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April 6, 2009

Remembering Paul Sidney

*It was another big week of news here in NERW-land, from the promise of a TV affiliation fight brewing in Boston, to format changes in Providence and New Hampshire, to the start of the baseball season, to the loss of a part of our own NERW family - but when we got the phone call Thursday morning letting us know that Paul Sidney had died, there was no question that our lead story this week would be coming from out on Long Island, at the very eastern tip of NEW YORK state, at WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor).

WLNG was just a few months old, and still exclusively on the AM dial, at 1600, when Paul Sidney came to town to become program director. Then in his early twenties, Sidney had already spent most of his life in broadcasting, starting with a homebrew studio in his Brooklyn bedroom at the age of eight, then an early job at WLIS in Old Saybrook, Connecticut that led him to the new WLNG early in 1964.

In the 45 years that followed, Sidney and the station became inseparable, for while his titles changed (PD, then vice president, then general manager, and since 2005 general manager emeritus), they were really meaningless, because Paul Sidney was WLNG, and WLNG, in turn, became one of the most distinctive and beloved stations anywhere on the radio dial.

By today's radio standards, the WLNG that Paul Sidney created is an anomaly - a music mix that ranges from fifties oldies to contemporary hits, jingles seemingly between every programming element, lots and lots of local news, and an almost non-stop parade of live remotes from all over Long Island's East End, especially on weekends. It shouldn't work, perhaps, but it does, consistently topping the East End ratings and reportedly maintaining a healthy profit margin

Paul Sidney dedicated his life to making that happen, in a way that goes far beyond the usual cliche. While he lived in an apartment in downtown Sag Harbor, he was much more likely to be found at the station on Redwood Causeway, or sitting on a bench chatting with anyone walking by - or, of course, out at a remote with the "Tireless Wireless," interviewing anyone within arm's reach.

Sidney had been in poor health in recent years, and had spent some time in the hospital about a week ago. He was released last Monday, but fell ill again Wednesday night. He died early Thursday morning (April 2), at age 69.

Funeral services were held Friday, and on Sunday friends of the station gathered for a less formal memorial to Sidney outside WLNG's studios.

The true memorial to Paul Sidney, however, will be at 92.1 on the FM dial (and streaming at, where his colleagues, including Rusty Potz and Gary Sapiane, will be keeping his legacy alive with unique local programming...and lots of jingles.

*We'll have the rest of the week's news from the Empire State later in the column, but our other lead story this week comes from eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where WHDH-TV (Channel 7) owner Ed Ansin set the TV world abuzz late last week with the announcement that his station won't be carrying NBC's new 10 PM Jay Leno show when it debuts in September.

Ansin's relationship with NBC has never been an easy one; while his other station, Miami's WSVN (Channel 7), had long been tied to the Peacock, NBC bristled at frequent pre-emptions and ended up buying its own Miami station, WTVJ (Channel 4), in 1987 - only to have Ansin hold the network to its contract with WSVN through the 1988 Olympics. WSVN eventually became one of the most successful Fox affiliates in the country, largely on the strength of a ratings-dominant 10 PM newscast.

When Ansin bought WHDH-TV in 1993, the station was a CBS affiliate, and Ansin pre-empted a fair amount of CBS programming (including the network's morning show). But the 1995 deal that brought WBZ-TV (Channel 4) into partnership with CBS meant an affiliation swap - and while Ansin negotiated with Fox, in the end he ended up with NBC on Boston's channel 7, paving over whatever tensions he'd had with the network...until now.

While there's been plenty of private grumbling from affiliates about the potential problems a 10 PM Leno show could pose to their own all-important 11 PM news ratings, so far WHDH has been the only NBC station to come out and say it doesn't plan to carry the show. In a Globe interview, Ansin said carrying Leno would be "detrimental to our 11 o'clock newscast" and "detrimental to our finances."

Judging by NBC's swift response, the network clearly hopes to make sure other affiliates get its message - within hours, the network had put out the word that WHDH would be in breach of its contract with NBC if it follows through with its plans, and that NBC wouldn't hesitate to find a new outlet in the Boston market, "including using our existing broadcast license to launch an NBC owned and operated station," said NBC president John Eck to the Globe.

That NBC even owned a station in the Boston market came as a surprise to some in the local broadcast community, where there are few lower-profile stations than Merrimack, N.H.-licensed Telemundo outlet WNEU-DT (Channel 34), which has a limited broadcast reach south of the Massachusetts border, but enjoys full-market carriage on cable and satellite, providing at least the foundation of a future "NBC Boston," should push come to shove.

But that, we suspect, is not a desirable outcome for either Ansin or NBC, so let's back up a moment and look at what's at stake for both parties, and what their options might be:

For Ansin, there's surely a decades-old score to be settled: having the NBC affiliation pulled from WSVN back in the eighties reduced his flagship station's ratings and revenue for quite a while. Though the eventual ascent of Fox into major-network status has leveled the field in more recent years, Ansin must relish the opportunity to put his old nemesis on the spot during a vulnerable moment - especially in Leno's own hometown. There's certainly a big element of truth in Ansin's stated concern about 11 PM newscast ratings and revenue; with weak lead-ins from NBC already taking 7 News out of the dominant position it enjoyed for much of the past decade, Ansin is undoubtedly sincere about his belief that putting the 10 PM "7 News" on channel 7 itself (instead of, or perhaps in addition to, its current run on WHDH's sister station WLVI) would be more lucrative than carrying the network's Leno show. As it stands, WHDH is reportedly already one of the few remaining NBC affiliates to be receiving affiliate-compensation payments from the networks, and we'd suspect Ansin hopes to wring more of that money from NBC if it succeeds in keeping Leno on his airwaves.

