In this week’s issue… WRCR completes its X-band move – WMEX morning show out – Remembering Ben Tongue, Stan Carew – Sports shakeup in Philly radio
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s a relatively slim NERW issue this week, in part because your editor has been away in Indiana hosting an historic joint convention of four AM/FM/TV DX clubs and in part because we’re still waiting for some big shoes to drop. There’s the possibility of a very big radio cluster sale in NERW-land that hasn’t quite materialized yet, and a new “big 3” TV network affiliation somewhere in the region, too – and if they happen this week, we’ll be on top of them in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. (You’re following us, and signed up for our free email list, right?)
In the meantime, today’s biggest news comes from Rockland County, NEW YORK, where WRCR (1300 Spring Valley) became WRCR (1700 Pomona) at 6 this morning. The move completes an odyssey that’s taken WRCR and its owner, Dr. Alexander Medakovich, nearly a dozen years. Way back in 2003, WRCR filed to make the major change to 1700 as part of the filing window the FCC opened, only to be told that the expanded band was off limits for that window. (That’s part of a never-quite-announced FCC policy decision that has kept the expanded band essentially frozen for the entire 21st century so far.)
Medakovich’s Alexander Communications called in some big political muscle, including local Congressional representatives Nita Lowey and Elliot Engel, to make the case that Rockland’s proximity to the Indian Point nuclear plant, just across the river in Westchester County, made the county a potential terrorist target. With no full-time local signal that covers the county, WRCR argued, the FCC had a good reason to allow the 1700 frequency into the Auction 84 process. With that extra political pressure, the FCC agreed – but that still left another hurdle to overcome, as three other applicants jumped into the auction process. It took a $409,000 bid last year for WRCR to beat out Polnet Communications (owner of Rockland’s other AM, WRKL 910) and lock down the right to build out on 1700.
In the meantime, WRCR’s studios moved from the old Nanuet Mall to the new minor-league ballpark that also houses the Rockland Boulders. Two of its three towers suffered storm damage, leaving the formerly 500-watt daytime signal on 1300 limping along with just 125 watts. And with the help of consulting engineer Tom Ray, Alexander put up a new tower at the 1300 site and began testing the 1700 signal a few weeks ago.
The official launch this morning wasn’t without a few glitches – the station isn’t at its full 10 kW daytime power level yet while it works out some interference issues at its transmitter site, and there was some dead air after the 6 AM ID – but Medakovich and WRCR hope the new signal will help in the ongoing task of reestablishing a local radio voice in a county that hasn’t had much local radio lately. WRKL once held that crown, but that was two decades ago before current owner Polnet bought the station and tried to aim it at ethnic audiences down the Hudson in the big city.
Rockland is a challenging county to serve with local radio, to be sure. It’s covered with strong signals from New York City, 40 miles or so to the south, and its population growth in recent years has come largely from Hasidic Jews, who don’t spend much time with secular media, and from suburbanites who find Rockland a less expensive alternative to Westchester or north Jersey and who don’t much care about local goings-on outside their own school system. Can Medakovich and his WRCR team (led by Steve Possell and Meredyth Glover in the mornings) reverse those trends at the top of the dial? We’re pulling for them.
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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: July 14, 2014
*When a new owner takes over at a heritage radio station, there are usually two ways it can go: if the heritage is worth keeping, the standard “no changes are anticipated” line gets trotted out, usually followed by a few staffing cuts and format tweaks. Or, if bigger changes are called for, away goes all that heritage, replaced by new formats, new station names and a new staff.
And then there’s Connoisseur and CONNECTICUT‘s WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), which dominated the region’s news on a slow post-holiday week by sending nearly its entire staff packing as soon as the ink was dry on the paperwork that closed the sale of the station from Buckley last Monday. From general manager Eric Fahnoe (a Buckley son-in-law) down through nearly the entire airstaff and a big chunk of the support staff, Connoisseur kept little of the old WDRC-FM in place once its managers were done with the Monday morning meeting.
