In this week’s issue… Beasley imports Detroit morning show – WBRU makes noise again, but is a sale really imminent? – Live overnights out at CBS-FM? – CBS Radio’s new Pittsburgh offering – Big translator sales in Philly, Rochester
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Is there any market more resistant to outside talent than Boston? The notoriously provincial listeners of eastern MASSACHUSETTS have been pretty consistent over the years in rejecting shows that originate from outside the market. With the possible exception of a few successful years for Howard Stern in WBCN’s waning days, Boston listeners want to hear Boston voices on their Boston morning airwaves…which is what makes it puzzling, at best, to read Beasley’s announcement that it’s importing the morning team from its WRIF (101.1 Detroit) to be heard in the morning on “Alt 92.9” WBOS (92.9 Brookline).
Starting today, the “Dave and Chuck the Freak Morning Show,” hosted by Dave Hunter, Charles Urquhart and Lisa Way, will be simulcast on both stations. “The Dave & Chuck the Freak show is both funny and relatable, and its cast is made up of masterful storytellers with an eye for the extraordinary,” said PD Cadillac Jack in the corporate press release. “When you combine their natural talent, great chemistry, and impeccable work ethic, the results are unparalleled, and we’re especially excited to welcome them to ALT 92.9!”
But will WBOS listeners welcome Dave and Chuck? It’s a sure bet that any mention of the Tigers, the Walter Reuther Freeway or Governor Rick Snyder will be an instant turn-off for Sox fans driving on the Pike – and that means that Dave, Chuck and Lisa will have to try to be fairly generic, which is usually the last thing anyone wants a morning show to be. (For contrast, just look down the hall from WBOS to Beasley’s WROR, which has had literally decades of morning radio success with the these-guys-could-only-be-in-Boston voices of Loren and Wally.)
It’s a fairly low-risk gamble for Beasley, since WBOS has been running mostly jockless in its present “ALT” incarnation, but it is still a gamble if the new talk-based morning show turns off an audience that’s been liking the music-first approach on 92.9. The real test will be whether this is a sign of more cost-cutting to come as the big-budget days of Greater Media and CBS recede into the rear-view mirror and today’s cost- and debt-conscious owners such as Beasley and the upcoming merged Entercom/CBS take center stage.
There’s more of that cost-cutting to talk about later in this week’s column – and if you’re not currently subscribing, you’re missing a lot of content here every single Monday! (You can fix that, for as little as 29 cents a day, by signing up right here.) While we’re reminding you…have you checked out our new podcast, “Top of the Tower,” yet? We’ll be talking in more depth about this story in this week’s episode. And if you’re not on our email list, you’re missing our reminders when new content is available here in NERW, on the podcast or on Tower Site of the Week – sign up for the list right over on the right side of this page or our front page!
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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 19 & 25, 2016
Sixty years after the Bordes family founded it in New Jersey, Greater Media is exiting the radio business with a bombshell $240 million sale to Beasley Media Group.
The deal announced at close of business Tuesday will bring Beasley back to the FM dial in Philadelphia, as well as adding a full FM cluster in Boston and – at least for now – a cluster in three central New Jersey markets.
Here’s how it shakes out across NERW-land:
In its headquarters town of Boston, Beasley was a quiet presence with WRCA (1330 Watertown). Now it will add Greater Media’s five FMs to that: modern rock “Alt 92.9” WBOS (92.9 Brookline), rhythmic “Hot 96.9” WBQT (96.9 Boston), country WKLB (102.5 Waltham), classic hits WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) and AC “Magic” WMJX (106.7 Boston).
It’s incumbent upon us to note (since nobody else will do so!) that the deal will reunite 102.5 and 1330, the former WCRB-FM and WCRB(AM), more than three decades after they were split off to different owners.
In Philadelphia, Beasley exited FM less than two years ago with the CBS Radio swap that gave it toeholds in Tampa and Charlotte in exchange for sending WXTU (92.5) and then-WRDW-FM (96.5, now WZMP) to CBS. Now Beasley gets an even bigger FM cluster from Greater Media: rock WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia), adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7 Philadelphia), sports WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ) and classic rock WMGK (102.9 Philadelphia). They’ll pair with the rump AM cluster that Beasley retained after the CBS swap: religious WTMR (800 Camden NJ), leased-time WWDB (860 Philadelphia) and the AM Beasley got from CBS, sports WTEL (610 Philadelphia).
