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
*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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While the original WMEX was indeed a legendary part of the MASSACHUSETTS radio landscape for many decades, that heyday ended by the late 1970s – and it’s all been pretty much downhill at 1510 on the dial ever since. The deciding factor, as we’ve noted often in this space, was the decision in the early 1980s to move then-WITS from its longtime transmitter site in Quincy to a new 50,000-watt (but highly directional) facility on leased land in Waltham at the behest of Red Sox managers looking for the prestige of a “50 kilowatt” radio flagship.
Ever since, 1510’s long sequence of owners have been burdened with the cost of that site lease, recently reported to be $300,000 annually. How do you make a profit from an AM station at the top of the dial with operating costs that are that high? (And it’s not just the lease on the Waltham site, it’s the power bill for the aging transmitter, studio rent in Quincy, and everything else that goes along with trying to play in a major market.)
For owner after owner, the answer has turned out to be, “you can’t make a profit under those circumstances,” which may explain why there have been so many owners and operators – and why so many of them lately have come in with no prior radio operating experience. The latest, Daly XXL, bought the station in 2015 for just $175,000, and while they tried some interesting experiments that included a heavy reliance on weekend oldies, the tower lease renewal at the end of June was apparently still too much to overcome.
Will WMEX stay dark for good? Will some other prospective owner emerge to take yet another stab at keeping 1510 alive in Boston? It all continues to be message-board fodder, and of course we’ll keep you posted here as the clock ticks down to either a new operator or license expiration after 12 months of silence – but from where we sit, it’s hard to see anything coming along that would give 1510 any real chance at becoming a stable, profitable operation in the broadcasting world of 2017.
(And remarkably, we’d note that even the return or revocation of the WMEX license wouldn’t do much to help any other AMs in the region; just as it makes zero economic sense to make what would likely be a million-dollar investment to try to build out a new 1510 transmitter site elsewhere in the Boston area, there’s not much economic benefit to be had in any of the theoretical upgrades that other, smaller AMs at the top of the dial might be able to make with WMEX out of the picture. From what we hear from those AM owners, any investments they’re making now are in FM translators, not in sinking more money into aging AM facilities.)
*What’s going on in the Berkshires? Galaxy Communications’ planned $3 million purchase of WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield), WUPE (1110 Pittsfield), WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams), WNAW (1230 North Adams) and WSBS (860 Great Barrington) from Vox/Gamma ended last week in a non-consummation notice that raises more questions than it answers. We’ll be watching to see if a new buyer emerges for the group that makes up most of the commercial radio in the Bay State west of Springfield.
While we’re out west, high school station WTBR (89.7 Pittsfield) doesn’t have any space allocated to it in the new building that Taconic High School is now constructing. But the station’s not going off the air; instead, the school system is working on a deal to have United Cerebral Palsy of Berkshire County take over management of WTBR, running the signal as a community station from the Clocktower Building. UCP also runs the Berkshire Talking Chronicle reading service over WRRS-LP (104.3 Pittsfield), which will also have to relocate when the WTBR tower at the current Taconic building comes down.
*The sale of WUMD (89.3 North Dartmouth) from UMass Dartmouth to RHODE ISLAND Public Radio took another big step forward last week as the students and community members who run WUMD signed their FM signal off the air. After 42 years of broadcasting (originally as WSMU on 91.1), the UMass studio is now webcast-only as wumd.rocks; 89.3, meanwhile, will return to the airwaves soon as a simulcast of RIPR’s WELH (88.1 Providence) while construction gets underway on the new Newport-licensed 89.3 signal that will broadcast a stronger Ocean State signal from the old WLNE (Channel 6) analog tower in Tiverton, R.I.
*In MAINE, Atlantic Coast Radio is paying $35,001 to Light of Life Ministries for W233BH (92.5 Portland), which it will pair with sports “Big Jab” WRED (1440 Westbrook). Atlantic Coast had originally filed a $150,000 deal to buy W273DF (102.5 Portland) from Light of Life, but that deal never closed.
