In this week’s issue… Stephanos lands at WCVB – NYC AM sold – New urban in Boston – WFAS drops last local shows – Hetsko returns to WROC – Bob Elliott, RIP

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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(Editor’s note: This week’s NERW will appear in two parts – today’s news update, followed on Tuesday by a NERW Extra analyzing the first week of AM translator window applications. So don’t forget to join us again right here in this space Tuesday morning for more NERW…)

If you’re trying to make sense of where Boston TV is heading, here’s a bit of advice that’s been true ever since 1972: don’t bet against WCVB (Channel 5). While Sunbeam’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) is working out its post-NBC future next year and Comcast is getting ready to launch its new “NBC Boston,” one of the market’s biggest local news stars is now on board with WCVB, where she’s helping to launch a new newscast that will take on her former employer directly.

wcvb-stephanosThat would be Maria Stephanos, who reappeared on Channel 5 last week to end five months of local TV exile after her departure last September from Fox affiliate WFXT (Channel 25). Her exit from WFXT was a blow to that station as it settled in under new Cox ownership, and it could have been a huge boon for Comcast in its attempt to give Boston viewers a reason to try out the new local newscasts it will launch next year on its new NBC affiliate.

But instead of going to the new NBC Boston, or to Sunbeam to help bolster WHDH after the loss of NBC, Stephanos is joining the already formidable WCVB newsroom, where she’s now anchoring at 7 and 11 PM with Ed Harding.

And Stephanos’ new job comes with a new newscast, too: WCVB is about to become the last of Boston’s big four TV newsrooms to launch a 10 PM broadcast, which Stephanos will anchor on WCVB’s MeTV 5.2 subchannel. The new “Ten O’Clock News” (a heritage name that once graced newscasts on WLVI, and before that on public TV WGBH) will go up against Stephanos’ old flagship WFXT prime-time newscast. It will also compete with WBZ’s 10 PM offering on WSBK (Channel 38) and WLVI’s 10 PM news on WLVI (Channel 56) – and it will, we believe, make Boston the only market with four local stations all doing news at 10 PM Eastern.

Stephanos was one of two big local news stars who appeared to be potential prizes for Comcast’s new entry. The other, former WHDH chief meteorologist Pete Bouchard, did sign on with “NBC Boston.” Why isn’t Stephanos headed there? Perhaps it’s the fact that she could go right back on the air with WCVB instead of waiting a year for Comcast’s new station to launch. Or – could it be that there’s still a chance that NBC calls WHDH’s bluff and ends up buying channel 7 instead of competing with it?

We’ll be watching closely for more clues – and so, we suspect, will Stephanos, from her new comfortable perch in Needham at channel 5.

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*Last week began with a surprise format change in NEW YORK City, where WWRL (1600) went from regional Mexican “Radio Invasora” to South Asian “Radio Zindagi” on Monday morning.

wwrl-zindagiFor now, it’s an LMA between Zindagi programmer NJ Broadcasting LLC and WWRL owner Access.1, but NJ Broadcasting plans to buy the 25 kW signal. NJ Broadcasting is owned by Dr. Nimisha Shukla of Edison, NJ, and its programming had been heard on an HD subchannel of WQHT (97.1) and on several translators. (RadioInsight reports those signals are now carrying another South Asian service, Radio 8K, also heard on WWTR 1170 in New Jersey.)

*Across the river in Brooklyn, Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) faces a new challenge in the form of a federal lawsuit filed by Dr. Gary Null, the longtime WBAI host whose medical supplements and books have been pledge-drive staples at the troubled station. The suit accuses WBAI of making its own pirated copies of Null’s programs and offering counterfeit versions of Null’s products to fulfill pledges from listeners expecting to get genuine Null materials. (To make matters worse, Null says WBAI took months and in some cases years to fulfill those pledges.)

