In this week’s issue… Twitter rant pulls Cumia off satellite radio – Clear Channel cuts in Rochester, W. Mass. – NYC’s new 103.9 debuts – Changes afoot in CT radio – Canadian AM seeks power cut

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Opie and Anthony (photo: SiriusXM)
Opie and Anthony (photo: SiriusXM)

*It’s been quite a few years since Opie and Anthony have been a terrestrial radio story here in NERW. Once the pair, veterans of Boston-market WAAF and New York’s WNEW (102.7), had migrated to the uncensored realm of satellite radio, it looked as though they were set for a long run there, first as XM’s answer to Howard Stern on Sirius, then as in-house competitors after the Sirius/XM merger.

But here they are back in our headlines again, thanks to Anthony Cumia’s Twitter feed, where he unleashed a torrent of invective late one night late last week, aimed at a woman who apparently took offense to Cumia taking pictures in (of all places) Times Square.

Was the tirade an unleashing of racism, or was it merely nasty? The answer is academic – either way, SiriusXM moved quickly to pull Cumia off the air, even though he deleted the flood of tweets from his feed. For now, at least, Cumia’s longtime on-air partner Gregg “Opie” Hughes remains in place on what may or may not still be the “Opie and Anthony Channel.” It’s not yet clear what will become of the channel, or of Hughes – or whether this is the end of a partnership that’s made more than its share of headlines over the years. (We hope former Boston mayor Tom Menino is healthy enough in retirement to be able to appreciate the end, for the moment, of the team that spread word of his “death,” ending their WAAF career a few years back.)

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*Back on the terrestrial airwaves of NEW YORK, Friday was launch day for Cumulus’ new WNBM (103.9 Bronxville), and it all went down with a minimum of on-air fuss. The automation on the former WFAS-FM wrapped up around midnight as July 3 became July 4, and after a few hours of a ticking clock, “New York’s Best Mix” made its low-key debut at 1:03 PM with a short announcement from PD Ken Johnson, followed by a full weekend of a music mix very heavy on classic R&B.

wfasfmWNBM’s regular programming debuts today, including the syndicated Tom Joyner morning show. But the more interesting story may be up the road in Westchester, where Cumulus relaunches WFAS (1230 White Plains) today as a standalone AM, heavy on news and talk. And it may not stay a standalone for long: the old WFAS-FM adult contemporary format has survived as a stream and on the HD2 of Cumulus sister station WPLJ (95.5). Is Cumulus still aiming to move translator W232AL (94.3) across the Hudson from Rockland County to become the new “WFAS-FM”? It sure looks that way.

Speaking of Rockland, WRCR (1300 Spring Valley) is reportedly now promoting on air its impending move up the dial to 1700, now that owner Alexander Communications has won the four-way auction for the expanded-band frequency.

*Upstate, Rochester listeners are still feeling the void at Clear Channel’s WHAM (1180), where Chet Walker is gone from mornings, nearly 35 years after he started at the station. As with so many Clear Channel stories lately, it’s all about contracts ending: NERW hears Walker’s was up, and that the only surprise was how abruptly all traces of his very long run at the station were scrubbed. (The WHAM website said, for a time. that morning drive was being held by “default”; for now, it appears that utility guy Joe Lomonaco and news director Todd Halliday are the fill-ins.)

wfnx*Our MASSACHUSETTS news is all about WFNX, in one way or another. The current holder of that storied callsign, on 99.9 out west in Athol, finally wrapped up its “Vote 99.9” format-changing stunt last week by announcing it was sticking with the variety hits it’s been running, renaming itself simply as “WFNX 99.9.”

Meanwhile, the historic WFNX, the 101.7 signal licensed to Lynn that Clear Channel flipped to “Harbor” WHBA, then “Evolution” WEDX, has finally taken the WBWL calls that it was expected to pick up when it flipped to country as “The Bull” a couple of weeks ago.

Is Brockton about to lose its only local English-language radio voice? The Brockton Enterprise reported over the weekend that WXBR (1460 Brockton) is on the verge of moving its studios to Randolph and replacing what’s left of its English-language programming with a full-time focus on the region’s growing Haitian population. If true, the move isn’t completely unexpected, since the former WBET has been owned by Haitian-American broadcaster Ed Lozama since 2012. Can a small (but legal) AM compete with the plethora of high-powered FM pirates who’ve been serving the Haitian communities around the area with commercial programming for several years now?

