In this week’s issue… Oscar Brand, RIP – Vinikoor sells in NH, VT – FM swap in Philly – Mikey Adams returns – Rogers buys in SW Ontario
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Quick – what NEW YORK radio host held the Guinness world record for longest-running show with a single host?
That was WNYC’s Oscar Brand, whose 70-plus years as host of “Folksong Festival” came to an end on Friday with his death at age 96. The folksinger’s career on radio started on a whim with a 1945 letter to the city-owned station offering to present a program of obscure Christmas songs. That one-off show turned into a fixture on WNYC’s schedule that survived, well, everything: Brand stayed on the station through the blacklists of the 1950s (he was listed in the infamous “Red Channels”), through its transition to an NPR outlet in the 1970s, through its move out of city ownership in the 1990s, right up until what turned out to be his final show Sept. 24.
Over all those years, Brand never had a contract with WNYC and never received a penny from the station for doing his show, which had most recently been relegated to a 10 PM Saturday slot on WNYC’s AM 820 signal.
And over all those years, Brand had everyone on his show, from a young Bob Dylan to a blacklisted Pete Seeger to Woody Guthrie and his son, Arlo, to the Weavers to…well, everyone in the folk community. All along, Brand carried on a prolific career as a writer and performer, receiving a Peabody Award in 1995 for his contributions.
In an autumn when we’re losing icons all over the place, including the retirements of Charles Osgood and Vin Scully, Brand’s death marks yet another end of an era, the last link between today’s big-budget WNYC and its early shoestring days when any New Yorker could get a shot at airtime just for writing a persuasive letter. We’ll not see his like again.
(photo courtesy WNYC archives)
*Our New York news continues high atop 1 World Trade Center, where John Lyons and his Durst Organization crew are celebrating the installation of the first of the permanent TV antennas to be installed on the building’s mast.
Lyons tells our colleagues at TV Technology that the first new antenna in place is an RFS UHF antenna at the top of the mast. It will be followed by a VHF antenna just below and another broadband UHF antenna below that; if all goes well, broadcasts from the tower will begin next May. (So far, it’s CBS’ WCBS-TV, NBC’s WNBC and WNJU and public WNET that have signed on for tower and transmitter space at the new downtown facility.)
At Cumulus’ WPLJ (95.5), Melony Torres and Ralphie are swapping shifts. Torres, who’s also WPLJ’s music director, will now be heard from 7-11 PM, followed by Ralphie from 11 PM until 3 AM.
*In Ithaca, we’re closely following a tale of strange bedfellows. We’re accustomed to seeing Saga Communications fight hard against any would-be competitor that isn’t 100% compliant with FCC rules – but this time, Saga is partnering with one of its much smaller market rivals, Todd Mallinson’s WPIE (1160), as it tries to get the FCC to shut down an Ithaca translator for WXHC (101.5), the classic hits station based some 35 miles to the north in Homer.
The translator in question is W266CI (101.1 Ithaca), a CP held by Edward Farmer, and the issue Saga and Mallinson raise is Farmer’s independence from WXHC’s licensee, Eves Broadcasting. That independence matters because W266CI isn’t a fill-in translator, instead extending the broadcast range of the recently-renamed “X101” into the bigger Ithaca market from its home base in Homer/Cortland.
Under FCC rules, Eves isn’t allowed to provide any financial or operational support to Farmer’s translator – and that’s where Saga and Mallinson are telling the FCC there’s an issue that should lead the Commission to deny the translator’s application for a license to cover. Some of that evidence is skimpy at best – there’s no rule prohibiting a station owner like Eves from putting out promotional material that mentions the frequency of a non-fill-in translator, so it doesn’t mean much that recent X101 newspaper ads and t-shirts have listed both “101.5 Cortland” and “101.1 Ithaca.”
Some of it, however, is rather more persuasive: the sign on the equipment shelter at the translator site lists a contact address and phone number, as required by FCC rules, but it’s the address and phone for Eves’ WXHC studios up in Homer, not Farmer’s Ithaca address. Then there are the invoices and packing slips that were left behind at the site when the translator was built over the summer: several of those, as submitted by Saga, show that equipment was shipped to the Homer address and billed to Eves, not to Farmer.
