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June 16, 2008

Remembering Buffalo's Tim Russert


*The shock of Tim Russert's far-too-early death on Friday afternoon was felt all over the country, but nowhere more so than in his native western NEW YORK.

Russert never worked in radio or television in Buffalo, of course; his road out of South Buffalo took him into the political arena, as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, before he joined NBC as Washington bureau chief in 1984. But as Russert became a fixture on the NBC and MSNBC airwaves over the last two decades, he missed no opportunity to talk up his Buffalo roots. When he wasn't shamelessly promoting the Bills and the Sabres at the end of "Meet the Press" many weeks, Russert was talking about his Canisius High School education and his days growing up as the son of "Big Russ," Tim Russert Sr.

In 2003, the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers (now the Buffalo Broadcasters) inducted Russert into their hall of fame, honoring him with the "Buffalo" Bob Smith Award, which recognizes Buffalo natives who achieved fame outside the Queen City.

As news of Russert's sudden collapse and death spread on Friday, Buffalo's TV and radio stations sprung into action - not only NBC affiliate WGRZ (Channel 2) but the rest of the Buffalo newscasts were filled with local residents' memories of Russert throughout the weekend, and much of the front page of Saturday's Buffalo News was dedicated to Russert. And Buffalo voices were all over the networks throughout the weekend, too - Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, in particular, was seen several times on MSNBC and NBC itself, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, another prominent son of Buffalo, shared some touching stories about the bond he shared with his fellow western New Yorker.

NERW joins with the rest of the broadcasting industry in sending our deepest condolences to the Russert family and to his family at NBC; he leaves behind a void that won't be filled easily or quickly, if at all.

*There's a radio vacancy in Albany; reports that Scott Allen Miller is departing Albany Broadcasting's WROW (590) in mid-July to move to New York City. Miller just took over as WROW's PD and morning man last October, following a stint as morning host in Boston at WRKO; no replacement has been named yet.

Down the road in Poughkeepsie, WKIP (1450) has replaced Pittsburgh-based "Quinn and Rose" in morning drive with Don Imus, who's already fairly well heard in the Hudson Valley by way of flagship WABC (770). And we note that sometime in the last few months, WKIP began simulcasting on WELG (1370 Ellenville), which had been running a satellite-delivered standards format.

Out on Long Island, Patrick Shea gets a big promotion at WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue): in addition to doing nights, Shea is now the PD at the AC station, taking over from Rob Miller, who's been splitting his time between WALK-FM and New York's WKTU. Shea had been serving as assistant PD at WALK.

In Binghamton, Pam Scott replaces Kristie Houston as morning co-host alongside Glenn Pitcher at Citadel's WHWK (98.1); Scott had been across town at Clear Channel's WMXW (103.3 Vestal), while Houston is now in Texas. (Actually, Houston's always been in Texas, hasn't it?)

Bill Prendergast is the new director of engineering at Entercom's Buffalo cluster; he'd most recently been working as a contract engineer in Alaska. Speaking of Entercom Buffalo, talker WBEN (930) has grabbed the Sean Hannity show away from Lockport's WLVL (1340), whose owner Dick Greene recently flipped WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) into a talk station that's challenging WBEN. Hannity is airing on delay on WBEN, from 10 PM-1 AM weeknights.

At Bath-based Family Life Network, John Owens has been promoted - he's now operations manager as well as PD of the network, which now covers most of western and central New York and much of northern Pennsylvania.

And we return to New York City for one more obituary: Raul Alarcon, Sr., who died in Miami on Wednesday, changed the face of Spanish-language radio in New York when his Spanish Broadcasting System bought the former WVNJ (620 Newark NJ) in 1983. Under its new calls of WSKQ, the station challenged the long-established Spanish-language stations in the city, WADO (1280) and WJIT (1480). Five years later, SBS took the dominant position in New York Spanish radio when it bought the former WEVD-FM (97.9 New York) and launched the city's first full-time, full-power Spanish-language FM signal, WSKQ-FM. "Mega 97.9" was joined in 1995 by WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson NJ), "Amor 93.1."

Alarcon stepped down as SBS chairman in 1999 and had been in poor health recently; he was 82 years old.


