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March 5, 2007

So Long, Jammer


*A happy reunion of a central PENNSYLVANIA morning show turned to mourning last week. Less than a month after Jeff "Jammer" Kauffman reunited with his former co-host Ed Coffey and Amy Warner to bring the "Coffey and Jammer" show back on the air at WTPA (93.5 Mechanicsburg), Kauffman took ill, missing much of last week on the air and prompting the station to call police Friday morning. When they arrived at his Berks County home, they found Kauffman had died, apparently of a heart attack - and it was up to Coffey and Warner to break the news on the air Friday morning, before ending the show early and putting the station on automation.

After a radio career that started at WKBO (1230 Harrisburg) and WHTF (92.7 Starview), Kauffman had been doing afternoons at WTPA in 1988 when he was paired with Coffey in morning drive. The two hit it off, and their show was one of the Harrisburg market's most popular before Kauffman departed in 1995, eventually to become a copy editor at the Reading Eagle and Reading Times. He returned to WTPA and the "Coffey and Jammer Show" in 2001, and the station drew protests three years later when it replaced the pair with the syndicated Bob and Tom Show. Coffey and Warner ended up at WMHX (106.7 Hershey), but when they returned to WTPA late last year, the station persuaded Kauffman to come back as well.

The latest incarnation of "Coffey and Jammer" debuted the first week of February, and station officials tell the York Daily Record that Kauffman had been ill for much of the time since then, though they say they had no idea it was anything life-threatening. Kauffman was 57 years old.

Down the road in York, John London is out at WARM-FM (103.3), with former WSBA (910 York) morning man Dave Russell replacing him in mornings. Co-host Kelly West stays put at WARM-FM.

Just across the Susquehanna River, cross WVZN (1580 Columbia) off your station lists. The station, most recently broadcasting in Spanish, went silent January 11 after the land where its tower was located was sold. Licensee "Esfuerzo de Union Cristiana" tells the FCC that WVZN won't be returning to the air, a sad end to a history that started back in 1957 when the 500-watt daytimer signed on as WCOY.

Continuing our central Pennsylvania focus this week, we note that the FCC has upheld a $4,000 fine against WADV (940 Lebanon) for operating with its full 1 kW daytime power after sunset, when it's supposed to be dropping down to five watts. WADV asked the FCC for a reduction in the fine, saying it had implemented procedures to prevent the problem from reocurring, and that its record was clean. The FCC says WADV had been cited several times before for overpower operation at night, and the fine stands.

Up in Towanda, Comcast Cable is keeping WETM (Channel 18) from Elmira on its system after all. As we told you a few weeks ago, Comcast wanted to pull the NBC affiliate off the system, which also carries WBRE (Channel 28) from Wilkes-Barre. But WETM launched a campaign to stay on cable, rallying support from local officials as well, who say the Elmira station does a better job of covering Bradford County than the Scranton-market stations do.

Over on the Ohio line, Clyde Bass is out and Brian Shimmel is in as market manager of Cumulus' Youngstown-based cluster, which includes Pennsylvania-licensed WPIC (790 Sharon), WLLF (96.7 Mercer), WYFM (102.9 Sharon) and WWIZ (103.9 Mercer).

And one curiosity: though it's not reflected anywhere on the FCC's website that we can find, Philadelphia's WHYY (Channel 12) has quietly moved its DTV signal to a different channel. The PBS outlet, licensed across the border in Wilmington, DELAWARE, was on channel 55, the frequency that Qualcomm has been clearing out nationwide for its new MediaFLO service. (That's why Long Island's WLNY shut off its analog channel 55 signal ahead of the 2009 deadline.)

Now WHYY-DT has moved from 55 to 50, under experimental authority. It's using 50 kW, instead of the licensed 87 kW on channel 55, with a deeper directional null to protect WNJN (Channel 50) in Montclair, NJ.

And as long as we're talking Wilmington, we note that WSTW (93.7) parted ways with PD John Wilson last week. He'd been at the station 23 years, the last ten of them as PD. No replacement has been named yet.

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*Moving along to NEW YORK, WCBS (880) has renewed its contract with the Yankees, to nobody's great surprise - but there's one new piece to the deal: the team's Spanish-language broadcasts, with Beto Villa calling the play-by-play, will move to Univision Radio's WQBU-FM (92.7 Garden City), marking the first time we can think of that a Spanish-language FM has been a baseball flagship in New York. (And, yes, WQBU-FM is indeed now the official callsign on the former WZAA, after some confusion in which those new calls were instead placed on sister station WCAA 105.9.)