Back out west, Clear Channel’s end-of-quarter cutbacks struck in the Springfield cluster: at WRNX (100.9 Amherst), syndicated Bobby Bones is the new morning man, while the former “Kix” morning team of Mike, Kera and Shaggy have been reassigned to shifts later in the day.

Down the hall at WHYN (560 Springfield), Bo Sullivan is now flying solo in mornings after Brad Shepard’s exit; Shepard had been with WHYN since 2000, when he moved over from WMAS-FM (94.7).

*Today’s the day new owners take over at one of CONNECTICUT’s oldest radio stations. Connoisseur Media managers are meeting with staffers at the former Buckley cluster in Hartford – WDRC-FM (102.9), WDRC (1360) and its three AM sisters, WWCO (1240 Waterbury), WMMW (1470 Meriden) and WSNG (610 Torrington) – and we’ll know soon what changes might be in store there.

*There’s a whole generation of RHODE ISLAND listeners who probably know Vincent “Buddy” Cianci better as a talk host than as a politician – but that’s changing now that the colorfully disgraced ex-mayor of Providence is jumping back into the political arena. Once Cianci announced his campaign to regain the seat he resigned in 2002, he went on a leave of absence from his talk show at Cumulus’ WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7) and his gig as a commentator on WLNE (Channel 6). Tara Granahan is filling in for the 73 year old Cianci on WPRO while he stages his political comeback attempt. Cianci, of course, served more than four years in federal prison after his corruption conviction in 2002. As a fixture on WPRO, he’s used his radio platform to try to rebuild his credibility in town; he used it, too, to announce his candidacy even as an aide was downtown filing his paperwork for him.

A delayed sale in Reading: way back in 2012, public broadcaster WITF (Channel 33) from Harrisburg signed a contract to sell its Reading translator, W24CS (Channel 24), to Maranatha Broadcasting. That’s the Allentown-based company that owns independent WFMZ-TV (Channel 69), and an over-the-air presence for WFMZ will provide more visibility for the “Berks Edition” newscast that WFMZ already produces for Reading-area viewers. Why wasn’t the $10,000 sale filed with the FCC until now? It may have had something to do with the contingency section of the contract, which specifies a closing can’t take place until a deal is reached with the city of Reading to take over the lease on W24CS’ Skyline Drive transmitter facility.

*Family Life Ministries, one of the most aggressive players on the translator field, is applying to upgrade three of its translators in central Pennsylvania: W277BJ (103.3 Garden View) wants to better serve Williamsport with a move to 103.1 and a power increase from 10 to 250 watts, W255BL (98.9 Bloomsburg) wants to jump from 10 to 240 watts, and W255AQ (92.9 Lock Haven) wants to jump from 10 to 250 watts. Family Life already has a deal with Entercom to use HD subchannels of powerful FM signals in Rochester and Buffalo to serve as primaries for its translator signals there, and it’s doing the same now in Williamsport by putting its programming on a subchannel of Backyard’s WILQ (105.1).

wwzy-fun*It’s not exactly a format change, but Press Communications has once again rebranded a pair of stations at the NEW JERSEY shore. Back in the spring of 2013, Press had flipped AC “Breeze” WWZY (107.1 Long Branch) and its Ocean County simulcast, WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton), to a more hot AC approach as simply “107.1 FM” – but now there’s a brand attached to that frequency, as the stations become “Fun 107.1, More Music, More Fun,” retaining the hot AC format.

*New calls in northern VERMONT: mark down WWOX for Barry Lunderville’s 94.1 construction permit up in Canaan.

*In MAINE, Brian Lang is the new market manager at Townsquare’s Portland cluster (WCYY, WHOM, WJBQ, WBLM), replacing Mike Sambrook. Lang’s career has been spent mostly down south, most recently as VP/sales for CBS Radio’s Tampa cluster, but he worked in NERW-land in the late 1990s, doing sales at the ARS cluster in Buffalo and at WATM/WWCP-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

*CANADA is losing yet another 50-kilowatt nighttime AM signal, but this time around, CKOC (1150 Hamilton) isn’t leaving the AM dial completely. Instead, Bell Media is trying to simplify a ten-tower directional facility that it says “has always been difficult to adjust and maintain in correct operation.”

ckocVeterans of the AM dial along the border know, of course, that a lot of the remaining Canadian AMs don’t put much priority on “correct operation” after dark, but Bell made an effort with CKOC, trying to run a full proof of performance on the night pattern. That didn’t work too well; CKOC says the proof “revealed major problems with the night pattern which would require considerable time and expense to correct.”

