In this week’s issue… Howie Carr: The Next Chapter – Philly FM goes “Boom” – Farewell, Tom Magliozzi – NYC translator tries again – “Mr. G” leaves radio – Buddy’s back in town – Champlain Valley move-in on the air
Remember when talk radio ruled the roost? If you needed any further evidence for the decline and fall of the format beyond the takedown that former Clear Channel talk honcho Darryl Parks delivered a few weeks back, you’ll find a textbook case for talk’s near-irrelevance along the banks of the Charles River in MASSACHUSETTS.
Once upon a time, WRKO (680) set the tone for political dialogue in greater Boston. Back in 1986, “THE Talk Station” was such a potent political force on Beacon Hill that it very famously drove a referendum repealing the state’s seat-belt law to success, led by the dean of talk in town, the late Jerry Williams.
So there’s a tremendous irony in the good news that Williams’ successor in the WRKO afternoon slot, Howie Carr, had his belt on when he flipped his car on the Mass Pike on election day last Tuesday. But the fact that Carr walked out of Mass General a few hours later with just some bruises may well be the only good news to be found in Carr’s world, or in WRKO’s, at the moment.
As we’ve been noting for some time now, Carr’s contract with WRKO has finally come to the end of its most recent extension, leaving him free at long last to…well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Unlike the last few times Carr has flirted with a break from the station that launched his radio career way back in 1994, the landscape into which a newly-independent Carr now drives is remarkably barren. It’s been almost two years since Greater Media pulled the plug on its FM talker, WTKK (96.9), arguably the result of its inability to extricate Carr from what proved to be an iron-clad WRKO contract. The only commercial spoken-word stations now on the Boston FM dial are talking sports, not politics – and both WRKO’s Entercom clustermate WEEI-FM (93.7) and CBS Radio’s competitor, WBZ-FM (98.5) now draw far more revenue, profit and attention than WRKO has pulled in for years.
Consider Tuesday’s election returns: while Republican Charlie Baker pulled ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley for the governor’s office, Baker’s relatively moderate social views are a world apart from the hard-edged politics WRKO churns out daily on Jeff Kuhner’s local morning show, Carr’s afternoon show and the syndicated Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin shows that fill much of the weekday schedule. Of the ballot initiatives that passed, the largest margin went to a paid sick-time mandate – and at the statehouse and Congressional levels, whatever influence talk radio once wielded is hard to discern amidst a sea of blue.
There are, in short, no real winners to be found in the next chapter of Mr. Carr vs. Entercom. After a few days of recuperation, Carr is set to launch his new syndicated show today, via Global Media Services, but it doesn’t appear the show will be carried by WRKO. Without WRKO, even in its present diminished form, Carr loses much of his ability to reach a Boston audience. Sure, there’s streaming (and we’d be more than a little surprised if he doesn’t at least appear on his other employer’s BostonHeraldRadio.com pretty quickly), and there’s rimshot coverage from his Worcester affiliate, WCRN (830), and even the potential of buying time on a third-rate signal such as WUFC (1510). But as much as Carr belittled WRKO’s signal over the years, it’s the only game in town for AM talk in New England’s biggest market, and Carr’s voice won’t be heard very well without it.
Carr at least appears to be keeping his dozen or so affiliates around New England, including fairly prominent talkers such as WGAN in Portland, where he can at least claim one Election Day win with the re-election of Republican governor Paul LePage.
And for WRKO, the options for replacing Carr are bleak at best. The station hasn’t had much luck launching talk careers of late. Michele McPhee came over from WTKK, but decided to pursue print and TV instead of radio. Kuhner is an acquired taste, at best. Might WTKK retread Michael Graham return to New England from his current gig with Cumulus in Atlanta? Will Barry Armstrong’s Financial Exchange programming take over more of WRKO’s airtime by assuming Carr’s afternoon slot? Or will WRKO go syndicated, perhaps picking up Sean Hannity if Carr displaces him from his current slot on WUFC?
(And it’s not a very good week for the folks behind WUFC’s current talk format, either: “Dr. K” and his lineup vanished abruptly from what had been their flagship station, WILC 900 in Laurel, Maryland, apparently because of an inability to pay for the time they were leasing there. How much longer can they afford to remain on the air at Boston’s 1510, with or without Carr?)
