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November 29, 2010

Entercom to Buy Phoenix's WFNX?

*It's not normally our policy here at NERW to spend a lot of time rehashing the latest rumors from around the media landscape. But there's a particularly juicy one out of eastern MASSACHUSETTS this week, and on a slow Thanksgiving holiday weekend it quickly became the talk of the town - and so while we can't offer any confirmation, we can certainly engage in some educated speculation about the report in Boston's Weekly Dig that the Boston Phoenix is poised to sell WFNX (101.7 Lynn) to Entercom.

The rumor, if true, would have 101.7 becoming the new home of Entercom's "Mike FM," thus freeing up what's now WMKK (93.7 Lawrence) to become, at long last, the Boston-market FM signal for WEEI that's been discussed, it seems, for the better part of the last decade in Boston media circles.

And as anyone who's been following Boston radio even tangentially for the last decade or so knows, so far not one of the many, many "WEEI's moving to FM" rumors has come true. So with that very big caveat, here's some back-of-the-envelope analysis of what a WFNX-to-Entercom deal might mean:

For a long time, of course, Entercom didn't have to move WEEI to FM, simply because it had no real competition for Boston sports fans anywhere else on the dial. That changed very dramatically last year with the launch of CBS Radio's WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub), which has been a formidable rival for the loyalties of Boston sports listeners, especially given its powerful signal right in the middle of the FM dial from right in the center of the market.

Entercom's in-house FM options, as we've explored repeatedly here in NERW, are limited: the jockless adult hits on "Mike FM" are a cash cow for the company, and neither of the signals used by rocker WAAF (107.3 Westborough and Boston-area simulcast WKAF 97.7 Brockton) have enough full-market coverage to justify splitting that simulcast or killing off WAAF entirely. Most of the other FM signals in the market are out of Entercom's reach: rival groups CBS, Clear Channel and Greater Media aren't about to sell any of their full-market FM properties, and the price would likely be prohibitive even if they were for sale.

WFNX, however, is a somewhat different prospect: it's the only Boston radio station owned by Phoenix Media Group, and it's been struggling somewhat in recent years, hampered by the overall decline of the alternative-rock format that's long been its specialty as well as by competition from Greater Media's WBOS (92.9) and a slew of non-radio contenders such as Pandora.

If 101.7 does become the new home of "Mike FM," its class A signal from the One Financial Center tower in downtown Boston is a far cry from the big regional class B reach WMKK now enjoys on 93.7, but the station would at least remain available for listeners in downtown offices and within most of the 128 corridor. And on the WEEI side, the addition of 93.7 to the existing 850 signal would at last bring a reliable WEEI signal to the MetroWest area and the Merrimack Valley, while 93.7's weaknesses south of Boston would easily be balanced out by the existing strength of Rhode Island's WEEI-FM (103.7 Westerly) up the dial.

So: it's a deal, then? Not so fast: While it's certainly a plausible bit of speculation, that's tempered by some big "what-if"s:

Would moving Mike to 101.7 take away enough of its current 93.7 audience to significantly reduce the revenues it adds to Entercom's bottom line? Would the addition of an FM voice for WEEI bring in enough new listeners to justify the price - well into eight figures, we'd suspect - that the Phoenix group would be seeking for the WFNX license? Would an FM move be enough to boost WEEI's aging stable of talkers and the star power of the Sox and Celtics, both somewhat past their recent championship seasons, past the fresher sound (and the Patriots and Bruins) on 98.5, especially given that even an 850/93.7 combination still doesn't quite add up to the central-market penetration of fhe WBZ-FM signal?

And what of the rest of the WFNX station group - would Entercom add the FNX relays in Maine (WPHX 92.1 Sanford) and New Hampshire (WFEX 92.1 Peterborough) to the WEEI network?

