January 12, 2009
Santos Exits Amidst WBZ Changes
(Before we start with this week's
news, we have an anniversary to celebrate: it was fifteen years
ago this week, on January 14, 1994, that the very first edition
of what would become "New England Radio Watcher," then
"New England Radio Watch," and finally "NorthEast
Radio Watch" burst forth upon an unsuspecting Usenet. Since
2001, we've survived - even thrived, you might say, with the
our generous readers, and it's thanks
to all of you that we look forward to many more years as an independent
voice of news and opinion about broadcasting in the northeastern
U.S. and eastern Canada.
How far have we come since our earliest
days? You'll find the answer at the very end of this week's column,
wherein we reprint the earliest known NERW. We'll continue to
bring you flashbacks to those early columns throughout our anniversary
year. And now, on with this week's news...)
*Whether it's Generosa Aiello, the
96-year-old grandmother from Salem who was an early Friday
morning call-in fixture for many years, or Ben Goodman, the college
freshman who launched the fan site bringbacksteve.com,
or the black leaders fired up about the firing of veteran talk
host Lovell Dyett, there's nobody out there in MASSACHUSETTS
- or anywhere else in the "38 states and half of Canada"
served by the night signal of WBZ (1030 Boston) - who's got very
much good to say about the cutbacks at New England's oldest radio
Indeed, the replacement of Steve LeVeille's live, local overnight
talk show with St. Louis-based Jon Grayson and "Overnight
America" was, for once, not accompanied by a puffy press
release making any inflated claims about the quality of the new
programming or the improved service being provided to the audience.
It's just as well, because nobody would believe it anyway
- there's no reason to think that anyone in local management
on Soldiers Field Road is taking any pride at the moment in what's
become of what was once one of the nation's great radio stations.
whether or not the imminent departure of the dean of the station's
airstaff, sports director Gil Santos, is the direct result of
budget cuts almost doesn't matter at this point, because what
once would have come as a shock - the end of one of the longest
on-air careers in the history of Boston sports - seems to have
barely registered in the context of everything else that's changing
Santos started at WBZ as a full-time staffer in 1971 after
12 years at his hometown stations in Fall River and New Bedford,
but he had already been heard on the station five years earlier
as the voice of the then-Boston Patriots, a job he held from
1966-1979 and again since 1990. Teamed with morning news anchor
Gary LaPierre, the pair developed an on-air (and behind the scenes)
repartee that kept the station at the top of the ratings for
years, and when LaPierre retired at the end of 2006, Santos remained,
providing some stability as Ed Walsh took over the anchor chair.
But while there was no shortage of publicity and promotion
around LaPierre's high-profile retirement, Santos' plans to retire
at month's end emerged in a blog
posting from Boston Herald media reporter Jessica
Heslam late on Friday - drawing rounds of "no comment"
from WBZ management and, briefly, from Santos himself.
On Saturday, Santos spoke
to the Herald (which has the Boston media scene
almost to itself now that the Globe has essentially stopped
covering radio), denying that he was forced out by the station's
cutbacks. At age 70, he told the paper, he's getting too old
to slog through early-morning snowstorms to get to the station.
Its been a great life and a great way to make
a living, and now its really time to move on from that,
Santos told the Herald - and while he'll continue with
his weekend job as the Patriots' play-by-play announcer on WBCN,
it certainly doesn't appear that WBZ made any particular effort
to keep Santos on board. (If the weather was a concern, we'd
note that the station was more than happy to let LaPierre broadcast
from his Florida vacation home for several years before his
retirement; surely an arrangement could have been made to
allow Santos to do his segments from his much closer home in
With Santos' departure in a few weeks, the WBZ sports department
will have essentially ceased to exist on weekdays, following
the ousters of Alan Segel last year and of Tom Cuddy just a couple
of weeks ago, and it's not at all clear what may be in store
for WBZ's sports presence now.
And with the usual caveat that your editor is an alumnus of
the WBZ newsroom and a former colleague of Santos (and LaPierre,
and Segel, and Cuddy, and all the rest), here's another installment
in what is apparently becoming an ongoing Rant:
It's gratifying, first of all, to see the reaction that the
latest round of WBZ cuts has drawn. At a time when even the nation's
largest stations have largely eliminated a live, local presence
on less-prominent airshifts such as overnights and weekend nights,
it says something about the expectations WBZ has built among
its audience - and that its audience has continued to have for
WBZ - that the replacement of LeVeille with a generic national
host, and of Lovell Dyett with syndicated fare, still has the
power to provoke newspaper columns, on-line petitions and the
general sense that something has gone terribly wrong at what
was once a New England institution.
At the same time, the message boards have carried a whiff
of a backlash, too, as some observers, presumably trying to project
the hard-nosed, bottom-line-first mentality that's become the
norm in 21st century commercial radio, have suggested that the
elimination of live, local overnights is just "business
as usual" these days, when the pressures of declining ad
revenues and a splintering audience mean that only the most profitable
and most listened-to dayparts still justify the kind of live
on-air presence and attention to program quality that was once
called "quality broadcasting" but has now, evidently,
become an unsupportable luxury.
Meanwhile in Washington, the orderly - if highly imperfect
- march toward the long-set and highly-publicized February 17
shutoff of analog television hit a roadblock last week, as the
incoming Obama administration and congressional Democrats (led
by Massachusetts' own Ed Markey) suggested that the deadline
be pushed back to June or even later amidst concerns that the
switch to all-digital would leave too many viewers with no TV
service, and thus unable to get vital information in case of
What does that have to do with Steve LeVeille? Quite a bit,
in fact, because there's an unspoken message implicit in that
concern: the idea that continued universal television service
is vital to emergency communication carries with it the notion
that radio, which has fulfilled that role of universal coverage
at times of crisis for decades, is no longer capable of filling
From a technical standpoint, that premise is laughable: even
analog television has massive coverage challenges in remote areas
such as northern New England, the Adirondacks and Appalachia,
and digital television - which will be the nation's sole TV standard
soon enough, even if politics delays the scheduled shutoff date
next month - brings with it even more issues, including the near-absence
of battery-operated receivers.
