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April 27, 2009

On The Death of WARM*

*even if slightly exaggerated

*By itself, the story of Scranton, PENNSYLVANIA's WARM (590) is a fairly common one: a once-dominant AM station falls on hard times, fades from public attention, gets neglected in a cluster full of bigger FM sister stations, and ends up as not much more than a satellite dish connected to a transmitter.

But the last couple of weeks in WARM-land have been unusual ones, and worthy of special note for anyone who's still even mildly hopeful that there's still some life remaining in the bigger corners of the AM dial.

As we told you last week, the overall lack of maintenance at WARM's five-tower transmitter site finally took its toll earlier this month, taking the station off the air. That wasn't WARM's first silent period, but for whatever reason, this one got the attention of the local media, which made WARM's absence - and rumors of its outright demise - a lead story on TV newscasts and in the local papers.

Whatever Citadel's original plans for WARM might have been, all that attention seemed to light a fire under the company, and by Thursday there was once again a signal on the air at 590 over Scranton, still carrying the True Oldies Channel satellite format that WARM has been running for the last few years.

End of story? Maybe, maybe not - because even if Citadel is prepared to let WARM continue to linger in a near-death fugue state, there's still ample evidence that at least in this one case, the listeners who once loved this AM station aren't ready to let go of their memories yet. Consider, for instance, the front page of Sunday's Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. What's that lead story taking up most of the page? It's WARM's longtime morning man, Harry West, sharing his memories of life as one of the "Sensational Seven" DJs, with avid listeners everywhere from north Jersey to Binghamton.

Times change, to be sure, and we'd never dream of suggesting that a station like WARM - even if restored to its full-throated 5,000-watt glory - could ever attract more than a small fraction of the 70 shares it once pulled in Scranton. But in a market that's full of older listeners, most of them native to the area, it's hard to believe there's not some way that all those "warm" feelings still out there about this legendary radio station couldn't be harnessed, with a bit of an investment, into a new WARM that could keep alive at least some of the magic of the old "Mighty 590." If Citadel's not up to the challenge, will it at long last find a buyer who is?

*In other news from around the Keystone State, there's a new station on the air in Sykesville, serving the Du Bois market. WZDB (95.9) is running classic rock under PD Mike Donovan and OM Tom Howard - and it joins seven other First Media stations in central Pennsylvania.

Up north along the New York border, Cary Simpson's Farm and Home Broadcasting is hoping the second time will be the charm for the sale of WFRM-FM (96.7 Coudersport). A deal to sell the station to Backyard Broadcasting for $325,000 fell through in February, and now broker Ray Rosenblum has worked out a $275,000 deal to sell the station to Jeff Andrulonis' Colonial Broadcasting group. WFRM-FM has an as-yet-unbuilt CP to move to Portville, NY, in the Olean market - and Colonial already owns several other stations in the area, including WXMT (106.3 Smethport) and WLMI (103.9 Kane).

In Philadelphia, WHYY-TV/FM is the latest public broadcaster feeling the pressure of tight budgets. The Inquirer reports that the stations are laying off 16 full-time employees and one part-time employee, none of them on the on-air or content-production staff. Despite recent criticism of high salaries and benefit packages for the stations' top executives - a common thread at several public broadcasting operations in the region - WHYY leaders reportedly told staffers that no executive pay cuts were being considered.

At Radio One's WPHI (100.3 Media), Charlamagne is the new morning-drive jock, starting Friday.

And we send our condolences to veteran central Pennsylvania broadcaster Chris Lash on the death of his wife, Karen Yourd Lash. She had a long broadcast career of her own, beginning in her native Indiana, PA at WDAD/WQMU. In more recent years, the Lashes had been managing several stations in Florida. Karen Lash died Tuesday (April 21) after a long battle with cancer; she was 51.


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*We'll begin our NEW YORK report with a note about why this week's column took a few more hours than usual to put together - an outage of Time Warner Cable's RoadRunner internet service that apparently knocked out service to internet and digital phone customers everywhere from Maine to Buffalo for about four hours Sunday morning.

There's a media connection here, if a tangential one: for a company that's been beset by PR issues in recent weeks (usage caps, anyone?), TWC did a remarkably poor job of getting the word out about the extent of the outage and its attempts to rectify the problem. At least here in Rochester, TWC's phone lines were, understandably, in a state of constant busy for several hours.

So what about the cable news channels the company operates, such as R News in Rochester? We're hearing that the word came down from upstairs not to mention anything at all about the issue until an official statement was available, which turned out to be some time after the problems had been resolved.

