In this week’s issue… Cumulus news riles Radio Show – Voltair, AM translators still await answers – What now for Sox broadcast team? – Maine newscast cancelled – Max Keeping, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*At the risk of a cheap metaphor, walking the floor at the Radio Show in Atlanta last week was much like watching the weather: huge storms were hovering just offshore threatening massive damage, but directly overhead the sky was sunny and the weather was warm. (No kidding: while the rains ahead of Hurricane Joaquin were already battering the coast on the show’s last full day Thursday, it was 85 and sunny outside the Marriott Marquis in less-than-scenic downtown Atlanta.)
This was the show we’ll long remember as the end of the Dickey era at Cumulus, with the news of Lew and John Dickey’s ouster from that troubled radio company landing with a thud just hours before the show’s opening. It was the show that raised still more questions (but offered few answers) about the battle between Nielsen and Voltair. (All those folks in the photo at right were waiting for Nielsen to make its PPM presentation – “standing room only” didn’t even begin to describe it.) For AM owners waiting for some help from the FCC, it was the “keep waiting a little longer” show.
And with attendance on an upward swing – the 2,170 radio people who attended made for a head count up 5% from last year’s show in Indianapolis – it was perhaps even an optimistic show. Read on for our on-the-ground coverage…
We’re a community.
The Dickeys, first: as a share of CMLS dropped below a dollar, the ouster of Lew Jr. and John was a near-certainty by the time the show started, but that didn’t make the timing any less ignominious, right there in their hometown where they’d expected to be the hosts of the show. Instead, the Dickeys were present at the Marriott only in the form of conversations on the floor, as everyone wondered what new CEO Mary Berner would do to try to save the company.
Will Cumulus try to sell some of the assets that may now be worth more separately than together? The former ABC O&O clusters that came by way of Citadel (including New York’s WABC/WPLJ) still boast valuable signals even if their programming and revenues cratered under the Dickeys. Unlocking that value, however, requires a willing buyer – and with CBS and iHeart both maxed out in the market, who’s out there to rescue clusters like New York or Chicago’s WLS stations?
In smaller markets, the clusters that Cumulus put together have stayed more successful. In New England, that includes markets such as Providence (WPRO, WPRO-FM, WWLI and sister stations), Worcester (WXLO/WORC-FM) and Springfield (WMAS-FM/WHLL). After unloading smaller markets to Townsquare a few years back, Cumulus retained the former upstate New York Citadel clusters in Syracuse and Buffalo, as well as Erie (shown at left), Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and York in Pennsylvania. It’s not hard to imagine any of several growing medium-market operators such as Alpha, Connoisseur or Entercom being interested in some of those markets if Cumulus’ new leaders decide they need the cash.
What of some of the Dickeys’ national ventures? We’ll be watching closely to see what becomes of “Nash,” the country format/magazine/TV show/etc. brand that launched with such fanfare. Will it survive after the Dickeys are gone, or will that branding slowly fade away? (In particular, we’ll be looking at New York’s WNSH, where “Nash” hasn’t quite set the market on fire. Could a format change be in the offing there?)
Then there’s Westwood One, which may have been the Dickeys’ final straw. There’s no doubt the company saved plenty of costs by shutting down the former ABC Radio Networks operations in Dallas and New York, but there are thousands of WW1 affiliates around the country upset about the sudden departure of familiar hosts from the satellite programming that’s been their lifeblood. Can new management fix what was so badly broken in recent months there, or is it too late already?
*As for Voltair and Nielsen, you can read our full coverage of those sessions for Radio World here and here. In summary: there weren’t any overt fireworks between the two this year, but both made announcements that left lots of unanswered questions. On the Voltair side, the Massachusetts-based processing company unveiled a new software version that focuses as much on monitoring PPM encoding as on its controversial enhancement technology. But that announcement was quickly overshadowed by Nielsen’s release of a new version of its own PPM encoding algorithm. The new “Enhanced CBET” claims to yield AQH ratings that are up 15% from the previous version, which very much begs the question of whether Voltair was right that the earlier algorithm caused some real-world listening to go uncredited. Nielsen also undercut Voltair with the news that it will distribute its own encoder monitoring boxes next year – a move meant, perhaps, to make potential Voltair buyers hesitate before spending $15,000 on one of those boxes?
