In this week’s issue… Bell-Astral deal is on again, with spinoffs – Antenna down in Maine – Big management shift at Boston pubcaster – Albany AM down for the count? – Smerconish to exit terrestrial radio, WPHT
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*CANADA‘s biggest media deal in recent years isn’t going away easily. In October, after the CRTC denied Bell’s application to swallow Astral Media for C$3.38 billion, both companies promised they’d be back at the table with a new proposal.
As of last week, they’re now halfway back to the finish line after Canada’s Competition Bureau signed off on the revised plan, which is now in front of the CRTC for reconsideration. This time around, Bell and Astral have identified a buyer for at least some of the expanded list of stations they’re planning to spin off in order to stay under CRTC ownership caps.
The plan puts Corus in the buyer’s seat in Ottawa, where it will enter radio ownership with the purchase of CKQB (106.9 the Bear) and CJOT (99.7 EZ Rock), currently owned by Astral. The radio sales are part of a C$400 million spinoff to Corus that also includes several Canadian cable networks.
Bell and Astral also plan to put stations in four other big markets up for sale, including CHBM (Boom 97.3) and CFXJ (93.5 Flow FM) in Toronto. Boom is currently an Astral property, while Flow comes from the Bell portfolio.
And then there’s Montreal, where the original deal hit a bit of unwelcome PR when word got out that Bell proposed to convert its CKGM (690) from English-language sports to French-language sports. The CRTC denied that application, and Bell’s not going to try going down that road again; instead, it’s now promising to keep CKGM doing sports in English, provided that the merged company gets a waiver allowing it to hold four English-language signals in Montreal, where it would ordinarily be capped at three. If the CRTC doesn’t go along this time, Bell says it will close down CKGM and keep Astral’s three existing stations, CJAD (800), CJFM (Virgin 95.9) and CHOM (97.7).
*In Fredericton, New Brunswick, Newcap has pulled the plug on “Fred FM” at CFRK (92.3), replacing the classic hits with top-40 as “Hot 92.3″ as of noon on March 2. Joe, Benny and Jay lead off the new “Hot” lineup with the “Morning Hot Tub,” with additional airstaff yet to be named. (Also still forthcoming is the format and staffing for CFRK’s soon-to-debut sister station, CIHI 93.1.)
And in Wingham, Ontario, Milkman UnLimited reports Dennis Duck has been promoted to general manager at Blackburn Radio’s three stations, CKNX-FM (101.7 the One), CIBL (94.5 the Bull) and CKNX (920).
*The winter storm that lashed the East Coast was more of a late-season inconvenience than anything else – except in western MAINE, where heavy icing sent the antenna of Dick Gleason’s WTBM (100.7 Mexico) toppling to the ground. Engineer extraordinaire Bob Perry is on the case, hoping to get at least a temporary antenna in place as early as today. (In the meantime, WTBM is directing listeners to its simulcast signal, WOXO 92.7 Norway.)
Speaking of “inconvenience,” that’s what some York County listeners might be experiencing if they’re looking for the talk programming that used to be heard on WVAE (1400 Biddeford). That Saga-owned station switched simulcasts last week, dropping the advice-oriented format originating at WBAE (1490 Portland) in favor of the full-service/political talk from big sister station WGAN (560 Portland). WGAN’s 5000-watt signal has a directional notch up the coast toward York County to protect co-channel neighbor WHYN in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the WVAE simulcast should help to fill that hole a bit, especially for commuters heading up and down I-95 to Portland.
WVAE has requested new calls WGIN to go with the new simulcast – and those calls should be somewhat familiar along the seacoast, having resided until recently on what’s now WPKX (930) in Rochester, N.H.
*Over the last few decades, the general manager’s offices at eastern MASSACHUSETTS public radio stations have been home to plenty of outsize personalities. Leaders like Jane Christo at WBUR and Phil Redo at WGBH haven’t always been universally popular, but they’ve always been highly visible advocates for their stations. Another name that fits in that same category is Pat Monteith at WUMB-FM (91.9 Boston), who took a small 1000-watt college station at UMass Boston and built it into an extensive network of professionally-programmed AAA signals heard from Cape Cod to southern New Hampshire to the Pioneer Valley.
So we’re reminded again this week of what’s been a very quiet management shift at WUMB in recent months, as Monteith appears to have been eased into retirement with nary a public announcement – and we mention it in particular this week because of the hiring of a new PD at the station, the first big management move since Monteith’s departure. The release announcing Catie Wilber’s arrival at WUMB quotes not Monteith but interim station manager Patty Domeniconi, who took on that title last fall, again with no public announcement. As for Wilber, she comes to WUMB with sterling commercial AAA credentials; she worked at WFNX and then spent a decade just up the dial from WUMB at WXRV (92.5 Andover) before being pushed out there last year.
