In this week’s issue… More changes in CNY radio – Mike and the Mad Dog reunite – Toronto legend dies – Baseball on the Radio: the Minor Leagues, AAA edition
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*That old saying about “can’t tell the players without a scorecard?” In Syracuse, NEW YORK this week, even a scorecard might not be much help, thanks to the latest moving parts in what’s turning out to be the biggest realignment in the city’s radio history in many years. (And most decidedly not the biggest news story in the city in general, thanks to the almost-made-it-all-the-way Orangemen and the still-might-make-it-all-the-way Orangewomen…)
If you’ve been following the twists and turns of the market so far, you know that James Johnson’s Leatherstocking group sold the signals of its WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) and WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida) to Family Life Ministries, and the intellectual property of WSEN-FM to Ed Levine’s Galaxy Communications, which moved the WSEN airstaff over to its WZUN (102.1 Phoenix).
Now we can put all the pieces together about what came next: as soon as Family Life signed the deal to buy 92.1 and 106.3, Galaxy’s rival Craig Fox swooped in (literally the next day, from what we hear) to make the religious broadcaster an offer it truly couldn’t refuse: a swap of Fox’s WOLF-FM (105.1 De Ruyter)/WWLF (96.7 Oswego) and translator W254BC (98.7 Camillus) for the 92.1 signal.
As soon as Family Life closed on its Leatherstocking purchases last Monday, Fox began moving the pieces around on his end: much to Galaxy’s surprise, 92.1 went from oldies not to Family Life religion but…back to more oldies, as a simulcast of Fox’s “Dinosaur FM,” which is heard on WNDR (103.9 Mexico) and a slew of translators. Except Fox’s real target turned out to be not Galaxy and 102.1 but the market’s behemoth, iHeart country signal WBBS (104.7 Fulton).
And so on Tuesday, 92.1 flipped from Dinosaur to “92.1 the Wolf,” picking up the country format that Fox had been running on WOLF-FM/WWLF. Here’s how it shakes out from here: after a temporary simulcast between 92.1 and 105.1/96.7, “Wolf” will make its permanent home on the class B1 92.1 signal, which is much better centered over the core of the Syracuse market to better challenge B104.7. Fanily Life, meanwhile, ends up with a much wider reach than it expected when it first did the Leatherstocking deal: the 105.1 DeRuyter signal is a huge class B that traces its roots to the old Rural Radio Network, reaching south into Cortland County and north almost to Watertown when combined with the class A 96.7 Oswego. And since 105.1 now overlaps so much of the class A 106.3 WMCR-FM signal to the east in Madison County, Family Life gets another bonus: it can now try to move 106.3 farther east into the Utica-Rome market, giving it a much-desired presence out there.
The format shuffles inevitably bring call changes, too, and we think some of them are temporary: 92.1 goes from WSEN-FM to WNDR, swapping calls with the Dinosaur FM flagship at 103.9 and – for now, anyway – keeping the WSEN-FM calls in Fox’s hands even as Galaxy has rebranded its 102.1 (still legally WZUN) as “SEN @ 102.1, Sunny 102.” Family Life has applied to change 105.1 from WOLF-FM to WCIS, 96.7 from WWLF to WCIO and 106.3 from WMCR-FM to WCIT-FM. To the west, Family Life’s WCIS (93.7 Clyde) becomes WCIP, while to the south WCIT (90.1 Trout Run PA) becomes WCOX.
There are still some shoes yet to drop from this multi-legged beast of a deal: Leatherstocking is still running its AMs (WFBL 1390 Syracuse/WMCR 1600 Oneida and WSEN 1050 Baldwinsvulle) on autopilot, which we don’t think is a permanent arrangement. Will the WSEN callsign eventually land on Dinosaur, the biggest forma rival to Galaxy’s “SEN-FM” on 102.1? And if it does, will Levine and Fox end up at odds over who gets what pieces of the WSEN legacy? We’ll be watching closely – and of course documenting all these short-lived IDs over at Tophour.com.
