In this week’s issue… Big station sale pending in Philly – Christmas on the air in Albany? – Don Berns, RIP – More “Icon” in PA

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Howie Carr will return to WRKO (680 Boston) March 16, not quite four months after he fled the Entercom talker for a new home way up the dial at WMEX (1510). It’s not yet clear what will become of WMEX’s talk format – we’ll have updates through the week and in next Monday’s NERW.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – It’s a somewhat abbreviated column this week because your editor has fled the misery of winter in NERW-land for some sun and some towers down south. We’ll be back in the cold next week with a full column, but in the meantime…

wbeb-forsale*Ever since consolidation scooped up most of the nation’s big radio stations into a handful of giant groups, we’ve liked to point to Philadelphia and Jerry Lee’s WBEB (101.1) as the great counter-example, one of the last big independently-owned standalone FM stations – and one that consistently wins in the ratings, too.

For much of that time, Jerry Lee won not only because he’s obsessive about testing every element of the sound of his station, but also because he lacked something that’s increasingly plagued the big guys: debt. That began to change very dramatically when Lee’s longtime business partner Dave Kurtz died in 2005. Lee bought out his interest in the station, paying $85 million for half the station, which valued the whole thing at $170 million. That number looks awfully high in retrospect, doesn’t it, especially when $22 million of that was financed at over 10% interest, according to Tom Taylor’s Tom Taylor NOW.

That high number meant Lee ended up carrying debt, too, and that’s why Tom is reporting that WBEB is now for sale.

And that, in turn, starts the ball rolling on speculation about who might end up with this prize, and at what price. Taylor says a tentative sale to Dan Savadove (who founded the Main Line group recently sold to Alpha) fell through. iHeart Media is maxed out with five FMs in town, and CBS Radio is limited to four FMs along with its two AMs because CBS also owns two TVs in town. (But if Lee can be patient, CBS is likely to put the spectrum of one of those TVs, WPSG, into the auction, freeing up space under the cap for one more FM…)

Greater Media’s four-FM cluster has room for one more under the cap, if Greater can find the money to meet what’s still likely to be a substantial price. Radio One, with three FMs, isn’t likely to have the money, nor any interest in WBEB’s hot AC format. If WBEB can continue to survive as a standalone in a cluster world, the list of potential suitors starts to expand: could hometown group Entercom finally establish a presence in Philadelphia, for instance?

[private]

*How many radio people had as many lives, over as many decades, as CANADA‘s Don Berns did? Berns started in radio when he was still in college, working at WBRU at Brown University and at commercial WICE in Providence, as well as spending a summer on WDRC-FM in his native Hartford. After graduating from Brown in 1969, Berns was off like a shot, working at WTRY in Troy and then, in 1970, joining the airstaff at red-hot WKBW in Buffalo. (He arrived to do middays at the same time the legendary Jackson Armstrong came on board at night. What an airstaff!) Berns jumped ship to crosstown WPHD (103.3) and then sister station WYSL before leaving Buffalo in 1975.

A few years outside the region (WHB Kansas City, KLIF Dallas, KFMB San Diego) were followed by another legendary run at Pittsburgh’s WTAE – and then a move to Toronto, where Berns reinvented himself entirely.

As a jock and assistant program director at CFNY (102.1), Berns was an early champion of electronic dance music. Outside the station, Berns became “Dr. Trance,” promoting and hosting what became a legendary series of raves. In later years, Berns worked at other Toronto-area stations, including CING (Energy 108), CKDX (88.5) and CIDC (103.5). He was also a prominent voice talent (it was his pipes on the 2003 revival of KB as an oldies station, for instance) and a frequent participant on regional message boards.

