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In this week’s issue… More hip-hop in Philadelphia – WMEX is gone, and so what? – Fox back in CT – Translators, LPFMs spar in NY, PA – Public radio on the move in RI

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*Do you believe in jinxed frequencies? No, we’re not talking about Boston’s 1510 (that’s later in the column), but rather about 106.1 in eastern PENNSYLVANIA, where iHeart made another format flip Thursday morning with almost no notice.

In a market that’s crowded with adult contemporary flavors that include Jerry Lee Radio’s dominant WBEB (101.1 More FM), CBS Radio’s WTDY (Today’s 96.5) and WOGL (98.1) and Beasley’s WBEN-FM (95.7 BEN) and rimshot WJBR (99.5 Wilmington DE), iHeart’s WISX (106.1) had been something of an also-ran on the Philadelphia landscape in the 11 years since the plug was pulled on the old smooth jazz WJJZ. Remember “Philly’s 106.1”? “My 106.1”?

As “Mix 106.1,” WISX spent the last few years trying to stake out hot AC territory somewhere between the dominant WBEB and iHeart’s top-40 WIOQ (Q102), including a morning show featuring former Q102 personality Chio, followed by the syndicated Ryan Seacrest and Mario Lopez later in the day. On Thursday, Chio did his usual Mix morning show, then stayed on the air at 10 AM without the hot AC format or any station nickname, instead playing an hour of everything from Fleetwood Mac to Metallica while taking listener requests.

At 11, the mini-stunt gave way to the new identity for 106.1: instead of playing in the crowded AC arena, iHeart is instead adding the new “Real 106.1” to an equally crowded urban landscape with a classic rhythmic/hip-hop format. Chio’s still the morning man there, but Seacrest is out, as is Lopez, with the rest of the day jockless for now.

Within the iHeart cluster, “Real” now occupies a space between Q102’s mainstream CHR and urban “Power 99” WUSL (98.9), flanking R&B WDAS-FM (105.3) as part of a lineup that’s also aimed at Urban One’s cluster. Over there, of course, there was an earlier attempt at classic hip-hop in the form of “Boom 107.9” WPHI; that migrated to a more mainstream urban contemporary format when a format shuffle moved “Boom” and the WPHI calls to 103.9 last year. Urban One also competes against WDAS-FM with its “Old School” WRNB (100.3) – it’s all part of a crowded market in which “Real” becomes the fifth urban-targeted FM signal, and the sixth if you also count Urban One’s black gospel WPPZ (Praise 107.9).

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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: July 2, 2016

*While it’s licensed to Hagerstown, Maryland, WHAG-TV (Channel 25) brands itself as “Your4State.com” – and one of those four states the station serves is a big chunk of south-central PENNSYLVANIA, where its transmitter sits.

And as of last week, the 46-year-old TV station is more dependent than ever on local coverage of places like Chambersburg to succeed, now that it’s become the latest small station to lose its NBC affiliation.

whagIt was no great surprise when NBC announced earlier in the year that it wouldn’t be renewing with WHAG; as with its earlier decision to cut ties with WMGM-TV in Atlantic City, New Jersey, NBC owner Comcast has been clear that it wants to have only one affiliate in any given DMA. Even though NBC O&O WRC (Channel 4) is some 70 miles away in Washington, Hagerstown and vicinity fall squarely within the boundaries of the Washington DMA – and NBC wants to make sure anyone watching the Peacock within those boundaries is doing so by way of WRC, even if that requires a cable or satellite subscription. (Which, in fairness, pretty much anyone in the Hagerstown-Chambersburg area has long needed anyway, since it’s been the only reliable way to see CBS, ABC or Fox.)

In Atlantic City, the end of NBC at WMGM-TV pretty much meant the end of the station. Its newsroom shut down at the end of 2014 and the station has been running third-tier satellite programming ever since while awaiting the upcoming spectrum auction.

But in the “4State,” Nexstar is trying a different tack: the end of NBC programming early Friday morning brought with it an expansion of local news for the sprawling area WHAG-TV serves. The morning news, which formerly ran from 5:30-7 AM, now extends to 8 AM, with the 7:30 AM segment specifically devoted to the burgeoning I-270 corridor that stretches from Frederick, Maryland down toward the DC suburbs.

Along with a new set, there’s now an hour of local news at noon, a half-hour at 5:30 specifically aimed at the panhandle of West Virginia, a 7:30 PM rebroadcast of the morning I-270 show, and a new hour of local news at 10 PM as well. Nexstar says it’s adding 20 jobs to the WHAG-TV staff to help service its new local news commitment to the area, which stretches down to Winchester, Virginia to the south, westward to Cumberland, Maryland and northward up the I-81 corridor into Pennsylvania.

Will it work? It’s an area that could certainly use more local news coverage, to be sure – but without the draw of NBC programming (WHAG-TV is now using the “Heroes & Icons” diginet as prime-time and daytime filler), can the station get the visibility it needs? (One ominous sign…as we watched the WHAG switchover on an antenna in our Hagerstown motel room Thursday night, we noticed that the motel’s own TV system carried only WRC and not WHAG at all.)

(2017 note: a year to the day after the end of its NBC run, WHAG-TV changed calls to WDMV, reflecting its increased cable and satellite reach over the larger DC-Maryland-Virginia market)

Five Years Ago: July 2, 2012

*What was that we were saying just last week about the lack of high-profile rivalries in Boston radio? As of noon on Thursday. there’s a top-40 war underway on the airwaves of eastern MASSACHUSETTS, pitting two of the nation’s biggest broadcasters against each other at the expense of one of the city’s longest-running formats.

