In this week’s issue… What’s next for the Radio Disney sell-offs – Nash Icons on the way? – New York AM deleted – Morning shift in Worcester – CRTC targets border blasters

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*If you have kids, as we do, you almost surely have a shelf somewhere full of Disney videos. And if you had kids more than a decade ago, as we did, you probably lived through the transition from those oversized plastic Disney VHS boxes to Disney DVDs, then Blu-Ray and now to downloads.

radiodisneyBut somewhere between the VHS of “Lion King” and the Blu-Ray of “Frozen,” do you recall any outcry that Disney was somehow “dooming the VHS industry” in the process? You don’t, of course; technology was moving on, and Disney, a content producer at heart, just kept migrating its content as platforms shifted.

It was fascinating, then, to see the range of opinions that surfaced after Disney’s big announcement last week that it’s about to pull its Radio Disney programming off the AM radio stations that were the core of the distribution platform when the network launched almost two decades ago. In 1996, of course, there were no smartphones, tablets, satellite radio or really any other economical way to put Disney radio content in front of millions of pre-teens (and their parents) in markets from coast to coast – and so Disney did what it needed to do to build distribution, buying dozens of mostly second-tier AM facilities, leasing others and affiliating with a few more.

Over the last few years, Disney had clearly been leading up to this week’s development. In 2010 and again in 2013, it pared back the AM piece of its distribution network by selling off stations in smaller markets; in NERW-land, that included station sales in Providence, Hartford and Albany and the end of affiliation deals in Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

By this year, Disney’s research found that fully 82% of its Radio Disney audience was connecting with the network through platforms other than broadcast radio, and so the only real question left when the announcement of the remaining station sales came down on Wednesday was, “What took so long?”

Let’s be clear here, though: Radio Disney was never “in the AM business,” any more than Disney in general was “in the VHS business.” AM was a means to an end for Disney in the 1990s, and when the platform ceased to work for them, they moved their programming elsewhere. Unless you’re trying to sell your own AM station in a market where a Disney sale will now be competing for buyers’ money, there’s really no larger effect that Disney’s platform shift will have on the industry…because Radio Disney wasn’t ever really part of “the industry.” (That said, we’re sorry for the engineers, promotions teams and managers at the Disney local stations who will be out of work with the sales, of course.)

*So let’s break down each of the NERW-land signals soon to be for sale, and handicap some of the potential buyers who might step forward:

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It’s hard to deny that WQEW (1560 New York) is the biggest prize, at least in terms of population count, of all of the Disney signals being sold. Its 50,000 watts have been part of the Disney empire since 1998, when the New York Times Co. stopped programming its own (much loved) standards format and began LMA’ing the station to Disney, which bought it outright in 2007 for $40 million.

Nobody will pay that much for the station in 2014, of course; valuing WQEW and the other Disney stations promises to be an interesting challenge. The buyers will get only a license and, in some cases, real estate, so setting a price will be in large part a question of how many ears the signal reaches and what expenses are involved in either land ownership or site rental.

wqew-twrsIn the case of WQEW, there is land, and fairly valuable land at that: its four towers sit amidst industrial parcels in Maspeth, Queens, just blocks from the Brooklyn line. The site is landlocked by warehouses that surround it, which may have protected it from development pressures until now. For the moment, it appears that the 1560 license is still worth considerably more than the land its towers occupy – but to whom?

Despite the wishful thinking that’s all over the message boards and Facebook threads, there’s essentially zero possibility that the old standards format or a slightly younger-skewing oldies format will emerge here. The economics of launching a standalone, music-intensive AM with New York-market expenses are just too daunting, and there’s no reason to believe that even public broadcaster WNYC, home to WQEW alumnus Jonathan Schwartz’s weekend standards shows, has the desire to try to make that format full-time on a noncommercial AM.

New York is, of course, the Holy Grail for clearance for every syndicated format. Among the most prominent recent launches without full New York clearance are Cumulus-distributed CBS Sports Radio and Westwood One’s NBC Sports Radio. The CBS offering is about to pick up Los Angeles clearance on KFWB (980), and CBS at least considered splitting its WFAN (660/101.9) simulcast to put the network on the AM side in New York as well. In the end, preserving WFAN’s mammoth revenues dictated a continued simulcast, but the availability of 1560 might make it an appealing “plan B,” not for CBS itself (which is at the market ownership cap) but perhaps for Cumulus, if it can afford it.

Who else is buying AM stations these days? Catholic broadcasters have been opening their wallets to extend their reach in recent years. Wisconsin-based Starboard is about to complete its $10.1 million purchase of WNSW (1430 Newark) from Multicultural Broadcasting. That New Jersey-based signal has a considerably smaller footprint over the market than 1560; might a quick trade-up be in order just as “Relevant Radio 1430” is about to launch?