*For AM owners looking for some help from the FCC, it was at best a frustrating show. Because the Commission’s lingering AM improvement proceeding is now “on circulation” among the commissioners, they’re not allowed to discuss its details publicly, which led to a session with commissioner Michael O’Rielly on Thursday at which he couldn’t say much of anything about what might actually happen in the end. But commissioner Mignon Clyburn shook things up from a distance with her statement from Washington during the show that she’s now in favor of the “250-mile compromise,” in which no new translators will be granted but AM stations will get a one-time waiver to move any existing translator up to 250 miles. For a Commission that’s trying to avoid any spectrum giveaways, it’s something of a contradictory move, since such a window would effectively be a big giveaway to the speculators who’ve gobbled up translator CPs in previous windows to sell them at what’s sometimes a huge profit.
*And congratulations to the NERW-land stations that came home from Atlanta with some new statuary: Marconi Award winners from around the region included KYW (1060 Philadelphia), “Legendary Station of the Year”; WFAN (660/101.9 New York), “Sports Station of the Year” and WBLS (107.5 New York), “Urban Station of the Year.”
*Radio People on the Move in upstate NEW YORK: Steve Giuttari is departing his posts as operations manager of Albany’s WGNA (107.7) and sister stations and regional country brand manager for Townsquare. He’s off to Indianapolis to become PD of Cumulus’ country WFMS (95.5), a once-dominant station that’s been beaten up badly by Emmis’ WLHK (Hank 97.1) in recent years. No replacement has been named yet at Townsquare in Albany.
At classical WQXR (105.9 Newark NJ), Naomi Lewin is out. She’d been moved to weekends after a prominent arrival from WGUC in Cincinnati a few years back, and neither the station nor Lewin is saying much about what happened there.
HD Radio owners around New York City are noticing some changes on the subchannel lineup: iHeart has relocated its country format from WLTW (106.7)’s HD2 over to WAXQ (104.3)’s HD2, displacing the deep cuts classic rock that had been there. A rotating wheel of formats has taken over 106.7-HD2 for now. Meanwhile at CBS, there have been some tests of HD4 subchannels lighting up at several signals, including WBMP (92.3), but nothing’s landed there on a permanent basis.
*”The Lake Erie Community Radio Station” won’t be building WCAG-LP (96.7) in Erie, PENNSYLVANIA; its construction permit expired in August and the LPFM has now been deleted from the FCC’s database.
Not sure how recently it happened, but our long drive home from Atlanta turned up a format change in Williamsport. WPTC (88.1) is now carrying EMF Broadcasting’s K-Love contemporary Christian programming.
*It was a sad end to the season for MASSACHUSETTS baseball fans for more than just the obvious reason (there’s always next year, fellow Sox sufferers…) As the 2015 Sox fizzled to the end, they gave an on-field tribute Sunday to Don Orsillo, whose ouster from the NECN TV booth had a happy ending, at least for Orsillo. He’s been hired by the San Diego Padres, who’ll use him in a backup role next year before he takes over the Padres’ TV booth full-time in 2017. The team-owned NECN appears to have axed Orsillo in order to move Dave O’Brien from the radio booth over to TV coverage next year.
In addition to their remarkable rebound on the field next year (right?), the 2016 Sox will have plenty of broadcast-booth intrigue: it’s the last year of Jerry Remy’s TV contract, which could mean a new TV companion for O’Brien come 2017. On the radio side, we don’t know yet who’ll replace O’Brien alongside Joe Castiglione in 2016 – and we don’t know where they’ll be airing after 2016, when the ten-year deal between the Sox and Entercom’s WEEI-FM (93.7) winds up.
