In this week’s issue…WABC brings back old favorites – RIP, Bob Grant – Robin Hood grows – Rochester morning show shifts – What’s up with a CT/RI FM shuffle?

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*Welcome to a new year of NERW and fybush.com – and a very important one, at that. As you may have noticed, we’ve freshened up our look this week with a new site design, courtesy of Lance Venta and our content partner at RadioInsight.com. We’re proud to be a part of what’s becoming broadcasting’s most dynamic web presence, including Lance’s up-to-the-second industry news feed, the fast-growing discussion forums at the RadioInsight Community, our neighbors to the west at Ohio Media Watch and much more to come.

2014 also marks the twentieth anniversary of this column, which traces its history back to the early days of Usenet and a little series of postings that went by “New England Radio Watcher.” Over the years, we’ve migrated from Usenet to e-mail groups to PageMill to our latest WordPress incarnation, and we’re grateful to everyone who’s come along for the ride. We’re just getting started with the celebration!

*And as we get started, we’ve got one busy first week of the new year to write about, especially where the NEW YORK AM dial is concerned – a surprise talent move, the death of a start talker, the launch of a new format and more.

The surprise talent move, of course, was the answer to that last lingering question from one of our Top Stories of 2013 (part of our big Year in Review package, if you missed it over the holidays): with Rush Limbaugh now in place on Clear Channel’s WOR as part of an audacious new talk lineup at 710, what would Cumulus do to replace Limbaugh in the noon-3 PM slot he’d occupied for two decades on WABC (770)?

wabc-curtiskubyThe new year came and went without an announcement from 2 Penn Plaza, and on New Year’s Day the noon slot on 770 belonged to a “Year in Talk” special while a “best of” Limbaugh show inaugurated his new era on WOR. Cumulus finally made its move with a leak to the New York Times on Thursday morning: iconic WABC hosts Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby were coming to WABC, effective immediately, to revive their “Curtis and Kuby” show in the noon-3 slot.

And just when we thought we now had the full WABC daytime lineup – Noam Laden’s “News Hour” at 5, Don Imus at 6, the newly local Geraldo Rivera at 10, Curtis and Kuby at noon, Michael Savage at 3, Mark Levin at 6 – Cumulus added another curveball: Pat Kiernan, the popular morning host on Time Warner Cable’s NY1, joins WABC today to host an hour of news from 5-6 PM, preempting the third hour of Savage.

For a station that’s been almost chained to the satellite receiver in recent years, the new scheduling moves will make WABC live and local for seven hours out of the day, plus the New York-centric Imus in morning drive and John Batchelor later at night. It’s still a far cry from the all-New York talk that marked WABC’s glory days in the format in the 1980s, but it’s a welcome start from a company that’s had a rocky relationship with the format in recent years. And with all that new talent in place, Cumulus also named a program director for WABC. Craig Schwalb is the first person to hold that title in a few years, since the departure of Laurie Cantillo; he comes to New York from Cumulus’ WPRO/WEAN in Providence, where he’d been PD.

Cumulus’ big WABC moves are also also a blow to the station that’s been trying hard to be at least a strong number-three player in the talk format in the last few years. Sliwa’s return to WABC meant his abrupt departure from WNYM (970), the Salem talker where he’s worked since 2010, hosting mornings and then coming back for an afternoon shift alongside former New York governor (and former WOR host) David Paterson.

And for Salem and WNYM, the timing couldn’t possibly have been worse.

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Today was supposed to have been a big day for “970 the Answer.” Newly ensconced in WOR’s former facility at 111 Broadway, Salem just finished spending a lot of money to build out a new studio setup, complete with HD video capability for a planned simulcast of Sliwa’s morning show on WWOR (Channel 9). For Salem, the rapid-fire changes at WABC and WOR ought to have been a big opportunity to showcase the familiar face and voice of Curtis Sliwa in the 7-8 AM slot on Channel 9 – but instead of launching that simulcast today, Salem is scrambling.

wnym-sliwaBecause of Sliwa’s unusual split shift, his abrupt return to WABC (where he’d worked from 1990-1994 and 1996-2007) leaves WNYM in an especially precarious position, even beyond its lack of any discernible ratings: it now has no morning host, no 5-7 PM host (Paterson appears to be off the schedule for the moment as well), and for the moment its website also shows an 11 AM-1 PM gap that had been filled by Dennis Miller.

Does Salem (or Fox, which owns WWOR) have any grounds for a legal fight against Cumulus or Sliwa over the sudden change of stations? Lawsuits have certainly been filed in radio over far less, and we’ll be watching to see what WNYM’s next move might be. One longshot to keep in mind: WNYM isn’t just in WOR’s old lower Broadway studio; it also has former WOR general manager Jerry Crowley at the helm, back in his old Buckley-era office. Could Crowley make an offer that would bring former WOR morning host John R. Gambling back to his old studio after being cast aside by WOR’s new ownership? We’ll be watching.

More irony? When Sliwa signed on with WNYM back in 2010, he told the Daily News he was thrilled to be getting back to morning drive after losing that slot at WABC to Imus. “When I’ve been doing other shifts, it’s like I died,” Sliwa told News radio columnist David Hinckley. We’re guessing he’s not singing that song now that he’s back at WABC in middays – though we’re also pretty sure Sliwa and sparring partner Kuby would go back to mornings in a heartbeat whenever Imus’ retirement rolls around.

wabc-grant-sm*The biggest irony of all, though, came just half an hour into Sliwa and Kuby’s return to the WABC airwaves on Thursday afternoon: the announcement that one of their illustrious predecessors, Bob Grant, had died New Year’s Eve.

