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October 8, 2007

Pittsburgh's B Buzzes Again


*Remember the TV show "Quantum Leap," wherein a scientist named Sam Beckett was sent traveling through time and space, "striving to put right what once went wrong"?

It's increasingly looking as though CBS Radio chief Dan Mason is trying to be the industry's Sam Beckett, returning WCBS-FM and K-Rock to New York, KFRC to San Francisco, WYSP to Philadelphia, and now the legendary B94 to western PENNSYLVANIA.

Just as the buzz (no pun intended) on the message boards was speculating, the Christmas-music stunting at the former "Man Talk" WTZN (93.7 Pittsburgh) came to an abrupt end at 5 o'clock Friday afternoon, when the station launched into a retrospective of its 23 years as WBZZ, returning to its former top-40 format with Justin Timberlake's "Sexyback" as its first song.

(Former B94 PD Clarke Ingram noted - within minutes, no less - that there were a couple of inaccuracies in the B94 retrospective: the station had signed on April 2, 1981, not April 1, and its first song in the new format was actually Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," not "You May Be Right.")

Those technicalities aside, CBS is embarking on a format war with Clear Channel, whose "Kiss" WKST-FM (96.1 Pittsburgh) has owned the top-40 category in the Steel City for the last few years. The move also raises questions about the future of CBS' hot AC entry, "Star 100.7" (WZPT New Kensington) - is a format change for that station in the offing, too?

No airstaff has been announced yet for the revived B94, though we're hearing a lot of rumors that the John, Dave, Bubba and Shelly morning show is likely to make a return. There's also no word about new calls. (The WBZZ calls are tied up in the Albany market these days, and for now the revived B is still legally WTZN.)

*There's a new midday jock on Greater Media's adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7 Philadelphia): Joey Fortman heads for Philly from Chicago, where she was doing mornings at WRZA ("Nine-FM").

A central Pennsylvania traffic reporter died far too young last week. Doug Patton was just 45 when he succumbed to an apparent heart attack last Wednesday (Oct. 3); he was assistant operations director at the Traffax traffic service, where he delivered traffic reports on stations that included WIOV-FM (105.1 Ephrata), WQXA-FM (105.7 York) and WGTY (107.7 Gettysburg).

And just over the state line from the Erie market, we note the format change that's turning top 40 WZOO-FM (102.5 Edgewood OH) into "Magic Oldies" today - and we note both the current owner's connection to the Jamestown, New York market (WZOO, and the rest of the former Clear Channel Ashtabula cluster, is now owned by Tom Embrescia's Sweet Home Ashtabula, which has familal connections to the Media One stations in Jamestown) and the station's history: WZOO was put on the air in 1989 by John Bulmer, who also owned stations in Vermont and Dunkirk, New York, and who's now enjoying retirement in Florida.


Think the arrival of the new phone book is an exciting time of year? (We do, actually, with apologies to Steve Martin, but that's not the point.)

Here's a really exciting spot on the calendar - in fact, it is the calendar. Yes, the 2008 Tower Site Calendar is back from the printer and ready for shipping all over the US and beyond.

This year's edition is a particularly fine one, if we do say so ourselves. From the cover photo of KAST in Astoria, Oregon to the back cover shot of the Blaw-Knox diamond tower at WBNS in Columbus, this year's calendar features 14 all-new full-color shots of famous broadcast sites far and wide. There's KROQ in Los Angeles, KFBK in Sacramento, WESX in Salem, WGAN in Portland, Black Mountain in Vegas, Mount Spokane in Spokane, and many (ok, several) more.

If you've been following our adventures, you know that the 2006 and 2007 editions of the calendar sold out. If you've been following postal rates and the cost of printing, you know they've both gone up.

Even so, we still think this year's edition is a bargain - just $18 with shipping and handling included.

Or better yet, beat our move to mandatory subscriptions (also coming later this fall) and get a free calendar with your $60 subscription to NERW for 2008. (Remember, the proceeds from both the calendar and the subscriptions help keep NERW right here on the web, as we head into our fourteenth year of news and analysis.)

