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December 4, 2006

WCRB, WKLB Make the Big Switch


It's that time of year again...

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*It's been rumored for years, anticipated for months, and scheduled for a few weeks now - but you'll forgive us if we think the move of one of the most venerable FM stations in MASSACHUSETTS is still pretty big news.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for a while now, you know what this is all about: Charles River Broadcasting exiting the Boston market after almost 60 years of owning first WCRB(AM), now WRCA, and then WCRB-FM on 102.5; Greater Media upgrading its country WKLB by purchasing the 102.5 signal; and Nassau entering the market and preserving the WCRB classical format by acquiring WKLB's former home on the Lowell-licensed 99.5 signal.

The swap took place at noon last Friday (Dec. 1), with Aaron Copland's "Rodeo" as the last piece played on WCRB at 102.5, while WKLB finished off its run at 99.5 with the "Star-Spangled Banner." WCRB apparently finished first, with a short interval of dead air on 102.5 while the anthem finished on 99.5 - and as the anthem faded out, the signals were switched, both stations ID'd on their new frequencies, and it was on to the "Hallelujah Chorus" for WCRB on 99.5 and "Life is a Highway" for WKLB on 102.5.

There's new management in place at WCRB under the new ownership: Nassau's New England director of sales, Paul Kelley, is now general manager, while Mark Edwards becomes Nassau's director of programming for New Hampshire and Boston, adding the role of PD at WCRB to his duties.

WCRB's also doing extensive television advertising to promote the move, using Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Keith Lockhart as a spokesman. (In the ads, Lockhart picks up a Bose Wave radio - is it more than coincidence that Bose print advertising has long displayed "102.5" on every radio shown? - and literally moves it a few notches to the left...)

For WKLB, the move to the more centrally-located 102.5 signal promises a better signal on the South Shore and in many areas west and south of Boston, as well as in parts of the city that aren't overwhelmed by the powerful FM signals on the Prudential Tower. For WCRB, it's a mixed blessing - we've already heard from listeners on the southern fringe of the 102.5 signal in Rhode Island and northeastern Connecticut who can't hear the 99.5 signal, but on the other hand, the station's now audible in much more of New Hampshire than ever before. (And, perhaps most saliently in an era when classical radio is fading fast, it's still there, period - and Nassau's already promising a celebration of WCRB's 60th anniversary in 2008.)

Sadly, one of the people most closely associated with WCRB for much of its run at 102.5 didn't live quite long enough to see the station move. Richard L. Kaye, longtime station manager and host of WCRB's eclectic Saturday night program, died Wednesday (Nov. 29). Kaye came to WCRB in its AM-only days, before the 1954 debut of the FM signal, and oversaw many of the technological developments at the station in the ensuing decades, from the early AM/FM stereo broadcasts through to the quadrophonic experiments of the 1970s. Kaye also engineered the Boston Symphony Orchestra's broadcasts on WCRB, as well as many of their recordings, and he held the second-largest stake in Charles River Broadcasting, behind the family of founder Ted Jones.

*Meanwhile, WBZ (1030) is preparing to welcome the man who'll have to fill the very big shoes of Gary LaPierre when the veteran anchor retires at the end of this month. As we told you in an update to NERW last Tuesday, longtime New York newsman Ed Walsh will make the move north from WCBS (880 New York) in a few weeks to begin preparing for his debut in morning drive January 1. While Walsh has a long resume in New York, including many years at WOR (710) before moving to WCBS earlier this year, he's hardly a stranger to New England. A native of Natick, Walsh has a vacation home in Maine, and he worked at WRKO in the seventies.

What's on tap for a farewell tribute to LaPierre as he wraps up 42 years at WBZ? We're still waiting to hear about that...but in the meantime, a tribute to another veteran of WBZ (and WHDH, and WEEI) is being reissued. A decade after his death, Norm Nathan's family (with help from WBZ talk host Jordan Rich) is making "Sounds in the Night," a compilation of some of Norm's greatest moments on the air, available on CD for the first time. The cassette sold out quickly back in 1997, and there's new material on the CD, I'm told. The $20 purchase price benefits the Norm Nathan Jazz Scholarship at Berklee College of Music. Orders (with checks payable to "Berklee College of Music") should go to Jordan Rich at WBZ, 1170 Soldiers Field Road, Boston MA 02134.

