In this week’s issue: Family Radio returns to Philadelphia – WEEI splits AM, FM – Bob Grant takes a breather – Central Pennsylvania’s WGCB-TV sold – Translator battle in CT – Marconi Award winners
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*After nearly a year’s absence, Family Radio is returning to the radio dial in southeast PENNSYLVANIA and southern NEW JERSEY with the purchase of WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media.
A year ago, it appeared the network’s parent company, Family Stations, Inc., was nearing its own end times. The California-based religious broadcaster, once among the nation’s biggest, had spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign pushing founder Harold Camping’s warning that the apocalypse would begin in May 2011 (“It Is Guaranteed!,” boasted the billboards) and the network had put two of its big commercially-licensed signals up for sale to try to make ends meet.
By late 2011, Family had exited the Philadelphia market with the $22.5 million sale of WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ), which flipped to commercial operation as Merlin Media’s WWIQ. It appeared at the time that the network had no intention of coming back; after all, in its previous sales of commercial FM facilities in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, Family had remained on the air by purchasing or swapping for AM signals with reasonable coverage, but in Philadelphia it left the airwaves entirely. (Family’s other commercial sale in 2011 was Washington-Baltimore market WFSI-FM, which went to CBS Radio; Family already owned two Baltimore AM signals which retained the network’s programming in at least part of the former FM coverage area.)
And now that Family appears to have stabilized its finances under new management (Camping, now 91, is in poor health and largely removed from day-to-day operations there), it’s coming back to Philadelphia – and solving a bit of a quandary for Greater Media, too.
Earlier in the decade, Greater had invested millions of dollars in upgrading WPEN’s AM signal to become more competitive in the market, boosting daytime power at the station’s existing site in the Overbrook neighborhood and relocating 950′s nighttime service to the Germantown transmitter site of daytimer WWDB (860). While the technical improvements indeed made 950 available to more potential Philadelphia listeners, the future was clearly on the FM dial – and three years ago, that’s why Greater blew up top-40 “Now 97.5″ (WNUW Burlington NJ) and replaced it with a WPEN-FM sports simulcast. “97.5 the Fanatic” has never quite edged out CBS Radio’s WIP (even before WIP made its own AM-to-FM move) in the ratings, but it’s been a success for Greater nonetheless, recently landing rights to 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey, should that season actually take place.
So what to do with 950? The AM signal, though branded separately as “950 AM ESPN,” was nearly a total simulcast of 97.5 – and it wasn’t even serving much of a purpose as a home for programming overflow; the Flyers, for instance, had already negotiated to have their games bumped to Greater Media rocker WMMR (93.3) in the event of a conflict with the Sixers. (Villanova University sports were AM-only, and it’s not clear where they’ll go now.)
The sale of 950 leaves Greater Media as a four-FM cluster in Philadelphia: WMMR, WPEN-FM, adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7) and classic rock WMGK (102.9). The terms of the deal haven’t yet been announced, though it appears Family won’t take control of the AM signal until closing – and it raises a few more interesting questions:
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*You can be one of the first readers to own the 2013 Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.
The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.
This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We’ve also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don’t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding — your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.
Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you’re at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.
For more information and to order yours, click here!
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: September 26, 2011 -
*We spend a lot of time in this column writing about bad things that happen in radio. Stations get bought out by giant, cost-cutting corporations; people get laid off; veteran broadcasters die; historic broadcast facilities meet the wrecking ball.
So it’s nice, from time to time, to be able to lead off on an otherwise slow news week with some good news: whatever they’ve had to weather in the real world of today’s broadcasting, when you put enough broadcasters in one room for an evening, you can’t help but have a good time – and to feel pretty good about what we as broadcasters do.
That was true when Rochester’s broadcast veterans held their first reunion last week, it was true when Massachusetts broadcasters inducted their Hall of Fame honorees, it was true when Buffalo’s broadcasters did the same on Thursday night, and it was especially true when Binghamton’s broadcasters came together for their biennial reunion on Saturday night.
It’s been a rough time in Binghamton: entering the Riverwalk Hotel from the parking lot, the effects of the flooding a few weeks ago were immediately apparent in the bare studs and plastic sheeting where the hotel’s ground floor was being repaired after being inundated. But upstairs in the ballroom, the radio and TV veterans of the Southern Tier share the kind of camaraderie that can only come from spending time in a small but ambitious market like Binghamton.
