In this week’s issue… Wind storm silences stations – Talent swaps in Albany – Boston AM makes its move – Buddy buys in Buffalo
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a rough week for all of us in western NEW YORK, where record high winds whipped through last Wednesday. The gusts that hit 81 miles per hour at the Rochester airport took down trees across the region, pulling down power lines and plunging more than 100,000 customers in the area into darkness just as temperatures began settling into seasonally cold levels.
We were fine here at NERW HQ, thankfully – but the wind did a number on many broadcasters around the area. In Salamanca, near the Pennsylvania border, WGGO (1590) lost its tower, which collapsed in the wind sometime Wednesday. The talk station, part of a Sound Communications simulcast with WOEN (1360 Olean), is already talking with insurers about rebuilding.
Around Rochester, Wednesday’s aftermath found numerous signals off the air, including Entercom’s WROC (950), Crawford’s WDCX (990)/WLGZ (102.7), EMF’s WKDL (104.9), community jazz station WGMC (90.1 Greece) and iHeart sports talker WHTK (1280).
While sister station WHAM (1180) kept iron-man talker Bob Lonsberry on the air until midnight to take calls from listeners without power, WHTK itself was powerless well into the weekend – and silent until late Thursday, when it obtained a generator from a sponsor so it could get back on the air.
At WGMC, things were even more dire; streaming didn’t resume there until Friday, and it was Sunday night before the station’s over-the-air signal was able to get up and running again.
(A tip of the NERW hat, too, to WCJW in Warsaw, where morning man Jimi Jamm spent Wednesday night at the studios, taking calls and gathering storm damage information for the Thursday morning show. It’s what radio is supposed to be, right?)
As we get ready to hit “post” on this Monday’s column, of course, we’re keeping an eye on the blizzard that seems likely to wallop much of NERW-land in the next few days. If stations in your area are affected or need help, please let us know and we’d be happy to help get the word out!
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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: March 13, 2016
With less than nine months remaining before NBC plans to pull its affiliation from Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7), is it any surprise that the fight between NBC parent Comcast and WHDH owner Ed Ansin is now headed to court?
On Thursday morning, Ansin’s Sunbeam Television filed a federal lawsuit opposing Comcast’s plans to move its affiliation to a new “NBC Boston” due to launch by the end of 2016.
The suit, which seeks $400 million in damages, is based on the premise that Comcast will launch NBC Boston on the Boston-market signal it already owns, Telemundo outlet WNEU (Channel 60) licensed to Merrimack, New Hampshire.
If NBC moves from WHDH to WNEU, Sunbeam argues, it will lose nearly 4 million over-the-air homes from its reach – homes, the lawsuit says, that would then have to turn to subscription services such as Comcast cable TV to be able to watch NBC.
And that, the suit argues, violates a promise that Comcast made to the FCC when it was allowed to buy NBC five years ago. Ansin says Comcast assured the government that it wouldn’t do anything to reduce NBC’s over-the-air reach in order to push viewers to its cable business. He points to the areas where WNEU doesn’t reach – lower-income areas like Roxbury and Dorchester – as particular points of concern about the move.
Comcast wasted no time firing back, calling the lawsuit “meritless” and noting that its affiliation contract with WHDH was set to expire in December and included a cancellation clause.
*There’s a new AM signal on the air in MASSACHUSETTS‘s Merrimack Valley, as Costa-Eagle Communications relocated WMVX (1570) from Beverly to Methuen on Wednesday afternoon. The new WMVX is a 31 kW day/102-watt night non-directional signal that shares the tower of sister station WNNW (800 Lawrence), making it the company’s fourth AM in the Merrimack Valley. At least for now, it continues to carry Portuguese-language programming from Nossa Radio.
*RHODE ISLAND owner Chris DiPaola has expanded his station empire with the recent launch of WWRI-LP (95.1 Coventry).
While licensed to Marconi Radio Foundation, the station signed on last month with DiPaola as its manager, programming classic rock (all pre-recorded for now at DiPaola’s studios for WBLQ 1230 in Westerly) as “I-95.1.”
