In this week’s issue… Morning swap creates buzz in Rochester – Clues to Howie’s next move? – Remembering Rivers, Donovan, Leonard – Quinn and Rose turn down a broadcast slot
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How many top-40 morning hosts get to say they’ve woken up two generations of radio listeners? There’s the amazing run of Matty Siegel in Boston, of course, and Scott Shannon’s long tenure across several New York City stations. And here in Rochester, there’s Scott Spezzano, whose time at WPXY (97.9) started when your editor was in high school in the mid-1980s and lasted long enough for your editor’s daughter to be hearing Spezzano and co-host Sandy Waters when her alarm goes off each morning.
That changes a week from today: after some 25 years on 98PXY (with a stint in the middle across town at WDKX), Spezzano and Waters will move down the hall next Monday to the vacant morning slot on Entercom sister station WBZA (98.9 the Buzz). That’s where former “Breakfast Buzz” hosts Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck flamed out back in May, leaving a void all summer (and sparking a brief rumor of their return on social media last weekend.)
Instead, the new “Breakfast Buzz” with Spezzano and Waters will launch September 15 on WBZA, following a WBZA-WPXY simulcast in morning drive on Friday that will introduce PXY listeners to their new morning show, #TeamPXY, featuring current afternoon jock/music director Megan Carter and new import Corey James, inbound from WVHT in Virginia Beach.
Can Entercom move Spezzano and Sandy’s longtime fans up the dial without hurting WPXY too much? And with veterans like Spezzano and Shannon now on signals aiming at older audiences, how long will Boston’s remarkable Siegel hold out in the world of CHR? (As long as Kiss 108 stays on top of the ratings, the answer there is probably, “as long as he wants.”)
*More late-breaking news: in the Hudson Valley, Clear Channel has rebranded WRNQ (92.1 Poughkeepsie), dumping “Lite 92.1” (and the last remnant of what was once a chain of Lites stretching north from WLTW in New York) in favor of a return to its former moniker, “Q92.1.”
*It’s that season again – no, not autumn, which is still a few weeks away, but rather Howie Carr speculation time. As recently as two years ago, Carr probably thought the end of 2014 would be the moment he’d been awaiting for years. While Entercom had forced an unwanted contract extension on him, binding him to afternoons on WRKO (680 Boston), that deal is finally drawing to a close. But the man who may still be New England’s most influential talk host is finding out that unlike in 2012, “influential” in talk radio suddenly doesn’t mean as much as it used to.
Back then, of course, Carr was all but punlicly proclaiming that he was on his way from WRKO over to the FM dial, where he’d become the star talker at Greater Media’s FM outlet, WTKK (96.9). And if WTKK and Greater Media didn’t want to meet his terms, Clear Channel’s WXKS (1200) at least offered another negotiating partner.
Alas for Carr, those doors are now firmly shut: WTKK, of course, ditched talk at the end of 2012 for “Hot” rhythmic top 40 as WBQT, pulling away the best card he had in his deck. WXKS is gone, too: not only did Clear Channel lease the station out to Bloomberg, it’s taking a company-wide swing away from the sort of political talk radio Carr’s been doing for decades. (Just this past week, it handed off Rush Limbaugh to a Cumulus station in San Francisco and killed off the last station still branded with the “Rush Radio” tag that WXKS once used.)
So what’s a talk host to do? Carr is already covering his bets: he’s signed on with a new syndicator, Global Media Services, to try once again to expand his network reach beyond the handful of New England outlets that carry his show. That deal appears to apply no matter where Carr is headquartered in Boston, so he can keep doing the show for syndication even if he leaves WRKO.
But if his long-held wish to break free from WRKO comes true, then what? One clue may have emerged this week, when the heretofore web-only Boston Herald Radio announced a deal to put the 9-10 AM hour of its “Morning Meeting” show on upstart talker WUFC (1510 Boston). When the Herald started the radio service last year, it was widely suspected that it was designed to provide a fallback position for the paper’s star columnist if the need arose. For now, Carr still isn’t a part of the webcast, nor will he be heard on the Herald Radio simulcast over WUFC. And it’s awfully hard, of course, to argue that any combination of a Herald webcast and WUFC’s painfully limited visibility will equal the reach Carr enjoys now at WRKO, reduced even as that has been by the slump of the talk format.
Could Carr’s best remaining move be the one he’s fought for so long – remaining in place at WRKO? As we’ve chronicled in NERW, the talk station’s glory years are pretty clearly behind it; the lineup of Jeff Kuhner’s sharply political morning show, Barry Armstrong’s money talk, Limbaugh’s declining influence in middays and then Carr at night doesn’t come close to the ratings or influence the station once enjoyed. In his afternoon slot, Carr would continue to have the same gripes he’s always had about the AM directional pattern once winter’s early sunsets hit. But if the best plan B for Carr is a webcast with a 1510 simulcast, does WRKO look as bad all of a sudden?
