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July 9, 2007

The Oldies Return at WCBS-FM


MONDAY UPDATE II: As if Entercom's WRKO (680 Boston) didn't have enough problems, what with a floundering morning show and an expensive Red Sox contract to pay off - now it's losing its star local talk host. Howie Carr announced today that he's leaving the station after 20 years, the last 13 in afternoon drive, and taking the morning slot at Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston) last occupied by Don Imus. Carr's contract expires in September, and he hopes to start at WTKK in October. Much more in next week's NERW...

MONDAY UPDATE: Now it's official - CBS announced Monday morning that WCBS-FM will return to oldies at 1:01 PM, Thursday, July 12, with a DJ lineup that will include Dan Taylor in mornings, Bob Shannon in middays and "Broadway" Bill Lee in afternoons and a mix of music that draws from the 60s as well as the 70s and 80s. "Jack FM" will survive on 101.1's HD2 channel.

*Thirty-five years after NEW YORK's WCBS-FM (101.1) flipped to oldies, and two years after the station rocked the Big Apple radio world with a flip away from oldies to adult hits "Jack FM," the message boards once again began buzzing last Thursday afternoon with word that the new management at CBS Radio was about to reverse course and restore oldies to 101.1.

Whether or not the news was an intentional leak, it came at a perfectly slow moment in the larger news cycle, and by Friday it had moved beyond the radio message boards and e-mail lists and out to the TV newscasts and the headlines on WINS. By Saturday morning, it was even the front-page story in the Daily News, even though CBS had yet to confirm that the move was happening.

As we head for our Sunday night NERW deadline, there's still been no confirmation from within CBS, but all the signs we're hearing tell us that the rumors are true, and that at some point between today and Thursday, WCBS-FM will indeed return to some version of the oldies format it was using until that dark day in June 2005.

That's good news for New York oldies fans, but perhaps not quite as much good news as some of them were hoping for. Despite the Daily News' claim that the station will be bringing back "real DJs," our sources tell us that at least at first, the new CBS-FM will sound very much like the HD2/webstream version of CBS-FM that's been serving as a stopgap replacement for the original station - no DJs, and a music mix that leans more heavily on the 70s and early 80s than the old CBS-FM did.

None of that should come as any surprise to anyone who's been following the moves at CBS Radio since Dan Mason returned earlier this year to retake the reins from Joel Hollander. In addition to the mercy killing of what remained of "Free FM" in New York, returning "K-Rock" WXRK (92.3) to the airwaves, Mason replaced "Free FM" in San Francisco (KIFR 106.9) with a revived version of KFRC, leaning more toward classic hits than the oldies KFRC once played in its previous incarnation. The new KFRC launched jockless, and only slowly added air talent.

Who might be on the lineup at the new CBS-FM? Pretty much every name that's graced the mike there over the last few decades has been suggested for the revived 101, and many of them would appear to be available. (What's Micky Dolenz doing these days, anyway?) And of course there are plenty of talented jocks who've lost their full-time gigs in recent years to format changes and consolidation - anyone from Carol Miller to Bill Buchner to Pat St. John to Famous Amos would make great additions to the airstaff.

That's all in the realm of speculation for now, though. Even though CBS has been making some solid moves recently (especially the launch of "Fresh FM" on 102.7, which has made serious inroads on longtime market revenue champion WLTW, a station that would face further challenges from a revived WCBS-FM), few of them have involved the kind of personality radio that made the original WCBS-FM so successful for so long. Fresh has eroded WLTW's numbers with an approach that's nearly jockless, and the revived K-Rock has been running mostly jockless as well, though that may change now that there's a PD in place there.

(Indeed, one can argue that Mason has thus far failed to work his magic at the most personality-dependent of the New York stations, the still Imus-less WFAN.)

If there's one thing just about every observer of the New York radio scene agrees on, it's that a revived CBS-FM that's run as a jockless automated station, or even one with very generic personalities, won't recapture the magic of the original. We're hoping for good news on that account, and we'll be following this story very closely in the weeks to come.

