In this week’s issue… Howie scuttles back – What now for 1510? – Format wheel lands in Albany – New AAA in VT/NH – Objection to WWBB move – CRTC cracks down on network – Don Weeks, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*In the end, they needed to be with each other more than they needed to be apart. Is there much more to say about the long saga of Howie Carr and WRKO (680 Boston), the Entercom talk station that will have Carr back on its airwaves this afternoon?
As we wrote back in November when Carr was days away from leaving WRKO, “there are, in short, no real winners to be found in the next chapter of Mr. Carr vs. Entercom.” And indeed, there were no real winners. Without Carr, WRKO struggled badly to find an afternoon replacement or to get attention for the rest of its checkered schedule. Without WRKO, Carr struggled to be heard over his replacement station, signal-challenged WMEX (1510), or over the patchwork of affiliates his new syndicator cobbled together to replace WRKO’s 50,000 watts.
And so just as Rush Limbaugh ended up back on WRKO after Clear Channel’s ill-fated attempt to use his show to launch a new talker, WXKS (1200), a few years ago, Carr will be back in place at 680 on the AM dial today at 3. This time, WRKO will be “just” an affiliate along the Carr network, which should somewhat reduce the tension that’s long simmered between Carr and Entercom management.
If the inevitability of Carr’s return to WRKO shows the increasing calcification of the talk format (who, after all, was waiting in the wings to replace Carr? When did the last brand-new talk outlet draw a significant audience?), it’s even worse news for the other players in this game, especially Carr’s temporary home up the dial at 1510, which is about to go through even more big changes.
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
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 17, 2014
*It’s easy to be down on radio these days. Voicetracking here, layoffs there, competition from streaming audio all over the place. There are entire trade newsletters, it seems, devoting themselves to doom-and-gloom pronouncements about the death of the medium we all love (or at least once loved.)
This week, at least, this trade publication isn’t one of those. It’s not just that a story about a radio station is the top trending item on all of Facebook as we write this on Sunday night. (That would be Univision’s KVVF/KVVZ in San Jose, where a simple stunt that’s looping Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” has the whole Bay Area chattering; more on that over at RadioInsight if you’re interested.)
What has us especially excited at the moment, though, is the time we spent over the weekend at WVBR (93.5), the commercial rock station in Ithaca, NEW YORK that’s run by Cornell University students and owned by the nonprofit Cornell Media Guild.
For 14 years now, ever since its longtime home on Linden Avenue in the Collegetown neighborhood was condemned by the city, WVBR has been squatting in “temporary” quarters lovingly known as the “Cow Palace,” sharing a cramped office building with the New York Holstein Association. Not only were those Mitchell Street digs too small and poorly laid out (business office and air studio upstairs, production room and record library down a steep flight of stairs in the basement), they were also in a semi-rural area a couple of miles away from a campus where few students own a car. Ever-creative, the WVBR business office worked out a trade with a local taxi company to haul student DJs back and forth from campus, but the Cow Palace just wasn’t a space amenable to the usual camaraderie of college radio, even so.
But here’s the thing about the Cornell Radio Guild: its board is made up of alumni, and because Cornell’s not really a broadcasting school (that would be crosstown Ithaca College), many of its alumni have a way of going into better-paying fields than radio. (Many of WVBR’s alumni do make it into broadcasting, too, in fairness, with a particular geographic clustering in and around New York City.) So when some of those alumni started working with WVBR’s current students on a capital campaign to move the station back to Collegetown, the results were little short of spectacular.
Some of the credit, of course, belongs to one particular WVBR alumnus who both went into radio (and then TV) and actually made it big. That would be Keith Olbermann ’79, who came through with the big check that bought a former campus ministry building, an old house at the edge of Collegetown that was formally dedicated Saturday as the “Olbermann-Corneliess Studio.”