Instead of spending all that money, CKOC quietly began laying the groundwork more than a year ago to go to DA-1 operation, using the same pattern day and night and reducing power from 50 kW to 20 kW to prevent interference after dark. Bell tells the CRTC that a grant of DA-1 operation would allow it to remove four of the ten CKOC towers, leaving a simpler six-tower array for day and night use without dramatically affecting the station’s coverage area.

*The CBC continues its slow withdrawal from the AM dial, applying to move two more of its low-power relays from AM to FM. This time it’s CBLV (600 Bancroft) and CBEU (1340 Temagami) that will be leaving the AM dial. In Bancroft, west of Ottawa, the relay of CBLA (99.1 Toronto) will be on 99.3, running 269 watts from 29.7 meters below average terrain at the same site along the railroad right-of-way where the AM longwire is now located. In Temagami, up north of North Bay, the relay of CBCS (99.9 Sudbury) will run 50 watts/16.1 m on 106.1.

The CBC is also changing its proposed FM frequency in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, where it had been planning to replace CBAO (990) with a new low-power FM at 88.1. Instead, it will use 106.3, citing “technical issues” with the 88.1 frequency.

Outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Cobequid Radio Society has found a new frequency for the FM signal it was tentatively granted last month. Hubbards Radio Society in nearby Hubbards won the 88.7 frequency that Cobequid had also sought, so Cobequid is instead proposing to use 97.5 for its new station, CIOE, in Lower Sackville, running 250 watts/25.1 m.

To the east, Hector Broadcasting has been testing its new CKEZ (97.9 New Glasgow NS) on and off for the last few weeks. The new station will be a sister to Hector’s existing CKEC (94.1) in New Glasgow, complementing AC “East Coast FM 94.1” with a blend of new and classic rock on 97.9 when it officially launches.

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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: July 8, 2013

*Local news quietly faded away from NEW JERSEY“s WWOR-TV (Channel 9) last Tuesday night at 10:30, concluding – at least for now – a chapter of regional TV history dating back three decades. It was back in 1983 when RKO”s struggle to keep the license of what was then WOR-TV prompted it to move the station from New York City across the Hudson to Secaucus, N.J., and ever since then, channel 9″s owners have struggled to balance the business reality of serving the greater New York market against the legal pressure to make good on RKO”s long-ago commitment to servicing the Garden State.

That pressure grew considerably back in 2000, when WWOR”s then-owner, Chris-Craft Communications, was sold to Fox Television Stations, putting channel 9 in a duopoly with the unequivocally New York-based WNYW-TV (Channel 5). Under Fox ownership, much of the WWOR operation, including business offices and master control, moved across the Hudson to WNYW”s Upper East Side studios. It”s likely the entire Channel 9 operation would have followed the lead of other Fox/Chris-Craft duopolies such as KTTV/KCOP in Los Angeles and KFTC/KMSP in Minneapolis and combined completely under one roof, but for that 1980s-era promise to retain a New Jersey base for WWOR. New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg stepped in back in 2004 to compel Fox to keep a separate Secaucus-based newsroom for WWOR, using the leverage of WWOR”s license renewal in the 2007 cycle and the ongoing waiver that allowed News Corp. to own both the Fox stations and the New York Post.

In the years since 2004, WWOR”s news commitment had wavered but not disappeared. Its lone newscast moved from an hour at 10 PM to a half-hour at 11 PM in 2009, taking it out of competition with WNYW”s flagship 10 PM show, and while WWOR”s newscast moved back to 10 PM in 2011, it remained mired at a half-hour in length. It wasn”t until last September when WWOR belatedly joined the rest of its New York-market competitors in producing its news in high definition, and even then the Channel 9 news has lingered far back in the ratings, behind WNYW and Tribune”s WPIX.

