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
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…
*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?
*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.
*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.
Now 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.
THE 2022 CALENDARS ARE HEADING YOUR WAY!
It’s been a challenging year, but at long last, the 2022 Tower Site Calendar is finally headed to the printer! We will be shipping them as soon as they’re in our hands, and it’s not too late to have yours in time for Christmas! (And check out the cover design, seen here for the first time!)
This year, we’re marking two milestones – it’s the 20th anniversary of the Tower Site Calendar, and we’re also celebrating the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. Our calendar showcases the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations. If you haven’t bought it yet, order yours here.
And there’s more at the Fybush.com store! In this historic year for radio, The Radio Historian is also celebrating its 100-odd-year history in the 2022 calendar. The calendar features digitally remastered and hand-colored photographs. This is a very popular calendar, and our supplies are very limited, so don’t wait! You can order it from us here.
And don’t forget to check out our other great merchandise!