In this week’s issue… No “33%” job cuts at ex-Clear Channel – Who’s out at the top? – Veteran MA morning man fired – Share-times settle LPFMs in Boston, Philly, Providence
*It happens every year around this time at almost all the big broadcast groups: in a push to make the numbers add up at the end of the year, good broadcasters get pushed out the door. This year is no exception. As you’ll read later in the column, several prominent names are off the air this week around the region – but there’s one story in particular that’s getting a lot of attention. That’s the report that iHeart Media, the former Clear Channel, is gearing up to make massive job cuts, supposedly up to a third of its entire radio workforce – and it appears, as best we can tell, to be a considerable exaggeration, at best.
Predicting some cuts at Clear Channel/iHeart this time of year is about as challenging as predicting that the sun will rise or the Bills will lose: it’s what the company does, year after year, to at least some extent. (In the interest of full disclosure, your editor was the victim of one of those cuts three years ago, when Clear Channel shut down the Radio Journal newsletter he’d edited for several years. Just so you know.)
This year’s cuts seem to be aimed primarily at some big numbers on the payroll, including executives who haven’t been at the company all that long. Most prominent last week was Greg Strassell, the longtime Boston-based executive for CBS Radio who jumped to Clear Channel in September 2013 to serve as senior VP of strategic services/national programming platforms. His time with the company ended abruptly last week when he and several other top names were ousted from iHeart’s national offices in New York, and we’re already hearing rumors that he may be on the way back to CBS, where his long programming career included the launch of WBMX on 98.5 back in 1991.
We’re hearing reports, here and there, of other less prominent names being cut as well, especially those with long Clear Channel careers and thus decent salaries and benefits; here in Rochester, for instance, Tom Keller is out after 27 years doing on-air and production work with the cluster (and 37 years in radio overall in the market.)
But it’s one thing to observe that iHeart is making some cuts and another thing entirely to put out a daily drumbeat of rumor and innuendo about large-scale cuts that not only don’t appear to be happening but are almost impossible to conceive. As anyone who’s spent any time inside an iHeart cluster knows by now, the cuts that were easy to make were already made long ago. In small and medium markets, many stations run with just one live daypart and spend the rest of the day tracked or syndicated. In bigger markets, iHeart shows no signs of cutting airshifts just to meet some mythical “33%” goal. And behind the scenes, the typical iHeart cluster is staffed about as thinly as it can be while staying on the air at all. Whatever fat might have been on the bones at most of the company’s stations was cut years ago, and the muscle and bone started to go a few years back, too.
So what’s going on here? While the “33%” story has drawn national attention, it comes from a single source with a long, long history of grudges and legal action against Clear Channel – and of pushing stories that haven’t panned out. (Remember when Cumulus bought CBS Radio? Oh, right…that never did come true, did it?)
Here’s our advice: if you work for iHeart – or for Cumulus, or Townsquare, or any of the big companies that have a history of year-end job cuts – it’s the radio business in 2014 and no job is completely safe. But before you shell out money to subscribe to any newsletter (including this one!), consider what it is you’re being sold. Here at NERW, we’d like to sell you a subscription, too, of course – but we stand by a 20-year history of not stooping to sensationalism or overselling a story to do it. When 2014 gives way to 2015 and we tally up how many jobs were really lost, we’ll bet that our approach turns out to be the more accurate one. If we’re wrong, we’ll say so. And if you know of a job cut we’re not reporting, tell us and we’ll pass it along.
(One more bit of perhaps overly-full disclosure before we move along, because we don’t like the thought of a hidden conflict of interest: your editor turned down a job offer from that other guy back in 1997.)
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Instead, we go to southeastern MASSACHUSETTS and the cluster Townsquare Media got from Cumulus not long ago. That’s where WBSM (1420 New Bedford) parted ways with morning man/”brand manager” (PD) Pete Braley on Thursday, ending a 25-year run at the station. Braley, 53, told the Standard-Times he was sent packing just after finishing his show, without ever getting a chance to say goodbye to his audience.
And unlike the iHeart rumors, it’s pretty clear that Townsquare really is going after veteran air talent/programmers: Braley’s ouster comes just a few weeks after Townsquare took another former Citadel/Cumulus morning man off the air, Mark Ericson up at WOKQ in Dover, N.H.
