In this week’s issue… Rush to be displaced in Steel City – Entercom faces ad backlash at WEEI – New PD at Hot 97 – Mass, Philly Halls of Fame name new classes – Morning host out in Rochester – More new FMs, AMs in Toronto?

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*A running thread in this column over the last few years has been the rise and gradual fall of traditional news-talk radio on the FM dial. This week’s big chapter comes from western PENNSYLVANIA, where Clear Channel’s WPGB (104.7) was an FM talk pioneer when it launched back in 2004. With Pittsburgh DJ-turned-talk host Jim Quinn in mornings, Rush Limbaugh in middays and, for five seasons, Pirates baseball in the evenings, “NewsTalk 104.7” aimed to replicate many of the elements that had long made CBS Radio’s KDKA (1020) a Steel City success story.

wpgb-fmntFor a time, it worked, but then a funny thing happened: even without Rush or the Bucs, KDKA’s relentless local focus overcame its AM dial position, while Clear Channel budget cuts began to erode whatever numbers WPGB had started to build up. The Pirates rights went back to CBS in 2012, landing on “Fan” KDKA-FM (93.7), and then last winter Clear Channel abruptly pulled the plug on the “Quinn and Rose” morning sho, replacing it with a regional show based at WWVA (1170) over in Wheeling, West Virginia. At one point earlier this year, KDKA(AM) boasted nearly four times as many listeners as WPGB, leaving 104.7 as by far the lowest-rated full-market FM signal in the Pittsburgh market.

So when rumors began to swirl this summer that WPGB was due for a format change, the only real surprise was that it had taken Clear Channel so long.

[private]

As our sister site RadioInsight first reported over the weekend, the next chapter for 104.7 appears to be country, though the flip may not occur until Labor Day weekend.

Country, of course, is another CBS Radio specialty in Pittsburgh; WDSY (107.9) is usually right at the top of the ratings, often in a neck-and-neck battle with Clear Channel’s flagship rocker, WDVE (102.5). That makes a 104.7 flip to country a perfectly typical page from today’s Clear Channel playbook: the new station won’t necessarily be designed to challenge Y108 for ratings dominance, just to shave enough of its ratings away to keep WDVE as a dominant first-place player. (Two more Clear Channel FMs, top-40 WKST-FM 96.1 and classic hits WWSW 94.5, are also near the top of the ratings alongside WDSY and WDVE; the fifth, modern rock WXDX-FM 105.9, is lower in the overall numbers but attracts a young male demographic that’s much more valuable than WPGB’s older talk audience.)

*Assuming a WPGB flip is really in the offing – and, again, there’s been no official announcement yet from Clear Channel and may not be one for a few weeks yet – there are plenty of questions to answer, both short-term and longer. For instance: where do the major syudicated pieces of the WPGB lineup land? Across the state in Philadelphia, CBS Radio’s WPHT (1210) was happy to reclaim Rush Limbaugh after Premiere moved him over to Merlin’s WWIQ (106.9), a much shorter-lived attempt at FM talk. Would Limbaugh’s former Pittsburgh home, KDKA, take him back? Right now, that noon-3 slot is home to KDKA veteran Mike Pintek, leading into the KDKA afternoon news block.

If KDKA doesn’t want Rush back after a decade’s absence, the options grow less impressive very quickly. If Premiere wants to clear more of the existing WPGB lineup, there’s Clear Channel’s lone AM in the market, WBGG (970 Pittsburgh), as a possible option to flip to talk with not only Rush but also Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Coast to Coast overnight. But that 5 kW facility is seriously signal-challenged, even with an impending FM translator on tap. (The translator would put the 970 programming on FM for the core of the market, but wouldn’t do much to fill 970’s significant nulls in the suburbs.) And WBGG already serves a useful purpose in the Clear Channel landscape. Even as a low-rated ESPN outlet, it reinforces the strong sports image that’s a secondary focus at its FM rock sisters, WDVE and WXDX, which hold the broadcast rights to the Steelers and Penguins, respectively.

wbgg-espnOther options for Premiere become even bleaker: Birach’s WWCS (540 Canonsburg) picked up Fox Sports when 970 went to ESPN. Disney’s WDDZ (1250 Pittsburgh) has one of the better AM signals in town after KDKA, and it’s been quietly on the market for a few years now. Would Clear Channel, not generally a net buyer of stations right now, want to pick it up as a new WPGB AM outlet? And there’s WJAS (1320 Pittsburgh), another pretty good AM signal that just changed hands from Renda to Frank Iorio. Its standards audience is aging fast – could it be reborn as a talker?

