In this week’s issue… Station clusters expand in Elmira, Olean, Ithaca – Power boost for Pittsburgh’s jazz FM – “Lite” replaces rock in SW Ontario – AM frequency change in Rochester? – Public radio changes on Cape Cod


A program note: while “Mrs. NERW” continues to recuperate from her surgery, we’re still a little short-handed in the administrative department. Thanks again for your patience with subscription inquiries and Store orders; we’re hoping to have her home from the hospital and once again ready to answer your queries in a few days. In the meantime, please contact me by e-mail if you’re having login problems, and I’ll do my best to help!

We’re also a little behind in newsgathering as a result; check back later this week, either Tuesday or Wednesday depending on circumstances, for a NERW Extra catching up on the most recent LPFM grants across the region.

*The big news on an otherwise slow week comes from the southern tier of upstate NEW YORK, where bankruptcies are yielding new owners – and new ownership consolidation – for stations in Elmira, Olean and Ithaca.

Pfuntner's Elmira facility, January 2014
Pfuntner’s Elmira facility, January 2014

We’ll start with the Elmira and Olean stations, where Robert Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines group has been in bankruptcy proceedings for a while now. Last October, NERW brought you news of a proposed sale of Pembrook’s stations in Bath (WVIN 98.3 and WABH 1380) and Elmira (WELM 1410, WEHH 1600, WLVY 94.3, WOKN 99.5) to Titan Radio, operated by former Elmira TV manager Randy Reid. But that $2.75 million deal never closed, and broker/bankruptcy trustee Dick Foreman had the stations back on the market in January.

Now there’s a new sale announced, though not yet filed with the FCC: the Elmira stations are now set to go to Great Radio LLC, while Pfuntner’s WOEN (1360) and WMXO (101.5) in Olean and WGGO (1590) and WQRS (98.3) in Salamanca will go to Sound Communications.

Great Radio is owned by Elmira-area broadcaster Bill Christian, whose holdings include Fox affiliate WYDC (Channel 48) and MyNetwork affiliate WMYH (Channel 6), Olean’s WVTT-CA (Channel 25), as well as WBGT-CA and WGCE-CA in Rochester; Sound Communications is owned by a trust controlled by Bettina Finn of Long Island. And here’s where it gets interesting: because Sound and Great Radio work closely together, the Elmira side of the deal appears to create quite a radio/TV cluster, at least in practice if not on FCC paperwork. (Bettina Finn’s husband, Brian, holds the debt for Bill Christian’s Vision group, while Christian’s wife, Paige, is Sound’s vice president.)

In addition to Christian’s WYDC/WMYH combo (held as “Vision Communications”), Sound Communications is just down the street in downtown Corning, where it already operates news-talk WENY (1230 Elmira)/WENI (1450 Corning), AC “Magic” WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira)/WENI-FM (97.7 Big Flats), classic hits WGMM (98.7 Corning) and country WKPQ (105.3 Hornell). (What’s more, Sound operates sports-talk WCBA 1350 Corning under an LMA from Vision.)

How closely will that big Sound cluster work with the soon-to-be Great Radio cluster, where WOKN competes against WKPQ in the country format (though their signals serve different parts of the sprawling Elmira-Corning market) and where WLVY’s top-40 format complements the softer AC sounds on “Magic” and “Gem”? We’ll be watching closely – and we’re sure they’ll be paying attention as well over at the competing clusters in town. The largest competitor is also under new ownership: Bruce Mittman and Jim Leven are just settling in over at Community Broadcasters, which picked up the two AMs and three FMs that had belonged to Backyard Broadcasters last fall. (That group includes some very direct competitors to the Pfuntner stations – Community’s country “Wolf” WPGI 100.9 and top-40 “Wink” WNKI 106.1; it also includes the direct competitors to WOEN/WMXO over in Olean.) In a market of fewer than 200,000 people, there’s also competition from Equinox Broadcasting’s WMTT/WPHD, as well as from smaller stations in Hornell and in Bath, where Pfuntner  himself continues to control WABH and WVIN.

wfiz*Just up Route 13 in Ithaca, Saga Communications (doing business locally as Cayuga Radio Group) has been one of the region’s most aggressive buyers when it comes to consolidating in small local markets. Over the last decade or so, Saga has rolled up a cluster that includes nearly all the commercial outlets in Ithaca: news-talk WHCU (870), progressive talk WNYY (1470), AC WYXL (97.3), classic rock WIII (99.9 Cortland) and country WQNY (103.7), plus five translators in Ithaca carrying both AM formats, plus HD-fed top-40 and AAA formats. And as of Friday, Saga’s now added yet another full-power signal to the mix, as it closes on its purchase of top-40 WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) from ROI Broadcasting.

