In this week’s issue… Lee rebrands in Philadelphia – “Froggy” moves in Glens Falls – The new WOR takes shape – HD Radio multicast on air in Canada – WBZ picks overnight host – Leigh Chapple, RIP

By SCOTT FYBUSH

2014calendarBefore we begin with the news this week… A few quick bits of housekeeping: first, if you’re hoping to have your 2014 Tower Site Calendar in hand by Christmas, please place your order at the Fybush.com Store by Wednesday, Dec. 18. They’re going fast! (And don’t miss the previews of each month’s calendar page for 2014, running every Wednesday through this week as a Tower Site of the Week bonus right here on Fybush.com…)

Second, we’re hard at work on our 2013 Year in Review, which will begin running here on Fybush.com next Tuesday, Dec. 24, exclusively for subscribers. A few choice advertising spaces still remain, and we’d love to have you as one of our sponsors. Contact Lisa for more information about our very affordable rates.

Third, if you missed the live show on Thursday, your editor was the special guest on This Week in Radio Tech, the weekly podcast all about broadcast engineering. Co-host Chris Tobin was live from the Four Times Square combiner room, too – so check it out and hear some great tower stories!

And finally, if you haven’t found us yet, we’re now up and running with lots of great radio and TV discussion on the RadioInsight Community, the new place for radio to talk radio. Along with RadioInsight’s Lance Venta, your editor is part of the team that’s working hard to create a fun, friendly place to discuss everything that’s happening in the industry…and we’re in it for the long haul.

*One of the rules that everyone knows about radio is that when you have a brand that works, you don’t change it. If everyone in New York identifies “1010 WINS” with news, or if everyone in Boston knows that “Kiss 108” is the place to turn for hits, you leave those brands alone and let them keep doing what they do, for close to 50 years in the case of WINS and more than 35 in the case of Kiss.

wbeb-b101But as with so many “rules” of radio, someone forgot to tell PENNSYLVANIA‘s Jerry Lee, who surprised the entire industry on Thursday with the announcement that he’s rebranding his WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) from “B101” to “More FM” right after Christmas.

It’s not a format change – the station will still be playing a fairly hot brand of adult contemporary – and it’s not coming with any changes in air talent, nor is it bringing a return to streaming the station’s audio. So why turn “B” into “More”? Because, as one radio industry observer joked, Jerry Lee is that rare breed of owner who “doesn’t even change the color temperature of the studio light bulbs without focus-grouping it.”

Lee’s not sharing the specific perceptual research that drove this upcoming change, but it’s not hard to guess what his research told him: while “B” was a young, fresh brand when he rolled it out 20 years ago, the 25-54 listener base of 1993 is now 45 to 74 years old, and today’s 101.1 isn’t playing much Lionel Richie or Celine Dion. If that’s the association younger listeners have with “B” in 2013, the logic goes, then it’s time for a change.

wbeb-moreThat’s nothing new for Jerry Lee: he rebranded the station originally known as WDVR as WEAZ, “EZ101,” in the 1980s when the “EZ” brand was big, and then he abandoned “EZ101” for “B” when “EZ” began to seem stale a decade later. It’s not even the first time he’s made a move that suggests “B” is getting long in the tooth: in 2007, Lee bought the Philadelphia rights to the “Fresh” imaging that was sweeping the hot-AC universe, though the move turned out to be more about keeping any Philly competitors from becoming “Fresh” than about using the name on 101.1.

Will Jerry Lee win again this time? A lot of good broadcasters have bet against him in the past and lost badly. We’d be surprised if WBEB (which hasn’t yet filed for new calls) isn’t still at or near the top of the ratings a year from now.

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*Pamal’s been making some format flips of its own in upstate NEW YORK. In Albany, we tipped you last week to the impending arrival of “104.9 the Peak” on Albany-market WZMR (104.9 Altamont), and after a day of sound effects of a hiker huffing and puffing up a “peak,” WZMR made its flip on Friday.

The new Albany Peak is a sister to Pamal’s WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) down the Hudson Valley in New York City’s northern suburbs. It’s programmed by “Tanch” (Jamie Tanchyk), a recent Pamal hire from Townsquare. Tanch will be doing middays on the Albany “Peak,” with more airstaff to be announced later.

wkbe-froggy-smAn hour up the Northway, Pamal is preparing for a December 26 frequency swap between two of its FMs in the Glens Falls market: the country music of “Froggy” WFFG-FM, now on the Hudson Falls-licensed class A signal at 107.1, will move down the dial to the Warrensburg-licensed B1 signal at 100.3 that’s now home to hot AC “Point,” WKBE. The move appears to be aimed at putting the country format on a bigger signal that will extend its reach northward beyond the competition from Albany’s big country signal, Townsquare’s WGNA (107.7).

*The big news once again from New York City last week came from Clear Channel and WOR (710), which followed up its introduction of a new logo (not coincidentally, in Mets blue-and-orange, since WOR will be the new Mets flagship) with the big reveal of its finalized 2014 schedule.

