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May 28, 2007

Expensive "Free FM" Experiment Ends


*One of the most controversial radio formats in NEW YORK history is now history itself. After a year and a half punctuated by incidents including the implosion of David Lee Roth's morning show, the return of Opie & Anthony, the cancellation of JV & Elvis, the total lack of a permanent late-evening show and general ratings indifference to the rest of its lineup, "Free FM" breathed its last Thursday morning, as WFNY-FM (92.3 New York) spent the rest of the day stunting with construction noises before relaunching at 5 PM with more or less the same "K-Rock" format the station used in its prior incarnation as WXRK.

Those calls will be coming back from their exile in Cleveland (where the K-Rock outlet on 92.3 will take new calls WKRI), and Opie & Anthony will remain in morning drive, but the rest of the Free FM crew is out. PD John Mainelli returns to his consulting business, while midday host Nick DePaolo and afternoon host Leslie "Radio Chick" Gold are out of work for now, and evening hosts Ron & Fez continue their separate show on XM Satellite Radio.

The end of "Free FM" - complete with an on-air "apology" from GM Tom Chiusano leading into the first song on the reborn "K-Rock," Nirvana's "All Apologies" - shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's been following recent developments at CBS Radio, where Dan Mason is trying to clean up some of the messes created by his predecessors in recent years.

In the case of "Free FM," it's arguable that the initial concept was solid, as CBS tried to keep some of the young male audience that would otherwise have abandoned 92.3 when Howard Stern moved to Sirius in 2006. But a combination of questionable programming decisions (the disastrous Roth show, momentum-killing scheduling choices such as Jim Cramer's money show) and a lack of promotional support helped to doom the station, and the newly-cautious talk radio atmosphere following the Imus debacle pretty much sealed WFNY's fate.

Of course, the return of K-Rock is far from a slam-dunk, despite a massive promotional campaign that was already in high gear just a few hours after the format change. The old K-Rock was a success for one big reason: it had Stern in the morning. Opie & Anthony don't bring anywhere near the audience to 92.3 that Howard did, and their suspension over on XM, of all places, is a reminder that they, like any edgy talkers in this era, are always skating one slip away from oblivion - and then what?

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Speaking of Imus, the latest entrant in the "fill those shoes" competition is Chicago's Mike North, who'll take a break from his morning duties on sports station WSCR (670) to spend a few days on WFAN this week in the old Imus time slot, where it's looking increasingly unlikely that there will be a permanent replacement any time soon.

On the TV side of things, WABC-TV (Channel 7) is recovering from a fire Sunday night that damaged its studio at Columbus Avenue and West 66th Street. The fire apparently began in a lighting fixture in the main news studio, which is also the "Live with Regis and Kelly" studio, and it more or less destroyed the Eyewitness News set.

WABC went to black when the fire began, a few minutes before its 11 PM newscast, returning to the air with a West Coast network feed at 1 AM. It did get a 5 AM newscast on the air this morning, using a single camera in the newsroom, which was not damaged. (And we're pleased to note that nobody was injured in the fire, though the studio ended up with several inches of water in it, and it could be a few months before the melted set can be rebuilt and things can get back to normal.)

Out on Long Island's East End, Lauren Stone gets a promotion at AAA WEHM (92.9 Southampton)/WEHN (96.9 East Hampton). She's been music director and midday jock, and now she becomes PD, replacing the departed Brian Cosgrove.

In Boonville, WBRV (900) has split from its long simulcast with country sister WBRV-FM (101.3). The AM side is now doing oldies.

Here in Rochester, alumni of WOKR (Channel 13, now WHAM-TV), led by Jeff Moulton (who's now at WSEN in Syracuse) are planning a reunion. They're compiling a database of former employees, and if you're one of them, go to to make sure you're listed there.

There's another Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion coming this fall, too - and just like the hugely successful 2005 event, it will take place in October at the Brothers Two restaurant in Endwell. October 20 is this year's date, and once again Ray Ross is coordinating the event. If you're not already on his mailing list, drop him a line at rayross at yahoo dot com and he'll fill you in on all the details.

One more TV story, this one from up in the Adirondacks: public TV WCFE (Channel 57) in Plattsburgh is still working on rebuilding the Lyon Mountain tower that collapsed in April - and as it works on the rebuilding, it's scheduled an hour-long special, "The Fall and Rise of Mountain Lake's Tower." That's right - an hour-long special all about a tower...and it airs Thursday (May 31) from 8-9 PM over WCFE, which is currently being seen on cable and on DTV, via a subchannel of Burlington's WCAX-DT (Channel 53).

