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August 7, 2006

WESO Tower Downed in Rare "Derecho"

*An unusual weather system with winds that may have hit 120 miles per hour took down a radio tower in central MASSACHUSETTS last Wednesday.

WESO (970 Southbridge) lost its 240-foot guyed tower in the town of Dudley when the "derecho" (a system of downburst clusters that are part of a heavy windstorm) ripped across southern New England. The National Weather Service says it was the first derecho in the region since 1995.

WESO went silent when the tower went down, but returned over the weekend at low power from a makeshift wire antenna. Chief engineer Rick Kenadek and engineering consultant Kurt Jackson were working to get a temporary tower up, and planning to replace the downed tower, which dated from 1955. Kenedek tells NERW that the winds loosened one of the tower's guy wires, bringing the rest of the structure down.

We'll keep you posted as WESO rebuilds.

INDEPENDENCE ISN'T EASY (OR FREE): Here at NERW, we pride ourselves on twelve years (and counting) of editorial independence. There's no filter on the news you read here. Our editorial staff of one answers only to you, our readers, and therein lies the catch:

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*On the South Shore, the weekend was devoted to a celebration of the upcoming centennial of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden's Christmas Eve 1906 broadcast from Brant Rock in Marshfield.

Saturday's highlights included a live WATD (95.9 Marshfield) broadcast from the Daniel Webster Estate and Heritage Center, featuring New England broadcasters past and present, including WHDH's Fred B. Cole (now 91), station owners Barry Lunderville, Dennis Jackson and Marshall Sanft, and a telephone hookup with a parallel Fessenden celebration taking place in Scotland.

A gala party Saturday night was highlighted by the presentation of the first "Reginald A. Fessenden Broadcasting Award" to WBZ's Gary LaPierre, and several tables full of his WBZ colleagues turned out to salute LaPierre for the honor.

We're sorry we couldn't make it to Marshfield - but we're grateful to NERW correspondent Garrett Wollman for showing up with his camera and sharing his pictures with us.

*The week's other big story from the Bay State was, of course, last Monday's announcement that Greater Media, Nassau and Charles River Broadcasting had finalized the transactions that will give Nassau the WCRB call letters and classical format and the 99.5 Lowell facility that's now Greater Media's WKLB. The WKLB calls and country format will move to WCRB's present 102.5 Waltham facility, and Greater Media will get Nassau's WTHK (97.5 Burlington NJ), soon to become a full-market Philadelphia move-in.

The sale price of WCRB to Greater Media hasn't yet been disclosed, but there's reliable word that the Nassau/Greater swap includes a $20 million cash payment from Greater to Nassau.

In addition to the cash, Nassau will enter the Boston market for the first time with the WCRB acquisition. On its new 99.5 signal, WCRB's classical format will reach more deeply into southern New Hampshire (at the expense of coverage in downtown Boston, on the South Shore and in the western suburbs), linking up with Nassau's four-station "W-Bach" network on the Maine coast.

(Most of the programming on the "W-Bach" stations comes from the World Classical Network, based at WCRB; it's not clear whether Nassau will end up with the network as well when the dust settles. Nor has any announcement been made about Charles River's Cape Cod stations, in a market where Nassau has already begun to make inroads.)

We'll get to the WTHK piece of the deal later in this week's column.

*One more piece of big news came from Entercom's WAAF (107.3 Westborough), where afternoon jock Mistress Carrie has, through the miracle of Webcasting, become one of the most popular radio personalities among the U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

\In September, Carrie will travel to the Middle East to spend 12 days embedded with the Massachusetts Air National Guard there, broadcasting back to Boston several times daily via satellite phone. She's currently soliciting phone cards from listeners to take to the troops - along with loads of WAAF goodies.

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*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, we hear that director of engineering John Huntley will be leaving New Hampshire Public Radio on September 1, heading to Illinois as his wife takes a new job out there. In his years at NHPR, Huntley's overseen a huge expansion of the statewide network's reach, including brand-new signals in Nashua and Jackson, and he'll leave some pretty big shoes behind as he departs the Granite State.