Berns went into hospital for what was described as a minor procedure in late February; he died at his home outside Toronto March 1, apparently of a heart attack.

wqsh-santa*Every once in a while, a radio programming stunt catches fire outside the insular world of radio people – and at this moment, that stunt is happening at Townsquare’s WQSH (105.7 Malta) in the Albany, NEW YORK market. That signal has had a hard time finding a stable format since it was moved down from Glens Falls a few years back, and most recently it’s been doing hot AC as “Pop Crush 105.7.” Or at least it was until last week, when it dumped that format and launched into Christmas music as “Santa 105.7.”

Yeah, yeah, Christmas music…we’ve seen that before, except that this one drew a lot more attention than the format usually does, including local media and a whole bunch of emails to us asking if this is for real or just a stunt. With a straight face, Townsquare is claiming this is now a permanent format, but there’s not much website there…and behind the scenes, promotions guru Paige Nienaber is apparently hard at work making a splash.

The challenge for Townsquare will be finding a format hole in the very crowded Albany market. Will it move its hip-hop “Hot” from an HD2/translator combo at 99.1 up to the bigger 105.7 signal? And then what goes on 99.1 and the HD2? We’ll be listening.

*Some Cumulus moves in New York: on the air, the WABC (770) 5-6 PM “Drive Home” slot on weekdays formerly occupied by Rita Cosby is now home to Doug McIntyre, who’s doing “local” New York programming from his home base out at sister station KABC (790) in Los Angeles. Around the corner in the executive suite, Chad Lopez is the new vice president/market manager for WABC and its sister stations WPLJ, WNSH and WNBM, filling the void left when Kim Bryant was promoted to a corporate position. He moves uptown from CBS Radio, where he was general sales manager at WCBS (880)/WINS (1010) and the Yankees Radio Network.

In Buffalo, urban WUFO (1080 Amherst) has given up on trying to find a new site to replace the LaSalle Avenue location that was its home until the lease on the tower ran out in 2013. WUFO moved its studios closer to downtown, and stayed on the air via an STA from the Genesee Street tower of WECK (1230 Cheektowaga). Now WUFO says it can’t locate any site that’s suitable for a new tower that could replicate its old coverage, so the station is asking the FCC to make that STA site permanent, doubling power from the present 1 kW to 2 kW, daytime only.

One of the longest-serving engineers in the region has retired. Tom Niven spent 50 years at what began as WKER and is now WGHT (1500 Pompton Lakes), right back to when the station was built in 1964. Matt Locker has taken over engineering duties at the station.

whgb-nashiconNow that Cumulus has settled its CBS Sports Radio programming for Harrisburg on translator W243DC (96.5), fed by the HD2 of WWKL (93.5), it’s repurposed the sports format’s old home, WHGB (1400)/W237DE (95.3). As of last Monday, those signals are now carrying “Nash Icon,” Cumulus’ classic country format, as a counterpart to the main “Nash” on WZCY (106.7 Hershey).

Some big changes at two clusters in Erie: at Cumulus, top-40 “i104.3” is history at the HD2/translator combo fed by WXKC (99.9-HD2); replacing it, as of late last week, is the classic hip-hop format that’s become this year’s big fad, branded in this case as “104.3 the Vibe.” Cumulus was caught in a CHR war that also included locally-owned newcomer “Happi” WEHP (92.7) and the big signal of Connoisseur’s WRTS (Star 104). Over at Connoisseur, there’s a new PD inbound: Chris Ryan moves to Erie in a few weeks from sister top-40 station WWHX (Hits 100.7) in Bloomington, Illinois.

On the engineering side, Connoisseur wants to consolidate transmitter sites in the Poconos. It’s applying to move WSBG (93.5 Stroudsburg) from its current Totts Gap site, south of Stroudsburg, over to the nearby site of sister station WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ). WSBG would  go from its present 550 watts/764’ to 430 watts/872’ from a new antenna shared with 107.1, which goes up from 1.2 kW/718’ to 840 watts/872’ at its existing location.

It’s not often you see a small AM station applying for a technical upgrade these days, but that’s what Matt Bracilli is doing at WHOL (1600) in Allentown. He’s applying to take “Hola 1600” from 500 watts during the day to 1000 watts, still from its present two-tower array. And while we’re on 1600 in the Keystone State, we note that WPDC (1600 Elizabethtown) is calling itself “Sweet 16” with oldies.