Multicultural itself, of course, has to be considered a leading candidate. The sale of WNSW gives Arthur Liu’s leased-time empire room under the ownership caps for another AM, and the economics of leased-time ethnic operation seem to be the only ones that really work these days near the top of the AM dial. Multicultural may have the deepest pockets, but other leased-time operators are likely to be in the hunt here as well. Even with 1560’s somewhat impaired groundwave coverage of much of the New York metro, it covers hundreds of ethnic communities in the city – and most notably, its signal into the Asian communities of Queens is head-and-shoulders better than most of the Liu-owned signals that now try to reach those areas from New Jersey.

And we can pretty much rule out two other names that keep popping up in the discussion. Despite all its talk about buying an AM to replace WFME (now WNSH 94.7), the near-full-market signal it sold to Cumulus for $32 million, California-based Family Stations appears from the outside to be barely hanging on at this point, selling off its remaining assets to provide operational funding. There’s no reason to think Family has the resources right now to re-enter the New York market.

There’s also no reason to think Pacifica will pull the trigger on any kind of swap that might move its WBAI from its full-market 99.5 signal over to 1560. Yes, a move like that would probably provide Pacifica with funding for many years of programming at WBAI, but the operation there, one step shy of outright anarchy, seems congenitally unable to make any kind of big decision like that.

The WMKI towers
The WMKI towers

*In Boston, Disney came to town in 1997 when Hibernia Broadcasting bought WPZE (1260) from Salem, which had recently moved that station’s longtime calls (WEZE) and religious teaching-and-preaching format down the dial to 590. After a few years as an independent operator of Disney affiliates, Hibernia was sold outright to Disney (by way of its then-ABC Radio division) in 2000. Among Disney’s signals in the top ten markets, 1260 (now WMKI) is one of the lesser lights: it runs just 5000 watts day and night from an aging three-tower site in Quincy. (We visited it recently for Tower Site of the Week.)

While WMKI does a decent job of covering Boston’s inner core day and night, it’s a tough catch just about anywhere in the suburbs, especially after dark. (How much so? As far back as 1953, the Yankee Network abandoned the 1260 facility to move its flagship WNAC to the much bigger 50,000-watt signal on 680 that’s now WRKO.)

On the plus side for any potential buyer is the owned real estate in Quincy; we know that other AMs in town, most notably WUFC (1510), have struggled with the high costs of leasing their tower sites. Given the area WMKI covers, it seems likely that its next chapter will be in a language other than English. One outside possibility is a Salem return to the signal to clear its secular talk format, last heard in town on WTTT (1150, now leased to Spanish religion as WWDJ), but the 1260 signal just doesn’t get to the outer suburban areas where that format would be of greatest interest. The lack of suburban reach means 1260 is also an unlikely new home for, say, CBS Sports Radio, even though CBS has room under the market cap for another AM.

Will one of the market’s existing leased operators try to add 1260? Multicultural controls WLYN (1360 Lynn) and WAZN (1470 Watertown), with pretty much a full plate of tenants at both; Beasley seems to be doing good business at WRCA (1330 Watertown), and Herbert Hoffman pioneered leased time in town at WUNR (1600 Brookline).

(And yes, in an ideal world, the 1260 signal would be perfectly suited to pick up where WILD 1090 left off long ago, serving as a much-needed licensed, full-time voice for the black community that’s right in the sweet spot of its coverage area. Will the pirates who’ve complained that they don’t have a way to get licensed seize on this challenge? Somehow, we doubt it.)

*Radio Disney’s Philadelphia signal is one of the odder ones up for sale. By day, WWJZ (640 Mount Holly NJ) is a 50,000-watt blaster that’s audible across all of southern New Jersey and most of the Philadelphia metro, though its distance from the core of the market makes it susceptible to rising electrical noise. At night, it drops to just 950 watts and effectively disappears from most of the region.

Back in 1999, Disney paid a whopping $14 million for the signal, buying it from the estate of founder John Farina, who’d struggled through the 1990s to make a go of 640 as a standards outlet.

Even with its real estate included, it’s hard to imagine WWJZ being worth even a million dollars to anyone. For potential leased-time operators, its distance from Center City and lack of a viable night signal make 640 of limited use for ethnic programming. CBS Sports Radio already has better carriage on CBS-owned WIP (610), and Salem already clears its talk on WNTP (990). Could 640 go Catholic? Holy Spirit Radio already provides Catholic programming to the suburbs on the Pennsylvania side via WISP (1570 Doylestown) and WCOJ (1420 Coatesville), but the big 640 signal, even with its limitations, could bring Catholic radio to a much larger footprint in the region.

wddz*And then there’s Pittsburgh, where Disney has had a strange trip indeed. One of the last big markets to get Disney programming, Pittsburgh’s first Disney outlet came via an LMA: from 2001 until 2010, Disney leased WWCS (540 Canonsburg) from Birach Broadcasting, running it in tandem with its owned-and-operated ESPN Radio signal, WEAE (1250 Pittsburgh).

When the Birach lease expired at the end of 2010, Disney shifted ESPN Radio to Clear Channel’s WBGG (970) and relocated Radio Disney to 1250, renamed WDDZ, in what was widely viewed as a temporary move until that AM signal could be sold.

