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December 5, 2005

Interesting Times at ABC

*If you read any of the daily industry trades, you know there's really been just one story that's had the attention of the radio business for the last few weeks: will ABC sell its radio division, to whom, and - perhaps most nerve-wrackingly - when?

If we had a buck for every e-mail "BULLETIN" telling us a deal could be announced "as early as today," we could almost afford to buy ABC Radio ourselves at this point.

And if we had a buck for every goofy bit of message-board speculation about what an Entercom purchase of ABC would mean for the talk lineup in Boston, well, we'd have already bought the network, installed ourselves as the fill-in for Paul Harvey (we can dream...) and replaced the talk lineup on WABC (770) with the return of Musicradio 77.

Mr. Harvey can breathe a sigh of relief - we're not even in the running to buy ABC, of course. But for fans of what may be the most popular top-40 station that ever was, that last bit of fantasy actually took a small step towards reality Saturday night.

Yes, that was actual music being heard on WABC, reverb and all, as the station reacted to the summertime disappearance of oldies on New York radio by unveiling its own four-hour weekend oldies block, hosted every Saturday night from 6-10 by Mark Simone. In addition to already being in the building on Saturdays, hosting a morning talk show, Simone has excellent credentials where New York music radio is concerned, with a resume that includes a long stint at the old WPIX-FM.

And while we had our qualms about the first show (Simone brushed off the message-board suggestions for his first song, playing little snippets of "Imagine" - the last song WABC played in 1980, "Summer Wind" - the last song WCBS-FM played in 2005, and "Hit The Road Jack" - for obvious reasons - all mixed together, and the reverb was a far cry from the old version), Phil Boyce and Johnny Donovan and the rest of the crew at WABC made a lot of radio fans very happy this weekend, while sparking all kinds of talk about whether a similar weekend approach might work at other former top-40 AM giants that long ago flipped to talk.

How long the show will last will depend, of course, on the answer to the much bigger questions about ABC Radio's future, and as soon as there's anything more than just speculation to report, we'll be here. (We might even post a "BULLETIN!")

*While WABC was rockin', one of its former top-40 competitors was scrambling to stay on the air. Infinity's all-news WINS (1010) fell silent just before 5:30 Friday morning when the uninterruptible power supply at its studio failed, shutting down the facility at 888 Seventh Ave.

The WINS transmitter in New Jersey was unaffected, but it also had no source of program material until engineers were able to patch CNN television audio into the signal. In the meantime, morning anchor Lee Harris and a skeleton news staff were dispatched three blocks west to the studios of sister station WCBS (880) in the CBS Broadcast Center, where Harris was able to get back on the air about 6:24 AM. A short time later, power was restored at the WINS studios and the news machine cranked back into high gear.

WNYE (91.5) is continuing its partnership with XM Satellite Radio for the next two weeks, with programming from several XM channels appearing for much of the day on WNYE's airwaves, following up on WNYE's broadcasts of XM country programming last month.

Thursday is the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon, and in the absence of an oldies station in New York City, classic rock WAXQ (104.3) will fill the void by dedicating the entire day to Lennon. Special programming will include appearances by Dick Cavett, discussing his famous interviews with Lennon, as well as a noon replay of the late Scott Muni's conversations with Lennon and, later, a broadcast of a never-before-heard 1974 Lennon interview. Over at WFUV (90.7), there will be special Lennon features all day, as well as an hour-long NPR documentary at 10 PM.

A happier 25th anniversary is being celebrated in Albany, where Don Weeks marked his quarter-century at WGY (810 Schenectady) last Thursday (Dec. 1).

Moving west, WROC (950 Rochester) has replaced the Jerry Springer show in mid-mornings with Stephanie Miller, who has roots in western New York (at Lockport's WLVL and, briefly, as a sidekick to WCMF's Brother Wease).

(And from the "where are they now" file - former 'CMFer B.J. Shea is changing stations in Seattle, moving from the now-defunct FM talker KQBZ to mornings on rocker KISW, where he'll take the slot now occupied by Howard Stern in January.)

Air America Radio has also added WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) to its "coming soon" list. Will the Citadel leased-time outlet become a full-time progressive talker in February, or is it just adding a few highlights from AAR's offerings? Stay tuned...

*Some sad news from CANADA, as the weekend brought word of the passing of one of that country's true broadcasting legends. When Allan Waters bought CHUM (1050) in 1954, it was just a little daytimer, but by the time of his retirement half a century later, he'd built first the station and then CHUM Limited into one of Canada's most important radio and television groups.

