In this week’s issue… Formats shuffle in northern PA – RIP, Charlie Tuna, King Arthur Knight – Two big departures in Toronto



*While your editor was out of the region visiting lots of interesting stations in North Carolina and Virginia last week (get ready for some neat Tower Site of the Week installments coming soon!), the region spent Leap Week relatively quietly.

wdys-yesfmSo quietly, in fact, that we’re leading off along the US 6 corridor in northern PENNSYLVANIA, where we don’t usually spend a lot of time. This week, though, there are two format changes to report in the area:

In Dushore, southeast of Elmira, Geos Communications has a new identity for what had been hot AC “KZ-FM.” WNKZ (103.9 Dushore) is now WDYS, sister station WZKN (96.9 Ridgebury) is now WVYS, and along with Sayre-area translator W297BG (107.3 Ulster) they’re now AC as “Yes-FM.”

The new “Yes” has the syndicated “Murphy, Sam & Jodi” in mornings, Jodi Black in middays, Steve Worthington in afternoons and syndicated Dr. Laura Berman at night.

To the west, Sam Jotrdan’s Greater Corry Area Broadcasting has replaced classic hits with country at WWCB (1370 Corry). Sam’s doing mornings himself at the station east of Erie.

We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.

Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.

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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: March 9, 2015

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Howie Carr will return to WRKO (680 Boston) March 16, not quite four months after he fled the Entercom talker for a new home way up the dial at WMEX (1510). It’s not yet clear what will become of WMEX’s talk format – we’ll have updates through the week and in next Monday’s NERW.

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – It’s a somewhat abbreviated column this week because your editor has fled the misery of winter in NERW-land for some sun and some towers down south. We’ll be back in the cold next week with a full column, but in the meantime…

wbeb-forsale*Ever since consolidation scooped up most of the nation’s big radio stations into a handful of giant groups, we’ve liked to point to Philadelphia and Jerry Lee’s WBEB (101.1) as the great counter-example, one of the last big independently-owned standalone FM stations – and one that consistently wins in the ratings, too.

For much of that time, Jerry Lee won not only because he’s obsessive about testing every element of the sound of his station, but also because he lacked something that’s increasingly plagued the big guys: debt. That began to change very dramatically when Lee’s longtime business partner Dave Kurtz died in 2005. Lee bought out his interest in the station, paying $85 million for half the station, which valued the whole thing at $170 million. That number looks awfully high in retrospect, doesn’t it, especially when $22 million of that was financed at over 10% interest, according to Tom Taylor’s Tom Taylor NOW.

That high number meant Lee ended up carrying debt, too, and that’s why Tom is reporting that WBEB is now for sale.

And that, in turn, starts the ball rolling on speculation about who might end up with this prize, and at what price. Taylor says a tentative sale to Dan Savadove (who founded the Main Line group recently sold to Alpha) fell through. iHeart Media is maxed out with five FMs in town, and CBS Radio is limited to four FMs along with its two AMs because CBS also owns two TVs in town. (But if Lee can be patient, CBS is likely to put the spectrum of one of those TVs, WPSG, into the auction, freeing up space under the cap for one more FM…)

Greater Media’s four-FM cluster has room for one more under the cap, if Greater can find the money to meet what’s still likely to be a substantial price. Radio One, with three FMs, isn’t likely to have the money, nor any interest in WBEB’s hot AC format. If WBEB can continue to survive as a standalone in a cluster world, the list of potential suitors starts to expand: could hometown group Entercom finally establish a presence in Philadelphia, for instance?

*How many radio people had as many lives, over as many decades, as CANADA‘s Don Berns did? Berns started in radio when he was still in college, working at WBRU at Brown University and at commercial WICE in Providence, as well as spending a summer on WDRC-FM in his native Hartford. After graduating from Brown in 1969, Berns was off like a shot, working at WTRY in Troy and then, in 1970, joining the airstaff at red-hot WKBW in Buffalo. (He arrived to do middays at the same time the legendary Jackson Armstrong came on board at night. What an airstaff!) Berns jumped ship to crosstown WPHD (103.3) and then sister station WYSL before leaving Buffalo in 1975.

A few years outside the region (WHB Kansas City, KLIF Dallas, KFMB San Diego) were followed by another legendary run at Pittsburgh’s WTAE – and then a move to Toronto, where Berns reinvented himself entirely.

As a jock and assistant program director at CFNY (102.1), Berns was an early champion of electronic dance music. Outside the station, Berns became “Dr. Trance,” promoting and hosting what became a legendary series of raves. In later years, Berns worked at other Toronto-area stations, including CING (Energy 108), CKDX (88.5) and CIDC (103.5). He was also a prominent voice talent (it was his pipes on the 2003 revival of KB as an oldies station, for instance) and a frequent participant on regional message boards.

