In this week’s issue… Classical out, “The One” in at Radio Vermont – “Boston Public Radio” expands – PDs on the move in Pennsylvania – Simulcasts shift in Albany – More Ontario AMs move to FM
By SCOTT FYBUSH
(This is a particularly brief NERW edition this week. Thanks for your patience as we head into the sixth week of what’s been Lisa’s longest hospitalization thus far. We’re hoping she might be home this week, at which point some semblance of normalcy might be able to return.)
*Few broadcast groups these days are as stable as Ken Squier’s Radio VERMONT. Squier’s father bought upstart station WDEV (550 Waterbury) way back in 1935, and for almost 80 years now WDEV and its sister stations have been a reliable source of news, entertainment and sports for a big chunk of central and northern Vermont.
So it’s big news when Squier’s stations make any changes at all – and even bigger news when an entire format is being jettisoned. For 17 years now, Squier has kept one of the nation’s last commercial classical music voices going, in the form of WCVT (101.7 Stowe), anchored by veteran Vermont radio host Brian Harwood in morning drive and using the World Classical Network’s syndicated service the rest of the day. A week ago, Harwood announced his retirement, effective immediately, and Radio Vermont says that was part of the impetus for a big change coming to WCVT. Another factor was Vermont Public Radio’s launch of a statewide full-time classical service within the past decade, and of course the overall decline of the commercial classical format was surely a factor as well.
For the moment, WCVT is carrying World Classical Network programming around the clock while preparing for a new format to launch at some point in the next few weeks, and with the help of our content partners at RadioInsight.com, we can put some pieces together.
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: June 10, 2013
*Seven years after an upstate NEW YORK state college entered the public radio business, it has abruptly shut down its station, leaving behind plenty of questions about a newly open space on the dial.
SUNY Oneonta put WUOW-LP (104.7) on the air in 2007 to help provide emergency communications in town in the wake of devastating flooding in the region, and just last year it returned the LPFM license and signed on a new full-power outlet, WUOW (88.5 Milford), along with an Oneonta translator, W217BY (91.3), for which it paid $12,500.
Even though that move had already been planned and paid for, it appears that the Oneonta campus had by then already decided to pull the plug on its venture into public radio. From an initial staff of three (plus a part-timer), WUOW was down to just one staffer – and on Thursday, that staffer, SUNY Oneonta communications lecturer Gary Wickham, had the sad duty of signing the station off.
With a mixture of AAA music and some local talk, WUOW had competed against relays of two larger public stations, Binghamton”s WSKG (via WSQC 91.7 Oneonta) and Albany”s WAMC (via two translators in the area). Will either of them (or someone else) end up with the WUOW licenses? For now, SUNY isn”t saying whether it still plans to sell the licenses, though it had offered them for sale back in 2011. (In the meantime, WSKG is finding other ways to expand in Otsego County: it”s paying Bud Williamson $20,000 for translator W290CI on 105.9 in Cooperstown.)
*We still think of Bruce Mittman primarily as a Massachusetts broadcaster, but he”s becoming a bigger name in upstate New York radio. Last week, Mittman”s Community Broadcasters (which he owns along with Jim Leven) filed a $3.6 million deal to buy Backyard Broadcasting”s stations in the Elmira/Corning and Olean markets. In Elmira, Community picks up a cluster of three FMs and two AMs: top-40 “Wink 106″ WNKI (106.1 Corning), the only class B signal in the core of the market, along with country “Big Pig” WPGI (100.9 Horseheads) and classic rock “Wingz” WNGZ (104.9 Montour Falls), plus talker WWLZ (820 Horseheads) and WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen), which relays WNGZ when it”s not carrying auto racing on the weekends. In Olean, Community picks up market-leading country giant WPIG (95.7) and oldies WHDL (1450).
*It’s a good thing this isn’t a betting column, because if it were, we’d have bet a lot of money on the premise that WKAJ (1120) in St. Johnsville, NEW YORK would never actually make it on the air – and as of late last week, we’d have lost that bet.