Even if all of this turns out to be speculative, as indeed it may, it’s increasingly clear that stations like WPGB that try to plug into a national talk lineup with little or no local content don’t have much of a future on FM, or even AM. As we’ve explored previously in this column, Clear Channel failed with its attempt to launch a new talker in Boston (WXKS 1200) against established players, even with Rush on its lineup. In New York, Clear Channel’s reborn WOR (710) runs a nearly identical signal to WPGB and remains mired low in the ratings.

You don’t need us to point out the lack of vibrancy in the talk format these days, especially not when even some of the format’s creators, such as former Clear Channel talk honcho Darryl Parks, are doing so far more eloquently than we can. But it’s worth noting in this context that Premiere’s very fat contract with Limbaugh is nearing an end, and that’s the one event that could precipitate a huge change in the format’s direction. While Limbaugh’s overall numbers remain stronger than any of his talk competitors, the experience of stations such as WPGB, WXKS, WWIQ and WOR (not to mention KEIB, the Los Angeles AM where Clear Channel relocated Rush from giant KFI earlier this year) would seem to suggest that the Rush Limbaugh of the 2010s can’t single-handedly carry a station the way the Rush of the 1990s could. As we’ve noted elsewhere, there’s a solid argument to be made these days that heritage stations like WHAM in Rochester, WGY in Albany or WTIC in Hartford do well these days as much in spite of Rush as because of him. Why else, after all, would we see failure after failure from stations that carry Rush and Hannity but lack all the other elements – strong local news, local talk personalities, sports, etc. – that the heritage stations still use to succeed?

(Those are generally the exact elements that the ill-fated progressive talkers also lacked a few years ago, which raises the question of whether it was the politics or the overall programming elements that did those stations in. But we digress…)

*Back to Pittsburgh, then: if Clear Channel is indeed planning to drop a “104.7 the Bull” or a “B104.7” into the market, it would be the third big country competitor in the region. In addition to CBS Radio’s big gun, WDSY, the new country outlet would have the potential to cut into the numbers at Keymarket’s “Froggy” trimulcast, WOGF (104.3 Moon Township), WOGI (94.9 Oliver) and WOGH (103.5 Burgettstown). It’s those signals, which primarily reach Pittsburgh’s southern and western suburbs, that would appear to have the most to lose from a second full-market country station in town.

Stoney Richards (photo: CBS Pittsburgh)
Stoney Richards (photo: CBS Pittsburgh)

And just to add to the general sense of turbulence, WDSY itself is on the hunt for a new afternoon jock/music director/assistant PD to replace the guy who’s been there 18 years (and in radio for 46 years!) Stoney Richards announced last week that he’s leaving Y108 on September 10 to spend more time on his other passion, acting. Richards says he’ll keep doing occasional fill-in shifts at WDSY, as well as appearances on sister station KDKA, where he hosts the weekend “Live from the Centre” show.

*The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia announced their Hall of Fame inductees last week, and it’s a long list. Among the 23 living and posthumous inductees are WMGK (102.9) morning institution John DeBella, WPHT (1210) host Dom Giordano, WBEB (101.1) GM Blaise Howard, soap opera creator Agnes Nixon and (on the posthumous side) WDAS legend Joe “Butterball” Tamburro and “Action News” inventor Ron Tindiglia. The group’s Person of the Year award goes to Pat Delsi, the veteran DJ and newscaster whose voice re-introduced the KYW callsign to Philadelphia when Westinghouse reclaimed the station in 1965. The honors will be handed out at a ceremony November 21.

GEOS Communications has applied for a license to cover the move of its former Mountain Top (Wilkes-Barre) 104.5 translator, W283BJ, to a new location in Hazleton and a new frequency, 105.1. The new 80-watt signal at 105.1 is on the books as a relay of WAZL (1490 Hazleton). At its former Mountain Top site, the 104.5 translator was redundant to two more relays of the “GEM 104” network, W237DP (95.3 Mountain Top) and the new 250-watt W223CC (92.3 Wilkes-Barre). (We note, too, that the Nanticoke AM side of “GEM 104,” WZMF 730, has been reported on and off the air in recent weeks.)

*Another week, another run of very bad PR for Entercom in eastern MASSACHUSETTS. As seems to be the case so often lately, the station at the center of the storm is WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence), where morning co-host Kirk Minihane spent the week in the headlines after some ill-conceived comments attacking Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews for a post-game interview at the baseball All-Star Game. In what seems to have become typical WEEI form, Minihane stirred the pot still further when he offered up an apology on Thursday (his first day back on the air) that seemed to itself be another attack on Andrews.

Dennis and Callahan on NESN (photo: nesn.com)
Dennis and Callahan on NESN (photo: nesn.com)

As with so many WEEI dustups, including more than a few involving Minihane’s co-hosts, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, Entercom’s stance at first appeared to be an attempt to wait for things to blow over.

