In this week’s issue… The next chapters in Boston’s next affiliation swap – Cumulus, Emmis shake up NYC – Philly Spanish stations merge – Toronto’s Cooper retires – Boston morning team reunites – Want to live in a former radio studio?
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The eyes of the American TV industry are focused intently on Boston this week, and it looks like they may stay locked there all year as the fight between NBC and Sunbeam Television’s Ed Ansin keeps heating up.
After months of rumors and hints, the feud broke into mainstream attention on Thursday when NBC publicly announced (and we reported in a NERW Extra) that it’s planning to pull its affiliation from Ansin’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) at the end of 2016. But the plan for a new “NBC Boston” based out of Comcast-owned New England Cable News in Newton and broadcast over Comcast-owned Telemundo signal WNEU (Channel 60) from New Hampshire is full of questions, short on answers and all twisted up in the bigger uncertainty of the TV spectrum auction and repack that will be another of the huge stories of 2016.
Which means it’s exactly the sort of thing we specialize in picking apart for our subscribers here in NorthEast Radio Watch…and tomorrow we’ll be back here in this space with a NERW Extra with some deep insight about what’s really going to happen next and where Boston viewers can expect to be watching “Superstore” a year from now.
Meanwhile, on with the rest of the news from a very busy week in radio and TV across the region…
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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, fifteen and – where available – twenty 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: January 12, 2015
*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, the longtime leader of WVIA public TV and radio is out of the building after a public outcry over his salary and benefit level. Bill Kelly was serving as emeritus president at the Pittston-based stations after handing over the reins to Tom Currá in mid-2013, but he made some very unwanted headlines when news emerged that Kelly was still being paid more than Currá even after moving from the top job to a new position in which his chief responsibility was fundraising. (How much more? Currá’s being paid $150,000 a year, while Kelly’s salary alone was $200,000, plus additional benefits.)
Whether that sort of compensation is justifiable or not – and Kelly’s longtime colleague Dave Yonki made a pretty good case for it back when Kelly stepped down as CEO in 2013 – WVIA found out the hard way that it’s awfully hard to explain to the same viewers and listeners from whom it was asking for membership dollars $50 and $100 at a time. As Kelly’s salary package made headlines in 2013 and 2014, WVIA reportedly lost close to half its membership base, which finally forced the station’s board to take action.
As of the start of 2015, Kelly is completely out at WVIA, thanks to board members who reached into their own pockets and raised outside money to come up with nearly $300,000 to buy him out of the last two years of his contract.
Everyone knew Lowell Paxson as “Bud” – even Paxson himself, who had a well-known habit of always referring to himself in the third person, so much so that some people who attended meetings didn’t realize the man constantly saying “Bud thinks this” and “Bud wants that” actually was “Bud.” Bud could get away with that, of course, because by the end of his career he was one of the wealthiest broadcast owners in the country, creator of the Home Shopping Network, Pax TV and a onetime radio magnate whose holdings became a significant part of the Clear Channel empire.
Long before Paxson was a nationally-known figure, though, he was a western New York broadcaster, starting with a partial interest in WACK (1420 Newark) as well as WBRY (1590 Waterbury CT) and then moving on to Jamestown. His time at WKSN (1340)/WHUG (101.7) and upstart UHF station WNYP (Channel 26) was more colorful than successful.
Shut out from the US network affiliations controlled by the big stations in Buffalo, 40 miles away, Paxson looked across Lake Erie to Canada for a solution.
“Bud went on the air and tried to use a loophole in the FCC rules to rebroadcast shows taken off the air from channels 5,9 and 11 in Canada,” recalls Randy Michaels, another western New Yorker who made it big later on. “During the Second World War, an FCC rule was created that allowed US stations to rebroadcast foreign stations without foreign stations’ permission. The purpose was to allow us stations to rebroadcast war news picked up by short wave. Bud tried to use that rule to program his station. He was correct that there was no FCC violation, but the copyright holders successfully sued him for infringement.”
While most biographies of Paxson date his creation of the Home Shopping Network to 1977, after he’d relocated to Florida and was trying to unload kitchen equipment he’d received in trade for advertising at a struggling AM station near Tampa, Michaels says the genesis of TV shopping actually happened almost a decade earlier in Jamestown, when Paxson tried the idea as a way of keeping channel 26 afloat after the Canadian-fed programming was pulled.
In any event, channel 26 didn’t last long and much of its equipment ended up being moved down Route 17 and repurposed for the 1969 debut of WENY-TV (Channel 36) in Elmira. By the time channel 26 returned to the airwaves in the 1980s, Bud Paxson was playing in much bigger arenas, becoming a major player in cluster radio in big Florida markets, running first HSN and then Pax TV, and turning his born-again Christian faith into a role as a major force in religious TV.
Bud Paxson died Friday in Florida at age 80.