As always, we'll be following this closely, and if there's something more than just rumors to report, we'll have them right away here and on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

*Kevin McNicholas was a familiar voice on radio stations all over the Bay State that contracted with him to provide reports from the State House for many decades. Sadly, that voice was silenced last week when McNicholas, the dean of the Beacon Hill press corps, died on Thursday at 61. McNichols had been running the "Radio News Service" out of the State House since 1975, supplying sound from state political stories and other Boston news items to stations around the state that included WATD (95.9 Marshfield) and WFCR-FM (88.5 Amherst). He'd been suffering from cancer of the bladder.

*There's still no word from WBZ (1030) about a permanent choice of a new anchor for its morning newscasts, but a very familiar voice will be back behind the mike for a few days next week. Gary LaPierre, who retired in 2006 after 43 years at the station, will be the guest anchor the week of December 6. And in the meantime, WBZ has announced that veteran Boston anchor Rod Fritz, who's been doing weekend news there, will be the temporary replacement for Ed Walsh after his last morning shift on Tuesday. Could Fritz be the permanent pick, too? That's certainly the consensus out there in message-board land, and it's hard to think of many other anchors out there who are as talented as Fritz, as experienced in Boston - and as available!

*On TV, we're hearing that Hartford's WFSB has signed on its new digital transmitter for its Springfield sister station, WSHM. In addition to its relay on WFSB's own 3.2 subchannel, WSHM-LD is now on the air on RF channel 21 from Mount Chapin in Wilbraham, appearing as "3.5" on TV sets all over the Springfield area and giving "CBS3" an over-the-air HD signal in Springfield for the first time. The little WSHM-LP analog signal on channel 67 from Mount Tom, meanwhile, went off the air for good last week.

Speaking of CONNECTICUT TV, Kirk Varner is heading west after a nine-year run as news director at WTNH (Channel 8)/WCTX (Channel 59) in New Haven. And baby, if you've ever wondered what ever became of him, he'll soon be living on (well, actually off) the air in Cincinnati. That's Cincinnati, WKRC (Channel 12), where he starts soon as news director of that Newport-owned CBS affiliate.

We're hearing that when the dust settles from Cox's consolidation of its radio operations in southern Connecticut, as many as 40 people may end up out of work. We already reported that Norwalk/Stamford GM Robin Faller is out as part of the sale of WCTZ (96.7) and the move of WFOX-FM (95.9 Norwalk) into the Milford studios of WEZN-FM (99.9)/WPLR (99.1); other cuts include several salespeople, as well as traffic and programming staffers.

*A format flip on the NEW HAMPSHIRE/MAINE state line: Clear Channel's WMYF (1380 Portsmouth) quietly flipped from standards to ESPN Radio as "The Sports Animal" early last week.

And as long as we're in the region, we'll note a bunch of additional all-Christmas flips that took place last week: WRCH (100.5 Farmington) and WEZN-FM (99.9 Bridgeport) join plenty of other converts around the region, including WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH), WZID (95.7 Manchester NH), WEZR (1240 Lewiston ME), WROW (590 Albany NY), WVOR (102.3 Canandaigua NY), WMVL (101.7 Lineville/Meadville PA) and WFPG-FM (96.9 Atlantic City NJ) are among those who've been noted with holiday tunes.

*In VERMONT, "Corm and the Coach" are again looking to make a radio comeback. After a brief return to the airwaves via WNMR (107.1 Dannemora NY) last year ended in legal threats and allegations of unpaid wages, veteran Burlington morning men Steve Cormier and Tom Brennan announced last week that they're now working with Internet broadcaster Northeast Sports Network (NSN) to begin "exploring the development of a multimedia broadcast platform."


The production process was a little more complex than usual for Tower Site Calendar 2011, but at long last we're shipping the tenth installment in what's become an annual radio tradition.

The new calendar is now back from the printer, complete with more than a dozen exciting new images including that nifty cover shot of Mount Beacon, N.Y.

And if you order now, you'll have the 2010 calendar in your hands long before the holiday rush!

But wait - there's more! We now have a small supply of the new FM Atlas, 21st edition, as well as a limited supply of Tower Site Calendar 2010 as well - plus the signed, limited-edition version of the 2011 calendar and much more in the store!

We've got special discounts for bulk orders, too - they make great gifts for your business colleagues or friends...

