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June 6, 2011

Radio, TV React to Mass. Tornadoes

Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook feeds for breaking-news updates as they happen!

*Broadcast stations in places like Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma have plenty of experience covering tornados and their aftermath. But twisters aren't a common part of life in western MASSACHUSETTS, so when a devastating storm developed near Springfield on Wednesday afternoon, TV and radio stations in Springfield and Worcester had to scramble to respond to the sudden emergency just before rush hour.

On TV, all three Springfield-based stations - NBC affiliate WWLP, ABC affiliate WGGB and CBS affiliate WSHM - went wall-to-wall with coverage (including dramatic sky-cam images of the tornado whipping up water from the Connecticut River in downtown Springfield) as the storm approached, staying with the story late into the evening as the extent of the destruction became clear (and even as at least one of the three tornadoes passed close to WWLP's tower site on Provin Mountain, south of Springfield.)

On radio, the coverage was a little more mixed, as stations with pared-down news staffs (or none at all) struggled at first to rise to the occasion. Listeners to Worcester's WTAG (580) reported hearing afternoon host Jordan Levy announce that the staff was evacuating the studios as the storms approached, followed by several minutes of dead air. In Springfield, heritage news-talker WHYN (560) started out in syndication mode at first, relaying the Howie Carr show out of Boston's WRKO. Within a short time, though, radio stations around the area were in wall-to-wall mode, either originating their own coverage or relaying TV audio. WHYN's John Baibak and Kevin Johnson stayed on the air until midnight, simulcasting their coverage on WHYN's three FM sister stations.

Within hours, media from all over the nation descended on western Massachusetts to cover the story - not just the Boston and Hartford TV stations but also network crews reporting on what had become a national story. While those crews quickly moved on to the next big story, the local stations in the Pioneer Valley continued to report on (and assist with) the area's recovery, providing information on the availability of relief supplies and food and helping to coordinate donations.

In the longer run, the storms are already prompting discussions of how the area might be better prepared should another tornado ever hit. That preparation might include the installation of warning sirens, but it's also likely to include a greater role for radio and TV. Will broadcasters be more ready if there's a "next time"?

Remarkably, there was no significant damage to any broadcast infrastructure from the storms. Only one station, Springfield College's WSCB (89.9), was taken off the air for more than a short time, and its absence was apparently the result of power outages on the hard-hit campus rather than damage to its transmitter or antenna.

*For one Pioneer Valley station, the storm came at an especially bad time: the region's public station, WFCR-FM (88.5), was mourning its longtime morning host after his sudden death the previous weekend.

Bob Paquette discovered radio while attending UMass Amherst and working at its student station, WMUA (91.1), and he began his career by traveling widely, working in Montana, Arizona and California. Within a few years, he was back in Amherst working at WTTT (1430, now WPNI), and in 1991 he returned to his alma mater and WFCR. In addition to his on-air work hosting "Morning Edition," Paquette lent his voice to the UMass graduation ceremonies, reading the names of each graduate for many years. He had survived a 2004 bout with leukemia, and his death (of a heart attack) last Saturday, May 28, came as a shock to the WFCR family and his listeners. Paquette is survived by his husband, Michael Rice Packard. He was just 55.

WFCR hasn't named a replacement yet; the station has put up a memorial page for Paquette here.

*The week's other big story straddles the RHODE ISLAND state line, as Boston's WGBH expands the reach of its classical service into the Providence market with a deal that will place the programming of WCRB (99.5 Lowell) on Bryant University's WJMF (88.7 Smithfield RI).

The background: WCRB's move from 102.5 to 99.5 a few years back was bad news for classical-music fans south of Boston, and especially in the Providence market, which received a fringe signal from 102.5 but none at all from 99.5. As for WJMF, the college station has been sitting on a construction permit to upgrade its present 225-watt/131' signal to 1200 watts/535' DA from a new site in Johnston, closer to Providence.

