In this week’s issue… What’s up with Tom Bauerle? – DePetro returns to WPRO – UHF TV pioneer dies – Blue finds new Boston radio home – Blundell over the “Edge” in Toronto
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Is the governor of NEW YORK spending $40,000 a day to conduct top-secret surveillance against a talk host who’s been vociferously opposed to his gun-control legislation?
Back on “New Year’s Eve Eve,” as he put it, WBEN (930 Buffalo) afternoon host Tom Bauerle spent the start of his show spinning what sounded like a fantastic tale about the plots being spun against him to get him to stop criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“There are people in this state who want me off the air,” Bauerle told listeners on a December 30 broadcast, saying that “at great expense,” he’s taken steps at home to defend against what “professional people have called the biggest surveillance operation they have ever seen against a civilian.”
While WBEN archives its Bauerle audio online, the first hour of that December 30 show is missing from their website. Nothing vanishes forever these days, though, and the Buffalo News and the local Trending Buffalo blog found that audio, in which Bauerle talked about how his “counterintelligence people” had been detecting signs of an operation against him.
“How many times have I told you they will come after me?,” Bauerle asked, claiming that “they” were trying to provoke him into shooting in order to take his weapons away, saying he “could mobilize an army” to defend against the harassment he claimed to be enduring and threatening “massive civil lawsuits” against “whoever did it.”
For better or worse, Bauerle’s monologue was not out of the norm for a lot of AM talk radio these days, and his rants about Cuomo’s personal life would have passed without much notice – until Bauerle did something unusual that’s just not done in radio these days: he disappeared from WBEN’s airwaves for a few days at the height of the Blizzard of 2014 that paralyzed the region early last week.
(Sidebar here: when WBEN was the rock-solid full-service voice that kept Buffalo together during the last massive paralyzing blizzard back in 1977, would Clint Buehlman and Jefferson Kaye have gone on the air to call then-governor Hugh Carey a “scumbag,” one of the milder epithets Bauerle aimed at Cuomo on December 30th?)
Bauerle, it turns out, was entirely right that “something big” was happening in his life, but it’s not at all clear yet just what it was. Over the weekend, the News reported that police in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst were called to Bauerle’s house in the midst of the storm around 3 o’clock Wednesday morning, where they found him with a loaded semi-automatic handgun in his backyard, searching his yard for someone spying on him. The News, quoting Amherst police sources, says Bauerle was questioned about the absence of any footprints in the fresh snow and told an officer “that government operatives have special shoes that leave no prints in the snow,” and then identified a tree as a person. (It was apparently just the latest of more than a dozen calls Amherst police have made to Bauerle’s home since November, according to the News.)
Later that day, the News reports, Bauerle agreed to be taken for a mental evaluation. He was off the air on WBEN on Wednesday and Thursday but returned Friday, saying he’d been taking a few days off for exhaustion. Even before Bauerle’s return, the News and other media outlets were reaching out to WBEN and Bauerle for comment, only to find themselves stonewalled.
So what’s going on here?
On the surface, it appears to be the story of someone with some personal demons to excise that are his and his alone. Buffalo’s alternative weekly, Artvoice, wrestled (in a somewhat self-satisfied way) with the question of whether to even write about Bauerle’s incidents and the stories reported in the News.
We think it’s worth writing about, not only because Bauerle’s private actions appear so closely linked to what he was talking about publicly on December 30th but also because Bauerle’s on December 30th was, while extreme, not all that different in tone or intent from the shows he’s been doing for years on WBEN.
Can radio like coexist with the sort of full-service news coverage for which WBEN has long been famous? Internally, we’re hearing there’s long been discomfort in the newsroom with the tenor of the programming surrounding the newscasts, and we’d expect that tension will be in full flare today, not least of all with Sandy Beach, the somewhat tamer talk host who lost his prime afternoon spot to Bauerle last year.
Will Bauerle be back on the air this afternoon? Is it possible, as some of our more cynical Buffalo acquaintances are wondering, that to Bauerle this is all a way of making sure that attention is being paid to that spot at 930 on the dial at 3 PM? And even if WBEN does draw more listeners’ ears to this spectacle (if that’s what it is), what sort of advertiser would want its message associated with the sort of programming that’s suddenly in the spotlight here?
*Moving downstate: all those changes at WABC (770) and there’s still one more to tell you about. In addition to the shifts in the Cumulus station’s talk lineup, there’s a change in the minimal newsroom at 2 Penn Plaza, too. Scott Salotto, who’d been the morning reporter at WABC since 2005, left the station at the start of 2014 to become director of communications for Rockland County. Salotto had also worked for Metro Networks and for Rockland’s WRKL (910 New City), as well as for KTRH (740) in Houston in the early 1990s.
New York City is a tough, tough market for over-the-air TV. All those tall buildings in Manhattan make multipath soup of the signals from the Empire State Building (which isn’t even the tallest building in town anymore), and the market stretches more than 100 miles in several directions, eastward to the tip of Long Island, northward into the Hudson Valley and westward into the Poconos. But you’ve got to give Fox Television Stations some points for at least trying: it just applied for a “digital replacement translator” to augment the northward signal of WWOR (Channel 9/RF 38). The 15 kW signal on RF channel 34 would broadcast from the historic Armstrong Tower in Alpine, NEW JERSEY, where it would be the only 24/7 broadcast signal (WFDU 89.1 shares time with New York University’s WNYU 89.1), using a directional antenna aiming up at Rockland and Westchester counties in New York and parts of Bergen County, New Jersey.