We’ll feature the entire facility soon in a Site of the Week segment, but suffice it to say it’s a mammoth improvement over the old Cow Palace. Six studios, including a big new air studio and several production rooms, are outfitted with state-of-the-art Axia digital consoles and networking. There’s a big lounge area upstairs, doubling as a record library and newsroom, and it connects to a new studio for the “CornellRadio.com” freeform stream on one side and a production area on the other. Back downstairs, the huge two-story room that might once have been a chapel is now “Studio A,” lined with WVBR’s vinyl collection on two sides and a production area on the third that can control live performances or meetings in this space.
On Friday, WVBR’s engineering team (including student chief engineer Kevin Boyle and contract engineer Mark Humphrey) worked up to the last minute to get the new studio ready for the handoff from Mitchell Street. It was a group of alumni who got the honor of playing the first song from the new digs, and their pick was perfect: CSNY’s “Our House,” followed by a student selection, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” picked by incoming WVBR GM Matt Harkins)
*Here in Rochester, we’re mourning the death of Mordecai Lipshutz, who became one of the city’s best-loved cultural icons during three decades at WXXI-FM (91.5). Lipshutz gave up a career in print management when he joined the station as a part-time announcer in 1976, as the fledgling FM was turning the corner from a block-formatted variety outlet toward an all-classical format. By 1979, he’d become a full-time announcer, and when WXXI(AM) split off in 1984 with news and talk, Lipshutz took over afternoon drive, keeping Rochesterians company on the drive home until his retirement in 2008. While he battled a series of health problems, Lipshutz remained a vibrant part of the arts scene in town, becoming a fixture at jam sessions during the Rochester International Jazz Festival and returning to WXXI for guest appearances, including his customary Christmas Eve live show. Lipshutz died March 9, at age 64; a memorial gathering was held yesterday, packed with friends and former colleagues (present company included) telling stories about Mordecai’s love for every aspect of music and culture, not to mention his passion for big cars and good food and drink. He was as big a character as they came in the old days of public radio, and he’s dearly missed.
*Just as former WEEI afternoon host Glenn Ordway is readying his return to (streaming) radio, his former timeslot is once again open. Mike Salk, who replaced Ordway a year ago alongside Michael Holley, is making an abrupt departure from the station and from Boston. Salk announced on Wednesday’s “Salk and Holley” show that he’s done at WEEI, and in the days that followed we learned he’s heading back to Seattle, where he’d been at Bonneville’s KIRO (710) as a host, and where he’ll reportedly be taking over as PD.
*Don Moore was one of Cape Cod’s radio pioneers, becoming the first standalone FM operator in the market when he put WQRC (99.9 Hyannis) on the air in 1970, just days before he turned 34. Building on experience he’d gained in Boston at WORL and WHDH, Moore grew WQRC into one of the Cape’s biggest stations before selling it in 1985. Moore moved into TV, putting WCVX (Channel 58) on the air as the Cape’s first TV station, then sold it and went back into radio with the launch of WOCN (103.9 South Yarmouth) in 1994. (Moore’s business partner, Gregory Bone, continues to own WOCN and its sister Cape Cod Broadcasting stations.)
Moore died March 7 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He’ll be remembered at a memorial service April 5 in Hyannis.
Five Years Ago: March 15, 2010
Legendary WABC jock Ron Lundy died this afternoon. Lundy had a series of mini-strokes a couple of weeks ago, his wife Shirley tells Ted David – and Ted tells the New York Radio Message Board that Lundy went into cardiac arrest after becoming dehydrated. Lundy was put on a ventilator; he rallied briefly on Sunday, but suffered another heart attack on Monday. Lundy was 75.