In the end, it’s hard to really imagine any of these decisions mattering much in the long run. While Williams and his colleagues in their heyday (and yes, even Carr in his earlier years) commanded millions of dollars in revenue and top slots in the ratings, the next chapter for both Carr and WRKO is likely to be where New York’s WABC and WOR now live: somewhere down around a 1 share.
As Carr himself wrote in his election-night obituary for the career of Scott Brown (another of the losing candidates he supported on the air):
There’s an old saying that it’s better to be lucky than good. Which is true, right up to the moment that your luck runs out.
For Howie Carr, that moment appears to be at hand – and for WRKO, it seems to be approaching pretty quickly, too.
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*Winter means winter weather – and this winter, we have something special for you. Come back to fybush.com tomorrow for our exclusive Winter Weather Preview, a new feature from a new contributor to the site, WHEC-TV chief meteorologist Kevin Williams. Kevin’s part of the radio landscape around here, too, and on Tuesday he’ll offer up his expertise and tell you what your listeners will be experiencing, weather-wise, in the next few months.
Winter also means the arrival of a new Tower Site Calendar, which is why we once again take a pause from the news to draw your attention to the Fybush.com Store, where Lisa’s been busy filling the virtual shelves with some goodies you’re sure to enjoy this holiday season.
The calendar, of course, is the star of the show, and the upcoming 2015 edition will enliven any wall. We’ll begin previewing some of the highlights in a series of Tower Site of the Week Extras, starting this Wednesday here at fybush.com. It’s about to come back from the printer, and we’ll be shipping yours to you by mid-November if you get your order in now. (Don’t forget to check out our special signed, numbered limited edition!)
But don’t stop at the calendar when you’re checking out the store this year – we’ve got a great selection of Arcadia Publishing’s photographic history books from all over the region, including Dr. Donna Halper’s “Boston Radio,” Peter Kanze and Alec Cumming’s “New York City Radio” and a small number of copies of the recently released “Ithaca Radio” personally signed by co-author Peter King Steinhaus during his recent visit to Rochester. (That’s Peter and yours truly at the book-signing event – and yes, that’s an actual 2015 calendar in the flesh!)
We’ve also got the National Radio Club’s always timely AM Radio Log, back issues of the calendar you might have missed, and we’ll soon be offering enlarged prints of popular calendar images, too! And the best part? All your purchases at the Fybush.com Store go right toward helping us keep doing what we do here at NorthEast Radio Watch and Tower Site of the Week (and toward recovering from what’s been a difficult year behind the scenes!)
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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: November 11, 2013
*We’re not the only ones who found a return to stability in the last few days. Consider, if you will, those fine local broadcasters off the coast of MASSACHUSETTS at what used to be WMVY (92.7) on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s been nearly a year since WMVY licensee Aritaur Broadcasting made the announcement that it was selling the FM license to Boston University’s WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston), and nine months since the stormy night when “MVYRadio” left the FM dial for a new existence as a streaming service.
As the MVYRadio folks made their successful fundraising effort to buy the station’s studios and intellectual property, they promised they’d try to find a way back to the FM dial to continue to serve listeners on the island and nearby parts of Cape Cod. MVYRadio did stay on the air in Newport, RHODE ISLAND, where translator W243AI (96.5) switched to a feed provided via the HD2 channel of Rhode Island Public Radio’s WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier). And now it’s making plans for a triumphant return to FM right there on the Vineyard, thanks to a deal between the Friends of WMVY and Vineyard Public Radio, which is selling WMEX (88.7 Edgartown) for $450,000.
“Vineyard Public Radio” is the nonprofit arm of Dennis Jackson, the well-known New England broadcaster who makes his summer home on the Vineyard. Jackson has been operating WMEX only sporadically since it was licensed in December 2012, and while he tells NERW he never intended to sell the station (and would have run a standards format on it), he asks, “who knew there would be such an outcry when the 92.7 was sold?”
The purchase of 88.7, aided by a $1.5 million capital campaign now underway, will allow the WMVY folks to put most of the pieces back together: they’re already planning to apply to move the 88.7 transmitter to the old WMVY tower behind the MVYRadio.com studios in Tisbury. The WMVY calls are currently parked on 104.3 in Hartford, VERMONT, and will presumably be acquired to replace “WMEX,” which stays with Jackson as part of the deal. The MVYRadio.com folks say they’re hoping to have everything in place by April to get back on the air at 88.7.
