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In this week’s issue… New signal for new NBC – Jim Lowe, RIP – Smitty’s a free agent – Buffalo’s Zach, Maine’s Firedog retire – The weirdest LPFM story you’ll read all year
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*This is our last regularly-scheduled NERW column of 2016…which means that by the time we greet you again bright and early on Monday, January 2, 2017, viewers in eastern MASSACHUSETTS and southern NEW HAMPSHIRE will find NBC programming at its new network-owned home – or rather, at one of three new spots on the dial.
In addition to the already-announced “NBC Boston” over-the-air positions on WBTS-LD (Channel 8.1) in Boston and WNEU (Channel 60.2) in New Hampshire, Comcast added a third dial position last week under pressure from local elected officials including U.S. senator Ed Markey – it’s leasing a subchannel from NRJ’s WMFP (Channel 62), which will carry the NBC programming on channel “60.5” to provide additional reach into the South Shore and areas west of Boston that can’t get the low-power WBTS signal.
WMFP has been about as low-profile as it’s possible for a full-power station to be; since losing its Cozi classic TV affiliation back in June (ironically, to WNEU and, soon, WBTS), its main 62.1 channel has been carrying the religious Sonlife TV network.
What’s the long game here? WMFP’s owner, NRJ, had been positioning itself fairly publicly (as much as the rules allow) as a likely seller in the FCC’s UHF spectrum auction. With the auction failing to deliver the returns the FCC had originally expected, the payback to NRJ from selling WMFP’s signal (on RF channel 18 from the FM128 tower in Newton) appears to be falling short of what the company had hoped. And while Comcast says it can’t say anything publicly about station acquisition plans because of the auction’s “silent period,” it looks as though the WMFP license will likely end up in NBC/Comcast’s hands eventually. Whether through purchase or this temporary lease, “NBC Boston” is now claiming the largest over-the-air coverage of any network station in the Boston market – and coverage issues now appear to be off the table as a factor working against the January 1 launch of the new NBC outlet.
That still leaves a few potential strikes against “NBC Boston.” There’s the potential for ongoing viewer confusion about a station that will appear at multiple dial positions – 8.1, 60.2 or 60.5 over the air, 10 or 810 (HD) on Comcast, Dish and Direct, 16 or 516 (HD) on FiOS, 13 or 613 (HD) on RCN and so on. (Which may help to explain that blue sticker that’s been appearing on the front page of the Globe…)
NBC Boston will launch on December 31 with live New Year’s Eve coverage starting at 6:30 PM; the last NBC shows on WHDH (Channel 7) will wrap up early on the morning of January 1, with the full NBC lineup moving to WBTS later in the morning. We’re planning to be in Boston for full coverage, so don’t miss our January 2 edition!
*Traditionally, affiliation changes in a market tend to benefit the stations that aren’t changing, as viewers seek out stability. CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4) is already pushing that idea with a “Legacy” on-air promo, and it would also seem to point to Hearst-owned ABC affiliate WCVB (Channel 5) as a likely winner. But WCVB will be entering 2017 in search of a new news director. Andrew Vrees is moving from that post to a new job as VP/News for all of Hearst Television. He’ll remain based at 5 TV Place, where he’ll oversee his yet-to-be-named successor.
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John Schneider’s “Radio Historian’s Calendar” has been so popular this year we’ve had trouble keeping it in stock, but we’re still selling it, and it’s price is lower, too. This year’s calendar features buildings that once housed radio.
*Radio People on the Move: Dave “DC” Collins, late of Nantucket’s WAZK (97.7), has joined processor manufacturer Omnia as its new U.S. sales manager. Collins had been working recently in Lebanon, NEW HAMPSHIRE as well.
There’s a call change on the Seacoast, but you won’t hear it on the air: iHeart took WMYF (1380) in Portsmouth off the air almost a year ago after losing the lease on its transmitter site, then parked the WMGE calls there after giving them up in south Florida. Now the dark 1380 license has the calls “WPLA,” having swapped with another iHeart station on 1670 in Dry Branch/Macon GA. Barring a change, the WPLA calls will be the last ones on the 1380 license before a year of silence causes the license to be cancelled soon.