Always controversial, Grant staked out the edge of what was acceptable in talk radio during a long career that started near the dawn of talk radio in New York and ended just a few months ago, when ill health finally made it impossible for him even to do his one weekend hour on WABC.

Born Robert Ciro Gigante in Chicago, Grant ended up working at KNX and KLAC in Los Angeles, where he learned the art of combative talk radio from one of its fathers, Joe Pyne. In 1970, Grant moved east to New York’s WMCA (570), which was pioneering modern talk radio in the city.

“Get off my phone!,” Grant would tell callers with whom he disagreed, and he disagreed a lot, especially with other WMCA hosts such as Alex Bennett who leaned more to the left. But Grant, though often described in shorthand as a “right-wing” host, was far less tied to a single ideology than many of his successors. While he was often critical of homosexuals and of the black community, Grant also took an early pro-choice stance.

Grant worked at WOR later in the 1970s, as well as a stint at WWDB (96.5) in Philadelphia, before returning to WMCA. In 1984, he joined WABC, just two years into its new existence as a talk station, and there he soon moved from nights to afternoon drive and into the top of the ratings. His cry of “Let’s be heard!” pulled WABC from its early incarnation as a middle-of-the-road talker into a new era of more political, sharper-edged talk, and paved the way for later WABC talkers such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, both of whom would later cite Grant as an influence on their style.

No stranger to controversy, Grant was fired from WABC in 1996 after making remarks about a plane crash involving Commerce Secretary Ron Brown that appeared to wish him dead; always a survivor, Grant moved to WOR and spent a decade in afternoon drive there, part of it in national syndication over the WOR Radio Network.

In 2008, Grant was back in the headlines when Radio and Records pulled back from plans to give him a lifetime achievement award amidst protests over his views. Another magazine eventually stepped in with its own honor for Grant, and Grant went on to remain active in talk for a few more years, first at night on WABC, then on a webcast and finally in a weekend slot on WABC. That’s where Grant was last heard a few months ago. WABC never officially cancelled his show, or even really acknowledged his absence, but word spread fairly quickly that Grant’s health had failed to the point where he couldn’t do even his one weekly hour.

Bob Grant was 84 when he died December 31. One can argue about whether his influence on the direction of talk radio – and on politics in general – was a good thing or a bad thing. One cannot dispute that he had a huge influence on the direction of talk radio.

*There’s still more news from the New York AM dial on this first week of 2014.

wwrl-lainvasoraThis morning brings the launch of a new format at WWRL (1600), the Access.1-owned station that dropped its lineup of progressive talk hosts in late December. It’s headed in a completely different direction now, away from talk entirely and into a new regional Mexican format as “La Invasora 1600.”

That makes WWRL the latest station to try to pull ratings from a small but growing piece of the Spanish-speaking audience: while most New York Hispanics still trace their heritage (and taste in radio) to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, there’s been a surge of Mexican immigration as well. In recent years, other signals including WQBU (92.7) and the former WLXE (1380) have tried regional Mexican music with middling results, Can Access.1, which has some experience with the format in its Texas markets, get ratings in New York with a unique format on WWRL’s iffy signal? Stay tuned…

*Away from the city, the other big story at year’s end was playing out a hundred miles up the Hudson River in Kingston. In our last issue of 2013, we told you about Pamal’s plans to silence WGHQ (920 Kingston) after 53 years on the air. But in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the 5000-watt station was saved from silence by a local broadcaster whose slogan is about to become a misnomer.

Marshall Miles’ Tri-State Public Broadcasting has long boasted that it’s the “smallest NPR station in the nation,” but it’s growing to the point where that may not be true much longer. Known on-air as “Robin Hood Radio,” the service began on WHDD (1020 Sharon CT) and has expanded to include WHDD-FM (91.9 Sharon CT), WBSL (91.7 Sheffield MA) and WLHV (88.1 Annandale-on-Hudson NY). And now it’s also heard on WGHQ, thanks to some very speedy negotiations between Miles and Pamal that resulted in the impending donation of the station to Tri-State.

whdd-wghqWhile the paperwork for the donation makes its way through the FCC, Tri-State assumed operation of the station at the start of 2014 under an LMA. Instead of Pamal’s simulcast of “Hudson Valley Talk Radio” (WBNR 1260 Beacon/WLNA 1420 Peekskill), Tri-State is simulcasting Robin Hood Radio on 920 – except during the two hours on weekday mornings from 7-9 when WGHQ continues to break away to carry the local “Kingston Community Radio.”

With its broadcast home assured, KCR is acquiring the current WGHQ studios from Pamal, which means Pamal’s WBPM (92.9 Saugerties) will move elsewhere. And Miles notes that the preservation of KCR brings things full-circle: KCR’s Walt Maxwell was an early mentor of Miles’ in Hudson Valley radio.

*Another nearly-dead station nearby was also saved from going dark just before year’s end. WNYX (88.1 Montgomery) had been off the air for much of the last two years. Founder John Katonah died in early 2012, and now his widow Mary Katonah has sold WNYX and two translators to prolific broadcaster Bud Williamson. Under a new nonprofit, Hudson Valley Public Radio, he’s paying $30,000 for WNYX itself, and his Digital Radio Broadcasting is paying another $10,000 for W292CM (106.3 Poughkeepsie), which relays WNYX, and for W229BH (93.7 Newburgh), which relays WJGK (103.1 Newburgh). WNYX and W292CM were reported back on the air just after Christmas with an 80s format.