Greater Media keeps making staffing news in Boston, but this week the action shifts from WTKK (Hot 96.9) down the hall to WMJX (Magic 106.7), where Mike Addams has a new morning co-host. Amanda Giles was quietly eased out last month after a dozen years at “Magic,” making room for assistant PD/afternoon host Candy O’Terry to shift to morning drive. That, in turn, opened a space for Morgan Prue, late of New York’s WLTW and Ottawa’s CJOT. She takes over from O’Terry as APD (but not on air, where Dan Justin’s now solo in afternoon drive.)
*Where are they now? Longtime WODS (103.3 Boston) midday institution Paula Street has flown south – or rather, has driven south; on Facebook, Street teased her followers with pictures as she made her way down I-95 to CBS Radio sister station WRBQ (104.7) in Tampa, where she’s now settling in as midday host.
*Out west, New England Public Radio broke ground (so to speak) last week on the $5.5 million renovation project that will convert the historic Fuller Building in downtown Springfield into a new studio for WFCR (88.5 Amherst), WNNZ (640 Westfield) and their sister stations. WFCR/WNNZ will maintain some existing facilities on the UMass Amherst campus when the project is finished, but they’ll shift most of their news operations from Amherst and the current Springfield satellite studio at WGBY-TV to a new centralized news operation at the Fuller Building.
And a correction from last week’s obituary of centenarian broadcast executive W.C. Swartley: his daughter Ariel checked in to let us know that Swartley was born not in western Pennsylvania but in eastern Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, and he retired from Westinghouse in 1969. (Ariel Swartley, incidentally, is an accomplished photographer and writer in her own right, and you can see some of her work at arielswartley.com.)
*There’s a new PD at NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio: if Michael Rathke had gotten an earlier start leaving his current gig as director of radio at Georgia Public Broadcasting, he might have crossed paths with Paula Street on his way to Concord; as it turns out, Rathke will start at WEVO (89.1) and its sister stations on March 29. Rathke worked at WEVO in the mid-1990s as music director and program host; he’s also worked at WFCR in Amherst, among other stops.
*City leaders in Stamford, CONNECTICUT haven’t had as easy a time getting emergency information out to residents since Cox sold WSTC (1400) to Sacred Heart University two years ago, but now they think they’ve found a way to get back on the air. The Stamford Advocate reports the city is close to a deal with Sacred Heart that would put a studio in City Hall. Sacred Heart’s WSHU public radio network would put a reporter in that studio to cover Stamford and vicinity – and city officials would also be able to use the studio to break into WSTC’s simulcast of WSHU programming when they need to get emergency information on the air, such as in the wake of last fall’s Sandy damage.
Back at Cox, one of the longest-running voices in the region is about to leave radio. Tommy Edison has been doing traffic on WEZN (Star 99.9) in Bridgeport for just shy of two decades, making a name for himself as one of the most prominent blind broadcasters in the country and weathering staff and ownership changes that have blown out most of his co-workers over the years. Now Edison is leaving on his own terms: his last day at Star will be March 22, and NERW hears his next chapter will involve some TV production projects.
More radio people on the move: former WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury) jock Kaiser (who also does weekends over at WEZN) has turned up in the New London market, where he’s now doing mornings at Hall’s “Roxy” WKNL (100.9).
*The tower of Clear Channel’s WKCI (101.3 Hamden) has a new owner: the 625-foot tower in Prospect, Connecticut is one of seven sticks Clear Channel is selling to Richland Towers. Richland’s been an aggressive buyer in recent years, with a portfolio that now includes former CBS- and NBC-owned sites as well.
*Much of our NEW YORK news this week centers around the state capital, starting with the price tag we can now put on Hubbard’s purchase of WNYA (Channel 51) from Venture Technologies Group. Hubbard will pay $2.3 million to pair the MyNetworkTV affiliate with its NBC station in the market, WNYT (Channel 13), a move that will require an FCC “failing station” waiver to get around the duopoly rules. Venture tells the Commission that WNYA has been consistently losing money, and its documentation shows annual losses in the half-million dollar range in recent years. Hubbard says it will add local news content if it’s allowed to acquire WNYA; Venture, for its part, says it’s tried to shop the station to buyers outside the market for several years now without any takers.
