In this week’s issue…Forever adds in York – Changes at iHeart in Mass. – Bud and the Manchild move – WCKL tries yet again – Format change in Montreal? – Tom Pagnotti, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The last sizable market in PENNSYLVANIA whose top-rated stations are locally-owned independents is about to go fully corporate. On the heels of its acquisition of WGTY (107.7) and WGET (1320) from the Gettysburg Times and News, NERW has learned that Forever Broadcasting is about to acquire the other station group at the top of the York ratings, WYCR (98.5) and WHVR (1280) from longtime owner Radio Hanover, Inc.
The combination of country WGTY and classic hits “Peak” WYCR, along with their AM sisters, will give Forever a stronger beachhead as it moves eastward from its home turf in western Pennsylvania. WGTY is already at the top of the 12+ ratings for York with nearly double the market share of its closest Nielsen-subscriber competitor, Cumulus active rocker WQXA (105.7), but it’s believed that non-subscriber WYCR is right there at the top as well. For its part, Cumulus makes up most of the rest of the market’s listening via AC WARM-FM (103.3), classic hits WSOX (96.1) and several rimshots from its nearby Harrisburg cluster.
It’s far too soon, of course, to expect much in the way of changes as Forever establishes itself in the market, but we can speculate in two areas: first, will Forever install its trademark brands in the York market? The formats already match up: WGTY’s country could easily become “Froggy,” while WYCR’s classic hits could fall under the “Pickle” brand that Forever uses on several signals surrounding Pittsburgh. And second, what will become of the AMs? Forever has been unusually aggressive about shutting down marginal AMs rather than fixing sites that need expensive repairs. WGET and WHVR aren’t in bad shape as AMs go, but neither signal comes anywhere close to full coverage of the York market, especially after dark when both drop to 500 watts each.
And there will, of course, inevitably be staffing consolidations as the two station groups join forces. Here’s hoping Forever understands the importance of localism to keeping those signals at the top of the pack. We’ll be watching…
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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: December 8, 2014
*It happens every year around this time at almost all the big broadcast groups: in a push to make the numbers add up at the end of the year, good broadcasters get pushed out the door. This year is no exception. As you’ll read later in the column, several prominent names are off the air this week around the region – but there’s one story in particular that’s getting a lot of attention. That’s the report that iHeart Media, the former Clear Channel, is gearing up to make massive job cuts, supposedly up to a third of its entire radio workforce – and it appears, as best we can tell, to be a considerable exaggeration, at best.
Predicting some cuts at Clear Channel/iHeart this time of year is about as challenging as predicting that the sun will rise or the Bills will lose: it’s what the company does, year after year, to at least some extent. (In the interest of full disclosure, your editor was the victim of one of those cuts three years ago, when Clear Channel shut down the Radio Journal newsletter he’d edited for several years. Just so you know.)
This year’s cuts seem to be aimed primarily at some big numbers on the payroll, including executives who haven’t been at the company all that long. Most prominent last week was Greg Strassell, the longtime Boston-based executive for CBS Radio who jumped to Clear Channel in September 2013 to serve as senior VP of strategic services/national programming platforms. His time with the company ended abruptly last week when he and several other top names were ousted from iHeart’s national offices in New York, and we’re already hearing rumors that he may be on the way back to CBS, where his long programming career included the launch of WBMX on 98.5 back in 1991.
We’re hearing reports, here and there, of other less prominent names being cut as well, especially those with long Clear Channel careers and thus decent salaries and benefits; here in Rochester, for instance, Tom Keller is out after 27 years doing on-air and production work with the cluster (and 37 years in radio overall in the market.)
But it’s one thing to observe that iHeart is making some cuts and another thing entirely to put out a daily drumbeat of rumor and innuendo about large-scale cuts that not only don’t appear to be happening but are almost impossible to conceive. As anyone who’s spent any time inside an iHeart cluster knows by now, the cuts that were easy to make were already made long ago. In small and medium markets, many stations run with just one live daypart and spend the rest of the day tracked or syndicated. In bigger markets, iHeart shows no signs of cutting airshifts just to meet some mythical “33%” goal. And behind the scenes, the typical iHeart cluster is staffed about as thinly as it can be while staying on the air at all. Whatever fat might have been on the bones at most of the company’s stations was cut years ago, and the muscle and bone started to go a few years back, too.