Oh, and one more thing - what becomes of "Jack," which was actually showing some nice upticks in ratings and revenue in recent books? We suspect the music - if not the expensively-licensed name and Howard Cogan-voiced drop-ins - is likely to survive as an HD Radio subchannel, if not on 101.1 itself, then on one of its CBS Radio sister stations. (We'd love to see the new CBS-FM follow the lead of other oldies stations and devote its HD2 channel to the 50s and 60s tunes that are increasingly absent from contemporary oldies playlists on the main channel.)

And can we get through an entire story without resorting to the "Hit the Road, Jack" cliche that's turned up all over the place? We almost did...


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*Elsewhere in the Empire State over the long holiday week: In the Albany market, public broadcaster WMHT pulled the plug on one of its two classical music services on Saturday, replacing "cool, comfortable, classical" WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam) with "Exit 97.7," a new AAA format with new calls WEXT.

WMHT says the two-year experiment with WBKK, which had been a commercial classical station before WMHT bought it, found that there was a tremendous amount of listener duplication between 97.7 and the more established WMHT-FM (89.1 Schenectady), producing little in the way of new listeners or members to the station.

The new "Exit 97.7" will feature local jocks Dave Michaels in morning drive and Eileen Roarke in middays, with station manager Chris Wienk handling afternoons.

Programming will also include two daily runs of "World Cafe" from Philadelphia's WXPN and the new age show "Echoes" (which was already being heard at night on WBKK), as well as a local music show called "Area 518" on weekends.

Radio People on the Move: There's a new assistant PD/music director at New York's WQHT (97.1), as Jill Strada moves north to "Hot 97" from WPYO in Orlando, where she was PD. She'll start next week.

We're not sure if this is a brand-new development or not, but we note that the Binghamton TV stations being divested by Clear Channel have cut back on their newscasts. ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) has dropped the first hour of its morning news, which now airs only from 6:30-7 AM. WIVT still offers an hour of news at 5:30, but its 11 PM newscast has been cut back to a five-minute headline update, followed by "Access Hollywood." The 5:30, 6 and 11 PM shows are still simulcast on sister NBC affiliate WBGH-LP (Channel 20), followed at 11 by a "Scrubs" rerun, and now only CBS affiliate WBNG (Channel 12), the longtime market leader, offers a full slate of daily newscasts. (Binghamton's still well ahead of Watertown and Utica, where the former Clear Channel ABC affiliates dropped pretty much all their news in recent years, leaving only one local newsroom in each market.)

Before we leave the Empire State, one quick Independence Day note: we loved the quarter-page ads in our local daily rag for the city of Rochester's fireworks display, and we're glad they noted the existence of a radio soundtrack simulcast for the big show. But we wonder who goofed and listed the simulcast as being on "WBZZ," part of Regent's cluster in Albany, rather than "WBZA," the local Entercom station that was indeed carrying the broadcast? (And what does it say about the relative unimportance of callsigns these days that nobody else probably even noticed?)

BEAT THE PASSWORD RUSH! We've been holding out against the inevitable for many years now, but the time has come. After six years of giving away NorthEast Radio Watch for free, and six more years of asking for voluntary subscriptions from our loyal readers, we can no longer deny reality: if NERW is to continue on as the authoritative source of Northeast radio and TV news that it's become, the burden has to be shared across all our readers, not just those who pay for it voluntarily. So this fall, current issues of NERW and most of the NERW archives from 2003 onward will become password-protected for access by paid subscribers only.

(A few recent issues will remain accessible without a password, and we have no intention of excluding anyone who's truly unable to pay from reading the site. You'll be hearing more about those plans in the months to come.)

If you're already a NERW subscriber, nothing will change for you. Before the transition takes place, you'll receive a password and you'll continue to have full access to the site.