Still haven't ordered your 2008 Tower Site Calendar? You do realize that it's, don't you? We're already down to the last 35 or so calendars, and they're going fast. The 2006 and 2007 editions of the calendar sold out, and this one will do so as well, possibly as soon as this month.

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.

The calendar is just $18 with shipping and handling included - or better yet, beat our move to mandatory subscriptions later this year 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 sure to have your very own Tower Site Calendar 2008! (And thank you!)

The 2008 Tower Site Calendar is dedicated to the memory of Robert Eiselen (1934-2007), whose digital imaging skills made even a bunch of pictures of radio towers look almost like art. His contributions were essential to the calendar's evolution from 2003 to the current edition, and he will be missed dearly.

*VERMONT's "Corm and the Coach" are ending their 16-year partnership. After their July 2 show, "Coach" Tom Brennan will leave the popular morning show he's been hosting with Steve "Corm" Cormier since 1992, when they debuted on WIZN (106.7 Vergennes).

The pair moved to their current home base, "Champ" WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) in 1998. (They're also heard in central Vermont on the Champ simulcast, WCVR 102.1 Randolph.)

Brennan tells the Burlington Free Press that he's tired of 4 AM wakeup calls; Cormier, who's also the PD of WCPV/WCVR, plans to continue in mornings. He says the move isn't related to the impending sale of WCPV and its Clear Channel sister stations, which is expected to close within the next few months.

Brennan, who coached the University of Vermont basketball team for almost two decades, won't leave the airwaves completely; he'll remain with ESPN as a basketball analyst.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there are vacancies in two PD chairs in the Boston market.

At CBS Radio's WBCN (104.1 Boston), Dave Wellington exited last week, ending a nearly four-year stint at the helm of the station as it swung back and forth between its rock heritage and talk. Wellington came to WBCN in 2004, replacing the station's legendary PD, Oedipus.

Up at Steve Silberberg's WXRV (92.5 Andover), Ron Bowen has exited as PD/operations manager/morning man after about a year and a half at "The River."

The venerable WMEX call letters, first heard in Boston way back in 1934, are returning to the Bay State. Dennis Jackson held on to the calls when he sold their last home, the 106.5 in Farmington, NEW HAMPSHIRE that's now an "Air One" affiliate under the WKHL calls. Now we know why - he's placing them on the new 88.1 in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, for which his Foothills Public Radio was recently granted a construction permit. The new WMEX will run 150 watts, vertical-only (for now), from a Verizon tower in Edgartown. (Yes, if you're keeping track at home, this means "WMEX" and "WVWA" will be in the same hands; somewhere, either Mac Richmond or Howie Leonard are spinning in their respective graves...)

And we were terribly remiss last week in not noting the 60th anniversary of television in New England, and thus of Boston's WBZ-TV (Channel 4), the region's pioneering TV station. We weren't alone in that oversight - WBZ-TV's first general manager, Wilmer Swartley, still going strong as he approaches his 100th birthday, noted the omission when he talked with Boston radio historian Donna Halper last week.

Two more early New England TV stations also have anniversaries this month: Sunday (June 15) marked the 60th birthday for New Haven's WTNH (Channel 8), originally WNHC-TV on channel 6; next Saturday (June 21) marks the 60th anniversary of the sign-on of Boston's second TV station, WNAC-TV (Channel 7), the ancestor of today's WHDH-TV.

*There's more syndicated programming coming to Clear Channel's RHODE ISLAND AC station. WSNE (93.3 Taunton MA) is bringing in the Los Angeles-based Ryan Seacrest show for afternoons, effective today, and at night "The Coast" will replace Delilah with John Tesh. The afternoon slot had been filled by Boston radio veteran David O'Leary until early April, when O'Leary left WSNE (where he was also assistant PD) to become production director at WMJX (106.7 Boston).

*Randi Kirshbaum has an extra airshift in MAINE; in addition to middays on Saga's WYNZ (100.9 Westbrook), she'll use the air name "Bobbi Kay" starting tonight, when she replaces the syndicated "After Midnight" on the overnight shift at sister station WPOR (101.9 Portland.)

