In this week’s issue… Yankees settle on new radio home, Mets still in the air – Venerable Maine AM goes dark – Strassell switches companies – RIP LI’s Ellsworth, Philly’s Collins – Binghamton broadcasters reunite
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*We’re halfway to a resolution of one of the longest-running questions in NEW YORK radio: where will the Mets and Yankees end up?
For the team in pinstripes struggling to secure a wild-card berth, there’s now a solid long-term home in place after many years of one-season renewals. When the Yankees take the field to start the 2014 season, they’ll remain with their longtime broadcast partner, CBS Radio, but instead of being heard on WCBS (880), their radio home since 2002, the Yankees will air on WFAN (660) and WFAN-FM (101.9) in what’s being reported as a $15 million a year deal.
For both the team and CBS, the move makes all the sense in the world. Whatever their recent woes on the field, the Yankees are still the most prestigious franchise in baseball (as even this Sox fan can grudgingly admit), making them a natural fit with what’s arguably the most prestigious sports radio brand in the country.
As the Yankees’ aging roster attests, this is a team that’s committed to stability, so it’s in the team’s DNA to stay with CBS after the success both sides of the relationship have enjoyed these last dozen seasons. The long-term deal may also demonstrate the wisdom of what seemed at first to be a counter-intuitive move on CBS’ part: after buying the former WEMP (101.9) and flipping it to WFAN-FM, many (this page included) believed it was only a matter of time before WFAN became FM-only and the national CBS Sports Radio feed replaced local sports at 660 AM, a belief that now appears to have been misguided.
That’s in part because New York is a unique market: the combination of a geographic market that extends beyond the reach of the Empire State Building’s FM signals, the quarter-century of heritage binding WFAN to that 660 AM dial position and the continued vibrancy of an AM dial with a half-dozen viable outlets means that AM is nowhere near as dead in New York as it is elsewhere in the country. If the Yankees wanted the best of both worlds – the continued reach of a big AM signal and the younger audience that might be drawn to an FM outlet – only CBS, by way of WFAN, was in a position to make that happen cleanly and easily. As a result, it appears any split of WFAN’s programming will be pushed well into the future, if it happens at all.
The new alliance with WFAN also provides a radio home for the partially Yankees-owned New York City FC, which will bring MLS soccer to the WFAN airwaves when it begins playing in 2015. It also shifts operation of Yankees’ Spanish-language radio over to CBS, which will produce and sell the broadcasts and presumably continue to lease time for them from one of the city’s Spanish-language stations, most recently Univision’s WADO (1280).
*The WFAN-Yankees deal is also good news for WCBS, which loses the interruptions that Yankees games brought to its schedule for so much of the year. It’s good news, most likely, for Yankees broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, who will almost surely be back next year on WFAN.
It’s probably good news for the Yankees’ extensive network of radio affiliates outside the market, since there should be no changes in the CBS-run network operation when the New York flagship shifts. (In fact, affiliates may benefit during rain delays, when WCBS was eager to jump back to all-news rather than continuing with sports talk, while WFAN will likely keep feeding Yanks talk down the network.) And it raises a whole new set of questions about baseball on the radio in New York City: what happens now to the Mets, who’ve had to scrape for radio parity on the New York dial for most of their half-century on the field?
The Amazins’ history with WFAN goes way, way back – not only to the beginnings of WFAN on 1050 in 1987 and its move to 660 in 1988, but back to WFAN’s predecessor on 1050, WHN, which picked up the Mets in 1983 during that period when the team and the station were both owned by Nelson Doubleday. (With apologies to our Met-fan friends, we note that, heck, the Mets/WFAN-WHN alliance goes so far back that it even included a Mets championship!)
But the “Let’s go Mets…F-A-N!” jingle at the end of each half-inning, a fixture of New York radio for more than a quarter of a century now, will be retired when the Mets slump to the end of the regular season on the afternoon of September 29.
While it’s no doubt been profitable for CBS Radio to have both the Yankees and Mets in its fold, it appears CBS is ready to let the Mets move on to a new home. It was evidently worth interrupting WCBS’ all-news format for the big-ticket Yankees games, but there’s no reason to think CBS would disrupt WCBS, or any of its FM signals, for the lesser Mets.
That will leave the NL team with some big choices. ESPN has made no secret of its desire to land baseball play-by-play for its WEPN-FM (98.7), which carries the Jets, the Knicks and the Rangers but hasn’t had a summer franchise until now. Clear Channel has also made no secret of its desire for New York sports play-by-play now that it has a big-signal AM, WOR (710), with lots of evening airtime to fill. And then there’s Cumulus, which will be looking hard for a new tentpole attraction to draw listeners to its WABC (770) once its star talker, Rush Limbaugh, moves to WOR this winter.
By themselves, none of these options is as attractive as WFAN was (which may help to explain why the Yankees went where they did!)
For a team like the Mets with limited out-of-market network coverage, WFAN’s huge AM signal was a huge asset that can’t be replicated by WEPN’s FM signal. The AM reach of either WOR or WABC would come close to duplicating WFAN’s reach – but the Mets picked up an FM audience this year on the WFAN-FM simulcast, and going back to AM-only in the core of the market would probably be seen as a step back. (And WOR, for its part, might be loath to interrupt its other new star attraction, Limbaugh’s midday show, for Mets day games.)
There are positive pieces to each option, too: WEPN would bring with it ESPN’s massive promotional machine, along with all the airtime that 98.7 could devote to Mets coverage during its mostly-local daytime and evening hours. At either WOR or WABC, the Mets would become a star property rather than one of many sports franchises, as they’ve been on the air at WFAN all these years.