Fox, however, isn’t letting things go quite that easily: after Minihane’s quasi-apology on Thursday, Fox upped the ante by announcing that it’s barring its personalities from appearing on WEEI and, oh yeah, also pulling all advertising from all Fox divisions from all of Entercom’s stations nationwide. That’s believed to account for more than a million dollars a year in billings across the Entercom landscape – and it prompted a Friday announcement that Minihane has now been suspended without pay for a week. That’s not enough for Fox; in a letter from Fox Sports president Eric Shanks to WEEI obtained by the Boston Globe, he says “I had hoped by this time we might hear a sincere apology from WEEI, or perhaps someone from your office might have reached out to Fox (which through our film and television businesses is a significant advertiser on Entercom stations.) However, none of that has been forthcoming, and needless to say we are disappointed.”

Just to add a little insult to injury, it appears the Dennis and Callahan show is losing its TV simulcast: the Globe also reports that the two-year deal between WEEI and NESN won’t be renewed when it expires in September. That’s also when Dennis and Callahan themselves (but not Minihane) face contract renewal. At a time when WEEI hasn’t been shy about ousting veteran personalities in search of a new direction, are the station’s longtime morning hosts safe?

We’ll be following that story closely in the months to come, especially as another Entercom star, WRKO (680) afternoon host Howie Carr, nears the end of his contract at the end of 2014.

*The Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame unveiled its latest class of inductees last week, and it’s another star-studded lineup.

mbhofThe Hall will induct its second living centenarian (or nearly so) at its award luncheon September 12, three days before the 100th birthday of Leo Beranek, the acoustical engineering genius who was the founding president of WCVB (Channel 5) back in 1972. Other, younger inductees include Kiss 108 founder Richie Balsbaugh and his longtime competitor, broadcast owner John Garabedian; Hank Phillipi Ryan of WHDH-TV; former WBZ-TV meteorologist Bruce Schwoegler; longtime radio personalities Mike Addams (WRKO, WHDH, WZOU, WODS, WMJX) and Dave O’Gara (WORC Worcester); and Dr. Murray Feingold, the enduring on-air physician at WBZ-TV and radio.

How is it that Julia Child wasn’t in the Hall yet? That omission will also be rectified in September; her fellow posthumous inductees include WBZ radio’s Lovell Dyett, WCRB’s Dave MacNeill and Child’s longtime boss at WGBH-TV (Channel 2), David Ives.

*There are few tasks more frustrating or expensive for a documentary producer than licensing music, which may explain why there aren’t many recent documentaries about radio. Jason Steeves tried a couple of years ago with a Kickstarter-funded project to document the history of WFNX (101.7 Lynn) as the alternative rocker was leaving the airwaves, but while Kickstarter funders got DVDs and one screening took place at a film festival, the film didn’t have an easy way to reach a larger audience. Until, that is, Steeves decided to simply give it away for free. “We Want the Airwaves: the WFNX Story” was posted last week on Vimeo, and Steeves tells Vanyaland.com that if he’s not making any money off the movie, there’s no issue with music clearance. So enjoy it while it’s out there. (And if you’re curious, as we were, about the status of another long-gestating project, “Life on the V,” the story of John Garabedian’s music video WVJV-TV in the 1980s, it’s also been making the festival rounds, but doesn’t yet appear to be available for purchase. Maybe someday…)

*In Brockton, several of the local hosts ousted from WXBR (1460) in the station’s shift last week to full-time Haitian Creole programming are keeping their shows alive as podcasts. The Brockton Enterprise reports that former morning host Ron Van Dam was part of a group that tried to lease the time back from station owner Azure Media, but the price tag ($100 an hour for 20 hours a week) was too high. So Van Dam and his former co-host Peter Czymbor are now uploading shows to a new site at metrosouthpodcasting.com.

*On the coast, WXBJ-LP (94.9 Salisbury) has been plagued with co-channel interference from the grandfathered superpower signal of WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH) since its debut in February, and now it hopes to rectify the problem with a change of frequency to 94.1 and a slight site change, moving about 70 feet from its present licensed location. WXBJ tells the FCC it should receive less incoming interference on 94.1, where the closest signal is WHJY down in Providence.

Towers down on Florida Mountain (photo: Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle)
Towers down on Florida Mountain in March (photo: Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle)

*Up on Florida Mountain, at the hairpin curve on Route 2 overlooking Adams, Massachusetts, things are slowly getting back to normal for the FM stations that lost their tower in a March storm. WNNI (98.9 Adams), the new northern Berkshires relay of public station WNNZ (640 Westfield), was just completing construction at the site when the tower came down. In June, it applied for a modification of its construction permit to move to a new antenna on a pole erected next to its former site, and last week WNNI requested a license to cover the 630 watt/382′ facility. The other station at the site, Vox’s WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams), continues to operate under STA from a temporary 661-watt facility at the same location while it works on a permanent tower replacement.