“Z95.5” was caught up in the bankruptcy of ROI principal George Kimble, who held 49% of WFIZ before a court ordered him to liquidate his interest in the station. Saga’s $715,000 stalking-horse bid won the auction – and a cunning piece of legal work won the company the ability to add a sixth full-power station and eighth program stream to its cluster. Because Ithaca isn’t rated by Nielsen Audio (which stopped rating the market after Saga stopped buying the book), the FCC applies its contour-overlap rules – and because a huge number of signals from outlying markets such as Elmira, Binghamton and Syracuse reach Ithaca, at least on paper, Saga was able to run up its ownership count in Ithaca, where the only commercial competition now comes from Todd Mallinson’s WPIE (1160 Trumansburg) and from WVBR (93.5), which is run by Cornell students.

wfiz-hd3And say this about Saga: it’s relentless in going after the competition. As our colleague Lance Venta revealed late last week on our sister site RadioInsight, Saga has registered a few new domains for Ithaca. While the “Z95.5” top-40 format will continue and the current airstaff will stay on with Saga, it appears that the classic hits format ROI has been running on translator W299BI (107.7), fed by WFIZ’s HD2, will be rebranded from “Classic Hits 107.7” to “Rewind 107.7.” Along with that registration comes another for “Buzzer 98.7,” which sure looks to us like a future all-sports transition for Saga’s translator W254BF (98.7), which has been between formats for a few months now. Will the “Buzzer” be aimed straight at Mallinson’s WPIE, which just recently added its own Ithaca FM translator to enhance its ESPN Radio coverage?

There are more translator shoes yet to drop, too: “Hits 103.3” (W277BS) was the HD-on-translator that Saga launched in 2008 as an attack on the then-new WFIZ. Now that WFIZ is friend rather than foe, 103.3 will get a new format to replace the satellite-fed top-40. And the ROI purchase comes with two more translators, W242AB (96.3 Ithaca), which had been simulcasting sister station WNYR (98.5 Waterloo) at the other end of Cayuga Lake but now becomes a WYXL translator under Saga, and W235BR (94.9), which fills in the 95.5 signal down into the city of Ithaca.

So that’s 14 signals in all that Saga will control (870, 1470, 94.9, 95.5, 95.9, 96.3, 96.7, 97.3, 97.7, 98.7, 99.9, 100.3, 103.7, 107.7) in a market that didn’t even have that many stations on the air just a decade ago. Nimble work by a broadcaster pushing the envelope of the ownership rules, or a monopoly that takes advantage of FCC regulations? That’s for the Commission, and the marketplace, to decide…


wlkk-altbuffalo*Radio People on the Move: Entercom’s recently-launched “Alternative Buffalo” (WLKK 107.7 Wethersfield Township) adds its first air personality today with the arrival of Tiffany Bentley. Known just as “Bentley” on the air, the new 107.7 morning host comes aboard after spending some time out of radio writing for “Metal Insider”and and for the Express Times in Easton, PA. Her career has also included stops at “K-Rock” WKRL/WKRH in Syracuse and WDIY (88.1 Allentown) in Pennsylvania.

Here in Rochester, Alicia Pecorino moves down the hall at Stephens Media Group, shifting from middays at adult hits WFKL (Fickle 93.3) to PD of alt-rock WZNE (94.1 the Zone). She’s filling the position last occupied by Nik Rivers, who’s now the PD over at Alternative Buffalo, and she’ll also be doing middays on the Zone.

Brian McGlynn’s Genesee Media has some upgrade plans in the works for WASB (1590 Brockport), half of the pair of AM signals bracketing Rochester that Genesee bought last year for $450,000. Back in the early 1980s, WASB (then known as WJBT) traded its daytime-only signal on 1560 for a full-time slot on 1590, but with some big compromises: to squeeze a full-time kilowatt on to a crowded dial, the new 1590 had to add two more towers to its existing three-tower array, all to end up with a highly directional signal aimed westward away from Rochester out into sparsely-populated Orleans County and into Lake Ontario.

McGlynn hopes to fix that, at least a little, by sliding WASB one more notch up the dial to 1600, removing those two newer towers and rebuilding the rest of the decrepit array to put out 2300 watts by day, 11oo watts at night with a modified pattern that will cover a little more of Rochester’s western suburbs. To make it work, WASB tells the FCC that it would essentially swap out the co-channel interference WASB now delivers to WGGO in Salamanca for new co-channel interference to Elmira’s WEHH (which, ironically, itself moved from 1590 to 1600 a few years back).