For all those reasons, then, it seems likely to us that the best option for Mets radio in 2014 may well turn out to be multiple options. It’s become increasingly common to see the high cost of broadcast sports spread across several groups that would otherwise be competitors: in Washington, for instance, CBS Radio’s coverage of the Nationals airs not only on its own WJFK (106.7 the Fan) but also on Hubbard’s WFED (1500), with each station filling in the other’s considerable signal weakness, while in Cleveland, the Browns air on two competing sports outlets, CBS Radio’s WKRK (92.3, and its sister classic rocker WNCX 98.5) and Good Karma’s WKNR (850).
Could the Mets go in a similar direction? There are a number of ways such an arrangement could work, with the likeliest possibility involving WEPN producing the games and leasing time on WOR or WABC for an AM simulcast. But Clear Channel, too, has plenty of MLB experience (the Dodgers, the Rockies, the Rays, the Astros, the Indians and the Reds all air on Clear Channel stations, for instance), and one can easily imagine the Mets originating at WOR and picking up WEPN as an FM affiliate. (Less likely would be a scenario in which the Mets air on one of Clear Channel’s FM music stations, or for that matter on either of Cumulus’ two FMs in New York.)
It’s also possible, though less likely, that the Mets’ own SNY television operation could originate the radio broadcast and assemble an AM/FM affiliation package – or even that CBS might somehow retain the Mets rights and produce the games for broadcast on non-CBS stations.
It promises to be an interesting winter for Mets fans, and we’ll keep you posted as the team figures out its next radio strategy.
*It’s convention time all over the radio landscape, and whenever we can, NERW’s on the scene to bring you coverage. Alas, we couldn’t make it to Amsterdam for the big international IBC convention, nor will we be in Florida for the Radio Show. But those annual conventions aren’t quite as special, somehow, as the Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion that takes place only once every two years.
Saturday night was that once-every-two-years moment, and Ray Ross and his crew outdid themselves this year with an event that drew more than 200 current and former Binghamton radio and TV folks to the Doubletree Hotel downtown.
Each biennial edition of the reunion adds new names to a growing roster of award recipients: this year, the honorees included WNBF (1290) salesperson/weekend polka host Barb Mack, who accepted her Broadcaster of the Year award with nods to both her “radio family” filling the room and her real family, including her late father, Bill, who originated the polka show and died in 2002. (Mack was introduced by her WNBF colleague Roger Neel, himself a past “Broadcaster of the Year” honoree. Dana Potter, midday host at WLTB (101.7 Johnson City), was recognized as a “Living Legend” for his many years on the air in town, going back to 1978 at WENE/WMRV (and before that at an Explorer post sponsored by WNBF!)
Other honorees included Wanda Swinamer, who founded the RVSA advertising agency with her late husband (and kids’ TV star) Roy; “Special Achievement” award winner Ann Marie Courtney of Equinox Broadcasting; and Audio-Technica Award winner John Davison, PD/midday man at WHWK (98.1).
Guests at the reunion came from as far afield as Texas, Illinois and Hollywood: actor and voice-over artist Edward Herrmann was on hand to receive a special Bill Parker Excellence in Media Award for his extensive body of work. Herrmann praised the Binghamton group for their passion, declaring Binghamton “the navel of American broadcasting,” and recounted the influence that radio drama had on his early career.
For all the awards and special guests, though, the charm of the Binghamton reunion through the years is the love that this group has for its medium and for each other. In a room where just about everyone has either worked with or competed against everyone else, it would be easy for ancient animosities to fester, but not with this bunch, which is why we keep coming back every other year.
(Read on for coverage of the week’s other big regional event, the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame induction…)
*One of the most respected broadcasters on Long Island has died.
Jack Ellsworth was born Ellsworth Shiebler, but in the early years of his career in the 1940s he took the radio name he’d use for the rest of his long career as he moved around from Rhode Island to New Jersey’s WVNJ to Long Island. First at WGSM (740 Huntington) and then in 1951 at WALK (1370 Patchogue), Ellsworth became a fixture on the dial, eventually becoming WALK’s station manager and then president and CEO.
After 30 years at WALK, Ellsworth and his wife Dot moved into radio ownership, taking over WLIM (1580 Patchogue) and transforming it into an on-air home for Ellsworth’s beloved big band music. The Ellsworths sold WLIM in 2001 and Jack returned to WALK, where he was hosting a mid-morning show until his health took a turn for the worse after Dot’s death in July.
Ellsworth, who’d just published his memoirs, “Memories in Melody,” did his last show on WALK August 1, and he died Thursday of renal failure, at age 91, leaving a void among the many radio professionals he’d supported and trained over the decades.
While we’re out on the East End, we note the demise as well of a noncommercial FM license. WEEW (89.1 Westhampton) was part of what would have been a Hamptons Community Radio network of small signals covering the region, but Barbara Barri’s group ran out of money and ended up transferring this license to Eastern Tower Corp. – which built WEEW, filed for a license to cover, and then promptly asked the FCC to delete it.
Radio People on the Move: Mike Dufort is joining Connecticut’s Connoisseur Media as “senior vice president of management systems and integration,” working on bringing together all of the stations the company has been busy adding to its portfolio around the region, including the former Nassau stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Dufort spent more than 12 years with Pamal Broadcasting in Albany, most recently as assistant secretary/treasurer.
In Syracuse, “Doppler the Weather Cat” has retired. The longtime fixture on WSTM (Channel 3)’s newscasts is now 16 years old (84 in cat years, says the station), and after a long career of appearing on Wayne Mahar’s weathercasts and warming a corner of the reception desk in the lobby, Doppler is now headed to “the home of an experienced animal welfare advocate in Central New York.”
