In this week’s issue… Pamal cuts back – Morning changes in Boston – New tower in MA – Jazz returning to Pittsburgh FM – Bubba comes to central Ontario



*Not that it’s ever been a great time lately to be a radio employee, but the beginning of February has been a rough time indeed for staffers at many of the mid-size clusters around the region.

Albany-based Pamal made cutbacks last week at each of its clusters, and we’re still putting together all the details. At Pamal’s Albany cluster, Marissa Lanchak is out as afternoon jock/APD/MD at WFLY (92.3 Troy) after almost a decade. Carmen Hsieh is out from afternoons at WAJZ (Jamz 96.3), and Bob Green is retiring from WROW (590). In the Hudson Valley, WXPK (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) promotions director Dina Dresner is out – and so is the entire news department that served WHUD, WSPK, WBNR/WLNA and WBPM. That includes news director Brian Jones and anchor Sue Guzman.

At Townsquare in Buffalo, veteran programmer Dave Universal is out as PD after just under two years with WMSX (Mix 96.1). The cluster is now advertising for an operations manager for all four of its stations, including WBLK, WBUF and WYRK.

wklb-jwloriAnd Thursday brought a big surprise from Boston’s top-rated country station: veteran WKLB (102.5 Waltham) morning man John “JW” Willis (right) is out after a run that started 22 years ago with afternoons at the station’s predecessor, WBCS (96.9). Willis ended up in mornings when WBCS was merged in with the original WKLB (105.7) to create a new WKLB on 99.5, and he’s been the only morning show WKLB has had for its entire run at 102.5.

Also out is his co-host, Lori Grande, who keeps her gig with Metro Networks; Greater Media says it will announce a new WKLB morning show sometime soon.

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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 16, 2015

*The last phase of the big iHeart FM shuffle in MASSACHUSETTS and RHODE ISLAND wrapped up early last Thursday morning, when a tower crew removed the parasitic elements on the WBWL (101.7 Lynn) antenna atop One Financial Center in downtown Boston. That simple move turned iHeart’s country “Bull” into a nondirectional signal with better coverage to the south, a move made possible by the downgrades of co-owned WWBB (101.5 Providence) and WCIB (101.9 Falmouth).

Will it all be worth it in the end, especially the big power drop at WWBB, which is now just a class A facility? Early reports are that 101.7 is indeed a cleaner signal in south suburban Boston and MetroWest, but the real test will come over the next few ratings periods as we see whether WBWL’s added coverage can help it eat away at the ratings of much bigger country competitor WKLB (102.5).

*In central MAINE, Bob Bittner’s trying something new at his third AM station. WJYE (1280 Gardiner) had been carrying the same standards-AC “Memories” format as Bob uses at WJTO (730 Bath) and his original AM, WJIB (740 Cambridge-Boston), but it’s now flipped to classic country as “Country Memories 1280.”

“Presently, it’s playing 4,000 country hits from 1945 to 1995. Later, I plan to up that to 6,000 songs,” Bittner says. Listeners in southern Maine and Boston can get a taste of the format on Sunday mornings, when WJTO and WJIB carry “Country Memories on Sunday Morning,” which inspired the format change at WJYE.

*A near-death PENNSYLVANIA AM is back on the air. WPDC (1600 Elizabethtown) returned to the air over the weekend with an oldies format, programmed by former WHYL (960 Carlisle) operator Bruce Collier.

*Corus was getting “Fresh” all across CANADA last week, installing that hot AC brand at additional signals that include CKWS (104.3 Kingston) and CKRU (100.5 Peterborough), both of which had been branding as “Hits.” Corus also tweaked “Fresh FM” to “Fresh Radio” at several existing “Fresh” stations, including CING (95.3 Hamilton) and CFHK (103.1 St. Thomas-London).

Five Years Ago: February 14, 2011

*NEW JERSEY state officials moved closer last week to a spinoff of their NJN radio and television assets. The statewide public radio network published a set of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) last week, a move mandated by the “Transfer Act” passed by state lawmakers in December.

The act doesn’t provide for the sale of the NJN TV licenses, so there’s an RFP seeking a broadcaster to take over operation of the TV network while leaving the licenses in the hands of the state. But for NJN”s nine radio licenses and one unbuilt radio construction permit, there are two RFPs being circulated: one seeking an operator who’d continue to run NJN Radio while the state keeps the licenses, and another seeking interested buyers to acquire the radio licenses outright.

The state hired the consulting firm BIA/Kelsey to appraise the NJN facilities and to estimate values for the radio stations, ranging from $142,000 for WNJS (88.1 Berlin) to $1,275,000 for WNJT (88.1 Trenton). In all, BIA’s Mark Fratrik pegs the total market value of the network”s stations at just over $4.2 million.