Berns went into hospital for what was described as a minor procedure in late February; he died at his home outside Toronto March 1, apparently of a heart attack.

Five Years Ago: March 7, 2011

*It’s been a year since Clear Channel launched its new talk station in eastern MASSACHUSETTS– but when WXKS (1200 Newton) marks its first birthday tomorrow, it will do so with a new identity.When the station signed on last year, its “Rush Radio” moniker seemed like a pretty solid idea: Limbaugh was not just the star personality on 1200, he was in many ways the station’s entire reason for being. By moving Limbaugh from his longtime home on Entercom’s WRKO (680), Clear Channel hoped to put a dent in the veteran talk station’s ratings and to keep all of Limbaugh’s profits within the family, much as it had done when the Clear Channel-owned Premiere Radio Networks had moved Limbaugh to new “Rush Radio” outlets in New Orleans and North Carolina.

But the “Rush Radio” experiment didn’t quite work out the same way in Boston. Unlike the other “Rush Radio” outlets, which boasted full-market FM signals, WXKS was at best comparable to WRKO’s AM reach, with a signal significantly inferior to Greater Media’s potent WTKK (96.9). And in a market where local politics are an obsession just short of the Red Sox and the Patriots, “Rush Radio” launched with an all-syndicated lineup, only later bringing Jeff Katz back to the market for local mornings.

With ratings still mired down there in the decimal points, Clear Channel has been making changes at 1200: in addition to a new PD, Paula O’Connor, there’s a new morning show executive producer, Eric Coldwell (like O’Connor, a veteran of WTKK). And there’s a new name: in place of “Rush Radio,” WXKS is now simply “Talk 1200.”

*Across town at Entercom, changes are coming to “Mike FM.” WMKK (93.7 Lawrence) has been one of the Boston market’s quietest success stories, combining a low-cost programming approach with respectable ratings to become one of the area’s most profitable signals. (And, in the process, frustrating many years’ worth of message-board posters wondering why 93.7 has yet to flip to WEEI-FM…)

Now Entercom is looking to kick “Mike” up a notch: after many years of running jockless, the Herald reports that WMKK has told advertisers it’s looking to add some live personalities to the adult hits station, in an effort to “help listeners and advertisers greater identify with MIKE’s unique music programming.”

This won’t be Mike’s first bout with personality radio – but the last version, a few years ago, depended on recorded liners from John O’Hurley of Seinfeld fame, rather than on local talent.

*Former NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. Senate candidate Bill Binney is indeed buying a full-power station in the Granite State. Binney’s Carlisle One Media will acquire WZMY (Channel 50) from Diane Sutter for an as-yet-undisclosed price, adding the MyNetworkTV affiliate to a station roster that includes several LPTV stations in and around New Hampshire. Binney says he’ll change the station’s calls to WBIN and add more local programming when he takes over this summer.

*We knew when we wrote the NEW YORK segment of last week’s column that a format shift was coming to Cumulus’ WCZX (97.7 Hyde Park) – but what we didn’t yet know was that there was a familiar voice coming to the station to replace the departed Bob Miller and Suzy Garcia. “Mix 97.7” relaunched Tuesday (March 3) with a new hot AC direction, and with a new morning man: Mark Bolger, late of Clear Channel’s WBWZ (Star 93.3). Bolger has a long history in Hudson Valley radio, having worked at WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie) before joining WBWZ in 1997.

*In central NEW JERSEY, Greater Media is returning WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) to talk after several years with oldies. Morning man Jack Ellery remains in place, followed at 10 by Laura Ingraham and at 1 PM by PD Bert Baron’s “New Jersey Today,” followed at 3 by Mancow and later on by Alan Colmes.

Ten Years Ago: March 6, 2006

It was just a year or so ago that Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA’s WDIY (88.1) was fighting off a takeover attempt from crosstown public television station WLVT. Now it’s on the other end of the takeover game, and that’s caused some consternation for the community and college DJs at Lehigh Carbon Community College’s WXLV (90.3 Schnecksville). WXLV went on autopilot a week ago, after one of those jocks mentioned on the air that automation equipment had suddenly appeared in the studio. After a few days of rumors, the college announced that it’s signed a nine-year deal under which WDIY will manage and program the station for the college.