(The station kept it quiet for years, but it’s now widely known that the Doppler seen here in our 2006 visit, then a spry 10-year-old, was actually the third Doppler to take his turn on WSTM’s newscasts. The original Doppler met an untimely demise in James Street traffic, and Doppler #2 didn’t react well to the bright lights and noise of the newscast, so Mahar turned to the local animal shelter to adopt cat #3. There are no plans, apparently, for a Doppler #4…)
The Cleveland-based “Rover’s Morning Glory” has barely qualified as a syndicated show in recent years, with its affiliate roster dwindling down at one point to just Stephens Media’s WZNE (94.1 Brighton) here in the Rochester market, but Clear Channel is now boosting distribution of the show, based at its WMMS (100.7) in Cleveland. The show added two new affiliates last week, one in West Virginia and the other in Binghamton, where it’s now being heard on WKGB (92.5 Conklin), replacing the former Jim Free morning show.
There’s a frequency change coming for Finger Lakes public radio listeners: September 29 is the target date for moving Geneva’s WEOS from 89.7 to 89.5. The long-planned move by the Hobart and William Smith-owned station (now operated by Rochester’s WXXI) comes with a small power boost, from 4 kW DA to 6 kW ND, still at 312′ AAT – and it gets WEOS out of a tight co-channel situation with WITR (89.7 Henrietta) up the road at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which should make WEOS easier to hear in and around Canandaigua and even into Rochester’s southeastern suburbs. WEOS will continue to operate translator W212BA (90.3) on the Hobart and William Smith campus to fill in some terrain issues right in Geneva. (By way of disclaimer, as well as a point of pride: Fybush Media served as a consultant to WEOS in the planning stages of the move.)
*A big shift in MASSACHUSETTS: Greg Strassell has departed CBS Radio after more than two decades with the company and its predecessors, most recently as senior VP of programming. Strassell’s ticket to prominence was WBMX (98.5 Boston), where he was the founding PD for its flip from WROR back in 1991. Over the years, Strassell became VP of programming for WBMX and its eventual parent companies, American Radio Systems and then CBS, and he continued to keep a close eye on “Mix” (now on 104.1, the former WBCN facility) even as he rose to higher executive positions.
Strassell’s new job is across town at Clear Channel, where he was named senior VP of programming just a day after departing CBS. He’ll continue to be based in Boston, but as at CBS, he’ll oversee programming initiatives around the country.
*In Worcester, Kevin Johnson is the new PD filling Tom Holt’s big shoes at Clear Channel’s WSRS (96.1). In contemporary Clear Channel fashion, it’s not even a full-time job; Johnson remains PD and afternoon host down the road in Springfield at sister station WHYN-FM (93.1).
Out west, Amy Rodriquez is the new morning co-host alongside Rob Poulin at WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield). She comes from Connecticut, where she was “Amy Sunshine” on WWYZ (92.5) in the Hartford market.
*Bay State broadcasters honored their legendary colleagues Thursday at the induction ceremony for the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and while we couldn’t make it this time around, our friend Clark Smidt was on hand to capture some images of the event, which brought some big names into the Hall.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment came when longtime WCVB/NECN anchor Chet Curtis came to the stage for his induction. Suffering from inoperable pancreatic cancer, a weakened Curtis was helped to the stage by his daughters as he received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd.
Other inductees included station owner Ken (Carter) Carberry, WHDH-TV (Channel 7) reporter Garry Armstrong, his former boss, David Mugar, longtime WGBH voice Ron Della Chiesa, WCVB consumer reporter Susan Wornick, who’s retiring next year (and who’s seen here with ex-husband and ex-WBZ colleague Bob Lobel, a member of the Hall’s class of 2008.)
And WROR (105.7) morning institutions Loren Owens and Wally Brine were not only inducted into the Hall, but also got to move into a new studio at Greater Media’s Morrissey Boulevard facility, in what was a very busy week for them.
This year’s class of posthumous inductees included longtime WBZ-TV (Channel 4) reporter Walt Sanders, former Red Sox announcer Jim Britt, WBZ/WHDH radio host Alan Dary, pioneering female radio sales executive Claire Crawford, and Richard L. Kaye, who founded WHRB at Harvard and then went on to run WCRB.
This year’s class of posthumous inductees included longtime WBZ-TV (Channel 4) reporter Walt Sanders, former Red Sox announcer Jim Britt, WBZ/WHDH radio host Alan Dary, pioneering female radio sales executive Claire Crawford, and Richard L. Kaye, who founded WHRB at Harvard and then went on to run WCRB.
*In MAINE, Blueberry Broadcasting has pulled the plug on another of its AM signals. WAEI (910 Bangor) is the former WABI radio, with a history that goes back to 1924 and making it the Pine Tree State’s oldest surviving radio license. After many decades as an important part of the Bangor radio scene, WAEI has struggled in recent years. Its signature voice, veteran morning man George Hale, moved to the FM dial when Blueberry made WVOM-FM (103.9 Howland) its primary talk station in the market in 2008, leaving 910 as a sports outlet, most recently with CBS Sports Radio. (In last week’s NERW, we’d inaccurately placed the sports on WAEI-FM 104.7, which flipped to classic hits as WBAK last year.)
As with so many directional AMs, the land on which WAEI’s two-tower array sits is now more valuable than the station itself, and that’s why Blueberry took 910 silent on September 1. In a filing Wednesday with the FCC, Blueberry said it is exploring “either a sale of the station or, in the absence of any interest from buyers, surrender(ing) the license.”
WAEI’s two-tower array sits on busy US Route 1A in Brewer, just a few miles east of downtown Bangor, amidst an increasingly commercial strip; if Blueberry’s asking something close to half a million dollars, as we’re hearing, most of that value would now come from the land rather than the license.