As we reported in a NERW update last Monday morning, the big surprise was Clear Channel’s decision to bring Elliot Segal back to town with his “Elliot in the Morning” show. After a stint in the 1990s as part of Elvis Duran’s morning crew at Clear Channel’s Z100 (WHTZ), Segal headed off to Washington’s WWDC-FM (DC101), where he’s become a morning fixture.

wor-newcclogoWhen Elliot comes to WOR to begin originating his show from New York in January, he’ll still be heard on DC101 and on WRXL (102.1) in Richmond, Virginia, which will be awfully interesting on mornings after the Mets face off against their NL East rivals, the Washington Nationals. How will Elliot balance his presence on FM rock stations in Washington and Richmond with the talk lineup that will follow him on WOR? We’re betting the instruction from up above is, “make it sound like FM,” in hopes of bringing a younger audience to replace WOR’s current aging demographic.

To that end, longtime WOR midday staple Joan Hamburg is being sent off to weekends, while in the afternoons Rita Cosby vanishes from the schedule completely after the New Year. Instead, after Elliott and Mark Simone (9-noon), the new weekday WOR lineup will include Rush Limbaugh at noon, Sean Hannity at 3, Andy Dean at 6 and Dave Ramsey at 9, at least on days when the Mets aren’t playing.

*Over at the Mets’ former flagship station, WFAN (660/101.9), afternoon host Mike Francesa is parting ways with his TV outlet. Even though WFAN’s now tightly linked to its new baseball partner, the Yankees, Yanks-owned YES Network is reportedly dropping its simulcast of Francesa in February in favor of a simulcast of Michael Kay’s WEPN-FM (98.7) show. The move completes a full shuffle of TV simulcasts on WFAN: its Boomer and Carton Show, seen on MSG Network from 2010 until this past September, will return to TV later this winter on the CBS Sports Network.

*In Syracuse, Clear Channel didn’t go far to find a replacement for longtime market manager Joel Delmonico as he approaches retirement at year’s end. Sales manager Rick Yacobush will ascend to the top position at the cluster, which includes country WBBS (B104.7), AC WYYY (Y94), news-talk WSYR-FM/AM (106.9/570) and urban WHEN (620).

Yacobush has four decades of experience in the market, starting out as “Rick Charles” on WOLF (1490) in the early 1970s before transitioning to sales and management. He’s been with what’s now the Clear Channel cluster for 26 years now.

*Veteran Utica morning man Matt Herkimer wasn’t out of work for long. Cut loose from Townsquare’s WFRG (Big Frog 104.3) after nearly a quarter-century of helping to keep the country station way atop the ratings, Herkimer has landed across town at Ken Roser’s “Bug Country” (WBGK 99.7 Newport Village/WBUG-FM 101.1 Fort Plain), where he’ll replace satellite-delivered morning fare.

wbug-herkimerRoser is running TV spots in Utica to promote the move, hoping that the addition of the well-known Herkimer will help propel Bug Country to a stronger position against the dominant Frog. We won’t know for a while whether the hire is working; Utica is surveyed only twice a year by Nielsen Audio (ex-Arbitron), and the Fall 2013 book ended on December 4. (Those numbers aren’t out yet, but in the spring book, WFRG drew a 15.7 share 12+, against just a 2.5 share for WBGK, though “Bug Country” also draws listenership to the east via the WBUG-FM simulcast, outside the boundaries of the Utica market.)

*We know a little more about the newest signal coming to the Oneida County radio dial: WKAL (1450 Rome) is advertising for news and talk staffers as it prepares to relaunch after a long silence. While WKAL’s history goes back to the post-World War II era, it went through a period of simulcasting (including some time as an AM sister to WFRG) and then out-of-state satellite religious operation under Bible Broadcasting Network as WYFY before being sold to Ron Frisch’s Tune In Broadcasting in 2011. He’s been trying to get a new studio built and the transmitter site fully functional, and as a result the 1450 signal has been mostly silent for the last couple of years. It’s up and running now, on and off, testing with a music loop – and over the weekemd, it also carried some Morse IDs overnight in hopes of being heard by DX listeners around the world.

*The world of TV ownership keeps spinning in upstate New York: Granite Broadcasting, with just seven markets in its portfolio, is widely rumored to be seeking a sale of some of its operations, most notably Buffalo ABC affiliate WKBW (Channel 7). The once-dominant station has fallen to a distant third in most of its news slots, and last week executives from Scripps were in town, apparently kicking the tires on the facility. Granite also owns CBS affiliates WBNG (Channel 12) in Binghamton and WTVH (Channel 5) in Syracuse; as we’ve noted here, the Syracuse station faces an uncertain future when its operational agreement with Barrington-turned-Sinclair NBC affiliate WSTM (Channel 3) expires in 2017, breaking up the “CNY Central” joint venture there.

There’s a new news director en route to Hubbard’s NBC affiliate, WHEC (Channel 10), here in Rochester. Chris Ford moves north from Tampa, where he’s been assistant news director at Scripps’ ABC outlet WFTS (Channel 28).

Johnny Niecko is leaving the airwaves of eastern Long Island after 40 years on the air playing polkas. Starting at WLNG (1600/92.1) in Sag Harbor, Niecko moved on to WRCN (1570/103.9) in Riverhead for a few years before settling in at WRIV (1390 Riverhead) in 1982. Niecko’s “Sunday Polka Time,” a fixture at the station, continues after Niecko’s departure with Hank Kulesa hosting.

