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In this week’s issue… Kuby out at WABC – Captain Dan exits WMCE – CBS cuts in Philly – iHeart rearranges in New England – Boston AM headed for a change? – NJ talker on the mend

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*The three large radio groups with impending financial issues have all been making quiet job cuts in recent weeks, and last week all three made noticeable cuts in our region. As you’ll read later on in the column, CBS Radio continues to winnow down its job count as it gets ready to be merged into Entercom over the next few months. iHeart, of course, is facing more than 20 billion dollars in debt.

And then there’s Cumulus, which has its own debt issues even as its stock continues to fluctuate wildly amidst the news that former leader Lew Dickey has been raising money to prepare for some sort of upcoming business acquisition. The Cumulus job cuts last week seemed to focus on the talk stations it inherited from ABC by way of Citadel; in Washington, WMAL (630/105.9) morning talk host Brian Wilson was abruptly cut from the lead anchor chair on “Mornings on the Mall,” leaving veteran New Jersey host Mary Walter as the lone anchor of the show just a few months into her tenure at WMAL.

A few hours later, the news broke from NEW YORK that another co-host had just done his last show: Ron Kuby at WABC (770), the liberal foil to Curtis Sliwa on the station’s noon-3 “Curtis and Kuby” show.

The former WABC morning men had reunited at the station in 2014 as part of an attempt to breathe new life into a lineup that had drifted away from local talk toward syndication. While Cumulus never officially said as much, it was widely expected that Curtis and Kuby were in Rush Limbaugh’s former noontime slot only temporarily while awaiting the eventual retirement of WABC morning host Don Imus.

But even with Imus temporarily sidelined by health issues, his show (nominally syndicated, but without many affiliates outside New York these days) remains in place in the WABC morning slot. Sliwa’s now solo from noon until 3, followed by two hours of Michael Savage and then the 5-6 PM hour that Sliwa had already been hosting by himself.

In a statement he posted, Kuby said he had no reason to think his dismissal was about anything other than budget issues – and that he’d planned to leave WABC after this year anyway to focus full-time on his law practice.

“I informed management (about his plans) in December,” Kuby wrote. “The election of Trump and the threats he poses to civil rights and liberties requires more of me than being a part-time lawyer. I feel a moral compulsion to be the best and hardest working advocate I can be, using the skills I have been taught for over three decades. Thanks to WABC management for giving me the opportunity that I have (mostly) enjoyed for the past three 1/2 years. Thanks to my audience with whom I have a love/hate relationship. I will miss at least half of you more than half as much as I should. My deepest thanks and best wishes to Curtis Sliwa, who taught me this business and frequently took the matches out of my hands after I splashed the gasoline around.”

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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 30, 2016

*One of the TV industry’s big trends in recent years has been the move away from local master control operations to master control hubs.

mcrWith the cheap availability of fiber connections, it’s increasingly easy to run a TV station from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Several commercial operators, including NBC and Fox, have been hubbing their stations for years; on the noncommercial side, Syracuse is home to a major national Joint Master Control operation that handles duties for PBS stations as far away as Hawaii. (Shown here: Media General’s Indianapolis hub in 2010.)

It’s usually good for the bottom line and mostly seamless for viewers – except on the rare occasion when something goes disastrously wrong. That happened last Monday morning to the hub that Media General inherited from the former LIN Television at the Chicopee, MASSACHUSETTS studios of WWLP (Channel 22).

wwlp-newbldgThat facility (left) serves not only WWLP but also Media General’s stations in Buffalo (WIVB/WNLO), Hartford-New Haven (WTNH/WCTX), Providence (WPRI/WNAC), Norfolk, Virginia (WAVY/WVBT) and Youngstown, Ohio (WKBN/WYTV/WYFX)…all of which lost their program feeds around 8:30 in the morning when the power failed at the Chicopee hub.

WWLP says the Chicopee Electric Light Department blamed a squirrel for the outage. From what we hear, it knocked most of the hubbed stations for a loop. With only limited local capacity, WIVB/WNLO, for instance, looped a repeat of its local newscast on both of its channels for much of the day before getting a CBS feed back on the air by early afternoon.

