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2003 in Review

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So here we are again, at the end of the tenth year in which NERW has chronicled the broadcast goings-on of the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. (Actually, NERW existed to a limited degree in 1994 as well, but if we did a "1994 Year in Review," it's lost to posterity now.)

What can we say about 2004? With one big exception, the sales picture was a quiet one indeed, with few big deals going down (unless your corporate name was Nassau!) Satellite radio continued to draw headlines in both the trade press and the wider media world, while terrestrial digital radio garnered plenty of talk within the industry but ended the year right where it began - completely unknown to the average listener. (And broadcast digital TV wasn't doing much better.)

We lost some great broadcasters - David Brudnoy, Salty Brine, Scott Muni, Chuck Leonard and Nick Berg, just to name a few.

A few new signals popped up on the airwaves, with many more translators poised to hit the air in the year to come.

And we saw a whole bunch of towers...but we're getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we? Let's jump in with our traditional starting point, the Top 10 list of the year's big stories in NERW-land:

1. Going Orbital

Opie & Anthony made the jump first, signing with XM Satellite Radio almost as soon as their contract with Infinity expired in June - but their spotlight was stolen a few months later by archrival Howard Stern, who announced in October that he'd leave terrestrial radio when his contract expired in 2006 to explore the new, four-letter laden frontier of satellite radio at Sirius. For the next few weeks, Stern's show was heavily laden with talk of Sirius, prompting some affiliates (most notably Citadel's stations in Syracuse, York and Providence) to begin cutting the Stern show off promptly at 10. Syracuse's WAQX upped the ante during Stern's Christmas vacation, pre-empting his "best of" shows for...Opie and Anthony, on a one-day delay from XM.

Public radio wasn't immune, either - Morning Edition founding host Bob Edwards decided not to stick around after being somewhat ungraciously ousted from the show just before its quarter-century mark, joining XM for a new morning program.

2. Holy $#&*!

Stern's move away from terrestrial radio wasn't just a question of more money. After years of doing battle with the FCC, the particularly pitched nature of that battle in 2004 may have been more than even the "King of All Media" wanted to deal with on a daily basis. Fear of fines - which Congress attempted to raise at least tenfold during the year - led Clear Channel to drop Stern from its stations that carried the show (including WXDX in Pittsburgh and WNVE in Rochester, though Stern would return to both markets on Infinity-owned stations later in the year.) It also prompted many of the region's ABC affiliates (including Young's station in Albany and Hearst-Argyle's stations in Boston, Manchester and Portland) to pre-empt the network's Veterans Day airing of Saving Private Ryan, out of the not entirely unjustified fear that the FCC would receive - and respond to - complaints about the explicit language used in the World War II drama. And in Rochester, University of Rochester officials briefly required students at WRUR (88.5) to record their shows two weeks in advance so they could be screened for content.

3. Au revoir, CHOI-FM?

However stern (no pun intended) the FCC could be in 2004, its actions were far less punitive than those of its northern neighbor. The CRTC responded to complaints about Quebec City's CHOI (98.1) - including concerns about the station's musical content, its responsiveness to CRTC concerns, and the political criticism its morning hosts aimed at Quebec City political leaders - by denying the station's license renewal. But CHOI owner Genex Communications didn't back down, sending its listeners into the streets of Quebec City and putting them on a bus to Ottawa to show their support. In the end, CHOI was granted a short-term license extension while it argued its case in court, dealing the CRTC a huge black eye.

4. The Collapse of WBIX

On November 10, Boston business talker WBIX (1060 Natick) was making headlines for all the right reasons, as station owner Brad Bleidt threw a gala bash to celebrate the station's long-awaited activation of a full-time signal. A day later, Bleidt was back in the headlines, this time exposed as a self-confessed embezzler who'd stolen money from his investment firm's clients to pay for the radio station.

After attempting suicide, Bleidt wound up under psychiatric evaluation at year's end. His planned sale of WBIX to Chris Egan fell through, and the station wound up back in the hands of original owner Alex Langer. With the WBIX staff out of work, 1060 reverted to satellite talk as a bankruptcy trustee prepared the signal for yet another sale, which will surely be a major story in 2005.

5. The Christo Era Ends

As head of Boston public radio giant WBUR, Jane Christo was one of the market's most colorful characters, ruling her domain with an iron fist while at the same time transforming what had been a small college station into one of the major forces in the public radio system. But WBUR's expansion into Rhode Island with the purchase of two AM stations there a few years back may have been too much; post-9/11, WRNI (1290 Providence) and WXNI (1230 Westerly) faced big budget cutbacks as WBUR attempted to keep them in the black. In the summer of 2004, WBUR pulled most of what was left of the WRNI staff, followed in September by the announcement that the stations were being put up for sale.

That was one too many surprises for the Rhode Islanders who had given millions of dollars to WRNI, and their anger prompted a Rhode Island investigation of WBUR's finances, which led to a Massachusetts investigation, which led to Christo's resignation and the installation of Boston University executive Peter Fiedler as the station's interim leader. A subsequent internal investigation dismissed claims of financial improprieties on Christo's part, but questions about improper hiring (including the appearance on WBUR's staff of many Albanians, possibly connected to Christo's Albanian husband) lingered, even as the planned sale of WRNI/WXNI was put on hold.

6. Remembering Bruds

David Brudnoy was much more than just the evening talk host on WBZ (1030 Boston). A professor at Boston University, movie reviewer for community newspapers, political commentator, author and devout libertarian, Brudnoy was far from your usual radio personality - and that was even before he made national headlines in 1995 with his revelation, after spending several months recovering from a near-death illness, that he was infected with the AIDS virus.

Brudnoy hung on for nearly a decade after that, continuing to travel and to maintain his busy schedule even as he battled the occasional illness that would take him off the air, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. So when he entered the hospital in early December for treatment of a stubborn cough, most of his listeners assumed he'd be back shortly, at least until he appeared on WBZ in a taped interview in which he revealed that he was just hours from death.