*Sinclair is on the move again in MAINE, where last week it quietly acquired the non-broadcast assets of Portland-market Fox affiliate WPFO (Channel 23) from Max Media. Sinclair paid $13.6 million for the rights to program and sell the Waterville-licensed station. It’s already been providing a 10 PM newscast to WPFO for the last six years.
*Long before even Don Imus was being heard on NEW YORK radio, mornings in the biggest market in America were the domain of a family named Gambling. John B. Gambling signed on at WOR (710) way back in 1925, handed off his “Rambling with Gambling” show to son John A. Gambling in 1959, and the torch passed to grandson John R. Gambling in 1991. And now, at age 63, John R. Gambling says he’s ready to retire from his second stint in mornings at WOR. (The “88-year legacy” of Gamblings on WOR’s morning show was, of course, interrupted once before when WOR parted ways with John R. in 2000, only to bring him back in 2008 after several years across town at WABC.)
Gambling says the decision to step down, effective December 20th, was entirely his own – but it comes amidst some big, big changes at 710 on the dial. The sleepy AM outlet is now in the hands of Clear Channel, which just completed a studio move from 111 Broadway to its cluster studio on Sixth Avenue just south of Canal Street. Last week brought the official announcement that WOR is the new home of the Mets for 2014, part of one of those multi-platform deals that will find the NL team getting plenty of promotion on other Clear Channel FM outlets in town and on the iHeartRadio digital platform. WOR’s midday slot will become the home of Rush Limbaugh in just under two months. And now, as Gambling heads south to Florida for the winter, the speculation can begin about who’ll be the new morning voice on the new WOR. Stay tuned… (2014 update: one year later, we’re still waiting for a permanent new morning show on WOR.)
Here in Rochester, Tom Decker was the star anchor and news director at then-NBC affiliate WROC-TV (Channel 8) from the early 1960s until he departed the market in 1975, and before he owned the anchor desk, he was a prominent sports voice, announcing Red Wings baseball games on the radio from 1954 until 1961. The Buffalo native started his career at WGR/WKBW there, and also worked in Worcester at WNEB (1230) before coming to Rochester to replace Jack Buck in the Wings’ radio booth. (Decker was tipped to the job opening by his brother Jack, already a prominent newsman at WHEC.) After leaving Rochester, Decker had a second (third?) career as spokesman for the Chicago-based National Safety Council. Decker eventually retired to Florida, where he died on Tuesday in Ormond Beach, at age 90.
*NEW JERSEY‘s lone network-affiliated English-language TV station has been sold to a frequency speculator. Access.1 bought WMGM-TV (Channel 40) in Wildwood from the late Howard Green in 2003, paying $22 million for the NBC affiliate and six sister radio stations. It unloaded most of the radio stations in 2008, and now it’s selling WMGM-TV as well. Locus Point Networks has agreed to pay $6 million for WMGM-TV, but the new owner won’t actually operate the station; instead, it will lease the station back to Access.1 to continue operating, presumably until WMGM’s channel 36 RF space can be put into the FCC’s impending spectrum auction, where Locus Point is hoping to be a major player. (It’s also acquiring a Philadelphia low-power signal, WPHA-CD channel 38.)
*The big broadcast news out of eastern CANADA last week came from Rogers, which was making some big cuts at its all-news operations in Ottawa and Halifax. In Ottawa, CIWW (1310 News) cut out its all-news blocks outside of morning and afternoon drive time; it will instead be rebroadcasting Rogers’ CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the FAN) from Toronto the rest of the day. In Halifax, CJNI (News 95.7) is flipping to a similar news/sports hybrid. All told, 19 jobs were lost at the two stations, part of an overall 94 layoffs across the company.
Five Years Ago: November 9, 2009
For the last few years, it seems as though the arrival of Christmas music on the northeast radio dial has been getting earlier and earlier – but not this year. Instead of the pre-Halloween flips we’d been tracking (and which hit at a couple of HD2 signals in Philadelphia and at WEZW on the Jersey shore, which is evidently in the proces of flipping formats), the first stations in the region to go all-Christmas this year waited until November 2. Those flips happened in Syracuse and Utica, NEW YORK, where Ed Levine’s Galaxy clusters flipped at WZUN (102.1 Phoenix) and WUMX (102.5 Rome), which were also early adopters in 2008.
