In this week’s issue… Apple challenges top-40 establishment – Z100’s Kincaid heads west – NY AMs go silent – Shakeup in Philly TV – Sports battle in Montreal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Back in the late 1990s, when then-Clear Channel began propagating brands like “Kiss” and “Mix” into markets from coast to coast, we started wondering how long it would take before those formats might evolve into something truly national. Clear Channel’s evolution into the multiplatform beast called “iHeart” got closer, launching talents like Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest into prime drivetime shifts all over the country, and Cumulus is testing the waters with the even more nationally-focused “Nash” and “Nash Icon” country formats. Radio Disney used AM to put its national product in more than half of all the radio households in the country before switching to streaming as its main platform. Entirely away from the terrestrial broadcast bands, Sirius XM has created national radio in the form of dozens of niche channels – but to the extent it has recognizable personalities, they’re largely refugees from terrestrial radio (hi, Howard!) or celebrities from outside radio extending their brands (howdy, Oprah!)
But as it turns out, what may be the most interesting radio move of the year – and the most dramatic step toward true nationwide “radio” in the old-fashioned personality sense – came last week from a completely non-radio player. But for the transmitter and tower, the new “Beats 1” is unquestionably a radio station, complete with a roster of star DJs in weekday shifts and a bunch of specialty shows hosted by big names such as Elton John.
It’s a model that’s likely to be more familiar to listeners in Europe, inasmuch as it’s unabashedly modeled on the BBC’s national Radio 1 service. Beats 1, however, ups the ante by going after a fully global audience with air talent based in studios in London, Los Angeles and, yes, New York, where Ebro Darden now follows up his morning shift at Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97) with a worldwide airshift on Beats 1.
Can the company that changed the world by putting a universe of personalized audio choices in millions of hands and pockets now find success with a mass-appeal format that’s meant to be a little bit of everything to everyone? We’ll be watching (and borrowing our kids’ Apple devices to listen) as Beats 1 and its sister Apple Music service try to define the next chapter of radio for an audience that hasn’t found a lot of inspiration from “radio” as it now exists.
(Read more thoughts on Beats 1 from our content partner Lance Venta at RadioInsight.com)
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Meanwhile at iHeart, one of its biggest NEW YORK names is making a big – and interesting – move. After nine years at WHTZ (Z100), JJ Kincaid is leaving afternoons and the big city behind to become the new PD and morning man at iHeart’s Denver top-40 station, KPTT (95.7 the Party). At Z100, JJ was a social media innovator, sharing his shift with listeners all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond. He’s also a second-generation radio geek of the highest order (his father, Robert Cohen, had a long career in Boston and later at the Voice of America), and we can’t wait to see what he’ll get himself into in Denver.
We also can’t wait to see who lands in the rare drive-time opening at Z100; iHeart already has a search underway for Kincaid’s replacement.
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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: July 7, 2014
*It’s been quite a few years since Opie and Anthony have been a terrestrial radio story here in NERW. Once the pair, veterans of Boston-market WAAF and New York’s WNEW (102.7), had migrated to the uncensored realm of satellite radio, it looked as though they were set for a long run there, first as XM’s answer to Howard Stern on Sirius, then as in-house competitors after the Sirius/XM merger.
But here they are back in our headlines again, thanks to Anthony Cumia’s Twitter feed, where he unleashed a torrent of invective late one night late last week, aimed at a woman who apparently took offense to Cumia taking pictures in (of all places) Times Square.
Was the tirade an unleashing of racism, or was it merely nasty? The answer is academic – either way, SiriusXM moved quickly to pull Cumia off the air, even though he deleted the flood of tweets from his feed. For now, at least, Cumia’s longtime on-air partner Gregg “Opie” Hughes remains in place on what may or may not still be the “Opie and Anthony Channel.” It’s not yet clear what will become of the channel, or of Hughes – or whether this is the end of a partnership that’s made more than its share of headlines over the years.
*Back on the terrestrial airwaves of NEW YORK, Friday was launch day for Cumulus’ new WNBM (103.9 Bronxville), and it all went down with a minimum of on-air fuss. The automation on the former WFAS-FM wrapped up around midnight as July 3 became July 4, and after a few hours of a ticking clock, “New York’s Best Mix” made its low-key debut at 1:03 PM with a short announcement from PD Ken Johnson, followed by a full weekend of a music mix very heavy on classic R&B.
*Our MASSACHUSETTS news is all about WFNX, in one way or another. The current holder of that storied callsign, on 99.9 out west in Athol, finally wrapped up its “Vote 99.9” format-changing stunt last week by announcing it was sticking with the variety hits it’s been running, renaming itself simply as “WFNX 99.9.”