*One central PENNSYLVANIA AM station is officially dead, while another is getting a new lease on life.

The defunct one first: WISL (1480 Shamokin) has been silent for several years now (we last heard it on the air, at low power, in 2003), but it took the FCC a while to catch up with its demise; the license was finally cancelled for good, and the callsign deleted, last week.

Down the road in Carlisle, WIOO (1000) won Commission approval last week to move to 1010, concluding a long fight it's been waging against Radio One's WOLB (1010 Baltimore). Back in 2004, WIOO applied for the frequency change and power increase. In its application, WIOO noted that WCST (1010 Berkeley Springs WV) was off the air, apparently for good, and it argued that it shouldn't have to protect WOLB's full-power licensed facilities because Radio One had demolished them, sold the old transmitter site, and was operating at reduced power from another site.

The matter percolated before the Commission for several years, during which WCST returned to the air and WOLB filed an application for licensed facilities with lower power. WIOO amended its application to show protection for both of those signals, and when WOLB was licensed at its new site last month, WIOO pressed the Commission to approve its own move. And after one more appeal from Radio One, which was denied, the FCC agreed. So WIOO will go from 1 kW, non-directional, to 5 kW DA by day, adding 60 watts of power at night on its new frequency of 1010.

In Philadelphia, WOGL (98.1) officially dedicated its air studio last Friday in memory of afternoon jock Ron O'Brien, who died April 27. In addition to "The Big Ron O'Brien Studio," WOGL has set up a tribute page for the legendary top-40 jock.

Another legendary jock, Pittsburgh's Porky Chedwick, is moving south. reports that the "Daddio of the Raddio," now 90, is relocating to Tarpon Springs, Florida, near Tampa.

And we just recently received word of the May 23 death of Edwin Tornberg, the chairman of New World Radio, which owns WNWR (1540 Philadelphia) as well as stations in Baltimore and Washington. Tornberg was 82.

*There's a new FM signal on the air in eastern CANADA; Kentville, Nova Scotia, to be precise. Newcap's CIJK ("K-Rock 89.3") launched Thursday morning at the frequency-appropriate time of 8:09:30. The classic rock station offers new competition to Maritime Broadcasting System's two Annapolis Valley signals, CKWM (97.7) and CKEN (94.9).

In the Ottawa-Gatineau market, the CRTC has granted a transmitter site move to Corus' CJRC-FM (104.7 Gatineau) in hopes of overcoming the signal problems the station has faced as it attempts to move off AM, where it continues to simulcast on 1150. CJRC-FM will increase power from 2.9 kW to 36 kW, decrease antenna height from 95 meters to 41.5 meters, and will move to a new site near the Gatineau airport from its present downtown Ottawa rooftop location.

*And we wrap up this week with the final installment of our ongoing look at baseball on the radio - this time, the short-season New York-Penn League, which starts play this week.

The Lowell Spinners have a new radio home this year, moving from WLLH (1400) back to WCAP (980), with Ken Cail handling play-by-play duties. (The former producer of Guy Mainella's "Calling All Sports" on WBZ is now the morning man up in New Hampshire at WTPL.)

The Vermont Lake Monsters continue on "The Zone," WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY)/WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY).

In New York State, the Batavia Muckdogs (now under the management of the Rochester Red Wings) change stations this year, moving from SUNY Brockport's WBSU (89.1) to hometown WBTA (1490), with Wayne Fuller at the mike for all home games and a few away games. Elsewhere around the state, the Tri-City Valley Cats continue on Siena College's WVCR (88.3 Loudonville); the Hudson Valley Renegades on WBNR (1260 Beacon)/WLNA (1420 Peekskill); the Brooklyn Cyclones on Brooklyn College's WKRB (90.3); the Auburn Doubledays on WAUB (1590); and the Jamestown Jammers on WKSN (1340) for away games only.

There's no radio again this year for the Oneonta Tigers or the Staten Island Yankees, and we can't even find any evidence this year that the SI Yanks will be seen on the YES Network, as they have been for a few games each season.

And in Pennsylvania, the State College Spikes play on WWZW (95.3 Bellefonte), while the Williamsport Crosscutters will be heard on Lycoming College's WRLC (91.7) for home games.

