In this week’s issue… Remembering VT’s Foxx, PA’s Gehman, NCPR’s Peoples – FCC rethinks synchronous AM – Health issues sideline RI talker – HD FM in Montreal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s a sad week for broadcasters in VERMONT and the adjacent north country of NEW YORK as they mourn two colleagues who are gone too soon.
In Vermont, we’d been following from a distance for a little over a year ever since WEZF (92.9 Burlington) PD Jennifer Foxx was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2015. Foxx, whose real name was Jennifer McClintock, had to give up her PD gig and her weekday airshift as her condition worsened, but she remained on a weekend shift at WEZF for as long as she could.
The Holden, Mass. native got her radio start in Springfield and had been with “Star 92.9” since 1999. She’s survived by a husband and three children.
*On the other side of Lake Champlain, Canton-based North Country Public Radio serves a vast region with a small staff – and so it was devastating indeed when the network lost its former giving and membership director in a car crash Dec. 2.
June Peoples had departed NCPR a few months ago to join the advancement office at licensee St. Lawrence University, but she remained close to the station and its staff, especially because her husband Joel Hurd also works for NCPR as its production director. Peoples was 52.
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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: December 14, 2015
*It’s just a short drive across the border from our upstate New York home base to CANADA, but when it comes to local TV, our neighbo(u)rs north of the border occupy a completely different universe.
That reality was borne out in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday when CHCH (Channel 11) cancelled its evening newscasts and called a 4 PM staff meeting at which it laid off its news staff of 129 full-timers and 38 part-timers, closing the books on an audacious experiment in wall-to-wall local news.
While CHCH itself continues to be owned by Toronto-based Channel Zero, its subsidiary Channel 11 LP, which provided the newscasts, filed for bankruptcy Friday. When newscasts resume tonight, they’ll be provided by a new subsidiary that will rehire only a fraction of the former staff, reportedly 58 full-timers and 23 part-timers. Some of CHCH’s longest-serving veterans, including Matt Hayes, Scot Urquhart Lauran Sabourin and Donna Skelly, won’t be part of the new team, even after surviving the upheavals a few years back that sent the station through a series of ownership and programming changes that culminated with Channel Zero paying just $12 for CHCH and CJNT in Montreal.
(You can see more about CHCH’s history and get a look inside its ambitious news operations in this Site of the Week profile from earlier this year.)
Instead of starting news at 4 AM and running non-stop through 7 PM, then picking up again at 11 PM, the new CHCH news operation will include only a two-hour morning show from 7-9 AM, an hour at 6 PM, a half-hour at 11 and no weekend newscasts at all. CHCH also cancelled the “Sportsline” and “Square Off” talk shows it had programmed in the 5 PM hour.
*Last week, NERW broke the story of Forever’s latest purchase in central PENNSYLVANIA. Now we can put a price tag on Radio Hanover’s sale of WYCR (98.5 York-Hanover) and WHVR (1280 Hanover) – Forever will pay $2.6 million for the stations, plus a $400,000 noncompete paid out over four years. Forever will also lease the studios and AM site on Radio Road and the FM site in Heidelberg Township with an option to buy. In September, Forever agreed to pay $4.25 million for WGTY (107.7) and WGET (1320) just down the road in Gettysburg, a deal that has yet to close.
*For Pittsburgh listeners of a certain age, few names and voices were so familiar as Wendy King. With her husband, Ed, she hosted “Party Line” at 10 PM weeknights and Saturdays on KDKA (1020) from 1951 until Ed’s death in 1971. (The call-in show predated the ability to air phone calls live, so the Kings merely paraphrased what their callers were saying at first.)
The Kings had met at their first Westinghouse posting, WOWO in Fort Wayne. Wendy King was 92 when she died at her Green Tree home last Monday.
Five Years Ago: December 12, 2011
In a surprise move, CBS is creating the second English-language commercial TV duopoly in the New York City market. It’s acquiring low-profile Long Island-based independent station WLNY-TV (Channel 55) for an as-yet-undisclosed price. WLNY has a prominent cable presence in most of the market (generally on cable channel 10), and it will provide an additional outlet alongside CBS O&O WCBS-TV (Channel 2). Much more in next week’s NERW…
*There’s something about Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media venture that seems to dominate media discussion in every market it enters, and it was no different this week in PENNSYLVANIA, where Merlin entered the Philadelphia market with the (reportedly $22.5 million) purchase of WKDN (106.9), the second of two Family Stations properties put up for sale earlier this year after Family founder Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction.