Over the course of a three-plus-hour program, emcee and reunion organizer Ray Ross managed to introduce and praise nearly all of the 200 or so attendees, and what a crowd it was! This year’s special guests included legendary Chicago jock Dick Biondi, an Endicott native whose broadcast career started in town at WINR, WKOP and WENE, and singer Gary Lewis, who’s now a resident of upstate New York himself.
Biondi spoke movingly of the connection radio alone can make with its listeners, sharing anecdotes of late-night phone calls at WLS and the listeners who told him later that he’d saved their lives by providing a friendly voice in a time of need.
As a long-established starting point for young broadcasters, Binghamton stations frequently sent their developing talents up to bigger markets, and many of those voices and faces were in the room as well, including CNN’s Susan Candiotti, who entertained the crowd with tales of developing film and nearly setting the WBNG-TV newscar (an AMC Gremlin!) on fire during her time in the market in the mid-1970s.
Honorees at the event included “Living Legend” Tom Shiptenko, one of the founders of rocker WAAL (99.1); “Broadcaster of the Year” Steve Craig, who recently left WICZ-TV for a new job heading the economic development team in nearby Chenango County; “Lifetime Achievement Award” winner and longtime local radio executive Mary Lou Dimmick; and “Audio Technica Award” winner Bill Jaker of WSKG-FM.
And we here at fybush.com, along with Criss Onan and our other friends at Broadcast Electronics, were deeply honored to have the chance to present an award as well: after having their studio flooded out and being forced to move first to an RV and then to owner Dave Radigan’s living room, the crew at Owego’s WEBO more than merited a special “Community Service Award” for the hard work they’ve done to keep devastated Tioga County informed during and after the flooding. (There’s an entire “Tower Site of the Week” installment to be done someday on how Dave, his staff, and much of the Southern Tier engineering community banded together to save his equipment and MacGyver up an entire studio operation up the hill at Dave’s house…)
*If you listened to New York’s WABC (770) in the 1960s and 1970s and happened to write in for a QSL card, the odds are very good that the engineer’s signature on the back of the card is that of “Win Loyd.”
Winston H. Loyd worked for WABC and sister station WPLJ (95.5), as well as for ABC-TV, from 1952 until his retirement in 1987. His work for the station was noted at the time with the placement of a bronze plaque (right) at the base of the WABC tower in Lodi, New Jersey honoring his “loyal, dedicated service” over 35 years.
After his retirement, Loyd went back to college to earn his associate’s degree.
Win Loyd died September 18 in New Jersey, just shy of his 89th birthday.
*It’s not every day a radio station turns 90 (at least until next year, when several hundred venerable stations will hit that mark), but Boston’s WBZ (1030) made the most of its new nonagenerian status when its birthday rolled around last week.
No pretense to unbiased reporting here: your editor, of course, is a proud alumnus of the WBZ family, and it was an honor to be on hand for many of the celebrations. On Monday morning, Boston mayor Tom Menino stopped by the station’s Allston studios to proclaim “WBZ Day,” and later in the day the station made the fourth addition to its “Hall of Fame” wall just outside the building’s main entrance.
Carl deSuze is the first posthumous inductee to the very exclusive club, but his addition fits an ongoing pattern: like deSuze, the rest of the club’s members were beloved WBZ morning voices – Dave Maynard, Gary LaPierre and Gil Santos. In his 43 years at WBZ, deSuze set the stage for his successors, establishing the station’s morning slot as a New England institution. While deSuze died in 1998 at age 83, his wife and two daughters were on hand for the ceremony unveiling his plaque. (Daughter Samantha is keeping up the family tradition; her radio career currently finds her at WCTK in the Providence market.)
The celebration continued inside the building with cake and a historical display, followed later in the evening by a special “Nightside with Dan Rea” broadcast featuring the happily-retired LaPierre and his successor Joe Mathieu. (And did we mention that the overnight “Steve LeVeille Broadcast” devoted two full shows to WBZ’s history, featuring a three-hour guest appearance by your editor Sunday night and another three hours with Boston radio historian Donna Halper on Monday night?)
If the 90th birthday celebrations were a bit more subdued than the gala dinner that accompanied the 75th anniversary in 1996…well, there’s a centennial coming just around the corner, isn’t there?
*And we close the Bay State report with an obituary: Len Zola worked all over the dial in Boston and beyond, assembling a resume over almost half a century that started with WLYN in Lynn in 1953 and continued through WWNH, WESX, WCRB, WBZ, WKOX and WHDH, culminating with a return to WCRB as a part-time classical host and newsman in the 1980s and 1990s.