*Few people in radio work as hard for as little reward as small-market newscasters. Where they still exist at all, it’s not at all uncommon for them to work late nights covering town council meetings or other events, only to be back in the studio and back on the air early the next morning to tell their towns what’s going on. So it was a particular loss last week when news arrived of the death of Scott Dosztan, who’d been covering the news in Potsdam since 2001 at WSNN (99.3)/WPDM (1470).
Dosztan, who’d also worked at WBRV in Boonville, WIRY in Plattsburgh and WENT in Gloversville, appears to have collapsed and died while walking from his home to the WPDM/WSNN studios early Monday morning. He was just 44 years old, and he leaves behind a community that depended on him for daily news.
Howie Carr’s syndicated show adds Manchester’s WFEA (1370) as an affiliate next Monday, breaking the Saga standards/AC outlet out of its music format for four hours each weekday afternoon (are Carr or his syndicator leasing time?) as Carr tries to replicate the coverage he once enjoyed over former Boston flagship WRKO. Carr is also adding WBEC (1420 Pittsfield MA) to his network, as well as the recent addition of WCAP (980 Lowell).
Five Years Ago: January 10, 2011
Clear Channel is taking another stab at moving one of its western MASSACHUSETTS FM signals south to Hartford, CONNECTICUT – and the latest proposal to move WPKX (97.9) is part of a big batch of applications that could end up affecting at least four stations in the region.
Clear Channel had originally proposed relocating WPKX to downtown Hartford without changing its city of license from Enfield, right on the state line, but that application was withdrawn last year. The new application filed last week once again proposes to put WPKX atop the City Place I office tower in downtown Hartford, but now the station’s city of license would change to Windsor Locks, closer to Hartford and more easily covered from the downtown transmitter site.
To maintain the legal fiction of “first local service” to Enfield, Clear Channel has struck a deal with Citadel to change the city of license of Citadel’s WMAS-FM (94.7) from Springfield to Enfield; that’s all that will change at WMAS, which will retain its present downtown Springfield transmitter site and studios at the Basketball Hall of Fame. (Citadel, in exchange, gets to use a Clear Channel-owned generator at the Sandia Crest master FM/TV site high above Albuquerque.)
The other two stations being shuffled are both on 100.9: Clear Channel’s WRNX in Amherst and Hall’s WKNL in New London. In order to move WRNX closer to Springfield (presumably to become the new home of the WPKX calls and “Kix” country format after 97.9 moves away, though Clear Channel’s not saying as much), Clear Channel needed WKNL to agree to short-spacing.
The news from CANADA this week starts with a format change in southwest Ontario: CJSP (92.7 Leamington) quietly ditched country on Tuesday (January 4) to become adult hits “92.7 Max FM.”
Owner Blackburn Radio says that when it signed on CJWF (95.9 Windsor) with country, it found more overlap with CJSP than it had expected, and it’s urging country fans in the Leamington area to tune to CJWF or to sister station CFCO (630) from Chatham instead.
The new year brought yet another new format to one of NEW YORK‘s more troubled FM frequencies of late, as CBS Radio made a January 2 (1-02-7, get it?) flip on WNEW (102.7 New York), ditching rhythmic AC “Mix 102.7” in favor of “Fresh 102.7” adult contemporary.
By the time the flip finally happened at 5 AM Tuesday, it was no big surprise – the entire “Mix” airstaff was already out the door before the format changed, and the new URL (fresh1027.com) had already been sniffed out by the usual messageboard crowds. The new format wasn’t hard to figure out, either – after recent talent changes at Clear Channel’s longtime market-leading AC “Lite” (WLTW 106.7), there’s probably as much chance of stealing some of Lite’s audience as there’s been in years.
Speaking of heading south, that’s where a lot of CBS Radio staffers will be heading in 2008, as the company prepares to move all of its New York radio stations except WCBS (880) to the 10th and 11th floors of 345 Hudson Street. The move will take WINS (1010) and WWFS from their aging studios at 888 Seventh Avenue, WCBS-FM (101.1) from its digs in the former WLTW space in the Viacom building at 1515 Broadway and WFAN (660) from the basement of the old Kaufman Astoria studios in Queens – and it will put them all in an area that’s becoming a hotbed of radio, including the Emmis stations (WQHT/WQCD/WRKS) just up Hudson Street, the new WNYC studios under construction a few blocks away, and the upcoming move of Clear Channel’s five FMs to 32 Avenue of the Americas.
Eight years after it brought Radio Disney to the New York City airwaves with a long-term LMA of WQEW (1560) from the New York Times Company, Disney is turning its management of the 50,000-watt AM signal into an outright purchase. It’s exercising an option to buy WQEW for $40 million, with the deal set to close within a few months. The Times Company, which is also selling its TV station group says it has no intention of selling its last remaining broadcast property, WQXR-FM (96.3).