More translator news from the region: Bold Gold is applying to move W235AW (94.9), its translator of WDNB (102.1 Jeffersonville), from Rock Hill westward on Route 17 into more populous Monticello, where it would run a full 250 watts, a big increase from its present 24 watts.

And Ted Schober has dramatically modified his application for a new 105.5 translator in hopes of getting a construction permit issued quickly. When the application was filed back in 2003 (and revived last year), it called for a transmitter location near Alpine, NEW JERSEY – but that drew swift and sharp opposition from reliable translator foe Greater Media, which rallied north Jersey listeners to WDHA (105.5 Dover) in hopes of blocking the new co-channel signal from signing on. So Schober has modified his construction permit application to call for the use of 105.7, and he’s moved it 30 miles or so to the north into Rockland County, New York, dropped power from 250 to 90 watts, and is now proposing to operate from one of the towers of WRKL (910 New City). Will that be enough to overcome WDHA’s objections – and will it draw a new set of concerns from its new first-adjacent neighbor, New York’s WQXR (105.9)?

wlng*Out on Long Island’s East End, the legendary oldies station WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor) is in the process of changing ownership. While many WLNG listeners probably believed longtime station manager Paul Sidney owned the place – he’d been there long enough, after all, before his death in 2009 – the station actually belongs to the “Main Street Broadcasting Company,” and for decades it was closely held by a small group of shareholders led by Robert O. King. (Two other well-known WLNG personalities, Rusty Potz and Gary Sapiane, also own a small number of shares in the company.)

In 2011, King transferred his majority interest in the company into a family trust, and with King’s death recently, the trustees of that trust have shifted. That’s the not-very-exciting back story to the paperwork WLNG filed with the FCC just before the end of 2012 – but that paperwork also notes that WLNG is preparing to file another application “in order for the Commission to pass on the qualifications of new permanent owners.” So…stay tuned (and enjoy all the jingles and reverb while you wait!)

*Here in Rochester, the holidays brought a morning drive shakeup to the FM dial. It’s been five years since Brother Wease made his high-profile departure from his longtime home on WCMF (96.5), eventually moving across town (and back to his old studio location) to Clear Channel’s 95.1, then WFXF and now “Brew” WQBW. With little warning or preparation, WCMF put together a new morning show called “The Break Room,” anchored by Bill “Moranimal” Moran with several of Wease’s former sidekicks, including Tommy Mule and Sally Carpenter.

And a funny thing happened: at a fraction of the money Wease had sought from WCMF (and eventually got from Clear Channel), Entercom ended up with a pretty successful replacement morning show. Carpenter moved on, but Moran and Mule and more recently Dan Borrello found a younger, heavily male audience for their show. Then Moran’s contract came up for renewal – and just as it did five years ago with Wease, Entercom was unable to come to terms on money. In a news release two days before Christmas, Entercom tersely announced that Moran had left WCMF to “pursue other opportunities.”

Like Wease, those other opportunities are 17 stories up and a few blocks away, on the other end of downtown Rochester at Clear Channel, where Moran starts today as morning host on WDVI (100.5 the Drive), alongside Julie DePasquale. The modern AC station hasn’t been known for personality in the morning; in recent years, it’s used J.P. Hastings as the host of a music-driven morning show, but it’s now moving Hastings down the hall to news-talk WHAM (1180) to host the 5 PM news hour as it brings Moran aboard for what promises to be a more active morning drive on “the Drive.” (That, in turn, allows former news hour host Joe Lomonaco to focus on his primary gig as creative services director for the cluster, though he’ll continue to fill in on WHAM from time to time.)

WROC's Scott Hetsko poses with the WUHF sign after it was removed from WROC's building in December
WROC’s Scott Hetsko poses with the WUHF sign after it was removed from WROC’s Humboldt Street building in December

On the TV dial, the eight-year shared-services agreement between Nexstar CBS affiliate WROC-TV (Channel 8) and Sinclair Fox affiliate WUHF (Channel 31) came to an end at the end of December. WROC originated its last “Fox News First at Ten” on December 30, and during the 11 PM hour on December 31 it handed control of WUHF back to Sinclair itself, which is now operating the station in tandem with ABC affiliate WHAM-TV (Channel 13), owned by Sinclair “sidecar” Deerfield Media. WHAM-TV began producing WUHF’s newscasts on January 1, including a two-hour “Good Day Rochester” that runs from 7-9 AM (continuing WHAM-TV’s morning news) and an hourlong 10 PM newscast.

Those newscasts replace previous WHAM-TV offerings that had run on WHAM’s CW subchannel. And despite reassurances from Sinclair executives in a December cover story in Rochester’s alt-weekly, City, the shift does in fact mean a decrease in news diversity on the air, at least at 10. Instead of a choice between WROC’s news (via WUHF) or WHAM-TV’s news (via CW on 13.2), there’s now just one 10 PM offering in Rochester, as opposed to two each in the smaller markets of Syracuse, Binghamton and even Utica.

(At WROC, meanwhile, a schedule change starting this past weekend has moved the main weekday anchor team of Maureen McGuire, Kevin Doran, Scott Hetsko on weather and John Kucko on sports to a Sunday-Thursday schedule, with the weekend team now doing the Friday and Saturday shows. And congratulations to Kucko on signing a new deal to stay with WROC, where he’s already the longest-serving on-air personality in the history of the station!)

