In this week’s issue… Great Eastern sells Lakes Region FMs – Farewells to NY’s Michaels, Boler, Reynolds Carden – ME’s Bleikamp stirs controversy – Ontario FMs get upgrades
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*What’s in the air for local radio ownership in NEW HAMPSHIRE? As the Landry brothers, Rob and John, settle in with their new Sugar River group (the former Koor Broadcasting stations), Jeff Shapiro’s Great Eastern Radio offered up a surprise announcement late last week that it’s selling three stations in the Lakes Region and Concord to the family that founded one of them.
The $2.6 million deal puts sports WZEI (101.5 Meredith), classic rock WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) and news-talk WTPL (107.7 Hillsboro) into the hands of Lakes Media LLC. Lakes belongs to Dirk Nadon, the veteran New Hampshire broadcaster who put 101.5 on the air as WMRQ with his late stepfather, Bill Forbes, and partner Gary Howard back in 1988. Dirk Nadon went on to be operations manager at Curt Gowdy’s WCCM/WCGY, then served as director of engineering for Nassau in northern New England and for Binnie Media when it took over the Nassau stations. (He was our tour guide just last year when we visited Binnie’s Concord headquarters, a few months before Binnie announced it was selling its TV spectrum and shutting down its local news operation there.)
“I am very excited to return to ownership in New Hampshire radio,” Nadon said in the release announcing the deal, which was brokered by Connecticut’s Dick Foreman. “We weren’t looking to sell any radio stations but we were approached by Lakes Media with a transaction that made sense to us,” Shapiro said in the statement. “It made it an easier process knowing the stations would stay in local hands. This will allow us to focus on our other clusters in New England and growing our stations to their full potential.”
Nadon tells NERW he made the deal for the stations in part to honor Forbes, who died in 2004. “He was such a very important person in my life and a damned bear living legend in the Lakes Region area. Everybody who knew that man loved him!”
Are format changes in the wind for the stations? They’ve been run with relatively little local presence; WLKZ carries iHeart’s “Greg and the Morning Buzz,” WZEI runs the Boston-based WEEI sports network and WTPL’s talk lineup is mainly syndicated.
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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: May 16, 2016
*It’s been a bad few weeks for a lot of iHeart Media employees, and last week the pain of the struggling broadcaster’s budget cuts fell on its MASSACHUSETTS clusters.
In Boston, iHeart’s five radio stations now have just one local morning show with the abrupt cancellation of “Frankie V and Ashlee” from WJMN (94.5) on Wednesday, after less than a year.
Frankie (Vinci) had moved back home to Boston not long after iHeart put him on the Jam’n morning shift last July, doing bicoastal duty while also hosting on San Diego’s KHTS-FM (93.3). (It was a big deal in part because Vinci’s brother Mikey does nights on iHeart’s Kiss 108 just down the hall.)
Frankie’s morning replacement on WJMN as of Thursday is iHeart’s syndicated “Breakfast Club” from New York’s WWPR (Power 105).
But it wasn’t just Frankie getting the iHeart axe last week; 90 miles to the west, WHYN (560 Springfield) lost its local voice in the morning for the first time in its long, proud history when iHeart pulled “The Adam Wright Show with Bo Sullivan” off the air after Friday morning’s show. Wright (left) and Sullivan are both gone from the station (and were quickly disappeared from the WHYN website and social media); in their place, WHYN is now carrying the Jim Polito morning show from WTAG (580 Worcester), which is a very, very long 50 miles from Springfield, notwithstanding Polito’s time as a Springfield news anchor on WGGB (Channel 40).
*Our NEW YORK lead story this week takes us back to the early years of television, when one of its biggest stars was CBS entertainer Arthur Godfrey, the redheaded singer known for both his smooth voice and his short temper. Godfrey never made bigger headlines than in 1953, when he abruptly dismissed a young singer who’d become famous as a guest on his program.
Julius (“Julie”) La Rosa was a sensation on the Godfrey shows, and he became one of the year’s biggest news stories after Godfrey fired him on the air during his morning radio broadcast on October 19. Everybody loves an underdog, and La Rosa’s dismissal gave him a round of even bigger successes with other TV guest appearances, a national tour and a TV show of his own.