Up in the Catskills, they’re mourning Bob Ackershoek, one of the founding DJs at community station WIOX (90.1 Roxbury). Ackershoek was on vacation in South Carolina when he suffered a heart attack. He died early Friday morning, at age 62.

Down the Hudson Valley, there’s a memorial service set for Caroline Corley, the WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) morning host who died just after Thanksgiving. “The Peak” will remember Corley with a tribute tomorrow night at Garcia’s bar in Port Chester. “We’ll raise a glass – we’ll laugh – we’ll cry a little and we’ll remember our friend,” the station said in announcing the event.

*There’s still been no official announcement out of eastern MASSACHUSETTS, but it appears that one of the few live, local overnight talk slots anywhere in America once again has a permanent host.

Bradley Jay (photo: WBZ)
Bradley Jay (photo: WBZ)

After Steve LeVeille’s retirement in mid-2012, WBZ (1030) took a full year to name a full-time replacement for its weekday midnight-to-5 show, using a rotating group that included Sunday night host Bradley Jay before settling on former WRKO host Jen Brien. As NERW readers know, Brien’s stint at WBZ didn’t end happily, with the station pulling the plug on her show after just three months punctuated by several absences. And after returning to the fill-in rotation, WBZ has now handed the overnight shift to “Jay Talking,” moving Jay from his Sunday night role (and his weekday position as executive producer of Dan Rea’s “Nightside” talk show) to the early-morning hours.

It’s not yet clear what happens to Jay’s former Sunday 10 PM-midnight spot in the long run; WBZ has already replaced the two hours of syndicated Kim Komando computer talk that used to run from 8-10 PM with paid programming. On Sunday night, the 10-midnight slot this past weekend was occupied by Todd Feinburg, another ex-WRKO talker, identifying the slot only as “Sunday night talk.”

*It was another big week for awards in VERMONT: not only do we have Louie Manno’s Hall of Fame induction speech from the Vermont Association of Broadcasters dinner to show you, right here, but there’s also the very big honor the week brought for Ken Squier’s WDEV (550 Waterbury)/WDEV-FM (96.1 Warren). On Thursday, the Vermont Press Association, which represents the state’s print media, honored Squier and WDEV with their Matthew Lyon Award, recognizing the station’s commitment to the First Amendment and public service. It’s a rare honor these days for a radio station…but then, WDEV is a rare radio station indeed, with its huge focus on local news in central Vermont.

wmyf*On the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast, we belatedly note a format change at Clear Channel’s WMYF (1380 Portsmouth), which dropped “the Sports Animal” and flipped to standards at the beginning of October, branding as “America’s Best Music.” The sports format continues down the road at sister station WPKX (930 Rochester), which runs Fox Sports Radio.

On the other side of the Granite State, WTSL (1400 Lebanon)/WTSV (1230 Claremont) has pulled the plug on the Saturday morning “Sports Buzz with Rich and Woody” show, which has been heard for six years on WTSL/WTSV and at times on sister stations WWOD (93.9 Woodstock VT)/WFYX (96.3 Walpole) and WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough/Concord). The show, hosted by golfer Rich Parker and former Red Sox pitcher Rob Woodward, aired its last episode this past weekend.

*Viewers in MAINE, western Massachusetts and other far-flung parts of New England have long turned to Needham-based New England Cable News to provide a broader regional news service than they typically get from their local stations. So it was surprising to some Time Warner Cable customers in markets such as Portland and the Berkshires to find out that NECN will disappear from their lineups at the start of 2014. TWC says the move was based on factors that included cost and unique viewership, but many viewers are blaming the removal on the rivalry between TWC and Comcast, which now owns NECN.

*In RHODE ISLAND, the official word from Cumulus talker WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) is that talker John DePetro was on vacation last week…but when the only public statement DePetro was issuing on his website was a PDF of a statement written by his lawyer, it was clear something was brewing around the controversial host.

wrko-depetro-smDePetro’s been facing static from the left since he used the terms “union hags” and “whores” (spelled out, just in case) while criticizing a protest by public employees over proposed pension overhauls; in doing so, he touched the nerves of some powerful unions, which have banded together to fund an unusually well-organized protest against the host. By Friday, that protest had evolved into a boycott, with current governor Lincoln Chafee, his potential Republican opponent Ken Block, the mayors of Providence and Cranston and several other public officials all saying they won’t appear on any WPRO show if DePetro’s still with the station.

DePetro, meanwhile, says he was threatened with physical violence outside the station; his lawyer’s statement says “attempts to suppress the free expression of speech…is [sic] antithetical to the United States Constitution.” Will he be back behind the WPRO microphone this week? Stay tuned…

*An update on the new oldies station on the Rhode Island/CONNECTICUT line: John J. Fuller’s new “Kool 1180” is boasting “25,000 watts of power” – but not thanks to the 1800 daytime watts of WSKP (1180 Hope Valley); rather, because it’s being simulcast on the HD3 channel of Fuller’s newly power-boosted WBMW (106.5 Pawcatuck CT). The HD2 on WBMW, “US 99.5 Country,” is heard in the region on a powerful translator. Will Fuller find one for “Kool,” too, to restore the oldies format to the area once served by another “Kool,” WKNL (100.9 New London CT), which flipped to hot AC as “Roxy” a year ago?

