In this week’s issue… Maine meteorologist dies – House steps back in CT – NY AM seeks solar future – PA FMs sell – Plus: Baseball on the Radio – AA Edition

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*We start our column this week with a sad ending to a gripping story from MAINE, where WCSH (Channel 6) meteorologist Tom Johnston never returned from a trip he took a week ago to an appearance at the Sunday River ski resort in Newry.

After Johnston met with fans at the Springfest event on April 1, he didn’t return to his home in Old Orchard Beach, where his girlfriend reported him missing on Monday. That touched off a search that ended Thursday night, when Johnston’s car was found empty on the side of a road in Auburn.

Auburn police say Johnston appears to have walked off alone into the woods, where they think he took his life.

Johnston’s disappearance, and then the news of his death, prompted an outpouring of emotion from co-workers and viewers. The Rutgers University graduate had been with WCSH and Bangor sister station WLBZ since 2014, when he moved back north after stints in Fort Myers and Jacksonville, Florida. Known as “TJ Thunder,” Johnston was the weekday 5, 5:30 and 6 PM weatherman on WCSH/WLBZ. He was just 49.

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*On a much happier note, we’re just a few weeks away from the 2017 NAB Show in Las Vegas, and your friends here at Fybush Media are once again delighted to be co-hosting the must-attend event of the week. If you’re going to be in town Sunday night, April 23, we hope you’ll join us at the top-top-top-top-top of Mandalay Bay for our Fourth Annual Vegas Radio Party – sign up right here, or check back next week for more information!

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*Costa-Eagle’s reworking of its Merrimack Valley cluster in MASSACHUSETTS and NEW HAMPSHIRE includes new calls, too: the WMVX calls move from Methuen-licensed 1570 to Salem-licensed 1110 to go along with the “Valley 98.9” oldies format there, while the much-traveled WCCM calls move from 1110 to 1570.

(If you’re taking notes at home, this means the WCCM callsign will have made the full circuit around the Costa-Eagle dial from its original home at 800 in Lawrence, now WNNW, to 1490 in Haverhill, now WCEC, to 1110 to 1570.)

Loren Petisce is stepping back from her afternoon shift on WKPE (103.9 South Yarmouth) and her midday shift on sister station WQRC (99.9 Barnstable), in what the veteran jock says was her own decision. She’s still going to do fill-in voicetracking for the stations, as well as part-time work on WBMX in Boston and teaching at Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Newton.

*In NEW YORK, Spanish Broadcasting System is finally getting its license renewed for WSKQ (97.9) after entering into a consent decree with the FCC to settle issues that had both its 2006 and 2014 renewals held up.

The $10,000 “voluntary” payment will resolve complaints that “Mega 97.9” had aired a song with indecent lyrics in 2005, as well as a complaint over a 2001 broadcast in which the station reportedly pranked listeners with a story about the Lincoln Tunnel being flooded.

*Drivers on the Thruway south of Albany are plenty familiar with the three-tower site of Albany Broadcasting’s WROW (590), which sits on a big piece of land on the east side of the highway in Glenmont. In addition to hosting the 5000-watt signal of “Magic 590,” the land could soon have another use: the Times Union reports Albany Broadcasting has applied to the town of Bethlehem to put a solar farm around the tower bases.

The 2.6-megawatt project would be built by Pennsylvania-based Dynamic Energy, and would provide more than enough power not just to run WROW’s transmitter but also to sell back to the power company under net metering. Could it set a trend for AM owners sitting on large plots of land? Perhaps – but many engineers are also wondering how the solar panels would affect WROW’s ground plane and directional pattern, too.

*In Buffalo, the mid-morning hours on Friday are a little less entertaining on Entercom’s WBEN (930), where the “Movie Show” at 11 each week has been replaced by one more hour of Sandy Beach’s usual talk show. WBEN creative services director Bob Stilson, aka “Cinema Bob,” had been hosting the hour of movie talk with Beach for 20 years until the company pulled the plug last week, a move operations manager Tim Wenger blamed on limited resources and a desire to focus the station even tighter on political talk.