With 5000 watts full-time, non-directional by day and only mildly directional at night, the 1250 signal is among the better AMs in the market, arguably second only to CBS Radio’s giant KDKA (1020). The buyer here will get only the license; the two 1250 towers and the land around them are leased from Clear Channel, which inherited the site from its predecessor SFX Broadcasting and kept 1250’s longtime FM sister station. Just as 1250 was historically WTAE(AM), 96.1 was historically WTAE-FM, and as WKST (Kiss 96.1), its antenna is still mounted on one of the 1250 towers. (The 1250 studios, such as they are, have remained in the Ardmore Boulevard studios of WTAE-TV, channel 4, now owned by Hearst.)

Just a few short weeks ago, 1250’s fate would have been obvious: with plenty of room under the ownership cap, Clear Channel could easily have acquired it to become the new AM home of the talk programming it was preparing to move off WPGB (104.7) so it could flip the FM signal to country. Did Clear Channel not know Disney was about to sell? Was the price tag too high? We’ll never know – but we do know that the talk ended up instead on Frank Iorio’s newly-acquired WJAS (1320), with a roughly comparable signal to that of 1250 and what appears to be a not-quite-LMA deal in which WJAS is operating out of Clear Channel’s facility with lots of programming from Clear Channel’s Premiere syndication arm.

In a market that’s older and not very ethnically diverse, that still leaves some options for 1250’s next chapter. Clear Channel’s Fox Sports Radio is about to disappear from WWCS, replaced in September by Yahoo! Sports Radio. Could Clear Channel still be in the hunt for 1250 to make it a Fox Sports outlet and build a wall of sports signals (ESPN on 970 and a new translator at 106.3, plus Steelers, Penguins and lots of accompanying sports programming on rockers WDVE 102.5 and WXDX 105.9) to counter CBS Radio’s KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan)?

The heavily Catholic Pittsburgh market has had Catholic radio for a few years, but WAOB-FM (106.7) and its two AM sisters (WAOB 860 and WPGR 1510) are outliers in the format, heavier on chanting and praying and lighter on talk than most Catholic outlets. That could leave room for one of the more mainstream Catholic players, whether it’s Starboard, western New York-based Holy Family, or someone else, to come into the market with 1250.

Or – in a market that’s still mourning the demise of the personality-heavy standards format just a few weeks ago on WJAS, has the price of admission on 1250 dropped low enough for a smaller player to take a stand with a music format on the frequency that was once the king of middle-of-the-road music radio in its WTAE heyday? Of all the Disney signals up for sale in the region, 1250 may well offer the best potential to make that happen.

*Whatever happens, it will happen quickly. Disney will cease its own operation of these signals on September 26, and if they’re not already in the hands of new owners by then, they’ll go dark until these sales are completed. We’ll be following the process every step of the way.

nashicon*Over at our sister site RadioInsight, Lance Venta was busy late last week keeping tabs on all the stations around the country that launched Cumulus’ new Nash Icon format on Friday. While the main “Nash” (heard in our region in New York, Scranton and Erie right now) focuses on current country-pop hits, “Icon” looks back, but not too far – it’s playing country from the late 1980s into the early 2000s.

So far, NERW-land has no Nash Icon outlets, thanks in part to Cumulus’ relatively sparse coverage of the region since it swapped many of its smaller markets to Townsquare a couple of years ago. It’s likely that if that changes, it will do so first on HD; in Detroit, for instance, Icon launched Friday on an HD2 of the main Cumulus “Nash,” WDRQ (93.1). Will WNSH (94.7 Newark) in the New York market be next?

*It’s all over for one of central NEW YORK‘s more historic AM signals. AM 1150 in Utica, New York was WRUN for most of its time on the air, a legacy that included launching the career of a young DJ named Dick Clark. (His father managed the station in the 1950s.) As FM blossomed in the region (including the former WRUN-FM on 104.3, which evolved into the city’s dominant country station, WFRG-FM), WRUN’s aging five-tower array became increasingly hard to maintain. Not only is the property split by railroad tracks that run between the transmitter building (and former studio) and the towers, but the towers themselves are steel Lingo “flagpoles,” which are in poor repair and need to be replaced.

The station ended up in the hands of Albany public broadcaster WAMC, which ran it as an NPR simulcast for a few years, cleaning up the ground system and repairing damage to the plant – but WAMC eventually secured an FM in the market (now WRUN-FM 90.3 Remsen) and sold the AM station to Syracuse-based Leatherstocking Media. Leatherstocking changed the calls to WUTI and returned 1150 to commercial operation as a simulcast of its “CNY Talk Radio” (WFBL 1390 Syracuse/WMCR 1600 Remsen). Then vandals struck at the site in 2013, damaging the ground system and taking WUTI off the air. The 12-month silent period expired May 23, and after an FCC inquiry a few weeks ago, the WUTI license was cancelled last week.