Just up the road in Bethlehem, WGPA (1100) is being sold. Longtime owner “Jolly Joe” Timmer, who’s now 85, is suffering from dementia and was ruled incapacitated last year. While it hasn’t yet been filed with the FCC, the station is heading from Timmer’s guardians to CC Broadcasting LLC, which will pay $95,000 for the little signal that’s known for Timmer’s polkas and other distinctively local offerings.

*With all that snow, it’s been another quiet week indeed in New England: in MASSACHUSETTS, Louisa Gould has been named executive director of Friends of MVYRadio, which operates WMVY (88.7 Edgartown) and mvyradio.com. Up in East Boston, WZMR-LP is the new callsign for Zumix’s LPFM on 94.9, which gets Steve Provizer one step closer to a licensed signal, the latest chapter in his long history of community broadcasting.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Binnie Media is moving morning jocks Nazzy and Mya next week: they’re headed from WJYY (105.5 Concord) over to the bigger signal of WLNH (98.3 Laconia).

In MAINE, Miguel Irizarry is the new night host and music director at WHTP (Hot 104.7) at the edge of the Portland market. “Mijo” moves north from nights at WRDW-FM (Wired 96.5) in Philadelphia.

[/private]

CALENDARS — CALENDARS — CALENDARS

Yes, we are working on the 2021 Tower Site Calendar, soon to be released — but you can order it NOW.

This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. It’s still being designed, but we promise you we’ll have plenty of gorgeous tower shots to decorate your walls for the entire year.

As we’re working on it you can order the calendar in advance for 25% off — the lowest price of the season.

And while you’re getting your calendar, don’t forget the other great products in our store.

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: March 10, 2014

*When Richard D. Buckley joined with John Jaeger in late June 1957 to pay $830,000 for WHIM (1110) in Providence, who could have imagined that it would inaugurate more than half a century of continuous family ownership in New England – or that by the time that family tradition came to an end, the Buckleys would be the last ones standing out of all of the family owners who built and grew the region’s broadcasting industry?

buckleyTwo years after buying WHIM, Buckley-Jaeger Broadcasting paid $815,000 for WDRC (1360 Hartford), and by October 1959 it had built out the FM construction permit that came with the AM station – and for 55 years since then, the Buckley family has owned WDRC-FM (102.9) and WDRC(AM), along with three more simulcast AM stations that joined the cluster later on. Now that amazing stretch of family ownership is coming to an end with the announcement that Buckley Radio is selling the WDRC stations to Connoisseur Media for an as-yet-undisclosed price.

It’s no surprise that Buckley is winding down its ownership: after Richard D. Buckley’s death in 1972, his son, Richard D. Buckley, Jr. (“Rick”) took over the reins of the company, which had by then expanded to include stations in Seattle (KOL), San Francisco (KKHI), Los Angeles (KGIL), Philadelphia (WIBG) and Minneapolis (WWTC). Rick Buckley sold some of those stations and added a big one, New York City’s WOR (710). But with Rick Buckley’s death in 2011, the company’s growth years drew to a close. WOR, of course, was sold to Clear Channel at the end of 2012, and Buckley later sold one of its FM signals in Monterey, California.

That left a company stretched thinly across the country: CEO Joe Bilotta, who’s been with Buckley since the early 1970s, is based out in California, where he oversees Buckley Radio clusters in Bakersfield, Merced and Monterey/Salinas, while the Hartford stations became Buckley’s lone remaining East Coast outpost, overseen by Rick Buckley’s nephew, Eric Fahnoe.

connoisseur-logo-lg“All businesses have lifecycles, and the radio industry certainly has seen its share of change in recent years,” Bilotta said in the announcement of the sale. That’s an understatement, really: when the senior Buckley bought WDRC 55 years ago, radio was a family business even in markets as large as Hartford. In the decades that followed, Buckley’s competitors transitioned from individuals like T. Mitchell Hastings and Scott Killgore (and the local behemoth, Travelers Insurance) to giant corporations such as Clear Channel and CBS Radio. But while those companies moved staff and changed formats with abandon, WDRC remained a stable, almost family atmosphere, retaining executives for decades at a stretch and staying put at the same Blue Hill Avenue address for the last four decades.

