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June 13, 2005

A Great Day in Alpine, N.J.

*ALPINE, N.J. - It may have taken more than half a century, but if the crowd at the Armstrong Tower here Saturday was any indication, a certain sort of cosmic justice has now prevailed where the legacy of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong is concerned.

It's hard to imagine dozens of people baking in the hot sun for an afternoon to honor the memory of David Sarnoff or Lee deForest, as they gladly did for this event honoring the man who may be the greatest inventor radio will ever know.

The memorial nominally commemorates the 70th anniversary of Armstrong's first demonstrations of FM, but it really grew out of a more informal memorial held last year on the 50th anniversary of Armstrong's suicide. Among the attendees was Philadelphia engineer Steve Hemphill, who had already built a replica of an early GE Phasitron FM transmitter.

The stars came together when Hemphill began talking with Charles Sackermann, Jr., whose family has owned the Alpine tower since buying it from Columbia University after Armstrong's death. Sackermann had been seeking a way to bring greater public attention to Armstrong's achievements, and the two soon began hatching a plan to conduct experimental broadcasts from the tower on the old 42-50 MHz (or should that be "megacycle?") FM band.

Add to that the programming expertise of WFDU (89.1 Teaneck), the Fairleigh Dickinson University station that's used the Armstrong tower since it signed on in 1971, and the result was one of the most memorable live broadcasts in radio's recent history.

It's unlikely that more than a few hundred people at most heard the signal of WA2XMN, the 250-watt temporary operation on 42.8 MHz transmitting from near the top of the tower - but thanks to a simulcast on WFDU, millions in the area (and around the world on the web) had the chance to listen to a very special day of programming.

On 42.8 - via Hemphill's painstakingly detailed Phasitron transmitter and a modified Ringo Ranger ham antenna on the tower - test broadcasts began sometime early in the morning. At 11:45, Hemphill pushed the button to begin official operation of WA2XMN, and for the first time in almost six decades, the old FM dial was alive with broadcasting from Alpine.

WINS (1010) anchor Judy DeAngelis emceed a live one-hour panel discussion that featured the few living veterans of the Armstrong era - Ren McMann, who worked at Alpine in his youth and later at CBS Laboratories; Henry Dietz, who worked for early FM equipment maker REL; Jerry Minter, who was at Alpine for the March 31, 1954 sign-off of Armstrong's KE2XCC; and Armstrong relative Robert Brecht.

That was followed by two hours of recorded programming, including the radio drama version of "Empire of the Air" and an interview with that book's author, historian Tom Lewis. And just before 4 PM, WA2XMN broadcast a recording of that 1954 KE2XCC farewell, an emotional moment for those who remained by then, gazing up at the mighty three-armed tower where that era ended.

For those fortunate to be able to attend the event in person, the day brought other treats as well, as CSC Management, the Sackermanns' company, used the opportunity to show off the care they've taken with the historic Alpine site. From the vintage "FM" logo that adorned Armstrong's 1937 building (and the commemorative polo shirts being sported by the staff) to the phenomenal display of early Armstrong gear inside to the ultra-modern communications facility that now resides directly beneath the tower, the site was in top condition to welcome visitors, and there was hardly a moment when someone wasn't aiming a camera up at the tower or shooting a souvenir photo on the steps of the W2XMN building.

"It's like a wedding reception for radio people," was the observation one attendee made, and it's hard to argue with that.

It was truly a great day in Alpine, and we're hoping that some of the hints being dropped during the celebration (a recreation, perhaps, of Armstrong's Yankee Network FM relays for the 75th anniversary in 2010?) can become a reality. In the meantime, the Sackermanns, Hemphill, and the crew at WFDU can take great pride in their accomplishment, reminding all of us of the debt the industry owes to Edwin Howard Armstrong.

*Yes, there was some other news around the region while we were on the road to Alpine all week, including the exit of a longtime northeast PENNSYLVANIA radio owner.

Doug Lane's sale of WWDL (104.9 Scranton), WICK (1400 Scranton) and WYCK (1340 Plains) to Bold Gold Media won't close the legal case against Lane, who was convicted of child molestation earlier this year and now awaits sentencing. It will, however, end the uncertainty that surrounds the stations - if it's approved.