Noting here that your editor is a former R News reporter - and that there was a little more editorial independence back in our days there - we're wondering: if R News and its sister channels are no longer making any pretense of independent news coverage of their parent company, why not at least put those channels to use as a readily-available way to let customers know about big outages like this...and maybe even ease the pressure on overloaded call centers?

*Staying upstate for a moment: down the road in Syracuse, veteran DJ Rick Gary has departed his TV gig, as host of the "Bridge Street" mid-morning show on WSYR-TV (Channel 9). Gary had been with channel 9 since the mid-eighties, first doing weather and then as morning co-anchor, but Friday's "Bridge Street" was, quietly, his last. Gary's radio career has included long runs at WOLF, WSYR and WYYY; currently, he's heard in afternoons on Galaxy's WZUN (102.1) in Syracuse and WUMX (102.5) in Utica/Rome.

As we noted in passing in our mid-week NAB update, Clear Channel's WGY (810 Schenectady) was the only NERW-land winner of an NAB Crystal Radio Award, handed out during the radio luncheon at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. (Or so we're told; we were hanging out, guilt-free, at the much more lively informal engineering luncheon across the street at the Riviera buffet...)

In any case, the focus on community service from both NAB and Clear Channel meant we heard more this year than in past years about exactly what qualified each of the winners to receive a Crystal Award; in WGY's case, that included nearly $2 million in charitable donations during 2008 from the station and its listeners, as well as 860 hours of community service volunteered by WGY employees.

(And yes, there was a time when that sort of thing was simply what radio stations were expected to do without winning any awards for it. )

Moving downstate, Shamrock's as-yet-unbuilt CP in the Catskills has changed city of license. WJZI (107.1) had been granted as a class A in Livingston Manor, but it has now shifted 15 miles or so to the west up Route 17, changing locations to Bass Mountain in Hancock.

It was a quiet week in New York City, with much of the radio industry's brass occupied across the country at NAB, but there was some news from "Pulse 87" (WNYZ-LP), where Borasio and Niko join the dance station's staff for middays and afternoons, respectively; that moves Showboat from middays to weekends.

Out on Long Island, the Calvary Chapel of Hope is changing frequencies on its construction permit for WRMR in Lindenhurst. It's moving from 89.3 to 89.7, effectively swapping facilities with Calvary's pending application for 89.3 in nearby Copiague - and clearing the way for that Copiague application to be treated as a "singleton" that can be promptly granted.

One obituary of note this week: Merv Ainsworth was one of the founding fathers of television in central New York, moving from WKAL radio in Rome to WKTV in Utica back in 1950, just a year after the station had signed on. In 42 years with WKTV, Ainsworth built a remote-control system for the station's transmitter site - and by 1980 rose to the post of chief engineer, which he held until his retirement in 1992. Ainsworth also helped build WUFM (107.3) in Utica in 1962. He died last Sunday (April 19) at 83.

*In NEW JERSEY, there's more news from the new "Wibbage-FM," WILW (94.3 Avalon) - in addition to a pending call change to WIBG-FM, the oldies station has signed Philadelphia radio legend Jim Nettleton to do mornings, and it's picking up Sam Lit's "HyLitRadio" service for overnights, complete with vintage Philly airchecks.

Up at WRNJ (1510 Hackettstown), Friday morning will be the last early wakeup call for morning man Russ Long. After a long career at the station, dating back to its debut in 1976 and including almost twenty years in morning drive, Long is hanging up his headphones. The rest of WRNJ's morning team will stay on while the station seeks a new host.

Edited by NERW's own Scott Fybush - on sale now as an e-book or printed volume!

*Bill Corbeil was living every radio lover's dream when he bought his hometown station, WTSA (1450)/WTSA-FM (96.7), in Brattleboro, VERMONT not quite two years ago. We'd been following from a distance (and meaning to get up for a visit) as Bill and his wife Kelli moved the stations into new studios and worked hard to build up their local standing in a region full of conglomerate ownership.

So it was quite a shock to get the news last Tuesday (April 21) that Corbeil had lost a short battle with cancer, succumbing early that morning at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital at the far-too-young age of 40.

Corbeil's association with WTSA went back to his childhood, when his father would bring him down to the station after school to watch the DJs work. After college at UVM, Corbeil worked at Burlington's WIZN (106.7), where he worked on-air and as the producer of the "Corm and the Coach" morning show. In 1998, Corbeil returned to Brattleboro to take over his family's auto dealership, but the call of radio lured him back to WTSA.

In addition to his wife, who's running the stations (where the website's memorial to Corbeil promises "We will continue to live your dream"), he leaves behind two young sons - and a staff that's deep in mourning for a leader gone far too young.