On TV, there’s a new look today at WBZ-TV (Channel 4): the CBS owned-and-operated station is returning “Channel 4” to its on-air identity after many years using just its callsign. The new logo (left) began to show up over the air late last week, and it will make its full-fledged debut tonight at 5, when WBZ also unveils a new, larger news set to replace the relatively small one it’s been using (with various modifications) for the last decade or so.
*Some big news from VERMONT: after literally decades of applications and construction permits, classical WCVT (101.7 Stowe) has signed on a new class C2 signal from the state’s highest point, the top of Mount Mansfield.
The station, owned by Ken Squier’s Radio Vermont Classics, has moved around in its 20-some years on the air: the former WVMX started out as a class A signal on Mansfield, running just 43 watts, but eventually moved south to Ricker Mountain, where it upgraded from class A (135 watts/2066′) to C3 (500 watts/2066′). Its new facility on Mansfield is a 1 kW/2653′ directional C2 using a new Shively antenna, providing improved line-of-sight and a somewhat stronger signal into Burlington and vicinity.
*In MAINE, there are new owners at WPHX (1220 Sanford): Carl Strube and Pete Falconi’s Port Broadcasting is paying FNX Broadcasting $42,500 for the long-neglected little AM signal, which runs 1000 watts by day, 230 watts at night. In recent years, WPHX was running ESPN sports when it was on the air at all, but it was essentially just tagging along with its sister FM signal, recently sold to Aruba Capital Holdings to become WXEX-FM (92.1). As for WPHX, it becomes a sister station to WNBP (1450 Newburyport), which Strube and Falconi have been running as a nifty little local signal for Cape Ann.
Ten Years Ago: December 10, 2006
Progressive talk will soon be history, it seems, in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, as Clear Channel’s continued corporate retreat from the format brings a format change at WKOX (1200 Framingham) and WXKS (1430 Everett), which have struggled to find an audience since flipping from leased-time Spanish (on WKOX) and standards (on WXKS) in October 2004.
Almost from the first day of the new format, rumors began flying about its possible demise. In the last few weeks, as Air America’s financial struggles worsened and other progressive talkers slipped away from the format, the rumors began getting louder. Then, last week, Brian Maloney’s “Radio Equalizer” blog spotted a Clear Channel help-wanted ad for salespeople for the new “Rumba 1200/1430,” and while the company still hasn’t officially confirmed the move, it’s becoming clearer that the progressive talk format will be replaced by Spanish tropical music within the next few weeks.
Much has been written, here and on the message boards, about the challenges WKOX/WXKS faced in finding an audience, most notably a pair of night signals that served only listeners in the MetroWest and north suburban areas, completely missing Boston, Cambridge and much of the rest of the market. Unlike some of the more successful progressive talkers around the country (most notably two other Clear Channel signals, KLSD San Diego and KPOJ Portland, Oregon), WKOX/WXKS never added any local personalities to the national lineup of Air America and other syndicated hosts it carried. In a market so intensely focused on its local politics, many interpreted the lack of local presence as a sign that Clear Channel wasn’t committed to the format in Boston over the long term.
In the end, though, local factors may not have determined the demise of progressive talk on WKOX and WXKS. Instead, it was a national trend within the company, which is in the process of pulling the format off the air in markets from Madison, Wisconsin to Cincinnati to – rumor has it, at least – Los Angeles. With questions arising about the future of Air America as a 24-hour programming network, it’s understandable that broadcasters looking for a turnkey syndicated product are getting uneasy about sticking with progressive talk, and we should note that Clear Channel’s hardly alone in that respect, with companies such as Citadel (in Binghamton) and Entercom (in New Orleans) also dropping the format in recent weeks.
Could progressive talk find a home on another signal in town? There are always “what if” options in play, it seems, and it’s never out of the question that a committed, deep-pocketed investor could purchase WWZN (1510) from Sporting News Radio, for instance, and move the format there. (We’d note that Sheldon and Anita Drobny, who were early investors in Air America before selling their stake, have been trying to grow their new Nova M talk network, for instance.)
