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In this week’s issue… Seven Mountains Shakes Up NW PA – Beasley’s “New” Boston Country Lineup – WRKO remembered – WECK Beefs Up –  Remembering Frank Deford

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*When some groups come into new markets, they’ll immediately put out a statement that says “we don’t anticipate making any immediate changes.” PENNSYLVANIA‘s Seven Mountains doesn’t make those statements – and with good reason, as their moves last week along the I-80 corridor around DuBois made perfectly clear.

Last fall, Seven Mountains put down $4.5 million to buy four FMs and an AM from First Media, just a few months after paying Cary Simpson $400,000 for two FMs and an AM up in the Wellsboro/Mansfield market.

Now the company, led by second-generation broadcaster Kristin Cantrell, has pulled the trigger on big shuffles in both markets, and here’s how it plays out:

On Tuesday, our suspicion that country WOWQ (102.1 DuBois) would become another Seven Mountains “Bigfoot Country” outlet came true, but with a twist: WOWQ takes new calls WIFT, and it picks up a simulcast to the west in the form of the former WZDD (101.3 Strattanville), which is now WKFT, extending “Bigfoot” into the Clarion/Brookville area with a stronger signal.

WZDD’s former rock simulcast partner, WZDB (95.9 Sykesville), keeps on rocking, but it’s swapped out the John Boy & Billy morning show for another syndicated show, Free Beer & Hot Wings – and it takes on a new name, “Clear Rock 95.9,” perhaps referring to the eastern edge of its coverage into Clearfield? (The AM station Seven Mountains bought there, WCPA 900, continues with its present oldies format for now.)

Up north in Wellsboro, Seven Mountains made one move in late May, when WNBT-FM (104.5 Wellsboro) dropped its sleepy AC format for another “Bigfoot,” and it telegraphed two others with call changes earlier on that bore fruit with a Friday format shift. That’s when WOGA (92.3 Mansfield) dumped its longtime WNBT-FM simulcast, going classic hits as “WOGA in Tioga.”

To the west down US 6, WOGA has a new set of frequencies in Wellsboro, where it’s now simulcasting on the former WNBT (1490), which dumps its standards format and takes new calls WNDA. The AM signal, in turn, simulcasts on two translators, W233CB (recently moved to 93.1 in Wellsboro) and W228DM (93.5 Tioga).

For Seven Mountains, the addition of the Wellsboro and DuBois signals extends a reach that’s already very significant in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, where two other “Bigfoot” simulcast groups serve the Susquehanna Valley and the Huntingdon/Mount Union area, augmenting a big Seven Mountains cluster in State College. (We showed you that operation on Tower Site of the Week recently.)

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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: June 6, 2016

*If the glory days of rock radio in Boston were in the 1970s and early 1980s, there’s no question Mark Parenteau was among the biggest names to blaze across the FM airwaves of eastern MASSACHUSETTS in that era.

wbcn-parenteauParenteau, who died Friday at 66, also had perhaps the biggest fall from grace of any of the jocks of his era. After 19 years at WBCN (104.1), from 1978 until 1997, he ended up working for XM Satellite Radio in Washington, where he was arrested in 2004 and charged with molesting an underage boy. The details of the case were far from cut and dried – Parenteau claimed the 14-year-old appeared older, lied about his age and then set him up to be arrested – but it was nevertheless the end of his career. Parenteau pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years, and never returned to the airwaves, spending his last years beset by growing health problems.

It was a sad end to what had been a brilliant radio career. The Worcester native went on the air at age 15 at WORC (1310) there, then worked at WLLH (1400) in Lowell and at WKNR (1310) and WABX (99.5) in Detroit before coming back to Boston in 1977 to WCOZ (94.5).

A year later, he made his home at WBCN, where he championed local artists including the J. Geils Band (featuring former WBCN jock Peter Wolf) and Aerosmith, as well as Bob Seger and hundreds of up-and-coming comedians. His afternoon show was a must stop for artists visiting Boston.

“He had a great career, but it was a tough end to his life,” his WBCN colleague Carter Alan told the Herald.

*Just across from Philadelphia in Camden, NEW JERSEY, Davidson Media is selling its last station, WEMG (1310) for nearly a million dollars. Michael Sciore’s M.S. Acquisitions and Holdings has already entered into a consulting arrangement with Davidson, and now it’s agreed to pay $975,000 for the 1000-watt day/250-watt signal that does Spanish as “Mega 105.7.”

