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August 13, 2007

After 56 Years, A Sale at WCAP


*Is there any other commercial station in MASSACHUSETTS that's been in the same hands as long as WCAP (980 Lowell)?

The station signed on June 10, 1951, owned by Maurice Cohen and his two brothers, and while the brothers have since passed on, the station has remained under Cohen's control for all this time.

That's about to change, as Cohen announced this morning on WCAP's morning show. He's selling the station to a group of local investors led by Chelmsford real-estate agency owner Sam Poulten, local developer Brian McMahon and Andover radio consultant Clark Smidt, under the "Merrimack Valley Radio, LLC" banner.

"It's been almost a two-year courtship," Smidt told NERW, describing his long negotiations with Cohen for the purchase of the station.

Smidt says he's known Cohen since the early seventies, but it was only in recent years that he began exploring a purchase of WCAP.

"A good friend gave me the idea that rather than looking for stations in northern New England, this makes sense because it's right next door to me," Smidt said.

The purchase, valued at $2,660,000, was financed locally by Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank, Smidt told NERW in a weekend interview.

"The chairman of the board of the Lowell Five knew Mr. Cohen, knows the situation, believes in Lowell, and said if the fourth largest city in Massachusetts can't support a good am station, he'd be surprised," Smidt said.

The veteran consultant, whose Boston radio career included the creation of new formats at WBZ-FM (106.7, now WMJX) and WEEI-FM (103.3, now WODS) will be serving as WCAP's general manager once the deal closes. He promises that Cohen, who's nearing age 90, will continue to have an open door at the station. And he says he expects to keep WCAP's talk format, adding more local content and boosting the station's local sales efforts, which have flagged in recent years.

NERW's take: We can't even pretend to be unbiased about this sale. WCAP, as we've said often, was your editor's first paying stop in the radio business almost two decades ago, and the station has always held a special place as a result.

Even back in the early nineties, it was no secret that the Cohen brothers regularly received offers to buy the station, and that those offers were routinely considered and dismissed. After the passing of Ike Cohen a few years back, and as Maurice passed the 80 mark, it appeared that the offers (which kept on coming) were beginning to be taken a little more seriously.

Knowing as we do the fate of so many AM signals these days (consider our erstwhile competition at WCAP, WLLH, which today functions mainly as a booster signal for a Boston AM rimshot that itself is struggling to stay afloat - or consider WESX and WJDA out by the shore, now doing "doller a hollar" foreign-language religion), we're not surprised that Maurice held out for a buyer who'd commit to maintaining the legacy he and his brothers built at WCAP over 56 years.

In Smidt, who's also a longtime friend to this column and its editor, WCAP's future appears secure. He brings to the station both a solid grounding in the business end of radio and decades of programming experience, and we look forward to watching the station begin to emerge from the sort of suspended animation in which it's been hovering through the last few years of sale rumors. (It's a credit to the current staff of WCAP that they've been able to keep producing good local radio amidst the uncertainty.)

At the same time, there are plenty of challenges for a station like WCAP in the early 21st century, with all the other news and entertainment choices vying for its potential listeners' attention.

Can a standalone AM still make it with a hyper-local approach? We'll be watching closely - along with all the many other alumni of WCAP who still care deeply about the station.

(And to answer the question we posed at the start of this issue: beyond the Massachusetts borders, there is at least one station in the region that can boast a longer continuous ownership, if one allows for transfers within the same family. Ken Squier's father put WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont on the air in 1931, and the station remains under family control almost 80 years later.)

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!

*It's been in the works for a while, but now the demise of another Bay State AM station has become reality. WPEP (1570 Taunton) disappeared from the airwaves last week, clearing the way for former sister station WNSH (1570 Beverly) to make a big jump in power.

The latest version of the WNSH upgrade, for which a construction permit was granted in June, calls for 30 kW days, non-directional, from the present transmitter site on the Endicott College campus. WNSH's present 85-watt night signal will be unaffected.

The elimination of WPEP will allow WNSH to drop the three-tower daytime directional pattern that must now null co-channel WPEP to the southwest (and even then, limits WNSH to 500 watts); it also removes a source of local programming for the Taunton area, which gets most of its "local" programming from Providence and Boston stations these days.