The last time Blueberry shuttered an AM outlet, it was WFAU (1280 Gardiner) in the Augusta market, which was sold to Bob Bittner’s Blue Jey Broadcasting and will be returning to the air once its decaying directional antenna system is repaired. But don’t count on Bittner to rescue WAEI: he tells NERW that this would be a more involved project, since it would require a new array to be erected elsewhere, a dicey and expensive proposition in the 21st century. Dan Priestly, another independent AM owner in the Bangor market, has also been publicly skeptical about the economics of reviving the 910 facility at a new location. That leaves one more independent owner in town: could Stephen King, whose holdings already include WZON (620 Bangor), WKIT (100.3 Brewer) and WZLO (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft) be interested? While 910 could easily operate daytime as a diplex from WZON’s site on North Broadway in Bangor, the array is in the wrong place and the wrong configuration for the 5000-watt nighttime signal.
*A sad story from VERMONT: after being pulled off the air at WCAX-TV (Channel 3) in Burlington following his March arrest on sexual misconduct charges, reporter Matt Henson is now out of a job there. WCAX news director Anson Tebbetts tells the Burlington Free Press that with a trial not likely until sometime in 2014, the station “couldn’t hold the position forever,” especially as it staffs up for a new weekend morning newscast to compete with rival WPTZ (Channel 5).
*The American Hockey League team briefly known as the CONNECTICUT Whale has reverted to its old identity, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and its revived name will come with a new radio home: the team is moving from WCCC-FM (106.9) to a two-year deal with Clear Channel’s WPOP (1410). Announcer Bob Crawford stays in the booth for a 17th year.
The Nutmeg State gets its broadcast convention on October 17, when the Connecticut Broadcasters Association will hold its 58th annual convention at the Hilton Hartford Hotel. Senator Richard Blumenthal will deliver the keynote address, and several NAB executives will be on hand to update broadcasters on the latest D.C. policy developments.
*In PENNSYLVANIA and nearby NEW JERSEY, we still don’t know exactly when WWIQ (106.9 Camden) will change hands from Merlin Media to EMF, but what’s left of the local staff is already moving on. Mike Murillo was the local news voice at “IQ 106.9” and had also worked for former Merlin sister station WEMP in New York, but he’s now taken a new gig as an anchor/reporter at all-news giant WTOP (103.5) in Washington.
On the Jersey shore, the fire that devastated the Seaside Heights boardwalk had a radio connection: as the NBC Nightly News cameras panned around from anchor Brian Williams Friday night, we caught this view of the Townsquare Broadcasting remote studio, right at the edge of the fire break that firefighters hacked away to halt the spread of the fire. There’s no word yet on whether that facility, used for beach remotes by WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River), WJLK (94.3 Asbury Park), WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin) and their sister stations, suffered serious damage from the blaze, which dealt another blow to the shore just as it was starting the long recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
In Philadelphia, they’re mourning E. Steven Collins, who was just 58 when he died of a heart attack early Tuesday. Collins was a fixture for three decades on WDAS (1480/105.3) and had more recently become an executive at Radio One’s stations, where he was hosting a Sunday talk show, “Philly Speaks.” Away from the studio, Collins was a tireless civic activist and community leader, known for hosting and planning innumerable public events and mentoring young journalists; he was also a frequent guest commentator on cable news channels.
We’re also sorry to report the passing of Jerry Pollock, a 45-year fixture at WPHB (1260 Phillipsburg). Pollock was on the air right up until his death on Monday, occupying the midday hours after another WPHB veteran, former owner Sheldon Sharpless. Pollock was 69.
From the callsign desk: in Corry, WHYP (1370) has quietly returned to its former WWCB callsign, surrendering the calls it had taken after they disappeared from their longtime home up the dial and just up the road in North East. We note, too, that Scranton-market WDMT (102.3 Pittston) became WHBS last month when it flipped from AAA “Mountain” to sports “Sports Hub.”
*In CANADA, the CRTC is keeping a close eye on Montreal-market CJMS (1040 St.-Constant), summoning licensee Alexandre Azoulay to a November 5 hearing in Gatineau at which it could take action as drastic as pulling the station’s license. CJMS has been in trouble with the CRTC several times in recent years, earning a succession of short-term renewals, and this time the CRTC says it’s been unable to obtain logger tapes and program logs it requested in advance of the next renewal cycle. As always, Montreal media maven Steve Faguy is on top of the situation, and he offers his analysis of CJMS’ future (or lack thereof) here.
Steve’s also been closely following the latest round of staffing cuts at the combined Bell/Astral stations. Bell has just moved its standalone sports outlet, CKGM (TSN Radio 690) from 1310 Greene Ave. in Westmount to the Astral cluster studios at Papineau Ave. and Rene-Levesque Blvd., but some staffers didn’t come along for the ride. Ted Bird, the veteran Montreal morning man who’d come back to the market at CKGM, was let go last week, as was CJAD (800) midday host Ric Peterson and sports reporter Chantal Desjardins; Peterson’s co-host Suzanne Desautels moves to morning traffic reporting and will host the weekend travel show, and Faguy reports that CJAD news reporter Claude Beaulieu and assistant PD Teri-Lee Walters are out as well.
We trekked across the continent seeking the prettiest towers…we searched through our databases for the most notable dates…we thought, talked and sweated over design, and thought, talked and sweated some more over printing…but we’d do it all over again (and will, next year!) to produce your favorite 12-month wall calendar.
Yes, the 2014 Tower Site Calendar has gone to press, and you can be the first to reserve your very own. We expect to have them in our hands at the end of the month, and we’ll send them right to you, spiral bound, shrink wrapped and best of all, with a convenient hole for hanging!
This year’s pinups include the iconic towers of Catalina Island, a combiner system in St. Louis, the twin towers of KNRS in Salt Lake City, a historic rooftop site in Jamestown, New York and many more!
If you want a tower calendar on your wall NOW, you can pick up the current edition for just $5 with your 2014 order this week!