That construction permit was due to expire on Friday, but before it did, Bryant reached an agreement with WGBH that will bring classical music back to Providence listeners: beginning in August, student programming will be replaced by a WCRB simulcast on the newly-expanded 88.7 signal, which will provide city-grade coverage of most of the Providence market. The students will land on 88.7's new HD2 coverage, and at least for now they seem to be making the best of it, telling listeners on the station's Facebook page that the student programming will also be available via streaming audio and iTunes, as well as on a mobile DTV channel provided by WGBH-TV.

The exact terms of the deal between Bryant and WGBH haven't been made public; in a statement announcing the agreement, WGBH said it "involves no capital commitment" on the Boston station's part. It's also not clear what becomes of Bryant's other construction permit, authorizing a new signal on 90.7 in Danielson, Connecticut, just over the border from Rhode Island.

(There's already one all-classical signal that's nominally in the Providence market, but WCRI 95.9, an erstwhile sister station to WCRB in its 102.5 days, is licensed to and broadcasts from Block Island off Rhode Island's south coast, with at best a very fringe signal into the state capital.)

*There's a format change on the Boston AM dial: Radio One began leasing daytimer WILD (1090 Boston) to China Radio International on Wednesday, ending the station's mix of syndicated urban talk.

The English-language format from the Chinese government-owned broadcaster has become a fulltime fixture in several other markets recently, including Washington and Houston, and while it's hard to imagine CRI will find a very large audience in Boston, it no doubt is providing a reliable income stream to Radio One.

*Radio People on the Move: Bob Stuart has been a fixture at the 92.5 spot on the dial since its days as Haverhill-licensed WLYT, and he was the only remaining member of the station's charter airstaff from its 1995 debut as AAA "River" WXRV. Now he's gone from WXRV's afternoon airwaves and from the station's website, and WXRV is seeking a replacement. Over at Entercom Boston, Jeff Brown arrives from Portland, Oregon to become the cluster's new VP/market manager, replacing the departed Tim Murphy. Brown will share the title with Julie Kahn, who's also been named New England market manager. Kahn will continue to focus on the broadcast side of the operations, while Brown will focus on Entercom's interactive media platforms. And at Greater Media's WTKK (96.9 Boston), the syndicated "John and Jeff" return to overnights, replacing David Stein.

Want some radio history? The Merrimack Valley's will be dishing it out tonight from 6:45 until 7:45, when veteran DJ Phil Christie will answer listener questions about his days at WHDH, WBZ and WNEW.

Want still more radio history? The denizens of the Boston-Radio-Interest mailing list will be getting together for a cookout on June 18; we'll have more details in next week's issue, or contact Gary Francis at for more details...

*In CONNECTICUT, Jim Bosh is out at WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury), leaving Cory Meyers handling mornings solo. Bosh had been with the Hartford-market country station for seven years.

*Where are they now? Since leaving VERMONT, former WNCS (104.7 Montpelier) PD Mark Abuzzahab has been busy adding a lot of big AAA stations around the country to his resume: KBCO in Boulder, KGSR in Austin and now KKXT (91.7) in Dallas, where he takes over as PD later this month.

And speaking of rock stations in Vermont, WEQX (102.7 Manchester) is looking for a new music director and afternoon host after the exit of Jason Irwin.


Maybe you need an extra copy for the wall of your shop. Maybe you gave your first copy away as a gift. Maybe the year just got away from you and you forgot to order your Tower Site Calendar 2011.

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Tower Site Calendar 2011 features more than a dozen great images of radio and TV broadcast facilities all over the country (and even beyond - this year's edition takes us to Mexico!)

Thrill to a night shot of KFI's new tower! Check out the WAEB Allentown array just after it lost a tower - or enjoy the history at venerable sites like those of KID in Idaho Falls, WCAP in Lowell, KTKT in Tucson and Rochester's Pinnacle Hill.

But wait - there's more! We also have a small supply of the new FM Atlas, 21st edition back in stock, as well as a limited supply of Tower Site Calendar 2010 - plus signed calendars, back isues and much more in the store!