After 14 years as a reporter with WINS (1010), Steve Kastenbaum is moving to the network level: he's signed on with CNN Radio as a New York-based reporter.

At Clear Channel's Hudson Valley cluster, Paty Quin has departed WRWD (107.3 Highland), where she'd been midday host and creative services director; she's headed to Indianapolis.

Up in the Mohawk Valley, WCSS (1490 Amsterdam) is off the air for the moment, now that Albany Broadcasting has ended its LMA of the standards station. Owner Joseph Isabel (IZ Communications) is looking for new studio space for WCSS, which had been operating from the facilities of WIZR (930 Johnstown); he tells the Amsterdam Recorder he hopes to have the station back on the air from a new location within the next couple of weeks.

Syracuse's WSTM (Channel 3)/WSTQ-LP (Channel 14) has a new news director, as Peggy Phillip arrives from co-owned WMC-TV (Channel 5) in Memphis.

In Buffalo, Citadel's WHTT (104.1) has fully implemented its new "Mix" identity, complete with a new logo on its website. What to call the station's format now? "Classic hits" seems pretty close to the mark, though with a randomly-chosen recent hour (the one in which we're writing this column, as it happens) including everything from Carl Carlton to Uncle Kracker, we'd accept "adult hits" as a valid description, too.

Down in Jamestown, WKZA (106.9 Lakewood) has a new PD - he's Steve Rockford, who comes to the Southern Tier from WHBC-FM (94.1) in Canton, Ohio, where he was doing afternoons.

And way up in Plattsburgh - serving the Burlington, VERMONT market - there's word that WTWK (1070) spent the weekend stunting, with a new format on the way this morning to replace progressive talk.

*There's a new signal on the air in southern NEW JERSEY: WPOV-LP (99.9 Vineland) is now on with Calvary Chapel religion.

Overat Press Communications' "G-Rock Radio" (WHTG-FM 106.3 Eatontown/WBBO 106.5 Bass River Township), PD Terrie Carr has a new schedule for her airstaff: she's on the air doing middays, displacing Brooke Connolly to nights, which pushes Matt Knight to afternoons.

*A call-and-format swap in CONNECTICUT has returned a heritage callsign to the frequency it long called home. WNEZ (1480 Windsor) has reclaimed its former calls, WKND, and the urban AC format that went with them. The WNEZ calls, and the Spanish news-talk format that went with them, replace WKND on 1230 in Manchester.

Over in Southington, Thom Morgan is the new 7-9 AM weekday host on WXCT (990), replacing the syndicated "Radio Ritas" talk show.

*In MAINE, Light of Life Ministries made its frequency swaps Friday, moving southern gospel "God's Country" from WMDR (1340 Augusta) to WMDR-FM (88.9 Oakland) and its translator network that stretches from Portland to Bangor.

The youth-oriented "Zap" religious format that was on the FM network moved to AM, as "Zap 1340."

We've been remiss in not noting the FCC's grant of a construction permit to "RAMS, IV" for a new signal on 1530 in Orono. The new station will run 50 kW days into two towers, 9 kW critical hours into four towers and 270 watts at night into those same four towers on the east bank of the Penobscot River just south of Orono, targeting listeners in nearby Bangor.

*CANADA's CRTC will hear eight applications for new stations in Montreal when it holds a public hearing April 30 at its headquarters in Gatineau, Quebec.

Three of them are for AM signals - Gospel Media Communications for a 5.8 kW Christian music outlet on 650, Radio Humsafar for a 1 kW ethnic station on 1400 and S.S. TV Inc. for a 10 kW ethnic station on 1410, which would replace the old CFMB signal at that frequency, since moved down the dial to 1280.

The remainder are for FM signals at 106.3 - Neeti P. Ray and Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio for ethnic signals (CHCR's would be a sister station to its existing "Mike FM" CHDG on 105.1), Rene Ferron for a world beat station, International Harvesters of Christ Evangelical Association for a Christian music station and Yves Sauve for an oldies station based in suburban Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Speaking of Montreal, there are now calls for the new ethnic outlet on 1690: it'll be CJOL.

In Ottawa, travelers information station CIIO (104.7) has been granted a move to 99.7. It's being displaced by the impending move of CJRC (1150 Gatineau) to 104.7, and other Ottawa-area broadcasters argued that they may eventually apply for 99.7 as a full-power frequency in the area. CIIO says it's aware of that possibility, and as an unprotected low-power service it's prepared to move again if need be.