Now that it’s finished rebuilding in the wake of Sandy more than a year ago, New York Public Radio’s WNYC (820 New York) is applying to modify its nighttime directional pattern from the Kearney, N.J. site it shares with WMCA (570). If the FCC still issued “DA-1” licenses to AM stations, WNYC’s proposal to drop from 1000 watts to 930 watts at night would make it a “DA-1,” using the same directional pattern night and day. The way the FCC’s database system now works, WNYC would be categorized as a “DA-2,” but the modification it’s proposing will still use its day pattern at night, sending just a smidge more signal out to central Queens and Brooklyn and putting 118,256 more people within its 13 mV/m interference-free night signal (which will still cover only a fraction of New York City.)
In the Hudson Valley, William Walker is applying for a big power boost on a Poughkeepsie-area translator. W279AJ (103.7 Highland) wants to go from its present 10 watts to 250 watts, with a directional pattern aimed east and west; after carrying New York’s WQXR for many years, the translator now repeats Sound of Life’s religious WFGB (89.7 Kingston).
Just up the road, we send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland) morning man Tommy Lee Walker. He’s been battling health problems for a year or so now, and in a Facebook message to fans he says he’s looking forward to returning to the air soon.
We send our best wishes, too, to Buffalo radio veteran Ray Marks. The longtime WGR (550) newsman will have a bone marrow transplant soon after being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome. On Saturday, his friends and colleagues gathered for a benefit to help raise money for his medical expenses; Mayor Byron Brown even declared “Ray Marks Day” in the city of Buffalo.
We’re sorry to report the death of Mohawk Valley radio veteran Lloyd Smith. The Amsterdam native started out in the early 1960s at WAFS (1570, now WVTL) before crossing the street in 1964 to competitor WCSS (1490), where he was a morning institution for three decades until his retirement in 1993. Since then, Smith had been doing some engineering work for WENT (1340 Gloversville) and for public broadcaster WMHT in Albany. He died on Tuesday in Albany, at age 71.
We now know how the big Family Life Network regional religious chain intends to retain full coverage of its Steuben County homebase of Bath once it moves flagship WCIK (103.1) from Bath northward to Savona: FLN is paying $10,000 to acquire the construction permit of a new Bath-licensed translator on 106.5 from Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes, which had applied for the translator back in 2003.
In Utica, Townsquare has filled out its new lineups at “Big Frog” WFRG (104.3) and its sister stations: Dave Wheeler, who was “Davey Jones” on WODZ (96.1), moves down the hall to afternoons on WFRG to replace “Tad Pole” (Bill McAdams), now in morning drive. WFRG middayer Greg McShea moves to afternoons on WODZ, and Andy Cash joins the Townsquare crew to do middays on WFRG. Wheeler remains PD of WODZ, reports CNYRadio.com.
Up north in Potsdam, WPDM (1470) is getting an FM translator. W261CJ (100.1 Potsdam) has been around for more than two decades, running 9 watts from a site on White Hill southeast of town and relaying religious WMHI (94.7 Cape Vincent), but the translator’s owner, Good News Radio, has applied to boost it to 99 watts from the WPDM tower off US 11. Once it’s moved, Good News will consummate the application it filed back in October to sell the translator to WPDM’s new owner, Tim Martz’s Waters Communications. The $30,000 deal will provide an FM voice for the sports format WPDM has been running since Martz split it from its longtime simulcast with WSNN (99.3).
*The World Champion Boston Red Sox (it never gets old, does it?) have lined up a new affiliate in western CONNECTICUT, and at the expense of the “Evil Empire,” no less: WLAD (800 Danbury) is switching to the Sox network this season after many years with the Yankees.
Jacoby Ellsbury fans in northern Fairfield County won’t be out of luck; the Yanks’ games should be easily audible on new flagship WFAN (660) all over town. And that’s not all that’s brewing at Irv Goldstein’s cluster: he’s also applying for a power boost at W297AN (107.3), the Danbury FM translator for WAXB (850 Ridgefield). “B107.3” now runs 21 watts, but it’s hoping to power up to 99 watts from the site on Brushy Hill that it shares with WLAD and WDAQ (98.3).
*It’s turning into a game of retrans-consent hardball between cable operator Cablevision and the state’s CBS affiliate, WFSB (Channel 3). The deal between Cablevision and the Meredith-owned station expired at the end of 2013, and both sides are now engaged in the usual posturing that accompanies these disputes – but with some interesting twists, thanks to Connecticut’s unusual TV geography. While most of the state is in the Hartford-New Haven market that WFSB calls home, Cablevision’s home turf is in the southwestern corner, where populous Fairfield County is in the New York City market and WFSB plays second fiddle to New York’s CBS owned-and-operated station, WCBS-TV (Channel 2).
WFSB has tried to challenge WCBS with a special Fairfield County feed that carries local ads for the region, but that feed depends on Cablevision’s distribution. Cablevision says it has no problem paying retransmission fees to WFSB in its systems in New Haven and Litchfield counties, in the Hartford-New Haven DMA, but doesn’t want to pay in Fairfield, where it’s already paying WCBS-TV. And it’s turning to the FCC to make its case, accusing Meredith of “violating its public interest obligations” by blacking out WFSB across all of Cablevision’s systems during the dispute. But wait – there’s more! Cablevision is asking the FCC to put Meredith’s planned acquisition of KMOV (Channel 4) in St. Louis from Gannett on hold while the dispute plays out.
*After five weeks off the air, RHODE ISLAND talker John DePetro was back on WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) last Monday, and the temperature of the kerfuffle over his November anti-union remarks has cooled from incendiary to a mere dull glow. For his first few days back on the Cumulus talker, DePetro stayed away from most of his usual hot-button topics. By week’s end, at least one of the politicians who’d been vowing to boycott the station was back on his show for an interview. The coalition that mustered against DePetro says it’s still going to keep up the fight, especially with his contract reportedly set to expire in March.
