In this week’s issue… More consolidation in Happy Valley – RIP Bob Klein, – WCTK files tower move – New FM in Nova Scotia
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When we left you at the end of last week’s NERW, we noted that there were some big changes on the way in central PENNSYLVANIA radio ownership – and that more were yet to come.
It didn’t take very long at all for that next shoe to drop, and it’s a pretty big one: on the heels of buying WZWW (95.3 Bellefonte) from First Media (a $2.75 million deal that also included three stations in nearby Lewistown), Kristin Cantrell’s Seven Mountains group is now solidifying its hold on the State College market by combining AC “3WZ” with the three FMs held by Nick Galli’s 2510 Licenses, top-40 “B94.5” WBHV (94.5 State College), oldies WOWY (97.1 University Park) and rock “Eagle”WEMR (98.7 Pleasant Gap).
As with the First Media deal, this $2.05 million deal has two pieces to it: while Seven Mountains will control the new four-station cluster, the actual license assets for all four stations will be held by another company, Southern Belle LLC.Southern Belle, in turn, is owned by the Kristin Cantrell Trust, whose sole trustee is Cantrell’s mother, Judith Confer – who just happens to be the wife of Cantrell’s father, Kerby Confer, whose Forever Broadcasting just happens to be the other dominant station owner in Happy Valley.
It’s an unusual quirk of the FCC’s ownership rules that spouses and children aren’t automatically considered to have an attributable interest in licenses held by their spouses and parents, which is why (assuming this deal closes) within a few months, nearly every commercial station in the State College market will belong to either Kerby Confer or his wife and daughter.
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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: September 23, 2013
*A venerable central PENNSYLVANIA AM station is hitting hard times. WHYL (960 Carlisle) has been flirting with bankruptcy for a few years now, but its staff held on and kept things going at “Nice 960″ right up until last week. That was when veteran morning man Ben Barber apparently couldn’t take the uncertainty any longer. With the station facing a forced sale and paychecks apparently on the verge of being cut off, Barber announced on Wednesday that he’s retiring, closing the books on a 50-year career spent entirely in Cumberland County.
“It’s turned out to be a very, very good 50 years,” Barber told the Carlisle Sentinel, which reports that his co-host Dennis (Gerkin) Edwards was laid off the next day. Barber says he’d have liked to have stayed a little longer, but health issues also contributed to the decision to step down.
WHYL remained on the air at last report, but running on automation while awaiting new ownership.
*A radio brand long established in Australia has arrived in CANADA‘s Niagara Region, courtesy of Vista Radio. Last week, Vista pulled the plug on adult hits “Ed 105.1″ (CJED) in Niagara Falls, playing Christmas music for a few days while promising a “gift” for the region on Friday at noon. And when noon arrived on Friday, it wasn’t just CJED flipping formats: Vista also flipped its sister station, “Z101″(CFLZ 101.1 Fort Erie), creating a new top-40 simulcast between the pair of overlapping signals under the new branding of “2Day FM.”
*A big noncommercial FM signal in MAINE is back on the air with reduced facilities after suffering severe damage to its antenna system. Light of Life’s WMDR-FM (88.9 Oakland) was knocked off the air at its Streaked Mountain antenna site August 30, with water in its transmission line causing severe arcing that damaged its ten-bay antenna. Engineer Joel Epley tells NERW he’s hung a three-bay Shively antenna on the tower to get WMDR-FM back on the air at 4800 watts ERP, a far cry from its usual 100 kW, but a big improvement over no signal at all. The damaged main antenna came down from the tower last weekend and is now on its way back to Shively for rebuilding. “It will be several weeks at least before we can get it rebuilt and hung on the tower again,” Epley reports.