*Across the river in NEW HAMPSHIRE, the strange saga of Aaron Aldridge came to a resolution Tuesday night - and it happened just an hour or so down the road from the NAB convention in Las Vegas. Police in California spotted Aldridge's car on I-15 near the Nevada border, ending a nationwide manhunt for the former WNTK (99.7 New London)/WUVR (1490 Lebanon) morning man, who's now behind bars and facing a series of charges as a fugitive from justice and for the possession and production of child pornography, some of it reportedly featuring his teenage daughter.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, a familiar TV face is coming to the radio airwaves. Mike Macklin, a veteran of the reporting staffs at WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and WBZ-TV (Channel 4), has signed on with WBZ (1030) as a reporter/anchor, adding some heft to a news staff that's been hit hard by cutbacks and retirements in recent months.

Up the AM dial a bit, Clear Channel has finally finished the last bits of work needed to get WKOX (1200 Newton) to a full 50,000 watts day and night from the transmitter site in Oak Hill it now shares with WRCA (1330 Watertown) and WUNR (1600 Brookline). As the first directional array to be licensed under the new rules allowing for computer modeling in place of the laborious proofing process, WKOX's upgrade was the subject of an engineering paper presented out at the NAB Show; someday, perhaps, they'll write a book about all the hurdles that the three stations had to overcome to get this new site on the air. (And long before that happens, we'll feature it on Tower Site of the Week soon...)

In Worcester, WNEB (1230) is temporarily silent as it prepares to launch a new format next week, reportedly some flavor of Spanish-language religion.

And in Northampton, Mike Haze is out (due to budget cuts) as afternoon jock at WHMP-FM (99.3).

*In CONNECTICUT, Pam Landry is out at WPLR (99.1 New Haven) after nearly two decades, most recently as midday jock and music director. "The Wigmaster" takes over middays at the Cox rocker.

Up in Lakeville, Joe Loverro is back in the morning chair at WQQQ (103.3 Sharon). He left the station in July 2008 to be treated for cancer - and he tells NERW that after chemo, surgery and radiation, he's now cancer-free and happy to be back on the air with Corey Chapman. Interim morning host Thia has left the station.

*After a few quiet weeks at the CRTC, CANADA's radio regulators were busy last week, authorizing a few new signals in the Maritimes and denying two new AM applications in greater Toronto.

We'll start out in Nova Scotia, where MBS won a move to FM at CKDH (900 Amherst). Once the AM signal shifts over to 101.7 FM (with 18 kW) - and it sounds like the move will happen pretty quickly - that will leave just six remaining AM stations in the province, and three of those (CFDR 780 in Halifax, CBI 1140 in Sydney and CFAB 1450 in Windsor) have plans to move to FM as well.

In Bridgewater, Acadia Broadcasting won a license for 10 kW on 100.7, where it will run a country station as a companion to existing CKBW (94.5).

In the Greater Toronto Area, the CRTC decided that there's no immediate need for more ethnic radio signals, particularly since several new entrants (including CHTO 1690 and CINA 1650) have yet to build up any track record - so it denied applications for new signals on 960 in Markham and 1350 in Scarborough.

And in Hamilton, CIWV (94.7) is applying for a power increase to 100 kW DA. The move comes as part of a coordinated plan with CIBU (94.5 Wingham), which would change from 100 kW DA/217 m to 75 kW/215 m, slightly reducing overlap with the Hamilton station. CIBU's sister station CKNX-FM (101.7 Wingham) would go from 100 kW DA to 100 kW ND/215 m.

CIWV's directional pattern would continue to pull in to provide protection (at least on the US side of the border) to Buffalo's WNED-FM (94.5); it would pick up significant additional coverage of Toronto as part of what it describes as an "optimization" of the southern Ontario FM spectrum ahead of a 2011 deadline from Industry Canada, after which stations will be protected only to their existing contours and not to their class maximums.