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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: April 6, 2015
*It’s been a busy week out there for FM translators, including a high-pricetag sale, a no-pricetag trade and, in southern CONNECTICUT, the first step of a multi-hop move aimed at ending an unpleasant interference situation.
The situation, ironically enough, pits giant iHeart Media against Saga Communications, which has been as aggressive as anyone in radio when it comes to using translators and defending them from interference complaints. But in this case, it’s iHeart’s new W271BW (102.1 Millbrook) that’s doing the interfering, and Saga’s WAQY (102.1 Springfield MA) that’s complaining about it.
For iHeart, W271BW came as something of an accident; it had been applied for way back in 2003 by then-Clear Channel, and it received a construction permit last year as the FCC thawed out hundreds of translator applications that had been frozen while the Commission tried to deal with an overflow of would-be translator operators. The delay worked out just fine, as it happened – had the translator been granted back in 2003, it’s not clear what Clear Channel would have done other than to sell it. But by 2014, iHeart could use it to relay an HD subchannel, and that’s just what it did, creating the new “Rock 102” with jocks tracked from New York’s WAXQ (104.3).
Up the Connecticut River valley, though, iHeart’s Rock 102 clashed with the fringe signal of Saga’s big Rock 102, which has a great signal into Connecticut from its site up on Provin Mountain within sight of the state line. Saga immediately began collecting interference complaints, and iHeart is moving rather than fighting. The application it filed last week would move W271BW down to 101.5 on the dial, running just 5 watts from a wooden pole at the site of sister station WAVZ (1300 New Haven).
But wait – isn’t 101.5 awfully close to iHeart’s big WKCI (101.3 Hamden), whose HD2 is feeding the translator? It sure is, which is why the operation on 101.5 is likely to be extremely temporary. Under the FCC’s rules, a translator can make a “minor change” up and down 1, 2 or 3 channels, which doesn’t get W271BW all the way down to what we’ll guess will be a new permanent home at 100.9. Instead, the translator will likely operate very briefly on 101.5 and then file for another minor change to get where it’s headed.
*While Saga fights off iHeart’s New Haven translator, it’s been busy making some changes to its lineup in southwest NEW HAMPSHIRE. In early March, Saga shifted “Keene Classics” classic rock from WKNE (103.7)’s HD2 and W256BJ (99.1) to WKNE’s HD3 and W276CB (103.1), the former home of oldies “Kool 103.1.” Replacing the classic rock on 99.1 and the HD2 is a new AAA offering, a simulcast of “River” WRSI (93.9 Turners Falls MA)/WRSY (101.5 Marlborough VT). That’s not by accident – as RadioInsight noted, the move provides some competition in Keene for Great Eastern’s recent launch of AAA “Peak” on WKKN (101.9 Westminster VT).
*In CANADA, a familiar Montreal-market voice is returning to the airwaves this week. Steve Faguy reports that Evanov’s CHSV (Jewel 106.7) in Hudson, west of Montreal, has hired Paul Zakaib to bring his “Tasso Patsikakis” character to its 10 AM-noon shift, starting Wednesday. Tasso was a fixture on the morning show at Montreal’s CFQR (Q92, now CKBE “The Beat”) until 2009; for a few years afterward, he was heard on ethnic station “Mike FM” (CKIN), but he’s been off the air since 2013.
Five Years Ago: April 4, 2011
*Entercom has added another FM news-talk simulcast to its growing list, killing off Buffalo-market AAA “107.7 the Lake,” WLKK, in favor of a simulcast of news-talker WBEN (930).
*A few quick updates from the road on some headline news back home: in Boston, WTKK (96.9) afternoon talker Jay Severin is off the air at the Greater Media station, suspended indefinitely after making remarks on air about having had relations with young employees at a business he used to own. No word on when he’ll be back, or if a permanent replacement is in the works. In Connecticut, WSHU Public Radio has quietly added a new signal to its stable: the programming on its “AM network” (WSHU 1260 Westport) is apparently now being heard on WYBC (1340 New Haven), where it replaces Yale University’s student-run programming, which now appears to be streaming-only.