As NERW readers know, the WKAJ saga has been one of the strangest stories on the AM dial in recent memory. Like so many complex AM directional systems these days, there were delays aplenty on the way to operation. WKAJ was originally granted to Michael Celenza back in April 2008, as a 1500-watt day/250-watt night signal licensed to Little Falls with a construction permit expiring in April 2011. In early 2010, Celenza sold the CP to Cranesville Block Company (which already owned WCSS 1490 over in Amsterdam), and Cranesville subsequently moved the CP down Route 5 to St. Johnsville and won a power increase to 10 kW days/400 watts nights.
Zoning and weather delays got the permit’s expiration date “tolled” to December 15, 2011 – and that’s where things got really weird. Massive storms and flooding struck the Mohawk Valley in September 2011, severe enough to impede construction access to the site along Route 5 and more than severe enough for the FCC to once again toll the construction deadline…if anyone had asked. But nobody did, and we’d all but written off any chance of WKAJ ever seeing the light of a glowing final RF stage when news started to emerge of ongoing construction at the site. In the weeks after the CP expired, early 2012 brought news of towers finally being erected at the site and programming leases being drawn up with longtime Utica morning man Hank Brown.
What could have been a simple tolling process at the FCC before the CP expired instead turned into a year-long political adventure: the FCC deleted the WKAJ construction permit, Cranesville petitioned for reconsideration, the FCC rejected the petition, the area’s congressional representatives intervened, the FCC politely rebuffed the intervention – and then, last fall, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer stepped in, which got the FCC’s attention. In January, the FCC admonished Cranesville for its failure to comply with the rules, but it then extended WKAJ’s construction permit retroactively to the end of December, allowing the station’s facilities to be completed and its directional array proofed.
And as of Friday, WKAJ’s signal was being heard on the air for the first time, testing with AC music and (at least briefly) with a WCSS simulcast. While its 10,000 watts by day make WKAJ the most powerful AM between Schenectady and Rochester, the protections it has to provide to co- and adjacent-channel signals in Buffalo, Seneca Falls, New York City and elsewhere require a sharply directional signal that goes mostly north and south into the Adirondacks and Catskills instead of east and west down the population and transportation corridors of the Mohawk Valley.
*WKAJ’s arrival doesn’t actually boost the total AM signal count in the Mohawk Valley, at least for now. For that, blame vandals in the Utica area who have once again gone after Leatherstocking Media’s WUTI (1150 Utica). The station has been silent since the end of May, when most of the transmission line out to the station’s five-tower array fell prey to looters. Leatherstocking GM Don Wagner told CNYRadio.com on May 30 that the station would probably remain silent for “at least three weeks” while repairs were made, and that means at least another week of silence for the Utica link in the three-station “CNY Talk Radio” chain that also includes WMCR (1600 Oneida) and WFBL (1390 Syracuse). (2014 update: WUTI remains silent, nearly a year later.)
*Welcome home, Adam Rivers! The CONNECTICUT native spent some time down south programming Clear Channel’s WKSI (98.3) in Winchester, Virginia, but he starts a new gig today back in the Nutmeg State, where he’s now assistant PD and afternoon jock at sister station WKCI (101.3 Hamden). Before his Virginia excursion, Rivers had previously worked at WKSS (95.7) in Hartford, WILI-FM (98.3) in Willimantic and just across the state line at Springfield’s WMAS-FM (94.7).
*Conventional wisdom says we”re living right now in a time of transformative media change, as established news sources come under siege from newer, more nimble ventures. In the world of local TV news, though, “new” doesn”t automatically mean “success” – especially in markets where a single player might have a six-decade head start on a newcomer. Markets such as, say, NEW HAMPSHIRE, which is where we start this week”s column with the news that Bill Binnie”s WBIN (Channel 50) has pulled the plug, for now, on the 10 PM local newscast that launched back in the fall of 2011.