*While we reported last week on McGlynn’s addition of Boston Red Sox games to WASB and sister station WRSB (1310 Canandaigua), there’s a new upstate addition to the Yankees’ network as well. Colonial’s WVTT (96.7 Portville) has picked up Yankees coverage for the Olean market for the 2014 season, and for 2015 and 2016 as well.

While Syracuse Community Radio awaits word on the status of its application for a new LPFM signal, it’s also pushing ahead on plans for a high-powered translator to better serve the city. W228CS (93.5 Hinsdale) holds a CP to operate with 250 watts from a site in Baldwinsville, northwest of Syracuse, but it’s now applying to go to a rooftop antenna atop a five-story building at Fayette and Geddes Streets on the west side of downtown Syracuse. The translator would relay WXXE (90.5 Fenner), the far-east-of-town rimshot that’s been serving as SCR’s makeshift primary signal while the group waited for the LPFM window and for processing of its decade-old translator application; if the LPFM does get granted and SCR surrenders the WXXE lcense, the translator would either relay the LPFM or be sold.

*Radio people on the move in NEW JERSEY: Corinne Kimball is inbound to WPST (94.5 Trenton) from WKHT in Knoxville to handle middays. She replaces Toni Ryan, who becomes “Digital Design Manager” for Connoisseur’s stations in Trenton and Allentown-Easton and will continue to do weekends and some fill-in shifts on WPST. Down the road at Burlington County College, Brett Holcomb is departing WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) after eight years as PD/operations manager. He’s heading to Florida and is looking for new work there now that his wife has taken a job with the University of Florida.

kjwpWhile some trade publications were making a big deal out of the “news” last week that KJWP (Channel 2) in the Philadelphia market had signed on with MeTV as an affiliate, NERW readers have known for weeks that the Chicago-based retro network’s programming was already up and running on channel 2. What was actually news last week, sort of, was the official announcement of MeTV affiliation for KJWP’s yet-to-debut sister station, KVNV (Channel 3), which will sign on sometime this spring after completing its “move” from Ely, Nevada to Middletown Township, NJ. (With, of course, a transmitter site on Four Times Square in Manhattan.)

KJWP’s official launch, meanwhile, will take place March 1, and we expect some news before then about subchannels on channel 2 – and possibly channel 3 as well.

*We’ve been a little dubious of some of Best Media’s translator plans since they were first filed more than a decade ago, claiming “over-the-air” reception of distant signals from Georgia and then Texas. The FCC granted two Best translators last week, now proposing more reasonable primaries: W264CW (100.7 Roosevelt NJ) will relay Bridgelight’s WRDR (89.7 Freehold Township), while W271CH (102.1) in Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT will relay WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), which we suspect actually means the Spanish-language “La Bomba” HD subchannel heard all over the state on translators.

wyzr*Our big PENNSYLVANIA story for the week actually comes from just over the state line in West Virginia, where Pittsburgh Public Media has taken the first step in growing its new WYZR (88.1 Bethany) into a bigger voice to reach more of the area that PPM’s principals used to serve when they worked for the former WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh, now WESA). When PPM took over the former WVBC on 88.1, it ran 1100 watts/410′,  non-directional, but it’s now filed to go to 10 kW/410′ from a directional antenna aimed northeast, strengthening the WYZR signal into Pittsburgh’s western suburbs.

At the other end of the state, Havertown High School’s venerable student-run station, WHHS (99.9), is showing off its new studio digs. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Kal and Lucille Rudman, WHHS now has renovated studios, a pair of new consoles and automation to keep the class D signal on the air 24 hours a day.

New translators: in Laureldale, Clear Channel has been granted W222BY (92.3), relaying WLAN-FM (96.9 Lancaster) into Reading.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, WGBH-owned public station WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole) is celebrating the completion of its power increase. It’s powered up from 1300 watts (vertical-only) to 12.5 kW from the WBUA (92.7) tower in Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, improving its coverage of the lower Cape.

Meanwhile, WBUA’s former sister station on the mid-Cape, WBUR (1240 West Yarmouth), has exited its longtime simulcast with WBUR-FM (90.9) in Boston. The 1000-watt AM signal has changed hands to Alex Langer and changed calls to WBAS, and it’s now running the temporary jazz format that Langer and engineer Rob Landry were running on another recent Langer acquisition. WZBR (1410 Dedham) is now simulcasting Portuguese-language programming from WSRO (650 Ashland).