If you're not already a NERW subscriber, now's the time to do something about it. By becoming a charter subscriber now, you'll get the benefit of our current low subscription rates, and you'll have no worries about waiting for a password when the changeover happens this fall. And did we mention that you'll be first in line for the Tower Site Calendar 2008, free to our premium subscribers?

We've tried for many years to hold off this financial reality, but it's become hard to ignore. Not long 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. And even with a subscription model, we've just received word that the respected and venerable FMedia! newsletter has gone on what's likely a permanent hiatus.

We have every intention of keeping NERW going strong as we head for our 15th anniversary in 2009, and for many years thereafter, and we're deeply grateful to the many readers who've already come forward with their support in recent years, as well as to the advertisers who've learned how advertising on NERW can reach one of the best audiences in broadcasting at a very economical rate.

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-free. And if you have become one of our many subscribers, thank you!

*In MAINE, Saga's tweaked the imaging at WYNZ (100.9 Westbrook) - instead of "Oldies" (didn't they get the news from New York?), the station is now "Portland's Big Hits, Y-100.9."

Our pal Chuck Igo and the rest of the airstaff remain intact, and the biggest image on the top of the station's webpage is still the Beatles, so it's really only a name change up there.

"The Humble Farmer" isn't coming back to Maine Public Broadcasting, but Robert Skoglund has found a new radio home elsewhere. After losing his longtime spot on MPBN Radio over accusations that he made political comments on what was supposed to be a humor show, Skoglund is joining low-power WJZP-LP (97.1 Standish), which will air "Humble Farmer" segments five times a week over the air and on its webcast.

*An iconic MASSACHUSETTS broadcasting site is no more. Demolition crews closed off Western Avenue in Allston Saturday morning to take down the pedestrian bridge that had linked the two main buildings of WGBH for decades.

The bridge had to come down in order to get a certificate of occupancy at WGBH's new building on Market Street, as our colleague Garrett Wollman explains over at the Archives @

Our thanks to him for sharing this picture of the demolition - and head over to the Archives site to see many more. (And, you know, we'd have loved to have preserved that WGBH sign if only we'd known that they were just ripping it down with the rest of the bridge...)

Speaking of pictures, Salem's WTTT (1150 Boston) was apparently having some trouble with them as the station launched its new website.

Thanks to regular reader Laurence Glavin for noting the lovely skyline photo on the site, which featured a beautiful waterfront view of - er, Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It didn't take long for Adam Gaffin's excellent Universal Hub to catch wind of the gaffe (and to preserve it for posterity, for which, many thanks) - and we'll give Salem the benefit of the doubt and say that the generic American flag graphic that quickly replaced the Charm City on the WTTT site was going to go up anyway, what with it being the Fourth of July and all.

There's a new morning show coming to WFNX (101.7 Lynn) and its Maine and NEW HAMPSHIRE sister stations in two weeks, as Chris "Charlie" Padgett, Dustin "Fletcher" Matthews and Elbe "Special Ed" d'Oliveira launch "The Sandbox" on the Phoenix Media stations. The three worked together at Richmond's WDYL from 2004-2006, and Padgett has a New England history that includes four years at WFNX (1996-2000) and more recently, working mornings at WNCS in Montpelier, VERMONT. Matthews has been at WFXH in South Carolina, and d'Oliveira comes straight to WFNX from WDYL. PD Keith Dakin says the new "Sandbox" show will feature more synergy with Phoenix Media's other properties, including the Boston Phoenix and Stuff @ Night. The new show replaces the Michael Swasey morning show, which lasted three years at FNX.

New calls on the Cape: WCDJ (102.3 Truro) changes to WGTX - and at last account, the station was still off the air, not on with oldies as "Dunes 102" as we'd erroneously reported a couple of weeks back.

New calls in Vermont, too: mark down WVTI as the new calls for Vermont Public Radio's new signal on 106.9 in Brighton, serving the Island Pond area.