Orders of 20 or more calendars get an even bigger discount. We'll even add a bow or a gift card upon request. But don't are limited, and the calendar will sell out soon!

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*The week's biggest news in NEW YORK happened right after last week's issue of NERW hit the web: EMF Broadcasting's WKLV-FM (96.7 Port Chester) signed on Monday (May 30), ending months of speculation about just when the national "K-Love" contemporary Christian service would arrive in the nation's biggest market.

Early reports on the station's signal coverage from its new transmitter site atop the Trump Plaza building in New Rochelle (snapped just hours before sign-on by our tower photography colleague Mike Fitzpatrick of have been mixed: while it's providing a strong signal to Westchester County and adjacent parts of Connecticut, the new 96.7 signal is reportedly suffering serious interference from unlicensed stations in the Newark, N.J. area.

*Veteran New York City station manager Steve Swenson is heading for Washington. Swenson, who's now at the helm of CBS Radio's WCBS (880) and WINS (1010), will become the senior VP/market manager for the company's five Washington, D.C.-market signals, including sports-talk WJFK (106.7). No replacement has been named yet in New York.

*We now know where WHWK (98.1 Binghamton) PD Don Brake is headed: he's making a straight shot south on I-81 (and then a little jog over on I-70) to Frederick, Maryland, where he takes over as music director and midday jock at Clear Channel country station WFRE (99.9) starting June 13. reports that two Utica sports-talkers are moving: Gene Conte and Fred Miller will join Galaxy Broadcasting's ESPN Radio affilates (WTLB 1310/WRNY 1350/WIXT 1230) on June 20, bringing their talk show from WIBX (950) to the ESPN trio, where it will air weekdays from 3-5 PM. Conte was also serving as WIBX's PD, and the duo's "SportsWatch" show vanished from WIBX's schedule in late May, replaced by Sporting News Radio programming.

In Johnstown, Thomas Kuettel's WIZR (930) started the month with a format flip, shifting from classic country to Dial Global's oldies format. The station will soon add an FM translator, moving W240BA (95.9 Canajoharie) to 96.5 in Johnstown.

There's a format change in Rockland County as well: Polskie Radio's WRKL (910 New City) dropped its own Polish-language programming last week, replacing it with leased-time Spanish-language religion from Pastor Erick Salgado's "Radio Cantico Nuevo," which is also heard on several other AM signals around the tri-state area.

Hudson Valley rocker WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie) marked its 35th anniversary over the weekend in style, inviting former staffers back to take guest airshifts all weekend long. The station is also throwing an anniversary concert later this summer at Bethel Woods (site of the Woodstock concert), where the Doobie Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform August 19th.

Buffalo-market talker WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) was in the headlines again this week as yet another host made a noisy departure from the station. "Good Morning Buffalo" co-host Loraine O'Donnell was fired, leaving producer Corey Griswold co-hosting the show with market veteran Tom Donahue. In a message-board post, O'Donnell says WECK told her the show "wasn't working"; PD Brad Riter tells the Buffalo News he's working on retooling the station's talk lineup.

*And we close our New York report with an obituary: Chris Ulanowski was a longtime staple of the news department at public station WRVO (89.9 Oswego), where he worked for 27 years before departing (as news director) in 2009. Ulanowski died last Monday (May 30); he was just 51 years old.

*In TV news, NEW JERSEY state officials are expected to announce this week that they're handing over operations of the state-owned NJN television network to a new nonprofit being formed by WNET (Channel 13), the Newark-licensed and New York City-based public broadcaster.

The Star-Ledger of Newark reports that the state will continue to hold the NJN licenses and won't receive any money from WNET for their operation; instead, WNET will receive $2 million in CPB grants earmarked for NJN and another $2 million annually in tower-lease fees from tenants of NJN's broadcast towers. (What's in it for the state? The end of its $11 million annual subsidy of NJN's operations.)

The deal is expected to go into effect July 1, ending the existing NJN operation (including the nightly NJN News). It's still not clear what will become of NJN's statewide radio network, which is not included in the deal with WNET and Steve Adubato's Caucus Educational Corp.

