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December 6, 2004

WAQX-Stern Feud Escalates

THURSDAY UPDATE: WBZ's David Brudnoy died this evening at Massachusetts General Hospital, less than 24 hours after saying a final farewell to his listeners in a recorded interview with Gary LaPierre.

David was a friend, a colleague, a teacher, and one of the most interesting people ever to sit behind a microphone anywhere in the business.

We'll have a full remembrance of him in Monday's NERW.

TUESDAY UPDATE: We're saddened to report the death yesterday of Bill Coffey, veteran morning man at Rochester's WBEE-FM (92.5). Coffey suffered a heart attack shortly after ending Monday's show, which he did by ISDN from his suburban Philadelphia home. Bill was just 56. Much more next week in NERW...

*Howard Stern has, as his website reminds us daily, just over a year left on his contract with Viacom - but his prolonged departure for his new gig at Sirius Satellite Radio just seems to get more and more tortured, especially for listeners in central NEW YORK. Syracuse Stern affiliate WAQX (95.7 Manlius) was the flashpoint last week of a dispute that had been brewing ever since Judy Ellis, COO of WAQX's parent company, Citadel, complained during the NAB Radio Show in early October about Stern's show turning into a non-stop ad for Sirius.

So it was that 95X - along with Citadel-owned Stern affiliates in York PA (WQXA-FM 105.7), Providence (WWKX 106.3 Woonsocket/WAKX 102.7 Narragansett Pier) and New Bedford (WKKB 100.3 Middletown RI) - last week began cutting off the Stern show at 10 each morning and getting on with their usual weekday programming.

"It became too much," wrote 95X music director/midday jock Ryno on the station's website, saying Stern's show had, in effect, become a lengthy infomercial for satellite radio. And Stern, inevitably, turned the whole incident into his latest cause celebre, making Citadel's decision the focus of several shows later in the week - and announcing that he'd begin a $20,000 giveaway contest that would depend on clues that he'd only announce after 10 each morning.

At least at press time Sunday, Citadel was sticking by its decision, even as Stern threatened legal action; NERW suspects this is a fight that will drag on for however long as Stern keeps doing his broadcast show, as stations that have been loyal Stern affiliates begin to consider how they move on to whatever comes next.

*For Infinity's WBUF (92.9) in Buffalo, the post-Stern future appears to involve still more talk: last Monday, the station dropped most of the remaining active rock from its schedule and reimaged itself as "Buffalo's FM Talk," adding Tom Leykis in the evening and some weekend programming (including All Comedy Radio) to a schedule that already includes Stern, Brother Wease from Rochester's WCMF, Don & Mike and Loveline. (Speculation is that Wease will eventually slide into WBUF's morning slot once Stern is gone.)

WBUF has had a rocky road over the last few years, flipping frantically from smooth jazz WSJZ to modern AC WLCE ("Alice @ 92.9") to active rock, then adding increasing amounts of talk in recent years. Will this be the format that works there? Stay tuned...

Up in Saranac Lake, listeners to WNBZ (1240) had a hard time staying tuned last week, thanks to a windstorm that hit the North Country hard on the weekend of Nov. 27-28.

WNBZ's tower fell victim to the winds, as you can see above (there are more pictures to be seen on WNBZ's own website), leaving the station silent for the early part of last week. By later in the week, engineers had strung up a longwire antenna and restored the station to the air at low power; they're now trying to get a replacement tower erected before the really nasty weather kicks in up there.

In the Albany market, the impending move-in of WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) from the Glens Falls area to suburban Malta will get a boost from another allocation change across the state line, about which more in a moment. In any event, when Vox moves WNYQ south to Malta, it will be not as a class A signal (6 kW) but as a class B1 (25 kW), providing considerably increased coverage of the Albany market.

We hear that WRWD (1370 Ellenville) is indeed now simulcasting country WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland) from the Poughkeepsie market, for whatever that's worth.

The New York Yankees will begin the 2005 season with a new voice in the announcers' booth, as Suzyn Waldman takes over from Charlie Steiner alongside John Sterling. Expect Sterling to handle all the play-by-play, with Waldman handling color. (And yes, we're resisting the temptation to say something about Jason Giambi here, much as we're tempted...)

And out on Long Island, our best wishes go out to Paul Sidney, the driving force behind the one-of-a-kind sound of WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor). Paul's had to scale his usual busy on-air schedule to zero for the moment as he struggles with some health issues. He's receiving cards and notes forwarded to him from WLNG, 23 Redwood Causeway, PO Box 2300, Sag Harbor NY 11963.

*The other half of the WNYQ upgrade we alluded to earlier is in western MASSACHUSETTS, where Vox won the FCC's permission last week to move WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) some 30 miles east to Easthampton, which will land it squarely in the Springfield market on the other side of the Berkshires. The buzz in the Pittsfield market suggests that the "Live 105.5" top 40 format and the WBEC-FM calls won't disappear when the move takes place, likely landing at one of Vox's other FMs in the market, either WUPE (95.9 Pittsfield) or WMNB (100.1 North Adams).