No TV station in the region has struggled as badly to keep an over-the-air signal operating as Syracuse’s CBS affiliate, WTVH (Channel 5). The Granite-owned station (operated under a shared-services agreement by Sinclair’s NBC affiliate, WSTM) has been notorious in recent years for extended failures of its transmitter, which operates on RF 47, and Granite has never invested in a backup to keep WTVH on the air during those outages. This time around, WTVH went off the air New Year’s Eve and doesn’t expect to be back on until sometime this week. CBS programming is still making it to cable systems in the region, and OTA viewers were able to see the NFL playoffs and other WTVH programming over a temporary simulcast on WSTM’s 3.3 subchannel.

Up north, there’s word that WYZY (106.3 Saranac Lake), which has been on and off the air itself, has flipped to a simulcast (for now, at least) of sister station WNBZ (1240), with a standards/full-service format.

And a station sale at year’s end found Randy Michaels’ RadioActive LLC reclaiming silent WPLB (100.7 Plattsburgh West). Back in 2009, RadioActive sold the construction permit for the station (then licensed to Minerva as WXMR) to Westport Radio Partners for $100,000. Westport put down $10,000 in cash and signed a note for $90,000; RadioActive is now taking the license back for the remaining amount due on that note. WPLB rejoins two other RadioActive signals rimshotting Burlington, VERMONT: WZXP (97.9 Au Sable) and WNMR (107.1 Dannemora).

(And the WPLB transfer was hardly Michaels’ biggest radio deal over the holidays: the western New York native and former Clear Channel honcho exited big-market ownership, at least for now, with the sale of his last two Merlin Media signals, WLUP and WIQI in Chicago, to Cumulus.)

*What’s John Fuller up to along the CONNECTICUT/RHODE ISLAND line? In late December, he swapped callsigns between WWRX (107.7 Ledyard CT) and his newly-repurchased WSKP (1180 Hope Valley RI), and now he’s filed to move the 107.7 facility to yet another new community of license.

Some background here: that 107.7 signal started out as a class A facility licensed to Pawcatuck, right on the state line, but “moved” to Ledyard (with no change of transmitter site) to allow for an upgrade of co-owned WBMW (106.5), which shifted from a Ledyard-licensed class A to a Pawcatuck-licensed class B1. Now Fuller wants to “move” 107.7 again, this time to Bradford, Rhode Island, again with no change in transmitter site.

The change would remove the only licensed full-power broadcast service to Ledyard, which would seem to run afoul of the FCC’s traditional rules, but Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting tells the FCC it would actually further the Commission’s new rural service goals by moving the allocation from the New London urbanized area to Bradford, which is part of no urbanized area. (Bradford is also the community of license of a noncommercial religious station, WXEV 91.1.)

*The big Cumulus shuffle at New York’s WABC had some fallout 180 miles up the road in Providence, where Craig Schwalb was plucked from the PD chair at WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7) and sister talker WPRV (790) to program WABC – and in return, Cumulus sent Tony Mascaro back to Providence to replace Schwalb. Mascaro worked at WPRO-FM (92.3) from the mid-80s until 1997, when he moved to WABC’s sister station WPLJ (95.5). He’d been operations manager at WABC since 2012, and he’ll face an immediate challenge in his new gig at WPRO: one of the station’s star talk hosts, John DePetro, is still off the air after a campaign led by several Rhode Island unions to oust him over some controversial comments he made last year about a political rally.

*As busy as the holiday weeks were in New York, they were quiet ones in most of the rest of New England. In MASSACHUSETTS, Matt Phipps has been promoted to program director at WXRV (92.5 Andover) after not quite two years at “The River.” Phipps will remain music director and afternoon jock there as well.

The cross-field antenna at the WGFP site
The cross-field antenna at the WGFP site

At Entercom, Kirk Minihane has signed a new long-term deal to stay in place as sidekick to WEEI-FM (93.7) morning team John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. It’s a sign that despite some of the silly rumors being floated late in 2013, Entercom remains committed to the sports format on WEEI – and that we’ll continue to have plenty to write about as the sports battle between WEEI and “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5) rages on.

In Webster, WGFP (940) hasn’t had a tower for a few years now; it’s been limping along on a temporary longwire antenna while its former tower site is used as a testbed for the experimental “cross-field antenna,” one of several as-yet-unproven designs claiming to replicate the coverage of a typical vertical tower at a much lower height and cost.

Now WGFP wants to trade the longwire for a different temporary antenna: it’s asking the FCC for a new special temporary authorization to use a 14.8-meter monopole element of the cross-field antenna with 1000 watts by day and 4 watts at night while testing of the CFA continues. (Those tests are authorized under a separate experimental permit, currently on 1630 kHz as WX3CFA.)

There’s a new voice on the morning show at WFHN (107.1 Fairhaven): Loren Petisce has joined the Townsquare top-40 station, moving over from Hall’s Providence-market country station, WCTK (98.1 New Bedford), where she was doing middays until just before Christmas.

*In MAINE, two big translator proponents are trading a signal. Radio Assist Ministry secured the construction permit for W288CU (105.5 Portland), but it’s handing the CP over to another Southern religious chain, Bible Broadcasting Network, in exchange for a long-term tower lease at a site in South Carolina. While it’s on the books as a relay of Saga’s WMGX (93.1 Portland), we’d expect that BBN will use the translator to rebroadcast its WYFP (91.9 Harpswell).

*It was a quiet holiday in PENNSYLVANIA, too, save for a station sale near Pittsburgh. That’s where Frank Iorio, Jr.’s Iorio Broadcasting is selling the simulcast pair of WBVP (1230 Beaver Falls)/WMBA (1460 Ambridge) to a new company, Sound Ideas Media, headed by Mark and Cynthia Peterson. They’re paying $750,000 for the two signals, which serve the Beaver County region north and west of Pittsburgh.

