In this week’s issue… iHeart cuts WBZ veteran PD – Channel share “saves” VT TV license – Elmira FM swap cleared – Veteran CJAD talker to retire
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*If you believe the iHeart managers who told staffers at WBZ (1030 Boston) that they understood they’re buying a Ferrari instead of the Toyotas they’re used to driving, the news from MASSACHUSETTS just before Thanksgiving seems to indicate that iHeart is planning to take its flashy new wheels to Toyota mechanics instead of an expert pit crew.
WBZ staffers gathered in the newsroom around 9:30 Wednesday morning for what we’re told was an emotional announcement by longtime PD Peter Casey, telling them it was his last day after 27 years with the station. Casey came to WBZ as assistant PD, one of several staffers who brought the DNA of the legendary full-service WHDH (850) over to WBZ as Group W was preparing to segue the station from a news/talk/AC hybrid to all-news by day and talk at night.
After first taking over the PD role and then adding news director duties in the mid-90s, Casey (shown at right at WBZ’s 90th anniversary party) kept WBZ stable and successful through challenges that included the lengthy illness and eventual death of evening talk legend David Brudnoy, the retirements of veteran anchors Gary LaPierre, Anthony Silva and Diane Stern and the ouster and listener-driven reinstatement of overnight talker Steve LeVeille.
That same listener pressure forced iHeart to reverse its initial plan to cut WBZ’s unionized newsroom staff loose, but iHeart being iHeart, something still had to give – and it appears that was at the management level. For now, assistant PD Bill Flaherty has interim oversight of programming and news (which is good news, since Flaherty, too, has roots at WBZ that go back even before its all-news era). Will iHeart bring in one of its own people to oversee WBZ’s transition to whatever it’s becoming under its new owners? We’d bet on it – though we wonder whether a permanent PD won’t be named until the rest of the ownership shuffle that takes WRKO (680) out of Entercom’s trust is complete, likely in early 2018.
(Usual disclaimer applies: Peter Casey was your editor’s boss at WBZ back in the mid-90s, and a damn good one, too. We’re hoping he finds his next success story soon.)
*Over at another of its new Boston acquisitions, classic rock WZLX (100.7), iHeart was quicker to name a new programmer. Chris Tyler moves back to New England from Cleveland, where he was PD at iHeart rockers WMMS (100.7) and “99X” W256BT (99.1), as well as top-40 WAKS (96.5). At WZLX, Tyler replaces Mike Thomas, who followed “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5) over to Beasley. Tyler’s New England roots run deep – he’s worked for Clear Channel/iHeart as senior VP of programming in Providence, and he programmed WJMN and WXKS-FM in Boston, as well as working on-air there.
Meanwhile at Beasley, Sunday brought the first conflict between the Patriots and Bruins since Sports Hub went to its new owners, sending the Bruins to a new overflow home on WBOS (ALT 92.9) while the Pats took precedence on 98.5. (Those games had largely gone to WZLX back in the CBS Radio days.)
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*More Radio People on the Move: Francesca Presti has exited the morning show at now-Entercom-owned WBMX (104.1 Boston); she’s giving up her role as assistant producer and traffic reporter to join the morning show at iHeart country station WPOC (93.1) in Baltimore. And veteran WBZ engineer Dave Goldstein is moving down Market Street to take an engineering position over at WGBH.
*When WNTN (1550 Cambridge) celebrates its 50th birthday next April, you’ll see its old studio/tower site on Rumford Avenue in Newton featured in the new Tower Site Calendar (available now with a special Cyber Week discount!). But you won’t be able to pay your respects in person – we’re hearing that the little building next to the city dump has now been demolished following WNTN’s move last year to a transmitter diplex with WJIB (740) in Cambridge and a new studio in the N-Squared business district in Needham.
*Over-the-air TV viewers along the Connecticut River in NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT will soon lose two of their strongest signals, as both WNNE (Channel 31/RF 25) in Hartford, Vermont and WVTA (Channel 41/RF 24) in Windsor, Vermont have sold off their spectrum at auction, meaning their towers atop Mount Ascutney will go dark in the next few weeks.