*The new year brings a “Fresh” new lineup at CBS Radio’s WNEW (102.7) in NEW YORK, where Jeffrey Jameson will join Karen Carson for mornings beginning January 3. Jameson had been part of the syndicated “Dana and Jeffrey” show; his arrival moves Carson’s former morning co-host Cane to afternoons, where Trey Morgan’s departure for KPLX in Dallas-Fort Worth created a vacancy back in October. Down the hall at Hudson Street, the quiet year-end paring of CBS Radio talent has pushed out 22-year WCBS-FM (101.1) veteran Chris Angelo; he’d been the production director at the classic hits station.
Jim Lowe was a multi-faceted talent in a way that doesn’t exist too much anymore: more than just a radio announcer and DJ, he was also a songwriter and a singer, most notably as the performer behind the 1956 hit “The Green Door.” By then, Lowe had moved from his Illinois roots to a spot on the air at WCBS (880); he also worked at WNBC (660) and as a weekend “Monitor” anchor, then for many decades at WNEW (1130) and its successor WQEW (1560). Lowe was 93 and living on Long Island’s East End when he died last Monday, Dec. 12.
On Long Island, standards listeners also tuned in to Gil David at WHLI (1100). From 1987 until 2006, he was a fixture on the airstaff there, most of that time as morning host. David, who’d started his career at Susquehanna Broadcasting in Pennsylvania, was living in North Carolina when he died Dec. 10; he was 85.
*Upstate, John Zach is an institution in Buffalo radio, one of the few Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductees who’s still remained active every day on the air – until now.
On Friday, Zach announced he’ll do his last morning newscast on WBEN (930) Dec. 30, ending 18 years there and more than 50 years in total on the air in Buffalo. Zach’s career started back in the 1950s at the Seneca Vocational School, where he started a band and became friends with upstart DJ Danny Neaverth. Neaverth encouraged Zach to get into radio, which he did by landing a job in Albany, Georgia. Zach soon came home to Buffalo as a newsman at WKBW (1520), where he eventually became news director. Zach later worked at WGR (550) and then at WBEN, where he’s been co-hosting mornings with Susan Rose. No replacement has been named for him yet at the Entercom news-talker.
*A silent VERMONT AM signal has returned to the air. Steve Silberberg’s WFAD (1490 Middlebury) recently added translator W266CU (101.1), and they’re now carrying the AC “Mix” format from sister station WIXM (102.3 Grand Isle) up north.
*In MAINE, it’s the end of an era for listeners in Calais, Eastport, Machias and surrounding areas (including a big chunk of New Brunswick): as of Friday, Tom McLaughlin has retired as news director/morning man at WQDY (92.7 Calais)/WALZ (95.3 Machias).
“The Firedog” has been an institution there for a remarkable 27 years, following on a career that started in Boston at the old WTBS (88.1, now WMBR) and WBCN (104.1). Weekend announcer Lupe Soto takes on the big task of replacing McLaughlin in a community that’s come to depend on his solid news reporting every day.
At the other end of Route 1, Light of Life is applying to change frequencies and boost power at WMEK (88.3 Kennebunkport). With a move to 88.1, WMEK would go from 300 watts to 10 kW DA/322′, adding coverage of Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Wells to its current signal.
*One of CONNECTICUT‘s last local owners is adding yet another translator in the Danbury market. Irv Goldstein’s Berkshire Broadcasting is paying Connecticut Public Broadcasting $45,000 for W247CA (97.3 Danbury), which he’ll move to 97.7 and power up from 13 to 99 watts. It will complement talk WLAD (800, which has a CP for a new translator at 94.1), hot AC WDAQ (98.3), “103.7 Rock” W297CI (103.7/WDAQ-HD2), “Bull” country W297AN (107.3/WDAQ-HD3) and classic hits “B94.5” W233CF (simulcasting WAXB 850 Ridgefield).
Connoisseur’s attempt to spread the New Haven-based “Chaz and AJ” show beyond its roots at WPLR (99.1 Hamden) weren’t as successful as the group had hoped: we’re hearing that the show is exiting mornings at sister stations WDRC-FM (102.9 the Whale) in Hartford and WFOX (95.9 Southport) in the new year, though no local replacements have yet been announced.