Among the casualties were PD/midday jock Grahame Winters, morning co-host Mike Stevens, afternoon jock Floyd Wright and night guy “Rockin’ Ron” Sedaille, leaving only Stevens’ former co-host Kim Zachary alone in mornings. Behind the scenes, sales manager Stu Gorlick remains with Connoisseur, now overseeing sales for New Haven sister stations WPLR (99.1) and WYBC-FM (94.3) as well as WDRC-FM. Moving in the other direction, WPLR/WEZN GM Kristin Okesson is now managing WDRC as well, and WPLR jocks Mike Lapitino and Allen Lamberti are now the midday and afternoon guys, respectively, on the new “102.9DRC, Classic Hits of the 80s, 90s and More.”
Even the WDRC signal won’t stay the same: Connoisseur already has a pending application to directionalize the 102.9 signal from West Peak, allowing it to take sister station WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) on Long Island nondirectional. The new WDRC-FM is running a similar music format to WBZO, and that’s a big change from what WDRC-FM listeners had become accustomed to. Unlike most heritage oldies stations, WDRC didn’t shy away from “oldies,” continuing to play tunes from the 1950s and early 1960s in a jingle-heavy format that looked backward to the heyday of “The Big D” on WDRC (1360), the big top-40 voice of Hartford back when that music was new. (For now, incidentally, Connoisseur isn’t making any changes to the AM side of WDRC, which now runs talk alongside its three AM sister stations.)
*There’s been no official announcement yet, but plenty of social media reports of the death late Sunday of Bob Ausfeld, the veteran radio manager who built what became the Regent/Townsquare cluster, then retired for a few months in 2012 only to resurface across town at the helm of the Albany Broadcasting (Pamal) cluster he’d long battled.
Ausfeld had been on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and last weekend a heart became available. The surgery took place early Sunday morning, and while it was initially reported to have gone well, news began spreading Sunday night that Ausfeld had died. We’ll have more on his life and legacy as one of the region’s most important radio managers in next week’s NERW.
*At the southern tip of the NEW JERSEY shore, Equity Communications has made another flip to its Cape May-licensed 102.3 signal. It was just last September when the little class A signal flipped from WAIV (simulcasting top-40 WAYV 95.1 Atlantic City) to WSNQ, picking up the “Sunny” classic hits format from its sister station at 105.5 in Cape May Court House. Go a few years back, and the 105.5 signal was WGBZ, simulcasting Equity rhythmic top-40 “Buzz” WZBZ (99.3 Pleasantville); now it’s 102.3’s turn to become WGBZ and to simulcast “Buzz” into Cape May County. The Sunny format, for now, lives on as a webcast.
Five Years Ago: July 12, 2010
Catholic radio is coming to Boston in a big way. Alex Langer has filed an application to transfer WBIX (1060 Natick) to Buffalo-based Holy Family Communications. Holy Family, which operates stations in Buffalo and Rochester, will pay $1 million in cash for WBIX, and Langer will take a $500,000 tax deduction for donating the rest of the value of the station to Holy Family.
If message-board chatter is any indication, then the big story over the long holiday weekend came out of southern NEW JERSEY, where Atlantic Broadcasting lobbed a pretty big bombshell into the Atlantic City market on July 2 with the launch of “Wild 102.7,” a new high-energy rhythmic top-40 aimed straight at the summer beach crowd on the Jersey Shore. The new format came with a new signal, as Atlantic completed its move of the former WJSE (102.7 Petersburg) north from Cape May County into Atlantic City, with a new class A transmitter facility atop a beachfront high-rise building, a new city of license of Ocean City and new calls: WWAC, last seen on the old Channel 53 analog TV that’s now WMCN-DT (Channel 44). “Wild” shares its DNA with Long Island’s “Party 105” – both have JVC Broadcasting partners John Caracciolo and Vic Latino at the helm, and south Jersey is, if anything, even more ready for an energetic rhythmic format than the east end of Long Island. We’ll be watching closely as “Wild” ramps up its promotional effort to take advantage of the all-too-short summer season at the shore.