Out in western Massachusetts, Rob Poulin is out and Bryan Slater is in as morning host on WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield); Slater, PD at “Live 95.9,” had been doing afternoons before joining Megan Duley in mornings.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Chris Tyler is out as VP/programming at Clear Channel Providence, where he was also PD of rocker WHJY (94.1). Tyler is off to Clear Channel in Cleveland to become PD of three stations there, including legendary rocker WMMS (100.7). Once Tyler starts in Cleveland in two weeks, he’ll replace Bo Matthews, who took a transfer down I-71 to Clear Channel in Cincinnati.

Rich Parker )photo: VPR)
Rich Parker (photo: VPR)

*Congratulations (and a heck of a moving truck) are in order for VERMONT Public Radio’s Rich Parker, who’s pulling up stakes after a long run as the network’s director of engineering. Seventeen years after arriving in Colchester from his previous gig in Philadelphia, Parker is getting ready to move all the way to Juneau, Alaska, where he’ll take a similar position with the “CoastAlaska” public broadcasting group. Rich oversaw a big expansion of VPR’s services, taking the network from a single stream of programming on half a dozen transmitters to three program streams over dozens of full-power stations and translators in Vermont and adjacent parts of northern New York (and by way of disclaimer, Fybush Media was proud to have assisted in some of that expansion.)

*In northern MAINE, there’s a new (old) owner for talker WEGP (1390 Presque Isle). Gregory McNeil’s Northern Maine Broadcasting put down $70,000 in cash to buy WEGP in 2010, agreeing to pay the remaining $150,000 to seller Decelles-Smith Media over time. Northern Maine “fell behind” in making those payments, and now the license has reverted to Decelles-Smith.

ckue-lite*In southwest ONTARIO, Blackburn Radio made a surprise format change on Thursday at CKUE (95.1 Chatham-Kent) and CKUE-FM-1 (100.7 Windsor), dumping “Rock 95.1 and 100.7” in favor of soft AC as “Lite FM.” Gary Evans, formerly of sister station CJWF (95.9 Windsor), takes over as PD and morning man, with George Brooks of sister station CKSY (94.3 Chatham-Kent) handling afternoons.

North of Toronto, ethnic CJVF in Scarborough can get back on the air: the CRTC has approved its urgent request for temporary authority to resume broadcasting with 6.5 watts at 102.7 on the dial after its former spot at 105.9 was taken by higher-powered CFMS late last year. CJVF’s request for permanent authority at higher power on 102.7 remains pending.

New callsigns for two new 99.3 signals in Ontario: up in Meaford, Evanov’s new “Apple” will be CJGB, while the new community station in Prince Edward County will be CJPE.

In Fredericton, New Brunswick, the CRTC has approved a power increase for religious CIXN (96.5), bumping “Joy 96.5” up from 27 to 250 watts and changing its status from unprotected low-power to protected Class A1. Another local low-power FM, Ross Ingram’s CJRI (104.5), wasn’t so lucky: the gospel station was again denied a move to 95.1 and an increase to 1500 watts from its present 50 watts. In addition to being out of compliance with annual reporting requirements, the CRTC says CJRI didn’t make a compelling business case to justify the power boost.

Over in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, CJFX (98.9 XFM) is on the move. Atlantic Broadcasters says it’s getting ready to leave the old house on Kirk Street where the station has been located for decades, moving to a newer commercial property on Lochaber Road.

And in Ottawa, the Senators have signed a 12-year deal with Bell Media that will keep the hockey team’s TV games on TSN and RDS and radio broadcasts on CFGO (TSN Radio 1200) through the 2025-2026 season.


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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: February 4, 2013

*For decades now, broadcasters in the U.S. have played the move-in game: get licensed to a community somewhere near a big city, put a signal on the air and begin soliciting advertising from that larger market. (Just ask that station that’s getting all the attention in the New York City market right now – you know, WNSH 94.7 from “Newark, New Jersey”!)

But in CANADA, things work a little differently: if you’re licensed to Newark (so to speak), you’d better not be programming to New York. Or, to put it more concretely: if you’re licensed to St. Catharines, Ontario, you’d better not be programming to Toronto.

That, in a nutshell, is why the CRTC denied the latest attempt to revive AM 1220 in St. Catharines, the frequency vacated last year when the agency ordered that channel’s longtime occupant, CHSC, to leave the air. This time, the proposal came from Subanasiri Vaithilingam, who operates CJVF (105.9 Scarborough), a low-wattage ethnic station that really does serve part of the Toronto market. Vaithilingam’s proposal for 1220 in St. Catharines called for most of the station’s programming to be in English, but with 15 hours a week of “third-language programming in Filipino, Tamil, Russian, Portuguese, and South Asian languages” as well.