*Boston's channel 2 just moved, and now CONNECTICUT's channel 3 has started to load up the moving vans. WFSB (Channel 3) has finished construction of its new studio complex in Rocky Hill, and station staffers began moving in last week. Newscast production from the new studios won't start for a few more weeks, so the news department remains at the old Broadcast House in downtown Hartford for a little while longer. (Thanks to reader Bill Dillane for snapping the pictures!)

*Heading down to PENNSYLVANIA, Clear Channel's new "Radio 104" in Philadelphia now has a PD, as John Allers arrives this week from CBS Radio, where he was serving as regional operations manager for the company's San Jose and Monterey, California clusters. Allers has been involved in several recent format launches back east, too, including AAA "Globe" WTGB 94.7 in Washington and rocker "The Sound" WSWD in Cincinnati.

Samantha Layne is heading south from Allentown, where she's been part of the airstaff at WODE (99.9 Easton), to Philadelphia, becoming morning co-host at WBEB (101.1) alongside Tiffany Hill and Bill Tafrow. She'll start next month.

Over at Radio One's Philadelphia Cluster, AllAccess reports that Daisy Davis has exited as operations manager, following former GM Chester Schofield out the door.

There are new (old) calls on the AM dial in Reading: WKAP (1340) has returned to the WRAW calls that were on the frequency for what seems like forever.

It's still carrying contemporary Christian music, at least for now, as "Praise 1340."

*In CANADA, the CRTC has finished sorting through the eight applications for new Montreal-area signals that it considered at a public hearing in April, and the result is two grants for new FM stations and none for the various applicants who asked for new AM signals.

Most of the applicants proposed new ethnic stations, and of those applicants, the CRTC chose Canadian Hellenic Cable Radio, Inc. to get what it says is the last remaining open FM frequency in Montreal. That would be 106.3, second-adjacent to Aboriginal Voices Radio's new 106.7 facility, and CHCR will have to satisfy AVR that its 190-watt signal won't interfere with AVR, which means in practice that both stations will have to share a transmitter site.

The CRTC also approved Yves Sauve's application for a French-language oldies station in suburban Vaudreuil-Dorion, but denied him the use of 106.3. He now has 90 days to come up with an alternate frequency that would work for his new signal.

Out on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the CRTC granted two of the four applications it received for new stations at Sydney. Local resident Barry Maxwell Martin gets 26.5 kW on 103.5 for a station that will play rock, jazz and blues, while Newcap will get 57 kW DA on 101.9 for a classic rock station, competing with Maritime Broadcasting Systems' CJCB, CHER-FM and CKPE-FM. Applications from Coast Broadcasting and Evanov Broadcasting were rejected.

Maritime will be getting competition in Kentville, N.S. as well, as the CRTC grants Newcap a new FM on 89.3, with 9.9 kW DA. The new station will program classic rock, in competition with MBS' CKWM and CKEN-FM.

And we'll close this week with one more building story: the iconic CityPulse news truck that's been bursting, in a fake sort of way, from the side of Toronto's ChumCity building at 299 Queen Street West for the last 20 years or so is apparently coming down - or maybe not.

The building is staying with CityTV parent company CHUM Ltd. under its new owner, CTVglobemedia, but CityTV itself, which is being sold to Rogers, will be moving elsewhere soon.

So it's no surprise that CTV wants the truck (and the fake concrete blocks around it) down from the wall of the building as quickly as possible.

But as Torontoist reports (with some help from the National Post), it may not be so easy. Even though Toronto city officials are none too fond of the Hollywood-esque crashing truck, which we'd admit does look a little out of place in staid downtown Toronto, even on not-so-staid Queen Street West, the building has a heritage designation. So the bureaucrats will have to weigh in before the truck can come down, which CTV officials now say could happen any time from later this month through the end of the summer.

(The truck may yet resurface on the new City building over on John Street, a block or so away.)

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!)