MASSACHUSETTS lost two TV news icons in as many weeks, one as familiar to viewers in the Boston market as the other was in Springfield. In Boston, John Henning never attained the star status of a Chet Curtis or a Jack Williams, but over four decades in TV news in the hub he quietly became a fixture in the industry. A native New Yorker, Henning came to Boston for college and stayed, becoming a reporter at WNAC-TV (Channel 7) in 1964. Henning soon ended up behind the anchor desk, and over a long career he moved seamlessly between the field and the studio. He moved from station to station, too, landing at WHDH-TV (Channel 5) in 1968, then moving with most of the WHDH staff to the new channel 5, WCVB, in 1972, where he had the distinction of anchoring the last WHDH-TV newscast and the first WCVB news the next morning. In 1979, he returned to channel 7 (by then WNEV), then finally moved to WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in 1982. At Channel 4, Henning worked as both a statehouse reporter and for many years as anchor of the midday news. He retired from WBZ in 2003, by then having become the station’s senior correspondent. In recent years, until his health began to decline from myelodysplastic syndrome, Henning had been working with his former WBZ colleague Geri Denterlein at her public-affairs consulting firm. John Henning died Wednesday night, at 73, and Boston TV is poorer for his passing.
MAINE has a new Catholic radio station, and it’s apparently just the start of a network that eventually hopes to serve much of the state. The Presence Radio Network signed on WXTP (106.7 North Windham) in the Portland market last Wednesday (July 7) after closing on the purchase of the former WHXR from Nassau. The network says it’s negotiating for a station in the Bangor market as well.
Ten Years Ago: July 11, 2005
The turnover in Boston morning show continues – and this time it’s at eastern MASSACHUSETTS’ classic rock station, where morning host Steve Sweeney disappeared from “Steve Sweeney’s Neighborhood” a couple of weeks ago for what was initially billed as a vacation. Now it turns out that Sweeney’s not coming back, and in the great circle that is radio, his shift is being filled (for the moment, at least) by Bill Abbate (whose own WBOS morning show was axed a few months back) and fellow WBOS veteran Hutch.
Out in western Massachusetts, “Omelette” has vanished from the morning-show menu at WLZX (99.3 Northampton), where Leslie Hall is doing the show solo for now, while the station looks for a replacement.
Back in the Boston market, Entercom is bringing Steve Jones down from Canada to handle PD chores at its adult hits “Mike” WMKK (93.7 Lawrence). Jones was VP/programming for the NewCap group of stations up there; at “Mike,” he replaces Jerry McKenna, recently departed for Infinity’s WBMX.
In Erie, PENNSYLVANIA, Gannon University’s WERG has completed its move from 89.9 to 90.5, taking the station from 3000 watts at 124 feet below average terrain (on the Gannon campus near downtown Erie) to 2750 watts at 374 feet above average terrain, on a new antenna mounted on the WQLN-TV tower south of Erie.
Down the road in Greenville, new owner Harold Glunt has taken control of WEXC (107.1), flipping the station from oldies to Christian rock as “Freq 107.” Sister station WGRP (940) is reportedly silent – and the “Wexy” oldies have reappeared on the dial at WLOA (1470 Farrell PA), which Glunt’s Beacon Broadcasting is buying from Buffalo-based Holy Family Communications for $295,000, putting an end to the Catholic programming that had been airing there.
The call changes in NEW YORK’s Southern Tier have now been followed by some format flips at the Route 81 Radio cluster in Elmira-Corning: the oldies that had been on “Gem 97.7” follow the WGMM calls to what had been WCBA-FM (98.7 Corning), with “Gem 98.7” also being heard on WCBA (1350 Corning). WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) is now simulcasting with what’s now WCBA-FM (97.7 Big Flats), and they’re doing AC as “Magic.” And on the AM side, WCLI (1450 Corning) changes calls to WENI, to match its talk simulcast with WENY (1230 Elmira). The stations have now moved into their new storefront studios on Corning’s Market Street, and we’ll have to get down there to check it out one of these days.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 14, 2000
New Englanders already know the company from its clusters in Portland and Springfield, and now Ed Christian’s Michigan-based Saga Communications is entering central NEW YORK. Saga will pay $13.4 million to pick up four Ithaca radio stations from Eagle Broadcasting: news-talk WHCU (870), satellite oldies WTKO (1470), AC WYXL (97.3), and country WQNY (103.7). A quick check of the most recent (Fall) Arbitrons shows Eagle’s four stations with a total market share of 40.1% among listeners 12 and older; we’d expect to see this one flagged by the FCC for market-concentration review. (The only major in-market competition to the Eagle group comes from Citadel’s WIII Cortland and from WVBR Ithaca, run by Cornell students as a commercial operation).