In its year and a half on the air, that newscast suffered from two big drawbacks: first, it was never truly “local,” emanating from the centralized newsroom at INN (Independent News Network) in Davenport, Iowa, where an Iowa-based anchor introduced stories from three reporters based in New Hampshire; second, it attempted to compete not only against the very established Manchester-based WMUR (Channel 9), which offers its own 10 PM show on its 9.2 MeTV subchannel, but also against the big newsrooms to the south in Boston. (And even here, the advantage went very much to WMUR, which can draw on the considerable resources of Hearst sister station WCVB in Boston.)
The Binnie group promised early on that the Iowa-based production would be only temporary while it worked to build a full-fledged news operation in New Hampshire, and as recently as February Binnie told the Concord Monitor that he was planning to “double his reporting staff” and expand the evening newscast to an hour. But we”re hearing that concerns with the quality of the Iowa-based production led WBIN to pull out of the deal with INN, abruptly replacing the 10 PM newscast with the syndicated “OMG! Insider.”
Will news come back to WBIN? The station has retained one of the three local reporters on its staff, and weatherman Al Kaprielian is still on staff as well, doing hourly weather updates from afternoon into prime time (the former INN-produced newscast used an Iowa-based forecaster instead) – but the most that Binnie VP Periklis Karoutas would tell the Monitor is that Binnie “is doing news and will continue to do so.” As for some of the bigger plans Binnie”s been talking about for his fast-growing radio/TV group, including a statewide live morning news show, their failure to materialize just yet might well be taken as another sign that even for an owner with the considerable resources of a business magnate like Bill Binnie, getting into broadcasting in a big way is still harder than it looks.
Five Years Ago: June 8, 2009
It’s been more than a decade in the making, turned into a political football and delayed repeatedly, but starting late this Thursday night, one of the biggest transitions in the history of U.S. broadcasting will finally come to fruition, as the remaining full-power analog TV signals begin to blink off all across the country, with the last of them going dark at the stroke of midnight late Friday night.
According to a list released last week by the FCC, some three dozen small stations around the country won’t be coming along for the ride, at least not right away. Those stations will still have to turn off their analog signals by the June 12 deadline, but because their DTV signals aren’t up and running – either for financial or technical reasons – they’ll be off the air completely, at least temporarily.
*After years of struggling to break out of its longtime role as an also-ran in the Binghamton market, Newport Television’s WIVT (Channel 34)/WBGH-CA (Channel 20) has effectively thrown in the towel on local news, leaving broadcast viewers in Binghamton with just one full-time local news option.
On Friday afternoon, Newport announced that it was replacing WIVT’s local newscasts, which were already limited to a morning show, a 5:30-6:30 PM hour and a short update at 11 PM, with simulcasts of the news from sister station WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira, 50 miles (and a separate TV market) to the west. Eleven employees, including veteran anchor Steve Craig, lost their jobs, and the WIVT newsroom at the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City will be closed, leaving only a skeleton staff (including, for now, anchor Peter Quinn and news director Jim Ehmke) back at WIVT’s studio/transmitter facility on Ingraham Hill.
Some history here: Channel 34, an also-ran in local news through most of its existence as WBJA and WMGC, dramatically expanded the size and professionalism of its news operation in the late 1990s, seeking to capitalize on the flip of the market’s longtime number-two station, NBC affiliate WICZ (Channel 40), to Fox. While WICZ cut its news presence back to a daily half-hour at 10 PM, new owner Ackerley expanded WIVT’s newscasts to mornings and beefed up its staffing for evenings, and for a time WIVT challenged perennial market dominator WBNG (Channel 12) in the quality of its coverage, if not in ratings or revenue. More recently, Ackerley’s successors have cut back again on WIVT’s news product, effectively ceding news dominance in the market to Granite-owned WBNG even as Granite budget cutbacks have weakened WBNG’s own product. (Recall, if you will, the immigration-center shootings earlier this spring, the biggest news story in recent Binghamton history, and one on which none of the Binghamton TV newsrooms really rose to the occasion.)