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*There's a morning show shift coming in NEW YORK City, where Patty Steele is leaving the "Scott and Todd Big Show" on WPLJ (95.5) next month after more than a dozen years alongside Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill. Steele and her husband, veteran New York City programmer Steve Kingston, are in the process of buying a station in Florida, WSJF (105.5 St. Augustine Beach), under the name "Cortona Media"; it's not clear whether her departure from WPLJ is related to the new acquisition.

*In Syracuse, reports that veteran WSYR-TV (Channel 9) anchor Rod Wood is recuperating after a four-hour cancer surgery last week - but it will be a few weeks before he's back on the air in his usual anchor chair. Meanwhile, co-anchor Carrie Lazarus and the rest of the channel 9 news team are broadcasting from a newsroom set while their studio set is rebuilt for the station's impending switch to high-definition local news (first in the market), which we're told will happen sometime after the first of the year. also reports the return to the airwaves of WMBO-LP (Channel 6) in Syracuse, which is broadcasting NASA-TV in analog, with an audio carrier that's easily received on 87.7 all over the Syracuse area. (The same programming airs on another of Craig Fox's signals, WBLZ-LP on channel 13.)

The history of radio and TV in Buffalo will get some nice TV airtime next Monday, when WNED-TV (Channel 17) airs "Don't Touch That Dial," a lovingly-produced documentary written and edited by Al Wallack and featuring interviews with all the greats of Buffalo's golden age of broadcasting, from Irv, Tom and Rick to Danny Neaverth to Kevin O'Connell, not to mention appearances by Buffalo broadcast historians including our good friends Steve Cichon and Marty Biniasz. The first WNED airing will be at 8 PM on December 6, and there's a DVD of the show available from WNED as well, with extra bonus content.

In Binghamton, Equinox's WRRQ (106.7) has completed its relocation from Windsor, far to the east of town, to centrally-located Ingraham Hill. The move changes WRRQ's city of license from Windsor to Port Dickinson, significantly improving its coverage of the market and eliminating the station's need to rely on translators to reach Binghamton-area listeners. "Now, everyone can get Q106.7; no need to tune anywhere else," say the promos running (over and over again) on the new signal.

Pat McMahon is the new assistant PD at Entercom's WBZA (98.9 Rochester), where he continues as producer for the "Kimberly and Beck Morning Show" as well.

And in Albany, WGY (810/103.1) has moved up the retirement date for veteran morning man Don Weeks. His health problems have had him off the air for the last few weeks, so instead of retiring at the end of December, WGY will celebrate his last day on the air this Friday, December 3, handing over the morning reins to Chuck Custer and Kelly Lynch. Weeks' new last day on the air will come just two days after his 30th anniversary with WGY.


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*It was a quiet week in PENNSYLVANIA, though we did hear reports that one silent station was back on the air. WPAZ (1370 Pottstown) is in the process of transitioning from longtime owner Great Scott Broadcasting to a local nonprofit group, and our ears down that way tell us the signal was on with tests of automated music last week.

In Philadelphia, Leigh Richards is off the air and apparently off the staff at WXTU (92.5), where she'd just marked her 25th anniversary at the Beasley-owned country station. No replacement has been named so far, and neither Richards nor WXTU is talking.

Meanwhile, another community station has again fallen silent. WLRI-LP (92.9 Gap), which holds the all-time record for the largest number of callsigns ever used by a single broadcast facility, told the FCC last week that it will be off the air at least through Christmas while it assesses its finances.

Radio station broker Eliot Evers of Media Venture Partners is getting into the TV business: his new firm, Horseshoe Curve Communications, is taking over Peak Media Holdings, which owns WWCP (Channel 8) in Johnstown and operates WATM (Channel 23) in Altoona under an LMA. The transaction involves just $100 in cash and the assumption of Peak's debts.

While we're in that part of Pennsylvania, we note the passing of Adam Bittinger, whose long and colorful career included early stints as a weatherman on Johnstown's WJAC-TV (Channel 6) and a talk host on the old WJNL (1490). He later served in the Pennsylvania state legislature before moving to Key West, Florida, where he worked as a police officer for two decades. Bittinger died Nov. 9, just short of his 67th birthday.

