by SCOTT FYBUSH
In this week’s issue: Clear Channel’s plans for WOR – Kimble sells in the Finger Lakes – Foreclosure pressure builds on Pfuntner – “Virgin” launches in London – Swidler adds Carlisle FM
*Before we get to the week’s news, a quick note about the small world of those of us who toil, week after week, to bring you the latest developments about TV and radio. There aren’t many of us, and this week two of them hung up their keyboards, at least temporarily. Out in San Diego, Chris Carmichael wrote about the industry for the North Country Times and then on his own SDRadio.net blog for more than a decade. It was Chris behind the wheel for one of our rare Tower Site of the Week voyages south of the border a few years back, and his decision to stop writing SDRadio.net means the radio community there loses one of the few links keeping it informed. Here’s hoping Chris’ absence from the site is just temporary.
And then there’s Radio-Info.com, which went through one big transition a few years back when co-founder Doug Fleming died, too young. His death brought some big changes: his co-founders were ousted (with several forming RadioInsight.com) and the site was reinvented with some big-name talent, most notably in the form of Tom Taylor. There’s not much we can say about Tom that anyone in radio doesn’t already know. Nobody in the industry works harder or is better connected – and there’s nobody else in radio who’s as universally loved as Tom. His move to Radio-Info five years ago affected me personally, because he was shifting over from editing Inside Radio, where I had the privilege of being his colleague and working with him on a weekly basis. Tom’s departure opened the way for me to become editor of The Radio Journal (the former M Street Journal), which I edited until that publication’s unfortunate demise at the end of 2011.
Now things are changing again at Radio-Info, which the Fleming family has sold to Springfield, Massachusetts-based Talkers magazine. Tom’s departure on Friday from Radio-Info gives him the chance for some much-needed time away from the laptop, where he was keeping up an unbelievable single-handed million-word-a-year pace. He’ll no doubt be back writing about the industry sometime soon, and maybe we’ll even get to be colleagues again somewhere.
And in the meantime, amidst yet another round of upheaval, we at NorthEast Radio Watch are still here, eighteen years into our mission of providing a “tribal drum” linking the often isolated communities that make up the radio and TV industry across the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. It’s not always an easy task, and this year has brought some especially difficult struggles, but Lisa and I remain grateful to all of you who’ve shown your support for the column through subscriptions and advertising, Thank you – and on with the week’s news:
*The NEW YORK City radio market is still digesting last Monday’s bombshell news: Clear Channel’s addition of WOR (710) to its five-FM cluster for a price that, we learned on Friday, is $30 million. Clear Channel will take over the talk station’s operations in November, under an LMA if necessary, and while there’s been no formal announcement yet about the station’s future, we can offer some well-educated speculation:
Clear Channel’s primary motive for the purchase was obvious – the larger its Premiere Radio Networks syndication arm becomes, the more vital it is for Clear Channel to own its own talk station to clear Premiere programming in the nation’s biggest market. WOR came with an added incentive in the form of the WOR Radio Network, once a major player in talk radio. The network’s weekday programming is much reduced these days (headlined by Dr. Joy Browne’s advice show), but it retains a cluster of weekend service shows (food, travel, etc.) that will make a lucrative addition to the Premiere lineup.
So what becomes of WOR’s existing programming? We’d be surprised to see Clear Channel replace John R. Gambling’s morning show, part of a family tradition at WOR that dates back to the 1920s; we’d be equally surprised if Clear Channel doesn’t move quickly to shift Premiere’s biggest name, Rush Limbaugh, from Cumulus’ WABC (770) down the dial to WOR.
It’s the rest of the day that gets interesting: will Clear Channel return Premiere’s Glenn Beck to New York in the late-morning slot now occupied by Mike Gallagher? And what about the afternoon slot, where WOR runs former governor David Paterson up against Sean Hannity on WABC. The Hannity show is jointly owned by Cumulus and Premiere, with Clear Channel holding distribution rights in markets where Cumulus doesn’t have stations.
*The WOR purchase may just be the first act in a broader Clear Channel-Cumulus battle: Cumulus has been deeply intent on pursuing a strategy that emphasizes its in-house content. The launch earlier this year of the midday Mike Huckabee show was a perfect example: even before Cumulus knew it would be facing off directly against Clear Channel on the New York AM dial, it wanted an in-house option in the Limbaugh timeslot, and it’s highly likely Huckabee will show up on 770 as soon as Limbaugh moves to 710.