PBRTV.com picked up on another change at CBS Radio’s KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh): the station was probably the last big-market outlet still doing a weekend “Tradio” swap-shop show, but that appears to be history now with the exit of host Rick Bergman. He’d been with the station since 1987.

Where are they now? Former Pittsburgh TV news director Bob Longo, who had long runs at WTAE-TV (Channel 4) and before that at WKBW-TV, WBNG, WHAM radio and WHEC-TV in upstate New York, has changed stations in Florida. After five years at WESH (Channel 2) in Orlando and 15 years with Hearst, Longo starts the new year in a new gig as news director of Cox’s CBS/Fox pair in Jacksonville, WTEV (Channel 47)/WAWS (Channel 30).

In the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, Kenny Wall is leaving the PD chair at WBSX (97.9) next week; AllAccess reports he’s heading home to Arkansas to deal with some family issues, and Cumulus is looking for a replacement.

Down the Pike in Philadelphia, Stan Priest is out as PD of Clear Channel’s WIOQ (102.1) and digital PD for the cluster, also with no replacement named. And he’s not the only exit from Q102: we hear afternoon jock Maxwell is headed to New York to join the cast of Elvis Duran’s syndicated morning show, which is also heard on WIOQ.

We’d been hearing about technical problems at WHYL (960 Carlisle) since the station went into bankruptcy last year, and now the station, which had been running on automation, has apparently gone silent on or about New Year’s Day.

A call change on the Philadelphia LPTV dial: the former WWJT-LD is now WEFG-LD. The station operates on RF channel 48, using virtual channel 7, and has been running only an ID slate and color bars in recent years.

*The sensible folks up in CANADA shut down the CRTC (and Industry Canada as well, I think) for the two weeks we were off here at NERW, so there’s not much news from north of the border to report at all – save for the latest return to action of a venerable Montreal personality.

Ted Bird’s most recent on-air slot was mornings at CKGM (TSN Radio 690), but he lost that gig in September. As of this morning, he’s back on the air at a community station, Kahnawahke’s “KIC Country 89.9” (CKKI), paired with Java Jacobs. The two have done community radio in the mornings before: from 2010 until Bird was hired at TSN in 2012, they were on CKRK (103.7) in Kahnawahke, on the south shore.

(We’re reminded also that our obituary of Newfoundland broadcasting pioneer Geoff Stirling in the Dec. 23 issue left out another of his important accomplishments: the indispensable Steve Faguy fills in the story of how Stirling owned CKGM and founded CHOM 97.7, and even shares a legend of how CHOM got its callsign.)

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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: January 7, 2013

*Greater Media has launched the official format on Boston’s 96.9. “Hot 96.9″ launched at 11 this morning on the former talk WTKK, ending a week of “micro-formats” and, as widely expected, putting Greater right into the rhythmic top 40 game against Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5) and WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and CBS Radio’s WODS (Amp 103.3).

*Next up, Philadelphia, where the new year brought the disappearance of two prominent names that were both fairly new to talk radio, WPHT (1210)’s Buzz Bissinger in afternoons and WWIQ (106.9)’s Larry Mendte in mornings.

Better known for his sportswriting (he’s the author who gave us the original book version of “Friday Night Lights”), Bissinger was a surprise pick last June when WPHT moved star talker Michael Smerconish from afternoons to the former Rush Limbaugh slot in middays. It was a curious choice, even with WPHT’s decision to pair Bissinger with one of the market’s longest-running and most versatile talk talents, Steve Martorano. In late December, Bissinger was suddenly absent from the show, and now he tells Philadelphia magazine that he resigned just before the end of 2012. Never one to spare a punch, Bissinger calls talk radio “fundamentally trivial,” and station staffers returned the favor, telling the magazine that WPHT needed to employ a second level of delay and dump button to keep Bissinger’s show within FCC standards. (And having said that: Bissinger also tells the magazine’s Victor Furillo that he actually enjoyed the experience, even if it “wasn’t meant to be.”)

Then there’s Merlin Media’s “IQ106.9,” where last year’s launch included a return to the airwaves for one of the city’s more colorful broadcasters. Larry Mendte made his name as a TV anchor before being ousted from KYW-TV (Channel 3) amidst a scandal that involved an affair with a co-anchor and a felony conviction for improperly accessing her e-mail, a charge Mendte is still fighting. That all made Mendte the perfect hire for Merlin’s colorful CEO, Randy Michaels, and Mendte says Michaels provided him with hands-on coaching as he learned to do talk radio alongside WWIQ PD Al Gardner and an eventual third morning co-host, New York’s Lionel.

In a posting to his blog on the Philadelphia magazine site, Mendte says he was fired just before Christmas, and while he praises Michaels, he hints that the station itself is headed toward a sale, following on the heels of Merlin’s sale of its New York station (the former WEMP/WRXP) last year. Mendte says his dismissal from WWIQ only “hit the pause button” on his talk career, but it’s hard to imagine where else he’d pursue it, at least in Philadelphia.