Saga wants a big power boost at its W245BK (96.9 Amherst). What’s now an 88-watt relay of news-talk WHMP (1400 Northampton) would remain at its present Horse Mountain site, but the 96.9 signal would go to 250 watts, with a change of primary station to the HD3 of Saga’s WLZX (99.3 Northampton) – which is, in turn, itself a WHMP relay. The added power would extend the reach of the 96.9 signal eastward into Amherst and northward to South Deerfield.

*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Bill Binnie’s engineering team is considering its site options for the former W28CM. The Manchester-licensed LPTV has a construction permit for digital displacement to RF channel 7, long vacated by Boston’s WHDH-TV, but it’s experimenting to see where that VHF signal will be most useful. In addition to its CP to operate with 300 watts from Mount Uncanoonuc, W07DR-D is applying for special temporary authority to run 62 watts from the STL tower behind the studio of Binnie-owned WBIN-TV (Channel 50) in Derry.

*In MAINE, Light of Life Ministries wants to expand its service north of Bangor. It’s applying to upgrade WRPB (89.3 Benedicta) from its current 2 kW/200′ facility near Sherman to a new 3 kW/551′ class C3 signal from Robinson Mountain, near Island Pond, giving it bigger coverage of the northern stretch of I-95 between Bangor and the Canadian border at Houlton. The station simulcasts the “Worship FM” network based at WWWA (95.3 Winslow), near Augusta.

*The interim PD at NEW YORK‘s Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1) is “interim” no more: Jay Dixon, who’s been doing the job since March, now holds the post on a permanent basis. Dixon replaces Ebro Darden, who pulled back from PD duties to focus on his morning hosting duties. Dixon started out in Boston at the old WILD (1090) and later worked in New York for WQHT’s former sister station, WRKS (98.7), where he was creative services director and later PD.

Uptown at Cumulus, there’s once again a local voice on the weekends at WABC (770), where Larry Mendte is now hosting “The Larry Mendte Show” on Sunday evenings from 7-9. The colorful Mendte is known to New York listeners for commentaries on WPIX-TV (Channel 11) and on all-news WEMP (101.9), where he appeared while hosting mornings on its former Merlin sister station WWIQ (106.9) a couple of years ago. (And, really, how sad is it that the addition of a lonely two-hour show on a Sunday night is actually a newsworthy improvement in the WABC weekend lineup, which is otherwise all syndicated and paid programming?)

wrdr-wjux-bridge*The tug-of-war over even the tiniest corners of the FM dial in the tri-state area can be pretty intense, and the latest example comes from a rooftop in northern NEW JERSEY. Translator W276AQ (103.1 Fort Lee) has been an established part of the FM landscape near the George Washington Bridge for a couple of decades now, most notably when then-owner Gerry Turro used it for his “Jukebox Radio” service, drawing intense FCC scrutiny of its relationship with parent station WJUX (99.7) in distant Monticello, New York. Both W276AQ and WJUX eventually ended up in the hands of religious broadcaster Bridgelight LLC, which has filled out its network with additional full-power and translator signals around the region.

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on Bridgelight’s attempt to protect W276AQ’s fringe coverage in Westchester County from potential incursion from the proposed move of another translator in Connecticut – and now Bridgelight is fighting back, requesting a power increase that would boost the Fort Lee translator signal to 99 watts from its present 35 watts.

*News directors come and go in small and medium TV markets, but it’s rare to see one depart with as much bad publicity as Joe Schlaerth is trailing behind him after his exit from LIN’s WIVB (Channel 4)/WNLO (Channel 23) in Buffalo last week. The Buffalo News reports Schlaerth was given a year to turn around morale and ratings problems in the newsroom when a new GM took over at the station, and with the year over and the CBS affiliate still mired in second place, Schlaerth was let go on Wednesday, says the paper.

Casper
Casper

*Marti Casper has been a fixture at the 93.3 spot on the Rochester dial through multiple calls, formats, and owners: the station was Entercom’s oldies WBBF when she started out on the morning show, and she survived a format change to adult hits (“Fickle 93.3,” WFKL) and then the station’s sale to Stephens Media. For the last five years, she’d been solo in mornings on Fickle after the departure of her former co-host, George “Ace” Acevedo; last Tuesday, she was abruptly ousted, apparently amidst budget cuts at Stephens. No replacement has been named yet, and it’s not clear what’s going on at Fickle (nor, generally, at Stephens overall, which has been one of the more inscrutable broadcast groups in the region.)

Over at WHAM-TV (Channel 13), we’ve often noted with pride that anchor Don Alhart, a 48-year veteran of the station, is closing in on an all-time longevity record with any single local TV station, ever. But as Don himself noted last week, he’s not the most senior employee at the station: behind the scenes, production manager Craig Heslor marked his 50th anniversary with the station a week ago. “Never boring around here,” Heslor noted in the “Bright Spot” segment that WHAM-TV did to mark the anniversary, and after surviving more than a half-dozen owners over the decades, we’re inclined to agree.