*We’re learning more about Saga’s future translator plans in Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE: it’s already running three translator signals in the market, and it will add a fourth once it puts a “singleton” translator at 107.5 on the air. The new 107.5 translator will become the new translator relay of talker WKBK (1290 Keene), freeing up existing WKBK relay W281AU (104.1) to switch to a relay of “ESPN Keene” WZBK (1220). Saga’s Monadnock Radio Group also operates two HD-fed translators, “Keene Classics 99.1″ relaying WKNE-FM (103.7)’s HD2 and “Oldies 103.1″ relaying WKNE’s HD3, as well as full-power FMs WSNI (Sunny 97.7), WINQ (98.7) and WKNE (103.7).
Five Years Ago: September 21, 2009
Boston’s largest public broadcaster, WGBH, is buying the market’s commercial classical radio station, Nassau’s WCRB (99.5 Lowell), ending years of speculation about the long-term future of classical radio in the Hub and doubling the daily radio output from WGBH’s Allston studios. Details of the deal are being announced this afternoon – but NERW believes it will involve the transformation of WCRB from commercial to non-commercial operation, in a move strikingly similar to WNYC’s impending acquisition of New York City’s WQXR. (According to a WGBH press release issued just after 3 PM, that’s exactly the case: WCRB will go non-commercial, and a capital campaign is now underway to raise the purchase price of the station, reportedly $14 million.)
Unlike that deal in New York, it appears that at least some of WCRB’s airstaff will stay with the new WGBH-run 99.5. Like that deal in New York, it appears that the transaction will move WCRB into WGBH’s Allston studios from the longtime WCRB facility in Waltham. And like the New York transition, it appears that the purchase of WCRB will allow WGBH to complete the shift of its main FM facility on 89.7 to full-time news and talk by day, which may explain the recent departure (later in this week’s column) of WGBH afternoon classical host Richard Knisely.
There’s no immediate word on a purchase price for WCRB, which last changed hands in 2006 as part of a complex deal that sent the station’s intellectual property to Nassau and its former frequency, 102.5, to Greater Media. In recent months, Nassau has been beset by financial problems, with control of most of its stations passing to a group of lenders led by Goldman Sachs. That lenders’ group now holds 100% of WCRB, which has been rumored to be up for sale – and the deal to transfer the station to WGBH closes the book on some strong rumors that had 99.5 becoming part of Entercom’s cluster and perhaps flipping to sports as an FM home for WEEI.
One of the most familiar sports voices in MASSACHUSETTS has been silenced. “No one I’ve heard in 45 years of New England residence has ever broadcast anything better than Fred Cusick broadcast hockey,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan in a tribute this week, and there are few in New England who would disagree with Ryan’s assessment of the veteran Bruins announcer who died Tuesday at the age of 90, just hours before he was to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Cusick started with the Bruins on radio in 1952, and in addition to announcing the games on radio he soon became the driving force behind the team’s early TV broadcasts. Under Cusick’s leadership, the team began buying time on Sundays (initially on WMUR-TV and WHDH-TV) to broadcast tape-delayed broadcasts of Saturday games. (Cusick was even involved with the editing in those early years.) By 1971, the Bruins games had become a regular part of the schedule on WSBK (Channel 38), and Cusick moved over to the TV booth, where he would remain until he retired from the team in 1997. “Retirement,” in this case, was actually something of a misnomer, since Cusick remained active for another five seasons calling games of the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters.
In addition to his Bruins work, which earned him a berth in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Cusick also served as sports director at WEEI in the fifties and sixties, where he worked on early Boston Patriots broadcasts in that team’s first few seasons.
In NEW YORK City, Bruce Anderson wrapped up a quarter-century of news anchoring at WABC (770) last week. Anderson worked in Michigan (most notably at WWJ in Detroit) before coming to WABC in 1984. Anderson anchored afternoon drive news at WABC from 1993 until he hung up his headphones at the end of Thursday’s shift.
CBS Radio’s WWFS (Fresh 102.7) has dropped its latest morning show. “Dave and Danni” had been together for only a year or so, bringing together Dave Packer (who came to the station in 2007) and former K-Rock jock Danni.