The first of December wasn't covered in snow, as it happened, but at the other end of the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston, the day did bring a format change of sorts at troubled WBIX (1060 Natick). Former station owner Alex Langer reassumed control of the station, under the supervision of bankruptcy receiver David Vicinanzo, and that meant the end of the business-talk format that Brad Bleidt had been programming there. For the moment, Langer is programming talk from his National Radio Network, largely the same material being heard on WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg-Pittsburgh) and WVFC (1530 McConnellsville) in Pennsylvania; the hope, it would seem, is to restore some financial stability to 1060 so it can eventually be sold and at least some of Bleidt's debts (in no small part to Langer, who held the note on the station) repaid. As for WBIX's staff, they're largely out of work, which is a shame - there's no reason to suspect that any of them knew anything about Bleidt's financial misdeeds.

Gregg Daniels returns to WBMX (98.5 Boston) today to reclaim his old afternoon slot (2-7 PM) after a stint in New York that included time at WNEW (102.7) as it went through its format throes of the last few years; his replacement at WBMX, Tom Mitchell, is headed back to Las Vegas to resume his old shift at KMXB (94.1 Henderson) out there. (And that Tom Mitchell's not to be confused with the programming honcho at Syracuse's 93Q, either!)

We're pleased to report that WBZ talk host Paul Sullivan is not only out of the hospital but even back at work for some light duty (at the Lowell Sun) after undergoing brain surgery, but that's tempered by the news that BZ's David Brudnoy checked himself in to the hospital on Friday to undergo some tests to see why he's been unable to shake a cold. As always, our best wishes to both Paul and David for speedy recoveries!

*Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Joe Collie (late of WLNH, WOTX and WZID) has joined the staff of WASR (1420 Wolfeboro) as operations manager. Joe is hosting the "Morning Report" every weekday at WASR, and the station has also added newsblocks from 12-12:30 PM and 5-6 PM to its AC format (which we hear could itself undergo a shift early in 2005...)

Over at New Hampshire Public Radio, Mark Handley announced last week that he'll be retiring in October 2005 after 15 years. Handley came to NHPR when it was just one station, WEVO (89.1 Concord), playing a mix of classical, jazz and NPR news; he leaves the network as a web of signals that nearly blanket the Granite State with a much more news-heavy approach. NHPR's board is launching a search for a replacement, but they're not expected to name anyone until at least next summer. (Handley, meanwhile, plans to spend several years - yes, years - sailing across the Pacific Ocean with his wife, Judy, after his retirement.)

And while we don't usually pay much attention to college radio management changes, here's one that bears noting: WRCU (90.1 Hamilton NY) at Colgate University has named Jeffrey Smidt '07 as its general manager for 2005. That's Jeffrey Clark Smidt, son of veteran New England broadcaster Clark Smidt...and now you know the rest of the story. (Congratulations to both Smidts!)

*In southern VERMONT, the Brattleboro Reformer reports that WOOL-LP (100.1 Bellows Falls) is struggling to get on the air before the winter weather sets in. The "Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company" had to relocate its studios to another building after realizing that the original offices on Canal Street were right below a printing press - and the volunteers still don't know if they'll be able to get their antenna mounted on Mount Kilburn while conditions still permit. If they can't, they plan to sign on with a webcast and then add the broadcast signal in the spring.

*One little RHODE ISLAND note: David Maxson has flipped his Newport translator, W243AI (96.5), to a relay of WMVY (92.7 Vineyard Haven MA), giving the very cool AAA station a new listener base on Aquidneck Island. (W243AI had been relaying Boston's WCRB and its Rhode Island sister station, WCRI, in recent years.)

*Call it NEW JERSEY, or call it PENNSYLVANIA - in either case, the new 107.9 signal that's licensed to Pennsauken NJ and serves Philadelphia signed on for real last week. Radio One has already flipped the callsign again, from the interim WPPZ (which replaced the old WSNJ-FM calls from its days down in Bridgeton on 107.7) to WRNB. Those calls come from Radio One's Dayton, Ohio station on 92.1 (which reverts to its old calls of WROU-FM), and they signify the station's new adult R&B format. The rumor mill suggests, rather strongly, that the new WRNB will step up its challenge to Clear Channel's market-dominating WDAS-FM (105.3 Philadelphia) by making a play for the syndicated Tom Joyner morning show, which airs on WDAS but is now owned by Radio One.