Back in the sixties, when Joey Reynolds was fired from his high-profile job doing nights at Buffalo’s WKBW (1520), he supposedly said his farewell to the station – and his hometown – by nailing his shoes to the door of the PD’s office with a note marked “fill these!” There were no shoes tacked to any doors in NEW YORK last week when Reynolds lost his most recent job as overnight host on WOR (710); this time, the job was already filled thanks to a shift in the city’s talk syndication scene. The dominoes started to fall a couple of weeks ago when Citadel took its overnight hours on WABC (770) in-house, replacing Premiere’s “Coast to Coast AM” with Doug McIntyre’s “Red Eye Radio,” based at sister station KABC in Los Angeles. Premiere wasn’t about to let one of its flagship shows go without an affiliate in market number one, and its options were relatively limited: there was apparently some talk with Salem’s new talker, WNYM (970 the Apple), but the much more desirable option was Buckley’s much larger signal at WOR, which will become the new home for George Noory’s 1-5 AM show beginning April 5. And that in turn knocked Reynolds out of his overnight hours after 14 years at WOR, where he’ll do his last show the night of April 2.
For Reynolds, there’s already something new on the horizon: he’d been planning to take his show to TV. There’s already a website up for “All Night with Joey Reynolds,” which will be broadcast “from Times Square” and seen on NBC’s “New York Nonstop” channel, WNBC-DT 4.2, “starting March 2010.” (This is hardly Reynolds’ first go-round with a station called “WNBC”; he was a star personality on the old WNBC radio in the eighties, of course.)
After more than 40 years at Oswego’s WRVO (89.9), general manager John Krauss is retiring, effective April 1. Krauss was the first voice heard on the station when it signed on as a 10-watter back in 1969, and he worked his way up through the ranks as morning host and news director before becoming general manager in the nineties. No replacement has been named yet. Krauss will be honored at a series of WRVO events, including a June appearance by another recent public radio retiree, NPR’s Carl Kasell.
Up north, the oldies on WGIX (95.3 Gouverneur) are history: the station flipped from “Oldies 95.3” to country last week as “The Wolf,” with new calls WLFK in place.
In Waltham, the old WRCA (1330) transmitter site is coming down. The two 306-foot towers were the last remnant of broadcast activity at 750 South Street, the longtime home of WCRB. But with WCRB-FM (now on 99.5 Lowell) having moved its studios into the WGBH complex in Brighton, and with the AM station having moved its transmitter to the new 1200/1330/1600 triplex in Oak Hill, Newton, there was no longer a need for the Waltham towers. One tower was mostly dismantled last week; the other was to have come down over the weekend, but bad weather delayed that work.
Ten Years Ago: March 14, 2005
Is a third all-sports station on the way to eastern MASSACHUSETTS? It certainly appears that way as we learn more about the impending sale of WAMG (890 Dedham) and WLLH (1400 Lowell and Lawrence) from Mega Communications to a new entity called “J-Sports.” We’ve already reported theat the sale is financially backed by WallerSutton, the investment house that backed the Route 81 Radio acquisitions in Pennsylvania and upstate New York last year. But Route 81 doesn’t appear to be involved this time, as it turns out. Instead, the key player is one Jessamy Tang, an MIT graduate who served as general manager of Pittsburgh ESPN affiliate WEAE (1250) until departing in 2002 “to pursue other interests.”
Those interests appear to involve a flip of WAMG and WLLH from their present Spanish tropical format to ESPN Radio, presently heard late at night and weekends on WEEI (850 Boston). And we hear that WEEI is dropping ESPN (we’re guessing Fox Sports Radio will replace it), clearing the way for an ESPN move up the dial to 890, which was once the Boston flagship of the defunct Prime Sports Radio, circa 1995-96.
We can tell you more this week about Christopher Lydon’s return to the public radio airwaves. The former WBUR (90.9) talk host will indeed be hosting a show on UMass Lowell’s WUML (91.5 Lowell), but he’ll be heard far beyond the Merrimack Valley. When “Open Source” debuts May 30, it will be produced at Boston’s WGBH (89.7), which will also air the hourlong show Monday-Thursday at 7 PM, bumping back the start of the “Eric in the Evening” jazz show by an hour. Starting July 4, “Open Source” will also be syndicated via Public Radio International, which distributes WGBH’s “The World” as well. And when new studios are ready at UMass Lowell in a year or so, Lydon will move production of the show up there.