A CONNECTICUT broadcasting landmark is being demolished. Broadcast House in downtown Hartford, home to WFSB (Channel 3) from the early sixties until the station moved to Rocky Hill in 2007, is being replaced by a high-rise that will be built by a Middletown-based engineering and architecture firm, AI Engineers. Last week, demolition crews began tearing down the building from the Columbus Boulevard side; the interior of the building had already been gutted.
Ten Years Ago: September 20, 2004
The future of public radio in RHODE ISLAND is in more than a little doubt this week, as listeners, donors and public officials digest the Friday morning announcement that Boston’s WBUR has put its Ocean State outpost, WRNI (1290 Providence)/WXNI (1230 Westerly) up for sale.
Rhode Island lost its distinction as one of the last states with no public radio outlet when WBUR shelled out $1.975 million in 1998 to buy what was then Portuguese-language WRCP (1290); the next year, the $300,000 purchase of what was then WERI (1230 Westerly) expanded service to southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. WBUR had big plans for WRNI, building new studios at Providence’s Union Station, upgrading the 1290 signal from 5 kW to 10 kW and, for a while, offering a daily two-hour newsmagazine, One Union Station, specifically for the Rhode Island audience. Budget problems beginning in late 2001 slowly eroded some of those advances, though; One Union Station was cancelled and replaced with a weekly one-hour show that was itself cancelled a few weeks ago, and much of WRNI’s news staff was either laid off or moved to the mothership in Boston.
WBUR head honcho Jane Christo was reportedly tight-lipped with donors at the Friday meeting in Providence; the Providence Phoenix reports that she wouldn’t address questions about WBUR’s own financial problems, and the extent to which they might be driving the sale of the Rhode Island stations, saying only that it’s time for the community to step up and buy the station if it wants it to remain as a public radio outlet.
For the donors who led the fund-raising campaign to help WBUR buy the stations in the first place, and those who have given money to WRNI/WXNI in its six years on the air, that attitude was understandably insulting. Several have complained about having to, in effect, buy the station twice – and yet, if they don’t, the stations will likely be sold to a commercial owner. (They’re also unhappy about the timing of the announcement, asking for some extra time to put together a plan before the station is offered to commercial sellers; right now, the plan is to begin offering the station as early as today, through Media Services Group.) This one’s not over yet; stay tuned…
Some lineup shakeups in MASSACHUSETTS last week, at Clear Channel’s “Kiss 108,” WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford): veteran midday jock Ed McMann is out (though he keeps voicetracking for other CC stations in the northeast), and so is afternoon guy Artie the One-Man Party, himself a fairly recent replacement for Dale Dorman. Dierdre Dagata moves over from sister WJMN-FM (94.5 Boston) to take middays, while Romeo moves up from nights to afternoons, which in turn brings Kory in from nights at WKCI (101.3 Hamden CT) to do Kiss’ night shift.
Air America and other liberal talk programming came to the airwaves of western NEW YORK Friday, when Entercom’s WROC (950 Rochester) dropped its talk lineup of Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in favor of Air America’s Unfiltered, Al Franken and Randi Rhodes, as well as the syndicated Ed Schultz and Lionel shows.WROC’s move takes it out of direct competition with the much more powerful WHAM (1180) and its talk lineup, including Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. It also appears to have prompted a fair number of calls to WROC-TV (Channel 8), which felt compelled to run a story in its Friday night newscasts reminding viewers that it shares only call letters (and news simulcasts) with 950, but not ownership.
Across the street from WROC, the engineers at WXXI (1370/91.5 Rochester) had a busy week, moving the public radio stations out of the studios they’ve occupied for years (WXXI-FM had been in its studio space since its sign-on in late 1974, while the AM was in a converted suite of offices that had been in use since 1987) into brand-new rooms across the hall (with, for the first time, windows to the outside world!)
And even though it never actually existed, legendary made-up station “WVWA” (900 Pound Ridge) was back in the headlines this past week when its call letters were assigned for the first time to an actual broadcast station. The new “real” WVWA-FM is the former WHEL-FM (105.1 Helen GA), now half of Clear Channel’s “Viva” regional Mexican simulcast serving Atlanta. (The other half of the simulcast has some famous borrowed calls, too: what had been talker WMAX-FM 105.3 Bowdon GA is now WWVA-FM. And yes, those WMAX-FM calls saw use in the Empire State a few years ago, too.)