Power was restored to the Chicopee hub by the afternoon, and the stations were all back on line Monday evening. We’re told it was only the third outage to hit the Chicopee facility in more than a decade since it went into service, and we’ll bet the engineers at Media General are looking for ways to make the backup power more stable there to prevent a repeat.

(In Buffalo, it wasn’t even the only station outage all week; WKBW-TV, the Scripps ABC affiliate that’s hubbed from Atlanta, had power issues at its Colden transmitter site that took it off the air for a time as well.)

*In PENNSYLVANIA‘s Lehigh Valley, iHeart is changing languages on sports signal WSAN (1470 Allentown).

The former Fox Sports affiliate flipped on Thursday to ESPN Deportes, reflecting the growth of the Hispanic marketplace in the region. At least for the rest of this season, WSAN will continue to carry Philadelphia Phillies games in English.

Five Years Ago: May 28, 2012

*One of Boston’s more improbable morning men is departing radio. Tom Finneran, who left his position as Massachusetts House speaker in disgrace and then joined WRKO (680 Boston) as morning co-host in 2007, announced this morning that he’ll be leaving the station – and apparently the radio business – after Thursday’s show. Finneran told  listeners he has other opportunities in “the real world.” For now, that leaves Todd Feinburg as the solo host of the “Tom and Todd” show, but that’s sure to change in a Boston talk market that’s already abuzz with speculation about a possible new FM entry from Clear Channel.

*It took a few extra weeks, but the Nassau Broadcasting signals in VERMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE and MAINE are now officially headed to new owners. While we’d reported that the initial bankruptcy auction of the Nassau stations had sent those licenses to a partnership of New Hampshire businessman-turned-politician Bill Binnie and veteran station owner Jeff Shapiro, Nassau’s lead creditor, Goldman Sachs, held up the sale temporarily.

Now it’s happening – and now we know the details of how the stations will be divided. On Tuesday, Binnie’s Carlisle Capital had its $12.5  million bid accepted for 30 licenses, 17 of which will stay with Binnie under his new banner, the “WBIN Media Company.” Binnie already owns full-power WBIN-TV (Channel 50) in Derry and several low-power TV licenses around the state, and those Granite State TV properties will be joined by WNHW (93.3 Belmont), WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WJYY (105.5 Concord) in the Concord market; WEMJ (1490 Laconia) and WLNH (98.3 Laconia) in the Lakes Region; WFNQ (106.3 Nashua) serving the Manchester/Nashua area and the “Wolf” country duo of WXLF (95.3 Hartford)/WZLF (107.1 Bellows Falls) in the Connecticut River Valley.

Binnie will also enter southern Maine, keeping all nine of the remaining Nassau signals there: country “Wolf” WTHT (99.9 Auburn)/WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk), classic rock “Frank” WFNK (107.5 Lewiston)/WBYA (105.5 Thomaston), active rock “Bone” WHXR (106.3 Scarborough), classical “W-Bach” WBQX (106.9 Thomaston)/WBQI (107.7 Bar Harbor) and oldies WLVP (870 Gorham)/WLAM (1470 Lewiston).

As for Shapiro, even after selling the huge Vox group in New Hampshire and Vermont (much of it to Nassau), he’s remained a player in the region through his Great Eastern Radio, which owns talker WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough) in the Concord market, sports WEEY (93.5 Swanzey)/rock WKKN (101.9 Westminster) in Keene and an Upper Valley cluster that includes talker WTSL (1400 Hanover), AC WGXL (92.3 Hanover), classic rock WMXR (93.9 Woodstock) and country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon).