*The big story in NEW YORK last week was Air America's announcement that it will change flagship stations at the end of August, when its current lease with Inner City Broadcasting's WLIB (1190) expires.

Beginning September 1, most Air America programming will instead air on Access.1's WWRL (1600), displacing a daytime lineup there that currently includes leased-time health shows (10 AM-3 PM) and several syndicated talkers. WWRL's current morning show, featuring Sam Greenfield and Armstrong Williams, will remain in place, as will its weekend Caribbean music programming and, likely, its carriage of the late-night Alan Colmes show.

So what will be heard on WLIB come September? Inner City's not saying yet, but the rumors are very strong that the station will end up with a non-Air America lineup of other progressive talkers, likely with the involvement of former Clear Channel Radio boss Randy Michaels.

Down the dial at WOR (710), Tyler Florence gave his resignation from the station's food show, becoming the third host in two years to leave the show (Rocco DiSpirito left in late 2005, a year after longtime host Arthur Schwartz quit.)

*Upstate, the Rochester broadcast community is mourning longtime WOKR (Channel 13) meteorologist Bill Peterson, who died Saturday (Aug. 5) at 58 after a long, public struggle with cancer, lung disease and heart disease.

Peterson came to Rochester in 1982 from his native Wisconsin and never left channel 13, becoming the station's chief meteorologist, a post he held until his health problems forced him to retire in 2001.

Even after he retired, Peterson's health was still the subject of regular updates on channel 13 (now WHAM-TV), and the station devoted much of its weekend newscasts to sharing memories of Peterson from staff and viewers. Not many broadcasters merit that level of coverage, but it's a tribute to the connection that Peterson forged with the community that it didn't seem a bit out of place. (The station's Monday 6 PM newscast will also be dedicated to Peterson.)

Meanwhile, across town at third-rated WROC-TV (Channel 8), the concept of staff longevity took a few more hits last week. Reporter/anchor Ty Chandler (one of several staffers who came over when WROC took over operation of Fox affiliate WUHF) is the latest to depart the struggling station.

The cutbacks at Westwood One are taking a toll on Metro Networks' upstate operations: at month's end, Metro will close down its Rochester operation. We hear operations in Syracuse and Albany are being cut back as well, with a number of talented people being put out of work as a result. (Will this be Clear Channel Traffic's cue to enter the Rochester market?)

Elmira's dean of TV news is retiring next week, closing out a 40-year career at what's now WETM (Channel 18). Carl Proper came to the station, then WSYE-TV, in 1966 and now anchors the 5 and 6 PM newscasts there. WETM will honor him with a special during his final newscast August 17, and 11 PM anchor Jeff Stone will take over the 6 PM newscast. (Matt Molloy will do the 5.)

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, the format didn't change at Connoisseur Media's WUSE (93.9 Fairview), but just about everything else at the Erie-market country station did. As of last Monday, "US 93.9" has given way to "The Wolf," with new calls WTWF. The station's airstaff is expected to remain in place, though it's running jockless right now.

At sister station WRTS (103.7 Erie), night jock Dave Mazur is on his way to Toledo, taking the night gig at WVKS (92.5) that was vacated when Brian "Munchie" Donovan moved to Hartford and WKSS.

In Pittsburgh, the brokered-time "Locker Room" morning show on WBGG (970) is history, replaced by Fox Sports Radio network talk for now. Down the street at WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls), DJ Boogie gets promoted from assistant PD to PD, retaining his afternoon on-air shift as well.

After losing his longtime gig as the Pittsburgh Penguins' TV play-by-play voice, Mike Lange will move to the team's radio booth this fall. He signed a one-year deal with the team to handle the radio broadcasts, which will be heard on WBGG and on WXDX (105.9), a move from last year's broadcasts on WBGG and WWSW (94.5). (Clear Channel, which owns all three stations, is negotiating with the Pirates to take over their broadcasts next year as well; if the games do move from CBS Radio's KDKA, they're likely to land on some combination of WWSW and FM talker WPGB.)