Leaving aside the question of how WBAI became so dependent on Null, whose programming surely wasn’t what Pacifica’s founders had in mind for the network, the suit isn’t specifying exactly how much Null seeks in damages – but any amount would be bad news for the financially-strained WBAI and the national Pacifica organization, which is also named in the suit.

wfasam*In Westchester County, Cumulus dealt another blow to local radio last week when it dismissed the last four employees who were keeping WFAS (1230 White Plains) barely alive as a Westchester station. The talk format WFAS had been carrying, including local morning host Peter Marrone, is now gone, replaced with a 24/7 feed of the Cumulus-syndicated CBS Sports Radio. The move gives that network an AM clearance in the New York market, where it had previously been heard on the HD3 of WCBS-FM (101.1) and during some overnight and weekend hours on CBS’ WFAN (660/101.9).

Over at Pamal’s WHUD (100.7), night host Kathy Millar is out after five years at the helm of “Night Rhythms.”

Upstate, Entercom’s “Alt Buffalo” (WLKK 107.7 Wethersfield) is looking for a new morning host following Tiffany Bentley’s crosstown move to Cumulus’ WEDG (103.3), where she’s now music director and afternoon jock.

In Jamestown, Bible Broadcasting Network translator W203BV (88.5) has filed for a license to cover for its move to 91.9. The shift gets the translator out of the way of an upgrade across the state line at WYVL (88.5 Youngsville PA).

Here in Rochester, Brian McGlynn’s W248BH (97.5 Gates) has filed to upgrade to 250 watts as a fill-in translator of Crawford’s WDCX (990 Rochester). This one’s not part of the FCC’s AM improvement window, because the translator’s only moving a few miles and it’s going to a class B station, which can’t file under the improvement window until July. (We’ll have a full recap of the past week’s improvement window filings in a special NERW issue tomorrow…)

And one of the happiest stories we’ve been able to cover is the return of chief meteorologist Scott Hetsko to Rochester CBS affiliate WROC-TV (Channel 8). Hetsko had been sidelined since June with heart problems that forced him to undergo a heart transplant in September. After several more months of recuperation, everything checked out cleanly for Hetsko last week – and he was back on the air for WROC’s post-Super Bowl newscast Sunday night.

In his trademark form, Hetsko started the broadcast by declaring himself “in for Stacey Pensgen,” WROC’s #2 meteorologist who’d been covering his shifts for the last eight months.

Here’s to a continued healthy recovery for Hetsko – and lots of good times with his family, including a 10-year-old son and 3-year-old twins!

(A salute, too, to WROC sports director John Kucko, who heads home today from California after doing Super Bowl coverage for WROC and literally dozens of Nexstar sister stations from coast to coast.)

*Congratulations to NEW JERSEY‘s WSOU (89.5 South Orange), which was honored at Newark’s Prudential Center on Saturday for the 50th anniversary of “Hall Line,” the post-game call-in show that follows every Seton Hall basketball game.

wsou-bickler-windremMore than 120 WSOU alumni, staff and friends gathered for the event, which included pre-game honors on the court and a reunion for the show’s original hosts, Vincent Bickler and Robert Windrem. Bickler later worked for CBS and Windrem still works for NBC News; together, they hosted a special “Hall Line” after Seton Hall’s win over Georgetown.

Other “Hall Line” alumni attending the event included ESPN’s Bob Picozzi, Devils radio play-by-play announcer Matt Loughlin, WINS’ Frank Garrity, ABC Radio’s David Rind, and MSNBC’s Brian Wisowaty. ESPN’s Bob Ley addressed the reunion by video.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, there was a stealth format change in Boston: Alex Langer’s WZBR (1410 Dedham) flipped to an urban format last week as “The Bass of Boston.” Will the new leased-time programmers try to find a translator to get their new format on FM?

Radio People on the Move: Greater Media’s been busy promoting some good people lately, and now that includes Buzz Knight. The former jock at Connecticut’s WRKI and New York’s WNEW-FM made a name for himself programming WZLX in Boston. He joined Greater Media in 2002, where he’s been VP of program development – and is now Senior VP of program development.