*Over at Hall Communications’ WCTK (98.1 New Bedford), Meredith Turtletaub is the midday replacement now that Loren Petisce has moved down the road to WFHN (Fun 107). Turtletaub had been doing nights at “Cat Country,” and no replacement has been named yet for that slot.
Meanwhile at Fun 107, Michael Rock has been promoted to PD (or “brand manager,” as Townsquare prefers), replacing JR Reitz, who departed in December. Rock keeps his posts as morning host (alongside Petisce) and music director.
*There were plenty of communities where UHF television died an ugly death in the early 1950s. Western MASSACHUSETTS was one of those rare places where UHF not only survived but thrived, and it did so in no small part because of a woman named Katherine Broman.
“Kitty” Broman, who died January 5 just a few weeks shy of her 98th birthday, was there when WWLP-TV (Channel 61) signed on in Springfield in 1953 as one of the first UHF stations anywhere in the country. And while her official role at WWLP at the beginning was a pretty standard one for women of that era, hosting the cooking show and working as a secretary to station founder Bill Putnam, Kitty Broman really did a whole lot more at the station. For decades, she worked right alongside Putnam to help move WWLP to a better channel (its present home on channel 22) and to grow Springfield Television into a group owner that eventually had stations in Greenfield and Worcester, not to mention Dayton, Charlotte, N.C. and Salt Lake City.
Along the way, she became a beloved television personality in Springfield, where she continued to host a daytime talk show on WWLP into the 1990s, using her local renown to raise impressive amounts of money to help provide treatment for mental illness.
She also became the first woman ever to sit on the board of the National Association of Broadcasters – and eventually, she married Bill Putnam and enjoyed a long retirement with him at their homes in Massachusetts and Flagstaff, Arizona.
In 2012, the Putnams wrote a memoir of their years in early television, “How We Survived in UHF Television,” and it’s highly recommended.
A memorial service was held Friday in Longmeadow, where the Putnams were living at the time of Kitty’s death.
*In Boston, Greater Media started the year with some big moves. As its WBQT (Hot 96.9) marks its first anniversary, it’s hired yet another former Clear Channel jock. Jackson Blue’s been on the beach for a few months since being cut loose from Clear Channel’s Kiss 108 (WXKS-FM), but he’s now signed on for afternoons on “Hot,” reuniting him with his former Clear Channel PD “Cadillac Jack” McCartney and a whole airstaff of veterans from Kiss and WJMN.
But Blue’s arrival at Greater Media (where he’ll continue to produce his syndicated shows and voice a shift for Cape Cod’s Y101) comes with some cutbacks as well: Dan Justin is out after many years in afternoon drive on WMJX (106.7), and behind the scenes HR/promotions staffer Amy Hull and digital producers Ben Kulis and Sue Edelman are reportedly out as well.
Back in Springfield, Lenny Diana is the new “brand manager” (Saga-speak for PD) at WAQY (102.1) and WLZX (99.3), hopping a ferry and hitting I-91 north from his most recent gig as PD of WWSK (94.3 Smithtown) on Long Island. Diana’s arrival at Saga completes a long-term exchange with central Indiana, where former WAQY/WLZX PD Rob Cressman is now working at Clear Channel in Indianapolis, which is exactly where Diana worked from 2004 until 2012.
*A longtime NEW HAMPSHIRE Public TV reporter has died. Richard Ager spent 18 years with the statewide network, starting in 1993 and leaving in 2011 after NHPTV cancelled its nightly “NH Outlook” public affairs show. Ager had also worked on previous NHPTV offerings including “NH Tonight” and “NH Journal,” as well as producing numerous documentaries for the network. Ager moved to Wyoming after leaving NHPTV, and had been working as a producer/reporter for Wyoming PBS when he died suddenly on December 29. He was 60 years old.
*In MAINE, Cary Pahigian is leaving Saga’s Portland Radio Group on his own terms after 15 years at the helm. Pahigian tells NERW he’s been contemplating moving on for more than a year now, but Saga executives persuaded him to reconsider. Now, however, with his youngest son about to graduate from high school, Pahigian has made the decision official. He’s not saying what comes next, but there’s no huge hurry: he’s sticking around the Western Avenue building until Saga names his replacement. Pahigian’s career started early, including big management posts at WIP in Philadelphia and then station manager at Boston’s WBZ at age 26.
Down the hall, there’s also a changing of the guard in morning drive at WMGX (93.1 Portland). Jon Armand left the Saga cluster at the end of 2013, and now Blake Hayes has joined the morning show alongside Eva Matteson. Hayes returns to New England all the way from Houston, where he’d been part of the morning team at KHMX (96.5).
A translator north of Brunswick is hoping to increase power and get off a difficult frequency. Light of Life Ministries’ W235CD (94.9) relays WMEY (88.1 Bowdoin), but it’s tucked in co-channel to Portland-market WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH)
*We’re still a few months away from our annual “Baseball on the Radio” edition of NERW, but we know exactly where one PENNSYLVANIA team will be for quite a while to come. The independent Atlantic League York Revolution is buying its flagship station, WOYK (1350), from Doug George’s WOYK, Inc. The deal hasn’t yet been filed with the FCC, and no purchase price has been announced, but York Professional Baseball Club LLC says it hopes to have the transaction closed before opening day on April 23. Revolution play-by-play announcer Darrell Henry will take over as WOYK general manager, and the NBC Sports Radio format that now runs on 1350 will continue.
*In Altoona, Forever has found a replacement for the late Steve “Frogman” Kelsey at the helm of the WFGY (Froggy 98.1) morning show. Kelsey died of a stroke last November after serving as the only morning host “Froggy” ever had; starting today, morning man “JoJo” moves down the hall from sister “Hot” stations WWOT (100.1 Altoona)/WJHT (92.1 Johnstown) to fill that void.