Bold Gold, whose principals include Bob Vanderheyden (the first PD of oldies WCBS-FM, years ago, and now serving as the stations' general manager), began operating the stations under an LMA last week. While details of the sale haven't been released, the deal reportedly won't yield any profit to Lane, with proceeds from the stations instead going to Lackawanna County (for a victims' restitution fund) and to non-profit groups.

Bold Gold also owns WDNH, WYCY and WPSN in nearby Honesdale; its acquisition of the Lane stations still requires FCC approval, which isn't a certainty. While the deal has the support of county officials, the Commission could still do what it's done with other convicted felons, simply revoking the stations' licenses and leaving the frequencies dark pending an auction that could take years. Lackawanna County DA Andy Jarbola tells Inside Radio that he hopes the FCC will recognize that the deal he's worked out with Bold Gold and Lane is in the public interest, preserving the jobs at the Lane stations and keeping them from going silent.

And up the road from Scranton just a bit, Route 81 Radio has completed a full-scale rebuild of the transmitter site at its WCDL (1440 Carbondale), ground system and all. We're told the station's back to a full 5000 watts for the first time in quite a while.

*In NEW YORK, the fallout from the WCBS-FM format change to "Jack" included a new job for one of the station's best-known personalities, as "Cousin Bruce" Morrow signed a deal with Sirius that will include three weekly broadcasts.

Unsurprisingly, the mail here at NERW was strongly opposed to the end of oldies on 101.1. Here's a sampling:

Mark Saleman: When you think about it, the switch to the Jack format, from a business standpoint makes sense. I have to figure that it cuts costs dramatically.
There is no on air staff so no need to pay for high priced talent. There is
no studio staff needed, in fact, who needs a studio at all? They can beam
their Jack formats to the appropriate frequency from the same remote
location for all of their Jack stations. With no live talking or news or
weather or time checks (what is radio without the time checks) it can be
programmed way in advance. With Infinity losing their cash cow Howard Stern
in January, they need to cut costs.

The downside is that Jack makes for horrible radio. I have always listed to
radio more for the on air talent than the music. I can always listen to my
records, tapes cd's and internet just to hear music. I used to listen to
WCBS-FM on Sunday afternoons just to hear Dan Ingram. I haven't listened
since he left two years ago. Dan Ingram would do the same jokes and
wisecracks he did back on his WABC days in the 60's and 70's, using his
original jingles, I felt like I was a little kid again listening in the
summer at the beach. It was great.

I see it didn't take Cousin Brucie long to land a gig with Sirius. Well
good for him, he is too great a talent to be kept off the air.

My fear is that we are going to have no choice in a few years but to
subscribe to satellite radio just to get what we take for granted now. Just
as local sports teams moved the majority of the television games to cable,
they may do the same with their radio broadcasts. For now, satellite has
many stations with no commercials, but that will change. If you have to pay
for cable and watch commercials, the same will happen to radio. Eventually
for commercial free satellite radio, you will end up paying premiums. How
else will Sirius pay Howard Stern $500 million if they don't sell commercial

The face of radio is changing forever. We will see if it is for good or

Kellyann Murphy, Teaneck NJ: I am 32 yrs old, and have grown up with The Oldies, as far back as I can remember. My parents, my three brothers and even my 16 year old niece, are fans of the oldies. I was singing Runaround Sue and The Birds and The Bees long before I even knew what any of those things meant. Each of my brothers were at one point in their lives The Wanderer, and learned to Walk Like a Man thanks to The Four Seasons; Wild Thing made even my heart sing. At 10, I couldn't wait to be someone's Little Surfer Girl. I'm so disappointed, as I know so many others are.

There are no other oldies stations on the radio, and yet there are SO MANY stations that cater to what some putz called "younger listeners". With all the rap stations, R&B stations, light music stations, rock stations and alternative stations, CBS with it's Top 40 selection, along with our favorite DJs, was a breath of fresh air. All you have managed to do with this change is become just like all the other stations. There is no longer anything special about CBS (or as you call it JACK-FM). An already great radio format, that was so great all these years, up until this past Friday, has been changed without any warning or any concern for how your audience would feel. And this change was for what? To be like everyone else? Doesn't anyone over there remember the famous adage, "If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it?" You managed to ruin a great thing quite easily, and rather quickly, for that matter. The Four Seasons also sang about how Silence is Golden.......101.1 is now about as useful as if you pulled the plug all together.

