By SCOTT FYBUSH
If you believed that Clear Channel had a carefully-constructed plan to rebuild New York's WOR (710) into a younger-skewing talk-and-sports station, this morning's developments should disabuse you of that notion. WOR raised plenty of eyebrows when it began the new year by replacing morning veteran John Gambling and his 86-year family legacy with Elliot Segal's "Elliot in the Morning" show, simulcast with Clear Channel FM rockers in Washington and Richmond, Virginia.
But as of this morning, Elliot's gone from WOR without a trace, or much of an explanation.
What's going on? More than you'd think, including a lingering dispute over a studio...
First, nothing about what happened today was part of a bigger plan. Could Elliot have been a Clear Channel smokescreen to clear out the aging Gambling audience and get some quick attention for WOR, only to be bumped back to his Washington home base once a more permanent morning show was in place? It sounds like a reasonable guess - but it's not what happened here.
Make no mistake: Elliot was WOR's permanent morning plan (or as close to "permanent" as anything gets in radio), and that's where the studio comes in. In order to move his show from WWDC-FM in Washington to a new home base in New York, Clear Channel promised Segal a custom-built studio in the Clear Channel complex at 32 Avenue of the Americas - and that's part of where things got hung up.
NERW hears that Clear Channel completed a brand-new studio for Elliot in January, only to have it deemed unsatisfactory. Elliot kept doing the show from Washington while a replacement studio was built - and somewhere along the way, Clear Channel decided the experiment wasn't working. The abrupt pulling of the plug today doesn't leave Elliot and his crew hanging - they stay put in Washington and keep doing what they've been doing all along - but it comes at a tough time for WOR.
Clear Channel's plan for the station was built on three new legs: a younger-skewing morning show, the proven track record of Rush Limbaugh at noon (imported from WABC) and the New York Mets (displaced from WFAN). Rush is Rush, of course, and he brings an existing fan base even if he's not drawing any new younger listeners. The Mets are just getting started with spring training...but instead of starting their season with a cross-promotional boost from a successful morning show, they'll get underway as Clear Channel tries to find a speedy replacement for the failed Elliot experiment.
We know more so far about who that replacement won't be than who it will be. It won't be fill-in Mark Simone, who's been vocal about how much he doesn't want to do a morning show (and who's urgently needed on the 9-noon slot on WOR). And it won't be Scott Shannon; even though he's available now that he's been cut loose from his longtime perch on WPLJ, and even though he's made noise about being back on the air in New York sooner rather than later, it's hard to imagine a worse fit for a talk morning show than the man who brought the top-40 "Morning Zoo" to New York 30 years ago.
So what does WOR do now? It's got a studio (on the second try), and in the Mets it's got a powerful promotional platform to help draw listeners to morning drive and the rest of the WOR programming day. It's got a vacuum to work with: aside from Salem's signal-challenged WNYM (970) and its fledgling Joe Piscopo/Frank Morano morning show, there's absolutely nobody else doing locally-focused talk in mornings. Yet it's missing a big leg from its stool now - and can a station with Rush in middays, the Mets at night and a big hole in morning drive make any kind of a mark on an unforgiving radio town? Stay tuned...