WBZ's programming turned into an on-air wake, with Brudnoy listening from his hospital room; he died the next evening (Dec. 9), just in time to make the end of the 6:00 news, which was exactly the way he would have wanted it. The station promptly named Paul Sullivan, who'd taken the 10-midnight shift from Brudnoy in 1995, to take over Brudnoy's slot, even as Sullivan was himself recovering from the successful removal of a brain tumor.

7. Nassau Gets Big in New England

Lou Mercatanti's Nassau group was barely a presence in New England as the year began, holding only a handful of stations in Maine. By mid-year, Nassau had grown to become the region's biggest station group, at least by number of stations, spending nearly $48 million to end up with 32 stations in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, including much of the former Vox group as well as former Tele-Media and Sconnix stations. (Nassau was a seller, too, collecting $40 million from the equally ambitious Millennium group for two New Jersey FM stations.) At the end of the year, New Jersey-based Nassau had turned its attention to territory south of the region, planting its flag in Frederick, Maryland with the acquisition of stations there and in nearby Hagerstown.

8. Air America Arrives

In a year of big politics, it was inevitable that political talk radio would be a flashpoint - but it was a surprise to many in the business when a group of investors announced the formation of "Air America Radio," a talk network designed to appeal to liberal listeners.

After an almost comically rocky start, including financial problems that took the network off the air after just a few weeks in Los Angeles and Chicago, the network began to rebound on the strength of surprisingly good ratings in Portland, Oregon and, to a lesser extent, at New York flagship WLIB (1190), leading groups such as Clear Channel, Entercom and Saga to begin using Air America programming on some of their lesser AM signals.

By the end of the year, Air America was on the air in Boston, Portland, Providence, Burlington, the Pioneer Valley, New Haven, Philadelphia and Rochester in addition to WLIB.

9. FM Auctions, AM Windows

The radio dials are never full, at least not if you're the FCC, and 2004 brought opportunities for broadcasters to add new services on both AM and FM. In January, the FCC opened a window for major AM change applications and new AM station applications for the first time in three years, bringing in several dozen applications for stations everywhere from northern Maine to southwestern Pennsylvania. The largest of the proposed changes - a move of Wheeling, W.V.'s WWVA (1170) to the Cleveland suburb of Stow - was withdrawn by Clear Channel later in the year; most of the rest of the applications will see action sometime in 2005.

On the FM dial, an auction of vacant FM allocations kept the Commission busy later in the fall. When it was all over, Boston's WGBH had won its bid for a new FM channel in Brewster, paying $3.927 million for the privilege. (Other FM channels in New Hampshire, Vermont, northern New York and rural Pennsylvania went for far less, and several desirable channels, including one that would serve Buffalo, were pulled out of the auction and reserved for noncommercial use.)

The year also brought the sign-ons of many of the new FM translators that sprouted from the Commission's 2003 window for new applications in that service, with many, many, many more to come in 2005.

10. Sox Win! Sox Win! Sox Win!

You thought maybe we weren't going to mention this one? The heart-in-the-throat postseason for the ages was a huge boon not only to Sox radio flagship WEEI, its radio affiliates throughout New England, Fox TV affiliates everywhere and the Sox-owned NESN sports network, but the World Series win brought big promotional opportunities to just about every Boston radio and TV station, which blanketed the airwaves with coverage of the win and the victory parade that followed. And we'll call it right here, right now: we're going for two in '05.

The Year in Sales

JANUARY: Nassau began its sales onslaught with the $12 million acquisition of Tele-Media's WNNH/WLKZ/WHOB in New Hampshire, then followed up with the $5 million purchase of the last Sconnix stations, WLNH/WBHG/WEMG in New Hampshire's Lakes Region. Ed Bold's family sold off the other half of Bridgeton, New Jersey's WSNJ, AM 1240, to Quinn Broadcasting in a $550,000 deal that made WSNJ and Millville's WMVB sister stations. BisiBlue LLC bought WIPS (1250 Ticonderoga NY) from Empire State Radio for $93,000.

FEBRUARY: Nassau added to its Concord cluster with Vox's WNHI/WJYY/WOTX, for $9 million. Vox spun off WRSI-WRSY and WPVQ in western Massachusetts to Saga, for $7 million, and Glens Falls' WMML/WENU/WENU-FM/WFFG to Pamal, for $2.5 million. Hearst-Argyle had the TV deal of the month, picking up Harron's WMTW-TV (Channel 8) in the Portland, Maine market for $37.5 million. Regent swapped some stations with Citadel, giving Citadel entry into the Erie market (WRIE/WXTA/WXKC/WQHZ) and Reading (WIOV AM-FM) in exchange for a cluster in Bloomington, Illinois. And Galaxy announced plans to sell its Utica cluster (WTLB/WKLL/WRCK) to the growing Route 81 family, for $2.75 million.

MARCH: Still more Nassau acquisitions - and Vox sales - with a $22 million deal that landed Nassau the Vox clusters in Barre-Montpelier, Vermont and the Upper Valley. Steve Mindich unloaded WWRX (103.7 Westerly RI) to Entercom, for $14.5 million. Entercom also added a Buffalo-market FM, Adelphia's WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township), for what would turn out to be a $10.5 million pricetag. Hartford County Broadcasting sold Connecticut's WRYM (840 New Britain) to Eight Forty Broadcasting for $1.06 million, while just down the road, Davidson Media entered the Nutmeg State with the $1.4 million purchase of WXCT (990 Southington). Bob Heckler sold WXBH (1190 Cobleskill) to Doug Stephan's Viva Communications, for $120,000. In Canada, Haliburton Broadcasting picked up CKNR (94.1 Elliot Lake) from North Channel Broadcasting, for C$625,000. And on the TV side, Pegasus bought LMA partner WPME (Channel 35) in the Portland market from KB Prime Media for $13.8 million.

APRIL: Citadel had the biggest purchase of the month, paying $22 million for Lappin's WMAS AM-FM in Springfield, Mass. Down the road in Connecticut, Freedom Communications paid Mega $3 million for WLAT and WNEZ in the Hartford market. A western Pennsylvania deal saw Clear Channel spin off WJST-FM, WKST and WBZY in the New Castle market to the Forever/Keymarket companies for a total of $2.85 million. Magnum Broadcasting paid $200,000 for Westview Communications' WZYY (106.9 Renovo PA). Up in New Hampshire, Embro struck a deal to sell WKXL in Concord to former senator Gordon Humphrey for $830,000. On TV, Scripps bought out Shop at Home (including WSAH-TV in Connecticut and WMFP in Boston) for $185 million, while in Canada, Radiomedia worked out a deal to sell its AM stations to Corus and several FMs to Astral.