T.J. Murphy, Fairfield CT: I, too, am surprised at WCBS for changing their format rather than WNEW. K-Rock used to be my favorite station when they played modern rock, and they've pretty much lost a listener because of their "Great Rock. Period." garbage, but that's another topic.

I have to admit that I've been listening to 101.1 Jack-FM since I heard about the flip on Friday, and do like the variety. (My father, on the other hand, not so much. I'm actually a bit jealous of him, because he was in his car Friday at 5 waiting for me and said that the station started repeating all this "stupid stuff" over and over. Radio geek that I am, I am fascinated by hearing stations as they flip their format -- something that's becoming less and less common these days with the quick no-warning style of doing so.)

I feel most sorry in all this for Micky Dolenz, because while I didn't listen to the morning show, I was happy to hear he was hired and he seemed genuinely happy to be on there the couple times I tuned in. I single him out as I am a fan of the Monkees, but I realize it's equally as disappointing for the rest of the staff who were affected.

I am a fan of many types of music, something that has served me well in what has become a very changed radio market over the past year or two. WLIR was my favorite station, and they lost their 92.7 signal for the much weaker 107.1, which fortunately I can still tune in if the wind is blowing the right way. Then came the loss of modern rock on K-Rock, so I've turned to WKTU (I know, quite the variety of music, huh?) So what scares me the most is your comment about the possible loss of that station. Where have you heard these rumors from, and how true do you think that is? I would really be frustrated and angry if this were to take place, especially with the other less listened-to frequencies in the market (granted, they're not CC stations, but...)

Manfred Caranci: Damn those Jack, Frank, Tom, Dick, Harry formats!!!!! Damn them all!!!!

If kids are listening to iPods or MP3 they're not listening to RADIO anyway, so why would any owner/operator think he can compete with the tastes of teens who own these silly-ass toys?

Poor Paul Perry; I was a big fan of his until his newer boss at Oldies 103.3 ruined his program by dropping Michele with one L.

Do I now have to worry about Loren and Wally at 105.7 - WROR?

Radio sans personalities is nothing more than a wireless jukebox; and that's what an iPod or MP3 is - nothing else.

When I commute to/fro work, or any where else for that matter, I want to be "plugged in" - to a radio station with LIVE talking DJs and yes, even n-e-w-s.

Andrew Pavone, Westchester County NY: It seems more and more in this world that we lose the things we really love and enjoy, and are left with garbage in its place - 101.1 Jack FM being a perfect example of this. I'm 25 years old and at first glance one would say that I wasn't part of the "market" that listened to WCBS FM 101.1 - but one couldn't be more wrong. I grew up on that radio station, as did ALL of my friends, and am saddened to see it go. It has been replaced with another "duplicate" radio station that plays the same music as Q104.3, 92.3 KRock, 101.5 WPDH Poughkeepsie, etc...

The generation of baby-boomers that helped build this nation up after World War II and make it the place it is today are now left without the music of their youth - stuck with the friggin Beastie Boys - pathetic. I dont know whose decision it was to take 101.1 WCBS FM off the air, but it was truly one of the poorest.

Meanwhile out on Long Island, it didn't take WHLI (1100 Hempstead) long to replace the tower that it was forced to take down last month. Fellow tower-chaser Mike Erickson spotted the replacement tower rising last week as he was driving along the Southern State Parkway, and he reports it took only a day to top it off. At press time, WHLI was still operating with a kilowatt non-directional from its old tower (which will remain in place), while it tests the new tower and gets ready to return to 10 kW directional operation.

It's studio move time at Bloomberg Radio; WBBR (1130 New York) and the network began operating from the new Bloomberg Tower at 731 Lexington Avenue Saturday morning, with the official switchover from 499 Park Avenue to take place today.