Just up the Thruway in Saratoga Springs, we’d told you a few months back that WQAR (101.3 Stillwater) had requested a return to its previous calls WJKE – and just as predicted, that also meant a return at the beginning of March to its old identity, “101.3 the Jockey.” The move away from “Star 101” to a more locally-focused sound (would “The Jockey” make sense anywhere other than the horse-racing mecca that is Saratoga?) is the first big move for WJKE’s new owner, Empire Broadcasting, which bought it and three AM signals from Ernie Anastos last fall. We don’t expect it to be the last big move for Empire, which is helmed by longtime state broadcasters’ association chairman Joe Reilly.
Reilly is also the current holder of the historic WPTR callsign in the Albany market, where he’s using it on the former WVKZ (1240 Schenectady). But the station known longest as WPTR, Albany’s AM 1540, now WDCD, may be nearing the end of the line: it’s now been silent for nearly a year, and its latest renewal of special temporary authority to stay silent runs out March 29. If WDCD doesn’t make at least some sort of return to the airwaves by then, its license will be cancelled, leaving a big 50,000-watt hole on the dial. We don’t expect that to happen; owner DJRA Broadcasting tells the FCC it’s been researching possible format options (including religion, conservative talk and foreign-language) and has been held up by a fire in the transmitter building last year, but DJRA says it intends to get WDCD back on the air “early in 2013.”
*In Utica, the big news late last week came from Mindy Barstein’s Arjuna Broadcasting, which made changes at both of its signals. At WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), “The Drive” made a big addition to its airstaff, picking up “Genesee Joe” Trisolino for the 3-7 PM weekday shift and some Saturday hours as well. Genesee Joe, of course, is almost synonymous in the Utica market with another rock station, WOUR (96.9), where he’d been working for nearly 21 years before abruptly giving notice. His old afternoon shift at WOUR is now being filled by another familiar Utica voice, former Galaxy Broadcasting programming executive Mimi Griswold, who retired a few months ago but is returning to the air on weekdays to go along with the Sunday show she never gave up.
On the AM side of the dial, Arjuna has flipped WNRS (1420 Herkimer) from a mix of Bloomberg business talk and Fox Sports Radio to full-time affiliation with Cumulus’ True Oldies Channel. WNRS keeps Don Imus in morning drive.
In Syracuse, WCNY-FM (91.3) is looking for a new morning host and program director after the quiet retirement of local radio veteran Peter McElvein. The versatile jock worked at WOLF (1490) and WHEN (620) during those stations’ heydays, then slid over to “Classic FM” and sister station WCNY-TV 15 years ago. (He even managed to keep a toe in oldies radio by launching a classic oldies format on one of WCNY’s HD Radio subchannels.) CNYRadio.com reports McElvein will continue hosting some public-access TV…and knowing Pete, we suspect we’ll be hearing more of him on the air again before long.
(If you’re keeping score, that makes two classical morning vacancies along the Thruway: in addition to the WCNY slot, which McElvein had been filling for a few months since Bill Shedden’s exit, in Buffalo, Peter Johnson recently departed WNED-FM after a brief stint, and a search is once again underway for a replacement there.)
Up north, things are slowly getting back to normal at Stephens Media’s Ogdensburg stations after the January lightning hit that burned up the transmitter building of WYSX (96.7 Morristown)/WPAC (98.7 Ogdensburg). WYSX came back on the air from a temporary transmitter a few weeks ago, and last week WPAC returned to the airwaves at reduced power while Stephens engineers work to finish a replacement transmitter plant.
Downstate, Fordham University’s WFUV (90.7 New York) has a new jock lineup: the AAA station has made Corny O’Connell’s move from nights to mornings permanent after five months in which he was filling the shift on an interim basis. Following O’Connell at 10 AM is a newcomer to WFUV: Carmel Holt moves down the Thruway from WDST (100.1 Woodstock). Dennis Elsas stays put in afternoons, and Darren DeVivo moves from middays to evenings to take over from O’Connell. The last piece of the WFUV shuffle (which was touched off when PD Chuck Singleton moved up to GM and music director/morning host Rita Houston became PD) is in the music director’s chair, now occupied by Russ Borris.
Meanwhile at WDST, Aja Whitney is the new midday host, replacing Carmel Holt effective next Monday.