So what’s going on here? While the “33%” story has drawn national attention, it comes from a single source with a long, long history of grudges and legal action against Clear Channel – and of pushing stories that haven’t panned out. (Remember when Cumulus bought CBS Radio? Oh, right…that never did come true, did it?)
Here’s our advice: if you work for iHeart – or for Cumulus, or Townsquare, or any of the big companies that have a history of year-end job cuts – it’s the radio business in 2014 and no job is completely safe. But before you shell out money to subscribe to any newsletter (including this one!), consider what it is you’re being sold. Here at NERW, we’d like to sell you a subscription, too, of course – but we stand by a 20-year history of not stooping to sensationalism or overselling a story to do it. When 2014 gives way to 2015 and we tally up how many jobs were really lost, we’ll bet that our approach turns out to be the more accurate one. If we’re wrong, we’ll say so. And if you know of a job cut we’re not reporting, tell us and we’ll pass it along.
Instead, we go to southeastern MASSACHUSETTS and the cluster Townsquare Media got from Cumulus not long ago. That’s where WBSM (1420 New Bedford) parted ways with morning man/”brand manager” (PD) Pete Braley on Thursday, ending a 25-year run at the station. Braley, 53, told the Standard-Times he was sent packing just after finishing his show, without ever getting a chance to say goodbye to his audience.
And unlike the iHeart rumors, it’s pretty clear that Townsquare really is going after veteran air talent/programmers: Braley’s ouster comes just a few weeks after Townsquare took another former Citadel/Cumulus morning man off the air, Mark Ericson up at WOKQ in Dover, N.H.
*Our NEW YORK news this week, such as it is, starts in Binghamton, where iHeart made a midnight flip last night at WINR (680) and its high-powered FM translator at 96.9, replacing “Oldies 96.9” with classic country as “US 96.9.” The flip allows 96.9 and sister country station WBBI (B 107.5) to flank the market’s dominant country signal, Townsquare’s WHWK (98.1 the Hawk), and it leaves Equinox’s WCDW (Cool 106.7) alone in the classic hits arena.
Five Years Ago: December 6, 2010
Its long term future remains unclear, but NEW JERSEY officials now say the state-owned NJN TV and radio networks may stay on the air past the end of the year, when Governor Chris Christie had planned to pull state subsidy in a move that would likely have meant the end of 41 years of NJN broadcasts.
Christie tells Newark’s Star-Ledger that he’s working with lawmakers to extend state funding into 2011, buying some time for continued negotiations with other public broadcasters who might take over NJN’s operations.
But while Christie still hopes to save the state the $11 million or so it spends each year on subsidies for NJN, his plan doesn’t appear to include selling the NJN broadcast licenses. Instead, Christie tells the paper he’d like to retain the licenses under new management, possibly that of existing public broadcasters in adjoining areas such as New York’s WNET and WNYC and Philadelphia’s WHYY.
NJN employees could know more about their future later this week after the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority meets in Trenton and after a state Senate committee considers a bill that would create a bi-partisan committee to oversee a new management deal for the network. NJN acting executive director Janice Selinger tells the Star-Ledger that it would take about $2.5 million in additional state funding to keep NJN on the air through the end of its fiscal year June 30, and she says Christie administration officials have indicated to her that they’d be willing to make that money available if there’s a plan in place for NJN’s future.
*The launch of a new airstaff on NEW YORK‘s WWPR (Power 105.1) will begin next Monday with a new morning show on the Clear Channel urban station. As had been rumored, former Philly jock “Charlamagne That God” will host the show, along with current Power afternoon jock DJ Envy and Sirius’ Angela Yee.