Beasley also has AC WJBR (99.5) in the adjacent Wilmington, Delaware market.
And in central New Jersey, Beasley’s new acquisitions sprawl across three sub-markets embedded in greater New York City: in Monmouth-Ocean, it’s rock WRAT (95.9 Point Pleasant) and classic hits WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin), in Middlesex-Somerset-Union it’s the original Greater Media stations, talk WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) and AC “Magic” WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick), and out in Morristown it’s oldies WMTR (1250) and rock WDHA (105.5 Dover).
*The death of Bill Cardille on Thursday morning hit hard for generations of Pittsburghers. Cardille filled all kinds of roles on the western Pennsylvania airwaves for more than 60 years, but none more beloved than “Chilly Billy,” the iconic horror host of “Chiller Theater” on WIIC/WPXI (Channel 11). In that role, he did more than just introduce movies. He helped fund the original “Night of the Living Dead,” and his persona influenced Pittsburgh native Joe Flaherty to create SCTV’s “Monster Chiller Horror Theater.”
Cardille came to WIIC right at the beginning: he was the announcer whose voice signed the station on the air for the first time in 1957, and his work at the station included hosting “Studio Wrestling” and afternoon kids’ movies, as well as doing the weather and pretty much anything else the station needed, too.
He came by those skills honestly: after a short run at WDAD (1450 Indiana), his first TV gig in the early 1950s was as an announcer at Erie’s fledgling WICU-TV (Channel 12), where he learned to do live TV without much in the way of money and resources. In addition to his run at Channel 11, Cardille did radio at WWSW (970), WIXZ (1360) and, for almost 20 years, at WJAS (1320), where he worked from 1995 until the station’s 2014 format change to talk.
Cardille had been battling cancer. He was 87 when he died of pneumonia at his home in McCandless.
Five Years Ago: July 23, 2012
*In 18 years of writing this column, it”s hard to recall a summer week as jam-packed with news as these past seven days in NERW-land have been. Rock back in New York, modern rock gone in Boston, a big cluster of TV stations sold, a prominent radio cluster for sale…oh, and the very imminent end of most TV reception across big swaths of Canada, too.
We”ll get to all these stories, but for sentimental reasons we have to start in the Boston market, where 29 years of cutting-edge alternative rock came to an end just after 7 on Friday evening as WFNX (101.7 Lynn) ended its live broadcasting on FM. After bringing back “Morning Guy Tai” and Jim Ryan earlier in the day, it was veteran jock Neal Robert at the controls for the station”s last five hours before transitioning to a stripped-down, web-only operation.
After a day of reminiscing with just about everyone who passed through the doors of 25 Exchange Street since WFNX”s launch back in 1983, Robert closed out WFNX”s final hour with David Bowie”s “Changes” and then “Let”s Go to Bed” by the Cure, the song that marked the transition from WLYN-FM to WFNX way back when.
Since the announcement back in May that Boston Phoenix owner Steve Mindich was selling WFNX”s license (but not its intellectual property) to Clear Channel for $14.5 million, there”s been no shortage of eulogies for one of the last independent big-market alt-rockers left standing. (One of the best came from longtime WFNX news director Sharon Brody, who wrote “one final Brody Beat” for her current employer, WBUR; still more came in a special Phoenix section last week.)
*While alternative rock was dying in Boston, rock made a surprise return to the FM dial in NEW YORK City on Tuesday morning.
The signs had been building for a few days that Merlin Media was pulling the plug on the year-old “FM News 101.9” experiment at WEMP, but the initial speculation focused on the possibility of a news-talk hybrid along the lines of Merlin”s WWIQ (106.9) in Philadelphia, which has an all-news morning block and syndicated talk the rest of the day.