Meanwhile over at sports WIP (610 Philadelphia), they're mourning Neal Newman, the station's assistant PD, who died last Thursday (Dec. 2) of a heart attack. Newman, whose career began in the Lehigh Valley and included stops at WRAW, WAEB and at FMQB, was just 49. (And we'll be careful not to confuse this Neal Newman, whose real name was Neal M. Welsh, with the Neal Newman who engineers a number of New Jersey radio stations...)

It looks as though the saga of WCBG (1590 Chambersburg PA) has come to a close. The Verstandig Broadcasting station has been threatened for several years by the city's construction of a water tower a few hundred feet from its four-tower array near I-81. Construction of the water tower had to be halted because workers kept getting shocks from the high RF field created by the nearby transmitter (something Verstandig says consultants to the city should have anticipated), and that prompted city officials to try to condemn the land on which WCBG's towers sat, a move Verstandig fought fiercely. Both sides have apparently come to a settlement after nearly two years of legal tussles, and WCBG signed off Saturday night for what was apparently the last time. More on this, no doubt, next week. (WCBG had been running CNN Headline News.)

Here's something not to do if you work as a reporter for a radio station: don't call the operators of a political website and leave voicemail saying, "I wanted to tell you that you're evil, horrible people. You're awful people. You represent horrible ideas. God hates you and he wants to kill your children. You should all burn in hell. Bye." Or if you must, it would at least be a good idea not to leave your name and your office phone number, as Rachel Buchman of public radio station WHYY (90.9 Philadelphia) did when calling the folks at over Thanksgiving weekend. Buchman, who had also worked for WILM (1450) in Wilmington, Delaware, resigned from WHYY last week after the website made her message public; she had been a part-timer there, helping to produce the daily Radio Times talk show.

And out in western Pennsylvania, Nick Galli is getting back into broadcasting. Galli was one of the principals of the old Burbach Broadcasting group, and now he's paying Al Dame $8 million for his stations in the Johnstown and State College markets. In Johnstown, Galli gets rock WQKK (92.1), CHR WGLU (99.1 Ebensburg), oldies WCCL (101.7 Central City) and southern gospel WYSN (1330 Somerset); in State College, the cluster includes news-talk WBLF (970 Bellefonte) and WRSC (1390 State College), classic rock WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), rock WQWK (97.1 University Park) and rhythmic CHR WJHT (107.9 Port Matilda).

*CANADA? It's still up there - or at least we can still hear some of its radio stations - but it was a quiet week indeed on the broadcast scene, with just a few all-Christmas format flips (CFFX 960 Kingston and CJUL 1220 Cornwall) to report.

*It's not a quiet week here at NERW Central - in addition to some dental surgery (ow!), we're busy shipping out the Tower Site Calendar 2005 to radio fans from coast to coast and far beyond (would you believe New Zealand?)

It's getting a little late for trans-Pacific delivery in time for the holidays, but you can still have your calendar in plenty of time if you order now. We're shipping them out daily, and we'd be delighted to set one (or two, or three, or 30) aside for you.

This year's calendar begins with WSTW/WDEL in Wilmington, Delaware on the cover, ends with Sutro Tower in San Francisco on the inside back cover - and along the way makes stops at WNBF in Binghamton, CFNB in Fredericton, Poor Mountain in Roanoke, KXNT in Las Vegas, WBBR in New York, Gibraltar Peak above Santa Barbara, WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, WRIB in Providence, WOOD in Grand Rapids, KFJZ in Fort Worth, KYPA in Los Angeles and the top of Chicago's Hancock Tower.

(You can see some previews of this year's calendar images at Tower Site of the Week - this week, it's Miss January, WNBF in Binghamton...)

We're holding the price from last year, notwithstanding increases in printing costs and PayPal fees - just $16 postpaid ($17.32 including sales tax to New York addresses). And as always, it's free with your $60 or higher subscription to NorthEast Radio Watch/ You can use PayPal, below, or send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush, to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Please note that the prices below are valid for U.S. and Canadian orders only; please e-mail for information about overseas shipping.)

And here's an even better deal - We still have plenty of 2004 calendars left, so how about this? For just $20 postpaid ($21.65 in New York), we'll send you both the 2005 and 2004 editions. It's almost like getting an extra calendar free! (Or, if you just need the 2004 edition, that's still on clearance at $8 - and if you buy two 2004 calendars, your third is free!)

Order the 2005 Tower Site Calendar for $16...
Order the 2005 and 2004 Tower Site Calendars together for just $20...
...or subscribe to NERW at the $60 level and get a FREE 2005 Tower Site Calendar
...and you can still order the 2004 Tower Site Calendar at our special clearance price of $8! (US and Canada only - e-mail us for overseas ordering information.)

Don't want to order by credit card? You know the drill by now - make those checks payable to "Scott Fybush," be sure to include sales tax (8.25%) for New York state calendar orders only, and send them along to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Sorry - we can't take orders by phone.)

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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 2004 by Scott Fybush.