Through another one of his groups, Vertical Capital Partners, Shapiro will pick up 13 more stations in and around his existing holdings: WIKE (1490 Newport)/WMOO (92.1 Derby Line) up in northern Vermont, WSNO (1450 Barre)/WORK (107.1 Barre)/WWFY (100.9 Berlin) in Barre/Montpelier, WTSV (1230 Claremont)/WHDQ (106.1 Claremont) and WWOD (104.3 Hartford)/WFYX (96.3 Walpole) to go with his existing Upper Valley holdings, and WEXP (101.5 Brandon)/WTHK (100.7 Wilmington) serving Rutland and southern Vermont. In central New Hampshire, Shapiro will add WWHQ (101.5 Meredith)/WLKZ (104.9 Wolfeboro) in the Lakes Region.

*Shapiro’s one busy broadcaster this week: in addition to his role in the Nassau deal, he flipped the switch Thursday afternoon (May 24) on his new Nantucket, MASSACHUSETTS signal. WAZK (97.7) is licensed to Shapiro’s Vertical Resources LLC, and it signed on at 5 PM with Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” kicking off a AAA format as “97.7 ACK-FM.”

Meanwhile on Cape Cod, another veteran broadcaster is wasting no time rearranging the signals he’s buying as part of the Nassau bankruptcy. John Garabedian’s “Codcomm” is applying to move WFRQ (101.1 Mashpee) nine miles east to the tower of sister station WPXC (102.9 Hyannis), where it will drop power (from 6 kW to 2.9 kW) but raise its antenna from 272′ to 463′. That will give 101.1 a more central signal over the most populated part of the Cape – and gives us every reason to expect that Garabedian won’t keep simulcasting WFRQ with WFQR (93.5 Harwich Port), which will significantly overlap the new 101.1 signal. Stay tuned…

*In the long history of black radio in NEW YORK, there was probably no single figure as important as Hal Jackson, whose seven-decade career included everything from sportscasting to music hosting to talk to pageant host and organizer to children’s TV host to station ownership, all while blazing new trails for minority broadcasters.

Jackson broke into radio in Washington, D.C. in the late 1930s as the announcer for the Washington Grays of the Negro League, and he was already a star when he moved to New York in 1954 to become part of the first integrated air staff in the city at WMCA (570). After a stint at WABC (770), Jackson landed at the city’s biggest black-oriented signal, WLIB (1190), where he’d end up spending most of the rest of his career, though a brush with the 1960 payola scandal forced him off the air and over to a programming job at WWRL (1600). In 1971, Jackson was one of the founding partners in Inner City Broadcasting, which bought WLIB and made it the city’s first black-owned station, joined in 1974 by sister station WBLS (107.5), where Jackson served as program director and vice president while also launching the Talented Teens International competition.

Beginning in 1982, WBLS also provided a home for Jackson’s long-running “Sunday Classics” R&B oldies show, which continued until just a few weeks ago, when Jackson’s health began to decline.

Jackson died Wednesday (May 23); he was believed to have been 96 years old.

Ten Years Ago: May 27, 2007

*One of the most controversial radio formats in NEW YORK history is now history itself. After a year and a half punctuated by incidents including the implosion of David Lee Roth’s morning show, the return of Opie & Anthony, the cancellation of JV & Elvis, the total lack of a permanent late-evening show and general ratings indifference to the rest of its lineup, “Free FM” breathed its last Thursday morning, as WFNY-FM (92.3 New York) spent the rest of the day stunting with construction noises before relaunching at 5 PM with more or less the same “K-Rock” format the station used in its prior incarnation as WXRK.

Those calls will be coming back from their exile in Cleveland (where the K-Rock outlet on 92.3 will take new calls WKRI), and Opie & Anthony will remain in morning drive, but the rest of the Free FM crew is out. PD John Mainelli returns to his consulting business, while midday host Nick DePaolo and afternoon host Leslie “Radio Chick” Gold are out of work for now, and evening hosts Ron & Fez continue their separate show on XM Satellite Radio.

The end of “Free FM” – complete with an on-air “apology” from GM Tom Chiusano leading into the first song on the reborn “K-Rock,” Nirvana’s “All Apologies” – shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s been following recent developments at CBS Radio, where Dan Mason is trying to clean up some of the messes created by his predecessors in recent years.