Waters retired from the CHUM board of directors in October; he died Saturday morning (Dec. 3) in a Toronto hospital at age 84.

Just one other bit of news from north of the border - Newcap's modern rocker CILV (Live 88.5) has begun testing its new signal in Ottawa.

*The rumors are flying in western PENNSYLVANIA about Steel City Media's WLTJ (92.9 Pittsburgh), which flipped to all-Christmas a few weeks back and then filed for new calls WBZB last week.

Those calls are conspicuously similar to the old WBZZ (93.7), the top-40 legend that was replaced with rocker WRKZ a little over a year ago - but they're also reminiscent of the "Bob" nickname on sister station WRRK (96.9 Braddock), fueling both speculation of a "B93" top-40 format on 92.9 and the possibility that the calls were really meant for 96.9 after all.

(We're leaning towards the latter possibility, with word that the call change may not be implemented on 92.9 after all.)

In central Pennsylvania, we're hearing that Don Imus will be adding an affiliate today, as WMLP (1380 Milton) picks up his show under its new Sunbury Broadcasting management.

Radio People on the Move in Philadelphia: Chio is leaving his morning slot on WIOQ (102.1) to head back west, where he'll take over mornings on San Diego-market XHITZ (90.3 Tijuana). Over at WSNI (104.5), Tom Cook is departing his APD/music director post to become PD of sister Clear Channel station WRVF (101.5) in Toledo, Ohio.

And we're sorry to report the passing of Dave Kurtz, who founded a little FM station called WDVR in 1963, and who built it into one of the most successful FMs in the country under the subsequent calls WEAZ and now WBEB. With partner Jerry Lee, Kurtz took great pride in B101's stand-alone status, turning down offer after offer to sell their one-of-a-kind station. Kurtz died Thanksgiving day (Nov. 24) at age 73; the station continues under Lee's control.

*Some Radio People on the Move in NEW JERSEY as well - Nancy McKinley is promoted to station manager at Greater Media's WDHA (105.5 Dover) and WMTR (1250 Morristown), while WPST (94.5 Trenton) APD/music director Chris Puorro heads south to program Nassau's Hagerstown, Maryland cluster. Gabrielle Vaughn assumes APD duties, while Matt Sneed takes over as music director.

And a correction - WVBV (90.5 Medford Lakes) isn't carrying Calvary Satellite Network programming; it's originating programming locally.

*In MAINE, WLAM (1470 Lewiston) dropped its standards programming last Thursday (Dec. 1), flipping to ESPN Radio sports programming.

*In VERMONT, WSYB (1380 Rutland) celebrates its 75th anniversary next weekend. It's holding a party December 11th, with proceeds to benefit the WSYB Christmas Fund. The event begins at 6 PM at the Holiday Inn on US 7 in Rutland, with $10 tickets at the door.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, the big news of the week involved two TV People on the Move - at WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Todd Gross was out the door as chief meteorologist after 20 years at the station (and with a station bio that included the line "Gross plans to work at WHDH for another 20 years"), while over at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), Jennifer Street drops the "acting" part of her title, becoming the station's news director after 15 years working her way up the ranks there.

Out west, Vox has been granted a construction permit to move WBEC (105.5 Pittsfield) to the top of Mount Tom, where it will run 720 watts as a Springfield-market station.

And we're sorry to report the death of Dana Jones, whose career in Pittsfield radio lasted from 1947 until 1988 and included stops at WBEC, WBRK and WUHN. Jones, who died Nov. 25, was 88.

*Working through those holiday lists? Tower Site Calendar 2006 is the perfect gift for the radio guy (or gal) who has everything else - and there's still plenty of time to get your copy under the tree/menorah/Blaw-Knox diamond tower model of your choice. (And, let's face it, wouldn't an 8-foot Blaw-Knox diamond be an amazingly cool thing to hang your ornaments on?)

We've got to say, we're especially proud of the way this year's calendar turned out. Once again, we bring you more than a dozen images from the collection that have never seen print before, including that nifty nighttime view of New York's WMCA that graces the cover. You also get to see WSB, KTAR, Mount Wilson, CBV and many, many more, plus all those fun dates in radio and TV history, civil and religious holidays, a handy full-page 2007 calendar, and the always-popular hole for hanging.

And we do it all with no increase in price, for the fourth year running!

You can get one free with your 2006 subscription to NERW at the $60 level, or order the calendar (plus other goodies) at our brand new Store! We think you'll like this one - and as always, we thank you for your support.

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.