AM signal is going Spanish, providing a full-time home for the Cranston-based Latino Public Radio programming that’s been heard during the day on WELH. (The FCC filing last week requested a new main-studio waiver for the WRNI-FM signal in Narragansett Pier; it had been operating as a satellite of WRNI 1290, but will now instead be carrying programming from WELH, which remains licensed to the Wheeler School.)

The net effect of all the summertime changes is probably a positive for most public radio fans in the Ocean State: after decades of tuning to out-of-state signals from Boston and Connecticut and then 13 years of tuning to WRNI on an AM signal, listeners in much of Rhode Island will soon have FM signals carrying both WRNI’s news-talk and WGBH’s classical service (which used to be audible in Providence until WGBH split its formats in 2009, moving classical from the big WGBH-FM 89.7 signal to WCRB 99.5 north of Boston).

And it’s great news for Rhode Island’s Hispanic community, which will get a new fulltime outlet on 1290 with a signal potent enough to reach most of the state’s Spanish-speaking listeners. When that AM signal leaves the main WRNI service, it may temporarily leave some RIPR listeners without a clear FM choice, but RIPR is working to resolve that issue: it has a 100-watt FM construction permit in Newport, and we’d expect to see translators going in to fill other signal holes (especially in the Woonsocket area) in the months to come.

For fans of college radio, the news is even less positive: Bryant’s student-produced WJMF programming, off the air for the summer, will return to the airwaves this fall on WJMF’s HD2 channel and on streaming audio, while Brown Student Radio is online-only after being ousted from WELH.

*It’s almost anticlimactic after all the buildup it’s been getting for the last few months, but “FM News 101.9″ is finally a reality in NEW YORK, where Merlin Media’s WEMP (101.9) launched its new format on Friday morning after a four-hour test run in the midst of the “FM New” hot AC format that’s been running on an interim basis.

At least one of the on-air personalities from “FM New” makes the transition to “FM News”: Jerry Barmash at FishbowlNY.com reports that Paul Cavalconte, who’s survived previous format changes on 101.9 from smooth jazz WQCD to rock WRXP, stays on the frequency once again as an anchor at “FM News.”

Like its sister station in Chicago (WWWN 101.1) that launched two weeks earlier, the initial reviews for “FM News 101.9″ have been decidedly mixed: there were frequent moments of on-air technical blunders and anchors sounding unprepared – or so we hear. As with its Chicago sister, there’s no streaming (or, indeed, any significant online presence at all) for WEMP, leaving those outside the market to wonder just what Merlin honcho Randy Michaels and programmer Walt Sabo are up to.

*Two radio groups are changing hands upstate, most notably along the I-88 corridor between Binghamton and Albany where Double O Radio assembled a cluster that eventually included most of the commercial signals in and around Oneonta. Now those 11 stations, as well as 15 others in Texas and Missouri, are going to Townsquare Media in an $11 million deal.

Townsquare, of course, is the former Regent Communications, and the Oneonta-area signals become part of a group that includes clusters in Albany and Utica, as well as down the Thruway in Buffalo.

In Oneonta, the cluster includes classic hits WZOZ (103.1), hot AC WSRK (103.9) and classic country WDOS (730); in Norwich, it’s big-signalled AC WKXZ (93.9), country WBKT (95.3) and standards WCHN (970); in Walton, standards WDLA (1270) and country WDLA-FM (92.1); in Delhi, adult hits WTBD (97.5) and oldies WDHI (100.3), which simulcasts on WIYN (94.7 Deposit).

The second transaction is in western New York, where Mark and Julie Miller’s Miller Media is selling Dansville’s WDNY (1400) and WDNY-FM (93.9) to Brian Patrick McGlynn’s Genesee Media Corporation. McGlynn doesn’t own any other stations, but he launched a company called Orpanc, which built the online DreamRadio service. Broker Dick Kozacko handled the $350,000 sale.

*Listeners on the north shore of MASSACHUSETTS will soon get a clearer signal from the radio station affiliated with Harvard University. WHRB (95.3 Cambridge) has long suffered from short-spacing with other area signals, including Brown-affiliated WBRU (95.5) down in Providence and co-channel WSKX (95.3) up the coast in York Center, MAINE.