Bath-based Family Life Ministries no longer has a station in its hometown – well, not exactly, anyway. FLM has completed the move of its flagship WCIK (103.1) from Bath northward to Avoca, boosting the station’s signal into Dansville and up the Genesee Valley at the expense of a bit of southward coverage toward Corning, where Family Life has translators to replace the WCIK signal.

*RHODE ISLAND talker Tara Granahan has been named permanent mid-morning host at WPRO (790)/WEAN (99.7), where she’s been the temporary fill-in on John DePetro’s former 9 AM-noon slot since he left the station in January.

Granahan had been WPRO’s evening host before that, a slot that WPRO temporarily filled by the syndicated John Batchelor Show, but the station has now hired former Boston and Hartford sports talker Andy Gresh for that shift starting next Monday. Gresh, who’d been with WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub) from 2010-2015 before joining WTIC (1080) in Hartford, will host “The Gresh Show” from 6-9 PM weeknights.

*In CONNECTICUT, veteran anchor Dennis House is stepping back a bit from his role at CBS affiliate WFSB (Channel 3). While he’ll keep doing the 5 and 6 PM newscasts, House will leave the 11 PM newscast next month; no replacement has been named yet.

*A pair of station sales in PENNSYLVANIA include Bob Stevens’ addition of two more signals to his cluster south and east of Pittsburgh. Stanley Wall’s widow Sharon is selling WLSW (103.9 Scottdale, seen at left in a 2004 Site of the Week visit) and AM simulcast WQTW (1570 Latrobe) to Stevens’ Broadcast Communications III, Inc. for $605,000.

Up north, Ed and Carol Niewinski’s J.M.J. Radio is paying Telikoja Educational Broadcasting $45,000 for WCOZ (91.7 New Albany), which will presumably become a simulcast of J.M.J.’s Catholic WQOR (750 Olyphant).

And in Philadelphia, Comcast has hired a broker to sell the property WCAU (Channel 10) has called home since the 1950s, when then-owner CBS built a state-of-the-art TV and radio studio at the corner of City Line and Monument. The radio stations (now CBS Radio’s WPHT/WOGL) moved out more than a decade ago, and now Channel 10 and its Telemundo sister WWSI (Channel 62) are getting ready to relocate to Comcast’s new Center City skyscraper sometime next year.

The Inquirer reports that the 5-acre property is being marketed by Binswanger Management, which will likely have no trouble finding a buyer interested in redeveloping the site just across the city line in Bala Cynwyd.

When WCAU and WWSI move out, it will end a long era of TV competition at the corner of Monument and City Line; WPVI (Channel 6, ex-WFIL-TV) has been on the city side of City Line since the 1960s, though its original round building was replaced a decade ago by a bigger new building on an adjacent piece of land.

*In CANADA, we can now attach a price to Rogers’ purchase of CKOT (101.3) and CJDL (107.3) in Tillsonburg: a filing with the CRTC last week pegs the purchase from the Tillsonburg Broadcasting Company at C$4.162 million.

In Markham, “105.9 the Region” wants to better cover its region north of Toronto. CFMS is asking the CRTC for permission to go from its present 704 w average/2.5 kW max DA/9 m to 630 w average/3 kW max DA/54 m, moving west to a tower on Centre Street West in Richmond Hill.

And in Quebec, CIQI (90.3 Montmagny) is once again asking to add a second signal in Saint-Fabien-de-Panet. Back in 2013, CIQI won permission for a new signal on 92.5 with 12.6 kW average/17.5 kW max DA/123.1 m, but the permit expired unbuilt, and now Radio Montmagny is back with a new application for those facilities.

*How about some minor-league Baseball on the Radio?