*What’s this week’s crisis at perpetually-unsettled Pacifica outlet WBAI (99.5 New York)? After weathering a hasty move from its expensive Wall Street rental space to a temporary studio uptown at WHCR (90.3) in Harlem, followed by a thus-far-fruitless attempt to get insurer Chubb Group to provide more compensation for the weeks after Hurricane Sandy in which WBAI couldn’t use the Wall Street studios, the action now shifts to the Empire State Building. That’s where WBAI has long struggled to make the rent payments for its transmitter and antenna space – and where the station is now holding an emergency pledge drive to try to raise money to keep from being forced off the air. (And if this feels like you’ve heard it before, you probably have; WBAI’s long history has included several occasions on which the transmitter room was either padlocked, or came very close.)
*His given name was George S. Ruderman, but New Yorkers knew him as “Rudy” Ruderman during a long career that included two decades in the newsroom at WNEW (1130), where he served as news director in 1973-74. Ruderman, who died Saturday morning at age 86, also worked as a financial reporter for NBC, McGraw Hill/Business Week and Dow Jones.
*In NEW JERSEY, Equity Broadcasting has revived a previous format at WZBZ (99.3 Pleasantville-Atlantic City). The “99-3 Kiss FM” top-40 format that had been running since 2008 began to disappear a few weeks ago, with the station name being blanked out in promos and hints dropping of a return “to the past.”
In this case, it’s “The Buzz,” the hip-hop format that ran on 99.3 from 2002 to 2008 (and for a time, as well, on simulcast WGBZ 105.5 down in Cape May County), and it returned to the WZBZ airwaves on Friday.
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA, talk host Michael Smerconish made headlines with his announcement last week that he’ll leave terrestrial radio behind later this year and take his show solely to satellite. Amidst the questions about whether there’s still a place on traditional commercial talk radio for a proud moderate like Smerconish, there lingers a bigger, unasked question: what now for his Philadelphia AM flagship?
WPHT (1210) has always been something of an outlier in the CBS Radio family, where the corporate priorities for spoken-word radio have long leaned more toward all-news and, more recently, sports. Despite a 50,000-watt clear-channel signal, WPHT’s talk format has lagged in the ratings behind sister stations KYW and WIP; last year, CBS appeared to make no effort to retain Rush Limbaugh in middays at WPHT, only to see Limbaugh pull talk newcomer WWIQ (106.9) ahead of WPHT in the ratings.
A highly-touted new afternoon entry featuring hot-tempered author Buzz Bissinger flamed out a few months later, leaving “Smerc” as arguably the last star personality on WPHT, where his middle-of-the-road politics filled Limbaugh’s old midday slot, surrounded by more traditional conservative talk the rest of the day. And despite the conventional wisdom that says live-and-local beats satellite, a WPHT lineup that’s local from 5 AM until 10 or 11 most nights has struggled to stay out of fractional ratings territory, and that in a city that has no shortage of local politics to discuss.
*At the other end of the Keystone State, the Pittsburgh Public Media folks were celebrating last week when the FCC signed off on their $150,000 deal to buy rimshot signal WVBC (88.1 Bethany WV) from Bethany College. Now comes the hard part: PPM still needs to finish raising the money to pay off the WVBC purchase, launch its own jazz-heavy programming on the station, and then work on signal expansion so that they can reach more of the same audience that they served when PPM’s principals were running the former WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh, now WESA).
*It’s 2013! Do you have your 2013 Tower Site Calendar yet? It can be on your wall in just a few days, if you order right now!
This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.
The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.
This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We’ve also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don’t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding — your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.
Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you’re at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.
For more information and to order yours, click here!
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: March 13, 2012 –
*Over nearly two decades of writing this column, we’ve become pretty good at figuring out when a new format is really a stunt. Not only have we avoided taking the bait on numerous occasions, we’ve even (inadvertently) spoiled the days of a few promotions directors when their carefully-crafted cunning stunting has been exposed by a mainstream media report quoting NERW. (Sorry about that!)
So we can give the folks at Townsquare Media in Albany the satisfaction of knowing that this time, they got us.
Our midweek update on Wednesday obligingly reported the imminent launch of soft AC “Sunny 99.1″ on W256BU, the translator Townsquare recently bought (for nearly a quarter-million dollars) and had been using to relay WQSH (105.7 Malta). It made sense, really – there’s a “Sunny” doing soft AC on a similar translator just down I-88 in Binghamton, there’s the AC format on WYJB (95.5) over at the rival Pamal/Albany Broadcasting cluster, and there was a pretty convincing website and Facebook page for the new format, too.
Townsquare put some serious effort into the stunt on the air: there was a day of protest music (“Occupy 99.1″) and a day of songs with “Sun” or “Sunny” in the title, and then on Friday afternoon at 3, Townsquare launched…a new urban station, “Hot 99.1,” fed from the HD2 channel of WQSH.