In Pottsville, they’re mourning longtime WPPA (1360)/WAVT (101.9) co-owner Georgine Tidmore. She began working at WPPA in 1950, and before long she’d married A.V. Tidmore, the station’s founder. Georgine Tidmore hosted music shows, handled traffic, and eventually retired as general manager of the stations. When she died January 3 after a long fight with ovarian cancer, Tidmore still held 95% of the voting stock of Pottsville Broadcasting, though she’d long ago handed over operational control to her son Argie. Georgine Tidmore was 84.
Unlike WAVT, whose namesake A.V. Tidmore has long since passed into the ether, WLSW (103.9 Scottdale) is still in the hands of founder L. Stanley Wall – and Wall is on the hook for $7,500 in FCC fines after spending the last few years battling the Commission over the state of the station’s public files. FCC agents visited the station south of Pittsburgh in 2010 and again in 2011, and both times found quarterly issues lists missing from the files. They say Wall offered a variety of explanations, including an alleged theft from the file and a roof collapse at a storage facility that caused water damage. In the end, it appears the FCC wasn’t interested in any of those explanations, but it did respond to Wall’s showing of an inability to pay the proposed $15,000 forfeiture, which it cut in half.
*In CANADA, the suspension of CFNY (102.1 Toronto) morning man Dean Blundell has turned into a dismissal. Corus pulled the show off the air in December in the wake of a controversy over Blundell’s co-host, Derek Welsman, commenting on the air about a high-profile sexual assault trial in which Welsman had been the jury foreman. After complaints that the banter between Welsman and Blundell had turned homophobic, Blundell apologized, but it wasn’t enough for Corus, which cut Blundell and Welsman loose last Monday. No permanent replacement has been named yet for the morning slot at “the Edge.”
Another of Toronto’s ethnic expanded-band AM stations is seeking a power increase. CHTO (1690) started out with 1000 watts fulltime when it signed on in 2007, but reception issues in suburban Mississauga and Brampton led to a daytime power increase to 3000 watts. Even that wasn’t enough, though, and now the station that focuses on Toronto’s Greek Community is back before the CRTC with another application to increase daytime power to 6 kW. (Elsewhere on the X-band, Spanish-language CHHA on 1610 has boosted power from 1000 to 6250 watts since signing on in 2004, while Asian-focused CINA on 1650 went from 1000 watts to 5000 watts by day, though it drops to 680 watts at night.
There’s a new name for the FM station at Hamilton’s Mohawk College. CIOI (101.5) spent the last few years as “INDI 101.5 FM,” but on Thursday at noon it rebranded as “The HAWK,” featuring a somewhat lighter blend of rock than it had been playing. The new name is a nod to CIOI’s parent college, but it also conveniently gets the low-powered station out of any potential confusion with Toronto’s new “Indie 88,” CIND (88.1).
In northern New Brunswick, Radio-Canada is converting two more of its aging low-power AM transmitters to FM. CBAF-20 (990 Kedgwick) goes to 98.1 with 50 watts, while down the road in Saint-Quentin, CBAF-5 (1230) goes to 91.1, also with 50 watts.
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 still shipping several times weekly, so you can have your calendar before much of January has gone by…
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 14, 2013
When WFME (94.7 Newark) signed off for the last time as a Family Radio affiliate Friday afternoon, it marked the end of one of the longest-running formats not only in the NEW YORK market, but anywhere in the country. Family had owned the station since 1966, and if you rewind back to that era (say, through the excellent Broadcasting Yearbook archives at AmericanRadioHistory.com), you’d find only one other commercial-band FM station with an even longer run under the same owner and essentially the same format, that being WBAI (99.5 New York), running freeform under Pacifica ownership since 1960. On 94.7, Family’s religious programming actually predated its ownership; as far back as April 1963, the station then known as WJRZ-FM began leasing some airtime to Family, and by 1965 the station was in what we’d now recognize as an LMA, carrying Family’s programming nearly fulltime.While LMAs are commonplace half a century later, Family’s $40 million sale to Cumulus did not include one – and so the timing of the handoff of 94.7 appeared to be tied directly to the last bits of closing paperwork being completed. It happened at 3:35 on Friday afternoon, and it happened fairly abruptly: as you can hear over on FormatChange.com, longtime WFME GM/chief engineer Charlie Menut broke into regular Family programming with what sounded like an unscripted announcement that after a week’s delay, the time had come to hand over the facility to its new owners. Menut acknowledged that while Family has been looking for an AM replacement for WFME, it hasn’t found one yet – and so in the meantime, those looking for the WFME programming can find it via streaming audio or Family’s other lower-powered signals in the region, including WFRS (88.9 Smithtown) on Long Island and WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco), the northern Westchester signal Family is acquiring from Cumulus as part of the WFME sale.
WFME was silent for only a few minutes before programming once again appeared on 94.7 – but as of Sunday night, we’re still not really any closer to knowing exactly what Cumulus has planned for its new acquisition. What appeared immediately on 94.7 was the audio of sister station WPLJ (95.5 New York), sometimes with HD Radio running, sometimes without, and with every indication that the Cumulus engineers are busy tweaking the 94.7 audio chain for whatever is coming next.
And what might that be?
We know what the new callsign on 94.7 will be, at least for now: while the station was still identifying itself (in a dual ID with WPLJ) as “WFME Newark” over the weekend, Cumulus had requested the new calls WRXP, which might be an indication that Cumulus is leaning toward a rock format that might pick up where the previous incarnations of WRXP on 101.9 (now WFAN-FM) left off. Or – and this, we think, is more likely – Cumulus had to put something on 94.7 to replace the WFME callsign, which stays with Family on WFME-TV (Channel 66, licensed to Oakland, N.J.) and which has quietly been requested as the new call on what’s now WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco).