In the case of “Free FM,” it’s arguable that the initial concept was solid, as CBS tried to keep some of the young male audience that would otherwise have abandoned 92.3 when Howard Stern moved to Sirius in 2006. But a combination of questionable programming decisions (the disastrous Roth show, momentum-killing scheduling choices such as Jim Cramer’s money show) and a lack of promotional support helped to doom the station, and the newly-cautious talk radio atmosphere following the Imus debacle pretty much sealed WFNY’s fate.

Of course, the return of K-Rock is far from a slam-dunk, despite a massive promotional campaign that was already in high gear just a few hours after the format change. The old K-Rock was a success for one big reason: it had Stern in the morning. Opie & Anthony don’t bring anywhere near the audience to 92.3 that Howard did, and their suspension over on XM, of all places, is a reminder that they, like any edgy talkers in this era, are always skating one slip away from oblivion – and then what?

*RHODE ISLAND Public Broadcasting has completed the expansion of its now-statewide network, with the May 16 flip of smooth jazz WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) to WRNI-FM, simulcasting WRNI (1290 Providence).

With the acquisition of the southern Rhode Island FM signal, WRNI no longer needs its Westerly AM, WXNI (1230), and it’s apparently now headed to Chris DiPaola, who’s moving the talk/soft AC format of his WBLQ-LP (96.7 Ashaway) over to the AM signal, which will pick up the WBLQ calls. The LPFM will reportedly flip to modern rock as “The Buzz” when the transition is complete.

*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, things got a little less “EZ” at Entercom’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton cluster last week. On Thursday, the plug was pulled on soft AC “EZ 103,” WFEZ (103.1 Avoca), and on Friday morning it was replaced with the latest link in the “WILK News-Talk Network,” joining sister stations WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre), WBZU (910 Scranton) and WKZN (1300 West Hazleton) in that simulcast.

Fifteen Years Ago: May 27, 2002

LPFM is on the way to VERMONT, but don’t expect much in the way of local programming in the Green Mountain State, at least judging by the initial list of uncontested applications released this week by the FCC. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, or “VTrans,” has 19 of the 23 LP-100 applications that the FCC proposes to grant if no petitions to deny are received by June 24. The other four? Rootswork, Inc., for 95.1 Warren; Voice in the Kingdom Radio for 96.1 Newport; Spavin Cure Historical Group for 98.1 Enosburg and Resurrection Ranch for 99.7 Rutland. The deadline for petitions to deny to be filed is June 24.

Twenty Years Ago: May 29, 1997

We’ll begin this week’s survey of Northeast radio and TV news up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where the curtain has closed on “The Stage at 102.1.” As Fuller-Jeffrey prepares to buy WSTG Hampton NH, it’s turned off the AC format, replacing it with an automated countdown (coincidentally, the same way the Stage made its debut 18 months ago). “D-Day” is next Tuesday at 4PM, when Fuller-Jeffrey will debut WSTG’s new format, which (rumor has it) will be a simulcast of F-J’s AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington – Portland). That would put WSTG in direct competition with AC WBYY (98.7 Somersworth). We’ll see in a few days…

Over in Worcester, say goodbye to morning host John Taylor of WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg-Worcester). He’s departed the AC station for the sunny skies of Florida after many years in Worcester. Harry Jacobs, the former WXLO midday host who now runs the ARS stations in Rochester NY, filled in one day, while WXLO ops manager Jim McKenna will handle most of the fill-in duties until a replacement for Taylor is hired.

And finally, some quick news from around NEW YORK: WZOS (96.7 Oswego) has been sold to Craig Fox, owner of several other Central New York stations, including WVOA (105.1 DeRuyter-Syracuse). WZOS has until August to return to the air. Fox outbid two other bidders, paying $65,000 for the license. Up in Watertown, there’s hit radio on the dial once again. WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) is going by “The Border,” replaing longtime CHR outlet WTNY-FM (“T93”), which left the air earlier this year in a multi-station call and format swap.