In this week’s issue… Rush, WRKO part ways – WBEB sale imminent – Remembering a CNY morning legend – LI’s “B” flips – Quinn sidekick lands her own show – “Fun” for a “Rose”
By SCOTT FYBUSH
TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: WRKO is losing Rush Limbaugh – again. After having the syndicated host get pulled away when then-Clear Channel launched “Rush Radio” WXKS (1200), only to return three years ago when that rival talker failed, Premiere Radio Networks now says it can’t come to terms with Entercom on a renewal, and so it will seek another home for Limbaugh this summer. Who’ll end up with Rush in Boston? The odds would seem to favor WMEX (1510), though that barely-third-tier talker is hardly a prestigious spot for the nation’s most prominent conservative radio talk host. More next week…
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*The news last week of a change of control at Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1 More FM) was no surprise to anyone who’s been following NERW or other industry sources for the last few months. As we reported, for instance, back in March:
When (half-owner Jerry) 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?
After a tentative sale earlier this year fell through, Lee’s creditors have now taken control of the station by restructuring the board of Jerry Lee, LLC, the licensee: Zell Credit Opportunities Fund now has three of the five seats on the board, giving it the power to outvote Lee himself – and almost certainly to ready WBEB for another try at a sale so it can recover at least part of what Lee still owes.
So the big question (and, eventually, the big news) will be: who’s in line to be the next owner of what’s long been one of the country’s biggest and most successful standalone stations?
Start by ruling out iHeart Media: with five FMs already in its Philadelphia portfolio, it has no space under the ownership cap to add a sixth. By itself, CBS Radio’s cluster of four FMs and two AMs wouldn’t be capped – but adding in the two TV stations (KYW-TV and WPSG) owned by CBS takes them to the cap as well, at least until the spectrum auction and possible sale of the WPSG license. Having just recently exited FM in Philadelphia, it’s unlikely Beasley would turn around and add WBEB to its three AMs, though it would give the company an AC monopoly alongside its WJBR (99.5) in Wilmington, Delaware, which puts a strong signal into much of Philadelphia. It’s even less likely that Radio One would have the money to buy WBEB to get a fourth FM in town, especially since it wouldn’t likely keep the AC format if it did.
Among existing cluster owners in or near the market, then, that leaves two viable possibilities. With four FMs (rock WMMR, adult hits WBEN-FM, sports WPEN and classic rock WMGK), Greater Media has space under the cap for WBEB, a nice demographic hole that an AC format could fill in a lineup that’s otherwise very male-leaning – and lots of in-house experience in running successful ACs such as Boston’s WMJX. Then there’s Connoisseur Media, which has been on a big expansion kick in the last few years, including the Nassau acquisition that gave it signals in several adjacent markets to Philadelphia including the Lehigh Valley and Trenton, where its WPST (94.5) already more than rimshots Philly.
There’s also EMF Broadcasting, which already acquired one big Philly signal not long ago in the form of WKVP (106.9 Camden NJ), the former Merlin-owned WWIQ. Would it move Air 1 to 106.9 and install its flagship K-Love on the even bigger 101.1 signal?
Outside the market, there are only a few players big enough right now to take on what’s still likely to be at least a $40-50 million purchase. Larry Wilson’s Alpha group has been on a buying spree in recent months (including this week’s pickup of Morris Communications’ radio stations), though not in markets quite as big as Philadelphia. A WBEB purchase would signal that Alpha is ready to play in the biggest of the big leagues, especially with Wilson rumored to be considering an IPO. There’s Entercom, of course, which is based in the Philadelphia market but doesn’t own anything there. Would the company settle for a standalone FM just to be able to have a hometown flagship? Or could WBEB end up as a chip in a larger deal involving Entercom’s long-delayed acquisition of Lincoln Financial’s Miami and Denver stations – and then, perhaps, some trades involving CBS and Alpha?
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*WBEB’s change of control wasn’t the only move on that part of the dial in eastern PENNSYLVANIA. Over in Lancaster, Hall relaunched WROZ (101.3 Lancaster) on Thursday at noon, dumping its “Rose” moniker after more than two decades to become “Fun 101.3,” with a little newer music and a slightly harder edge.
Hall’s changes also include some personnel: morning co-host Bryan Jordan heads to sister station WKNL (100.9 New London, CONNECTICUT) to take over afternoons there, leaving Dennis Mitchell and Michelle Cruz as a two-person team.