*Also gone from the morning airwaves is Walt Perkins, who’d replaced Gil Santos as morning sports anchor at WBZ (1030 Boston) five years ago. Perkins tells the Globe he and the CBS Radio station made a mutual decision to part ways, apparently after his segments were shortened.
*The launch of a reworked business section at the Boston Globe isn’t usually something we’d write about here in a broadcast column, but there’s a radio connection here: among the Globe‘s staffing additions for the new section is Sacha Pfeiffer, who returns to the newspaper after six years at WBUR-FM (90.9).
*Friday was the FCC’s deadline across most of NERW-land for mutually-exclusive LPFM applicants to reach share-time agreements, and in Boston that settles what had been a three-way fight for 102.9. The City of Boston, Lasell College in Newton and Global Ministries Christian Church will share the frequency, and their agreement ices out the fourth competitor for the channel, Rahab, Inc.
Down the dial at 94.9, Zumix (associated with longtime community radio advocate Steve Provizer) and the Winthrop Arts Association have reached a time-share agreement that should lead to construction permits for their stations, too.
*In RHODE ISLAND, a pile of applicants for 101.1 in and around Providence appears to have been thinned out; REC Networks reports that AS220, Brown Student Radio and Providence Community Radio have reached a time-share agreement that should yield them CPs for shared use of the channel.
*One LPFM construction permit has been granted in Burlington, VERMONT: Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM) wasted no time grabbing the city’s airport code for its new calls, WBTV-LP (99.3), presumably with the blessing of the longtime TV user of those calls down in Charlotte, N.C.
*It’s been rather a tragic few weeks for radio folks in northern MAINE: Chris Putnam survived the fire that started in his fireplace Thursday night, but the WHOU (100.1 Houlton) jock lost his home and two of his eight dogs to the quick-spreading blaze. The home wasn’t insured, but the station has set up a fund to benefit Putnam as he tries to rebuild his life.
In Bangor, we’re sorry to report the death on Nov. 27 of Gene Hardin, better known as “JJ West” on WQCB (106.5). Hardin was 59.
*In CONNECTICUT, fans of two recently-departed FM signals are heading for the web to get their format fixes. The ex-PD of rocker WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford), Mike Karolyi, is programming a new webcast that launches today at noon. iRockRadio.com comes from Dick Robinson Entertainment (of Connecticut School of Broadcasting fame), and air talent will include WCCC vets Kidd and Stephen Wayne. Meanwhile in oldies-land, longtime WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford) jock “Rockin” Ron Sedaille has resurrected his popular “All Request Saturday Night,” now heard beginning at 7 PM on FunTowerRadio.com.
With a month to go before he’s due to be sentenced for his federal corruption conviction, former governor and WTIC (1080 Hartford) afternoon host John Rowland could end up behind bars for more than four years, thanks in part to his radio show. In a sentencing memo last week, prosecutors asked for a sentence between 37 and 46 months, saying Rowland didn’t need the $5,000 a month he was paid to help boost a congressional campaign through his show. Rowland was already making $420,000 a year in 2012 and 2013, leading prosecutors to say he talked up the campaign of Lisa Wilson-Foley without disclosing his role “to satisfy his own arrogance and hunger for being at the center of political action,” and calling for a sentence longer than the 30-37 months the federal probation office had recommended.
*On TV, Gerry Brooks is off the air at WVIT (Channel 30) for the next month or so while he recovers from surgery for prostate cancer. Brooks says the robotic surgery last Monday went well, and he hopes to be back in the anchor chair at the NBC station on January 5. “To friends old and new, rest assured I’ll be the same as ever, which some may find disappointing,” Brooks wrote on his Facebook page.
*Our NEW YORK news this week, such as it is, starts in Binghamton, where iHeart made a midnight flip last night at WINR (680) and its high-powered FM translator at 96.9, replacing “Oldies 96.9” with classic country as “US 96.9.” The flip allows 96.9 and sister country station WBBI (B 107.5) to flank the market’s dominant country signal, Townsquare’s WHWK (98.1 the Hawk), and it leaves Equinox’s WCDW (Cool 106.7) alone in the classic hits arena.
