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February 13, 2006

AM Oldies: Buffalo Loses, Scranton Gains

*It was just a few hours after last week's NERW went up on the site when the phone began ringing off the hook here at NERW Central.

"Quick! Turn on 1520! KB's dropping oldies at 3," was the message - and with that, western NEW YORK was launched on that oddest of early 21st century radio battles: a liberal talk war.

The impetus, of course, is today's "soft launch" of a mixture of Air America and local talk on WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls), under an LMA from Citadel. (The full program schedule at WHLD, including Ray Marks' local morning show, will apparently launch March 1.)

And whether it's been in the works for months (as Entercom claims), or whether it was hurriedly whipped together in a matter of days, Entercom's reaction was to pull the plug on the struggling oldies format at WWKB (1520 Buffalo) with no more fanfare than an hour of "goodbye" tunes - and then head right into the launch of "Buffalo's Left Channel."

The lineup on the new 1520 begins with Jones' Bill Press show in morning drive, followed by Lockport native Stephanie Miller at 9. At noon, it's a local show (well, a show done by ISDN from California exclusively for 1520) with Leslie Marshall, who's familiar to Buffalo listeners from an earlier stint at WGR and fill-in duty at Entercom's big talker, WBEN (930). Ed Schultz is on at 3, followed by a Stephanie Miller repeat, WOR's Lionel at 10, and WOR's Joey Reynolds (a holdover from the oldies KB) overnight.

The move came as a blow, of course, for fans of KB's oldies format - but the outcry seemed to be far louder away from Buffalo, where 1520's blowtorch of a night signal reached Washington and Long Island and New England, than it was in Buffalo, where the station's ratings never quite seemed to justify even the modest effort being expended on local programming. The move leaves the morning team of Danny Neaverth and Tom Donahue out of work, and it puts an end to some of the greatest voice-tracking in history, courtesy of Jackson Armstrong. KB midday jock Sandy Beach remains with Entercom, of course, hosting the afternoon talk show on WBEN, and PD Hank Dole still has his day job as well, programming the company's WLKK (107.7 the Lake.)

And of course the great wheel of speculation is busy spinning: will WHLD's big names, Ray Marks and Al Franken, outweigh the "inside baseball" labor talk and Democracy Radio programming that will fill much of the rest of its schedule? Will 1520's big draws, Miller and Marshall, draw audience away from WHLD during a weak part of its day - or will they pull listeners away from Entercom's cash cow, WBEN, instead? Will KB's disenfranchised oldies listeners go over to Citadel's WHTT (104.1) and its 70s-oriented, classic rock-leaning version of the format? Have Buffalo listeners heard the last of Neaverth and Shannon? (We'd bet against it.) Can WJJL, Buffalo's other AM oldies station, manage to get its new West Seneca transmitter site built, to put a more solid and competitive signal over the Queen City?

The last word, for now, has to go to Armstrong, who had this to say over at "Maybe our paths will cross again and we can continue to prove that good radio isn’t dead. It is just severely suppressed."

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Here at East RadioWatch, we've managed to hold off from imposing a password and mandatory subscription fee, but we depend on your support - and that of our advertisers - to keep it that way.

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*The week's other big story from NEW YORK was, of course, Disney's long-delayed announcement that it's selling most of its ABC Radio holdings to Citadel in a "reverse Morris trust" arrangement valued at $2.7 billion.

Disney will keep the Radio Disney and ESPN Radio networks, as well as its O&O stations affiliated with those networks (in this region, Radio Disney's WMKI 1260 Boston, WDDZ 550 Pawtucket, WDZK 1550 Bloomfield CT, WDDY 1460 Albany NY and WWJZ 640 Mount Holly NJ, ESPN's WEPN 1050 New York and WEAE 1250 Pittsburgh, and the LMA with the New York Times for WQEW 1560 New York). It'll also keep the "ABC" name, though it will license it to Citadel for a year (and will license ABC News product to Citadel for ten years.)