As we go to press Sunday, “Sunny 102” and “Mix 102” still stand alone in the Empire State – and while we’d expect more holiday tunes to start rolling later in November at usual suspects like WRMM in Rochester, WYYY in Syracuse and WKLI in Albany, we’re hearing that New York’s WCBS-FM, which flipped last year, may stick with its usual classic hits format this holiday season.
In Ellenville, WELG (1370) has become WRWD, once again relaying the country music from WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland) in the Poughkeepsie market, now that sister Clear Channel FM station WRWC (99.3 Ellenville) has become WKIP-FM, carrying the same talk programming that had been heard on WELG.
There’s a new AM signal coming to northern NEW HAMPSHIRE: Mount Washington Radio and Gramophone, which already owns WBNC (1050) and WVMJ (104.5) in Conway, has been granted a construction permit for a new signal on 1340. The new AM will run 620 watts day and night, non-directional, from the WBNC tower on Route 103 east of Conway.
Some interesting late-breaking news from VERMONT: Chip and Kathy Morgan, who run eclectic community outlet WMUD-LP (89.3 Moriah NY) from their farm in Bridport, are adding a second outlet with a bigger Champlain Valley signal: they’re now programming WCLX (102.9 Westport NY) for owner Dennis Jackson, returning the station to the air two months after the end of its last managerial arrangement, with Diane Desmond and Russ Kinsley, took the frequency silent. “The soon-to-debut new format will be derived from their “Farm Fresh Radio” syndicated format offering,” Jackson tells NERW. “It will be a hybrid that expands on our former “musicheads” format, including AAA cuts, deep album cuts, blues, and rockin’ Americana cuts.” Jackson notes that like WMUD-LP, the new signal’s studio will be powered in part by wind from an on-site wind farm.
In MAINE, veteran station owner Dick Gleason has a new title: mayor of Auburn. Tuesday’s election found Gleason winning 69% of the vote in his race against Ron Potvin. Gleason has been a station owner since 1975, when he bought what’s now WOXO (92.7 Norway), which became the cornerstone of a five-station group that also includes WTBM (100.7 Mexico), WKTQ (1450 South Paris), WEZR (1240 Lewiston) and WTME (780 Rumford).
Ten Years Ago: November 8, 2004
There’s probably never been any other broadcaster so closely identified with a state as Salty Brine was with RHODE ISLAND. Host of the morning show on WPRO (630 Providence) from 1942 until 1993, and of “Salty Brine’s Shack” on WPRO-TV/WPRI (Channel 12) from 1958 until 1968, the legendary host was a part of the morning ritual in Ocean State homes for several generations – and they’re all in mourning this week, with the news of Brine’s death last Tuesday (Nov. 2) at age 86. Born Walter L. Brine, “Salty” started his broadcast career at WESX (1230) in Salem, Mass., then moved on to WHDH in Boston before arriving at WPRO, where his gentle humor and his trademark wintertime line “No school in Foster-Glocester” quickly became an institution. After Brine’s retirement, WPRO named its studio complex in East Providence in his honor – and Rhode Island even named a state beach for him. Brine’s legacy lives on in the airwaves of New England – his son Wally is a Boston morning institution himself, as half of the “Loren and Wally” morning show on WROR (105.7 Framingham).
In MASSACHUSETTS, the “Fox” is history at WWFX (100.1 Southbridge). The Worcester-market rocker stunted as “100.1 the Sox” during the Red Sox’ run at baseball immortality a few weeks back – and last week, it flipped to classic hits as “The Pike,” grabbing the nickname of the toll road that runs just south of Worcester. WWFX will be running jockless through early February, we’re told.
More Worcester news: WORC (1310 Worcester) jettisons its talk format in favor of Spanish tropical music, with local jocks playing salsa, merengue, bachata, baladas and other genres that would have been unknown on the central Massachusetts radio dial a couple of decades ago. The station’s still being run by Chowder Broadcast Group, with the sale to Gois Broadcasting not yet completed. And Mike Roberts is still OM of WORC – even as he, Frank Foley and Mike Roberts pack up their morning show and move it across town to WCRN (830 Worcester).
