In this week’s issue… Townsquare flips in Utica – WMGM-TV says farewell, for now – iHeart adds in Connecticut – Flip coming in Albany – Morning shift in Boston
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s a new year here at NorthEast Radio Watch, and we kick off our 21st year chronicling the doings of radio and TV across the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada with what we hope will be some good news for many of you:
When we surveyed you a few months back about what you’d like to see more of in NERW, one answer came back loud and clear: many of you miss the weekly email version of the column that existed for many years. That got lost somewhere in the midst of our transition from newsgroup to mailing list to website, but it’s coming back. Within the next few weeks (hopefully as early as next Monday’s column), NERW subscribers will automatically get an email alert every time we post new material here on the fybush.com site. It’s an extra service we’re delighted to provide at no additional charge to subscribers, and it’s not too late to join us and make sure you’re on the list as soon as that first email goes out!
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One more note before we get to the news: if you were lucky enough to be away from the computer through the holidays, perhaps you missed our big Year in Review package. Fear not – it’s here for you all year long, and you can see it all right here.
*On with the first news of 2015, starting with the year’s first format change, which comes from the heart of central NEW YORK.
That would be the Townsquare cluster in Utica, where we’d heard some rumblings that changes were afoot at WODZ-FM (96.1 Rome), which had kept its “Oldiez 96” branding even as its music moved along from 50s and 60s pop to more recent classic hits.
Now “Oldiez” is gone (though the WODZ calls remain for now), replaced by “96.1 the Eagle.” It’s the second 96.1 that Townsquare has freshened up along the Thruway corridor in the last few months, hot on the heels of what’s now “Mix” WMSX over in Buffalo.
The Utica rebranding comes with some staff and management changes: we’re told Keith James is out in mornings, as is Greg McShea in afternoons. Eric Meier adds “brand manager” duties for Eagle to his existing job down the hall at WLZW (Lite 98.7); former Oldiez brand manager Dave Wheeler is still in the building as midday guy on “Big Frog” WFRG (104.3).
So far, there’s just one jock listed on Eagle’s website: Chris “CJ” Johnson in middays, who’s actually cluster production director Chris Spiwak.
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*Down the Thruway in Albany, there’s a format change coming to Pamal’s WZMR (104.9 Altamont). Next Monday, it will drop the AAA “Peak” format it launched just over a year ago and will instead flip to CBS Sports Radio as “Win 104.9,” with new calls WINU, according to RadioInsight.
The 104.9 flip will create the fourth all-sports FM in the market, one for each group owner: there’s iHeart’s long-running WOFX (980 Troy), with Fox Sports; Townsquare’s ESPN Radio affiliate, “Team” WTMM (104.5 Mechanicsville); and Empire Broadcasting’s WPTR (1240 Schenectady), which will flip to NBC Sports Radio when 104.9 takes its current CBS Sports affiliation.
*In New York City, we’ve just seen a translator sell for seven figures – so why are two translator CPs going for just $5,000 each? We suspect there may be some behind-the-scenes ties between Jae H. Chung’s River Vale Media Foundation, which is selling W252CS (98.3 Brooklyn) and W286BY (101.5 Queens), and buyer Sound of Long Island, controlled by Young Dae Kwon. At least for now, both translators are on the books as relays of WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle).
Way up north in the Champlain Valley, WMUD-LP is on the move again. Chip Morgan’s LPFM was displaced from its longtime home at 89.3 when Vermont Public Radio signed on a new signal at 89.1 across the lake in Middlebury. After securing a CP for a move to 107.3, WMUD-LP is now applying instead to go to 107.5, where it will have a little less incoming interference from Montreal’s CITE.
Deeper into the Adirondacks, St. Lawrence University is buying the little signal in Indian Lake that’s been carrying its programming since signing on last year. WXLE (105.9) goes from Ben Smith’s GEOS Communications over to SLU’s North Country Public Radio for $20,000, replacing the LMA under which SLU was paying GEOS $350 a month.
*There aren’t many big clusters in the New Haven, CONNECTICUT market, where a limited number of stations means that major players Connoisseur and iHeart Media are each playing the game with just three or four signals each. So even a new signal as small as a translator can make a difference – or so iHeart hopes. It’s just activated W271BW (102.1 Milbrook), a 250-watt signal from the West Rock site northwest of downtown.
The new signal is doing rock as “Rock 102,” relaying the HD2 of WKCI (101.3 Hamden), which had been iHeart’s only New Haven FM until now (the rest of the cluster is made up of two AMs, news-talk WELI 960 and sports WAVZ 1300), and it takes direct aim at Connoisseur’s legacy rocker in town, WPLR (99.1). Air talent on the new “Rock 102” is all voicetracked from sister station WAXQ (104.3 New York): Jim Kerr in the morning, Maria Milito in middays, Ken Dashow in the afternoon, plus the syndicated Nikki Sixx at night.
*Another month, another schedule change at the upstart AM talker in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, WMEX (1510 Boston). This time, though, it’s more than just rearranging second- and third-tier syndicated product in off hours: as of today, WMEX will begin carrying Boston Herald Radio for at least part of its prime morning-drive hours.
“Boston Herald Drive,” airing weekdays from 7-9 AM, will be hosted by Herald columnist Adriana Cohen and Tom Shattuck, and its appearance on WMEX means the exit (at least from that time slot) of the bizarre “Dr. K” show that was hosted by Kevin Walls, who’s still at least nominally managing WMEX under a very expensive lease deal with owner Blackstrap.