*In TV news, WCVB (Channel 5) won't be carrying start-to-finish coverage of the Boston Marathon in 2007. The race's organizers are apparently trying to negotiate an exclusive rights deal, and WBZ-TV (Channel 4), the other local station that's long carried the race, is hinting it may not do so next year, either. Could that open a door for WHDH-TV (Channel 7) or its new sister station, WLVI (Channel 56)? (Speaking of which, WHDH has named Frances Rivera and Matt Lorch as anchors for its new 10 PM newscast on WLVI, which will debut Dec. 19.)

A veteran WCVB reporter is moving to the online world - Jim Boyd's been named lead reporter for WCVB's website, In that capacity, he'll file regular reports for the site during its peak workday viewing hours.

Congratulations to Cha Chi Loprete, marketing director at WBCN (104.1), who's celebrating a quarter-century at the station. (Honors for him included a proclamation of "Cha Chi Loprete Day" in the city of Boston.)

More Clear Channel cutbacks: WJMN (94.5 Boston) creative services director Doug MacAskill is out.

Up at WXRV (92.5), there's a new city of license, Andover (though no move of the transmitter site from Haverhill), and a new job opening: Lou Muse has moved on from his role as chief engineer there.

The FCC is proposing a $10,000 fine against Radio One for missing quarterly issues lists in the public file of the former WILD-FM (97.7 Brockton, now WKAF). While there's no evidence that any member of the public ever actually asked to see the lists, the station's most recent renewal application acknowledged that the lists were missing, and in the eyes of the FCC, that's sufficient evidence of a "willful and repeated" violation of FCC rules. (And how many stations, NERW wonders, checked "yes" on the public file question on their renewal applications, knowing that the odds of an FCC inspection proving otherwise are slim and that the automatic fine for a "no" answer is hefty?)

There's a new set of calls (at least on paper) for the venerable WBET (1460 Brockton). With its sale to Business Talk Radio having closed, it's applied to become WBZB. Those calls haven't been heard on the air yet, and we wonder if a certain other nearby station that begins with those same three letters might intervene.

And we close our Bay State report with an obituary that's perhaps better suited to the Buckeye State. Ohio's where Casey Coleman made his mark over several decades as a sportscaster, working as a Cleveland Browns sideline reporter, delivering sportcasts on WJW-TV (Channel 8), and most recently serving as morning co-host at WTAM (1100 Cleveland). But his roots were in New England - after all, "Casey" was short for his given name, "Kenneth Coleman, Jr.", and his father was Red Sox announcer Ken Coleman.

Casey Coleman waged a very public fight against pancreatic cancer, trying desperately to stay on the air as long as possible, even as the disease ravaged his body. He made his last appearance on a Browns game in September, and he died last Monday (Nov. 27) at 55.

There's much more coverage of Casey at our sister site to the west, Ohio Media Watch.

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*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, the ongoing Clear Channel restructuring has cost WGIR-FM (101.1 Manchester) PD Alex James a job. Over at Nassau's Hooksett-based cluster, Steve Garsh is out as general manager, replaced by Rob Fulmer. (More on Nassau's management shuffles later in this week's column...)

Keene listeners may end up with a new format on their dials after Christmas. Saga's apparently doing more than just parking the old Philadelphia calls of WSNI on the former WOQL (97.7 Winchendon MA); the signal's playing all-Christmas music for now, but it's dropping some pretty broad hints that it won't go back to "Cool" oldies when the holidays are over. Also all-Christmas for the duration: WBYY (98.7 Somersworth), in the Dover/Portsmouth market.

*VERMONT Public Radio has signed on its newest signal. WJAN (95.1 Sunderland), formerly one of Pamal's "Cat Country" outlets, returned to the air last week from Mount Equinox, carrying VPR's main program service to an area stretching from Brattleboro up through Manchester and Poultney, as well as a big chunk of New York State north of Albany. Cat Country remains on the air in Rutland, at WJEN (94.5); expect new calls on the Sunderland signal soon.

*Speaking of Albany, NEW YORK's capital has a new (or at least moved-in) FM station. Many months after its Glens Falls-area predecessor, WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury), went silent back in May, WBZZ (105.7 Malta) signed on last Wednesday from the Bald Mountain transmitter site of WNYT (Channel 13), simulcasting hot AC "Buzz" WABT (104.5 Mechanicville). Expect a new format sometime soon for the 104.5 half of what's now being called "Buzz Radio."

Following up on a story we ran two weeks ago, the "Wakin' up with the Wolf" morning show at Clear Channel's WPYX (106.5 Albany) is alive and well after a Thanksgiving-week hiatus, with a promise that its website will be back soon, too, after an unfortunately-timed absence for an upgrade. And since the whole thing escalated into a series of message-board rumors and eventually a Mark McGuire column in the Albany Times Union about those rumors, we should probably take a step or two back and explain why we published what we did.