The action may soon move to Chicago. In market three, Premiere now clears Limbaugh on Cumulus’ WLS (890) – but Tribune’s bankruptcy is expected to put rival talker WGN (720) on the market later this year. Will Clear Channel be eyeing that 50-kilowatt prize, too?
*In the meantime, life goes on at WOR for now; so far, there have been no staffing or scheduling changes, and it seems likely WOR will stay put at the 111 Broadway studios where it moved in 2005, since there’s no readily-available space for an AM talk operation at Clear Channel’s existing five-FM studio cluster in the old AT&T building at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street.
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Yup, we’ve been doing this a long time now, and so we’re digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five, ten and – where available – fifteen years ago this week, or thereabouts.
Note that the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as “New England Radio Watch,” and didn’t go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997.
One Year Ago: August 22 & 29, 2011 -
*It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in PENNSYLVANIA radio for months now: rumor after rumor has pointed to the eventual end of rock on Philadelphia’s WYSP (94.1) and its replacement with the sports talk now heard on CBS Radio sister station WIP (610).Now it’s much more than rumor: on September 6, the rock will end on 94.1 and WIP will take over the powerful FM frequency that’s been rocking for decades, give or take a short interregnum as “Free FM” talk a few years back.
It’s not hard to understand why CBS wants sports on FM in Philadelphia; the company has had success after success with FM sports outlets such as “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM in Boston and “Fan” signals such as KDKA-FM in Pittsburgh, WXYT-FM in Detroit and soon WKRK in Cleveland. And in Philadelphia, CBS-owned WIP already faces an FM challenger in the form of Greater Media’s WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), which has been mixing ESPN Radio national programming and local talk on a not-quite-full-market signal for more than a year now. (The CBS Radio shuffle actually ends up as a mixed blessing for Greater Media; while it gets a new FM sports competitor against WPEN-FM, Greater Media’s heritage rocker WMMR 93.3 gets to declare victory in its very long rock battle against WYSP. In the way these things go, of course, WMMR is itself the original WIP-FM from way back when…)
*In addition to WIP’s well-established stable of local talk personalities, CBS brings some additional potent artillery to the FM table: WYSP is the longtime home of the Philadelphia Eagles, who’ll continue on the new WIP-FM – and WIP will bring Flyers hockey and 76ers basketball over from the AM dial as well. And then there’s the Phillies, who now play on CBS talker WPHT (1210): while they’ll surely play out the rest of this season on AM, there’s bound to be discussion of moving baseball to FM next year as well.
WIP’s new FM simulcast will come with some programming changes: as another persistent rumor had been indicating, Howard Eskin is being eased out of his afternoon shift. The new “94 WIP” lineup retains Angelo Cataldi in morning drive, followed at 10 by the “Mike and Ike Show” featuring former Eagle Ike Reese and new addition Michael Barkann, who adds radio to his TV duties on Comcast SportsNet (and who’s fondly remembered in these parts from his long-ago work at Boston’s WLVI). WIP’s current midday show, with Anthony Gargano and Glen Macnow, moves to Eskin’s former afternoon slot, followed by Rob Ellis in the evening (when there’s not play-by-play) and then Big Daddy Graham at night.
And what of 610? That big 5000-watt signal at the bottom of the dial is rather more formidable than some of the other AMs that have been sacrificed for FM sports opportunities elsewhere in the CBS universe, and that means it’s unlikely to remain in mostly-simulcast mode forever. That, in turn, has a lot of people wondering what becomes of another Philadelphia-market signal that’s in play, Family Radio’s WKDN (106.9 Camden). That class B, near-full-market facility recently changed from noncommercial to commercial status as Family planned to put it up for sale, with many in Philadelphia speculating at the time that CBS might be eyeing the FM channel for WIP.
We know WIP’s not going to 106.9 now – so what is headed there? It’s still possible that CBS could end up with the FM channel, perhaps in trade to Family Radio for 610, and given the success CBS has had with FM simulcasts of its AM news stations in San Francisco and now Chicago, an FM relay of KYW (1060) is not out of the question. It’s also possible that CBS Radio’s new rival, Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media, could end up with 106.9, which would create a completely different competitive landscape if Merlin follows the path it’s been treading in Chicago and New York, launching an FM all-newser to compete with KYW.