What almost nobody saw coming, though, was the complete 180-degree turn Merlin made at 10:00 Tuesday morning: while WEMP staffers (and those at sister station WIQI in Chicago) were meeting with executives, a pre-recorded news segment abruptly gave way to “New Rock 101.9” at WEMP and “i101” in Chicago.
*Enough big news for one week? Not hardly, thanks to a very big TV station transaction that then prompted a radio cluster selloff.
The TV group is Newport Television, the private-equity-backed venture that acquired Clear Channel Television in 2007, and last week it announced plans to sell off most of the 27 stations it owns around the country.
Here”s how it shakes out in NERW-land:
Sinclair Broadcast Group, already a major player in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Portland, Maine, is paying $412.5 million for six stations, including CBS affiliate WHP-TV (Channel 21) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That deal also includes the rights to program WHP”s sister station WLYH (Channel 15), a CW outlet, and it makes for a nice northward extension to Sinclair”s home base in the Baltimore area.
Nexstar Broadcasting, which already operates in Rochester (WROC-TV) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBRE), will pay $285.5 million for a dozen mostly smaller Newport stations, including most of the central New York cluster that”s been held together under Ackerley, Clear Channel and Newport. Nexstar will add ABC affiliate WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse, NBC affiliate WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira, ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) and low-power NBC affiliate WBGH (Channel 20) in Binghamton and ABC affiliate WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown, as well as stations in Memphis and Salt Lake City. Newport”s remaining upstate stations, Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM-TV (Channel 13) and Albany Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23), weren”t included in the deal, which means WHAM will have to move forward with plans to rebuild its own local master control to replace the hub that”s been operating out of WSYR-TV for the last few years.
*There”s big TV news from CANADA this week, especially for viewers outside the biggest cities. The CRTC approved the CBC”s request to shut down all of its remaining analog transmitters effective August 1, a move that will leave over-the-air viewers in many places with no service from CBC or Radio-Canada, and in some cases with no Canadian TV service at all. CBC officials cited budget issues and the widespread use of satellite and cable TV when they decided to implement digital TV service only in “mandatory markets” – provincial capitals and other very large cities with multiple local stations.
Among the cities that don’t meet those criteria for CBC English TV are Sydney, Nova Scotia, Moncton, N.B., Quebec City (and the rest of Quebec outside Montreal), London, Kitchener and Sudbury, Ontario – and Sudbury”s doubly hit, since its large Francophone population will lose Radio-Canada service, as will Halifax, Charlottetown, Windsor, and a whole swath of rural eastern and northern Quebec. (You can read the entire list of deleted transmitters here.)
Ten Years Ago: July 23, 2007
*The upstate NEW YORK market of Utica/Rome has been a problem for Clear Channel ever since the company announced it was shedding most of its smaller-market stations. With a cluster that exceeds current market caps, in an over-radioed market that’s at best stagnant, the group of four AMs and five FMs wasn’t included in the list of stations Clear Channel is selling to the Goodradio.TV group (which isn’t “Goodradio.TV” anymore, but we”ll get to that later in this week’s issue), and for a while it looked as though the company simply wasn”t finding a willing buyer for the stations.
That changed on Thursday, when Ed Levine”s Galaxy Communications announced a deal under which it will buy the Clear Channel cluster, spinning off four of the CC stations to another local broadcaster, Ken Roser, and one of the CC stations and one of Galaxy”s existing Utica stations to EMF Broadcasting.
Here”s the way the market looks now:
And here”s how it will look when all the deals close:
So what does it all mean? For Levine, who just exited the Albany market with a sale of two stations (plus a Syracuse rimshot FM) to EMF, it means a much stronger position in a Utica/Rome market that”s suddenly far less crowded. Galaxy”s two rock FMs, modern rock “K-Rock” WKLL and classic rock-leaning WRCK, had been locked in a tight battle with Clear Channel”s rock WOUR and classic hits “River” WOKR. Levine tells NERW that WOUR”s strong brand and long rock history in the market persuaded him to keep the competitor he”s acquiring, while shutting down his own WRCK (and taking it out of commercial competition by selling it to EMF.)
