In this week’s issue… New buyer for western MA cluster – Bloomberg moves in Boston amidst Pops controversy – Fairfield AM loses its lease – WMGM-TV’s next chapter – HD Radio lights up at CN Tower – PLUS: NERW’s new podcast debuts!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The cluster of commercial radio stations that makes up most of the radio market in the Berkshires is once again on its way to a new owner.
It was just last week that we reported that a $3 million deal to send 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 to Galaxy Communications wasn’t going to be consummated. It was the second deal for the stations that failed to make it to closure; back in 2013, they were headed to Greg Reed in another deal that was never completed.
Instead, those six stations are now headed to Townsquare Media in a deal announced late last week. We don’t yet know how much Townsquare will pay for the six stations and two attached translators, which run a total of five formats: top-40 on WBEC-FM (“Live 95.9”), classic hits on “Whoopie” (WUPE-FM, WUPE and translator W277CJ 103.3 in Pittsfield), talk on WBEC and full-service/AC on WSBS (and translator W231AK 94.1 in Great Barrington) and WNAW.
For Townsquare, it’s a deal that makes plenty of sense: the company specializes in small and medium markets, and it has a footprint that already includes the Albany market just across the state line, as well as other nearby medium-market clusters in Utica and Binghamton. Will we see some simulcasting between Albany and the Berkshires, or at least some sharing of resources? And, first, will this deal do what the last two couldn’t and actually make its way to the finish line?
*Before we get to the rest of the week’s news, we’re excited to announce a new addition to the Fybush Media family. Many of you have been after us for a long time now to join the podcast world, and on the way back from a quick trip downstate this past weekend, we assembled a prototype edition of what we hope will become a new regular feature here on fybush.com (or your favorite podcast client!)
This first edition includes some more thoughts on Boston’s beleaguered WMEX, the upcoming translator window and even some brief airchecks from your editor’s guest stint as a DJ on Long Island’s legendary WLNG on Friday afternoon, complete with jingles and lots of reverb!
We don’t yet have a name for this new venture, and we promise we’ll have much better audio when we get into the studio instead of doing this from the driver’s seat of the NERW-mobile, but here’s “Episode Zero” for your enjoyment…and stay tuned for the next chapter!
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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 11, 2016
*The big national headline last week was, of course, the news that CBS is moving forward with its plans to spin off CBS Radio as a separate publicly-traded company.
In our neck of the woods, that move will most affect CBS Radio’s clusters in New York (WFAN/WFAN-FM, WCBS, WINS, WCBS-FM, WBMP, WNEW), Boston (WBZ, WBZ-FM, WZLX, WODS, WBMX), Philadelphia (KYW, WPHT, WXTU, WIP-FM, WZMP, WOGL) and Pittsburgh (KDKA, KDKA-FM, WBZZ, WDSY), which will lose their existing pairings with the TV duopolies CBS is keeping in each city.
Whether intentionally or not, CBS had already moved most of those radio stations to separate facilities from their TV sisters. Only WBZ in Boston and KYW in Philadelphia share quarters with TV, and it seems likely that CBS would lease space to the radio stations going forward.
It’s all but certain, too, that the spinoff of the CBS Radio properties will include a long-term license to use their existing callsigns and branding. Just as with Disney’s spinoff of the old ABC Radio operation, in which identities such as “WABC” and “WLS” were retained on both radio and TV, CBS no doubt realizes the value that’s tied into branding such as “KDKA” and “WCBS.”
*Veteran western PENNSYLVANIA jock Jim Krenn is off the morning shift at Pittsburgh’s WLTJ (Q92.9). The Steel City Media station says Krenn will stay on staff as a “station ambassador,” but his other commitments made it hard for him to do the morning show fulltime. For now, mornings on Q92.9 are running jockless – as is the rest of the day.
*When Berkshire Broadcasting relaunched its 107.3 translator (W297AN) in Danbury, CONNECTICUT on Tuesday at noon, it was indeed as “107.3 the Bull,” doing a country format fed from WDAQ (98.3)’s HD3. The new “Bull” competes horns-on against Cumulus’ “Kicks” WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) and out-of-market iHeart entry WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury-Hartford). The new “Bull” shares a PD with its HD2-translator sister, “New Rock 103.7” (W279CI/WDAQ-HD2); Dan Hopkins is also the afternoon jock at WDAQ itself.
Five Years Ago: July 9, 2012
*When struggling noncommercial station WUCI (91.5) finally went dark for good back in 1991, Binghamton, NEW YORK lost its only station focusing on the city”s black community. But two decades later, urban radio has returned to Binghamton in the form of a brand-new signal.