*Radio People on the move in eastern PENNSYLVANIA: big congratulations go out to Jeff Sottolano, whose career got started here in Rochester at WZNE (94.1). More recently, Jeff’s been at the helm of a more potent 94.1, CBS Radio’s all-sports WIP-FM – and now he’s been promoted to a corporate position as CBS Radio’s VP of programming, based in New York City.

Over at Radio One’s cluster in Bala Cynwyd (WRNB 100.3, WPPZ 103.9 and WPHI 107.9), Shawneen Thompson is the new VP/GM, inbound from Radio One’s St. Louis stations, where she’s held the same title since July.

It’s all about Samanthas elsewhere in the region: at Beasley’s WRDW (Wired 96.5), Samantha Sylvia moves up from marketing/promotions coordinator to promotions director, filling the void left when Bethany Kent moved up to WQHT in New York. At Clear Channel’s WZZO (95.1 Bethlehem), veteran Lehigh Valley talent Samantha Layne is back on the air as afternoon jock. Layne, who also takes over as WZZO’s promotions director, was across town on WODE (99.9 the Hawk) for 13 years.

wwsiOn TV, NBC/Comcast is taking full control of newly-purchased Telemundo affiliate WWSI (Channel 62), and that now includes a site change and a local news launch. Since it signed on in 2001, Atlantic City-licensed WWSI has operated from the tallest tower in NEW JERSEY, a 1000-footer in Tuckerton, but the move to digital made it possible to move closer to Philadelphia. WWSI’s digital signal on RF 49 made that move last week, increasing power from 130 kW to 860 kW from the tower farm in Waterford Works, NJ that’s also home to public station WNJS (Channel 23) and independents WACP (Channel 4) and WMCN (Channel 44). (The Waterford Works site was also the analog home of WWSI’s Univision competitor, WUVP channel 65, which now operates digitally from Philadelphia’s Roxborough tower farm.) In the spring, WWSI will add a local newscast at 6 and 11 PM, produced in conjunction with NBC’s WCAU (Channel 10) and competing with WUVP’s local news.

*CANADA has taken a cautious approach, to say the least, when it comes to launching the HD Radio digital transmission system. Several border stations have tested the FM HD system, and it’s been running experimentally in recent months on CING (95.3) in Hamilton, more to test its data delivery capabilities than any of its audio features. Until now, nobody in Canada has made use of HD multicasting, in part because it’s much more complex for Canadian stations to run additional audio services. (Even analog subcarrier audio, known in Canada as “SCMO,” has to be specifically authorized by the CRTC; in the US, FM stations can run SCA without any special permission.)

But there’s word from a Toronto reader this week that ethnic CJSA (101.3) is running three program streams on four HD channels. In addition to its main programming (mostly aimed at South Asian audiences) on HD-1, there’s separate programming in stereo on 101.3-HD2, simulcast in mono on HD3 and with yet another separate program(me) on HD4.

*Just up the dial at a much bigger Toronto station, Dean Blundell has been suspended from his morning show on Corus’ CFNY (102.1 the Edge). The show was pulled off the air Thursday after a National Post columnist began raising questions about segments Blundell had been doing with a producer who was a juror on a high-profile sexual assault case. In a terse statement, Corus said it had pulled the show for now to “review our internal practices to ensure that our programming is compliant with our station’s policies, as well as community and broadcast standards.”

Leigh Chapple (photo: CTV)
Leigh Chapple (photo: CTV)

*In Ottawa, they’re mourning a veteran TV news anchor after her sudden death. Leigh Chapple was the late-night anchor on CTV’s CJOH (Channel 13) for nearly 30 years when she retired in May 2012, not long after marrying CJOH editor Dean Holmes. He found Chapple Tuesday morning, not breathing, and by the time paramedics arrived at their home, she was dead at age 58.

Chapple, who’d also been an instructor at Algonquin College, had spent 36 years in all at CJOH, hired away from CHOV-TV (Channel 5) in Pembroke in 1976 to be a secretary to longtime CJOH anchor Max Keeping.

*On the Niagara Peninsula, RB Communications is asking the CRTC for a sister station to its classic rock CIXL (91.7 GIANT FM). RB’s application for a second Welland station requests 564 watts average/3100 watts max DA/130.5 meters, with a country format. That would revive the longtime format heard on the old CHOW (1470 Welland), ancestor to today’s CIXL. There’s another pair of 89.1 applications north of Toronto, where community station CHES (88.1 Erin) is requesting a 50-watt repeater on that frequency in Orangeville. My Broadcasting’s application for 338 watts (625 watts max DA) on 101.5 in Orangeville has also been revived for CRTC consideration after being withdrawn, and My is requesting 89.1 as an alternate frequency if the CRTC won’t grant it 101.5.

Closer to Toronto, Evanov’s CIAO (530 Brampton) is applying to go from two towers to a single non-directional tower, still with 1,000 watts by day and 250 watts at night. With no other full-power stations on the frequency anywhere closer than Cuba, CIAO enjoys amazing coverage with that signal, which continues to emanate from the Halton Hills site that was home to CIAO’s predecessor, CKMW (790).