Back in 1990, after the FCC revised spacing standards for class A stations such as WHRB, owner Harvard Radio Broadcasting reached an agreement with the Maine station (then WCQL-FM) that allowed both stations to increase power with the use of directional antennas. At WHRB’s end, that allowed the station to move its antenna from Harvard Square to a much higher perch atop downtown Boston’s One Financial Center – but at the expense of a directional notch that made the station hard to hear on the North Shore. In Maine, WCQL relocated to Mount Agamenticus in 1993, also using a directional antenna.

Under a proposal approved last week by the FCC, WHRB and WSKX (now owned by Clear Channel) will drop their 1990 interference agreement, instead using the FCC’s own short-spacing rules to govern their relationship. Here’s how it will play out: in Boston, WHRB will replace its directional antenna with a non-directional antenna atop One Financial Center, dropping its ERP slightly from 1700 to 1450 watts but bringing an additional 79,000 North Shore listeners into its 60 dBu contour. In Maine, WSKX will slightly boost its power and modify its directional pattern to bring several communities to the west, including Rochester and Durham, NEW HAMPSHIRE, within its 60 dBu contour.

*There’s a double format change along the Susquehanna River in central PENNSYLVANIA. Max Media rearranged its Selinsgrove cluster last Monday (Aug. 8), pulling WLGL (92.3 Riverside) out of what had been the three-station “B98.3″ country simulcast with WWBE (98.3 Mifflinburg) and WYGL-FM (100.5 Elizabethville).

After spending a weekend stunting as classic rock “Drive,” 92.3 relaunched Monday morning at 10 with ESPN sports as WVSL-FM, “The Valley’s Sports Leader.” The ESPN programming comes over from WYGL (1240 Selinsgrove), which changes calls to WVSL as it simulcasts with the new WVSL-FM.

Five Years Ago: August 13, 2007 -

*Is there any other commercial station in MASSACHUSETTS that’s been in the same hands as long as WCAP (980 Lowell)?The station signed on June 10, 1951, owned by Maurice Cohen and his two brothers, and while the brothers have since passed on, the station has remained under Cohen’s control for all this time.

That’s about to change, as Cohen announced this morning on WCAP’s morning show. He’s selling the station to a group of local investors led by Chelmsford real-estate agency owner Sam Poulten, local developer Brian McMahon and Andover radio consultant Clark Smidt, under the “Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC” banner.

“It’s been almost a two-year courtship,” Smidt told NERW, describing his long negotiations with Cohen for the purchase of the station.

Smidt says he’s known Cohen since the early seventies, but it was only in recent years that he began exploring a purchase of WCAP.

“A good friend gave me the idea that rather than looking for stations in northern New England, this makes sense because it’s right next door to me,” Smidt said.

*It’s been in the works for a while, but now the demise of another Bay State AM station has become reality. WPEP (1570 Taunton) disappeared from the airwaves last week, clearing the way for former sister station WNSH (1570 Beverly) to make a big jump in power.

The latest version of the WNSH upgrade, for which a construction permit was granted in June, calls for 30 kW days, non-directional, from the present transmitter site on the Endicott College campus. WNSH’s present 85-watt night signal will be unaffected.

The elimination of WPEP will allow WNSH to drop the three-tower daytime directional pattern that must now null co-channel WPEP to the southwest (and even then, limits WNSH to 500 watts); it also removes a source of local programming for the Taunton area, which gets most of its “local” programming from Providence and Boston stations these days.

*In NEW YORK, we’re still waiting for the official confirmation of the new morning team on WFAN (660) – but it sounds like it’s pretty much a done deal that former football star Boomer Esiason and WKXW (101.5 Trenton NJ) afternoon host Craig Carton will be the permanent replacement for Don Imus on the radio side. We don’t expect Esiason and Carton to be simulcast on MSNBC – that slot will likely stay with Joe Scarborough, who’s been filling in on an interim basis – but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see YES Network end up carrying the show, just as it does the Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon show.

