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, fifteen and – where available – twenty 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: August 12, 2013
Big changes were coming to two big FM signals in the two biggest markets we cover along the East Coast.The first shoe to drop was in Philadelphia, where it was pretty much a given that Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media group was looking to unload WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ), the former Family Radio outlet it had purchased a year and a half ago for $22.5 million, apparently outbidding CBS Radio for the property. Merlin had big plans for WWIQ, pulling Rush Limbaugh away from his longtime home at CBS Radio’s WPHT (1210) and attempting to challenge CBS all-news sister station KYW (1060) with a morning show that was initially fairly heavy on news.
The sale of WWIQ’s New York sister station WEMP (101.9) to CBS removed some of the infrastructure on which WWIQ had depended for its news content, and within the last few months “IQ 106.9″ had eliminated nearly all of its local content in favor of the syndicated Don Imus in morning drive.
And then came the big announcement last week: Merlin was selling WWIQ – but not, as in New York, to CBS Radio. Instead, the class B signal at 106.9 is going to EMF Broadcasting, the California-based religious broadcaster that seems to have a bottomless wallet when it comes to acquisitions. The purchase price hasn’t been officially announced, but it’s rumored to be in the $19 million range, reflecting the softening marketplace for even the biggest of signals. Once the sale closes, 106.9 is expected to take on the “K-Love” contemporary Christian format now heard on WKVP (89.5 Cherry Hill NJ), while the small 89.5 signal across the Delaware River will likely take EMF’s Christian rock “Air 1″ format.
What happens to WWIQ’s current programming? We’d be surprised if Limbaugh doesn’t return to WPHT fairly quickly, giving the ailing AM talker a much-needed boost and probably reducing WPHT’s current hosts to three-hour shifts instead of their current four-hour daily shows. In a market that’s traditionally been resistant to syndicated talk, it’s unlikely the rest of the WWIQ lineup, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, will get full-market clearances in the near future.
*Just as Philadelphia’s media scene was digesting the latest change among the big FM signals there, the next chapter in NEW YORK‘s longest-running radio saga was unfolding 75 miles to the northeast, where WBAI (99.5) let most of its on-air staff go amidst ongoing financial turmoil.
Unable to pay its bills – not only payroll, but also the expensive rent check for its Empire State Building transmitter site – WBAI’s local management turned to Pacifica’s national leadership, and it was the network’s interim executive director, Summer Reese, who appeared on the air at 99.5 on Friday afternoon to break the news that “we will be laying off virtually everyone whose voice you recognize on the air.” That includes the entire news department, which broadcast the final “WBAI Evening News” on Friday – but not controversial general manager Berthold Reimers, who’s still at WBAI as part of the stripped-down staff trying to keep the station going.
What remains of WBAI doesn’t appear to be sustainable, at least not for long: Andrew Phillips, formerly of Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, is the new interim PD at WBAI, presiding over a schedule which will apparently be heavy on reruns and offerings from other Pacifica stations. That, in turn, can’t be good news for WBAI’s already anemic fundraising: without local content, what incentive will WBAI’s dwindling base of listeners have to dig deeper to help save the station?
*Out on Cape Cod, Boston University is selling WBUR (1240 West Yarmouth) to Alex Langer. The 1000-watt AM signal helped bring the programming of Boston mothership WBUR-FM (90.9) to the Cape, but WBUR says it’s pleased with the reach of its new outlet, WBUA (92.7 Tisbury) from Martha’s Vineyard, and between 92.7 and its FM relays via WCCT (90.3 Harwich) and WSDH (91.5 Sandwich), the AM signal had become redundant.
Five Years Ago: August 3 & 10, 2009
The latest high-profile Boston pirate FM has been visited by the FCC. “WPOT Hot 97.5” signed on in mid-July on a particularly poorly-chosen frequency, right next door to Entercom’s WAAF relay, WKAF (97.7 Brockton). It didn’t take long for agents from the Quincy field office to track the signal to One Westinghouse Plaza in Hyde Park – and to issue a Notice of Unlicensed Operation to the building’s landlord, Motherbrook LLC/The Hamilton Co. Will pressure on the landlord get “WPOT” off the air – or will it join other unlicensed signals like “Touch 106” as long-term survivors on the Boston dial, much to the chagrin of the city’s licensed operators?