Some of WPEP's programming is migrating down the dial to Steve Callahan's WVBF (1530 Middleborough), which is now mainly a relay of the Talking Information Center's radio reading service.

Unlike WPEP, which ran 1 kW days and 230 watts at night, WVBF drops down to a barely-usable two watts after dark, so local service at night to Taunton remains a lost cause.

In Worcester, Hank Stolz now holds the title of program director at WCRN (830), while continuing to host the 9-noon talk block.

Out in the Berkshires, Joanne Billow hung up her headphones Friday after more than 28 years of morning radio, most of it at the former WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) and more recently at WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams)/WUPE (1110 Pittsfield). Billow is heading into the world of PR, joining the marketing team at Greylock Federal Credit Union. There's no permanent replacement yet, but operations manager Mike Patrick will be handling the shift for now.

One more developing story as we hit the web this Monday morning: over at Entercom, already locked in a nasty contract dispute with WRKO (680) star talker Howie Carr, there's another contract fight brewing with WEEI (850) morning team John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. They say they've been locked out of the studio this morning as their contract nears expiration; they've made loud noises about looking elsewhere (possibly WBCN?) for a new deal, and we'll be watching to see how this one plays out. (Callahan was to have made his return today from a lengthy absence for throat surgery, while Dennis was on vacation last week; station spokesman George Regan tells the Herald the talkers are being given extra time to "reflect"; and the whole thing is playing out with another clock ticking - the station's big Jimmy Fund Radiothon starts later this week.)

*In NEW YORK, we're still waiting for the official confirmation of the new morning team on WFAN (660) - but it sounds like it's pretty much a done deal that former football star Boomer Esiason and WKXW (101.5 Trenton NJ) afternoon host Craig Carton will be the permanent replacement for Don Imus on the radio side. We don't expect Esiason and Carton to be simulcast on MSNBC - that slot will likely stay with Joe Scarborough, who's been filling in on an interim basis - but we wouldn't be at all surprised to see YES Network end up carrying the show, just as it does the Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon show.

Over at WWRL (1600 New York), Richard Bey's now back on the dial. The former WABC host is being heard from 8-10 PM weekdays on the mostly-Air America talker.

They're searching for new programming at the NERW-land stations that have been carrying Greenstone Media's female-oriented talk programming, now that the new network has announced it's shutting down at week's end.

In the Albany market, that will affect WEEV (1300 Rensselaer), which picked up the Greenstone programming as "Eve 1300" late last year, while in Plattsburgh (serving the Burlington, Vermont market across the lake), "Eve 1070" WTWK will be searching for new programming. We'll keep you posted...

The newest directional array in New York state is now in place. WHIC (1460 Rochester) finished building the three short towers at its new site in Henrietta last week, and it won't be long now, we expect, before Holy Family Communications gets the new site on the air.

The Catholic station is presently running at low power (4500 watts days, 750 watts night, ND) from the site of WROC (950 Rochester) after losing its longtime site in Brighton a year ago.

There's tower news from just west of Binghamton, too, where Dave Radigan's WEBO (1330 Owego) signed on from its new site last week.

WEBO not only built a new 190-foot tower, it moved its old transmitter building from its temporary site a mile or so away last Monday, which was a nice little way of generating publicity that included local TV coverage.

(We were especially amused by the Binghamton TV reporter's standup that referred to "this giant tower behind me" - but hey, they got the calls and frequency right, and that's all that matters.)

And while we're in the Binghamton market, we note the passing of Merv Griffin, who died Sunday at 82. While he was best known to the world as a talk show host and game show creator, Griffin was also a major presence in radio ownership in the region, beginning in the late sixties with his purchase of WENE (1430) and sign-on of WENE-FM (105.7) in Endicott. (The FM would, of course, take its current calls - WMRV - from the owner's name; those calls were used briefly on the AM in the early nineties as well.)

In 1986, Griffin added Albany's WTRY (980 Troy) and WPYX (106.5 Albany) to his group; those stations would later be part of a $50 million sale to Liberty Broadcasting in 1994, which marked Griffin's exit from radio ownership.