July 10, 2006 -

  • One of the dangers of leased-time broadcasting is, quite simply, that the broadcaster doesn't have full control of the station - so when a leased-time station is sold, as happened recently to WRIB (1220) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND - there's always the danger that the new owners will want to change the programming. The ethnic broadcasters who have called WRIB home for decades are steaming this week, though, and given the way their broadcasts were abruptly ended, we don't blame them one bit.
  • The sale itself was no surprise - NERW reported the $1.9 million deal back in our October 17, 2005 issue - but when Seekonk, Massachusetts-based mega-church Faith Christian Center was making its plans to take over operations from longtime WRIB owner Carter Broadcasting, the expectation was that the Spanish, Portuguese, Armenian, Italian and other ethnic broadcasters, as well as the mainly Catholic leased-time religious programmers, would have 30 days' notice to allow them to transition to other signals in the market. Instead, the end came with no warning at all. Last Friday, church attorneys simply pulled the plug on WRIB at 12:30 in the afternoon, giving several broadcasters just a few hours to remove their office equipment from the station's building and threatening them with trespassing charges if they didn't move quickly enough.
  • Whenever WRIB returns to the air, it will be from a new studio, with new calls (as we reported in April, Faith Christian Center has applied for new calls WSTL) and a religious format that will apparently be far less diverse than the old WRIB. (It'll also need a new engineer; contract engineer Craig Healy has ended his long involvement with the station as well.) As for the programmers, some of whom have been with WRIB since the station signed on in 1947, they're now scrambling to find space elsewhere on the Providence dial. With no chance to tell their listeners about the transition, they stand to lose audience in the process. We hear several of them are planning protests at Faith Christian Center - they argue (and it's hard to disagree) that the way they were treated when the station changed hands wasn't very "Christian" at all.
  • Across the border in MASSACHUSETTS, programmer Mario Mazza has exited WCRB (102.5 Waltham) ahead of the changes that will be coming to the classical station (and its associated World Classical Network) whenever its long-pending sale is consummated. Mazza came to WCRB in 1994, fresh from the controversial flip of classical WNCN (104.3 New York) to rock, and while he's been accused of "dumbing down" WCRB's format over his tenure there, it should also be noted that WCRB is - at least for now - still around and still doing fairly well in ratings and revenue, which is more than most of the commercial classical stations that were around in 1994 can say now. Mazza's getting about as far from Boston as it's possible to get in the world of classical radio - he's taking the general manager post at public radio WHIL (91.3) in Mobile, Alabama, a community-operated station licensed to Spring Hill College.

July 8, 2002 -

  • The TV station atop NEW HAMPSHIRE's highest peak is completing its move off Mount Washington. NERW research director Garrett Wollman made the trek up the Rock last week, and in addition to bringing back some gorgeous pictures of a rare clear summertime day on the 6288-foot peak, he reports that WMTW-TV (Channel 8) has reached agreement to sell its facilities on Mount Washington to the state of New Hampshire. WMTW moved its transmitter to Baldwin, Maine a few months ago, leaving the channel 8 building on Washington nearly empty (veteran transmitter engineer/air personality Marty Engstrom delivered his last on-air report from the mountaintop in May before retiring) - and leaving the Mount Washington Observatory and the two FM stations on the mountain (WHOM 94.9 Mount Washington and WPKQ 103.7 North Conway) to figure out how to get power, which had been provided by WMTW under contract. No word yet on the price or timetable for the transfer, but stay tuned to NERW for more in the weeks to come...
  • MASSACHUSETTS radio and TV have been busy mourning the passing of the legendary Ted Williams, of course, which gave us the chance to hear veterans like Johnny Pesky during the weekend's Sox-Tigers series (not to mention the Tigers' Ernie Harwell, still sharp as a tack in his last season doing play-by-play at age 84) - but there was some other news in the Bay State this holiday week:
  • Up in Beverly, WNSH (1570) is trying to end years and years of STA (Special Temporary Authority) operation, stemming from the 1992 fire that destroyed the old 1570 (WMLO/WBVD) site in Danvers. WNSH has been running with 500 watts daytime from a new three-tower array on the Endicott College campus, according to its latest FCC filing, but has been shown on the books as a two-site operation, with night facilities still at the old Danvers location. In reality, WNSH was operating with an STA to transmit non-directionally from the middle tower of the new day array, having concluded that it couldn't win political permission to build the extra towers needed for full night power from Endicott. The latest plan calls for a licensed 125 watts non-directional at night from the Endicott College site, still using that 99-foot middle tower.
  • Out on Long Island, Muriel Horenstein died July 1. She's remembered by many of the Island's radio veterans for her decades running WBAB (1440/102.3) in Babylon and its AM successor, WNYG (1440 Babylon), which she owned with her husband Sol.