NBC, for its part, has been trying mightily to get out of the local TV station business, not deeper into it. The network sold off one chunk of owned-and-operated stations, including Providence's WJAR (Channel 10), a couple of years ago; it's been trying without success to sell several more, including WVIT (Channel 30) in the Hartford market, and it's bee rumored to have been considering the sale of most of its remaining stations, except for New York's WNBC and Los Angeles' KNBC.

To build a station like WNEU into a full-fledged network O&O would be an undesirable prospect, requiring the network to build a studio and to launch some sort of local news product into a market that can barely support the ones it already has.

(Ansin, for his part, would surely dread the addition of another network-affiliate competitor to WHDH's local news, should he lose the NBC affiliation to NBC itself.)

Even if NBC is serious about its concept, moving forward, that network programming could be delivered directly to cable systems and satellite viewers without the annoying local-affiliate middlemen, the network faces a more immediate problem: the initial ratings for Leno will be very closely watched; Boston, as a top-10 market, will contribute heavily to those numbers; and Leno will surely draw higher numbers on high-visibility, familiar Channel 7 than it would on a hastily-developed "NBC Boston" somewhere higher up the cable dial.

So what happens now? Here are the possibilities that seem most likely to NERW:

Ansin backs down. The threat of losing NBC may not be enough, by itself, to keep WHDH in the fold - but if the Peacock comes through with some extra affiliate compensation, Ansin might be more likely to agree to carry Leno's show on schedule. Ansin might even become the hero of all NBC affiliates if he can persuade the network to add more local ad time during Leno's show, giving the local stations more opportunities to increase their own revenue during the 10 PM hour. As for NBC's legal threats? There's well-established FCC precedent, going back to the Report on Chain Broadcasting of 1939, that networks can't force affiliates to carry their programming if the affiliates don't want it. What's more, those rules also require networks to offer the uncleared programming to other stations in the market, which leads to possibility #2...

Ansin clears Leno - on WLVI. We've noted that there's already a "7 News at 10," on WHDH's sister station WLVI (Channel 56). For now, WHDH claims its plan is to simulcast the 10 PM newscast on both channels, but that seems somewhat pointless in the long run. Would NBC be willing to allow Ansin to bump the Leno show to "CW56" in order to put his local news on channel 7? WLVI at least has an established brand and cable carriage across the market.

NBC moves to another existing station. On Saturday, the Globe reported that at least three TV stations in the market expressed interest in taking over the NBC affiliation from WHDH, should it come to that. While the paper didn't name call letters, there's no reason we can't speculate: in addition to NBC-owned Telemundo outlet WNEU, NBC owns a minority interest in home-shopping WWDP-DT in Norwell, which could also become the foundation of a future "NBC Boston." Ion Media's trimulcast of WBPX in Boston, WPXG in New Hampshire and WDPX on Cape Cod would also be available to launch a new NBC outlet, as might Multicultural's WMFP (Channel 62), which is apparently for sale.

Then there's Diane Sutter's WZMY (Channel 50) in Derry, N.H., which has struggled as an outlet of MyNetwork TV, and which still has at least a minimal local presence in the person of weatherman Al Kaprielian. (Can you imagine Al doing cut-ins on the Today show?)

Most of the market's other commercial stations are spoken for: venerable NBC affiliate WBZ-TV (Channel 4) is now owned outright by CBS and won't be switching, and neither will its sister station, WSBK-TV (Channel 38). Fox won't be parting with WFXT (Channel 25), and there's no reason to think Entravision has any plans to sell its Univision/Telefutura duopoly, WUNI/WUTF, not that either station has any familiarity to English-speaking viewers anyway.

Then there's Hearst-Argyle, whose WCVB (Channel 5) has long-term ties to ABC that are unlikely to be broken. But what of WCVB's New Hampshire-based sister station, WMUR (Channel 9)? It's at least remotely imaginable that WMUR could take the NBC affiliation - and that Hearst-Argyle could extend WMUR's cable carriage throughout the entire Boston market, where it's already seen on satellite. As for over-the-air coverage, WMUR could appear on WCVB's digital subchannels, and vice versa.

Unlikely? Probably - but having NBC and ABC under the same corporate roof would be a boon for Hearst-Argyle, and the threat of that duopoly just might be a powerful one to keep Ansin in line, if it came to that.

NBC forgoes a local affiliate and heads straight to cable. This may happen someday, as the long-established structure of network/affiliate relationships continues to crumble - but it's hard to see it happening immediately, unless NBC is truly desperate. A cable-only "NBC Boston" would be at the mercy of big cable operators like Comcast and the two direct-to-home satellite giants to assure a competitive dial position, would still need to find some sort of syndicated programming to fill the gaps in NBC's own daily network schedule - and would be completely absent for more than 1 in 10 Boston-market viewers still dependent on over-the-air TV. All that doesn't add up to competitive ratings for Jay Leno, which is at least NBC's short-term goal here.