Upstate, Pamal is putting its Glens Falls stations in trust, pending eventual sale - and in the process, answering our curiosity about the apparent wasted simulcast of WFFG (107.1 Corinth) on Albany-market WZMR (104.9 Altamont), where the much larger Albany audience is never acknowledged on air. What's the story? WZMR, it turns out, will also go into trust, along with WFFG, WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg), WENU (1410 South Glens Falls), WENU-FM (101.7 Glens Falls) and WMML (1230 Glens Falls) - and by shedding those stations, Pamal will avoid market-concentration issues that could have prevented it from acquiring Albany move-in WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury, moving to Malta) from Vox. Now Pamal will pay $5.25 million to convert its WNYQ LMA into ownership, putting the other stations into a trust headed by Mark Hubbard.

In the Finger Lakes, Russ Kimble checks in to report that after the FCC fine we told you about last week, WYLF (850 Penn Yan) is operating with its licensed power - a kilowatt by day, 500 watts of post-sunset power (to 10:45 PM this month), and 43 watts all night. (And he sends along a reminder to other broadcasters to check those tower fences - the problems with WYLF's fence made up the lion's share of the $10,000 fine.)

And we wish John Paul all the best as he departs his PD gig at Infinity's WYRK (106.5 Buffalo)/WBUF (92.9 Buffalo); he's headed home to Portland, Oregon to program KUPL-FM (98.7) for Infinity, and the company's now looking for a replacement in Buffalo.

*Clear Channel is spinning off one station in MAINE, as Stony Creek Broadcasting pays $800,000 for WNSX (97.7 Winter Harbor). Behind the new ownership are a pair of well-known names Down East - Mark Osborne and Natalie Knox, who owned WKSQ (94.5 Ellsworth) WLKE (99.1 Bar Harbor) and WBFB (104.7 Belfast) until selling to Clear Channel five years ago.

WNSX has been simulcasting classic rock "Fox" WFZX (101.7 Searsport), but Osborne tells NERW that this time, "there WILL be personnel and format changes!"

Osborne says he and Knox are looking forward to making WNSX "a locally-owned station with locally-originated programming."

*In MASSACHUSETTS, the Lowell Spinners make an abrupt change of stations, breaking from what was to have been a two-year deal with UMass Lowell's WUML (91.5) and instead continuing on WCAP (980 Lowell) with a new two-year contract.

Students and community volunteers at WUML had been vocal about their unhappiness with the preemptions the Spinners deal would have caused, and the station's new advisory board sided with them, leading the university to cancel its contract and send the Spinners back to WCAP, where Ryan Johnston will continue in the play-by-play chair for a third season.

Will this be the week that Jessamy Tang's group takes control of WAMG (890 Dedham) and WLLH (1400 Lowell), replacing Spanish "Mega" with ESPN sports? We're hearing some pretty well-placed rumblings that suggest that June 15 will be the day...

We're also hearing that WILD (1090 Boston) is just days away from moving its transmitter down the street to diplex with WXKS (1430 Everett).

On Cape Cod, WGBH wasted no time building out the Brewster construction permit for which it paid almost $4 million at auction. WZAI (94.3 Brewster) had barely been granted a callsign before it signed on Tuesday (June 7); it's simulcasting the news and talk of WGBH's WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole) and WNAN (91.1 Nantucket).

On the North Shore, WUMB wasted no time applying for more power at repeater station WNEF (91.7 Newburyport) after the FCC deleted WPAA (91.7 Andover) a few months back. WNEF now holds a CP to go from 470 watts to a kilowatt, loosening its directional pattern to send more power west towards Haverhill.

In Boston, your editor's visit coincided with the debut (on Tuesday, at 3 PM, if you must know) of new top- and bottom-hour stagers on WBZ (1030). The new stagers, voiced by J.J. Wright, replace the "Crankin' Out FIFTY THOUSAND WATTS OF POWER" ones that have been in use (with a brief intermission) since 1993.

On TV, WCVB (Channel 5) bids farewell to veteran reporter Steve Sbraccia; he's off to North Carolina with his family - former WBZ weekend anchor Susan Rist and their two daughters - for a change of pace that he says came about after Rist was diagnosed with colon cancer. (She's doing fine now.) Sbraccia, who was at WEEI (590) for many years before joining WCVB in 1989, will be reporting for WB affiliate WLFL (Channel 22) in Raleigh after he moves at month's end.