In later years, La Rosa kept on performing as the spotlight faded, appearing in musicals, giving concerts and – the reason he’s leading off this section of NERW – hosting radio shows for many years at WNEW (1130) and then at WNSW (1430) into the 1990s. (He also forgave Godfrey, even showing up at his old boss’ bedside as he was ailing in later years, according to his WNEW colleague Anita Bonita.)
La Rosa died Thursday at his Wisconsin home, at age 86.
Five Years Ago: May 14, 2012
*Over-the-air TV viewers in eastern MASSACHUSETTS are one big step closer to once again having reliable reception of the signals transmitted from the Richland Tower master TV site in Needham.
On Monday, tower crews pulled off the high-stakes, high-altitude task of removing the upper master UHF antenna that failed back in April. That antenna, which appears to have suffered a massive failure of its power divider, is now back at the Dielectric factory in Maine being rebuilt, and that means up to another month of temporary operation at the Needham site.
Here’s how it all plays out: since a week or so after the burnout, the four stations that used the upper master antenna (CBS’ WBZ-TV Channel 4/RF 30 and WSBK Channel 38/RF 39, public television WGBX Channel 44/RF 43 and Hearst’s WCVB Channel 5/RF 20) have moved their operations down to the identical lower master normally used by WGBH Channel 2/RF 19. WGBH, in turn, has been operating from the much lower auxiliary antenna belonging to WCVB – at least when there aren’t workers on the tower, in which case all the stations shift to other, lower-powered auxiliary antennas recently mounted on the tower, or briefly sign off while climbers are passing through their antenna apertures.
The project is expensive and potentially very dangerous to the climbers (it’s been only a few months since a climber died on the nearby “FM-128” tower while doing similar work high up on that tower), and it’s giving Boston’s TV stations a renewed realization of how many viewers in the digital age still depend on antennas to receive their signals.
*And of course we join in the mourning for Carl Beane, the Red Sox PA announcer who died in a car crash after suffering a heart attack Wednesday afternoon. Carl is being remembered fondly (most touchingly, perhaps, in this ESPN obituary by Gordon Edes) for his passion for the Sox and for the colorful figure he cut at Fenway. But we remember him, too, for his many years in and around New England radio.
When he died, Carl was on his way home from a morning substitute shift at WARE (1250 Ware), where he’d started his career in the 1970s. He’d also worked over the years at WESO (970)/WQVR (100.1) in Southbridge and at WXLS (98.3, now WILI-FM) in Willimantic, Connecticut – and for the last couple of decades, he’d made a name for himself as a solidly dependable sports stringer, providing reports from Boston sports venues to a list of stations that included Boston’s WBZ (1030, where he was a frequent guest on the Steve LeVeille Broadcast) and New York’s WFAN (660).
Carl was just 59.
Ten Years Ago: May 13, 2007
*The suspension is over for JV and Elvis at NEW YORK‘s WFNY-FM (92.3 Free FM). As of Friday afternoon, the mid-morning team who came to CBS Radio’s Free FM from San Francisco last year are out of work – and the talk station now has another daypart to fill in addition to its late-night slot.
Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay had been off the air for over two weeks, ever since a local Asian-American group began protesting a rebroadcast of an old segment (originally aired in San Francisco, then later aired at least once without incident on WFNY-FM) in which the show called a Chinese restaurant and mocked an employee’s accent.
What was acceptable even a few months ago, however, is now problematic in the wake of the Don Imus debacle – and so after a week of “best-of” shows and a week of fill-ins Cabbie and Larry Wachs, JV and Elvis are gone and questions are swirling about whether there’s a future for a deliberately edgy talk station in a world full of protests over any perceived slight.
The next Free FM hosts in the crosshairs are morning men Opie and Anthony, who now have Al Sharpton calling for their dismissal from CBS Radio over a segment that never even aired on the terrestrial simulcast of their XM Satellite Radio show. The duo began their XM show Friday by apologizing for the bit, which involved a homeless man ranting about Queen Elizabeth II, and signed off with the same line they’ve used in the past before previous dismissals in Boston and New York.
So far, CBS appears to be standing by Opie and Anthony, but we’ve seen how quickly that support can fade as protests build – and if the O&A show were to disappear from the Free FM schedule, the station would be on even shakier revenue ground, raising serious questions about how long the format can survive.