*Why didn’t Jim Quinn take his longtime on-air partner, Rose Tennant, to his new syndicated show? We know now that the answer is “The Answer” – as in, Tennant’s new gig at Salem’s WPGP (1250 Pittsburgh), which launched late last Tuesday night to replace the former Radio Disney WDDZ.
Tennant’s 8-10 AM shift at WPGP is the new talker’s sole local show. The rest of its schedule is standard-issue Salem talk: Bill Bennett 6-8 AM, Mike Gallagher 10-noon, Dennis Prager noon-3, Michael Medved 3-6 PM, Mark Levin (from Westwood One) 6-9 PM and Hugh Hewitt 9-midnight.
It didn’t take the WQEW callsign long to land again along the Northeast Corridor: after two decades on 1560 in New York, “WQEW-LP” is now attached to one of the shared-time 98.5 construction permits in Philadelphia, this one belonging to the Greater Philadelphia Asian Cultural Center, Ltd.
*In central NEW YORK, the name Joe Galuski was synonymous with “morning radio” for most of the last two decades. Galuski, who died Thursday after a lengthy fight with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, came from Buffalo’s WGR (550) to Syracuse’s WSYR (570) in 1988 and moved to mornings in 1998, becoming an institution in the community. He’d been off the air since last fall, with co-hosts Mark Wainwright and Joe Kilpatrick officially on the roster as “fill-ins” while WSYR and the region hoped for his recovery. Sadly, he took a turn for the worse just after his family posted a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his treatment last week. Galuski was 64.
Another chapter in the long, sad story of Robert Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines bankruptcy is closing. Bankruptcy receiver Richard Foreman oversaw the sale of Pfuntner’s Elmira stations to Gordy Ichikawa’s Tower Broadcasting LLC a few months ago (after several false starts), and now Ichikawa is adding Pfuntner’s AM/FM combo in Bath to his new cluster. Tower will pay $375,000 for class A WVIN (98.3 Bath), which does AC as “V98,” and sports-talk WABH (1380 Bath), acquiring the stations’ tower sites as well as their licenses. Pfuntner, who once had an extensive chain of stations across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes, is now down to just one station, WQRW (93.5 Wellsville).
Over in Ithaca, the FCC has once again ruled against the FLAIM group that’s spearheaded a series of challenges to Saga’s mammoth cluster of stations. FLAIM (Finger Lakes Alliance for Independent Media) argued that even though Saga was acting within the letter of the law when it added WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) and three more translators to its existing cluster of two AMs, three FMs and six translators, it was operating outside the spirit of the law with its dominance of the marketplace. The Commission disagreed, granting Saga its license renewals and telling FLAIM that if it’s unhappy with the loopholes Saga exploited (dropping then-Arbitron ratings in 2010 meant Saga could add a fourth FM under contour-overlap methodology), it should file a petition for rulemaking to eliminate the loophole. The FCC also denied FLAIM’s attempt to get the Saga stations renewed for only a two-year term. For FLAIM, this is just the most recent setback at the FCC; it has also filed, without success, against Saga’s earlier acquisition of WIII (99.9 Cortland) and the modification of several other translators in Ithaca.
Up north, Martz Communications has dropped CBS Sports Radio at WPDM (1470 Potsdam), replacing it with “Superstar Country” and branding only with its 100.1 FM translator frequency. The country format complements the 80s pop on sister station WSNN (99.3 Potsdam) and goes up against a former Martz station, the now-Stephens Media-owned WNCQ (102.9 Canton).
*On Long Island, Connoisseur relaunched WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) on Friday morning, and as significant as the new name – “103.1 Max FM” replaces “B103” – is the new airstaff lineup at the rock-leaning classic hits station. Jim Douglas, the Long Island veteran who’d been spending some time in mornings at CBS Radio’s WWFS (Fresh 102.7) in New York, is back on the air doing mornings at WBZO, displacing Jim O’Brien. Another Long Island veteran, Ralph Tortora, becomes PD and afternoon jock, while OM Patrick Shea is doing middays. Former WBZO afternoon host “Wiseman” moves down the hall to become morning host at sister stations WHLI (1100)/WALK (1370).
(And the “Max” name? That’s a reference to the recent technical changes that took WBZO from directional to non-directional operation, albeit still as a class A; new Connoisseur sister WDRC-FM 102.9 Hartford went DA to protect the new WBZO signal.)