And here’s an odd one indeed: when WZMA-LP (103.5 New Britain) got its license back in May 2015, it did so under the aegis of the “Hispanic American Cultural Council, Inc.,” which sounded like a perfectly reasonable non-profit licensee for a low-power FM, except for one little detail: the Hispanic American Cultural Council, Inc. hadn’t heard a thing about obtaining an LPFM license until it started to receive IRS correspondence a few months back.
Turns out that whoever licensed WZMA-LP appears to have used the cultural council’s name and some of its IRS non-profit information, but without permission from the group. Once the council found out, it launched a police investigation into identity theft – and it alerted the FCC, which has cancelled the WZMA-LP license as of last week.
*In the Erie, PENNSYLVANIA market, Mercyhurst University is selling WMCE (1530 North East) to religious broadcaster Inspiration Time, Inc. for $30,000, the same price Mercyhurst paid for the AM daytimer a few years ago. Mercyhurst keeps oldies simulcast WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie); Inspiration Time will use the 1530 signal to move from North East south to Union City, where it will provide local service once the broadcaster moves its incumbent station, WCTL (106.3), closer to Erie.
In Philadelphia, WNWR (1540) is once again angling for night service. The 50,000-watt daytimer had added minimal night power in the 1990s, relicensing from Philadelphia to Bala Cynwyd, but it reverted to daytime-only status soon afterward. (Legend has it that the then-owners of the station didn’t pay the engineer who built the nighttime phasor, which was reclaimed late one night.)
Under the FCC’s AM revitalization rules, WNWR no longer needs to show nighttime coverage of its city of license, and so this time it can run 250 watts at night from its Roxborough daytime site. With 250 watts, of course, it will cover only a small sliver of Philadelphia with an interference-free nighttime signal…but the leased-time ethnic station presumably thinks it can find someone who’ll make use of those hours.
Speaking of small Philadelphia AMs, W237EH (95.3 Pennsauken NJ), the translator that formerly carried “El Zol” Spanish from WHAT (1340), is now carrying the religious programming of daytimer WVCH (740 Chester). WHAT has been trying to move another translator, W273CM, from New Jersey to 92.1 in Philadelphia, but robust opposition from WVLT (92.1 Vineland NJ) has thwarted that move.
Radio People on the Move in Philadelphia: the Beasley acquisition of Greater Media has pushed Greater’s longtime director of engineering, Milford Smith, into retirement from the company. “Smitty” is one of the true good guys in the business, with a rare combination of top-notch engineering and management skill; we’re very much looking forward to seeing what his next move in the industry will be.
Meanwhile, Beasley has hired Joe Bell as its new Philadelphia market manager, replacing the departing John Fullam. Bell spent 16 years with Beasley at two of its Florida clusters; in Philadelphia, he’ll oversee WMMR (93.3), WBEN-FM (95.7 Ben-FM), WMGK (102.9), WTEL (610) and WWDB (860).
Over at Salem’s Philadelphia cluster, Russ Whitnah will be retiring at year’s end after more than 20 years at the helm of WFIL (560) and WNTP (990); he’ll be replaced by another veteran manager, Gregg Stiansen.
*The new year will bring a new morning team to one of CANADA‘s biggest radio stations. Rogers’ CHFI (98.1 Toronto) has hired Maureen Holloway to replace Erin Davis (left) on what will soon be the “Darren and Mo” morning show. Holloway worked at CKFM (99.9) until 2000, when she went to CILQ (Q107) to co-host mornings with John Derringer before being moved to afternoons there last year. CHFI is also adding former CJEZ (97.3, now CHBM) morning co-host Christine Cardoso as its new morning “news specialist.”
As for Davis, she went out in style with a big final show last Thursday, broadcast live from Toronto’s Casa Loma.
In an otherwise quiet last week in Canada, the other news came from Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, at the other end of the ferry from Nova Scotia, where CFGN (1230) has been granted CRTC permission to move to FM. The 1240-watt FM replacement signal will be at 96.7 on the dial, still licensed as a relay of CFSX in Stephenville (and thus, ultimately, part of Newcap’s VOCM network out of St. John’s.)