We always enjoy catching AA action around the Eastern League, and this year’s agenda already includes a visit to the newly-renamed Binghamton Rumble Ponies. The former B-Mets inaugurate their new identity on flagship WNBF (1290), and when we catch them over Memorial Day weekend, they’ll be playing another recently renamed team, the Hartford Yard Goats. The Goats will finally inaugurate Dunkin Donuts Park near downtown Hartford a year behind schedule – and they’ll be heard in both English and Spanish this year. Dan Lovallo joins Jeff Dooley in the booth at “the Dunk” for the English broadcasts on WPOP (1410), while the Spanish-language broadcast will be heard on WPRX (1120 Bristol).

"Section 101"Elsewhere in New England, we caught the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester last summer, and they’re back on WGIR (610 Manchester) and its iHeart sisters WTSL (1400 Lebanon) and WPKX (930 Rochester) this year. (We were especially amused to see that sister station WGIR-FM was nicely branded in “Section Rock 101” at the ballpark…)

Over in Maine, the Portland Sea Dogs stay put on WPEI/WTEI (95.5/95.9), plus Dick Gleason’s rearranged WOXO (96.9/100.7/1450) and WTME (780) up in Lewiston-Auburn.

In Pennsylvania, the Erie SeaWolves have a new two-year deal to stay put on WFNN (1330), with Greg Gania in the booth. The Altoona Curve begin a new partnership with WRTA (1240), which will shift a few weekday afternoon broadcasts to WKMC (1370 Roaring Springs). WTRN (1370 Tyrone) and WWGE (1400 Ebensburg) will also carry the Curve, who add former Rancho Cucamonga Quakes broadcaster Max Gun to Trey Wilson and Nate Bowen in the booth. The Reading Fightin Phils remain on Cumulus sports talker WIOV (1240) and its FM translator at 98.5, and we think the Harrisburg Senators remain on WTKT (1460), though it’s less than clear from their website.

In New Jersey, the Trenton Thunder play on the College of New Jersey’s WTSR (91.3), with 30 games simulcast on WBCB (1490 Levittown PA). And the Lakewood Blue Claws, the sole South Atlantic League team in the region, are once again on the “Shore Sports Network,” WOBM (1160)/WADB (1310).

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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: April 11, 2016

*One of the newest translators to put a signal over parts of NEW YORK City is selling for a near-record price.

w248cg
W248CG atop 101 Hudson in Jersey City

W248CG (97.5 Jersey City NJ) is a 110-watt signal that Ted Schober’s City Commons LLC put on the air last year. For the last few months, he’s been leasing the signal to Erick Salgado’s Cantico Nuevo Ministries, which has filed to convert that lease to a $1.6 million purchase.

Cantico Nuevo has been using the translator as a relay of WJDM (1530 Jersey City), which it’s been leasing from Multicultural Broadcasting, but its sale filing indicates that it will instead run the translator off an HD subchannel it will lease from Pillar of Fire’s WAWZ (99.1 Zarephath NJ).

The deal includes $350,000 in cash and a $1.25 million note held by the seller.

*In CONNECTICUT, University of Northwestern – St. Paul completed its deal with EMF on March 29, turning the former WCCC (1290 West Hartford) into WNWW, “Faith Radio 1290.” EMF had been running the AM station as a simulcast of its Hartford K-Love outlet, WCCC-FM (106.9); it donated the AM signal to Northwestern in exchange for Northwestern’s agreement to pay $1000 a month in tower rent for the AM and its purchase of a translator from EMF.

wlpa925*Hall Communications has changed formats on a central PENNSYLVANIA AM/translator combination. WLPA (1490 Lancaster)’s contract to carry “America’s Best Music” ran out at the end of March, and now the AM signal and its FM translator at 92.5 are simulcasting ESPN Radio with sister station WONN-FM (92.7 Starview). The simulcast alleviates some of the interference that existed between the 92.5 translator and the 92.7 signal, which was formerly WLPA-FM.

Five Years Ago: April 9, 2012

*In CANADA, the week’s big news came from the CBC, which responded to federal budget cuts ($115 million over three years) by announcing plans to cut 650 staffers and eliminate some of its programming services and transmitters.

