In this week’s issue… WHAV preps FM launch with community support – Translators sell in Mass., LI – WATD finds new AM home – Remembering WBEN’s Connolly
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 19 years since we pulled up roots from New England, but last week at least gave us the chance to spend some quality time in our old stomping grounds.
And what a joy it was to stop in and see some friends who are doing low-power FM in ways that ought to make the movement proud.
You’ll see WBNH (105.1 Bedford, NEW HAMPSHIRE) in more detail in an upcoming Tower Site of the Week a few months down the road…and when you do, you’ll see how our friend (and fellow Western New Yorker) Harry Kozlowski is working with the community access channel and town leadership in that Manchester suburb to provide something much more than just a loop of music to fill time between occasional emergency announcements.
And then there’s Haverhill, MASSACHUSETTS, where Tim Coco’s many years of work to bring local radio back to that struggling city are finally paying off. On Wednesday, Tim and his crew from WHAV.net filled a banquet hall to honor Haverhill’s radio legacy and raise money for the impending FM launch of WHAV-LP (97.9).
The crowd included more than a dozen radio stars who got their start at Haverhill’s original WHAV (1490, now WCEC) and WHAV-FM (92.5, now WXRV) – Paul Bellefeuille, Michael Burns, Joe Clementi, Joanne Doody, Patricia Johnson, John Katsaros, Gary LaPierre (right), Marc Lemay, Dave “Mack” Macaulay, Bill “Maxwell” Macek, Eddie McGee, Rick O’Shey and Mark Watson. One more ex-WHAV’er made an appearance by video, since Tom Bergeron is more than a little busy these days in Los Angeles (though he’s been a staunch supporter of Coco’s work back home in Haverhill.)
A few stars couldn’t be there – Bob Clinkscales, who signed WHAV-FM on the air in 1959, was sidelined by health issues, and Ed Johnson, the longest-running personality at the old WHAV, was represented by his widow, Pat (left).
Some of the night’s stars only passed through Haverhill briefly – LaPierre recounted how he was fired just a few weeks into his WHAV news stint when he read an obituary without fact-checking to make sure the subject was really dead – while others spent many years on the air in the Merrimack Valley. (You can read more of their tales at the WHAV.net coverage of the event.)
What impressed us most, though, was everyone else who turned out to support Coco and his long fight to go from webstream to a real live FM broadcast. Haverhill mayor James Fiorentini (right) was on hand to salute Coco for his work, and most of the city council showed up as well. And here’s what we noticed: it was more than just a ceremonial appearance for those local leaders. In a community that lost its daily newspaper more than a decade ago, local news still matters, and the WHAV crew has already started to make a name for itself with their online coverage.
As successful as they’ve been with their stream, though, several speakers on Wednesday echoed the same point: being on the air still matters, and WHAV on 97.9 will be an important next step to restore local radio to a city that needs it. Coco almost had the new FM signal on the air in time for the event, and he’s expecting to get it up and running any day now. We’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime, we salute Tim and his crew and all the WHAV alumni for all the support they’re giving to show how LPFM works when it’s done right.
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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: June 15, 2015
*There may literally be more people reading this issue of NERW than there will be tuned in to any given quarter-hour of talk radio on any single AM station in Boston later this year.
Yes, we’ve been writing about the Boston AM talk scene more often than its listener count might justify, but how can we resist when the stories keep writing themselves? Consider: in just the last few days, one upstart talker lost one of its expected stars and defended another from a drunk-driving charge. And with a third talker already poised to launch soon, it now looks like there will also be a fourth bottom-rung entry in the talk sweepstakes, answering the Rush Limbaugh question once and for all.
The arrest first: when WMEX (1510) launched Michele McPhee’s afternoon show just last Tuesday, it looked like the station had finally managed to land something approximating a recognizable name on the Boston talk landscape. McPhee had been one of the linchpins of the old WTKK (96.9), as well as being recognizable for her work at the Herald and at WCVB (Channel 5), where she made a name for herself as the staunchest supporter the police had anywhere in the media.
And so when McPhee was pulled over by a state trooper early Thursday morning in South Boston, she reportedly pulled the full “don’t you know who I am?,” refusing to take a breath test and then allegedly kicking the trooper who arrested her, leaving him with a leg injury and her with what looked like a black eye when she appeared in court later in the day. Along the way, NERW hears that McPhee managed to get the troopers to make a 3 AM wake-up call to their colonel; if she was hoping the charges would be dropped, she didn’t get her wish. Instead, she’s now charged with OUI and assault on a trooper – and she was back on the air Friday, saying she can’t talk about the incident but expects to be vindicated when it’s all heard in court.
McPhee’s arrest forced WMEX to put morning shouter Joe Ligotti in afternoons as well on Thursday, but after that the station’s operators (Daly XXL, which has still yet to file anything with the FCC about buying the WMEX license) stood by McPhee, saying “the management of 1510 WMEX stands behind her in this difficult time as we would any friend or family member.”