Radio in general, and analog AM radio in particular, is a
near-ideal medium when there's an emergency, and there are now
nearly nine decades worth of receivers that can pick up those
signals at minimal expense and with minimal power consumption.
So why isn't "radio" the obvious answer to the question
of how universal coverage of emergency information will be maintained
during the DTV transition?
The answer is as simple as it is sad: radio has walked away
from its strengths, and its owners should be not even slightly
surprised that those who once depended on it know better these
Remember Minot? We addressed the actual circumstances of that
unfortunate night in North Dakota in
a Rant here almost six years ago, and at the time we recognized
that changing circumstances meant that there would never again
be all-night local DJs on duty in the Minots - or the Manchesters
or Rochesters or Westchesters - of the 21st century.
But it's a long way from Minot to Soldiers Field Road in Allston,
and while a train derailment and toxic gas leak may have been
a once-in-a-generation disaster in central North Dakota, it's
not hard at all to think of numerous occasions in very recent
memory when the all-night local presence of WBZ was the first,
and sometimes only, link between the people of New England and
vital emergency information.
Remember the chemical-plant explosion in Danversport, just
before 3:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving Eve 2006? How about
the tunnel roof collapse in the Big Dig, just after 11 on a Monday
night a few months earlier? In both cases, WBZ demonstrated the
power of radio, devoting all of its airtime to updates, guiding
drivers around clogged roads and providing eyewitness accounts
(especially of the roof collapse, from taxi drivers caught in
the traffic) that no TV station could match, even if they'd been
able to rush a breaking-news report to air.
(And the bottom-line-oriented might note that WBZ's overnight
presence in the days of LeVeille and of Bob Raleigh before him
was already something of a budget compromise; as long ago as
your editor's days at the station in the early 1990s, the last
radio news staffer went home at midnight, leaving recorded news
updates and the knowledge that the local talk hosts - especially
LeVeille, with his strong news background from his days at WEEI
- could carry the load until the morning news crew began arriving
between 2 and 3 AM.)
WBZ's managers, if they were talking, would no doubt protest
that their new overnight offering, being at least live if not
actually local, could provide that information as well, augmented
by whatever resources are available across the newsroom on the
WBZ-TV side. But there's a big difference between a host sitting
in Allston who knows where Danversport is and what highways to
avoid if there's a crisis there, and a host in St. Louis who
not only might have to look at a map to find Danversport, but
who must also please program directors and audiences in Minneapolis,
Pittsburgh and St. Louis at the same time.
(We still have fond memories of tuning in, from a great distance,
to hear LeVeille, a baseball fan's baseball fan, sharing in the
joy of all New England in the hours after the Sox won the 2004
World Series - how, we wonder, would a show that's heard in both
Sox and Cardinals territory have handled that night -
or even the much less significant evening a few years earlier,
when your editor had the pleasure of joining LeVeille for an
hour of conversation about New England radio that soon stretched
into two hours, then five, as the phones stayed alight and the
morning news crew began to drift in.)
Even at all that, if the replacement of LeVeille with Grayson
had been the only major cut, we'd probably have reluctantly (very
reluctantly) concluded that it was a tough decision in tough
times, and that the station would somehow have found a way to
provide at least adequate coverage if disaster struck in those
few hours between midnight and 2 or 3 AM.
But, of course, LeVeille's shift was far from the only cut,
and while there are no petitions we know of to restore evening
news coverage or weekday sports coverage or any of the institutional
memory that's been eased out the door as the station's staff
gets slashed, those cutbacks tear at the fabric of WBZ just as
much as, if not more than, the absence of a forum for late-night
Enough - for the point is not to eulogize the jobs that are
gone; it is to make clear that CBS Radio - and the other owners
who have similarly neutered once-great stations - are not merely
victims of economic troubles beyond their control.
The handful of stations of the caliber of WBZ did not get
there simply by virtue of huge signals, nor just by clever promotion.
WBZ, and its counterparts around the country such as KGO and
WTOP and KSL and WGN, got where they are because they earned
the trust of their listeners. They earned that trust by being
there not only in the profitable drivetime hours but also at
2 AM - and in the process, their owners reaped fortunes.
Indeed, there's evidence that even in these lousy economic
times, WBZ remained solidly profitable. (We know, if nothing
else, that some sponsors were willing to pony up to keep a local
overnight show on the air.) Even if it's true that younger listeners
are fleeing the AM dial - a "fact" belied on a regular
basis by the audience just down the dial on WEEI - Bonneville's
WTOP and KSL and CBS Radio's own KCBS in San Francisco are demonstrating
that the trust listeners hold in venerable AM brands can be transferred
to the FM dial, where it finds a younger and even more profitable
For whatever reason, CBS is now pursuing a different path
in Boston, just as it has done in Pittsburgh over the last few
years, more recently in Los Angeles at the once-great KFWB and
KNX, and, we fear, soon in New York at WCBS and WINS.
The trust listeners have placed in WBZ for generations may
not be as easy to quantify on the books as, say, the stick value
of a clear channel at 1030 on the dial or the real estate adjoining
the Harvard campus. But whatever value that trust once had -
and whatever investment in the "WBZ Radio" brand could
have been transferred from an aging AM facility to newer media
- is instead being rapidly eroded.
And it is being rapidly eroded not just by aging demographics
or by the proliferation of new information sources. It is being
rapidly eroded because its owners - who could, and should, justify
continued investment in the WBZ product as a long-term play for
the future of one of the most venerable media brands in a major
market - have instead decided to follow the cost-cutting model
down the spiral to its only logical conclusion.
