In this week’s issue…WWRL to drop progressive talk – Long Island FMs sold – Hudson Valley AM to go dark? – FCC sorts out LPFM MX groups – And read all the way to the end…because Year in Review 2013 is coming!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*One of the oldest radio stations in NEW YORK is undergoing a big format shuffle for the New Year. No, not WOR (710), though we’ll have more to say about its impending changes in just a bit. The change that came as a surprise when news began to emerge last week was a flip at the top of the dial, up at Access.1 Communications’ WWRL (1600 New York).
That signal still lives on in many New Yorkers’ memories as the home of R&B music in the 1970s and 1980s, but for the last few years the former “Super Soul 16” has become primarily a clearinghouse for syndicated progressive talk personalities seeking airtime in the nation’s biggest market.
After local morning host Marc Riley (a holdover from the old Air America days down the dial on WLIB 1190) and two hours of mid-morning leased time, WWRL has been carrying a lineup that has included Ed Schultz at noon, Thom Hartmann at 3 PM, Randi Rhodes at 6 PM, two more hours of leased time at 8, and then Phil Hendrie, Leslie Marshall and Alan Colmes overnight, with Caribbean music on the weekends.
That will apparently come to an end in January: WWRL’s hosts have reportedly been told that they’ll be replaced with some sort of Spanish-language programming, though the station hasn’t yet revealed any details of its new format.
Even granted that WWRL has been barely a blip in the New York ratings for years (thanks in no small part to an antenna array that seems to send as much signal upward as outward), this flip comes as most unwelcome news to the stalwarts still trying to make a go of the progressive talk format. Many of those same syndicated hosts will also lose their Los Angeles outlet next week, when Clear Channel flips KTLK (1150 Los Angeles) from progressive talk to conservative talk as the new LA home of Rush Limbaugh. Absent a new New York progressive talk voice – and one seems unlikely right now – most of those hosts will now have Chicago’s WCPT as their largest remaining outlet.
The ongoing slow shuffle of the AM talk dial in New York City took one big step last week: on Tuesday, Salem’s WMCA (570 New York) and WNYM (970 Hackensack) made their first broadcasts from their new studio home at 111 Broadway, the facility that had been home to WOR (710) for the last few years. The move returned WMCA to the east side of the Hudson after several decades in a studio facility in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, and NERW thinks it may be the first time in the long, long history of the Jersey-licensed 970 signal that it’s had its main studio in New York.
Uptown at WOR’s new home at Sixth and Canal, John R. Gambling said farewell to his listeners Friday morning, signing off an 88-year legacy of John Gamblings in New York morning radio, most of it right there on WOR. Gambling’s grandfather, John B., launched “Rambling with Gambling” way back in 1925, handed it off to his son John A. in 1959, and then John R. came on board in 1985 and became solo host in 1991. John R. moved over to WABC (770) in 2000, but returned to WOR in 2008.
Gambling’s last show included an exit interview with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s also leaving his job at year’s end. He signed off just before 10 AM Friday by playing “Happy Trails to You,” closing the books on decades of middle-of-the-road talk at 710 on the dial.
The “new” WOR, of course, launches in January with Elliot Segal rocking morning drive in search of a much younger audience than the one that tuned in to Gambling and his news anchor, J.J. Kennedy, who’s also retiring from radio with the end of the Gambling show.
The 2014 Tower Site Calendar is ready to send for YOU (or someone else), 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!
Click here to order your 2014 calendar! We’re now shipping daily, so you can have your calendar on your wall before it’s time to flip the page from 2013 into 2014…
AND SPEAKING OF 2014…
This is the last regular NERW column for 2013. We’ll be updating breaking news throughout the holidays on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed, and we’ll be talking about breaking news over at the RadioInsight Community, the new place where radio talks about radio. We’ll also have a new Tower Site of the Week column this Friday and next Friday, right here on fybush.com!
We’ll be back with a full NERW column on Monday, January 6, 2014.