There’s a changing of the guard at the helm of Boston’s biggest public broadcaster. After 36 years with WGBH, the last 22 of them as the station’s president, Henry Becton announced last week that he’s stepping down next fall. Becton, who oversaw a huge expansion of WGBH’s local and national production efforts, culminating in the station’s impending move to a new studio facility overlooking the Mass Pike in Allston, says he’ll remain with the station in an advisory role. Effective October 1, 2007, he’ll be replaced by executive VP/COO Jon Abbott as WGBH president.
Clear Channel is consolidating its five FM stations in NEW YORK into a single facility. It’s reportedly signed a 15-year lease for more than 120,000 square feet of space on the first four floors of 32 Avenue of the Americas in lower Manhattan. Sometime next year, WHTZ (100.3 Newark) and WKTU (103.5 Lake Success) will move across the Hudson from their separate studios in Jersey City, while WAXQ (104.3), WWPR (105.1) and WLTW (106.7) will all move south from their separate facilities in Midtown Manhattan. (Clear Channel had earlier planned to move all five stations into the Manhattan Mall, but a lease deal there fell through.)
Syracuse isn’t usually in the vanguard where new formats are concerned, but it gets the distinction of being the first market in NERW-land to get a “Movin” outlet, the Alan Burns-consulted rhythmic AC format that gained early toeholds in Seattle and Los Angeles.
The newest “Movin” is Craig Fox’s trio of FM signals in the Salt City – WOLF-FM (96.7 Oswego), WWLF-FM (100.3 Sylvan Beach) and W243AB (96.5 Westvale), which made the flip from Radio Disney on Thursday. Radio Disney continues on the air in Syracuse on WOLF (1490), WWLF (1340 Auburn) and WAMF (1300 Fulton).
Fifteen Years Ago: December 10, 2001
Listeners to Sporting News Radio in northern NEW JERSEY have long complained about the phasing problems that have made WSNR (620 Newark) almost unlistenable in most of the area. But if the Sporting News flagship is granted its latest application, those problems will be replaced by a powerful signal over the region. In its application, WSNR wants to build seven new towers (painted, lit and 107 meters tall!) in the Hatfield Swamp of West Caldwell, near where US 46, I-80 and I-280 all meet. That’s not very far from the site in Livingston that AM 620 used for much of its life (as WVNJ, WSKQ and WXLX) before losing the land to residential development. Since that site was leveled in 1998, 620 (under later calls of WJWR and WSNR) has used a five-tower array it built just south of WLIB (1190 New York) in the Lyndhurst, N.J. tower farm. But while that site offered decent penetration into Manhattan, it forced 620 to throw a null over the very areas in New Jersey it was licensed to serve. That problem should be solved if WSNR is granted this application, which calls for 8200 watts day (from all seven towers) and 5000 watts at night (from five of the seven). We’ll keep you posted…
We’ll skip down to DELAWARE for the next bit of news: the return of WNRK (1260 Newark) to the airwaves. Local observers had given this one up for dead when it lost its transmitter site to development (detect a theme this week?) and signed off June 25, but we’re happy to report that the station returned to the air November 21. The National Radio Club’s DX News reports this week that WNRK was purchased by John Vincent (owner of nearby WAMS 1600 in Dover), who’s got the station running Christmas tunes from a 197-foot longwire antenna at a site less than 1000 feet from the old WNRK location. The plans for WNRK call for its new 250-watt nondirectional signal to move to a Valcom fiberglass antenna (like the one in use at WSHP 1480 Shippensburg PA and proposed for WGCH 1490 Greenwich CT) sometime next year.
It’s all about history in CANADA this week: Wednesday (Dec. 12) marks the centenary of Marconi’s transmission of the Morse letter “S” to Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland from Poldhu, Wales, and several big celebrations are planned. The CBC is pulling out all the stops for a “Tuning the World” special that will run from 8:30 AM until 1 PM on Wednesday on Radio One, featuring live broadcasts from around the world. There’s more going on as well on the CBC; check out their special site at www.tuningtheworld.com for all the details. (LATE UPDATE: A labor-management dispute at the CBC forced the cancellation of the live portions of the broadcast; taped segments were heard for much of the day on shows such as “This Morning” and “Ideas”.)