So far, there’s been no response from Farmer to the informal petition to deny that Saga and Mallinson submitted against his application. We’ll be watching this one closely.
*Here in Rochester, JP Hastings replaces Tias Schuster as the new PD at WDVI (100.5 the Drive), as well as iHeart sister AC WMXW (103.3 Vestal) in the Binghamton market; Hastings will also continue as PD of WYYY (94.5 Syracuse), but he’ll give up his co-hosting role on the WHAM (1180 Rochester) morning news to Bill Moran. Scott “Brooksy” Brooks moves up from APD to PD at WKGS (Kiss 106.7) in Rochester to replace Schuster in that role.
From Buffalo comes word of the death of Dan McBride, whose radio career began as a teenager when he ran a club radio station with his friends Danny Neaverth and Joey Reynolds. McBride became an announcer at WEBR (970) in 1959, then worked at WWOL (1120) before helping to put WBNY-FM (96.1) on the air in 1966. At that FM signal, he rose to become general manager before moving into the advertising arena, where he owned his own agency. McBride also worked in Lockport (WUSJ/WLVL) and most recently on WXRL (1300 Lancaster). He died September 21.
Sad news from the North Country as well: Sandy Cook, who was morning man at WMSA (1340 Massena) for forty years, died early Thursday morning at age 61. Cook had been off the air at WMSA since his February arrest on charges of possessing cocaine and heroin.
*A big station sale in VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE: after the death earlier this year of his wife, Sheila, Bob Vinikoor is selling his stations to a new group called Sugar River Media, LLC, headed by veteran broadcasters Rob and John Landry. Rob’s a familiar face around Boston, having served a long run as chief engineer at WCRB; his brother John is at Westwood One in New York. They’re paying $1.95 million to Koor Communications and the estate of Sheila Vinikoor for the station group that includes news-talk WNTK-FM (99.7 Newport NH), news-talkWUVR (1490 Lebanon NH)/W255CF (98.9 West Lebanon NH), oldies WCFR (1480 Springfield VT)/W293BH (106.5 Springfield VT), classic country WCVR (1320 Randolph VT) and country WCNL (1010 Newport VT)/W234BN (94.7 Claremont NH).
Sugar River is putting $97,000 down, paying $1.493 million at closing and paying the remaining $360,000 over 20 years. On the noncommercial side, the Sugar River Foundation will pay the Vinikoor Family Foundation $10,000 for classical WSCS (90.9 New London).
*In New Hampshire and MAINE, Binnie Media has added a well-known talent, former WEEI sports talker Mikey Adams. His new show, which will launch later this month, will fill the afternoon shift on Binnie’s “Frank” stations, WFNK (107.5 Lewiston) in Portland, WBYA (105.5 Islesboro) in Rockland and WFNQ (106.3) in Nashua.
We’re deeply saddened by the news of the death of longtime New Hampshire Public Radio president Mark Handley, who succumbed to cancer Sept. 11 after a five-year battle. Handley came to NHPR in 1990 when it was just a single station, WEVO in Concord, and over the course of 15 years built the network into a statewide operation and spent several years as board chair for NPR nationally.
Handley retired in 2005 to pursue his dream of sailing around the world, spending six years successfully circumnavigating the globe alongside his wife, Judy, on their sailboat “Windbird.” The Handleys settled on Cape Cod in 2011, and that’s where he was at the end. Handley was 74.
*The Vermont Association of Broadcasters has named its Hall of Fame lineup for 2016, including two veteran TV weather personalities. Both Tom Messner of WPTZ (Channel 5) and Sharon Meyer of WCAX (Channel 3) will be inducted at the Dec. 3 ceremony at the Hilton Burlington, along with the late Dean Slack (left), whose career in Burlington started at WCAX radio in 1950, continued as a top-rated DJ at WJOY in 1954, then at WVMT as sales manager and announcer in 1965 and then as GM of WVNY-TV/FM. Slack left Vermont in 1974 to go into station ownership in New Hampshire and upstate new York. He died in 2014.