In the meantime, we’re getting rolling with NERW’s big 2013 Year in Review package. It begins here on fybush.com tomorrow, December 24, and will appear in installments through New Year’s Day.
There’s still space available for your ad. It’s a great way to reach readers when the rest of the radio trade world is on vacation, and our rates are surprisingly affordable. Talk to Lisa about a package that works for you!
Thanks again for all the support our readers and advertisers have shown us throughout a difficult 2013. We’re looking forward to an exciting 2014…complete with NERW’s 20th anniversary in the spring. Stay tuned!
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 21, 2012
*If any broadcaster has perfected the art of nuclear-level security surrounding a format flip, it’s Clear Channel in eastern MASSACHUSETTS. For several months after announcing its purchase of the former WFNX (101.7 Lynn) earlier this year, Clear somehow managed to keep almost everyone from sniffing out its plans to install an automated adult hits format on what became “101.7 the Harbor,” WHBA.
And after just five months with that format, Clear Channel pulled out an even bigger surprise on Thursday night at 6, when it abruptly drained “The Harbor” and flipped WHBA to electronic dance music (EDM), essentially using the signal as a terrestrial simulcast of “Evolution,” the company’s online dance station that’s been running for the last few months on the iHeartRadio platform.
There are few groups of music fans as passionate about their genre as EDM aficionados, who were celebrating the terrestrial launch of “101.7 the Evolution” within minutes after the surprise flip. But there were also cautionary voices pointing out that Clear Channel’s commitment to the format in Boston may be only temporary. So what gives – is this a stunt or for real?
The Harbor, first off, was at least a qualified success given the relatively low stakes. The 101.7 signal, a class A facility broadcasting from One Financial Center in downtown Boston, sold for $11 million – not small change, to be sure, but far less than Clear Channel or anyone else would have paid for it just a few years ago. As a less-than-full-market player, the expectation was that Clear Channel would use 101.7 as a flanker to its much bigger FM sisters, top 40 WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and rhythmic top 40 WJMN (Jam’n 94.5). Those two stations have long enjoyed a near-monopoly of the youngest demographics in Boston radio, and everything else the Clear Channel Boston cluster does takes place in the context of protecting their revenue stream.
Without a local airstaff or much promotion, “Harbor” was surely an inexpensive format to run, and a profitable one even with ratings that hovered in the mid 1-shares. It probably could have stayed on the air, living its unremarkable radio existence, for quite a while longer – if one of the market’s other big clusters weren’t itself in the midst of what looks like a format shift. Over at Greater Media, there’s still no confirmation that WTKK (96.9) will be abandoning its talk format after 13 years, even after the abrupt departure of midmorning host Doug Meehan on Monday. (He’s pursuing a “major-market TV opportunity” yet to be disclosed.) The domain-registration hounds over at RadioInsight quickly tracked down plenty of leads pointing to a rhythmic format landing at 96.9 in the new year, and that potential threat in turn appears to have prompted Clear Channel to make that speedy flip on 101.7.
So if you follow that theory, 101.7 – and by extension, the EDM community – is being used very much as a pawn in a bigger game. By lining up three younger-demo formats (Kiss, Jam’n and now Evolution) as a roadblock, Clear Channel apparently hopes to push Greater Media in a different direction with 96.9. That could mean staying the course with talk after all, or it could mean picking up adult hits to fill Harbor’s void.
It’s also possible, of course, that we’re not giving Clear Channel’s national format team enough credit here. As EDM fans won’t hesitate to tell you, their electronic music really did catch a piece of mainstream fire in 2012, with top-40 hit after top-40 hit incorporating the work of dance artists. There’s not a lot of overlap between the EDM crowd and the audience that tunes in to a more urban-leaning top-40 such as Jam’n. And 101.7′s signal, while limited, does reach most of the colleges and clubs where “Evolution” is most likely to find an audience. So it’s not at all out of the question that this is more than just a stunt – or perhaps, even, something that starts as a stunt and ends up doing well enough to stick around for a while…at least until there’s some other potential threat to Kiss and Jam’n that needs to be countered more urgently. (2013 update: The dance beats are still playing, a year later…and Greater Media still went right up against Jam’n and Kiss, anyway.)
