In this week’s issue… Syracuse FMs go non-comm – Tower down in VT – Shakeup at WCBS – Montreal AM may go dark – New format on the Jersey Shore
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Happy New Year – and welcome to our 22nd year of service to the broadcasters of the northeastern US and eastern Canada! If you were on vacation last week and missed our big 2015 Year in Review package, take a few minutes out of your week and catch up – it’s all available in five parts: the year in station sales, the year in people and formats (parts one and two), the year’s top ten stories and the year in obituaries.
And if your year is starting with a blank space on the wall where a new calendar should be, come to our newly-upgraded Fybush Media Store and we’ll get your 2016 Tower Site Calendar on the way to you right away!
*The last station sale of 2015 turned out to be one of the biggest surprises: Bath-based Family Life Ministries expanded its reach into central NEW YORK with the $2.5 million purchase of WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) and WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida) from James Johnson’s Leatherstocking Media Group.
Back in 2009, Leatherstocking paid Buckley Broadcasting $2.1 million for WSEN-FM and its Syracuse sister stations, WSEN (1050) and WFBL (1390), just weeks after it paid Warren Broadcasting $950,000 for WMCR-FM and sister station WMCR (1600 Oneida). In the years that followed, Leatherstocking left WSEN-FM’s classic hits format largely alone, updated WMCR-FM’s format from sleepy AC to a hotter AC as “Mix 106,” combined WFBL and WMCR(AM) into a low-rated talk format, and put older oldies on WSEN(AM).
In the meantime, Leatherstocking had to compete with just a single FM in one of the most crowded medium markets in the country, where iHeart, Cumulus, Ed Levine’s Galaxy and Craig Fox’s stations all battled it out for listeners’ ears.
As soon as the sale to Family Life closes, WSEN-FM and WMCR-FM will drop their current format and begin carrying programming from FLN’s Bath studios. The move extends FLN’s reach eastward from its current eastward outposts, WCOV (93.7 Clyde) and a translator in Baldwinsville, offering a new challenge to the established religious player in town, Mars Hill Network’s WMHR (102.9 Syracuse).
And what of the remainder of Leatherstocking? FLN gets an option to buy WFBL and to move the 92.1 transmitter to the WFBL site from its longtime home on Smokey Hollow Road in Baldwinsville. It’s not clear what becomes of WFBL and its sister AMs; Leatherstocking has already shut down the third leg in its “CNY TalkRadio” simulcast, WUTI (1150 Utica), and it’s not hard to imagine WFBL and WMCR(AM) following suit if a buyer for those and WSEN(AM) can’t be found. If that comes to pass, it will be a sad end for what were once important local voices, especially in Madison County, where WMCR has long been the only local radio between Syracuse and Utica.
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*CBS Radio’s cuts continued into the new year in NEW YORK City, where WCBS (880) morning co-anchor Pat Carroll is out after more than two decades at the station. Wayne Cabot moves from afternoons to replace her in morning drive, with Michael Wallace taking Cabot’s afternoon shift. In both morning and afternoon drive slots, WCBS is adding additional traffic reports, which will now run every five minutes.
Back in April 2015, Radio Disney announced a partnership with iBiquity to put its programming on HD Radio FM subchannels in major markets around the country, but aside from one station in Las Vegas that went on for the NAB Show, there wasn’t much action – until now. New Disney HD outlets began appearing in December, including WBMP (92.3)’s HD3 in New York and WXTU (92.5)’s HD3 in Philadelphia.
*In Buffalo, the end of 2015 meant a farewell to one of the city’s most experienced TV reporters. After starting his career in Ithaca, working at WNYS (Channel 9) in Syracuse and WOKR (Channel 13) in Rochester and spending three years at WMAQ (Channel 5) in Chicago, Rich Newberg joined WIVB (Channel 4) in 1978 as a weekend anchor. Newberg moved up to the weeknight anchor chair, then became a senior correspondent in 1999, producing award-winning series and documentaries for the station. Newberg was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2006 and had been chairing the group’s committee that’s preserving archival film from Buffalo’s TV newsrooms. Newberg retired at the end of December amidst honors that included a WIVB special chronicling his career.