WWOR, of course, is spinning its decision to drop a locally-produced newscast as a good thing for the Garden State. That”s because the 10 PM slot on channel 9 will be filled, starting tonight, with a new show called “Chasing New Jersey.” The new magazine show, produced in Trenton and hosted by “ringleader” (and former Republican congressional candidate) Bill Spadea, will be outsourced to a company called Fairfax Productions. It”s run by Dennis Bianchi, the VP/general manager of Fox-owned WTXF (Channel 29) in Philadelphia, which will itself also carry “Chasing New Jersey,” albeit buried at 4 AM as the lead-in to WTXF”s early-morning newscast.

*Up in the northwestern corner of the state, WTOC (1360 Newton) is changing hands again. The former WNNJ(AM) was spun off by Clear Channel in 2011 as part of a group of small stations donated to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, which took it silent and then sold it to Paterson-based Radio Vision Cristiana for $46,000. RVC has been operating the station as a simulcast of its Spanish religious WWRV (1330 New York), but not for much longer: last week, it filed to sell the little station (which runs 2000 watts by day and 320 watts at night) to the Morristown-based Centro Biblico of New Jersey, for $235,000. Centro Biblico will take the station noncommercial, and will continue to run it with a Spanish-language religious format.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, they”re mourning Don Latulippe, the versatile radio man whose career spanned more than six decades, beginning with a childhood appearance on WHDH back in 1937. In the 1940s, Latulippe had his first paying radio job at Quincy”s WJDA, and in the years that followed he established himself with a long run in mornings at WEZE (1260) and then as public affairs director at WROR (98.5) beginning in the late 1970s. Latulippe”s work also included booth announcing at WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and WNAC-TV (Channel 7) and Red Sox production at WPLM in Plymouth.

Latulippe retired in 1995 but continued to do some part-time radio work in the years that followed. He was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2009. Latulippe”s son, Dale, a drummer, was among the victims in Rhode Island”s Station nightclub fire in 2003. Don Latulippe died June 25, at age 82.

*When Cumulus launched its “Nash FM” brand earlier this spring on New York-market WNSH (94.7 Newark NJ), it was a given that the brand would spread to more of Cumulus” country stations around the U.S.

Memorial Day weekend brought a “Nash” relaunch for five Cumulus country outlets in markets as far-flung as Boise, Des Moines, Green Bay and Lexington, Kentucky – and on Wednesday afternoon at 3, another wave of flips brought a second “Nash” outlet to NERW-land.

This time it”s in northeastern PENNSYLVANIA, where Cumulus (and before that, Citadel) has struggled to make WSJR (93.7 Dallas) a contender against long-established, big-signal Entercom country giant WGGY (Froggy 101.3). While Froggy enjoyed big ratings (and a near-weekly cameo bumper-sticker appearance amidst the filing cabinets on “The Office”), Citadel dumped local staff on what was then “JR 93.7″ back in 2010, and in 2012 it flipped the station to “Great Country 93.7,” an earlier attempt at a national country brand.

Now it”s “Nash,” and so far it”s jockless, save for the syndicated “CMT Live” in evening drive.

*At the other end of the Keystone State, July 4 marked the launch of a new incarnation of WZUM. Those calls long graced the AM 1590 signal in Carnegie, which went silent after losing its transmitter site – but now they”re back in place on the former WLFP (1550 Braddock).

New owners “AM Guys LLC” have replaced the former business-talk format on 1550 with the kind of R&B oldies that have been missing from the market for a few years now – and that happens to be a format the old WZUM ran for a few years in the mid-1960s.

Enter veteran Pittsburgh “AM guy” Clarke Ingram, who”s consulting the new WZUM…and who just happened to have the old jingle package, now lovingly re-edited to include the new frequency. Clarke”s been supplying music for the new station, too, and he tells NERW he”s excited to be helping to bring back a little life to a forgotten corner of the AM dial.

Five Years Ago: June 29 & July 6, 2009

In upstate NEW YORK, the Utica market’s “River” is changing directions: Mindy Barstein’s WXUR (92.7 Herkimer) is segueing from classic rock to active rock, and dropping Don Imus from morning drive in the process. While Imus moves to sister station WNRS (1420 Herkimer), Bill Keeler returns to morning drive on WXUR, with Frank McBride taking over Keeler’s afternoon slot, followed by Justin Cortese at night. (And CNYRadio.com reports that WXUR’s transmitter move to Smith Hill in Utica, giving it a class B1 signal that will make it a full-market player, is due to become a reality as early as mid-July.)