Part of RCI’s Sackville antenna array, June 1998

The most dramatic cuts come at Radio Canada International, which will shutter its shortwave transmitter at Sackville, New Brunswick after seven decades and will end its newscast services and all its Russian and Brazilian programming.

For domestic audiences, the cuts will include some of CBC television’s original programming – and some TV transmitters that now carry CBC-TV and Radio-Canada TV to remote communities. The CBC’s plan calls for the shutdown of hundreds of analog transmitters at the end of July instead of keeping them on the air for an additional year, and that would mean the end of English-language CBC service anywhere in Quebec outside of Montreal – and in much of the Maritimes as well.

Francophones outside Quebec would lose even more Radio-Canada service, with transmitters in Windsor, London, Kitchener and Sarnia (and in even bigger cities such as Calgary) shutting down, leaving viewers forced to use pay TV services, either cable or satellite, to receive CBC/Radio-Canada programming.

And then there’s this: CBC executives say they’ll apply to the CRTC to sell commercial time on CBC Radio Two and Radio-Canada’s Espace Musique network. If approved, it will be the first time since the 1970s that the CBC has carried commercials on its radio networks. (CBC-TV and Radio-Canada TV have always competed for ad dollars with Canada’s commercial TV broadcasters.)

*And of course we can’t let the death of Mike Wallace pass without comment. There’s no shortage of tributes out there to Wallace’s many decades with CBS News on “60 Minutes,” but long before he found network news fame, Wallace was already a local TV star in New York. The Brookline, Mass. native had already tasted network exposure on CBS in the early 1950s as an actor and talk host, but he moved to DuMont’s WABD-TV (Channel 5) in 1955 to start a local news operation in the wake of the demise of DuMont’s network.

At WABD, Wallace made a name for himself as the pugnacious host of “Night Beat,” a freewheeling late-night show in which a cigarette-wielding Wallace questioned a guest in front of a plain black backdrop, decades before Charlie Rose. “Night Beat” moved to ABC in 1956 but didn’t last long, and by 1959 Wallace was back in local TV at New Jersey-based WNTA-TV (Channel 13), where he ran the newsroom and anchored the local “News Beat” newscast and a new version of “The Mike Wallace Interview.”

By 1963, Wallace had made it back to CBS News, and of course he never left; “60 Minutes” came along in 1968 and Wallace continued to make appearances on the broadcast as late as 2008.

Wallace was 93 when he died on Saturday night in New Canaan, Connecticut.

We remember Walt Sanders, one of the mainstays of WBZ-TV (Channel 4)’s long era of ratings dominance in the 1970s and 1980s. Sanders came to Channel 4 in 1968 as one of the station’s (and the city’s) first African-American TV reporters, and he stayed at WBZ until his retirement in 1995. Sanders died last Monday (April 2) at his home in Spring Hill, Florida. He was 81 years old.

Ten Years Ago: April 9, 2007

*There’s always some risk involved in tweaking a station that’s consistently at the top of the ratings, but when that station is at the top of the NEW YORK ratings, any tweak at all becomes a decent-sized gamble.

But Clear Channel has some pretty solid reasoning behind its quiet shift last week that moved WLTW (106.7 New York) away from the “Lite” identity that’s been the station’s cornerstone since its debut in 1984.

While the “Lite” branding still appears from time to time on the station, it’s now “New York’s 106.7,” with what looks like a pretty hasty Photoshop job on the station website, now accessible at 1067newyork.com and newyorks1067.com in addition to the old 1067litefm.com and wltw.com.

So what’s wih the new identity? One factor, of course, is the new competition from CBS’ “Fresh FM” WWFS (102.7 New York), which is missing no opportunity to associate “Lite” with the sleepy soft AC music that 106.7 spent so many years playing. WLTW’s gradual move away from that music toward a hotter adult contemporary sound (verging, at times, on almost a pop-CHR sound) is another factor in the change.