And we join our colleagues at in wishing a very happy birthday to Erie's Myron Jones, one of the true legends of the business. He built WHOT and WJET and WJET-TV, and he's still going strong, having turned 85 over the weekend.

*Radio People on the Move in NEW JERSEY: Veteran programmer Glenn Kalina is now the PD and morning man at WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin), where he'd been doing afternoons; Tommy Jordan replaces Kalina in afternoons.

Down the dial, the clock is ticking on WDDM (89.3 Hazlet), the little 10-watt signal that broadcasts to the Indian community as "Dhoom FM." As an unprotected class D signal, WDDM will have to move off 89.3 when WFJS-FM signs on in nearby Freehold. Knowing that day was coming, WDDM applied back in 2007 to move up the dial to 104.7, citing a similar move made by class D WHHS in Havertown, PA when a Philadelphia move-in forced it off its home at 107.9.

Last week, the FCC rejected WDDM's application to move to 104.7, saying the move would create interference to second-adjacent New York City signals WAXQ (104.3) and WWPR (105.1), and unlike the WHHS move, in which that high-school station won the consent of its second-adjacent neighbors for the minimal interference it would create, WDDM did not seek or obtain interference waivers from WAXQ and WWPR.

*A new CBC FM station is testing in CANADA, and if the tests go as planned, that means the last powerful CBC Radio One AM outlet between Manitoba and Nova Scotia will leave the air before the end of the year. CBEW (97.5 Windsor) is the new Radio One outlet in southwestern Ontario, and it began its on-air tests on Thursday. Once CBEW is on the air for good, CBE (1550 Windsor) will go dark...and so will over-the-air CBC reception for a lot of people on this side of the border for whom CBE was the last link to the network.

In Toronto, John Donabie is the new morning man at CJRT (91.1). The former CFRB (1010) talker says he's a longtime jazz fan; his new "Good Morning...with John Donabie" launches this morning in the 6-10 AM slot on "JAZZ.FM91."

And in Ottawa, Milkman UnLimited reports that CIDG (101.9 DAWG FM) has parted ways with morning co-host Laura Mainella.

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.

Note that 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.