That raised a red flag at several competing Toronto-area ethnic stations, which asked the CRTC to look more deeply into whether Vaithilingam intended that third-language programming to be aimed across Lake Ontario at Toronto. The CRTC says it’s “unclear about the applicant’s programming commitments,” and even with a proposed license condition mandating that the “majority” of the new station’s programming be “of direct, particular and specific relevance to residents of St. Catharines and the Niagara Region,” the CRTC says “the potential for the station to target programming to listeners outside St. Catharines and the Niagara Region remains.”

Worse yet, the CRTC says that even if the revived 1220 were to be solely focused on St. Catharines and Niagara, there’s no evidence that the region needs (or even wants) another local station…and thus it appears that the frequency won’t be getting reactivated any time soon (if at all) now that CHSC is defunct.  (NERW wonders whether the old nine-tower CHSC array will be coming down soon, since it won’t be getting reused by Vaithilingam’s new station.)

*Radio People on the Move: After 20 years with New York’s WQXR, going back to its days as the Times-owned commercial station, Midge Woolsey is moving on. The midday host did her last shift at WQXR’s current home on 105.9 on Thursday, saying she’s moving on “to devote more time to her family and to explore new and exciting opportunities in New York.” Around the corner at CBS Radio, there’s a replacement for the departed Rob Wagman at CBS’ WNOW-FM (92.3 NOW FM), where Nadine Santos is the new assistant PD/music director. Santos had been working at Music Choice, and before that was APD/MD at Clear Channel’s WWPR.

*We can’t leave New York, of course, without writing about Ed Koch. After his death early Friday at age 88, the veteran politician was being best remembered for his years as the city’s mayor – but this being NERW, we pay particular attention to his years as a radio host. During his three terms as mayor from 1978 until 1989, Koch was frequently behind the mic on WCBS (880) for “Ask the Mayor” call-in shows, and after he left office he embarked on a new and very successful career as a talk host on WABC (770). Koch also did a few years on the “bench” of “The People’s Court,” and most recently he’d been heard on a weekly call-in hour at WBBR (1130), the station owned by his successor Michael Bloomberg.

savemvyradio*Off the coast of MASSACHUSETTS, the nonprofit “Friends of MVYradio” has scored a big victory along the way to its goal of keeping the AAA format of WMVY (92.7 Tisbury) alive after Aritaur Communications completes its sale of the broadcast license to Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9). The “Friends” group, led by longtime WMVY programmer Barbara Dacey, set an ambitious fundraising goal of $600,000 in just two months to acquire WMVY’s studio facility on Martha’s Vineyard and relaunch the station as a web-only operation. As of January 25, the Friends announced they’d made their goal and will be able to keep ‘MVY alive on the web at least through the end of 2013. “We are already starting to look ahead,” says the group’s announcement, with plans to secure grants and underwriting support in hopes of also finding a new FM home once 92.7 switches to a WBUR simulcast under new calls WBUA. (The exact date for that switch hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s expected to happen within the next few weeks.)

*Boston’s WBZ (1030) has lost another traffic legend. After the retirement of Joe Green (who died in 2006), the reports “from the BZ Copter” came from Joe Morgan, who took on that role in 1997 and stayed in the skies over Boston until his own retirement in 2011. Morgan came to WBZ with a long news career already behind him, beginning at the old WCOP (1150) in 1968 and continuing as news director at WRKO (680) and WHDH (850). Morgan had been ill for some time; he died Wednesday (Jan. 30) at age 67.

wtaj*In central PENNSYLVANIA, Nexstar Communications’ rollout of high-definition local news around the region has added another smaller market: Altoona’s WTAJ (Channel 10) is putting the finishing touches on its conversion to HD, complete with a new set and new graphics. GM Phil Dubrow says the switchover has cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars”; it puts WTAJ on par with Cox’s WJAC (Channel 6), which has been producing its own news (as well as newscasts for Fox affiliate WWCP and ABC affiliate WATM) in HD for several years.

*And we note the passing of Ralph Collier, who started in broadcasting with the Army in World War II, spent some time here in Rochester at WHAM/WHAM-TV in the early 1950s, and then established himself in Philadelphia as one of the city’s top interviewers. Collier moved from WCAU to WFLN (900/95.7) in the mid-1960s and remained with the classical station until 1988, hosting a daily interview show. Collier later moved on to WRTI (90.1) and WBUX (1570 Doylestown) before retiring in 2011. Collier also served for 15 years as the president of the Campbell Soup Tureen Museum. He died Tuesday (Jan. 29) at age 91.

Five Years Ago: February 2, 2009

You remember Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog Day,” don’t you – how each morning his alarm clock keeps going off to Sunny and Cher singing “I’ve Got You, Babe” as the local puker morning jocks once again remind him that he’s about to live the same day of his life all over again?