Since there’s no LMA before the sale (brokered by Richard Foreman), nothing will change until the deal closes, which is expected to happen in June. After that, we’d be surprised if Connoisseur makes many changes at WDRC-FM. “The Big D” has made a smooth transition in recent years from oldies to classic hits (with oldies surviving on HD2), carving out a comfortable slice of the market against CBS Radio’s AC WRCH (100.5) and Clear Channel’s classic hits WHCN (105.9).

*In VERMONT, there’s a rare opening at Hall’s country giant, WOKO (98.9 Burlington), created by the impending retirement of market veteran Thom Richards. He’s been part of Burlington-Plattsburgh radio since arriving there from New Hampshire in 1978, working at WDOT (1400/1390) and WVMT (620) before joining what was then WQCR in 1985. After WQCR became WOKO in 1990, Richards settled in as afternoon jock, a post he’ll leave at the end of the month when he retires.

*In a world awash in reality TV, there have been surprisingly few shows set in radio stations. That’s about to change, thanks to VH1 and Emmis’ WQHT (97.1). They’re teaming up for a new reality show, “This is Hot 97,” which will debut on March 31. The show will feature Hot 97’s airstaff and behind-the-scenes crew, as well as the hip-hop artists who frequently visit the station. Will viewers want to see what really happens in a radio station’s hallways in 2014? (Or a reality-show version thereof?) 2015 update: No. (The show flopped.)

Five Years Ago: March 8, 2010

Q: Why is Howie Carr walking into the WRKO studios very slowly today? A: Well, there’s no Rush…

That groaner, which neatly sums up the big radio news this week from eastern MASSACHUSETTS, comes to us courtesy of fellow radio observer (and WMWM weekend host) Bob Nelson, who’s been as absorbed as anyone in the long saga of Clear Channel’s launch of a new talk radio station in Boston. After spending many years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars moving suburban WKOX (1200 Framingham) into Boston, Clear Channel initially moved fairly slowly on changing the AM station’s format, leaving the Spanish tropical “Rumba” programming in place on 1200 for a year or so after WKOX had powered up to 50,000 watts from a new city of license, Newton, and a new transmitter site within sight of the Boston city line.

But for all that deliberation, today’s launch of the long-expected talk format on what’s now WXKS, “Rush Radio 1200,” still ends up having the feel of a – pardon the pun – rush job. The new station was apparently due to launch April 1, but once it became clear that Clear Channel was pulling its Premiere Radio Network programming away from established affiliate WRKO (680 Boston), that date was moved up somewhat abruptly, leaving “Rush Radio” to launch without a morning show or a fully fleshed-out weekend schedule. “Rush Radio” debuts at noon today with its namesake, Rush Limbaugh – and for the next few weeks at least, Rush will double as the station’s morning man, with “best-of” reruns filling the 6-9 AM slot until a promised (and as-yet-unannounced) local morning show makes its debut. The rest of the schedule is right off the bird: Sean Hannity at 3 PM, Jason Lewis (from KTLK-FM Minneapolis) at 6 PM, Mark Levin at 9 PM, Coast-to-Coast AM at midnight and Glenn Beck at 9 AM. Weekend mornings are still “TBA,” and weekend afternoons and evenings are all “best-of” shows from Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck.

Faced with the inevitable loss of one of its flagship shows, Entercom’s WRKO wasted no time lining up a local host to go up against Limbaugh beginning this afternoon. Charley Manning is a veteran Republican political consultant in Boston, and no stranger to radio talk, having been a co-host of WRKO’s “Spin Doctors” show in the nineties as well as a commentator on WBZ (1030), WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WCVB-TV (Channel 5) in more recent years.