July 10, 1997-

  • We'll start this week in VERMONT, where the modern rock wars between WBTZ (99.9 Plattsburgh, "The Buzz," LMA'd to WIZN) and WXPS (96.7 Vergennes, "The Pulse," co-owned with WCPV) have come to an end, with the Buzz as the apparent winner. WXPS is reportedly off the air for now, and will return shortly with a sports-talk format. The Pulse was plagued for most of its yearlong life with a poor signal in Burlington, a problem rectified only recently by a 97.3 translator in the Queen City.
  • Also dark for now is WCVT (101.7 Stowe), but it should be on the air again any second now under the new ownership of Radio Vermont, running a classical music format.
  • Up there in MAINE, Dan Billings wrote to us from his trip Down East, with word that WMCS (1400) Machias remains off the air, while erstwhile sister station WALZ-FM (95.3) is in a triple simulcast with Calais' WQDY (1230/92.7) as "International Radio." Not part of the simulcast is Houlton's WHOU (100.1); it was doing its own thing when Dan tuned in. WHRR (102.9) Dennysville-Calais is on the air, running classic rock as "CD 102.9," reaching a few thousand people, a lot of water, and many cows within reach of its 100 kW signal.
  • Mostly quiet on the CONNECTICUT front, except around 97 MHz. WILI-FM (98.3 Willimantic) has turned on its new translator on 97.5 in Bolton. W248AB is reaching out as far as Greenfield MA, based on early field reports. And over at 97.1, the gospel pirate in Hartford is reportedly operating at night only, with a signal strong enough to stop the scan on car radios downtown.
  • Moving along to NEW YORK, the big news this week is all in the Capital District, and most of it comes from Clear Channel's Albany properties. On the AM side, WQBK (1300 Rensselaer) will switch from talk to sports on Monday. Morning host Scott Lounsberry and midday host John Howe are out of work; PM drive host Howie Green stays with the new "All Sports 1300" as operations manager. Most of the WQBK programming will come from One-on-One Sports. On the FM side, classic rocker WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa) made a big grab this week, stealing veteran morning team Mason and Sheehan from SFX's WPYX (106.5).
  • While the CBC has yet to secure CRTC permission to move CBL to FM, it did get the go-ahead this week to move its Montreal outlets off the AM band. In a news release that was apparently translated from English to French and back again (after possibly making a detour into Swedish), the CRTC announced that CBF (690) will get to move to the 95.1 MHz spot. The release says CBM (940) will also get an FM slot, but fails to give a frequency. CIME (99.5 Ste.-Adele) will apparently change to an undisclosed new frequency to open 99.5 for a new commercial French-language classical station in Montreal. And Quebec's CBV (980) also gets a new berth on FM; again, no frequency given.

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*If you were waiting for Tower Site Calendar 2007 to go on clearance sale - sorry! As of June 1, the shipping department (which would be Mrs. Fybush, with an occasional assist from Ariel) informs us that the 2007 edition is now SOLD OUT.

Many thanks to all of you who've supported the calendar over the past six years, and stay tuned for details on the even better Tower Site Calendar 2008, for which ordering will begin later this summer. (You can be first on the list for the new edition, which will be back from the printer in early August, by subscribing or renewing at the $60 professional level!) And in the meantime, visit the Store for information on remaining back issues of the Tower Site Calendar.

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.