We’ve had that scene in mind these last few months each time we sit down to write another week’s installment of NERW, with what seems to be the same headline week after week about job cuts after job cuts after job cuts.

We’ll have a few of those to report later in this week’s issue – but for once, we have some good news to offer as well: thanks to a flood of listener outcry, ousted WBZ (1030 Boston) overnight talk host Steve Leveille is getting his job back, and on Groundhog Day of all days.

What happened? Credit a combination of history and an unusually passionate listener base. The history, of course, is WBZ’s long tradition of local talk – and of frigid response to any attempt to replace local talkers with syndicated product. A prior generation of station management learned that lesson two decades ago, when the late David Brudnoy was briefly pulled off the air and replaced by Tom Snyder’s national show in the evening hours. This time, it was the painfully generic “Overnight America” with St. Louis-based Jon Grayson that failed to make the cut with WBZ’s loyal overnight audience, which flooded PD Peter Casey with what we’re told was a pile of angry letters more than a foot high.

That was apparently all the ammunition Casey and the local management team needed to persuade the CBS Radio bosses in New York to bring Leveille back, a move that came as a surprise to everyone, Leveille very much included, as the news broke Tuesday afternoon.

“I never expected to get a call like that…it’s not how the business works,” Leveille told the WBZ newsroom as he prepared for his return, which is scheduled for tonight.

WBZ is also bringing back another laid-off personality, but Lovell Dyett won’t get his longtime Saturday night shift back. Instead, the veteran talk host will be heard for just half an hour in what’s probably the station’s lowest-profile slot, from 4:30 to 5 on Sunday morning, and he’s not happy about it. Will the public outcry over the dismissal of WBZ’s lone black talker eventually get him restored to his old timeslot? That doesn’t seem likely – indeed, Casey’s statement that “we still need a new way to create new revenue for the Saturday night programming hours” suggests that the infomercials that have already begun to infect WBZ’s weekend programming are likely to increase over the next few months – and there’s already speculation that Jordan Rich’s weekend overnight slot could be targeted for changes.

Even as WBZ was welcoming back Leveille – and based on our short visit to our old stomping grounds during our New England swing last week, the move was a big morale boost for the station’s surviving staffers – it was saying goodbye to the dean of its airstaff.

Gil Santos didn’t want the pomp and publicity that surrounded the retirement of his old morning colleague, Gary LaPierre, two years ago. So when he delivered his final sportscast for WBZ at 9:45 on Friday morning, it was a much smaller and more low-key event. Santos’ family – his wife Roberta and his children and grandchildren – gathered around him and applauded as he read the last sports headlines, followed by recorded tributes from co-workers past and present and a touching poem from the inimitable Carl Stevens.

Santos will still be heard on CBS sister station WBCN (104.1) as the voice of the Patriots, and for the first week after his retirement from WBZ, his morning sports slot will be filled by Bob Lobel, who’s become something of a pinch-hitter for CBS (including a few weeks on morning drive at oldies station WODS) since departing his own high-profile gig as WBZ-TV sports director last year.

So, about that Groundhog Day business – the rest of our MASSACHUSETTS news brings us back to job-loss territory.

This time around, it was Greater Media’s turn, and the company cited the usual “current economic environment” as it cut 11 jobs from the Boston cluster, three of them from programming and the rest from sales.

The programming cuts included WBOS (92.9 Brookline) PD Dana Marshall, who’d come to the station two years ago from WXRV (92.5). She’ll be replaced by Ken West, who adds WBOS programming duties to his existing job as PD of WROR (105.7 Framingham), a job that suddenly becomes a little less demanding as that station goes “music-intensive” from 7 PM until 5:30 AM.

“Music-intensive,” of course, is the polite way of saying, “we just cut two decently-paid on-air positions” – in this case, Julie Devereaux, who was doing 7-midnight, and Albert O, who was on overnights.

From the engineering department: Greater Media’s WKLB (102.5 Waltham) is operating from a new transmitter site. After many years at the “FM 128” tower on Chestnut Street in Newton, 102.5 has returned to its former home at the WBZ-TV tower on Cedar Street in Needham, running 12 kW/905′. Right now, the Needham site is licensed as an auxiliary, but expect that to change soon.

It would be nice to say that’s it for the job-cut news this week, but there were big headlines from VERMONT, too, where Vox made some big cutbacks at WCPV (101.3 Essex NY). No euphemisms here – “sh*tcanned” was the subject line of the e-mail veteran Burlington-market DJ/programmer Steve “Corm” Cormier sent us announcing that he was suddenly out the door at Fort Ethan Allen after 11 years at the station and a total of 23 years in radio.