Assuming this one’s for real (and we think it is), the new “Hot” also goes up against a Pamal property, “Jamz 96.3″ (WAJZ Voorheesville) – and it does so with the help of the former WAJZ program director, Tanch, who just made the shift from WAJZ to Townsquare. Tanch will be doing afternoons on “Hot” once the new signal debuts air personalities.
With 250 watts from the same Bald Mountain transmitter site north of Troy used by WQSH, “Hot” enjoys a decent signal in Troy and an adequate signal in Albany, with fringe coverage at best to Schenectady – but it’s up against a WAJZ signal that’s barely stronger. “Jamz” runs 470 watts from the Helderbergs, southwest of Albany, and as we noted in our midweek update, it has a new face in the general manager’s chair: after retiring as general manager of the Townsquare cluster just a few months ago, Bob Ausfeld has “un-retired,” becoming GM at Albany Broadcasting.
*Once upon a time, there was no bigger radio station in Albany than WPTR. Despite a dial location somewhere “up near the police calls,” its 50,000 watt signal on 1540 blasted out top-40 music to a huge audience in the market. So it’s somewhat disconcerting to see how badly the station is struggling in its current incarnation as religious WDCD. Last week, it filed for special temporary authority to go silent, with owner Donald Crawford Jr. telling the FCC that “WDCD will suspend operations for a period during which it will develop and prepare to deploy a new program format and reposition its voice and identity in the community.” Since last November, WDCD has been simulcasting on sister station WDCD-FM (96.7 Clifton Park) after the FM station dropped a low-rated oldies format in favor of the Christian talk that had been heard only on the AM station.
*In the sideshow that was last week’s Rush Limbaugh media feeding frenzy, western MASSACHUSETTS played a sizable supporting role when WBEC (1420 Pittsfield) became one of two stations to drop Limbaugh’s show.
“The nature of Rush’s programming has always presented challenges for us and he’s always pushed the envelope. But this time he’s taken it too far,” said WBEC general manager Peter Barry to public broadcaster WFCR Monday afternoon. WBEC temporarily replaced Limbaugh with Fox Sports Radio during the noon-3 timeslot, leaving listeners in the Berkshires to search out Limbaugh on Albany-market WGY or Springfield’s WHYN.
Reaction to Limbaugh across the rest of the region was mixed: in Portland, WGAN (560) received a petition with more than 5,000 signatures demanding Limbaugh be removed from the schedule, while at Cape Cod’s WXTK (95.1), vice president Alison Makkay told the Boston Globe the station was taking a “wait-and-see approach” before deciding how to proceed. CNYRadio’s Peter Naughton surveyed the scene in his markets and found Townsquare’s WIBX (950 Utica) and Clear Channel’s WSYR (570/106.9) in Syracuse standing by their longtime midday talent, while Saga’s WHCU (87o Ithaca) declined to comment. (At WIBX, PD Jeff Monaski speculates that at least some of the anti-Rush comments coming in are “astroturf” from outside the market.)
WVOX (1460 New Rochelle) isn’t a Limbaugh affiliate, but owner William O’Shaughnessy weighed in nonetheless, deploring Limbaugh’s choice of language but standing up for Rush to stay on the air in the face of what he calls “censorship from corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts.” (One wonders: would a local host who used Limbaugh’s language be allowed to remain on WVOX’s airwaves?)
And perhaps you’ve heard that Limbaugh’s nominal flagship station, WABC (770 New York), lost so much advertising that it was running dead air for minutes at a time Thursday? That story made the rounds of the blogs and the Twitterverse and quickly showed up not only on MSNBC’s Ed Schultz show but even in some radio industry trade publications that really should have known better – because it turns out that all of those reports trace back to a single deeply flawed source, a Thursday blog posting by Media Matters.
While that group has been keeping an eye on Limbaugh’s content for years now, it appears not to have picked up much understanding along the way of how radio advertising works. All those PSAs and all that dead air on WABC? It was real…but only on WABC’s streaming audio, which is apparently what Media Matters was logging, and which always contains plenty of PSAs and dead air just like most every other radio stream out there. NERW, meanwhile, has confirmed that WABC’s broadcast of the Rush Limbaugh show contained no dead air and only a handful of PSAs and promos amidst a typically full spot load.
So why did the “dead air on WABC” story gain such quick traction? No doubt for the same reason that within hours of Limbaugh’s initial attacks on Sandra Fluke, comment sections and message boards and Facebook posts were flooded with dead-certain assertions that the Georgetown law student was a “professional political agitator” who had testified before Congress about wanting to get “government money to have…” well, you get the point: when there’s a deep human desire to want to believe something, the desire to dig deeper for actual facts tends to be lost pretty quickly.