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: State officials announced the deal's terms on Monday, including the TV network's new identity as "NJTV." While the existing NJN newscast will end at the end of June, WNET's NJTV will launch a new nightly newscast in the fall. As for radio, the network will be split: New York's WNYC will get the stations in Trenton, Netcong, Sussex and Toms River while Philadelphia's WHYY will get the stations in Atlantic City, Berlin, Bridgeton, Manahawkin and Cape May Court House. Much more in next week's NERW...


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*A western PENNSYLVANIA talk host says the controversy over "fracking" cost him his job at WMBS (590 Uniontown). Bob Foltz last hosted "Let's Talk" on the station April 20, but it wasn't until the end of May that he told his story to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying he was fired after a guest on his show was critical of the hotly-debated method of extracting natural gas by blasting a mixture of water and chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure.

Foltz says he was presented with a termination notice after the guest, Dan Bailey, said one of those chemicals had contaminated his community's water supply - and he says he has little doubt that his firing was related to WMBS's recent addition of a weekly talk show called "Natural Gas Matters" that's unapologetically pro-fracking.

Foltz says the termination letter he was given claimed that "by your choice, you have decided to let your listeners know ... that you have elected to 'take a personal leave of absence' from WMBS Radio." While that's just what the WMBS Facebook page claimed, Foltz says he never elected any such thing, and he says he's now looking for other work.

*In Pittsburgh, the WAMO callsign is now officially in place on Tim Martz' Wilkinsburg-licensed 660 signal and its translator at 100.1. Martz swapped calls with Telikoja Educational Foundation's signal at 88.1 in Dushore, which is now WPYT.

*Scranton's WVIA-FM (89.9) is adding a relay at the eastern edge of its coverage area: it's acquiring the construction permit for WLPP (91.5 Palmyra Township) from Four Rivers Community Radio. The WLPP signal will serve the area east of Lake Wallenpaupack, including Hawley and Tafton; WVIA won't pay any cash for the 400-watt signal, but it will provide Four Rivers with space for translator W227BA (93.3) at WVIA's main tower on Penobscot Mountain east of Wilkes-Barre.

And in Philadelphia, WNWR (1540) is running announcements saying its current multicultural programming will move down the dial next Monday (June 13) to Beasley's WWDB (860), where it will replace ESPN Deportes Spanish-language sports. What's next for WNWR? NERW wonders whether it might join Boston's WILD as a new home for China Radio International...

*The news from CANADA is all about brand extensions: Rogers Media, owner of Toronto's CITY-TV (Channel 57) and all-news CFTR (680), will launch a new "CityNews" TV channel in October, using resources from both of its broadcast partners.

Over at competitor CTV, the "A" branding is finally disappearing from the company's secondary TV network, which includes outlets in Barrie (CKVR-TV), London (CFPL-TV) and Windsor/Wingham (CHWI-TV).

CTV says it will relaunch "A" this fall as "CTV2," retaining local news in each of its markets and upgrading its signals to high-definition. CTV says it's also applying to the CRTC to add a new over-the-air relay of CKVR's signal to serve viewers in Toronto and Hamilton, though we haven't seen any filings yet.

*More turbulence on the sports-radio scene: Rogers' CJCL (FAN 590) has dropped its hockey reporter, Howard Berger, after nearly a quarter of a century. The station has added Michael Grange, late of the Globe and Mail, as a commentator and as a correspondent for the Rogers SportsNet website.

*And up in Wingham, Ontario, Blackburn Radio wants to add an FM relay to its AM signal there, CKNX (920). CKNX can't move completely to FM, since Blackburn already has two Wingham FMs (CKNX-FM 101.7 and CIBU 94.5), but Blackburn wants to supplement the powerful AM signal with a 3-kw/69m FM relay on 104.3. The application says CKNX hopes to "provide fill-in coverage at night and in areas that are most affected by interference in the CKNX current licensed area"; NERW notes that the 920 signal is widely believed to have been operating with its daytime facilities most nights in recent years, at least judging by reception in our area.