Ten Years Ago: March 7, 2005

The radio dial in central PENNSYLVANIA has been a confusing one these last few months, and for listeners in and around State College, it just got a little more turbulent.

The home of Penn State is also the place where Dame Broadcasting just sold its cluster of stations to “2510 Licenses, LLC,” a company controlled by Burbach Broadcasting’s Nick Galli. And no sooner did 2510 close on the cluster (news-talk simulcast WBLF 970 Bellefonte/WRSC 1390 State College, classic rock “Bus” WBUS 93.7 Boalsburg, rock “Quick Rock” WQWK 97.1 University Park and rhythmic top 40 “Hot” WJHT 107.9 Port Matilda) than it entered an LMA with the market’s other big cluster owner, Forever Broadcasting, to operate several of the stations. Forever will manage WRSC, WBUS and the 97.1 signal, which swaps calls and formats with Forever’s oldies WOWY (98.7 Pleasant Gap), putting oldies on 97.1 and rock on 98.7. (The new WQWK on 98.7 arrives without some of its airstaff; the “Morning Wood” show that had been a fixture on 97.1 is history.) And WJHT’s calls and format move down the dial to Forever’s WBHV (103.1 State College), which drops the “Beaver” moniker it’s had for the last few years, along with the mix of hot AC and top 40 that it had been programming. 107.9 has requested new calls WCNU, and will reportedly be spun off, apparently becoming a religious outlet.

Forever also owns WMAJ (1450 State College) and WLTS (94.5 State College) in the market, and that makes a lot of signals under common control. Will the FCC – which has been looking at LMAs more closely of late – let this arrangement stand?

The spinning wheel of formats has spun again in southeastern CONNECTICUT, where Citadel’s WXLM (102.3 Stonington) dropped its “Mix” hot AC format after exactly two years and spent the weekend stunting. Morning man “Yo Sunny Joe” Allen is out – and what’s next for this frequency, which has also been home to short-lived classic hits (WUXL) and rock (WAXK) formats in the last few years? Stay tuned…

To the west, Nichols College has signed on WNRC-LP (97.5 Dudley), and that means a far better signal for the students there than on their old facility, 14-watter WNRC (95.1 Dudley). But Nichols isn’t shutting down the little class D FM now that it has the more powerful 100-watt LPFM; instead, it’s changed calls to WXRB and handed it off to chief engineer (and all-around nice guy) Peter George to operate. Look for 95.1 to be reborn any day now with the same nifty mix of oldies that Pete’s already playing on his streaming version of WXRB. (The calls, by the way, are an homage both to Pete’s ham call of W1XRB and to the legendary XERB, home of the late Wolfman Jack. And if you’re within range, listen closely to the sign-on announcement to hear the dulcet tones of your very own editor…)

Fifteen Years Ago: March 10, 2000

Eighteen months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, CONNECTICUT based talk host Judy Jarvis died Tuesday (3/7) at age 54. Jarvis, a veteran of New England newspapers and radio and a nonsmoker, discovered she had the disease after returning from a remote broadcast of her Talk America show at the 1998 NAB convention. She had recently returned to join her son and producer, Jason Jarvis, after being absent for treatment. We hear Jason Jarvis will continue with the show; our condolences go out to him and all who knew Judy Jarvis.

Just as we were getting ready to go to press reporting that the call change for New London’s WTYD (100.9) had yet to take effect, we heard otherwise from the folks at Hall Communications. The soft rock ended at noon today (3/10), replaced by oldies as “Kool 101,” WKNL. Morning guy Bill Reese stays, Dan O’Brien moves from sister country station WCTY to afternoons at WKNL, trading places with former WTYD afternoon jock Sarell, and the search for a PD is underway. Oldies had been missing from the New London market since WVVE (102.3 Stonington) dropped the format at year’s end.