On the Maryland border, Verstandig's WPPT (92.1 Mercersburg) has flipped from top 40 ("The Pulse") to classic country.

There's a new local morning show at Greater Media's WPEN (950 Philadelphia), featuring new PD Gregg Henson and former Jets/Seahawks quarterback Glenn Foley, along with producer Michael Checkoway.

And what about the 97.5 move-in that Greater's getting in Philadelphia? We're hearing all sorts of interesting rumors about the future of the signal, which will reach the full market from the WJJZ (106.1) tower in Wyndmoor, just north of the Philly city line - but the most persuasive ones have to do with some sort of FM talk. (And as for WJJZ - is a format shift on the way there, too?)

*Just a few bits of news from CANADA this week: Blackburn Radio is asking the CRTC to let it change the frequency of its Windsor relay of CKUE (95.1 Chatham). It seems that the high-powered synchronous operation at Windsor (currently running 1950 watts on 95.1) is causing interference to the main Chatham signal along Highway 401 and receiving interference from co-channel WFBE in Flint, Michigan - so Blackburn wants to move the Windsor CKUE-FM-1 signal to 100.7, where it would run 9 kW DA/74.5 meters, with an improved signal into Detroit as well.

And in Ottawa, the FM dial just keeps filling up: Aboriginal Voices Radio is testing its new signal at 95.7, while the new CIIO (104.7) is on the air testing with tourist information as "InfoRadio Canada."

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, or thereabouts - the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as "New England Radio Watch," and didn't go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

August 8, 2005 -

  • After just three weeks on the air, veteran MAINE morning man Mark Persky is already gone from Nassau's "Frank" (WFNK 107.5 Lewiston). No details yet on the hasty exit...stay tuned!
  • After a dozen years at Boston's WBZ (1030), morning reporter Flo Jonic is out of work this week, sparking a controversy over potential government intrusion into the newsgathering process along the way. As both of Boston's big papers have reported, Jonic was fired by WBZ management after sending an e-mail to other newsroom staffers criticizing what she said was a decision to shelve a story she had done on lax security at the FBI offices in downtown Boston. That's about as much as all sides agree on, though. Jonic says she was fired for opposing the decision to keep the story off the air (which she says was prompted by a phone call to management from the FBI). WBZ managers say Jonic was fired for insubordination, for sending the e-mail to the entire newsroom. They contend that the story was being readied for promotion during the fall ratings period.
  • Diane Sutter's making big plans for her new TV station, WNDS (Channel 50) in Derry, NEW HAMPSHIRE. After 22 years as "The WiNDS of New England," the independent station serving the Boston market will change calls to WZMY when Sutter's Shooting Star relaunches its operations this fall. Those calls stand for "MyTV," and the Nashua Telegraph reports that Sutter's plans include a nightly talk show called "My TV Prime" and a rebranded newscast, "My TV Now." (And yes, never fear, the station's signature personality, weatherman Al Kaprielian, will still be a part of the broadcasts.)
  • NEW JERSEY's newest FM station will be around for a while, after all. The FCC has granted a full five-year experimental license to WA2XMN, the experimental station on 42.8 MHz at the Armstrong Tower in Alpine. Steve Hemphill, the Philadelphia engineer who came up with the idea to revive the old FM band and who built the WA2XMN Phasitron transmitter, says the plan now is to try to recreate Armstrong's networking experiments from Alpine to various New England mountaintops, beginning with Mt. Asnebumskit in Paxton, Mass.