So click right here and you can be one of the first to have your very own Tower Site Calendar 2008! (And thank you!)

*There are some big programming changes today at NEW YORK's WOR (710) - but no, not the rumored return of Don Imus to the city's airwaves. (That sounds like it's going to happen up the dial on WABC, not that we have any inside information beyond what's already been all over the gossip columns.)

Down at 111 Broadway, WOR has pulled the plug on Ellis Henican and Lynne White's 4-6 PM "Hennican and White" talk show, moving former WABC host Steve Malzberg into that time slot from his previous 9-11 PM spot. Bill O'Reilly's newly-renewed syndicated show moves from 2 PM tape delay to a noon live clearance, with Dennis Miller filling the 2-4 PM slot. Michael Savage stays in place from 6-9 PM, with Dr. Joy Browne getting displaced from noon to Malzberg's former 9-11 PM clearance.

The Hennican and White show had been in syndication through the WOR Radio Network, with a handful of affiliates that included Buckley sister station WFBL (1390 Syracuse) and suburban Boston talker WNSH (1570 Beverly); it's still listed on the network website, but we suspect it won't remain there for long.

Getting back to WABC, it was one of the Citadel AM stations that abruptly shut off its nighttime HD Radio signal last week at the direction of corporate management. There's not much we can add to the extensive coverage this story has already received all over the national trade press, except to note that Citadel's not the only big AM operator hearing about interference issues from AM IBOC. We'll have more to report in upcoming issues of NERW about the battle Bob Savage, owner of WYSL (1040 Avon), is waging against what he says is destructive interference within his nighttime interference-free contour coming from CBS Radio's WBZ (1030 Boston)...stay tuned!

On the public radio side of things, WNYC has confirmed the host lineup for the new morning show that it's launching next year, in collaboration with Public Radio International, the BBC, Boston's WGBH and the New York Times. The as-yet-unnamed show will bring John Hockenberry back to public radio after a decade and a half in television, pairing him with former Court TV anchor Adaora Udoji. WNYC isn't yet saying exactly when or where the new show will air; we'd bet that it will displace NPR's "Morning Edition" from the AM 820 side of the current morning simulcast there, but not from FM 93.9.

Out on Long Island, Stu Henry once again has a deal to sell WLIE (540 Islip). After the collapse of a proposed sale to Business Talk Radio, the station has been in an LMA with Principle Broadcasting Network, the Charlie Banta-backed company that runs Spanish-language religion on WDJZ (1530 Bridgeport) across Long Island Sound and on WESX (1230 Salem) and WJDA (1300 Quincy) up in Massachusetts. (The sale is going through despite the recent death of Principle head Otto Miller; Banta tells the trades that he's committed to the ethnic radio business and plans to keep growing Principle.)

A tower move here in NERW's home market: the University of Rochester's WRUR-FM (88.5 Rochester) is now broadcasting from the WXXI tower on Pinnacle Hill, having moved its antenna a week ago from the Hyatt Hotel downtown, where it had been located since 1994. WRUR, which is operated by WXXI in cooperation with the university, is still a class A facility at its new site (3 kW/109 meters, from 3 kW/106 meters at the Hyatt), but it has a pending application to upgrade to class B1, with 18 kW and a directional antenna from Pinnacle.

A few calendar notes from upstate: at the Turning Stone casino between Syracuse and Utica, the annual SBE Chapter 22 Broadcast and Technology Expo will once again take center stage October 16-17, with a full day of educational presentations on the 16th (including a tower-photo slide show from yours truly), followed by more presentations and the ever-growing show floor on the 17th. Register for free at - and we'll see you there! Just a few days later, the far-flung community of broadcasters with Binghamton roots will return home for the biennial Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion. In the unlikely event that you're not already on Ray Ross' mailing list for this ever-growing event, drop him a line at rayross at yahoo dot com and join the fun! (Yes, we'll be there, too, tenuous though our Binghamton radio connections may be...)