WJOB-FM (93.3 Susquehanna PA) quietly signed on last week, complete with a website and a live stream of what sounds like a test format that runs the gamut from uncensored hard-core rap to classic R&B to Spanish-language pop, without much in the way of station IDs.
The new noncommercial class A signal is licensed to the Broome County Urban League, transmits from the Hickory Knob tower in Great Bend, PA that was the original home of WKGB (92.5), and claims a studio location at 122 State Street in downtown Binghamton. If that address rings a bell, it”s because it was the longtime home of WAAL (99.1) and WKOP/WRSG (1360) until those stations moved to their current downtown home in the 1990s.
*Speaking of quiet launches, CBS used the sleepy holiday week to debut its new local programming on recently-acquired WLNY-TV (Channel 55). The independent station is still licensed to Smithtown and transmits from the east end of Long Island, but it”s operating from the CBS Broadcast Center on W. 57th Street in Manhattan, and it”s now carrying “Live from the Couch” on weekday mornings from 7 to 9 (with a cast that includes former WHTZ morning co-host Carolina Bermudez) and a 9-10 PM newscast on weekday evenings.
*With much of CANADA idled by the Canada Day holiday, it”s no surprise that our big news this week comes from the one part of the country that doesn”t much celebrate the July 1 holiday: in Quebec, one AM station spent the week recovering from a fire that heavily damaged its Montreal studios last Sunday night.
CJWI (1610) is better known as “CPAM Radio Union,” at least to the Haitian emigre community that depends on its programming to keep tabs on the island”s often-fractious politics, and station manager Jean-Ernest Pierre tells the Montreal Gazette that he believes arsonists attacked the station”s building in retaliation for its on-air calls for a criminal trial of Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
The station was off the air for only 10 hours, returning Monday from studio space donated by another Montreal broadcaster, and Pierre says he’ll rebuild and stay on the air despite the intimidation.
Ten Years Ago: July 9, 2007
*Thirty-five years after NEW YORK“s WCBS-FM (101.1) flipped to oldies, and two years after the station rocked the Big Apple radio world with a flip away from oldies to adult hits “Jack FM,” the message boards once again began buzzing last Thursday afternoon with word that the new management at CBS Radio was about to reverse course and restore oldies to 101.1.Whether or not the news was an intentional leak, it came at a perfectly slow moment in the larger news cycle, and by Friday it had moved beyond the radio message boards and e-mail lists and out to the TV newscasts and the headlines on WINS. By Saturday morning, it was even the front-page story in the Daily News, even though CBS had yet to confirm that the move was happening.
As we head for our Sunday night NERW deadline, there”s still been no confirmation from within CBS, but all the signs we”re hearing tell us that the rumors are true, and that at some point between today and Thursday, WCBS-FM will indeed return to some version of the oldies format it was using until that dark day in June 2005.
That”s good news for New York oldies fans, but perhaps not quite as much good news as some of them were hoping for. Despite the Daily News” claim that the station will be bringing back “real DJs,” our sources tell us that at least at first, the new CBS-FM will sound very much like the HD2/webstream version of CBS-FM that”s been serving as a stopgap replacement for the original station – no DJs, and a music mix that leans more heavily on the 70s and early 80s than the old CBS-FM did.
None of that should come as any surprise to anyone who”s been following the moves at CBS Radio since Dan Mason returned earlier this year to retake the reins from Joel Hollander. In addition to the mercy killing of what remained of “Free FM” in New York, returning “K-Rock” WXRK (92.3) to the airwaves, Mason replaced “Free FM” in San Francisco (KIFR 106.9) with a revived version of KFRC, leaning more toward classic hits than the oldies KFRC once played in its previous incarnation. The new KFRC launched jockless, and only slowly added air talent.
Who might be on the lineup at the new CBS-FM? Pretty much every name that”s graced the mike there over the last few decades has been suggested for the revived 101, and many of them would appear to be available. (What”s Micky Dolenz doing these days, anyway?) And of course there are plenty of talented jocks who”ve lost their full-time gigs in recent years to format changes and consolidation – anyone from Carol Miller to Bill Buchner to Pat St. John to Famous Amos would make great additions to the airstaff.
That”s all in the realm of speculation for now, though. Even though CBS has been making some solid moves recently (especially the launch of “Fresh FM” on 102.7, which has made serious inroads on longtime market revenue champion WLTW, a station that would face further challenges from a revived WCBS-FM), few of them have involved the kind of personality radio that made the original WCBS-FM so successful for so long. Fresh has eroded WLTW”s numbers with an approach that”s nearly jockless, and the revived K-Rock has been running mostly jockless as well, though that may change now that there”s a PD in place there.