The state has set March 11 as the deadline for responses to the RFPs; it has hired Public Radio Capital to help manage any potential sale of the radio licenses.

*It”s all about translators in western PENNSYLVANIA, at least for Pittsburgh-market owner Bob Stevens: he’s already running an AM-on-FM translator for his WANB (1210 Waynesburg), and now he’s putting WKHB (620 Irwin) and WKFB (770 Jeannette) on FM. WKHB’s new FM relay is W231BM (94.1 Clairton), which had been part of EMF”s network of K-Love relays into Pittsburgh; it operates with 84 watts from the WYEP (91.3) tower near Squirrel Hill, covering a decent chunk of central Pittsburgh and giving WKHB some nighttime reach into the city. And another EMF translator, W248AR (97.5 Monroeville), is being relocated to the WKFB/WKHB tower, where it will become a 118-watt, 24-hour signal for daytimer WKFB.

*In upstate NEW YORK, Rochester’s Bob Lonsberry has been one busy guy lately. The WHAM (1180) talk host put in extra hours on the air last Wednesday night and Thursday morning when the station blew out syndicated programming to talk about the sudden resignation of congressman Chris Lee – and Lonsberry is back on the air in Utah, too, where seven months after losing his gig at Clear Channel’s KNRS, KLO (1430 Ogden) has picked Lonsberry up for a 5-7 AM (MT) show that comes from the WHAM studios in Rochester.

Utica”s Bill Keeler is back on the air, too, in streaming form: the former WXUR (92.7 Herkimer) morning man bought a local ad during the Super Bowl to announce the launch of “,” featuring four channels of streaming content. One channel is Keeler’s morning show, another is “The Hard Drive,” a rock format programmed by “Hard Rock Harry” Enea, another former WXUR jock, a third carries news content from Keeler”s, and a fourth is “best-of” material from Keeler”s archives.

Ten Years Ago: February 13, 2006

It was just a few hours after last week’s NERW went up on the site when the phone began ringing off the hook here at NERW Central. “Quick! Turn on 1520! KB’s dropping oldies at 3,” was the message – and with that, western NEW YORK was launched on that oddest of early 21st century radio battles: a liberal talk war. The impetus, of course, is today’s “soft launch” of a mixture of Air America and local talk on WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls), under an LMA from Citadel. (The full program schedule at WHLD, including Ray Marks’ local morning show, will apparently launch March 1.) And whether it’s been in the works for months (as Entercom claims), or whether it was hurriedly whipped together in a matter of days, Entercom’s reaction was to pull the plug on the struggling oldies format at WWKB (1520 Buffalo) with no more fanfare than an hour of “goodbye” tunes – and then head right into the launch of “Buffalo’s Left Channel.”

The week’s other big story from NEW YORK was, of course, Disney’s long-delayed announcement that it’s selling most of its ABC Radio holdings to Citadel in a “reverse Morris trust” arrangement valued at $2.7 billion. Disney will keep the Radio Disney and ESPN Radio networks, as well as its O&O stations affiliated with those networks (in this region, Radio Disney’s WMKI 1260 Boston, WDDZ 550 Pawtucket, WDZK 1550 Bloomfield CT, WDDY 1460 Albany NY and WWJZ 640 Mount Holly NJ, ESPN’s WEPN 1050 New York and WEAE 1250 Pittsburgh, and the LMA with the New York Times for WQEW 1560 New York). It’ll also keep the “ABC” name, though it will license it to Citadel for a year (and will license ABC News product to Citadel for ten years.) Citadel will get the core ABC Radio stations, including WABC (770 New York) and WPLJ (95.5 New York), and the watchword for now is “stability.” At least for now, it appears that little will change in terms of management, programming – or, yes, call letters – at the station group.

Out on Long Island’s East End, WHBE (96.7 East Hampton) completed its move to 96.9 Friday night. While the station remains a class A signal, the frequency change allows it to drop its directional antenna, extending its westward reach towards Riverhead and beyond.

In the Albany market, Pamal finally pulled the plug on the yearlong simulcast of Glens Falls country station WFFG (107.1 Corinth) over WZMR (104.9 Altamont). The simulcast never seemed to draw much audience, which was no surprise, since the liners, promos and spot load remained solidly focused on Glens Falls and Lake George (and, indeed, barely even mentioned the Albany frequency.) WZMR spent the weekend stunting, with the new format due to arrive on Monday.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: WZMR relaunched early this morning with modern rock as “the Edge,” reviving the slogan and format last heard on WQBK (103.9 Rensselaer)/WQBJ (103.5 Cobleskill) before those stations flipped to album rock as “Q103” in December upon the departure of Howard Stern.

