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: September 16, 2013
We’re halfway to a resolution of one of the longest-running questions in NEW YORK radio: where will the Mets and Yankees end up?
For the team in pinstripes struggling to secure a wild-card berth, there’s now a solid long-term home in place after many years of one-season renewals. When the Yankees take the field to start the 2014 season, they’ll remain with their longtime broadcast partner, CBS Radio, but instead of being heard on WCBS (880), their radio home since 2002, the Yankees will air on WFAN (660) and WFAN-FM (101.9) in what’s being reported as a $15 million a year deal.
For both the team and CBS, the move makes all the sense in the world. Whatever their recent woes on the field, the Yankees are still the most prestigious franchise in baseball (as even this Sox fan can grudgingly admit), making them a natural fit with what’s arguably the most prestigious sports radio brand in the country.
As the Yankees’ aging roster attests, this is a team that’s committed to stability, so it’s in the team’s DNA to stay with CBS after the success both sides of the relationship have enjoyed these last dozen seasons. The long-term deal may also demonstrate the wisdom of what seemed at first to be a counter-intuitive move on CBS’ part: after buying the former WEMP (101.9) and flipping it to WFAN-FM, many (this page included) believed it was only a matter of time before WFAN became FM-only and the national CBS Sports Radio feed replaced local sports at 660 AM, a belief that now appears to have been misguided.
*It’s convention time all over the radio landscape, and whenever we can, NERW’s on the scene to bring you coverage. Alas, we couldn’t make it to Amsterdam for the big international IBC convention, nor will we be in Florida for the Radio Show. But those annual conventions aren’t quite as special, somehow, as the Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion that takes place only once every two years.
Saturday night was that once-every-two-years moment, and Ray Ross and his crew outdid themselves this year with an event that drew more than 200 current and former Binghamton radio and TV folks to the Doubletree Hotel downtown.
Each biennial edition of the reunion adds new names to a growing roster of award recipients: this year, the honorees included WNBF (1290) salesperson/weekend polka host Barb Mack, who accepted her Broadcaster of the Year award with nods to both her “radio family” filling the room and her real family, including her late father, Bill, who originated the polka show and died in 2002. (Mack was introduced by her WNBF colleague Roger Neel, himself a past “Broadcaster of the Year” honoree. Dana Potter, midday host at WLTB (101.7 Johnson City), was recognized as a “Living Legend” for his many years on the air in town, going back to 1978 at WENE/WMRV (and before that at an Explorer post sponsored by WNBF!)
*One of the most respected broadcasters on Long Island has died.
Jack Ellsworth was born Ellsworth Shiebler, but in the early years of his career in the 1940s he took the radio name he’d use for the rest of his long career as he moved around from Rhode Island to New Jersey’s WVNJ to Long Island. First at WGSM (740 Huntington) and then in 1951 at WALK (1370 Patchogue), Ellsworth became a fixture on the dial, eventually becoming WALK’s station manager and then president and CEO.
After 30 years at WALK, Ellsworth and his wife Dot moved into radio ownership, taking over WLIM (1580 Patchogue) and transforming it into an on-air home for Ellsworth’s beloved big band music. The Ellsworths sold WLIM in 2001 and Jack returned to WALK, where he was hosting a mid-morning show until his health took a turn for the worse after Dot’s death in July.
Ellsworth, who’d just published his memoirs, “Memories in Melody,” did his last show on WALK August 1, and he died Thursday of renal failure, at age 91, leaving a void among the many radio professionals he’d supported and trained over the decades.
*In MAINE, Blueberry Broadcasting has pulled the plug on another of its AM signals. WAEI (910 Bangor) is the former WABI radio, with a history that goes back to 1924 and making it the Pine Tree State’s oldest surviving radio license. After many decades as an important part of the Bangor radio scene, WAEI has struggled in recent years. Its signature voice, veteran morning man George Hale, moved to the FM dial when Blueberry made WVOM-FM (103.9 Howland) its primary talk station in the market in 2008, leaving 910 as a sports outlet, most recently with CBS Sports Radio.