In the Hudson Valley, Mark West has officially departed WALL (1340 Middletown), where he’d been leasing time to do an oldies morning show even after the rest of the station’s format went to Spanish hits. Now it’s 24/7 Spanish on WALL after West did his last show May 6.
LPFMs in action: in Rochester’s eastern suburbs, WZNY-LP (98.3 Fairport) is now on the air, carrying Christian AC music as “Z-98.3” from the Fairport water tower.
Radio People on the Move: In New York, WWFS (102.7 Fresh FM) is looking for a new afternoon drive after parting ways with “Dylan” (formerly “Dead Air Dave” from Sirius), who’d been one of the longer-serving members of the airstaff at the CBS Radio outlet.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Boston’s “Bull” has a new night guy: Colton Bradford comes to WBWL (101.7 Lynn) from an iHeart sister station, WKSJ in Mobile, where he was the morning show producer and evening DJ. In Boston, he replaces Scotty K, who moves to weekends and fill-in duty.
*There’s a new “Fresh FM” in CANADA, where Corus spread its brand north of Toronto to CHAY (93.1 Barrie), which segued from “Chay Today” to “Fresh 93.1” on Friday afternoon at 5. This is the second time CHAY has dropped its callsign from its branding; back in 2000, it spent a few years doing dance as “Energy 93.1” before returning to its AC roots.
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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: May 19, 2014
*More than seven years after NERW first broke the news that Clear Channel was trying to sell WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) and WALK (1370 Patchogue) on Long Island, the stations are finally heading to new owners as part of a complex swap that also shakes up the radio scene out to the northeast on Cape Cod.
It was way back in December 2006 when we posted an exclusive report that WALK/WALK-FM would have to be spun off as part of Clear Channel’s conversion from a publicly-traded to a private company, ending the grandfathering that had allowed Clear to keep WALK alongside its market-capped cluster of five FMs in New York City proper. (WALK-FM’s Suffolk County-based signal didn’t overlap with the New York City FMs under the FCC’s old contour-based methodology, but the switch to using Arbitron markets mean that WALK, as part of the Nassau-Suffolk market embedded within the larger New York City market, now counts against the New York market cap.)
As a result, Clear Channel shifted WALK/WALK-FM to the Aloha Station Trust…and there the stations have remained. While Aloha was intended to be a divestiture trust, merely a temporary waystation before the stations moved on to a competing owner, there didn’t seem to be any urgency on the part of either Clear Channel or the FCC to move things forward. Long Island competitor Connoisseur complained in 2012, when Clear Channel added WOR (710 New York) to its cluster, that the WOR transfer should have been conditioned on the full divestiture of WALK, but the Commission didn’t see a need to impose that condition.
And now Connoisseur will end up owning the WALK stations, thanks to the deal announced Thursday. It plays out like this, at least in its initial phases: Clear Channel will swap WALK/WALK-FM to Frank Osborn’s Qantum Communications in an even exchange for Qantum’s 29 stations in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and on Cape Cod, where Qantum’s founding purchase back in 2003 was the $32 million purchase of Al Makkay’s three-FM cluster, augmented in 2005 with the $21.3 million purchase of four more FMs from Boch Broadcasting. (More on that cluster in a moment.)
But Qantum won’t keep the Long Island stations: it will turn right around and sell them (for an as-yet-undisclosed price) to Connoisseur, which will get to combine soft AC WALK(AM) and AC WALK-FM with its existing cluster that includes classic rock “Shark” WWSK (94.3 Huntington), AC WKJY (98.3 Hempstead), classic hits WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) and standards WHLI (1100 Hempstead). Adding the WALK cluster to the existing Connoisseur group will turn central Long Island into a two-owner market, with the bulk of the revenue going either to the combined Connoisseur/WALK cluster or to Cox’s potent duo, rocker WBAB (102.3 Babylon) and hot AC WBLI (106.1 Patchogue).
*Just off the Cape, as Martha’s Vineyard’s WMVY prepares to return to terrestrial radio, it’s hoping to do so with an even bigger signal than it had in its days on 92.7 (now WBUR public radio relay WBUA). Barbara Dacey’s “Friends of MVY” group has kept the station going as a webcast, and they’re buying what’s now WMEX (88.7 Edgartown) from Dennis Jackson’s Vineyard Public Radio – but instead of the current 250 watts/216′ signal from Oak Bluffs or the pending CP for 580 watts/272′ from the old WMVY tower behind the studio on Carrolls Lane in Tisbury, WMEX is now applying for a big 12 kW/272′ DA, with only a minor directional notch reducing the signal toward Rhode Island and the South Coast. Even with the DA notch, the new 88.7 version of WMVY will still have a more potent reach than they did on the old 3 kW/315′ 92.7 signal.
