In this week’s issue… Is everything old in Boston new again? – World Trade Center TV tests begin – Scelsa to retire – Shakeup at NYC’s 103.9 – AM donation in New England – Frequency shuffle in Ottawa – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio, 2015
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The end of the first quarter of 2015 is also the end of the line – for now, at least – for several veteran broadcasters in both New York City and Boston.
In New York, it was a one-two punch of retirements to close out the last full week of March: on Saturday, Vin Scelsa announced he’s wrapping up his time at both WFUV (90.7) and SiriusXM at the start of May, and then on Sunday Pat St. John told WCBS-FM (101.1) listeners he’s leaving town after two more weekends on the air.
Scelsa and St. John both have long runs on the New York FM dial. Scelsa emerged from the early years of WFMU (91.1), spent some time at WLIR (92.7) and WBAI (99.5) and then became music director of WABC-FM (95.5) just in time for its 1971 transition to WPLJ. With deep roots in freeform radio, Scelsa soon traded the tighter playlist of WPLJ for the looser confines of WNEW-FM (102.7), and that’s where he became a legendary figure at night. Scelsa left WNEW-FM when it tightened its playlist in 1982, joined the inaugural airstaff at WXRK (92.3) with the launch of “K-Rock” in 1985, returned to WNEW-FM for a few years in 1996, and finally took his “Idiot’s Delight” show uptown to noncommercial WFUV in 2001. At WFUV, Scelsa has enjoyed the sort of freedom he’s long sought in radio – his show regularly includes live in-studio performances, readings, monologues and a wide range of music with no fixed playlist.
After 15 years of Saturday nights at WFUV, Scelsa, now 67, will do his final show on May 2, two days after he wraps up his run at SiriusXM, where “Idiot’s Delight” has aired several days a week on “The Loft” channel. WFUV will send Scelsa off with a concert, “Vin Scelsa’s Fare Thee Well Concert,” on June 8.
*Pat St. John, meanwhile, came out of Detroit (CKLW, WKNR and WRIF) before transferring within ABC to land at WPLJ in 1973. He became a fixture there in afternoons, surviving the big 1983 shift from rock to top-40 before leaving in 1987 to spend more than a decade at WNEW-FM. In his time at 102.7, St. John did afternoons, middays and even mornings for a few years, as well as some time in the PD chair. When WNEW-FM went talk in 1998, St. John went to CD Radio, the ancestor of Sirius Satellite Radio, and he’s remained part of the SiriusXM lineup all along. Since 2007, he’s been part of the weekend lineup at WCBS-FM (101.1), but on Sunday he surprised listeners with the news that he’ll be leaving that 3-8 PM shift after his April 12 show so he can move to San Diego to be closer to family there. St. John will continue his voiceover career, and he’ll still be heard on SiriusXM after the move, too.
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*In Boston, it’s been a bad time for veteran personalities at the Greater Media cluster. At WKLB (102.5), a major airstaff shakeup quietly sent afternoon jock Steve Kelly and night guy Keith Stephens out the door after 14 and 17 years, respectively. There’s no replacement at night yet, but there’s a new voice incoming for afternoons: Keven Kennedy joins WKLB from iHeart’s WMOV in Norfolk, Virginia. (WKLB’s battle with iHeart’s “Bull” WBWL in Boston was the focus of a lengthy piece in the Boston Globe Magazine over the weekend, including some insight from your editor.)
Down the hall at WMJX (106.7), Candy O’Terry has been a part of “Magic” for almost a quarter of a century, starting off as a secretary to the PD and eventually rising to assistant PD and “Morning Magic” co-host. O’Terry has used her WMJX platform as a voice for Boston’s women, creating and hosting the “Extraordinary Women” public affairs show on weekends. For all that, O’Terry says she couldn’t come to terms with Greater Media on a renewal when her contract expired, and so without much fanfare she departed “Morning Magic” after Friday’s show, leaving David O’Leary as solo morning host.
“Candy O” says she’ll focus now on a children’s book she’s been writing and a CD she’s about to release, but she dropped some pretty big hints along the way that she’s not done with radio yet, which leads us into the world of speculation about what might be the next big format change in Boston.
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 31, 2014
*It’s been a brutal winter for most of us across NERW-land, with snowstorm following on snowstorm well into what really should be spring by now. Until this past weekend, though, all those winter storms had caused not much more than inconvenience to broadcasters. But early Sunday morning, the weather claimed two towers in western MASSACHUSETTS, silencing two FM signals and wreaking havoc with a third FM signal that was just days away from signing on for the first time.