Cormier had moved from mornings to middays last year with the end of his long-running “Corm and the Coach” show, and he was also wearing multiple hats as PD of “Champ 101.3” and operations manager for Vox’s Burlington cluster. Production director and weekend jock Doug Grant is now filling the midday slot on WCPV, while afternoons – where Carolyn Lloyd had been heard for the last two years before also being ousted last Monday – are now being filled by Mike Wilhide.

“We are watching our expenses,” said Vox principal Ken Barlow to the Burlington Free Press, blaming the cutbacks on a “soft market.”

It was a quiet week in PENNSYLVANIA – especially out west, where you’d almost think people around Pittsburgh had something other than radio on their minds…something, say, black and gold and now in possession of a record sixth championship?

There was some broadcast news related to the big game: reports that over-the-air DTV viewers in the Erie market – hard-core Steelers territory – had the chance to see the game in HD, even though NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) hasn’t been operating HD on its own ultra-low-power WICU-DT signal on channel 52. WICU has also been putting NBC programming on the higher-powered signal of sister station WSEE-DT – and for the big game, WSEE used most of its bandwidth to carry its NBC subchannel (35.3) in HD, relegating CBS on 35.1 to SD for the night.

This should be the last year for that particular problem; even if Congress still finds a way this week to postpone the official end of analog TV, WICU plans to silence its analog channel 12 transmitter on Feb. 17, replacing it with full-power digital WICU-TV on 12. (ABC affiliate WJET-TV would also flash-cut to digital that day, leaving only WSEE, with CBS, and WFXP, with Fox, operating in analog.)

Ten Years Ago: February 2, 2004

It was bound to happen, but inevitability doesn’t make today’s sign-off of WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton) any less bittersweet. One of NEW JERSEY’s oldest FM stations, WSNJ remained a bastion of old-time radio in a voicetracked, consolidated world right up to the end, super-serving Cumberland County and surrounding portions of South Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware with everything from farm news to a swap shop program to lots and lots of local news and information. But (as we learned from an article in Sunday’s New York Times) if everything goes according to plan, sometime this afternoon (Feb. 2), the heirs of Ed Bold will receive a $20 million payment for the class B FM facility, at which point they’ll pull the plug on WSNJ-FM for good. WSNJ (1240) will stay on the air, eventually changing hands to Millville mayor Jim Quinn, who’ll keep its format mostly intact and begin simulcasting it on his WMVB (1440 Millville).

As for the FM license, as soon as it’s off the air in Bridgeton, it’ll be transferred to Radio One, which will move it to 107.9, downgrade it to class A and relocate it to the Philadelphia suburb of Pennsauken, transmitting from the WKDN (106.9 Camden)/WTMR (800 Camden) tower. How soon will that happen? We’re hearing everything from the end of this week (unlikely) to the end of the year.

A brief commentary, if we may: There’s a certain irony in the timing of WSNJ-FM’s finale, coming as it does just one day after the 50th anniversary of the death of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio. (You can read NERW’s tribute to the Major here.) In many ways, WSNJ-FM was one of the last surviving examples of Major Armstrong’s original vision of what FM could be: with its high power, initially on 98.9 and later on 107.7, it served a much larger area than the WSNJ AM signal ever could hope to cover, providing a truly local service to many rural residents whose only other choices for radio reception – especially after dark – were distant signals from big cities. And there’s something admirable in the way WSNJ-FM stayed the course all through the fifties and early sixties, even as other early FM pioneers gave up on the medium. So it’s hard to begrudge the Bold family – especially Ed Bold’s 83-year-old widow – for taking advantage of the windfall the FM signal represented. Nor can we find fault with Ed Seeger for choreographing the move of WSNJ-FM to Pennsauken and the $15 million profit he’ll receive for making the deal. No, the issue at hand is the sequence of regulatory changes that allowed the move to Pennsauken to become a possibility: specifically, the elimination of the anti-trafficking rule that would once have required a broker like Seeger to operate WSNJ-FM for three years before spinning it off to Radio One and the elimination of the main studio, community ascertainment and public service requirements that would once have made it more difficult for a “Pennsauken” station to market itself to all of Philadelphia without providing any distinct local service to Pennsauken itself. (We’ve ranted enough in the past about the inanity of the rules under which Pennsauken could even have been considered sufficiently distinct from the “Philadelphia Urbanized Area” to merit its own FM allocation.)

It’s hard to imagine that the removal of this unique local service to the relatively underserved Cumberland County area, in exchange for yet another generic service in the crowded Philadelphia market, is really what anyone at the FCC means by “localism,” and it’s a shame that none of the proposals currently on the table to improve “localism” in broadcasting would close the “WSNJ loophole,” and that’s a shame.

