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In this week’s issue… CN Tower catches fire – VPR CEO steps down – New NHL team raids NERW-land talent – New urban in Reading – Remembering Kevin Fennessy

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*When there’s a fire burning a quarter-mile up in the sky, the pictures aren’t very dramatic, but the fire early Wednesday morning at CANADA‘s tallest free-standing structure, Toronto’s CN Tower, was still plenty alarming.

You know what this isIt’s still not quite clear what caused one of the cables up to the tower’s antennas to catch fire, but the smoke from the fire tripped an alarm that caused security to cut power to all of the antennas, which are housed inside a fiberglass sheath above the “Skypod” that houses the observation decks, restaurant and the two floors full of transmitters.

Firefighters took elevators up the tower to the top of the Skypod, 1500 feet above Toronto, where they climbed into the sheath to ascend about 100 feet of ladder to the burning cable, where they used carbon dioxide extinguishers to put out the fire.

For a few hours, that took the CN Tower’s FM and TV signals off the air; these days, that accounts for only a small fraction of TV viewership, which is mostly on cable or satellite, and about half of the market’s FM signals, though most of the FMs stayed on the air from auxiliary transmitters at other locations.

The fire was out a little after 7, and regular broadcasting resumed quickly afterward. It’s believed to have been the first fire in the 40-year history of broadcasting from the tower.

Here in NERW-land, we got a tangible reminder this past week that winter is around the corner.

But no snow or ice will keep the 2018 Tower Site Calendar away from you.

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You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

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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: August 22, 2016

*As the Rio Olympics wound down last week, so did the last bits of hope that Ed Ansin’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) and Comcast’s NBC would find a way to get past their differences to keep the Peacock on its eastern MASSACHUSETTS home of 22 years.

whdh-247It’s now all but inevitable that Ansin will lose the NBC affiliation on New Year’s Day, and with that in mind WHDH unveiled a new NBC-free lineup that doubles down on local news to make up for lost network airtime.

Surprisingly, Ansin doesn’t plan to move the CW network from WLVI (Channel 56) over to channel 7; instead, he’ll double-run “Family Feud” at 8 and 8:30, between local newscasts at 7 and 9. WHDH will also add local news from 7-9 AM where “Today” now runs from NBC, as well as simulcasting its 10 PM news on both 7 and 56.

Ansin says WHDH will hire 30 more newspeople to help produce all those extra hours of news, which will now run from 5-10 AM, noon-1 PM, 4-8 PM and 9-11:30 PM on weekdays.

For Bostonians who desperately need news at 8 PM, too, CBS is filling that void – its fall schedule for MyNetwork affiliate WSBK (Channel 38) moves its WBZ-produced primetime newscast from 10 PM to 8 PM, pushing back the “live” MyNet clearance to 9-11 PM.

*We knew John Dennis was leaving WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence)’s morning show after nearly two decades alongside Gerry Callahan, and now we know why. On Thursday, WEEI announced that Dennis’ departure is “on the advice of his doctors.” The station says Dennis will work with station advertisers, act as an ambassador to sponsors and community organizations, and occasionally host WEEI programs.” He’ll be back on the air August 29-30 for the station’s annual Jimmy Fund radio-telethon. Kirk Minihane, who’s been the morning show’s third wheel, becomes the official co-host alongside Callahan.

Five Years Ago: August 20, 2012

*The NEW YORK City radio market is still digesting last Monday’s bombshell news: Clear Channel’s addition of WOR (710) to its five-FM cluster for a price that, we learned on Friday, is $30 million. Clear Channel will take over the talk station’s operations in November, under an LMA if necessary, and while there’s been no formal announcement yet about the station’s future, we can offer some well-educated speculation:

Clear Channel’s primary motive for the purchase was obvious – the larger its Premiere Radio Networks syndication arm becomes, the more vital it is for Clear Channel to own its own talk station to clear Premiere programming in the nation’s biggest market. WOR came with an added incentive in the form of the WOR Radio Network, once a major player in talk radio. The network’s weekday programming is much reduced these days (headlined by Dr. Joy Browne’s advice show), but it retains a cluster of weekend service shows (food, travel, etc.) that will make a lucrative addition to the Premiere lineup.

So what becomes of WOR’s existing programming? We’d be surprised to see Clear Channel replace John R. Gambling’s morning show, part of a family tradition at WOR that dates back to the 1920s; we’d be equally surprised if Clear Channel doesn’t move quickly to shift Premiere’s biggest name, Rush Limbaugh, from Cumulus’ WABC (770) down the dial to WOR.