It happened on Florida Mountain, up by the famous hairpin curve where Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail) drops down from the Berkshire hills into North Adams. At about 2:30 in the morning, some combination of ice, rain, wind and heavy loading sent the 150-foot self-supporting tower holding cellular and public safety antennas and the antennas of translator W266AW (101.1 North Adams) and the new WNNI (98.9 Adams) toppling, and that tower’s collapse snagged the guy wires of the neighboring guyed tower of WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams), bringing that tower down as well.
WUPE-FM (formerly WMNB-FM) was by far the oldest FM up here, having signed on back in 1964. In 2006, public station WFCR (88.5 Amherst) put W266AW on the air from the self-supporting tower, and in the last few weeks engineers were busy building out WNNI, the latest link in the news-and-information chain based at WFCR’s sister station WNNZ (640 Westfield).
On his EngineeringRadio.us blog, our friend Paul Thurst had just posted some photos and a story about the filtering he was installing to prevent any intermodulation products between WNNI and WUPE-FM. WFCR chief engineer Charles Dubé reports he was only a week or so away from signing WNNI on for the first time, a plan that’s obviously changed now. (Late on Sunday, Paul also posted his own pictures of the collapse on his blog, as well as a WWLP-TV news story about the incident.)
*In CANADA‘s capital city, today is the relaunch of Corus’ CKQB (106.9 Ottawa) – but it won’t be “Fresh 106.9,” as had been widely expected. Even before Corus officially took over “The Bear” from the Bell/Astral merger, we knew the rock format was going to be replaced by an upbeat contemporary format.
Whether “Fresh” was a deliberate smokescreen or just a placeholder, it’s not the new nickname that 106.9 will be using starting at 8:00 this morning. Instead, our content partners at RadioInsight picked up on Corus’ registration of several “Jump” domains and social media handles.
The new “Jump” enters a very crowded landscape of top-40 and hot AC radio in the market, including Rogers’ CISS (Kiss 105.3), Bell’s CJMJ (Majic 100.3) and Newcap’s CIHT (Hot 89.9) – and that’s just on the English-language side of this busy market!
*NEW HAMPSHIRE‘s first TV station celebrated a big anniversary last week. WMUR (Channel 9) signed on from an old mansion at 1819 Elm Street on March 28, 1954, and 60 years later it marked the occasion with an hourlong special taking viewers inside its current state-of-the-art newsroom.
The Hearst-owned ABC affiliate, which dominates its state in a way few other stations can, has a page up with historic video and interviews with station alumni, and we’re hoping the full special gets posted there soon, too.
Five Years Ago: March 29, 2010
The newest talk station in MASSACHUSETTS has named its first local host. Clear Channel’s “Rush Radio 1200” (WXKS Newton) launched ahead of schedule a few weeks ago, rushing to the airwaves to keep its namesake talker on the air in Boston after Rush’s contract with longtime home WRKO (680) ended. Now WXKS has raided the WRKO talent stable once more, naming Jeff Katz as its 5-9 AM host beginning April 5. Katz is no stranger to Boston talk listeners, having worked as WRKO’s evening host in 1997, then as morning co-host (alongside Darlene McCarthy) from December 1997 until September 1999.
Katz moved around after that, spending time (and stirring controversy) in Las Vegas (at KXNT), Philadelphia (WPHT) and Charlotte (WBT) before landing at his most recent stop, WFTL (850 West Palm Beach) in south Florida, where he’s been doing afternoons. Along the way, Katz has also been a frequent fill-in host at WRKO; indeed, he was last heard doing fill-in for Howie Carr just a couple of weeks ago. Will the addition of local talk help Rush Radio make a dent against WRKO and Greater Media’s WTKK? No doubt the next few months of ratings will be closely watched to see whether there’s room for three conservative talk stations to survive. (NERW wonders, meanwhile, whether a successful Katz show might end up being syndicated to other Clear Channel talkers in neighboring markets such as Providence, Worcester, Manchester and the New Hampshire seacoast, especially given the limited reach of WXKS’ own signal…)
We’ll have more “Baseball on the Radio” next week – but this week, a quick bit of “Soccer on the Radio”: the New England Revolution opened this season over the weekend on a new home, shifting to CBS’ WBZ-FM (98.5) from Entercom’s WEEI (850). The move puts Bob Kraft’s other team on the same station that’s flagship to the New England Patriots, as well as alleviating occasional conflicts between Revolution and Red Sox games that dispatched the soccer play-by-play (simulcast with Comcast SportsNet TV coverage) to WEEI’s sister station WRKO.