There’s a big change of scenery on the way for WBCN (104.1) – it’s one week away from leaving behind the Fenway studios, at 1265 Boylston Street, that the station has called home for the last two decades and change (ever since moving from the penthouse of the Prudential Tower). The Infinity modern rocker will join sister station WODS (103.3) in the former Channel 38 facility at 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway in Allston, and we believe WZLX (100.7) will eventually move there as well from its digs in the Pru.
As expected, Nassau unleased its “Wolf” country format on VERMONT last week, putting the name (also in use in Concord, N.H. and Portland, Maine) on what had been “Bob Country” WSSH (95.3 White River Junction) and WZSH (107.1 Bellows Falls). The stations are now WXLF and WZLF, respectively. (And there are rumors that Nassau’s “Frank” hot AC/classic hits blend, also in use in Portland, is en route to New Hampshire’s WHOB…)
Fifteen Years Ago: March 17, 2000
The Clear Channel/AMFM merger has produced one group sale in NEW YORK. Most of the stations that Clear Channel would have picked up from AMFM will instead go to Regent Communications, the same group that bought the Forever stations in Utica and Watertown last year. Regent gets active rock WQBK (103.9 Rensselaer) and WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill); country WGNA AM-FM (1460/107.7 Albany); sports WTMM (1300 Rensselaer); and rhythmic oldies WABT (104.5 Mechanicville), in addition to three FMs in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in exchange for 11 Regent stations in Ohio and California and $67 million in cash.
NERW says: The big prize here is WGNA, consistently among the top three stations in Albany. The others are either signal-impaired or consistent ratings has-beens. What Clear Channel ends up keeping from AMFM is oldies WTRY (98.3 Rotterdam/980 Albany) and mainstream rocker WPYX (106.5 Albany), to go along with the former Dame group of WGY (810 Schenectady), modern AC WHRL (103.1 Albany), and adult rock WRVE (99.5 Schenectady), along with the former Arcara property of WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa), doing classic rock.
This was the first sound listeners on Cape Cod heard on 91.1 this week: “Listen.” With that word, Jay Allison signed on the newest station in MASSACHUSETTS, WNAN (91.1 Nantucket, at 6 Wednesday morning (3/15). Within a few months, WNAN will be joined by WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole), in what Allison says are the only two public-radio sign-ons anywhere in the country in 2000.
CONNECTICUT gets a powerful radio/TV combination as part of the merger of Tribune and Times Mirror. If the deal goes through, it will unite Times Mirror’s Hartford Courant with Tribune’s WTXX (Channel 20) and WTIC-TV (Channel 61). It would do the same in New York City and Long Island, with Tribune’s WPIX (Channel 11) and Times Mirror’s Newsday on the Island.
Twenty Years Ago: March 18, 1995
Cape Cod FM duopoly WFXR 93.5 Harwich Port – WFAL 101.1 Falmouth has switched from simulcasting a satellite hot country format to the “Underground Network,” based at WDRE in Garden City, Long Island. This is the first modern rocker on the Cape…although Providence’s WBRU 95.5 can be heard in the western reaches of the Cape. WFAL dropped its AC format to begin simulcasting WFXR’s AC format a few years back. The two class A stations manage to cover the whole Cape, with substantial overlap in the Middle Cape (Hyannis area). The stations switched to country in ’93, and outlasted 50kw FM blowtorch WCIB-101.9 Falmouth, which also switched to country in ’93, but then went back to its AC format in early ’94. In early ’94, heritage Cape FM WCOD-106.1 bought WFXR/WFAL, and today all three stations operate from WCOD’s facility on Stevens St. in Hyannis. New calls are WUNZ for 93.5, WUNX for 101.1.
WKPE (FM 104.7, AM 1170) in Orleans, MA (Cape Cod market) has ditched oldies…and is in an interim format now while they choose a new one.