Five Years Ago: September 14, 2009
Just a month after the eastern MASSACHUSETTS sports radio world was transformed by CBS Radio’s launch of WBZ-FM as “Sports Hub 98.5,” there’s another big transformation coming. The details are still a little murky as this issue of NERW heads for the “send” button late Sunday night, but here’s what we know so far: as of Monday morning, ESPN Radio’s national programming will be gone from WAMG (890 Dedham)/WLLH (1400 Lowell & Lawrence), the pair of relatively weak signals that have been struggling to find a niche as “ESPN Boston” since 2005. The local hosts on WAMG/WLLH offered up farewell shows on Friday, as station owner Waller Sutton prepared to pull the plug on the sports format at 890 and 1400 and flip to something new today.
Down on the South Coast, they’re mourning a morning talent who died far too young. Sharon Fogaren, co-host of the “JR and Sharon” show on WFHN (107.1 Fairhaven), suffered a heart attack on August 20 and died Sept. 2 at a Boston hospital. Fogaren had been with Fun 107 “off and on for 14 years,” the station reports. She was just 43; for now, JR is hosting the show solo.
One more Bay State note: the WBCN call letters that long signified progressive rock in Boston now stand for conservative talk in Charlotte. CBS Radio parked the callsign on the former WFNA (1660 Charlotte) as part of the August shuffle that moved “Mix” WBMX from 98.5 to 104.1 (with its own very brief detour to that 1660 facility) – and now it has flipped the Charlotte WBCN from sports-talk to satellite-fed conservative talk.
NEW YORK City’s classical music listeners now know the date and time that their commercial classical station will cease to exist, before being reborn up the dial (and lower in power) in noncommercial form. The transition of WQXR from 96.3 to 105.9 will happen at 8 PM on October 8, when the 96.3 frequency will transfer from its longtime owner, the New York Times Co., to Univision Radio. Univision’s WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ) will transfer its “La Kalle” format down the dial to 96.3, and the WQXR calls and 105.9 facility will come together under public broadcaster WNYC, which will launch its new version of WQXR with a live Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert that will be simulcast on WNYC-FM (93.9) and on a new website at wqxr.org.
Moving upstate, the changes in the Syracuse radio dial that we told you about in our last issue two weeks ago turned out to be just the start of a chaotic time in the Salt (or “Emerald,” if you really insist) City. Clear Channel’s feint toward a country roadblock turned out to be short-lived, as “Young Country 106.9” (WPHR) lasted just a weekend before returning to its previous format, urban “Power 106.9.” It’s still not clear whether “Young Country” was intended to be merely a stunt to rattle new country competitor WOLF-FM (105.1 DeRuyter), or whether Clear Channel was itself rattled by the protests that developed when it looked like Syracuse was about to lose its only station focused on the city’s black audience.
As it turns out, that audience is now getting a stronger signal from “Power,” since the “Young Country” shuffle coincided with WPHR’s move from Auburn to a new city of license, the Syracuse suburb of Solvay, and to a new transmitter site on the Onondaga Community College campus in the hills south of the city. WPHR took a drop in power – from class B to B1 – to make the move, but it also ended up much closer to the core of the Syracuse market.
Here in Rochester, Clear Channel’s latest flip to its oft-changing rimshot signal on 107.3 took place at midnight on Sept. 9, when the former “Country 107.3” (WROO South Bristol Township) became WHTK-FM, simulcasting the sports-talk format of Clear Channel’s WHTK (1280 Rochester).
With the new simulcast comes a schedule change for WHTK: the local sports talk show hosted by John DiTullio moves from late mornings to 3-6 PM, clearing the way for live carriage of Dan Patrick’s 9 AM-noon show and putting DiTullio up against the “local” show on the market’s other sports-talker, Entercom’s WROC (950). We put “local” in quotes here only because the WROC show, “Schopp and the Bulldog,” is actually a simulcast from sister station WGR (550 Buffalo), though the distinction scarcely matters for most western New York sports topics, especially during Bills season.
The week’s big news out of PENNSYLVANIA centered on Pittsburgh, where the end of urban radio on WAMO came abruptly around 6 PM last Tuesday (Sept. 8), as Sheridan pulled the plug on both WAMO-FM (106.7 Beaver Falls) and WAMO (860 Millvale), signing off the FM with the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.” Those two stations, as well as sister station WPGR (1510 Monroeville), are now silent as they await the launch of Catholic formats under new owner St. Joseph Missions, which paid just over $8 million for the trio.