Play ball!

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!)

June 18, 2007 -

  • No sooner did Grace Blazer move from WPHT (1210 Philadelphia) to MASSACHUSETTS to take the PD chair at WTKK (96.9 Boston) than the wheels began to spin at the Greater Media FM talker, in a way that will give Blazer plenty of challenges as she starts her Boston tenure.
  • It's not as though there weren't already challenges at "FM Talk 96.9," beginning with the morning slot that's been officially vacant since the cancellation of the Don Imus show earlier this spring. As of late last week, though, the top contender to replace Imus on WTKK's morning shift says not only doesn't he want the job - but he's leaving the station entirely. That contender, of course, would be Mike Barnicle, the venerable Boston newspaper columnist and local media icon who's been a star personality on WTKK since its debut. Most recently, Barnicle had been doing the 9-10 AM weekday show, and had added the 6-9 AM Imus shift most days since Imus' ouster.
  • Now Barnicle says he's busy enough with his work on MSNBC and in print, especially with the 2008 elections looming, that he can't keep doing even his daily hour at WTKK, much less the entire morning shift - and that means some big decisions for Blazer and her bosses. While Barnicle says he'll keep doing the morning show on a fill-in basis for the moment, WTKK is already trying other talent. Tomorrow morning, middayer Michael Graham will fill in, and we wouldn't be surprised to hear other WTKK personalities, such as early-afternoon hosts Marjorie Eagan and Jim Braude and maybe even PM drive talker Jay Severin, trying out for the shift.
  • If there's any bright side to WTKK's current morning troubles, it's that they come at a time when rival talker WRKO (680 Boston) is in equally dire straits during the daypart, as its Tom Finneran morning show struggles to find a rhythm and ratings. Is it any wonder we're hearing growing rumblings - not just from Boston, but from his former home market as well - that an Imus return to the airwaves this fall might be a possibility?
  • Another major PENNSYLVANIA TV station is moving, and apparently not a moment too soon. Last Thursday, ABC's WPVI (Channel 6) held groundbreaking ceremonies for a new studio facility to be built next door to its 1964-vintage landmark building on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia. The new 110,000-square foot building will go up on land purchased from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. When it opens in 2009, the old building will be used for parking and for expansion space. But no sooner had WPVI broadcast the groundbreaking event for the new building than a storm front moving through knocked the station completely off the air - and while it soon returned, the station faced an even bigger crisis on Friday, when a construction crew opened a hole in a 6-inch water main, sending a stream of water flooding into the first floor of the old building and forcing the entire staff to evacuate to a field next door, where the station's early-evening "Action News" broadcasts were assembled under a tent.
  • Greater Media has completed its move of WJJZ (97.5 Burlington) into the Philadelphia market. Over the weekend, the station turned off its longtime transmitter site in downtown Trenton, signing on a new facility at the Wyndmoor tower it now shares with Clear Channel's WISX (106.1 Philadelphia). We're already hearing reports of a much stronger signal over most of the Philly market - and we're wondering if the next transmitter move will involve WMMR (93.3) and WRNB (107.9), whose Center City site atop the One Liberty tower is now shadowed by the taller Comcast Center skyscraper that just topped off practically next door.
  • VERMONT Public Radio took a big step toward its plans for a two-network future last week when it announced it's buying WAVX (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY) from Essex-based Christian Ministries, Inc. The $1.1 million purchase will give VPR a signal for its new VPR Classical service that will serve the state's largest city, Burlington, as well as the Plattsburgh, N.Y. area across Lake Champlain. (WAVX is a 2.7 kW/1074' DA C2 signal broadcasting from just west of Peru, N.Y.) VPR started the classical service a couple of years ago on WNCH (88.1 Norwich), and recently added WJAN (95.1 Sunderland) to the network. It's also making VPR Classical available as a subchannel on the HD Radio signals of its main-channel stations. We'd expect those stations to eventually transition from a mixture of news and classical to all-news and talk as the classical network increases its distribution across the state.

