In this week’s issue… With WMEX out, who’s in for Rush in Boston? – Remembering Vermont’s Marselis Parsons – Oldies AM to flip – New FMs in greater Toronto, Montreal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
We’re a community.
*When last week’s NERW went online, it seemed reasonable to speculate that Rush Limbaugh’s second (and apparently quite final) exit from Boston’s WRKO (680) would be followed by a swift move up the dial to WMEX (1510), the upstart talker that seemed to be in dire need of a high-profile name to pull listeners away from their longtime radio habits.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a new clearance for Premiere’s flagship talker in what’s been one of his more challenging big markets: the new operators at WMEX were quick to declare that they, too, weren’t interested in being in the Rush Limbaugh business.
We’ll get to WMEX and its new lineup in a moment, but first a few more words about what’s happening with Limbaugh: We’d speculated last week that the big problem was the amount Premiere has to charge stations to pay for the $38 million or so it pays the host each year. Now we have some hard numbers to go with that speculation, thanks to former Clear Channel talk executive Darryl Parks. In a commentary posted on Tuesday, Parks says WRKO was paying about $500,000 a year in rights fees for Limbaugh, then giving up an additional $700,000 or so in barter inventory to Premiere during Rush’s three midday hours and his “Morning Report,” for a total of $1.2 million a year in value being spent for the show.
Within the Premiere/iHeart family, that essentially amounts to money being taken out of one pocket and placed in the other, at least so long as most iHeart talkers are under a corporate mandate to carry (and pay for) Limbaugh. In a market where iHeart walked away from talk, though, WRKO’s blunt refusal to renew the show is a pretty clear message that whatever it might do to boost the station’s revenues, it costs station owner Entercom so much in return that it’s just not worth it anymore.
Which brings us back around to WMEX and the plans its new operator, Daly XXL, is making for the latest attempt to revive what’s been a very troubled address on the Boston dial. Tomorrow will see the launch of two new shows in key dayparts: as we told you last week, YouTube star Joe Ligotti will take the 6-10 AM shift – and now his former WTKK (96.9) talk colleague Michelle McPhee will join him there in afternoon drive. In the noon-3 PM slot that could have been Limbaugh’s, though, WMEX believes it’s found a better answer: a host whose history is more rock-n-roll than political talk, and one with a long-established local following…
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: June 2, 2014
*If Dave Herman had died a year ago, our obituary here on NERW would have been unequivocal: we’d have mourned the loss of a NEW YORK radio legend, one of the pioneering voices of freeform FM radio. If Dave Herman had died a year or two from now, we’d have been able to say unequivocally either that he’d been convicted of soliciting a young girl, or that he’d been acquitted of those federal charges.
But Herman’s death on Wednesday, in a New Jersey hospital where he was taken from the jail where he was awaiting a July trial date, leaves his legacy in a sort of eternal limbo. The 78-year-old DJ had been aggressively fighting the charges, claiming (through his lawyers) that he’d been set up by an undercover agent posing as a 36-year-old mother. After flirting online with the fictional mother for more than a year, Herman was arrested at a Virgin Islands airport last October, with federal agents saying he’d been attempting to get the “mother” to bring her fictional seven-year-old daughter to St. Croix.
Ugly stuff, of course, and even the most passionate fans of Herman’s long radio career couldn’t help but have their memories of his FM days tarnished by the tabloid headlines. Herman’s lawyers say the stress of fighting those charges contributed to the aneurysm that took his life.
So we’re left with that dark cloud of unanswered questions floating over what had been one of the brightest careers in FM rock radio. Herman’s progressive FM career started at Metromedia’s WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia), where he created the “Marconi Experiment” freeform radio in the late 1960s. He soon moved to New York, initially for a short stint at WABC-FM (95.5) before settling in at Metromedia’s WNEW-FM (102.7) by 1972, becoming a morning institution for almost two decades. As WNEW began its long, slow fade, Herman departed for WXRK (92.3) in 1991, returning to WNEW for another brief stint from 1997-1999. After WNEW’s final break from rock and roll, Herman programmed eYada.com, an early experiment with online talk radio that was many years before its time. In retirement, he’d been splitting his time between a home in Airmont, Rockland County and the Virgin Islands, where he was arrested last October.