There’s a new top manager at Nexstar’s Utica-market stations: Steve Ventura moves up from sales director to VP/GM at WFXV (Channel 33), WPNY-LP (Channel 11) and Mission-owned partner station WUTR (Channel 20). The Utica native takes the job last held by Steve Merren.

Over at the competition, WKTV (Channel 2) was knocked off the airwaves Saturday by a lightning strike to its tower site.

*Equinox Broadcasting doesn’t have the big signals that its three major Elmira/Corning-market competitors enjoy, but it’s trying to make up for some of that with translators. Its “Cool” oldies format already reaches northern Steuben County on WZHD (97.1 Canaseraga) and a 10-watt Hornell translator, W289AR (105.7); now Equinox holds a CP to move the Hornell signal to 95.1, moving the transmitter northward and raising power to 30 watts. Equinox recently added service to Hornell from its other Elmira/Corning format, classic rock “95 the Met” (WMTT 94.7 Tioga PA), via W226AP (93.1).

Up in Watertown, translator W281AA (104.1) wants to make some big changes: it’s been silent since March, but it was a 50-watt signal from the tower of its former parent, WATN (1240) on the west side of the city. Intrepid Broadcasting (which paid $50,000 to acquire the translator from Katherine Ingersoll earlier this year) is now applying to move the station to 104.5, increase power to 65 watts, and relocate it to the WWNY-TV (Channel 7) tower in the hills east of Watertown. The translator would also change parents, switching to a relay of WBLH (92.5), the variety hits station (“Tunes 92.5”) that Intrepid operates under an LMA from Randy Michaels’ RadioActive LLC.

*Where are they now? Wes Styles, last seen in Albany as PD/midday jock on Townsquare’s WQBK-FM (103.9 Rensselaer)/WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill), is trading one small state capital for another: he’s now in Springfield, Illinois, settling in as PD and operations manager at Mid-West Family Broadcasting’s WQLZ/WLCE.

Moving downstate, Joe Limardi is the new operations manager at Townsquare’s Poughkeepsie cluster, where he’s also serving as PD (er, “brand manager”) of heritage rocker WPDH (101.5).

cfzm*When the former CHWO (1250 Oakville) took over the mammoth 50,000-watt nondirectional clear channel signal at 740 on the Toronto dial almost 15 years ago, it was inheriting one of the best AM facilities in all of CANADA. But even the best AM in Canada these days doesn’t seem to be much of a match for an FM presence, and that’s why 740 (now Moses Znaimer’s “Zoomer Radio,” CFZM) has been in the hunt for an FM repeater over the years. It lost out to what’s now “Indie Radio” (CIND) in the competition for 88.1 in 2012, but CFZM has once again filed an application for a “nested repeater” to solve AM 740’s reception issues in the downtown Toronto core, where electrical interference indeed cuts into the reach of the otherwise enormous AM signal.

This time around, CFZM wants to go on 96.7 from the top of First Canadian Place, where it would run 27.3 watts average/100 watts max DA/280 m. That signal would be second-adjacent to Zoomer’s classical sister station, CFMZ (96.3); under the Canadian rules, CFMZ had to consent to allow a station on its second-adjacent frequency, and of course it wasn’t likely to grant that consent to anything other than a co-owned station.

*But the CFZM application is only one of several proposals to add still more signals to the jam-packed Toronto radio dial, including two applications for new AM signals. At the 1280 spot on the AM band that was the home of CFYZ, the Toronto airport information station that evolved into the ill-fated all-business CFBN before folding, Ryerson University’s Radio Ryerson is looking for a 100-watt “community based campus station.” If granted, it will be Ryerson’s third stab at radio – what’s now “Jazz 91” CJRT started out long ago as a Ryerson-based signal, followed by CKLN (88.1), which famously lost its license a few years ago. Radio Ryerson was one of more than two dozen applicants for 88.1 after CKLN’s shutdown, but it lost out on what was probably its last FM opportunity, which is why it’s trying now for AM. If it’s granted, Ryerson would call its station “The Scope,” with calls CJRU.

The other Toronto-area applicant on the AM dial is Neeti P. Ray, who’s a perennial filer at the CRTC. His latest proposal calls for 450 watts days, 55 watts at night from Brampton on 1350, the frequency last used in Oshawa by CKDO, now on 1580. Ray’s application proposes a station that will be licensed as an English-language news/talker, but 40% of the day will be multicultural, primarily South Asian.