Steve Rivers was one of the most colorful personalities ever to program top-40 radio in Boston, and even though it had been more than a decade since he moved on from the Hub, Rivers was still vividly remembered as news spread last week of his death. Rivers’ first programming gig in the region was at WGNG in Pawtucket (550, now WBZS) back in 1976, but he soon move on to program bigger stations such as KOPA in Phoenix, WAPE in Jacksonville, KMEL in San Francisco and KIIS in Los Angeles before returning to New England to program Boston’s WZOU (94.5, now WJMN) in 1989. Less than two years later, Rivers jumped to then-competitor WXKS-FM (Kiss 108), riding that station back to the top of the ratings and parlaying that success into a series of corporate programming roles. Rivers (real name: Carl Douglas) had most recently been working in Seattle as PD of KBKS (Kiss 106.1) before his health forced him to step down in 2008. He died Tuesday of cardiac arrest after several years of health problems.
*There’s a new top-40 outlet in northwest PENNSYLVANIA, thanks to another one of those HD-subchannel/translator combinations. The new “i104.3″ is W282BR, the translator Citadel bought from Bill Shannon last year. Back then, it was W285AI (104.9), but it’s being displaced by the upcoming move of WRKT from 100.9 to 104.9. And after Citadel had announced plans to use the translator to relay sports outlet WRIE (1260), the new Cumulus management is going in a different direction, using 104.3 to relay the HD2 channel from WXKC (99.9).
Conveniently, the translator’s new frequency parks it just up the dial from Erie’s heritage top-40 signal, Connoisseur’s WRTS (Star 103.7). With 173 watts from the tower behind the WICU/WSEE studios on State Street, i104.3 won’t have Star’s big reach, but it should do a decent job of covering the city of Erie and nearby areas.
*At the other end of the state, Merlin Media’s now the official owner of Philadelphia-market WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ), having closed on the $22.5 million deal last week. Unlike its “FM New” stunts in Chicago and New York, Merlin is taking its time before assuming operation of the station; it’s LMA’ing the signal back to Family Stations until new studios and a new format are ready.
The Citadel budget cutbacks have claimed local sports radio in RHODE ISLAND. The struggling broadcast company pulled the plug this morning on “The Score” (WSKO 790 Providence/WSKO-FM 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), replacing it with satellite-fed True Oldies Channel on the AM side and with an FM simulcast of news-talk WPRO (630).Since there’s already a WPRO-FM (Citadel’s top 40 station on 92.3), the move presents a bit of a branding issue, being resolved for now by calling the news-talk simulcast simply “630 WPRO & 99.7.” Don Imus’ morning show remains in place on the 790 AM signal, and we’re hearing the venerable WEAN calls may be resurrected there. (Right now, 790 is using new calls WPRV; we suspect those calls may actually be destined for 99.7 when the changeover is complete.)
Fans of Opie & Anthony, who had been heard on 99.7, will have to try to pick them up from Boston’s WBCN; fans of the Jim Rome show are out of luck for now – and as for the Yankees, who’d been a WSKO staple, we don’t know yet.
*It’s rare that we start the column with an obituary, but in his 56 years, Fred Horton touched so many radio people in his native upstate NEW YORK and beyond that it seems only fitting he lead off this week’s issue.
Horton grew up in Syracuse and began his radio career there, as one of the many jocks to pass through the doors of WOLF, then across town at WNDR. After that, his travels took him all across upstate New York, including stints at WAAL in Binghamton, WRUN/WKGW in Utica, WGNA/WPYX/WTRY in Albany (where he’s credited with making WGNA’s country format into a major player), WSEN and WYYY back in Syracuse, WCMF in Rochester, and some time as a record promoter in Buffalo.
In 1993, Horton became PD of New York’s country WYNY (103.5), scoring the station its highest ratings in that format before its flip to WKTU.
Horton also worked in Connecticut, as PD/station manager at WDRC, in Grand Rapids at WGRD, and in Memphis at WGKX.
More recently, he worked in Rochester as morning man and PD at WBEE-FM (92.5) in the late nineties, moving to Erie, PA in 2001 to be morning man (and eventually operations manager) at WXTA (97.9 Edinboro), a job he held until just last year.
“Uncle” Fred was a radio guy to the core, as his colleague Cary Pall fondly remembers in a posting on his blog, and remained passionate about the medium even in the last days of his fight against cancer, which claimed his life last Tuesday (March 4).