Here's a subtle call change that was probably inevitable in retrospect: now that Moses Znaimer owns CFMX (96.3 Toronto/103.1 Cobourg), he's changed the station's calls to CFMZ. Programming and branding on "Classical 96.3" remains unchanged.

*With that...on with the third installment of our ongoing Rant:

If you were fortunate enough to catch the recent WCVB "Chronicle" show that Art Donahue produced, about the history of New England radio, you were treated to a spectacular half-hour of reminiscing about the glory days of radio in the Northeast, from Fessenden to Armstrong to Ginsberg and Dorman.

I was honored to be a part of the program, and even more so to get the last word (above), in which I borrowed what I think is a quote paraphrased from Charles Osgood - "If you invented radio now, if this came along out of the blue now, people would call it one of the most remarkable technologies."

What Osgood meant, I think (if it was even actually Osgood), was that radio offered a dimension of imagination and creativity that TV lacked, and that's true. But what I meant was something else: even in an era when entertainment and information choices are multiplying exponentially, there's something truly remarkable - unique, even - about what good old analog radio can do.

Consider: it's as universal a medium as there is, with receivers already standard equipment in pretty much every home, vehicle and office in the country (and most of the world). Its signals already blanket even the most remote parts of America, especially at night. Because it's such an established medium, and such a mass medium, receivers are inexpensive and widely available. It's robust, surviving power outages (at least if you have a battery-powered receiver, like the one I'm holding above, and if the station has a generator, which should be much more of a given than it is) and requiring only the most minimal amount of power at the receiving end.

And it's a one-to-many medium that scales like almost nothing else. There's no extra infrastructure needed at the transmission end, regardless of whether a station's broadcasting to a dozen listeners or to 12 million at once. It's possible that some form of mobile broadband, whether it's WiMax or something even more advanced, might someday scale up that well, but it's not there yet, it won't get there in the short term, and it's hard to imagine it will ever achieve the level of ubiquity that analog radio now enjoys.

It's no wonder, then, that radio station values in major markets have continued to climb. After all, they're not making any new signals. What's more interesting, we think, is what's happening with station values in smaller markets. While a few particularly successful clusters, like CBS' Buffalo group with market-dominating WYRK, are still changing hands for eye-popping prices, we're seeing a lot of small and medium-sized stations suddenly selling for prices significantly lower than they did a few years ago.

What's happening here? There's surely an element of fear - if enough people tell you your medium is becoming obsolete, eventually you start believing it. (See "medium-sized newspapers" for an example of how such a prophecy can fulfill itself, once the cost-cutting death spiral sets in.) There's the reality that even if radio's not dying, neither is it a growth industry with the sort of year-to-year revenue gains that make Wall Street happy. It's not clear that there's even the private capital out there in the volume that once fueled the rapid growth of groups like Jacor and Chancellor back in the go-go days of the late nineties.

That may not be a bad thing, and here's why: As station values come back to earth, there's suddenly an opening for a bit more creativity, and even outright experimenting, in the dusty back corners of our business. Stir in some truly venturesome sources of capital and interesting things can start happening. Case in point: Tom Kelly's $5 million "Skin Radio" gamble at WHAT (1340) in Philadelphia, where a modern rock station targeting a very young audience (an audience that conventional wisdom says has abandoned radio) has sprouted on what's arguably the city's single worst commercial signal. Will it take off? Possibly yes, probably no, but at least it's something other than half-neglected satellite talk, and more power to Kelly for giving it a shot.

More power, in particular, because the "Skin Radio" experiment shows a clear understanding of something we've long believed here at this column. Sure, the station has a webcast component, and sure, that's probably where most of its listenership is coming from right now. But there's something magical that happens when that programming goes out over a transmitter, too, something all those webcasters who adopt make-believe calls and frequencies understand just as well: that programming becomes a radio station, something anyone within range can dial across by accident on a $10 radio. If they stick around, and if the radio station is doing its job right, something even better develops: a community.

Which brings us to, of all places, Pell City, Alabama. A few years ago, I drove through there once on I-20 in the rain and didn't stop, but if I ever make it back, I'll get off the highway and buy a beer and a sandwich for John Simpson, the general manager of WFHK (1430) in that town of 9,600 people east of Birmingham. He gets it. Listen to what he told the Talladega Daily Home in an article they ran over the weekend about local radio:

"WZZK (in Birmingham) plays country music, and we do, too. But they’re not going to provide an update on what the Pell City Board of Education did last night, they’re not going to cover Pell City High School sports, or Pell City news and obituaries."