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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 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: December 17, 2012

*Every broadcaster – every newsperson, anyway – dreams of the day when the “big story” will hit, when the nation’s eyes will land on their market for a few hours or a few days and they can show their skills to a larger audience. But it’s safe to say that no broadcaster, no newsperson, dreams of finding themselves where newspeople did on Friday as the tragic news began to emerge from Newtown, CONNECTICUT.

There’s nothing at all that we can say about that event itself (as we look across the room at our own young children) that hasn’t been said elsewhere, and better. And it happens that your editor was traveling for much of the day on Friday and missed the initial coverage. The best we can offer, then, is some brief observations of the coverage we’ve seen and heard about.

The TV stations in the Hartford/New Haven market, as well as those from nearby New York City and other surrounding markets, went – and have remained – wall-to-wall with their coverage, and for much of Friday the networks followed suit, preempting most of the daytime hours and carrying specials in the evening.

On radio, several stations in the region went wall to wall with their coverage right away, most notably Hartford’s WTIC (1080) and New York’s all-news WCBS (880) and WINS (1010). You’d expect the all-news stations to do that, of course, but it was more of a surprise to find New York’s WEPN-FM (98.7) and WFAN (660) breaking from their sports formats to take calls. On the FM music side, many stations in the region also dropped format and kept morning teams in place to talk to listeners and relay information, including Clear Channel’s WKSS (95.7) from Hartford and WKCI (101.3) from New Haven. We note, too, that at WPLR (99.1 New Haven) and WFOX (95.9 Norwalk), the morning team of Chaz and AJ dropped plans to be on vacation this week; instead, they’re sticking around to help with extended coverage of the aftermath, including a live broadcast last night of the Newtown memorial service.

*At the start of 2012, the talk radio market in eastern MASSACHUSETTS was a crowded one indeed. Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston), with three decades in the format, squared off against its Greater Media FM competitor of more than a decade, WTKK (96.9 Boston) and a newer entry from Clear Channel, WXKS (1200 Newton). Despite pulling big-name hosts including Rush Limbaugh over from WRKO, WXKS didn’t make enough of a dent in the market to survive, and it soon flipped to a low-budget syndicated comedy format, returning Limbaugh to WRKO and giving that station a shot in the arm as it ramped into a busy election season and launched a new morning show.

That left Greater Media’s WTKK as the ratings laggard in the format, and as 2012 draws to a close, it appears the company may be ready to pull the plug on “NewsTalk 96.9.” That’s what our colleagues over at RadioInsight have pieced together from a series of new domain registrations made over the last few weeks. What do “969theBeat.com,” “969BostonsBeat.com” and other similar domains point to? Insight’s Lance Venta believes – and Greater Media hasn’t exactly denied – that the next move for 96.9 will be some sort of rhythmic, urban or top-40 format. That’s also a crowded arena, up against Clear Channel’s powerful “Kiss”/”Jam’n” combo and CBS Radio’s more recent entry, WODS (Amp Radio 103.3), but it offers a much more appealing demographic for sales than the aging talk audience does.

There’s a talent pool available for a new rhythmic launch, in part thanks to recent Clear Channel exits: longtime WJMN morning co-host Pebbles is gone from “Jam’n” in the latest round of cuts there, and we’re not alone in noting that longtime WJMN/Kiss programmer “Cadillac Jack” McCartney is also on the market after his recent departure from Clear Channel in New York.

*The first of several prominent obituaries in this week’s column comes from western Massachusetts, where we’re saddened to share news of the death of Tom Jaworski, known to generations of listeners in the southern Berkshires as “Tom Jay” on WSBS (860 Great Barrington). From 1967 until 2008, Tom was WSBS’ news director and at times its chief engineer as well. He suffered a heart attack on December 6 and never recovered, dying last Wednesday (Dec. 12) at a hospital in Springfield. Jaworski was 70.

*Down the road in Waterbury, Connecticut, a former owner of several area broadcast stations has died. Preston Gilmore became part of the WATR (1320 Waterbury) family in 1950 when he married Florence Thomas, the only child of WATR founder Harold Thomas. Under Gilmore, WATR grew to include not only the original AM station but also an FM station (now WWYZ 92.5) and a TV outlet (originally WATR-TV 53, now WCCT-TV 20), as well as a second AM station, WNAB (1450 Bridgeport, now WCUM). The company eventually sold off everything but the original AM station, now in the hands of Gilmore’s sons Mark and Steven. Preston Gilmore died December 10th, at age 89.

*How about a surprise weekend format change? Hall Communications was secretive indeed about its flip in the New London market, where midnight this morning brought the end of the long-running oldies format on “Kool 100.9″ WKNL, which relaunches as hot AC “Roxy FM.” Much more on this one as the week progresses, no doubt.

*In MAINE, there’s another format change on the way in the Bangor market in the new year. We already know something new is coming to Stephen King’s WZLO (103.1 Dover-Foxcroft, ex-WZON-FM) when the Christmas music ends, and now there’s word from Townsquare that it will flip WEZQ (92.9 Bangor) from AC to sports as “92.9 the Ticket” on January 1. Dale Duff and Clem LaBree will host mornings, with ESPN Radio filling the rest of the day. The new “Ticket” will also carry Boston Bruins hockey (at least in theory) and Patriots football.