November 30, 2009 -

  • At midnight tonight, more than half a century of commercial classical music in Boston will come to an end, and a new era in eastern MASSACHUSETTS radio will get underway. That's when public broadcaster WGBH takes over operation of WCRB (99.5 Lowell) from Nassau, moving classical programming off WGBH (89.7) - and we now have a sense of what the daytime programming on 89.7 will look like after the flip:
  • As expected, WGBH will make extra use of the programming it already helps to contribute to the public radio system: "The Takeaway," WGBH's joint production with New York's WNYC and the BBC, will add a 9-10 AM airing to its existing 6-7 AM slot on 89.7. The Washington-based "Diane Rehm Show" will follow from 10 AM until noon, getting its first live slot on Boston radio after many years of late-night airings on competitor WBUR-FM (90.9). At noon, 89.7 will carry WNYC-based "Radio Lab," followed at 1 by "Arts and Ideas," an omnibus title for an assortment of documentaries and specials - but those shows are apparently just placeholders for a local talk show to debut in January, hosted by Emily Rooney and Callie Crosley. Rooney, of course, hosts the nightly "Greater Boston" talk show on WGBH-TV, and Crosley appears on the Friday "Beat the Press" installment of that show. WGBH's afternoon programming will be shuffled starting Tuesday as well: "Fresh Air," already heard at 1 on WBUR, will be heard again at 2 on 89.7, followed by WGBH's own "The World" at 3 and "All Things Considered" from 4-6, both shows moving an hour earlier from their present slots on 89.7. That makes room for a 6 PM repeat of "The World," clearing the 7-8 PM hour (now occupied by that second run of "The World") for a radio simulcast of the "PBS NewsHour," followed at 8 by WGBH's jazz programming, which remains unchanged for now.
  • On Saturdays, the folk music that used to air from noon until 3 PM will be replaced by "This American Life" and "On the Media" (already heard on WBUR) and an hour of audio from the week's "Greater Boston" TV shows. The Saturday evening timeslot long occupied by blues music will be filled by "Says You," "Selected Shorts" and the syndicated Bob Parlocha jazz programming that already fills WGBH's overnight hours. The new schedules launch Tuesday morning at 5; it appears 99.5 will be silent overnight as the programming is shifted from WCRB's longtime studios in Waltham to the WGBH studios in Brighton.
  • It took fourteen steps and seven frequencies, but the long saga of one FM translator's trek westward from Cape Ann to the Fitchburg market may finally be over. W288CE (105.5) filed one last (we think) application last week that will land the translator right in the heart of Fitchburg. The latest application would move the translator down one notch on the dial, to 105.3, where it would run 250 watts, non-directional, from the WPKZ (1280) site on Alpine Road, just a mile west of downtown Fitchburg. The translator (still licensed to Gloucester, amusingly enough; there's no city-of-license coverage requirement for translators) is already listed as relaying WPKZ, and a sale from owner Radio Assist Ministry to WPKZ owner Central Broadcasting Company remains pending.
  • Perhaps the biggest NEW YORK news in this holiday-shortened week was the schedule change at talker WABC (770 New York), where 18-year station veteran Curtis Sliwa is out of the 9 PM-1 AM slot, replaced by weekend talker John Batchelor, whose new show will be offered in syndication as well. Where's Curtis headed? It's not official yet, but all signs point to a new home up the dial on Salem talker WNYM (970 Hackensack NJ), where he'd provide some local content (and much-needed visibility) for the otherwise all-syndicated "970 the Apple."
  • There's now a slogan and website to go with the Spanish tropical sounds being heard on 97.5 in central CONNECTICUT. W248AB (97.5 Bolton) reaches much of the Hartford area from its high-altitude perch in the hills east of the city, and after several years simulcasting former owner WILI-FM (98.3 Willimantic), it was sold to John Fuller's Red Wolf Broadcasting over the summer. Now that the FCC allows translators to relay HD2 subchannels of other FM stations, effectively becoming program sources in their own right, W248AB has become "La Bomba 97.5 FM," relaying programming that's also heard on the HD2 of Red Wolf's WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), the company's big-signal venture into the Hartford market from its base in eastern Connecticut.
  • One of VERMONT's best-known morning teams returned to the air last week. After some technical delays, the "Corm and the Coach" show made its debut Wednesday morning on the new WNMR (107.1 Dannemora NY), where it helms a lineup that's made up of syndicated talk the rest of the day.