Citadel will get the core ABC Radio stations, including WABC (770 New York) and WPLJ (95.5 New York), and the watchword for now is "stability." At least for now, it appears that little will change in terms of management, programming - or, yes, call letters - at the station group.

Meanwhile, state attorney general Eliot Spitzer's payola probe has now escalated to the FCC level, with potentially hundreds of stations implicated in an ongoing national investigation. The move came, apparently, as Spitzer was prepared to shift the focus of his investigation from record companies (he's already won big settlements from several) to the stations and broadcast groups that were allegedly taking money and gifts from the record companies and independent promoters. (By far the most interesting speculation we've heard about this story is that the record companies are encouraging the investigation, looking for a way to break the cycle that had them spending lots of money for airplay that their music probably would have gotten anyway.)

Out on Long Island's East End, WHBE (96.7 East Hampton) completed its move to 96.9 Friday night. While the station remains a class A signal, the frequency change allows it to drop its directional antenna, extending its westward reach towards Riverhead and beyond.

Also out in the Hamptons, the FCC has allocated another frequency to the area - a class A signal on 94.5 in Water Mill. The original petition for the allocation called for the signal to be on 103.3, but that set off alarms at Connecticut's WSHU, which operates translator W277AB Noyack on that frequency. W277AB is a "superpower" 250-watt translator, granted that status by the FCC because it served a "white area" with no other noncommercial service - and WSHU argued that the signal therefore deserved protection, which translators usually don't have. If the FCC hadn't agreed (and if 94.5 hadn't been available as an alternate frequency for the Water Mill allocation), WSHU had another card up its sleeve: it would have applied to move its other service in the region, WSUF (89.9 Noyack), to 103.3.

In the Albany market, Pamal finally pulled the plug on the yearlong simulcast of Glens Falls country station WFFG (107.1 Corinth) over WZMR (104.9 Altamont). The simulcast never seemed to draw much audience, which was no surprise, since the liners, promos and spot load remained solidly focused on Glens Falls and Lake George (and, indeed, barely even mentioned the Albany frequency.) WZMR spent the weekend stunting, with the new format due to arrive on Monday.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: WZMR relaunched early this morning with modern rock as "the Edge," reviving the slogan and format last heard on WQBK (103.9 Rensselaer)/WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill) before those stations flipped to album rock as "Q103" in December upon the departure of Howard Stern.

Albany listeners also spent the week mourning Bill Edwardsen, a fixture of Albany radio since he arrived at WGY (810 Schenectady) in 1954. Edwardsen spent 16 years at WGY and sister TV station WRGB, doing mornings on the radio station, a midday show on TV and, for a time, afternoons on WGY as well. He left WGY in 1970 for Cleveland's WJW, but returned two years later to spend the rest of his career in Albany, working at WQBK, WMVI, WABY, WGNA and, most recently, WVCR. Edwardsen, who started his career at WNLK in Norwalk, Connecticut, died last Monday (Feb. 6) at age 78.

On the TV dial, Sinclair's WSYT (Channel 68) in Syracuse may no longer offer a 10 PM newscast when its deal with Granite's WTVH (Channel 5) to produce the broadcast expires April 22. (WTVH also produces a 7-8 AM newscast for WSYT.) Managers at the Fox affiliate say they'd like to continue the newscast - but they may have a hard time finding a partner. NBC affiliate WSTM, which produced the WSYT show before WTVH took over a few years back, now does its own 10 PM show on co-owned UPN affiliate WSTQ-LP, and that leaves Clear Channel's ABC affiliate, WSYR-TV, and Time Warner's News 10 Now (whose anchors now work from Albany) as potential content partners. (It seems like a pretty good bet that WSYT won't launch a new "News Central" operation, in any case.)