Rochester was one of two cities where Anne Keefe merited the title “broadcast legend.” The University of Rochester graduate started at WHAM (1180) in 1946 as an actor and moved over to WHAM-TV (Channel 6) when it signed on in 1949. Over 26 years with the TV station (later WROC-TV 8), Keefe did just about everything from hosting “Dialing for Dollars” to becoming a pioneering news anchor and interviewer. A strike in 1975 sent Keefe (and most of the rest of the WROC-TV airstaff) packing; en route to a new job in Kansas City, Keefe was intercepted by legendary KMOX (1120 St. Louis) general manager Robert Hyland, who hired her as a talk host and started her on a second huge chapter in her career. Keefe became one of the key voices at KMOX until her retirement in 1993. She later appeared as a panelist on local public TV shows there. At age 86, Keefe returned to Rochester in 2011 to live with a daughter and be closer to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she was still as sharp as ever. (Your editor had the chance to spend an hour interviewing her in 2013, and you can hear that show here.)
Keefe died December 26 at her home in suburban Rochester, at age 90.
*In NEW JERSEY, the new year starts with a new format on WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton), Press Communications’ Ocean County signal that had been simulcasting “Fun” WWZY (107.1 Long Branch). Press broke the simulcast November 1 do Christmas music on WBHX, branding it as “the Island,” then flipped after Christmas to classic hits, keeping the “Island” identity. Ted Efaw is the new PD for WBHX, which goes head-on against Greater Media’s WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin) one notch up the dial.
Access.1 has finally sold its last holding in the Garden State: WGYM (1580 Hammonton) is headed to the Trenton-based Domestic Church Media Foundation for just $75,000. The station had most recently been simulcasting Spanish-language programming from Access.1’s WWRL (1600 New York); it will flip to a simulcast of Domestic’s Catholic WFJS (1260 Trenton) once the sale closes.
*It was a rough start to the new year at VERMONT‘s WEQX (102.7 Manchester), where the pole atop the station’s broadcast tower atop Mount Equinox collapsed in a winter storm on Tuesday morning, sending the two-bay antenna to the ground and knocking the alternative rocker off the air. Within two days of the collapse, engineers had a temporary antenna back in place, and they’re hoping to have ‘EQX back to full power within a week or two.
*Radio People on the Move in NEW HAMPSHIRE: Tim Martin has departed Northeast Communications’ WFTN-FM (94.1 Franklin), where he was afternoon jock and business manager. Production director Eric Scott starts in afternoon drive today, and Jeanne Lester (late of WTPL in Hillsborough) will handle traffic and billing at the WFTN stations.
*In MAINE, Dan Priestley’s Bangor-market stations are heading to the sale block several months after his untimely death. Priestley’s widow will get $90,000 from Charles Begin’s Pine Tree Communications for WGUY (1230 Veazie), its translator W231CH (94.1) and WWZN (1400 Veazie). WGUY/W231CH have already dropped their oldies format to begin simulcasting Pine Tree’s WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) into the Bangor market.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Entercom has filled the vacancy in the Red Sox radio booth left by Dave O’Brien’s move to NESN’s TV broadcasts next season. Tim Neverett, who’s been announcing for the Pittsburgh Pirates for seven seasons, will return to his native New England in the spring. Neverett, a Nashua native, started in baseball radio back in 1985 calling games for the AA Nashua Pirates and had also worked for the Colorado Rockies. Joe Castiglione will return in 2016 for a 34th season in the booth.
*There’s a new program lineup at Connoisseur’s “Talk of CONNECTICUT” stations, including WDRC (1360 Hartford): Dan Lovallo returns to the four-station simulcast with a weekday noon show, “Front and Center,” with other changes set to be announced this week.
In Bridgeport, Best Media’s as-yet-unbuilt W271CH (102.1) is applying for a shift to 102.3, where it would run 80 watts/711′ as a simulcast of WPLR (99.1 New Haven).