*In CANADA, federal labor officials have launched an investigation into the abrupt dismissal of 170 employees at Hamilton’s CHCH (Channel 11) last December.
While the independent station itself is owned by Channel Zero, it used another company, Channel 11 LP, to employ CHCH’s news staff – and it was that company that filed for bankruptcy and dismissed the entire staff without warning. (A different company then hired back a smaller number of news staffers and resumed producing a slimmed-down schedule of newscasts for CHCH.)
Last week, former Channel 11 LP employees received a letter from Employment and Skills Development Canada saying an investigation is now underway into the bankruptcy, and into whether the directors of a related numbered company that also filed for bankruptcy might be held liable for any outstanding wages. Those executives, the Globe and Mail reported, include Channel Zero’s chief executive officer Romen Podzyhun, president Cal Millar and vice-president Chris Fuoco.
Five Years Ago: March 12, 2012
*Over nearly two decades of writing this column, we’ve become pretty good at figuring out when a new format is really a stunt. Not only have we avoided taking the bait on numerous occasions, we’ve even (inadvertently) spoiled the days of a few promotions directors when their carefully-crafted cunning stunting has been exposed by a mainstream media report quoting NERW. (Sorry about that!)
So we can give the folks at Townsquare Media in Albany the satisfaction of knowing that this time, they got us.
Our midweek update on Wednesday obligingly reported the imminent launch of soft AC “Sunny 99.1” on W256BU, the translator Townsquare recently bought (for nearly a quarter-million dollars) and had been using to relay WQSH (105.7 Malta). It made sense, really – there’s a “Sunny” doing soft AC on a similar translator just down I-88 in Binghamton, there’s the AC format on WYJB (95.5) over at the rival Pamal/Albany Broadcasting cluster, and there was a pretty convincing website and Facebook page for the new format, too.
Townsquare put some serious effort into the stunt on the air: there was a day of protest music (“Occupy 99.1”) and a day of songs with “Sun” or “Sunny” in the title, and then on Friday afternoon at 3, Townsquare launched…a new urban station, “Hot 99.1,” fed from the HD2 channel of WQSH.
Assuming this one’s for real (and we think it is), the new “Hot” also goes up against a Pamal property, “Jamz 96.3” (WAJZ Voorheesville) – and it does so with the help of the former WAJZ program director, Tanch, who just made the shift from WAJZ to Townsquare. Tanch will be doing afternoons on “Hot” once the new signal debuts air personalities.
*Across the river in NEW JERSEY, former WABC programmer Phil Boyce is making his mark on his new station, Salem’s WNYM (970 Hackensack): on Friday, the low-rated talker began rebranding from “970 the Apple” to “970 the Answer.” The station has shifted its schedule a bit, too: local mainstay Curtis Sliwa now starts his show at 7 instead of 5 in the morning, ensuring that Sliwa is on WNYM’s 50,000-watt daytime signal year-round. Sliwa’s now preceded at 5 AM by Bill Bennett’s syndicated “Morning in America” and followed at 10 by Dennis Miller, then Dennis Prager at noon, Michael Medved at 3, then back to Sliwa (with Jeffrey Lichtman) from 5-7 PM.
*In the sideshow that was last week’s Rush Limbaugh media feeding frenzy, western MASSACHUSETTS played a sizable supporting role when WBEC (1420 Pittsfield) became one of two stations to drop Limbaugh’s show.
“The nature of Rush’s programming has always presented challenges for us and he’s always pushed the envelope. But this time he’s taken it too far,” said WBEC general manager Peter Barry to public broadcaster WFCR Monday afternoon. WBEC temporarily replaced Limbaugh with Fox Sports Radio during the noon-3 timeslot, leaving listeners in the Berkshires to search out Limbaugh on Albany-market WGY or Springfield’s WHYN.