Ten Years Ago: April 3, 2006
It’s been a rough year for fans of oldies in the New York metropolitan area, what with the demise of WCBS-FM and all. But oldies aficionados in the CONNECTICUT suburbs and nearby parts of Westchester and Long Island still had somewhere else to turn – Cox’s “Kool” WKHL (96.7 Stamford) – at least until last Wednesday night at 10, when the Box Tops’ “The Letter” faded out, replaced by “The New 96-7, the Coast, Fairfield County’s Greatest Hits.” The new station, which is running jockless for now, kicked off with Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” (a wee bit ironic, perhaps, for a station that’s billing itself as being “all about Fairfield County” to debut with Long Island’s favorite son?), and the music mix appears to be somewhere between all-out adult hits and mainstream AC. New calls for the station are apparently WCTZ.
Over in RHODE ISLAND, rumors began swirling late last week that Brown Broadcasting Service was preparing to sell WBRU-FM (95.5 Providence), the modern rock station that’s operated (commercially) by a mostly-volunteer staff of Brown University students. An article in a local alternative weekly led to a story Thursday night on WJAR (Channel 10), and by Friday the message boards were aflame with talk of WBRU’s imminent demise. Friday afternoon at 4, the WBRU jocks said their farewells, to the tune of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” and were abruptly replaced by an automated adult hits format as “Buddy FM,” a nod to imprisoned former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci. The stunt lasted 20 hours, until the WBRU jocks “broke in” to the Benevolent Street studios Saturday afternoon and “liberated” the station from its new corporate overlords at “Initek.” Yes, it was April Fool time in the Ocean State. And yes, “Initek” is the infamously clueless corporation from the movie “Office Space.” And, yes, it was fun watching the message boards – and the TV stations – take the whole thing seriously.
The big news in MASSACHUSETTS is all about signals – new ones and moved ones.From the “new” file, our ears on the South Shore have been hearing the initial testing of CSN International’s new WSMA (90.5 Scituate), which is running 7700 watts horizontal, 5 watts vertical from a site 150 meters above average terrain off Route 3A down in Plymouth, using a directional antenna that throws most of its power north and southwest, with a deep null toward co-channel WICN (90.5 Worcester).
From the “moved” file, WFNX (101.7 Lynn) turned on its new transmitter site atop One Financial Center in downtown Boston late last week, dramatically improving its signal in the city. WFNX had been transmitting from the old WEEI-FM site on the Medford-Malden line since 1987, and from the WLYN (1360 Lynn) tower on Route 107 before that, never quite getting enough signal into the parts of Boston where most of the station’s young audience lives, works and goes to school.
Out in Pittsfield, the moves begin this week at the Vox cluster. We hear that WUHN (1110 Pittsfield) will flip from standards to a simulcast of oldies “Whoopie” (WUPE 95.9 Pittsfield/WMNB 100.1 North Adams) on Wednesday, with Larry Kratka’s “Upfront” talk show moving from WUHN to sister WBEC (1420) at 11 AM. April 17 is now set as the date for WBEC-FM (105.5) to begin simulcasting its “Live” top 40 on 95.9, which will become the sole home of “Live” when 105.5 moves to the Springfield market as a WEEI relay shortly thereafter.