*Did iHeart’s big signal shuffle in Boston, Cape Cod and RHODE ISLAND pay off? It’s starting to look that way, at least in the limited view that the latest Nielsen PPM ratings provide. September’s numbers showed a significant gain for WBWL (101.7 Lynn). After “The Bull” completed the last phase of its signal improvements, it rose to a tie for 11th place in the 6+ Boston numbers, from a 2.1 to a 3.2. Greater Media’s country leader, WKLB-FM (102.5), took a likely non-coincidental drop, from 6.2 over the summer to 5.6 in September. The tradeoff, of course, is in Providence. After an initial big ratings drop after being downgraded from class B to class A to allow for WBWL’s power boost, WWBB (101.5) has been on the rise again – it posted 8.0 ratings over the summer and grabbed a 7.7 in September, good for a tie for second place.
*Is Boston becoming “the Hub of the Universe” for corporate engineering directors? John Kennedy has been the top corporate engineer for Entercom (as well as its Boston cluster) for a few years now. With the retirement of Philadelphia-based Glynn Walden from the top engineering job at CBS Radio, that group has tapped Boston’s Paul Donovan as the new corporate VP of engineering, overseeing all of its 117 stations across the country.
Over at UMass Boston, WUMB (91.9) has moved Brendan Hogan into morning drive, hiring Jess Phaneuf away from WMVY (88.7) on Martha’s Vineyard to replace Hogan in evenings.
*In MAINE, TEGNA (the company that will forever be known as “formerly Gannett’s broadcast arm”) is pulling the plug on the last newscast it was originating locally from NBC affiliate WLBZ (Channel 2) in Bangor. Chris Facchini had been anchoring the Bangor-based 6 PM newscast, while WLBZ’s morning, noon, 11 PM and weekend shows were originating from the “News Center” operation at Portland sister station WCSH (Channel 6).
As of next Monday, WLBZ’s 6 PM show will also be a simulcast from WCSH, though Facchini will remain as a Bangor-based reporter and Steve McKay will continue to do Bangor-based weather cut-ins from WLBZ’s Mount Hope Avenue studios. Bangor will still have locally-based newscasts from market leader WABI-TV (Channel 5) and ABC/Fox affiliates WVII (Channel 7)/WFVX (Channel 22).
*NEW HAMPSHIRE Catholic Community Radio has filed for a license to cover for WICX-LP (102.7 Concord). The new Catholic station began test broadcasts in August.
*In CONNECTICUT, veteran engineer Jeff Hugabonne has departed the CBS Radio cluster. We hear he’s off to a new emergency management gig; more on that next week.
*One of the most prominent local TV anchors in CANADA has died. Max Keeping was a Newfoundlander who started in TV in 1963 at CJCH-TV in Halifax, but he made his home and his legend in Ottawa, where he arrived in 1965 to work at CFRA (580). Keeping joined CTV as a parliamentary reporter in 1965, made a failed run for Parliament himself in 1972, then joined CJOH-TV (Channel 13) later that same year. Keeping spent the rest of his career at CJOH, becoming the star anchor of its 6 PM newscast and a tireless community advocate who raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and other charities.
Keeping retired from CJOH in 2010 and had spent the last few years dealing with several health problems, including two bouts with colorectal cancer and a brain tumor discovered in May that left him without the ability to speak in the last few months of his life. Keeping was 73 when he died on Thursday.
There’s sad news from Montreal as well, where Andre Lallier has died of cancer at 52. Lallier was the content director for Bell’s CKMF (Energie 94.3), where he’d worked since 1983, as well as for CHOM (97.7).
*Vista Radio is getting ready to launch its two new FMs west of Ottawa. CHBY (106.5 Barrys Bay) will begin testing this month and CHPP (107.9 Prescott) will follow later this fall, reports Canadian Radio News.
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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: October 6, 2014
*Barring some very big surprises in the next three months, the CBS Radio-Beasley station swap announced on Thursday is going to go down as one of the biggest radio deals of 2014 anywhere in the country – and almost certainly in Philadelphia, where it will add country WXTU (92.5) and rhythmic top-40 WRDW-FM (96.5) to the CBS cluster that now includes sports WIP-FM (94.1), classic hits WOGL (98.1), all-news KYW (1060) and talk WPHT (1210).