Leno launches in Boston on the radio. There's some precedent here: when Fox launched back in 1986 with the Joan Rivers show, the new network lacked a Boston affiliate. While Fox completed its acquisition of what was then WXNE (Channel 25), Rivers made her Boston debut on radio, on the old WMRE (1510). Up in Leno's native Merrimack Valley, quick-thinking WCAP (980 Lowell) owner Clark Smidt has already offered to provide a radio simulcast of Leno's show, should NBC be unable to find a TV clearance, and if nothing else, he's gotten us to mention his call letters as a result...

There's no question that the times are changing, and fast, in the local TV game - and we'll be here to follow developments as they occur. Stay tuned!

*Just a few more bits of Bay State news this week: in Boston, WGBH is the latest public broadcaster to announce budget cutbacks - this time, mandatory one-week furloughs without pay for management and some employees, along with a temporary halt in matching contributions to retirement plans.

Out on Cape Cod, Cat Wilson is out at the Qantum group, where she was promotions director and midday jock on WCIB (101.9 Falmouth); Steve McVie is handling that airshift now.

And in Springfield, WMAS (1450) has new call letters: the True Oldies Channel outlet has become WHLL, honoring the Basketball Hall of Fame that's home to its local studio. (Only the truly obsessive will note that those calls have a slight history 40 miles to the east, where they were on Worcester's Channel 27 for a few years in the nineties.) MONDAY UPDATE: It's not just a call change - WHLL is flipping to ESPN sports, including a local afternoon show. More details next week...


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*After just over a year on the air in RHODE ISLAND, "True Oldies" have run their course. Citadel's WPRV (790 Providence) has replaced the ABC (er, Citadel Media) format with talk, keeping Don Imus in morning drive, followed by the Citadel-syndicated Joe Scarborough/Mika Brzezinski late-morning show, Bloomberg Radio in middays, and a local leased-time money show in late afternoon drive. What's on at night? Breathe easy, you Yankees fans deep in Sox-land - the pinstripes will still be heard on 790 this season.

*When classic hits disappeared from the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast's WQSO (96.7 Rochester), it wasn't an April Fool's joke - as of last Wednesday, the station has flipped to talk. Don Imus remains in morning drive, followed by the usual Clear Channel all-syndicated lineup of Beck-Limbaugh-Hannity-Savage-Noory. For now, Clear Channel is still running talk on sister AM station WGIN (930 Rochester) as well, though we're hearing sports could be in the offing on the AM side eventually.

*In VERMONT, the FCC has granted construction permits for two FM station upgrades: in Rutland, "Drive" WDVT (94.5) has been granted a move up to Boardman Hill southwest of town, allowing the station to double power, from 3 kW to 6 kW, and to raise its antenna from 241' below average terrain to 322' above. WDVT's new facility will be directional, protecting adjacent-channel WBTN-FM (94.3 Bennington) and WBAR (94.7 Lake Luzerne NY).

Meanwhile up north, Ken Squier's WCVT (101.7 Stowe) has again been granted a CP to move up to Mount Mansfield, jumping from 400 watts/2067' to 1 kW/2661' DA. (A similar CP expired unbuilt, reflecting the political difficulty of adding any new signals, especially a directional FM, to the Mount Mansfield antenna cluster.)

*There's a new morning voice on CONNECTICUT's Catholic-owned radio station, WJMJ (88.9 Hartford): Bruce Stevens, late of WTIC (1080), joins the Diocese of Hartford's station in the 5-10 AM slot last occupied by Phil Callan, who announced his retirement last week.

WJMJ is making other changes as well, swapping much of the beautiful music that has long defined the station for a more contemporary pop/standards sound, adding overnight operation and going stereo, and moving from its original studios at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield to new studios at 15 Peach Orchard Road in Prospect, home of the diocesan TV studios.

Want to learn more about the histories of WJMJ and dozens of other radio stations, past and present, in the Hartford market? Point your browser to, where there's a growing collection of photos and stories about central Connecticut's broadcast legacy.

*MAINE Public Broadcasting's vice president/director for television is heading south: starting May 4, Joe Riley will be heading up public broadcaster KWBU-FM/TV in Waco, Texas.

*More news from NEW YORK: "Pulse 87," the quasi-FM station operating at 87.7 on the audio carrier of WNYZ-LP (Channel 6), apparently intends to stick around for the long haul, since operator Mega Media has signed a 10-year deal to keep leasing WNYZ from owner Island Broadcasting, sharing "Pulse" revenue between the two broadcast companies. (Will the FCC still allow analog broadcasts by low-power TV stations in 2019?)

In Syracuse, our friends at report that Don Imus is returning to WHEN (620) next Monday, two years almost to the day after the I-Man's old CBS Radio syndicated show - and his last run on "SportsRadio 620" - ended.