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*In southern CONNECTICUT, a fire knocked WLIS (1420 Old Saybrook) off the air Sept. 25, melting the station's Harris SX5 transmitter (which is also apparently where the fire started.) The good news is that the damage was confined to the transmitter room, and programming continues on simulcast signal WMRD (1150 Middletown). WLIS hopes to be back on the air with its own signal later this week. (Want to see more? They've posted a video of the aftermath on YouTube!)

A few bits of happier Nutmeg State news: Jeff Hugabonne checks in from WTIC-FM (96.5 Hartford) to report that the station has installed a new transmitter and is once again cranking out its maximum power. And over at WILI (1400 Willimantic), last Friday was the station's 50th anniversary, celebrated on air with a special edition of Wayne Norman's morning show.

*There's finally a fulltime CW affiliate in VERMONT: Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44) in Burlington has turned on a subchannel on WFFF-DT (Channel 43), providing an over-the-air signal for "CW Burlington," which is also seen on most area cable systems on channel 20, replacing New York's WPIX there. The September 27 launch of the CW subchannel clears the CW programming out of WFFF's 10 PM-midnight timeslot, which makes way for the upcoming launch of a 10 PM newscast on WFFF soon.

*Over at religious WMSJ (89.3 Freeport, MAINE), Kenny Robinson is the new PD/morning host. He's a refugee from Miami, where he was morning man and production director at WMCU, the former contemporary Christian outlet that's being sold to American Public Media to become a classical station.

*Is there enough radio in CANADA's capital city yet? Apparently not, to judge by the 11 applications on deck for a December 3 CRTC hearing to consider the possibility of new signals in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

There are really only two frequencies involved in this pile of applications: 99.7, where tourist information station CIIO now operates as an unprotected low-power service, and either 101.7 or 101.9.

On the 99.7 front, applicants include CIIO itself (to boost power and become a protected service, arguing that it's now the city of Ottawa's official emergency information station); Christian Hit Radio Inc., which wants to add a religious station to its contemporary Christian CHRI on 99.1; Ottawa Media Inc., for a AAA format; and Mark Maheu, for a pop station. (This is also the frequency on which Hamilton's CIWV has applied for an Ottawa relay.)

On 101.7, there's Radio de la communaute francophone d'Ottawa, for a French community station; while on 101.9, there's Reel-Radio, for a French campus station; Fiston Kalambay Mutombo, for a French Christian station; Instant Information Services, for a French-language tourist station to complement CIIO; Corus, for an English-language news-talk station; Astral Media, for a "soft adult" format; and Frank Torres, for an all-blues station.

Would the grant of a 101.7 - or even a 101.9 - wreak havoc with the attempts of WRCD (101.5 Canton NY) to play in the Ottawa market from across the border? And will CJSS (101.9 Cornwall) object to a co-channel signal just up the road in Ottawa? Stay tuned...

Also on the docket at the CRTC's December hearing is yet another AM-to-FM application, this time for one of the biggest AM signals in Quebec.

CHNC (610 New Carlisle) covers a vast expanse of the Gaspe peninsula and adjoining portions of New Brunswick, Labrador and beyond with its 10 kW signal, augmented by simulcaster CHGM (1150 Gaspe), but it hopes to trade that big AM coverage for a network of no fewer than five FM transmitters: 107.1 in New Carlisle, with 6 kW DA/169 m; 99.3 in Gaspe, with 468 watts DA/73 m; and relays on 99.1 in Carleton, 98.3 in Chandler and 107.3 in Perce. The CRTC notes that it has some issues to discuss with CHNC's licensee, Radio CHNC ltee, including "the station's continued non-compliance with the requirements of the Radio Regulations."

Radio du Golfe Inc. will also be appearing at the December hearing for its application to operate a new French hits/talk station on 92.7 in Gaspe and Riviere-au-Renard.

Near the Maine border, Radio-Canada is moving new CBAF-FM-1 (107.5 Bon Accord) to 91.7. The frequency change, approved last week by the CRTC, will clear up a conflict with the FCC, which objected to the March grant of the new Bon Accord signal. The frequency change also comes with a slight power decrease, from the initially-authorized 26.9 kW to 24.4 kW.