Radio is hardly the only medium to try to keep cutting costs,
and content, until it succeeds. One need only look to newspapers
- in particular a certain broadsheet over on Morrissey Boulevard
- for an even grimmer example. In our long study of media history,
we've yet to find a case where that strategy has worked. It's
hard to imagine that the CBS Radio brass directing the latest
round of cuts truly believe it will work this time. WBZ's listeners
certainly know better, and at least for now, they still care
enough to say so. Will anyone listen before it's too late?
*Across the newsroom at 1170 Soldiers Field Road, there's
a new news director inbound to WBZ-TV (Channel 4)/WSBK (Channel
38). John Verrilli comes to Allston after four years in the ND
chair at sister stations KDKA-TV (Channel 2)/WPCW (Channel 19)
in Pittsburgh; before that, he was at Fox's WNYW-TV in New York.
Nassau has named a new general manager for its classical WCRB
(99.5 Lowell). Nancy Dieterich returns to Boston, where she was
once general sales manager for WBCN, after a stint as vice president
of national sales for Citadel.
Over at Greater Media, WROR (105.7 Framingham) afternoon jock
Paul Perry is out after his contract ended without being renewed.
Perry came to WROR just under two years ago after spending several
years at WJMK in Chicago; before that, he'd worked at WWBB in
Providence, WODS in Boston and, earlier, at the original WROR
(98.5, now WBMX) and the original WBZ (1030, now a pale shadow
of what it once was.)
A clarification from Brockton: WXBR (1460) GM Dick Muserlian
writes to say that his comment about "listeners won't notice
a change" in the station's morning show was meant to reflect
that the show is remaining local, with Kevin Tocci replacing
Steve Mason after Mason's long run with the station.
And about that whole idea of delaying the shutdown of analog
TV: we wonder how that's playing in the Springfield market, where
two of the three local stations are already gone from the analog
airwaves, leaving only NBC affiliate WWLP-TV (Channel 22) nursing
an aging transmitter to the finish line. The city's public TV
station, WGBY, is operating at low power on its transitional
digital channel, 58, while it waits for WWLP to vacate channel
22, which will become WGBY's permanent digital home - but WGBY
can't go full-power there in February, as planned, if WWLP has
to keep operating in analog.
Worse yet, Norwell's WWDP shut down its interim digital operation
on channel 52 last month so it could bring in a helicopter to
replace that antenna with a new antenna for its permanent
digital channel, 10. But WWDP-DT can't operate on 10 until WJAR
in Providence signs off its analog operation on that channel
- and in the meantime, it's leasing tower space for a digital
antenna it can't use, and would have to keep leasing at another
site it planned to vacate in February when the WWDP analog signal
on channel 46 was to sign off.
Did you miss it earlier this
month? Catch up on a whole year's worth of radio and TV happenings
across the Great Northeast, plus a particularly spirited (if
we do say so ourselves) Year-End Rant, all on one handy page
that will help you remember a year many of us would probably
just as soon forget.
Just click on the banner above
to visit's NERW's 13th annual Year in Review, brought to you
this year by these nice folks:
*NEW YORK's "K-Rock" (WXRK 92.3)
is once again reuniting with Chris Booker, who returned from
Philadelphia last Wednesday to take the afternoon slot last occupied
by British jock Ian Camfield. This is Booker's third go-round
with K-Rock, where he did nights from 1996-2003, then moved crosstown
to "Blink" (WNEW 102.7) before returning to 92.3, where
he did afternoons in both its "K-Rock" and "Free
FM" incarnations" in 2005-06 before moving to Philadelphia
and WIOQ, where he did mornings until last May.
Booker's return sparked a new round of speculation about the
terrestrial future of K-Rock's morning show, Opie and Anthony.
After losing their Boston clearance (on WBCN) last year, O&A
quietly vanished from Rochester's WZNE (where they were heard
on delay in afternoon drive) and Cape Cod's WPXC (in mornings)
at year's end. It's "Music in the Mornings" now at
"Pixy 103," while "The Zone" has PD Nik Rivers
handling afternoon on-air duties - and handing his old midday
shift over to Brody, who'd been doing evenings. With those stations
gone from the network, only WXRK and one Virginia FM station
remain as O&A terrestrial affiliates, and rumors continue
to swirl about a format change at K-Rock that might put Booker
in morning drive later this year.
WOR (710 New York) is becoming the first affiliate of Michael
Smerconish's new syndicated talk show next month. The new show,
which launches Feb. 2, will air live from noon-2 PM, after the
WPHT (1210 Philadelphia) talker has wrapped up his morning show,
which is simulcast on WHFS (1580) in Washington. But WOR, which
just reworked its daytime schedule after Bill O'Reilly's departure,
won't air Smerconish live - instead, he'll be heard on delay,
from 8-10 PM weeknights in the slot where WOR has been running
out the last few weeks of O'Reilly's show. (The Philadelphia
Inquirer's Michael Klein says Smerconish may do a few
live shows for WOR in that slot, "as a courtesy.")
Up the dial, WLIB (1190) has replaced Marc Riley's 7-9 PM talk
show with more gospel music.
On the Spanish-language side of the dial, SBS made some big
cuts late last week at "Mega" (WSKQ 97.9 New York),
where Allan Sniffen's NYRMB reported that three staffers, including
co-host Frankie J, were cut from the "El Vacilon" morning
show, as was afternoon co-host Epi Colon.
In Buffalo, WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) is replacing O'Reilly
with more local content. Brad Riter, who's been doing a 6-9 PM
sports-talk show, will move up to the 4-7 PM slot beginning in
March. The station is also eliminating its 9-10 AM "Tradio"
hour, adding a second hour to Scott Leffler's "Reason"
show, which now airs from 10-11 AM.