*A PENNSYLVANIA AM station that was in the headlines a few weeks ago has lost its lease tenant. New World Radio’s WNWR (1540 Philadelphia) was one of several stations around the country carrying programming from “G&E Studios,” a California company that’s 60% owned by the Chinese government. A Reuters story late last year put a spotlight on the Chinese/G&E leases at stations such as WNWR and its Washington-market sister, WCRW (1190 Leesburg VA); whether or not that was the cause, G&E abruptly ended several of those leases at the end of 2015, including at WNWR, which is now playing jazz music. As of the weekend, G&E programming is still airing on Radio One’s WILD (1090 Boston).
On the TV dial, Tribune’s WPHL (Channel 17) ended the unusual all-Mummers-parade programming that had been airing on its 17.4 subchannel since late 2014. That channel is now carrying Sinclair’s Comet TV science-fiction channel instead. (This year’s Mummers parade did air on WPHL’s main channel New Year’s Day, and it’s available on the WPHL website, too.)
At the other end of the state, Jeff Andrulonis’ Colonial Media is buying a dark AM station outside Pittsburgh. WAVL (910 Apollo) had been off the air for five months before returning Dec. 30 under an LMA with Colonial, which is putting its “Mountain” classic rock format (from WXMT 106.3 Smethport) on the AM signal pending a purchase – and, presumably, an FM translator pretty soon. Colonial says it plans to add a local studio in the Alle-Kiski Valley once it takes over the license from Evangel Heights Assembly of God.
*It was a quiet couple of holiday weeks in CANADA, but one Montreal AM station says it needs some serious activity in the first few weeks of 2016 or it will go out of business. CJRS (1650) has been on the air for a decade as “Radio Shalom,” programming to Quebec’s Jewish community in French, English and Hebrew. Founder Robert Levy says the station’s financial problems have been growing, and on Dec. 30 he issued a press release announcing that “if the Jewish community does not show an interest in Radio Shalom before Jan. 31, 2016, negotiations will begin to permanently hand over the 1650 AM frequency to another community.” Levy says the current Radio Shalom board is willing to resign if another Jewish group is willing to help keep the volunteer-run station going.
We’re a community.
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: January 3, 2015
The year’s first format change comes from the heart of central NEW YORK.
That would be the Townsquare cluster in Utica, where we’d heard some rumblings that changes were afoot at WODZ-FM (96.1 Rome), which had kept its “Oldiez 96” branding even as its music moved along from 50s and 60s pop to more recent classic hits.
Now “Oldiez” is gone (though the WODZ calls remain for now), replaced by “96.1 the Eagle.” It’s the second 96.1 that Townsquare has freshened up along the Thruway corridor in the last few months, hot on the heels of what’s now “Mix” WMSX over in Buffalo.
The Utica rebranding comes with some staff and management changes: we’re told Keith James is out in mornings, as is Greg McShea in afternoons. Eric Meier adds “brand manager” duties for Eagle to his existing job down the hall at WLZW (Lite 98.7); former Oldiez brand manager Dave Wheeler is still in the building as midday guy on “Big Frog” WFRG (104.3).
Down the Thruway in Albany, there’s a format change coming to Pamal’s WZMR (104.9 Altamont). Next Monday, it will drop the AAA “Peak” format it launched just over a year ago and will instead flip to CBS Sports Radio as “Win 104.9,” with new calls WINU, according to RadioInsight.
On the NEW JERSEY shore, New Year’s Eve was farewell time for WMGM-TV (Channel 40), at least in its “NBC40” incarnation.
As we’d expected, owner LocusPoint is keeping WMGM’s over-the-air signal running for however long it takes to get its license into the FCC spectrum auction, now set for sometime in 2016. But instead of the local news and other programming that former owner Access.1 continued to provide under an LMA arrangement right up until 11:59 PM New Year’s Eve, WMGM is now filling its airtime with a mixture of infomercials and “Soul of the South,” one of Luken’s low-budget satellite programming services
Access.1 went out with some class: WMGM produced an excellent hour-long retrospective, “The Stories Behind the Station,” that lives on at YouTube. (Its final newscast from Wednesday night was also posted there for those of us who weren’t able to be in viewing range.)
Five Years Ago: January 3, 2011
Welcome to the new year – and to new formats at a bunch of signals from one end of NERW-land to the other.
While most of the flips were either expected long before Christmas or took place in time for us to mention them on the Twitter and Facebook feeds we were updating over the holidays, at least one is brand-new this morning.