Down I-81, Ray Ross has another "Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion" scheduled for this fall. September 26 is the date, and this time around it's at the Binghamton Regency Hotel downtown. There's more information to be had on the Binghamton Radio website, and we'll have updates here on NERW as it gets closer.

Binghamton, of course, made some unfortunate headlines Friday morning, and at least some of the local stations rose to the occasion. At Citadel's WNBF (1290), news director Bob Joseph was heard nationwide, with CNN and other networks turning to him and his newsroom for updates as details slowly leaked out about the 13 deaths at the American Civic Association headquarters. We also heard good things about WEBO (1330) over in Owego, which provided non-stop reports from the scene even as WNBF went back to its syndicated Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity shows during the course of the afternoon.

Several of Binghamton's FM music stations, including WCDW (Cool 100.5) and WLTB (Magic 101.7) were also providing updates, we're told - and while the radio stations were doing their best, we're sorry to say that (at least from what we could make out from our vantage point up here in Rochester) Binghamton's TV stations provided a graphic example of what happens when costs just keep getting cut in a small market.

The Front Street shooting scene was just a few blocks from the Sheraton Hotel where WBNG (Channel 12) used to be located, back in the days when the station routinely pulled in more than 75% of the market's news audience. Under current owner Granite, WBNG's coverage was less distinguished; we hear the station's live truck was inoperable, leaving the station with just a phone report during its noon newscast, then occasional updates through the afternoon.

The competition didn't fare much better; ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) and Fox affiliate WICZ (Channel 40) both have only skeletal news staffs these days, and we hear WICZ turned to Fox News Channel to provide most of its on-air coverage during the afternoon, while WIVT relied heavily on Syracuse sister station WSYR-TV. (WBNG would once have turned to its Granite sister station in Syracuse, WTVH, but that station's news resources are gone now, merged in with NBC affiliate WSTM up there.)

The market also has a Time Warner news channel, "News 10 Now," which operates a Binghamton newsroom in conjunction with the channel's Syracuse headquarters. While News 10 at least had a live, on-scene presence (simulcast on other Time Warner news channels, including Rochester's R News), it suffered from technical flaws that rendered the live pictures almost unwatchable, not to mention a very green reporting staff.

That's not unusual for Binghamton, which has long been a "starter" market that feeds young reporters to larger markets upstate - but the way the model has traditionally worked, those reporters have learned their craft alongside more experienced photojournalists and anchors who have helped them grow. But at News 10, the reporters are the photojournalists - and the anchors are based at Capital News 9 in Albany, two hours away. That may work out as an inexpensive way to handle day-to-day routine news coverage - but when the news is bigger, that lack of experience shows, especially when the big New York City stations and their veteran staffers are just a few hours away, as was the case in Binghamton on Friday.

*In Oneida, we can now put a price tag on the sale of WMCR (1600)/WMCR-FM (106.3) to James Johnson's Leatherstocking Media Group: he's paying Vivian Warren $950,000 for the pair of stations.

*An hour south of Binghamton, across the border in northeast PENNSYLVANIA, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market is down to two local TV news operations with Friday's abrupt closure of the newsroom at CBS affiliate WYOU-TV (Channel 22).

Channel 22 has long been an also-ran in a market that's massively dominated by ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16), which routinely draws 40 and 50 shares for its local newscasts. For the last few years, WYOU has been operated jointly with NBC affiliate WBRE (Channel 28), and while the stations have tried to find ways to differentiate their newscasts, including an attempt by Channel 22 to create "interactive newscasts" heavy on live guests and viewer call-ins and to broadcast its news at off-hours such as 4 PM and 7 PM, WYOU still couldn't break out of the bottom of the ratings pack, a deadly place to be in today's economy.

For now, WYOU has replaced its newscasts with entertainment programming; 14 more people are out of work as a result of the cancelled newscasts.

In the Reading market, "Frank FM" (WFKB 107.5 Boyertown) left the air last Tuesday, as Nassau's LMA-to-buy with owner WDAC Radio expired unconsummated, leaving the Frank staff out of work - and putting WDAC's religion back on 107.5, though with some audio problems at first.

What's not back on 107.5 is its previous callsign, WBYN. Those calls had moved to Nassau's 1160 up in Lehighton (ex-WYNS) when "Frank" replaced "Alive 107.5" on the FM, and Nassau is apparently doing well enough with religion on 1160 that it's keeping the calls and format there (with a prominent note on the WBYN website explaining that Nassau is no longer connected with the WDAC folks, and that the WBYN programming formerly heard on 107.5-HD2 has ended as well.)

A veteran Philadelphia PD has called it quits. Bob McKay retires from Beasley's WXTU (92.5) on Friday, but he'll still be involved with the country giant, since WXTU has already signed on as the first client for McKay's new consulting business.

He'll be guiding the station through a morning show change alongside new PD Leo Baldwin, who will add XTU's programming duties to his job as PD of sister station WRDW-FM (Wired 96.5): morning co-host Scott Evans has exited WXTU as well, leaving Andie Summers solo for now.