Binghamton’s Bundy Museum has been granted a construction permit for a new LPFM on 99.5, and we’re rather excited about that because the Bundy is the home of the region’s broadcasting hall of fame, with plans to do lots of classic radio on its new FM signal.
*Radio People on the Move: “A.J.” is out at iHeartMedia’s Syracuse and Rochester clusters, where he was programming several stations and doing afternoons on top-40 WWHT (107.9) in Syracuse and WKGS (106.7) in Rochester. But he’s not out of the company, just moving south to Richmond to be operations manager, regional program manager and PD of WRVQ (94.5) and WTVR (98.1).
In the North Country, the departure of Ray Knight from radio in general and Community Broadcasters’ Ogdensburg cluster in particular created an opening for Tony Lynn, who moves from Albuquerque to Ogdensburg to become operations manager at the cluster, morning man at WLFK (95.3 Gouverneur) and PD of sports WSLB (1400) and talk WQTK (92.7). Lynn had worked for Clear Channel’s WBQI in Albuquerque before being caught in a big Clear Channel cutback in 2011.
North of New York City, Dina Dessner moves up from weekends to promotions and marketing director at Pamal’s WXPK (107.1 the Peak) in Briarcliff Manor. The previous promotions director, Kat Suda, is now in Hawaii.
Where are they now? Larry Wachs was “Fast Larry Wax” on Rochester’s WPXY (97.9) before heading for LA and then a long run in Atlanta, where he was half of the “Regular Guys” morning show on WNNX (100.5). Now the show is over, and Wachs is out of work at the Cumulus station while his former co-workers (including longtime “Regular Guys” partner and fellow ex-New Yorker Eric Von Haessler) continue under a new name.
*On TV, Jim Kenyon is leaving the investigative beat in Syracuse after a remarkable 44-year run that started in radio in Utica and has continued with 39 years in TV, all at the same station. The WSTM (Channel 3) reporter announced last week that his last day with the CNY Central news operation will be December 23. Kenyon, 65, made his name in the investigative world with a 1991 series on trash hauling that prompted a federal investigation that sent six people to prison.
Behind the scenes, Stephen Richards heads down the Thruway to become news director at Sinclair’s WRGB (Channel 6)/WCWN (Channel 45) in Schenectady, replacing Lisa Jackson; he returns to news management a year after leaving a long stint here in Rochester at WHEC (Channel 10). And in Utica, Don Dudley will leave the news director chair at Nexstar’s WUTR (Channel 2o)/WFXV (Channel 33) at the end of the year, with no replacement announced yet.
And we note, somewhat belatedly, the death of Jeff Chafitz, one of the good guys on the Rochester TV scene for many years as a producer and director at WHAM-TV (Channel 13) and its predecessors. Chafitz started at channel 13 (then WOKR) in 1971, moved to WROC-TV (Channel 8) in 1981, then spent some time in independent production before returning to channel 13 to produce ads in 1997. He died November 19 at 65 after a long battle with cancer, and he’s dearly missed in the local broadcast community.
* We’re still waiting for the last shoes to drop in the big CBS/Beasley swap in eastern PENNSYLVANIA that led last week’s news, especially the new format that will replace CBS Sports Radio on the former WIP (610). Now in Beasley’s hands, 610 is using its new calls, WTEL, marking the first time in 92 years that the station has been anything other than WIP, but for now CBS Sports continues to be heard there while we await what’s expected to be a leased-time lineup similar to Beasley’s other big-market AMs.
After Natalie Conner retired as Beasley’s Philadelphia market manager back in June, Matt Smith became interim market manager, and while he’s no longer overseeing the FMs (WXTU 92.5 and WRDW-FM 96.5) that Beasley swapped to CBS, Smith is now officially the market manager for Beasley’s Philadelphia AMs (WTEL, WWDB 860, WTMR 800 Camden) and WJBR (99.5) over in Wilmington, Delaware.
Meanwhile, CBS is keeping the FMs at the studio space it inherited from Beasley in Bala Cynwyd, with no moves planned either to the space CBS recently vacated for WOGL/WPHT in another Bala building or into the Center City space that now houses WOGL, WPHT and WIP-FM (94.1). As expected, CBS Philadelphia market president Marc Rayfield will add oversight of WXTU and WRDW-FM to his portfolio, which also includes all-news KYW (1060).