But wait – there’s more! To the north, up near Casino Rama in the Orillia area, Evanov Broadcasting is proposing a new signal on 96.9. Licensed to “Brechin-Ramara,” the soft AC station would extend Evanov’s “Jewel” brand north from CKDX (88.5 Newmarket), running 8.9 kW average/25 kW max DA/88 m.

Not far away, Bayshore Broadcasting wants more power at its Wasaga Beach station, CHGB (97.7). It’s now 200 watts average/347 watts max DA/100 m, but it’s applying to go to 700 watts/100 m from a different site.

*In Ottawa, Fiston Kalambay has finally won a license for a French-language Christian station after multiple attempts. His new CJVN will run 50 watts/23.5 meters on 92.7.

*And one of the biggest AM signals in the Maritimes is applying for a move to FM. CJVA (810) in Caraquet, New Brunswick reaches much of that province and a big chunk of eastern Quebec as well from its 10,000-watt transmitter site at the northeastern tip of New Brunswick. But the French-language station (which is a partial simulcast of CKLE 92.9 down the coast in Bathurst) believed as far back as 1976 that the future was on FM – and while the CRTC back then wouldn’t allow CJVA to change its plans prior to its 1977 sign-on, the situation is different almost four decades later.  CJVA’s pending application calls for a switch to 94.1 on the FM dial, with 17 kW average/28 kW max DA/65 m.

[/private]

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 29, 2013

indietoronto-logo*The newest commercial radio station in CANADA‘s biggest market is about to launch, bringing to a close a four-year battle for the future of the 88.1 dial position in Toronto.

As NERW readers know, Ryerson University’s CKLN lost its license for the frequency and went silent in 2011 after 28 years on the air. CKLN’s license revocation opened a CRTC free-for-all that saw 22 broadcasters apply for the last significant open spot on the Toronto FM dial. The winner in the scrum turned out to be Barrie’s Rock 95 Broadcasting, which is now just days away from launching its new signal as CIND, “Indie 88.1.”

After several months of streaming a preview version of “Indie,” the CIND on-air signal went live in test form late last week with a real-life “Rickroll,” playing a nonstop loop of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” ahead of its planned official launch on Wednesday at noon.

When “Indie” launches for real, its staff will include PD Adam Thompson, former CBC Radio 3 host Raina Douris as music director, and Canadian rock radio legend Alan Cross as “music guidance counselor.” CIND launches with just 500 watts from the roof of First Canadian Place, the old CKLN transmitter site, but it has a pending application to boost its power to 4000 watts DA from there.

*All that noise about “four layoffs per cluster” at Clear Channel? That overheated prediction hasn’t come to pass, but last week did bring a handful of high-profile talent departures at specific Clear Channel outlets. In Harrisburg, Bob Durgin announced his impending retirement after 24 years holding down the afternoon shift at talker WHP (580). Durgin’s last show will air this Friday, August 2, with a listener party and live broadcast from the Radisson Penn Harris hotel in Camp Hill; no replacement for the shift has been named yet, and the buzz seems to suggest that Clear Channel will plug the syndicated Sean Hannity into a live clearance in Durgin’s 3-6 PM slot.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, a veteran member of the WCVB (Channel 5) news team is planning her retirement next year. Susan Wornick has been with channel 5 since 1981, and has been anchoring the midday news since 1989, while also leading the station’s consumer reporting team. Wornick will be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame this fall, and in March 2014 she’ll leave the station.

The Boston Herald has made it official: next Monday morning (August 5) will bring the official launch of “Boston Herald Radio.” The streaming service will operate from a studio adjoining the paper’s newsroom, and the initial lineup of four three-hour shows will be heavy on veterans of other Boston talk outlets. Jeff Katz, who was the morning man on the former WXKS (Talk 1200), will handle 6-9 AM, followed at 9 by “Morning Meeting” with Jaclyn Cashman and Hillary Chabot. Michael Graham, late of Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9, now WBQT), will be heard from noon-3 PM, followed at 3 by “Sports Town with Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle.”

*In CONNECTICUT, Kim Zachary has returned to WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford) after almost two decades. Zachary did news on WDRC from 1991-1994 (and was then married to traffic reporter Jim Sharpley); later on, she moved up I-91 to Springfield and a long run co-hosting mornings on WHYN-FM (93.1) with her second husband, Dan Williams. Dan and Kim tried their hands at morning TV last year at Springfield’s WGGB (Channel 40) and had more recently been doing an online show; last week, Zachary joined the WDRC-FM morning show alongside Jerry Kristafer and Mike Stevens.

