In this week’s issue… Two public media leaders depart, one voluntarily – Remembering Lowell “Bud” Paxson, Scott Dosztan and Nick “Bazoo” Ferrara – Oldies to Spanish in the Hudson Valley – New LPFMs in New England
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*What were last year’s top ten stories in NERW-land? We counted them down in our big Year in Review package – and if you missed it over the holidays, you can catch up with all six parts of our coverage right here. And if you’re still staring at a blank space on the wall where a 2015 calendar should be, we’re here to help – they’re shipping daily from our Fybush.com Store!
*Our news this week begins with a pair of stories about public broadcasting leaders, one departing of his own volition for a bigger job outside the region, the other being bought out to end a controversy that’s damaged the station he led for decades.
*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, the longtime leader of WVIA public TV and radio is out of the building after a public outcry over his salary and benefit level. Bill Kelly was serving as emeritus president at the Pittston-based stations after handing over the reins to Tom Currá in mid-2013, but he made some very unwanted headlines when news emerged that Kelly was still being paid more than Currá even after moving from the top job to a new position in which his chief responsibility was fundraising. (How much more? Currá’s being paid $150,000 a year, while Kelly’s salary alone was $200,000, plus additional benefits.)
Whether that sort of compensation is justifiable or not – and Kelly’s longtime colleague Dave Yonki made a pretty good case for it back when Kelly stepped down as CEO in 2013 – WVIA found out the hard way that it’s awfully hard to explain to the same viewers and listeners from whom it was asking for membership dollars $50 and $100 at a time. As Kelly’s salary package made headlines in 2013 and 2014, WVIA reportedly lost close to half its membership base, which finally forced the station’s board to take action.
As of the start of 2015, Kelly is completely out at WVIA, thanks to board members who reached into their own pockets and raised outside money to come up with nearly $300,000 to buy him out of the last two years of his contract.
“While the endowment project continues to be an important venture in order to create a more sustainable public media for our region, the board did not anticipate the negative reactions from its members,” wrote board chair Martin Walzer. “The WVIA board wants its members to know their concerns were heard and the board has taken corrective action to address this important issue.”
Will that move be enough to win back a skeptical member base? Even if it does, it still leaves WVIA without the big-ticket fundraising Kelly did, reportedly to the tune of more than a million dollars of incoming money each year. At a time when government support for public broadcasting is slim to nonexistent in many areas (Pennsylvania zeroed out its state funding in 2008, for instance), this is a challenge that will only get bigger as public TV and radio stations try to find their way forward.
It’s not at all unique to public broadcasting, of course; ask any nonprofit leader about the kind of criticism a big salary can draw. But given the widespread perception (increasingly inaccurate) that public broadcasting salaries are paid by taxpayer dollars, and given the increasing amount of direct member solicitation public broadcasters have to do to stay on the air, it’s a particular concern in this corner of the nonprofit world.
(Disclaimer: your editor also works from time to time at public broadcaster WXXI, including on-air fundraising, and has served as a consultant to other public radio and TV stations in the region; opinions expressed here are, as always, my own.)
The easier story comes from RHODE ISLAND, where Joe O’Connor is packing up his office at RI NPR (WELH 88.1 Providence and its two out-state relays) in preparation for a new job heading up public radio station WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.
O’Connor came to what was then just WRNI (1290) in 2006, and he’s seen the station through some huge changes: first the difficult transition from Boston University’s ownership to standalone status, not to mention the move from AM to FM in Providence and some pretty impressive growth behind the scenes in staffing.
Chief operating officer Susan Greenhalgh will serve as O’Connor’s interim replacement when he leaves in a few weeks, and there’s a nationwide search underway for a permanent successor.
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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: January 13, 2014
*Is the governor of NEW YORK spending $40,000 a day to conduct top-secret surveillance against a talk host who’s been vociferously opposed to his gun-control legislation?
Back on “New Year’s Eve Eve,” as he put it, WBEN (930 Buffalo) afternoon host Tom Bauerle spent the start of his show spinning what sounded like a fantastic tale about the plots being spun against him to get him to stop criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“There are people in this state who want me off the air,” Bauerle told listeners on a December 30 broadcast, saying that “at great expense,” he’s taken steps at home to defend against what “professional people have called the biggest surveillance operation they have ever seen against a civilian.”
While WBEN archives its Bauerle audio online, the first hour of that December 30 show is missing from their website. Nothing vanishes forever these days, though, and the Buffalo News and the local Trending Buffalo blog found that audio, in which Bauerle talked about how his “counterintelligence people” had been detecting signs of an operation against him.
“How many times have I told you they will come after me?,” Bauerle asked, claiming that “they” were trying to provoke him into shooting in order to take his weapons away, saying he “could mobilize an army” to defend against the harassment he claimed to be enduring and threatening “massive civil lawsuits” against “whoever did it.”
For better or worse, Bauerle’s monologue was not out of the norm for a lot of AM talk radio these days, and his rants about Cuomo’s personal life would have passed without much notice – until Bauerle did something unusual that’s just not done in radio these days: he disappeared from WBEN’s airwaves for a few days at the height of the Blizzard of 2014 that paralyzed the region early last week.