Sure, lots of small-town radio stations can make that claim. But Simpson understands that the only way to make radio like that work is if it makes money - and WFHK, to hear him tell it, is doing that the old-fashioned way, too, selling the inexpensive spots that let Pell City businesses get on the air. In fact, John Simpson thinks he's got a more compelling business plan than the big-city stations do, in the face of all those other competing media:

"If satellite radio really starts to take off, it’s probably going to hurt the big FM stations a lot more than it will hurt us. We offer our advertisers a monthly ad package for $200 or $300 per month, which might get you one mention during a traffic report on a bigger station."

Two more things about WFHK: the guy who owns the station is also Pell City's mayor. And John Simpson isn't just the general manager - he's also one of WFHK's air personalities. I've never met the guy, but here's what that tells me: he's a Radio Person, and when he cracks the mike to give the latest Pell City football score or the death notices, he's an integral part of his community.

Tom Kelly's a Radio Person, too, even if he probably wouldn't describe himself that way - but why else would Skin Radio be on AM 1340 right now?

When our never-ending Rant continues, we'll explore the question of how the industry can create more Radio People, why the industry needs more Radio People to survive, where the good Radio People are hiding right now, and why we think it's actually a very good time for Radio People to take some risks and for private capital to take some risks on Radio People. And we'll finally get to some of your responses, too. They're always welcome at rant at fybush dot com; be sure to let me know if it's OK to use your name.

(Oh, and one more thing: if you didn't get to see that WCVB Chronicle show, you might want to go searching on, say, Google Video...but you didn't hear that here.)

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!)

March 6, 2006 -

  • It was just a year or so ago that Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA's WDIY (88.1) was fighting off a takeover attempt from crosstown public television station WLVT. Now it's on the other end of the takeover game, and that's caused some consternation for the community and college DJs at Lehigh Carbon Community College's WXLV (90.3 Schnecksville). WXLV went on autopilot a week ago, after one of those jocks mentioned on the air that automation equipment had suddenly appeared in the studio. After a few days of rumors, the college announced that it's signed a nine-year deal under which WDIY will manage and program the station for the college.
  • For the next month or two, that means WDIY's programming will be simulcast on WXLV, while WDIY works on a new program schedule for the college station, which is expected to include a mixture of some of WXLV's existing programming and some material from WDIY and NPR. For the first year of the deal, WDIY will keep 90% of the underwriting and membership money raised from WXLV, with a lower figure to be negotiated in subsequent years. WDIY will also work with the college to create training programs for students.
  • Over on the other side of the Keystone State, the call and format changes that have run rampant across the radio dial from State College down to Altoona and Johnstown struck again late last week. This time, Forever Broadcasting swapped calls and formats on rocker WRKW (92.1 Johnstown) and top 40 WYOT (99.1 Ebensburg), creating "Hot 92" and "Rocky 99," and in the process undoing the swap a few years ago that moved top 40 WGLU from 92.1 to 99.1. WRKW also shifts its musical mix somewhat, becoming more of a classic rock station as it moves down the dial.
  • There's a nasty battle brewing in eastern CONNECTICUT and neighboring RHODE ISLAND between Citadel and local station owner John Fuller, and now it's exploded into a petition from Fuller's Red Wolf Broadcasting against the renewal of all of Citadel's stations in the New London and Providence markets.
  • Fuller says Citadel honcho Farid Suleiman threatened to "crush (him) like a bug" several years ago when he refused to sell his WBMW (106.5 Ledyard CT) to Citadel, and that the company tried to exact revenge by filing a petition to deny against Fuller's application for a new translator on 99.5 in New London. While the petition contained letters purporting to be from listeners to Citadel's WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale RI), more than 30 miles away from New London, Fuller's petition claims that the "listeners" were in fact business associates of local Citadel managers (and in one case, the mother-in-law of a Citadel PD), and that none of them were actual WSKO-FM listeners. (Fuller says Citadel engaged in similar tactics to stop a translator in Fulton, N.Y. from getting on the air.) Fuller also claims Citadel didn't construct a proper fence around the new tower site of WSUB (980 Groton), across the street from an elementary school, and that it failed to maintain the obstruction lighting on the tower of WXLM (102.3 Stonington).