MANDATORY SUBSCRIPTION FEES? They've become a fact of life for many of the most popular radio and TV websites out there. Just a few weeks ago, our pal Dave Hughes put part of his excellent site behind a pay wall, and mandatory subscriptions are an established way of life at and, too, just to name a few.

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.

If you still haven't subscribed yet for 2007, do it right now at our Support page - and enjoy another exciting year of NERW, guilt- (and password-) free. And if you have become one of our many subscribers, thank you!

*In CONNECTICUT, the week's big story was the flooding at the soon-to-be-former studios of Hartford's WFSB (Channel 3) that knocked the station off the air Friday afternoon.

The problem was a water main break in the basement of the four-story Constitution Plaza studios, which sent 100,000 gallons of water cascading through the lowest level of the building. That's where the station's remote trucks are parked, where its studios are located - and where its electrical and telephone systems are located, too. The water damage took out power and phone service to the building, and that in turn took WFSB's programming dark.

Network programming was restored, after a while, from the station's Avon transmitter site, but local news was another matter: WFSB moved a skeleton crew down the street to the Connecticut Public TV studios, where they originated short-form inserts that aired on WFSB's broadcast signal (using, we'd assume, CPTV's microwave link to its old transmitter site on WFSB's Avon property) but not on cable.

Also disrupted was programming on WFSB's sister station, WSHM-LP in Springfield. Its downtown Springfield newsroom was unaffected, but its master control is co-located with WFSB in Hartford, and at various times over the weekend its "CBS 3 Springfield" IDs were being seen on WFSB, and vice-versa.

By Sunday night, the damage had been repaired sufficiently to allow WFSB to get back into its Constitution Plaza studios and back on the air - but we're sure the staff there is just counting the days (about six weeks' worth, we're told) until the station's shiny new facilities in Rocky Hill are ready for occupancy.

Meanwhile in Fairfield County, Cox has received FCC permission to change the city of license at WCTZ (96.7 Stamford). It will soon be licensed to Port Chester, New York - and once that's done, we expect to see another filing that will move its transmitter across the state line to a new location somewhere in Westchester County or even the Bronx.

Here's this week's Dennis Jackson update, and it's a good one indeed: the Wilton-based station owner is about to be released from the intensive care unit at the Flagstaff, Arizona hospital where he's recovering from a motorcycle crash, and after some physical therapy to get him ready to fly east, he'll be coming back home to continue his amazing recuperation.

You can keep up with Dennis' progress (and send him notes of support, too) at

*There's a rare opening for a program director in MASSACHUSETTS - in fact, the departure of Paula O'Connor as PD of Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston) marks the first time the FM talker has changed PDs since O'Connor helped to launch it eight years ago. Will former WPHT (1210 Philadelphia) PD Grace Blazer be heading up to New England to replace O'Connor? Stay tuned...

While WRKO's Tom Finneran morning show still needs some ratings help, that help won't be coming from former Don Imus producer Bernie McGuirk. Plans to have him guest-host with Finneran were abruptly cancelled last week when local black activists announced plans to protest at the WRKO studios. Could McGuirk end up on WTKK eventually? Again...stay tuned...

Scott Cohagan is the new GM of Salem's Boston cluster (talk WTTT 1150, religious WEZE 590 and religious/ethnic WROL 950); he comes to town from Pennsylvania, where he'd worked as a GM and sales manager for Forever Broadcasting and Entercom.

A few more details on last week's obituary of "Yankee Kitchen" host Gus Saunders: his real name was Augusto Solimene, and he was 85 when he died on May 14.

And our biggest congratulations to one of our colleagues in the tower-photographing business as he moves up to a new position. Mike Fitzpatrick, longtime proprietor of, is staying with LIN Broadcasting, but he's changing markets - he'll soon be moving from an engineering post at WWLP (Channel 22) in Springfield to sister stations WPRI (Channel 12)/WNAC (Channel 64) in Providence, and we wish him the best of luck on the move! (And we expect to see even more Rhode Island/southeastern Massachusetts towers on NECRAT, too...)