June 16, 2003 -

  • You know it's been a slow week in NERW-land when we lead off with a format change on the outskirts of a major market in CANADA! Be that as it may, Durham Radio pulled a bit of a surprise midweek when it pulled the plug on the modern AC "Magic @ 94.9" that had been running on CKGE (94.9 Oshawa), serving the fast-growing Durham region east of Toronto.
  • When Durham bought the station, the rumor in Toronto radio circles had CKGE flipping to a simulcast of smooth jazz "Wave" CIWV (94.7 Hamilton), which shares common ownership just across the lake at the other end of the "Golden Horseshoe." Instead, CKGE is now "94-9 the Rock," with legendary Toronto programmer David Marsden on board helping out. Al Joynes and Laura Mainella handle mornings, followed by Vanessa Murphy in middays and Rockin Rod in afternoons - and Marsden himself will handle 7-midnight on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • It's been a bad week for a NEW YORK public broadcaster. Schenectady's WMHT laid off some of its television staffers last month; now it's pulled the plug on most of the local classical music programming at WMHT-FM (89.1) and its Hudson Valley simulcast, WRHV (88.7 Poughkeepsie). Four full-time announcers, including shop steward Lawrence Boylan, were let go in the switch to the satellite; WMHT is promising to keep local programming in the morning, as well as retaining some local specialty shows.

June 18, 1998-

  • Chalk a big one up for Clear Channel Broadcasting. On Wednesday, the broadcaster picked up Pennsylvania-based Dame Media in an $85 million stock deal. Clear Channel is already a major owner in New Haven (WELI/WAVZ/WKCI), Providence (WWRX/WWBB), and Springfield (WHYN AM-FM). It's a TV owner in Albany (WXXA-TV), and it's a major investor in Albany's WQBK/WQBJ, WXCR, and WTMM. The Dame purchase gives Clear Channel WGY (810 Schenectady), WRVE (99.5 Schenectady), and WHRL (103.1 Albany) to add to the group, along with six Utica-area stations -- the trimulcast standards WUTQ (1550 Utica)/WRNY (1350 Rome)/WADR (1480 Remsen), rocker WOUR (96.9 Utica), CHR WSKS (102.5 Rome), and AC WRFM (93.5 Remsen).
  • In other news from NEW YORK, it's official: New York City's WNEW (102.7) is picking up former WAAF afternoon guys Opie and Anthony as part of what looks like a former overhaul. The CBS-owned station will reportedly drop veteran DJs including Pat St. John and Scott Muni, as it heads in more of an alternative-rock direction.
  • Binghamton's WIVT (Channel 34) remains off the airwaves, but cable viewers are again seeing local programming. Public broadcaster WSKG (Channel 46) leased space in its Gates Road facility in Vestal to WIVT, which was knocked off the air by a tornado that destroyed its tower and much of its studio building. It's something of an irony for the folks at WSKG, who were rumored to be contemplating buying Channel 34 a few years ago (when it was still WMGC) and running it as a commercial operation from the WSKG studios. Broadcasting & Cable magazine reports WSKG hopes to keep WIVT as a permanent tenant.
  • WGKP, we hardly knew ye: The Sound of Life religious network must think it's covering Albany well enough with its translator on 98.9; it asked the FCC last Friday to delete the construction-permit for never-built WGKP (89.9 Rensselaerville), which would have broadcast from the same New Scotland site that W255AJ is using. NERW guesses it must be much cheaper to run a one-watt translator than a 340-watt "real" station.
  • Up north, Ogdensburg's WZEA (98.7) went on the air "for real" this week, as hot AC "Yes-FM." New calls are already in place; list this one as WYSX from now on. We're told live jocks are now on the air at this Tim Martz-owned station. While we're in the area, we note that CJSS (1220) in Cornwall, Ontario has applied for 101.9 MHz; part of a slew of Canadian AM-to-FM applications in the last few weeks, it seems. Others include London's CKSL (1410 to 102.3), Sarnia's CKTY (1110 to 106.3; we're sure WBT likes this one), and St.-Georges-du-Beauce, Quebec's CKRB (1460 to 103.3, ending a regular DX catch in the Boston area). In Lindsay, CKLY has now gone silent on 910 and is only on 91.9.

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