*Over at sister station WFAN (660 New York), the revenue hole created by Don Imus’ firing hasn’t been filled, either, and as Imus launches what’s reported to be a $120 million wrongful-dismissal suit against CBS Radio, the station’s still trying to fill the programming hole in morning drive, at the very least.
NBC News correspondent David Gregory is the latest fill-in, and when he takes the morning drive reins today, he’ll be the first post-Imus host to be heard on WFAN and seen on MSNBC, which will be producing the show in a reversal of the old Imus arrangement, in which WFAN owned the show and sold the content to MSNBC.
Will Gregory be able to pull off the balance Imus struck for so many years before his downfall, mixing low-brow morning humor with top-name political interviews? As a regular Today fill-in host, Gregory has the morning-show experience, and as NBC’s White House correspondent, he’s as well-connected as it gets. We’ll be watching (and listening) to see how the experiment works.
Fifteen Years Ago: May 13, 2002
We’ll start in NEW YORK, where last Wednesday (May 8) brought the long-expected end to the country format on Big City Radio’s “Y107” quadcast in the Big Apple’s suburbs. After a day of construction noises, the four stations on 107.1 (WYNY Briarcliff Manor, WWXY Hampton Bays, WWYY Belvidere NJ and WWZY Long Branch NJ) launched into their new life as “Rumba 107,” playing much the same diet of Spanish hits now heard on “Mega” WSKQ (97.9 New York) and “Latino Mix” WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ). Can the relatively weak in-city signals of the “Rumba” stations (aided slightly by the tower move at WWZY last week that now finds the station reaching Brooklyn much better from Atlantic Highlands, N.J.) compete with the strong signals of Mega and Latino Mix? Will the Belvidere (serving the Easton, PA area) and Hampton Bays signals stay with the simulcast? And what about the remaining staff at Y107, including morning guy Ray Rossi, who are now out of work, not to mention the country listeners in the big city who are again without a station? We’ll keep you posted…
Elsewhere in New York City, two noncommercial FM stations are at odds over a proposal by one to improve its Manhattan signal. Bronx-based WFUV (90.7), the radio voice of Fordham University, wants to put a 600-watt booster atop the Riverside Church, using the tower once occupied by the former WRVR (106.7, now WLTW from the Empire State Building). But the application has met with opposition from WFMU (91.1 East Orange), the community-supported station across the Hudson that draws some of its best listenership in the upper Manhattan area to be served by the proposed “WFUV-2.” NERW hopes both sides can find a way to work this out, especially after we’ve just spent some time listening to the many signals in Paris and London that are just 0.4 MHz apart — from the same tower, in some cases — and get along just fine.
Talker WOR (710) added Bill O’Reilly to its schedule last week (denying, the whole time, gossip that claimed syndicator Westwood One was making big payments to large-market stations to get clearances for the show), then lost PD John Mainelli the next day. Mainelli resigned from the Buckley-owned talker May 9, in what he and the station are calling an amicable departure. Mainelli had been at WOR for just a few weeks, arriving amidst high hopes that he could freshen up the aging station to compete against his old home, WABC. There’s no word about Mainelli’s plans, yet, nor about WOR’s plans for a replacement.
Syracuse Community Radio is at it again: with just hours to go before the expiration of its CP for translator W208AQ (89.5 Marcellus) on April 30, the SCR folks filed for a license to cover for the facility, which could be their best hope to actually put a listenable signal into Onondaga County. Only problem is, W208AQ hadn’t been built yet; several NERW readers who visited the site report seeing no sign of an antenna, nor any power connections to the transmitter! (This is not the first time SCR has done this; alert readers will recall the saga of WXXC, 88.7 in Truxton, which SCR falsely told the FCC was on the air, only to lose the license after several other area broadcasters informed the Commission otherwise. NERW’s take: SCR missed several good opportunities to win the friendly cooperation of the region’s existing broadcasters, and we don’t see what the group hopes to gain by misleading the FCC now, especially with the scrutiny it faces from other stations in the region.)