With WUTI gone, the Utica AM dial is fading fast. Townsquare’s WIBX (950) hangs on with its news-talk format as the last major AM-only outlet in the city; up the dial, WRUN’s longtime top-40 rival WTLB (1310) took down most of its directional array and now depends mainly on its powerful FM translator at 99.1 to reach listeners with its ESPN sports format, while WUSP (1550) also depends on a translator for 24-hour service for its sports/talk format. Over in nearby Rome, where WRUN once boasted the only full-time AM coverage of both cities, WKAL (1450) recently relaunched as a local talker, while WRNY (1350) simulcasts WTLB’s ESPN programming.

*To the west of Utica, Cazenovia College has won a license renewal for its WITC (88.9 Cazenovia), but at a price: the college station admitted in its renewal application that its public file was incomplete, and it’s agreed to pay $1,000 as a “voluntary” offering in a consent decree with the FCC.

*There’s yet another high-profile departure from the programming team at New York City’s WQHT (Hot 97): Karlie Hustle is leaving next month after three years as music director. Hustle says she’s not following Angie Martinez across town to Clear Channel’s rival WWPR (Power 105), but rather focusing on some personal business endeavors.

w280dj-w233bmFordham University’s WFUV (90.7 New York) is selling its mid-Hudson Valley translator. W233BM (94.5 Beacon), high atop Mount Beacon, will join the Newburgh-based Sunrise Broadcasting family (WJGK 103.1, WGNY-FM 98.9, WGNY 1220); the purchase price hasn’t yet been disclosed. As soon as Sunrise takes control, 94.5 will become a simulcast of “Fox Oldies 98.9,” by way of WJGK’s HD3.

In Rochester, Jesse Jordan is exiting middays at Entercom’s country WBEE-FM (92.5), and not coincidentally, Lynn Glarner is leaving her behind-the-scenes role doing social media and promotions for the cluster and heading for a new career outside of radio. Whichever name you prefer, she’s spent more than a decade in radio in the region, starting in mornings (“Jeff and Jesse”) on WKZA (106.9 Kiss FM) in Jamestown and with stints along the way at WDDH (97.5 the Hound) in Ridgway, Pennsylvania and at Roser’s “Kiss” stations (WSKS/WSKU) in Utica.

In a Facebook post announcing her departure, she shared some highly useful advice for anyone whose kids say they want to get into radio, which we share here verbatim, because it’s just too good not to: “Beat them soundly about the head and neck and make them study accounting, underwater basket weaving, send them to tree surgeon school, or teach them how to cook crystal meth . They’ll make more money and have a better future. Yes, even if they cook meth. Just look at Walter White.”

wroc-pressboxDown the hall from WBEE, there’s a new local sports show on Entercom’s WROC (950) and its new FM translator, W239BF (95.7). sports show. “The Radio Press Box” features former Democrat and Chronicle sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, now a columnist for Rochester Business Journal, alongside Dan Borrello, formerly the executive producer and sports guy on the “Break Room” morning show at Entercom’s WCMF (96.5). Their show airs from 3-7 PM on weekdays, giving some new competition to the existing local sports offerings over at Clear Channel, John DiTullio on WHTK (1280) from 3-6 and Pitoniak’s former newspaper colleague Bob Matthews on WHAM (1180) from 6-8 PM.

(Pitoniak’s new show also sets up a drivetime radio sweep in his own household: he’s married to Beth Adams, the longtime WHAM morning co-host who now hosts “Morning Edition” on WXXI 1370/WRUR-FM 88.5.)

*Congratulations to Marti Casper! The former WFKL (Fickle 93.3) morning host wasn’t gone long from the Rochester airwaves – she starts this morning across town at DJRA Broadcasting’s WLGZ (Legends 102.7).

*Down the road in Geneva, an update on last week’s story on the studio move at WEOS (89.5) and WHWS-LP (105.7): both stations went back on the air in late July from their new home in the Scandling Student Center at Hobart and William Smith Colleges – but without at least one long-running piece of the WEOS schedule. “The Metallic Onslaught” on Friday nights was the latest incarnation of a heavy metal presence that had been on WEOS for 30 years, and while it was far from the usual public radio fare, the show had deep roots in the community, moving beyond just the music to present comedy and interviews (as well as plenty of underwriters to help pay for the whole thing.) The show’s producers say they haven’t gotten much communication from Rochester’s WXXI, which programs WEOS and apparently made the decision to replace the show with five more hours of BBC World Service; there’s now a petition drive underway calling for the show’s reinstatement.

(Across town, today’s bankruptcy auction day for the Finger Lakes Radio Group that encompasses all the commercial AM and FM stations in the region; we’ll know more soon about who ends up with those signals, and whether anyone’s prepared to exceed the $3 million stalking-horse bid led by Vox Communications.)

*An odd little translator story from Olean comes with some bigger national implications: back in 2009, Colonial Radio Group applied for an upgrade to W230BO (93.9), its sports outlet (then ESPN, now CBS Sports Radio) relaying an HD subchannel of its WVTT (96.7 Portville). Colonial’s then-competitor, Backyard Broadcasting, objected to the power boost for W230BO, arguing that the increase to 105 watts violated a provision in the US-Canada FM treaty that limits a translator’s 34 dBu signal to no more than 60 kilometer from the transmitter site.