*RHODE ISLAND Public Broadcasting has completed the expansion of its now-statewide network, with the May 16 flip of smooth jazz WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) to WRNI-FM, simulcasting WRNI (1290 Providence).

With the acquisition of the southern Rhode Island FM signal, WRNI no longer needs its Westerly AM, WXNI (1230), and it's apparently now headed to Chris DiPaola, who's moving the talk/soft AC format of his WBLQ-LP (96.7 Ashaway) over to the AM signal, which will pick up the WBLQ calls. The LPFM will reportedly flip to modern rock as "The Buzz" when the transition is complete.

*A MAINE LPFM station is appealing for help to stay on the air. WJZF-LP (97.1 Standish) says that after more than two years on the air, "financial support has been very, very poor." The station says it may have to close down its operations if it doesn't receive more support from its listeners, and it warns "we are almost out of money, and out of time." (You can read more at

*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Jason Place is out of the morning show at WXXK (100.5 Lebanon), and Traci McDuffie is now the solo host of what had been the "Jason and Traci" show. (Not that you'd know it from the station's website, which is still promotiong "Jason and Traci" remotes from March...)

*In VERMONT, Amber Miller joins WEQX (102.7 Manchester) as music director and morning co-host. Miller will continue her show-prep service; she's been working at WDCG (105.1) in Durham, North Carolina.

*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, things got a little less "EZ" at Entercom's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton cluster last week. On Thursday, the plug was pulled on soft AC "EZ 103," WFEZ (103.1 Avoca), and on Friday morning it was replaced with the latest link in the "WILK News-Talk Network," joining sister stations WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre), WBZU (910 Scranton) and WKZN (1300 West Hazleton) in that simulcast.

WFEZ will change calls to WILK-FM - and if that sounds slightly familiar, it should. Back in the fall of 1998, sister station WWSH (102.3 Pittston, now WDMT) briefly changed calls to WILK-FM, while 103.1, then licensed to Freeland, changed calls from WWFH to WILP-FM.

As best we can recall, the stations never actually joined the WILK simulcast back then, but clearly the idea's been percolating for a while there.

Just in from Philadelphia as we go to press: antenna crews have been hard at work the last few days installing the new directional antenna for WJJZ (97.5 Burlington NJ), in preparation for the Greater Media station to complete its move-in from Trenton to Philadelphia. The Wyndmoor tower where the new WJJZ antenna is located is also home to WISX (106.1 Philadelphia), which of course was itself smooth jazz WJJZ until just a year or so ago.

(Big thanks to Wyndmoor resident and NERW reader Steve Logan for noticing the antenna work and sending us some pictures!)

There are new calls on Clear Channel's "Radio 104.5" in Philadelphia: the former WUBA becomes WRFF, while the new home of "Rumba" on 1480 flips calls from WDAS to WUBA. (The WDAS calls live on, of course, in their incarnation on WDAS-FM 105.3.)

It's customary, when a radio station parts ways with an on-air personality, for both sides to mumble at least a few pleasantries about each other - "we wish him well," or what have you. Not so in Bethlehem, though, where WGPA (1100) and former morning host Ron Angle have nothing but venom to offer up. "I'll miss him like a hole in the head," said station owner Joe Timmer to the Allentown Morning Call after the Northampton County Councilman ended his three-year run on "Sunny 1100." As for Angle, he said Timmer was jealous of his audience - "His listeners are very, very minimal," he told the Morning Call. Angle says he's already received a job offer from another Lehigh Valley station.

In Gettysburg, Scott Donato joins the morning show at WGTY (107.7). Donato, who's also PD/MD at the country station, had been doing evenings there; he replaces Brad Austin in mornings, now that Austin's at WWQM in Madison, Wisconsin.

*A few quick bits of news from CANADA: after defeating the Sabres to get to the Stanley Cup finals (no, we don't want to talk about it, thank you), the Ottawa Senators have picked up an FM outlet for the finals. In addition to flagship CFGO (1200 Ottawa), the Sens are now also being heard on "Bob FM" (CKKL 93.9 Ottawa), and we here in western New York are waiting, once again, for next year.

In Trenton (er, Quinte West), Ontario, there's a new format at CJTN (107.1); it's shed its soft AC "Lite 107" in favor of classic rock as "Rock 107," with a new website at

And speaking of southern Ontario stations at 107.1, Toronto's "Q107" (CILQ 107.1) celebrated its 30th anniversary in style last week, with a big concert Thursday night featuring afternoon jock Kim Mitchell, his former band Max Webster and a host of Canadian music luminaries.