(The deal also includes the assumption of Davidson’s option to buy the 105.7 translator that WEMG now uses.)

*In upstate NEW YORK, we’re mourning Orest Hrywnak, the beloved promotions director whose career included stops at top-40 giant WBBF (950), where he was “Captain Cash” in the 1970s, and later at WPXY (97.9). Hrywnak later went on to work for his brother’s minor-league basketball team, the Rochester Razorsharks, as well as helping to organize local radio reunions. He’d been suffering from heart ailments for some time and was recovering from a February open-heart surgery when he died Thursday morning. He was just 59 years old.

Five Years Ago: June 4, 2012

*Anyone looking for stability in the world of MASSACHUSETTS talk radio isn’t going to find it in the spring of 2012. While rumors continue to swirl (as yet entirely unconfirmed) about the addition of an FM simulcast to Clear Channel’s ratings-challenged WXKS (1200 Newton), Entercom’s bigger competing talker, WRKO (680 Boston), is losing its morning man of five years.

Finneran

Tom Finneran came to WRKO in 2007 in hopes of rebuilding a public image that had been tarnished when he left his position as speaker of the state House of Representatives amidst a controversy over legislative redistricting that ended with a federal indictment and a plea-bargain. Disbarred and out of a lucrative job with a nonprofit group, Finneran launched his radio career to reviews that were at best mediocre – but he settled in alongside co-host Todd Feinburg to make the “Tom and Todd Show” a moderately successful fixture on a station that’s been trying to find a stable niche in a very crowded talk radio market.

But one of the drawbacks of hiring someone who’s not a talk radio host to be a talk radio host is the possibility that your host may want to go do something else that doesn’t involve a 3 AM alarm clock – and that appears to be the case at WRKO, where Finneran abruptly announced last Monday that he’d do his last show on Thursday (May 31). In a statement, Finneran said he’d been offered “other opportunities” at WRKO, but that “those opportunities are of interest to me, but not compatible with the hours I keep in the effort I make to prepare for, and to execute, a well-informed show every morning.”

For now, it’s not yet clear where Finneran is going (though presumably somewhere outside of radio), nor is it clear what WRKO’s long-term plans for morning drive look like. Feinburg is hosting morning drive solo, at least for now, though the rumor mill is also churning about an imminent “big announcement” from former WRKO midday host (and WCVB-TV contributor) Michele McPhee that might involve a return to talk radio.

And then there’s Howie Carr: the perpetually disgruntled WRKO afternoon host is once again making noises about moving on, saying in an interview on one of his affiliates (WGAN in Portland) that he’s not a candidate to replace Finneran – “N-O…no mornings; it would be suicidal for me to go to AM drive” – and repeating his long-held desire to move to the FM dial – “the AM band is great for old-timers like us…but it’s on its way out and I’ve got to get to an FM station.” Carr’s current WRKO contract expires this fall, and he’s made no secret of his strong desire not to see it renewed.

Lovell Dyett’s death on Tuesday (May 29) at age 77 closed the books on a career that began in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, when he was part of the first wave of black broadcasters to break down the color barrier on mainstream radio and TV. Dyett won an Emmy Award for his daily show on Washington’s WTOP-TV (Channel 9, now WUSA-TV) before moving to Boston to work on the Senate campaign of Edward Brooke. Remaining active in media, Dyett worked at WGBH-TV (Channel 2), WNAC-TV (Channel 7) and WBZ-TV (Channel 4, where he hosted “Black News”) before joining the airstaff at WBZ (1030) in December 1971 as host of the Sunday night “Lovell Dyett Program.”

It was the first time WBZ had a regular program talking about the issues affecting New England’s black communities, and it became a weekend evening staple on the station, eventually settling in to a long run on Saturday nights, where Dyett’s deep voice and distinctive sign-off (“I love you. I love you madly”) brought a special flavor to the WBZ lineup.

CBS Radio budget cuts in 2009 took Dyett off the air briefly, but pressure from listeners and community groups brought the show back in reduced form, running for just half an hour at 4:30 on Sunday mornings. (Dyett’s former Saturday night slot is now occupied by infomercials.)

In recent months, Dyett had been suffering from kidney failure, and he was living in a long-term care facility in Melrose at the time of his death.

Ten Years Ago: June 4, 2007

*It took several years, but one of the more star-crossed AM signals in MASSACHUSETTS has found a buyer.