(Sidebar here: when WBEN was the rock-solid full-service voice that kept Buffalo together during the last massive paralyzing blizzard back in 1977, would Clint Buehlman and Jefferson Kaye have gone on the air to call then-governor Hugh Carey a “scumbag,” one of the milder epithets Bauerle aimed at Cuomo on December 30th?)
Bauerle, it turns out, was entirely right that “something big” was happening in his life, but it’s not at all clear yet just what it was. Over the weekend, the News reported that police in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst were called to Bauerle’s house in the midst of the storm around 3 o’clock Wednesday morning, where they found him with a loaded semi-automatic handgun in his backyard, searching his yard for someone spying on him. The News, quoting Amherst police sources, says Bauerle was questioned about the absence of any footprints in the fresh snow and told an officer “that government operatives have special shoes that leave no prints in the snow,” and then identified a tree as a person. (It was apparently just the latest of more than a dozen calls Amherst police have made to Bauerle’s home since November, according to the News.)
Later that day, the News reports, Bauerle agreed to be taken for a mental evaluation. He was off the air on WBEN on Wednesday and Thursday but returned Friday, saying he’d been taking a few days off for exhaustion. Even before Bauerle’s return, the News and other media outlets were reaching out to WBEN and Bauerle for comment, only to find themselves stonewalled.
*After five weeks off the air, RHODE ISLAND talker John DePetro was back on WPRO (630 Providence)/WEAN (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) last Monday, and the temperature of the kerfuffle over his November anti-union remarks has cooled from incendiary to a mere dull glow. For his first few days back on the Cumulus talker, DePetro stayed away from most of his usual hot-button topics. By week’s end, at least one of the politicians who’d been vowing to boycott the station was back on his show for an interview. The coalition that mustered against DePetro says it’s still going to keep up the fight, especially with his contract reportedly set to expire in March.
*There were plenty of communities where UHF television died an ugly death in the early 1950s. Western MASSACHUSETTS was one of those rare places where UHF not only survived but thrived, and it did so in no small part because of a woman named Katherine Broman.
“Kitty” Broman, who died January 5 just a few weeks shy of her 98th birthday, was there when WWLP-TV (Channel 61) signed on in Springfield in 1953 as one of the first UHF stations anywhere in the country. And while her official role at WWLP at the beginning was a pretty standard one for women of that era, hosting the cooking show and working as a secretary to station founder Bill Putnam, Kitty Broman really did a whole lot more at the station. For decades, she worked right alongside Putnam to help move WWLP to a better channel (its present home on channel 22) and to grow Springfield Television into a group owner that eventually had stations in Greenfield and Worcester, not to mention Dayton, Charlotte, N.C. and Salt Lake City.
Along the way, she became a beloved television personality in Springfield, where she continued to host a daytime talk show on WWLP into the 1990s, using her local renown to raise impressive amounts of money to help provide treatment for mental illness.
She also became the first woman ever to sit on the board of the National Association of Broadcasters – and eventually, she married Bill Putnam and enjoyed a long retirement with him at their homes in Massachusetts and Flagstaff, Arizona.
In 2012, the Putnams wrote a memoir of their years in early television, “How We Survived in UHF Television,” and it’s highly recommended.
A memorial service was held Friday in Longmeadow, where the Putnams were living at the time of Kitty’s death.
Five Years Ago: January 11, 2010
As public radio has evolved into a big business over the last quarter-century, many of the institutions that were early sponsors of public radio stations are finding that big-time broadcasting no longer fits their mission. The latest example comes from western PENNSYLVANIA, where Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University announced last week that it’s looking to sell WDUQ (90.5), the station it put on the air as a low-power student-run operation back in 1949. “The university is proud of the station’s success,” said a statement from the station last week, “and sees that it is big enough to exist outside the university’s umbrella. While the university continues to look at all opportunities, it is currently working with a group comprised of the current management of DUQ, representatives of the foundation community, and the public broadcasting consulting group Public Radio Capital to explore the possibility of WDUQ becoming an independent public radio station.”
Duquesne’s involvement with WDUQ has been largely hands-off for the last few years; while the university continues to hold the station’s license and to provide office space, most of WDUQ’s funding now comes from individual members, underwriters and corporate/foundation grants, and Duquesne has had little involvement with the station’s programming. One notable exception came in 2007, when the Catholic university’s leadership forced WDUQ to return underwriting money from Planned Parenthood.
While there’s no shortage of message-board speculation about potential purchasers for the big-signalled station, it seems clear that the intent is to keep WDUQ functioning substantially as it already does. Its mix of NPR news/talk programming and jazz routinely nets respectable ratings, higher than classical competitor WQED-FM (89.3) or AAA WYEP (91.3), and with Pittsburgh’s long history of corporate funding for cultural institutions, it’s highly likely that WDUQ can be successfully transitioned to some form of community nonprofit ownership with its current staff and management intact.