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 28, 2008 -

  • One of the legendary top 40 voices of the northeast has been silenced, far too young. "Big Ron" O'Brien, whose career included stops at Philadelphia's WFIL, WYXR/WLCE and WOGL and New York's WXLO, WNBC and WTJM, died Sunday morning (April 27) of complications from pneumonia. O'Brien began his broadcast career in 1969 at KUDL in Kansas City, and in the typical progression of the day, he quickly moved through Denver (KTLK), Chicago (WCFL) and Atlanta (WQXI). By 1974, he was in New York, doing nights at "99X," and by 1976 he was in Philadelphia at WFIL, where he spent three years.
  • O'Brien then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked at KFI and KIIS, then to St. Louis and Denver (with a brief interlude at WNBC in the early 1980s) before returning to Philadelphia in 1996, where he worked at WYXR (104.5, later WLCE). In 1999, O'Brien was part of the inaugural airstaff at New York's WTJM (Jammin 105); in 2002, he joined Philadelphia's WOGL (98.1) for afternoon drive, and it was there that he remained for what turned out to be the last six years of his career. O'Brien had been ill for several months, WOGL says. He was just 56.
  • Elsewhere in PENNSYLVANIA, the sale of WNTJ (850 Johnstown) from Forever to Birach Broadcasting has closed, and as of midnight last night, the news-talk format that had been on 850 (and simulcast on WNTW 990 in Somerset) has moved back to its former home on 1490 in Johnstown. The 1490 signal, which holds the WPRR calls long heard in Altoona, has been running an all-sports format; it returned to Forever's hands last fall in a purchase from Nick Galli's 2510 group. The WNTJ calls will return to 1490 as well, probably later this week.
  • So what happens now with 850? The $300,000 purchase by Birach includes not only the license for 850 (and for another Forever station, WCND 940 in Shelbyville, KY) but also the 115-acre tower site in Paint Township, Somerset County. Forever was reportedly eager to be free of the hassles of maintaining that nine-tower site, easily the most complex directional array in the northeast, and NERW suspects Birach isn't in this deal with the intent of maintaining the 10 kW DA-1 Johnstown signal on 850, either. Birach has interests elsewhere in the region (including WWCS 540 in Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh, and WTOR 770 Youngstown, NY, serving Toronto) - could the company have plans to move the Johnstown signal elsewhere? That would be a challenging task, since that nine-tower directional array shoehorns the Johnstown 850 into a tight squeeze between other 850 signals in Cleveland (WKNR) and Boston (WEEI), not to mention 860s in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Toronto and plenty of other nearby-on-the-dial stations that would need to be protected. In the meantime, there's a loop repeating over (and over and over) on 850 directing listeners up the dial to 1490 - and no indication at all on the WNTJ website that anything has changed.
  • The big news in MASSACHUSETTS last week came from the TV management front, where WHDH-TV/WLVI VP/general manager Randi Goldklank was all over the tabloids after being arrested at Logan Airport following an incident during a flight last Sunday night. Goldklank told state police that a male passenger sitting next to her had been harassing her; Delta Airlines told police she had been acting "unruly" aboard the plane. A police report claimed Goldklank told the officers who met the plane, "I'll have a news crew down here in minutes and you will lose your (bleeping) jobs." Goldklank was arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer. She's on leave from the stations and apparently in rehab. At least for now, station owner Sunbeam Broadcasting is standing behind Goldklank, who was reportedly on medication for depression after the recent death of her mother. Former WHDH-TV general manager Mike Carson, who'd been consulting for the station, is back as interim VP/GM in Goldklank's absence.
  • One of Boston's best-known and longest-running sportscasters has died. Don Gillis began his career in radio, first at New Bedford's WBSM and then at Boston's WHDH, in the late forties, filling in for Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy when illness kept him off the air for much of the 1957 season and hosting the "Voice of Sports" talk show, which set the stage for all the sports talk that would follow over the decades in Boston. When WHDH-TV (Channel 5) launched a nightly sportscast in 1962, Gillis was the station's first sports director, crafting the blueprint for local TV sports reporting. Gillis was the first sports anchor in Boston to have film clips during his reports, and he'll forever be remembered for his coverage of the Red Sox during their "Impossible Dream" season of 1967.
  • When WHDH-TV folded a decade later and was replaced by the new WCVB on Channel 5, Gillis followed many of his colleagues out to Needham, becoming WCVB's sports director for its first decade on the air. Gillis retired as sports director of WCVB in 1982, but he stayed on as host of "Candlepin Bowling" on Saturday afternoons until the end of the show's run in 1996. Gillis died Wednesday (April 23) at his Cape Cod home. He was 85.