*Meanwhile in NEW YORK, the week before Christmas brought a less pleasant surprise for many staffers at WOR (710). On Wednesday, Clear Channel closed on its $30 million purchase of the talker from Buckley, and as is typical in such deals, that meant the end of employment for Buckley’s staff, with only some of them being offered jobs with the new ownership. WOR morning man John Gambling survived, as did veteran midday host Joan Hamburg, but several other prominent talk hosts are out: Dr. Joy Browne, who was heard both locally on WOR and in syndication, is gone, as is former New York governor David Paterson, who’d been doing afternoons. WOR’s news staff is gone, replaced by Clear Channel’s Total Traffic service. Behind the scenes, we’re hearing at least one engineer and many of the station’s board operators weren’t picked up by Clear Channel, leading to some chaos as WOR’s remaining operations staff tried to figure out how to keep things running in the short term.
WOR’s syndicated lineup is changing as well: Mike Gallagher (mid-mornings), Jerry Doyle (6-8 PM) and Mike Huckabee (8-10 PM) are off the schedule, leading to an expected flip of syndicated product between Cumulus’ WABC (which is expected to pick up Huckabee) and WOR, where Clear Channel is expected to install much of its Premiere talk lineup, including, possibly, the flagship Rush Limbaugh show that’s been a WABC institution. And by mid-2013, it’s also expected that WOR will relocate from its current 111 Broadway studios to the Clear Channel cluster facility at 32 Avenue of the Americas. Stay tuned; we’re sure to have much more on this one in the new year.
*Upstate, Friday night marks the end of a Rochester TV era: after 36 years at WHEC-TV (Channel 10) as sports director and then main news anchor, Rich Funke signs off at the end of the 6 PM newscast, handing the reins to newcomer Don Hudson. Funke’s retirement leaves just two longer-term veterans on the Rochester airwaves: his WHEC co-anchor Janet Lomax, and WHAM-TV (Channel 13) institution Don Alhart, now in his 45th year at that station and well on his way to a national record. (2013 update: Family issues meant Hudson’s stay at WHEC was a brief one; Alhart is still going strong at WHAM-TV.)
Family Radio has been gone from eastern PENNSYLVANIA since April 16, when its sale of WKDN-FM (106.9 Camden NJ) to Merlin Media closed. But the California-based religious network known for founder Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction is now back in the Philadelphia market. Family sold 106.9 (now talker WWIQ) for $22.5 million, and it’s now paid $8.5 million to acquire WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media. As of 6 PM on Friday, WPEN’s sports format is gone from 950, living on via WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), and the AM signal becomes WKDN with Family Radio. (And no, it’s escaped nobody’s irony detectors that the flip takes place on December 21, another date that will go down in history for another “end of the world” that appears not to be happening.)
*We’re still waiting to see just how the latest CONNECTICUT format flip shakes out: Hall’s WKNL (100.9 New London) flipped from oldies (“Kool 101″) to hot AC as “100.9 Roxy FM” last Monday at midnight, and so far it appears to be running jockless.
Five Years Ago: December 22, 2008
Public radio listeners in northern and eastern MAINE are about to lose service, if MPBN (Maine Public Broadcasting Network) follows through on its threat to close its transmitter sites in Calais and Fort Kent to help balance a budget that’s battered by funding cuts and the overall economic malaise. In what it says is an attempt to balance harsh financial realities with the need to continue to produce local programming, MPBN announced last week that it plans to cut $900,000 from its budget over the remainder of this fiscal year, eliminating eight jobs (out of a total employment of 86), signing off its TV network during overnight hours – and taking WMEF (106.5 Fort Kent), WMED (89.7 Calais) and WMED-DT (Channel 10) in Calais silent until at least the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
If the transmitters are shut down, MPBN will lose coverage of some of the most remote parts of the state, the far north and Down East areas that already live at a huge remove from the state’s centers of population, finance and government to the south. Fort Kent listeners will still have a fringe signal from MPBN’s powerful Presque Isle transmitter, WMEM (106.1) – but in Calais, two hours east of Bangor, the only access to MPBN signals will be via streaming audio for radio and cable or satellite for TV. (There’s an impact on emergency communications, too, since MPBN’s radio network is the state’s primary EAS backbone.)