Here in Rochester, former WROC-TV (Channel 8) reporter/weekend anchor Rachel Barnhart filed suit against the station last week, trying to invalidate the clause in her contract that bars her from working on the air at other radio and TV stations in the market for the rest of the year. The suit claims officials at the Nexstar station tried to force Barnhart to renew her contract as a general-assignment reporter, without the lucrative anchor shifts - and that that amounted to a "constructive discharge" that has left her unable to get a job in her hometown, in the only field in which she has experience.

While Barnhart's lawyer, former state lawmaker Rick Dollinger, appeared on WHAM's Bob Lonsberry show to talk about the suit, readers of the Democrat and Chronicle, the city's daily paper, still haven't read a word about the situation, a far cry from the extensive reporting that similar non-compete lawsuits have generated in other markets.

(One more bit of WROC-TV news: after being effectively off the air for much of the winter due to encoder problems, WROC-DT finally flipped the switch on its higher-powered channel 45 signal late last week, becoming the last Rochester station to carry network HD programming. Most local viewers won't see it, though; despite the incessant cable company ads reminding HDTV buyers that local HD signals aren't available on satellite, a carriage impasse with Nexstar is keeping the DTV signals from WROC and from Fox affiliate WUHF, which Nexstar manages for Sinclair, off cable as well. Only those of us with antennas and over-the-air DTV receivers get the full spectrum of local DTV offerings in Rochester.)

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*In MASSACHUSETTS, WILD (1090 Boston) has hired a new morning talk host, returning Jimmy Myers to a regular shift for the first time in too many years. Myers, whose resume includes stints at WWZN, WEEI, WFXT, NECN and the old WBPS, handles the sign-on to 10 AM shift at the Radio One urban talk station (with sign-on finally getting back to 6 AM next month at the daytime-only facility.)

Former WILD-FM (97.7 Brockton) PD/afternoon jock Lamar "LBD" Robinson has a new gig: he's heading to Clear Channel's WJMN (94.5) for weekend duties, where he replaces "Master Jay."

Former WZLX PD Beau Raines has resurfaced in Denver, where he's programming Entercom's AAA KQMT (99.5).

In the public radio arena, WUMB (91.9 Boston) is once again carrying WXPN's "World Cafe" five nights a week at 9 PM (with a repeat at 3 AM). WUMB has also added HD Radio service to two more of its repeaters, WBPR (91.9 Worcester) and WNEF (91.7 Newburyport).

On the North Shore, WNSH (1570 Beverly) has added more syndicated talk - it's taking Laura Ingraham at 9 AM and Michael Reagan at 6 PM. Owner Keating Willcox has moved the studios to a barn on his property in Hamilton, where he reports the odd dog and donkey makes its presence heard during live shows.

Out on Cape Cod, WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) is picking up CBS' "Rover's Morning Glory" show to fill the morning hole left vacant by Howard Stern's departure in December. Rover's already heard in the region on Rochester's WZNE, as well as on CBS stations in Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus and Memphis.

There are new calls for W28CT in Springfield - when it signs on from the WWLP site on Provin Mountain, it'll be WXCW-CA, and there's already speculation that the new calls indicate an affiliation with the new CW network. Stay tuned...

And while we have few details to report, we can tell you that Paul Monson, who did mornings in the forties and fifties on WSPR (1270 Springfield), died Feb. 4 in Port Orange, Florida.

*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, veteran morning man Konrad Kayne joins WNTK-FM (99.7 Newport)/WUVR (1490 Lebanon) for the 6-9 AM shift.

*The big news from CONNECTICUT was Rick Vaughn's departure from the PD chair at WKSS (95.7 Hartford). He's headed up the Clear Channel food chain, becoming PD at Philadelphia's WIOQ (102.1), where he replaces Todd Shannon. (Shannon, in turn, joins CC research subsidiary Critical Mass Media.) Jojo Brooks is the acting PD at WKSS.

In Windsor, the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum has found a new home. It's buying a 20,000 square foot building there, and hoping to reopen this fall.

*There's a new station on the air in NEW JERSEY: WWFP (90.5 Brigantine) has received its license to cover, and it's now serving the Atlantic City area with CSN religious programming.