But Zola, who also worked many years in the public-relations industry and as an actor, probably assured himself his spot in the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame (which inducted him in 2009) by creating “The Media Gang,” a regular gathering of current and retired broadcasters, reporters and PR people that attracted hundreds of attendees to luncheons emceed by WBZ’s Jordan Rich.
In recent years, Zola had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and he died September 17 .
*A format change in western PENNSYLVANIA: Renda’s WMNY (1360 McKeesport) is ditching its business-talk format after just three years. The McKeesport Daily News‘ Pat Cloonan reports that the new format at the Pittsburgh-market station will be “AM News Talk 1360,” based heavily on TRN’s America’s Radio News Network along with the syndicated Rusty Humphries, Phil Hendrie and Lou Dobbs shows. WMNY’s afternoon offering, the leased-time “American Entrepreneur” show, will continue from 3-6 PM.
Five Years Ago: September 24, 2007 -
*A MASSACHUSETTS judge barred WRKO (680 Boston) Howie Carr from jumping ship to rival talker WTKK (96.9 Boston) last week, but the decision didn’t make the host’s future much clearer.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Allan van Gessel ruled Wednesday, just hours before Carr was to have started his WTKK morning shift, that while WRKO owner Entercom couldn’t enforce the non-compete clause in Carr’s contract, it could enforce a clause that allowed WRKO to match any competing offer for Carr’s services.
What does “match” mean? There’s the seven-million-dollar question as the legal battle keeps plodding along: would merely matching WTKK’s paycheck be enough to force Carr to stay with WRKO, or are there other factors at play, too, such as the Red Sox preemptions that have annoyed Carr all summer, not to mention WTKK’s FM signal and the conspicuous absence of Carr’s nemesis Tom Finneran over at the Greater Media talker.
In any case, WRKO succeeded in barring Carr from his scheduled Thursday morning debut on WTKK, but for now that’s the extent of the victory. Carr was already off the air at WRKO last week while the lawsuit was being heard, and he’s not rushing back to the WRKO studios now, either, which leaves substitute hosts filling the afternoon slot both there and on the remaining affiliates of Carr’s syndicated show.
Over at WTKK, the picture’s only marginally brighter. While the station issued a statement saying “we are disappointed that Howie will not be on WTKK tomorrow, but we are hopeful that he will be a part of the Greater Media family in the very near future,” there’s every reason to expect Entercom to drag the legal wrangling out as long as possible, which leaves WTKK filling its morning drive slot with substitute hosts as well. That’s Michael Graham, for the moment, with weekender Michelle McPhee handling Graham’s usual 10-noon slot.
*A venerable NEW HAMPSHIRE callsign is no more. The WKBR calls survived well over half a century of radio turbulence, moving from 1240 to 1250, going silent for a while in the nineties, and enduring a merry-go-round of owners and formats in recent years. Now “The Game,” as the Manchester sports station is known, has dropped its heritage calls, becoming WGAM. Those calls move from Absolute Broadcasting’s sister station on 900 in Nashua (itself a survivor of gale-force radio turbulence in recent decades), which becomes WGHM.
Meanwhile, another heritage Granite State call has returned: WNTK (1010 Newport NH) is back to its old calls, WCNL, 19 years after dropping them. The WNTK calls live on at Bob Vinikoor’s sister FM on 99.7 in New London, of course.
*Our NEW YORK news begins out on eastern Long Island, where the end of business talk on WBZB (98.5 Westhampton) and its call change to WBON was followed by a one-day simulcast with sister station WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) – and then by Thursday’s launch of “La Nueva Fiesta,” with a Spanish tropical format under the programming and operations helm of New York/Long Island radio veteran Vic Latino.
He’s also serving as operations manager for the third station in the Morey cluster, dance “Party 105″ WDRE (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke). Latino had worked at an earlier incarnation of 105.3 before heading to New York and WKTU a few years back, then to XM last year.
*Now that Moses Znaimer has sold his TV holdings, he’s starting to build a radio empire in CANADA. In addition to CFMX (103.1 Cobourg/96.3 Toronto), the classical music station he recently bought and relaunched under new calls CFMZ, Znaimer announced last week that his MZMedia group is buying CHWO (740 Toronto), the 50,000-watt adult standards station that’s widely heard up and down the East Coast.
The sale ends more than half a century of Caine family ownership of CHWO, in both its original incarnation as a local Oakville station on 1250 (that facility’s now religious CJYE, still held by the Caines) and, since 2000, on the 740 signal that used to be the CBC’s flagship, CBL.