It’s the rest of the day that gets interesting: will Clear Channel return Premiere’s Glenn Beck to New York in the late-morning slot now occupied by Mike Gallagher? And what about the afternoon slot, where WOR runs former governor David Paterson up against Sean Hannity on WABC. The Hannity show is jointly owned by Cumulus and Premiere, with Clear Channel holding distribution rights in markets where Cumulus doesn’t have stations.

*One of the central PENNSYLVANIA stations being spun off in Cumulus’ merger with Citadel has found a new owner. WCAT (102.3 Carlisle) went into a divestiture trust when the Citadel-Cumulus deal closed, and now it’s going to Harold Swidler for $405.000.

Swidler already owns “Country Legends” WIOO (1000 Carlisle) and an FM translator there, as well as an AM/translator combo in Shippensburg, and his purchase of “Red 102.3” WCAT takes that FM signal full circle: before it became part of Citadel’s Harrisburg-based cluster, 102.3 was WHYL-FM, paired with Swidler’s AM competitor, WHYL (960 Carlisle). Swidler isn’t planning any changes to WCAT’s “New Country and the Legends” format, which nicely complements WIOO’s classic country.

The Potential Broadcasting trust is still trying to find a buyer for the other former Cumulus FM being sold in the Harrisburg market, WTPA (92.1 Palmyra).

Ten Years Ago: August 20, 2007

*The future of commercial classical radio in eastern MASSACHUSETTS was supposed to have been secure after last year’s big shuffle that sent the intellectual property of WCRB (102.5 Waltham) to New Jersey-based Nassau Broadcasting, landing WCRB’s classical format on the former WKLB-FM (99.5 Lowell).Last Thursday, WCRB’s fate took a quick roller-coaster ride in the press and on the message boards, beginning with morning reports that Nassau was thinking of flipping 99.5 from classical to sports, challenging Entercom’s WEEI (850 Boston) with a lineup that would include WEEI’s current morning team of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.

By the end of the day, though, a different picture emerged: instead of competing with Entercom and WEEI, Nassau is joining forces with the bigger broadcaster, selling a half-interest in WCRB to Entercom for $10 million in cash and a deal to put WEEI’s sports programming on 11 Nassau stations on Cape Cod and across northern New England.

Here’s how it plays out: WEEI’s network, which already includes Entercom-owned signals in Worcester (WVEI 1440), Springfield (WVEI-FM 105.5 Easthampton) and Providence (WEEI-FM 103.7 Westerly), will expand to cover most of the rest of the region. As NERW goes to press, we’ve identified some – but not all – of the Nassau signals that will become WEEI relays.

On the Cape, it’s rocker WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) that will go all-sports, tucking in nicely on the dial right next to the wide-coverage WEEI-FM signal on 103.7. (Will “Pixy,” or at least its Opie & Anthony morning show, be reborn on one or both of Nassau’s Cape Cod “Frank” simulcasts, WFQR 93.5/WFRQ 101.1?)

In Portland, MAINE, Nassau will replace ESPN sports with WEEI’s New England sports talk on WLVP (870 Gorham) and WLAM (1470 Lewiston), providing a much stronger challenge to J.J. Jeffrey’s “WJAB” sports trifecta (WJAE 1440/WJJB 900/WJJB-FM 95.5), and raising the strong possibility that the Red Sox will move over to 870/1470 when their contract with WJAB is up.

In Laconia, NEW HAMPSHIRE, the WEEI network will land on WEMJ (1490), replacing a combination of talk and travel information that’s never caught fire in the ratings.

Over in the Connecticut River Valley, along the VERMONT border, the ESPN “Score” simulcast of WTSV (1230 Claremont NH) and WNHV (910 White River Junction VT) will join the WEEI network.

By our math, that still leaves five more WEEI affiliates yet to be named. In their press release announcing the deal, Entercom and Nassau announced the markets in question as being Cape Cod, Portland, Lebanon/Rutland/White River Junction, Concord/Lakes Region and Montpelier/St. Johnsbury. Only the last of those isn’t on the list of stations we’ve seen so far, though it’s not at all out of the question that there might be other stations in those first four markets, too, especially in the Manchester/Concord area, where Nassau has five FMs with a variety of rock, pop and country formats. (2012 update – the Nassau/WEEI deal was never consummated, and it would be four more years before WEEI got its Boston FM presence.)