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!)

May 29, 2006 -

  • CBS Radio's desire to sell some of its stations in smaller and slower-growing markets was one of the worst-kept secrets in the broadcasting world. Now it's official, and to nobody's surprise, the company's upstate NEW YORK holdings are among the ten markets on the list. In Buffalo, the CBS Radio cluster of four FMs and one AM includes two of the Queen City's most listened-to stations, country WYRK (106.5) and urban WBLK (93.7 Depew), along with AC WJYE (96.1), adult hits "Jack FM" WBUF (92.9) and classic country WECK (1230 Cheektowaga). In Rochester, CBS has four FMs: AC "Warm" WRMM (101.3), classic rock WCMF (96.5), top 40 "98PXY" WPXY (97.9) and modern rock "Zone" WZNE (94.1 Brighton).
  • Both clusters came intact to the CBS Radio family in 1998, part of a $2.6 billion CBS purchase of American Radio Systems that also included stations in Boston (WBMX, with the rest of the ARS cluster eventually being spun off to Entercom) and Hartford (WTIC, WTIC-FM, WRCH and WZMX).
  • Another station swap is underway in upstate New York as well, this one in the Hudson Valley south of Albany. We told you last week that Pamal is trading its WRNX (100.9 Amherst MA) to Clear Channel, and now we know what Pamal gets in return - five stations, including WBPM (92.9 Saugerties) and WGHQ (920 Kingston) in the Hudson Valley, WZRT (97.1) and WSYB (1380) in Rutland, VERMONT and one AM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Clear Channel acquired WGHQ as part of its 2000 purchase of Roberts Radio, and added 92.9 (then WRKW) about the same time when it picked up the Straus stations in the Hudson Valley. WZRT and WSYB came into the fold later that year, as part of the $5.5 million purchase of Excalibur.
  • For Pamal, the station swap gets it out of a tough competitive situation in Springfield, where WRNX competed as a single station against several larger rivals. In Rutland, Pamal will now dominate the market, adding top 40 "Kiss" WZRT and news-talk WSYB to its existing package of country WJEN (94.5), AC WJJR (98.1) and AAA WEBK (105.3 Killington). (It's not clear what becomes of WWWT 1320 in nearby Randolph, which has been simulcasting WSYB for the last few years.)
  • Elsewhere in the state, Clear Channel's WVOR (100.5 Rochester) quietly parted ways with morning host Chuck Kelley, then noisily issued a press release offering the morning gig to "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee. (The local paper, of course, obligingly reprinted the press release and never noticed Kelley's absence.)
  • In MAINE, they're mourning one of the state's radio news legends. Dick Johnson began his career at WLOB in Portland in 1959, then moved to WPOR before joining WGAN (560), where he remained for an amazing 40-year run in the newsroom, where he covered pretty much every important event in Maine until he was sidelined in January by a heart attack. Johnson never fully recovered, and he died May 24 at the age of 69. Johnson had been inducted into the Maine Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2003. He's survived by three sons and several grandchildren.

May 27, 2002 -

  • LPFM is on the way to VERMONT, but don't expect much in the way of local programming in the Green Mountain State, at least judging by the initial list of uncontested applications released this week by the FCC. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, or "VTrans," has 19 of the 23 LP-100 applications that the FCC proposes to grant if no petitions to deny are received by June 24. The other four? Rootswork, Inc., for 95.1 Warren; Voice in the Kingdom Radio for 96.1 Newport; Spavin Cure Historical Group for 98.1 Enosburg and Resurrection Ranch for 99.7 Rutland. The deadline for petitions to deny to be filed is June 24.
  • Up in MAINE, Calvary Chapel was granted a frequency change for its Southwest Harbor translator. W218BD (91.5) moves to W217BK (91.3), wiping out reception of CBC Radio One (from CBD 91.3 Saint John NB) for folks on Mount Desert Island and vicinity, in favor of KAWZ from Twin Falls, Idaho.
  • Down in Portland, we hear WLLB-LP has made the move down the dial from channel 45 to channel 15, where it's now testing with color bars.
  • RHODE ISLAND's WOON (1240 Woonsocket) wants to make its new transmitter site official. The station has been running on special temporary authority since last fall, when city officials forced it off its longtime tower site on city property. WOON ended up diplexed with the city's other AM station, WNRI (1380), at the WNRI studio/tower site on Diamond Hill Road, a stone's throw from the Massachusetts border. But the STA included a power cut from 1000 watts to 650 watts during the day (WOON remained at a full kilowatt after dark), and now WOON is applying to the FCC to return to full power day and night from the WNRI site.
  • WZRA (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) has officially changed calls to WSKO-FM to reflect its new simulcast with Citadel sports sister WSKO (790 Providence). Actually, we should say "mostly simulcast," since the FM side breaks away from noon until 2 PM daily for two hours of Bill O'Reilly (returning for the third hour of Jim Rome). WSKO-FM also carries the Yankees instead of the AM side's Pawtucket Red Sox.