Five Years Ago: July 27, 2009

NEW YORK’s dance music station was back in the headlines last week, but it’s still not clear what exactly was going on behind the scenes at “Pulse 87” (WNYZ-LP), the channel 6 LPTV license that’s operated by Mega Media as an FM station at 87.7 on the dial. On Monday, Pulse’s announcers began telling listeners that the station was in severe financial trouble and would be gone by week’s end…unless those listeners came forward with donations to save the format. Listeners apparently responded – but the fund drive didn’t last long. By Tuesday morning, the fundraising announcements (complete with premiums such as messenger bags and wristbands) had been pulled, the “donate” webpage on the Pulse website was gone, and the station was suddenly announcing that it had won a reprieve from its creditors thanks to an “overwhelming” response from listeners. But all that money pledged by the Pulse audience isn’t staying with Mega Media – it’s being returned to donors, the station says, leaving it rather unclear as to what the point of the one-day fundraiser really was.

So while the good news for New York’s dance fans is that Pulse remains on the air, there are still plenty of unanswered questions – what prompted the drive in the first place, and why was it called off so abruptly? Even more curious is the low profile Mega’s leadership has been taking; the announcements of the pledge drive and of its cancellation came from Pulse staffers, not from CEO Alex Shvarts, and the normally outspoken Shvarts hasn’t been heard from at all during the latest series of events. Apart from a one-line posting to his Facebook page on Monday, he’s had no public comment, and even the station’s passionate fans, who’ve been outspoken about the latest developments on all the usual message boards, say they’ve heard nothing at all from Mega management to clear up what’s going on. Mega’s stock dipped below a penny per share last week, closing at $0.008 per share, and the company has now pulled back from its ambitious expansion plans for “Pulse.” Mega had earlier announced that it wasn’t going ahead with plans to launch “Pulse” on channel 6 LPTVs in Chicago and Los Angeles, and last week it dropped its plans to put the format on a channel 6 LPTV in the Washington, DC market.

After a tumultuous week in MASSACHUSETTS radio, things got back down to business as Boston’s WBCN (104.1) prepared for its final farewell. The station’s swan song will take place over four days, starting Saturday, August 8 and wrapping up Tuesday, August 11 with the three-way flip that sends WBCN to HD2 retirement on 98.5-2, moves “Mix” WBMX from 98.5 to 104.1, and launches the new all-sports “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM on 98.5’s main channel.

There’s a physical move coming as well: by early August, Mix will have finished its move from 1200 Soldiers Field Road, next door to WBZ-TV/WSBK-TV/WBZ(AM), down the road to the CBS Radio cluster studio at 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway in the former WSBK studio building – and that will end some two decades of radio at 1200 Soldiers Field Road, starting with WBOS (92.9), which was joined there by WSSH (99.5, later WOAZ) before those stations moved out and WBMX moved in as part of the big cluster shuffles of the late ’90s.

The public broadcaster serving northwest PENNSYLVANIA is warning that its impending removal from the cable lineup in London, Ontario could be the last straw forcing it to close down. WQLN-TV (Channel 54)/WQLN-FM (91.3) has already been hit hard by budget cutbacks, including an $800,000 hit in state funding that forced the station to lay off staffers and cut pay for remaining employees. Losing its 1700 members across Lake Erie in London would reduce the station’s donations by about 20%, says president Dwight Miller, removing another $150,000-$200,000 from the station’s already tight budget. “It would seriously jeopardize our ability to stay open,” Miller told the Erie Times-News last week, forcing WQLN to put itself up for sale or to investigate consolidating with other public broadcasters. WQLN says it’s investigating the possibility of a fiber connection to Rogers Cable in London to replace the off-air pickup that Rogers says has been unreliable, leading to its decision to replace WQLN with Detroit’s WTVS, effective August 18.

Today is the last day for AM radio in the largest city in CANADA’s Maritimes, as CFDR (Kixx 780) in Halifax, Nova Scotia signs off, ending a 46-year run that’s found the station on 790 and 680 as well as its current dial position. It appears that the CFDR staff, including morning host Frank Lowe, won’t be making the move from current owner Newcap over to Rogers, which bought the AM license so it could be moved to FM as “Lite” CKLT (92.9), which officially launches today. (It’s not yet clear whether CKLT will simulcast on the old AM frequency for a transition period, though we’d suspect they won’t.)

Ten Years Ago: July 26, 2004

Another upstate NEW YORK TV market is about to become a one-newscast operation. It’s already happened to Utica, where Clear Channel cancelled the local news on WUTR (Channel 20) before selling the station completely. And now the beleaguered, ratings-challenged newscast on Clear Channel’s WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown is about to be cancelled for the second time in the station’s short history.

Rumors have been flying for a while about the imminent end of WWTI’s 6 and 11 PM newscasts, which have never even really challenged longtime market leader WWNY-TV (Channel 7) in the ratings; the station finally made it official this past week in a set of releases that tried to paint the move in the most positive terms possible.

To hear WWTI explain it, news won’t be disappearing from channel 50’s airwaves – it’ll just be rearranged into 19 brief hourly and half-hourly news snippets (ending at 7:30 nightly) and local cut-ins on Good Morning America. The station will keep at least some of its news staff on duty, it says, even though after Friday, viewers will now see Entertainment Tonight at 6 and Frasier reruns at 11.