Over in Altoona, Dave Bithell is out as morning host on WRKY (104.9), just shy of his 40th anniversary in broadcasting - and if you don't believe that these layoffs are painful, here's what he told the Altoona Mirror about his meeting with Forever Broadcasting VP/GM Dave Davies: "He said, 'With bad economic times, we have to make more cuts, and this time it's you.' I said, 'You are destroying my life; I need an explanation.' He said I was in a nonrevenue-generating position."

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*In CANADA, the troubled Aboriginal Voices Radio has handed two of its licenses back to the CRTC, which has deleted CKAV-FM-10 (106.7 Montreal) and CKAV-FM-8 (102.5 Kitchener). AVR still has its signals in Ottawa, Toronto and several western markets on the air.

At Toronto's CFTO-TV (Channel 9), veteran weatherman Dave Devall signed off for the last time Friday, but not without some big honors. That included recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a weather forecaster - 48 years, two months and 27 days. (No offense to Devall, but NERW wonders whether two New Englanders - John Quill at WWLP and Art Lake at WJAR - outlasted him with their own careers?)

And in listing the oldies outlets still available to CHUM-less Torontonians, we left out Oshawa's CKDO, serving listeners east of the city on both AM 1580 and FM 107.7...

*Before we move on to baseball, we have two more obituaries to offer this week:

The community of broadcasting historians is a small one, and it got a little smaller on March 29, when Milwaukee's Dick Golembiewski suffered a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow.

Dick's primary interest was TV history, lovingly chronicled in his recently-published magnum opus Milwaukee TV History: The Analog Years, but we learned after his death that he had been working on a companion book about Milwaukee's radio history, and we're saddened to think that we'll never get to see that volume.

Dick was just 51.

Meanwhile, here at NERW headquarters, it's a little quieter and lonelier as we type this week's issue without Freckles, "the NERW Wonder Dog," curled up nearby on the sofa.

Freckles came to NERW Central in 2000, rescued from the local shelter just shy of her fourth birthday, and while her interest in radio was limited at best (preferring quiet, she tended to leave the room when airchecks were being played), she was nonetheless a regular companion on our travels, an occasional presence here in the pages of NERW, and the first thing visitors to the home office would see (or at least hear) upon their arrival.

Freckles turned 13 in February, and stopped eating a few weeks later. When her time came on Friday afternoon, she went peacefully - but as anyone who's ever been a dog owner knows, that doesn't make it any easier, does it?

*On to happier news: the 2009 baseball season is now officially underway (indeed, we're watching the Braves trounce the Phillies as we type this), and after our recap last week of Major League Baseball on the Radio, we continue this week with the top levels of the minors, AAA and AA, which start play this week.

In the AAA International League, our hometown Rochester Red Wings stay put on WHTK (1280), with some day games and other conflict games getting shifted down the dial to WYSL (1040). There's limited TV coverage on Time Warner Cable Sports 26. One big change this year is the departure of team icon Joe Altobelli from the broadcast booth after 11 seasons as color commentator and 58 seasons in organized baseball; he's decided not to return to the team's broadcasts this year, but he promises to still be a visible presence at Frontier Field.

The Buffalo Bisons trade the Indians organization for the Mets, but continue on 50,000-watt WWKB (1520), with Sunday games being simulcast on WBEN (930) and a "Game of the Week" on WGR (550). 37 games will be on TV, via Time Warner Cable SportsNet 13.

The Syracuse Chiefs have a new parent club - the Washington Nationals - but the same broadcast lineup as last season, with WHEN (620) as radio flagship and Time Warner Cable Sports doing select TV games.

The Pawtucket Red Sox return to WHJJ (920), leading a network that also includes WNBH (1340 New Bedford MA) and WNRI (1380 Woonsocket) on a full-time basis and eight more stations (including big-signalled WCRN 830 Worcester) for limited games. That list includes one unusual outlet this year - low-power WHWS-LP 105.7 in Geneva, New York will join the PawSox network when it's not broadcasting the local collegiate league's games; for that, you can thank a certain Sox-loving station manager.

A dozen games will be seen on TV via Cox Sports Television, while NESN will pick up five PawSox games for regional viewers on days when the BoSox are off. (That lineup includes the August 8 game against Norfolk at Fenway Park.)

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees return for another season on Bold Gold Media's "Game" quadcast - WICK (1400 Scranton), WYCK (1340 Plains), WFBS (1280 Berwick) and WPSN (1590 Honesdale). It's not clear yet whether last year's TV deal with Blue Ridge Cable will continue in 2009.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have a new color commentator, as Steve Degler moves to Allentown from the Reading Phillies, and a new flagship, as Nassau's WTKZ (1320 Allentown)/WEEX (1230 Easton) becomes the Pigs' broadcast home. The Pigs will once again have their entire home schedule on TV, with a cable network made up of Service Electric and Blue Ridge Cable, broadcast coverage in the Hazleton area via WYLN, and Saturday games on Allentown's WFMZ-TV (Channel 69).

*On we go to the AA Eastern League, where the Portland Sea Dogs continue to have one of the larger radio networks in the league, with WBAE (1490 Portland)/WVAE (1400 Biddeford) as the flagship and additional coverage on WEZR (1240 Lewiston)/WTME (780 Rumford)/WKTQ (1450 South Paris) to the north, WMYF (1380 Portsmouth NH) to the south and WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) way Down East. Three games will air on NESN, including the August 8 "Futures at Fenway" game against Bowie.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have WGIR (610 Manchester) returning as the flagship, along with simulcaster WGIN (930 Rochester) and additional coverage on WEEY (93.5 Swanzey/Keene) and WTSL (1400 Hanover).