Click here to order your 2014 calendar!
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: September 17, 2012
*There are few markets tougher than NEW YORK’s Long Island to make a successful run as a mainstream class A commercial FM station. The geography’s all wrong, for one thing – you just can’t cover very much of an island that’s long and narrow with a 6 kW (or less) signal that goes out in a circle with barely a 20-mile usable radius, and that’s not even taking account of the massive short-spacing and summertime tropo ducting that can rip a signal to shreds much closer to the tower. And then there’s the little matter of the nation’s largest and most aggressive radio market just to the west, not only spraying strong signals over western Long Island but actively targeting Nassau and Suffolk counties, which are, after all, embedded in the larger New York City market.
Of all the class A signals in the orbit of New York City (leaving out, for the moment, the East End signals that make up an embedded market of their own), the Smithtown-licensed 94.3, sandwiched between co-channel signals in southern CONNECTICUT and the NEW JERSEY shore, has had the roughest time in recent years.
Under Barnstable Broadcasting, 94.3 ricocheted from beautiful music WCTO to adult contemporary as WMJC, then to country, back to hot AC, and then two years ago to 90s hits as WIGX, “94X.” Earlier this year, WIGX was part of Barnstable’s $23 million exit from broadcasting – and last week, new owner Connoisseur Media made its first move with its new Long Island cluster, flipping “94X” to active rock as “94.3 the Shark, Everything that Rocks.”
The new format launched Friday at noon, bringing with it new calls – WWSK – and thus far a jockless lineup of rock that’s heavy on the 1990s and 2000s. “The Shark” faces off against Cox’s venerable rocker WBAB (102.3), one of the few Island class A signals that’s found success over the long run, as well as Merlin’s revived WRXP (101.9) out of New York City, and we’ll be watching closely as it tries to find its groove. (We’re hearing 94X PD Jon Daniels will stay with Connoisseur doing social networking and websites, but the rest of the station’s airstaff is out, including morning man Ralphie Marino.)
*Radio People on the Move: Michael Doyle’s rise through the ranks of Entercom management continued last week, when the veteran Rochester-based manager was promoted from regional VP to regional president, overseeing markets that now range as far afield as Memphis and Gainesville, Florida. Within NERW-land, Doyle’s in charge of Entercom’s clusters in Rochester, Buffalo and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In Albany, Dylan Rudsill is out as morning co-host at Pamal’s WZMR (Cat Country 104.9), leaving Dana Race solo until a new co-host comes on board.
And back here in Rochester, WYSL (1040 Avon) talk host Bill Nojay moved one step closer to Albany last week when he won the Republican primary in the 133rd state Assembly district. Nojay’s daily hour (2-3 PM) remained on the air during the primary campaign after WYSL offered equal time to opponent Richard Burke; after losing the primary, Burke said turning down the offer of equal time “might have been a mistake” on his part. For his part, Nojay says he’ll stay on the air “until the lawyers tell me I can’t do it anymore”; WYSL has already offered equal time to his general-election opponent.
*One bit of “we’ve been remiss in not noting” news from Long Island: WLIX-LP (94.7 Ridge) flipped just before Labor Day from religion to “The Penthouse.” That’s the standards format developed first as a streaming service by Bob Perry, who also gave us the first streaming incarnation of “Jack FM” all those years ago. The LPFM was the birthplace of the “WLIX Voice of Hope” Christian network that now makes its primary home at WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) along with a network of five translators extending its coverage westward down the island.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news starts with station sales: in the Philadelphia suburbs, Alex Langer is selling WFYL (1180 King of Prussia) to a new entrant, Trinity Associates Broadcasting, LLC (Alan and Susan Loch), for $262.500. The little daytimer has been carrying a conservative talk lineup.
With WFYL’s sale (and last week’s return of an unbuilt Minnesota construction permit to the FCC), Langer’s holdings are now concentrated in his home base of Boston (about which more in a bit), as well as an unbuilt CP for WFNX (1120 Coral Springs) in south Florida.
The news out of Pittsburgh is a station sale that’s not happening: the McKeesport Daily News’ Pat Cloonan ran down a report that veteran Steel City DJ Terry Lee was getting ready to pay $75,000 for WLFP (1550 Reserve Township); Cloonan talked to WLFP owner Michael Metter, who derided his own little daytime AM signal as a “cockamamie station” and suggested that “if anyone wants to buy it, they can buy it,” presumably for less than his original $225,000 asking price.
*The breakup of MAINE’s commercial classical network began on Thursday afternoon, as Mainestream Media took over WBQW (104.7 Kennebunkport) from bankrupt Nassau Communications, which had been using the signal as the southernmost link in its “W-Bach” chain. After a classy farewell from “W-Bach,” Mainestream took over at 5 PM as “Christmas 104.7,” stunting for a day before Friday afternoon’s launch of its permanent new format on the signal.
As we’d suspected, “Hot 104.7″ picks up much of the DNA of the former WRED (95.9 Saco), playing rhythmic top-40 with Ryan Dillon as PD. The new station is playing 5,000 commercial-free songs before launching with an airstaff that’s yet to be announced.
Down the coast, Nassau’s still telling listeners that they can tune in to “W-Bach” on WBQX (106.9 Thomaston) and WBQI (107.7 Bar Harbor), but the new logo on the W-Bach website, showing only 106.9, is a reminder that the sale of 107.7 is already underway from Bill Binnie (who’s buying most of Nassau’s Maine signals) to Blueberry Broadcasting. And remember we told you that Blueberry had already applied for new calls of “WBKA” at 107.7? We’d be surprised, indeed, if 107.7 isn’t soon simulcasting Blueberry’s classic hits WABK (104.3 Gardiner)/WBAK (104.7 Brewer-Bangor).