In exchange for the two Philadelphia FMs and its Miami cluster of one AM and two FMs, Beasley will get CBS Radio’s Tampa and Charlotte clusters, plus WIP (610) to add to its existing Philadelphia AM cluster, religious WTMR (800 Camden NJ) and leased-time daytimer WWDB (860).
Combining the Beasley stations to create a four-FM/two-AM cluster means that CBS becomes the first broadcaster to max out its ownership across FM and TV in all three of the region’s top-10 markets: in Philadelphia, the expanded CBS Radio cluster combines with KYW-TV (CBS) and WPSG-TV (CW) to fill out the company’s portfolio, joining existing maxed-out clusters in New York City (three AMs, four FMs, two TVs) and Boston (one AM, four FM, two TV). Does this look like the behavior of a company that’s trying to exit radio, as certain rumor-mongers would have it? From here, it certainly doesn’t: assuming CBS makes good on its stated intent of divesting more of its medium-market signals to focus more heavily on top-25 radio/TV combos, there aren’t many other existing broadcast companies that would have either the financing or space within the market caps to buy the resulting CBS Radio clusters.
*The newest TV station in the New York City market is on the air, even as a battle continues to play out behind the scenes that will determine where it will eventually appear for cable and over-the-air viewers.
NERW readers have been following along for more than four years now as Bob McAllen’s PMCM, LLC has fought to move KVNV (Channel 3) from Ely, Nevada to Middletown Township, NEW JERSEY – and as of Thursday night (October 2) at 6 PM, that move is complete. After building out a new transmitter site atop 4 Times Square in Manhattan, the relocated KVNV signed on with MeTV programming and a new set of calls: WJLP, named for PMCM principal Jules L. Plangere, Jr.
For now, the new WJLP is still fighting to call itself “Channel 3.” While it signed on with “3.10” as its virtual channel, the FCC is still taking comments on a rulemaking proceeding that will determine what virtual channel it will be permanently authorized to use, and thus what channel it can assert on area cable systems through must-carry. PMCM is hoping to make the use of 3.10 (and eventually 3.11 and 3.12 as additional subchannels) a permanent compromise to satisfy Hartford’s WFSB, also on virtual channel 3. KVNV/WJLP has already agreed to let WFSB keep its channel 3 position on Cablevision’s Fairfield County systems in Connecticut, but it faces additional challenges in its bid to get on channel 3 elsewhere in the New York cable market: ion’s WPXN (Channel 31) has occupied channel 3 on many area systems for years, and it’s fighting to keep from being bumped from that prime slot between WNBC and WCBS.
*Kevin Metheny was one of radio’s more colorful personalities over a long career that took him from coast to coast – and yes, that included four years (1980-1984) as PD at New York’s WNBC (660), where he had the challenge of supervising Howard Stern, who went on to make Metheny famous as “Pig Virus,” which morphed into Paul Giamatti’s memorable portrayal of “Pig Vomit” in the movie “Private Parts.”
But Metheny was much more than just that caricature. A second-generation programmer, he was the son of Terrell Metheny, whose own career included time at the helm of New York’s WMCA in the late 1960s. Kevin Metheny started his own career in radio at the age of 16, and by the late 1970s he was consulting WIBG (990) in Philadelphia and then programming WXKX (KX 96) in Pittsburgh on the way to stops in Chicago and St. Louis before WNBC. After his time sparring with Stern and trying valiantly to keep WNBC relevant in the face of FM competitors), Metheny went on to work for WNBC colleague Bob Pittman at MTV and then to a long career that included executive roles with Jacor, a stint as PD of Chicago’s WGN while former Jacor head Randy Michaels was at the helm there, and most recently time with Cumulus at WJR in Detroit and KGO/KSFO in San Francisco.
Metheny was at work as operations director at KGO when he apparently suffered a heart attack on Friday. He was 60 years old.
*When the MAINE Association of Broadcasters held its convention just over a week ago, one of the most emotional moments was the Hall of Fame induction of veteran Portland sports anchor Bruce Glasier. With his health failing from lung cancer, Glasier wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony (his son Paul accepted on his behalf), but he was at least aware of his big honor in the days before his death late Wednesday at age 69.
