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
*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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*One of the biggest deals in local TV ownership closed last week, giving yet another set of owners to the NERW-land stations that used to belong to LIN Television. The LIN stations merged into Media General at the end of 2014, and barely two years later most of Media General has now been swallowed up by Texas-based Nexstar in a $4.6 billion transaction.
Nexstar already owned or controlled stations in most of upstate NEW YORK, including CBS affiliate WROC-TV (Channel 8) in Rochester, ABC affiliates WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse, WUTR (Channel 20) in Utica, WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown, WIVT (Channel 34) in Binghamton, Fox affiliate WFXV (Channel 33) in Utica and NBC affiliates WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira and WBGH-LP (Channel 20) in Binghamton. The Media General deal fills out the remainder of upstate for Nexstar, adding CBS affiliate WIVB (Channel 4) and CW affiliate WNLO (Channel 23) in Buffalo and ABC affiliate WTEN (Channel 10) and Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23) in Albany.
In New England, Nexstar already owned or controlled Burlington/Plattsburgh’s Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44) and ABC sister WVNY (Channel 22), and now it makes some big additions with the former LIN/Media General portfolio – NBC affiliate WWLP (Channel 22) in Springfield, ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8)/My affiliate WCTX (Channel 59) in New Haven/Hartford and CBS affiliate WPRI (Channel 12)/Fox affiliate WNAC (Channel 64) in Providence. There’s at least one management change that comes along with the ownership change – at WTNH/WCTX, Richard Graziano is the new VP/GM, returning to Connecticut after an earlier stint at the helm of the Hartford Courant.
In Pennsylvania, Nexstar doesn’t add anything to its existing holdings in Erie (WJET/WFXP), Altoona (WTAJ), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WYOU/WBRE) or Harrisburg (WHTM), but it is shuffling management – Robert Bee heads from WYOU/WBRE down I-81 to WHTM to become VP/GM there, which moves Steve Daniloff up to VP/GM in Wilkes-Barre, where he’d been director of sales.
And congratulations to former WROC-TV GM Tim Busch: as part of the Nexstar expansion, he moves up from overseeing Nexstar’s eastern markets to becoming president of Nexstar Broadcasting nationally.
*Back in NEW YORK, it’s been a month of signal problems for WNYU (89.1) at New York University. It suffered a transmission line problem on December 19 that knocked off its main signal, which comes from a tower at Bronx Community College. With its 8.3 kW main signal off the air, WNYU has remained alive through streaming and through its 5-watt booster, WNYU-1, at the main NYU campus in lower Manhattan.
On Long Island, Nick Parker is out of afternoons after seven years at WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) as the station goes in a “more music” direction. Will Connoisseur end up tracking that airshift from one of its Connecticut stations?
*Big congratulations go out to WBEN (930 Buffalo) traffic king Allan Harris: two months after an attempted kidney transplant had to be called off because of problems with the donor organ, Harris again was called to Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital on Thursday when another kidney became available. This time, there were no hitches, and Harris is now recuperating from the transplant operation.
*Radio People on the Move in CONNECTICUT: Shane McKenzie has departed evenings at Hall’s WCTY (97.7 Norwich), clearing the way for Josh Mattei to move from overnights and creating an overnight opening at the 24-hour-a-day live operation.
At Quinnipiac University’s WQUN (1220 Hamden), former WPLR voice Ray Andrewsen takes over today on the morning shift; he’ll be followed by PD Pam Landry in middays and Brian Smith in the afternoon.
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, the TV stations that share the master antenna in Needham were on temporary standby antennas once again last week as a panel of the upper master antenna was hastily shipped back to Maine so manufacturer Dielectric could make yet more repairs.
Last Monday, climbers went up the tower to fix a nitrogen leak in one elbow of the transmission line, only to discover that there was another leak elsewhere in that troubled upper antenna. Weather prevented a planned removal of the damaged antenna bay late Wednesday night, but on Thursday night the bay came down and was rushed to Dielectric. On Friday night, the bay was reinstalled and by early Saturday morning the antenna was back up and running at full power for WBZ-TV (Channel 4), WCVB (Channel 5), WSBK (Channel 38) and WGBX (Channel 44). Will this be the end of the difficulties broadcasters have had with that antenna? We’ll be watching (and we imagine there must have been some particularly nervous moments at WBZ-TV, what with that Patriots playoff game on the schedule for Sunday night.)
*Over at Entercom’s WEEI-FM (98.5), sportswriter Alex Reimer is now a “brand personality,” a new gig that will involve continued rotations into the guest chair on the Kirk Minihane/Gerry Callahan morning show, blogging, podcasting and writing for WEEI.com.
Over at Salem’s WBIX (1260), local talker Dr. Grace Vuoto has disappeared from the schedule, where her weekday 9-noon slot is now occupied by the syndicated Mike Gallagher. Vuoto was in the unusual position of competing with her husband, WRKO’s Jeff Kuhner, on the crowded Boston talk dial.
*Back in PENNSYLVANIA, Randy Savage (real name: Bruce Murry) moves north from Renda in Fort Myers, Florida to take over as OM for Cumulus in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He’ll oversee all five formats in that cluster (AC WMGS, country WSJR, top-40 WBHD/WBHT, rock WBSX and sports WARM) as well as serving as PD and afternoon jock on “NASH FM” WSJR. Savage replaces Mike Vincent, who left those duties last fall to go to Cumulus’ cluster in Melbourne, Florida.
In Somerset, Forever changes calls on WLLI (990), which becomes WNTI to match sister news-talker WNTJ (1490 Johnstown); the WLLI calls are headed to the former WTJW (1390 Jackson TN), where they’ll match a new “Willie” country format down there.
*On the NEW JERSEY shore, WJSE (106.3 North Cape May) looks to get a little more signal northward with a move to the old WIBG-FM (94.3) tower in Middle Township; from there, the station’s new 3.3 kW/137m class A signal would put less signal over Delaware Bay and a little more toward Ocean City.
Up the shore in Atlantic City, Jennifer Knight is out as middays/APD/music director at WAYV (95.1); no replacement has been named yet.
*In CANADA, there’s a format change coming to RNC Media’s CHXX (100.9 Donnacona); Steve Faguy reports the Quebec City-market station will move from rock to classic hits as “Pop 100.9,” matching the branding of sister station CFTX (96.5 Gatineau) in the Ottawa market.
Our travels last week took us through Kitchener, Ontario, where religious CJTW is on the move: it’s still on the air with its old 50-watt signal on 94.3, but it’s also now testing its new 420-watt signal at 93.7.
Just down the dial in Toronto, the CBC has applied to add a subcarrier to its CBL-FM (94.1 Toronto) that will carry “TIME FM” Tamil-language programming.
Over in First Nations territory, CJKS (93.5 Ohsweken) is now on the air; its 75-watt signal is branded as “JUKASA Radio.”
And Dan Sys’ Canadian Radio News reports calls for two new stations: Bayshore Broadcasting’s new “Country 102.3” in Bracebridge will be CJMU, while Radio Humsafar’s new 1350 in Brampton will be CFKA.
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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
*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).
Schriver 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.