*In MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a new programmer with a familiar name at CBS Radio’s new “AMP 103.3″ (WODS) in Boston. Dan Mason, Jr. went to school at Boston’s Emerson College, and he made his name in recent years launching Clear Channel’s “Kiss” (WAKS) in Cleveland and programming Entercom’s KDND (107.9 the End) in Sacramento. Now he’s bringing his top-40 chops to “AMP,” where his boss (market manager Mark Hannon) ultimately reports to another Dan Mason, CBS Radio head honcho Dan Mason, Senior.
*Alex Langer’s new Brockton acquisition is changing tower sites. WMSX (1410 Brockton) told the FCC last week that it’s lost the lease on the station’s longtime transmitter facility on Linwood Street and will be moving to a new location. WMSX had already filed for a silent STA; now it’s asking the FCC for permission to run reduced power (250 watts day/39 watts night) from a longwire antenna until it can complete its move to a new site.
Where are they now? Former WZLX (100.7 Boston) jock Annalisa made the move out west to San Francisco’s KFOG (104.5) in the 1990s, settling in nicely as the middayer at the popular AAA station – but last week she abruptly announced her departure from Cumulus-owned KFOG, and she’s rumored to be heading for Entercom’s crosstown KUFX/KUZX (98.5/102.1) to replace Greg Kihn in morning drive there.
*It’s already been a weird year for AM radio in French-speaking CANADA, and late last week it just got a bit weirder.
Even as the CRTC was deep into its hearings to determine the fate of Montreal’s CKGM (690) and the larger question of Bell’s proposed acquisition of Astral Media – and thus the future of much of the AM dial in Montreal – came word from Quebec City that the last remaining AM signal there is on the verge of shutdown.
CHRC (800) is the provincial capital’s oldest radio station, tracing its history back to 1926, but as listeners have moved to FM, the AM station has struggled for survival in recent years. Corus operated it as “Info 800,” a sister to its now-defunct CINF (690 Montreal), before announcing its own plans to walk away from the license in 2007. The Remparts minor-league hockey team stepped in to rescue the station, but rumors had been growing in the last few weeks that the money-losing signal was on its last legs, and Friday brought the official announcement that “Quebec 800″ will fall silent at some point in the next few weeks. The move puts 15 people out of work and will send Remparts broadcasts over to CJMF (93.3) on the FM dial.
Will a buyer step forward to save CHRC? Montreal blogger Steve Faguy, our go-to guy for Quebec radio (his coverage of the CRTC Bell-Astral hearings has been phenomenal), says it’s remotely possible, especially if Bell gets the go-ahead to flip CKGM to French-language sports and is then looking to launch the new “RDS Radio” elsewhere in the province. Faguy suggests that the Tietolman-Tetreault-Pancholy group that’s launching talk AM signals in Montreal might also be interested.
If CHRC does go away, it will leave Quebec essentially an AM-free province outside Montreal; there are 13 other full-power AM stations now on the air in Quebec, ten of them in the Montreal area, two in Gatineau-Ottawa relaying Montreal specialty FM signals, and one remaining outlying commercial AM (CFLM 1240 La Tuque) that’s waiting to hear whether the CRTC will approve its plans to move to FM. (And we credit Dan Sys’ Canadian Radio News for noting that CHRC’s disappearance, if it comes to pass, will make Quebec City the largest market in Canada with no AM stations, a dubious honor now held by Halifax.)
Back to the Bell/Astral hearings: the week’s big news from Montreal included Bell’s release of a list of ten stations it plans to sell in markets where the combination would put the company over the CRTC’s ownership caps. In Ottawa, Bell says it would part with the current Astral English-language cluster, “Bear” classic rock CKQB (106.9) and “Boom” classic hits CJOT (99.7), retaining the existing Bell four-station cluster in English and Astral’s French-language CIMF (94.9) and CKTF (104.1) in French. In Toronto, Bell would keep its own CHUM (TSN Radio 1050) and CHUM-FM (104.5) as well as Astral’s CFRB (1010) and CKFM (Virgin Radio 99.9), shedding Astral’s classic hits “Boom” CHBM (97.3) and Bell’s rhythmic top-40 CFXJ (Flow 93.5).
Five Years Ago: September 15, 2008
*Forty years after he signed on in morning drive at WRKO, Dale Dorman has disappeared from the eastern MASSACHUSETTS morning radio dial. With no fanfare, Dorman did his last show at WODS (103.3 Boston) on Friday, departing on his own initiative, reports Boston Radio Watch.Dorman came to WODS five years ago this month, making the shift to Oldies 103 after a 23-year run in afternoons at WXKS-FM (Kiss 108), not to mention stints at WROR and of course the decade-long morning gig at WRKO before that.
Are there more changes yet to come at WODS? Another Boston radio veteran, Harry “Bud” Nelson, was missing from his weekend shift this past weekend.
No replacement has been named for Dorman, but we’ll be watching closely as this high-profile opening gets filled. (And we suspect we’ll hear “Uncle Dale” on at least a part-time basis on WODS in the weeks to come.)
Speaking of afternoons on Kiss 108, there’s a big change coming today: Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated “On Air” continues its relentless march across the nation, occupying the 10 AM-1 PM weekday slot on Kiss. That moves Shelly Wade (voicetracked from sister station Z100 in New York) to 1-3 PM and pushes Romeo back to a 3-8 PM slot.
*In other Boston news, there’s a new legal ID on the air: “WKOX Newton.” Clear Channel’s “Rumba 1200” isn’t yet operating at its new 50 kW daytime power level, but it is now on the air from its new transmitter site in Newton’s Oak Hill neighborhood, leaving its old Framingham site after more than 60 years. Testing on the new array (shared with WUNR 1600 and WRCA 1330) is expected to take several weeks.