The crisis that threatened to cost two small PBS stations in NEW YORK and PENNSYLVANIA much of their viewer and donor bases was averted late last week. WPBS-TV (Channel 16) in Watertown and WQLN-TV (Channel 54) in Erie faced the loss of their large and loyal audiences in Ottawa and London, Ontario, respectively, when Rogers Cable announced it was planning to replace its over-the-air pickups of those stations’ signals with the feed of Detroit’s PBS station, WTVS (Channel 56), that’s already on Rogers’ fiber backbone across much of Ontario. Viewers in both London and Ottawa responded with protests to Rogers, and the Canadian cable giant agreed to keep WPBS and WQLN on its systems if the U.S.-based stations could arrange for fiber feeds of their signals to Rogers’ Canadian headends. Both stations announced last week that they’ll move forward with those feeds, though they come at a significant cost (north of $30,000 a year) at a time when the stations – especially WQLN – are facing budget shortfalls and cuts in state funding.
They call it “Happy Valley,” but rock fans in State College, PENNSYLVANIA won’t be happy if they try to tune to “QWK Rock” (WQWK 103.1 State College) this morning – there’s word that Forever Broadcasting is flipping the station to a simulcast of news-talk WRSC (1390 State College). This was the second incarnation of WQWK; its previous facility on 97.1 was traded away to 2510 Licenses a few years back.
Ten Years Ago: August 3 & 9, 2004
Plenty of top-40 stations around the country have held reunions of former staffers, but we think it’s a pretty good bet that few have been as well attended as Saturday’s homecoming at WOLF (1490) in Syracuse, NEW YORK.
It’s not every 1000-watt graveyarder AM signal (250 watts, back in the day!) that draws back staffers from as far back as the day the station signed on in 1940 (like former sports director Red Parton, seen at right in the photo at left) – and it’s certainly not every small AM station that draws back staffers who worked for just a few months in the summer of 1978 (like CBS Radio News correspondent Peter King, in the yellow shirt, who came all the way from his home base in Orlando, Florida for the reunion.)
But then, not every little station like WOLF has historical caretakers like Bob Mitchell and Lee Goodman, whose wolf1490.net site chronicles the history of WOLF from the beginning all the way to its current incarnation as part of a four-station Radio Disney simulcast in Central New York. Bob and Lee were planning this reunion for months, and it showed, not only in the former staffers who packed the little WOLF building on Saturday morning but also in the huge collection of WOLF photos, T-shirts, surveys, banners and whatnot that covered the walls of the restaurant where the reunion luncheon was held. Nor, for that matter, do many stations this size have an alumni roster that includes names like Dick Clark (who worked at WOLF while he was a student at Syracuse University), Marv Albert, CBS network announcer Wendell “Windy” Craig, Chicago legend Fred Winston, Detroit morning legend Dick Purtan, Boston radio legend Dale Dorman, WCBS-FM afternoon guy Bob Shannon (who was still Don Bombard in his WOLF days), and the list goes on and on.
Clark sent recorded greetings, and many other former WOLF’ers showed up in person – not just Craig and Bombard but also some other names familiar around NERW-land, like WBZ (1030 Boston) anchor Bob McMahon (who was at WOLF in 1972-73), WWSW (94.5 Pittsburgh) afternoon jock Mike Frazer and Clancy-Mance Communications owner Dave Mance. And plenty of ex-WOLF staffers who stuck around the Syracuse market showed up as well, including WSTM (Channel 3) sports anchor Joe Zone, WYYY (94.5) morning team Rick Gary and PD Kathy Rowe and WBBS (B104.7) morning guy Ron Bee. (We’ve still just scratched the surface of the guest list!)
Rick and Ron co-hosted the three-hour reunion show on WOLF, and we should point out here that the show was made possible by current WOLF owner Craig Fox, who graciously opened up the station’s building on West Kirkpatrick Street (“it hasn’t changed a bit,” commented many attendees) and its airwaves for the event.
Fifteen Years Ago: August 15, 1999
We begin this NERW up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where Steve Mindich’s WFNX empire is growing again. Just a few weeks after flipping the newly-acquired 92.1 Sanford, Maine to WPHX and a simulcast of WFNX, Mindich is paying $1.6 million for another 92.1, WNHQ Peterborough.WNHQ has been owned since early last year by RadioWorks of Concord, which paid just over $500,000 for the privilege of turning the station into a simulcast of WJYY (105.5 Concord). Once the deal closes (expected to be sometime in November or December), it too will simulcast WFNX’s modern rock.
Just down the valley, Claremont’s WNHQ (106.1) has been granted a construction permit to move its tower across the Connecticut River to Vermont’s Mount Ascutney. Q106’s power will drop from 9500 watts to 1650, but the new antenna will be at 673 meters above average terrain, almost twice the height of the current stick.