And then there’s the people-meter factor: WLTW understands, as so many PDs will learn soon enough, that as Arbitron shifts over to its new automated ratings system, a lot of the old realities of the diary system will no longer apply. Already, the word is that most of the station’s entries in Arbitron diaries were simply “106.7,” without calls or slogan, and once the Portable People Meter kicks in in New York, all that will matter will be getting radios to land on that frequency, no matter what the slogan.

*It’s really in CANADA, of course, but CKEY-FM (101.1 Fort Erie ON) continues to target the Buffalo market, just over the Niagara River, and now it’s doing so with a new nickname. “Wild 101” was replaced by “Z101” last week, with a more mainstream top-40 format and a reworked airstaff.

Ellen Z is out in afternoons, with Keith Kelly handling that shift for now, and PD Dave Universal created a minor message-board stir when he installed “Taylor Kaye” (Jenny Wade, late of WKSE in Buffalo) in late nights. There’s a Taylor Kaye across the lake at Toronto’s CHUM-FM, too, and at last check, the new Z101 website didn’t show any name at all in the 10 PM airshift. (Interesting, too, given the CRTC’s previous interest in CKEY’s Canadian bona fides, that the new Z101 site, unlike the old “Wild” site, shows only a Buffalo request-line number, and no Canadian studio phone.)

*Now that western MASSACHUSETTS is hearing NPR news and talk from WFCR (88.5 Amherst) on the big 50,000-watt signal of Clear Channel’s WNNZ (640 Westfield), Pamal has a new format on its orphaned WPNI (1430 Amherst), which had been carrying the WFCR news-talk programming. Until WPNI can be sold, it’s now simulcasting WUMB-FM (91.9 Boston), bringing that station’s folk music to what’s presumably a very receptive Pioneer Valley audience.

*In VERMONT, we hear that Pamal has peeled WZRT (97.1 Rutland) away from the “Kiss FM” identity it had under Clear Channel ownership; the station’s still top 40, but it’s back to its old “Z97” moniker. (We also note that Clear Channel’s vermontkiss.com site, while mostly updated to show only WVTK 92.1 Port Henry NY/Burlington VT, still has some “Kiss FM 92.1-97.1” logos around, too.)

CBS’ Philadelphia TV stations, KYW-TV (Channel 3) and WPSG (Channel 57) made their long-awaited moves to 15th and Spring Garden last Monday, launching news on KYW in HD at the same time. Meanwhile, back in KYW’s old Market Street neighborhood, former next-door neighbor WTXF (Channel 29) has a new VP/general manager, as Mike Renda moves to that Fox O&O from sister station WJW (Channel 8) in Cleveland. And across Independence Mall, WHYY (90.9/Channel 12) is reportedly losing its leader; a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer says Paul Gluck is taking a new job running Drexel University’s Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies.

Back to CBS – it had a rough start last Monday to its new FM talk station in Pittsburgh. WTZN-FM (93.7 the Zone) was supposed to have premiered the new Scott Paulsen show at 4 PM after John McIntire’s shift, but the lawyers apparently got involved, and so McIntire ended up being forced to fill an extra 90 minutes of airtime, without even being able to use Paulsen’s name to explain what was going on. The station eventually plugged into Sporting News Radio to give McIntire a break, and the legal issues were resolved in time for Paulsen (formerly at Clear Channel’s WDVE) to go on the air Tuesday.

Fifteen Years Ago: April 8, 2002

It’s rare to see a big-city directional AM station move its entire transmitter site – unless the government steps in and gives it no choice. That’s what’s happening in New York City, where WOR is losing its site in the Meadowlands, and it’s what WJAS (1320) in Pittsburgh, PENNSYLVANIA is going through now as well. WJAS’ current two-tower site sits along the river near the eastern portal of the Squirrel Hill tunnel, on land that the station leased from the Standard LaFarge Company. In 1994, Standard sold the land to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, without giving WJAS the right of first refusal to buy it, something WJAS says it was entitled to by contract. The URA tried to end WJAS’ lease on the land, only to find itself in the midst of a three-way lawsuit, which the agency now hopes to settle by selling WJAS another piece of land that it owns, a few miles north at Highland Drive and Leech Farm Road in Penn Hills. WJAS’ application calls for a three-tower array, with two towers used by day with 6000 watts and two towers at night with 3300 watts. Normally, stations that change sites have to reduce nighttime interference on the frequency by 10 percent; WJAS is asking the FCC to waive that power-reduction requirement because the move is involuntary.