Is a new “Pickle” on the way to western PENNSYLVANIA? It sure seems that way as Keymarket and Forever settle into the former Clear Channel cluster in New Castle. The hot AC “Star” format that was on WJST (92.1 Ellwood City) moved over to WBZY (1280 New Castle) as “Star 1280,” and WJST is taking on new calls of WKPL, which sure sounds like the “Pickle” oldies that Frank Bell’s using at WPKL (99.3 Uniontown) and WASP (1130 Brownsville).
It’s easy to know where to begin this week’s look at the region’s broadcasting scene — all along the coastline, where Hurricane Floyd wreaked its destruction over the past few days. NEW YORK broadcasters escaped the worst of the storm (just ask the folks down in the Carolinas, where many big-group broadcasters put their news-talk AMs on day power/pattern during the worst of the storm, as well as simulcasting on all their FMs), but there was still plenty of dead air out there as Floyd knocked out power. An incomplete list includes WHTR Hudson Falls (still off the air at this writing), WQBK Rensselaer, WCTW Catskill, WXCR Ballston Spa, WDCD-FM Clifton Park, and WABT Mechanicville (all of which share a tower), WKBE Warrensburg, WXNT Port Henry, WRIP Windham, and a dead carrier on WTHK Hudson — and that’s just the area around Albany! Down in the Big Apple, Floyd halted the move of WHTZ (100.3 Newark)’s studio from Secaucus up to Jersey City, and closed many stations’ offices as the city more or less shut down Thursday. The good news is that we’ve yet to hear of any permanent serious damage to broadcast facilities from the storm, and we hope it stays that way.
The other big news in New York City was Monday’s long-long-awaited debut of “FM Talk 102.7,” keeping the WNEW calls, morning guy Steve Mason, and Opie and Anthony in afternoons (now for five hours, starting at 2 PM). Former WRKO “Chick” Leslie Gold shares middays with Mike Adams, Tom Leykis follows Opie and Anthony, and Lovelines and a Leykis replay fill nights. Some rock survives on weekends, most notably “Idiot’s Delight” with Vin Scelsa on Sunday nights — at least until his contract runs out.
Next stop, MASSACHUSETTS, where there’s a new owner at WGAW (1340) in Gardner, and as usual for small-market AMs in that part of the world, it’s Keating Willcox and Willow Farm, Inc. ‘GAW has been simulcasting, first WSRO Marlborough and then WEIM Fitchburg, since returning from a long dark spell a few years ago.
“FM Talk 96.9” is shaping up at WSJZ, with some new additions to Boston’s new FM talker. While Mike Barnicle is part of the station, he’s doing just two hours a week, Thursdays 10-noon. That post-Imus slot is being held down by Marjorie Eagan of the Boston Herald the rest of the week. Stacy Taylor follows from noon till 2, Jay Severin (by ISDN from Long Island) 2-6, and Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa of the Boston Herald move over to WSJZ to do 6-7 pm weeknights before the station returns to smooth jazz for the night. By the way, former WSJZ midday jock Jackie Brush has moved 40 miles west — she’s now doing middays at Worcester’s WSRS (96.1).
The big news from RHODE ISLAND is an official debut date for the new talk format at WLKW (550 Pawtucket). “Talk 550 the Buzz” starts Monday (9/20), helmed by former WPRO PD Mike DeLomba. Former WPRO-FM morning team Mike and Lisa Butts will do mornings on ‘LKW, followed by Dr. Joy Browne, local talk from Tom DiLuglio and Jerry Zarellia from noon to 3, and Howie Carr from WRKO 3-6.
Citadel has new calls for the 99.7 in Wakefield-Peace Dale. The former WXEX becomes WHCK, to match simulcast partner WHKK (100.3 Middletown).