In MASSACHUSETTS, WILD (1090 Boston) has hired a new morning talk host, returning Jimmy Myers to a regular shift for the first time in too many years. Myers, whose resume includes stints at WWZN, WEEI, WFXT, NECN and the old WBPS, handles the sign-on to 10 AM shift at the Radio One urban talk station (with sign-on finally getting back to 6 AM next month at the daytime-only facility.)

While Buffalo was losing its AM oldies station, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market was gaining two oldies signals last week. Citadel’s WARM (590 Scranton) finally pulled the plug on its struggling news-talk format, flipping to ABC’s “True Oldies.” The station’s still having audio and transmitter problems, we’re hearing. Over in Tunkhannock, WBZR (107.7) dropped its “Buzzard” country format and also flipped to oldies, picking up the WGMF calls that used to be in Watkins Glen, New York. It’s now “Gem 107.7.”

Fifteen Years Ago: February 12, 2001

How do you get out of a $6,000 FCC indecency fine? If you’re Howard Stern’s NEW YORK flagship, the answer seems to be “wait five years or so.” Back in 1997, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability against Infinity’s WXRK (92.3) for material Stern broadcast in October 1995, March 1996 and June 1996. Two Stern affiliates, WBZU in Richmond and WEZB in New Orleans, were also fined — and paid. Infinity took a different tack, contesting the fine, and it looks like its patience paid off: last week, the FCC announced that “because a significant amount of time has elapsed since the broadcasts,” the Commission won’t continue pushing for the money. (We suspect Infinity’s “voluntary contribution” a few years back didn’t hurt matters with the FCC, either.) So what does it all mean? Look for more stations to play a similar waiting game with the Commission where fines are concerned; they have little to lose and, apparently, much to gain by doing so.

Our next stop this week is CANADA, where change just keeps coming to Ontario’s radio dial. Friday night marked the debut of CFXJ (93.5 Toronto) as “Flow 93.5,” the city’s first commercial station aimed at the black community. With Michelle Price as program director and new studios on Yonge Street across from Eaton Centre, the station says it will have full programming ready to go on March 5.

We didn’t believe it at first when we heard about the newest format in CONNECTICUT (though, given the source, we should have), but it’s true: Buckley’s four-station AM network is now going by “The Best of Everything.” WDRC (1360 Hartford), WMMW (1470 Meriden), WWCO (1240 Waterbury) and WSNG (610 Torrington) aren’t exactly segueing from Percy Faith to Iron Maiden, but they are adding newer artists to their adult-standards playlists.

Twenty Years Ago: February 17, 1996

To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of sports on WBPS (AM 890 Dedham-Boston) appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Station owner Douglas Broadcasting has pulled back from its plans to take the signal to leased-time ethnic or religious in the wake of the end of a full-time lease to Prime Sports Radio. For the last week or so, we’ve been treated to nonstop music (well, they break for PSA’s once an hour), ranging from blues to disco to oldies. Now it appears that veteran Boston sports voice Jimmy Myers (ex-WEEI, ex-WBZ, ex-WFXT-TV, ex-WWOR New York, etc.) will take over morning drive on 890 starting March 4. The Boston Herald’s Jim Baker (probably the most accurate radio writer in town) says local lawyer Mark Miliotis will pony up the $4,000 a week for the airtime. Meantime, Douglas has struck a separate deal to bring former umpire Dave Pallone to WBPS from noon till 3 daily. Anyone else wanting to lease time on WBPS has to track them down first — the station’s 617-242-0890 main number is disconnected, and the promised website never materialized. To be continued, no doubt.

Boston’s broadcasters are moving north in droves. Network affiliates WBZ-TV, WCVB-TV, and WHDH-TV are all doing their news from Manchester until primary day next Tuesday. WCVB is leasing space from fellow ABC affiliate WMUR-TV; the others had to find their own offices. Boston University’s WABU-TV (which is reportedly up for sale to the right buyer) has been originating town meetings from NH, along with media partners WBUR-FM and the Boston Globe. And now radio’s up there as well; several of WRKO’s talk shows are broadcasting from Manchester, and WBZ’s morning newscasts will come from Manchester next Monday and Tuesday. And on Wednesday, Don Imus (heard locally on WEEI 850, and in NH on WNHI 93.3 Belmont/ WRCI 107.7 Hillsboro) will broadcast from Manchester. Those outside New England can see Imus’s show, as well as WMUR’s nightly newscasts, on C-SPAN.