MAY: Saga tried again to add Eagle Broadcasting's Ithaca cluster (WYXL/WQNY/WHCU/WTKO) to its family, in a $13.4 million deal that still hadn't been approved at year's end. Vox spun its Jamestown stations to Jim Embrescia's Media One for $4.5 million. Davidson Media Group paid $2.6 million for Providence's WALE (990) in a bankruptcy sale from Cumbre Communications. Renda paid $900,000 for Longo Media Group's WLCY (106.3 Blairsville PA). Vox closed on its $2.025 million buy of Berkshire Broadcasting's WNAW/WMNB/WSBS in the Berkshires, while Route 81's proposed purchase of those Galaxy stations in Utica was abruptly halted, along with the LMA to Route 81. On TV, Pegaus picked up WSWB (Channel 38) in Scranton from LMA partner KB Prime Media for $2 million, while CTV of Derry announced plans to sell WNDS (Channel 50) up there in southern New Hampshire to Diane Sutter's Shooting Star. In Canada, Suzanne Rochon Burnett sold CHOW (91.7 Welland ON) to David Holgate and Pat St. John.

JUNE: Vox spun off WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough NH) to one of its principals, Jeff Shapiro, whose Great Eastern group paid $1.6 million for the station. Nassau spun off WCHR-FM and WOJZ in New Jersey to Millennium, for $40 million. And Brad Bleidt announced a deal to sell WBIX (1060 Natick) to Chris Egan - we'd hear more about that later in the year, of course.

JULY: Nassau picked up two more from Vox in Vermont, adding WEXP in the Rutland market and simulcast WVAY down south, for $2.5 million. And the new Double O group agreed to pay $9.75 million for BanJo's cluster of stations in Norwich, Oneonta, Delhi and vicinity in upstate New York.

AUGUST: A small buy for Nassau, which paid $500,000 to pick up WTKZ (1320 Allentown PA) from the rapidly-diminishing Mega group - and a bunch of interesting deals that hadn't been consummated at year's end: K Radio Licensee's sale of WGSM on Long Island to Atmor Properties, Chowder Broadcast Group's sale of WORC in Worcester to Antonio Gois and Clear Channel's purchase of WILM in Wilmington, Delaware for $48 million. On the TV side, Dorothy Brunson took home $48 million (most of it in the assumption of outstanding debt) from TBN for WGTW (Channel 48) in Philadelphia.

SEPTEMBER: Nassau was at it again, this time paying $2.3 million for Northstar's WMOO/WIKE in northern Vermont. Magnum Broadcasting paid $2 million for WPHB/WUBZ in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania, while Ernie Anastos spun off WNRI in Woonsocket, R.I. to Bouchard Broadcasting for $900,000. Dan Vilkie picked up WGRP in Greenville, PA for $50,000, while up in Erie, Mercyhurst College got WEYZ (1530 North East) for $30,000 (plus an $80,000 gift-in-kind to the college) from Corry Communications. Doc Fuller announced the sale of WNBP in Newburyport to Todd Tanger - and WBUR put WRNI/WXNI in Rhode Island up for sale, at least briefly.

OCTOBER: No sales action!

NOVEMBER: Jim Morley returned to the fray, assembling P J Radio LLC to pay $4 million for WDLC/WTSX in Port Jervis, N.Y. And up in Vermont, Steve Silberberg's White Park Broadcasting paid Ken Squier's Radio Vermont $400,000 for WVAA (1390 Burlington).

DECEMBER: Nick Galli (Burbach Broadcasting) re-entered Pennsylvania with an $8 million deal for Al Dame's Johnstown and State College signals. Davidson Media Group expanded its Rhode Island reach with a $7.5 million deal to buy WAKX and WKKB from Citadel. In New Jersey, a $4.9 million three-way deal saw WKOE in Ocean City go from Ocean Broadcasting to Millennium to Press. And in the Catskills, the new Watermark Communications struck a $2.5 million deal for WSUL (98.3 Monticello).

The Year in Programming, People and Calls

JANUARY: The year began with a call change in Rochester, as WDCZ (102.7 Webster) became WRCI. (And, yes, a full year later the WDCZ calls were still appearing in the local rag's TV book.) Also here in town, EMF's "K-Love" satellite contemporary Christian format came to WMJQ (105.5 Brockport), via an LMA with option to buy.

Clear Channel launched FM talk on WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh) January 5, and talk - including WPGB's Jim Quinn morning show - also came to Altoona's WFBG (1290), replacing standards. Also out that way, Forever rearranged its plate, flipping Altoona's WMAJ-FM (104.9 Hollidaysburg) to classic rock "Rocky" as WRKY and moving WXMJ (99.5 Mount Union) to a simulcast of WPRR (100.1 Altoona). And back in Pittsburgh, WKTW (770 Jeannette) changed calls to WKFB.

The end of WLIR (92.7 Garden City) brought a simulcast of Spanish hits WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ) to the renamed WZAA; the WLIR calls moved out to Morey's "107.1 the Box," WBON (107.1 Hampton Bays), with a series of call swaps that put WLIR on 107.1, WBON on "Bone" WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) and WDRE on "Party" WXXP (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke).

New Jersey's WMTR (1250 Morristown) went to oldies from standards, while up in the Albany market, WKRD (93.7 Scotia) dumped "K-Rock" for classic country as "Eagle."

In Canada, Ottawa's CKBY (105.3) moved its country format to the former CIOX (101.1 Smiths Falls), creating a new home for top 40 "Kiss" at 105.3 and flipping country CJET-FM (92.3 Smiths Falls) to "Jack FM." (A series of call changes later in the year would put the CKBY calls on 101.1, the CISS calls on 105.3, and the CJAQ calls on the Toronto Jack at 92.5 that was formerly CISS.) Meanwhile in Montreal, CKOO (98.5) flipped to FM talk in French.