March 11, 2002 -

  • We'll start in MASSACHUSETTS, where the Pax TV folks have come up with what may be an ingenious solution to some vexing DTV issues. WBPX (Channel 68) in Boston is one of several dozen stations around the country that will have to vacate its UHF channel in the next few years, as the FCC prepares to auction off the UHF spectrum above channel 51, in the "non-core" portion of the dial. While the auction will bring in some needed revenue for Pax (which owns many of the stations above channel 51 that will be displaced), it had the potential to leave the fledgling network without an outlet in Boston. Enter WBPX's digital allotment on channel 32. While Pax has yet to build WBPX-DT, it's asking the FCC to allow an unusual substitution: the move of WBPX's analog facilities from channel 68 to 32, to be replaced by a digital signal sometime after 2007. (2007 note - the change was never granted.)
  • Just one bit of RHODE ISLAND news, and it's just like our Massachusetts lead story: Pax wants to move WPXQ (Channel 69) Block Island to its digital allocation on channel 17. The move would keep WPXQ at its current transmitter site near East Greenwich, roughly in the center of the state; this one would be 4 megawatts, directional, from 220 meters AAT. The FCC must approve some overlap between WPXQ on channel 17 and Schenectady's WMHT-TV, also on 17, to make this one happen.
  • One big anniversary in NEW HAMPSHIRE: WFEA (1370 Manchester) turned 70 on March 1, still using the same Blaw-Knox diamond tower (one of just four originals remaining in the U.S.) it has had since its sign-on in 1932. Congratulations, and here's to 70 more!
  • In PENNSYLVANIA, there's a new signal in downtown Pittsburgh, as Keymarket completes its move of WOGI (98.3) from Charleroi to Duquesne, landing the "Froggy" country station on the same North Side tower as competitor WDSY (107.9 Pittsburgh). Matt Allbritton, formerly of yet another Froggy (WOGY Memphis), arrives as PD as the station splits from its simulcast of WOGG (94.9 Oliver).

March 5, 1997-

  • Boston's "Praise 1260" made its formal debut Monday morning (March 3) at 6 AM. Salem's WPZE was expected to run a contemporary Christian music format, but is instead running a different group of preachers from those who lease time on Salem's WEZE ("Family 590," and the former occupant of the 1260 slot.) Speaking of leased-time AM in Boston, rumor has it the top contender for Greater Media's WNFT (1150), former home of the defunct KidStar network, is competing kids' web Radio Disney.
  • Also making its official debut on the Boston radio dial this past weekend was Radio Free Allston, the unlicensed operation on 106.1 in Boston's Allston neighborhood. Helped along by some very nice publicity in the Boston Phoenix (including some pithy quotes from Boston Radio Archives co-creator Garrett Wollman), RFA celebrated its start-up with an all-day broadcast from Herrell's Renaissance Cafe in Allston. NERW was in Boston for the weekend, and had a chance to tune in to some of RFA's offerings. Technically, the station needs some work -- a lot of what they were saying was inaudible, and a locally-produced drama called "The Real World Allston" suffered from some of the worst audio I've ever heard. The RFA folks are clearly trying hard, though, and in an age of increasingly monopolistic bottom-line radio, it is nice to see someone actually trying to serve the community.
  • Some big changes are afoot in upstate New York radio, most notably on the 94.1 spot in Rochester. WAQB Brighton has been running nothing but K-Tel's Instrumental Hits CDs since signing on last year. Now ARS is about to launch WAQB for real...although the station was off the air on Wednesday with technical problems. Expect the new format within a few days; rumor has it they'll go right up against one of the other FMs in town with their as-yet-undisclosed format. AM 990 has taken the next step towards becoming religious WDCZ(AM), with an application to transfer the license from ARS to Donald Crawford's Kimtron. Jacor is getting bigger in Rochester, spending $7 million to pick up Auburn Cablevision's AAA WMAX-FM (106.7 Irondequoit) along with WMAX simulcast WMHX (102.3 Canandaigua) and smooth jazz WRCD (107.3 Honeoye Falls), which are owned by the Kimble family. Jacor is reportedly looking to grab one more FM in town to fill out its portfolio, which is led by WHAM (1180), WHTK (1280), WVOR (100.5), and WNVE (95.1, with a Rochester translator on 95.5). And little WIRQ at Irondequoit High School has been granted a move from 94.3 to 104.7, a move made necessary by WAQB's arrival.

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*It's here! As seen in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Chicago Sun-Times, and soon on WCVB's "Chronicle," Tower Site Calendar 2007 is not only now shipping - it's close to a sellout! If you're waiting for the 2007 edition to go on clearance sale, don't keep waiting - the word from the shipping department is that fewer than 200 copies remain, and we expect to sell them all in the next month or two.

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 2007 by Scott Fybush.