For the next month or two, that means WDIY’s programming will be simulcast on WXLV, while WDIY works on a new program schedule for the college station, which is expected to include a mixture of some of WXLV’s existing programming and some material from WDIY and NPR. For the first year of the deal, WDIY will keep 90% of the underwriting and membership money raised from WXLV, with a lower figure to be negotiated in subsequent years. WDIY will also work with the college to create training programs for students. In the meantime, though, fans of WXLV’s alternative rock and other music programs are out of luck, and the DJs who put those programs together say they’ve been deprived of a chance to explain to their listeners what happened. Can the college get past those hard feelings and rebuild the station in a way that’s satisfying to everyone? Stay tuned.

Over on the other side of the Keystone State, the call and format changes that have run rampant across the radio dial from State College down to Altoona and Johnstown struck again late last week. This time, Forever Broadcasting swapped calls and formats on rocker WRKW (92.1 Johnstown) and top 40 WYOT (99.1 Ebensburg), creating “Hot 92” and “Rocky 99,” and in the process undoing the swap a few years ago that moved top 40 WGLU from 92.1 to 99.1. WRKW also shifts its musical mix somewhat, becoming more of a classic rock station as it moves down the dial. Johnstown also got a new religious station last week, as American Family Radio signed on WLGY (90.7 Nanty Glo) as its newest outlet.

Over in the Altoona market, Forever made another format change, turning oldies simulcast WWLY (106.3 Huntingdon) into country “Froggy” WSGY, and changing its city of license to Mount Union to fill the gap left by the move of Mount Union’s 99.5 facility to Centre Hall.

Fifteen Years Ago: March 5, 2001

From beneath the snows of upstate New York, it’s another edition of NorthEast Radio Watch…and what a strange week it’s been around the dials. Let’s start in MASSACHUSETTS, where the dispute between WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston) and Christopher Lydon’s “Connection” crew turned into a full-fledged split this week. If you’ve been following this saga, you know by now that Lydon and “Connection” executive producer Mary McGrath wanted partial ownership of the public-radio talk show as WBUR prepares to offer it to the NPR system. WBUR management, perhaps envious of the fortunes earned by the station’s other signature show (“Car Talk,” which is owned by hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi), balked at the demand — in the process revealing to the media that Lydon had been offered a raise to nearly $300,000 a year, and McGrath nearly half that. After months of negotiations, Lydon and McGrath were suspended with pay two weeks ago. Most of the show’s staff quit WBUR last week, followed on Thursday by conflicting statements from the station and from Lydon, both amounting to the same message: Lydon and McGrath won’t be returning to WBUR. The station says the two “informed WBUR that they are leaving their employment to pursue careers in a for-profit, independent production company.” A statement posted at a hurriedly-created Lydon Web site says Lydon and McGrath “didn’t inform WBUR of anything except that we were willing to negotiate a way to return to the station under any reasonable circumstances to continue to do the program we love.”

Longtime observers of the Boston radio scene know to mark down the call letters on AM 1510 in pencil, and here’s why: just weeks after changing calls from WNRB to WSZE, the station formerly known as WMEX, WITS, WMRE, WSSH, WKKU and WSSH (again) made yet another call change last week. It seems “Sports Zone” is someone else’s trademark, so the WSZE calls were quietly retired in favor of WWZN, though with no change in the One-on-One Sports programming (which will eventually be rebranded as Sporting News Radio).

Up in CANADA, the CRTC signed the death warrants this week for four more AM signals, granting moves to FM for CJNH Bancroft, Ontario (from 1240 to 97.7 and 50 kW), CKGB Timmins, Ont. (from 750 to 99.3 and 40 kW), CJCJ Woodstock, N.B. (from 920 to 104.1 with 10 kW) and CKCL Truro, N.S. (from 600 to 99.5 with 16.75 kW).

Twenty Years Ago: March 4, 1996

Now that the telecommunications act is law, Infinity is wasting no time in growing still larger in Boston. Locally, Infinity already owns modern-rock WBCN (104.1), which it’s had since the beginning, and classic-rock WZLX (100.7), which it purchased a few years back as part of Cook Inlet. With its $410 million purchase of Granum, Infinity now also gets AAA WBOS (92.9) and smooth jazz WOAZ (“The Oasis,” 99.5, licensed to outlying Lowell). The most recent Arbitrends give the four FMs a 14.8 share, 12+, making it the third-most-listened to radio group in Boston, behind Evergreen at 17.3 (including WKLB, whose acquisition is still pending) and American Radio Systems at 14.8, but now ahead of CBS at 13.1. If Infinity sticks to established practice, it will keep WBOS/WOAZ operations separate from WBCN and WZLX. This should be interesting for a few people at WBOS, especially morning jock Ken Shelton, who just defected from Infinity and WZLX last year.