Meanwhile in the print arena, things are changing fast for those who still want to read about radio and TV in Boston's daily newspapers. First, Mark Jurkowitz announced a week ago that he's leaving the Boston Globe and returning to the Boston Phoenix, where he's replacing Dan Kennedy, who leaves the alternative weekly at the end of the month to teach at Northeastern University. And now we learn (thanks, ironically, to a Jurkowitz piece in the Globe) that among the many Boston Herald staffers losing their jobs amidst the massive slashing at the (now almost unreadable) tabloid is Dean Johnson, who's been covering radio in town for years.

It seems unlikely that the Herald will replace Johnson as it spirals even deeper into the vicious circle of cost-cutting; we have higher hopes that the Globe will find a way to continue the excellent reporting that Jurkowitz has provided over the years - perhaps by giving Clea Simon a full-time media gig, or by hiring Johnson? (And in the meantime, we wish all three the very best.)

*In CANADA, Blackburn Radio wants to crank up the power at its new CIBU (94.5 Wingham), going from 21.2 kW to 100 kW (with a directional antenna) at 217 meters above average terrain.

And while it'll take a while for the CRTC to issue a ruling, the commission held public hearings last week on TV Niagara's application for a new station on channel 22 in Ontario's Niagara Region. The CRTC also heard from six applicants for 104.7 in the Woodstock/Tillsonburg area, including a proposed AM-to-FM move for CKOT (1510 Tillsonburg), Canada's last daytime-only AM station.

*That's it for this week. It was great seeing so many of you while we've been on the road the last week and a half - especially the 28 of you who turned out for a record-setting NERW dinner in Framingham on Wednesday - and we're looking forward to getting home to NERW Central and catching up on everything we missed!

*Our special clearance pricing continues for fans of the Tower Site Calendar 2005. We're well aware that many of the calendar's fans buy it for the pictures, not the actual calendar pages...but that doesn't change the fact that by this time of the year, we're not exactly shipping 'em out the door at a breakneck pace, and Mrs. NERW would very much like a corner of her living room back.

So while she rediscovers the floor beneath those boxes of calendars and we begin to line up the images for Tower Site Calendar 2006, you get the very first crack at our Calendar Clearance Deal for 2005.

Here's how it works: instead of our list price of $16 for this fabulous, full-color, glossy calendar, you can now pick one up for just $8, postpaid. ($8.66 to New York State addresses.) Better yet, if you order two calendars at this special clearance price, we'll throw in a third for free - $16 for THREE calendars, with nine exciting months of 2005 yet to go. (That's $17.32 in NYS.)

Maybe you've already hung your original 2005 calendar on the wall, and you're thinking it would be nice to have another copy to stick away in pristine condition. Maybe you really want to frame that spectacular September page right now - but you still need a calendar later this year. Maybe you just want to help Mrs. NERW clean out the living room and give happy NERW baby Ariel more space to practice walking.

Whatever your motive, now's your big chance, because while there are still 2005 calendars left, there may not be any in a few weeks. (Remember, the 2002 and 2003 editions were total sellouts, and I've had to turn away several of you who were hoping to add these now-rare calendars to your collections.)

And we've got two more great deals for you, too. We still have a few 2004 calendars left, and while they're getting rare, Mrs. NERW wants them gone - so they're yours, in pristine condition, for just $5 postpaid. (Buy two and the third is free!) Or order the 2004 and 2005 calendars together for just $10, postpaid. (What a deal!)

(New York orders pay $5.41 for the 2004 calendar, $10.83 for the 2004 and 2005 together.)

And as always, the calendar's free with your $60 or higher subscription to NorthEast Radio Watch/ In fact, we've got a great deal for new or renewing $60 subscribers: we'll send you two 2005 calendars if you subscribe now. Or, if you'd prefer, we'll hold a brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2006 for you with your subscription, and you can be among the very first to see the 2006 edition when it's released this summer. Remember, we count on your subscription dollars to keep NERW coming each and every Monday morning!

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.)

Order the 2005 Tower Site Calendar on CLEARANCE for $8...
Order the 2005 and 2004 Tower Site Calendars together for just $10...
...or subscribe to NERW at the $60 level and get two FREE 2005 Tower Site Calendars
...and you can still order the 2004 Tower Site Calendar at our special DEEP clearance price of $5! (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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