Predictably, the move has prompted an outcry from listeners and viewers complaining that they’re being sacrificed for the benefit of southern Maine. And even more predictably, the state’s politicians quickly began weighing in. “We can’t be leaving out any part of Maine in terms of access to this source of news, entertainment, and communications,” governor John Baldacci told the network’s news department on Friday, promising to try to find “a strategy” to save the service to Calais and Fort Kent. (And leading NERW to wonder if that wasn’t part of MPBN’s own strategy all along…)
It was, at last, a quiet week in NEW YORK – which had to come as a relief to those broadcasters who haven’t been hit by the layoff axe that’s been swinging with abandon in recent months. Indeed, the two on-air talents who left the Big Apple’s radio airwaves this week did so voluntarily: Ian Camfield is departing the struggling “K-Rock” (WXRK 92.3) to return to his native England and his old on-air home, Xfm in London; Chris Carlin, meanwhile, is reportedly leaving sister station WFAN (660) for a new on-air gig at the Mets’ TV home, SNY.
How about a good news story, for a change? We find one in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where two broadcasting veterans are unwrapping the gift every radio person dreams of: their own radio station. It’s WNBP (1450 Newburyport), which is changing hands from Todd Tanger’s Westport Communications to a new company called Port Broadcasting. It’s headed by Carl Strube, who owned WJTO in Bath, Maine (and worked at stations such as WLOB, WGAN and WJAB) before moving into the music industry, and by veteran programmer Pete Falconi, who most recently occupied the PD chair at WODS in Boston.
Along with local businessman Robert Couture, Strube and Falconi say they intend to continue WNBP’s long tradition as a community radio voice. Once the deal closes next year, they plan to move WNBP’s studios from Beverly, where it now shares space with Tanger’s WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester), back to Newburyport. (This is not the first time WNBP has been in the hands of a former air talent, by the way: Tanger bought the station in 2004 from Bob Fuller, who was still in high school when he signed the station on back in 1957, when it was a daytimer on 1470.)
Rush Limbaugh is off the air in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA. Connoisseur Communications talker WJET (1400 Erie) says the rights fees being charged by syndicator Premiere were getting to be too high, and faced with the choice between continuing to pay for the Limbaugh show or keeping local staffers in place, WJET chose the local staffers. Dennis Miller replaces Limbaugh in the noon timeslot.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, KDKA (1020) has revamped its schedule, moving Fred Honsberger into the 12-3 PM slot that had been occupied for the last year and a half by Kevin Miller. Miller’s out as part of the schedule changes, which expand the afternoon news block to 3-6 PM, followed by the return of former KD host Mike Pintek for the 6-10 PM slot, which knocks John Steigerwald off the lineup at KDKA after a year or so.
Ten Years Ago: December 22, 2003
Ever since Clear Channel purchased Ackerley back in June 2002, the rumors have been floating around upstate NEW YORK that the TV stations that came with the deal – a cluster of (mostly) ABC affiliates in Syracuse, Watertown, Utica, Binghamton and Rochester – would eventually be sold off.
And, at least in the case of Utica, that rumor turns out to be true. Clear Channel announced on Thursday that it’s selling Utica’s WUTR (Channel 20) to Scranton-based Mission Broadcasting, a small TV group that also owns Scranton’s WYOU (Channel 22). Like WYOU, which is operated under a shared services-and-sales agreement with Nexstar’s WBRE (Channel 28), WUTR is expected to end up operating in tandem with Utica Fox affiliate WFXV (Channel 33), which Nexstar recently acquired in its purchase of the Quorum group.