WWZN (1510 Boston) has had a difficult last few years, as One-on-One Sports and its successor Sporting News Radio have tried to make a go of it as the market’s number-three sports radio station, in the shadow of behemoth WEEI and feisty upstart WAMG/WLLH, with a signal that misses many of the growth areas in the market and what we hear is a very unfavorable transmitter-site lease to boot.

Over the years, WWZN has attempted to compete with a variety of local shows, including several years with veteran talker Eddie Andelman and a few seasons as the Celtics’ flagship. Those stabs at local programming failed to draw ratings or profits, and last year the station let most of its local staff go and switched to a combination of Sporting News Radio network feeds and leased-time shows while owner Paul Allen (through his “Rose City Radio”) put the station and its SNR sisters in Los Angeles and New York up for sale.

The Los Angeles station, KMPC (1540), found a buyer earlier this year, switching to Korean-language programming. And now WWZN and WSNR (620 Jersey City NJ) are also being sold, to a new company formed by Davidson Media principal Peter Davidson.

His new “Blackstrap Broadcasting” will spend $20.5 million (and probably a little more, as we’ll explain later in the column when we get to the WSNR piece of the deal) to acquire the two stations – and no sooner had that news broken last week than the message boards and mailing lists were aflame with speculation about the future of WWZN after Blackstrap takes over.

The new company inadvertently fueled some of that fire with a press release that touted Davidson’s committment to serving the needs of recent immigrants with programming in their languages, a description that fits the WSNR format (mostly Russian), but which would seem to portend a format change away from sports at WWZN after more than seven years with the format. That was on Tuesday, and by Thursday WWZN GM Anthony Pepe had issued a follow-up release saying first that “we are excited about the opportunity to continue with sports programming at 1510 The Zone” – and then that “1510 The Zone has been brokering time since 2005 and that will continue to be the business model under the new owners.”

*It was almost three years ago that MAINE radio listeners staged a noisy protest against a plan to flip WLVP (870 Gorham) from Air America talk to ESPN sports, persuading Nassau to stick with the progressive talk format for a while longer. With the recent changes at Air America, most notably the recent end of the Al Franken show, Nassau faced little opposition last week when it tried the flip again. On Friday morning, WLVP dropped Air America and began picking up the 24/7 ESPN feed as “ESPN 870,” and this time Nassau says there were only a few complaints. The station says it will also add some local high school sports to the schedule.

*As we noted above, the other half of the big Blackstrap Broadcasting deal last week was in the NEW YORK market, where WSNR (620 Jersey City NJ) joins the new Blackstrap group. Its call letters notwithstanding, it’s been a few years since WSNR carried very much Sporting News Radio programming. Instead, its very directional signal – beamed narrowly to the east from Lyndhurst, New Jersey across lower Manhattan and into Brooklyn and southern Queens – has been largely occupied with leased-time Russian programming, a perfect fit for the huge Russian community in Brighton Beach and nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods.

We don’t expect that to change under the new ownership, but it does appear that WSNR will move forward with plans to abandon the “temporary” transmitter site that it’s called home for more than a dozen years, since the station lost the old (and far superior) site in Livingston, N.J. that had carried 620 since its WVNJ days.

The Lyndhurst site is being claimed by the enormous EnCap golf/hotel/housing project, the same development that led to the demolition of the old WOR site just down the road earlier this year, and Rose City had already been working to move WSNR a few miles north to a new site adjacent to the WBBR (1130) directional array. That project will continue, with Rose City paying for geotechnical surveys of the new site and Blackstrap and Rose City splitting the rest of the costs of the move from now until the sale closes. Rose City will then get half of the money EnCap is paying WSNR to move from its current site. (2017 update: EnCap never got built and WSNR never moved.)

Fifteen Years Ago: June 3, 2002

A tornado that swept across eastern NEW YORK Friday afternoon took down the tower of Gloversville’s WENT (1340), temporarily silencing the local voice of Fulton County. The National Weather Service says winds at the height of the storm measured at least 73 miles per hour, enough to topple the 180-foot self-supporting tower behind WENT’s Gloversville studios. Crews were at work over the weekend to repair the antenna to allow WENT to get back on the air; a new tower will be needed for permanent use.

Time Warner Cable is getting ready to launch its “Capital News 9” all-news channel in the Albany market, and that means hiring a staff to get things going this fall. In addition to former WNYT (Channel 13) staffer Chris Brunner as news director, the station has named Mary Rozak, formerly assignment manager at Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23) as assistant news director. The station also has a logo – borrowed almost exactly from its Tampa sister operation, Bay News 9!