Meanwhile out on Long Island’s East End, Peter Ottmar’s AAA Entertainment is also growing. AAA will pay $2.7 million to buy soft AC WBAZ (101.7 Southold) and AC WBSQ (102.5 Southampton) from MAK Communications. The stations will join AAA’s existing WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) and WBEA (104.7 Montauk) in the cluster.
While we’re out in the neighborhood: M Street reports that silent WFOG (1570 Riverhead) will return to the air around the end of the year. Arthur Liu’s WNYG (1440 Babylon) isn’t going silent after all; instead of turning it off to improve the signal of co-owned WNSW (1430 Newark NJ), Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting is now running WNYG as a student-operated CHR outlet and training ground. And big congratulations go to J.J. Rice, who’s adding new duties to his current job as PD of Cox’s WBLI (106.1 Patchogue). Rice is now Cox’s top-40 programming coordinator — and to think NERW knew him when he was just a humble night jock at 98PXY here in Rochester…
Across the border, the big story in CANADA is the CRTC’s approval of the breakup and sale of the WIC group, until now one of Canada’s largest broadcasters. WIC will be split into three parts, with its Cancom satellite arm going to Shaw and its radio division and cable-TV networks going to Shaw spinoff Corus. (That includes Toronto’s “Talk 640” CHOG and “Q107” CILQ, as well as Hamilton’s CHML 900 and CJXY “Y95”.)
Twenty Years Ago: July 14, 1995
After more than a month off the air, AM 550 is again operating in Pawtucket RI. Gone are the old calls of WICE; the station is now WPNW, sister to Boston’s WBNW 590. Format is identical to WBNW – Bloomberg Business News much of the day, with local money talk 9am-4pm and Bruce Williams 7-10pm. And like all the Bloomberg startups I’ve heard (WBBR New York and WBNW), the first few days seem to be plagued with glitches in the PC that runs the whole show. A lot of the local inserts (weather and such) get cut off at the end, and driving home tonight I heard more than a minute of dead air, followed by the first few seconds of a spot, the first few seconds of a pre-recorded “local” news brief (actually from Metro Networks in Boston, 45 miles away), and then back into Bloomberg. Odd that they’re using Metro for news, considering that WPNW is co-owned with WARA in Attleboro, Mass (just over the state line from Pawtucket), and WARA has its own newsroom. Also odd is that the spots seem to be mostly for Boston businesses (such as Clark Lincoln-Mercury west of Boston and the Offices at One Kendall Square, in Cambridge). Rhode Island now gets Bloomberg on 3 frequencies. In addition to WPNW, they get a strong signal from WBNW, and a pretty good signal day and night from WBBR 1130 New York.
WFXT deal closes: The Boston Celtics officially sold WFXT-TV 25 today. Fox is paying $105 million to buy back the station, which it sold in the late 80s to acquire the Boston Herald. The deal was held up by an NBC objection — the peacock people said Fox was foreign-owned and the sale would violate FCC rules. Every commercial station in town except for two have now changed hands in the last 5 years — WHDH-7 from local David Mugar to Sunbeam, WFXT from the Celts to Fox, WSBK-38 from Gillett to New World to Viacom, WLVI-56 from Gannett to Tribune, WMFP-62 from local Avi Nelson to Shop at Home, and WQTV-68 (now WABU) from the Christian Scientists to Boston University.
Bruds comes home: WBZ’s David Brudnoy is doing his show from the studio tonight (Monday) for the first time since he collapsed on the air Oct. 24. Bruds later acknowledged that he has AIDS, and after recuperating from a serious infection, returned to the air January 2 from his Back Bay townhouse. He’s in-house to interview ABC’s John Hockenberry…who can’t make it up to Brudnoy’s apartment in his wheelchair. I hadn’t seen David since October…and I can report to his fans that he looks great — he’s gained 30 pounds, is walking easily and without assistance, and he doesn’t have that greenish cast to his skin that had us all worried.