That’s in the Albany, NEW YORK market, where Townsquare Media flipped WBZZ (105.7 Malta) from AC “Buzz” to all-Christmas music as “Santa 105.7” back on November 1, one of the season’s first flips – and where “Santa” stuck around for an extra week, long after most of the region’s other Christmas stations had unceremoniously switched back to regular programming on or just after Christmas Day.
At midnight, “Santa” finally flew out of the Capital District, leaving behind a new station called “105.7 Crush FM,” with new calls WQSH.
The new format is billed as “90s and More,” a close cousin to the “Gen-X” formats that have launched recently in markets such as Louisville, St. Louis and out on Long Island, and it promises to mix a heavy diet of pop hits from the 1990s with a handful of compatible songs from the preceding and succeeding decades.
*In the Mohawk Valley, Bill Keeler starts 2011 without a radio station. The veteran Utica air personality had been doing mornings on WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), but station owner Mindy Barstein is installing the syndicated “Bob & Tom” on 92.7 beginning next week, returning them to Utica morning drive for the first time since Clear Channel sold former Bob & Tom outlet WOUR (96.9) a few years back.
Keeler had been leasing the morning hours on WXUR, and he says he wanted the station to succeed. “I took a radio station that nobody knew about and helped it get a name in this area,” he said in an article on his Utica Daily News website announcing his departure. Keeler says he was offered the afternoon slot on WXUR but turned it down, and he says he’ll keep publishing the online Daily News while he looks for new opportunities.
*In Syracuse, Clear Channel didn’t just migrate its WSYR news-talk format to the FM dial Sunday night – it’s not even acknowledging WSYR’s eight-plus decades of history on the AM dial now that “FM Newsradio 106.9 WSYR” is on the air.
The transition began on Dec. 22, when Clear Channel pulled Fox Sports Radio off the air at WHEN (620) with no warning at 3 PM, replacing the sports station with a simulcast of WPHR (106.9 Solvay), which began rebranding the next morning as “Power 620,” directing the urban FM station’s listeners down to the AM dial to continue to hear the format. A few days later, Clear Channel filed to return the WSYR-FM calls to Syracuse (where they were heard until the mid-80s on 94.5, now WYYY), swapping them with WPHR on “Star 94.7,” a Clear Channel-controlled AC station serving West Palm Beach.
*The “Champ” is no more in VERMONT: as had been widely hinted in the days leading up to Christmas, New Year’s Day brought a new format to replace the classic rock that has long been a staple on Vox’s WCPV (101.3 Essex NY). The first format flip in WCPV’s 17-year history brought ESPN Radio over to the FM dial in the Burlington market.
The new “ESPN 101.3” has one local show, “Rob & Rich” with Rob Ryan and Rich Haskell, debuting this afternoon from 4-6 PM. The rest of the day is network programming, moving ESPN over from Northeast Broadcasting’s Champlain Valley AM trimulcast of WCAT (1390 Burlington), WRSA (1420 St. Albans) and WFAD (1490 Middlebury). Those stations flipped from ESPN to Fox Sports Radio – and the airtime Fox Sports used to get on Vox’s WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY) has been filled with more syndicated talk.
*The biggest change in PENNSYLVANIA radio was one we’d known about for a few months now: the New Year’s Day switch from ESPN Radio to Radio Disney at Pittsburgh’s WEAE (1250), which had been by far the smallest-market owned-and-operated signal in the ESPN Radio fold.
If the new Radio Disney format on 1250 is meant to be temporary while Disney seeks a buyer for the station, you’d never know it by the calls: as soon as the format changed, 1250 began identifying itself as “WDDZ, Pittsburgh.” Those calls had belonged to the now-silent Disney outlet in Pawtucket, R.I., and it’s not yet clear what callsign will show up on that station when it returns to the air later in 2011 under Salem’s ownership. (Ironically, “WEAE” would be a halfway-decent choice of calls in Pawtucket if 550, as expected, ends up largely simulcasting Salem’s religious WEZE 590 in Boston.)
Ten Years Ago: January 2, 2006
Fifteen Years Ago: January 1, 2001
Twenty Years Ago: January 3, 1996