*Remember the big story three years ago about a very creative attempt to get new TV signals on the air in the New York City and Philadelphia markets by way of an obscure piece of legislation guaranteeing VHF allocations to the states of NEW JERSEY and Delaware? PMCM LLC, an arm of Jersey-based Press Communications, had cannily noted that the DTV transition moved both states’ lone commercial TV allocations over to the UHF spectrum, leaving open the possibility of invoking Section 331 of the Communications Act. That’s the bit of legislation that was inserted back in the 1980s to allow RKO to sell WOR-TV (Channel 9) by changing its city of license from New York to Secaucus, N.J., where it became WWOR- and with WWOR now on RF channel 38, Press applied to move KVNV (Channel 3) from Ely, Nevada to Middletown Township, N.J. (with a transmitter on Manhattan’s Four Times Square) and KJWY (Channel 2) from Jackson, Wyoming to Wilmington, Delaware (with its transmitter in Philadelphia’s Roxborough tower farm).

The FCC denied the applications, ruling that “reallocation” implied that the new allocation be mutually exclusive with the old one. That was indeed the case with WWOR, but would not have been the case with KVNV and KJWY. PMCM pushed for a ruling by the full Commission, which also turned down the applications – and in the meantime, the Media Bureau went ahead and created its own new VHF allocations in New Jersey and Delaware at less-favorable locations for serving adjacent big markets. One of those signals, WACP (Channel 4), is now on the air from Atlantic City.

PMCM, meanwhile, went to the courts for relief, and last week a federal appeals court in Washington agreed with its interpretation of Section 331, remanding the case to the FCC with an order to approve the KVNV and KJWY moves.

Where does this bizarre case go from here? If there’s no appeal from the FCC, it presumably means the New York area will soon have a new Channel 3, while Philadelphia will have a new Channel 2…and if WACP is any sort of precedent, both stations will probably be more likely to carry infomercials than anything actually serving their communities of license. (They will, however, be entitled to must-carry on cable and satellite, which is a good thing considering how poor their over-the-air signals will likely be.)

Five Years Ago: December 15, 2008

It’s been almost 18 years since a massive ice storm paralyzed us here in the Rochester area, leaving some areas without power for more than two weeks. And it’s been just over a decade since an even more massive ice storm struck an area stretching from northern New York up through eastern Ontario and into much of Quebec, knocking power out to some areas for as long as a month. By those standards, the ice storm that hit central MASSACHUSETTS, southern VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE on Friday was relatively minor – but even “relatively” minor is still a big deal for people everywhere from Fitchburg to Lowell to Peterborough to White River Junction, for whom it could still be a while before things are back to normal.

The good news is that, at least as this column is being written on Sunday night, there are no reports of any downed towers in the region. What the massive power outages are demonstrating, however, is a surprisingly large number of stations apparently lacking working generators at either studio or transmitter sites. Much of the Worcester market was knocked off the air in the storm’s first hours, including both news-talk AMs, Clear Channel’s WTAG (580) and Carter’s WCRN (830). WCRN remained off through Saturday, but WTAG was soon back on the air with nonstop emergency information, and still going strong late Sunday. There have been widespread power outages along much of the Route 2 corridor to the north, with numerous stations off the air everywhere from Athol to Fitchburg to Lowell and Lawrence.

Across the New Hampshire line, the worst of the outages have been on the state’s western edge; there were numerous reports of stations off the air from Peterborough and Keene up through the Upper Valley, where most of the market’s stations were still silent on Saturday afternoon. (Notable exceptions were Nassau’s WHDQ 106.1 Claremont and Bob Vinikoor’s cluster, where WNTK/WUVR in the New London/Hanover area, WCNL in Newport and WCFR in Springfield, Vermont were all on the air through most of the storm and its aftermath with local news and information.)

On with the rest of the week’s news, starting with more big changes in Boston morning radio, where CBS Radio abruptly pulled the plug on WBMX (98.5 Boston) morning man John Lander after his Thursday show. In addition to Lander, who’d been at Mix since 1996, when he replaced Joe Martelle, sidekicks Kelly Malone, Alicia Love and weather guy Mike Ellis are all gone. Who’s next for morning drive at the hot AC station? Over at Boston Radio Watch, Mark reports that Karson Tager, late of WHBQ-FM (107.5) in Memphis, will be coming to Boston in January along with his former co-host Kennedy Elsey, who’s still at the Memphis station for now – and he says the new “Karson and Kennedy” show will be aiming for a younger demographic than Lander attracted. (Unspoken in that is the assumption that they’ll work cheaper, too…)

On the TV side of things, we note the start of local HD newscasts at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and sister station WSBK (Channel 38) on Thursday, which we believe leaves only Fox’s WFXT (Channel 25) as a major local-news player in Boston without HD. But WFXT has bigger concerns at the moment: after many months fighting problems with its aging analog transmission system, we’re hearing that WFXT’s analog signal finally gave up the ghost for good last week, leaving only WFXT-DT (RF 31), which is not yet at full power. Interestingly, WFXT had just last month submitted an STA application to the FCC asking for reduced analog power (293 kW visual) through the end of the transition period, due to “recent, partial damage to the licensed antenna.”