To listen to the final hours of WODS (103.3) as the clock ticked down to noon, y0u’d hardly have known that the station that CBS Radio launched as “Oldies 103” back in 1987 had long since transitioned from 1950s and 1960s oldies to a ’70s/’80s-intensive classic hits format.

To its credit, CBS gave WODS’ staff the opportunity to say goodbye in the hours after the news broke on Wednesday afternoon that 103.3 would be flipping to top 40 as “AMP Radio.”

“I’m not closing the book, I’m just turning the page,” morning host Karen Blake told listeners during her final morning show on Thursday, thanking station management for their support, including the recent hiring of co-host John Laurenti.

In the station’s waning moments later Thursday morning, the WODS jocks who packed the studio – midday veteran Paula Street, “Elvis Only” host Jay Gordon and “Lost 45s” creator Barry Scott – took the station back to its roots, closing out with the same song that launched WODS back in 1987, the Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun.” (Automation then took over for the last half-hour before the noon launch of the station’s new format, top-40 “AMP Radio,” and so technically the last song on the old WODS was actually “Last Dance” by Boston’s own Donna Summer.)

*In an industry full of colorful inventors and entrepreneurs, Leonard Kahn made everyone else look black and white. Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in broadcast engineering, Kahn made a name for himself in the 1970s and 1980s with the development of the Kahn-Hazeltine AM stereo system – and for the pitched legal battle that ensued between Kahn and rival system developers, earning Kahn a reputation as a tenacious defender (sometimes to his own defeat) of his ideas, patents and engineering principles.

From his Long Island laboratory, Kahn went on to develop the “Powerside” AM loudness-enhancement system, which was widely adopted in the 1980s, and the “CAM-D” digital AM broadcast system, the full details of which were never disclosed publicly. After the death in 2005 of his beloved wife Ruth, Kahn ended up living in a nursing home in Florida, where he died June 3 at age 86.

Ten Years Ago: July 2, 2007

*The radio side of the newsroom at WBZ (1030 Boston) is normally a pretty quiet place after about 6 most evenings, but it was a different story last Thursday, as VIPs from all over eastern MASSACHUSETTS joined WBZ staffers past and present, along with dozens of family members, to bid farewell (for now) to evening talk host Paul Sullivan.

The Lowell native had been off the air for several weeks as he recovered from a fourth brain surgery for the melanoma that he’s been fighting for more than two years, but he returned for one final show to say goodbye to his listeners.

Two hours before the show started, Sullivan was already the center of attention, holding a press conference in his studio in which the serious answers about his illness and treatment were leavened by a strong dose of the humor for which Sullivan is known.

That mood continued into the two-hour broadcast, in which co-host Jordan Rich played ringmaster, introducing in-studio guests that included Boston mayor Tom Menino, Sullivan’s doctors, and recent ‘BZ retiree Gary LaPierre, who looked tanned and relaxed, reporting that he’s learned very easily to sleep in now that he’s no longer doing morning drive.

The show also featured a roster of telephone VIPs that included Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, whose barking dog prompted a flurry of Sullivan jokes. (“Is that Dick Cheney?,” Sullivan asked the senator.)

Sullivan’s wife Mary Jo sat beside him throughout the broadcast, while his children joined him for parts of the show and his parents, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws and others watched and listened outside the studio window.

At the end of the show, the last word on Sullivan came from producer Rick Radzik, whose usual stoic demeanor broke as he read a letter he’d written to Sullivan about how difficult it’s been to work through the illness and death of Sullivan’s predecessor David Brudnoy, followed by Sullivan’s own illness.

Rich had to take over reading the last part of the letter, which gave Sullivan an opening for one more joke as he said his own farewell moments later. “This is Rick Radzik speaking,” Sullivan said after his own voice cracked as he thanked the audience.

At night’s end, Sullivan continued a ‘BZ tradition begun with LaPierre’s retirement, taking a ceremonial walk down the station’s main hallway to the waiting limousine, a fitting sendoff for a host who saw WBZ through the challenges of the Brudnoy transition, only to find a style and an audience all his own.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 1, 2002

There’s a new radio station on the air in French CANADA, and it may even be legal. DX’ers have been reporting reception of Haitian-language programming on 1610 kHz, which would be “CPAM Radio Union.com”‘s new license in Montreal. But NERW hears the 1000-watt signal, emanating from a fiberglass whip antenna on Jarry Street East in Montreal, never received its official go-ahead from the CRTC to begin testing. What’s more, the programming being heard sporadically on 1610 has lacked the call letters and phone number information required for a station in test mode. Stay tuned… (Thanks to Sheldon Harvey of CIDX for supplying us with the latest on CJWI and the Canadian radio scene…)

Twenty Years Ago: July 3, 1997

The CHR wars have taken another twist in Syracuse, which just a year ago had but a single hit radio station, the venerable WNTQ (93.1), aka “93Q”. Cox Broadcasting joined the race last year when country WHEN-FM (107.9) flipped to “Hot 107-9,” WWHT. And now there’s a third entry, noncommercial WJPZ (89.1), operated by the students of Syracuse University. “Z89” was CHR until 1995, when it joined the rush to alternative and became “The Pulse.” Now it’s back to “Z89,” but this time around with a strong dance emphasis, using the slogan “The Beat of Syracuse.” We’ll see how long a three-way fight can last, especially when one of the combatants is a hundred-watt noncomm.

In MASSACHUSETTS, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) has made it official: Starting Monday, July 7, the 5-6 PM and 6-7 PM news blocks will be replaced by half-hour newscasts at 5, 5:30, and 6. Jack Williams and Liz Walker will anchor at 5 and 6, while Sean Mooney and Virginia Cha take 5:30 duties.