In this week’s issue… Shannon exits WPLJ – The fallout from Cumulus’ NASH-ional country rollout – WKBW sale imminent? – LPFM grants keep rolling out – CRTC restores New Brunswick FM – Ralph Kiner, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH One more quick program note: “Mrs. NERW” is home from the hospital and recuperating nicely. We’re caught up through Friday on subscriptions and on calendar orders from the Fybush.com Store, so if you were waiting for a 2014 Tower Site Calendar, it should hit your mailbox any minute now. Thanks again for your patience and your kind wishes on her recovery!
*Three decades ago, it took an ownership group from Cleveland and a programmer from the Deep South to change the face of NEW YORK City radio for good.
That programmer, Scott Shannon, famously took WHTZ (Z100) from “worst to first” in 1983 before leaving the city for a less successful venture with “Pirate Radio” KQLZ in Los Angeles in 1989. Two years later, Shannon was back in New York as PD and morning man on ABC’s WPLJ (95.5), and there he remained for almost 23 years, right up until the surprise announcement midway through Friday morning’s “Scott and Todd Show”: it was Shannon’s last show, he told listeners, and come Monday co-host Todd Pettengill would have the “Todd Show” all to himself.
But Shannon’s not following other New York morning icons like John R. Gambling and Harry Harrison into retirement. Reading between the lines of his comments on Friday – “No way,” he told the Daily News when asked if he’s hanging up his headphones. “It’s just a change” – there’s every reason to believe the decision to abruptly end Shannon’s run on WPLJ was a Cumulus corporate one, not Shannon’s own.
The move removes one of the last of the big 1980s personalities from New York’s morning airwaves, and so far it raises more questions than it answers about Cumulus’ plans for WPLJ – and for music radio in general – going forward. That’s because while Todd launches his solo “Todd Show” on 95.5 this morning, down the dial on WNSH (94.7), “America’s Morning Show” is going (pardon the phrase) “NASH-ional.” As NERW subscribers were the very first to find out in our Extra on Wednesday morning, the Nashville-based show headed by Blair Garner has been exclusive to WNSH listeners in the months since it launched last year, but as of today it will be heard on 20 “NASH” outlets around the country, including new flips WXTA (97.9 Edinboro PA) in Erie and WZCY (106.7 Hershey) in Harrisburg.
That means more disruption to existing local morning shows: in Harrisburg, for instance, Chachi Angelo and Jenna Clay lose their morning show, with Chachi moving to afternoons and Jenna doing local news and weather inserts during the Garner show. In Erie, Mike Sheffield moves from mornings to afternoons on the former “Country 98,” displacing PD Chuck Stevens. If the listener Facebook comments in Harrisburg are any indication, Cumulus has a struggle ahead of it. Once news broke that “Chachi and Jenna” would give way to Garner, comments like this one started pouring in: “I don’t want to listen to nationally syndicated bs or I’d listen to Dave and Jimmy or the other s***ty one… Don’t even know their name. Because nationally syndicated shows suck they have no personality or care for the community they are playing for.”
Can Cumulus overcome reactions like that and do what no other (secular commercial) broadcaster has managed to do, creating a successful national programming brand with “NASH” while running each local outlet as cheaply as possible? The flips to “NASH” aren’t finished yet (in NERW-land, Cumulus non-NASH country signals include WCTO 96.1 Easton/Allentown, WIOV-FM 105.1 Ephrata/Lancaster/Reading and WQKX 105.1 Salem OH/Youngstown, reaching western Pennsylvania), and Cumulus has been pretty clear about its plans to offer “America’s Morning Show” and other NASH programming to other station groups as well.
Which, in a way, brings us back around to New York City. At WPLJ, Shannon’s influence was already on the wane: back in 2012, Cumulus brought in a new PD, John Foxx, to handle the day-to-day programming tasks while Shannon focused on the morning show and on his other big project, the syndicated True Oldies Channel, which continues for now even after Shannon’s morning drive exit. Foxx’s arrival came in the wake of more Cumulus cost-cutting, including the elimination of Dave Stewart’s overnight shift and Christine Richie’s evening shift. The question, perhaps, isn’t so much why Shannon’s leaving now – but what kept him with Cumulus as long as he did?
There are plenty of appreciations out there of Shannon’s immense impact on New York radio (including this one from Lance Venta at our sister site, RadioInsight), but it seems premature to us to begin remembering Shannon’s career as though it’s over. At 66, Shannon’s still an active part of the radio industry, and even if he never again brings the sort of massive change to the industry that he did at Z100, he’s still got plenty of good radio in him.
Shannon’s exit from WPLJ leaves one more big shoe (or rather cowboy hat) left to fall at Cumulus’ New York cluster: at age 73, Don Imus is the last of the New York radio voices from the 1970s and 1980s still being heard daily in morning drive, just down the hall from WPLJ at sister station WABC (770). While Imus’ show is nominally syndicated (and seen on nationally on TV via Fox Business Network), it’s essentially a local New York offering at a station that just pulled off a pretty big surprise by reuniting its morning team of the 1990s, Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby, albeit in the former Rush Limbaugh midday slot. If Cumulus could jettison Shannon so abruptly and with so little ceremony – how safe do you feel this morning if you’re Don Imus?