Another Bay State analog TV station – albeit one that mainly serves RHODE ISLAND viewers – has gone dark. New Bedford-licensed WLWC (Channel 28), the CW affiliate for the Providence market, turned off its analog transmitter on December 9, leaving WLWC-DT 22 behind.

A veteran PENNSYLVANIA jock is back on the air: Greater Media has hired Glenn Kalina as the morning man on WNUW (97.5 Burlington NJ), making “Now 97.5” the latest stop in a career that’s included WZZD, WCAU-FM, WIFI, WIOQ, WLCE and WMWX. Kalina starts at “Now” on January 5.

Ten Years Ago: December 15, 2003

The longest-running DJ on a single station in Rochester – and, we think, in all of NEW YORK – was shot to death Friday night in what appeared to be a robbery attempt. “Unkle Roger” McCall joined the staff of WCMF (96.5 Rochester) in 1974, and for most of the three decades that followed he served as the rock station’s overnight jock and as the resident expert on local music, hosting the “Homegrown” show that spawned several CDs along the way. Police say McCall was collecting rent payments from tenants in a house he owned on Madison Street in Rochester when he was shot in the torso about 5:50 Friday evening.

As the news broke on Saturday, WCMF’s jocks took to the air for a spontaneous remembrance of their colleague. It will continue throughout this week, when WCMF will open its phone lines each night at 10 for listeners to call in with memories of McCall. “He was one of the most beautiful people anybody has ever known,” said WCMF morning host Alan “Brother Wease” Levin. “I am positive Unkle Roger didn’t have one enemy in the world,” he told WROC-TV (Channel 8). McCall, who was 59, is survived by his wife Denise and son Jason. At press time, no arrests had been made in the killing. (2008 update: Five years later, still no arrests, sadly.)

The northern half of Syracuse’s “TK 99/TK 105” classic rock simulcast wants to move south. WTKV (105.5 Oswego) has already been granted a reallocation to Granby, in southern Oswego County, and now the Galaxy station has applied for new facilities just south of Fulton. If the move is approved, WTKV would move from its current 4kw/121m just south of Oswego to a new tower on Wilcox Road, just off NY 48, about 10 miles closer to Syracuse, where it would run 3.9kw/125m. (2008 update: The move never happened, scotched by an FCC policy edict – for which this was the test case – that prohibits stations from moving if they’re grandfathered above current ownership limits, as WTKV is.)

Here in Rochester, contemporary Christian WDCZ (102.7 Webster) will take on a new identity January 1, when the station changes calls to WRCI. The old calls came from the now-defunct simulcast with Buffalo sister station WDCX; now “The Light” wants calls that better reflect its identity as a Rochester Christian station.

Our best wishes go out to former Buffalo jock Tony Magoo (WJJL, WPHD, WBYR), who’s suffering from a form of cancer (“metastatic squamous cell carcinoma”) that’s had him undergoing intensive radiation and chemotherapy and losing his teeth. That’s bad enough – but on top of all that, he was fired from his job as morning host at Citadel’s WFBE (95.1 Flint MI) a couple of weeks ago. There’ll be a benefit auction for Magoo next month; stay tuned for all the details. (2008 update: Magoo is still in remission, at last word.)

A busy broadcast week in MAINE – and before we get to the update on the WMGX/WYNZ tower collapse, we have the arrival of a brand new player on the New England ownership scene.
Nassau Broadcasting, until now confined to New Jersey and Pennsylvania (with a brief foray into upstate New York and Connecticut), is paying $18.3 million for the six stations of Mariner Broadcasting. Louis Vitali and Alexander and Woody Tanger had assembled a cluster that included four classical “W-Bach” stations (WBQQ 99.3 Kennebunk, WBQW 106.3 Scarborough-Portland, WBQX 106.9 Thomaston, WBQI 107.7 Bar Harbor), standards WBYA (105.5 Islesboro) and soft AC WQEZ (104.7 Kennebunkport). Will Nassau keep the classical format? Stay tuned…

On to the Portland tower collapse: as we told you in last Thursday’s NERW Update, the 528-foot tower of WMGX (93.1 Portland) and WYNZ (100.9 Westbook) came crashing to the ground last Thursday afternoon, smashing several cars and trucks and narrowly missing a beer distributor’s warehouse. (Though the tower was within a few hundred yards of I-295, the pull of its guy wires kept the wreckage confined to within a few hundred feet of the tower base and well away from the busy highway.)

WYNZ’s oldies stayed on the air from an auxiliary site, but WMGX went silent when the tower went down. (Fortunately, the Arbitron book had just ended a day earlier!) WMGX quickly turned to Saga sister station WPOR (101.9 Portland), whose site on Blackstrap Hill north of town sprouted a new set of antenna bays on Friday, as WMGX set up shop there with a temporary facility that allowed it to be back on the air barely 24 hours after the tower collapse.

What brought down the tower, which was only 17 years old? They’re still investigating – but weather didn’t appear to be a factor; there wasn’t any snow on the ground and winds were relatively light. The next step for the stations will be to rebuild, likely on the same site and probably quite soon if all goes well with the insurance company. (2008 update: A new tower was indeed built, close to the site of the old one.)