Griffin was also a CONNECTICUT, NEW JERSEY, PENNSYLVANIA and RHODE ISLAND owner, first at WWCO (1240) in Waterbury in 1966. The next year, he put WWCO-FM (104.1) on the air. Later, he sold the Waterbury AM, purchasing WPOP (1410 Hartford), and changing the FM station's calls to WIOF, moving it into the Hartford market.

In Wilkes-Barre, Griffin owned WBAX (1240) through much of that station's heyday in the seventies.

Along the Jersey shore, Griffin owned WMID (1340 Atlantic City) for many years, adding WGRF (99.3 Pleasantville), also named for him, in 1986.

Toward the end of his radio days, in 1989, Griffin also bought WHJJ (920) and WHJY (94.1) in Providence, along with two stations in Louisville. (Most of the former Griffin properties eventually made their way to Robert Sillerman's SFX group, and then eventually to Clear Channel; the Binghamton and Atlantic City stations ended up first with Griffin's wife in a mid-seventies divorce settlement.)

We note also the passing of G. Robert Weigand, a western New York journalist who founded WSPQ (1330 Springville) in 1986 and served as the station manager there for several years afterward. Weigand also helped to put WZKZ (101.9 Alfred) on the air a few years ago, serving as news director until his retirement last year. He was also the Allegany County correspondent for the Buffalo News. Weigand died Friday at 61.

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*"After 50 years in broadcasting...I'm retiring, effective in about 30 seconds."

That was the way Steve Delaney signed off from VERMONT Public Radio on Friday, as he handed off his "Midday Report" noon anchoring duties to the new daily "Vermont Edition" that will debut today.

Delaney spent much of his career in the field, including more than 20 years as an NBC News correspondent. He later worked for Monitor Radio before joining VPR in 1997. Delaney will continue to contribute to VPR newscasts; Mitch Wertlieb will be the new noon news anchor, leading into Jane Lindholm as "Vermont Edition" host.

(And in good public radio fashion, we're told that Delaney's last broadcast was followed by a surprise cupcakes-and-pie retirement celebration at the network's Colchester studios.)

*One of the MAINE FMs being spun off by Citadel has found a buyer. WCLZ (98.9 Brunswick) will join Saga's Portland cluster, which was already near the market cap with four AMs (WGAN, WZAN, WBAE/WVAE) and three FMs (WMGX, WYNZ and WPOR). No sale price has been announced yet - and there's still no buyer for the other Citadel spinoff, WCYI (93.9 Lewiston).

Over in the Bangor market, Joe Polek joins WHCF (88.5 Bangor) as PD. The veteran of Freeport's WMSJ (89.3) will also do mornings and handle music director duties at the religious station.

*Radio People on the Move in NEW JERSEY: The spinning chair that is morning drive at WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick) is twirling again, with Steve O'Brien out and Chris McCoy in. McCoy's resume includes stints at Philadelphia's WBEB and WMGK. Meanwhile in Atlantic City, Chris Coleman is departing the afternoon shift at "Cat Country" WPUR (107.3) after a long run there.

W264BT (100.7 Edison) popped up on the air last week. It's simulcasting WDDM (89.3 Hazlet)'s South Asian "Dhoom FM" format, which is back on the air at 89.3, incidentally.

*Four Rivers Community Broadcasting (the "Word FM" folks) want to improve the signal of Scranton-market WBYH (89.1 Hawley). Currently a 200-watt/525' class A signal transmitting from a site near Hawley, far to the east of Scranton, WBYH applied last week to jump to 4.7 kW/577' DA as a class B1, moving to a site in Gouldsboro in the hills just east of Scranton.

Also in Scranton, there's a new translator on the air for WGMF (107.7 Tunkhannock). This one's W283BE (104.5 Clarks Summit), shooting 96 watts from a hilltop overlooking the Pennsylvania Turnpike spur north of Scranton.

*Up in CANADA, there's a new station on the air in eastern Ontario.

CHLK (88.1 Perth) signed on Friday as "88.1 the Lake," serving an area that includes Smiths Falls and Lanark, reports Milkman UnLimited. Norm Wright and Brian Perkin are the owners, with Wright handling morning drive and Perkin on the air in the afternoon. Michael O'Brien, late of Ottawa's CFRA, is the news director.

Way over at the other end of the province, CKPR (580 Thunder Bay) turned off its AM transmitter for the last time last week, completing its move to 91.5 on the FM dial. If you're playing the home game, you'll note that this means there are now no full-power AM signals anywhere in Ontario west of Sudbury.