Here’s where things begin to get interesting: WUTR has had only a minimal local news presence since August, when Clear Channel fired most of its newsroom staffers, leaving just a skeleton presence to supply Utica news to Syracuse’s WIXT, whose newscasts are now simulcast in Utica. WFXV, meanwhile, runs a 10 PM newscast that’s produced by the big NBC affiliate in the market, Smith Broadcasting’s WKTV (Channel 2). Will Nexstar launch a revived news operation to service both the ABC and Fox affiliates? And if it does, will WKTV then move its 10 PM newscast to its cable-only WB outlet, “WBU”? (2013 update: Nexstar launched news at WUTR and WFXV in 2011.)
Speaking of Rochester, WBBF (93.3 Fairport), still stunting with Christmas music, fired yet another DJ last week. After 19 years in Rochester radio, 11 of them at WBBF and its predecessor WKLX, WBBF morning jock Mike Vickers is out the door at Entercom – and pursuing full-time employment as a Regional Transit Service bus driver, a job he’d been working part-time. The move leaves just one jock at WBBF (afternoon guy Tom Noonan), and plenty of questions about what will become of the oldies station after the holidays.
Nearly all of the city’s commercial stations joined WCMF (96.5 Rochester) in remembering “Unkle Roger” during his funeral last week. The Entercom, Clear Channel and Infinity stations, as well as locally-owned WDKX (103.9 Rochester), all aired 30 seconds of silence in memory of Roger McCall, the veteran overnight jock on WCMF, who was shot to death Dec. 12 as he collected rent from a tenant on Rochester’s Madison Street. So far, Rochester police don’t seem any closer to solving the crime; meanwhile, WCMF took calls every night this past week from Unk’s listeners and friends and played them back during his regular overnight shift. There’s no word yet on whether anyone will replace him on overnights at WCMF – by NERW’s count, there’s now only one live overnight jock on Rochester commercial radio.
Nassau Broadcasting is serious about its committment to MAINE – just after announcing its $18.3 million purchase of Mariner Broadcasting’s six stations (NERW, 12/15), the New Jersey-based company is also picking up the five radio stations of the WMTW Broadcast Group. The WMTW stations are all clustered in and near the Portland market: news-talk trimulcast WMTW (870 Gorham), WMTW-FM (106.7 North Windham) and WLAM (1470 Lewiston), hot AC WMEK (99.9 Auburn, with a Portland translator at 96.9) and country WTHT (107.5 Lewiston); they add to a group that will also include Portland-market WBQW (106.3 Scarborough) and FM outlets in the Kennebunkport, mid-coast and Bangor areas.
What’s more, WMTW-TV (Channel 8) is reportedly also for sale, and the leading potential buyer is said to be Hearst-Argyle, for whom WMTW would be a nice link in the New England chain that also includes Boston’s WCVB, Manchester’s WMUR and the Vermont duo of WNNE/WPTZ. No purchase price has been announced yet for the WMTW radio deal; we’d expect a slew of format changes once Nassau closes on its various purchases, especially the WMTW news trimulcast and the “W-Bach” classical stations from Mariner.
A fire last Monday just outside Dover, NEW HAMPSHIRE silenced the state’s newest LPFM station. WXGR-LP (101.5 Dover) had been on the air less than a month from its small building at the Littlebrook Airpark in Eliot, Maine when the fire destroyed the building and all of the station’s equipment within. “Gritty Radio” didn’t have insurance, so the entire operation – most of it paid for out of the pockets of station founder Tom Hoyt and other supporters – is a total loss.
There’s a new format on the north shore of MASSACHUSETTS – WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester) dropped its standards/soft AC sound this morning to relaunch as “North Shore 104.9,” playing 60s and 70s oldies with a heavy dose of local news, sports and events. WBOQ recently changed hands (within the Tanger family) from Marlin Broadcasting to Westport Broadcasting, and the format change seems poised to grab more than a handful of listeners who are missing the oldies that have been temporarily replaced on WODS (103.3 Boston) by Christmas music.