*One of CONNECTICUT‘s best-loved TV weather personalities is coming back to the airwaves this summer. Geoff Fox spent 27 years at WTNH (Channel 8) before losing his job there in 2011; he worked at WTIC-TV (Channel 61) in Hartford for a while after that, and more recently he’s been battling pancreatic cancer from his new home in southern California.
Fox says the cancer is now in remission, and he tells the New Haven Register he was stunned to get a phone call from WTNH offering him the opportunity to rejoin the ABC affiliate’s weather team starting today. Fox built a weather studio in his garage out in California to do remote broadcasts, originally for KMIR in Palm Springs and later for a station in Arkansas. He’ll continue to work from there to be close to his medical team.
Having Fox doing studio weather will free up WTNH senior meteorologist Fred Campagna to hit the road, and the station says he’ll be broadcasting from around Connecticut all summer.
*On the NEW YORK TV dial, one thing has been true for over four decades: if it’s 11 PM, Chuck Scarborough is anchoring the late news on WNBC (Channel 4). After 42 years in that role, the 73-year-old anchor will step back following his July 14 broadcast; 4 PM anchor Stefan Holt will take the 11 PM show, but Scarborough will continue to anchor the 6 PM newscast.
*Broadcast Managers on the Move: at Rochester CBS affiliate WROC-TV (Channel 8), VP/GM Louis Gattozzi retired as June drew to a close, wrapping up a long and distinguished career that had largely been spent in Erie, Pennsylvania. Nexstar CEO Perry Sook showed up in person for Gattozzi’s farewell – and the promotion from within that puts sales director Wendy Bello in the VP/GM chair.
In central New York, Michael Ameigh has retired from SUNY Oswego after seven years as general manager of WRVO public radio. Ameigh had been with the college since 1990, when he was hired as assistant provost of budget and operations. No replacement has been named yet.
It’s deja vu at 100.5 on the Rochester dial, where iHeart quietly flipped “100.5 the Drive” (WDVI, ex-WVOR) back to “Mix 100.5” at 5 on Friday afternoon. The changes are largely cosmetic: it’s still Elvis Duran in mornings and hot AC the rest of the day. (It was back in 2006 when then-Clear Channel last flipped “Mix” to “Drive.”)
In the Hudson Valley, Bridgelight is fighting back against iHeart’s plans to move its Poughkeepsie translator for WKIP (1450) from 98.5 to 99.7. While that move would reduce interference to and from iHeart’s own WCTW (98.5 Catskill), Bridgelight points out that it would also wipe out its ability to receive its own WJUX (99.7 South Fallsburg) at the input to its Poughkeepsie translator, W295BK (106.9). That’s an FCC no-no, and we’ll be watching to see how iHeart resolves the conflict.
There are new calls for a new FM signal coming to Rhinebeck: mark down “WHVC” for Christian Media Associates’ noncommercial class A 102.5 construction permit, which has until Sept. 28, 2018 to get on the air.
*Warren Doremus was a local TV news legend here in Rochester, back in the days when a reporter could make an entire career at one medium-market station. Doremus came to the old WHEC (1460) radio in 1946, fresh from duty in Europe, and was one of the first news staffers when WHEC-TV signed on as half of a share-time on channel 10 in 1953.
Back then, as he told your editor in a 1999 interview, WHEC-TV didn’t even have a nightly news broadcast, since the other share-time partner, WVET-TV, had channel 10’s broadcast hours. It wasn’t until 1962, when WHEC got sole custody of the channel, that its news department began a long run of market dominance. For the next three decades, until his retirement in 1991, Doremus was part of that dominant team, including authoritative coverage of the 1964 riots (which won a duPont-Columbia award a decade later), a long run as channel 10’s news director in the 1970s and 1980s, and later duty as the anchor of the popular “Crimestoppers” segment.
Known for his stentorian delivery, Doremus also had a sharp sense of humor; every year, the newscast before Thanksgiving included his “exclusive” interview with a flock of turkeys, as he posed straight-faced questions about stories in the news, only to be answered by gobbles.