In Sarnia, Points Eagle Radio has been granted a license for a 6 kW directional signal on 103.3. It will relay CKTI (107.7 Kettle Point ON), serving the aboriginal community in the area.

Out on Prince Edward Island, the CRTC has granted the CBC's application for a new 940-watt directional signal on 92.7 at Elmira. It'll relay CBCT (96.1 Charlottetown), bringing CBC Radio One service to the eastern end of the island that will be losing the service it's long enjoyed from CBA (1070 Moncton NB) when that station moves to FM soon.

From the NERW Archives

(Yup, we've been doing this a long time now, and so we're digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five and ten years ago this week, or thereabouts - the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as "New England Radio Watch," and didn't go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

August 14, 2006 -

  • Smooth jazz fans in southeast PENNSYLVANIA are without a radio station this week, and plenty of other listeners in and around Philadelphia may soon be punching buttons, listening for other changes on the city's dial. The big, immediate news was the long-rumored end to smooth jazz at Clear Channel's WJJZ (106.1 Philadelphia), which ended that format last Thursday (August 10) at noon, signing off with a montage of its artists and with Hall and Oates' "She's Gone" before relaunching with rhythmic AC as "Philly's 106.1," the new home (effective this morning) of the syndicated Whoopi Goldberg morning show.
  • At the same time, the soft AC "Sunny" format on sister station WSNI (104.5 Philadelphia) came to its own end, signing off with Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" - and launching into a slightly-delayed simulcast of WJJZ.
  • The other big Philadelphia news last week was the death, on his 81st birthday, of Mike Douglas, who moved from his first career as a big-band singer to new fame as a TV talk-show host in the sixties. Douglas' first show was on Westinghouse's KYW-TV in Cleveland - but when Westinghouse reversed its 1956 station swap with NBC in 1965, the KYW-TV calls and most of its staff moved from Cleveland to channel 3 in Philadelphia. The Mike Douglas Show became one of the era's most successful syndicated offerings, and it continued to emanate from Philadelphia until 1978, when Douglas moved the show to Los Angeles.
  • The next piece of the WCRB saga came together late last week, when Charles River Broadcasting confirmed that it's selling its RHODE ISLAND stations - classical WCRI (95.9 Block Island) and CNN Headline News WCNX (1180 Hope Valley) - to Christopher Jones, son of WCRB founder Ted Jones. No format changes are expected at either station, and here's the interesting part: in the press release, Jones said he hoped to also acquire Charles River's remaning MASSACHUSETTS stations, Cape Cod's classical WFCC (107.5 Chatham) and rock WKPE (104.7 Orleans), as well as the World Classical Network service that's being run out of WCRB.
  • There's plenty of AM-to-FM action in southern ONTARIO this week - and a rare AM-to-AM move, too. In Oshawa, Durham Radio's CKDO (1350) pulled the plug on that AM frequency just after the 10 AM news on Sunday, returning to the air later that night on its new frequency of 1580, where it boosts power from 10 kW days/5 kW nights to 10 kW fulltime. CKDO is also heard on an FM relay at 107.7 in Oshawa, and that's where most of the listeners are these days, we suspect.
  • To the east, CHUC (1450 Cobourg) signed on its new FM facility at 1 PM last Friday. The new CHUC-FM (107.9) is known on-air as "107.9 the Breeze" (no connection, we're pretty sure, to the ill-fated fast ferry that briefly connected Toronto to Rochester), and after a 90-day simulcast period, the AM signal on 1450 will go dark for good. There's a connection here to the CKDO move - CHUC was granted a move from 1450 to 1580 a few years ago, but then abandoned that plan in favor of the move to FM, opening the 1580 frequency for use in Oshawa.

