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In this week’s issue… Erie radio landscape shifts – Good news for WBEN’s Harris – Nexstar takes over from Media General – More Boston TV antenna woes

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*A distinctive radio voice in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA will be making a jump to the commercial FM world over the next year. It’s been four years since Mercyhurst College’s WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie) dropped its jazz format to go oldies under the leadership of “Captain Dan” Geary, picking up the format of then-sister AM WYNE (1530 North East).

After agreeing last fall to sell off the AM signal (which is headed to Inspiration Time, Inc.), now Mercyhurst has reached a deal that will take WMCE-FM back to student operation while sending Captain Dan and the oldies format to The ERIE Radio Company’s new 100.9 construction permit.

As regular NERW readers know, that 100.9 class A signal, which will be licensed to Westfield, New York, was created by Connoisseur’s long-pending move of WRKT (100.9 North East) up the dial to 104.9, which finally appears poised to reach completion.

So here’s how it will all play out over the next year or so: by January 20, 2018, Connoisseur has to build out its 104.9 CP for WRKT, moving that B1 signal from its current home just across the New York line over to the much closer tower of sister station WRTS (103.7 Erie). Once “Rocket” makes its move, Rick Rambaldo’s ERIE Radio will then be able to build out the replacement 100.9 signal – at which point the new 100.9 will simulcast with WMCE-FM on 88.5 for a little while so that listeners can move over.

It’s not yet clear what Mercyhurst will then do with 88.5; its existing staff, including Geary, will move downtown to ERIE Radio’s streetfront studio to join Rambaldo’s existing station, WEHP (Happi 92.7).

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2017-calendar-coverJohn 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.

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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: January 25, 2016

 wstc-wnlk*Once upon a time, if a severe winter storm were bearing down on lower Fairfield County, CONNECTICUT, there would have been local newspeople on the air at several spots on the AM dial, providing emergency information specific to their areas. In 2016, as a particularly severe storm took aim everywhere from Long Island Sound to Virginia, Fairfield County residents awoke Friday to the news that two of those erstwhile local stations – WNLK (1350 Norwalk) and WSTC (1400 Stamford) – were about to go silent pending new ownership.

Sacred Heart University, which bought the AM signals from Cox in 2011 for $500,000, announced that it will take them dark this morning so they’re not on the air during its fundraiser for parent station WSHU-FM (91.1 Fairfield). WSHU says it was “a strategic decision,” saying “we have a responsibility to our supporters to make smart business decisions, and we have found that it is not financially viable to operate these stations at this time.” Station manager George Lombardi says WSTC/WNLK were averaging only 900 listeners in any given hour.

WSHU’s network and local programming will continue to be heard in the region over 91.1 and several translators, along with WSHU (1260 Fairfield, the former WMMM) and WYBC (1340 New Haven).

*One of the most colorful station owners in upstate NEW YORK has died. Lou Schriver was known as “Ramblin’ Lou” from the start of his long career in country music. As a promoter, he brought everyone from Hank Williams Sr. to Dolly Parton to shows in western New York. As a musician, his “Ramblin’ Lou Family Band” was a staple on the local scene for more than half a century. And as a broadcaster, he parlayed his country shows on Niagara Falls’ WJJL into ownership of AM 1300 in Lancaster when Stan Jasinski sold the signal in 1970 to launch his independent TV station, WUTV (Channel 29).

wxrl-schriverSchriver changed the station’s calls from WMMJ to WXRL – the RL, of course, for “Ramblin’ Lou” – and played country music long before anyone was spinning those sounds on the FM band. In addition to promoting the musical genre, WXRL was a showcase for Schriver’s concerts and later the bus tours that became a big part of his business.

Since last year’s death of Scott Cleveland, Schriver had been WXRL’s morning man, right up until his last show just before Christmas. He’d been hospitalized for several weeks for heart problems when he died Jan. 17 at age 86.

Five Years Ago: January 23, 2012

*The first major format change of 2012 – and the first big sign of the Cumulus-Citadel consolidation in the region – comes to us from central PENNSYLVANIA, where Cumulus has restored the heritage format on WMHX (106.7), the Hershey-licensed signal most recently playing 90s pop as “Channel 106.7” under Citadel ownership.

That frequency’s heritage in the Harrisburg market is country, beginning in the early 1980s when then-WPDC-FM in Elizabethtown changed calls to WRKZ, “Z107.” With a big signal blanketing not only Harrisburg but the other big regional markets of York and Lancaster, Z was a potent force in the area for almost two decades.

The Z incarnation of 106.7 lasted until 2002, when Citadel began shuffling formats, turning 106.7 into “Cat Country” WCAT-FM. That lasted just two years, with the 2004 flip to “Coolpop” WCPP sending country back to Carlisle-licensed 102.3, now WCAT-FM “Red 102.”  But Cumulus didn’t get the 102.3 facility as part of its Citadel purchase; it’s now in trust pending a buyer, leaving Cumulus to get into the country game by returning “Z” to 106.7, which it did on Friday at 1:06 PM.