Out on Long Island - and in Connecticut, too - they're mourning
John Blake, whose long engineering career took him to most of
the island's stations, but most notably for a long run at WBAB
(102.3), where he moved the FM transmitter from its original
home on the WNYG (1440) tower in the late seventies. Blake also
worked across Long Island Sound at WEBE (107.9 Westport CT),
where he was part of the team that moved the former WDJF to its
unusual antenna location on the tall smokestack that dominates
downtown Bridgeport. Blake went on to work with cellular companies;
he died Dec. 26 at age 69.
And the Empire State installment of this week's ongoing "DTV
Follies" shines a spotlight on Elmira, where a last-minute
extension of analog service looks to result in a delay of any
meaningful digital service to that market.
Elmira's PBS outlet, WSKA, has operated digital-only since it
signed on a few years ago, the market's older stations won't
be able to operate full-power digital signals until they sign
off analog. NBC affiliate WETM-TV (Channel 18) currently runs
a flea-power digital signal on the hard-to-receive Channel 2,
and had planned to flash-cut to full-power DTV on 18 next month;
ABC affiliate WENY-TV (Channel 36) has been operating at severely
reduced analog power since a transmitter fire a while back, and
never activated its transitional DTV operation on channel 55.
It planned to launch WENY-DT on channel 36 next month with an
added subchannel to bring CBS to the market for the first time.
And Fox affiliate WYDC (Channel 48) won't go full-power digital
until it flash-cuts on 48; in the meantime, it's running low
power on channel 50. NERW wonders: how are the viewers of Elmira
served by delaying those digital activations in favor of extended
(Speaking of WENY: while it's rebranded its newscasts from
"Newschannel 36" to "WENY-TV News" in preparation
for the launch of the CBS subchannel, at last word the CBS launch
- initially only on cable - has been delayed while WENY's master
control is rebuilt. When the new CBS service launches, replacing
Binghamton-based WBNG on area cable systems, it will carry the
market's first 7 PM newscast.)
STILL NEED A 2009 CALENDAR?
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Site Calendar 2009 in stock at the fybush.com
Our business manager (aka Mrs. Fybush)
says we're heading for another sellout, so don't sit around waiting
for a clearance sale that won't be happening.
So fill that empty space on your wall today,
with a brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2009!
now at the fybush.com Store!
*After 15 years at the helm of VERMONT
Public Radio, Mark Vogelzang is moving on at month's end
to a new, as-yet-unannounced position - but he's leaving the
statewide service in familiar hands. VPR's board of directors
voted last week to accept Vogelzang's resignation, effective
February 1, and to promote Robin Turnau, VPR's vice president
of development, to be the network's next president. Turnau has
been with VPR since 1989, when she joined the network - then
a single program service heard on just three transmitters - as
its membership coordinator.
We'll have more on Vogelzang's plans in an upcoming issue
*NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio is settling
into its new digs in downtown Concord - and we've been remiss
in not mentioning its move sooner. On December 15, the network
closed down its longtime home at 207 North Main Street, having
long since outgrown that 10,000-square foot facility. It took
just six months to build out NHPR's new home at 2 Pillsbury Street,
which more than doubles the amount of space available at the
old studios and offices. The move was made possible by a $6.5
million capital campaign.
Over in Keene, Saga is taking the concept of "FM HD subchannels
on analog translators" to a new level, using both WKNE (103.7)'s
HD2 and HD3 subchannels to feed separate programming to its two
Here's how it shakes out: W276CB (103.1), which started out
relaying Saga's progressive talker WZBK (1220) before flipping
to Christmas music fed from 103.7's HD3, is now doing oldies
(along with 103.7-HD3) as "Cool 103.1." Meanwhile,
W281AU (104.1), which had been an FM relay of talker WKBK (1290)
since its debut last May, is now relaying 103.7's HD2 - which
is doing classic rock as "Keene Classics 104.1."
Add in the rest of Saga's cluster in the market - WKNE's main
channel, the two AMs, and two more FMs, WSNI (97.7) and WINQ
(98.7), and that's a whopping seven program services the company's
now providing to southwestern New Hampshire. (And we'd note that
the "Cool" oldies format itself had earlier incarnations
on both 98.7 and 97.7, as WOQL.)
Over on the seacoast, there's a new owner coming to WGIP (1540
Exeter), as Clear Channel's Aloha Station Trust spins the AM
daytimer off to Aruba Capital Holdings for $325,000.
one of the Granite State's most durable air talents has died.
Bill Morrissey came to Manchester's WKBR in 1954, before the
station had even moved from its original 1240 dial position to
1250, and he remained with the station as its morning man through
its top-40 heyday and long afterward, too. Morrissey retired
in 1983, returning for a reunion
in 1999 and another in 2004. After leaving WKBR, Morrissey served
as public affairs coordinator for Public Service of New Hampshire,
the statewide utility. He died January 8 at Eliot Hospital in
Goffstown, at the age of 84.
*Blueberry Broadcasting did indeed rearrange
its signals in central MAINE last week, as we'd hinted
in our last issue - but it wasn't WMCM (103.3 Rockland) flipping
to talk. Instead, it was AC "Star" WKCG (101.3 Augusta)
that became a relay of Blueberry's Bangor-market talker, WVOM
(103.9 Howland), and that, in turn, meant talker WCME (96.7 Boothbay
Harbor) became "Star 96.7," with WKCG's former AC format.
And we're sorry to report that cutbacks at Blueberry have
claimed the job of chief (and indeed, sole) engineer Marc Fisher,
who was overseeing all nine of the company's stations in Bangor
and central Maine. Fisher's 32-year career has included ownership
(at WKTJ in Farmington) and engineering at prominent stations
including WRKO/WROR in Boston and the Merv Griffin group in Providence
and Hartford. Need an engineer? Drop us a line and we'll put
you in touch...