*When Clear Channel bought WOR (710) from Buckley, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the talent who’d made the station a solidly middle-of-the-road talk signal for Rick Buckley would be ousted in favor of a more politicized, high-energy brand of talk aimed at a younger audience. As of this past weekend, the last piece of the Buckley talk legacy is gone from 710 with the end of Joan Hamburg’s long run at WOR.
Hamburg was a midday staple on the old WOR, offering up a politics-free advice show, and while that sort of talk had no place on the weekday lineup with Clear Channel, she survived for the last year and a half in a weekend 10 AM-noon slot. Now that’s gone, and the 35-year WOR veteran follows names like John Gambling out the door, replaced by an extra two hours of a paid financial advice show.
*An AM/FM tower site is soon to be on the move in New Bedford, MASSACHUSETTS, where state officials hope to reclaim much of the land now used by Hall Communications’ WNBH (1340) and WCTK (98.1) for a new port facility. The tall cranes that will be used at the port can’t easily coexist with the WNBH AM signal, and the Standard-Times reports (in a story typical for its lack of actual understanding of engineering issues) that the state and Hall have agreed to relocate WNBH to a shorter tower on city-owned land near St. Mary’s Cemetery. That plan will be formally unveiled at a public hearing on Tuesday. As for WCTK, it will remain at the current site off MacArthur Boulevard, but the plan is to relocate from its existing 580-foot tower to a new replacement at the southwest corner of the four-acre site now owned by Hall, clearing the rest of the land for the port’s South Terminal. WNBH and WCTK have been at the current site since the mid-1970s, when they relocated from the longtime AM site on Crow Island, in New Bedford Harbor to the east of the current location.
Five Years Ago: May 31, 2010
On a slow holiday week in the U.S., we start this week’s abbreviated edition of NERW north of the border, where CANADA’s capital city has a new radio station. Astral Media’s CJOT (99.7 Ottawa) began testing a few weeks back, and last Thursday (May 27) it launched officially as the latest outlet of Astral’s “EZ Rock” brand. The station’s airstaff includes the “EZ Breakfast Show” with Neil Hedley (late of New England radio, including stops at Connecticut’s WWYZ and WRKI and Metro Networks in Hartford), Stephanie “Viv” Vivier (most recently at CIQM in London) and Steve Kennedy; they’re followed by Renee Madden in middays and Sarah Kay and Jeff Kelly in afternoons.
In Quebec City, the CRTC rejected three proposals for new FM stations: on 105.7, Michel Cloutier proposed a French-language jazz/blues station, while Evanov Communications proposed a French-language contemporary easy listening station. Evanov also proposed a new English-language station on 105.3. The CRTC agreed with Quebec City’s existing broadcasters that the market lacked the economic vitality to support a new competitor – and in particular that the Anglophone community in Quebec City was too small to support Evanov’s proposed English-language signal, which would therefore have to draw an audience from the Francophone community to survive.
Just like the Memorial Day weekend fun, the news this week from NEW JERSEY is all at the shore. In Barnegat, north of Atlantic City, WBNJ (91.9) makes its official debut tomorrow, programming a mix of standards and oldies.
Down the shore in Cape May, Allied Communications Network Two has been granted a construction permit for a new signal on 91.5. The new 1 kW/63′ station promises a bilingual station serving the area’s Latino community.
Ten Years Ago: May 30, 2005
Even as “Jack FM” and its “adult hits” clones have been invading the English-language radio dial from one coast to the other, Spanish-language radio has been upended in the last year or so by a format that’s being called “Hurban” – a high-energy mix of the Spanish-language rap music called “reggaeton” and hip-hop, usually delivered by bilingual announcers.
