In this week’s issue… Is it the end for KQV? – WGHT says farewell – WBAI falls silent – Remembering Kevin Meath
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*We knew this week’s NERW would carry news of the signoff of a small AM station – but until midday Friday, we had no idea our lead would actually be coming from western PENNSYLVANIA or that it would involve a particularly ancient denizen of the senior band.
It’s not that we had any illusions that KQV (1410) in Pittsburgh was especially healthy, as standalone AMs go. Its directional signal struggles to cover even a fraction of the market, and its programming, which mixes expensive hours of all-news radio during the day with talk and classic radio dramas at night, has been all but invisible in the ratings for years now. That didn’t matter as much when the wealthy Richard Scaife was subsidizing the station as part of a media group that also included the Tribune-Review newspaper – but Scaife sold his partial interest in KQV a year before his death in 2014, leaving the station in the hands of the children of longtime GM Robert W. Dickey, Sr., who had himself died in 2011.
In November came news of the death of Dickey’s daughter Cheryl Scott, who’d been KQV’s business manager for decades, leaving her brother Robert W. Dickey, Jr. running the station solo. That appeared to have been the last straw for KQV in its current form. With Scott gone and family members apparently at odds about whether to keep the station going, Dickey, Jr. made the announcement on Friday that KQV will cease operating at midnight on Dec. 31.
The news prompted plenty of nostalgia for KQV’s glory days – under ABC ownership, then under Taft Broadcasting, KQV was a massively influential top-40 station (yes, its DJ lineup briefly included one “Jeff Christie,” who’d go on to much bigger successes under his real name, Rush Limbaugh) – and a realization that those glory days are now more than four decades in the past, too.
Can anything of KQV be saved? The station has reportedly been on the market for several years without much success. For a license as old as KQV is – it can be reliably documented all the way back to 1921, though there’s rather more doubt about the “November 1919” start date it’s long claimed – the 1410 signal didn’t fare well after World War II, locked into its five-tower, 5000-watt North Side directional array as more co-channel signals sprouted around the region. Today, the large plot of land under those towers is itself an obstacle, since it sits in prime development territory and could be worth well into seven figures without a radio station on it. (Could a new owner of the KQV license move the station elsewhere? It would be hard to replicate even the station’s current hampered DA pattern anywhere else at any reasonable cost.)
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*It was rather an odd time to end 53 years of local broadcasting, but it appears NEW JERSEY‘s WGHT (1500 Pompton Lakes) didn’t have much of a choice with its 2 PM signoff on Thursday. After owner John Silliman donated the station’s license and property to the borough of Pompton Lakes, local officials reportedly asked the staff to vacate the premises for an inspection at that hour – and so that’s when Silliman turned it off for the last time.
WGHT’s personalities used the station’s last days to say goodbye to their local audience, though Silliman himself finished his own airshift without saying much about the end of his station.
What now? Local newspaper reports say the borough’s attempt to negotiate a donation of the WGHT license to William Paterson University came to an “abrupt end” on Wednesday (the college already owns WPSC 88.7 in neighboring Wayne, N.J.), and that there are no plans for the borough to operate the station itself.
“If another group comes forward and has some interest in running a radio station, they should put together a presentation and come speak with us. We are not against somebody else running it with us owning it,” said mayor Michael Serra.
Will someone come forward to put the daytimer back on the air? We’ll be watching.
*In NEW YORK, the Mike Francesa era at WFAN (660/101.9) went out with class last week. After a very public penultimate show in front of a live Paley Center audience on Thursday, the station’s most iconic host ended his 30-year run on Friday in the privacy of a closed studio, without cameras or celebrity guests, just five hours of nonstop callers sharing their memories and thanking him for his on-air companionship over the decades.
And if he went a little past his usual 6:30 signoff time with his heartfelt farewell thanks to that audience, who was going to stop him? As for his next destination, Francesa told listeners he wasn’t going to use his last moments on WFAN to promote any other ventures – but we should expect to hear from him again sometime soon.