(It bears noting that Family will continue its operations for now from its studio in West Orange at the 94.7 site, where Charlie Menut and his small staff are still running WFME-TV, complete with WFME radio audio on its 66.2 subchannel, and where the eventual WFME AM will presumably someday make its home.)
Back to the new “WRXP”: despite what you may be reading elsewhere, it’s not going sports. While Cumulus is indeed partnering with CBS to distribute the new CBS Sports Radio Network, most of Cumulus’ role in the deal involves much smaller markets where CBS Radio has no existing sports radio presence. In New York, however, CBS has the very prominent presence of WFAN (660) and WFAN-FM (101.9), and even though the launch of CBS Sports Radio didn’t come with a format change on 660, it appears our speculation that the AM-FM simulcast would be only temporary was indeed correct. CBS Radio head honcho Dan Mason was quoted last week as saying that the AM side of WFAN will begin transitioning to “more national content,” and if that doesn’t mean a nearly-full New York clearance for the CBS Sports Radio lineup on 660 (and not on 94.7), why, we’ll eat a Tower Site Calendar.
That still seems to point to country as the most likely permanent format choice for 94.7, perhaps with a swap of the WRXP calls (now in use on the air as of midnight) for the WNSH calls that Cumulus recently parked in Minnesota. Everything we’re hearing also points to a “nationalized” format, with most of the programming decisions being made, Cumulus-style, from a centralized location outside the market. (If it’s country, that probably means Nashville.)
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news starts up in the state’s northwest corner, where Tuesday at noontime brought a format change at Mercyhurst College’s WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie). After many years of jazz, WMCE has taken over the oldies format that’s been playing on sister station WYNE (1530 North East) – and as of Tuesday, the North East signal is now WMCE(AM), simulcasting with the FM.
*You’d think our lead story from MASSACHUSETTS would be the final format change at WTKK (96.9 Boston), and we’ll get there – but it was overshadowed a bit by a sadder story a few days later as news spread that Rex Trailer had died.
If you didn’t grow up around Boston, or if you’re younger than about 50, that name might not mean much. But for New Englanders of a certain age, Trailer was once as big a name as ever graced local TV, thanks to his 18 years as the star of “Boomtown” on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). No phony TV cowboy, Trailer (whose real name was, in fact, Rexford Trailer) grew up on a ranch in north Texas before coming east to work at the new DuMont TV network, where he hosted the “Oky Doky Ranch” show in the late 1940s. That led him to Westinghouse in Philadelphia, where he was on the air at WPTZ (Channel 3) from 1950 until 1956, when Westinghouse’s forced sale of Channel 3 to NBC gave Trailer the choice of moving to sister stations in Cleveland or Boston.
Trailer chose Boston, of course, and the rest is history: “Boomtown” on WBZ-TV from 1956 until 1974, followed by stints as host of the syndicated “Earth Lab” and a full post-”Boomtown” career teaching at Emerson College, running a video production company, piloting planes and helicopters, advocating for children with disabilities and making nostalgia appearances all over New England as recently as his 84th birthday earlier this year.
As we told you last week, Trailer had become ill while visiting family in Florida at Christmastime, and he didn’t recover; his website reports he died January 9, “surrounded by love and song from his family.”
*On to 96.9: Greater Media’s “wheel of formats” on WTKK finally came to an end Tuesday morning at 11, and as had been widely expected, the new rhythmic format is a shot straight up I-93 at Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5). “Hot 96.9″ launched with 13,000 commercial-free songs in a row, which means it will be sometime in late February before PD Cadillac Jack launches the station’s airstaff, led off by former WJMN morning co-host Pebbles in morning drive.
Is there much more we can say about WTKK that hasn’t already been said? Only that the entrance of a fourth station playing a heavy dose of top-40 alongside WJMN, Clear Channel sister station WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) and CBS Radio’s AMP (WODS 103.3) is probably one more top-40 station than the market can support in the long term. Will WJMN return to its roots as a more urban station? And will Clear Channel now stick with “Evolution 101.7,” the dance “micro-format” that it installed on what’s now WEDX (101.7 Lynn) in what may have been an attempt to bait Greater Media into picking up the adult hits format formerly on 101.7, and thus to keep 96.9 out of competition with WJMN? Stay tuned…
Five Years Ago: January 12, 2009
Whether it’s Generosa Aiello, the 96-year-old grandmother from Salem who was an early Friday morning call-in fixture for many years, or Ben Goodman, the college freshman who launched the fan site bringbacksteve.com, or the black leaders fired up about the firing of veteran talk host Lovell Dyett, there’s nobody out there in MASSACHUSETTS – or anywhere else in the “38 states and half of Canada” served by the night signal of WBZ (1030 Boston) – who’s got very much good to say about the cutbacks at New England’s oldest radio station.
Indeed, the replacement of Steve LeVeille’s live, local overnight talk show with St. Louis-based Jon Grayson and “Overnight America” was, for once, not accompanied by a puffy press release making any inflated claims about the quality of the new programming or the improved service being provided to the audience. It’s just as well, because nobody would believe it anyway – there’s no reason to think that anyone in local management on Soldiers Field Road is taking any pride at the moment in what’s become of what was once one of the nation’s great radio stations.
And whether or not the imminent departure of the dean of the station’s airstaff, sports director Gil Santos, is the direct result of budget cuts almost doesn’t matter at this point, because what once would have come as a shock – the end of one of the longest on-air careers in the history of Boston sports – seems to have barely registered in the context of everything else that’s changing at WBZ.