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 11, 2013
Five Years Ago: February 9, 2009
It didn’t get the nationwide attention that Clear Channel drew for its massive job cuts a couple of weeks ago, but Cumulus made some big cuts of its own on Friday, and at least in some markets the pain went just as deep, proportionally, as did the Clear Channel cuts last month. The worst-hit, at least in this region, appears to be the cluster in CONNECTICUT’s Fairfield County, where WICC (600 Bridgeport) and WEBE (107.9 Westport) lost more than half a dozen staffers on Friday afternoon. Gone from WICC are news director/morning news anchor Tim Quinn, who’d been with WICC for 36 years; afternoon news anchor Paul Pacelli, who’ll continue with the station as a part-timer; 1-4 PM talk host David Smith and 4-7 PM talk host Brian Smith. The syndicated Clark Howard show will move into the 1-4 PM slot, while Jim Buchanan’s “Talk of the Town” show moves to afternoons to replace Brian Smith – which in turn puts Dennis Miller in Buchanan’s former 10 AM-1 PM slot. So if you’re keeping track – that means a station that was doing live talk from 5 AM until 7 PM with three newspeople is now doing local talk only in morning and afternoon drive, with a full-time news staff of one. Good for the short-term bottom line? Sure – but it’s certainly not going to do anything for WICC’s long-term outlook, or to draw more listeners to local radio in general over the long run. This Week in the DTV Follies: Now that Congress has voted to extend the deadline for the shutoff of analog full-power TV to June 12, with President Obama poised to sign the delay into law early this week, TV stations have until tonight at midnight to notify the FCC about their plans to stay on or shut off on the original schedule. As we “go to press” Sunday night, the situation remained fluid in many markets, with station managers nervously looking right and left to see how their competitors plan to handle the situation. The Cumulus cuts affected MAINE as well, where we’re hearing Damien Brown is out at WBZN (107.3 Old Town), where he was doing afternoons. Up the road in Dexter, EMF Broadcasting wasted no time flipping WGUY (102.1) from oldies to its satellite-delivered “K-Love” contemporary Christian format late last week. Sister station WFZX (101.7 Searsport), which is also being purchased by EMF, is still running the oldies format that it was simulcasting with WGUY, but that should change any day now. Hall Communications made a surprise format flip on its RHODE ISLAND AM signal and its southeastern Massachusetts simulcast sister last week. WLKW (1450 West Warwick RI) and WNBH (1340 New Bedford MA) had been carrying the “Timeless Favorites” satellite-fed standards format, but a hole in the market opened up when Citadel flipped WSKO AM/FM away from their “Score” sports format last year – so as of last Monday, WLKW and WNBH are carrying ESPN Radio sports talk on a full-time basis. Ten Years Ago: February 9, 2004 Radio stations in two Northeast states are cleaning up this week after suffering some damaging fires. In western MASSACHUSETTS, Saga’s WAQY (102.1 Springfield) was the victim of an apparent arson at its East Longmeadow studios on Thursday morning, when station staffers say they saw a man set a fire outside one of the building’s windows, then flee the scene. Damage from that fire was minimal – less than $25,000 – but the Springfield Union-News reports the station is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. One day earlier, in PENNSYLVANIA, an electrical fire struck the building on Domino Lane in Philadelphia’s Roxborough section that’s home to Clear Channel’s WUSL (98.9) and WJJZ (106.1). Everyone inside the building escaped safely – even WJJZ PD Michael Tozzi, who had to be pulled from the building by his colleagues as the smoke got heavier – but the damage to the office portions of the building was pretty severe. Up in northeastern Pennsylvania, Tunkhannock’s WEMR (1460) and WCWY (107.7) changed hands last week from Citadel to GEOS Communications, which flipped them to a simulcast of soft AC WCOZ (103.9 Laporte). WEMR, which had been simulcasting “Cat Country” WCWI (94.3 Carbondale), is expected to stay with the “Cozy” simulcast, but WCWY, which had been simulcasting AC WMGS (92.9 Scranton), will get a new format of its own in a few weeks. Over in Batavia, the Buffalo News reports that the sale of WBTA (1490) will close this week, bringing some changes at the little community-oriented full-service station. New owner Dan Fischer won’t assume the lease at 438 E. Main Street, where WBTA has been since the seventies; instead, he’ll move the station to a more visible location in the former W.T. Grant store at the corner of Main and Center streets. CANADA’s already a hotbed of stations named “Jack,” “Bob,” “Dave” and “Joe” – and now the original “Joe” (Corus’ Edmonton outlet, recently upgraded from AM to FM) has a little brother in Kingston, Ontario. Corus abruptly pulled the plug on the longtime “Country 96” format at CFMK (96.3) on Friday, flipping the big signal to classic hits/hot AC as “96.3 Joe FM.” CFMK’s old website now points country listeners to the streaming audio of