Moving along to NEW YORK, WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) wants to move west on Long Island. The station, which relays the modern AC of WLIR (92.7 Garden City), now shares a site near East Quogue with WWXY (107.1 Hampton Bays); it’s filed an application to move about five miles west to the site just north of Eastport and south of the Long Island Expressway that’s used by WRCN (103.9 Riverhead). WDRE’s new facilities would be 3000 watts at 100 meters, with a directional antenna nulled towards WRKS (98.7 New York) and WPLR (99.1 New Haven).

Speaking of WLIR, its “big announcement” Monday was, unsurprisingly, an April Fool stunt: a claim that musician Moby had bought the station and was turning it into “WMBY.” Moby did, in fact, program the station for a few hours, playing a much more diverse list of tunes than normally heard on the commercial dial in New York!

Other stunts worthy of mention around the region: in Syracuse, WNTQ (93.1) morning team Ted and Amy claimed the state was about to outlaw eating and drinking in cars. It would have been only mildly amusing – until talk host Jim Reith across town at WSYR (570) was taken in on the stunt by a caller! Up in New Hampshire, WJYY (105.5 Concord) claimed its morning team was being “suspended” – and they were, from a crane 40 feet up during the entire (very rainy) morning show.

It may have sounded like an April Fool joke, but Binghamton’s WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA) is really changing format. The station says it will let listeners decide over the weekend, voting among a series of stunt formats that will run in one-hour blocks; whatever happens, it appears the station will cancel the Greaseman’s syndicated morning show and perhaps let some of its airstaff go. (We still suspect oldies are on the way to this rimshot signal.)

Twenty Years Ago: April 10, 1997

We’ll start this week in Massachusetts, where Glenn Ordway is out as program director at all-sports WEEI (850). Ordway tells the Boston Globe the decision was a mutual one, to allow him to focus on his on-air duties. Brad Murray takes over PD reins at WEEI, in addition to his duties at sister talker WRKO (680). Up in Gardner, meantime, little WGAW (1340) is about to be doing independent programming for the first time in years. Doug Rowe kept WGAW when he sold WSRO (1470) in Marlborough, and word has it that WGAW’s program schedule will soon include Red Sox baseball and other simulcasts from nearby WEIM (1280) in Fitchburg.

New Hampshire news: It’s the end of an era for independent TV in the Granite State. WNDS (Channel 50) in Derry was officially transferred to Ramcast, Inc. last Saturday, bringing with it a switch to Global Shopping Network programming. Most of the station’s staff, including well-known weatherman Al Kaprelian, was laid off. WNDS had recently been improving its cable coverage in the Boston market, and is now available to viewers in most of the metro area – for whom it’s now at least the fourth all home-shopping signal on the UHF dial.

There could be a new AM signal in the Upper Valley area. Koor Broadcasting, which owns WNTK AM-FM (1020 Newport/99.7 New London), is applying for 720 in Hanover. No word yet on facilities, but we’d suspect a few thousand watts daytime, possibly directional to protect CKAC (730) in Montreal, and a few watts at night. Apparently the plans for 720 in Billerica MA are now completely dead and gone…

One bit of news from Rhode Island this week: the long-awaited debut of Providence’s WB affiliate is now set for 5:30 PM on Sunday, April 13. WLWC (Channel 28) is licensed to New Bedford MA and will be operated by NBC’s WJAR (Channel 10). WLWC is owned by Fant Broadcasting, which has similar LMA deals in other markets around the country.