Ken Squier is selling one of his VERMONT AM outlets, transferring classic country WVAA (1390 Burlington) to White Park Broadcasting for $400,000. Who’s White Park? None other than Steven Silberberg, whose other interests in the Burlington area include progressive talk WTWK (1070 Plattsburgh NY) and “Alice” WXAL (93.7 Addison)/WLKC (103.3 Waterbury), not to mention AAA “Point” WNCS (104.7 Montpelier) nearby. Will the progressive talk move across the lake from 1070 to 1390? (NERW notes that the two frequencies have had a lot of crossover over the years, with the WKDR calls moving to 1390 from 1070 some years back; we also note that the deal between Squier and Silberberg includes a cut in Squier’s rent payments for the transmitter of his WCVT 101.7 Stowe.)
Clear Channel launched a new progressive talker in CONNECTICUT just as we were going to press last Monday, installing more or less the same lineup on WAVZ (1300 New Haven) that’s been running on Boston’s WKOX/WXKS for the last few weeks – Air America’s “Morning Sedition,” Al Franken and (on delay) Randi Rhodes, plus syndicated offerings from Lionel, Stephanie Miller and Ed Schultz.
A format change in NEW JERSEY: the smooth jazz of WOJZ (104.9 Egg Harbor City) gave way last week to hot AC “SoJo 104.9” under new calls WSJO. Millennium Broadcasting’s running this one out of its Trenton facility, with WKXW-FM (New Jersey 101.5) PD Eric Johnson handling PD duties for SoJo as well. And the arrival of SoJo sets up a domino effect on a few other stations in Millennium’s group – hot AC “Mix” WIXM (97.3 Millville) becomes a thing of the past this week, after a few days of cross-promoting SoJo. 97.3 will return to its prior simulcast of WKXW-FM’s talk format. So what becomes, then, of WKOE (106.3 Ocean City), which is the current South Jersey home of the WKXW-FM simulcast? NERW hears that Millennium will begin LMA’ing WKOE to Press Communications later this week, with Press (the former owner of WKXW-FM and WIXM, incidentally) eventually acquiring WKOE outright. Right now, Press’ only property in the Atlantic City market is “Breeze” WBHX (99.7 Beach Haven), which serves only the northern part of the market; could WKOE become “Breeze” for Cape May County, extending the format’s reach all the way down the Jersey Shore? As always, stay tuned…
Fifteen Years Ago: November 5, 1999
Voters in MAINE overwhelmingly approved the referendum to issue bonds for Maine Public Broadcasting’s DTV conversion, although the 65% “yes” vote was still the narrowest margin of any of Maine’s ballot issues this year. MPBN says it needed the money to convert its statewide transmitter network to digital — or else face the prospect of going off the air in a few years. Whether or not you believe MPBN’s scare tactics — and NERW doesn’t — it’s at least heartening to see that Mainers support their public broadcasting system.
Meantime on the commercial side of things, Saga is suing Citadel over a non-compete agreement in Portland. Saga, which owns WMGX (93.1), says former WMGX morning co-host Lori Voornas is sending letters to advertisers on Citadel stationery in violation of her non-compete. Citadel, which bought the Fuller-Jeffrey group in Portland earlier this year, says the non-compete covers only on-air appearances, and Voornas hasn’t been on any of its stations — yet.
A familiar face in Portland TV is coming home. John Dougherty made a name for himself at WCSH-TV (Channel 6) in the 1980s before moving down to Boston and WBZ-TV. He leaves WBZ November 19 to return to Portland, this time as lead anchor at WMTW-TV (Channel 8).
The dead air continues in MASSACHUSETTS, as Brockton’s 97.7 continues to await its new urban format. The former WCAV does have new calls — WBOT.
More talk shuffles at WRKO (680) this week, as Tai loses his 7-10pm slot to a reincarnation (sort of) of “Two Chicks Dishing,” with ex-Chick Lori Kramer and ex-morning host Darlene McCarthy.
Down on Long Island, longtime WBAB (102.3 Babylon) PD Bob Buchmann is moving to the city, filling Bill Weston’s vacancy as PD at WAXQ (104.3 New York). No replacement has been named so far.
Just outside the Rochester market, the rock format wars have claimed a victim. Bob Pfuntner’s WNNR (103.5 Sodus) has struggled against Rochester-based WCMF and WNVE since signing on a few years ago. With Clear Channel’s WVOR staking its spot in the rock wars as well last year, WNNR decided to choose a different course…so Monday morning (11/1) found “The Winner” becoming “Big Dog Country.” Woof!