*There was pretty big news from RHODE ISLAND late last week, too, as former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, newly freed from federal custody, announced his return to the radio airwaves. Cianci had established a successful second career (third, if you count his line of pasta sauce) as a talk host at WPRO (630 Providence) before his incarceration, and so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when the mayor showed up by phone on WPRO Thursday to announce that he’s returning to the Citadel talk station.

Fifteen Years Ago: August 19, 2002

From MASSACHUSETTS comes word that the Red Sox have a new TV deal for next season (if there is a next season, that is), moving their broadcast games from Fox’s WFXT (Channel 25) to the Viacom duopoly of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WSBK (Channel 38). The two stations will carry between 25 and 35 games next season, with Sox-owned NESN increasing its load from this year’s 86 games to between 115 and 125.

The FCC granted the transfer of WLYN (1360 Lynn) from ADD Media to Arthur Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting; Liu is paying $1.78 million for the 700-watt ethnic station.

Just one bit of MAINE news this week: WQEZ (104.7 Kennebunkport) is picking up the syndicated Bob and Sheri morning show, effective next Monday (August 26); PD Ken McGrail checked in to let us know he’ll be sleeping a little later when he moves off the morning shift and into middays.

The big news from CANADA continued to involve Corus’ new “Country 95.3” (CING 95.3 Hamilton ON), which made its sign-on official this morning at 7 with the debut of its first live jocks. Stu Jeffries comes over from sister station Y108 (CJXY 107.9 Burlington) to head up the morning crew, with Toronto radio vet Kenny Caughlin (the last country jock on the old CISS 92.5) holding down afternoons.

Twenty Years Ago: August 21, 1997

Have the mega-groups of the 90s finally run up more debt than they can handle? That’s the big question this week, as two of the biggest broadcast groups in the Northeast look for financial help.
Trading was halted for a brief time yesterday in stock of Boston-based American Radio Systems, after the company announced that it’s hired CS First Boston to explore ways to “maximize shareholder value” — an announcement that’s being read in some circles as a “for sale” sign on the rapidly-growing company…or at the very least, an invitation for a merger. Among the names being mentioned are Jacor, CBS, Chancellor, and Clear Channel. ARS owns large clusters in Boston (where CBS and Chancellor are also group owners), the New Hampshire Seacoast, Hartford (adjacent to Clear Channel territories in Springfield and New Haven), Rochester (where a consent decree with the Justice Department forced it to spin off part of its cluster to Jacor last year), and Buffalo.

Also making the rounds of the rumor mill is word that SFX Broadcasting may be seeking a buyer for its station group, which includes large clusters in Providence, Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, and Albany.

On to the week’s radio news, and this time the big headlines come from MASSACHUSETTS, where country music listeners will have to spin their dials yet again tomorrow afternoon. At noon, Greater Media will swap formats on two of its Boston-market stations. The 96.9 Boston signal that’s now country WKLB-FM will switch to smooth jazz, supposedly under the WSJZ calls, while the 99.5 Lowell signal that’s been smooth jazz WOAZ will become country WKLB-FM. The move will mark the second time in as many years that WKLB-FM has changed frequencies; it was just last year that Greater bought WKLB-FM 105.7 Framingham-Boston from Evergreen to bring an end to the country wars in Boston, merging the WKLB-FM calls and much of the station’s airstaff with what was then WBCS “Country 96.9.” It will also return smooth jazz to the 96.9 frequency, which spent several years in the early 90s as WCDJ, “CD 96.9,” until Emmis sold the station to Greater.
So why make country listeners spin the dial yet again? Greater is hoping the 99.5 signal, which comes from Wood Hill in Andover, will do a better job of reaching core country listeners north of the Hub, while the 96.9 signal will do better with in-office listeners in downtown buildings.

Greater is also looking to consolidate its five Boston stations in one facility. Right now, the studios and sales offices of WMJX (106.7), the studios of WKLB-FM, and the sales offices of WROR-FM (105.7) are in the Salada Tea building on Stuart Street, while the WKLB-FM sales offices and WROR-FM studios are down the street in the Prudential Tower, and the WOAZ and WBOS (92.9) studios and offices are out at 1200 Soldiers Field Road in Brighton. A report in the business pages of today’s Boston Globe says Greater is looking at a new building on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester to house all five stations — right next door to WLVI (Channel 56) and just down the street from the Globe.