Santos started at WBZ as a full-time staffer in 1971 after 12 years at his hometown stations in Fall River and New Bedford, but he had already been heard on the station five years earlier as the voice of the then-Boston Patriots, a job he held from 1966-1979 and again since 1990. Teamed with morning news anchor Gary LaPierre, the pair developed an on-air (and behind the scenes) repartee that kept the station at the top of the ratings for years, and when LaPierre retired at the end of 2006, Santos remained, providing some stability as Ed Walsh took over the anchor chair. But while there was no shortage of publicity and promotion around LaPierre’s high-profile retirement, Santos’ plans to retire at month’s end emerged in a blog posting from Boston Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam late on Friday – drawing rounds of “no comment” from WBZ management and, briefly, from Santos himself. On Saturday, Santos spoke to the Herald (which has the Boston media scene almost to itself now that the Globe has essentially stopped covering radio), denying that he was forced out by the station’s cutbacks. At age 70, he told the paper, he’s getting too old to slog through early-morning snowstorms to get to the station. “It’s been a great life and a great way to make a living, and now it’s really time to move on from that,” Santos told the Herald – and while he’ll continue with his weekend job as the Patriots’ play-by-play announcer on WBCN, it certainly doesn’t appear that WBZ made any particular effort to keep Santos on board. (If the weather was a concern, we’d note that the station was more than happy to let LaPierre broadcast from his Florida vacation home for several years before his retirement; surely an arrangement could have been made to allow Santos to do his segments from his much closer home in Raynham.)
With Santos’ departure in a few weeks, the WBZ sports department will have essentially ceased to exist on weekdays, following the ousters of Alan Segel last year and of Tom Cuddy just a couple of weeks ago, and it’s not at all clear what may be in store for WBZ’s sports presence now.
NEW YORK’s “K-Rock” (WXRK 92.3) is once again reuniting with Chris Booker, who returned from Philadelphia last Wednesday to take the afternoon slot last occupied by British jock Ian Camfield. This is Booker’s third go-round with K-Rock, where he did nights from 1996-2003, then moved crosstown to “Blink” (WNEW 102.7) before returning to 92.3, where he did afternoons in both its “K-Rock” and “Free FM” incarnations” in 2005-06 before moving to Philadelphia and WIOQ, where he did mornings until last May.
After 15 years at the helm of VERMONT Public Radio, Mark Vogelzang is moving on at month’s end to a new, as-yet-unannounced position – but he’s leaving the statewide service in familiar hands. VPR’s board of directors voted last week to accept Vogelzang’s resignation, effective February 1, and to promote Robin Turnau, VPR’s vice president of development, to be the network’s next president. Turnau has been with VPR since 1989, when she joined the network – then a single program service heard on just three transmitters – as its membership coordinator.
One of the Granite State’s most durable air talents has died. Bill Morrissey came to Manchester’s WKBR in 1954, before the station had even moved from its original 1240 dial position to 1250, and he remained with the station as its morning man through its top-40 heyday and long afterward, too. Morrissey retired in 1983, returning for a reunion in 1999 and another in 2004. After leaving WKBR, Morrissey served as public affairs coordinator for Public Service of New Hampshire, the statewide utility. He died January 8 at Eliot Hospital in Goffstown, at the age of 84.
The end is near for two more AM stations in CANADA. In Kitchener, CKKW-FM (99.5) signed on officially last Tuesday (Jan. 6) at 3 PM, replacing the former “Oldies 1090.” The new FM signal is being billed as “K-FUN 99.5, Tri-Cities’ Greatest Hits,” and it’s nearly a straight transfer of the old AM format to FM, with the same airstaff and a somewhat freshened classic hits approach. It’s being simulcast on AM 1090, but not for long – the AM signal is expected to be gone on Friday (Jan. 16.) In Peterborough, CKRU (980) plans to have its new FM signal on 100.5 on the air in about a month, we’re hearing.
Ten Years Ago: January 12, 2004
It’s been 45 years since the call letters “WLIR” were first heard at 92.7 in Garden City, NEW YORK, and more than 20 years since that spot on the dial became the home of the New Wave sound. But as of noon on Friday (Jan. 9), listeners to 92.7 in Nassau County and adjoining corners of New York City, Westchester and southern Connecticut are hearing something very different – the Spanish hits of “Latino Mix” WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ).
The moves were no surprise, of course – it’s been months since Univision Radio announced it was paying $60 million to The Morey Organization (aka Jarad Broadcasting) for the class A signal that sits right on the Nassau/Queens line – but for the passionate fans of WLIR, who’ve followed the station through two decades of ups, downs and even license revocations, it was an emotional moment nonetheless. In recent years, WLIR on 92.7 was barely a shell of the groundbreaking station it once was; its playlist was as likely to include Dido as Kraftwerk, for instance. In its waning days, though, the station began to mix some of that classic New Wave back into its programming, and by Friday morning that was about all 92.7 was playing. And then noon came around, Alphaville’s “Forever Young” played, and WLIR officials Jed Morey and John Carraciolo took the mike to thank listeners for all their years of support.
Over at WCAA’s Madison Avenue studio, a countdown (and, judging from the pictures on the station’s Web site, a pretty good party, too) led into the start of the simulcast on 92.7. While there’s a fair amount of overlap between the 92.7 signal (which will take the calls WZAA) and the 105.9 signal from the Empire State Building, the addition of 92.7 will expand Latino Mix’s reach into areas of Nassau County and southern Connecticut that currently can’t hear 105.9 clearly because of first-adjacent interference from WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) out in Suffolk County. In effect, what Univision Radio gets for its $60 million is a signal that will cover the entire market and thus compete better with the only other Spanish-language FM signals in the market, SBS’ WSKQ (97.9 New York) and WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson NJ).