*There’s a new top-40 outlet in northwest PENNSYLVANIA, thanks to another one of those HD-subchannel/translator combinations. The new “i104.3” is W282BR, the translator Citadel bought from Bill Shannon last year. Back then, it was W285AI (104.9), but it’s being displaced by the upcoming move of WRKT from 100.9 to 104.9. And after Citadel had announced plans to use the translator to relay sports outlet WRIE (1260), the new Cumulus management is going in a different direction, using 104.3 to relay the HD2 channel from WXKC (99.9).
Ten Years Ago: March 12, 2007
*It’s usually not a big deal when a radio station owner LMA’s its signal out to another broadcaster – but when the station is a 50 kilowatt AM, the owner is Clear Channel, and the other broadcaster is a public radio station, why, that’s a lead story.
It’s happening in western MASSACHUSETTS, where WFCR (88.5 Amherst) has been pioneering the whole public-radio-LMA concept for the last decade, leasing WPNI (1430 Amherst) from owner Pamal to run a separate slate of public radio news and talk programming for listeners in the Pioneer Valley who can hear the 5000-watt daytimer.
But with WFCR’s reach extending far beyond Hampshire County these days, the broadcaster was looking for new ways to bring its second service to a wider audience. (It’s extending its main service through new translators, too – W254AU on 98.7 in Great Barrington just came on the air, to be followed soon by new signals in Lee and Pittsfield.)
Clear Channel, meanwhile, has the big signal of WNNZ (640 Westfield), which has been doing Fox Sports Radio – but now has some big FM sports-talk competition in the Springfield market in the form of WVEI-FM (105.5 Easthampton). How to do something productive with the 640 signal without cannibalizing Clear Channel’s news-talk market leader, WHYN (560 Springfield)?
The answer will debut April 2, when Clear Channel begins leasing WNNZ to WFCR, which will move the WPNI program lineup down the dial to 640. By day, the 50 kW signal will cover much of western Massachusetts and big chunks of Connecticut and even eastern New York. At night…well, at least WNNZ, unlike WPNI, has a night signal, though its one kilowatt barely even reaches Springfield.
Clear Channel will also sell some of the underwriting for the WFCR programming on WNNZ, apparently splitting the revenue with WFCR. The Springfield Republican reports that WFCR is building a studio at the WGBY-TV (Channel 57) building in downtown Springfield to improve its coverage of Hampden County, and that the Springfield Falcons AHL team will remain on 640 through the end of this season.
So what happens to WPNI on 1430? Pamal is selling WPNI’s former sister station, WRNX (100.9 Amherst), to Clear Channel – in fact, WRNX’s studios move into Clear Channel’s Main Street studios this week – and the 1430 facility is apparently for sale.
*In Plattsburgh, NEW YORK, WTWK (1070) dropped progressive talk last Monday, flipping to a talk lineup aimed at women under the new moniker “Eve 1070.” The new schedule, syndicated from Greenstone Media, includes the Radio Ritas in morning drive, Lisa Birnbach at 9, Rolonda at noon and Women Aloud at 3 PM. (We think – another banner on the station’s new website shows Dr. Joy Browne in that slot.)
Down in Albany, Susan Arbetter is leaving WAMC (90.3) after 14 years to move into television at crosstown public broadcaster WMHT. Arbetter served as WAMC’s news director and as host of its “Roundtable” talk show; at WMHT, she’ll serve as host and producer of the weekly “New York Week in Review” public affairs show.
*”From somewhere near Independence Mall…”
That’s the joke they’re making at Philadelphia’s KYW (1060) now that the station has completed its move from its home of 35 years at Fifth and Market (source of the well-known “From Independence Mall” stager that’s become a Newsradio 1060 trademark) to the 10th floor of 400 Market Street, a block away.
KYW made its move during the 2 PM newscast on Friday, with sister station WYSP (94.1 Philadelphia) following right behind. KYW-TV (Channel 3) and WPSG (Channel 57) will abandon the Fifth and Market building later this month for their new digs over at 15th and Spring Garden.