Through all those years, though, channel 34 has always provided at least some semblance of a local Binghamton newscast – right up until 6 o’clock last Friday evening, when whatever Binghamton viewers were still looking for local news on WIVT or WBGH saw WETM’s news from Elmira, a newscast that station says will continue to be focused on the Elmira market – “Chemung, Steuben and Schuyler counties in New York and Tioga County, Pa,” according to WETM general manager Randy Reid. It’s hard to imagine that many Binghamton viewers will have much interest in Elmira news (indeed, WETM’s news was simulcast in Binghamton once before, when WBGH took over as the market’s NBC affiliate back in 1995, with no measurable ratings), and easy to imagine that even the limited amount of Binghamton news presence being sent back to WETM from Ingraham Hill will eventually fade away.
RHODE ISLAND’s ABC affiliate has lost several of its most popular syndicated shows. Global Broadcasting’s WLNE (Channel 6) announced Friday that the station has “suspended its programming agreement with King World,” removing “Dr. Phil,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Inside Edition” from the station – but we hear that the suspension actually came from the King World end, as WLNE’s ongoing financial struggles have reportedly rendered the station unable to keep paying for the shows. In place of “Dr. Phil” at 5, WLNE will carry “Cristina’s Court” and “Family Court,” while “ET” and “Inside Edition” at 7 and 7:30 will be replaced by a new 7 PM local newscast, the market’s first, followed by “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” at 7:30.
A call change in NEW JERSEY: the former WXKW (97.3 Millville) has become WENJ-FM, now that it’s sharing ESPN Radio programming with sister station WENJ (1450 Atlantic City).
Friday afternoon brought a high-profile format change in CANADA’s biggest market: just one day past the sixth anniversary of its 2003 flip from “Kiss” to “Jack FM,” CJAQ (92.5 Toronto) returned to its old “Kiss” branding and top-40 format at the stroke of 3 PM. At its end, Toronto’s “Jack” had evolved significantly from the early days of the adult hits format, with live jocks in most dayparts and a musical lean toward classic rock. The new “Kiss” is apparently launching jockless, but a new talent roster for the Rogers station is expected to be announced soon.
Ten Years Ago: June 7, 2004
In MAINE, WGAN (560) lost morning show co-host Mike McCardell on Friday night (June 4). McCardell, a devoted Civil War buff, was attending a battle re-enactment in Pennsylvania when he suffered a fatal heart attack. McCardell came to WGAN’s attention four years ago, when he was working as a salesman and calling in on a regular basis to the station’s morning show. When WGAN needed a new host to replace Willy Ritch, they tapped McCardell based on his engaging call-ins, and he quickly became a fixture on the morning show, first with Jim Crocker and more recently with Ken Altschuler. He was just 52, and leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
PENNSYLVANIA lost one of its legendary rock DJs on Friday as well, when Joe Niagara lost his battle with bladder cancer at the age of 76. Niagara was on WIBG (990 Philadelphia) in the mid-fifties when he became one of the first jocks to play rock and roll for a mass audience. The “Rockin’ Bird” stayed with WIBG until 1959, later working at WFIL, WCAU, WCAU-FM, WIFI and WDAS. In 1977, he joined the staff of WPEN (950), where he remained until his retirement in 1999 (and continued doing some guest DJ appearances as late as 2002.) Niagara made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1980 for playing the most consecutive versions of “Stardust” on WPEN – more than 500!
Across town, another legendary Philly jock is hanging up his headphones at the end of the week. Don Cannon will retire from the morning slot on WOGL (98.1) on June 11, wrapping up 14 years at the oldies station (and a career that’s also included stints at WIBG, WIP, WFIL, WIFI and WSNI.)
In RHODE ISLAND, WADK (1540 Newport) is trying again to get night power. The FCC dismissed its application for 20 kilowatts at night last month, saying it contained unacceptable overlap with WDCD (1540 Albany) and KXEL (1540 Waterloo IA), and now WADK has amended the application to call for 5 kilowatts from three towers (including the one tower now used for WADK’s one kilowatt of day power.) At 5 kW of night power, WADK won’t even cover all of the city of Newport with its nighttime interference-free signal – it takes a whopping 95 mV/m of signal to overcome the huge signal that WDCD throws at Rhode Island.
