In this week’s issue… Longtime Bills voice dies – New FM in NH – “Cat” reborn in Burlington – AM power-up in PA – NJ gets its TV news back
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How many sportscasters can truly say they became the iconic voices of their markets? Gil Santos and the Patriots in Boston, Harry Caray and the White Sox and Cubs in Chicago, Jack Buck in St. Louis, Vin Scully in Brooklyn and then LA… and to that list, you’d surely have to add Van Miller, the longtime voice of the Buffalo Bills who died Saturday at 87.
Miller was a part of the Buffalo broadcast market as far back as 1955, when he started as a summer replacement announcer on WBEN (930) after having cut his teeth at home in Dunkirk on WFCB (now WDOE). When the Bills started playing in the AFL in 1960, Miller was tapped to call the games on WBEN, and for decades he became a fixture in the booth. Except for a brief period from 1971-1977, Miller remained the Bills’ play-by-play voice through the team’s Super Bowl seasons and beyond, finally retiring from the booth in 2003. That alone – a longer relationship between broadcaster and team than any other NFL club in history – would have ensured Miller the Hall of Fame legacy he enjoyed.
But Miller’s relationship with Buffalo went far deeper. His “Fan-demonium” and “Fasten Your Seatbelts!” calls extended beyond the Bills to Braves basketball in Buffalo’s NBA days, Bisons baseball, college sports and beyond. Miller hosted bowling shows on Buffalo TV, spent 16 years at the helm of “It’s Academic!,” the high school quiz show, and, oh yeah, he was also the sports director on WBEN-TV/WIVB (Channel 4) for many years until his retirement from that gig in 1998.
Miller was added to the Bills’ Wall of Fame last year. So far, no public memorial service has been planned.
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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 21, 2014
*Radio managers these days have a tendency to come and go, shifting from market to market at the whims of the corporations that own most of their stations. But in Albany, NEW YORK, Bob Ausfeld was a shining counterexample, and his loss is being dearly felt all over the Capital District radio scene and far beyond.
The news of Ausfeld’s death in Boston at age 64 was just breaking as we were wrapping up the column last Sunday night, so we weren’t able to give the “BobFather” the full consideration he deserved in that issue. Let’s try to rectify that, shall we?
It’s not every radio manager who gets a website tribute from one of the morning guys at the competing cluster – but Bob Ausfeld wasn’t every radio manager, not by a long shot. At the age of 23, fresh out of Hudson Valley Community College and a stint in the National Guard, Ausfeld went to work at WPTR (1540), and for 41 years he never left the Albany radio scene. Within a decade of his start in radio, Ausfeld was already in a general manager’s chair, starting in the late 1970s at WFLY (92.3), then moving in the 1980s to WABY (1400)/WWOM (100.9, which he soon flipped to “K-Lite” WKLI), After a brief detour to Utica in the late 1980s, Ausfeld landed with Merv Griffin-owned WPYX (106.5) in the early 1990s. Over the next few decades, Ausfeld stayed put while a swirl of owners and an ever-changing constellation of stations swirled around him; when the dust finally settled, he found himself working for WPYX’s erstwhile sister station WGNA (107.7) and the cluster that ended up with Regent and then Townsquare.
Along the way, Ausfeld nurtured the careers of hundreds of radio people, launching iconic shows such as Wolf and Mulrooney and Mason and Sheehan (both on WPYX) and Sean and Richie (on WGNA, which is where Sean fondly remembered Ausfeld in a blog posting last week). But it wasn’t just the star morning shows that benefited from the careful attention of “The King,” who mentored air talent and behind-the-scenes staffers who have gone on to populate most of the stations in town and many more in distant markets.
Ausfeld briefly retired in 2012, but radio was still in his blood, and he came back to the GM chair last year at Pamal’s Albany Broadcasting group, where he was busy building a country competitor to WGNA when heart disease took him out of the picture. A donor heart for transplant finally came through over the July 4 holiday, and it was during the touch-and-go days after the surgery that Ausfeld died last Sunday.
*Standard-definition local newscasts are becoming a rarity in even smaller markets, and now you can add Elmira-Corning to the list of fully-HD local news communities. Nexstar’s top-rated NBC affiliate, WETM (Channel 18), made the switch to HD with its 5 PM newscast last Tuesday, joining Lilly’s ABC/CBS competitor WENY-TV (Channel 36). If we’ve been keeping track correctly, WETM’s flip leaves only its Binghamton ABC/NBC sister, WIVT (Channel 34), as well as Utica’s WKTV (Channel 2), still producing local news in SD around the Empire State.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Colby-Sawyer College was late to the FM game, putting WSCS (90.9 New London) on the air only in 1996. Earlier this year, the college said it planned to shut down the 250-watt station, but local broadcaster Bob Vinikoor stepped in to rescue the license. His Vinikoor Family Foundation is paying the college $4,000 for the license, which will be operated separately from WNTK-FM (99.7 New London) and the rest of Vinikoor’s commercial radio holdings.