There’s every reason, meanwhile, to expect that Entercom would gladly re-up with Carr. Even as it’s gone through management changes at its Boston cluster, the company has tried to stick with what’s already working, as witness the recent renewals for the morning team of Dennis and Callahan down the hall at WEEI-FM (93.7). There’s no local bench at all on which WRKO could draw to replace Carr, which means his departure would likely lead to more syndication in afternoon drive, in a market that’s never warmed to syndicated talk.
After so many years of badmouthing WRKO, could Carr’s ego handle a renewal (especially at what’s likely to be a lower salary)? Or would a new slot at 1510 be an even bigger blow? We’ll be watching with interest to see how this chapter plays out.
*In addition to its home base on WRKO, Barry Armstrong’s “Financial Exchange” is partnering with Clear Channel to extend its New England reach. The financial talk show gets the mid-morning slot on WTAG (580 Worcester), WHYN (560 Springfield), WELI (960) in New Haven, CONNECTICUT and in NEW HAMPSHIRE on WGIR (610 Manchester) and WQSO (96.7 Rochester). That displaces the show from its current slots in two of those markets, on WCRN (830 Worcester) and WTSN (1270 Dover NH).
Clear Channel has filled out the local lineup on WBWL (101.7 Lynn), naming Jessica Callahan as the new afternoon jock on “The Bull.” She returns to Boston tomorrow from the midday shift up in VERMONT at WXXX (95.5 South Burlington); she’s also been tracking afternoons for WHYA (101.1 Falmouth) out on Cape Cod.
*Roy Leonard is being mourned in Chicago for his many decades as an entertainment reporter and talk host on WGN radio and television – but before he became a Chicago icon, Leonard was a New England broadcast institution, too. The Emerson College graduate started out in radio at WKOX (then on 1190) in Framingham in 1953, but soon moved to the big time as an announcer on WHDH (850) and soon on its new sister station, WHDH-TV (Channel 5). Leonard then moved across town and became a mainstay at WNAC (680) and WNAC-TV (Channel 7), anchoring TV newscasts and hosting radio shows right up until the day in 1967 when RKO General replaced full-service WNAC with top-40 WRKO. That’s what sent him off to Chicago and WGN; he died in Chicago on Thursday, at age 83.
Dan Donovan also parlayed a Boston radio stint into a long career elsewhere: he got his airname from his time at WMEX (1510), where the jock born Blaine Harvey hung on to the house name that had been used by lots of other “Dan Donovans” before he arrived in the mid-1960s. Under his real name, Harvey had worked in Providence (WICE 1290) and his native Pennsylvania (WGET 1320 Gettysburg and WSBA 910 York) before coming to Boston. Later, he moved to Baltimore and then to Philadelphia and WFIL (560) before settling down in Minneapolis, where his career at KSTP-FM and KQQL spanned several decades. He died August 31, at age 73.
Jay Gordon’s “Elvis Only” was a weekend staple on the former “Oldies 103,” WODS, and it survived the demise of that format as a syndicated offering. But after 26 years on the air, Gordon says he’s retired the show. “I began Elvis Only as just a fan. And that’s where I cross the finish line, thankyouverymuch” he wrote in a note to his listeners. As the oldies format has largely abandoned 50s and even 60s music, Gordon’s affiliate base had dwindled; at the end, his NERW-land lineup included CKOC (1150 Hamilton), WROW (590 Albany), WSEN (1050 Syracuse), WJPA-FM (95.3 Washington PA) and WKMC (1370 Roaring Spring PA).
Congratulations to Tim Coco and the gang at WHAV.net in Haverhill: after building success as a webcast and Part 15 AM outlet, the modern-day reincarnation of the old WHAV (1490) says it received word last week that it’s the FCC’s tentative selectee for a low-power FM license. If all goes well, WHAV-LP will soon be on the air in Haverhill and vicinity at 98.1. (Much more next week on the outcome of the settlement window for contested LPFMs in much of the region which opens today.)
In case you missed it in our midweek update, there’s a new callsign along Route 2: after its ill-fated branding as WWBZ, the Orange-Athol licensed station at 700 on the dial has now settled on WFAT as its new identity.
*In MAINE, Blueberry Broadcasting has returned WAEI (910 Bangor) to the air, at least temporarily. The venerable Bangor station (formerly WABI) had gone silent last September 2 as Blueberry tried to sell the license. With no buyer in place yet, WAEI is back as a simulcast of “Big 104” WABK (104.3 Gardiner)/WBAK (104.7 Belfast) to keep the license alive.
*Carolina Bermudez is back in NEW YORK radio, two years after she departed Elvis Duran’s WHTZ (Z100) morning show to take a TV gig on “Live from the Couch,” the offbeat morning show CBS launched when it bought independent WLNY (Channel 55) in the New York market. The Couch went to the curb earlier this year, and after doing some fill-in radio work, Bermudez is now back at Clear Channel, this time down the hall at WKTU (103.5) alongside Cubby Bryant on the morning show. Her arrival at KTU displaces Cindy Vero from the co-host slot alongside Cubby Bryant.