The ceremony will also include a Broadcaster of the Year honor for WOKO (98.9) morning man/WKOL (105.1) PD Rod Hill and distinguished service awards for WCAX senior news photographer Bob Davis and veteran radio personality and salesperson Bob Sherman.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Howie Carr’s syndicated talk show is taking yet another stab at national distribution: it’s now being seen nationally on Newsmax TV for two hours each afternoon (4-6 PM ET).
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Radio One is on the move again with its Philadelphia FM cluster. On Tuesday, gospel “Praise 103.9” (WPPZ Jenkintown) and classic hip-hop “Boom 107.9” (WPHI Pennsauken) traded spots on the dial, returning the WPHI calls to the 103.9 facility they called home from 1997 until 2005. The “WPHI” identity has now gone full-circle around the Radio One cluster, having spent time at 100.3 (now WRNB) from 2005 until 2011. Moving “Boom” to the 103.9 signal, a class A from the Roxborough tower farm, gives the format somewhat better suburban coverage, trading off with better in-city coverage from Praise’s new 107.9 home, on the One Liberty skyscraper in Center City.
Along with the frequency change comes a shift in the musical mix at “Boom,” replacing some classic hip-hop with a more straightforward classic R&B sound.
*Over at Salem’s WFIL (560)/WNTP (990), VP/GM Russ Whitnah says he’s stepping down at the end of the year. Whitnah has been with Salem in Philadelphia since 1993; no replacement has been named yet.
In the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, Mike Vincent is departing afternoons and the PD chair at Cumulus’ “NASH” WSJR (93.7 Dallas); he’s staying with the company to become operations manager at its Melbourne, Florida cluster. No replacement has been named yet.
And in Pittsburgh, Suzanne Nadell is the new news director at WPXI (Channel 11); she moves from KOKI (Channel 23) in Tulsa to take the job last held by Mike Oliveira before his move to Boston’s WFXT earlier this year.
*How about some Hockey on the Radio? We’re still a couple of weeks from the start of the AHL season, but the Hershey Bears have named Zack Fisch as their new radio voice, moving him up from their ECHL affiliate in South Carolina. The Bears are heard on a three-station network that originates at WQIC (100.1 Lebanon). Fisch replaces Scott Stuccio, whose job was cut at the end of the 2015-2016 season.
*Sid Doherty, who died Sept. 25, started his broadcast career in West Virginia, Kentucky and Cincinnati (where he co-hosted the legendary “Ruth Lyons Show” on WLWT). Arriving in Philadelphia in the 1960s, Doherty did news and sports on WCAU-TV (Channel 10), left to spend a year at Boston’s WNAC-TV (Channel 7), then returned to Philadelphia in 1972 to become an announcer at WPHL (Channel 17), a gig that led to his eventual induction into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s hall of fame in 2013. After 15 years at WPHL, Doherty went to New York to become a booth announcer at ABC-TV, a newsman at WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5), and later returned to Philadelphia to work at WWSH, WPEN and WIP. Doherty was also a talented performer, appearing on several soap operas and in the movie “Blow Out.” He was 90 years old.
*In CANADA, Rogers is adding to its holdings in southwestern Ontario, buying CKOT-FM (101.3 Tillsonburg) and CJDL (107.3 Tillsonburg) from Tillsonburg Broadcasting. No sale price has been announced yet for the stations, which do soft AC (“Easy 101”) and country, respectively.
It’s not yet clear how much of the operations for these very local stations might migrate up the road from Tillsonburg to nearby London, where Rogers owns CHST (102.3 Bob FM).
*In Montreal, CJAD (800) has unveiled its new evening lineup. Dave Kaufman and Dan Delmar are leaving “The Exchange,” the show they’ve been hosting at CJAD, and they’ll be replaced starting tonight by “The Night Side,” hosted by former CKBE (92.5) host Natasha Hall and My Broadcasting founder Jon Pole. Steve Faguy reports Hall will host the Tuesday through Friday shows, while Pole will host on Mondays.