We’re a community.
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 21, 2015
*If you’re in the sprawling Boston TV market a year or so from now and you’re looking for Jimmy Fallon, Sunday Night Football, the Today Show or anything else on NBC, where will you tune? Twenty years after the Peacock moved to Sunbeam’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7), the always-tense relationship between the network and its eastern MASSACHUSETTS affiliate is hanging by a thread as the current contract ticks down to its expiration at the end of 2016.
Even before NBC was sold to Comcast, it was no secret that the network had been looking for alternatives to WHDH in the market – and that those alternatives could include the launch of what would amount to an all-new station in the market. NBC owns WNEU (Channel 60) up in New Hampshire, which currently carries Telemundo programming and reaches nearly all of the market on cable and satellite. The sale to Comcast brought more resources into the fold in the form of Comcast-owned New England Cable News and Comcast Sports Network New England.
To that, this week’s news adds another potential piece of talent that a new “NBC Boston” could tap: Pete Bouchard resigned as WHDH chief meteorologist, fueling rumors that he could be following the NBC affiliation to a new home alongside anchor Maria Stephanos, who’s been silent about her future after being ousted from Fox affiliate WFXT (Channel 25).
*Here’s a combination we’d never have imagined in our MASSACHUSETTS days 20 years ago – legendary rock jock Oedipus doing a Christmas Eve show on…WGBH? The veteran WBCN programmer is indeed bringing “Christmas Eve with Oedipus” to the public radio outlet at 89.7, where management has been aggressively tapping commercial broadcasting veterans in an attempt to draw new listeners. Calling WGBH “such an innovative radio station,” Oedipus says he’ll be playing his holiday tunes from 6 PM until midnight on Christmas Eve.
Five Years Ago: December 19, 2011
*A decade after Fox Television Stations created NEW YORK City’s first TV duopoly, pairing WNYW (Channel 5) with WWOR-TV (Channel 9). CBS is poised to add a sister station to its own WCBS-TV (Channel 2) with the pending acquisition of Long Island-based independent WLNY-TV (Channel 55).
It may not be the most prominent signal on the New York TV dial, but little WLNY has a few things going for it to make it attractive to CBS: of all the New York-market signals originating from outside the city itself, WLNY boasts the most comprehensive cable carriage across the region, with decent channel positions to boot – channel 10 on Cablevision’s systems on Long Island, in the outer boroughs and into Westchester, Rockland and parts of North Jersey, for instance. (That’s the origin of the “tv 10/55” branding the station has been using for the last few years.)
What does the Eye plan for its new acquisition? In most of the markets where CBS operates duopolies, the second station carries the CW or MyNetwork TV, but those aren’t options in New York. So the model might be Los Angeles, where KCBS-TV (Channel 2) operates alongside KCAL-TV (Channel 9), an independent station that’s very heavy on local news and sports.
*And we’re very sorry to hear the news from Nashville that Curt Boykin has died after suffering a stroke and seizure on Friday following some ongoing health problems. Rochester listeners in the 1980s and 1990s knew him as “Curt Monday” on the old WKLX (98.9, now WBZA) and then for many years as “Coyote Collins” on afternoon drive (and eventually in the PD chair) at WBEE-FM (92.5). Boykin later worked in Flint, Michigan at WFBE (95.1) and had recently been working at Nashville’s WSIX-FM (97.9).
*Our friends at RadioInsight.com were the first to pick up on a format change on the NEW JERSEY shore: Equity Broadcasting’s WGBZ (105.5 Cape May Court House) changed its calls to WSNQ way back on Christmas Day, 2007 – but it wasn’t until Friday night that it finally changed its format to match those calls, dropping a simulcast of rhythmic top 40 “Kiss” WZBZ (99.3 Pleasantville) and flipping to classic hits as “Sunny 105.5, South Jersey’s Greatest Hits.”
*There’s late word that one of the Garden State’s oldest FM stations has completed its transmitter move across the Hudson River: Newark Public Radio’s WBGO (88.3 Newark) has filed for a license to cover from its new transmitter facility high atop the 4 Times Square skyscraper on the west side of Manhattan, trading some of its coverage into central New Jersey for significantly increased signal over New York City, Westchester and Nassau.