On TV, Mary Richardson is leaving WCVB (Channel 5) after three decades, most of it spent as co-host of “Chronicle,” where she recently marked her 25th anniversary. Richardson hasn’t announced a formal departure date.
Down the dial at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), chief meteorologist Ken Barlow had no such luxury: he was abruptly sent packing last week, four years after he came to Boston from KARE-TV in Minneapolis. Barlow tells the Herald he came to Boston to look after his mother after his father’s death – and that it’s been a particularly bad few weeks, since his brother was killed in a car accident recently. Todd Gutner, who’s been moving up the ranks from weekends to mornings, takes over from Barlow on the evening newscasts while newcomer Melissa Mack (formerly at Cleveland’s WJW) takes over mornings and WBZ veteran Barry Burbank remains on weekend duty.
One of NEW YORK’s longest-running morning personalities is out of a job. John Bell was part of the founding staff at WHTZ (100.3 Newark NJ) when Z100 signed on way back in 1983, and for 27 years he remained a cornerstone of the station’s morning show even as its stars and musical directions shifted. As of last Thursday, “John Bell’s Stupid News” and other features are history, and while Z100 management initially announced that it had been Bell’s decision to leave the Elvis Duran morning show’s cast, Bell quickly contradicted that, telling his Facebook fans that he’d in fact been fired. So far, there’s no word on where Bell might be headed next; here’s hoping that this versatile talent finds a new home on the New York airwaves soon.
Northeast PENNSYLVANIA’s newest talk station debuted last Tuesday. WTRW (94.3 Carbondale) is the former WLNP, now under the ownership of Bold Gold, and it’s now “94.3 the Talker,” with a lineup that’s all-satellite so far: Don Imus, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and so on.
Ten Years Ago: March 28, 2005
The rumor mill in PENNSYLVANIA has been flying for a while now about changes at Greater Media’s “Mix” WMWX (95.7 Philadelphia), and it’ll probably be spinning even faster after last Monday’s format change at the station found it flipping to the “we play anything” hot AC/classic hits mix that’s known elsewhere as “Jack,” “Bob,” or a host of other names. To the strains of Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,” WMWX unveiled its new identity as “Ben FM” (as in Franklin, of course) – and it’s no surprise that the new format is running jockless for now, with morning team Joe Mama and Kim Douglas, midday jock Charlie Maxx and afternoon jock Brian Murphy all out the door. Can “Ben” do what “Mix,” “Jammin’ Gold” and “Max” have all failed to do, making 95.7 a contender as a pop-music station after decades as classical WFLN-FM?
(We can guess, in any case, what the calls won’t be – WBEN is a heritage AM callsign in Buffalo, belonging to Greater Media’s Philadelphia-based rivals at Entercom….) 2010 note: we guessed wrong! Greater licensed the calls from Entercom and 95.7 has been WBEN-FM ever since…
In the Hudson Valley, it’s the end of “The Cat” at WCTW (98.5 Catskill), as the AC station adopts Clear Channel’s favorite new branding and becomes “98.5 Lite FM.” The move gives the company three “Lites” between Albany and New York: WCTW serving Columbia and Greene counties, WPKF (99.3 Ellenville) serving Orange and Sullivan counties and WRNQ (92.1 Poughkeepsie) serving Ulster and Dutchess counties.
In NEW JERSEY, former WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) morning host Jay Sorensen will be back on the air this week, taking over mornings at WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin), the station he helped to sign on way back in 1976. Sorensen replaces Spyder, who moves to nights at WJRZ, where he replaces the departed Mark Matthews.
The news from MASSACHUSETTS is largely about the engineers this week, and nowhere more so than at Steve Silberberg’s WXRV (92.5 Haverhill). “The River” asked the FCC last week to move its class B allocation from Haverhill down the Merrimack River to Andover, where 92.5 would be the first local service, now that Phillips Andover’s WPAA (91.7) has been deleted. Even from its present tower site in Haverhill, WXRV is short-spaced to WBOS (92.9 Boston), WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence) and WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury CT), but because all of those stations have been on the air since before the present spacing rules were adopted in 1964, WXRV has some flexibility when it comes to a potential tower site move – there’s no need at all to protect WBOS, and the current levels of interference to WPRO-FM and WWYZ can’t be increased. That still gives WXRV some wiggle room to use a directional antenna to move south, though that would come at the expense of the station’s excellent southern NEW HAMPSHIRE signal.