The move will, says WWTI, make the station “more competitive in a changing market place and changing industry.”

In Albany, veteran morning man Bob Mason said farewell to the airwaves Friday, when he retired from his most recent gig on Galaxy’s WRCZ (94.5 Ravena). Mason and partner Bill Sheehan made a name for themselves on WPYX (106.5) and later WQBK-FM (103.9) in the eighties; later on, the two were heard on the old WXCR (102.3) before leaving the airwaves for a while.
Here at NERW Central, our radio has spent much of the weekend tuned to CANADA’s newest FM signal.

Right across Lake Ontario from us, in the city once known as Trenton but now amalgamated into “Quinte West,” CJTN (1270) signed on the new CJTN-FM (107.1) last Thursday, and it’s been running a nonstop loop ever since of nothing but songs about radio. From the classic “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)” all the way up to Nelly Furtado’s (Cancon-friendly) “S**t on the Radio,” CJTN-FM has been a fun listen – but we suspect the loop will give way to the real CJTN programming in a week or so, followed shortly by the sign-off of the AM signal. (Oh, and extra radio-geek bonus points to whoever at CJTN threw in a soundbite about the early days of FM radio from the Empire of the Air documentary – very cool!)

The selloff of the Vox group continued this week in VERMONT, where Rutland-market classic rock simulcast WEXP (101.5 Brandon)/WVAY (100.7 Wilmington) is going to ever-growing New England operator Nassau Broadcasting for $2.5 million. The sale will put WEXP/WVAY back under the same roof as the 10 other Vermont and New Hampshire stations Vox sold to Nassau earlier this year (NERW, March 22), and it brings Nassau’s station count in New England to 32 signals.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 30, 1999

It’s been a busy July for broadcasters across the region, with sales, format changes, new stations, call changes, and, sadly, more than a few obits.

We’ll start with the biggest sale: Entercom’s $821.5 million deal to buy Sinclair’s radio division (with the exception of the St. Louis stations going to Emmis in a previously-announced purchase).

Entercom ends up with 43 stations, including the Sinclair cluster in Buffalo — talk WGR (550), news-talk WBEN (930), R&B oldies WWWS (1400), sports WWKB (1520), CHR WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls), and AC WMJQ (102.5). The Buffalo stations make a nice complement to the Rochester stations Sinclair bought from Heritage back in 1997 and immediately spun to Entercom — standards WEZO (950), country WBEE-FM (92.5), classic rock WQRV (93.3 Avon), and oldies WBBF (98.9). They will also be among the stations buying a total of $5 million a year in advertising on Sinclair’s TV stations, including WUTV (Channel 29) and eventually WNEQ (Channel 23) in Buffalo, which now lose their radio sister stations but gain a more solid financial footing.

NERW will be watching most closely to see what happens to the news departments at WGR and WBEN, which have maintained two separate newsrooms despite being under common ownership (and by a company with a reputation for cost-cutting, at that). We’re hoping Buffalo will continue to enjoy that rare luxury, but we suspect the worst, somehow. There are, of course, no other commercial radio newsrooms to speak of in the Queen City, with WBFO (88.7) holding the fort on the noncomm side more than adequately.

Sticking with Sinclair on the other side of NEW YORK state, the company has applied for new calls for Schenectady’s Channel 45. WMHQ will become WEWB when it reverts to commercial operation as a WB affiliate sometime later this year.

While Albany viewers wait for the call change on TV, they can tune in something new on the radio. WRIP (97.9 Windham) began testing from its transmitter atop Ski Windham this week, and Dennis Jackson is inviting NERW readers to the official sign-on celebration on Thursday, August 5 at the station’s studios, 134 South Street in Windham. WRIP’s morning man will be Guy Garraghan, who handled wake-up duties for years at WCKL (560) in Catskill. You can find more about the station at its new Web page.

Onward we go, to VERMONT, where public radio listeners in the Northeast Kingdom now have a signal to call their own. Engineer Ira Wilner pushed the button to turn on the WVPA (88.5 St. Johnsbury) transmitter atop Burke Mountain at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of July 21. WVPA will provide reliable service to an area that previously had only the spotty signals of WVPS (107.9 Burlington) and WVPR (89.5 Windsor) for company.

Alex McEwing’s Family Broadcasting is selling WGLY (103.3 Waterbury) to Jane Cole’s Radio Broadcast Services for a reported $700,000. While we’ve yet to hear anything about changes in programming or staff, we do note that WGLY has filed to change its calls to WDOT, with the existing WDOT (McEwing’s AM 1070 in Plattsburgh NY) becoming WGLY. More on this in the weeks to follow.