On the other side of New Brunswick, Miramichi Fellowship Center has been granted a frequency change for its CJFY (107.5 Blackville), which will move to 107.7 to alleviate interference with CJSE-FM-2 in Baie Sainte-Anne.

And the CBC wants to strengthen its signal in Brockville, Ontario, where it says the existing Radio One service from CBO (91.5 Ottawa) and CBCK (107.5 Kingston) isn't quite strong enough. It's applying to add a new transmitter at Brockville on 106.5, with 3 kW/100 meters.

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!)

October 9, 2006 -

  • The lines between the Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA radio market and adjacent Wilmington, Delaware are already blurred - and now they're about to get even more smudged, as Beasley Broadcasting prepares to pay $42 million to acquire WJBR (99.5 Wilmington) from NextMedia. The AC station transmits from just a few yards south of the state line (atop the tiny little rise of land that is Delaware's highest point), and it already puts a substantial signal over much of the Philadelphia market. But until now, it (along with Wilmington's other big FM signal, Delmarva Broadcasting's WSTW 93.7) has remained resolutely focused on Wilmington-area listeners. But as it joins a Beasley cluster that also includes country WXTU (92.5 Philadelphia), "Wired" WRDW (96.5 Philadelphia) and business talker WWDB (860 Philadelphia), it seems likely that WJBR will begin to market itself more toward its large neighbor to the northeast. (An actual transmitter move is somewhat less likely, though far from impossible; while WJBR's short-spacings to third-adjacent WUSL on 98.9 in Philadelphia and to second-adjacent WODE on 99.9 in Easton are grandfathered, there are newer drop-in signals on the Jersey Shore that would need to be protected.)
  • In CONNECTICUT, WTIC (1080 Hartford) is reshaping its afternoon programming, sending Bruce Stevens packing after 13 years in the timeslot, the last 10 alongside Colin McEnroe, who's now doing afternoons solo at the CBS Radio news-talker. Stevens tells the Hartford Courant that the station didn't renew his contract when it was up; that he found out on the way back from his daughter's wedding in Maine - and that he hopes to stay in the business full-time. (He's still heard on the weekends on Greater Media talker WTKK 96.9 in Boston.)
  • The year-long tribute to Reginald Fessenden's pioneering 1906 broadcasts from Brant Rock in Marshfield continued on Saturday, when South Shore radio and history buffs gathered at the Winslow House in Marshfield for a daylong symposium on early radio history. Your editor was honored to be a participant in the gathering, showing off some of the photos I've taken over the years in historic radio facilities around the country. Nick Mills of Boston University presented an overview of the early years of radio, and Donna Halper of Emerson College (and a longtime Friend of NERW) spoke on Eunice Randall's early radio career, the story of 1XE/WGI in Medford Hillside, and the question of whether Fessenden's 1906 broadcasts really included the Christmas Eve event that's gone down in history as the legendary "first broadcast ever." A representative from the Canadian consulate in Boston saluted Fessenden's early years north of the border, and Ed Perry of WATD (95.9 Marshfield) was there to pull it all together. He's gearing up for more Fessenden events, including a Christmas Eve (day) re-enactment of the 1906 event.
  • One call change in an otherwise slow week in the Empire State: the silent 105.7 Albany move-in flips from WNYQ to WBZZ, reinforcing the idea that it will take on the "Buzz" modern AC format now on WABT (104.5 Mechanicville) whenever it finally gets back on the air after moving south from Glens Falls.