*In NEW YORK, Steve Torre is moving on from WINS (1010) after many years as morning sports anchor; he’s now the PD of Chris Russo’s “Mad Dog” channel on satellite radio. No replacement has been named yet.
Cutbacks at Westwood One’s Metro Networks unit claimed a dozen jobs on and off the air late last week in Market Number One, including Kathy Millar, who did morning traffic for WCBS-FM, and Tom Baroni, who’d been doing traffic for WFAS in Westchester County. The “restructuring” at Metro means the disappearance of customized traffic reporting for many suburban stations, as Metro focuses on its biggest (remaining) clients.
The New York Islanders will disappear from the radio dial for many listeners in the metro area this fall; the team is moving its radio broadcasts from big-signal WBBR (1130 New York) to WMJC (94.3 Smithtown) and WHLI (1100 Hempstead), a move that will save money – the team had been buying time on WBBR for its games – but will limit over-the-air reception to portions of its Long Island home base. “Listen via XM or online” is the team’s advice for fans in New York City, New Jersey and upstate…
A bunch of changes in Syracuse: Hunter Scott arrives as PD at WAQX (95.7 Manlius), but just across the studio glass, Dave Allen is out after 11 years as morning man and PD at Citadel sister station WLTI (105.9 Syracuse); “Lite Rock 105.9” is now looking for a replacement.
Up in Oswego, John Hurlbutt will soon be sleeping in. After 39 years with WRVO (89.9), the last 28 of those as local host of Morning Edition, he’s retiring at the end of the year. WRVO, too, is looking for a replacement for him. (WRVO, like many public radio stations, was also looking for replacement programming Sunday afternoon after a power failure at NPR’s network operations center meant “All Things Considered” never made it to the satellite; we mention them, specifically, because we heard their “technical difficulties” announcements as we were driving home on the Thruway wondering what had gone wrong.)
A debate over media ownership in Ithaca will be played out in front of the FCC later this month. Local media activists challenged the sale of Eagle Broadcasting’s four stations (WHCU, WTKO, WYXL, WQNY) to Saga a few years back, and the FCC will hear their appeal of the grant of the sale at an open meeting Sept. 25 in Washington.
A Rochester morning host suffered a devastating blow from Hurricane Ike: Jeremy Newman, co-host at Entercom’s WBEE (92.5), does the show remotely from his home in Bacliff, Texas, on Galveston Island – but in the wake of the storm, he doesn’t have much of his home left. Newman evacuated on Thursday, staying with relatives inland, and when he was able to return to his house on Saturday, he found what he described as a “nightmare.” Newman told Rochester’s WHEC-TV, “All my possessions, whether it’s a TV, my bed, my clothes, it’s all washed away with the water.” He says he’ll rebuild – and he’s back on the air this morning, by telephone, taking calls from worried listeners.
On the TV side of things, Kyle Grimes is leaving the news director’s office at WPTZ (Channel 5) in Plattsburgh; he moves up within the Hearst-Argyle family to take the same role at WPBF (Channel 25) in West Palm Beach, effective October 1.
And we close our New York report with an obituary: Neil McIntyre, who programmed at WINS, WNEW, WKTU and most notably at WPIX-FM in the seventies, died Sept. 11 of cancer.
*Folks in PENNSYLVANIA are still scratching their heads over an unusual theft in the Johnstown market. It wasn’t just a ground system or transmission line or an air conditioner that disappeared from the old WWBR (1350 Windber) tower last week – it was the entire tower!
The station had been silent since the mid-80s, when it briefly flipped calls to WBEM before going off the air for good, but the owners of the 120-foot tower had been planning to rent space on it to wireless and cellular operators. Instead, they found that someone with some knowledge of the site had made it through the brush that surrounded the tower, dismantled it and hauled it off. They’re offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the tower thieves.
There will be a less mysterious broadcast disappearance in November: at 6:25 PM on November 17, all of Pennsylvania’s analog TV stations will put up a test message to determine whether viewers are ready for the DTV conversion. If previous tests in other markets are any indication, we’d expect to hear about several cable companies still taking analog feeds – but not many viewers reporting issues with their direct over-the-air reception.
*There’s a format change in the NEW JERSEY state capital today. WBUD (1260 Trenton) debuts its new Catholic format under its new ownership, and it said goodbye to its old format with a special broadcast on Sunday helmed by longtime host Jack Pinto, who did a final edition of his Frank Sinatra show, then kept playing music for several more hours before returning the station to the Fox Sports format it had been running for just a few months.
On the shore, changes are afoot at WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin) – Anita Bonita did her last morning show at the oldies station on Friday, and the veteran New York air talent and programmer is now looking for a new gig. (Find her at anitabonita.net!)
Is this a prelude to bigger changes at WJRZ? Stay tuned…
*A RHODE ISLAND station lost its antenna to the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna. WSNE (93.3 Taunton MA) found itself without the top bay of its antenna last Monday after the winds stopped blowing. The station was operating at low power until a new antenna could be rushed to the site (the WJAR-TV transmitter facility in Rehoboth, Mass.) and installed late last week.
Ten Years Ago: September 15, 2003
*When the book is written someday on the history of FM radio in NEW YORK (wait — I am writing that book, come to think of it), an entire chapter might well be devoted to the formats that proved to be the biggest turkeys of all time. And when that chapter is written, there’s a new candidate for lead entry: WNEW (102.7) and the first incarnation of “Blink.”