NERW is, and has been for more than a dozen years now, a "journal of fact and informed speculation." Covering, as we do, an industry in which most of the interesting stuff happens behind the scenes (and in which "we don't comment on personnel matters" is a standard turn of phrase), we often get our only confirmation that someone's no longer with a radio station by noting their disappearance from that station's website. In the midst of massive cutbacks at WPYX and other Clear Channel stations around the country, including WPYX's program director, it was natural that we'd put our antennas up when the WPYX website replaced "Wakin' up with the Wolf" with "Ellen Z," and even more so when the show's own website was down, redirecting to the Ellen Z. page on the WPYX site.

We go to press (as it were) late on Sunday night, which makes it hard sometimes for our staff of one to get official confirmation of these matters over the weekend as we're writing the column, and so we came out with this in our November 20 issue: " we go to press Sunday night, we note that the web page for WPYX's "Wakin' Up with the Wolf" show has mysteriously gone missing from the station's site, too."

Is this the sort of "suppositions, rumors and wholesale fabrications" McGuire decried in his TU column? We think not - and we believe our readers would rather get all the information we've got, including clearly-labeled informed speculation when appropriate. When we're wrong, we say so - and when we're right, we're way ahead of the newspapers, much of the time. (It bears noting that nothing about any of the Clear Channel cutbacks in Albany has appeared in McGuire's print column as far as we've seen, though he did do a blog entry on the subject on November 24; it also bears noting that much of the back story behind McGuire's somewhat testy column has to do with another website entirely, which we're not getting into here.)

Onward - and, ironically, to a story we'll gladly credit none other than Mark McGuire for breaking in his TU blog: Freedom Communications, which owns WRGB (Channel 6) in Schenectady, will take over operation of WCWN (Channel 45) on Tuesday, as it completes its acquisition of the station from Tribune. WCWN's master control, now at sister station WLVI (Channel 56) in Boston, will move to WRGB's Balltown Road studio. And the 7-8 AM hour of WRGB's morning newscast, now seen on My Network TV outlet WNYA (Channel 51), will move to WCWN later in the month. We'll be not at all surprised to see WRGB launch a 10 PM newscast on WCWN at some point, too. (And what becomes of WNYA, which is owned by Venture Technologies Group and has been operated out of the WRGB facility under a joint sales agreement? We don't know yet.)

While we're on the TV side of the fence, there's a news director opening at WKBW-TV (Channel 7) in Buffalo, where Bill Payer escapes the upstate winters and departs after three years to become news director at WIAT (Channel 42), the CBS affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama.

In New York City, are changes on the way at CBS Radio's WNEW (Mix 102.7)? Allan Sniffen's New York Radio Message Board reports that morning co-host Michelle Visage is on her way out, and that other members of the station's airstaff may not be far behind.

More all-Christmas sounds on the radio in the Empire State: WLGZ (990 Rochester) has flipped.

And there are new call letters to go with the upcoming format change at WFKP (99.3 Ellenville): it becomes WRWC as it prepares to simulcast WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland).

*A northeast PENNSYLVANIA AM station is changing hands, as Kevin Fennessy exits broadcast ownership after six years. His WFBS (1280 Berwick) has been silent for a few months, and now it's been sold to Bold Gold Media, which also owns WWRR (104.9 Scranton), WICK (1400 Scranton), WYCK (1340 Plains) and four other stations in the region. Ray Rosenblum brokered the deal, under which Bold Gold will pay Fennessy $10,000 and assume the station's debts.

On Penobscot Mountain overlooking Wilkes-Barre, an F2-level tornado apparently touched down Friday afternoon, knocking out power to the TV and radio broadcasters who use the tower farm up there. WNEP (Channel 16) remained on the air with its analog signal, but WNEP-DT and both the analog and digital signals of WYOU-TV, WBRE, WVIA-TV and WOLF-TV were off the air all night Friday and well into Saturday. (We're still awaiting word on the status of the FM stations up on the mountain, including big guns WMGS and WGGY.)

One more bit of radio history in the region is gone: we're told that the old WHLM (550 Bloomsburg) transmitter building was razed recently. (You can see it, in vacated but still-extant state, here in a 2003 Tower Site of the Week episode...)