MASSACHUSETTS radio listeners will have to try a little harder to find Laura Schlessinger on the radio. After bumping the Premiere talker from mid-mornings to an 11 PM delayed broadcast, Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston) ditched the program completely last week. Occupying the 11 PM – 1 AM slot, beginning tonight (June 3), will be “VB’s Pleasure Palace,” a local talk show hosted by the Howie Carr producer formerly known as “Virgin Boy.” (And if you were hoping to tune into VB over the Internet, sorry; WRKO, along with the rest of Entercom’s stations around the country, suspended its streaming audio last week, citing the continuing questions about copyright issues.)

A familiar PENNSYLVANIA voice is returning to Philadelphia’s FM airwaves. John De Bella, the longtime morning voice of WMMR (93.3), will begin doing morning drive at classic rocker WMGK (102.9) June 10. De Bella’s been off the air in Philly for a few years, since the end of a stint at WYSP (94.1). Ironically, WMGK and WMMR are both under the same Greater Media corporate roof these days…

Twenty Years Ago: June 5, 1997

It’s been a very big week for Steve Dodge and the folks at American Radio Systems. The largest New England-based broadcaster picked up four more stations in its own back yard last week, paying a reported $6 million for Precision Media’s two AMs and two FMs on the New Hampshire seacoast. ARS gets standards WZNN (930) Rochester, standards WMYF (1540) Exeter, adult AC WSRI (96.7) Rochester, and CHR WERZ (107.1) Exeter. This is the second time in two weeks that a New Hampshire Seacoast station’s been bought by an out-of-town broadcaster; WSTG (102.1) Hampton, now under Fuller-Jeffrey control, ended its computerized countdown Tuesday afternoon and launched a simulcast with F-J’s classic rock WXBB “Arrow” (105.3 Kittery ME).

There is no word yet on any possible format changes at American Radio Systems’ new seacoast properties; it will be interesting to see whether the AMs begin picking up sports or talk from ARS’s WEEI and WRKO Boston, and whether the near-CHR of ARS’ WBMX (98.5) Boston shows up as a simulcast up the coast. It will also be interesting to see whether ARS can exploit WERZ’s dial proximity to another new ARS station, WAAF (107.3 Worcester). WAAF’s signal into Boston is notoriously bad, although it got a boost this week when ARS took over operation of WNFT (1150 Boston) from Greater Media and flipped it from a simulcast of country WKLB-FM 96.9 to WAAF’s hard rock. WERZ had been one of the factors limiting a possible eastward move of WAAF (the others are 107.1 WFHN Fairhaven and third-adjacents WMJX 106.7 Boston and WXKS-FM 107.9 Medford). Could ARS slide WAAF to the northeast by turning WERZ off? Could Boston be treated to the sounds of “WAAF Methuen”? Only time will tell…and NERW will be here to let you know.

In VERMONT, correspondent Doug Bassett reports Brattleboro’s WKVT-FM (92.7) has dropped the satellite classic rock in afternoon drive to go live with longtime staffer Bill Howard at the mike. Crosstown WTSA-FM (96.7) had been the only live voice in town in the afternoons with John Ashley. This is the first big change at WKVT since it was bought by Keene NH’s WKNE AM/FM earlier this spring.

Just over the border, by the way, there will soon be some new TV signals coming out of Quebec. Quebec City’s CKMI (Channel 5) is switching from CBC to Global, and will put relay stations on the air in several Quebec cities this September. The CKMI relay in Montreal will be on Channel 67, and may just make it into northern Vermont. Montreal’s CBMT (Channel 6) is expected to get a relay in Quebec City to maintain CBC English TV service there. Also expected on the air soon will be Ottawa relays for Hamilton’s CHCH-TV (“ONtv,” Channel 11) and Toronto’s CITY-TV (Channel 57). The CHCH relay will also be on channel 11, while Ottawa viewers will get Citytv on 60.

In MASSACHUSETTS, we find Boston’s WGBH trying for an experimental television license from the WGBH-FM transmitter on Great Blue Hill. The proposed station, which NERW guesses will be a test of DTV, will operate on channel 17 with 6.839 kW visual power. NERW research director Garrett Wollman notes that the DTV Table of Allocations recently released by the FCC gave WGBH spots at channels 19 (WGBH-TV) and 43 (WGBX). The table also includes a channel 18, for WMFP (NTSC channel 62) Lawrence-Boston.