Ten Years Ago: December 17, 2006
As Clear Channel prepares to transition to private ownership, it’s quietly putting one of its biggest NEW YORK stations on the market.
WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) came into what would become Clear Channel in October 1994, when Chancellor Media bought the station (and its sister station, WALK 1370) as part of its acquisition of American Media. As Chancellor evolved into AMFM and ultimately into Clear Channel, WALK became a Long Island sister station to Clear Channel’s five-FM cluster in New York City, eventually sharing much of its management with the New York cluster.
Under the old multiple-ownership rules, that combination of station was acceptable, since WALK-FM’s Suffolk County-based signal didn’t overlap primary contours with the New York FMs. But under the current ownership rules, which are based on Arbitron markets, there’s a problem: while WALK-FM is in the “Nassau/Suffolk” market, that market is embedded in the larger New York market. And rather than testing whether or not the privatization of Clear Channel might allow WALK-FM’s grandfathered status to continue, Clear Channel is opting to make its license transfers as smooth as possible, shedding several stations around the country that are in the same ownership bind as WALK-FM.
But WALK-FM won’t go at a fire-sale price. As the dominant AC station in a lucrative suburban market, and as one of only two Class B FM signals that reach the entire Nassau-Suffolk market, we’re hearing that the price tag on WALK-FM is somewhere north of $100 million (with a few bucks in there for the AM operation as well) – and that there are already interested buyers, including at least one former owner looking to re-enter the region.
Clear Channel’s apparently eager to complete its license transfers to the new private ownership as quickly as possible, which means the sale process at WALK could move quickly. Stay tuned…
There’s a new date for the demise of the old WOR (710 New York) tower site in Lyndhurst, NEW JERSEY. Those three towers, which came within minutes of demolition on September 20 before local police pulled the plug on the destruction, will come down for real on January 11 at 11 AM. (And yes, we’ll be on hand, once again, to document the demolition.)
In Buffalo, it’s the end of the line for Air America and the rest of the progressive talk format at WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls). Niagara Independent Media, which leased WHLD’s airtime from Citadel beginning in early February to carry its talk lineup, says it couldn’t keep the station afloat. In a message posted to the WHLD website Sunday night, station founder Brian Brown-Cashdollar wrote, “Start-ups face a huge up hill battle to get established, and it’s almost unheard of for a start up to launch a station with a format as expensive as the news/talk format.” Niagara Independent Media had been leasing time on WHLD to broadcast “Democracy Now” before launching the full-fledged format, and the show will continue to be heard there on weekday afternoons at 1, in addition to a morning airing on sister station WBBF (1120 Buffalo). What now for WHLD? Expect a return to the leased-time ethnic programming that had been heard there before February.
As for progressive talk in Buffalo, it continues – for now – on Entercom’s WWKB (1520), which has a lineup with no Air America content, instead using several Jones Radio hosts and “local” (albeit broadcasting from Los Angeles) talker Leslie Marshall. But Brown-Cashdollar says WWKB is considering dropping the format, too. He’s asking former WHLD listeners and advertisers to contact WWKB with offers of support.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, the Red Sox have made a change in their radio booth for the 2007 season: Jerry Trupiano is out after 13 years alongside Joe Castiglione. In his place, there’ll be three voices in the booth, as Castiglione is joined by Dave O’Brien (who’s called games for the Braves, Mets and Marlins in addition to his work for ESPN) and by Sox PR chief Glenn Geffner (who’s also called games for the Padres – and, as we fondly remember here in Rochester, the AAA Red Wings…)
New WBZ (1030) morning host Ed Walsh made his on-air debut at the station last week, appearing with Gary LaPierre as part of the transition from LaPierre’s four-decade reign in morning drive to Walsh’s debut January 2. LaPierre’s sign-off from morning drive will take place December 29, and we’ll be listening.