Where are they now? Former WBZ (1030) engineer Norm Avery went west in the early 1990s to become chief engineer at KABC/KLOS in Los Angeles, and while he survived changes in ownership from ABC to Citadel to Cumulus, the ongoing Cumulus cuts claimed his job last week, which we were most sorry to hear.

Bob Schuman did news at WROR (98.5) in the early 1980s, working for RKO General as it tried to stave off a license revocation. He later went on to work at a long list of big stations around the country, most notably in Detroit at WJR/WHYT, WOWF/WYCD and most recently at WOMC, where he was news director. Schuman died Jan. 30 of congestive heart failure; he was 65.

And Bob Elliott may have become nationally famous as half of the comedy duo Bob & Ray, but their pairing began as a strictly local Boston affair. Elliott, who died Tuesday at 92 at his home in Maine, started his radio career at WHDH (850) in the early 1940s, but was quickly off to serve in the Army in Europe. When he returned, WHDH had hired Ray Goulding as an announcer – and by 1946 the two were inextricably paired in middays and then mornings. Five years later, it was off to NBC and a pairing that would last more than four decades until Goulding’s death. In Elliott’s memory, we’re hanging some Einbinder Flypaper and asking you to write if you get work.

wlkw-jagolinzer*In the years when RHODE ISLAND‘s WLKW (990/101.5 Providence) was one of the top beautiful-music signals in the country, Norm Jagolinzer was that station’s distinctive voice. Jagolinzer also worked at WARA in Attleboro and WPRO in Providence. He retired in 2004 and was inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. Jagolinzer died Feb. 1 at 83.

*In VERMONT, Vox has brought the syndicated Elvis Duran morning show back to WXZO (Planet 96.7), where it had been heard from 2012-2012. WXZO morning host/OM/PD Mike “Slater” Wheaton moves down the hall to WEZF (92.9), where he’ll become PD/MD and afternoon host. Jennifer Foxx, who’d been Star 92.9 PD, will stay with the station as midday host. Steve “Stevie Beats” Bassett takes over as PD/MD at WXZO.

*It was a quiet week in PENNSYLVANIA broadcasting, except for some Radio People on the Move in Pittsburgh.

At public radio WESA (90.5), Deanna Garcia is now serving as acting news director. Across the river at PNC Park, Joe Block takes over from the Red Sox-bound Tim Neverett in the Pirates’ radio booth this season. Block is inbound from Milwaukee, where he was the #2 voice in the Brewers’ booth next to Bob Uecker; in Pittsburgh, he’ll work with Greg Brown on KDKA-FM (93.7) and ROOT Sports.

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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: February 9, 2015

*Morning drive in New York City has been a surprisingly volatile shift lately, and this week the volatility comes in the world of Spanish-language radio, where Luis Jimenez is headed back to his original New York radio home, Spanish Broadcasting System. In a 14-year run at SBS, Jimenez took WSKQ-FM (97.9) to the top of the ratings, the first time a Spanish-language station had landed there – and then he made big headlines in 2008 when he jumped ship to competitor Univision Radio. Jimenez was a big part of the launch of WCAA (105.9), which quickly transitioned to a better signal as WXNY (96.3), but he disappeared from that station last year amidst big budget cuts at Univision.

wpat-jimenezNow he’s returning to SBS, but not to WSKQ. Instead, Jimenez will be on sister station WPAT-FM (93.1 Amor FM), where his “Sin Censura con Luis Jimenez” (“Uncensored”) show will be originated for national syndication. Is Jimenez a big enough name to pull WPAT-FM out of its distant third place among New York’s big Spanish-language FMs, far behind both WSKQ-FM and WXNY?

*In upstate NEW YORK, Ray Marks had a long and prominent career in radio news in and around Buffalo, starting as a reporter/anchor at WYSL (1400)/WPHD (103.3) and WGRQ (96.9) and a producer at WIVB (Channel 4). He was best known for his many years as an anchor and news director at WBEN (930) and WGR (550), right up until Entercom merged his WGR newsroom into the WBEN operation in the 1990s. Marks stayed in radio as news director at Jamestown’s WJTN (1240)/WWSE (93.3), then went on to contribute stories to WBFO (88.7) and teach at Medaille College in retirement. Sadly, his retirement was cut short by a leukemia diagnosis last year, and after a courageous fight against the disease, Marks died on Wednesday. He was 70.