At Boston’s WTKK, Michael Graham has also moved from evenings to mid-mornings as part of a new lineup that cuts Don Imus off at 9, followed by an hour of Mike Barnicle, then Graham from 10-noon and an expanded three-hour “Eagan and Braude” show from noon-3. Bill O’Reilly now follows Jay Severin at 7, and then Laura Ingraham’s on from 9-midnight.
All those changes leave WBZ’s Paul Sullivan as the last local talk show standing in the evening hours, at least when the Bruins aren’t on the air. And while we’re on the topic of WBZ, our one-week break from regular NERW duty (you have checked out our 2006 Year in Review, haven’t you?) means this is our first chance to recap the last day on the air for legendary morning man Gary LaPierre.
Reached by phone early that morning, Gary sounded more than a little uncertain about leaving the studios he’s called home since 1964, but with the festivities already well underway, there was no turning back. Boston Mayor Tom Menino was among the dignitaries who stopped by in person to wish Gary well, and Governor Mitt Romney (who declared “Gary LaPierre Day” in the Commonwealth) and Senator Ted Kennedy were among the callers who made it on the air. (So did Boston broadcast legends Charles Laquidara and Jess Cain.)
Behind the scenes (though visible on the WBZ webcast hosted by Jordan Rich), the studios were packed with current and former colleagues, including many faces your editor recognized from his time at 1170 Soldiers Field Road in the early nineties. Gary’s family was there, too, including his wife, Peg, and his children and grandchildren.
When the last newscast was over a few minutes past 9, Gary signed off with his usual class, thanking all the managers he’d worked for over the years (and drawing a huge laugh from the crowd when he called some of them “idiots”) – and finally ending up in tears as he handed the mike over to his morning sports partner of many years, Gil Santos. (Gil, in turn, declared that there was nothing significant in the world of sports to talk about, then devoted his sportscast to saying goodbye to Gary.)
And a few minutes later, the entire staff of WBZ lined the long hallway that leads from the radio/TV newsroom up to the lobby, giving Gary and Peg a hero’s farewell as he headed off into retirement.
(Meanwhile, the segue to new morning anchor Ed Walsh was seamless; after keeping an appropriately low profile on the air during the LaPierre farewell, Walsh was on the air with the 9:30 newscast.)
Ten Years Ago: January 9, 2006
The tangled tale of MASSACHUSETTS high school station WAVM (91.7 Maynard) took another turn last Friday, when station adviser and founder Joseph P. Magno was arrested on charges of raping a former student. Magno, 65, will be arraigned today in Concord District Court on the charges, which also include indecent assault and battery on a child, allegedly a male student who was under 14 when the incidents began. The news comes at a particularly challenging time for WAVM, whose fight for survival has been chronicled extensively here on NERW and elsewhere. Just before the holidays, Living Proof, Inc., the California religious broadcaster that won a “tentative preference” from the FCC to build a new facility in Lunenburg that will likely displace WAVM from its spot on the dial, offered a settlement proposal to WAVM and two other applicants that would, at least in theory, allow for two new stations on 91.7 as well as a WAVM upgrade to protected class A status.
In other news from the Bay State, the new year marked the end of WBZ (1030 Boston)’s contract to carry Paul Harvey’s daily broadcasts, which have been a fixture there for years. The CBS Radio station chose not to renew its deal with ABC for Harvey (though it is apparently still using some ABC News Radio material), and so far there’s been no replacement in the market. (NERW notes that the relationship between WBZ and Harvey extended to the use of morning anchor Gary LaPierre as a substitute host on the Harvey broadcasts on several occasions in the mid-nineties.)
A few other Radio People on the Move: Ben Parker moves from the WRKO newsroom to the PD chair at WEIM (1280 Fitchburg). At WZLX (100.7 Boston), Beau Raines’ run as PD came to a close at the end of 2005. WUMB (91.9 Boston) is losing music director Sarah Wardrop to New York – she’s headed for a new gig at WFUV (90.7) there. And a couple of “Where Are They Now?” items – veteran Boston jock “Hutch” has resurfaced as the sidekick to David Lee Roth’s CBS Radio morning show (heard locally on WBCN), while former WODS morning man Paul Perry is looking for work now that his contract with Chicago’s WJMK has ended. (Perry was doing mornings on WJMK’s HD subchannel for the latter half of 2005, after the main channel flipped from oldies to “Jack.”)
Out on Long Island, the end of 2005 was also the end of analog TV for Riverhead’s WLNY (Channel 55). The independent station won FCC permission to shut off its analog signal earlier than scheduled, as part of a nationwide sale of the channel 55 bandwidth to Qualcomm for its new MediaFLO broadband service, and now WLNY is seen over the air only on WLNY-DT (Channel 57) and three LPTV signals; its main viewership, of course, is on cable and satellite.