*What’s going on now at troubled WBAI (99.5)? As we wait for the fallout from Pacifica’s losses in its court battle to avoid paying its overdue rent at the Empire State Building, it didn’t go unnoticed when the 99.5 signal went to dead air and then off the air completely over the weekend. Pacifica initially blamed the problem on the studio-transmitter link it gets from Verizon, but that didn’t explain why its aging transmitter went off the air; a subsequent explanation blamed a blower problem and claimed Pacifica was somehow trying to wrangle a backup transmitter from its sister station WPFW in Washington. (We’d like to see that Acela ride…)
WBAI now says it hopes to be back on the air Tuesday.
*At Cumulus, Ken Johnson has returned to New York to take back the PD reins, such as they are, of “Radio 103.9” (WNBM Bronxville), such as it is. The low-profile R&B station lost APD/evening host Raphael George earlier in December (he went back to Washington) and lost its local afternoon show over the summer in favor of the syndicated D.L. Hughley. Now WNBM has at least regained its founding PD, who’s also Cumulus’ VP of urban formats. Johnson had been operations manager at Cumulus’ WUHT in Birmingham since leaving New York in 2015.
Down the hall at WABC (770), we send our best wishes to Curtis Sliwa, who’s stepping away from his midday and afternoon shifts to undergo surgery for what he describes as “full-blown Crohn’s disease,” which he says stemmed from intestinal injuries he suffered in a 1992 shooting. Sliwa says he hopes to be back in a week, but recovery could take significantly longer.
*On TV, WNET (Channel 13) has added the second “zombie license” that was donated to the public broadcaster as part of the DTV auction and repack. WEBR-CD, which had been on channel 49 before that spectrum was sold, resurfaced late last week on WNET’s 13.4 subchannel from its Empire State Building transmitter, carrying religious programming for now.
*In Kingston, WKNY (1490) is making some big plans for its future under new nonprofit owner Radio Kingston and new manager Jimmy Buff. It recently paid the city $190,000 for a foreclosed building at 693 Broadway, just down the block from its current home at 718 Broadway, with plans to renovate the 150-year-old structure for a 2019 move-in date. And WKNY says it will add a daily two-hour block of Spanish-language programming starting January 22, when Mariel Fiori and Antonio Flores Lobo will begin hosting the “La Voz Radio Show” from 10-noon weekdays.
*Mike Francesa wasn’t the only veteran air talent being honored Friday. A few hours earlier and 150 miles or so upstate, Sam Zurlo was surprised with proclamations from local officials during one of his last morning “Soundoff” shows at WCSS (1490 Amsterdam). When he signs off for good this Friday, Zurlo will be ending a broadcast career that started way back in 1953 in North Carolina. After serving in the Army in Germany, Zurlo arrived in the Mohawk Valley in 1957, writing for the Schenectady Gazette and hosting local talk shows at WENT in Gloversville and then at WCSS. Zurlo’s now 83, and he’s been with WCSS since 1992.
*Up north, translator W290AT (105.9 Plattsburgh) changes hands from Ted Morgan’s Saranac Lake Radio over to Vox, which will make it a simulcast of sports “Zone” WEAV (960 Plattsburgh). The translator had relayed WNBZ-FM (106.3 Saranac), which is going its own way with new Plattsburgh-based ownership; Vox is paying $20,000 to grab it for WEAV. And the Adirondack Daily News reports that Morgan’s former “Radio Park” property in Saranac Lake was pulled off a proposed tax sale because it could end up being used by adjoining North Country Community College, whose sports fields back up to the old WNBZ (1240) studio and transmitter site.
*We remember Kevin Meath, one of the good guys of Rochester radio, who was killed in a car crash on Friday. Meath was born into broadcast royalty, the son of longtime WHEC-TV (Channel 10) morning host Eddie Meath, but he made his own path through the industry over the years as a sales executive for the local Clear Channel cluster and then at WYSL (1040), where he’d just been attending a meeting before the crash. Like his father, Meath was a tireless booster of local charities, heavily involved with the Rochester Press-Radio Club and countless fundraising efforts to benefit children’s causes.
“He was a consummate professional and a dear, sweet man,” said WYSL owner Bob Savage, who’d brought Meath on board five years ago.
Meath was 64.