*One of CANADA‘s fastest-growing broadcast companies is adding another signal. My Broadcasting has been granted a new signal on 101.5 in Orangeville, out in the Toronto exurbs. Orangeville is already the nominal city of license of Evanov’x CIDC (Z103), but My made the case to the CRTC that CIDC has effectively become a Toronto-market station with no local Orangeville content. With just 338 watts average/625 watts max DA/55.1 m, the new My signal on 101.5 won’t be able to hit Toronto, and My’s business model focuses on superserving small local communities anyway.
Five Years Ago: July 19, 2010
For the first time since 1983, there’s a new commercial FM station transmitting from within the NEW YORK City limits. After some on-and-off testing, Bill O’Shaughnessy’s WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle) last Monday officially turned on its new transmitter atop the same Montefiore Medical Center residence in the Bronx that’s been home to WFUV (90.7 New York) for the last few years – and will eventually become home to WFAS (103.9 Bronxville) as well. From the new site (which replaces WVIP’s longtime home atop a Yonkers apartment building), 93.5’s 1750-watt/433′ class A facility throws a 60 dBu signal over most of Manhattan, all of the Bronx, most of Queens, part of Brooklyn, a big chunk of New Jersey – and it still reaches most of its old home turf in Westchester and Fairfield counties, too. But wait – there’s more! The new WVIP signal is in HD, at the newly-authorized -14 dBc enhanced power level, and at least initially it has HD-2 and HD-3 subchannels carrying a simulcast of sister station WVOX (1460 New Rochelle) and a Music of Your Life satellite feed, though we hear that those will be replaced by leased-time programming (much like WVIP itself) in the weeks to come.
(What was the last commercial FM station to move into the city? That was “Z100,” Newark-licensed WHTZ 100.3, which relocated from the hills west of Newark to the top-top-top-top-top of the Empire State Building 27 years ago this summer…)
In Rochester, we’re mourning Tom Noonan, whose long run in Rochester radio included stints at WVOR, WKLX, WBBF (in its later oldies FM incarnation) and most recently at WLGZ (102.7), where he’d recently moved from weekends to the weekday 7-midnight airshift. Noonan suffered a fatal heart attack after his Tuesday-night shift on “Legends 102.7,” and the station mourned his passing in class, including an on-air tribute in his usual timeslot Wednesday night. Noonan was 63.
We close with one more Empire State obituary: newsman Roberto Cano was known on-air as Bob Ortiz during a career that included stops at WBAI, WPLJ and most notably at the original WKTU (92.3), where he was part of the late-seventies airstaff that took the disco station from nowhere to first place. Cano also worked at Boston’s WBZ-TV in the seventies; he died June 28 and a memorial service is scheduled for July 24 at 11 AM at Grace Church at 10th and Broadway.
It turns out that the sale of WGAJ (91.7 Deerfield) that we reported on last week was just a prelude to a bigger station transfer in western MASSACHUSETTS: the WFCR Foundation, the nonprofit group that raises funds and provides support for the University of Massachusetts’ WFCR (88.5 Amherst), is not only buying the former Deerfield Academy station for $10,000 – it’s also ponying up just over half a million dollars to purchase WNNZ (640 Westfield), the Clear Channel-owned AM signal that WFCR has been operating under an LMA since 2007. The WFCR Foundation will pay a total of $525,000 for the WNNZ license, but Clear Channel will keep the three-tower transmitter site on Root Road north of Westfield, leasing it back to WFCR for at least the next ten years. From that site, the 640 signal blankets most of western Massachusetts with 50,000 watts by day, but at night it’s much more limited, with just a kilowatt. WFCR’s existing program lineup on WNNZ, which provides a news-talk alternative to the news/classical blend on WFCR’s main FM signal, is expected to continue unchanged. The sale will leave Clear Channel with one AM station (WHYN 560) and three FMs (WHYN-FM 93.1, WRNX 100.9 and WPKX 97.9) in the Springfield market, though there’s also a pending application to relocate WPKX to the Hartford, CONNECTICUT market to the south.