*If you’re a baseball fan in central PENNSYLVANIA, you’re probably (but far from certainly) a Phillies fan – and you’re probably going to have to twist your dial to find your team this coming summer. The Phils had been heard on Cumulus-owned sports talker WHGB (1400) and its FM translator on 95.3, but that station (which just relocated its translator home to a more potent signal on 96.5) is switching to the Washington Nationals this year. That clears up a territorial conflict with the station that took over ESPN Radio when WHGB switched to CBS Sports Radio in 2013: Hall’s WLPA (1490 Lancaster) was already carrying the Phils, but its new FM sister, WLPA-FM (92.7 Starview) covered too much of Harrisburg and couldn’t carry Phillies games in conflict with WHGB. Now Hall has full rights to the Phillies in both Lancaster and Harrisburg, and this year the Phils will be heard on both 1490 and 92.7. (The WLPA simulcast will still split for Penn State football, where WHGB still holds the exclusive territorial rights to Harrisburg.)

Five Years Ago: February 7, 2011

*Will NEW YORK become the latest state to make pirate radio a crime? Beset by a growing number of unlicensed broadcasters and an understaffed FCC that can’t keep up with the interference they cause, state lawmakers in Florida and New Jersey have passed laws in recent years giving state law-enforcement officials the power to investigate and shut down unlicensed broadcasters.

Now the Empire State is poised to join them, as Albany lawmakers consider a pair of bills (A.326 in the state assembly, S.2737 in the state senate) that would make a class D felon out of anyone who “knowingly makes or causes to be made a radio transmission in this state without first having obtained a license or an exemption from licensure” or “acts, whether directly or indirectly, to cause an unauthorized radio transmission to, or interference with, a public or commercial radio station…or to enable the radio transmission or interference to occur.”

The bill has the support of the New York State Broadcasters Association, whose members (especially in the New York City area) have long been plagued by pirates that interfere with their signals and, in some cases, their business. So it’s not surprising to see the outspoken Bill O’Shaughnessy, whose WVIP (93.5 New Rochelle) broadcasts leased-time programming to many of the same audiences targeted by the pirates, making a strong case for the anti-pirate law.

O’Shaughnessy praises the dedication of the “legitimate entrepreneurial minority broadcasters who play by the rules and serve a wide range of constituencies with community programming broadcast in many different languages,” but he warns that “their dedication and hard work is seriously threatened by the ‘fly by night’ pirates who are in clear violation of Federal laws concerning the integrity of the spectrum.” And he says the situation has gotten so out of control that “FCC field agents have actually been threatened when, with their limited staff resources, they tried to move on the pirates.”

But the broadcast community in New York is far from unanimous in its support of the bill. The Society of Broadcast Engineers has opposed state involvement in broadcast regulation, warning that the establishment of state jurisdiction in one context (pirate radio, in this case) could lead to states asserting regulatory authority over other aspects of broadcasting as well – including areas such as tower siting where broadcasters have traditionally relied on federal preemption of state law to get around local authorities that have tried to restrict their operations.

*One of CANADA‘s first black-owned radio stations has changed hands, and that’s brought big changes in staff and programming at “Flow 93.5,” CFXJ Toronto.

CTV closed on its C$27 million purchase of the station from founder Denham Jolly last week, and wasted no time moving the station’s studios from 211 Yonge Street to the CHUM complex between Richmond and Queen streets.

With a new slogan of “Hip-hop, dance and R&B,” CTV’s version of Flow more closely resembles a rhythmic top-40 than the urban station Jolly was running – and along with the format shift came the departure of many of Jolly’s employees, including PD Wayne Williams and much of the station’s airstaff.