*Our New England report starts in RHODE ISLAND, where Salem didn’t stay long in the Providence market. After just a year operating WBZS (550 Pawtucket), Salem is selling the station to Wisconsin-based Catholic broadcaster Starboard Media Foundation, which will flip the signal to its “Relevant Radio” Catholic programming.

The flip comes with a healthy profit for Salem: it paid $550,000 to buy the station (formerly WDDZ) from Disney, and it’s selling the station for $750,000.

*In CONNECTICUT, they’re mourning “Dr. Mel,” WTNH (Channel 8) chief meteorologist Mel Goldstein, who died Wednesday (Jan. 18) at 66 after a long battle with multiple myeloma. Goldstein came to WTNH in 1986 after a career at Western Connecticut State University, where he ran a weather network that supplied more than a dozen area stations with forecasts. As chief meteorologist, “Dr. Mel” became a WTNH fixture for a quarter-century before his illness forced him to retire last August.

Ten Years Ago: January 22, 2007

*Nearly three years after his Vox group sold most of its stations in NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT to Nassau Broadcasting, Jeff Shapiro is coming back to the Upper Valley as owner of the “other” cluster in the market.Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio LLC is buying Clear Channel’s signals, including news-talk WTSL (1400 Hanover NH) and WTSM (93.5 Springfield VT), AC WGXL (92.3 Lebanon NH), rock WMXR (93.9 Woodstock VT)/WVRR (101.7 Newport NH) and country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH), for an as-yet-undisclosed price.

“We are thrilled to be returning to the broadcasting community in the Upper Valley,” says Shapiro, who owned WHDQ in Claremont for almost 20 years before selling to Nassau in 2004.

The Upper Valley stations will join Concord-market WTPL (107.7 Hillsboro) under the Great Eastern umbrella.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Marconi Broadcasting’s WHAT (1340 Philadelphia) relaunched late last week with a rather daring new format. In place of the urban talk that former owner Inner City Broadcasting offered, Marconi CEO Tom Kelly is turning the little AM signal (for which he paid $5 million) into “Skin Radio,” which will mix modern rock and hip-hop. Alvin Clay is the PD of the new station, which will feature what Kelly describes as “young non-radio folks” on the air.We’re big fans, here at NERW, of any sign of fresh thinking on the air, especially on the AM dial, but if you believe, as we do, that “Skin Radio” will end up drawing most of whatever audience it gets from its webcast, you’ve got to wonder what Kelly was thinking by spending as much as he did on the broadcast signal. And since Kelly’s an experienced radio player (he’s keeping his music-research business going even as he launches “Skin Radio”), we’re particularly eager to find out. Stay tuned…

*Two NEW YORK public broadcasting executives are preparing to move on from their leadership posts. At WNET/WLIW in New York City, Bill Baker will step down in early 2008 after 20 years as president, with former NBC News president Neal Shapiro replacing him. (Shapiro’s already on board at Educational Broadcasting Corporation, WNET’s parent, for a yearlong transition process.)Up the Hudson, Deborah Onslow’s retiring as president of WMHT Educational Telecommunications in the Albany/Schenectady market. Onslow joined the stations in 2001 from WGBY in Springfield (and from WXXI in Rochester before that); no word yet on a replacement at WMHT.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 23, 2002

The sound of sports talk is coming to southern CONNECTICUT this week, as yet another Clear Channel station ditches the standards format in favor of satellite-delivered talk. This time around, it’s WAVZ (1300) in New Haven making the change. As soon as tomorrow (Jan. 24), the 1000-watt station will become “The Zone, Fox Sports Radio 1300,” airing the 24-hour Fox Sports feed distributed by Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio. WAVZ was already carrying local sports programming that included Ravens AHL hockey; that will continue, but the station doesn’t expect to add much more in the way of local talk. The standards continue for New Haven listeners on WQUN (1220 Hamden).

Over here in Western New York, the voices are about to change on Rochester oldies outlet WBBF (950 Rochester/93.3 Fairport), as PD Bobby Hatfield gets ready to depart the Entercom station. (Under his real name of Joe Reilly, he’s the new owner of WHLM 930 down in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, which will inaugurate regular programming next month.) Dave Symonds, who’s already operations manager for the Entercom cluster, will assume PD duties for WBBF, while Mike Vickers moves from middays to Hatfield’s old afternoon drive slot. Dave Radigan will take over midday and assistant PD duties, we’re told.

Twenty Years Ago: January 18, 1997

The talk radio wars in Hartford have claimed a victim: WPOP (1410) abruptly cancelled all its programming last week, and after a weekend of dance/CHR music, re-emerged Monday (1/13) as “Sports Radio 1410,” minus its entire programming staff. The format change comes just on the heels of WPOP’s sale to SFX Broadcasting from Multi-Market Communications, which had run the station as a mix of local and satellite talk. Among the shows that originated at WPOP was the syndicated “Judy Jarvis Show,” which has shifted production to the Robinson Media Arts Center next to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Farmington. Jarvis no longer has a Hartford-area outlet. Jarvis needed to move no matter what, since the WPOP studios in Newington are being sold as part of SFX’s consolidation of its many Hartford stations.