Another Utica-market FM station received some vindication late last week, as FCC investigators reported they could find no sign of excessive RF radiation around the new tower site of EMF Broadcasting’s WOKR (93.5 Remsen) in the town of Floyd, north of Rome. Town officials say they’re still trying to get some answers about what’s causing the mysterious illnesses in several homes near the tower, which residents blamed on WOKR’s April move to the site. Neighbors tell the Utica Observer-Dispatch that they saw workers at the American Tower-owned facility shortly before the FCC’s visit, and they remain suspicious.

While he achieved fame in New York and later California, Ed McMahon never forgot his roots in the Merrimack Valley of MASSACHUSETTS, and so we remember him this week not only for his many years alongside Johnny and Doc, or for his career as a TV pitchman and host, but also for his earliest years in the business at Lowell’s WLLH. McMahon’s voice was heard on WLLH doing station IDs in the 1980s, and he returned to Lowell in 1994 to be honored with a live broadcast on WLLH (alongside then-morning host Paul Sullivan) – and with a park bench at Middlesex Community College, too. McMahon died last Tuesday (June 23) at 86.

Another obituary overshadowed by the week’s big celebrity deaths leads our PENNSYLVANIA news this week: Irv Homer began his talk career by leasing time on WXUR (690/100.3) in Media in the late 1960s, then moved on to WEEZ (1590) in Chester before hitting the big time in 1975 with a slot on WWDB-FM (96.5), where he became a staple of Philadelphia talk radio for a quarter of a century. After WWDB exited the talk format, Homer continued to host a show on suburban WBCB (1490 Levittown-Fairless Hills), where he was still working at the time of his death last week. Homer, 86, suffered a heart attack while speaking at Eastern University Wednesday night. He died shortly afterward at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Ten Years Ago: July 5, 2004

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Fifteen Years Ago: July 2, 1999

We’ll start this week with two station sales in MASSACHUSETTS. The big one is out west in the Berkshires, where Tele-Media is paying $4.65 million to buy Aritaur’s three-station group, news-talk WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), CHR WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield), and religious WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY, still running the format it had in its pre-Aritaur days as WNGN).The deal expands Tele-Media’s reach eastward from its station group in Albany (WABY, WABY-FM, WKLI/WKBE) over the state line into the Pittsfield market, and leaves NERW wondering — is an Albany-Pittsfield simulcast on the way?

We also have to wonder what will become of the other station owned by Aritaur’s Joseph Gallagher, WBET (1460) in Brockton. Gallagher’s KJI Broadcasting sold WBET’s sister station, WCAV (97.7), to Radio One a few weeks back for a tidy profit.

Meantime, the other station in Brockton, WMSX (1410), is getting a new owner — and it’s a familiar buyer of late. Keating Willcox’s Willow Farm Broadcasting is paying $674,000 to buy WMSX from Donald Sandler, the second deal in a year Sandler’s Metro South Broadcasting has made to sell the station. The first, to Monte Bowen’s Griot Communications, was never consummated.

Willcox has been building quite a ring of stations around Boston, from Beverly around to Nashua and down to Woonsocket and Taunton. Could MetroWest be next?

There’s a change of program directors at Boston talker WRKO (680), as Kevin Straley takes his last elevator ride down to Huntington Avenue after two years in the big seat. Replacing him is veteran Beantown programmer Al Mayers, whose resume includes an earlier stint at WRKO as well as the now-defunct WHDH. Also leaving Entercom/Boston is promotions honcho Frank Murtaugh, who’s off to form his own national media marketing company.

On the TV dial, both viewers of channel 46 out of Norwell probably failed to notice the new calls on the all-infomercial station. It’s dropping the WBPX calls that went with its old Pax affiliation, in favor of WWDP(TV) for owner Devon Paxson. WBPX is being warehoused on an LPTV down in Florida, but we’ll be not one bit surprised to see the calls show up on Boston’s channel 68 one day soon.