There’s a call change – and potentially a format tweak, too – at a NEW HAMPSHIRE sports station. WSNH (900 Nashua) changed calls to WGAM (“The Game”) last week. And we’re told the station has been telling listeners that it, and new sister station WKBR (1250 Manchester), may be losing their ESPN Radio affiliations. Stay tuned…
Fifteen Years Ago: April 4, 2001
Back when we toiled in the radio business in MASSACHUSETTS, the buzzword du jour was “synergy,” as radio stations, TV newsrooms and newspapers fought to see who could create the most alliances with erstwhile competitors. This week, though, the object of the game appears to be just the opposite, as radio, TV and newspapers all engaged in what looks like one big catfight. It all started, apparently, with the Boston Globe’s 1999 decision to ban its sports reporters from the Glenn Ordway show on WEEI (850 Boston). That ban didn’t provoke much of a media frenzy, but last week, when the Globe extended the ban to WEEI’s morning show, hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan decided to make an issue out of it. Globe columnist Eileen McNamara fanned the flames when she then wrote a column (against editors’ orders, it seems) about being banned. The Globe declined to publish the column, and McNamara then decided to go on the Dennis/Callahan show in violation of the ban.
That’s not the end of the cross-media fireworks lighting the sky over Boston Harbor, though: WEEI itself has been playing the ban game, exiling Globe writers from its other shows (which were still acceptable to Globe editors, since the content actually focused on sports instead of the typical male-oriented morning show fodder.) Oh yeah…WEEI has also barred the Herald’s Jim Baker from its airwaves.
We’ll make VERMONT our next stop as we flesh out the rumors to which we alluded last issue. Clear Channel is indeed shifting some of its Burlington-market signals, and it plays out something like this: The smooth jazz that was this year’s format on WXPS (96.7 Willsboro NY) showed up on another spot on the dial Monday morning, replacing oldies on WLCQ (92.1 Port Henry NY). Once that temporary simulcast ends, 96.7 will reportedly become WXZO, “the Zone,” simulcasting talk programming (including Imus in the Morning) from WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY). 96.7 was talk once before, doing sports back before its smooth-jazz days — and it was simulcasting WEAV back then, too!
Next stop, RHODE ISLAND and a surprise station sale and format change: Pawtucket’s WICE (550) dropped its talk format (“550 the Buzz”) Monday morning (4/2) to become the second Radio Disney affiliate in the Providence market. Owner AAA Entertainment (formerly Back Bay Broadcasting) is selling WICE to Disney for what we hear is a price north of $3 million.
Twenty Years Ago: April 3, 1996
The big news is the April Fools’ joke that wasn’t: the move of veteran WBCN morning host Charles Laquidara to co-owned classic rocker WZLX, allowing Howard Stern to move from evenings on BCN (where he’s been since March 1993) to morning drive. Here’s what the fallout looks like so far: Most of Charles’ crew moved with him to WZLX (the exception is sports guy Tank, who stays with WBCN to do Patriots games there), displacing morning host George Taylor Morris. Evenings are back to music on WBCN, with no permanent jock named yet. At his press conference today, Stern slammed all the usual Boston media suspects, but from what I’m told, said he’s especially determined to beat the all-news station, which would be perennial AM drive leader WBZ.
Red Sox season is underway, on a radio network that includes flagship WEEI 850 Boston, and for AM DXers to the west, WTIC 1080 Hartford. TV viewers are still trying to find the Carmine Hose, who have parted company with WSBK-TV 38 after two decades. Thanks to its Sox, Bruins, and Celtics coverage, TV38 had built itself into a regional superstation found on almost every cable system from Long Island Sound north into Canada and west into upstate New York. The Sox’ new flagship, WABU-TV, is a 3-station UHF network on 68 in Boston, 21 (WNBU) in Concord NH, and 58 (WZBU) on Cape Cod. Other areas are filled in with full-power TV (WGME and WPXT in Portland ME) or LPTV (WLNE-LP in Providence, WWIN-LP in Burlington VT, and WDMR-LP in Springfield). Berkshire County, in Western Mass., was a trouble spot, since neither WDMR-LP nor WABU reach out there. After weeks of confusion and distress among Sox fans, the local cable companies agreed to pick up a satellite feed of Sox games on basic cable. Nobody wants to drop WSBK for WABU, because of WSBK’s Bruins and Celtics coverage and its stronger slate of syndicated programs and news.