It was a bad month for several well-known radio names: Bruce Bond was ousted from his latest Harrisburg home, WRKZ (102.3 Carlisle), Bob Dearborn was the victim of budget cuts at Toronto's CHWO (740), Glenn Kalina lost his morning gig at Philly's WMWX (95.7), J.R. Gach was out as WKRD changed formats, and Gary LaPierre of WBZ (1030) in Boston had to deal with the "revelation" that he'd been broadcasting from his home in Florida some mornings. Two notable retirements: ABC's Bob Hardt and CHFI's Don Daynard.

New to the air: CKBT (91.5 Kitchener), as "The Beat" (Jan. 31)

FEBRUARY: Citadel spun the wheel at its Harrisburg-market stations, moving country from WCAT-FM (106.7 Hershey) to the new "Red 102.3", the former WRKZ (102.3 Carlisle). WRKZ got the WCAT-FM calls, too, while 106.7 flipped to "Cool Pop" WCPP.

To the west, WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) began simulcasting the talk of WFBG in Altoona. In Albany, "Eagle 93.7" flipped from WKRD to WEGB and then to WEGQ, bringing back memories of an earlier "Eagle 93.7" with those calls in Boston.

A south Jersey voice fell silent with the sign-off of WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton), which would eventually be moved north to the Philadelphia market.

In New Hampshire, WZBK (1220 Keene) flipped from "WKBK-2" talk to "Unrock" standards; in Maine, WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) went classic hits as "the River," while WNSX (97.7 Winter Harbor) dumped sports for a simulcast of "Fox" classic hits from WFZX (101.7 Searsport).

In Canada, CFMK (96.3 Kingston) dropped country for classic hits/hot AC "Joe."

And at month's end, Clear Channel, wary of FCC fines, pulled Howard Stern from all its stations - including Rochester's WNVE (95.1 Honeoye Falls) and Pittsburgh's WXDX (105.9).

New to the air: CIKZ (99.5 Kitchener/Waterloo), as country "Kicx" (2/6)

MARCH: Crawford began the month by flip-flopping formats and calls in Albany, putting religion and the WDCD calls back on 1540 and moving WPTR's oldies to the former WDCD-FM (96.7 Clifton Park). Over on the border near Watertown, Clancy-Mance took advantage of the Kingston format change at CFMK to flip WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) to country as "Kix," leaving top 40 "Border" on two other signals there.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, WKJN (1440 Carbondale) went dark and changed calls back to its original WCDL, while WCWI (94.3 Carbondale) became WNAK-FM, simulcasting standards with WNAK (730 Nanticoke) under new owners Route 81. And WCWY (107.7 Tunkhannock) went country as "Buzzard Country" WBZR. Route 81 also made a big move in Utica, dumping "K-Rock" from WKLL (94.9 Frankfort) and installing standards there with a simulcast of WTLB (1310 Utica). Route 81 also installed standards at WHYL (960 Carlisle), replacing oldies; down the road at WHBO (92.7 Starview), oldies gave way to smooth jazz as WSJW. Over in Johnstown, Forever did some shuffling, moving news-talk WNTJ from 1490 to 850, formerly country WLYE. 1490 became sports WSPO, and the 850 simulcast on 990 in Somerset changed calls from WVSC to WNTW.

In Amsterdam, country WBUG (1570) became news-talk WVTL, while in Binghamton, Clear Channel segued WMRV (105.7 Endicott) to hot AC as "Star 105.7."

It was a very bad month for Doug Lane, owner of Scranton's WICK and WWDL, as he was arrested for child molestation.

Philadelphia's "Wild" WLDW (96.5) became "Wired" WRDW-FM, and one more change in Scranton brought soft AC WFEZ (103.1 Avoca) to the air on March 31, replacing the WAMT simulcast of "Mountain" WDMT (102.3 Pittston) now that both signals shared a tower.

The spinning door: David O'Leary was out of a morning job at WBOS (92.9) in Boston, though he'd resurface in Providence at WSNE-FM later in the year; Don Cannon retired after a long career at Philadelphia's WOGL (98.1); and Mark Giardina moved over to the government PR side of things after 30 years doing news in Rochester, most recently at WXXI (1370).

And the month closed with the launch of Air America Radio, on a small lineup of stations that included WLIB (1190 New York).

New to the air: classical WCNH-LP (94.7 Concord NH) on March 1, religious CHJX (105.9 London ON), multiethnic CKDG (105.1 Montreal) and WFJY (660 Wilkinsburg PA, moved from 1470 Portage PA), on March 26.

APRIL: WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) kicked off the month by launching a AAA format for Westchester as "The Peak." Just over the state line, Scott Shannon's "True Oldies" format launched on WREF (850 Ridgefield CT).

In Philadelphia, WZZD (990) dropped religion for conservative talk as WNTP on April 5.

Nassau set the format wheels twirling in Maine as it began tweaking its new acquisitions, moving country WTHT (107.5 Lewiston) to the former "Kiss" WMEK (99.9 Auburn), relaunching 107.5 as classic hits "Frank" WFNK, launching classic rock/Howard Stern "Bone" on WHXR (106.7 North Windham, formerly news-talk WMTW-FM) and WHXQ (104.7 Kennebunkport, formerly soft AC WQEZ), restoring standards to WLAM (1470 Lewiston, formerly a WMTW simulcast) and introducing Air America on WLVP, the former news-talk WMTW. Air America also landed in the Burlington market on WTWK (1070 Plattsburgh NY).

Still more action in the Scranton area, with WCWQ (93.7 Dallas) dropping its simulcast of rocker WBSX (97.9 Hazleton) and flipping to country WSJR. Speaking of Hazleton, Route 81 returned WAZL (1490) to the air there as a local voice. Over in the Pittsburgh market, WFJY (660) flipped calls to WCIX, while Sheridan changed the calls of WSSZ (107.1 Greensburg) to WJJJ, the former calls of 104.7, now WPGB.

Entercom put sports and the WEEI-FM calls on the former WWRX (103.7 Westerly RI), though it was unable to carry Red Sox baseball on the Rhode Island signal because there was already a rightsholder in the market.