The newest directional array in New York state is now in place. WHIC (1460 Rochester) finished building the three short towers at its new site in Henrietta last week, and it won’t be long now, we expect, before Holy Family Communications gets the new site on the air.

The Catholic station is presently running at low power (4500 watts days, 750 watts night, ND) from the site of WROC (950 Rochester) after losing its longtime site in Brighton a year ago.

There’s tower news from just west of Binghamton, too, where Dave Radigan’s WEBO (1330 Owego) signed on from its new site last week.

WEBO not only built a new 190-foot tower, it moved its old transmitter building from its temporary site a mile or so away last Monday, which was a nice little way of generating publicity that included local TV coverage.

(We were especially amused by the Binghamton TV reporter’s standup that referred to “this giant tower behind me” – but hey, they got the calls and frequency right, and that’s all that matters.)

*One of the MAINE FMs being spun off by Citadel has found a buyer. WCLZ (98.9 Brunswick) will join Saga’s Portland cluster, which was already near the market cap with four AMs (WGAN, WZAN, WBAE/WVAE) and three FMs (WMGX, WYNZ and WPOR). No sale price has been announced yet – and there’s still no buyer for the other Citadel spinoff, WCYI (93.9 Lewiston).

Ten Years Ago: August 19, 2002 -

The steady decline of standards formats – and the growth of all-sports radio – is about to claim another convert in central PENNSYLVANIA. NERW has learned that Clear Channel is readying a format flip that will shift WLAN (1390 Lancaster) from standards to sports as “The Ticket.” If the format and the nickname already sound familiar to listeners in the region, it’s no surprise: Clear Channel flipped WWKL (1460 Harrisburg) from oldies to standards two years ago as “The Ticket,” WTKT, with a programming lineup (heavy on Fox Sports offerings) very similar to what will be heard on WLAN after the flip takes place in the next few weeks. The new “Ticket” won’t have a couple of key sports franchises: the Phillies air in Lancaster on Hall’s all-sports WLPA (1490), while NASCAR is over on the FM dial at WIOV-FM (105.1 Ephrata).

Next stop, NEW YORK, where noncomm WFUV (90.7), still embattled in a fight over its unfinished tower in the Bronx, has won one fight to improve its signal in the Big Apple. The FCC rejected protests from second-adjacent WFMU (91.1 East Orange NJ) and granted WFUV permission to put on-channel booster WFUV-FM2 on the air from the old WRVR (106.7, now WLTW) tower atop the Riverside Church in upper Manhattan. The 600 watt booster will be very directional, aimed south into Manhattan while avoiding the Bronx and upstate areas that already receive a decent WFUV signal.

Still more good news for ‘FUV fans: after several months of repeats, Pete Fornatale has settled his dispute with the station and returned to his Saturday “Mixed Bag” show. Fornatale’s beef with WFUV stemmed from some comments he made over the winter that station management felt were too political; in the meantime, he had been doing some work with WBJB (90.5 Lincroft NJ) down in Monmouth County.

NEW HAMPSHIRE’s public radio network has a new voice, as of 5 PM last Wednesday. That’s when WEVJ (99.5 Jackson) signed on as the latest addition to the statewide web, bringing a stronger NHPR signal to the Mount Washington Valley, where NHPR has been heard only weakly via WEVC (107.1 Gorham) on the other side of the mountain. WEVJ’s running 4700 watts from 141 feet above average terrain, at a site just north of North Conway. (WEVJ’s debut ends a long struggle to get this frequency on the air; an earlier CP expired a few years back, and it ended up in NHPR’s hands as the settlement to a contested application process.)

Fifteen Years Ago: August 14, 1997 -

This was a big week in MAINE radio, and that’s where we’ll start this edition of NERW, with the news that Tim Martz’s Martz Media is adding yet another station along the US-Canadian border to its portfolio. Presque Isle’s WOZI (101.7) is the new addition to the Martz family, joining “Hot Country 97″ WBPW (96.9) and hot AC “Q96.1″ WQHR in the Martz stable in Aroostook County. Rumors are already flying about a possible change to WOZI’s country format.