The New Britain Rock Cats have perhaps the most unusual new radio deal this year, as they move their radio deal from Hartford's Buckley cluster over to CBS Radio. The team's new flagship is WTIC-FM (96.5)'s HD2 channel, with most games also being heard on WMRD (1150 Middletown)/WLIS (1420 Old Saybrook), and 10 games on the big signal of WTIC (1080 Hartford). WTIC's Joe D'Ambrosio, the voice of UConn basketball and football, will join veteran Rock Cats broadcaster Jeff Dooley in the booth for 2009.

In Norwich, the Connecticut Defenders return to WICH (1310) for another season at Dodd Stadium.

The Binghamton Mets say farewell to announcer Robert Ford, who's off to Kansas City to do the pre- and post-game shows for the Royals after four years with the B-Mets. Matt McCabe, who was Ford's sidekick in 2007, comes back to Binghamton after a year with the Eugene, Oregon Emeralds of the Northwest League. The team's radio coverage remains on WNBF (1290).

The Trenton Thunder lost their previous radio outlet, WBUD (1260), when it went all-Catholic as WFJS, so they've moved to Rider College's FM signal, WRRC (107.7), in the first year of a three-year deal.

The Reading Phillies have signed Anthony Opperman, formerly with the class A Potomac Nationals, to replace the departing Steve Degler in the play-by-play booth; he'll be heard on WIOV (1240), while Degler will still handle some R-Phils games for Service Electric TV 2 Sports (also seen via Blue Ridge Cable and Hazleton's WYLN.)

The Harrisburg Senators stay with WTKT (1460 Harrisburg) for a fourth season, and play-by-play voice Terry Byrom marks his fifth year with the team.

The Altoona Curve move to WVAM (1430 Altoona) this year, with Ron Potesta arriving in the broadcast booth alongside Dan Zangrilli. Potesta spent the last six years with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, Tennessee. Games will also be heard on WHUN (1150 Huntingdon), with additional affiliates yet to be named.

And if there's any radio this year for the Erie SeaWolves, we can't find it on the team's website.

*We'll close with the lone long-season class A team in the region, the Lakewood Blue Claws of the South Atlantic League, which return to Millennium Radio's "Shore Sports Network," WOBM (1160 Lakewood) and WBUD (1310 Asbury Park).

As for the short-season A teams in the New York-Penn League, we'll be back to tackle those when that season begins in June.

See you at the ballpark!

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, ten and - where available - fifteen 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!)

April 7, 2008 -

  • If you still believe there's such a thing as a safe job in broadcasting these days, we'd sure like to know about it. The latest evidence that times are hard - not that we really needed any further evidence - comes from CBS' local television stations, which went through a painful round of staffing cuts last week everywhere from Los Angeles to Boston. The cuts were especially severe at Boston's WBZ-TV (Channel 4)/WSBK (Channel 38), where initial reports indicated that as many as 30 staffers lost their jobs. We still haven't been able to confirm that number (and the company's not saying), but there's no question there were significant cutbacks on the TV side at Soldiers Field Road.
  • The most prominent cutbacks involve three veteran on-air personalities: sports director Bob Lobel, arts correspondent Joyce Kulhawik and sportscaster-turned-news anchor Scott Wahle. Lobel has been with WBZ since 1979, Kulhawik since 1981 and Wahle since 1989, most recently as co-anchor of the 9 PM newscast on WSBK. The station isn't saying how much longer any of the departing air talent will remain, but it sounds as though they'll be gradually eased out as their contracts are bought out, with Steve Burton likely to replace Lobel as sports director. Behind the scenes, many of the dismissed employees didn't get the same luxury, with some being escorted out the door as soon as the news was announced. The list of job cuts included veteran engineer Fred Boudreau, commercial producer Roger Lyons, writer Casey Sherman and managing editor David Kaplar.
  • The CBS cutbacks hit NEW YORK's WCBS-TV (Channel 2) hard as well. Reporters Scott Weinberger and Andrew Kirtzman lost their jobs in front of the cameras, and there were job losses behind the scenes as well.
  • A former WAXQ (104.3) morning host who made a brief splash in the market a decade ago has died. Darian O'Toole (real name Karen Begin) came to the US from Nova Scotia, working first in Atlantic City and then at WMMR in Philadelphia before heading west to San Francisco, where she spent most of her radio career. In late 1997, fresh off a format change that ended her run in morning drive at KBGG-FM (98.1) in San Francisco, O'Toole came to Q104 for what proved to be an unsuccessful stint in morning drive that lasted only nine months. O'Toole eventually returned to San Francisco, where she was last heard on "Free FM" KIFR (106.9). In recent years, O'Toole had been struggling with health problems. She died last Monday (March 31) of complications from a broken leg, at the age of 40.
  • There's a new radio station in Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE, as Great Eastern completes its move of the former WVRR (101.7 Newport) down to the Keene area. Now on 101.9, licensed to Westminster VT, it's relaunching as "K-Rock," with new calls WKKN and a lineup that will include the "Greg and the Morning Buzz" show from WGIR-FM in Manchester.
  • In PENNSYLVANIA, we can add two more to the growing list of AM stations using FM translators. Shippensburg Broadcasting is paying Four Rivers Community Broadcasting $10,000 for W230AX (93.9 Middle Spring), which it plans to use to relay WEEO (1480 Shippensburg). And our pals over at report that WANB (1580 Waynesburg) has been granted special temporary authority to rebroadcast its signal on W286AL (105.1 Waynesburg), using that 10-watt FM outlet to put WANB programming on FM 24 hours a day. (Yes, there's also a WANB-FM on 103.1, but it has a CP to move to Mount Pleasant.)
  • One of CANADA's biggest AM signals goes silent this morning. CBA (1070 Moncton NB) will shut off its 50,000-watt transmitter at 7 AM Atlantic time (6 AM Eastern), 69 years after the station first took to the airwaves. It's being replaced by CBAM (106.1 Moncton), at least in the local area, but it leaves behind many CBC Radio fans in the northeastern US who will lose their last on-air link to CBC's programming.