Speaking of sign-offs, tonight will mark the finale of “The Ten O’Clock News” on WLVI (Channel 56), ending 22 years of prime-time news from Morrissey Boulevard, and putting 150 people out of work as the station changes hands from Tribune to Sunbeam, which will launch a new 10 PM newscast produced by WHDH-TV (Channel 7) on Tuesday. The last word from Morrissey Boulevard, after anchors Karen Marinella and Frank Mallicoat say their farewells, will come from commentator Jack Hynes, who was WLVI’s 10 PM anchor for most of its news history.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 17, 2001
When the CBC went up for license renewal last year, it promised the CRTC that it would make big improvements in the distribution of its “chaîne culturelle” French-language radio service (the equivalent of the English-language Radio Two.) Now the Corporation has filed a whole slew of applications for new “chaîne culturelle” transmitters across Canada, fulfilling its promise to bring the service to each provincial capital. The applications include transmitters in Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary out west, adding to the already-licensed service in Winnipeg and (not yet on the air) in Vancouver.
One of our favorite specialty shows in MASSACHUSETTS has changed radio homes yet again. Barry Scott’s “Lost 45s” made the move to Infinity’s Oldies 103 (WODS 103.3 Boston) this past Sunday, airing from 7-11 PM weekly. That’s the good news; the bad news is that Little Walter’s Sunday night show featuring 50s oldies has been pulled from the WODS schedule again. Scott’s show has made nearly the grand tour of the Boston FM dial, having started years ago on the noncommercial side (at WERS, if we’re not mistaken), with stops along the way at WBOS, the former WEGQ (now WQSX), WBMX and most recently at WROR.
There was big news on the AM dial in Boston, too; Eddie Andelman and WEEI (850 Boston) parted ways after a run there that lasted more than a decade. Andelman was part of the original all-sports format that debuted on WEEI, then on 590, in the fall of 1991. (Before that, he had been with the old 850, WHDH, for more than a decade; he would return to the 850 dial position when WEEI moved there in 1994.) What’s next for Andelman? The hot rumor has him moving to the Sporting News Radio outlet, WWZN (1510), where he might face off against Dale Arnold, who co-hosted the 10 AM to 2 PM “A Team” show with him for six years and continues solo in that slot on WEEI. Any such move isn’t likely to take place until next March, when Andelman’s WEEI contract expires. There have also been rumors about interest in Andelman from FM talker WTKK (96.9), which has been taking on more of a sports focus lately; that seems more plausible than suggestions that Andelman could land at WBZ, which doesn’t have a hole in its weekday schedule for sports talk.
Twenty Years Ago: December 18, 1996
Boston’s “Business 590,” WBNW, ended a two and a half year broadcast run Sunday night at 11:57, in the most inconspicuous way possible. Just seconds into a Bloomberg network feature, the audio faded down and was replaced by the programming of Salem’s WEZE (1260). To the strains of the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright,” the new “Family 590” presented a short montage of its programming and a welcoming message from the program director. Once the simulcast between 1260 and 590 ends, and the WEZE calls officially shift to 590 (which is still legally WBNW for now), 1260 will become “Praise 1260,” running Christian contemporary music.
Ridgefield, Connecticut’s WREF (850) is about to be sold. Owner Arthur Liu called a staff meeting last Friday to announce that the entire staff was being fired, and that starting December 30, WREF will be operating under an LMA with WLAD(AM)/WDAQ(FM) in neighboring Danbury. WLAD/WDAQ’s owners, Berkshire Broadcasting, will eventually buy WREF from Liu. In the meantime, word has it WREF will be simulcasting WLAD’s programming.
Elmo Mania Grips Hub: That furry red giggling fellow is being auctioned by several Boston stations. WROR (105.7) already unloaded its Elmo, for $3000. WEGQ (93.7) auctioned an Elmo on the air last Friday morning. And over at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), there’ll be an Elmo for auction during tomorrow night’s Childrens Hospital Telethon, courtesy of sports guy Bob Lobel. Here at NERW, we much prefer the promotion being run by WXBB (105.3 Kittery, Maine). This station is inviting its listeners in the Portsmouth NH area to bring in their unwanted fruitcakes…and launch them into the air from a catapult! (or perhaps a “fruitcake-a-pult”?) Listeners will be judged on accuracy, distance, and style. Perhaps the logical conclusion of all this should be the “Elmo-pult”….