Glasier joined NBC affiliate WCSH (Channel 6) back in 1977 and spent 35 years working there and for “News Center” sister station WLBZ (Channel 2) in Bangor before retiring in 2012. Along the way, he became the face of local sports in southern Maine, anchoring WCSH/WLBZ coverage of professional, college and especially high school sports for decades. Glasier also served as a mentor to a generation of broadcasters, and he’ll be deeply missed.
Five Years Ago: October 4, 2010
While one CONNECTICUT station – Disney’s WDZK (1550 Bloomfield) – was going silent last week, another appears to have lost its license, at least temporarily. If the FCC’s files are to be believed, Nievesquez Productions, Inc. never applied for a license renewal at WPRX (1120 Bristol) back in 2005, and that means that ever since its previous license expired on April 1, 2006, it’s apparently been operating without FCC authorization. In good FCC fashion, it took four and a half years for the Media Bureau to catch up to WPRX, which it finally did last Thursday, issuing a letter notifying WPRX that its license had been cancelled and its callsign deleted. But in good FCC fashion, this probably isn’t the end of WPRX: it’s likely to be allowed to filed a renewal application after the fact, which we’d expect to be granted after WPRX is fined for late application and unauthorized operation in the interim. (2011 update: it was.)
And it’s not just WPRX that’s caught in the FCC’s latest administrative housecleaning: last week, the FCC also cancelled the licenses of WQTQ (89.9 Hartford), the Hartford Public Schools station as well as WSBU (88.3) at St. Bonaventure University in western New York and WNMH (91.5) at Northfield Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts. WQTQ has reportedly gone temporarily silent while it resolves its issue, while WSBU remains on the air. (As for WNMH, it’s likely dead for good; Northfield Mount Hermon no longer even owns the campus where it was licensed to transmit, and the station has been silent for well over a year.)
In a quiet week in PENNSYLVANIA, our biggest story comes from just outside Pittsburgh, WAVL (910 Apollo) has dropped its contemporary Christian format (“Praise 910”) in favor of a conservative talk lineup as “Liberty 910.” The new schedule there includes Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America,” Neal Boortz, Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard and John Batchelor.
Friday was launch day for the newest FM station in CANADA’s Maritimes. Evanov’s CKHY (105.1) launched, appropriately enough, at 1:05 PM on October 1, counting down the “top 105” modern rock songs selected by its listeners-to-be. “Live 105” also unveiled its jock lineup that starts today: Cub Carson (formerly of Virgin 106.9 in Ottawa) and Floyd (late of Saskatoon) kick it off at 5:30 with “The Morning Mob”; they’re followed by Christina (from Corner Brook, Newfoundland) in middays, Scotty Mars (who moves over from Q104 in Halifax) in afternoons and AJ (who’d been at Edge 102 in Toronto and more recently at Live’s sister station Z103 in Halifax) at night.
Ten Years Ago: October 3, 2005
At Entercom, two well-known talk hosts are out. First, WRKO (680 Boston) announced on Monday that morning co-host Peter Blute wasn’t renewing his contract, which was to expire today. Blute joined the station from the world of politics in 1999, working first with the late Andy Moes, then with John Osterlind before WRKO launched him on his current partnership with Scott Allen Miller in 2003. Miller will continue doing mornings solo for now; we wouldn’t be surprised to see Blute re-enter the political arena. (And we’re most curious to see what other moves WRKO’s new operations manager, Brian Whittemore, has up his sleeve.)
A few days later, down the hall at sports giant WEEI (850 Boston), came word that longtime night host Ted Sarandis was, er, “leaving to pursue other interests.” Sarandis joined WEEI in 1992, not long after the station’s shift to sports, and his “Ted Nation” show had been a 7-midnight fixture there even as much of the rest of WEEI’s schedule shifted. There’s no word yet on a permanent replacement, or on what Sarandis will do next. He’ll remain the voice of Boston College basketball, and it’s not hard to imagine that he’ll be talking to the new “ESPN Boston” (WAMG 890 Dedham/WLLH 1400 Lowell), too.