October 8, 2002 -

  • It's been two months since J.R. Gach was last heard on the air in NEW YORK's Capital District, and almost every day has brought e-mail from listeners wondering why the WGY (810 Schenectady) afternoon talk host suddenly disappeared without any notice to his fans. Thanks to the Albany Times Union and Mark McGuire (probably the best daily newspaper reporter covering broadcasting in the northeast right now), we have some answers to offer. Gach was diagnosed with bipolar II mental disorder, which his wife Suzie blames for the outbursts that marked his show's final months on the air at WGY. In a lengthy narrative given to the paper, Suzie Gach says J.R. suffered a breakdown in mid-August while returning home from a weeklong vacation.
  • While Suzie Gach filled in on J.R.'s shift (she was eventually replaced on-air by Ed Martin, who continues to occupy the time slot), J.R. was undergoing inpatient, then outpatient treatment at a rehab center in Saratoga Springs. Gach is now back home, and it's unclear whether or not he'll ever return to WGY's airwaves. Suzie Gach tells McGuire that her husband's personality has changed since beginning treatment (he's now going by "Jay" instead of "J.R."), while WGY management declined to comment specifically. We'll keep you posted here at NERW as we hear more, and we'll be keeping the Gaches in our thoughts.
  • The FCC was busy in PENNSYLVANIA over the summer. The Commission handed out several Notices of Apparent Liability during August: $7000 to WGET (1320 Gettysburg) for failure to properly fence its towers, and $20,000 to WFBS (1280 Berwick) for failure to mark and light its towers and unspecified equipment problems. (The FCC also cited KFNX in Cave Creek, Arizona, a sister station to WALE 990 in Greenville, RHODE ISLAND, for failure to power down at night. NERW wonders why WALE itself has escaped the FCC's notice, and we note that the bankruptcy filing by WALE/KFNX owner Francis Battaglia doesn't make the NAL go away....)
  • On a happier note, WFBS is adding a weekend show from Philadelphia's "Geator," Jerry Blavat, to its schedule. Blavat was in negotiations to do a weekend show on the big signal of Philly's WPHT (1210) as well, but the two sides couldn't come to terms over a playlist (or lack thereof), we're told.
  • There's a new format in NEW JERSEY, as Press Broadcasting takes over at WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton). The southern Ocean County station is doing a very soft AC format as "The Breeze," after several days of stunting with songs that all mentioned wind and weather.

October 9, 1997-

  • We'll begin this week in upstate NEW YORK, where an unlikely pair of radio personalities have taken their dislike of each other to the airwaves. We told you in last week's NERW about the dismissal of WCMF (96.5 Rochester) personalities Rich ("the Bull") Gaenzler and Beth Donohue, along with night jock Zak Wood from sister station WRMM (101.3, and not "WRRM" as the local paper reported). Just hours after Donohue was fired, she turned up across town on Jacor-owned talker WHAM (1180), joining midday talk host Bob Lonsberry to vent her frustration with WCMF.
  • That was just the start of the feud, as Lonsberry kept up a running stream of commentary and calls on the state of WCMF, once the city's lone progressive rocker, and now one of several rock stations vying for Flower City listeners. One WCMF listener who had participated in the station's focus group the night before the firings called in to the Lonsberry show to talk about what he'd heard. That, coupled with Lonsberry's assertion that veteran WCMF morning jock "Brother Wease" is sounding tired and old, was enough to get Wease back in the station for a rare afternoon appearance, as he turned WCMF into a talk station to sound off against Lonsberry, who then devoted much of Wednesday's show to the issue, even inviting WCMF advertisers to jump ship to WHAM or its sister stations (including modern-rock competitor WNVE). It's unusual (except on WJIB/WJTO's "Let's Talk About Radio") to hear the nuts and bolts of the business -- ratings, demographics, music tests -- discussed on the air with as much passion as we've seen this week. We'll keep you posted on the outcome.
  • From NEW HAMPSHIRE, one that we neglected to mention last week: Manchester's WKBR (1250) has dropped its simulcast of co-owned AAA WXRV (92.5 Haverhill, Mass.) and is now running the One-on-One sports network. Also in Manchester, there's word that Notre Dame College's WRND (91.7) has left the air for good...we'll keep you posted on that one.
  • And in CONNECTICUT, the program lineup at Hartford's WTIC (1080) is being reshuffled to bring Colin McEnroe back to the weekday lineup after a one-year absence. McEnroe joins the Bruce Stevens show, which will now begin at 3 PM, replacing the last hour of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. He'll drop his daily commentaries and Sunday night talk show on the (soon to be) CBS talker.

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