*Here in Rochester, it was a busy weekend at the Pinnacle Hill tower farm that’s home to most of the city’s TV and FM signals. NERW was there in the cold and snow early Sunday morning as a crew from Fred Nudd’s construction company (including the nonagenarian Nudd himself) used a 300-foot crane to begin dismantling the top of the tower that’s been home to WXXI-TV (Channel 21) and WUHF (Channel 31) since 1980. After three decades with the distinctive candelabra at the center of the Pinnacle Hill complex, the WXXI tower is “topless,” at least for now; later this week, crews will remove the horizontal crossbar from the top of the tower. And sometime next year, if all goes well, the tower will be topped off by a new antenna for WXXI-TV’s channel 16 signal, now broadcast from a side-mounted antenna.
Ten Years Ago: December 4, 2005
If you read any of the daily industry trades, you know there’s really been just one story that’s had the attention of the radio business for the last few weeks: will ABC sell its radio division, to whom, and – perhaps most nerve-wrackingly – when? If we had a buck for every e-mail “BULLETIN” telling us a deal could be announced “as early as today,” we could almost afford to buy ABC Radio ourselves at this point. And if we had a buck for every goofy bit of message-board speculation about what an Entercom purchase of ABC would mean for the talk lineup in Boston, well, we’d have already bought the network, installed ourselves as the fill-in for Paul Harvey (we can dream…) and replaced the talk lineup on WABC (770) with the return of Musicradio 77.
Mr. Harvey can breathe a sigh of relief – we’re not even in the running to buy ABC, of course. But for fans of what may be the most popular top-40 station that ever was, that last bit of fantasy actually took a small step towards reality Saturday night. Yes, that was actual music being heard on WABC, reverb and all, as the station reacted to the summertime disappearance of oldies on New York radio by unveiling its own four-hour weekend oldies block, hosted every Saturday night from 6-10 by Mark Simone. In addition to already being in the building on Saturdays, hosting a morning talk show, Simone has excellent credentials where New York music radio is concerned, with a resume that includes a long stint at the old WPIX-FM.
And while we had our qualms about the first show (Simone brushed off the message-board suggestions for his first song, playing little snippets of “Imagine” – the last song WABC played in 1980, “Summer Wind” – the last song WCBS-FM played in 2005, and “Hit The Road Jack” – for obvious reasons – all mixed together, and the reverb was a far cry from the old version), Phil Boyce and Johnny Donovan and the rest of the crew at WABC made a lot of radio fans very happy this weekend, while sparking all kinds of talk about whether a similar weekend approach might work at other former top-40 AM giants that long ago flipped to talk.
Some sad news from CANADA, as the weekend brought word of the passing of one of that country’s true broadcasting legends. When Allan Waters bought CHUM (1050) in 1954, it was just a little daytimer, but by the time of his retirement half a century later, he’d built first the station and then CHUM Limited into one of Canada’s most important radio and television groups. Waters retired from the CHUM board of directors in October; he died Saturday morning (Dec. 3) in a Toronto hospital at age 84.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 4, 2000
New York City’s oldest FM station may soon be in new hands after 62 years of city schools supervision. WNYE-FM (91.5) traces its history back to 1938, when it was one of the first educational FM stations in the country, operating on the old 42-50 MHz band. Since then, it’s offered the Big Apple a mixture of schools-produced programming, ethnic broadcasts, and NPR programs. Published reports over the past week suggest that era is about to come to an end. The city schools are apparently as eager to give up WNYE-FM (and its TV counterpart, WNYE-TV 25) as the city itself was a few years ago, when it sold WNYC-TV and spun WNYC radio off to a separate nonprofit entity. Ironically, it’s that very entity that would take over WNYE under the plan now being considered.
Right now, WNYC operates two stations, the mostly classical WNYC-FM (93.9) and news-talk-variety WNYC (820 AM). What might WNYC do with a third station? Speculation so far has ranged from using 91.5 to extend the weak night signal of AM 820, to using the new station to bring back the adult standards format that’s now extinct in New York City. What about the French programming in the morning, the Haitian shows at night that seem to be heard in every other Manhattan taxi, and the schools shows? We’ll know more when and if schools chancellor Harold Levy unveils an official plan to hand WNYE-FM management over to WNYC.