Levine says he”ll combine the existing “Sports Stars” programming from the two AMs he”s acquiring (WIXT 1230 Little Falls and WRNY 1350 Rome) with the Syracuse University sports package Galaxy recently landed and with the strong signal of his existing WTLB 1310 Utica to create a new three-station sports network with a much more potent reach than the existing “Sports Starts” quad-cast, and he says no changes are planned right now for “Mix” WUMX.
For Ken Roser, the deal represents a homecoming: he”d owned 97.9 and 105.5, then “Wow FM” WOWZ/WOWB, before selling them to Clear Channel in 2002. Back then, Clear Channel paid $2.15 million for the two FMs and the Little Falls AM on 1230 (then WLFH). While prices aren”t being announced yet for the latest deal, it”s a pretty solid bet that Roser is paying far less than that to buy back his old FMs, as well as daytimer WUTQ (1550 Utica) and WADR (1480 Remsen). We”re hearing that Roser will keep the “Kiss” branding and top-40 format on the FMs, with no word on what becomes of the AMs. We also don”t know yet whether Roser will end up with the Genesee Street studios downtown that Clear Channel has been using; (Those studios came along with Clear Channel”s 1998 acquisition of WOUR and the rest of the then-Dame group; Galaxy will be moving WOUR out to its WTLB studio/transmitter facility in Washington Mills.)
For EMF, which has been growing with impressive speed across upstate New York, the deal will likely mean a move of its flagship “K-Love” contemporary Christian format from class A drop-in WKVU (100.7 Utica) to the massive class B WRCK signal on 107.3, transmitting from the market”s main Smith Hill tower farm. (Only the true Utica radio geeks will recall that 107.3″s origins, way back in 1962, were as standalone FM”er WUFM – and that WOUR, for that matter, began as a relay of Syracuse standalone classical station WONO.) That, in turn, means 100.7 will probably flip to EMF”s second network, Christian rock “Air One.” What about WOKR, the 93.5 rimshot signal from Remsen, north of Utica? It”s never reached Utica well, and would probably end up as another Air One relay if EMF keeps it at all.
Just a week after announcing her departure from WCVB (Channel 5), Natalie Jacobson said her goodbyes last week, first in a special “Chronicle” on Tuesday night and then at the end of her final newscast Wednesday. “It is not easy to walk away from this,” Jacobson said in her closing remarks. “But life moves on and I, like many of you, am ready for a new challenge.”
That Jacobson is still saying little about what that new challenge might be (some sort of multimedia venture aimed at retirement-age baby boomers, apparently) reinforces our sense that the abrupt departure isn”t as voluntary as Jacobson and the station are saying – especially when we look back at Jacobson comments in which she said she planned to be at WCVB for a while – “I do see myself staying here and yes I am happy here,” was the exact quote to the Herald as recently as late March.
In any event, WCVB rounded up all the usual tributes – Red Sox management, Ted Kennedy, rival WBZ anchor Liz Walker – as well as a smallish batch of old clips for the “Chronicle” tribute, which had the feel of something hastily assembled, short of the tribute properly due to Jacobson, who truly paved the way for women in Boston television. After a remarkable 35-year run at one station, it”s not hard to think that Jacobson deserved a bigger send-off.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 22, 2002
Pittsburgh’s public television station is about to get at least $20 million richer – but PENNSYLVANIA will lose its last public TV duopoly, thanks to an FCC decision last week that will allow channel 16 in the Steel City to be used for commercial broadcasting.
WQED (Channel 13) was among the first public television stations in the country when it signed on in the spring of 1954 (KUHT in Houston beat it on the air by more than a year, but WQED claims to be the first community-owned station, while KUHT was and is owned by the University of Houston); five years later, the station took an old black-and-white transmitter and added WQEX (Channel 16) to its lineup. Initially intended to provide in-school educational programming, WQEX eventually became an “alternative” public TV outlet. After going color in the eighties, WQEX operated for a time under completely separate program management from WQED, with a schedule that included classic TV reruns and PBS programs that weren’t cleared on channel 13. By the late nineties, though, WQED became determined to sell WQEX, to help meet what the station said was a serious financial shortfall. In 1997, WQEX began simulcasting WQED – something WQED hoped would be a brief temporary move before selling the station completely.