On Friday, the format arrived in NEW YORK, as Univision Radio flipped WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ)/WZAA (92.7 Garden City) from “Latino Mix,” the Spanish hits format that had been running on 105.9 for a few years now, to “La Kalle 105.9 y 92.7, hip hop y mas.” The New York format flip follows hot on the heels of recent flips to Hurban in Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, and it’s expected to make WCAA/WZAA a stronger competitor against the big Spanish-language FMs in town (especially SBS’ WSKQ 97.9) – and against English-language top 40 as well, which has been mixing more reggaeton into its playlists of late.
The radio dial in Rochester is a little poorer this week, in two ways. Gary Smith’s retirement from WHAM (1180) closes a 50-year career that’s included stops at WSAY, WVET/WROC, WNYR/WEZO and WVOR. Most recently, Smith had been doing morning traffic on WHAM and tracking middays on sister station WISY (102.3 Canandaigua), as well as plenty of sports announcing for both local pro and college teams. And the death of Katy Abraham ends a career that included 50 years as co-host (with husband Doc Abraham, who died in January) of “The Green Thumb” on WHAM (not to mention a quarter-century on TV at WOKR, now WHAM-TV.) Katy Abraham died Tuesday night (May 24) at her home in Naples, N.Y.; she was 83.
In CANADA, an unusual travelers information station has gone silent. CFYZ (1280) at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport was an unusal station, operating at relatively high power (400 watts) and offering live programming during drive times – but it was also relatively expensive for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to operate. Milkman UnLimited reports that the official word from the GTAA is that “service has been suspended pending exploration of alternatives,” and that listeners are hearing a dead carrier on 1280.
Fifteen Years Ago: June 2, 2000
Two stories out of MASSACHUSETTS this week rekindle our fading fantasies of a world in which full-power broadcasters can work with community radio stations to better serve the public.
We start in Maynard, where high school station WAVM (91.7) was fighting for its survival, with its application to upgrade from class D status pitted against competing 91.7 applications from several religious broadcasters and from UMass/Boston’s WUMB, which hoped to add a 91.7 transmitter in nearby Stow. With a stellar 27-year record of service to its community, WAVM went on the public relations offensive a few months back, rallying support in the newspapers and among lawmakers.
NERW stepped into the fray in our February 25 issue, prompting a response from WUMB general manager Pat Monteith, whose open attitude towards the issue led us to make this observation: “NERW wonders whether, given WAVM’s limited broadcast schedule, some kind of share-time arrangement could be the saving grace here?”
And indeed, it seems to be. Wednesday morning, officials from WUMB and WAVM gathered at Maynard High to announce just such an arrangement, under which WUMB programming will be heard on WAVM whenever students aren’t broadcasting (in practice, all day long except for 6:30-7:30 AM and 2-9 PM weekdays and Sunday mornings during the school year). What’s more, WAVM’s talented students will now be able to do internships at WUMB. Of course, WAVM’s application for a power upgrade to 150 watts will still need FCC approval (against several competing religious satellite-fed applications), but with the political firepower behind the WAVM-WUMB deal (including Congressman Marty Meehan), we suspect the Commission will have some answering to do if the upgrade isn’t granted.
As promising as the WAVM-WUMB compromise is, there’s an even more exciting development bridging the Charles River a few miles to the east. Unlike just about every other commercial broadcaster in the country, WJIB (740 Cambridge) owner Bob Bittner is (gasp!) a fan of the low-power FM movement — and this week he put his license where his mouth is. Starting tomorrow, Bittner is donating his Saturday night airtime (starting at 9PM) to Allston-Brighton Free Radio, Steve Provizer’s micropower community station that’s currently having a hard time being heard on 1580 kHz with its hundred milliwatts of legal power. WJIB will carry ABFR’s hyper-local informational programming, shows like “Boston’s Seniors Count” and “Children’s Health Connection,” bringing them to a far wider audience (even on 740’s little 5-watt night signal!) than the 1580 transmitter can provide.