As for the Morey Organization, it now focuses its efforts on its three signals out on Long Island’s East End: rocker “The Bone” WDRE (98.5 Westhampton), dance/top 40 “Party” WXXP (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) and WBON (107.1 Hampton Bays), the signal that’s been simulcasting WLIR since Jarad bought it from now-defunct Big City Radio last year. With the demise of WLIR, 107.1 was reborn at noon Friday as “The Box 107.1,” playing many of the same modern rock tunes that had been on WLIR at the end, albeit without the 80s “classic alternative” tracks. 107.1 is also where the WLIR call letters end up, since Jarad kept them when it sold 92.7 to Univision. (A few listeners out on the East End were hearing “WLIR Westhampton” legals on 107.1 after the flip, which makes no immediate sense to us; we also wonder where the legal main studio for the three East End stations is, since they’re currently being programmed out of Jarad’s 1103 Stewart Avenue building in Garden City, far outside their signal contours.)
There was other news from New York this week, as well, including the death of a legendary broadcaster. John A. Gambling was the son of John B. Gambling, who more or less originated the concept of a “morning show” on radio when he took over the shift on WOR (710) back in 1925. “Rambling With Gambling” passed to John A. in 1959, capping a career for him that already included other hosting duties (most notably “Music from Studio X”) on WOR, and he held down the job there until his own retirement in 1991, when he handed the show over to his son, John R. Gambling, who hosted the show until being fired from WOR in 2000. John A. also ran JAG Communications, which owned several New England stations, including Providence’s WLKW and Albany’s WROW, in the eighties. John A. Gambling retired to Florida, where he died Thursday (Jan. 8) at 73; his son John R. is now the midmorning host at WABC (770). (And WOR stepped up to the plate with a nice tribute to John A. on Friday morning.)
It’s the end of the line for Utica’s country “Bob”, WRBY (102.5 Rome) – Clear Channel pulled the plug on the format there on Friday and replaced it with a spinning “Wheel of Formats” that’s still twirling at press time Sunday night. Bob’s Web site was being forwarded to the site of Syracuse sister station WWDG (105.1 the Dog), prompting speculation that the Dog will soon be barking in Utica as well, where it would compete against Galaxy’s K-Rock just as it does in Syracuse. (MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: The wheel stopped spinning this morning and landed on hot AC “Mix 102.5.” More next week…)
Moving up the St. Lawrence River, the big news from CANADA was a three-way format flip involving several of Rogers’ FM stations in and around Ottawa. It all played out Friday morning, and it happened like this: Country CKBY (105.3 Ottawa) picked up the mainstream top 40 torch that was dropped last year when CHUM’s “Kool” CKKL (93.9) flipped to classic hits/hot AC “Bob.” Under the banner “105.3 Kiss FM,” the signal picks up right where Kool left off, voiceover talent and all, and promises to give Newcap’s newcomer CIHT (Hot 89.9) some competition, though Hot leans much more urban than Kiss. The country format that lived on 105.3 as “Y105” moved down the dial, airstaff and all, to CIOX (101.1 Smiths Falls), the big signal from 30 miles southwest of Ottawa that had been doing modern rock as “Xfm.” (Some of X’s airstaff have moved over to Kiss as well.) And CJET-FM (92.3 Smiths Falls), which was doing country on a much more local level for Smiths Falls and nearby Carleton Place, no longer needs to do country now that “Y101” is on the air, so it’s become Canada’s newest “Jack,” targeting a broader audience that now includes at least part of the Ottawa market (though it’s still bound by a license condition, left over from its late-nineties conversion from AM to FM, that bars it from soliciting advertising in the Ottawa market.)
Fifteen Years Ago: January 8, 1999
A Rome, NEW YORK AM station is about to change format, not that anyone’s likely to notice. WODZ (1450) is being sold to Bible Broadcasting Network, which is sure to outfit it with WYF-something calls and put the BBN satellite religious format in a few months. WODZ has been nothing but an FM simulcaster for years, first as the old WKAL (with 95.9), then as country WFRG after the FM moved to 96.1, then as oldies WODZ after the WFRG format and calls moved to Utica’s 104.3. The AM has also been used to park calls on occasion in the last few years, most recently as WFRY.
In RHODE ISLAND, another “almost” of 1998 was resolved in the opening week of 1999, as WXEX (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) dumped rock to become a simulcast of classic rocker WHKK (100.3 Middletown). And a big “huh?” award to Robert Whitcomb, editorial page editor of the Providence Journal, whose loving tribute to New York’s late adult standards station referred to it throughout as “WQED.” Suppose he knows something about public broadcasting in Pittsburgh that we don’t?
A MASSACHUSETTS “Where are they now?”: Former WBZ program director Brian Whittemore moves from general manager of KDKA Pittsburgh to the Twin Cities, to CBS sister station WCCO Minneapolis. Congratulations!
Twenty Years Ago: Janiuary 14, 1994
I’m normally based in Boston, I know…but sometimes I make the trek along the Mass Pike and the NY State Thruway (I-90) to my ancestral home of Rochester NY. Here’s what I encountered along the drive last weekend:
WEBSTER MA: Look for WXXW-FM, a class A on 98.9, to take the airwaves soon. The format will be adult contemporary via satellite, and the station will serve the Worcester market (which already has local soft rockers WXLO 104.5 and WSRS 96.1, plus Boston’s WMJX, WSSH, and WBMX). The transmitter is in place, and the single FM bay goes up within the next week on the AM stick of sister WGFP-940.
WXXW is listed on the Don and Mike list; they’re not confirming that that’s true, though.
SOUTHBRIDGE MA: WESO-970 and WQVR-100.1 are moving from their cramped studios on Hamilton Street to a more spacious location nearby in the next couple of weeks.
SPRINGFIELD MA: WSPR-1270 is back on air after two years dark, with a Spanish format. Class D WNEK is no longer on 97.5, but is not yet on air on its new freq of 99.7.