In Hartford, former New York morning stars Star and Buc Wild appeared on WPHH (104.1 Waterbury), fueling speculation of a return to the Big Apple once their non-compete at WQHT (97.1) was up. Art Lake celebrated 60 years at Providence's WJAR, while up in Manchester, Charlie Sherman quit his sports director job at WMUR (Channel 9) after significantly less time, and in Boston, Peter Brown left the news director gig at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) after a long run there.

MAY: The collapse of Adelphia meant the end of local sports on WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township); it spent the month simulcasting new sister station WGR (550 Buffalo), then stunting with water sounds before relaunching May 24 as AAA "107.7 the Lake."

Down in Corning, WCBA-FM (98.7) went to a simulcast of AC WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) under its new Route 81 ownership; later in the year, 98.7 would instead simulcast standards with WCBA (1350 Corning). Over in Saugerties, WRKW (92.9) dropped rock for oldies as "Cool."

In Pittsburgh, the death throes of top 40 WBZZ saw "93-7BZZ" give way to "B93.7," which would prove rather short-lived. The much longer-lived WQEX (Channel 16), which had been a public TV outlet since 1959, took advantage of its newly-granted commercial status and began to be leased out to America's Store home shopping, beginning May 1.

In Connecticut, WXCT (990 Southington) went Spanish as "SuperMax 990," and up in Montreal CKOO (98.5) had new calls of CHMP.

In Philadelphia, the FCC finally caught up with powerful pirate "El Sol 95.3," shutting it down (and discovering that its operators, "The Moors," claimed to have a license signed by an ancient Egyptian priestess...)

New York's WFUV (90.7) finally reached a settlement with its neighbors at the Botanical Garden that would lead to the demolition of its controversial unfinished tower and the construction of a new transmitter site atop a Bronx apartment building. And in Rochester, the University of Rochester's WRUR (88.5), concerned about the FCC's content crackdown, announced a new policy that would require student and community DJs to record their shows two weeks in advance. (By the end of the summer, community DJs would be back on the air live.)

New to the air: WJPG (88.1 Cape May Court House NJ).

JUNE: Western Pennsylvania's "Cat Country" (WICT 95.1 Grove City) joined the "Froggy" family under new calls WWGY.

In western Massachusetts, WMNB (100.1 North Adams) and WUPE (95.9 Pittsfield) dropped AC for an oldies simulcast as "Whoopie," while sister WUHN (1110 Pittsfield) flipped from classic country to standards. Saga's trimulcast of WHMP (1400 Northampton), WHNP (1600 East Longmeadow) and WHMQ (1240 Greenfield) added Air America talk. In Connecticut, R&B WKND (1480 Windsor) began simulcasting on new sister station WNEZ (1230 Manchester); it would later put black gospel on 1480 and complete a call swap between the two stations in October.

Two call changes on the Connecticut/Rhode Island line: WHJM (107.7 Pawcatuck CT) picked up the WWRX calls, while WADK-FM (99.3 Block Island RI) became WJZS.

It was the end of the line for a few veterans: Joe Franklin retired after decades at New York's WOR (710), while Oedipus hung up his PD stripes at Boston's WBCN (104.1), though he remained with Infinity as a corporate programmer. (He'd be replaced by Dave Wellington, from KXTE in Las Vegas.) Joe McCoy was out the door at WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) after almost two decades in the PD chair there, while Doug Banks' morning show at WBLS (107.5 New York) was replaced with Rick Party, in what would prove to be a rather brief tenure.

New to the air: "Generations Rock" CIGR (104.5 Sherbrooke QC).

JULY: An era ended in Pittsburgh, as WBZZ (93.7) dropped top 40 for rock as "K-Rock," picking up the WRKZ calls that had been over in Hershey and returning Howard Stern to the Steel City airwaves. Down the dial, WCIX (660 Wilkinsburg) picked up its third callsign for the year, becoming WPYT.

In Rochester, Stern arrived on Infinity's WZNE (94.1 Brighton), while Clear Channel flipped formats and calls on two signals July 4, giving classic rock "Fox" WFXF (107.3 South Bristol) the much stronger signal that had belonged to modern rock "Nerve" WNVE (95.1 Honeoye Falls).

Up in the St. Lawrence Valley, a complicated series of call and format swaps saw WNCQ (102.9 Morristown) and WPAC (96.7 Canton) do a little dance that resulted in 102.9 becoming a Canton-licensed frequency, still with the WNCQ calls and "Q Country" format, while 96.7 remained "Yes FM," but with a Morristown city of license, a stronger signal and new calls of WYSX. Those calls had been on 98.7 Ogdensburg, which took the WPAC calls and dropped "Yes FM" for oldies.

In Albany, Crawford dropped oldies on WPTR (96.7 Clifton Park) in favor of contemporary Christian "Pulse 96.7," while down the road in Cobleskill, WXBH (1190) became WSDE, still doing news and talk.

In Connecticut, WJJF (1180 Hope Valley) changed calls to WCNX and went silent, briefly, while its tower was being replaced.

More long-running PDs saw the door, as WKRZ (98.5 Wilkes-Barre)'s Jerry Padden departed after 23 years, while WIP (610 Philadelphia)'s Tom Bigby took a plum job as OM of KRLD (1080 Dallas), an office vacated by another former northeasterner, Tyler Cox, who headed off to Salem to head up their talk programming. Dan Lynch departed his longtime afternoon slot at Albany's WROW (590) to move to Florida, while John DePetro left Providence's WHJJ (920) for the mid-morning talk slot at WRKO (680) in Boston. Albany veteran Bob Mason retired from WRCZ (94.5 Ravena). Rochester veteran Bob Lonsberry returned to WHAM (1180) after almost a year's absence, and food talker Arthur Schwartz parted ways with WOR (710) in New York, to be replaced by chef Rocco DiSpirito.

In Watertown, Clear Channel axed long-form local news at struggling WWTI (Channel 50), replacing it with hourly newsbriefs.