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.

One Year Ago: June 7, 2010 -

  • After another quiet holiday-shortened week, we once again turn to CANADA's capital city for our lead story.
  • In the space of just a week, Ottawa has added two new FM signals to its dial - first Astral's "EZ Rock 99.7" (CJOT), and as of today, Frank Torres' "101.9 DAWG FM" (CIDG). The new station, which mixes blues with rock and R&B, began testing its 3 kW/321' DA signal from downtown Ottawa early last week. Today marks the debut of an airstaff that includes the morning team of Geoff Winter (ex-CHEZ 106) and Laura Mainella, as well as midday jock "Ali Kat" (Ali Misener, late of CHRI), afternoon jock J-man, "Black at Night" with Dylan Black and weekender Carly D. There is - or will soon be - live streaming as well, at Still to come is yet one more new Ottawa FM, the French community station at 94.5 that was authorized as part of the CRTC's re-examination of its licensing process after its initial grants on 99.7 and 101.9 were overruled at a higher level of the Canadian government.
  • Our post-holiday NEW YORK news begins with several Radio People on the Move: in a story you saw first from NERW last Tuesday, Kevin LeGrett is heading back home to Rochester to replace Karen Carey as Clear Channel's market manager, leaving behind his post as a regional president for Citadel, where he oversaw the Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton, Erie and (yes) Albuquerque markets.
  • The move brings LeGrett back to the last office space where he worked in Rochester, the 17th floor of the HSBC building downtown - but when LeGrett worked there, the space was home to CBS Radio's Rochester cluster, where he had worked his way up through the ranks to become VP/GM. LeGrett's new corner office is in the same space once occupied by WCMF morning man Brother Wease; he, too, is now with Clear Channel, of course - but working one flight of stairs below in the new 16th floor WFXF (95.1 the Fox) studio.
  • And in New York City, we mourn Himan Brown, one of the last links to the golden age of radio drama. Brown's first venture into radio was way back in 1927, hosting and producing a poetry reading series on New York's WRNY ("Hi-Brow Readings") and he'd been active ever since, working with big radio names such as Gertrude Berg ("The Goldbergs") and soap opera pioneers Anne and Frank Hummel. Brown was a founding member of the Director's Guild of America, and long after most of his colleagues had moved on to TV, retired, or passed away, Brown was still creating and directing radio drama, keeping the medium alive into the 1970s and beyond with the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which produced daily installments for nine years. Brown was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 and was named an American Broadcast Pioneer two years later; as recently as just a couple of years ago, your editor had the pleasure of watching him in action, directing a live radio drama production at the AES convention in New York City.
  • Brown died at home in Manhattan Friday night, in the Central Park West apartment where he'd lived since 1938. He was 99.