Ten Years Ago: July 18, 2005
A few years ago, it looked as though eastern MASSACHUSETTS could become a major production center for public radio – not just the weekly entertainments of “Car Talk,” but also a significant amount of daily news and talk programming. Over at WGBH, the joint partnership with the BBC that produced “The World” is approaching its tenth anniversary. But it was Boston University’s WBUR-FM (90.9), under former GM Jane Christo, that harbored visions of serious national glory, launching Chris Lydon’s “The Connection” into national distribution not long after its 1993 local debut, followed a few years later by “On Point” in the evenings (an outgrowth of WBUR’s 9/11 coverage) and “Here and Now” in middays. We know, of course, what happened next: the heated departure of Lydon and the team that created “The Connection” (now ensconced at WGBH and producing “Open Source”), followed a few years later by the ouster of Christo herself. And last week, WBUR interim GM Peter Fiedler announced a series of cuts that promise to bring WBUR’s production load more in line with its slimmed-down budget.
The most notable change is the cancellation, effective after the August 5 broadcast, of “The Connection.” While Lydon’s eventual replacement, former CBC host Dick Gordon, was doing a capable job with the program, it faced a crowded field of competitors for a finite number of daytime slots in a public radio universe where many stations are still trying to balance news and music on a single signal. (We find that, in the end, across NERW-land “The Connection” was being heard only on WNED(AM) in Buffalo, New York’s North Country Public Radio and WPNI(AM) in Amherst, as well as on WBUR’s own network.) On August 8, “On Point” will move from its 7-9 PM slot (an even tougher one in which to find affiliates; across NERW-land, it was heard only on WNED(AM), WNYC(AM) in New York and WQLN in Erie, as well as WBUR/WRNI itself) to the 10-noon slot held by “The Connection.”
NEW YORK’s Mohawk Valley will continue to hear classical music on 97.7, but the commercials will be going away soon on what’s now WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam). Rotterdam-based public broadcaster WMHT (89.1 Schenectady) says it’s paying owner GEM Associates $1.5 million for the class A signal that rimshots the Albany market. Beginning August 4, the classical service supplied by Boston’s WCRB will be replaced on WBKK by a simulcast of WMHT’s classical programming; WMHT says it has plans to create a separate classical service on 97.7, and while they’re not coming right out and saying so, we suspect at least some of the classical music on WMHT’s main FM service might yield to something else (news/talk?) once the new service takes root.
2015 update: Boston did end up getting more public radio production on a national level when NPR used WBUR’s Here & Now to replace Talk of the Nation; WMHT has remained all-classical on 89.1.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 21, 2000
For almost a decade now, we’ve been following the progress of Gerald Turro as he attempts to find a way to use his Fort Lee, N.J. translator W276AQ (103.1) to serve its own city of license. Now, just as the FCC gets ready to issue the first LPFM licenses, the commission has returned a final ruling on the legality of Turro’s current operation of the adult standards outlet known as “Jukebox Radio.”
Some history, first: W276AQ, which serves northern Manhattan and Bergen County from atop the Mediterranean Towers apartments overlooking the Hudson, began as a translator of WPST (97.5 Trenton) in the mid-eighties. For a few years, it switched to WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue), and then WKXW (101.5 Trenton), until Turro found a way to do his own programming. Buying a tiny (8-watt) noncomm FM 40 miles away in Franklin Lakes, Turro changed its calls from WRRH to WJUX, and began programming it with oldies as “Jukebox Radio.” Since the FCC allows noncommercial stations to own their own translators even in areas outside their protected contours, Turro was able to operate WJUX (88.7) and W276AQ from studios in Dumont, N.J., feeding the translator via a microwave station, WMG-499. The drawback to being noncommercial, of course, was that it was hard to make money on the station…and that’s where things started to get interesting.
In 1994, a friend of Turro’s, Wesley Weis, acquired the construction permit for WXTM (99.7) in Monticello, N.Y., about 100 miles away from Fort Lee. Once WXTM signed on that fall, it began running the “Jukebox Radio” format from Dumont under a time-brokerage agreement with Turro — and W276AQ (along with another translator, W232AL on 94.3 in Pomona, N.Y.) became a WXTM translator. (WXTM changed its calls to WJUX in early 1995, after the Franklin Lakes station was shut down). Almost immediately, Universal Radio (licensee of rival Bergen County outlet WVNJ 1160 Oakland) complained to the FCC about the arrangement, claiming that Turro was in fact controlling the operations of the primary WJUX outlet (a violation of FCC rules), and that the Fort Lee translator was receiving programming directly from Dumont via WMG-499 instead of over the air from WJUX (or from W232AL in between).
At first, things looked pretty bad for Turro. An FCC inspection of WJUX’s “main studio” (a rented production room in the studio building of WVOS AM-FM Liberty N.Y.) suggested that the only way to put the main studio on the air instead of the Dumont feed was to travel to the 99.7 transmitter 15 miles away and switch cables in a patch bay. The FCC inspector then visited Fort Lee with a half-watt transmitter, which he fired up on 94.3 (the W232AL frequency), 99.7 (the WJUX frequency), and 951 MHz (the WMG-499 input frequency) — only to find that the only one that shut off the output audio on 103.1 was the 951 MHz test.