*This strange format, which mixed top 40 currents, 70s and 80s R&B oldies, a pink logo that led to the derisive moniker “Barbie Radio” – and, lest we forget, lots and lots of JLo-related gossip, breathed its last at 4 o’clock Friday afternoon (Sept. 12), when Viacom pulled the plug , sending PD Steve Kingston, morning team Lynda (you-know-who’s sister) Lopez and Chris Booker, middayer Tim Virgin, afternooner Allison Stewart, night guy Todd Newton, late-night contest winner Post Midnight and most of the rest of the staff packing. (Anyone who had “five and a half months” in the office pool for how long Blink would last can now collect their prize…) Surprisingly, the “Blink” name remained, at least for the moment, as WNEW morphed into a softish AC station that made no bones about its new target audience: “Music Women Love.” (First two songs: “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Uptown Girl.”)
*VERMONT is down to two TV newsrooms (one of which is really across the lake in Plattsburgh, N.Y.) with the shutdown on Friday of the news operation at WVNY (Channel 22) in Burlington. WVNY’s latest stab at doing local news lasted about four years, and it was a pretty classy attempt right up to the end. The last newscast Friday night began, we’re told, with a series of teases that included one for “the fat lady sings” – and it ended with the theme from Newhart playing over an outside view of the studios as anchor Eric Greene paraphrased Bob Newhart’s signoff, telling viewers “I had the strangest dream; for the past four years, I’ve been hosting a newscast in Vermont.” Greene is one of about two dozen WVNY staffers out of work; we wish them all the best as they search for new jobs.
*September’s a beautiful time to visit Vermont – especially, it seems, if you’re an FCC field agent. On the heels of Radio Free Brattleboro’s run-ins with the Commission, two agents turned up September 3 at Free Radio Burlington, the 87.9 operation that we first noted in this space July 14. Turns out FRB has been on the air for two years, or so it claims, though it was apparently not broadcasting when the agents paid their call. Thus far, FRB seems to be a little more adept at handling the FCC than its cousins in Brattleboro; the 87.9 signal has remained silent while FRB continues its Webcast and station organizers figure out what to do next.
(And an editor’s note – just a few hours after that Sept. 15, 2003 NERW hit the web, we welcomed little Ariel Fybush into the world. She’s not so little these days…)
Fifteen Years Ago: September 18, 1998
*Boston’s oldest noncommercial FM will enter the 21st century in a new home, and with a new round of controversy. Emerson College’s WERS (88.9) dedicated its new home at 180 Tremont Street this week with the help of prominent station alumni, including WZLX (100.7)’s Charles Laquidara. But the decision to allow Laquidara, WBOS (92.9)’s Robin Young, and others to preempt the usual student broadcasts to play guest DJ met with static from students who say they weren’t consulted.
*WERS has long been the only major college station in Boston run solely by students, with no involvement from alumni or community members. Tufts’ WMFO (91.5), MIT’s WMBR (88.1), and Brandeis’ WBRS (100.1) all use community members along with students, while WUMB (91.9) and WBUR (90.9) are run by professionals with almost no student involvement. In an on-air roundtable led by Laquidara, students said the college seems to be more concerned about money (the station runs an annual deficit of about $400,000) than programming. Emerson officials denied the accusations, saying students should have been consulted about this week’s preemptions. WERS’ new home in the Ansin Building (named after the parents of WHDH owner Ed Ansin, who donated much of the building’s $1.8 million cost) replaces the station’s old second-story offices at 126-130 Beacon Street. It also closes a huge circle in Boston radio history; the building was built by Edison Electric Illuminating to house its then-new WEEI almost seven decades ago.
*In other MASSACHUSETTS news, the WBZ-TV tower that rises over Route 128 from Cedar Street in Needham is about to rise a bit more. CBS is getting ready to add some 400 feet to the tower to accomodate new antennas for WBZ-TV, WGBH-TV, WGBX, and WCVB-TV — and their respective digital counterparts. (This helps to explain why the DTV CPs for these stations specified tower heights several hundred feet higher than the existing tower).
*Down to CONNECTICUT next, where after nearly two years, “Prayze 105.3” may finally be out of luck. The religious music pirate signed on back in November 1996, and its existence was reported for the first time anywhere back in the December 16, 1996, NERW. The station was selling commercial time, significantly undercutting licensed urban station WKND (1480) Windsor in the process, which was enough to get WKND to alert the FCC to Prayze’s existence. This week, US District Judge Warren Eginton granted the government’s motion for an injunction ordering Prayze off the air “until it receives a lawful license to broadcast from the FCC,” which almost certainly won’t happen unless or until LPFM becomes a reality, since 105.3 is short-spaced to stations in Great Barrington, Groton, Middletown, and Hartford’s 105.9. The Hartford Courant says Prayze was still on the air Monday, defying the injunction. A NERW reader reports Prayze was off a few days later, but that another long-running Hartford-area pirate, playing Spanish-language tunes on 97.1, was untouched by the FCC. We’ll keep you posted…
*Back on the air in New Haven: WNHC (1340) resumed broadcasting Tuesday morning at 6, now under the aegis of WYBC (94.3) and the Yale students who run it. The urban programming that WNHC ran until going bankrupt has been replaced by an eclectic mixture of alternative rock, blues, jazz, football games, and local talk. NERW thinks the New Haven AM dial has to qualify as the region’s most interesting right now, what with WNHC, Quinnipiac College’s heavily-local WQUN (1220), and Clear Channel’s well-run talker WELI (960) and standards WAVZ (1300), not to mention all the New York stations that make it up the Sound.
*Where Capstar goes, budget cuts seem to follow, and this week Steve Hicks’ ax fell in Burlington, VERMONT. After 14 years, Brent Jarvis is out the door as morning man at WEZF (92.9), replaced by production director Jon Brooks from new Capstar sister stations WCPV (101.3 Essex), WXPS (96.7 Vergennes), and WEAV (960 Plattsburgh). Frannie Bastian remains as morning co-host on WEZF. Also out is WXPS-WEAV sports director George Commo, who was left without much to do when the stations lost UVM sports rights.
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