As best we can tell, WMEX’s mornings will still kick off with two hours of “Holeshot Radio,” because who doesn’t want to start their commute with two hours of talk about motocross? After “Herald Drive,” it’s an hour of “Morning Meeting” from the Herald, then Glenn Beck at 10. It appears “Dr. K” will be replacing Dennis Miller at noon, providing an unusual leadin to WMEX’s flagship attraction, Howie Carr from 3-7 PM. (And we’re still perplexed about why Carr, the Herald‘s star columnist, isn’t also being heard on Boston Herald Radio’s webstream now that he’s free from WRKO; instead, Herald Radio is launching a new financial show, “The Money Show,” from 4-6 PM on weekdays.)
*A sports radio shift in eastern MAINE: in Bangor, “Downtown with Rich Kimball” will shift from Townsquare’s WEZQ (92.9) to Stephen King’s WZON (620) on January 20, and its 4-6 PM timeslot on “92.9 the Ticket” will become home to a new local show, “The Drive.” Co-produced with SportsNet Maine, the new show will be hosted by Jim Churchill, Jeff Solari and Wes Hart.
*On the NEW JERSEY shore, New Year’s Eve was farewell time for WMGM-TV (Channel 40), at least in its “NBC40” incarnation.
As we’d expected, owner LocusPoint is keeping WMGM’s over-the-air signal running for however long it takes to get its license into the FCC spectrum auction, now set for sometime in 2016. But instead of the local news and other programming that former owner Access.1 continued to provide under an LMA arrangement right up until 11:59 PM New Year’s Eve, WMGM is now filling its airtime with a mixture of infomercials and “Soul of the South,” one of Luken’s low-budget satellite programming services
Access.1 went out with some class: WMGM produced an excellent hour-long retrospective, “The Stories Behind the Station,” that lives on at YouTube. (Its final newscast from Wednesday night was also posted there for those of us who weren’t able to be in viewing range.)
And the WMGM news operation will live on in some new forms: Longport Media, which picked up the radio side of the WMGM operation and continued to share office building space with WMGM-TV’s business operations, says it’s adding a new half-hour local newscast weeknights at 6 on WOND (1400 Pleasantville). Longport may also end up providing local programming so that LocusPoint can meet public service requirements on what’s left of WMGM-TV.
WMGM-TV’s 60-person staff is mostly out of work for now, though some have already found new jobs. Chief meteorologist Dan Skeldon is joining the Press of Atlantic City, where he’ll become that paper’s first-ever staff meteorologist and contribute to both print and online content.
As for Access1’s suggestion that it will launch its own new version of the WMGM-TV newscast later this year? We’ll keep watching to see if it materializes.
Meanwhile on the Longport side of the operation, WOND is getting an FM translator: Susan Clinton is selling W223CO (92.5 Atlantic City) to Longport for $26,000.
(Did you catch our tour of WMGM in its final days? Go have a peek at Tower Site of the Week, which returns with fresh installments this Friday…)
*In Trenton, WYRS Broadcasting has applied for a license to cover for its new translator on 96.9. W245CC relays religious WLNJ (91.7 Lakehurst), which in turn relays WYRS (90.7 Manahawkin).
*In PENNSYLVANIA‘s Lehigh Valley, WEST (1400 Easton) will separate later this year from the simulcast of WHOL (1600 Allentown) that it’s been carrying since 2007. Owner Matt Braccilli says WEST will remain Spanish, but will offer separate live and local programming from Spanish tropical “Radio Ola,” which will remain on WHOL and, apparently, on translator W258BM (99.5).
In Philadelphia, we note the death on December 20 of Kernie Anderson, a veteran manager at radio stations that included WDAS (1480/105.3) and most recently WURD (900), which he led from 2007-2010. Anderson’s tenure in urban radio also included stints at WHAT (1340) and at WBMX in Chicago and WIZF in Cincinnati. He was 74 years old.
Over at CBS Radio’s sports WIP-FM (94.1 Philadelphia), afternoon host Anthony Gargano is out after 15 years. The Philadelphia Business Journal reports Gargano turned down a one-year contract extension offered by WIP. At least for now, it appears co-host Rob Ellis will handle the 1-6 PM shift mostly solo, though night talker Josh Innes will join him today and Reuben Frank will co-host tomorrow from the Borgata casino in Atlantic City.
On the other side of the state, the end of 2014 brought farewells for two long-running personalities. At KDKA-TV (Channel 2), Mary Robb Jackson retired after a 40-year reporting career, first at WIIC/WPXI (Channel 11) and then, since 1980, at channel 2. Her work at KDKA-TV included several years as an “Evening Magazine” co-host and a series of reports from Vietnam 20 years after the end of the war there.
Up the road in New Castle, Angie Augustine has been the host of “Canta l’Italia” since way back in 1974, when WKST (now on 1200) was still at 1280 on the dial. Augustine hosted the show for the last time Dec. 28, saying she wants to spend her Sundays with her family now.
*In CANADA, the CRTC shut down completely December 23 and doesn’t reopen until today – and much of the broadcast industry follows suit, sensibly enough.
So we have just one bit of CRTC news from before Christmas to report: with the recent grant of a new signal, CJRK, on 102.7 in Scarborough, Subanasiri Vaithilingam is once again on the hunt for a new frequency for his South Asian station, CJVF. It was already displaced from 105.9 by the arrival of CFMS in Markham, and now CJVF is applying to go to 105.3, trading its present 7 watt/63.4 m signal for 24 watts average/38 watts max DA/70 m at a new site. From there, CJVF will have to protect co-channel CFCA in Kitchener, as well as adjacents CHOQ (105.1) and CHRY (105.5) in neighboring parts of Toronto.
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