Back in July, we reported on the possible arrival of a new translator on the Manhattan radio dial – and now California-based Living Way has a CP in hand for 91.9 from the Empire State Building. W220EJ will be a 10-watt relay of religious KTLW from Lancaster, California, assuming it’s not sold before it hits the air.
*Joan Rivers is being remembered, quite rightly, for the way she changed the world of stand-up comedy. But Rivers, who died Thursday at age 81, also made a mark in broadcasting during her long career. On TV, of course, Rivers’ long run as the designated fill-in for Johnny Carson gave way to her ill-fated role as the very first Fox network host in 1986. On radio, her nightly show based at WOR (710) from 1997 until 2002 was also syndicated over WOR’s network; a year later, her former WOR program director David Bernstein brought her to Providence, RHODE ISLAND to fill in on Rush Limbaugh’s timeslot at WPRO (630) while Limbaugh was out for rehab. (WPRO remembered her stint there, here.)
Out on Long Island, Astra is gone from WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) after eight years on the night and then midday shifts; the Cox top-40 outlet is now looking for a replacement as Astra heads off to a new, yet-to-be-announced gig elsewhere.
Dawn Wheeler has departed WAWZ (99.1 Zarephath), where she’s been hosting middays for 11 years.
In Buffalo, our post-Labor Day update brought you news of Townsquare’s big change: WMSX (96.1 Buffalo) is the new “Mix 96.1” identity for the station that had been known since 1979 as WJYE. It’s only the third set of calls in more than half a century on the air for the station that started off as WBNY; it’s also the third time a Buffalo station has tried branding as “Mix.” (The earlier entries were WHTT 104.1, in its Citadel days, and a brief “Mix” stint for WBUF 92.9, when CBS Radio owned it and WJYE.)
Back here in Rochester, Evan Dawson’s “Connections” talk show is adding another signal today: in addition to WXXI (1370 Rochester) and the recent addition of a Finger Lakes simulcast on WEOS (89.5 Geneva), the show will be heard weekdays from noon-2 PM on WRUR (88.5), the University of Rochester-owned station that WXXI operates. “Connections” replaces “All Weather Lunch,” the AAA music show that had bridged the gap between “Open Tunings” in late morning and World Café from 2-4. WRUR also continues to simulcast NPR newsmagazines from WXXI in morning and afternoon drive.
Galaxy Broadcasting is modifying its plans to move WKRH (106.5), the Oswego-area relay of its Syracuse-based “K-Rock.” In order to stay under the FCC’s ownership caps after a change in its ownership structure, Galaxy already has a CP to move WKRH from Minetto (and the current Galaxy transmitter site south of Oswego) to Fair Haven, just over the Cayuga County line and out of the Syracuse radio market. But instead of locating the moved WKRH on the tower of public broadcaster WRVO (89.9 Oswego), Galaxy is now proposing to put the relocated 106.5 signal on a communications tower a mile or so south of WRVO’s tower.
Up north, WNMR (107.1 Dannemora) has been silent since an LMA ended in 2011, with the exception of brief returns to the air to keep the license alive. Owner Radioactive LLC put the station back on the air again last week with polkas; we’re told a more permanent return may be in the offing.
*Fans of Jim Quinn and Rose Soma Tennant in western PENNSYLVANIA apparently won’t be hearing them back on the air just yet. The former WPGB (104.7 Pittsburgh) morning talkers reported on their website last week that they’d turned down an offer from WJAS (1320) to join the rest of the old WPGB talk lineup on Frank Iorio’s new AM talker. At issue, apparently, was streaming: WJAS uses Clear Channel’s iHeart platform, which is free to listeners, but Quinn and Rose reportedly wanted to put their stream behind a paywall. Is a streaming-only version of their “War Room” show the next step?
Near Lancaster, Hall has completed its flip from rock to ESPN sports at the former WKZF (92.7 Starview). It’s now WLPA-FM, mostly simulcasting ESPN Radio from its AM sister WLPA (1490 Lancaster) but breaking away when the AM carries the Phillies and other play-by-play. That’s because the FM signal reaches into adjacent markets where the team’s rights are already claimed.
And there’s some sad news from the Philadelphia suburbs, where Radio Survivor reports Widener University in Chester has returned the license of 10-watt WDNR (89.5 Chester) to the FCC for cancellation. The station had started with carrier-current in the 1960s and had been on FM since 1977.
*It was a mostly quiet post-holiday week in CANADA, at least in radio. It’s another story on the TV side, where the CRTC is engaged in a massive hearing process to help determine the future of broadcast TV north of the border. Steve Faguy, as always, offers an excellent summary of what’s at stake – including, potentially, whether there will continue to be any significant over-the-air TV in a nation increasingly dominated by satellite and cable delivery.
On radio, Faguy also caught the studio move at CKRK (103.7 Kahnawahke), the tribal station south of Montreal that just relocated to nicer new digs after three decades in an aging walk-up facility on the reservation.
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