VERMONT’s UPN affiliate appears to have met its demise: we’d heard that WBVT-LP (Channel 39) in Burlington and its relay stations were having financial problems, and now we’re told that the stations are broadcasting an error message slate. The station’s Web site has gone dark as well. (We’d also note that cable systems across the Green Mountain State carry Boston’s WSBK, so UPN fans aren’t completely out of luck.)

The newest talk station in PENNSYLVANIA is taking shape: sometime after the holidays, what’s now WJJJ (104.7 Pittsburgh) will be reborn as “WPGB,” and in addition to Jim Quinn’s morning show, it’ll carry Glenn Beck (9-noon), Neal Boortz (noon-3), Sean Hannity (3-6) and Michael Savage (8-11 PM). Clear Channel is reportedly seeking a local host for 6-8 PM, as well as overnight and weekend programming.

The Pittsburgh moves are resonating to the west in Wheeling, WEST VIRGINIA, where three more staffers have departed WWVA (1170) in the wake of the dismissal of morning man Jim Harrington last week. Talk host George Kellas and news director Tammy Beagle lost their jobs – and reporter Dave Demerest followed them out the door in protest. WWVA will simulcast WPGB’s morning show, with local news inserts – and it sounds as though some of the rest of WWVA’s day will now come from the Pittsburgh talk station as well. Meanwhile, Quinn himself will be replaced by the syndicated “Bob and Tom” show at his present home base of WRRK (96.9 Braddock), effective January 1.

Fifteen Years Ago: December 18, 1998

Must be the first big snowfall of the season, because suddenly things are hopping up in VERMONT.
Most of this week’s action in the Burlington market happened with the Capstar stations, and it started with a new home for two of them. Last Sunday (12/13), rocker WCPV (101.3 Essex NY) and sports-hot talk WXPS (96.7 Vergennes)/WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY) moved in with AC WEZF (92.9 Burlington) at Fort Ethan Allen. The facility includes three air studios and three production studios.

Next shoe dropping: WXPS/WEAV’s new studios came with a new format. On Monday, the talk (with the exception of Imus in the Morning) disappeared, replaced by “KIX” hot country. The new format is the first in-market challenge to the dominance of Hall’s WOKO (98.9 Burlington), the longtime market leader. PD Brian Ashton, from WCPV, handles 2-7 PM duties, while Tim Buskey is on air from 10-2 and the syndicated Nashville Nights show is on in the evening.

And the third shoe (?) dropped with a transmitter move for WXPS that will give it better coverage of Burlington. From its old site in Westport NY, WXPS moves to Willsboro NY and Rattlesnake Mountain with 1500 watts at 740 feet AAT. In the process, WXPS’ city of license changes to Willsboro NY from Vergennes VT.

There’s still more news in the Burlington market: Vermont Public Radio is wrapping up the first week of a month-long experiment aimed at bringing VPR listeners a second public radio service. “VPR World Channel” will run from Dec. 14 until Jan. 14 on WWPV (88.7 Colchester), the St. Michael’s College station that would otherwise have been dark during the school’s holiday. Programming on “World Channel” includes BBC World Service, CBC’s As It Happens, The World (from WGBH and PRI), The Connection (from WBUR), and other international programming from WRN. NERW wonders: How does the proposed VPR-New Hampshire Public Radio second service in the Upper Valley fit in with this experiment?

Nothing from the Granite State this week, but we’ll stay in ski country and head to MAINE, where Cumulus Media added three more stations to its Bangor-area group late this week. The upstart group owner will pay $4 million to buy standards WDEA (1370 Ellsworth), soft AC WEZQ (92.9 Bangor), and oldies/Imus WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) from Dudman Communications. Cumulus already owns country gaint WQCB (106.5 Brewer) and CHR WBZN (107.3 Old Town) in the market, as well as five stations in Central Maine. NERW’s sorry to see Dudman get sold — group head Martha Dudman has been an industry leader through her work with the NAB and other trade organizations — but at the same time, we’ve got to admit that Cumulus has done a decent job with its strategy of small-market clusters.

NEW YORK’s big news begins with a $7.5 million station sale in Albany. Paul Bendat is cashing out on WABY (1400), WKLI (100.9), WABY-FM (94.5 Ravena), and WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg), which go to Tele-Media of Eastern New York. No word yet of any format or personnel changes at standards WABY AM-FM or the hot AC “K-100” simulcast.

Downstate, a heritage call sign is back on the air for the first time in a few years. WYNY, last heard with the demise of country music on 103.5 Lake Success-New York, is the new callsign for what was WWXY (107.1 Briarcliff Manor), the north suburban part of Big City Media’s “Y-107” quadcast. (Oddly, Big City’s press release calls the new WYNY-FM just “New York,” and almost every single trade we’ve seen has swallowed it whole…) The other three parts of the 107.1 simulcast — WWVY Hampton Bays, L.I.; WWYY Belvidere NJ; and WWZY Long Branch NJ — keep their calls.

WNEW (102.7 New York) has hired Steve Mason as its new morning host. Mason comes from Jacor’s “XTRA Sports” (XETRA Tijuana/KXTA Los Angeles) out West, and was also the last host of the “Late Late Radio Show” on CBS. By the way, we neglected to mention last week that Scott Muni’s new Big Apple radio home is at classic rocker WAXQ (104.3).

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