There’s still more good news to be found in the Bay State: Larry Glick is returning to radio on a regular basis. After paving the way for a comeback with guest appearances on WBZ’s Steve Leveille show and on WMEX (1060 Natick), Glick has signed on with WMEX for a regular Sunday afternoon slot. It’s only an hour — 4 to 5 PM — but that’s an hour more of Glick than Boston listeners have enjoyed for nearly a decade! (Those of us outside WMEX range can listen to the Web feed on www.wmex.com).
Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, there’s some good news from Berlin. Just a few days after going silent, WMOU (1230) returned to the air last weekend with new owners-to-be. Arnold Hanson Jr. and Stephen Griffin, who own a steel company in Berlin, approached owners Bob and Gladys Powell after hearing that WMOU was closing. The Berlin Daily Sun reports that while neither man has any broadcast experience, they didn’t want to lose their community’s only local radio voice. No purchase price was announced.
Up in CANADA, some big changes this week for radio listeners in Fredericton, New Brunswick: The country programming of CKHJ has moved from 105.3 FM to the three-way simulcast (1260 Fredericton, 95.5 New Maryland, 103.5 Oromocto) that was, until last week, hit radio CIHI (aka “C-hi”). Replacing CKHJ on the FM side, as of Thursday morning (6/1), is adult contemporary CFXY-FM (“105FM the Fox”). NERW wonders whether CKHJ’s country audience on FM was diluted by Saint John’s CHSJ-FM, whose 94.1 signal from Mount Champlain has been heard loud and clear in Fredericton for two years now.
Twenty Years Ago: June 1, 1995
WEEI (850, sports, 50kw) has named a new program director — and after weeks of rumors of veterans of WFAN or ESPN Radio coming up here, they ended up hiring in-house. Glenn Ordway has been a p-b-p announcer and talk host with ‘EEI since the 590 days, and now he’s running the show. ‘EEI’s Eddie Andelman did a live show last week from the Strand Theater in Dorchester, with the topic “Racism in Boston Sports.” Former ‘EEI talker Jimmy Myers, who loudly complained about racism when he was fired a few years back, was invited but declined to attend. The audience was VERY small — reportedly just 20 or so.
A veteran WBZ newsman has retired. Darrell Gould left WBZ this month after almost 30 years with the station, and close to four decades in New England radio. Darrell was statehouse correspondent for BZ for many years, and had recently been doing the evening news shift, which is now being filled on a rotating basis by part-timers.
*If you enjoyed hearing BZ’s Gary LaPierre filling in for Paul Harvey earlier this month — you’ll get another chance to hear him this Thursday (June 1). And this time (modesty off) I’m writing for him. So if you don’t like what you hear on the Harvey show this Thursday — you know who to blame.
Imus has moved in the NH seacoast market – from WZNN 930 Rochester to sister station “Mix 96.7,” which changed its calls from WWEM to WSRI, “Soft Rock and Imus.” WZNN now shares a standards show in the morning with sister WMYF 1540 Exeter, then breaks away to satellite AM Only after AM drive. WMYF runs Stardust, but WZNN was not able to simulcast because its signal overlaps with Stardust affil WASR 1420 Wolfeboro NH. After Imus, WSRI has a AAA-modern rock format.
Radio Equity Partners has closed its purchase of WWRX-FM 103.7 (classic rock) Westerly-Providence RI from Bear Broadcasting. R.E.P. already owns WWBB-FM 101.5 (B101, oldies) in Providence. Bear keeps WHIM(AM) (1110, country) in E. Providence, along with WERI(AM) (1230, ac) in Westerly, and a CP for WUAE-FM 99.7 in Wakefield RI.