April 5, 2004 -

  • It was a relatively slow week on the U.S. side of the border, so why not begin our report this week in CANADA? That's where Astral Media is trying yet again to unload the cluster of Quebec AM stations that the CRTC ordered it to divest several years ago. After its most recent plan to sell the stations to a management-led group derailed, Astral is back with another plan: it now intends to trade the group of stations to another big Canadian broadcaster, Corus Entertainment.
  • Here's how it will play out: Corus will get the Radiomedia AM stations (CKAC 730 Montreal, CHRC 800 Quebec City, CJRC 1150 Gatineau-Ottawa, CKRS 590 Saguenay, CHLT 630 Sherbrooke, CHLN 550 Trois-Rivieres/CKSM 1220 Shawinigan), CKTS 900 Sherbrooke (which relays Standard's CJAD 800 Montreal) and CFOM 102.9 Quebec City. In Montreal, that will put CKAC in the same ownership family as its new FM news-talk archrival CKOO (98.5), as well as French all-news CINF (690), English all-news CINW (940), English AC CFQR (92.5) and French top 40 CKOI (96.9).
  • Astral, meanwhile, will get five FMs from Corus in much smaller Quebec markets: CFVM (99.9 Amqui), CFZZ (104.1 St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, just south of Montreal), CJDM (92.1 Drummondville, which will pair with Astral's existing CHRD 105.3 there) and Rimouski's CJOI (102.9) and CIKI (98.7). Astral has already announced plans to use these new signals to expand the reach of its province-wide "Rock Detente," "Energie" and "Boom" French-language formats; we'd guess that CJOI and perhaps CFVM and CJDM will take Rock Detente, CIKI will take Energie and CFZZ will pick up Boom.
  • An interesting note here: this transaction shows both how eager Astral is to unload its AM properties after two failed attempts (the CRTC ruled against an earlier plan by TVA and Radio Nord to acquire the stations) and how little AMs are worth these days even in big Quebec cities - there was, after all, a time when 50 kW signals like CKAC and CHRC would have been the most valuable radio properties in Quebec, and now they're being traded for some awfully small FMs.
  • In NEW YORK, Air America Radio launched on schedule over WLIB (1190 New York) Wednesday afternoon. At least for now, WLIB is Air America's only affiliate in the east (though there are strong rumors that Inner City Broadcasting sister station WHAT 1340 in Philadelphia will soon join it.) You've probably already read half a dozen reviews of the programming, and the truth of the matter is that after being unable to get on the stream the first day, we haven't been back to try again - and in any case, if you're anything like most of the people we know in radio, you already know how you feel about this one without needing to we'll move on.
  • What's WPLJ program director/morning guy Scott Shannon doing on afternoon drive on a little AM daytimer in CONNECTICUT? Having fun, that's what - and launching a new format for WPLJ's parent company, ABC. Shannon's "True Oldies" format launched last week on WREF (850 Ridgefield), right on the edge of the New York metro up there in northern Fairfield County, and it'll soon go out nationally as the latest format offering from ABC Radio Networks. No 70s material here - this is largely pre-Beatles rock'n'roll, with Shannon himself holding down that afternoon shift, and it sounds like a blast to listen to, at least from where we're sitting.
  • It didn't take long for Entercom to make a station move in northeastern PENNSYLVANIA: just a week after the FCC granted the construction permit for WAMT (103.1 Freeland) to move north from the Hazleton area to become an Avoca-licensed signal, engineers had completed the work to add 103.1's signal to the WDMT (102.3 Pittston) antenna near the interchange of PA 315, I-81 and I-476 in Pittston, and 103.1 reappeared last Wednesday as WFEZ, "Easy 103," with a soft AC format. The move means listeners in the southern end of the market lose the "Mountain" format that WAMT had been simulcasting with WDMT, but it brings a new signal into the heart of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. It also means WKRZ (98.5) changes city of license from Wilkes-Barre to Freeland, with no technical or format changes...
  • Today (April 5) marks the end of religious WZZD (990 Philadelphia) and the launch of Salem's conservative talk format on the renamed WNTP.

