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.
But 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:
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.
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.
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.