August 13, 2001 -

  • The big news in NEW YORK came as no surprise, really; everyone in the business knew that ABC wanted WEVD (1050 New York) as the Big Apple flagship for ESPN Radio. Now we know the price and the terms under which control of WEVD will pass from the Forward Association to the Disney gang. ESPN programming will begin full-time on 1050 September 1, under an LMA that gives Disney the option to begin negotiations for a $78 million purchase of the 50,000 watt station any time in the next two years.
  • Forward officials say their goal is to return to a focus on their print offerings (the weekly Forward), using the money from WEVD to support the struggling newspaper. The Forward Association reportedly wants to become a non-profit, according to the "Save WEVD" folks who have been fighting for months to keep the present quirky talk lineup in place on 1050.
  • So what about those call letters? It's a safe bet that labor leader Eugene Victor Debs wasn't an Islanders fan, so we'd expect a possible change (though Disney never did flip its Radio Disney outlet on 1560 from the old "WQEW"). M Street beat us to the punch in noting that the logical "WSPN" is in use on FM up in Saratoga Springs, at Skidmore College's 91.1.
  • Elsewhere in NEW YORK, there are some unhappy listeners and viewers in the public broadcasting arena, thanks to a pair of decisions to merge operations in the New York City area.
  • On the TV side, the board of directors at WLIW (Channel 21) on Long Island voted last week to approve a merger with Newark, N.J.-licensed WNET (Channel 13). By joining forces with the bigger WNET operation, WLIW officials say, they can avoid the massive financial burden of the upcoming DTV conversion. Long Island viewers say they're worried about losing the distinctive programming (in particular, British comedies) that WLIW has long offered. WLIW board member Anne Ellis resigned before the vote on the merger, and lawmakers are being asked to examine the deal.
  • On the radio side, program producers and listeners of WNYE (91.5 New York) are launching their own last-ditch effort to keep the city's Board of Education from handing operations over to the WNYC public radio folks. We've seen the e-mail petition they're circulating, and while we know the "Save WNYE" crew means well, a word of advice: your letters to the school chancellor would be better received if you call him "Harold" Levy and not "Howard"...
  • A few more bits of news from the city: John Fullam has resigned as general manager of Clear Channel's WHTZ (100.3 Newark) and senior VP for regional operations for Clear Channel. No replacement has been named. Fordham University's WFUV has been denied, again, in its attempts to put an on-channel booster for its 90.7 signal in Manhattan. And on the TV side, there's finally more DTV action: WPIX-DT 33 had its license to cover granted this week, while WNET-DT 61 is right behind.

New England Radio Watch, August 1/9, 1996

  • That loud sucking sound you're hearing near Boston's Copley Square is coming from the American Radio Systems headquarters, as ARS keeps buying and buying and buying. Within the last few weeks, ARS has spent about $67 million buying KXOA-AM-FM/KQPT-FM Sacramento, KRBT-FM/KNAX-FM Fresno, and KOQO-AM/FM Fresno. Now ARS has turned its attention back to home, spending a reported $24.9 million to buy WAAF (107.3)/WWTM (1440) from Zapis.
  • WAAF targets the Boston market with a hard-rock format, serving a small niche, but one that it has all to itself. WWTM is all sports, with a signal that doesn't reach anywhere east of Worcester County very well. They join ARS' existing stable of stations: WRKO (680), its flagship talker; WEEI (850), which is all sports; WEGQ (93.7), the Lawrence-licensed 70s outlet; and WBMX (98.5), the hot AC "Mix 98.5."
  • WRCZ (101.7) in Pittsfield MA has returned to its original calls of WBRK-FM, and is using ABC's syndicated AC "Star" format as "Star 101.7." "FMedia!" reports "Z101" was the lowest-rated FM in Berkshire County.
  • After about 2 years as morning host of Boston's WMJX "Magic 106.7," Gary Dickson is headed off to Houston's oldies KLDE (94.5). The move brings Dickson back to his old employer, Entercom, for whom he had worked in Pittsburgh before coming to Boston as Tom Bergeron's replacement on Magic. Mike Addams moves across the hall from WMJX's sister station WBCS "Country 96.9" to handle morning duties on Magic, and Addams' former co-host, Tom Doyle, will keep things going on WBCS while Greater Media figures out how it's going to drop country from either WBCS or newly-purchased WKLB (105.7), probably within a month.

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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 we have a few still available at special clearance prices!

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.