Faguy tells us “Kaufman is moving to London to be with his girlfriend and Delmar is taking a step back to focus on his PR business.”
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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: October 5, 2015
*At the risk of a cheap metaphor, walking the floor at the Radio Show in Atlanta last week was much like watching the weather: huge storms were hovering just offshore threatening massive damage, but directly overhead the sky was sunny and the weather was warm. (No kidding: while the rains ahead of Hurricane Joaquin were already battering the coast on the show’s last full day Thursday, it was 85 and sunny outside the Marriott Marquis in less-than-scenic downtown Atlanta.)
This was the show we’ll long remember as the end of the Dickey era at Cumulus, with the news of Lew and John Dickey’s ouster from that troubled radio company landing with a thud just hours before the show’s opening. It was the show that raised still more questions (but offered few answers) about the battle between Nielsen and Voltair. (All those folks in the photo at right were waiting for Nielsen to make its PPM presentation – “standing room only” didn’t even begin to describe it.) For AM owners waiting for some help from the FCC, it was the “keep waiting a little longer” show.
And with attendance on an upward swing – the 2,170 radio people who attended made for a head count up 5% from last year’s show in Indianapolis – it was perhaps even an optimistic show.
*One of the most prominent local TV anchors in CANADA has died. Max Keeping was a Newfoundlander who started in TV in 1963 at CJCH-TV in Halifax, but he made his home and his legend in Ottawa, where he arrived in 1965 to work at CFRA (580). Keeping joined CTV as a parliamentary reporter in 1965, made a failed run for Parliament himself in 1972, then joined CJOH-TV (Channel 13) later that same year. Keeping spent the rest of his career at CJOH, becoming the star anchor of its 6 PM newscast and a tireless community advocate who raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and other charities. Keeping retired from CJOH in 2010 and had spent the last few years dealing with several health problems, including two bouts with colorectal cancer and a brain tumor discovered in May that left him without the ability to speak in the last few months of his life. Keeping was 73 when he died on Thursday.
Five Years Ago: October 3, 2011
*The creditors holding the debt for NEW JERSEY‘s Nassau Broadcasting Partners are moving quickly on their attempt to force the company into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidation: they’ve persuaded Judge Kevin Goss of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to move up a hearing on the petition to this Thursday morning at 10, claiming “there is a genuine concern that assets of the alleged debtor’s estates may be used for purposes other than those directly related to the normal course operations of the alleged debtor’s businesses.” The petition from the lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, says they’re worried that Nassau money may be used “to further the personal and parochial interests of” Lou Mercatanti, who’s run the company since 1986.
If Nassau is liquidated, it would be a sudden end to a company that was once the region’s largest broadcaster, at least by number of stations owned – and if the liquidation takes Nassau’s stations off the air, it would mean a lot of dead air for listeners everywhere from the Lehigh Valley to Maine. (We’ll have a full update later this week as we know more about what happens at the hearing.)
*There’s a TV station sale in PENNSYLVANIA: WTVE (Channel 51) is licensed to Reading but serves most of the Philadelphia market through the use of a “distributed transmission system” that employs multiple RF channel 25 transmitters scattered across the region. Richard French, who owns WRNN in the New York market, paid $13.5 million for the station at a bankruptcy sale in 2008. He’ll get $30.4 million from NRJ TV for the signal, and it’s not at all clear yet what NRJ plans to do with WTVE.
*In Philadelphia, there’s a new owner at WHAT (1340), which recently returned to the air with a Spanish-language hits format as “El Zol 1340, el ritmo de Philly.” Aztec Capital Partners has been programming that format, and now it’s buying the station from former owner Marconi Broadcasting Company. Marconi paid $5 million for the 1000-watt signal five years ago, but Aztec’s paying only a fraction of that: just $475,000.