In Boston, Radio One’s WILD (1090) has filed an application to move from the tower on Corporation Way in Medford that’s been its home ever since the station signed on (as WBMS) in the late forties. The tower was threatened a few years ago by the planned Telecom City development, but it won a reprieve for a few years after the telecom bust. Now the land around the tower is slated for residential development, and WILD wants to move a few hundred yards south to diplex on one of the two towers of WXKS (1430 Everett), next to the Wellington T station. WILD would go from 5000 watts day/1000 watts critical hours at its current site to 4800 watts day/1900 watts critical hours from the WXKS site, still non-directional.
Fifteen Years Ago: March 24, 2000
Less than a year after assembling a mega-group in the northern suburbs of New York, Aurora Broadcasting turned around this week and sold its CONNECTICUT and NEW YORK stations to Nassau Broadcasting for almost twice what the company paid. Here’s what Nassau gets for its $185 million: AC WEBE (107.9 Westport) and full-service WICC (600 Bridgeport), for which Aurora paid $66 million last April. WEBE is a full class B, and WICC (despite only 1 kW day and 500 watts night) has an outstanding signal over Long Island Sound and vicinity. Rocker WRKI (95.1 Brookfield), oldies WAXB (105.5 Patterson NY), and standards simulcast WINE (940 Brookfield) and WPUT (1510 Brewster NY), which Aurora picked up in July for $11.5 million. WRKI is the real prize here; between its full-B signal and boosters on the Connecticut shoreline, it blankets Fairfield County and vicinity. WAXB and the two AMs serve Danbury and environs. AC simulcast WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains) and WFAF (106.3 Mount Kisco), and news-talk WFAS (1230 White Plains), covering affluent Westchester County. Aurora paid $20 million for the three (including 106.3, which was then smooth jazz WZZN) in late April 1999.
While Aurora and principal Frank Washington walk away, by NERW’s math, with an $88.5 million profit on their $97 million investment, it’s not a bad deal for Nassau, either. That’s because the Westchester and Connecticut stations go a long way towards Nassau’s goal of ringing New York city with a solid chain of suburban clusters. It’s something the company is already doing in New Jersey, where it dominates markets from the Jersey shore all the way through Princeton and Trenton to the Poconos to Port Jervis, New York. The only piece of the ring still missing is Long Island, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Nassau make a move there eventually.
The other bit of Nutmeg State news involves Prayze FM, the 105.3 pirate in Bloomfield that’s been on and off the air since 1996. The commercial religious station’s operator, Mark Blake, was in federal court in New York City Wednesday for oral arguments in his lawsuit against the FCC. While the AP’s Connecticut bureau seems to think that Prayze’s continued operation will give it a “low priority” for an LPFM license, we here at NERW know better — under the rules as they now stand, Blake will be ineligible for LPFM (which is just as well, as far as he’s concerned; he says he can’t run Prayze non-commercially). Much more on LPFM later on in this week’s issue…
The upstate NEW YORK TV dial continues to spin, as Ackerley buys yet again. Earlier this month, we reported on the company’s purchase of WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira, adding NBC service in Elmira and Binghamton to the company’s cluster of ABC stations in Binghamton, Syracuse, Rochester, and Utica. Now comes word that Smith Broadcasting, the seller of WETM, is also selling Watertown’s ABC affiliate, WWTI (Channel 50), to Ackerley. Ackerley takes over via an LMA April 1, with the deal to close later this year. Smith keeps the Fox affiliation for Watertown, moving it from a secondary status on WWTI to primary status on two LPTVs, W25AB Watertown and W28BC Massena, both of which had been WWTI relays.
Elsewhere in the Empire State, we have a handful of call changes to report, starting in Rockland County at what was WLIR (1300 Spring Valley). The standards outlet, which has absorbed many of the local hosts who used to work at crosstown WRKL, changes to WRCR (we assume that’s for “Rockland County Radio”) and eliminates the confusion with separately-owned WLIR-FM (92.7 Garden City), whose modern AC signal reaches Rockland fairly well.
Elsewhere in New England, it’s been the quietest of quiet weeks. On the call-change front, Steve Mindich applies for WFEX for what’s now WNHQ (92.1 Peterborough NH), as the station enters Phoenix Media Group ownership and a simulcast with WFNX Lynn-Boston. Down in Rhode Island, Citadel gets new calls for its rock simulcast: WZRI replaces WHKK on 100.3 Middletown, while WZRA supplants WHCK on 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale (ex-WXEX, WDGE, and WUAE).
Twenty Years Ago: April 3, 1995