*In New York, we’re getting a much clearer view of what WOR (710) is going to look like under its new owner, Clear Channel. For those (including your editor) who expected the $30 million sale was going to turn WOR into a New York clearinghouse for Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Network syndicated offerings, 2013 is kicking off with a surprise: there’s much more local (or at least exclusive-to-WOR) content on the new schedule than almost anyone anticipated. Contrary to some rumors that had him leaving the station, morning host John R. Gambling stays in place in morning drive. Following Gambling at 10 AM, instead of Premiere’s Glenn Beck, WOR remains local with a new hire – none other than Mark Simone, the onetime FM music jock who’d reinvented himself as a talk host on crosstown WABC (770). Simone abruptly made the leap from Cumulus to Clear Channel as 2013 began, giving up a WABC gig that included two Saturday shifts and regular fill-in duty on several of the nationally-syndicated shows originating at WABC, including Don Imus. (More on the changes at WABC in a bit.) Joan Hamburg remains in place at noon, and WOR has renewed its deal to carry the syndicated Dave Ramsey financial-advice show from 2-4 PM, surprising those of us who’d expected Clear Channel to swiftly move its Rush Limbaugh show from WABC to WOR.

Following Ramsey, there’s a new local WOR offering replacing the station’s former David Paterson show: Rita Cosby, the former TV talk host who’d been a regular WOR fill-in, becomes WOR’s permanent 4-6 PM host, leading in to the syndicated Andy Dean show from 6-9 PM. And then at 9, there’s another unexpected twist to the schedule: John (Kobylt) and Ken (Chiampou) started their talk career in the northeast, rising to notoriety at WKXW (New Jersey 101.5), but since 1992 the duo have become afternoon institutions on the West Coast at KFI (640 Los Angeles). Now they’re back in New York, at least virtually: WOR is carrying the final hour of their Los Angeles show from 9-10 PM, followed by an additional WOR-only hour from 10-11 PM. The rest of the night is syndicated: Clyde Lewis from 11PM until 1 AM and then George Noory overnight.

*And then there’s CBS Sports Radio, which launched January 2 as a joint venture between CBS (which is providing most of the content) and Cumulus, which is syndicating the network and providing it with a lot of its initial distribution, as we’ll see when we work our way through the region in this edition of NERW. One of the most-watched carriage situations for the network is in New York City, where we’d expected it might find a 50,000-watt AM berth on CBS Radio’s own WFAN (660) now that WFAN’s local shows are being heard on the FM dial via WFAN-FM (101.9). That might still come to pass – but it didn’t happen on launch day. For now, CBS Sports Radio’s full-time signal in New York is relegated to an FM HD subchannel, on WCBS-FM (101.1)’s HD3. That’s the former simulcast spot for WCBS (880)’s all-news format, which is now heard on WCBS-FM’s HD2. The HD2 spot had been the home of “ToNY,” the adult-hits remnant of WCBS-FM’s flirtation with “Jack FM” back in 2005; now “ToNY,” too, appears to be history.

*In Syracuse, Cumulus started the year with changes at two of its clusters: at rocker “Rebel” WXTL (105.9), afternoon host Dave Frisina is now also the PD, and he’s picked a new midday jock, Roger McCue, late of crosstown competitor WTKW/WTKV. McCue replaces Jessica Novak, who joined the station last March. (Yesterday, incidentally, was the first anniversary of WXTL’s switch from talk to rock.) Across the hall, the launch of CBS Sports Radio on January 2 meant programming changes at WSKO (1260 the Score), which has ditched Don Imus in the morning in favor of the network’s new morning offering with Tiki Barber, Brandon Tierney and Dana Jacobson. WSKO is also picking up the network’s Jim Rome show from noon until 3, which shifts local host Mike Lindsley to afternoon drive, replacing the recently-departed Brent Axe. (WSKO is also live and local from 10 AM until noon, covering up all but an hour of CBS Sports Radio’s John Feinstein in late mornings.)

In Utica, Townsquare has hired a new morning man at WIBX (950). Bill Keeler isn’t the usual AM radio morning fare: he’s best known for his many years on the FM dial as host of a sharp-edged talk show that’s been heard over the years on the old WRCK (107.3) and most recently at Mindy Barstein’s WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), where he bounced from mornings to afternoons to mornings before being replaced by the syndicated Bob & Tom in 2011. Keeler’s hardly been idle; he’s taken stabs at an online newspaper (the now-defunct “Utica Daily News”) and streaming radio (the now-defunct MOVARadio.com) and has been doing TV shows in Utica and Syracuse as well. As of next Monday, he’ll try his hand at a more structured morning talk environment, working alongside news anchor Kristine Bellino on a reworked “WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning.” It’s an innovative move on the part of Townsquare’s Utica market manager, Karen Carey, who we admired for her time in that post with Clear Channel Rochester a few years back.

*Is 2013 going to be the year of familiar personalities appearing on stations where you’d never think to find them? The latest such example is longtime morning man Bob “Wolf” Wohlfeld, who’s taken his “Waking up with the Wolf” morning show to stations in Albany and the Hudson Valley (most recently Albany’s WPYX) that have all had one thing in common: they’ve all been commercial active or classic rockers. But the latest stop for “the Wolf” is a little different: beginning today, he’s waking up at WDST (100.1 Woodstock), a station traditionally known for a much more laid-back AAA approach to the music. Wohlfeld’s arrival at WDST means some shuffling the rest of the day: Greg Gattine moves from mornings to afternoons, sending Jimmy Buff from afternoons to middays and Carmel Holt from middays to evenings. (And you’ve got to love Wohlfeld’s official statement on the move, wherein he calls WDST a “legendary station in its own right, owned and run by actual humans. Humans? Can you believe that?”)