Both licenses, however, will survive as channel shares with co-owned stations: within the last few days, Hearst has filed to make WNNE a “sharee” on sister NBC affiliate WPTZ (Channel 5)’s RF 14 signal atop Mount Mansfield, while Vermont PBS will make WVTA a “sharee” on WVER (Channel 28/RF 9) from Grandpa’s Knob near Rutland.
On paper, Hearst says WNNE will continue to put a “noise-limited” signal over Hartford and the Upper Valley, while the WVER signal from Grandpa’s Knob will also reach eastward to at least part of the Upper Valley. In practice, the region’s hilly terrain means the population centers down in the valley probably won’t see those signals very well – which means viewers there will likely continue depending on satellite and cable to see a full network lineup, much as they’ve had to do for years for CBS and ABC from Burlington or Manchester. (As for PBS, at least some valley viewers can see New Hampshire-based WLED from Littleton, which will stay on the air after the repack.)
*In RHODE ISLAND, Radio Sharon Foundation is applying for a license to cover for its move of translator W300AO (107.9 Chatsworth NJ) to 94.9 in Providence. The relocated translator is supposed to be relaying WSTL (1220 Providence), which is itself silent, so we’re curious as to what’s actually on the air there, if anything.
*In NEW YORK‘s southern tier, Sound Communications and the Fitzgerald and Hawras Partnership are completing their unusual Elmira-market signal swap. How unusual? Here’s how things play out: at least on paper, Sound and Fitzgerald/Hawras have traded the licenses of Sound’s WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira) and Fitzgerald/Hawras’ WPHD (96.1 South Waverly PA) – but they’ve also swapped technical facilities between the two stations, putting the WPHD South Waverly license on Sound’s 92.7 Elmira transmitter and the WENY-FM Elmira license on Fitzgerald/Hawras’ 96.1 South Waverly transmitter. (They’re both class A signals from the same tower site just south of Elmira with nearly identical coverage.)
All of which means that with the completion of a call swap, Fitzgerald/Hawras’ “Cool 96” oldies and Sound’s “Magic 92.7/97.7” stay right where they’ve always been for Elmira-market listeners, with the only change being in legal IDs: 92.7 will now identify as South Waverly and 96.1 as Elmira. For Sound, the “move” of 92.7 across the state line takes it out of the Corning-Elmira radio market, which in theory opens up room under the ownership cap for one more FM for the group – which appears to have been the whole point of this interesting exercise in regulatory paperwork, as best we can tell.
Up north, the long-silent WNBZ (1240 Saranac Lake) is being sold to its competition. Jonathan Becker’s North Country Radio, which owns WSLP (93.3 Saranac Lake), is paying just $6,000 for the license, which comes without a tower site (it’s headed to a tax auction this week) or even its heritage callsign. The deal with Ted Morgan’s Saranac Lake Radio also includes the right of first refusal to purchase another of his silent licenses, WLPW (105.5 Lake Placid), for $25,000.
*Thomas Mollen was the “M” in Binghamton’s GM Broadcasting, where Mollen was co-owner of WLTB (101.7 Johnson City) before selling his half of the company to partner Steve Gilinsky a year ago. Mollen, who’d had a long career at the helm of Mollen Transfer and Storage Co. before going into radio, died Friday (Nov. 24) at 83.
*In NEW JERSEY, Press Communications has lost another appeal in federal court over its plan to swap frequencies in the Atlantic City market. Back in 2010, Press applied to move WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton) to 99.3, forcing Equity’s WZBZ (99.3 Pleasantville, shown at left) up the dial to 99.7. The move would have allowed WBHX to improve its signal considerably – but it also would have created an impermissible IF short-spacing between WZBZ on 99.7 and the local high school station, WAJM (88.9 Atlantic City), 10.8 MHz down the dial.