New to the air: CHMY (96.1 Renfrew ON), multiethnic CJSA (101.3 Toronto), classical WNCH (88.1 Norwich VT) from Vermont Public Radio (July 20), and CJTN-FM (107.1 Quinte West ON), on July 22, replacing CJTN 1270, which would be silent by the fall.

AUGUST: Both transmitters at Cumulus' standards WDEA (1370 Ellsworth ME) failed on August 19, leaving the station off the air for more than a month and forcing Downeast Maine Red Sox fans to go hunting for another signal on which to follow their team's amazing run for the postseason. (WDEA would eventually get back on the air with a new transmitter, but not until September 27.)

Erie's Mercyhurst College added an AM signal in northwestern Pennsylvania, acquiring WEYZ (1530 North East) and flipping it to WYNE, simulcasting the arts and cultural programming on its WMCE (88.5 Erie).

WXXY (88.7 Port Republic NJ) gave up its all-80s format and went black gospel as "Rejoice," while up in New Hampshire, WSNH (900 Nashua) spent some time carrying oldies from WMEX (106.5 Farmington).

It was a month for new PDs in New York, with Blake Lawrence arriving at WQCD (101.9), his old boss Dave Logan arriving at WCBS-FM (101.1) and Frankie Blue taking the helm at WNEW (102.7), at least until a drunken post-holiday-party airshift put that job in question at year's end. (His predecessor, Smokey Rivers, was off to Dallas and the KVIL PD job.)

And in Syracuse, dozens of veterans of WOLF (1490) came together for an amazing all-day reunion, both on and off the air.

New to the air: "Rhythme FM" CFGE (93.7 Sherbrooke QC), followed in November by relay CFGE-1 (98.1 Magog QC).

SEPTEMBER: Philadelphia lost its standards station as the month began, with WPEN (950) flipping to 50s and 60s oldies. Oldies also showed up in northwest New Jersey, where WNNJ (1360 Newton) ditched its classic country format to become "Oldies 1360."

In western Pennsylvania, WJST (92.1 Ellwood City) became WKPL, oldies "Pickle." The WJST calls and "Star" AC format moved to quasi-sister-station WBZY (1280 New Castle), which flipped a month or so later to "Just Oldies 1280."

WVFC (1530 McConnellsburg) requested a call change to WFYL, but the call change (and the station's planned move to 1180 and the Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia) still hadn't taken effect at year's end.

Air America came to Rochester's WROC (950), where it replaced Laura Ingraham and Bill O'Reilly. In Watkins Glen, WGMF (1490) changed calls to WTYX, parking them there after they were replaced in Jackson, Mississippi. (And just down the road in Elmira, the former public TV translator, W30AA, reappeared as Clear Channel-operated UPN outlet WTTX-LP, which will eventually have to move when DTV-only full-power PBS outlet WSKA takes channel 30 in Corning.)

Clear Channel also removed country "Kixx" from WXXK (93.5 Springfield VT), flipping it to news-talk WTSM, simulcasting WTSL (1400 Hanover NH). Across Vermont, WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY) moved from hot AC "Point" to "Light Rock 97.5" for Bennington.

More TV news: Josh Binswanger returned from the History Channel to become WBZ-TV (Channel 4)'s new lead anchor, while Ernie Anastos announced he'd be moving from WCBS-TV (Channel 2) to Fox's WNYW (Channel 5) in New York in 2005. On the radio, Dan Taylor's short run as WCBS-FM (101.1) morning host ended, as did Ed McMann's long run at WXKS-FM (107.9) in Boston (though McMann would quickly resurface in Providence at WWBB). The veteran morning team of Ken & Kitty departed WCTO (96.1 Easton PA) for Cincinnati and WYGY (96.5), while CJMF (93.3) in Quebec City put controversial morning man Robert Gillet back on the air, though he'd be gone again in December after ratings didn't materialize.

In Canada, Radio-Canada relaunched its "chaine culturelle" service (the old French FM Stereo network) as "Espace Musique," adding more rock and pop music to the classical and jazz already there.

OCTOBER: Air America took the headlines as the month began, with Clear Channel bringing the network to Boston via WKOX (1200 Framingham) and WXKS (1430 Everett), replacing Spanish religion and standards, respectively. (WXKS morning man Bill Wightman quickly found new work on the North Shore at WBOQ.) The network also found an affiliate in Providence, where WHJJ (920) used it to fill several holes in its schedule. And up in Portland, public outcry reversed Nassau's decision to replace Air America with sports on WLVP (870 Gorham), bringing Nassau CEO Lou Mercatanti to town for a "public meeting" with WLVP's listeners.

A public outcry also brought about a format reversal in south Jersey, where WCMC (1230 Wildwood) dropped standards for oldies but then flipped back less than two weeks later after demonstrations from Cape May County's senior citizens.

WWDJ (970 Hackensack) tweaked its religious/talk mix to become "WMCA 970," promoting itself alongside sister Salem station WMCA (570).

Up in the Mohawk Valley, WCSS (1490 Amsterdam) moved from standards to soft AC; in Pittsburgh, Sheridan moved WJJJ (107.1 Greensburg) from simulcasting WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls) to WAMO (860 Millvale), relaunching the combo as adult R&B "Magic 107.1 and 860 AM." And in Maine, Citadel parked the WJZN calls (late in Memphis) on the former WEZW (1400 Augusta).

On the TV dial, WGTW (Channel 48) in Philadelphia flipped to TBN programming at the start of the month. In Providence, veteran WPRI (Channel 12) anchor Walter Cryan came out of retirement to try to bring WLNE (Channel 6) the ratings that have long eluded it. Boston's Ed Goldman parted ways with WBZ-TV (Channel 4) after more than a decade as general manager, with former WBZ mailroom worker Julio Marenghi returning from WCBS-TV to take on GM duties.

In Canada, CBC radio left the studios in Ottawa's Chateau Laurier that it had occupied since what's now CBO (91.5) signed on in 1924.

And, oh yeah, a certain Boston baseball team made history when it recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win eight straight postseason games, defeat the hated Yankees and win its first World Series in 86 years. It was a good month.

New to the air: CKLX (91.9 Montreal), with "Couleurs FM" jazz, and CHSL (1610 Toronto), with Spanish religion.

