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

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*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.

WMID/WZBZ/WTTH*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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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: November 28, 2016

*When Wally Brine came to suburban Boston’s WVBF (105.7 Framingham) in 1981 and moved to mornings a year later, the wakeup airwaves in Boston belonged to names such as Jess Cain, Dave Maynard and Charles Laquidara.

wror-brinePartnered with Loren Owens, Brine outlasted all of them and many others, not to mention surviving through multiple incarnations of the 105.7 frequency itself, from “Electronic Mama” to “F105” to country WCLB/WKLB to today’s classic hits WROR. But after the Dec. 16 edition of the “Loren and Wally Show,” Brine will retire from the now-Beasley-owned station, ending a broadcast career that stretches back nearly 50 years.

Wally Brine is, of course, the son of legendary WPRO morning man Salty Brine; he even grew up for his first few years in the apartment the Brines shared at the WPRO transmitter site in East Providence. (That’s now part of the facility dubbed the “Salty Brine Building.”) Wally Brine started in radio in 1968 at WPRO-FM (“I knew somebody,” he joked in his official bio), then continued at WGAN, WLOB and WJBQ-FM in Portland, MAINE before he came to WVBF in 1981. Once he and Owens joined forces, they became one of the Boston market’s most enduring morning teams. Among other honors, they were inducted into the MASSACHUSETTS Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2013.

Making the announcement just before Thanksgiving, Brine portrayed the decision to retire as being entirely his own, and the new Beasley management at WROR is honoring him with several weeks of on- and off-air celebrations.

*The long, sad story of Aboriginal Voices Radio in CANADA appears to have finally come to an end. More than a year after the CRTC pulled AVR’s remaining licenses back in June 2015 for repeated non-compliance with its rules, a federal court upheld the CRTC’s decision earlier this month, and now the remaining AVR signals in Vancouver and in Toronto (CKAV 106.5) have been silenced.

The last straw appears to have been AVR’s request to the court for a delay in the case while the group tried to raise funds to replace a lawyer who’d resigned after AVR was unable to pay. “This is of particular concern in circumstances when the Commission in the decision under review noted that Aboriginal Voices’ financial viability had been of recurring concern to the Commission,” the court wrote.

The CRTC now has an application process pending for new licensees seeking the former AVR frequencies, which also include 95.7 in Ottawa. The nationwide APTN aboriginal network is among the parties reportedly interested in starting a new service on those FM channels.

Five Years Ago: November 30, 2012

*After 30 years on the air serving Martha’s Vineyard, WMVY (92.7 Tisbury) will soon go web-only. Owner Aritaur Communications is selling the 92.7 facility to Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9), which will use the signal to relay its NPR news and talk programming to more of the Cape, Islands and South Coast than can presently hear WBUR via its West Yarmouth AM signal, WBUR (1240), and its part-time relay on several smaller Cape signals.

Aritaur has been transitioning WMVY to nonprofit streaming operation for several years now, and the company says it’s hoping to find a noncommercial spot on the dial to keep the AAA format going as a listener-supported station.

*The last stations remaining in Nassau Broadcasting’s hands after the company’s bankruptcy are going to Connoisseur Media, giving Jeff Warshaw’s fast-growing company its first foothold in NEW JERSEY and eastern PENNSYLVANIA.

Nassau’s debtors, led by Goldman Sachs, had used a credit bid of just over $40 million earlier this year to secure the right to buy the ten Nassau stations in the region, but the expectation all along was that the bankers would quickly find a broadcast buyer for the stations, which include New Jersey’s top-40 WPST (94.5 Trenton), religious sister WCHR (920 Trenton) and ESPN Deportes outlet WNJE (1040 Flemington). In Pennsylvania markets, Nassau’s holdings include talker WVPO (840 East Stroudsburg), hot AC WSBG (93.5 East Stroudsburg) and active rock “Bone” WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ) in the Poconos, ESPN simulcast WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown) and classic hits WODE (99.9 Easton) in the Lehigh Valley, and religious WBYN (1160 Lehighton) somewhere in between. (What’s become of WVPO’s former simulcast, WPLY 960 Mount Pocono? It applied for silent STA status in February, was granted permission to stay off the air for six months, and did not apply for an extension in August, so it may be gone for good.)

Assuming a bankruptcy judge approves the Nassau debtors’ plan to assign their rights to acquire the stations, Connoisseur will begin operating the clusters immediately under an LMA. And what happens then? For Connoisseur, the Nassau FM signals fit its business model perfectly – they’re in small-to-medium markets with fairly dominant format positions and (for the most part) decent signals, and it would be surprising to see much change at all at WPST or WODE, especially.

Ten Years Ago: November 26, 2007

*Entercom won’t have to wait until Christmas to open the present that arrived in its mailbox on Black Friday: after more than a year of waiting, the company finally has FCC permission to add to its upstate NEW YORK holdings by purchasing CBS Radio’s Rochester cluster, a deal that’s part of a $220 million package that also includes CBS stations in Memphis, Cincinnati and Austin.As expected, the approval comes with some conditions: because Entercom already owns three FM stations (WBEE-FM 92.5 Rochester, WFKL 93.3 Fairport, WBZA 98.9 Rochester) and one AM (WROC 950 Rochester) in the market, it can’t absorb CBS Radio’s four FMs (WZNE 94.1 Brighton, WCMF 96.5 Rochester, WPXY 97.9 Rochester, WRMM-FM 101.3 Rochester) without going over the ownership caps that would limit the company to no more than five FMs.