While CHWO will move out of the downtown Oakville studios that will continue to house CJYE and ethnic CJMR (1320 Mississauga), Znaimer says the station’s staff will be retained as he moves it into a new downtown Toronto home, next to CFMZ. And the self-proclaimed “Canadian broadcast icon” says the AM and FM stations will have separate management teams – and that the standards programming on CHWO will be retained. (No purchase price has been announced.)
Can Znaimer do what so many broadcasters on the U.S. side of the border haven’t been able to pull off – keeping two formats aimed at mostly older audiences alive and well in a major market? If there’s one thing Canadian broadcasters have learned, it’s that you never bet against Moses Znaimer. Stay tuned…
Ten Years Ago: September 23, 2002 -
Southeastern CONNECTICUT (and a fair chunk of southern RHODE ISLAND as well) heard a format flip last Thursday (Sept. 19), as the modern AC sounds of WKCD (107.7 Pawcatuck) gave way to a harder-edged rhythmic CHR sound on “Jammin’ 107.7.” The station is changing hands from AAA Entertainment to John J. Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting, which also has AC WBMW (106.5 Ledyard CT) and country WJJF (1180 Hope Valley RI) in the neighborhood; Fuller is paying $3.75 million for WKCD, and he’s already running it under an LMA that started a few weeks ago. Expect more news on jocks and management from WKCD, soon…
There’s a new AM station about to hit the air in the Mohawk Valley: we’ve heard reports that Michael Sleezer’s new WFNY (1440) in Gloversville is testing; by next week, perhaps we’ll even have a format to tell you about!
One PENNSYLVANIA format change to report, and it’s a small one: WMAJ (1450 State College) dropped standards for ESPN sports, formerly heard in that sports-crazy market on weekends via crosstown WRSC (1390)/WBLF (970 Bellefonte).
It looks as though one of NERW’s favorite NEW JERSEY AMs will be changing format soon: we told you a few months back that Herbert Michaels, owner of WKMB (1070 Stirling) had died, and now we can tell you that his estate and K&M Broadcasters are selling the station to King’s Temple Ministries, Inc. for a reported $400,000.
The little 250-watt daytimer (are there any “big” 250-watt daytimers?) was a last bastion of country music in central Jersey, and still sounded like something out of the mid-70s the last time we listened a few months back. We’re expecting to hear religion next time…
Fifteen Years Ago: September 25, 1997 -
We’ll begin this week with the first format change of the new era at American Radio Systems. While it’s almost certainly unrelated to the pending sale to CBS, the modern AC format at WSRI (96.7) in Rochester, NEW HAMPSHIRE came to an end earlier this week. In its place has been a series of one-day simulcasts of other ARS stations from the Seacoast and Boston markets (so far, WEEI, WAAF, and WERZ have been heard there) with promises of a brand-new format Monday morning (September 29) at 10am. We’ll let you know what shows up on 96.7 when the dust settles.
Speaking of settling dust, we now know a bit more about the CBS/ARS deal announced last Friday. CBS will pay $1.6 billion in cash, while assuming another $1 billion in ARS debt, for ARS’s radio stations. Not included in the deal is the American Tower Systems subsidiary, which stays with Steve Dodge. ATS has been growing at an impressive rate in the last few years, and with the need for HDTV antenna space threatening to push many FM stations off their current towers, ATS is well positioned to pick up a lot of business in the near future. A Boston Globe article about HDTV last Sunday noted that WBZ-TV is planning to raise its Needham tower several hundred feet to add room for HDTV antennas for WBZ-TV, WGBH-TV, WGBX, and WCVB. It also noted that WHDH-TV has plenty of room on its tower — a consequence of channel 7′s long-standing policy not to rent tower space to anyone.
Meantime, staffers at ARS stations across the region are waiting anxiously to see what the sale will mean for them. The voicemail of one ARS program director this week announced that his department has been renamed “Eye on Programming!”
Could a format change be in the works at Buffalo’s WWKB (1520)? The shell of the once-great WKBW is reportedly about to dump its Real Country satellite format in favor of sports. The Buffalo News’ Alan Pergament reports the format would include The Fabulous Sports Babe from 10-1 and Jim Rome from 1-4, with One-on-One Sports most of the rest of the day. Rome and the Babe were formerly heard on sister Sinclair outlet WGR (550). Meanwhile, former ‘KB jock Tom Shannon is coming back to Buffalo, joining oldies WHTT-FM (104.1) beginning October 6 for afternoon drive. This is Shannon’s second return to the market following a comeback at ‘KB in the 80s. He had been working in cable TV in Tennessee. Afternoon jock Craig Matthews moves to evenings at Oldies 104, displacing Ray Geska, who becomes a morning show producer for Danny Neaverth.