Speaking of VERMONT, a new station is testing in the Rutland area. WEXP Brandon has been playing tracks off a disco CD to check the range of its new transmitter on Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton. According to the Rutland Herald, WEXP founders Michael Carr, Gary Savoie and Timothy Hoehn had been trying since 1989 to get the station on the air, but ran into a series of problems with transmitter siting. The solution turned out to involve Jeff Shapiro’s Dynacom Broadcasting (and yes, his first name is Jeff, not Bruce — our goof last week!) and its application for a site change for Marlboro’s WSSH (101.5). WSSH was willing to withdraw that application, allowing WEXP to locate its tower on the existing Grandpa’s Knob public broadcasting site…but only on the condition that WEXP’s permittee, Mirkwood Broadcast Partners, sell the CP to Dynacom, which is in turn being sold to Vox Media.
So what will the new WEXP program? The calls came from the former 105.1 Plattsburgh NY, which served Burlington with nifty local AAA until Hall bought it and turned it into oldies WKOL a few years ago. Will they remain? Somehow, we see another “Wish FM” repeater on the horizon instead.
The buzz in MASSACHUSETTS is over Greater Media’s decision on where Don Imus, and an FM talk format, will land. The answer, as of August 23, is WSJZ (96.9), which will continue running its current smooth-jazz format outside morning drive for a few more weeks until it completes its metamorphosis into “FM Talk 96.9.”
The station’s other star talker will be former Boston Globe scribe Mike Barnicle, with others sure to be announced as new PD Paula O’Connor (best remembered among her many gigs in Boston as Jerry Williams’ WRKO producer) settles in. Smooth jazz PD Shirley Maldonado exits WSJZ in the meantime.
NERW’s take: This is where the rumors hit the road. We’ve been hearing about the possibility of an FM talker in the market for the better part of the decade. It’s a pretty safe bet that if WSJZ (or whatever the new calls turn out to be) flops in the attempt, nobody else will try. Does a city that already has 24-hour talk on WRKO, sports talk on WEEI, nighttime talk on WBZ, and satellite talk on countless suburban outlets NEED another talker? This ought to be the test…and we can’t wait for that Fall book. And by the way, while some may not think of Greater Media as a force in the talk radio field, keep in mind that Greater was the company that turned KLSX in Los Angeles into the first successful major-market FM talker before trading the station away to CBS…
New calls arrived at Pax TV’s area outlets last Saturday (August 7), with WBPX replacing WABU at Channel 68 in Boston, WDPX replacing WZBU at Channel 58 Vineyard Haven, and WPXG replacing WNBU at Channel 21 in Concord, NH — just in time for Lowell Paxson’s announcement that he’s taking bids on the entire network, which seems perfect fodder for someone’s TV duopoly plans.
Another correction from last issue: The former WRKO talker who’s joined the Webcaster “eYada.com” is Lori Kramer, not her ex-partner Leslie Gold (which makes sense, really — shouldn’t a “station” named after a Seinfeld episode have a host named “Kramer”?). Gold, meanwhile, is headed down to New York as well, to join the staff of Infinity’s WNEW (102.7). Her producer at the talker-to-be will be Paul Bryan, better known as “Butchie” of WRKO, who’s leaving the Entercom station just after it resolved the AFTRA dispute that kept him and other producers from appearing on the air.
We’ll start our tour of NEW YORK this week in Albany, where two stations are getting new call letters. WABY-FM (94.5 Ravena) is dropping its ABC-delivered soft AC format to become WKLI, “K-Lite,” a nickname that should be familiar to the Capital District audience. As “K-Lite,” WKLI on 100.9 played adult contemporary music in the mid-90s before getting a bit harder-edged as “K100” (hot AC) and now “The Point” (modern AC). Now “The Point” is getting new calls as well — WCPT. The heritage WABY calls stay in the market on Albany’s AM 1400, with an all-news format. Who really benefits from all this call-and-format flip-flop? Our money’s on crosstown AC competitor WYJB (95.5)…
In Syracuse, Clear Channel is buying again in the Salt City. Fresh from its recent trade with Cox that netted it WSYR (570), WHEN (620), WYYY (94.5), WBBS (104.7 Fulton), and WWHT (107.9), Lowry Mays’ company will pay a reported $3 million for Butch Charles’ smooth jazz WHCD (106.9 Auburn). Earlier in the year, Charles’ Salt City Communications agreed to sell the station to Mag Mile Media, which is selling its rights to WHCD to Clear Channel for $500,000 (NERW’s wondering how it can get in on a deal like that!).
WHCD is a rimshotter if ever there was one, with a tower some 25 miles outside Syracuse city limits (and a hard-to-hear translator in Syracuse, along with another one in Ithaca). But it is a killer signal in most of the Finger Lakes region, and there’s the potential for a move-in to bring it closer to the city. Format changes? Probably…and the smart money on any Clear Channel buy these days goes to either “Mix” or Jammin’ Oldies, both of which are already in use at the Clear Channel cluster in nearby Rochester.