Corus country outlets in Hamilton, Calgary and elsewhere – but we suspect most country listeners in Kingston will flip over to cross-border WFGY (97.5 Watertown), at least for now. But the end of one country station in Ontario was balanced, just hours later, by the start of another: Larche Communications’ new “KICX Country” (CIKZ 99.5) launched Friday afternoon in Kitchener/Waterloo, bringing the format back to a market that hadn’t had a local country station since 1991, when the old CKGL-FM (96.7) became AC CHYM-FM. Fifteen Years Ago: February 5, 1999 A 65 year radio tradition in MASSACHUSETTS’ Merrimack Valley is nearing its end. Arnold Lerner’s Merrimack Valley Wireless Talking Machine Company has agreed to sell WLLH (1400 Lowell/Lawrence) to Mega Broadcasting for a reported $936,000. By early March, WLLH will drop its adult standards format (and leased-time ethnic nights and weekends) for a Spanish dance format, to be run in conjunction with Mega’s WBPS (890 Dedham) and WNFT (1150 Boston). Local English-language radio in the valley has been disappearing at a rapid clip in the last few years. The FMs in Lowell (99.5, ex-WLLH-FM, WSSH, WOAZ, and now WKLB-FM) and Lawrence (93.7, ex-WGHJ, WCCM-FM, WCGY, and now WEGQ) have been operating from Boston studios and aimed at Boston audiences for most of the 90s; Haverhill’s WXRV (92.5) still operates from the old WHAV studios on How Street but targets a much broader audience; and WHAV (1490 Haverhil) and WNNW (1110 Salem) are running Spanish-language formats under the ownership of Costa-Eagle, which also runs mostly-English WCCM (800 Lawrence). That leaves WLLH, with its synchronous transmitters in Lowell and Lawrence, and WCAP (980 Lowell) — and soon, just WCAP, which is likely to keep going with its talk format and resist all purchase offers as long as founder Maurice Cohen lives. The radio scene out in Southbridge is changing fast. On the FM side, WQVR (100.1) turned off its transmitter this week in preparation for a transmitter move and ownership change. The new site will put a better signal into Worcester and, we’re told, come with a new format as well. There’s a new format on WQVR’s former AM sister station, WESO (970). PD Bruce Marshall checked in to report that WESO has switched from satellite standards to Jones’ Good Times Oldies format, with a local morning show featuring Tony Powers, Marshall, and Ann Renda (formerly at WTAG). There’s also a trading post show weekdays from 9-10 AM and a Saturday talk block. And while we’re in Central Massachusetts, we’ll note that WORC-FM (98.9) has been granted a city of license change from Webster to Spencer. Funny how the station’s stated intention of “eliminating short-spacing to WPLR and WPLM-FM” also ends up putting it much closer to Worcester… Cape Cod needs another FM allocation the way Howard Stern needs another FCC complaint…but where there’s an open frequency there’s sure to be an applicant or two, so the FCC added a class A allocation to Brewster this week at the request of the “Brewster Broadcasting Company” and Ernie Boch. The 94.3 channel was made possible by Boch’s WXTK frequency change (to 95.1 from 94.9) last year — and it’s another case where the FCC was able to convince itself that Brewster had no “local broadcast service” even though it sits right on the edge of one of the most over-radioed markets, on a per-capita basis, in the country. Oh yeah, it’s also home to the main studio of one station (WFCC) and transmitters of two (WFCC and WYST), not that that matters. Have we mentioned lately that we think the allocation rules need to be revised? Two station sales this week in RHODE ISLAND: Keating Willcox becomes a duopoly owner in Woonsocket with the purchase of WNRI (1380), just a year after he bought WOON (1240). And Boston’s Charles River Broadcasting is making an Ocean State move with the $738,000 purchase of WVBI (95.9 Block Island) from Tim English. Like Charles River’s WCRB (102.5 Waltham) and WFCC (107.5 Chatham), WVBI is a classical station — but until now, one with a limited schedule and extremely limited signal (NERW had trouble hearing them the one time we were on Block Island!). We expect Rob Landry and the rest of the ‘CRB engineering team will have 95.9 reaching out much better soon. The big story in NEW YORK is the sorta-format change at WPLJ (95.5 New York). The only staffers still remaining at the Disney outlet are the morning team of PD Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill, and overnighter Dave Stewart. Everyone else was swept out with the change to mainstream hot AC and “New York’s Hit Music Station,” according to the trades…except for afternoon guy Rocky Allen, who’s settling in to his new spot across the hall at WABC (770). Up across the border, Toronto’s CISS (92.5) has been sold by Rawlco to Rogers, and promptly changed format late Friday (2/5) from country to CHR as “Power 92.” Rogers also owns CFTR (680) and CHFI (98.1) in Toronto. NERW thinks this’ll make it much easier for us to figure out which 92.5 we’re hearing as we drive between Buffalo and Rochester, where the short-spaced allotments in Toronto and Rochester (WBEE-FM) clash noisily, and until now, both with country music.