*When we sat down to write last week’s NERW, we didn’t include an item about the “suspension” of the morning team at Ottawa’s “Virgin Radio” (CKQB 106.9). Something about the story – perhaps the idea that the hosts were pulled from the air after disobeying orders from “the boss” to stop mentioning the station’s former identity as “The Bear” – carried with it a strong whiff of eau de publicity stunt.

And sure enough, our nose wasn’t steering us wrong: as of Friday morning, the “Virgin” identity, which never quite fit the rock format in Ottawa as well as it did at Astral’s top-40 “Virgin” signals in Montreal and Toronto, is gone. 106.9 is now back to “The Bear” after just over two years – and the existing airstaff (yes, including the “suspended” morning team) remains in place.

*There’s a new FM station on the air – sort of – in Danbury, CONNECTICUT, where Berkshire Broadcasting has changed the callsign of WREF (850 Ridgefield) to WAXB, rebranding the station as “B107.3” as it makes its FM debut on newly-acquired translator W279AN (107.3 Danbury), transmitting from the tower of co-owned WLAD (800)/WDAQ (98.3). The new B107.3 keeps the same satellite-delivered True Oldies Channel format; its new calls, meanwhile, have a history in the market, having been heard on the competing station that’s now WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) back when it was “B105.5” from 1996-2002.

Ten Years Ago: February 8, 2006

So much for the oldies on Buffalo’s WWKB (1520) – after a three-year run with the format (almost to the day, actually), they’re gone, as of 3 PM Monday, replaced with liberal talk. And that means two liberal talkers in Buffalo, unless Entercom’s pre-emptive strike on 1520 knocks WHLD’s plans out before the new station can even get out of the gate.

There are certainly bigger stories making headlines in PENNSYLVANIA this week – especially for football fans anywhere west of Harrisburg or thereabouts – but for fans of old-time radio history, there’s a pretty significant story developing in the small town of Grove City, halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie. That’s where one of the last vestiges of the early history of educational radio may now have breathed its last. WSAJ (1340) traced its history back to amateur station 8CO, which began operations in 1914. After being silenced by the war, Grove City College returned to the air in 1920 as 8YV, and in 1921, 8YV received a broadcast license as WSAJ, using a transmitter built by electrical engineering professor Dr. Herbert W. Harmon. For most of its existence, WSAJ shared time with what’s now WOYL in Oil City, and even after WOYL went full-time (with a directional antenna), WSAJ remained at 100 watts, operating only two days a week from the very same wire cage antenna (rebuilt in 2002) from which it signed on in 1921. There’s very good reason to believe that the antenna atop Rockwell Science Hall is the oldest AM transmitter site in the United States, predating by several years the KGFJ (KYPA) site in Los Angeles.

Sadly, WSAJ’s long run on the AM dial now appears to be over. The station added an FM service on 91.1 in the eighties, and the AM facility’s been somewhat neglected ever since. Its 1950-vintage transmitter was out of service for a while, and the old cage antenna was damaged a few years ago. And while the antenna was fixed and a new LPB transmitter installed, WSAJ’s management apparently lost interest in their historic little treasure somewhere along the way. Last week, word began circulating that there wouldn’t be a renewal application filed for WSAJ(AM), and it now appears that the FCC has cancelled WSAJ’s license and deleted the AM callsign. That’s stirred concern among some NERW readers, who wonder whether it’s possible to save this nifty little relic of another era of broadcasting. From what we’ve heard, there are engineers and FCC experts out there who are willing to take on the task of trying to get the license renewed and putting the AM 1340 signal back on the air – and there’s apparently a closed-circuit student station on campus that would no doubt appreciate having the over-the-air signal, even with only 100 watts. (Students are heard for four hours nightly on WSAJ-FM, which runs satellite-delivered classical and jazz for the remainder of its broadcast day.)

Does Grove City College know what it’s on the verge of losing for good? And is it too late to do anything about it?