We’ll start the PENNSYLVANIA catch-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which saw plenty of action in NERW’s absence. Citadel reshuffled its deck in a big way, beginning with the demise of the doo-wop oldies format on WARM (590), which returns to the news-talk it had been doing for years. The doo-wop oldies end up on WEMR (1460 Tunkhannock), which is now “Mighty 1460,” breaking from the adult-standards simulcast with WKJN (1440 Carbondale) and WAZL (1490 Hazleton). On the FM side, the “Z-Rock” combo of WEOZ (95.7 Olyphant) and WAOZ (97.9 Hazleton) split as well, with WEOZ becoming “Z-Talk” and WAOZ shifting to a simulcast of new rock WBSX (93.7 Dallas). The Z-Talk lineup includes Bob and Tom, Don and Mike, Opie and Anthony, Phil Hendrie and Tom Leykis. WARM, meantime, starts its day with local host Rob Neyhard. The schedule also includes Dr. Joy Browne and Sean Hannity. WBSX, meanwhile, has been running promos announcing a move to “97.9 X,” and at press time the WBSX calls have moved to 97.9, with 93.7 now identifying as WCWQ. That, in turn, matches the new calls at two other Citadel stations: WBHD (94.3 Carbondale) is now WCWI, while WEMR-FM (107.7 Tunkhannock) is now WCWY. WBHD had been simulcasting CHR WBHT (97.1 Mountain Top), while WEMR-FM had been simulcasting AC WMGS (92.9 Scranton); speculation in the market is that WCWQ, WCWI and WCWY will all soon be doing “Cat Country,” a format that had been heard on 94.3 and 93.7 a few years ago.
In RHODE ISLAND, we hear half of the “Z-100” combo of WZRA (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale) and WZRI (100.3 Middletown) is breaking away; WZRA is becoming WSKO-FM, relaying the sports programming of WSKO (790 Providence) to southern Rhode Island. The FM side will split from the AM for some baseball play-by-play; 790 will take the Pawtucket Red Sox, while 99.7 will carry the Yankees when there’s a conflict. WSKO also shifts its schedule a bit, adding local sports talk in late mornings.
Twenty Years Ago: May 15, 1997
We’ll start this mid-May NERW with the latest from Boston’s morning drive circus: Talker WRKO has hired “Morning Guy Tai” from modern rock WFNX (101.7) as the station’s new morning co-host. He’ll join Marjorie Clapprood in morning drive, replacing the departed Pat Whitley. The new “Clapprood and Company” morning show will debut next Monday at 5:30; it will be shortened by an hour to make room for an extra hour of Dr. Laura Schlessinger at 9 AM. WRKO program director Kevin Straley is defending his unorthodox choice, saying Tai (whose real name is Tom Irwin) is eager to move to the talk arena from his days as a rock jock.
From RHODE ISLAND comes word of new call letters for the erstwhile WPJB-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier). Now that the station is owned by Back Bay Broadcasting and simulcasting WWKX (“Kix 106”) Woonsocket, it’s going by WAKX(FM).
From MAINE comes some call letter confusion in the Bangor market, where WWFX (104.7 Belfast) isn’t going to become WEBR after all. Instead, the station now known as “the Bear” will be WBFB, a set of calls that was last seen in Rochester NY some 22 years ago, on the classical FM at 92.5 that’s today’s country WBEE-FM.
Here in NEW YORK, there are new calls for Buffalo’s “Alice @ 92.9.” The former WSJZ is now WLCE. And an historic set of Rochester AM calls, WPXN, will soon resurface in the Big Apple. With Lowell Paxson’s purchase of WBIS (Channel 31) in New York, the station will dump its locally-produced business, news, and sports programming for Paxson’s infomercials within a few months, and become WPXN(TV). Channel 31 was noncommercial WNYC-TV until just last year, when the City of New York sold it for $207 million. (The WPXN calls, by the way, were on the 1280 signal once known as WVET and WROC, later as WPXY and WKQG, and today as WHTK). Paxson owns or controls several New England stations, including WHAI-TV (Chanel 43) Bridgeport CT, WHCT (Channel 18) Hartford, WHRC (Channel 46) Norwell MA, WGOT (Channel 60) Merrimack NH, and W54CN Boston. His stated intent is to ally himself with programmers to create a seventh TV network in the US.