Not going anywhere: We hear 64-year WTIC (1080 Hartford) veteran Bob Steele recently announced his retirement — when he reaches the age of 100 in the year 2011! Steele continues to host one Saturday morning a month during the warmer months on WTIC. Meanwhile, Saturday 10 AM – 2 PM host Ann Baldwin is leaving the station to run her own media consulting firm.

Moving on to MASSACHUSETTS, we find the first Northeast spinoff from the Clear Channel – AMFM merger: WHMP (1400/99.3 Northampton), which go from Clear Channel to Saga, where they’ll join WAQY (102.1) and WPNT (1600 East Longmeadow) in what’s now a Springfield-market cluster. This is a very small piece of a huge series of spin-off deals involving more than 100 Clear Channel/AMFM stations nationwide; expect Albany and perhaps Providence sales to be announced soon.

Entercom’s WAAF (107.3 Worcester) has been granted a construction permit to come down from Mount Asnebumskit in Paxton, moving closer to Boston with 9600 watts directional from 335 meters on the soon-to-be-built new tower at the WUNI-TV (Channel 27) site on Stiles Hill in Boylston. Also granted a move is WBOS (92.9 Brookline), which will join Greater Media siblings WTKK, WROR, and WMJX on the Prudential Center with 18.5 kW non-directional. Like WTKK and WROR, WBOS had been on the “FM128” tower in Newton, which will be left with just WBUR, WJMN, WBMX, WODS and WCRB once all the dust settles.

It was the end of an era in Buffalo radio a week ago, as WBEN (930) signed off from its Elmwood Avenue studios at the end of Ed Little’s 11 PM newscast last Saturday (3/4). In addition to marking the end of 40 years at Elmwood for WBEN, the newscast was the last of Little’s 62 year radio career, most of which was spent in Buffalo and much of which was spent at the legendary WKBW (1520). WBEN now holds forth from an Amherst office park; Little’s now enjoying retirement with his family.

Twenty Years Ago: March 9 & 10, 1995

On Monday, WHAV (1490 AM, 1 kw ND) in Haverhill MA, some 30 miles north of Boston, flipped from an oldies/talk format to Spanish, LMA’d by WNNW 1110 in nearby Salem NH. WHAV’s sister FM, 92.5 WLYT, keeps its AC format, which serves the Merrimack Valley, southern NH, and rimshots Boston. This leaves just 3 English-language AMs in the Merrimack Valley: Lowell’s WCAP 980 and WLLH 1400, and Lawrence’s WCCM 800. WLLH goes Spanish after 6pm daily, earlier on weekends. WCAP’s ownership situation is uncertain after the death last fall of longtime co-owner Israel “Ike” Cohen.

Back in Boston proper, WBZ radio has added a new affiliation. Effective Monday, 3/6, WBZ added CBS Radio and ABC Business Week radio to our current AP and ABC Information webs. CNN and CNBC were dropped in the shuffle. ‘BZ keeps ABC-I for the hourly news 7pm-4am. Half-hourly newscasts overnight are dropped.

WICE(AM) Pawtucket-Providence RI (550 khz, 1000/500 w, DA, CP for 4600/3400 w, DA) is being sold to Back Bay Broadcasters of Boston for “an undisclosed amount.” Back Bay’s only property currently is WBNW 590 Boston, which took over the old WEEI facilities in September 1994. WBNW programs Bloomberg Radio out of New York with local inserts from Metro Networks in morning drive, afternoon drive, and overnight. 9 am – 4 pm they run local financial talk, including the “Money Experts” show that migrated there when WHDH went dark, along with two newer shows. Evenings they run Bruce Williams and other syndicated money talk. They have the Bruins this season, but lose them to WBZ next year. WICE is currently running miscellaneous satellite sports talk. When the deal closes, WICE will switch to a similar format as WBNW, including simulcasts of the 9am-4pm talk block.