*Until CBS dropped its WIP bombshell, the week’s big news from the spoken-word format front was coming from MASSACHUSETTS, where former WTKK (96.9) talker Jay Severin resurfaced across town at Clear Channel’s WXKS (1200 Newton), where he’s now doing local afternoon talk. It’s the first stab at a local afternoon show on the struggling AM talker, which was running Sean Hannity in that timeslot with no appreciable ratings dent to show for the effort.
The addition of Severin in afternoon drive pushes Hannity to a 6-9 PM delayed airing on WXKS – and spurs speculation that Clear Channel might be looking at using Severin as a regional afternoon show on some of its other New England talk outlets.
WTKK made some programming changes of its own last week, too: it’s moving Michael Graham from middays to the afternoon slot that used to be Severin’s before Greater Media sent him packing in April. That sets up a three-way live afternoon talk battle in Boston, pitting Graham on WTKK and Severin on WXKS against WRKO’s veteran Howie Carr.
Doug Meehan takes over from 10-noon on 96.9, followed by a live clearance for the syndicated Michael Smerconish, who’d been heard on delay in the early evenings. Michael Castner’s “Daily Wrap” from the Wall Street Journal moves into the 7-9 PM slot.
*It’s the end of the line for the True Oldies Channel in northwestern NEW JERSEY.
On Tuesday, Clear Channel’s Aloha Station Trust completed its transfer of WTOC (1360 Newton) to the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, which has been on the receiving end of Clear Channel’s donations of signals that exceed its current ownership caps.
With WTOC gone from the Clear Channel cluster in the region, the signal fell silent at noon on Tuesday, with PD/chief engineer Tony DeNicola (“Tony Dee”) delivering the last sign-off. MMTC is reportedly set to transfer the 1360 signal to New York’s Radio Vision Cristiana, which will return it to the air later on as part of its simulcast network based at WWRV (1330 New York).
Five Years Ago: August 20, 2007 -
*The future of commercial classical radio in eastern MASSACHUSETTS was supposed to have been secure after last year’s big shuffle that sent the intellectual property of WCRB (102.5 Waltham) to New Jersey-based Nassau Broadcasting, landing WCRB’s classical format on the former WKLB-FM (99.5 Lowell).Last Thursday, WCRB’s fate took a quick roller-coaster ride in the press and on the message boards, beginning with morning reports that Nassau was thinking of flipping 99.5 from classical to sports, challenging Entercom’s WEEI (850 Boston) with a lineup that would include WEEI’s current morning team of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.
By the end of the day, though, a different picture emerged: instead of competing with Entercom and WEEI, Nassau is joining forces with the bigger broadcaster, selling a half-interest in WCRB to Entercom for $10 million in cash and a deal to put WEEI’s sports programming on 11 Nassau stations on Cape Cod and across northern New England.
Here’s how it plays out: WEEI’s network, which already includes Entercom-owned signals in Worcester (WVEI 1440), Springfield (WVEI-FM 105.5 Easthampton) and Providence (WEEI-FM 103.7 Westerly), will expand to cover most of the rest of the region. As NERW goes to press, we’ve identified some – but not all – of the Nassau signals that will become WEEI relays.
On the Cape, it’s rocker WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) that will go all-sports, tucking in nicely on the dial right next to the wide-coverage WEEI-FM signal on 103.7. (Will “Pixy,” or at least its Opie & Anthony morning show, be reborn on one or both of Nassau’s Cape Cod “Frank” simulcasts, WFQR 93.5/WFRQ 101.1?)
In Portland, MAINE, Nassau will replace ESPN sports with WEEI’s New England sports talk on WLVP (870 Gorham) and WLAM (1470 Lewiston), providing a much stronger challenge to J.J. Jeffrey’s “WJAB” sports trifecta (WJAE 1440/WJJB 900/WJJB-FM 95.5), and raising the strong possibility that the Red Sox will move over to 870/1470 when their contract with WJAB is up.
In Laconia, NEW HAMPSHIRE, the WEEI network will land on WEMJ (1490), replacing a combination of talk and travel information that’s never caught fire in the ratings.
Over in the Connecticut River Valley, along the VERMONT border, the ESPN “Score” simulcast of WTSV (1230 Claremont NH) and WNHV (910 White River Junction VT) will join the WEEI network.