Fifteen Years Ago: March 18, 2002
NEW JERSEY’s Millennium Radio Group spun the dials of its Atlantic City cluster late last week, setting the stage for the rebirth of a powerful FM signal that’s been sitting dormant for years. WBSS (97.3 Millville) had been simulcasting the talk programming of WKXW-FM (101.5 Trenton) – until 3 PM last Friday (March 15), when the talk moved to Atlantic City’s AM 1450, long known as WFPG(AM). The “World’s Favorite Play-Ground” station changed calls to WKXW(AM) that morning, and began simulcasting “New Jersey 101.5” at 3, silencing an interim format that had consisted of a WFPG-FM (96.9) simulcast and a local morning talk show with Harry Hurley, who’s now out of work.
On the FM side, WBSS picked up the modern AC format that had been running on co-owned WKOE (106.3 Ocean City), but without the “Shore” nickname. Instead, it’s “Mix 97-3” on both 97.3 and 106.3, at least for now – which has to be a little confusing for area listeners of “Mix 92,” WVLT (92.1 Vineland) and even “Mix 95-7,” WMWX in Philadelphia. Out of work on the FM side: former WKOE morning guy Mark Hunter and midday jock Tina Owen.
But wait – there was even more excitement on the Jersey Shore last week. Thursday (3/14) at 1:15 PM saw the official sign-on of WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin), but not with the rumored simulcast of Trenton’s WNJO (94.5). Instead, 105.7 debuted with a simulcast of CHR WBBO (98.5 Ocean Acres), which covers roughly the same parts of Ocean County anyway. We expect that’s an interim format until something new arrives on one of the two frequencies…
With that, we can cross the Hudson to NEW YORK and the week’s other big story: after a few false leads (“V105,” anyone?), Clear Channel pulled the plug on jammin’-oldies-turned-urban-AC WTJM (105.1 New York) Thursday morning at 6:05, unleashing a new hip-hop station on the Big Apple under the nickname “Power 105.” The format change puts Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97.1) in the crossfires, especially with the addition of former WQHT morning team Dr. Dre and Ed Lover as Power’s new morning crew. It’s probably also bad news for Inner City Broadcasting’s WBLS (107.5), which has been the biggest competition for Hot until now.
Twenty Years Ago: March 12, 1997
In Central New York, the big headline has been Phil Markert’s return to the airwaves, on simulcast WTLA (1200 North Syracuse), WTLB (1310 Utica), and WSGO (1440 Oswego). Markert was one of Syracuse’s best-known personalities before being dismissed from WHEN (620) four years ago. In a candid talk with the Syracuse Herald-Journal, Markert talked about his battles with alcoholism and gambling addiction — and about his recovery over the last few years.
Meantime, eight applicants (among them former New York and New England broadcaster Peter Hunn) have queued up in hopes of getting one of the area’s last FM frequencies, 100.3 Sylvan Beach (about halfway between Syracuse and Utica).
The 75th anniversary celebration at Schenectady’s WGY (810) has been marred by a nasty controversy over an ad published in the Albany Times-Union. The ad showed an African warrior, and read “Staying young requires an almost primal disregard for dignity and civility.” The local Urban League accused WGY of racism, and staged a protest rally against the station and talk host Mark Williams. The Times-Union apologized for printing WGY’s ad, and the station pulled a planned second appearance of the advertisement.
Back to New England: Little WVAY (100.7 Wilmington VT) has thrown in the towel on independent programming. The eight year old station began simulcasting classic rock WKVT-FM (92.7 Brattleboro) on Monday morning. WVAY was hampered by a signal that served almost no populated areas, even with the help of its 104.7 translator in Jamaica VT.
In Maine, WKZS (99.9 Auburn) is shifting its image a bit, dropping “Kiss” to become “Mix 96.9 and 99.9,” putting more emphasis on its Portland translator. The music hasn’t changed much, remaining a blend of current and 70s/80s AC. And Westbrook’s WJAE (1440) is indeed playing on the calls’ similarity to the heritage WJAB calls it used to have. WJAE is calling itself “Portland’s Jab.”
Out on Cape Cod, WUOK (1240 West Yarmouth) has been transferred to Boston University, and is now a full-time simulcast of WBUR (90.9 Boston).