State College didn’t have to spend very long without its “QWIK Rock.” The rock format disappeared from its second incarnation, on the former WQWK (103.1 State College), back in August, when Forever Broadcasting flipped that facility to news-talk as WRSC-FM. Over Labor Day, “QWIK Rock” returned, up the dial and under different ownership, on Magnum Broadcasting’s former “Joe FM,” WJOW (105.9 Phillipsburg)/WZYY (106.9 Renovo). “Joe” had already been mixing rock with its country format, though that rock-country hybrid doesn’t seem to be finding much success anywhere it’s been tried. There’s no word yet on a jock lineup for this latest version of “QWIK Rock.”
Ten Years Ago: September 13, 2004
Nassau has been a busy purchaser of radio stations all across New England in the last year or so, and now the New Jersey-based broadcaster is going as far north as it’s possible to get in VERMONT, paying Northstar Media $2.3 million to acquire WMOO (92.1 Derby Center) and WIKE (1490 Newport), a pair of stations way up there at the Canadian border where I-93 heads into Quebec. WMOO, which also has a translator in St. Johnsbury at 99.3, has been doing hot AC (and won some national headlines a few weekends ago when it was taken over by Phish to become their official broadcaster, “the Bunny,” during the band’s final concert nearby); WIKE does country – and all from a building painted in black-and-white cow spots. Really.
The Air America juggernaut is reportedly on its way to MASSACHUSETTS. After a rough start earlier this year, the left-leaning talk network has found a powerful ally in Clear Channel, which has put Air America programming on the air in the last few weeks in markets from San Diego to Madison to Ann Arbor. Now the Boston Herald reports that Clear Channel is about to clear Air America on its two Boston-market AMs, WKOX (1200 Framingham) and WXKS (1430 Everett), replacing leased-time Spanish religion and mostly-satellite standards, respectively. While neither signal has full-market coverage (despite WKOX’s long-standing CP for a move to Newton that’s being blocked by NIMBY locals), the combination of the two hits most of the core of the market during daylight hours, at least. If other Clear Channel/Air America markets are any indication, it’s a pretty good bet that programming will also include syndicated offerings from Ed Schultz as well as Air America’s Randi Rhodes and Al Franken.
There’s a big morning opening in NEW YORK, as WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) drops Dan Taylor off morning drive and puts out the call for tapes and resumes. Taylor took over from Harry Harrison about a year and a half ago, in the midst of some pretty big managerial and programming shakeups at the not-quite-oldies-anymore station; he’s still on CBS-FM’s website for now, but we suspect the veteran of great stations like WHN (where he was the very last voice on the air) will move on to something else sooner or later.
Fifteen Years Ago: September 17, 1999
We’re back from vacation, only to find yet another media mega-deal awaiting us: the CBS-Viacom merger, undoing the 1970 spin-off that created Viacom in the first place.
From our narrow Northeast broadcasting perspective, this has just one immediate effect: assuming all the appropriate regulatory approvals, it creates Boston’s first TV duopoly, pairing CBS’ WBZ (Ch. 4) with Viacom’s WSBK (Channel 38, and its Providence LMA, WLWC 28 New Bedford). The rumors are already aswirl about what a duopolized channel 38 could look like, especially if (as expected), CBS/Viacom is forced to spin off the UPN network. Could the market see a return of “WBZ News 4 on TV 38”? (And what of Detroit, where CBS’s WWJ-TV has no news department, but Viacom’s WKBD is the company’s only station that still has nightly news?)
We’ll start off the rest of the news of the past two weeks in CONNECTICUT, where Cox is adding to its station lineup in the Fairfield County area as part of a multi-station trade with AMFM. The big prize in this deal is Los Angeles combo KFI (640)/KOST (103.5), which go to AMFM in exchange for a grab-bag of AMFM properties around the country. In addition to Atlanta’s WFOX (97.1 Gainesville), Miami’s WEDR (99.1), and a cluster in Jacksonville, Cox gets WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), WKHL (96.7 Stamford), WPLR (99.1 New Haven), the sales rights to WYBC-FM (94.3 New Haven), and news-talk simulcasters WSTC (1400 Stamford) and WNLK (1350 Norwalk) to add to its “Star 99.9” WEZN Bridgeport.