*Elsewhere in the Empire State over the long holiday week: In the Albany market, public broadcaster WMHT pulled the plug on one of its two classical music services on Saturday, replacing “cool, comfortable, classical” WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam) with “Exit 97.7,” a new AAA format with new calls WEXT.
WMHT says the two-year experiment with WBKK, which had been a commercial classical station before WMHT bought it, found that there was a tremendous amount of listener duplication between 97.7 and the more established WMHT-FM (89.1 Schenectady), producing little in the way of new listeners or members to the station.
The new “Exit 97.7” will feature local jocks Dave Michaels in morning drive and Eileen Roarke in middays, with station manager Chris Wienk handling afternoons.
Programming will also include two daily runs of “World Cafe” from Philadelphia”s WXPN and the new age show “Echoes” (which was already being heard at night on WBKK), as well as a local music show called “Area 518” on weekends.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 8, 2002
The TV station atop NEW HAMPSHIRE”s highest peak is completing its move off Mount Washington. NERW research director Garrett Wollman made the trek up the Rock last week, and in addition to bringing back some gorgeous pictures of a rare clear summertime day on the 6288-foot peak, he reports that WMTW-TV (Channel 8) has reached agreement to sell its facilities on Mount Washington to the state of New Hampshire. WMTW moved its transmitter to Baldwin, Maine a few months ago, leaving the channel 8 building on Washington nearly empty (veteran transmitter engineer/air personality Marty Engstrom delivered his last on-air report from the mountaintop in May before retiring) – and leaving the Mount Washington Observatory and the two FM stations on the mountain (WHOM 94.9 Mount Washington and WPKQ 103.7 North Conway) to figure out how to get power, which had been provided by WMTW under contract. No word yet on the price or timetable for the transfer, but stay tuned to NERW for more in the weeks to come…
MASSACHUSETTS radio and TV have been busy mourning the passing of the legendary Ted Williams, of course, which gave us the chance to hear veterans like Johnny Pesky during the weekend”s Sox-Tigers series (not to mention the Tigers” Ernie Harwell, still sharp as a tack in his last season doing play-by-play at age 84) – but there was some other news in the Bay State this holiday week:
Twenty Years Ago: July 10, 1997
We”ll start this week in VERMONT, where the modern rock wars between WBTZ (99.9 Plattsburgh, “The Buzz,” LMA”d to WIZN) and WXPS (96.7 Vergennes, “The Pulse,” co-owned with WCPV) have come to an end, with the Buzz as the apparent winner. WXPS is reportedly off the air for now, and will return shortly with a sports-talk format. The Pulse was plagued for most of its yearlong life with a poor signal in Burlington, a problem rectified only recently by a 97.3 translator in the Queen City.
Also dark for now is WCVT (101.7 Stowe), but it should be on the air again any second now under the new ownership of Radio Vermont, running a classical music format.
Up there in MAINE, Dan Billings wrote to us from his trip Down East, with word that WMCS (1400) Machias remains off the air, while erstwhile sister station WALZ-FM (95.3) is in a triple simulcast with Calais” WQDY (1230/92.7) as “International Radio.” Not part of the simulcast is Houlton”s WHOU (100.1); it was doing its own thing when Dan tuned in. WHRR (102.9) Dennysville-Calais is on the air, running classic rock as “CD 102.9,” reaching a few thousand people, a lot of water, and many cows within reach of its 100 kW signal.
Moving along to NEW YORK, the big news this week is all in the Capital District, and most of it comes from Clear Channel”s Albany properties. On the AM side, WQBK (1300 Rensselaer) will switch from talk to sports on Monday. Morning host Scott Lounsberry and midday host John Howe are out of work; PM drive host Howie Green stays with the new “All Sports 1300” as operations manager. Most of the WQBK programming will come from One-on-One Sports. On the FM side, classic rocker WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa) made a big grab this week, stealing veteran morning team Mason and Sheehan from SFX”s WPYX (106.5).
While the CBC has yet to secure CRTC permission to move CBL to FM, it did get the go-ahead this week to move its Montreal outlets off the AM band. In a news release that was apparently translated from English to French and back again (after possibly making a detour into Swedish), the CRTC announced that CBF (690) will get to move to the 95.1 MHz spot. The release says CBM (940) will also get an FM slot, but fails to give a frequency. CIME (99.5 Ste.-Adele) will apparently change to an undisclosed new frequency to open 99.5 for a new commercial French-language classical station in Montreal. And Quebec”s CBV (980) also gets a new berth on FM; again, no frequency given.