*Which brings us to the next chapter in Boston AM talk: Limbaugh isn’t going to WMEX, isn’t mending fences with his longtime Boston home, WRKO (680), and apparently isn’t going to be part of Salem’s lineup at whatever becomes of WMKI (1260), the Radio Disney outlet Salem is buying for a bargain-basement $500,000. Despite rumors making the rounds of a larger Salem-Premiere deal for Rush carriage in multiple markets (and an accompanying rumor of Salem’s WEZE religious programming moving back to 1260 to clear the way to put talk on the better 590 signal), it looks like Premiere parent iHeart will end up doing the same thing in Boston it’s doing in Indianapolis as a last resort: bringing Rush back in house on a marginal signal just to maintain the clearance.
Over at our sister site RadioInsight, Lance Venta was first to pick up on iHeart’s registration of the talk1430.com domain, which appears to mean that for lack of any better option, Limbaugh will land at what’s now WKOX (1430 Everett) whenever WRKO drops him.
Five Years Ago: June 13, 2011
*Erie, PENNSYLVANIA was just in the radio headlines for the record-setting bid broadcaster Rick Rambaldo and his partners placed for a new class A signal on 92.7 – but even before they can get that facility on the air, another Erie-market FM is poised to put a much bigger signal over the city.
Long before Rambaldo was placing bids in the latest FCC auction, he was an upstart broadcaster who bought the old WHYP-FM (100.9) in North East, 20 miles east of Erie, and upgraded the station’s signal to reach Erie listeners as “Rocket 101,” WRKT.
Starting with the old class A WHYP-FM facility, Rambaldo powered the signal up to B1 status (4.2 kW/797′) from a tower in Ripley, just inside the New York state line, carefully placed to just clear a host of spacing issues including two powerful first-adjacent signals in Cleveland (WMMS 100.7) and Youngstown (WHOT-FM 101.1).
Rambaldo eventually sold WRKT, and now if its current owner, Connoisseur Media, has its way, the station may soon be moving much closer to Erie – and way up the FM dial as well. Connoisseur has applied to move WRKT from 100.9 to 104.9, relocating it from the Ripley tower to the Connoisseur-owned tower site in Hammett Township just east of Erie that’s home to sister station WRTS (103.7), whose antenna WRKT would share.
If the move is granted, the new “Rocket 104.9” would become a 4.5 kW/526′ class B1 facility, with somewhat less overall coverage than the present 100.9 facility, but with a much stronger signal over Erie itself, which would be blanketed with a 70 dBu city-grade signal from WRKT for the first time.
*The political fallout from NEW JERSEY governor Chris Christie’s plan to end the state’s operation of its NJN public TV and radio networks continues to grow.
Christie officially announced the plan last Monday, keeping the NJN TV licenses in state hands but handing off operation of the network to “Public Media NJ,” an alliance of New York-based WNET (Channel 13) and Steve Adubato Jr.’s Caucus Educational Corporation, which already produces New Jersey-based public affairs programming for WNET and several other broadcasters and cable networks. Under Christie’s plan, WNET and Caucus would pay nothing for the signals, and they’d get to keep the stations’ CPB grants (estimated at about $2 million) and the annual income from NJN tower rentals (another $2 million or so). In exchange, Christie says, the state will save the $11 million a year it spends on the service – WNET and Caucus will commit to an ambitious lineup of New Jersey-oriented programming, with 20 hours of New Jersey programming a week, including a nightly newscast that will replace the existing “NJN News” as well as debates and election coverage. In place of NJN’s staff of about 120 (60 or so of whom will get new state jobs, with the rest being laid off or retiring), WNET says it will hire a news staff of 15-20 people to provide New Jersey news alongside the station’s own existing staff.
Those plans aren’t sitting well with other New Jersey politicians, including Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg, who met with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to express concerns about the deal. “It is difficult to see how the loss of such programming is in the public interest of new Jerseyans – especially considering the state’s lack of commercial broadcast television news access.”
It’s unlikely, however, that the FCC will have much cause to intervene. The agency maintains a strict “hands-off” policy when it comes to program content – and in the case of NJN’s TV stations, it won’t even have a license transfer to consider, since the state plans to keep the licenses. Where the deal could still run aground is at the state level, where lawmakers must sign off on the change within a 15-day review period that began with Christie’s announcement a week ago. During hearings on the proposal on Friday, union officials called the Adubato-WNET partnership an “inside deal,” saying the governor had ignored other bids for the station from in-state organizations including Montclair State College.
Ten Years Ago: June 12, 2006
No radio owner in MASSACHUSETTS – or pretty much anywhere else, as best we can tell – has been around longer than Maurice Cohen. With his brothers Ike and Ted, he put WCAP (980 Lowell) on the air June 10, 1951. Fifty-five years later, many of the radio people whose careers took them up the long staircase at 243 Central Street (your editor included) returned to Lowell for a combination reunion/anniversary celebration/salute to Maurice. WCAP news director Gary Francis hosted the event at his Gary’s Ice Cream shop in downtown Lowell, and former WCAP talk host Bill O’Neill anchored the four-hour live broadcast from the reunion, with Mark Watson at the control board and production pieces from longtime WCAP producer Dan Bourret.