NOVEMBER: South Jersey saw the biggest action of the month, as a Nassau/Millennium/Press deal replaced Nassau's smooth jazz WOJZ (104.9 Egg Harbor City) with Millennium's modern AC "SoJo 104.9." Millennium's simulcast of "New Jersey 101.5" (WKXW-FM Trenton) moved from WKOE (106.3 Ocean City) to WIXM (97.3 Millville), which dropped its "Mix" format to make room for SoJo. And WKOE then changed hands from Millennium to Press, which flipped it to soft AC "Breeze," matching its two other "Breezes" up the Jersey Shore.

The former WSNJ-FM reappeared at its new home on 107.9 in Pennsauken, actually transmitting from Center City Philadelphia, with new owner Radio One testing for several weeks, flipping calls to WPPZ, then launching an R&B format as "WRNB," calls which eventually replaced WPPZ in December. (The new WRNB also grabbed the Tom Joyner morning show from WDAS-FM, which brought back veteran Philly morning duo Carter and Sanborn to replace the Fly Jock.)

In Worcester, the former "Fox" (WWFX 100.1 Southbridge) stunted as "100.1 the Sox" before relaunching as classic hits "100.1 the Pike"; meanwhile, WORC (1310 Worcester) flipped from talk to Spanish tropical.

New York's smooth jazz WQCD (101.9) got a little daring with its Nov. 22 relaunch as "New York Chill, CD 101.9," with PD Blake Lawrence incorporating some of that European smooth-sounding genre into the station's music mix. Out on Long Island, WBEA (101.7 Southold) reimaged from "the Beach" to a more urban top 40 sound as "Blaze 101.7," while WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) reimaged as...WLIR, bringing back the modern rock sound that used to be heard on 92.7 in Nassau. On the AM dial, Steve Malzberg left WABC (770) after a few years of overnights, moving down in power and up the dial to take on mornings at WWRL (1600).

Air America came to New Haven, replacing sports on WAVZ (1300); talk WARL (1320 Attleboro MA) got a bit more mainstream as "1320 the Drive"; WELV (1370 Ellenville NY) dropped standards for a country simulcast as WRWD; WVKZ (1240 Schenectady NY) dropped talk for "Real Oldies"; and WRDD (1580 Ebensburg PA) and WNCC (950 Barnesboro PA) flipped to business talk, though WNCC was soon silenced by a tower collapse.

Rochester's Brother Wease extended his empire west down the Thruway to WBUF (92.9 Buffalo), setting himself up to replace Howard Stern in mornings there in 2006. His boss in Rochester, Infinity programming executive John McCrae, was ushered out the door. (The New York Times reported it was for payola; the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle just never reported the incident, though it did reprint the press release - errors and all - in which WOKR channel 13 announced it would change calls to WHAM-TV early in 2005.)

In Allentown, the fight over the future of WDIY (88.1) came to a conclusion when the last of the board members who'd supported a controversial merger with public TV WLVT (Channel 39) left the board, leaving a new board to find other ways to ease the station's budget problems. Meanwhile in Connecticut, Wesleyan University students fought - successfully, it seems - a plan by Wesleyan president Doug Bennet, a former NPR president, to have WESU (88.1) pick up some NPR programming from Fairfield's WSHU. (December would bring a similar fight at the University of New Haven, where WNHU 88.7 hoped to link up with Connecticut Public Radio for several hours a day.)

And the conclusion of the FCC's big FM auction found Boston's WGBH winning its bid for a new FM channel in Brewster, paying $3.927 million for the privilege. (Other FM channels in New Hampshire, Vermont, northern New York and rural Pennsylvania went for far less.)

New to the air: CKKK (99.5 Peterborough ON), wisely eschewing its calls and calling itself "Kaos FM"; WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY) and Bob Vinikoor's WUVR (1490 Lebanon NH).

Gone for good: WPAA (91.7 Andover MA), deleted from the FCC's database after being silent for over a year.

DECEMBER: Buffalo's WBUF (92.9) abandoned the last of its daytime rock to go to FM talk. In Pittsburgh, WRRK (96.9 Braddock PA) began stunting, promoting a January format change. WGHQ (920 Kingston NY) and WMAS (1450 Springfield MA) both abandoned standards for talk.

In Maine, Citadel parked the WODJ calls from Michigan on WTVL (1490 Waterville) for a week or so, returning the old calls just before year's end.

The aftermath of the all-Christmas formats across the region - and there were many - brought at least one format change: WUCL (93.5 Remsen NY) became Utica's classic hits "River," giving up on its oldies "Kool" identity. Oldies also disappeared at year's end in Bangor, where WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) relaunched as classic rock "I-95."

Rhode Island TV reporter Jim Taricani was sentenced to six months of home confinement for doing his job, refusing to name the source of a videotape he used as part of WJAR's investigation of a statehouse scandal. In Rochester, veteran WHEC anchor Gabe Dalmath stepped down on New Year's Eve, ending a three-decade career at the station. Up in the North Country, the tower of WNBZ (1240 Saranac Lake) came down in a storm. And New Hampshire Public Radio's president, Mark Handley, announced he'd step down late in 2005 to travel the world. Sounds good to us...

New to the air: WCOF (89.5 Arcade NY), and the return of WCDL (1440 Carbondale PA). And gone for good: WCBG (1590 Chambersburg PA), the victim of some questionable engineering that found a city water tower going up just a few hundred feet from its four-tower array. After several years of lawsuits back and forth, the city bought WCBG (at a $1 million loss, said owner M. Belmont Verstandig Inc.) and took it dark on December 4, the only AM station in NERW-land to go dark in 2004.

With that, we get ready to close the book on our eleventh year at the keyboard and head for number twelve. We hope you've enjoyed the ride with us - and if you haven't yet shown your support for our efforts, we hope you'll take a moment and make your subscription contribution for 2005. (Just follow that link above, and remember that all contributions at or above the $60 level get a free 2005 Tower Site Calendar!)

And as we do every year, we close out our Year in Review by remembering the many great radio and TV people our region lost in 2004.