It wouldn’t normally be news to report that Temple University has had its licenses for WRTI (90.1 Philadelphia) and its satellite stations renewed – but it’s not often that a license renewal is delayed by someone who really, really wants to listen to the station. What happened here? A WRTI fan from Hazleton, up at the southern edge of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, wrote to the FCC at license renewal time to complain that even with all the full-power and translator signals in WRTI’s portfolio, none of them delivered enough signal for him to hear the station’s classical and jazz programming at home. That, of course, is hardly grounds for denying license renewal, and Temple asked the FCC to reclassify the listener’s letter as merely a “comment” instead of a petition to deny against the WRTI renewals. The Commission did just that last week, reminding the listener that a station can’t be compelled to add more transmitters to reach an area that’s not already part of its service area.
From the LPFM side of things, the jumble of applicants for 92.9 in and around Philadelphia is slowly clearing up: the Inge Davidson Foundation (associated with veteran broadcast engineer Dana Puopolo) now holds a CP for “Bryn Mawr” (for now, at least, from a transmitter site a few miles away), while in Philadelphia proper there’s been a time-share deal filed between “Nueva Esperanza” and the Philadelphia NAACP, though REC Networks warns spectators might want to “pack a lunch for this one” as the FCC tries to unravel a web of petitions and counterpetitions among several applicants for the channel.
Meanwhile on 98.5 in Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Asian Culture Center and Uptown Entertainment and Development Corp. have reached a time-share agreement for the channel after a Montgomery County application was dismissed.
*Over in Pittsburgh, Colin Dunlap gets the nod to move from nights to morning drive at sports KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan), taking the place of Greg Giannotti as he heads off to New York to become morning co-host in a schedule revamp at the CBS Sports Radio Network beginning January 2.
In Erie, Connoisseur has finally replaced GM Nancy Dymond, nine months after her departure, promoting sales director Michael Malpiedi to the corner office. Malpiedi is a 23-year veteran of Erie radio, having worked at the Rambaldo and NextMedia clusters that preceded Connoisseur in town.
And we remember Donn Wuycik, who owned WMBA (1460 Ambridge) from 1986 until 2000. Wuycik, who also worked as a TV news photographer, was credited for taking the station to 24-hour operation, reports PBRTV.com. He died Tuesday at age 60.
*It’s a broadcast-to-webcast move for a prominent radio voice in CANADA this week, too: David Marsden made CFNY (102.1) “The Spirit of Rock” in the Toronto market in the 1980s, and for the last 11 years he’s hung his radio hat in the eastern suburbs at CKGE (94.9 the Rock) in Oshawa, where his “David Marsden’s Theatre” was a staple on Saturday and Sunday nights. Now Marsden says that show has been cancelled on the FM dial – but it will live on as part of his new online operation, NYTheSpirit.com.
Belleville-based United Christian Broadcasters is adding a new signal in southwest Ontario: it’s been granted 90.5 in Windsor, where it will run 1.73 kW average/10 kW max DA/55.5 m, with more than half of its programming originating locally in Windsor and the rest networked from UCB flagship CKJJ (102.3) in Belleville.
In Lower Sackville, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Cobequid Radio Society’s second attempt at an FM channel was the lucky one: after losing out on 88.7, Cobequid’s new CIOE has been granted the use of 97.5 with 250 watts/25 m.
On Cape Breton Island, Caper Radio Inc. is applying for a 5-watt developmental campus station in Sydney. The station at Cape Breton University will operate on 107.3 with calls CJBU, reports Canadian Radio News. If its 5-watt operation is successful, “Caper Radio” hopes to go to higher power in another year or so.
*We like to call NERW the “tribal drum” of the broadcast community across the region, but up north in the First Nations communities of northern Quebec, radio itself really is an important part of the connective tissue between far-flung villages – and Roderick Rabbitskin played a vital role in that mission for more than two decades as a prominent radio host in the Cree nation, including a long run on the CBC North service where he hosted a lunchtime show called “Eyou Dipajimoon” or “Stories of the People.” Rabbitskin, who made headlines when he came out in 2010, died last Monday at 49 after suffering a heart attack.
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