From CONNECTICUT comes word that a well-known morning voice has been silenced. Ron Rohmer came to the New Haven area from his native Canada to play hockey in the fifties, but moved into radio at WELI (960 New Haven) in 1961. He became the city’s most popular radio personality during his long run in morning drive there, but an ownership change in 1995 pushed him out of the slot. Rohmer sued Clear Channel for age discrimination, and the company soon brought him back at sister station WAVZ (1300), from which he retired in 1999. Rohmer died last Sunday (Sept. 25); he was 74.
Today’s launch day for PENNSYLVANIA’s newest sports station. WPEN (950 Philadelphia) said goodbye to its oldies format, with Jim Nettleton as the last live jock Friday night, and today it enters the battle against entrenched market leader WIP (610).
Fifteen Years Ago: October 2, 2000
TV viewers in CONNECTICUT will have to look a little harder for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “WWF Smackdown” in a few months. As had been expected, the WB affiliation that’s been held by New Haven’s WBNE (Channel 59) since the weblet’s 1995 debut will move to WTXX (Channel 20 Waterbury) on January 1, 2001. With the coming of duopoly, WTXX ended up in the hands of Tribune, which is also part-owner of The WB and full owner of Hartford’s Fox affiliate, WTIC-TV (Channel 61). As for WBNE, it will get the UPN — now Paramount Network — affiliation that now belongs to WTXX, at least for however much longer the Paramount Network continues to exist. Expect a call change to get rid of the “WB” at WBNE, as well.
The morning radio dial in Portland, MAINE saw still more changes while we were away from NERW-land last week. You might need a scorecard to keep track, so here goes: Bob Anderson, who left WTHT (107.5 Lewiston) last month, has landed at oldies WYNZ (100.9 Westbrook), filling the shoes of Dean Rogers, who’s now crosstown at AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH). Meanwhile, Mac Dickson is out at WMWX (99.9 Auburn), headed for Augusta’s WMME (92.3) and afternoons. Now doing mornings at 99.9: Rick Taylor and Donna Steele. But wait…there’s more. It seems 99.9 has a new nickname to go with its morning team. Gone is “Mix,” which has become a Clear Channel servicemark. In its place, the station is back to the “Kiss” slogan it used for a decade or so back when it was WKZS — but with that call sign long since taken, we hear the new calls at the new old “Kiss 99.9” will be WMEK.
Just up the coast, Atlantic Coast’s WCLZ (95.5 Topsham) has finally put the AAA format that’s been wandering from station to station to rest. After migrating to 95.5 from what’s now WTPN (98.9 Brunswick), the format was replaced last week by a simulcast of sports “WJAB” (aka WJAE 1440 Westbrook and WJJB 900 Brunswick).
An upstate NEW YORK format change has been monopolizing the radio dial in the NERW-mobile all week. We knew WNUC (107.7 Wethersfield) was planning to switch from country to sports in early October — but we didn’t expect to hear sports talk already in full swing when we got behind the wheel Tuesday morning.
It seems new owner Adelphia decided to use the 10-11AM hour all week as a preview of what’s to come, with the rest of the day still occupied by satellite country. We also noticed that, for a few days at least, the already potent signal was broadcasting in mono only, making it even more listenable around the fringes in Rochester (and presumably in downtown Buffalo as well). The country vanished for good over the weekend (as did any sign of a legal ID — Sunday morning we heard only “Sports Radio 107.7 Wethersfield Buffalo”), and we’re told the full format arrives Monday morning (10/2). Tom Campbell moves over from WYRK (106.5) to do mornings, followed by Fox Sports in late morning, Art Wander from noon till 2, Mike Shopp (moving from Rochester’s WHTK) from 2-6, and Dave Miller from 6-11 on nights when the Sabres aren’t playing. Buffalo Blizzard soccer moves from 107.7 over to WWKB (1520), in the unlikely event anyone notices.
Twenty Years Ago: October 5, 1995