One plan involved the fledgling Pax network, which lacked a Pittsburgh outlet. Pax planned to buy commercially-licensed WPCB (Channel 40) in Greensburg from religious broadcaster Cornerstone TeleVision, which would then purchase channel 16 from WQED and move the WPCB programming there. A brief gasp of courage from several FCC commissioners, questioning whether Cornerstone”s programming met the qualifications for a noncommercial channel, quashed that deal (although the FCC later backtracked on the new rules that were briefly put forth), and WQED then asked the FCC to “de-reserve” channel 16, allowing it to be sold for full commercial use. That prompted a community outpouring of opposition, with several groups asking the FCC not to allow the de-reservation, under which WQED proposed to sell WQEX to ShootingStar, Inc., a new company formed by Diane Sutter, former general manager of WWSW (970/94.5) in Pittsburgh, for $20 million.
Last October, the FCC denied the request, but opened a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on the case. That NPRM was closed this week when the FCC ruled that the de-reservation can proceed. Most of the commissioners agreed with WQED”s argument that it needs the money from the sale for DTV conversion (something the station hasn’t done yet, while working its way through the WQEX sale) and an upgrade of the WQED facility in Pittsburgh”s Oakland district. The ruling also acknowleged that Pittsburgh is under-served by television, with just seven commercial stations in the market (Viacom’s KDKA and WNPA, Hearst-Argyle’s WTAE, Cox’s WPXI, Sinclair’s WCWB and WPGH and Cornerstone’s WPCB).
Commissioner Michael Copps dissented, calling public television stations the “gems” of the television system, and noting that once a station is de-reserved, it”s gone for good. No word yet on when WQEX’s simulcast of WQED might be replaced by commercial programming (from Pax, perhaps?) – stay tuned!
We”ll start our NEW YORK report right here in Rochester, where WBBF (950 Rochester) broke out of its simulcast with oldies WBBF-FM (93.3 Fairport) Friday evening just after 6, switching to a short playlist of songs drawn from WBBF-FM and its Entercom sister stations, classic hits WBZA (98.9) and country WBEE-FM (92.5) – with announcements proclaiming the station to be “News Talk 950.” (All of the music in the rotation, by the way, had either “News,” “Talk,” “Sports,” “Business” or “Weather” in the title or the name of the artist…) The 1000-watt signal on 950 covers Monroe County quite well (in its heritage top-40 days, it was regularly the number-one station in town by wide margins), but it’s a far cry from the market’s dominant news-talker, Clear Channel’s clear channel WHAM (1180). Expect to hear Bill O’Reilly on 950 – and we hear rumors about Dr. Joy Browne, Sean Hannity, Tom Leykis, some sports coverage and perhaps a local morning show.
Twenty Years Ago: July 24, 1997
We begin this week’s edition with some sad news from CONNECTICUT. Veteran newsman Walt Dibble died on Monday at age 67. Dibble had worked in Connecicut radio for 49 years, the last 20 of them at WTIC in Hartford. Dibble’s career began in 1948 at Stamford’s WSTC (1400), and included stints at WICC (600) in Bridgeport and WAVZ (1300) in New Haven, as well as a lengthy stay at Hartford’s WDRC (1360/102.9). Dibble came to WTIC as news director in 1977, replacing NBC’s hourly news with local news at the top and bottom of the hour. Dibble won a national award from the RTNDA for his investigative reporting, as well as awards from Ohio State University in 1981 and from the Connecticut AP Broadcasters Association (the Abrams award for excellence in radio journalism) in 1995.
Radio reporters all over New England knew Dibble as someone who was always willing to provide news sound out of Hartford, and to lend advice and job tips to those new to the business. In addition to his work at WTIC, Dibble was also an instructor at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and at Southern Connecticut State University. Dibble had been battling leukemia for some time before his death, and had just returned to work at WTIC (although not yet to the air) when he died. He’s survived by three sons (including Fox sportscaster and former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Rob Dibble) and three daughters, and by his wife, Barbara. In this era of shuttered radio newsrooms, Walt Dibble was one of the few remaining giants in the business. He will be sorely missed.