The FCC’s logic here is fascinating: in rejecting Backyard’s objection (and letting the power increase stand), the Commission explains that it does not enforce that particular provision, except in cases where that 34 dBu contour crosses the US/Canadian border. The FCC’s ruling goes on to note that it hasn’t enforced the 60 km limit domestically since 1999 – and it says that since Canada hasn’t objected, it doesn’t see any violation of the treaty here.

*The obituary comes from down south, but Francis V. Lough made his radio mark in the Hudson Valley, where he was one of the principals behind Highland Broadcasting, which owned WLNA (1420) and WHUD (100.7) in Peekskill in the 1960s and 1970s. Lough’s business interests also included a demolition company, a plumbing firm, a real estate firm and, after he relocated to Maine in the 1980s, the state’s third-largest egg producer. He died in Florida August 9 after a brief illness, at the age of 94.

*A morning change in Worcester, MASSACHUSETTS: Paul Westcott disappeared abruptly from Clear Channel’s WTAG (580) after his Thursday show, posting a Facebook message that he’s headed to a new job in Washington. Westcott joined the WTAG staff in 2013 after a stint at sister station WGIR in New Hampshire; no replacement has been named yet.

wduplp-sm*In New London, CONNECTICUT, WDUP-LP (92.9) has applied for its license to cover. The new signal belongs to HP-NL Communications, Inc., and it looks like it will bring a hip-hop format to a market where the hottest thing on the dial until now has been Cumulus’ top-40 WQGN (105.5 Groton).

There’s late word Sunday night of the death of Eric Siegel, former promotions director at WKCI (KC101) in New Haven and at the Cumulus stations in Danbury. Siegel had been battling cancer for some time.

*A translator story out of MAINE this week sheds some light on a new FCC policy that seems to have gone unnoticed anywhere else so far (but then, that’s why you read NERW, right?)

We weren’t sure at first why Bible Broadcasting Network had asked the FCC to cancel a construction permit that would have allowed it to move W277AM (103.3) from Biddeford down the coast to the much larger Portland market, where it would have relocated to the transmitter site of Saga’s WGAN (560). The deal was part of a larger swap that put BBN programming on a subchannel of Saga’s WMGX (93.1 Portland) and handed off another BBN translator on 105.5 to Saga to become an FM outlet for WGAN.

But when BBN applied to move W277AM to Portland as a relay of another Saga AM, WBAE (1490), the CP came with a clause that BBN hadn’t requested: a four-year holding period during which BBN couldn’t change its primary to any station other than WBAE or sell it to anyone other than WBAE’s licensee.

It’s not clear yet if this is a new (and as yet unannounced FCC policy), or if it was something applied specifically to WBAE – and if so, why. (Those license terms don’t apply, for instance, to some of the new Pennsylvania AM translators you’ll read about later in the column.) But it is clear that BBN didn’t like those terms, and so it rejected the Portland CP and instead applied to modify W277AM in Biddeford, where it jumps from 13 watts to 160 watts, now as a relay of BBN’s subchannel on WMGX’s 93.1-HD3.

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Clear Channel is staffing up, sort of, at its new Pittsburgh country outlet. JD Greene has worked in the cluster before, at top-40 “Kiss” WKST-FM (96.1); after heading west to do afternoons at Clear Channel’s KEEY in Minneapolis, he’s now back at WPGB (Big 104.7) as PD.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, Mike Adam is out after two years of nights at WIOQ (102.1); no replacement’s been named yet at Q102, nor at the other Clear Channel stations in Phoenix and North Carolina where Adam was tracking shifts.

whyl*Not Dead Yet: WHYL (960 Carlisle) has been off the air since the start of 2014, but new owner Harold Swidler is moving quickly to get it back on the central Pennsylvania airwaves. Swidler’s purchase of WHYL out of a bankruptcy sale didn’t include the two-tower array, which has already been torn down. At 960 on the dial, WHYL is too close in frequency to diplex with Swidler’s existing AM in town, WIOO (1000), so instead it will come back via a folded unipole on the tower of sister station WCAT-FM (102.3, the former WHYL-FM before a prior sale separated the AM and FM), running 2 kW by day. WIOO’s Ray Thomas reports the new WHYL signal should be on the air by fall.

*You can’t keep a colorful callsign down: in northwestern Pennsylvania, WHYP was the call on James Brownyard’s one-man AM/FM combo through the 1970s and much of the 1980s, where listeners heard the owner announcing records in his distinctive raspy voice and sometimes signing off so he could go mow his lawn. Those stations in North East were eventually sold (they’re now WMCE 1530 and WRKT-FM 100.9, based out of nearby Erie), but the WHYP call resurfaced for a time on AM 1370 in Corry. The Corry AM station went back to its original calls, WWCB, and now the Corry Area Radio Service has secured WHYP-LP as the call for its new LPFM on 98.9. There are also new calls for an LPFM in Canadohta Lake: the 105.7 there will be WUUK-LP.