November 28, 2005 -

  • There was a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when the NEW JERSEY Meadowlands were an undesirable place for just about anything other than an AM radio transmitter facility. From the 1920s, when stations like WOR and WLWL first built sites there, to the present day, the swamps just across the Hudson River from New York City have been the preferred spot for AM broadcasters in the nation's largest market. With the construction of Giants Stadium in the 1970s, the Meadowlands began to become desirable for other uses, too, and in recent years, the area south of the stadium complex has become a hotbed of development. WOR, as you'll recall, is losing its current site in Lyndhurst to the massive EnCap golf course/housing development that's being planned for 800 acres in East Rutherford, North Arlington and Lyndhurst - and now two other AM stations in the neighborhood are crying foul about what they say will be detrimental effects to their signals from the EnCap project.
  • WINS (1010) and WLIB (1190) tried to prevent the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission from granting its approval for Phase I of the project, arguing that planned 15-story apartment buildings would disrupt the stations' directional patterns, making their transmitter sites unusable. The matter will now go to the New Jersey Supreme Court, where WINS and WLIB hope to get an injunction to keep construction from starting on the housing portion of the project. It promises to be an interesting fight, and we'll be keeping tabs on it - stay tuned! (2010 update: EnCap went bankrupt, and whatever development threat existed to WINS and WLIB appears to be dead for now.)
  • There's a station sale to report: the Haddon family's Sunbury Broadcasting is paying $3 million to acquire WVLY-FM (100.9 Milton) and WMLP (1380 Milton) from Milton-Lewisburg Broadcasting. Sunbury's launching an LMA with the stations (which now do AC on the FM and talk on the AM) right away - and that apparently isn't sitting too well with the existing staff there, which has replaced the WVLY/WMLP home page with a message saying "We regret to inform our faithful listeners..." that the stations have been sold.
  • Heading into NEW YORK, the schedule is firming up for WXRK (92.3)'s relaunch as "Free FM" in January. In addition to the earlier announcement of David Lee Roth for the 6-10 AM slot, we now know that "Radio Chick" Leslie Gold will return to the New York airwaves with a 3-7 PM show. In between, "Free FM" listeners will hear the "Dog House" show, which moves to New York from San Francisco (where it's the interim morning offering on KIFR 106.9 until the launch of the Adam Carolla morning show in January). That'll run from 10 AM until 2 PM, with the Penn Jillette show filling the 2-3 PM hour. (And, call us crazy - that's the hour we're most curious about, for some reason.)
  • In MASSACHUSETTS, WAVM (91.7 Maynard) is fighting back against the FCC's tentative selection of Living Proof Inc.'s application to build a new station on 91.7 in Lunenburg. The move would prevent WAVM from upgrading to protected class A status, and would likely force the station off the air completely after 35 years. But the station, echoed by a letter to the FCC from the Maynard board of selectmen, argues that the FCC made a mistake - that WAVM's application to upgrade from class D to class A should have been treated as a minor change, which would not have opened it to competing applications. The station also argues that the FCC's process for choosing among competing applicants ignores the existing service provided by WAVM, which stands to be lost if the Living Proof application is granted.
  • A small RHODE ISLAND FM station has become the latest addition to EMF Broadcasting's "K-Love" network of contemporary Christian outlets. Chris DiPaolo is leasing WBLQ (88.1 Westerly) to EMF for three years; he's moved WBLQ's community programming to the former WCTD-LP (96.9 Ashaway), which drops its country format to become WBLQ-LP.

November 28, 2000 -

  • A month after being charged with domestic assault, religious broadcaster Brian Dodge has left Vermont, leaving "Love 1480" (WNBX Springfield) silent while it awaits new management. Dodge had operated the station, the former WCFR(AM), since 1998 under an LMA-to-buy with owners Bob and Shirley Wolf. Dodge, who also owns WWNH (1340) in Madbury N.H., would have paid $150,000 for the station. Instead, he notified the Wolfs a week before Thanksgiving that he would be leaving WNBX and the southern Vermont area.
  • The Wolfs tell the Rutland Herald they plan to have WNBX back on the air sometime in December under the management of Keith Marsh, a minister in nearby West Lebanon, N.H. Like the Dodge deal, the two-year agreement with Marsh would eventually lead to a sale of the station. Marsh would begin running a religious format on WNBX in early 2001, with holiday music filling the airwaves until then. He tells the Herald he plans to change the station's call letters and add local news and sports programming. As for Dodge, he has pleaded not guilty to charges that he hit his wife and choked her with a towel at the couple's Springfield home in October. He also faces charges of violating a restraining order imposed after his initial arrest.
  • One bit of CONNECTICUT news on this holiday-shortened update: We now know what the new calls will be for New Haven's channel 59 when the station switches from WB to UPN (or is that just "PN"?) on New Year's Day. Since "WBNE" won't work anymore, the station will become WCTX. NERW wonders whether Tribune's WTXX (Channel 20) in Waterbury will change its calls as well when it switches from UPN to WB on the same day.
  • The DX clubs' mailing lists have been buzzing with the latest from CANADA: reports of testing on Toronto's 740, silent since the 1999 sign-off of CBL. The new adult standards station, run by Oakville's CHWO (1250), has reportedly been testing with an open carrier, though we've yet to hear it across the lake. No word yet on whether it'll use the CBC facilities at Hornby, or whether it will use the CHWO/CJMR site in Mississauga...stay tuned!

New England Radio Watch, November 25, 1995

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