What held up the approval for so long? (The initial transfer application was filed back in August 2006.) There were a few factors: perennial Entercom opponent Royce International, which has been trying for years to undo a deal it made to sell a Sacramento FM station to the company, threw every objection in the book against the deal, including the infamous “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest that led to the death of a contestant at a different Entercom-owned Sacramento station. The FCC tossed out Royce’s complaints, referring the company to civil court to settle its long-running dispute with Entercom.

In the end, the big delay was the Rochester ownership-cap question. It’s worth noting that the CBS cluster in Rochester has its roots in a much earlier ownership-cap dispute, when the Justice Department first weighed in on the matter back in the mid-nineties as the old “one to a market” rules were falling by the wayside.

So it’s safe to say that this transaction has been on the DoJ’s radar screen since the beginning, and indeed it was just over a year ago – at the end of October 2006 – that Entercom, CBS and the feds agreed on a plan under which Entercom would “pursue” divestiture of three of the seven FMs, with the stations to be placed in trust if no spinoff deal was consummated within 60 days of FCC approval.

The FCC isn’t fond of issuing waivers these days, much preferring that stations go right into a trust if they’d exceed ownership limits. This time, though, with the enforcement power of the Justice Department at its back, the Commission agreed to a six-month waiver of the ownership limits, on the condition that Entercom continue to operate at least two of the stations under separate management from the rest of the cluster, and under the condition that Entercom file the application to put the stations into a trust right away, to be executed if they’re still not sold six months from now.

So how will this all play out in the real world? Even before the FCC granted approval of the deal, work was already well underway on expansion of Entercom’s High Falls studios, adding sales office space on the third floor and studio space for two more FMs on the first floor. For now, it appears that those two FMs will be classic rocker WCMF and top 40 WPXY, with the spinoff sales effort focused on AC WRMM and modern rock WZNE from the CBS cluster, as well as adult hits WFKL from the existing Entercom cluster.

Fifteen Years Ago: November 27, 2002

Perhaps it seemed like a strange, post 9/11 aberration around this time last year, when dozens of stations (mostly AC and oldies) around the country ditched their usual playlists for an entire month to play nothing but Christmas music. Well…not so. In your editor’s other life as Webmaster of the 100000watts.com radio directory site, the flips have been coming fast and furious this year as well. In NERW-land, they start in PENNSYLVANIA, where Entercom’s 80s “Buzz” (WBZJ 102.3 Pittston/WBZH 103.1 Freeland) in the Scranton market, Clear Channel’s oldies WWSW (94.5) in Pittsburgh and Clear Channel’s AC “Sunny” (WSNI 104.5) in Philadelphia are all ho-ho-ho’ing already…. and now there’s word that WSHH (99.7 Pittsburgh) is also joining the party.

Speaking of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the changes keep on coming at the Citadel cluster there: the hot talk that had been on WEOZ (95.7 Olyphant) went away last week, as “Z-Talk” gave way to a simulcast of the top 40 from WBHT (97.1 Mountain Top). The only remnant of the “Z-Talk” format is Bob & Tom, who land in mornings on WARM (590).

MASSACHUSETTS is in the holiday mood, too; out on Cape Cod, WTWV (101.1 Mashpee) and WDVT (93.5 Harwich) have already made the flip to Christmas tunes, as has WSNE-FM (93.3 Taunton), which of course really serves Providence, RHODE ISLAND. Joining them after Thanksgiving will be WXKS (1430 Everett) in the Boston market, with more no doubt on the way.

Twenty Years Ago: November 28, 1997

Radio Disney is finally on the air in MASSACHUSETTS. Boston’s WPZE (1260) changed hands last Friday afternoon, with new owner Hibernia unceremoniously ending the simulcast with Salem’s religious WEZE (590) and throwing the Mouse on air shortly after 4:30.

Over at CBS/Boston, veteran WBZ-TV (Channel 4) anchor Jack Williams did a turn on the radio side, filling in for WBZ (1030) talk host David Brudnoy Tuesday night in what some observers see as a test run for an expanded role for Williams at BZ radio. Down the hall at WODS (103.3), John Potter has joined the oldies station as the replacement for “Austin of Boston” in morning drive. Potter comes from a stint in Salt Lake City, with stand-up experience before that in Las Vegas.

Up in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Capstar continues to expand its portfolio. Nashua’s WHOB (106.3) is about to become Capstar’s latest Granite State outlet, starting with an LMA with owner Mario DiCarlo, and ending with what NERW hears will be a $4 million sale. Capstar owns WGIR AM-FM (610/101.1) in Manchester and WXHT (95.3 York Center), WHEB (100.3), and WTMN (1380) in the Portsmouth market, with the purchase of two more FMs from ARS/CBS pending. No word on potential changes to WHOB’s modern-CHR format.

And just in time for the holidays, the FCC had a nice little present for Bob Vinikoor of WNTK AM-FM (1020 Newport/99.7 New London), granting his application for 50 kilowatts day, 500 watts night on 720 kHz. Expect construction to start in a few months on this one. (2012 update: after another decade of effort, the 720 signal never did make it to air.)

Some new calls in RHODE ISLAND: Providence’s 790, ex-WLKW, WWAZ, and WEAN, is now WSKO, “the Score.” And 99.7 in Wakefield-Peace Dale, most recently WDGE, is now WXEX, matching its “99-7X” identity. We’re still waiting for the third part of this transaction, in which the WLKW calls officially go to WPNW (550 Pawtucket), which has been using them anyway for several weeks.