As for WNYE-TV, which picked up some of the ethnic programming displaced by the demise of the old WNYC-TV in 1997 (that station, sold by the city for $207 million, is now Pax outlet WPXN-TV), there’s been talk of handing its operations over to competing PBS outlet WNET (Channel 13), but those plans appear less certain at press time.
Up in the North Country, Tim Martz has applied to make some big changes at his stations, now that the FCC has approved a swap of his frequency allocations in Canton and Morristown. Here’s how things would play out: WVLF Canton, now a class A station on 96.7, would boost power to 23.5kw from 338 meters (with a directional antenna) from its transmitter site on Waterman Hill south of Canton. WVLF would move to 102.9, yielding its 96.7 frequency to WNCQ Morristown. That station would also get to go up to a class C3, with 17.2 kW at 354 meters from a new transmitter site northwest of Gouverneur, close enough to Watertown to make the new signal a rimshot contender there. Martz would also raise the power on his WRCD (101.5 Canton), which would go up to a full 50 kW (albeit directional) from 453 meters, at a new site on Whites Hill southeast of Potsdam (near the WNPI-TV tower).
Radio People on the Move: After more than 50 years at Dundee’s WFLR (1570/95.9), one of the station’s founders is hanging up his headphones. Robert William None has done everything from sales to news at the little community station. Most recently, he’s been heard Saturday mornings and on the “Poem of the Day.” Across the Finger Lakes in Cortland, Tony DeFranco has been promoted from PD to operations manager at Citadel’s WKRT (920) and WIII (99.9). Congratulations to WGY (810 Schenectady) morning host Don Weeks, who’s marking 20 years at the talker this month. Up in Potsdam, the folks at WPDM (1470) and WSNN (99.3) are mourning a station veteran. Dave Cady came to WPDM from Watertown’s WOTT (1410) in the late 1960s, and hosted the “Dave Cady Good Morning Show” until his retirement in 1998. Cady was 62 when he died November 28 at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.
Moving to the Southern Tier, there’s a new station of sorts in Elmira. After being off the air for just short of the one-year deadline (NERW, 12/10/1999), WEHH in Elmira Heights-Horseheads is once again being heard by listeners in Chemung County. Instead of its old 1590 signal from Latta Brook Road, though, WEHH is now operating on 1600 kHz from the studios and transmitter site of co-owned WELM (1410 Elmira) down on Lake Avenue. WEHH retains its locally-automated adult standards, and we suspect the Sunday morning polkas are once again being heard on both WEHH and WELM.
Up in CANADA this week, we know more about the shakeout at Corus’ Hamilton operations. Among the 21 staffers who lost their jobs last week were all the top air personalities at classic rocker CJXY (95.3): morning team Lori Love and Scott Thompson, midday guy Jeremy Smith, and afternoon jock Todd Lewis, as well as PD David Foreman. Also out: CHML (900) midday guy Rick Malo and CING (107.9, “Energy 108”) night jock Mastermind. The Energy Radio operation will move from the side of Highway 401 in Burlington to the CHML/Y95 complex on Main Street in Hamilton, and we hear the plan is to combine Y95, Oshawa’s “Magic” (CKGE 94.9), and Barrie’s CHAY (93.1) into a new station that will surround Toronto with a simulcast on all three frequencies.
We haven’t heard any more tests on 740, but we can tell you a little more about the new station that will soon launch there in Toronto. We’re told the calls will be CFPT, “Prime Time Radio,” and that the adult-standards station will use the CBC facility at Hornby, the same transmitter that operated as CBL until summer 1999. That should mean no trouble hearing the signal across southern Ontario and western New York once it does launch. (We also note that the folks at CHWO Oakville, the station that’s transmuting into CFPT, have registered primetimeradio.net as a domain name, though nothing’s active there yet.)
Twenty Years Ago: December 8, 1995
NERW’s 1995 Year in Review – read it in its entirety here!