Doremus stayed in Rochester after retiring; he died last Monday after suffering a fall a few weeks earlier. He was 91. Survivors include his son, Wyatt, who had a notable broadcast career of his own at stations including WROC-TV (Channel 8) and WXXI-TV (Channel 21).
*Elsewhere in PENNSYLVANIA, Allentown’s Matt Braccilli is contesting an objection to his new Reading translator on 92.9, W225CF. WLRI-LP (92.9 Gap) protested the grant of the new translator, complaining that it was causing interference to its own signal up near Lancaster. But Braccilli and the translator’s owner, Florida-based American FM Associates, investigated – and they say the Reading translator wasn’t running dead air at the times WLRI was complaining. The response goes on to note that WLRI itself may not be running at full power and isn’t engineered well for coverage of Gap itself.
And in Bethlehem, the FCC has dismissed an application from WGPA (1100) to move translator W227DE from 93.3 to 98.5, since it would improperly overlap the signal of WKRZ (98.5 Freeland) from up in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market.
*In Pittsburgh, we send our best wishes to KDKA (1020) midday talker Mike Pintek, who’s fighting pancreatic cancer. After being on and off the air while undergoing treatments since May, Pintek told listeners Thursday about the disease. Right now, he says, the cancer is inoperable, but doctors are hoping to shrink the tumor enough to be able to do surgery.
Over at iHeart’s Pittsburgh cluster, WBGG (970) PD Gregg Henson is out; he told his Facebook audience his job was eliminated, calling it a “cold, hard reality of radio in 2017.” Henson had been doing a sports talk show for iHeart’s WDFN in Detroit and WMAX in Grand Rapids from Pittsburgh, and that show is off the air now as well.
And we send our condolences to WKST (1200 New Castle), which lost sportscaster Mark Schaas in a car crash on I-76 just across the Ohio line on Thursday. PBRTV.com reports Schaas’ car was stopped in construction traffic when it was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. He was just 53.
*It was a very special CANADA Day on Saturday, and we were thrilled to be able to spend it north of the border with our Canadian friends, watching the party in the streets of Toronto and checking out a weekend’s worth of special broadcasts. Most of our viewing was on CBC television, where Peter Mansbridge enjoyed his final hours as chief correspondent by pulling together Friday night and Saturday daytime coverage from a rainy post on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Despite a few technical glitches along the way, the coverage shone – and Mansbridge, of course, was his usual modest self even as his guests saluted his long run on the Canadian airwaves.
*We’re learning more about what’s happening at TTP Media’s new CFQR (600 Montreal), thanks to the indefatigable Steve Faguy. Before CFQR signed on for good late last week (albeit without a real format yet), Faguy tracked down TTP president Rajiv Pancholy for a detailed interview, wherein we learn much more about the trials and tribulations the company has experienced as it’s tried to bring some English-language spoken word competition to Bell’s dominant CJAD (800) and CKGM (690), and some French-language competition to Cogeco’s CHMP (98.5).
*August 3 is FM launch day for CJCS (1240) in Stratford, Ontario. The station will pick up Vista’s corporate “Juice FM” brand when it launches CJCS-FM on 107.1, but will apparently keep its present mix of oldies music, local news and Blue Jays baseball. (Sister station CHGK 107.7 already uses another Vista Radio corporate brand, “2Day FM,” for its top-40 format.) The AM signal will simulcast the FM for up to three months before it gets turned off; when it goes, southwest Ontario will be down to just seven remaining commercial AMs by our count.
*In Ottawa, the CRTC turned down Antoine Karam’s application to revive the 1630 frequency. Karam would have put a new (mostly Arabic-speaking) ethnic format on the air with 10 kW day/1 kW night, but the CRTC said the application didn’t demonstrate economic viability for the new station against existing ethnic broadcasters in the market. The CRTC also turned down International Harvesters for Christ’s application for a new religious station on 104.9 in Saint John, N.B., where it would have been the third Christian signal in town.
We’re a community.
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.
It 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.