August 19, 2002 -

  • The steady decline of standards formats - and the growth of all-sports radio - is about to claim another convert in central PENNSYLVANIA. NERW has learned that Clear Channel is readying a format flip that will shift WLAN (1390 Lancaster) from standards to sports as "The Ticket." If the format and the nickname already sound familiar to listeners in the region, it's no surprise: Clear Channel flipped WWKL (1460 Harrisburg) from oldies to standards two years ago as "The Ticket," WTKT, with a programming lineup (heavy on Fox Sports offerings) very similar to what will be heard on WLAN after the flip takes place in the next few weeks. The new "Ticket" won't have a couple of key sports franchises: the Phillies air in Lancaster on Hall's all-sports WLPA (1490), while NASCAR is over on the FM dial at WIOV-FM (105.1 Ephrata).
  • Next stop, NEW YORK, where noncomm WFUV (90.7), still embattled in a fight over its unfinished tower in the Bronx, has won one fight to improve its signal in the Big Apple. The FCC rejected protests from second-adjacent WFMU (91.1 East Orange NJ) and granted WFUV permission to put on-channel booster WFUV-FM2 on the air from the old WRVR (106.7, now WLTW) tower atop the Riverside Church in upper Manhattan. The 600 watt booster will be very directional, aimed south into Manhattan while avoiding the Bronx and upstate areas that already receive a decent WFUV signal.
  • Still more good news for 'FUV fans: after several months of repeats, Pete Fornatale has settled his dispute with the station and returned to his Saturday "Mixed Bag" show. Fornatale's beef with WFUV stemmed from some comments he made over the winter that station management felt were too political; in the meantime, he had been doing some work with WBJB (90.5 Lincroft NJ) down in Monmouth County.
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE's public radio network has a new voice, as of 5 PM last Wednesday. That's when WEVJ (99.5 Jackson) signed on as the latest addition to the statewide web, bringing a stronger NHPR signal to the Mount Washington Valley, where NHPR has been heard only weakly via WEVC (107.1 Gorham) on the other side of the mountain. WEVJ's running 4700 watts from 141 feet above average terrain, at a site just north of North Conway. (WEVJ's debut ends a long struggle to get this frequency on the air; an earlier CP expired a few years back, and it ended up in NHPR's hands as the settlement to a contested application process.)

August 14, 1997-

  • This was a big week in MAINE radio, and that's where we'll start this edition of NERW, with the news that Tim Martz's Martz Media is adding yet another station along the US-Canadian border to its portfolio. Presque Isle's WOZI (101.7) is the new addition to the Martz family, joining "Hot Country 97" WBPW (96.9) and hot AC "Q96.1" WQHR in the Martz stable in Aroostook County. Rumors are already flying about a possible change to WOZI's country format.
  • Northern Maine will be a busy place this weekend, as 50,000 fans are expected to fill the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone for "The Great Went," a weekend-long concert event organized by the band Phish. You won't hear many Phish songs on AC "Channel X" (WCXU 97.7 Caribou and WCXX 102.3 Madawaska), but the station is nonetheless going all-out with remotes and live simulcasts of the concert. What's more, newspaper stories about the "Great Went" have been claiming that Phish has obtained an FCC license to use 88.9 for on-site broadcasts during the event. License or not, it sounds like that will be the frequency to listen to (and, we hope, aircheck) if any NERW readers are headed up that way.
  • In MASSACHUSETTS, we're trying to sort out the FCC's latest pronouncement on little WNSH (1570 Beverly). It seems a CP to go to 500 watts DA-1 from three towers off Summit Street in Peabody has been cancelled (we didn't even realize it was there in the first place!) What's interesting is that WNSH is listed in the FCC database as running 500 watts DA-2 from *two* towers on Clinton Street in Danvers (near the Liberty Tree Mall). This was, of course, the original two-tower WMLO site...but one of the towers has been gone for years, and the other is unfenced and appeared to have damage to the doghouse at the base when last NERW was up that way. The old WMLO studio building was heavily damaged by fire a few years ago and is quite vacant. We've heard rumors of an STA for 125 watts nondirectional, but there's nothing to that effect in the online FCC database that we can find.
  • Meantime, the word "daytimer" was apparently a foreign concept to WCAT (700) out in Orange this week; the Talk America outlet was being heard quite clearly in many parts of the state well after dark.
  • The big news in CONNECTICUT is Hicks, Muse's $1.4 billion acquisition of LIN Television. The purchase gives the investment firm ownership of WTNH (Channel 8) New Haven, as well as WIVB (Channel 4) Buffalo and six other TV stations around the country. Hicks, Muse says it plans no changes at LIN or any of its stations.

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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.