Across the state, Andy Sumereau is apparently out as general manager of the Forever stations in State College, while KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) has fired PD Steve Hansen and marketing director Greg Jena. News director Marshall Adams and VP/GM Keith Clark will take over programming duties at the station. And what's up with the tone that DXers all over the country were hearing on 1020 Friday night and Saturday - and on 1610 for a few days before that? It's apparently coming from an antenna test somewhere in the mid-Atlantic states, possibly Virginia or North Carolina, and it's apparently authorized...though not necessarily by the FCC. (Government? Military? Your guess is as good as ours at the moment.)

*An unsurprising call change in NEW JERSEY - WJJZ (1170 Bridgewater) returns to its former calls, WWTR, now that the WJJZ calls have been safely transferred to the new smooth jazz signal on 97.5 in Burlington/Philadelphia.

With Nassau having largely pulled out of New Jersey after the 97.5 sale to Greater Media, Josh Gertzog is out of a job as New Jersey regional manager for the company. In a reorganization of its executive ranks, Nassau has created two co-COO positions, with Rick Musselman overseeing the company's stations in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Don Dalesio overseeing its New England operations.

And a correction from last week: the "Breeze" simulcasters (WWZY 107.1 Long Branch/WBHX 99.7 Tuckerton) aren't all-Christmas, but they're mixing in a lot of holiday tunes with their usual soft AC/oldies format. WCZT (98.7 Villas), however, did make the flip to all-Christmas last week.

*There's soon to be another silent AM station in CANADA - but this one's not moving to FM. CHHA (1610 Toronto) was supposed to go silent last Thursday night (Nov. 30), after Industry Canada asked its owner, San Lorenzo Latin American Community Center, to cease transmissions from its present site near Dufferin and Lawrence northwest of downtown Toronto "due to interference problems from their transmissions." Documents filed with the application suggest that CHHA's neighbors in the residential area were complaining about interference from the station's signal, but weren't willing to let the station's engineers in to remedy the problems.

CHHA is applying to move to a new site at 275 Unwin Avenue in the Port of Toronto (near the terminal for the ill-fated Fast Ferry to Rochester), from which it will put a stronger signal over downtown but will reach fewer people overall, at least initially, though the station says it will apply for a power increase once it gets the new signal up and running.

(As of late Saturday, DXers in the area were reporting that CHHA had not yet signed off from the old site.)

Northeast of Toronto, WhiStle Community Radio has been granted a license for a new low-power community station serving Whitchurch and Stouffville, with 50 watts on 102.7.

In Ottawa and nearby Gatineau, Quebec, Fondation Radio Enfant du Canada is applying for a new signal on 1670. The 1,000-watt signal would program a French-language kids' and teens' format.

Fresh from last week's grant of a new signal in Nappanee, My Broadcasting is applying for another new outlet, this time on 95.3 in Pembroke, with 2570 watts DA/90.5 meters.

And in Nova Scotia, Maritime Broadcasting System won a split decision from the CRTC on its application to move CFAB (1450 Windsor) to FM. The CRTC agreed to let the station switch bands - it is, after all, losing its transmitter site to an expansion of Highway 101 - but it denied CFAB's request to use 92.9 with 47.1 kW average ERP. The CRTC says that much power would give CFAB too much overlap with MBS' two stations in nearby Kentville, and it's directing MBS to file an application for revised (and lower-powered) facilities.

Finally this week, we join CFCF (Channel 12) in Montreal in wishing a happy retirement to Bill Haugland, who's stepping down from the station after 46 years, the last 30 of them behind the anchor desk. The station devoted much of its 6 PM newscast Thursday to Haugland's retirement - and here's something we didn't know: for those last 30 years, Haugland has been commuting to work in Montreal from across the border in Vermont.

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!)