Five Years Ago: January 5, 2009

Yeah, it looks like 2009 is shaping up to be another one of those years, at least judging by the last moments of destruction that 2008 wreaked on an already fragile radio business. The culprit this time was CBS Radio, both in Hartford, as we’ll see in a moment, and in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, where word began spreading during the day on New Year’s Eve that more big changes were afoot at the once-mighty WBZ (1030 Boston). While so much of the industry had gone to syndicated programming outside of the major weekday drivetime slots, WBZ long prided itself on – and profited handsomely from – its steadfast determination to remain live and local all night long, with a stellar lineup of hosts in that slot over the years that included Dick Summer, Larry Glick, Bob Raleigh and most recently Steve LeVeille. Well, so much for that tradition. As of the new year, LeVeille – and his local “Steve LeVeille Broadcast,” weeknights from midnight to 5 AM – is history at WBZ, as are Saturday night hosts Pat Desmarais and Lovell Dyett, the latter a 37-year veteran of the station.

Saturday nights are now occupied by the syndicated Kim Komando computer show – and weeknights on the mighty 50,000 watt voice of Boston will now come from…St. Louis, where Jon Grayson, who’s been doing talk for a few years at CBS sister station KMOX (1120), will take his local show semi-national (as “Overnight America”) beginning this week. In addition to WBZ and KMOX, Grayson’s show will also air on WCCO (830 Minneapolis) and KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh).

Enough loss of local flavor for you? Wait, there’s more: also gone, as part of the cutbacks, was WBZ’s already fairly minimal committment to local news after 8 PM, when its daytime all-news format gives way to talk.

Over on the TV side of things, WCVB (Channel 5) starts the new year without a news director: after eight years on that job at the Hearst-Argyle ABC affiliate, and many years behind the scenes before that, Colleen Marren departed at the end of December, apparently after being unable to reach a new contract deal. Neil Ungerleider, the station’s web guru, is handling the ND job on an interim basis. And down the street at New England Cable News, Boston TV veteran Tom Ellis is out of a job; his weekend shift on NECN ended in late December after 16 years at the cable network and decades in the industry.

And there’s a format change to report on Cape Cod: WKPE (103.9 South Yarmouth) came off its all-Christmas format to become “Cape Country,” the first stab at that format on the Cape in a few years, since WCIB (101.9) made a brief flip to country a while back, and a pretty far cry from the top-40 format the signal had been running for just under a year.

The CBS “Happy New Year” cuts weren’t limited to Boston – they hit hard in CONNECTICUT, too, claiming two of the biggest on-air names from the WTIC (1080 Hartford) roster and leaving that once-proud station as not only a shell of its former self, but also as the target of what’s proving to be a pretty noisy public outcry. WTIC’s staff cuts, made just as 2008 slumped to its unlamented end, eliminated the jobs of morning co-host Diane Smith, who left her TV news career a decade ago to join Ray Dunaway on “Mornings with Ray and Diane,” and Colin McEnroe, the Hartford Courant columnist who had been WTIC’s iconoclastic afternoon talk host since 1992. Dunaway will go solo, at least for now, as host of a morning block that will be trimmed back by an hour, ending at 9 AM to allow Jim Vicevich to start his talk show an hour earlier. In the afternoons, McEnroe’s show will be replaced by a news block anchored by Bill Pearse and Aaron Kupec.

Up the Thruway in Amsterdam, Ken Roser is trading talk for music at WVTL (1570 Amsterdam), where Christmas tunes gave way to a standards/soft AC format (they’re calling it “beautiful music”) similar to his WADR (1480 Remsen)/WUTQ (1550 Utica) an hour to the west. WVTL’s local shows, Bob Cudmore in morning drive and “Valley Talk with Mike Mancini & Sam Zurlo,” from 9-10 AM, remain in place on weekdays.

VERMONT rings in the new year with a new rock station. After spending some time stunting with Christmas music, former country outlet WLFE (102.3 St. Albans) flipped to active rock as “Rock 102.3, Pure Rock Radio” as soon as the holiday was over. Mornings on the new signal come straight outta Nebraska, courtesy of the syndicated “Todd N Tyler Morning Empire” based at KEZO (92.3 Omaha), giving the show its only non-midwest clearance; the rest of the day, at least for now, is satellite – and there’s a power increase still in the works; now that WRGR (102.3 Tupper Lake) over in the Adirondacks has moved to 102.1, WLFE can follow through with its move to Grand Isle, closer to Burlington, and power increase to class C3. (WRGR, though it also had a pending CP to go to C3 on 102.1, tells the FCC that due to financial constraints, it will remain a class A signal for now.)

So much for oldies – er, classic hits – in Altoona, PENNSYLVANIA: WALY (103.9 Bellwood) flipped to AC right after Christmas, as “The New WALY 103.9.”

There’s a new format to go with new calls in Laporte: the former WCOZ (103.9) is now WNKZ, and it’s migrated from oldies (simulcasting “Gem FM” WGMF 107.7 Tunkhannock) to hot AC as “KZ104.” The WCOZ calls haven’t gone far, though – WNKZ co-owner Kevin Fitzgerald is also the president of the nonprofit Telikoja Educational Broadcasting, which now has the WCOZ calls on its new 90.5 construction permit in Laceyville, west of Tunkhannock.