ALBANY NY: WROW-FM 95.5 is no more. WROW and sister WROW-590 have finally been sold to Albany Broadcasting Co., owners of crosstown WPTR-1540 and WFLY-92.3. At the dawn of the new year, WROW-FM became WYJB-“B 95.5”. Format is essentially unchanged; soft rock. WROW-590 is now simulcasting all-news (mostly CNN HN) WPTR. Expect the all-news format to move to 590 this month, with WPTR to take on a new talk format. WROW/WYJB will likely be shoehorned into PTR/WFLY’s cramped studios behind Rt. 5 between Albany and Schenectady. That means an end to 4 decades of WROW sharing space with WTEN-TV 10. TEN began as WROW-TV 41 in the early ’50s. The station became WCDB-TV 41, co-owned with WCDA-29 Hagaman NY and WCDC-19 North Adams MA. In 1959, Cap Cities won a VHF allocation (against the wishes of WHEC-10 Rochester and WJAR-10 Providence) on channel 10. WCDA-29 left the air. WCDB-41 became WTEN-10. Cap Cities sold the stations in the 80s.
SCHENECTADY NY: Stopped in to visit WGY. The station is in very funky, old-fashioned studios built by GE to house the GY stations and WRGB-TV. The walls are lined with historic photos. Although the radio and TV have been separately owned since 1982, they still share the building…no locked doors, and the WGY-FM studio has a window that looks down into the TV news studio! WRGB-TV has 3 enormous studios…the Golden Age of TV lives! Videos on request…
UTICA/ROME NY: The duopoly with 1350/102.5 Rome and 1480/93.5 Remsen has shaken out like this: 1350-WRNY and 1480-WADR now simulcast…satellite music of your life most of the day, with few IDs. The top-hour legal did not fire the hour I heard them…yes I have it on tape! In PM drive, they run a really bad talk show. The host never ID’d the station, had zero phone callers in the hour I listened, and did 3-minute live spots for both advertisers. Yawwwnnnn… Meanwhile, the duopoly flopped calls and formats on the former WUUU-102.5 and WKDY-93.5. WUUU’s oldies moved to class A 93.5, WKDY’s country to class B 102.5. Meanwhile, WFRG-1450/96.1 “Frog Country” is now WODZ-AM/FM, “Oldies 96”. The Big Frog has hopped to a new home on 100kw FM 104.3 Utica, historically WKGW, and for the last few months WKFM, “Kix” classic rock (the format and calls formerly heard on 104.7 Fulton-Syracuse).
SYRACUSE: The late WEZG 100.9/WNSS 1200 are back on after a few months of darkness, now as WKRL AM-FM, “K-Rock”. They simulcast WKLL Frankfort-Utica 94.9 and its hard-rock format. The 100.9 signal, a weak class A, holds up going east just to the point where 94.9 gets strong…so a good duopoly. Class A drop-in WTKW 99.5 Bridgeport-Syracuse has dumped satellite country for live classic rock.
Despite plans and a CP to move to 90.9, Baldwinsville High School’s WBXL-FM is still on 90.5, where I heard a surprisingly professional-sounding female jock one afternoon. Must have a good training program there…
ROCHESTER: The big news is the on-air debut in December of WEZO-FM 93.3. This is the CP that belonged to WYSL-1030 in Avon NY, south of Rochester. It was to have been WYNQ, and signed on simulcasting WYSL for one month in Dec. Then owner Bob Savage entered into an LMA-to-buy with Lincoln Group, owners of WHAM/WVOR/WHTK Rochester…and the station became automated EZ, under the historic WEZO calls. WEZO was Rochester’s monster EZ on 101.3 from 1971 until 1987, when the station became WRMM, “Warm”. This move brings the historic EZO calls back to the market, and with the old 101.3 morning host Jerry Warner no less!
The new WEZO has a so-so signal, a class A from Rts. 5/20 and Oaks Opening Road in West Bloomfield, about 15 miles S of Rochester. It’s OK south of the city, less so in the northern ‘burbs.
Oh yeah…historically this is revenge. See, the original WEZO made its mark by stealing the entire WVOR 100.5 audience. WVOR was the original EZ listening station…but in July 1971, it was knocked off the air by a fire. While VOR stayed off for weeks, country WNYR-FM 101.3 quietly changed format to EZ and calls to WEZO, and took over the EZ franchise in town. When VOR came back on the air, its audience had already defected! And who’s behind the new WEZO 93.3? The Lincoln Group, owners of WHAM and… WVOR! I wonder if anyone there gets the irony of it all?
Meanwhile WIRQ, the first noncomm FM in Monroe County (circa 1959), plugs along with its 30 watts on 94.3, its third frequency (original was 90.9, then 93.3, then the move to 94.3 when the WYNQ/WEZO CP was issued). Now they have to move again…and this time may have to go dark. A new CP has been issued for Brighton on 94.1 (can you say OVERBUILT MARKET? knew you could…), and now there may be nowhere to go for poor WIRQ. I’m rooting for them to bump W238AR off its 95.5 channel in Rochester. W238AR is a translator designed to help rimshotter WRQI-95.1 “Rock-It 95” S. Bristol get into Rochester…but translators CAN be bumped by class D noncomms…so stay tuned!
On the AM side, the former WPXY-AM 1280 is now “Hot Talk 1280”, WHTK…being sold by Pyramid to Lincoln Group (WHAM/WVOR/WEZO). The format includes Imus in the Morning, Liddy, Gene Burns, Don and Mike, and Dr. Joy Browne. And that’s the buzz from my old hometown.
One New England note: WKBR-1250 in Manchester NH is coming back on the air. It’s been testing with dead carrier on both day and night pattern…look for it!