April 26, 2004 -

  • Entercom will still end up with western NEW YORK's FM sports station, but a last-minute bidding war means the price tag for WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township) will be $1.5 million higher than expected. Late last week, Entercom's Buffalo rival Citadel put in a $9,350,000 bid for the signal, topping Entercom's initial $9 million offer to buy WNSA out of the Adelphia bankruptcy. That move (a reaction, perhaps, to speculation that Entercom plans to use 107.7 to go after Citadel's market-leading rocker WGRF?) touched off a telephone auction Friday that ended with a $10.5 million bid by Entercom. A federal bankruptcy court could approve the station's transfer as early as today; the buzz within the market still suggests that Entercom will move WNSA's Sabres rights and perhaps a few of its sports talk hosts over to WGR (550 Buffalo) and take 107.7 to some sort of rock format. Stay tuned...
  • Two of the state's smallest TV stations are getting a new owner. Equity Broadcasting, the Little Rock-based station group that's become a big owner of small stations, is buying WNGS (Channel 67) in Springville from Caroline Powley and WNYI (Channel 52) in Ithaca from Powley's husband Bill Smith. Equity will pay $5 million for WNGS, which serves the Buffalo market on cable, though the deal's price will be reduced by $1 million if WNGS-DT's channel 46 application, which would serve the full Buffalo market from the WKBW-TV tower in Colden, isn't approved within three years. The deal for WNYI, which also includes KWWF (Channel 22) in Waterloo, Iowa, is also for $5 million, again with a $1 million discount if WNYI's application for a Syracuse-market upgrade isn't approved within three years.
  • Citadel is entering western MASSACHUSETTS in a big way. It's paying $22 million to buy WMAS-FM (94.7 Springfield) and WMAS (1450 Springfield) from Lappin Communications, one of the last big local owners in the region. (Inside Radio reports that Citadel had competition: Pamal's Jim Morrell and veteran New England station owner Jeff Wilks both made offers to Bob Lappin as well.) The WMAS purchase gives Citadel a western foothold to add to its holdings in Worcester (WORC-FM, WWFX, WXLO) and Providence/New Bedford (WPRO AM-FM, WSKO AM-FM, WKKB, WWLI, WWKX/WAKX, WBSM, WFHN); we'll have to wait and see whether any changes are in store for the FM's AC format or the AM's standards.
  • Trenton, NEW JERSEY and the 97.5 FM facility have been linked together for more than forty years, way back to the WTOA days - but now Nassau is asking the FCC to reallocate what's now WPST (the "T" even stands for Trenton) to Burlington, closer in to Philadelphia. Nassau's application doesn't call for any change in WPST's transmitter site - but since it's a grandfathered pre-1964 allocation, WPST should be able to make a physical move closer to Philly once its city-of-license change is granted, even though it's already significantly short-spaced to WOGL (98.1 Philadelphia) and several other stations.

April 23, 1999 -

  • There's a format change on the way in NEW YORK's capital city, as Albany's WABY (1400) prepares to drop music during the day in favor of an all-news format. The station's new owner, Tele-Media, is contracting with Metro Networks to provide local news inserts to CNN Headline News from 5 AM until 7 PM weekdays. The rest of the time, WABY(AM) will continue to simulcast the soft AC format of WABY-FM (94.5 Ravena). In recent years, the AM station has been all but ignored on-air and in promotions. Meanwhile on the FM side, afternoon host David Allen is moving to mornings.
  • In Syracuse, one of the market's oldest stations is about to get fitted for its mouse ears. WOLF (1490) will switch from satellite talk to Radio Disney May 3, along with simulcast partners WOLF-FM (96.7 Oswego) and WKGJ (1340 Auburn). Also in the Salt City, we note that WVOA (105.1 DeRuyter) has told the FCC it has no interest in moving city of license to Chittenango anymore, so the matter has been dropped for now.
  • In CONNECTICUT, there's a new format at WKCD (107.7 Pawcatuck), as the smooth jazz gives way to a modern AC sound known on-air as "Channel 107-7, New Music for the New Millennium." WKCD is looking for an airstaff, in care of sister station Hot 106 (WWKX/WAKX) up in Woonsocket -- or, as they pronounce it, "Providence." We note a nice little three-state rivalry between Back Bay Broadcasting, which owns WKCD and Hot 106, and Spring Broadcasting, whose "Fun 107" (WFHN 107.1 New Bedford MA) competes against Hot in Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts, and whose WQGN (105.5 Groton CT) competes against the new WKCD.
  • As we'd suspected, there's been a format change in the Burlington, VERMONT market. WEAV (960), which is actually licensed across the lake in Plattsburgh NY, went all-talk last week. The Capstar station's lineup begins with Imus (who's no longer being heard on sister country station WXPS "Kix" 96.7) and continues with Mike Gallagher, Dr. Joy Browne, Don & Mike, the Fabulous Sports Babe, the Dolans, and overnights and weekends from the WOR Network. The WEAV signal has never been tremendously good on the Vermont side of the lake, and it will be interesting to see how the station competes with established news-talkers WVMT (620) and WKDR (1390) right in Burlington.

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