Over at Maine Public Broadcasting, the transmitter sites that
were to have been silenced by budget cuts later this week - WMED-TV/FM
in Calais and WMEF-FM in Fort Kent - have won a temporary reprieve
while the network negotiates with state lawmakers about long-term
funding to keep the services on the air in those remote areas.
MPBN says the WMED and WMEF signals will remain on the air until
at least February 28 while the talks continue.
MPBN's analog TV transmitters faded into history early Sunday
morning as the network carried out an early shutdown so it can
complete its conversion to digital service.
At the Blackcap Mountain site of WMEB-TV (Channel 12), it
was engineer Herb Dean who got to press the "off" button
at 1:03 in the morning, and it was a fitting choice, since Dean
was at the site when WMEB went on the air October 8, 1963.
What do you say when you're turning off a station you helped
to sign on 45 years earlier? "Alpha and omega, the beginning
and the end," we're told Dean said before turning the transmitter
off. "The King is dead, long live the King."
(And no, MPBN's analog signal isn't coming back, no matter
what the politicians in Washington might do about delaying the
Two University of Maine campuses are getting stronger FM voices.
At the University of Southern Maine, WMPG (90.9 Gorham) recently
won a construction permit to move from its present 1 kW/233'
facility on campus to 4.5 kW/640' from Blackstrap Hill, providing
a much stronger signal over the Portland market. The new CP calls
for vertical-only operation to protect the analog channel 6 facility
of WCSH-TV - and of course the sooner that goes away, the sooner
WMPG can presumably apply for even better facilities.
Up in Machias, WUMM (91.7) appears to have quietly begun broadcasting
in late December. The student station at UMaine Machias had been
operating as a leaky cable/part-15/webcast operation on 90.5
and 90.7 before being granted the 100-watt broadcast license.
*While the trades were atwitter over possible
large-scale layoffs at Clear Channel following a national managers'
meeting in Dallas, the week ended with no major staffing changes
at the company's clusters in the northeast, with the exception
of RHODE ISLAND, where VP/market manager Jim Corwin departed
before the Dallas meeting. He's not being replaced locally; instead,
Tom McConnell will add oversight of the Providence stations (WHJJ,
WSNE, WHJY and WWBB) to his duties as VP/market manager of Clear
The University of Rhode Island's WRIU (90.3 Kingston) won
a license renewal last week over the objections of listeners
Ronald Marsh and Norman Remington. Back in 2005, when WRIU applied
for the renewal, they complained that they - and other listeners
- had sent in comments critical of a format change that eliminated
much of WRIU's classical and jazz programming, and that the public
file was missing that listener input. Alas for Marsh and Remington,
there's no requirement for noncommercial stations to include
listener correspondence in their public files, so the FCC granted
the renewal, more than three years after it was applied for.
In Bradford, near Westerly, Colina Alta Ministries is donating
its new FM construction permit (on 91.1, with 780 watts) to Connecticut
Christian Radio Outreach.
Edited by NERW's own Scott Fybush - on sale now as
an e-book or printed volume!
*We'll start our PENNSYLVANIA update
this week with some TV news: in Philadelphia, CBS is reportedly
planning to add a 10 PM newscast from its KYW-TV (Channel 3).
The new 10 o'clock show won't air on "CBS 3" itself,
of course - it will appear on sister station WPSG (Channel 57),
up against the dominant 10 PM newscast on Fox's WTXF (Channel
29) and the 10 PM show on Tribune's WPHL (Channel 17), produced
by NBC's WCAU (Channel 10).
Still need more evidence that a delay in the DTV conversion
is a bad idea? Just ask viewers in Erie, where it was only in
the last few months that any digital signal was operating
anywhere near full power. Three of the city's five stations are
now up at full power, reports Tom Lavery at PBRTV.com,
but the last two - NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) and ABC affiliate
WJET (Channel 24) - can't go to full power until they sign off
their analog signals, since they'll be using their former analog
channels for DTV. WJET, at least, isn't waiting - it has a tower
crew scheduled to arrive later this week to complete its antenna
work, and it plans to pull the plug on analog February 15. (PBS
outlet WQLN, of course, has been gone from the analog dial for
several months now, since its analog transmission system failed
Back to radio - we now know what the "WXMT" calls
on the former WQRM (106.3 Smethport) stand for: the station near
the New York border is now doing classic rock as "The Mountain."
Where are they now? Kevin Fennessy, whose career in the Keystone
state included on-air work at WCAU, WFIL and WEGX in Philadelphia
and ownership of WFBS/WAAT in the Scranton market (and some time
programming WHAM up here in Rochester), is the new GM of WIXC
(1060) in Titusville, Florida, where he's settled down.
*The end is near for two more AM stations
CKKW-FM (99.5) signed on officially last Tuesday (Jan. 6) at
3 PM, replacing the former "Oldies 1090." The new FM
signal is being billed as "K-FUN 99.5, Tri-Cities' Greatest
Hits," and it's nearly a straight transfer of the old AM
format to FM, with the same airstaff and a somewhat freshened
classic hits approach. It's being simulcast on AM 1090, but not
for long - the AM signal is expected to be gone on Friday (Jan.
CKRU (980) plans to have its new FM signal on 100.5 on the air
in about a month, we're hearing.
Chris Kennedy has exited Corus' CFQR (92.5 Montreal), where
he was PD.
Across town, Astral Media completes its second round of "Virgin
Radio" launches at 4:00 this afternoon, when CJFM (95.9
Montreal) flips from "Mix 96" to a relatively soft
AC version of "Virgin."
That follows flips last Thursday in Vancouver, where CKZZ
(95.3) took on a top 40 flavor of "Virgin," and then
on Friday at 4 in Ottawa, as Astral flipped its rocker "The
Bear" (CKQB 106.9) to a classic rock "Virgin."