*It’s been a week of big radio changes in CANADA, starting with the demise of the last high-power CBC station on the AM dial between Newfoundland and Manitoba.
With its new FM outlets, CBEW (97.5 Windsor) and CBEW-1 (91.9 Leamington), now on the air and some interference issues with cross-border signals resolved, the CBC shut down CBE (1550 Windsor) early on the morning of October 1, the sixty-first anniversary of CBE’s sign-on in 1950.
The sign-off itself happened without fanfare; indeed, the scheduled midnight end to CBE was stretched out for a bit as the station popped back on and off the air several times before finally dropping audio at 12:25, leaving just a dead carrier on 1550 instead of the “tune to FM” audio loop that has accompanied other CBC AM-to-FM moves in the past.
*While CBE’s passing into history, a Toronto broadcaster is poised to make history with a new station launch today. Fitzroy Gordon’s CKFG (98.7) will make its official debut later this morning, with an 11 AM news conference scheduled to announce the station’s on-air identity. Gordon fought for years to establish a station owned by and serving Toronto’s Afro-Caribbean community, operating his “CARN” on 98.7 for several successful test runs and overcoming objections from the CBC about potential interference to its CBLA (99.1) signal in order to win a license from the CRTC.
Ten Years Ago: October 2, 2006
There’s a new broadcaster coming to the TV dials in MASSACHUSETTS and CONNECTICUT. Arthur Liu, whose Multicultural Radio Broadcasting has become a major force in leased-time radio in big cities from Boston to New York to Los Angeles, is entering the television arena with the $170 million purchase of Shop at Home TV’s five UHF stations from Scripps Howard.
Liu is creating a new company, Multicultural Television Broadcasting, to operate the stations. Four of the five, including WMFP (Channel 62) in Lawrence, Mass. and WSAH (Channel 43) in Bridgeport, Conn., were full-time outlets of the former Shop at Home TV network, which Scripps also recently sold. Since that sale, they’ve continued to broadcast the network under its new owner, Jewelry Television. That will surely change under Multicultural, whose model for TV will likely follow the company’s successful radio model, under which all or nearly all of its stations’ airtime is leased out to program producers, mostly in foreign languages or serving ethnic audiences.
For WMFP, which transmits from One Beacon Street in Boston and has nearly full-market cable carriage, that shouldn’t be difficult. For WSAH, it will be a bit more of a challenge – while the station is technically in the New York City TV market, it has little cable carriage beyond Connecticut and no over-the-air presence in the city itself. Given its distance from the center of the market, and its history of non-carriage on New York and New Jersey cable systems, it may face a challenge in getting on cable in those areas, which would impair its reach.
In other news from the Bay State, Jay Severin returned to his former radio home Monday, as the cancellation of his Westwood One syndicated evening offering freed him to return to the 3-6 PM slot on flagship WTKK (96.9 Boston). The move once again puts Severin head-to-head against Howie Carr on WRKO (680), and it pushes Michael Graham from WTKK’s afternoon drive slot to evenings. Severin also says he’s moving from Sag Harbor, N.Y. (where he’s been doing the show via ISDN since its Boston-only days at WTKK) up to the Boston area soon.
It’s been a long time coming, but digital TV is finally a reality in VERMONT. Vermont Public TV’s WETK (Channel 33) was the first station to sign on a DTV signal from Mount Mansfield a few days ago, and we hear that the other stations in the Mansfield tower consortium – CBS affiliate WCAX, NBC affiliate WPTZ, Fox outlet WFFF and ABC affiliate WVNY – will have their signals on within the next few weeks, too. (It’s getting to be late in the season for us to get up there for an updated Site of the Week, but we’re hoping to go back next spring to see the outcome of all the years of negotiations and a summer of busy construction at Vermont’s highest point!)