Five Years Ago: May 17, 2010
A familiar morning voice in NEW YORK’s Hudson Valley is once again off the air at WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie). John Tobin left WPDH in 2001 to move north to Albany, where he worked at WPYX (106.5) and WOFX (980), but he came back to Poughkeepsie in 2006, where he’s most recently been half of the “Coop and Tobin Morning Show” alongside Mark Cooper. Tobin resigned from the station last Monday morning after the show, later writing on a Facebook fan page that he’d “been without a contract since June of 2008 because of corporate game-playing” – and that he “was being paid the same as I was in 2006 even though the ratings were in the stratosphere.” For now, Cooper’s handling the morning show along with sidekicks Kricket and Deuce while WPDH searches for a new co-host.
Radio People on the Move in MASSACHUSETTS: Bernice Corpuz, whose resume includes afternoon news at WZID (95.7 Manchester NH) and more recently morning news anchoring at WCAP (980 Lowell), is leaving the Lowell station to become a full-time member of the news staff at Boston’s WBZ (1030). In a particularly classy move, WCAP owner Clark Smidt is running on-air promos congratulating Corpuz on her move to the bigger station…and how often do you hear that? (Your editor is thinking he was the last to make that WCAP-to-WBZ move, some 18 years ago; there were quite certainly no on-air promos about it at the time.)
Ten Years Ago: May 16, 2005
A PENNSYLVANIA morning team returns to the air today after a contentious absence. The “Preston and Steve” show has been off the airwaves since February 24, when Radio One pulled the plug on modern rock “Y100” (WPLY 100.3 Media), sending Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison packing along with the rest of the staff. Elliot and Morrison had already reached a deal to move to Greater Media’s WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia) before the end of Y100, and the station’s demise sent the duo to court to try to get out of their six-month noncompete deal with Radio One, a wish that was granted last week.
With Preston & Steve’s arrival at WMMR comes the departure of the “Philly Guys” morning show; in a note to listeners on WMMR’s website, PD Bill Weston writes, “We recognize the individual talents that made up the Philly Guys. It’s also the right combination of talents that is key to a successful morning show. This ‘chemistry’ and/ or complementary aspect was lacking in the Philly Guys.” Philly Guys cast member Joe Conklin stays with WMMR to produce comedy bits, while Gina Crash and Vinnie the Crumb are out the door.
And there’s a call change in Scranton that marks the end of a very long tradition in the market: Entercom flipped WGBI (910 Scranton) to WBZU last week, the first call change for that station in some 80 years. The WBZU calls are being parked as the result of a format change in Madison, Wisconsin (where the former WBZU 105.1 is now “Charlie” WCHY), much as sister station WKZN (1300 West Hazleton) is parking calls last used in New Orleans. For listeners, WBZU and WKZN will still be known as “WILK,” simulcasting the “WILK News-Talk Network” from WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre); it’s been quite a few years since the WGBI calls made much impact in the market.
Fifteen Years Ago: May 20, 2000
Boston’s daytime-only urban AM station, WILD (1090), is about to join the fastest-growing urban station group in the country. Radio One, which entered the market last year with its purchase of Brockton’s WBOT (97.7), is entering a time-brokerage agreement that will put WBOT under WILD’s Dudley Square roof.
WILD’s owners, the Nash family, have fought valiantly to keep a successful music format on the 5 kilowatt daytimer in the face of competitors like Clear Channel’s WJMN (94.5) and now WBOT. Despite occasional rumors about deals that would give WILD an FM presence, until now the station has remained AM-only. The deal with Radio One keeps the station’s license in the hands of the Nash family, honoring Bernardine Nash’s promise not to sell the station after the death a few years back of her husband. It is, however, expected to allow Radio One to change the calls of 97.7 to “WILD-FM,” putting the well-known “WILD” brand where most of the format’s listeners now tune. As for format changes on AM 1090? NERW expects the station’s music to start skewing a bit older, with more talk mixed in, but with no real change to the station’s mission of serving Boston’s black community. WILD becomes Radio One’s 50th station nationwide.
Twenty Years Ago: May 18, 1995