Ten Years Ago: January 5, 2004

In NEW YORK, WNEW (102.7) is slowly firming up its new identity as “Mix 102.7,” including the naming of a new morning team. At week’s end, Gregg Daniels will leave MASSACHUSETTS and WBMX (98.5 Boston), where he was doing afternoons, and he’ll head for the big city to join former WBMX morning sidekick Lynn Hoffman (now with VH1 Classic) to be the latest occupants of the morning chair at the latest occupant of the 102.7 frequency. No word yet on what becomes of Rick Stacy, who’d been doing mornings in the “Blink v.2” and holiday-music incarnations of 102.7 recently.
Heading up the Hudson Valley, Poughkeepsie’s WRNQ (92.1) ended the year by changing its slogan – instead of “Q92,” it’s “92.1 Lite FM,” a close clone of Clear Channel sister station WLTW (106.7) down in New York City.

In Syracuse, a new morning show launches today on WFBL (1390), as former WIXT reporter Bill Colley joins Buckley’s talk station for 5-9 AM duties. In its previous incarnation on 1050, WFBL had a morning show that consisted of news headlines from Metro Networks and syndicated features; the addition of a real live local morning show, along with hourly news updates from Time Warner’s News 10 Now cable network, is a sign that the new WFBL intends to be real competition for Clear Channel news-talker WSYR (570).

Rochester religious outlet WDCZ (102.7 Webster) said goodbye to those calls after 11 years on the air New Year’s Eve, replacing them with WRCI (and a new Web site at www.wrcifm.com, too!) The idea, we’re told, is to give Rochester listeners easier call letters to remember when they write to the preachers who buy time on the station (who track mail based on call letter mentions, and who were apparently getting WDCZ confused with Buffalo sister station WDCX…)

In PENNSYLVANIA, Monday marks the launch of Clear Channel’s WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh), with a talk lineup that includes Jim Quinn in the morning and Sean Hannity in the afternoon. A few final additions to the weekday lineup: Ellis Cannon moves over from WEAE (ESPN Radio 1250) to do sports talk from 6-8 PM, followed by Michael Savage from 8-11 PM and George Noory’s Coast to Coast AM show (moving over from WPTT 1360) from 11 PM until 5 AM. And in addition to being heard over in Wheeling, West Virginia on WWVA (1170), Quinn’s show will also air on WHLO (640) in Akron, Ohio.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 1, 1999

NEW YORK’s WQEW shut down its standards format right on schedule at midnight Dec. 27 with little fanfare. After a rebroadcast of their tribute to the late Nancy LaMott, WQEW closed things out with “Stardust” and a one-minute message from Stan Martin, then dumped into Radio Disney with a Randy Newman tune. (Hanson, thankfully, didn’t play until later in the hour!) The Disney automation crashed briefly about 15 minutes later while trying to play the legal ID.

With Disney on 1560, Long Island’s WGSM (740) was released from its contract with the Mouse and promptly went to a simulcast of co-owned standards station WHLI (1100 Hempstead). The two are now claiming “35,000 Watts” of power — too bad the math doesn’t really work that way.

Meanwhile in MASSACHUSETTS, standards returned to the airwaves with the surprise format change at WPLM (99.1/1390) in Plymouth that dumped the smooth jazz of “Jazzy 99.1” for a female-oriented AC/standards blend as “Easy 99.1.” The AM still splits from the simulcast in mornings for business talk. Also flipping to standards was WNBP (1450 Newburyport), which unveiled its new “Legends 1450” identity Christmas day.

Up in MAINE, we’re told WJJB (900 Brunswick) is simulcasting sister FM WCLZ (98.9) for the moment. And we hear that WAYD (105.5 Islesboro) will be on the air by month’s end as adult standards “The Bay,” serving communities up and down the Maine coast from Camden north to Mount Desert Island. It’s co-owned with WQSS (102.5 Camden) and will operate from WQSS’s facilities.

Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s…1983 all over again? That’s what the airwaves sounded like New Year’s Eve, as stations that would ordinarily never play the Artist formerly known as Prince gave “1999” a spin to usher in the New Year. Our Boston-area listeners heard the Purple One on WEGQ, WJMN, WBCN, WXLO, and WMJX (which broke format in a big way to play it!). Rhode Island and southeastern Mass. heard it on WRIU, WPRO-FM, WBRU, and WFHN at midnight. WBMX, WROR, and WXKS-FM all hit it a few minutes after midnight. In northern New York, Mike Roach reports hearing it in full on CKKL Ottawa and in part on WYSX Ogdensburg — but U2’s “New Year’s Day” was more popular, being heard on Ottawa’s CHEZ and CKQB and on Brockville’s CHXL (and on Boston’s WBOS and WXRV, too.) Here in Rochester, we caught it on WZNE and WPXY. Just after the New Year rang in, we also caught a new TV spot for “The Nerve” (WNVE 95.1) promising a big expansion of the station’s playlist. Formerly a straight-ahead modern rocker, the Jacor station is adding 70s and 80s hard rock like AC/DC and Aerosmith to its mix. An attempt to inflict further damage on CBS rocker WCMF (96.5)? Sure sounds that way…

5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s not easy keeping track with all the ownership changes lately, but Fun 107 WFHN is now owned by Townsquare.

  2. I would assume John Fuller is also claiming that Ledyard is not really losing local service thanks to WCSE-LP(FM) on 100.1 in Ledyard. And I have to assume that he’s using Bradford as a proposed COL since, as you note, there’s Class A (NCE) FM WXEV licensed there. One wonders if he’s planning on moving it again afterwards, or just preserving flexibility in the future.

  3. Aaron, don’t forget though that lpfms are not considered as a primary aural service, so Scott is correct that ledyard is losing its only aural service. I do agree that the app for 107.7 is likely for a tx move, probably closer to the more populated areas there in southern Rhode island.

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