So much for “ChannelCasting”: The Morey Organization has stopped using that term on its three East End FMs, and things are pretty much back to the way they were at rocker “Bone” WBON (98.5 Westhampton), dance-top 40 “Party” WDRE (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) and modern rock WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays), with highly reduced spotloads the only remnant of the failed “ChannelCasting” concept.
Heading up the Hudson Valley, Ed Levine’s two Albany-market FMs relaunched for the new year, dropping classic country on WEGQ (93.7 Scotia) and reworking the rock format on WRCZ (94.5 Ravena) into a new simulcast called “The Bone.” JR Gach remains in place on the new station, and new calls WOOB (93.7) and WBOE (94.3) are on the way.
Fifteen Years Ago: January, 2001
The spinning radio dial this first week of 2001 must be especially confusing to Dar Williams. In her 1998 song “Are You Out There?,” the Western Massachusetts singer-songwriter chronicled her youthful love of New York’s WBAI and name-checked several DJs at her local AAA outlet, WRSI (95.3 Greenfield).
Down on Wall Street, things just keep getting more tense at Pacifica’s Big Apple outlet. The station’s Web site had been taken over by staffers loyal to recently-ousted PD Bernard White and producer Sheran Harper. This week, Pacifica national regained the site, replacing it (for the moment) with not much more than a link to the national Pacifica home page. The struggle at WBAI, an echo of the 1999 protests at Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, made national headlines this week, with “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman being quoted as signing off with “From the embattled studios of WBAI.”
Meanwhile up in the hills of Franklin County, things are changing for Jimmy Olsen, Johnny Memphis, and the rest of the gang at WRSI. On February 1, their station will switch dial positions with another FM outlet recently purchased by Vox Media, WPVQ (93.9 Turners Falls). The idea behind the move, sources inside Vox tell NERW, is to put WPVQ’s country music on a frequency that better reaches listeners on the north end of the Pioneer Valley. From its hilltop site in the town of Leyden, the 95.3 signal penetrates north into Vermont and New Hampshire more effectively than 93.9 does. WRSI, known for the last few years as “the River,” has a strong constituency in the college towns of the southern Pioneer Valley — areas the 93.9 signal reaches better, especially with the aid of translators W246AM (97.1 Amherst) and W287AK (105.3 South Hadley). We hear WPVQ will add more live jocks to the satellite service it’s been using outside drive time, and we’re told “the Bear” will be the new nickname at WPVQ when it makes that move.
As for Dar Williams…maybe it’s time for an ode to Haverhill’s WXRV, instead?
The WPVQ-WRSI swap isn’t the only big news in western MASSACHUSETTS this week. Down in Springfield, Clear Channel pulled the talk programming off WNNZ (640 Westfield) New Year’s Day, flipping the station to all-sports as “640 the Zone.” So far, most of the programming is coming from Fox Sports Radio; talk fans are being directed to Clear Channel sister WHYN (560 Springfield).
The big news in Boston is Monday’s launch of “Business Radio 1060,” WBIX (1060 Natick). We listened to the last Gene Burns show on 1060 in its WMEX incarnation on Friday; station owner Alex Langer made a brief appearance at the very end to explain the changes and say farewell, at least for now, to Burns. Classy…
Meanwhile, some of the talk programming that had been on WMEX, and its predecessor, WRPT (650 Ashland), is again being heard at that 650 frequency, now WJLT. The “J-Light” Christian contemporary programming now runs only until noon on weekdays, followed by talkers such as G. Gordon Liddy, mostly simulcast with WSRO (1470 Marlborough).
Just before the end of the year, we heard the first rumblings of a format change at Worcester’s WCRN (830), and now it’s official: the Carberry family has ditched the religious programming there, replacing it with big-band music as “Swing 830.” The only break in the music comes from 9:05 until 11 AM, when WCRN continues to run Barry Armstrong’s “Money Matters.” WCRN is in the process of cranking its daytime power up to a full 50 kilowatts, directional straight into Boston. Kurt Carberry tells NERW the station is training a staff of DJs and adding liners and IDs. “The most important aspect of WCRN,” he says, “is that this station is going to be fun” for him and for his father, veteran broadcaster Ken Carberry. Sounds like this one should also be a lot of fun for Eastern Massachusetts listeners…
We’ve been talking about it and talking about it and talking about it, and now CHWO (740 Toronto) is a reality. The standards station, nicknamed “Prime Time Radio,” signed on at 7:40 AM Monday, with a brief announcement by station owner Michael Caine and a montage of the music to be heard on 740. Just before the sign-on, we were listening to CHWO’s old frequency, 1250, to hear Caine talk about his history with the station (he put it on the air decades ago) and count down to a simulcast with 740. 1250 will become religious CJYE after a few weeks of the simulcast.
Twenty Years Ago: January 10, 1996