Clear Channel has a new translator on the air in Reading. W222BY (92.3 Laureldale) is a relay of WRAW (1340)’s Spanish-language programming, now branded as “Rumba 92.3 & 1340.”

In downtown Erie, Family Life Network has turned on its new translator. W275BX (102.9) relays WCGF (89.9 Cambridge Springs).

*In an otherwise slow week out of CANADA, the big news is a “what-if”: a CRTC hearing for applicants seeking new stations in Vancouver produced some pointed questions about the US-based stations that are serving audiences north of the border. In the Vancouver hearing, the CRTC rejected one applicant that would have transferred its South Asian-focused programming from a station in Washington state to a new Vancouver AM, and one commissioner raised concerns about a winning applicant’s ties to another south-of-the-border AM.

Now the CRTC has called the Canadian operators of three Washington state ethnic AMs to a hearing to investigate whether their operations fall afoul of Canadian law, which restricts Canadian citizens from broadcasting back into the country from across the border. (Canada also denies tax benefits to Canadian businesses that advertise on US-based stations aimed at Canadian markets.)

So far, the investigation appears aimed specifically at Vancouver, where a huge South Asian audience is a ripe target for stations aimed north from nearby parts of Washington – but there are implications for stations on this side of the country, too. Steve Faguy in Montreal has already explored Tim Martz’ WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay) and WVNV (96.5 Malone), which aim at Montreal-area listeners from northern New York; to the west, Rogers leases Community Broadcasters’ WLYK (102.7 Cape Vincent NY) to add an extra signal to its Kingston, Ontario cluster, while Birach Broadcasting’s ethnic WTOR (770 Youngstown NY) has its target market of Toronto right in its callsign. Will they, too, end up in the CRTC’s crosshairs?

*In Ottawa, there’s a completely revamped talent schedule at Corus’ “Boom,” CJOT (99.7). Montreal radio vet Pete Marier and current Boom staffer Wendy Daniels will do mornings starting next week, with former Montreal newsman Murray Sherriffs (most recently at CKBE 92.5) handling news. Heather Ray moves from weekends at sister station CKQB (JUMP! 106.9) to middays, promotions guy Tom Schoch takes over afternoons and Sandy Sharkey will be heard at night and on weekends.

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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, 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 19, 2013

*There was a time when Jason Wolfe was on top of the eastern MASSACHUSETTS radio heap. Within just a few years of his promotion to the PD chair at WEEI (850) back in 1997, Wolfe oversaw a run that took the station to some of the highest ratings of any all-sports format in the country, bolstered by a lucrative association with the two-time world champion Red Sox, not to mention the ’08 champion Celtics.

Jason Wolfe (WEEI photo)
Jason Wolfe (WEEI photo)

Wolfe’s star kept rising as WEEI expanded to cover most of central and northern New England via a network of affiliates, and in 2006 he picked up the title of “VP for AM Programming” at Entercom as he assumed oversight of talker WRKO (680 Boston) as well.

But all good things come to an end eventually (just ask the 2011 and 2012 Sox), and in recent years Wolfe had a more difficult job. After fending off less-potent sports challengers over the years, CBS Radio’s launch of “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5) in 2009 stole away much of WEEI’s younger audience just as the big-ticket Entercom/Sox contract was beginning to take its toll on WEEI’s bottom line. Down the hall at WRKO, ratings eroded in the face of potent competition from Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9) and less potent competition from Clear Channel’s WXKS (1200).

While WRKO recovered somewhat as its competitors flipped formats, it’s been a bigger struggle for WEEI, where Entercom waited two long years to bring the sports format to an FM signal that could better take on the Sports Hub. Veteran WEEI voices such as Dale Arnold, Pete Sheppard and Glenn Ordway exited – and last week, it was Wolfe’s turn.

“The company has to do what the company has to do in order to protect its interests and build going forward,” Wolfe told the Herald after GM Jeff Brown gave him his notice.

Wolfe’s dismissal takes away the last major link to WEEI’s 1991 start as an all-sports station, when a young Wolfe came on board as a producer, later rising to assistant sports director and then PD. There’s no official announcement yet, but it’s widely rumored that Kevin Graham, currently the PD at KFNZ (1320) in Salt Lake City, is headed to Boston to replace Wolfe; there’s no word yet on who’ll be programming WRKO.

There’s a new signal signing on today on Cape Cod. WKFY (98.7 East Harwich) is the fourth FM in John Garabedian’s Codcomm cluster, joining adult hits WFRQ (Frank 93.5), top-40 WHYA (Y101) and classic rock WPXC (Pixy 102.9). The class A signal transmitting from Chatham lit up Friday with a loop of Patti Page singing “Old Cape Cod,” promoting a launch today as “Koffee 98.7,” offering something “not found on any radio dial or stream.” What will that sound like? GM Tim Levesque says it will be a mix of “oldies, classic album cuts and modern artists loved by older listeners.”