Press initially tried to get the FCC to pull WAJM off the air, noting that it hadn’t filed a renewal application and had other technical violations. The school district eventually reached a consent decree with the FCC over the late renewal, returning WAJM to licensed status. That meant the proposed WZBZ move would still have been short-spaced to WAJM, as well as to WJBR (99.5) over in Wilmington, Delaware, a situation that was grandfathered with WZBZ on 99.3 but which wouldn’t have stayed grandfathered on 99.7.
And that, in turn, created enough justification for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to find against Press last Tuesday, with Judge Cornelia Pillard writing:
We uphold the FCC’s Order as valid based on the failure of Press’s proposed channel swap with Equity to comply with the applicable short spacing bar or establish its entitlement to a waiver of that bar. Because that defect suffices to support the Order, we do not reach Press’s challenge to the FCC’s license-renewal practices, which have in any event been superseded by the new policy.
(More over at RadioInsight…)
*Beasley has hired a new afternoon jock at WMGQ (98.3 New Brunswick), where Mike McGinn takes over the shift. McGinn had been a weekender on WBMP (92.3 AMP) up the Turnpike in New York, until Entercom pulled the plug there.
*We can tell you a little more about the newest signal in northwest PENNSYLVANIA: as we traveled for the holiday, we heard (and saw) Connoisseur’s new WJRK (95.9 Mina NY) on the air from the old WRKT (100.9 North East) tower just a few dozen yards from the state line. It’s playing Christmas tunes (in what appeared to be alphabetical order by artist!) as “Erie’s new 95-9,” but its 820-watt signal wasn’t making it all the way to Erie, hampered in part by WXNM-LP (95.9) right in Erie and even more so by the booming CFPL-FM signal slamming across Lake Erie from London, Ontario.
A few follow-up notes from Entercom’s takeover of CBS Radio in Philadelphia: it was no surprise when WIP (94.1) announced a renewed deal with the Eagles, with CEO David Field appearing on the air to celebrate. Merrill Reese will stay behind the mike for the broadcasts throughout the seven-year deal, which takes the WIP partnership into the 2024 season. And an update on last week’s note about KYW (1060) running some CBS Radio News hourly newscasts: we’re told that was an overnight-only experiment that actually started a few months ago when the station was still under CBS Radio ownership.
*One of CANADA‘s most prominent talkers is stepping down in a few weeks. Tommy Schnurmacher told CJAD (800 Montreal) listeners last week that December 13 will be his last noontime “Gang of Four” show, a special event before a live audience. Schnurmacher left his 20-year midmorning gig a year ago, cutting back to just the noon hour, but at the time he told Steve Faguy that he had no intention of retiring. Nor, Faguy reports, is his departure now any indication that he’s part of Bell’s overall job cuts across Canadian radio; instead, Faguy reports, Schnurmacher found that he likes traveling even more than he expected when he cut back on his on-air hours, and now he’d like to have more time to wander the world.
Once Schnurmacher leaves, Faguy reports, Natasha Hall will start her show at noon and run until 2 PM, with the syndicated Evan Solomon running from 2-4 PM.
*In Nova Scotia, they’re mourning Carlton Munroe, who started his broadcasting career at Dalhousie University and then at CKEC in New Glasgow before turning to music promotion. Munroe was an early booster of the Tragically Hip, and his colleagues and friend turned out in droves to support him when he was diagnosed with the same form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, that recently took the life of the Hip’s Gord Downie. Munroe was just 48 when he died Wednesday.
*And while we realize that NERW likely has no readers within 200 km of Ear Falls, Ontario, we are (and have long been) committed to bringing you every update we possibly can about Ear Falls radio – so we’re excited to report that the CBC is applying to move from AM to FM in that far western Ontario community of just over 1,000 souls.
Radio One outlet CBOI (690) would leave its AM facility behind and switch to FM, with 50 watts/15 m on 95.5, if the CRTC grants its application.
It’s part of the overall conversion of small CBC AM repeaters to FM, which also includes the flip of a bigger AM signal at the northern tip of Newfoundland: CBNA (600 St. Anthony) wants to drop its 10 kW AM signal in favor of 4.5 kW/173 m on 100.3.
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