The fallout from Mel Karmazin’s departure at Infinity Radio is being felt in MASSACHUSETTS, where WBCN (104.1 Boston) PD Oedipus announced last week that he’s leaving his job after an amazing 22-year run. Oedipus came to Boston in 1975 as a DJ at MIT’s WTBS (88.1), moved over to WBCN as a part-time DJ in 1977, and four years later was programming the station. After seeing WBCN through the long ride from progressive rocker to establishment album rocker to modern rock, Oedipus will finally hand over the reins (though no replacement has been announced yet.) He’ll stay on as Infinity’s VP/alternative programming.
Fifteen Years Ago: June 4, 1999
Just a month after the CBC turned off its AM transmitter in Montreal, the end is nigh for CBL (740) in Toronto. IRCA’s AM DX Newsflash reports the CBC will shut down the AM transmitter Saturday, June 19, 14 months after replacement FM transmitter CBLA (99.1) was activated. As with the shutdown of CBM in Montreal, the end of CBL will deprive many US communities of CBC service.
While Buffalo and Niagara Falls can hear CBLA and its Crystal Beach relay transmitter at 90.5, the FM signals are blocked by co-channel and adjacent-channel US stations across the rest of Western and Central New York, areas where CBL has been nearly a local station for now.
NERW will sorely miss the intelligence, humor, and international perspective a CBC outlet can bring to an otherwise mega-opoly plagued radio dial like Rochester’s. We’re waiting to see what the CRTC does with the 740 frequency. Unlike Montreal’s 690 and 940, which had several applicants lined up even before CBF and CBM went silent, no application window for 740 has been opened yet. We plan to head north in the NERW-mobile to hear the end of CBL in a few weeks. If all goes according to precedent, programming on Friday, June 18 will be interrupted every ten minutes by announcements telling listeners to move to FM. At midnight, programming will be replaced with a repeating ten-second loop, with the transmitter going dead for good 24 hours later.
Congratulations to Steve LeVeille, who’s been named to succeed Bob Raleigh as midnight-5 AM host on WBZ (1030 Boston). The LeVeille Broadcast will be heard Sunday through Thursday nights (or is that Monday through Friday mornings?) beginning next week. No word yet on who’ll fill the other big talk opening at WBZ, the 10-midnight slot being opened by David Brudnoy’s decision to cut back his hours on the air. As for LeVeille’s current Friday night overnight spot, NERW hears Jordan Rich is likely to add that overnight to the rest of his ‘BZ weekend duties. LeVeille says the new weekday “Broadcast” will be more issue-oriented than the Friday-night version, but he promises “a very different approach” from other talk hosts — a promise NERW’s sure he’ll live up to.
In CONNECTICUT, there are all sorts of changes to report in and around New Haven, and we’ll start on the radio side, where much of the local programming on WAVZ (1300) is being pulled by corporate owner Clear Channel in an attempt to make room in the budget to add Rush Limbaugh to sister station WELI (960). Among the victims of the budget axe is Ron Rohmer, 68, who has spent more than four decades at WAVZ and WELI. He was fired from WELI a few years ago, sued Clear Channel, and ended up coming back to the stations as WAVZ morning host — at least until this week, when the New Haven Register reports he was fired by PD Jerry Kristafer. Also out the door at Radio Towers Park is WELI mid-morning co-host Roger Vann, who resigned Wednesday rather than let the station cut his salary and that of co-host Tom Scott. Scott was only a part-time employee, and tells the Register he wants to pursue syndication opportunities with Clear Channel. Rohmer’s WAVZ morning show will be replaced with satellite programming, while Limbaugh will start June 14 on WELI, pushing Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s program to 3-6 PM, displacing afternoon host Tad Baldwin, whose future with WELI is uncertain.