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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 support of 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, 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 station.

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.

And 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 at WBZ.

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.

“It’s been a great life and a great way to make a living, and now it’s 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 Raynham.)

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 an emergency.

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 that need.

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 days.

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 insomniac chat.

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 audience.

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.


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*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.

While 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 analog service?

(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.)


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*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 of NERW.

*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 Keene translators.

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.

And 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.

Meanwhile, 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 transition.)

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 Channel Boston.

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, 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 last autumn.)

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 in CANADA.

In Kitchener, 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. 16.)

In Peterborough, 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 show.

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 31.

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!)

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 glass.
  • 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 circumstances.
  • 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 NJ).
  • 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 entirety!) -

  • 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 have
    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 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 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 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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