Twenty Years Ago: December 10-12, 1996
Salem Broadcasting is wasting no time exercising its option to buy Boston’s WBNW (590) from Back Bay Broadcasting. As of Sunday morning, December 15, WBNW will drop its business news and talk format to become the latest outlet in Salem’s chain of religious and conservative-talk stations. WBNW was the product of American Radio Systems’ purchase of the call letters and format of the old WEEI (590) in August 1994. At that time, ARS was not permitted to own three AMs in Boston, so it took the WEEI calls and sports format to the former WHDH (850), kept its talker WRKO (680), and sold the 590 facility to broadcaster Peter Ottmar, who also owned WARA (1320 Attleboro MA) and WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket-Providence RI). After a few weeks of rebroadcasting WEEI, WBNW debuted in September 1994 with a mix of Bloomberg Business News, local business talk, and satellite talk such as Bruce Williams.
WBNW’s salespeople were dismissed on Monday, and it’s not clear whether any of WBNW’s other staffers (mostly board operators) will stay on under Salem. WBNW is likely to move from its current studios, the old WEEI facility in the Schrafft Center in Charlestown, to the studios of Salem’s existing Boston operation, WEZE (1260), in Marina Bay, Quincy. Salem will move WBNW out of its studios in the Schraffts Center in Charlestown (where 590 has been located since 1990, when it was still all-news WEEI — how long ago that now seems!), and into the WEZE studios in Marina Bay, Quincy. A published report in the Boston Globe quotes WEZE execs as complaining about the high rent they’ll also inherit for the 590 transmitter site in Medford…but there’s not much they can do about that, NERW thinks. The existing 1260 site, south of Boston in Milton, Mass., would not be suitable for 590.
Fans of the Bloomberg business programming formerly heard on 590 won’t be completely out of luck. WADN (1120) in Concord announced that it will be picking up Bloomberg business reports several times hourly during the day, as well as carrying three hour-long blocks of Bloomberg programming. WADN’s signal outside the western suburbs is spotty to non-existent, though, and the business news isn’t exactly an ideal fit to the station’s nominal format of folk music. On the other hand, WADN is also reported to be in financial trouble, and anything that can draw a few more listeners will probably be tried out there.
One more brand-new station out there: WSHX is now on the air at 95.7 from Danville VT, joining sister stations WNCS (104.7 Montpelier VT) and WRJT (103.1 Royalton VT) as AAA “The Point.” With the addition of WSHX in the Northeast Kingdom region, Northeast Broadcasting now reaches most of Northern and Central Vermont, from just north of Rutland up to the Canadian border. The Northeast Kingdom is getting awfully over-radioed, as WSHX joins existing AM-FM combos WIKE 1490 Newport/WMOO 92.1 Derby Center (locally owned and operated by Tom Steele), WSTJ 1340/WNKV 105.5 St. Johnsbury (which also own WMTK 106.3 Littleton NH), and WGMT 98.3 Lyndon, which holds a CP to increase power and move to 97.7. All that for a few thousand people and a lot of cows…yes, there’s a reason Tom named his FM “WMOO”!
A familiar voice has returned to the Boston airwaves on WROR (105.7 Framingham-Boston). Joe Martelle, the longtime morning host at the original WROR (98.5, now WBMX) began his new afternoon shift at the new ‘ROR last week, after his non-compete agreement with WBMX came to an end. It’s been more than a year since Martelle’s been heard in Boston; he was sidelined by illness, then ousted from his morning spot at WBMX in favor of John Lander.
Sold!: Clear Channel Communications has closed on its purchase of Radio Equity Partners, creating a new radio-TV combo in the Providence market, as WWBB (101.5 Providence, oldies “B101”) and WWRX (103.7 Westerly, classic rock “WRX”) join CBS affiliate WPRI-TV 12 under the Clear Channel umbrella. The deal also gives Clear Channel WHYN and WHYN-FM in Springfield MA. WHYN is a news-talker on 560, and WHYN-FM is hot AC on 93.1. Congratulations to WHYN PD Gary James and the staff, by the way, for what NERW hears was a phenomenally successful reunion sock hop last month!