Northern Maine will be a busy place this weekend, as 50,000 fans are expected to fill the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone for “The Great Went,” a weekend-long concert event organized by the band Phish. You won’t hear many Phish songs on AC “Channel X” (WCXU 97.7 Caribou and WCXX 102.3 Madawaska), but the station is nonetheless going all-out with remotes and live simulcasts of the concert. What’s more, newspaper stories about the “Great Went” have been claiming that Phish has obtained an FCC license to use 88.9 for on-site broadcasts during the event. License or not, it sounds like that will be the frequency to listen to (and, we hope, aircheck) if any NERW readers are headed up that way.

In MASSACHUSETTS, we’re trying to sort out the FCC’s latest pronouncement on little WNSH (1570 Beverly). It seems a CP to go to 500 watts DA-1 from three towers off Summit Street in Peabody has been cancelled (we didn’t even realize it was there in the first place!) What’s interesting is that WNSH is listed in the FCC database as running 500 watts DA-2 from *two* towers on Clinton Street in Danvers (near the Liberty Tree Mall). This was, of course, the original two-tower WMLO site…but one of the towers has been gone for years, and the other is unfenced and appeared to have damage to the doghouse at the base when last NERW was up that way. The old WMLO studio building was heavily damaged by fire a few years ago and is quite vacant. We’ve heard rumors of an STA for 125 watts nondirectional, but there’s nothing to that effect in the online FCC database that we can find.

The big news in CONNECTICUT is Hicks, Muse’s $1.4 billion acquisition of LIN Television. The purchase gives the investment firm ownership of WTNH (Channel 8) New Haven, as well as WIVB (Channel 4) Buffalo and six other TV stations around the country. Hicks, Muse says it plans no changes at LIN or any of its stations.

Comments

  1. laurenceglavin says

    I wonder if Comcast WILL in fact delete channel 11 from its lineup. WMUR-TV channel 9 has remained there for years even after the purchase of the station by Hearst-Argyle, owner of WCVB-TV in Boston with almost identical programming. I record Albritton’s “Inside Washington” from channel 11 and occasionally view the “PBS Newshour” on 11 which runs it one hour later than channel 2. Other cable providers may take a different path.

    • says

      WMUR is a different situation, since they’re officially part of the Boston market, they can request to be carried on cable systems in MA. WGBH and WENH on the other hand are requesting to be removed from the other state. Also part of the plan is to make the schedules the same on both channels outside of NH and MA specific programs so the chances are channel 11 will now have Newshour at the same time as channel 2.

    • says

      Comcast is usually first in line to drop duplicate locals. When they got the Adelphia system in nothern PA in one of the counties that is technically part of the Elmira market, the first thing they did was announce their intention to drop the Wilkes Barre locals because of a decision by people in Philadelphia who never even set foot in the county, until there was a huge uproar since it’s the Wilkes Barre stations who actually cover their local news while the Elmira stations rarely send crews below the state border. They did similar things in the DC area after they purchased the cable systems there by eliminating the Baltimore locals in the 90s.

  2. jlehmann says

    Al Kaprielian wasn’t let go by WBIN, it was WZMY that sent him packing the second time. I’m pretty sure the only other break he had from 50 was back in the 90s when they briefly became a home shopping channel, still as WNDS.

  3. chrishall says

    I give the new comedy format a year, I think it is a stop gap to something else. Today I dropped off a load of reading material to
    my late Fathers retirement community (until this weekend also the
    home of Johnny Pesky) When I dropped the bomb to some of the residents that they were about to loose one of their favorite stations,
    time shifted PBS and home of weekly Lawrence Welk….seniors going ballistic is not a pretty sight. All I can say is the shit is about to hit the fan for WGBH and NHPTV.
    These are the people that support PBS and vote. I have a feeling that when this becomes very public those involved may wish they were never born. This will spread like wildfire through church parish bulletins and calls to Senators, Congressmen and every elder service orginization in Eastern Mass. Comcast tried to drop WENH
    a few years back and they got their head handed to them on a platter. Now we wait…..you don’t screw with old people they can be nasty and may just pull their financial support for both WGBH and NHPTV