*The top story of the week from NEW YORK was a sad one indeed: the news on Wednesday that Mark Cooper, morning host at Cumulus’ WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie)/WPDA (106.1 Jeffersonville), had died at age 49 after suffering his second stroke in a year. Cooper had been a morning fixture at WPDH since 1998, paired with partners including John Tobin, Mike Colvin and most recently Robyn Taylor. Cooper had gone on medical leave from WPDH in July, less than a year after his return to work following his first stroke in August 2012. Taylor’s hosting mornings solo on WPDH for now; it’s not clear when the grieving staff at WPDH will be ready to make plans for a permanent replacement.

*It was a busy week for CANADA‘s Maritimes Broadcasting System in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – in fact, MBS made three format flips on a single day on Thursday.

In Saint John, New Brunswick, MBS shuffled two stations’ formats at the stroke of 8 AM, as CJYC (98.9) flipped from classic rock “Big John FM” to classic hits “Kool 98” and CFBC (930) dropped its oldies/classic hits mixture in favo(u)r of a country format.

Across the Bay of Fundy in Amherst, Nova Scotia, country was the new format of choice later that day at CKDH (101.7), which abandoned the adult contemporary format it had moved over from AM 900 back in 2011 to become a country station.

Five Years Ago: August 17, 2009

There was a common thread to a lot of the commentary about the big radio changes last week in MASSACHUSETTS: if CBS Radio’s WBCN (104.1 Boston) had sounded all along the way it did in its final days, wrapped in a powerful web of nostalgia for 41 years of rock radio, it might still be thriving, rather than relegated to an HD-2 subchannel on the station’s successor, “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5 Boston).

It’s true that the last gasp of WBCN was great radio, as jocks from throughout the station’s long and storied history returned to say goodbye, even if the moment was marred a bit by the curious decision by CBS management to bar even the mention of the name of one of the station’s most important personalities, longtime afternoon jock Mark Parenteau, whose career-ending legal issues came long after he’d departed Boston.

In a week full of manufactured nostalgia for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, though, the farewell to a station that predated that festival by a year felt both more genuine and more heartfelt, especially in the final hours of WBCN’s four-day retrospective. As the clock neared midnight on Tuesday (Aug. 13), WBCN went out in about as eclectic a way as possible, ending with Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” followed by Cream’s “I Feel Free” (the first song played on WBCN as a rock station back in 1968) and then by Pink Floyd’s “Shine On (You Crazy Diamond),” which gave way to a montage of WBCN IDs, followed by two hours of simulated static and then the launch of the new “Mix 104,” WBMX. And what was that in between Sinatra and Cream? One last stopset – a reminder that this is first, last and always about business, and that the cost of running a station like the “old” WBCN is probably more than any commercial broadcaster could bear in 2009.

On, then, to the future, which came a day and a half after WBCN gave way to “Mix” on 104.1. By Wednesday morning, WBMX’s old home on 98.5 was broadcasting a loop reminding Mix listeners to head up the dial, and Thursday morning brought a soft launch of the “Sports Hub,” as WBZ-FM debuted with encores of several of the Patriots’ recent Super Bowl wins, leading into the station’s official debut with the Pats’ first pre-season game that afternoon. Here’s how the new station’s lineup shapes up: in addition to former WBCN morning jocks Toucher and Rich handling wakeup duties, WBZ-FM features Gary Tanguay of Comcast SportsNet and ex-Pats QB Scott Zolak from 10 AM-2 PM, CSN’s Michael Felger and the Globe’s Tony Massarotti from 2-6 PM, and Damon Amendolara, late of Miami’s WQAM, from 6-midnight. Sporting News Radio’s syndicated sports talk fills out the overnight and weekend lineup for now. Felger, interestingly, can now claim to have worked at all three of the market’s sports stations in just over a year, as he’s bounced from ESPN outlet WAMG (890) to Entercom’s WEEI (850) to the new WBZ-FM, where he’s now a key player in what’s shaping up to be a most interesting battle between established behemoth WEEI and the new “Sports Hub.”

Downstate, it came as no great surprise late last week when Mega Media Group filed for bankruptcy. Mega owns “Pulse 87,” the dance station that leases the audio carrier of LPTV station WNYZ-LP (Channel 6) – and it reports that it owes $3.5 million against assets of just $180,000. Mega says it hopes to continue operating Pulse while it restructures under Chapter 11.

Radio (and TV) People on the Move: One of upstate New York’s most prominent public broadcasting voices is changing stations, as Susan Arbetter departs Albany’s WMHT for a new post as news and public affairs director at WCNY radio and TV in Syracuse. Arbetter joined WMHT two years ago to produce and host the statewide “New York Now” public affairs show; before that, she’d been news director at Albany’s WAMC public radio. At WCNY, Arbetter will be responsible for news coverage on both TV and radio, and the station says she’ll be working on developing a statewide news service as well.