*New York’s mayor is looking for a new radio home. Michael Bloomberg had a regular weekly appointment with John R. Gambling at WABC (770), but with Gambling’s recent departure from the station in a flurry of budget cuts, the mayor is looking around for another slot. Will Gambling’s WABC replacement, Curtis Sliwa, get the nod? Or will the mayor look to rival talk stations, perhaps WOR or WNYC? (One unlikely possibility is Bloomberg Radio’s WBBR 1130; the mayor has maintained a hands-off stance toward his own media properties since taking office.)
Upstate, Ticonderoga’s WIPS (1250) went silent at noon on Feb. 29, and it won’t be returning to the air, at least not under current owner BisiBlue LLC. The company, a division of Crown Point Network Technologies, tells the Plattsburgh Press Republican that ad revenue never developed in the seven years it owned the station, and that it was sustaining losses of $3,000 a month at the end to keep the 1 kW daytimer on the air.
*There’s a frequency flip coming in southeastern CONNECTICUT, though one of the stations involved actually transmits from RHODE ISLAND and the other from Long Island.
On March 18, Citadel will swap facilities between talker WXLM (102.3 Stonington CT) and classic rock “Wolf” WMOS (104.7 Montauk NY). The idea is to improve the reach of the Wolf, which broadcasts from studios at the Mohegan Sun casino but has trouble being heard in much of the region because of a signal that sometimes doesn’t make it across Long Island Sound very well. Moving the Wolf to 102.3, with a transmitter site just north of Westerly, will solve that problem; the talk format on WXLM, meanwhile, will run in mono when in moves to 104.7, which should make the weaker signal more tolerable.
There’s a format change in southwestern Ontario: CFCO (630 Chatham-Kent) dropped its longtime oldies format last Monday, becoming “Country 92.9,” branding itself with the frequency of its low-power FM relay instead of its wide-coverage AM outlet. Sister station CKSY (94.3) has rebranded as “Lite Hits 94.3.”
It’s not the only country station in the neighborhood, either: in Leamington, CJSP (92.7) signed on Monday with country.
Ten Years Ago: March 10, 2003 –
What a busy week it’s been in NEW YORK! We’ll start with two station sales, one expected, the other a surprise: Disney won approval this week to convert its LMA of WEVD (1050 New York) into a $78 million purchase from the Forward Association. Since Disney took over in September 2001, WEVD’s been the New York flagship for ESPN radio — and even made a slight showing in the latest Trends there. We hear that sale will close on or about May 1.
The surprise sale was Mega’s announcement that it will sell WLXE (1380 New York) back to Arthur Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting, which sold the station to Mega three years ago for $33 million ($24 million in cash and two Washington, D.C. AM outlets). 1380 was leased-time WKDM then; Mega spent quite a bit of cash relaunching the facility as Spanish all-news WNNY. That didn’t last, and most recently 1380’s been doing regional Mexican as WLXE, “La X 1380.” With this sale, we expect the regional Mexican to end and leased time to return to 1380, for which Liu is paying $37 million.
The deal gives Multicultural four leased-time AM outlets in New York: WPAT (930 Paterson NJ), WNSW (1430 Newark NJ), WZRC (1480 New York) and WLXE, along with religious WNYG (1440 Babylon) out on Long Island.
Liu still doesn’t have a monopoly on leased-time AM in New York, though; Sporting News Radio has pulled still more of its own programming off “flagship” WSNR (620 Jersey City NJ), which is now leased to ethnic programmers from 6 AM all the way to 2 AM. (Sporting News Radio’s overnight show is the last remnant of the network to be heard weekdays on WSNR.)
On the FM side, it was another strange week in the long bizarre saga that is Viacom’s WNEW (102.7), now in its second month of stunting with a short playlist of top 40 tunes. After weeks of leaks about an ambitious entertainment-talk format with plenty of synergy from Viacom’s MTV and VH1 divisions, New York’s tabloids lit up this week with talk that Viacom suddenly had cold feet about the whole idea. Steve Kingston, program director of Viacom rocker WXRK (92.3 New York) was reportedly seen making the rounds of the (nearly empty) WNEW offices — but then came word that he won’t be the operations manager there after all. What in the world is going on there? Nobody knows — and those promises of a “spring” relaunch at 102.7 are looking as remote as spring itself here in the frigid Northeast.