Fifteen Years Ago: October 1, 2001
It’s not often that we start a NERW report in NEW JERSEY, but this week, that’s where the big story seems to be. To be precise, it’s in Bridgeton, way down at the southern end of the Garden State, where aficionados of quirky local radio have long prized WSNJ (107.7/1240) as an exemplary specimen of the kind of full-service station that disappeared most places years ago. Under the ownership of Ed Bold, WSNJ today sounds pretty much the same way it did a couple of decades ago – everything from lost-dog announcements to school menus, with a few songs here and there, a top-hour ID that still proudly proclaims that the FM signal is “in stereo,” and a midnight signoff.
But at the age of 82, Bold has decided to retire, and that means WSNJ has been sold. The Bridgeton News reported Thursday that Bold will receive $20 million for the station, including its real estate and prominent self-supporting tower, from an unidentified buyer “from South Carolina.” That, in turn, immediatedly prompted speculation involving the Beasley family, which owns a Philadelphia cluster that includes WXTU (92.5) and WPTP (96.5) – though we’d be quick to note that Beasley Broadcasting is currently headquartered in south Florida. We’ll be following this one closely in the weeks to come.
In CONNECTICUT, WGCH (1490 Greenwich) is trying to stay on the air in the face of an eviction notice. The little community station has known for two years that it will have to abandon its tower at 175 W. Putman Ave., a move it’s wanted to make anyway, since new construction has blocked much of the signal from that aging facility. Now it appears WGCH’s landlord has run out of patience, leading to a September 17 notice to vacate the site and remove the tower. WGCH’s latest plan for a new site, in the face of what its owner calls the “severe, almost draconian zoning regulations” in Greenwich, involve the parking lot of the Cos Cob Marina on River Road, about two miles from the present site. WGCH has asked the FCC to move quickly on approving the use of a very short Valcom fiberglass whip antenna, a type only approved until now for daytimers (the first one being WSHP 1480 in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania). We’ll keep you posted on WGCH’s status as the eviction notice works its way through the system; we believe the station remains on the air for now.
Twenty Years Ago: October 2, 1996
The Fox that Growled: NERW was quite surprised during its trip up to Bangor, Maine a week and a half ago, when a quick check of classic rock WWFX (104.7 Belfast-Bangor ME) turned up country music instead. It seems the “Fox” has undergone a species-change operation, emerging on September 20th as “the Bear,” playing “hot new country.” This sets up not a cross-town rivalry, but an across-the-street rivalry with longtime Bangor country leader WQCB (106.5 Brewer-Bangor ME). Q106’s studios are just half a block down Acme Road from WWFX in Brewer, Maine. The nice folks at WWFX weren’t saying, but NERW suspects a call change is in the offing there. NERW editorial comment: The move to country is probably a sound one. WQCB has been without competition since 97.1 Bangor changed from country WYOU to modern-rock WWBX (“97X”) a year or so ago. And between 97X and rocker WKIT, the rock wars were getting a bit heated in Eastern Maine.
One of Northern New England’s biggest FM signals is temporarily off the air while it changes ownership. WZPK (103.7 Berlin NH), “the Peak,” vanished from the airwaves not long after Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting closed on its purchase of the hot AC station last Friday. The Peak is reportedly undergoing technical improvements at its transmitter atop Mount Washington, and will reportedly be back on the air within a week or so. Stay tuned…
The WMEX calls that are a part of Boston’s radio heritage have resurfaced, this time in Westport NY on the 102.5 construction permit last known as WADQ. Westport is across Lake Champlain from the already overbuilt Burlington, Vermont market. WMEX’s last home, 1150 AM in Boston, is now WROR(AM) and will reportedly switch to the KidStar format sometime next week. WROR’s sister station, WBCS 96.9 Boston, has now officially switched to the WKLB-FM calls adopted from what’s now WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham-Boston), although 96.9 continues to mis-ID as simply “WKLB Boston.”
Up in Vermont, WCMD (89.9) in Barre is now on the air, simulcasting religious WCMK (91.7) in Bolton. The 90.5 construction permit in St. Johnsbury, granted as WAQA, has filed to change to WCKJ. This will reportedly be another religious outlet. Not too far away, in Keene NH, WKNE AM/FM (1290/103.7) have reportedly been sold for a total of $6 million…more on this next issue.