Most of the Bear airstaff remains intact, save for night jock
Dylan Black, who has been replaced by the syndicated Alice Cooper
And while it's no surprise (we wrote about it in our November
24 issue), the CRTC has now officially withdrawn its grants
of two new FM licenses in Ottawa, after the Canadian government
intervened and asked the Commission to reopen hearings with an
eye toward service to third-language communities in the market.
That puts the plans of Frank Torres, who was hoping to build
a blues station on 101.9, and of Astral, which was to put a soft
AC station on the air, on hold pending the CRTC's hearing March
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 LARadio.com
for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support
that's made all these years of NERW possible!)
January 14, 2008 -
- There's nothing terribly unusual about a contract dispute
between a prominent radio personality and a radio station. But
in the case of upstate NEW YORK's Brother Wease, who's been off
the air at WCMF (96.5 Rochester) since December 21, the dispute
is playing out on newspaper front pages and even on the air.
That's something most stations, and most air talent, try to avoid,
but Wease has long prided himself on running what he calls an
"honest show," where he and his co-hosts talk frequently
about internal business at the station. As WCMF has gone through
a rocky transition from former owner CBS Radio to new owner Entercom,
that's made for some stressful times on both sides of the studio
- As we told you last week, Wease's contract expired at the
end of 2007, leaving the rest of the "Radio Free Wease"
crew on the air without Wease himself. As contract negotiations
between Wease and Entercom dragged on with no resolution last
week, tempers began to flare on the air - and at one point, Entercom
regional vice president Mike Doyle joined the Wease crew in the
studio to take phone calls and talk about the progress of the
negotiations. The news wasn't good - Doyle said he'd started
out being "90 percent sure" that a deal could be reached
to bring Wease back, but he told listeners he's growing more
doubtful. And Wease himself appeared briefly by telephone, sounding
equally uncertain. (The station's website changed to an "under
construction" message around the same time, as Entercom
finally took down the old Wease-heavy CBS site.)
- It's a high-stakes game for both sides: Entercom was clearly
counting on Wease to be the face and voice of WCMF for some time
to come, since it didn't bring over most of the rest of the station's
airstaff from CBS, so it would be a big rebuilding effort if
the station loses Wease - and Wease, for his part, doesn't have
many other local options if he can't come to terms with Entercom.
With a ratings book now underway, how long will Entercom keep
the rest of the Wease team on the air before it tries something,
or someone, else in morning drive? It's no wonder that they,
too, are uneasy about the situation - and it's admirable, we
think, that they're carrying on as well as they are under the
- Some sad news from NEW HAMPSHIRE: Pauline Robbins, whose
battle with cancer inspired the "Polly's Think Pink Radiothon"
that united Upper Valley broadcasters last fall to raise $37,000
during a daylong simulcast, lost that battle Saturday morning.
She was just 30. Memorial services will be held Wednesday at
the Ricker Funeral Home in Lebanon.
- Just across the state line in MAINE, Clear Channel is spinning
the ol' format wheel at WUBB (95.3 York Center), which serves
the New Hampshire seacoast as well as southern Maine. The country
"B95" format disappeared last week, replaced by a temporary
simulcast with classic hits WQSO (96.7 Rochester NH), but the
station has been dropping big hints about its next format - while
its website boasts, "Coming Soon! Sports Radio!," ads
in local papers (and other clues on the website itself) point
to top 40 and "Kiss," possibly with some simulcasts
from Boston's WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford).
January 12, 2004 -
- It's been 45 years since the call letters "WLIR"
were first heard at 92.7 in Garden City, NEW YORK, and more than
20 years since that spot on the dial became the home of the New
Wave sound. But as of noon on Friday (Jan. 9), listeners to 92.7
in Nassau County and adjoining corners of New York City, Westchester
and southern Connecticut are hearing something very different
- the Spanish hits of "Latino Mix" WCAA (105.9 Newark
- The moves were no surprise, of course - it's been months
since Univision Radio announced it was paying $60 million to
The Morey Organization (aka Jarad Broadcasting) for the class
A signal that sits right on the Nassau/Queens line - but for
the passionate fans of WLIR, who've followed the station through
two decades of ups, downs and even license revocations, it was
an emotional moment nonetheless. In recent years, WLIR on 92.7
was barely a shell of the groundbreaking station it once was;
its playlist was as likely to include Dido as Kraftwerk, for
instance. In its waning days, though, the station began to mix
some of that classic New Wave back into its programming, and
by Friday morning that was about all 92.7 was playing. And then
noon came around, Alphaville's "Forever Young" played,
and WLIR officials Jed Morey and John Carraciolo took the mike
to thank listeners for all their years of support.
- Over at WCAA's Madison Avenue studio, a countdown (and, judging
from the pictures on the station's Web site, a pretty good party,
too) led into the start of the simulcast on 92.7. While there's
a fair amount of overlap between the 92.7 signal (which will
take the calls WZAA) and the 105.9 signal from the Empire State
Building, the addition of 92.7 will expand Latino Mix's reach
into areas of Nassau County and southern Connecticut that currently
can't hear 105.9 clearly because of first-adjacent interference
from WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) out in Suffolk County. In effect,
what Univision Radio gets for its $60 million is a signal that
will cover the entire market and thus compete better with the
only other Spanish-language FM signals in the market, SBS' WSKQ
(97.9 New York) and WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson NJ).