Meanwhile, the historic WFNX, the 101.7 signal licensed to Lynn that Clear Channel flipped to “Harbor” WHBA, then “Evolution” WEDX, has finally taken the WBWL calls that it was expected to pick up when it flipped to country as “The Bull” a couple of weeks ago.
*It’s not exactly a format change, but Press Communications has once again rebranded a pair of stations at the NEW JERSEY shore. Back in the spring of 2013, Press had flipped AC “Breeze” WWZY (107.1 Long Branch) and its Ocean County simulcast, WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton), to a more hot AC approach as simply “107.1 FM” – but now there’s a brand attached to that frequency, as the stations become “Fun 107.1, More Music, More Fun,” retaining the hot AC format.
Five Years Ago: June 28/July 5, 2010
The NEW YORK State Broadcasters Association inducts some big names into its Hall of Fame tonight at its 48th annual executive conference in Bolton Landing. This year’s class includes two living inductees: WHAM-TV’s veteran anchor Don Alhart (44 years and counting at the same station!) and Jim Roselle of WJTN (1240) in Jamestown, who has even Alhart beat – he’s been with WJTN for 57 years! From the roster of broadcasters we’ve lost, the NYSBA is inducting New York rock radio legend Scott Muni, Dan DeNicola of Albany’s WRGB and New York’s Percy Sutton, longtime owner of WLIB and WBLS – a worthy lineup, indeed.
VERMONT Public Radio is getting ready to bring its classical network service to the Randolph area and to the I-89 corridor through central Vermont. VPR closed on its purchase of WCVR-FM (102.1 Randolph) last week, and it will relaunch the station in early July under new calls WVXR, joining existing full-power VPR Classical signals in the Burlington, Upper Valley and Bennington/Manchester areas.
Ten Years Ago: July 4, 2005
*Citadel never got much respect for its attempt to do a pop-oriented top 40 in central PENNSYLVANIA, and last week the company pulled the plug on “Cool Pop” at WCPP (106.7 Hershey), replacing it on Thursday with soft AC as “Mix 106.7.”
That wasn’t the only change Citadel made in the Harrisburg area; the company also announced that it’s selling WQXA (1250 York) to Wilkins Communications Network, which runs a chain of 10 religious stations that includes WWNL (1080 Pittsburgh). The $250,000 sale has already brought an end to WQXA’s “Real Country” programming, with Wilkins taking over via a time brokerage agreement last Friday.
Over in the State College market, WGMR (101.1 Tyrone) dropped its “Revolution” moniker in favor of “G101,” completing its transition from modern rock to top 40.
*Don’t sound the death knell yet for WSMN (1590) in Nashua, NEW HAMPSHIRE. The station signed off in January after losing its studio and tower site just off Route 3 – but now the license has been purchased, for a reported $250,000, by Tom Monaghan’s Absolute Broadcasting, which also owns WSNH (900 Nashua). Monaghan says he’ll have the station back up and running from a temporary transmitter site by the end of August; NERW wonders whether a replacement for WSMN’s three-tower directional array could ever be built in what’s now a very pricey and NIMBY-prone part of New England…
*In southeastern CONNECTICUT, WSUB (980 Groton) has completed handing off its news-talk format to WXLM (102.3 Stonington), and we’re told the AM side has now flipped to Spanish hits as “Magia 980.”
Fifteen Years Ago: July 7, 2000
Twenty Years Ago: July 1, 1995
*Boston’s number-three public radio outlet, UMass/Boston’s WUMB 91.9, is making some changes to stay CPB-qualified. Starting Monday, WUMB will join WGBH 89.7 and WBUR 90.9 in carrying All Things Considered. ‘GBH carries the show 5-6:30pm, ‘BUR carries it 5-7pm, and ‘UMB will carry the West Coast feed from 7-9pm. Until now, WUMB has been essentially all music, with folk during the day and “Quiet Storm” urban at night. But the station hasn’t been meeting the minimum audience requirements for receiving federal money, so they’re adding ATC in hopes of bringing more listeners over from WBUR and WGBH. WUMB simulcasts on WBPR 91.9 Worcester, and will soon add WFPB 91.9 Falmouth on Cape Cod.
*Meanwhile, not much further up the dial, WLYT 92.5 in Haverhill (30 miles north of Boston) has been quietly edging closer to a AAA format. They’ve dumped the “W-Lite” slogan, and are ID’ing just with calls and frequency. And the music is moving away from generic soft rock and towards the Shawn Colvin-heavy sound of WBOS 92.9. Perhaps ‘LYT is setting itself up to grab audience if WBOS changes format? In any case, despite a weakish signal south and west of Boston, it’s become quite a listenable station.