Ten Years Ago: August 16, 2004

NEW YORK’s WABC (770) holds an outsize place in the hearts of a lot of radio people in the northeast – and in large part, that’s because of the jocks who dominated its airwaves (and thus the top 40 world) during its Musicradio heyday. This week, one of those All-Americans lost his fight with lung cancer, as Chuck Leonard died on Thursday (August 12). Leonard’s broadcast career began in Baltimore, where he was heard on WEBB (1360) from 1963 until 1965, when he moved to New York’s WWRL (1600). Within just a few months, Leonard was heard by WABC’s Dan Ingram, who persuaded station management to bring him over to do nights, which he did from 1965 until 1979.
As the Musicradio era came to a close, Leonard moved on to FM, working at WXLO/WRKS and WBLS. In the mid-nineties, he was heard spinning standards on WQEW (1560) and oldies on Jukebox Radio (WJUX 99.7 Monticello/W276AQ Fort Lee NJ), and he’d recently been working at Sirius Satellite Radio, on the Swing Street and Soul Review channels. Leonard is survived by his wife, Pamela Horrell Leonard, and daughters Diana Leonard and Kyra Johnson. He was 67.

Meanwhile, back on today’s radio scene, WNEW (102.7) lost its operations manager last week, as Infinity moved Smokey Rivers down to Dallas and the PD chair at KVIL (103.7). Rivers came in last year when WNEW was being relaunched as “Mix,” with the apparent goal of turning the station into an AC challenger to Clear Channel’s WLTW (106.7) – but now Mix has morphed into more of a rhythmic station under the programming leadership of Frankie Blue, which left Rivers’ role undefined.

Heading upstate, WHEC-TV (Channel 10) in Rochester is losing the anchor who’s been at the helm of its 6 PM newscast since way back in 1976. Gabe Dalmath has been taking a less prominent role at the station in the last few years, having been moved off the 11 PM show and on to the 5:30 AM broadcast in 2001 (not, as the local rag would have it, 1991) – and all that free time in the middle of the day enabled him to start a second career developing business for a local mortgage broker. Dalmath will move from the 6 PM news to the 5 PM news at the end of next week, and he’ll leave the station completely at the end of this year, with Brian Martin replacing him at 6.

In Pittsburgh, Rush Limbaugh is heading for the FM dial. Clear Channel’s pulling the talker (whose show is owned by CC subsidiary Premiere) over to its WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh) beginning Nov. 15; that’ll leave a hole in the KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) midday schedule that will be filled by Bill O’Reilly (noon-2) and an extra hour of Fred Honsberger (2-3). (And our best wishes to Honz, by the way, as he recovers from gastric bypass surgery. He’s been on the air from his home for the last week.)

Fifteen Years Ago: August 20, 1999

It’s been a slow, slow week in Northeast radio. How slow? So slow that a little FM in Attica, NEW YORK gets to top off this week’s news. WXOX (101.7) is changing calls to WLOF, and changing formats from the modern AC mix known as “the Spot” to Catholic Family Radio talk. Is a sale in the works as well? Probably, but we haven’t heard anything yet. WXOX was known for many years as WBTF, providing country music to Genesee and Wyoming counties (between Buffalo and Rochester), before deciding last year to target the Buffalo suburbs as “the Spot.” Sister AM WBTA (1490 Batavia) seems to be unchanged at this writing.

Once again, it’s good news for the remaining modern AC in the Buffalo area, CKEY (101.1) in Fort Erie, Ontario. “The River” lost its biggest competitor in June, when CBS flipped WLCE (92.9 Buffalo) from modern AC “Alice” to rhythmic oldies “B92-9.” WLCE, by the way, is picking up a new and very familiar set of calls — WBUF. Those calls graced 92.9 from the early 1960s until the mid-80s, when they were dumped for the unmemorable WFXZ, then retrieved a few years later and retained until the mid-90s switch to smooth jazz and WSJZ. It’s good to have them back on radio in Western New York (they’ve been hiding in plain sight on LPTV WBUF-LP, Channel 39 in Hamburg, which becomes WDTB-LP now).

And after 75 years in Hartford, WTIC (1080) did its last broadcast from the 19th floor of the Gold Building Monday morning. The 10 AM legal ID was the last thing heard from the old studios, with the new ones in Farmington signing on with news immediately following. We hear the ‘TIC talk hosts have been making repeated cracks about the (very) suburban nature of their new digs…

One — count it! — piece of news from MASSACHUSETTS: WEEI (850) will replace Don Imus with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan at month’s end. The duo move to the morning-drive slot from their current 10AM-noon, with more schedule shuffling sure to follow.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Quote: “*In New London, CONNECTICUT, WDUP-LP (92.9) has applied for its license to cover. The new signal belongs to HP-NL Communications, Inc., and it looks like it will bring a hip-hop format to a market where the hottest thing on the dial until now has been Cumulus’ top-40 WQGN (105.5 Groton).”

    That’s if you don’t count the in market urban outlet “Jammin 107.7” WWRX.

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