May 29, 1997-

  • We'll begin this week's survey of Northeast radio and TV news up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where the curtain has closed on "The Stage at 102.1." As Fuller-Jeffrey prepares to buy WSTG Hampton NH, it's turned off the AC format, replacing it with an automated countdown (coincidentally, the same way the Stage made its debut 18 months ago). "D-Day" is next Tuesday at 4PM, when Fuller-Jeffrey will debut WSTG's new format, which (rumor has it) will be a simulcast of F-J's AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington - Portland). That would put WSTG in direct competition with AC WBYY (98.7 Somersworth). We'll see in a few days...
  • Over in Worcester, say goodbye to morning host John Taylor of WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg-Worcester). He's departed the AC station for the sunny skies of Florida after many years in Worcester. Harry Jacobs, the former WXLO midday host who now runs the ARS stations in Rochester NY, filled in one day, while WXLO ops manager Jim McKenna will handle most of the fill-in duties until a replacement for Taylor is hired. By the way, an apology to Upton Bell -- he's still the midday talk host on Worcester's WTAG (580); no "former" about it!
  • And out in the Springfield area, one translator is gone and another has taken the airwaves. W221AP, the Westfield-licensed translator that was supposed to relay WIHS (104.9 Middletown CT), was ordered off the air after the FCC discovered it was operating with 40 watts from high atop Mount Tom in Holyoke, rather than with 1 watt from down in Westfield as licensed. W221AP was relaying Brian Dodge's "Love Radio" network from WGLV (104.3 Hartford VT), and is just the latest in a long string of cases in which Dodge has been caught breaking the FCC's rules. Meantime, W246AM is on the air on 97.1 in Amherst MA, relaying the country sounds of WPVQ (93.9 Turners Falls). And congratulations to Sid Whitaker of WHYN (560 Springfield), who's been named news director at the Clear Channel-owned news-talker.
  • Checking the news from MAINE, we start with another 560, WGAN in Portland, where morning talk host Pat Lamarche has resigned after not quite a year with the station. Lamarche was arrested on May 16 for driving under the influence of alcohol, and refuesed to take a breathalyzer test. She submitted her resignation a day before the story went public in the Portland newspapers, then devoted her last two shows to the subject before leaving the station last Friday. No word on where she's headed next.
  • In VERMONT news, we now know more about the sale of Stowe's WVMX (101.7). It is indeed going to Radio Vermont's Ken Squier, Bill Riley, and Eric Michaels. Squier and Riley built the station back in its WRFB days. Their old business partner Brian Harwood will return to 101.7 to do mornings on the soon-to-be classical music station.
  • And finally, some quick news from around NEW YORK: WZOS (96.7 Oswego) has been sold to Craig Fox, owner of several other Central New York stations, including WVOA (105.1 DeRuyter-Syracuse). WZOS has until August to return to the air. Fox outbid two other bidders, paying $65,000 for the license. Up in Watertown, there's hit radio on the dial once again. WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) is going by "The Border," replaing longtime CHR outlet WTNY-FM ("T93"), which left the air earlier this year in a multi-station call and format swap. In Albany, the Northeast League Diamond Dogs have found a radio home on WQBK (1300). The Rensselaer-licensed talker will carry weeknight games live and weekend games on tape delay. Corning's WCLI (1450) has moved its transmitter and is now on the air from its studio site on Davis Road, along with sister station WCBA (1350).

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*If you're waiting for Tower Site Calendar 2007 to go on clearance sale, don't keep waiting - the word from the shipping department is that only about 10 copies remain, and we expect to sell them all in the next week or so. And when they're all gone, that's it!

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.