Five Years Ago: June 5, 2006 -

  • Some big changes are underway at Clear Channel's big New York City cluster, most notably in mornings at WKTU (103.5 Lake Success), which is pulling the plug on the current Baltazar and Goumba Johnny morning show at the end of July, in favor of Whoopi Goldberg's new syndicated offering. Whoopi will have a new sidekick, too, as Paul "Cubby" Bryant moves over from CC sister station WHTZ (100.3 Newark), where he's now afternoon jock and music director, to join her on the new morning show. Baltazar and Goumba had been together on WKTU since 2002, and Boston listeners might remember Baltazar from an earlier stint in mornings on WJMN (94.5). (He's also worked at New York's WQHT and Chicago's WBBM-FM.)
  • Oswego's WRVO (89.9) will dedicate its new studio facility - and turn on its new 50,000-watt HD Radio signal - at an open house Saturday (June 10). NPR talk host Neal Conan ("Talk of the Nation") will be on hand to officially open the new digs, which replace "temporary" studios that were put into operation 37 years ago. (The new studios have actually been in use since January, but who wants to visit Oswego in January?)
  • In NEW JERSEY, a Seton Hall University audit uncovered what appears to be a long pattern of embezzlement by former WSOU (89.5 South Orange) station manager Michael Collazo. He was arrested Thursday and charged with money laundering and theft by deception, which could lead to as much as 10-20 years behind bars if he's convicted. The university says Collazo, who ran WSOU from 1984-2004, set up a shell company in 1991 called "Warren Sound Options Unlimited," which spells out "W.S.O.U." Collazo is accused of diverting $550,000 in underwriting revenue and subcarrier lease payments from the station's own account to his phony "W.S.O.U." account. Collazo had been working as a flight attendant since he was fired from Seton Hall two years ago, when problems with the station's accounts began to surface. The university says its insurance has repaid the missing money to the proper WSOU accounts.
  • VERMONT Public Radio is adding to its network with the acquisition of WJAN (95.1 Sunderland) from Pamal. The Albany-based broadcaster needs to shed WJAN, which is technically in the Albany market, in order to complete its purchase of now-silent WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) and return the station to the air from a new city of license of Malta and a new transmitter site at the WNYT (Channel 13) tower on Bald Hill, northeast of Albany. For VPR, the $625,000 deal will (we suspect) bring the broadcaster's new classical network to southwestern Vermont, complementing WBTN-FM (94.3 Bennington), which carries VPR's main network. From its perch high atop Equinox Mountain, WJAN (which now runs "Cat Country," simulcasting WJEN 94.5 Rutland) reaches well into eastern New York with its 96-watt signal.

10 Years Ago: June 4, 2001 -

  • Five years after Cox threw it on the air as a format-flipping stunt format, radio geeks are still talking about the one day of "Quick 108" at Syracuse's WHEN-FM (107.9, now WWHT). So it's not surprising to hear that the "just the hooks" loop of music-testing tapes has returned to the central NEW YORK airwaves. This time it's 50 miles down the Thruway in Utica, and this time it's Clear Channel doing the "Quick" thing, while it waits to announce a new format for WSKS (102.5 Rome). The station's old "Kiss" CHR format migrated down (and up) the dial to the former "Wow FM," WOWZ (97.9 Whitesboro) and WOWB (105.5 Little Falls) last week, and the leading rumor now suggests the permanent format on 102.5 will be country, challenging Forever's market-leading WFRG-FM (104.3 Utica). The only big question left is: when will the flip finally happen? As of press time late Monday evening, WSKS is still "Quick"... [Late update: WSKS switched to "K-Garth," a stunt format of all Garth Brooks music, Tuesday night.]
  • Syracuse's WNSS (1260) is about to change formats again. The erstwhile home of the now-defunct Comedy World network has been simulcasting Citadel sister WLTI (105.9) for the last few months; within the next 90 days, we're told, it will relaunch as "ESPN Radio 1260," with Syracuse University football and basketball as well as Buffalo Bills football in the fall, challenging Clear Channel's WHEN (620) for the sports radio audience in the Salt City.
  • We move over to MASSACHUSETTS with a surprise group sale. After spending the past few years assembling a ring of small AM stations around Boston, Keating Willcox sold most of his Willow Farm group this week. Ernie Anastos, who's built his own suburban radio ring around Albany in the last few years (WQAR Stillwater, WUAM Saratoga Springs, WVKZ Schenectady and WMVI Mechanicville), is the buyer, and we've yet to hear a purchase price. The Big Apple TV news anchor and his partners at Anastos Broadcast Group end up with WPEP (1570 Taunton), WMSX (1410 Brockton), WGAW (1340 Gardner), WMVU (900 Nashua NH) and WNRI (1380 Woonsocket RI), leaving Willcox back at square one with his very first property, WNSH (1570 Beverly). The Willow Farm stations have been running a mostly-satellite talk format, with a little local content at each. Will Anastos plug in the standards "Moon" or classic country "Sun" formats he's using in Albany? We'll keep you posted...

15 Years Ago: New England Radio Watch, June 3, 1996

  • (No issue - your editor was honeymooning!)

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