In MASSACHUSETTS, the big news came from WFNX (101.7 Lynn), which pulled the plug on its “Sandbox” morning show after two and a half years, dropping hosts Charlie Padgett and “Special Ed” Oliveira. Co-host Dustin “Fletcher” Matthews stays on board at the modern rocker, hosting a new morning show with PD Keith Dakin and veteran FNX newsman Henry Santoro. Also helping out with the new show is production director and former afternoon jock “Big Jim” Murray, who’s being replaced in drivetime by Adam Chapman, aka “Adam 12,” who’d left WFNX a few years back to go to the now-defunct WBCN (104.1). Later in the evening, “Loveline” is gone, and Paul Driscoll’s night shift now runs from 6 PM until midnight.
While we’re on the topic of signals, Fordham University’s WFUV (90.7 New York) reports that it’s completed the installation of its new antenna atop a Montefiore Medical Center apartment building in the Bronx. WFUV moved to Montefiore in 2006 from its never-completed tower on the Fordham campus, but the 10-bay Dielectric antenna that went up back then never quite lived up to expectations, and now it has been replaced by a six-bay Shively directional antenna at the same site.
There’s a format change coming in the Hudson Valley (and neighboring Danbury, CONNECTICUT) later today, or so we’re told – Cumulus’ WDBY (105.5 Patterson) is promoting a 1:05 PM flip to country as “Kicks 105,” replacing the AC “Y105” format that’s been in place there since 2002.
MONDAY UPDATE: And that’s exactly what happened, as WDBY segued out of its 1 PM “Y105” ID into five minutes of a countdown clock, followed by the launch of country music. Bill “Mr. Morning” Trotta, who was Y105’s high-profile hire a year ago, when he moved from his longtime home on crosstown WDAQ (98.3 Danbury), remains in place in morning drive.
Ten Years Ago: January 11, 2005
In last week’s NERW, we wondered what was up with the ongoing Christmas music on what had been the smooth jazz/adult R&B station for NEW YORK’s capital district, and now we know: Pamal has pulled the plug on the “Love 104.9” format at WZMR (104.9 Altamont), replacing it – apparently as more than just a stunt – with a simulcast of country “Froggy 107” WFFG (107.1 Corinth) from the Glens Falls market. It’s a slight shot across the bow of Regent’s market-dominating WGNA (107.7 Albany), though the WZMR signal is a far cry from WGNA’s big stick.
Citadel’s fight with Howard Stern is over, at least on the air in Syracuse, Providence, New Bedford and York, Pennsylvania; those stations (WAQX 95.7 Manlius NY, WWKX 106.3 Woonsocket RI/WAKX 102.7 Narragansett Pier RI, WKKB 100.3 Middletown RI and WQXA-FM 105.7 York PA) hadn’t been carrying Stern’s show, for the most part, since he began his vacation last month, and last week they announced that they’re dropping it for good. In Syracuse, WAQX continues to run day-old Opie & Anthony segments, and read on to see what the others are up to…
Buffalo’s top 40 WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls) starts the new year without its longtime PD. After 17 years at “Kiss,” Dave Universal didn’t return from his vacation last week, having been ousted by station owner Entercom. A memo announcing the change was reportedly circulating at Entercom Buffalo before Universal had even gotten the news directly; no replacement has yet been named.
WOKR Remsen?!?!?! Sounds weird to us, too, but that’s apparently where Clear Channel is parking the calls that are, as of this morning, gone from Rochester’s channel 13 after just over 42 years at that spot as the only calls the ABC affiliate ever had. At 5 AM Monday, WOKR(TV) became WHAM-TV, with original WOKR announcer Jerry Carr (now station manager at West Palm Beach public broadcaster WXEL) signing off the old calls for the final time. Still sounds weird to us…
Saga kicked off 2005 by swapping calls and formats on two of its stations in the Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE market: oldies WOQL (98.7 Winchester) takes the “Wink Country” format and WINQ calls from 97.7 Winchendon MA, sending the oldies and WOQL calls across the state line to 97.7. The new WINQ on 98.7 challenges market leader WYRY (104.9 Hinsdale) in the format, and from its new transmitter site in Fitzwilliam, we hear WOQL on 97.7 is putting quite a good signal over Keene, too.
Fifteen Years Ago: January 14, 2000
[no issue – NERW was traveling]
Twenty Years Ago: January 12, 1995
WBCS (Country 96.9) is offering a million dollars to any listener who catches them changing from country to another format during 1995. This is their way of saying to rival country WCLB that they won’t blink first. WCLB and WBCS have been
WLLH (1400) in Lowell/Lawrence, MA has moved from its studios at 40-44 Church St., Lowell, to the Lowell Sheraton hotel up the street. They’ve dumped the reverb, and put in a new transmitter at the synchronous site in Lawrence. Sounds much better now. Crosstown WCAP (980) dumped talker Casey Crane from its local AM drive show, which she had co-hosted since before I worked there in 1991-92. WCAP’s AM show is its only local programming; the rest of the day is low-budget satellite talk from For the People and other such nets.