Case closed? Not hardly. Last August, following a hearing to determine whether Turro was obeying the translator rules and whether Weis’ Monticello Mountaintop Broadcasting (MMBI) was a fit licensee for WJUX, Administrative Law Judge Arthur Steinberg ruled that everything was in fact being run by the books.
On Turro’s end, Steinberg agreed with the unusual explanations offered for the results of the FCC experiments. Turro said WMG-499 did have an audio input to the transmitter, but that it was mainly used for telemetry to control the 103.1 transmitter. He claimed to have wired a “fail-safe” that would switch programming to the microwave audio feed if the telemetry feed was disrupted — which, he argues, is exactly what happened when the FCC transmitter fired up at 951 MHz. Turro also claimed that he had found a “hot spot” on the roof at Fort Lee in which the WJUX signal could be clearly heard, despite first-adjacent WBAI (99.5 New York) just across the river. (NERW’s own experiments this past spring proved, at least to our satisfaction, that it is possible to hear the WJUX signal fairly reliably at the W232AL site in Rockland County, and since we also heard W276AQ while parked at the base of the W232AL tower, we’re willing to believe the reverse is true as well.)
As for Weis and MMBI, Steinberg found that the management presence at the WJUX “main studio” (two staffers who worked full-time for WVOS) was sufficient; that the public affairs broadcasts on WJUX (time-shifted repeats of WVOS’ talk shows) met the public service requirements; and that Weis, not Turro, controlled the finances and operations of WJUX. (Turro paid a monthly fee of anywhere from $3600 to $8500 for the airtime of WJUX, which Steinberg found acceptable as a traditional time-brokerage deal). This week, the full Commission upheld Steinberg’s findings, finally removing the last questions about whether the translator/primary relationship is legal. “We knew when we left the courtroom that we had won this thing,” Turro tells NERW.
Upstate, Ed Levine’s Galaxy group is adding another Syracuse outlet. Levine already has three formats running in Central New York: modern rock (WKRL North Syracuse, WKRH Minetto, WKLL Frankfort), standards (WTLA North Syracuse, WSGO Oswego, WTLB Utica), and classic rock (WTKW Bridgeport, WTKV Oswego, WRCK Utica), and now he’s adding urban with the purchase of WRDS (102.1 Phoenix). Robert Short walks away with $3.75 million from the sale of his only station…and the rumors start flying about a format change at WRDS.
Two deals that won’t happen: Citadel and Titus Broadcasting have dropped their plans to swap frequencies in Binghamton, where Titus was to have given up the 680 kHz home of its WINR in exchange for the lesser 1360 kHz facility of Citadel’s WKOP. (The WKOP format would then have moved to Citadel’s 1290 signal, displacing news-talk WNBF to 680.) The FCC has also dismissed the transfer of WKPQ (105.3) and WHHO (1320) in Hornell from Bilbat Radio to “Hornell Radio,” which we believe to be the name Sabre Communications was using for its purchase of the two stations.
On to MAINE we go, where Communications Capital Managers is cashing out of the Bangor market after a very profitable stay of just a few months. CCM put together a group that includes hot AC WKSQ (94.5 Ellsworth), country WLKE (99.1 Bar Harbor), AAA WBYA (101.7 Searsport), oldies WGUY (102.1 Dexter), talk WVOM (103.9 Howland), and country WBFB (104.7 Belfast), for a total price (from three separate owners) of $10.2 million. This week, CCM announced it’s selling the group to Clear Channel for an even $20 million. It’s Lowry Mays’ first venture into the Pine Tree State.
Twenty Years Ago: July 19, 1995
The winning bidder for Pyramid Broadcasting was revealed today… and it’s Evergreen. The $306 million dollar deal closes a chapter that began when Cecil Heftel and Richie Balsbaugh bought a decrepit AM-FM combo, WHIL Medford MA, and took the FM from worst to first as disco WXKS-FM, “Kiss 108.” Kiss eventually went CHR, and Heftel cashed out, leaving Balsbaugh in control. Pyramid picked up rival WJMN-FM, “Jam’n 94.5,” from Ardman a couple of years ago. The Pyramid portfolio also includes WNUA-FM Chicago, WHTT AM-FM/WSJZ Buffalo, WRFX AM-FM/WEDJ Charlotte, and WYXR/WJJZ Philadelphia. Now they join forces with Evergreen to give the Dallas-based company stations in each of the top 10 markets.. the first time that’s ever been done.