December 5, 2005 -

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

December 3, 2001 -

  • NEW HAMPSHIRE's highest court will hear the case of a broadcaster's long-running attempt to put a new AM station on the air. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed this week to accept Bob Vinikoor's appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld the city of Hanover's decision not to allow Vinikoor to build three towers for WQTH (720 Hanover). The city's zoning laws limit towers to 45 feet in areas where they're permitted at all, and city lawyers point to the controversial Cross-Field Antenna (tested in Egypt, but not approved by the FCC or conclusively even demonstrated to work) to show that the rule doesn't prohibit new AM towers completely. Vinikoor, who owns WNTK (1020 Newport/99.7 New London) and WNBX (1480 Springfield VT), says that's just what the rule does, and he's asking the court to rule that the city can't keep him from building his station.
  • Up in MAINE, Rob Gardiner announced this week that he'll leave his post as president of Maine Public Broadcasting sometime next year. Gardiner has led the statewide network since 1988, weathering controversies that included the format shift on Maine Public Radio from classical to news/talk-intensive. In a memo to employees obtained by NERW, Gardiner says his plans after leaving MPBC in a year or so include "a long vacation,...time with my family, and enjoy[ing] some months with few schedule demands or responsibilities that would keep me awake in the middle of the night."
  • A change of command in CONNECTICUT: Kirk Varner has been named news director at WTNH (Channel 8) in New Haven. The Nutmeg State news veteran (WFSB and ESPN, among others) has spent the last few years with Time Warner as head of the company's local all-news operations (which would make him your editor's ex-boss's-boss's-boss's-boss, if you follow the chain of command up that far!) Varner starts the new gig at WTNH on January 7.
  • We'll jump over to NEW JERSEY next, as Nassau and Multicultural Broadcasting flip their holdings along the Delaware River. Here's how it works: Nassau picks up WVPO (840 Stroudsburg PA) and WSBG (93.5 Stroudsburg PA), which the company used to own before selling them to Multicultural, along with WJHR (1040 Flemington NJ), which Multicultural bought a couple of years ago. Multicultural gets sports WTTM (1680 Princeton NJ) and business-talk WHWH (1350 Princeton NJ), one of Nassau's original stations. But before any format-change rumors get started: Nassau's been operating the Multicultural stations under an LMA all along, and will continue to LMA WHWH, so very little will change for listeners.

New England Radio Watch, Novemer 29 - December 9, 1996

  • Winning an "A.I.R." award wasn't enough to save Boston newsman Dave Faneuf's job. Just two days after he was named best newscaster, Faneuf was let go from CBS's oldies station, WODS (103.3). "Oldies 103" management tells the Boston Herald that afternoon news on a music station no longer makes economic sense in Boston. Morning news guy Gordon Hill appears to be safe for now.
  • The dark AM/FM combo up in Lincoln, Maine has been sold. WTOX (1450) and WHMX (105.7) had been in bankruptcy; they're being transferred to the Bangor Baptist Church, which owns WHCF (88.5). No word on exactly what WHCF plans with its new outlets, both of which serve territory that's already well within the reach of WHCF's 100kw transmitter.
  • A familiar voice has returned to the Boston airwaves on WROR (105.7 Framingham-Boston). Joe Martelle, the longtime morning host at the original WROR (98.5, now WBMX) began his new afternoon shift at the new 'ROR last week, after his non-compete agreement with WBMX came to an end. It's been more than a year since Martelle's been heard in Boston; he was sidelined by illness, then ousted from his morning spot at WBMX in favor of John Lander.
  • The holiday spirit is in full swing on the New Hampshire seacoast, as WSTG (102.1 Hampton NH) returns to an all-holiday music format for the second year in a row. "The Stage" used holiday music for all of last December as a transition from its old "Seacoast 102" AC format to the current mix of AC and standards. This year's run of holiday music started December 1 and will last through Christmas.
  • Sold!: Clear Channel Communications has closed on its purchase of Radio Equity Partners, creating a new radio-TV combo in the Providence market, as WWBB (101.5 Providence, oldies "B101") and WWRX (103.7 Westerly, classic rock "WRX") join CBS affiliate WPRI-TV 12 under the Clear Channel umbrella. The deal also gives Clear Channel WHYN and WHYN-FM in Springfield MA. WHYN is a news-talker on 560, and WHYN-FM is hot AC on 93.1. Congratulations to WHYN PD Gary James and the staff, by the way, for what NERW hears was a phenomenally successful reunion sock hop last month!
  • Also closed is the deal that transfers news/sports WNEZ (910 New Britain-Hartford CT) from American Radio Systems to Mega Spanish Broadcasters. Look for a format change at WNEZ any day now; we'll keep you posted.

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*It's here! As seen in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Omaha World-Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times, Tower Site Calendar 2007 is now shipping!

This year's edition features what we think are the finest tower images yet - from the cover image of WCCO Minneapolis all the way to the back-cover centerfold of WBZ in Boston, and from KGO San Francisco to KOIL Omaha to Philadelphia's famed Roxborough tower farm, captured in a dramatic dusk shot with the lights all aglow.

This sixth annual edition once again contains plenty of historic dates from radio and television history in the Northeast and beyond, and as always, it comes to you shrink-wrapped and shipped first class mail for safe arrival.

You can even get your 2007 calendar free with your new or renewal subscription to NERW at the $60 level.

Visit the Store and place your order today - and be among the first to get the Tower Site Calendar 2007!

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.