In MASSACHUSETTS, “FM Talk 96.9” is finding its legs on (mumble it quickly now, 10 dB under the music bed!) WSJZ Boston. Local programming kicked off this week with San Diego’s Stacy Taylor following Don Imus at 10AM (along with, at least the first day, CNN network feeds that weren’t properly potted down!), one day’s worth of Mike Barnicle, and former WRKO night guy Jay Severin, among others. It’s now sounding as though Taylor, anyway, is only a temporary host, and we suspect we’ll have more programming changes to talk about soon as 96.9 settles in.
Established talker WRKO (680) isn’t taking all this lying down — it’s bolstering its local identity by dropping Metro Networks news service to return to in-house news, led by market veteran Rod Fritz. He’s coming back from exile in the land of PR to head up a morning news block to replace the Jeff Katz/Darlene McCarthy show. We also hear Andy Moes and Lori Kramer will have roles to play in ‘RKO’s latest reincarnation.
Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Manchester’s WKBR (1250) is getting yet another new identity, dropping One-on-One Sports to go country. Most of the day will come from ABC’s “Real Country,” but we hear Sean Sullivan from WYRY (104.9 Hinsdale) is joining the station to do mornings and serve as station manager. We hear WKBR will continue to originate from the studios of WXRV over in Haverhill, Mass. — and we wouldn’t be one bit surprised to hear “K-Bear 1250” as the non-ID.
A station sale tops VERMONT news this week, with Excalibur Media adding WCVR (102.1) and WWWT (1320) in Randolph to its existing group of WZRT (97.1)/WSYB (1380) Rutland and WXNT (92.1) Port Henry NY. Under current owners Ed and Margaret Stokes, the stations had been running ABC’s Real Country format.
Tons of news from NEW YORK over the last two weeks, and we’ll tackle it from west to east, starting in Buffalo. That’s where Mercury Communications is paying $535,000 to add WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) to its station group (which includes ethnic WMNY, rock WGRF, modern rock WEDG, and oldies WHTT). Observant readers will recall that WHLD holds a CP to move from Grand Island to the WNED (970) site south of Buffalo, pumping a directional signal right over the heart of the city, and we’ll be not one bit surprised to see some of the leased-time programming now on WMNY move to the stronger signal.
In Rochester, some big changes are in the works at CBS’s cluster, as John MacCrae moves down the Thruway from Syracuse’s WAQX (95.7 Manlius) to take over PD reins at WCMF (96.5). He replaces Rick MacKenzie, who stays on the 17th floor but focuses on modern AC WZNE (94.1). The first step in breathing some life into the Zone? A new morning team — and one that Boston listeners would recognize. After a brief interlude in Connecticut, Karlson and McKenzie (NOT Rick!) began their new Zone gig Thursday morning. First caller? A guy who told them to “shut up and play more music” (!) The duo were last at WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence-Boston), until the “Eagle” folded its wings and became “Star” last spring; the demo CD Zone sent out to local media was made up entirely of bits from the old WEGQ show.
One final note before we go this week: We were saddened to learn of the passing September 1 of Bill Pfeiffer, the creator and moderator of rec.radio.broadcasting/AIRWAVES Radio Journal. It was back in 1991, at the birth of r.r.b., that a college student in Boston began contributing local items to Bill, who always welcomed them with the same respect and professionalism with which he greeted items from “big-time” industry folks like Rich Wood and Mark Howell. As I moved ahead in my career, Bill was always there at the other end of the e-mail, offering advice, humor, and sometimes a dissenting (but always civil) viewpoint. In the last year or so, we crossed ways a bit when it came to distribution of NERW — but always in a friendly fashion, ending with a solution we could both agree upon. We corresponded almost daily for eight years, and though we never met in person, and talked by phone maybe half a dozen times in all those years, the news of Bill’s death in a crash caused by a drunk driver came with as much of a jolt as the loss of a close local friend would have.
Bill was a staunch crusader for local radio, and even though his own career in the field was spotty at best, I’d like to think he inspired a lot of us to strive for the kind of radio he loved best. He died far too young, just a few months shy of his long-awaited marriage, and just three years after the death of his beloved mother following a tragic fire in their home in Missouri. Bill Pfeiffer leaves a void in the on-line radio community that won’t soon be filled. So long, friend…hope there’s a dozen live, local stations on the dial where you are now.