And down in Binghamton, Citadel’s WHWK (98.1) wants to move away from the WBNG-TV (Channel 12) transmitter site on Ingraham Hill that it’s called home since it signed on all those decades ago (when it was WNBF-FM and channel 12 was WNBF-TV.) The station has applied to move to a directional antenna on the new tower nearby on Ingraham Hill that will be home to WSKG-TV/DT and WSKG-FM (89.3); from there, it will run 6500 watts at 401 meters above average terrain, with a sharp null to the south.
Why a directional antenna in Binghamton? For that, we look across the state line to PENNSYLVANIA, where Citadel also owns WBSX (97.9 Hazleton), which has long been short-spaced to Binghamton (as well as to WOGL 98.1 in Philadelphia, WSKQ 97.9 in New York and WIYY 97.9 in Baltimore!) WBSX currently transmits from a tower about halfway between Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, but now Citadel wants to move it north about six miles, which would land the station on the tower of WMGS (92.9 Scranton) at “Electronic Heights,” aka Penobscot Mountain, the primary TV/FM site for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. WBSX’s new facilities would be 6300 watts at 407 meters, with a null to the north protecting WHWK.
Just as NERW was going to press last week, a southeastern CONNECTICUT station was changing calls and format — again. Stonington’s 102.3 has been through many calls and formats in its quarter-century or so of life — WFAN, oldies WVVE, rocker WAXK and classic rock WUXL. As of last Monday, it’s on to yet another phase, as the classic rock and Bob & Tom morning show give way to AC as “Mix 102” WXLM(FM). Can “Mix” compete against the bigger signal and established presence of WBMW on 106.5? We’ll see….
Fifteen Years Ago: March 12, 1998 –
The heads are beginning to roll at the former Knight Quality stations in New England. Here’s what we’ve heard so far from our sources around the region: Six staffers were dismissed from WTAG (580) and WSRS (96.1) in Worcester early this week, including WTAG program director Skot Pare, morning host Tom Gorham (a 26 year veteran of the station), and evening news anchor Ann Kenda. George Brown, who was recently moved from afternoons to pair with Gorham, stays on morning drive, while talk hosts Upton Bell and Jordan Levy keep their jobs as well.
Up north in New Hampshire, all three staff members at WXHT (95.3 York Center ME) are being dismissed, as “Heat 95.3” cools down and picks up a satellite modern AC format. In the same building, WHEB (100.3 Portsmouth) PD/OM Glenn Stewart has been named PD of sister station WGIR-FM (101.1 Manchester) as well. WHEB’s new GM is Kim Jones, husband of WGIR PD Ruth Jones. WHEB sales manager Shari Soffen has been dismissed as well. At WGIR, news director Bill Rossi, production manager/talk host Terry Benz, and FM program director Tim Sheehan are all reportedly out, along with sales manager Cathy Cram, who has resigned. Get ready for a simulcast between WGIR-FM and WHEB as well; word has it there’s a 15k stereo line being installed to allow the two stations to share late-night and weekend programming.
The number-one radio station on Cape Cod, MASSACHUSETTS is buying another station. Gregory Bone’s Sandab Communications already owns WQRC (99.9 Barnstable); now it’s paying $1.7 million for WOCN (103.9 South Yarmouth). Ironically, WOCN seller Donald Moore was himself a former owner of WQRC. ‘QRC programs an adult contemporary format, while WOCN is adult standards.
Carter Alan is the latest veteran of WBCN (104.1) to move across town to co-owned classic rocker WZLX (100.7). Alan leaves his music director duties at WBCN to take that role, plus assistant PD and midday jock, at ‘ZLX. Current WZLX middayer George Taylor Morris will leave the station in April. In addition to his radio career, Alan is one of the pre-eminent experts on the band U2. Over at Greater Media, Shirley Maldonado is the new PD at WSJZ (96.9). Her smooth jazz experience includes stints at WQCD (101.9) in New York and WLVE (93.9) in Miami Beach.
In MAINE, this week’s top story is Fuller-Jeffrey’s reported $3.4 million purchase of WCLZ (98.9/900) in Brunswick. If consummated, the deal would give J.J. Jeffrey his hometown station — he grew up just down the road from what was then WKXA. The AAA FM and home-shopping AM would join F-J’s huge Portland-market group that includes rocker WBLM (102.9), CHR WJBQ (97.9), AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH), modern rockers WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) and WCYI (93.9 Lewiston), country WPKQ (103.7 Berlin NH), and sports WJAE (1440 Westbrook).
A NERW reader in Portland is hearing an unusual signal on 97.3 — nonstop 80s hits with no legal IDs, just a jingle that goes “Wavin’ every hour, wavin’ at our tower, Wave radio.” Unlicensed? We think so…