- As for the Morey Organization, it now focuses its efforts
on its three signals out on Long Island's East End: rocker "The
Bone" WDRE (98.5 Westhampton), dance/top 40 "Party"
WXXP (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) and WBON (107.1 Hampton Bays),
the signal that's been simulcasting WLIR since Jarad bought it
from now-defunct Big City Radio last year. With the demise of
WLIR, 107.1 was reborn at noon Friday as "The Box 107.1,"
playing many of the same modern rock tunes that had been on WLIR
at the end, albeit without the 80s "classic alternative"
tracks. 107.1 is also where the WLIR call letters end up, since
Jarad kept them when it sold 92.7 to Univision. (A few listeners
out on the East End were hearing "WLIR Westhampton"
legals on 107.1 after the flip, which makes no immediate sense
to us; we also wonder where the legal main studio for the three
East End stations is, since they're currently being programmed
out of Jarad's 1103 Stewart Avenue building in Garden City, far
outside their signal contours.)
- There was other news from New York this week, as well, including
the death of a legendary broadcaster. John A. Gambling was the
son of John B. Gambling, who more or less originated the concept
of a "morning show" on radio when he took over the
shift on WOR (710) back in 1925. "Rambling With Gambling"
passed to John A. in 1959, capping a career for him that already
included other hosting duties (most notably "Music from
Studio X") on WOR, and he held down the job there until
his own retirement in 1991, when he handed the show over to his
son, John R. Gambling, who hosted the show until being fired
from WOR in 2000. John A. also ran JAG Communications, which
owned several New England stations, including Providence's WLKW
and Albany's WROW, in the eighties. John A. Gambling retired
to Florida, where he died Thursday (Jan. 8) at 73; his son John
R. is now the midmorning host at WABC (770). (And WOR stepped
up to the plate with a nice tribute to John A. on Friday morning.)
- It's the end of the line for Utica's country "Bob",
WRBY (102.5 Rome) - Clear Channel pulled the plug on the format
there on Friday and replaced it with a spinning "Wheel of
Formats" that's still twirling at press time Sunday night.
Bob's Web site was being forwarded to the site of Syracuse sister
station WWDG (105.1 the Dog), prompting speculation that the
Dog will soon be barking in Utica as well, where it would compete
against Galaxy's K-Rock just as it does in Syracuse. (MONDAY
MORNING UPDATE: The wheel stopped spinning this morning and landed
on hot AC "Mix 102.5." More next week...)
- Moving up the St. Lawrence River, the big news from CANADA
was a three-way format flip involving several of Rogers' FM stations
in and around Ottawa. It all played out Friday morning, and it
happened like this: Country CKBY (105.3 Ottawa) picked up the
mainstream top 40 torch that was dropped last year when CHUM's
"Kool" CKKL (93.9) flipped to classic hits/hot AC "Bob."
Under the banner "105.3 Kiss FM," the signal picks
up right where Kool left off, voiceover talent and all, and promises
to give Newcap's newcomer CIHT (Hot 89.9) some competition, though
Hot leans much more urban than Kiss. The country format that
lived on 105.3 as "Y105" moved down the dial, airstaff
and all, to CIOX (101.1 Smiths Falls), the big signal from 30
miles southwest of Ottawa that had been doing modern rock as
"Xfm." (Some of X's airstaff have moved over to Kiss
as well.) And CJET-FM (92.3 Smiths Falls), which was doing country
on a much more local level for Smiths Falls and nearby Carleton
Place, no longer needs to do country now that "Y101"
is on the air, so it's become Canada's newest "Jack,"
targeting a broader audience that now includes at least part
of the Ottawa market (though it's still bound by a license condition,
left over from its late-nineties conversion from AM to FM, that
bars it from soliciting advertising in the Ottawa market.)
January 8, 1999 -
- A Rome, NEW YORK AM station is about to change format, not
that anyone's likely to notice. WODZ (1450) is being sold to
Bible Broadcasting Network, which is sure to outfit it with WYF-something
calls and put the BBN satellite religious format in a few months.
WODZ has been nothing but an FM simulcaster for years, first
as the old WKAL (with 95.9), then as country WFRG after the FM
moved to 96.1, then as oldies WODZ after the WFRG format and
calls moved to Utica's 104.3. The AM has also been used to park
calls on occasion in the last few years, most recently as WFRY.
- In RHODE ISLAND, another "almost" of 1998 was resolved
in the opening week of 1999, as WXEX (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale)
dumped rock to become a simulcast of classic rocker WHKK (100.3
Middletown). And a big "huh?" award to Robert Whitcomb,
editorial page editor of the Providence Journal, whose loving
tribute to New York's late adult standards station referred to
it throughout as "WQED." Suppose he knows something
about public broadcasting in Pittsburgh that we don't?
- A MASSACHUSETTS "Where are they now?": Former WBZ
program director Brian Whittemore moves from general manager
of KDKA Pittsburgh to the Twin Cities, to CBS sister station
WCCO Minneapolis. Congratulations!
January 14, 1994 (the first
known New England Radio Watcher column, reprinted here in its
can sponsor this weekly feature! Click here for information!
- I'm normally based in Boston, I know...but sometimes I make
the trek along the Mass Pike and the NY State Thruway (I-90)
to my ancestral home of Rochester NY. Here's what I encountered
along the drive last weekend:
- WEBSTER MA: Look for WXXW-FM, a class A on 98.9, to take
the airwaves soon. The format will be adult contemporary via
satellite, and the station will serve the Worcester market (which
already has local soft rockers WXLO 104.5 and WSRS 96.1, plus
Boston's WMJX, WSSH, and WBMX). The transmitter is in place,
and the single FM bay goes up within the next week on the AM
stick of sister WGFP-940.
WXXW is listed on the Don and Mike list; they're not confirming
that that's true, though.
- SOUTHBRIDGE MA: WESO-970 and WQVR-100.1 are moving from their
cramped studios on Hamilton Street to a more spacious location
nearby in the next couple of weeks.
- SPRINGFIELD MA: WSPR-1270 is back on air after two years
dark, with a Spanish format. Class D WNEK is no longer on 97.5,
but is not yet on air on its new freq of 99.7.