We’ll start our New England report this week up in MAINE, where Hearst-Argyle is spending $37.5 million to add WMTW-TV (Channel 8) in Poland Spring to its portfolio of stations in the region that already includes fellow ABC affiliates WCVB in Boston and WMUR in Manchester NH, as well as NBC outlets WPTZ Plattsburgh NY -Burlington VT and WNNE White River Junction VT.

Up in CANADA, the CRTC was busy handing out new licences last week: in Trenton, Ontario (now known as Quinte West through the miracle of governmental consolidation), CJTN gets to move from 1270 AM to 107.1 FM, where it’ll run 3640 watts; in Pembroke, Standard’s CKQB (106.9 Ottawa) gets an Ottawa Valley relay on 99.7 with 45.2 kW; and in the Mauricie region of Quebec, the Cooperative de solidarite radio communautaire Nicolet-Yamaska/Becancour gets 34 kW on 90.5 to serve the Becancour/Nicolet area with community programming.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 29, 1999

So much for a third public radio voice in Buffalo, NEW YORK. The Western New York Public Broadcasting Association announced this week that it will cease programming WNED (970) in mid-February, switching the station to a simulcast of SUNY Buffalo’s WBFO (88.7).

WNYPBA has owned 970 since 1976, when it bought the former WEBR (and its sister FM station on 94.5, now WNED-FM) and turned WEBR into an all-news operation. For a while, WEBR was one of the finest public radio newsrooms in the country. A few years ago, though, WEBR dropped the all-news format, changed calls to WNED(AM), and switched to a more traditional public radio news/information format. WNED had fallen on tough times in the last few years, a victim of WNYPBA budget problems brought on in part by the decision, under previous management, to invest much of the association’s resources into the construction of a huge new studio/office building in downtown Buffalo. (NERW notes that the debt from that building was also cited as a reason when WNYPBA put WNEQ-TV, Channel 23, up for sale last year).

WNED(AM) employed five full-time staffers and six part-timers. WNYPBA officials say they’ll try to find other jobs within the company for them. Meantime, Buffalo listeners will lose the daily “Live @ Noon” talk show, weekend All Things Considered, overnight BBC broadcasts, “The Connection,” and “Marketplace,” among other 970-only programming. As for 970’s long-term future, WNYPBA president Don Boswell tells the Buffalo News he’ll consider an LMA for the station, but doesn’t plan to sell the station, in hopes that it will be valuable if IBOC digital radio becomes a reality (NERW notes that the DA-1 signal on 970 has a very tight pattern that does well in downtown Buffalo and up towards Niagara Falls but is unlistenable in even Buffalo’s nearby eastern and southeastern suburbs).

NERW’s sorry to see WNYPBA give up any pretense of offering a public-affairs radio service to Buffalo (WNED-FM on 94.5 is 24-hour classical music), and we’re hopeful WBFO will be able to work out a deal to provide some separate programming to 970 and, perhaps, even expand its jazz service on 88.7. (2014 update – In the end, WNED’s separate AM service was saved, and continued for many years as a distinct program offering from WBFO. SUNY’s sale of WBFO to WNED in 2012 eventually merged the two news-talk stations, and later in 2012 WNYPBA finally sold the 970 signal to Crawford, which now operates it as WDCZ.)

Peter Arpin’s ADD Media is buying again in MASSACHUSETTS. ADD already owns WRCA (1330 Waltham) and WJYT (1320 Attleboro). It’s been programming WLYN (1360 Lynn), and now it’s making it official by buying the station from Paul Feinstein’s Puritan Broadcasting for $1.06 million.


  1. Always awfully heavy on Upstate New York news, often in excruciating detail. I know this is your backyard, but things have to be happening in New England. Often even Pennsylvania and, especially, Canada get more ink. –Rick in Maine

    • Hi Rick… Apologies for the slow reply. It’s been a relatively quiet few weeks in New England. I’m always scraping for more news from my old New England stomping grounds to include in the column. It’s always a challenge to get the balance right. The last few weeks have just had a lot happening over at this end of the region. I’m hoping that if Lisa’s health continues to improve, I can spend some time this spring and summer traveling in northern New England and digging up more news from that part of NERW-land!

  2. I ask the same question as the reader regarding “La Bomba.” You got me all excited for about 5 seconds when I thought there might actually be a modern rock station coming back to my listening area, so I do hope it really will be a simulcast of WMRQ-FM. Please update us, and I’ll keep checking 102.1 to see what I hear. We have plenty of Spanish-language stations already serving this area, and WAY too many Adult Top 40/Hot AC stations that are all playing THE SAME SONGS OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER!!! Need. Something. Different!

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