Over in Philadelphia, some changes are on the way to nighttime AM radio: WPHT (1210)’s Jeff Katz reportedly announced Friday night that he’s leaving “The Big Talker,” where he’s been doing a 6-8 PM shift. Katz’s departure moves Dom Giordano (formerly heard from 8-10 PM) up to 6-9 PM and shifts both Bill O’Reilly (formerly 10-midnight) and Rollye James (formerly midnight-3) an hour earlier. Katz, whose resume includes a stop at Boston’s WRKO a few years back, was at the end of his contract and reportedly wants a morning or afternoon drive slot as his next gig. (2013 update: Katz headed to WBT in Charlotte, then to Boston at WXKS 1200, and has just started a new afternoon talk gig at WRVA in Richmond, Virginia.)
Fifteen Years Ago: December 26, 1998
When last week’s NERW went to press, there were no urban-formatted stations in NEW YORK’s Capital District…but this week there are two. The first to flip was WXLE (104.5 Mechanicville), which dumped its month-old “Magic” AC format last Friday to become “Jammin’ Oldies,” just like its Capstar/Chancellor sister stations in Tampa, Dallas, Chicago, New York, and elsewhere. So far, the new station is running jockless.
Next to go was WPTR-FM (96.3 Voorheesville), which pulled the plug on its low-rated hot country format to become “Jams 96-3,” bringing Albany its first commercial outlet for hip-hop and urban contemporary music. WPTR had been fighting a losing battle against country giant WGNA (107.7/1460); will its relatively weak signal be less of a drawback when it’s the only station in its format?
New to the Empire State airwaves this week was WXXE (90.5 Fenner), the first outlet of Syracuse Community Radio, which signed on for the first time at 3:07 PM on Monday (Dec. 21). While the station is being heard in most of Madison County, it’s not much of a contender in Syracuse and Onondaga County just yet, thanks to co-channel stations in Baldwinsville (high-school outlet WBXL) and Rochester (WBER). WXXE put out e-mail this week advising potential listeners of specific street corners in and around Syracuse where the station is audible.
WQEW (1560 New York) is clearly in the death throes of its American Popular Standards format. No more jocks — just taped liners — and almost every spot break includes plugs for other area stations hoping for a piece of the audience. Among them: standards WLUX (540 Islip), WHLI (1100 Hempstead), WLIM (1580 Patchogue), WMTR (1250 Morristown NJ), and WVNJ (1160 Oakland NJ), plus public radio WNYC AM-FM (820/93.9), WFUV (90.7), and even the business-news machine that is WBBR (1130), occupying the dial position once held by the lamented WNEW (1130), the granddaddy of the standards format. The end of the format comes at midnight Sunday night, and of course we’ll have tape rolling (and tears in our eyes).
On we move, to VERMONT, where WKDR (1390 Burlington) will start the New Year preparing for new owners. The news-talker had been operating under an LMA with Burlington Broadcasters (WBTZ/WIZN), but when Burlington declined to exercise their option to buy WKDR, owners Louie Manno, Jim Condon, and Mark Johnson began offering the AM to other buyers. The winner — for a reported $475,000 — is Ken Squier’s Radio Vermont, which also owns WDEV (550 Waterbury/96.1 Warren), classical WCVT (101.7 Stowe), and country WLVB (93.9 Morrisville). It should be a good fit, since both WKDR and WDEV are among the Green Mountain State’s top radio news operations. WKDR continued a holiday tradition this year by broadcasting the Radio Yule Log all day Christmas, by the way.
Does MASSACHUSETTS need another FM station in any of its markets, especially Cape Cod? We wouldn’t think so (especially with that 102.3 in Truro that’s still unbuilt), but it won’t stop the FCC from considering a proposal to allocate 104.3 to West Tisbury as a class A allocation. (That’s on Martha’s Vineyard, by the way).
A tower grows in Newton Upper Falls: American Tower Systems is planning to put up a new, taller tower next to the “FM128” stick on Chestnut Street next spring. The new stick will be topped with a candelabra and will carry antennas for several FM stations (including the recently-moved WCRB) and DTV. (2008 update: That proposed tower was never built, and FM128 still stands by itself.)