Maurice also received honors from several Lowell politicos, including former mayor Rita Mercier, state senator Steve Panagiotakos – and a wonderful front-page mockup from Lowell Sun publisher Kendall Wallace. A lot of fuss for one small-town radio station? You bet – but in an era when so many towns have lost their local radio voices (think of WJDA in Quincy, WESX in Salem and WCAP’s Merrimack Valley rivals WCCM, WLLH and WSMN), a salute is in order to owners like Maurice Cohen, who’ve resisted lucrative purchase offers year after year in order to keep doing radio the way they learned it many decades ago.
There’s a new address for the radio station at UMass/Dartmouth, too: on Saturday morning, WSMU (91.1) signed on its new, more-powerful signal, WUMD (89.3) on Saturday morning – and after a brief simulcast period, the WSMU programming (a variety of student and community shows) will move permanently to WUMD. WSMU will then change hands, becoming the Bay State’s newest outlet for the fast-growing “K-Love” religious network based in California.
Fifteen Years Ago: June 11, 2001
A station sale in CONNECTICUT: Candido Carrelo gets $425,000 for Bridgeport’s WDJZ (1530) from Peoples Broadcasting Network. Peoples runs religion on WJSS (1330 Havre de Grace MD) and KTLD (1110 Pineville LA), so a format change from ethnic on WDJZ seems likely.
Up in VERMONT, Steven Silberberg adds WFAD (1490 Middlebury) to his station group, paying Kathryn Messner’s Lakeside Media $180,000 for the station. Silberberg also owns WXAL (93.7 Addison) nearby, as well as stations in Montpelier (WNCS/WSKI), Royalton (WRJT), Manchester, N.H. (WKBR) and Haverhill, MA (WXRV).
South central PENNSYLVANIA is getting its first full-time commercial Hispanic station. All Access reports “Radio Omega,” which has been running a micropower operation in Harrisburg, is now leasing WPDC (1600 Elizabethtown), replacing sports on the station midway between Harrisburg and Lancaster.
Speaking of Harrisburg, there’s word that Clear Channel will soon try again to replace the oldies on WWKL-FM (99.3) with its CHR “Kiss” format. The last attempt, last summer, was quashed by Citadel, which sued to enforce a non-compete that accompanied its purchase of established CHR WNNK (104.1). That agreement is apparently near expiration, so we’re expecting to hear “Kool” on 99.3 for the last time when we drive through next weekend.
Twenty Years Ago: June 17, 1996
The local radio industry thoughtfully waited to drop the latest bombshell until after your Radio Watcher had returned and unpacked, and it looks like this: After more than three years of tooth-and-nail fighting over Boston’s country listeners, the war between Evergreen’s WKLB (105.7) and Greater Media’s WBCS (96.9) is about to come to an end. Just a few weeks after closing on the purchase of WKLB from Fairbanks Communications, Evergreen is trading the station to Greater Media in exchange for Greater Media’s AC WEBR 99.5 Washington DC (the station known for years as WGAY-FM) and talker WWRC 980 Washington. The companies are announcing this as an even trade of the FMs, with an extra $22.5 million being added for WWRC. Greater Media says one of the Boston FMs will drop country after Labor Day, and odds are it will be WKLB, since WBCS still has a standing offer to pay a million dollars to the first listener to call in if they drop country before the end of 1996. WKLB general manager Bennett Zier exits after just a few weeks in town, to run Evergreen’s new Washington operations.
Here’s where it leaves both groups: Evergreen keeps its prize Boston properties, CHR WXKS-FM (“Kiss 108”), CHurban WJMN (“Jam’n 94-5”), and standards WXKS 1430. In Washington, WEBR and WWRC get added to Evergreen’s existing group, all-news WTOP 1500 and AC market leader WASH 97.1. (I’ll leave it to Max Cacas and Bob Smith to speculate about whether Evergreen can finally turn around years of decline at WWRC…) Meanwhile, WKLB joins Greater Media’s existing Boston stable, which includes WBCS, AC behemoth WMJX (“Magic 106.7”), and WMEX 1150, which is LMA’d to a foreign-language broadcaster. Assuming Greater Media keeps WBCS and drops country on WKLB, they’ll have to look hard for a new niche format for 105.7. Unlike the situation a few years ago, when major format holes were a dime a dozen (no urban on FM, no country, no smooth jazz), the format plate is pretty full in Beantown at the moment. And of course, both Evergreen and Greater Media have been rumored repeatedly as targets of takeovers by fatter broadcasting groups like CBS/Westinghouse and Infinity. This ought to be a hot summer; stay tuned.