April 2, 1999 -

  • It's not exactly "Jammin' Oldies," it's not exactly rhythmic CHR, but whatever you want to call the new format on 93.7 in Boston, it's replaced "The Eagle" and classic rock.
  • At 10 o'clock Wednesday night, to the strains of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the classic rock on WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence) came to an end, Prince's "1999" began playing, and kept playing until 3 PM Thursday, when Entercom debuted "Star 93.7, the Rhythm of Boston." Eagle PD Pete Falcone is gone, replaced by Ron Valeri (formerly APD at sister Entercom station WAAF) in the PD chair and Pat Paxton (formerly with consultant Guy Zapoleon) as operations manager. Paxton, who describes the new format as "rhythmic oldies from the 70s, 80s, 90s, along with some currents," also takes over as Entercom's group director of programming for AC and CHR stations. So what does "Star" sound like? First song up was the Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb On Me," followed by Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Cher's "Believe," and the Bee Gees. No word yet on airstaff, although we hear the Eagle crew may be out, and no official new calls, although Entercom's said to be requesting WQSX.
  • NERW's take? An interesting strategy, clearly aiming at a much more female demo than the Eagle did, and apparently targeting listeners from Chancellor's Kiss (and, to some extent, Jam'n's urban audience), CBS' Mix (a former Eagle sister station in the ARS days), and Greater Media's WROR. Could it be that, with Mix out of the family, Entercom needed something with a less male-heavy demo to complement the very testosterone-driven trio of WAAF, WEEI, and WRKO? If nothing else, the existence of Star is likely to deter any of the other groups from doing all-out rhythmic oldies (without the 80s, 90s, and currents), but then that's a Chancellor trademark (in the case of "Jammin Oldies," literally so!) and Chancellor's unlikely to blow up either of its two successful FMs and even less likely to be able to buy anything else in the market.
  • That's not all from MASSACHUSETTS this week: Staying at Entercom/Boston, there's a new host for the 11PM-1AM spot on WRKO (680). Longtime New York talker Jay Severin will fill the hole created by the Two Chicks' departure and Tai's move to the Chicks' earlier time slot. In mornings on 'RKO, there's a change in the weather, as Jacquie Murphy leaves Metro Networks for a new gig with The Weather Channel's Atlanta radio operation and Ivan Curtis takes over.
  • And our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Ben Gailing, who died on Saturday (3/27) at age 100. Gailing was one of the country's longest-running radio hosts. His Yiddish-language show with Hankus Netsky was still being heard on WUNR (1600) at the time of his death.
  • Moving up to NEW HAMPSHIRE, the big news this week was the sale of Concord's WKXL (1450/102.3) to a new group called Vox Media, headed by Bruce Danziger. WKXL had been owned since 1980 by an employee group headed by 33-year station veteran Dick Osborne. We hear Osborne plans to retire once the deal closes, but Vox says it will keep the rest of WKXL's staff and its local focus. One possible change is a return to split programming on the AM and FM, which have been simulcast since 1991. Late word into NERW is that Vox is also buying WORK (107.1) and WSNO (1450) in Barre, Vermont, and plans to make as many as a dozen more small-market purchases in New England. NERW hears sale prices of about $1.5 million for WKXL and $2.2 million for WSNO/WORK...
  • CBS's Rochester market manager has left the building. Bob Morgan was closely associated with the former owners of WCMF, WPXY, WZNE, and WRMM, American Radio Systems. Now he's rejoining former ARS head honcho Steve Dodge at American Tower Systems, where Morgan will head up the ATS Tall Tower Division (now that's a job we like!). No replacement has been named yet, but CBS officials are promising a quick decision.
  • Just across Chestnut Street, Entercom made some PD shuffles this week, ousting Chris Whittingham at oldies WBBF (98.9) and Mario at classic rock WQRV (93.3 Avon), and bringing Bobby Hatfield in as a replacement (his previous stint at 98.9 was in the mid-80s country WZKC days). Over at Jacor, Friday marked the debut of new morning team Marc Murphee (from Nashville's WRVW) and Diane Dinero (from CKEY Fort Erie/Buffalo) on "Mix 100.5" WVOR.
  • Geneva public broadcaster WEOS (89.7) made its big move this week to 4 kilowatts from the new Continental transmitter out on Lake-to-Lake Road. The new 89.7 signal is getting good reviews as far down as Ithaca, while new translator W212BA covers Geneva proper on 90.3.
  • Albany's newest FM station is playing the "Slogan of the Week" game, it seems. Just two weeks after WSRD (104.9) moved from Johnstown to Altamont and became "the Point," things have turned, er, point-less. The new moniker is the highly imaginative "Z 104.9," and word has it that plans for new WAAP calls are being dropped while station management searches for something good with a Z in it. Also playing musical slogans is WABY (94.5 Ravena/1400 Albany), which is now calling itself "94.5 the Capital Region's light FM, WABY." Albany bureau chief Gavin Burt reports no big format change here yet...but it sounds like WABY is moving ever further from standards and closer to AC.

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