In Memoriam

  • BRUCE KIZZER, 49, WWNY-TV Watertown director of buildings and grounds (Dec. 2003)
  • JOHN A. GAMBLING, 73, former WOR morning host (1/8)
  • ELLIS O'BRIEN, WCSH Portland weatherman (1/8)
  • RAYMOND FRANK KOHN, 87, WFMZ Allentown founder (1/15)
  • HARRY FLEETWOOD, 86, late-night WNBC/WRCA, WNCN host (1/18)
  • KEN JORDAN (BERGER), 60, WLNG Long Island DJ (1/20)
  • JACK PAAR, 85, "Tonight Show" host (1/27)
  • ED SCIAKY, 55, Philadelphia DJ at WRTI, WMMR, WMGK (1/29)
  • GORDON LEWIS, 83, WIDE Biddeford ME founder (1/31)
  • BILL "THE" KLEIN, 60, WHAM Rochester entertainment guru (2/18)
  • AL CASEY, 60, former WXLO Worcester PD (2/23)
  • KENNETH "HUBCAP" CARTER, 60, WLGZ Rochester/WPTR Albany DJ (2/27)
  • DICK COVINGTON, 77, voice of KYW (3/3)
  • BOB BALFOUR, former CE of WERA/WVNJ in New Jersey (3/9)
  • ROGER HADDON, 77, WKOK/WQXK/WEGH Sunbury PA owner (4/1)
  • MEL MILLER, 75, former WEEI, WMEX, WRKO PD (4/7)
  • GENE KLAVAN, 79, former WNEW morning man (4/8)
  • CHRIS CLARK, 79, Providence College sports voice (4/10)
  • JOHN LAWRENCE (UNCLE SKIP) SCOTT, 73, WHEN-TV Syracuse kids' host, WSCV/WSLE Peterborough NH founder (4/14)
  • PAT PARSON (PASQUALE TOMINARO), 65, WCBS newsman, WQNJ founder (4/16)
  • JERRY HOWORTH (JERRY HOWARD), 84, WBZ, WEEI, WJDA, WATD personality, "Radio New England Magazine" host (4/24)
  • MILT FULLERTON, 62, WPRO newsman (4/29)
  • JEAN ENSIGN, 87, former WNRC/WVOX, WRTN, WVIP GM (5/3)
  • GEORGE BALCAN, 72, longtime CJAD morning host (5/4)

  • NICK BERG, 26, Pennsylvania-based engineer murdered in Iraq (5/8)
  • PAUL HATCH, 66, WASR Wolfeboro NH GM (5/16)
  • GARY STEVENS, 87, former WVOX host (5/17)
  • GEORGE NICHOLAS, 75, former WWSW Pittsburgh DJ (5/30)
  • LOU VERRUTO, 56, WIVB Buffalo GM (6/3)

  • JOE NIAGARA, 76, legendary Philadelphia DJ (6/4)
  • MIKE McCARDELL, 52, WGAN Portland morning co-host (6/4)
  • CARL REY, WBZ-TV engineer (6/4)
  • BILL NENNO, 85, longtime WGVA,WFLR DJ (6/9)
  • PAUL BROWN, 79, voice of WQLN Erie (6/12)
  • AL MOZIER, 63, WNBP Newburyport GM (6/15)
  • DON KELLY, co-founder of K&K Broadcasting (Erie PA, WZVU in NJ) (6/16)
  • BOB HAGEN, 68, former KYW ND, WMCA/WNEW/WINS newsman (7/4)
  • GENE LaVERNE, 80, former WHEB, WFEA, WFGL/WFMP DJ (7/6)
  • BILL RANDLE, 80, former WCBS DJ, later in Cleveland (7/9)
  • TOM MISCZUK, 48, WTIC-TV Hartford reporter (7/27)
  • BOB MURPHY, 79, New York Mets announcer (8/3)
  • JEAN POULIOT, 81, founder of Quebec's TVA, TQS, ex-owner of CFCF (8/8)
  • CHUCK LEONARD, 67, legendary WABC jock (8/12)
  • VINNIE PERUZZI, 51, Boston's "Disco Vinnie" (8/13)

  • PETE DOBROVITZ, 51, Rochester reporter (WROC/WHEC/WOKR), R News founder (8/17)
  • MAURY PARENT, 72, veteran Nashua DJ (8/19)
  • WARREN P. "CLIP" SMITH, 63, Buffalo talk host (WGR, WBEN) (8/21)
  • SCOTT MUNI, 74, New York radio legend (9/28)
  • ROBERT H. SAUTER, 72, WTIV, WFRA/WVEN founder (10/13)
  • Dr. DAVID WOLFE, 68, owned Rochester's WASB-WRSB (10/14)
  • NORM "SHERWOOD" GERBER, 77, former WENE, WNBF, WPTR DJ (10/28)
  • DOM MILONE, 42, former WNGZ, WPHD/WMTT/WCDW PD (11/1)
  • WALTER "SALTY" BRINE, 86, WPRO icon (11/2)
  • KAARLO KORKIALA, 38, CHRW London ON GM (11/15)
  • VINCENT KRUG, 92, New York Daily News executive who named WPIX (11/18)
  • TOM RIVERS, 57, legendary Toronto DJ (11/19)
  • RICHARD BURR BRONSON, 84, former WABI PD, GM (11/19)
  • DAN IANNUZZI, 60, founder of Toronto's CFMT-TV (11/20)
  • PETE FRANKLIN, 76, former WFAN talk host (11/23)
  • NEAL (WALSH) NEWMAN, 49, WIP assistant PD (12/2)
  • BILL COFFEY, 56, WBEE Rochester morning host (12/7)
  • DAWN BLACKSTOCK FLEMMING, 31, former WBLK Buffalo DJ (12/8)
  • DAVID BRUDNOY, 64, WBZ talk host, BU professor, movie critic, commentator (12/9)
  • BOB BERGER, former WHYN GM (12/11)
  • BIRD BERDAN, 84, WPTZ Plattsburgh weatherman (12/14)

NorthEast Radio Watch is made possible by the generous contributions of our regular readers. If you enjoy NERW, please click here to learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW is copyright 2005 by Scott Fybush.