By our math, that still leaves five more WEEI affiliates yet to be named. In their press release announcing the deal, Entercom and Nassau announced the markets in question as being Cape Cod, Portland, Lebanon/Rutland/White River Junction, Concord/Lakes Region and Montpelier/St. Johnsbury. Only the last of those isn’t on the list of stations we’ve seen so far, though it’s not at all out of the question that there might be other stations in those first four markets, too, especially in the Manchester/Concord area, where Nassau has five FMs with a variety of rock, pop and country formats. (2012 update – the Nassau/WEEI deal was never consummated, and it would be four more years before WEEI got its Boston FM presence.)
*There was pretty big news from RHODE ISLAND late last week, too, as former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, newly freed from federal custody, announced his return to the radio airwaves. Cianci had established a successful second career (third, if you count his line of pasta sauce) as a talk host at WPRO (630 Providence) before his incarceration, and so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when the mayor showed up by phone on WPRO Thursday to announce that he’s returning to the Citadel talk station.
*Some DTV news from PENNSYLVANIA: the FCC has released its Seventh Report & Order on the digital TV conversion, and while most of the digital channel assignments across the region remain unchanged from the last round of elections, there’s one change in the Pittsburgh market. CBS’ WPCW (Channel 19) won’t stay on channel 49, where its present digital signal is assigned. Instead, WPCW-DT will end up on channel 11, the spot being vacated by the analog signal of NBC affiliate WPXI, which stays on its digital channel, 48. (And we’d once again remind our readers that this will all be transparent to viewers; thanks to the magic of channel remapping, WPXI’s digital signal will still appear as “channel 11″ on DTV tuners, while WNPA will still appear as “channel 19.”)
Ten Years Ago: August 19, 2002 -
From MASSACHUSETTS comes word that the Red Sox have a new TV deal for next season (if there is a next season, that is), moving their broadcast games from Fox’s WFXT (Channel 25) to the Viacom duopoly of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WSBK (Channel 38). The two stations will carry between 25 and 35 games next season, with Sox-owned NESN increasing its load from this year’s 86 games to between 115 and 125.
The FCC granted the transfer of WLYN (1360 Lynn) from ADD Media to Arthur Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting; Liu is paying $1.78 million for the 700-watt ethnic station.
Just one bit of MAINE news this week: WQEZ (104.7 Kennebunkport) is picking up the syndicated Bob and Sheri morning show, effective next Monday (August 26); PD Ken McGrail checked in to let us know he’ll be sleeping a little later when he moves off the morning shift and into middays.
The big news from CANADA continued to involve Corus’ new “Country 95.3″ (CING 95.3 Hamilton ON), which made its sign-on official this morning at 7 with the debut of its first live jocks. Stu Jeffries comes over from sister station Y108 (CJXY 107.9 Burlington) to head up the morning crew, with Toronto radio vet Kenny Caughlin (the last country jock on the old CISS 92.5) holding down afternoons.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 21, 1997 -
Have the mega-groups of the 90s finally run up more debt than they can handle? That’s the big question this week, as two of the biggest broadcast groups in the Northeast look for financial help.
Also making the rounds of the rumor mill is word that SFX Broadcasting may be seeking a buyer for its station group, which includes large clusters in Providence, Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, and Albany.
On to the week’s radio news, and this time the big headlines come from MASSACHUSETTS, where country music listeners will have to spin their dials yet again tomorrow afternoon. At noon, Greater Media will swap formats on two of its Boston-market stations. The 96.9 Boston signal that’s now country WKLB-FM will switch to smooth jazz, supposedly under the WSJZ calls, while the 99.5 Lowell signal that’s been smooth jazz WOAZ will become country WKLB-FM. The move will mark the second time in as many years that WKLB-FM has changed frequencies; it was just last year that Greater bought WKLB-FM 105.7 Framingham-Boston from Evergreen to bring an end to the country wars in Boston, merging the WKLB-FM calls and much of the station’s airstaff with what was then WBCS “Country 96.9.” It will also return smooth jazz to the 96.9 frequency, which spent several years in the early 90s as WCDJ, “CD 96.9,” until Emmis sold the station to Greater.
Greater is also looking to consolidate its five Boston stations in one facility. Right now, the studios and sales offices of WMJX (106.7), the studios of WKLB-FM, and the sales offices of WROR-FM (105.7) are in the Salada Tea building on Stuart Street, while the WKLB-FM sales offices and WROR-FM studios are down the street in the Prudential Tower, and the WOAZ and WBOS (92.9) studios and offices are out at 1200 Soldiers Field Road in Brighton. A report in the business pages of today’s Boston Globe says Greater is looking at a new building on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester to house all five stations — right next door to WLVI (Channel 56) and just down the street from the Globe.