In Trenton, WBUD (1260) flipped to ABC's "Unforgettable Favorites" satellite standards service last week, with only a few local weekend programs remaining on the schedule.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Clear Channel's management reshuffle moves former New York Trading Region senior VP Manuel Rodriguez into the same position in the Philadelphia Trading Region (which also serves several outlying Pennsylvania markets and New York's Hudson Valley.) In addition to bringing Rick Vaughn down from WKSS to serve as WIOQ's PD, Rodriguez has named WDAS/WUSL PD Thea Mitchem as the Philadelphia cluster's operations manager.

Over at Greater Media's WPEN (950 Philadelphia), Jason Bennett has been named "head coach" (aka program director). Bennett comes to WPEN from ESPN Radio, where he was producing the Dan Patrick show; his resume also includes stops at WTBQ Warwick NY and WEOK Poughkeepsie.

While Buffalo was losing its AM oldies station, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market was gaining two oldies signals last week. Citadel's WARM (590 Scranton) finally pulled the plug on its struggling news-talk format, flipping to ABC's "True Oldies." The station's still having audio and transmitter problems, we're hearing.

Over in Tunkhannock, WBZR (107.7) dropped its "Buzzard" country format and also flipped to oldies, picking up the WGMF calls that used to be in Watkins Glen, New York. It's now "Gem 107.7."

Still more Scranton news: Mark McKay is out as PD of WBHT (97.1 Mountain Top)/WBHD (95.7 Olyphant), with no replacement yet named. Holy Family Communications is turning its LMA of WITK (1550 Pittston) into a purchase, paying Robert C. Cordaro Inc. $940,000 for the station. And Mike Kaye (formerly of WBAX and WARM) is joining WNAK (730 Nanticoke)/WNAK-FM (94.3 Carbondale) as morning host, shifting Paula Deignan to middays.

There's a station sale in central Pennsylvania as well: Richard Cooper's Cooper Communications is paying Hepco Communications $2 million for WQLV (98.9 Millersburg), which serves the area north of Harrisburg with AC as "Love 99."

It's not often that an FM station voluntarily downgrades from class B1 to class A, but Forever Broadcasting has been granted a construction permit to do just that to WWOT (100.1 Altoona). It will downgrade from 17 kW/403' to 810 watts/883' at a different tower on Wopsononock Mountain - but the move will clear the way for sister station WXOT (99.5 Mount Union) to move to the State College market, upgrading from its current class A signal east of Altoona to a B1 signal (850 watts/1368') from a new site in Boalsburg.

And in Pittsburgh, Alex Langer has applied for a nice upgrade at WPYT (660 Wilkinsburg). If granted, the station would boost day power from 260 watts to 1400 watts at the site it now shares with WURP (1550 Braddock) - but WURP won't be there much longer, since it's been granted a move to Reserve Township that will relocate its transmitter to share the Millvale site of WAMO (860), much closer to downtown Pittsburgh. (It will run 2 kW days, 10 watts night from that location.)

From the NERW Archives

(Yup, we've been doing this a long time now, and so we're digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five and ten years ago this week. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

February 14, 2005 -

  • TRENTON, N.J. - It's a week of change in NEW JERSEY - and not just the big flip here in Trenton that's taking place this afternoon. That, of course, is the Nassau swap that's moving top 40 WPST (97.5 Trenton) to 94.5 and shifting classic hits "Hawk" WTHK (94.5 Trenton) to 97.5. It's a preface to a bigger move that's at least a year down the road, in which the 97.5 signal will move to Burlington, becoming a full-fledged Philadelphia market signal. We'll be listening and rolling tape, and we'll have more on this move next week.
  • There's a format change coming in NEW YORK's Catskills region, and it's being heralded with a Valentine's Day stunt. WFKP (99.3 Ellenville) dropped its simulcast of top 40 "Kiss" WPKF (96.1 Poughkeepsie) on Friday and spent the weekend playing love songs as "Cupid 99.3," complete with a hokey-sounding "Cupid" doing liners. NERW hears the station's headed to "Lite" territory when the stunting ends, presumably in tandem with "Lite 92.1" WRNQ Poughkeepsie.