Western NEW YORK is getting another progressive talk station, with a familiar Buffalo name at the helm. Starting next Monday (Feb. 13), Citadel will lease WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) to “Niagara Independent Media,” a consortium that includes longtime Buffalo newsman Ray Marks. He and Alex Blair will host a 6-10 AM talk show on the station, with programming from Air America filling out the day. Alert NERW readers will recall a mention late last year of the WHLD calls appearing on – and then disappearing from – the Air America website, and now we know why.

It’s the end of the line for more than half a century of community radio at two eastern MASSACHUSETTS AM stations. The Asher family, which put WJDA (1300 Quincy) on the air in 1947 (the calls stand for James D. Asher) and which has owned WESX (1230 Salem) for years, is selling the stations, for $4.5 million. The buyer is Principal Broadcasting Network, with financial support from Mercury Capital Partners, and when the deal closes, Principal principal Otto Miller (who ran New York’s WNWK and WKDM for Multicultural Broadcasting) will reportedly flip the stations to a religious format similar to that at WDJZ (1530 Bridgeport CT).

Fifteen Years Ago: February 5, 2001

Radio listeners in western MASSACHUSETTS woke up to some changes on Thursday (Feb. 1), at least if they were fans of the adult album alternative sounds of WRSI or the country music on WPVQ.

We told you a few weeks ago that Vox’s purchase of WPVQ from Cardwell Broadcasting would mean the move of WPVQ’s country from the Turners Falls 93.9 signal to WRSI’s Greenfield-licensed 95.3, with WRSI’s “River” format drifting downstream to 93.9 and its translators, W246AM (97.1) in Amherst and W287AK (105.3) in South Hadley. And indeed, the switch happened right on schedule at midnight, accompanied by days of reminders on both stations (though, oddly, very little on either station’s Web site.) But as country listeners move over to 95.3 (now known as “The Bear”), River fans have still one more frequency to check for their station. In addition to the former WPVQ outlets, Vox also put the River on what had been WSSH (101.5 Marlboro VT), part of a three-station simulcast of soft AC (along with WZSH Bellows Falls and WWSH White River Junction) as “Wish.” The new calls on 101.5 are WRSY (the other two stations continue with Wish), returning the AAA format to an area WRSI used to serve when it was simulcast on still another frequency, the 100.7 in Wilmington, Vermont known as WVAY, then WMTT, and now WVAY again. (That station has been simulcasting Vox classic rocker WEXP Brandon-Rutland for the last few months.)

Easy come, easy go: Boston’s newest independent TV station, WHUB-TV (Channel 66 Marlborough), quietly ended its run on Wednesday after less than half a year with the format. The station is back to the Home Shopping Network fare it used to run (as WHSH), while it awaits the sale of parent USA Broadcasting to Univision, expected in the next few months. Looking for WHUB-TV’s local sports (like the upcoming Beanpot hockey tournament?) You’ll find many of them on AT&T Cable’s channel 3.

Twenty Years Ago: February 8, 1996

Kiss 108, WXKS-FM Medford-Boston, promotes itself as being “Where the Stars Come Out to Play”…and Kiss stars Matt Siegel, JJ Wright, Dale Dorman, et al. will be playing in the big leagues on Friday, That’s when Kiss’ new corporate owner, Evergreen, will be simulcasting Kiss-108 over WYNY-103.5 New York, as part of ‘YNY’s ongoing format change from country to something as yet unannounced. Other Evergreen stations getting a Big Apple tryout over WYNY include WRCX, Chicago; KKBT, Los Angeles; and KMEL, San Francisco.

Following up on the format and call swap late last year, WHIM 1450 in West Warwick RI now has new owners. Richard Muserlian’s Providence Broadcasting will pay $200K for the 1kw AM which used to be WKRI. The spanish-language programmers who used to do weekends on WKRI 1450 are now full-time on the former WHIM facility at 1110 in East Providence, as WPMZ, “Poder Once-Diez.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey, you forgot to mention WAZN-AM 1470 in Watertown dropping “The Music of Your Life” and putting on all Chinese format! I wonder if they will try to get a translator themselves.

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