- ALBANY NY: WROW-FM 95.5 is no more. WROW and sister WROW-590
finally been sold to Albany Broadcasting Co., owners of crosstown
WPTR-1540 and WFLY-92.3. At the dawn of the new year, WROW-FM
became WYJB-"B 95.5". Format is essentially unchanged;
soft rock. WROW-590 is now simulcasting all-news (mostly CNN
HN) WPTR. Expect the all-news format to move to 590 this month,
with WPTR to take on a new talk format. WROW/WYJB will likely
be shoehorned into PTR/WFLY's cramped studios behind Rt. 5 between
Albany and Schenectady. That means an end to 4 decades of WROW
sharing space with WTEN-TV 10. TEN began as WROW-TV 41 in the
early '50s. The station became WCDB-TV 41, co-owned with WCDA-29
Hagaman NY and WCDC-19 North Adams MA. In 1959, Cap Cities won
a VHF allocation (against the wishes of WHEC-10 Rochester and
WJAR-10 Providence) on channel 10. WCDA-29 left the air. WCDB-41
became WTEN-10. Cap Cities sold the stations in the 80s.
- SCHENECTADY NY: Stopped in to visit WGY. The station is in
very funky, old-fashioned studios built by GE to house the GY
stations and WRGB-TV. The walls are lined with historic photos.
Although the radio and TV have been separately owned since 1982,
they still share the building...no locked doors, and the WGY-FM
studio has a window that looks down into the TV news studio!
WRGB-TV has 3 enormous studios...the Golden Age of TV lives!
Videos on request...
- UTICA/ROME NY: The duopoly with 1350/102.5 Rome and 1480/93.5
Remsen has shaken out like this: 1350-WRNY and 1480-WADR now
simulcast...satellite music of
your life most of the day, with few IDs. The top-hour legal did
not fire the hour I heard them...yes I have it on tape! In PM
drive, they run a really bad talk show. The host never ID'd the
station, had zero phone callers in the hour I listened, and did
3-minute live spots for both advertisers. Yawwwnnnn... Meanwhile,
the duopoly flopped calls and formats on the former WUUU-102.5
and WKDY-93.5. WUUU's oldies moved to class A 93.5, WKDY's country
to class B 102.5. Meanwhile, WFRG-1450/96.1 "Frog Country"
is now WODZ-AM/FM, "Oldies 96". The Big Frog has hopped
to a new home on 100kw FM 104.3 Utica, historically WKGW, and
for the last few months WKFM, "Kix" classic rock (the
format and calls formerly heard on 104.7 Fulton-Syracuse).
- SYRACUSE: The late WEZG 100.9/WNSS 1200 are back on after
a few months of darkness, now as WKRL AM-FM, "K-Rock".
They simulcast WKLL Frankfort-Utica 94.9 and its hard-rock format.
The 100.9 signal, a weak class A, holds up going east just to
the point where 94.9 gets strong...so a good duopoly. Class A
drop-in WTKW 99.5 Bridgeport-Syracuse has dumped satellite country
for live classic rock.
- Despite plans and a CP to move to 90.9, Baldwinsville High
School's WBXL-FM is still on 90.5, where I heard a surprisingly
professional-sounding female jock one
afternoon. Must have a good training program there...
- ROCHESTER: The big news is the on-air debut in December of
WEZO-FM 93.3. This is the CP that belonged to WYSL-1030 in Avon
NY, south of Rochester. It was to have been WYNQ, and signed
on simulcasting WYSL for one month in Dec. Then owner Bob Savage
entered into an LMA-to-buy with Lincoln Group, owners of WHAM/WVOR/WHTK
Rochester...and the station became automated EZ, under the
historic WEZO calls. WEZO was Rochester's monster EZ on 101.3
from 1971 until 1987, when the station became WRMM, "Warm".
This move brings the historic EZO calls back to the market, and
with the old 101.3 morning host Jerry Warner no less!
- The new WEZO has a so-so signal, a class A from Rts. 5/20
and Oaks Opening Road in West Bloomfield, about 15 miles S of
Rochester. It's OK south of the city, less so
in the northern 'burbs.
- Oh yeah...historically this is revenge. See, the original
WEZO made its mark by stealing the entire WVOR 100.5 audience.
WVOR was the original EZ listening station...but in July 1971,
it was knocked off the air by a fire. While VOR stayed
off for weeks, country WNYR-FM 101.3 quietly changed format to
EZ and calls to WEZO, and took over the EZ franchise in town.
When VOR came back on the air,
its audience had already defected! And who's behind the new WEZO
93.3? The Lincoln Group, owners of WHAM and... WVOR! I wonder
if anyone there gets
the irony of it all?
- Meanwhile WIRQ, the first noncomm FM in Monroe County (circa
1959), plugs along with its 30 watts on 94.3, its third frequency
(original was 90.9, then 93.3, then
the move to 94.3 when the WYNQ/WEZO CP was issued). Now they
have to move again...and this time may have to go dark. A new
CP has been issued for Brighton on
94.1 (can you say OVERBUILT MARKET? knew you could...), and now
there may be nowhere to go for poor WIRQ. I'm rooting for them
to bump W238AR off its 95.5 channel in Rochester. W238AR is a
translator designed to help rimshotter WRQI-95.1 "Rock-It
95" S. Bristol get into Rochester...but translators CAN
be bumped by class D noncomms...so stay tuned!
- On the AM side, the former WPXY-AM 1280 is now "Hot
Talk 1280", WHTK...being sold by Pyramid to Lincoln Group
(WHAM/WVOR/WEZO). The format includes Imus in the Morning, Liddy,
Gene Burns, Don and Mike, and Dr. Joy Browne. And that's the
buzz from my old hometown.
- One New England note: WKBR-1250 in Manchester NH is coming
back on the air. It's been testing with dead carrier on both
day and night pattern...look for it!
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learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW
2009 by Scott Fybush.