February 12, 2001 -

  • How do you get out of a $6,000 FCC indecency fine? If you're Howard Stern's NEW YORK flagship, the answer seems to be "wait five years or so." Back in 1997, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability against Infinity's WXRK (92.3) for material Stern broadcast in October 1995, March 1996 and June 1996. Two Stern affiliates, WBZU in Richmond and WEZB in New Orleans, were also fined -- and paid. Infinity took a different tack, contesting the fine, and it looks like its patience paid off: last week, the FCC announced that "because a significant amount of time has elapsed since the broadcasts," the Commission won't continue pushing for the money. (We suspect Infinity's "voluntary contribution" a few years back didn't hurt matters with the FCC, either.) So what does it all mean? Look for more stations to play a similar waiting game with the Commission where fines are concerned; they have little to lose and, apparently, much to gain by doing so.
  • Our next stop this week is CANADA, where change just keeps coming to Ontario's radio dial. Friday night marked the debut of CFXJ (93.5 Toronto) as "Flow 93.5," the city's first commercial station aimed at the black community. With Michelle Price as program director and new studios on Yonge Street across from Eaton Centre, the station says it will have full programming ready to go on March 5.
  • We didn't believe it at first when we heard about the newest format in CONNECTICUT (though, given the source, we should have), but it's true: Buckley's four-station AM network is now going by "The Best of Everything." WDRC (1360 Hartford), WMMW (1470 Meriden), WWCO (1240 Waterbury) and WSNG (610 Torrington) aren't exactly segueing from Percy Faith to Iron Maiden, but they are adding newer artists to their adult-standards playlists.

February 8, 1996 -

  • The WBPS saga continues, as Mark Shneyder has been reporting in the Boston Radio Watch. This ill-fated signal has been on the air for not much more than a year, most of it leased by owner Douglas Broadcasting to Prime Sports. Now that lease is over, and the last Prime Sports on 890 will have aired at noon on Thursday, 2/8. The 26000/3400 watt signal will go to music for a few days, then to leased-time ethnic next week. There's already leased-time ethnic in town on 950 WROL, 1150 WMEX, 1330 WRCA, 1360 WLYN, 1550 WNTN, and 1600 WUNR. I think on balance, I'd rather have WLS at night...
  • Kiss 108, WXKS-FM Medford-Boston, promotes itself as being "Where the Stars Come Out to Play"...and Kiss stars Matt Siegel, JJ Wright, Dale Dorman, et al. will be playing in the big leagues on Friday, That's when Kiss' new corporate owner, Evergreen, will be simulcasting Kiss-108 over WYNY-103.5 New York, as part of 'YNY's ongoing format change from country to something as yet unannounced. Other Evergreen stations getting a Big Apple tryout over WYNY include WRCX, Chicago; KKBT, Los Angeles; and KMEL, San Francisco.
  • The Twin Falls Calvary Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, remains convinced that people out here really want to hear their station much so that they've now applied for a translator on 97.9 in Fitchburg. Doesn't sound like much common sense went into this one, as WINQ-FM operates on 97.7 less than 20 miles down the road in Winchendon, Mass.
  • Not emanating from New England, to be sure, but two expanded-band AMs are pounding into the region. WJDM on 1660, of course, with its new Radio AAHS format...and as I type this, I'm enjoying everyone's favorite Army experimental station, KTRK/ARMY/ABS on 1670 from Fort Meade MD.

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*Didn't find a Tower Site Calendar 2006 under the tree/menorah/Blaw-Knox diamond tower model of your choice over the holidays? Our supply is running low, but you've still got time to place your order - don't wait!

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 2006 by Scott Fybush.