And Marshall Loeb, who died last Monday at 88, is being remembered for his editorship of “Money” and “Fortune” magazines in the 1980s, but he was also a familiar voice to radio listeners, who heard his financial news segments for years on WCBS (880) and CBS Radio, as well as on WABC-TV (Channel 7).
*When the clock struck 5 on Friday afternoon in MASSACHUSETTS, the deadline hit for bids in the auction of silent WMEX (1510 Boston) – but if you’re hoping to learn who the new owner of that venerable AM facility is, you’ll have to keep waiting. Broker George Kimble, who handled the auction, tells NERW there are still negotiations underway with a potential buyer regarding the lease of the station’s Waltham transmitter site, which has been problematic for several owners of the station in recent years.
*It’s just a formality, since none of the underlying ownership changes, but in CONNECTICUT, WILI (1400 Willimantic) and WILI-FM (98.3 Willimantic) are now officially licensed to Hall Communications itself, rather than the Nutmeg Broadcasting Company, the licensee name that had become a subsidiary of Hall when WILI was sold back in 2005.
*Freeform radio listeners in Portland, MAINE are missing Steve Hirshon, the community activist who held down a Thursday morning slot on WMPG (90.9 Gorham) for more than 30 years. His show, which bore the Yiddish name “Hukkin’ a Chainek” (“making a big noise”), ended in November as he became seriously ill; he died Dec. 1 at 65.
Over at Townsquare’s WPKQ (103.7 Conway, NEW HAMPSHIRE), Annie Snook is now doing mornings solo after the exit of co-host Dave Winsor. He’d been there for two years, moving across town from competitor WTHT.
And up in Bangor, there’s a new set coming to Gray’s CBS affiliate WABI-TV (Channel 5) for the new year. The station tweeted out this farewell photo after doing its last show from the old set on Friday; Gray inherited that old set when it bought WABI from the Hildreth family last year.
*Back in Pennsylvania, Radio One’s making some end-of-the-year changes at WRNB (100.3 Media/Philadelphia). Local afternoon host Lady B is out, with the syndicated D.L. Hughley show replacing her – and in mornings, the station is expected to announce today that the syndicated Russ Parr is replacing the syndicated Tom Joyner.
Randy Savage started 2017 by moving from Florida to Scranton to become operations manager at the Cumulus cluster there – and he’s ending the year with a return to Florida. He’s been named operations manager of Renda’s WEJZ/WGNE in Jacksonville; no replacement has been named yet in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market.
In York, Ron Ruman has retired after 18 years as the play-by-play voice of local high school sports on WOYK (1350). WOYK GM Darrell Henry, who already calls York Revolution baseball on the team-owned station, will take over many of Ruman’s duties there, assisted by Ray Jensen.
And congratulations to Chuck Leavens and his Pittsburgh Public Media team – they’re now on the air with their 101.1 translator in the heart of the market, bringing the jazz programming from WZUM (1550 Braddock) to a much bigger potential audience!
*In keeping with the “end of an era” theme of this week’s column, we close out in CANADA with the retirement of CJAD (800 Montreal)’s Tommy Schnurmacher on Wednesday. His final show was a “martinis and fedoras” party held in the Bell Radio performance space downstairs from the talk studio he’s occupied for 21 years. (OK, most of that was at CJAD’s old space across town, but still.)
CJAD’s website includes video and audio excerpts from the event, which concluded with Schnurmacher’s addition to the CJAD Wall of Fame, which now numbers five legends from the station’s history.
And that’s a wrap on our regular weekly NERW columns for 2017 – when we didn’t miss a single Monday here with you and the latest news from across our industry.
We’ll have our regular Top of the Tower podcast and Tower Site of the Week features later this week – and then our 2017 NERW Year in Review segments will start in this space on Tuesday, Dec. 26, continuing daily for the rest of the week and wrapping up with our Top Ten Stories of 2017 on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. And then it’s right back into the fray, as we return with our weekly NERW columns on Tuesday, Jan. 2, starting our 24th year of service to the broadcasting industry. See you then!
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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: December 19, 2016
In addition to the already-announced “NBC Boston” over-the-air positions on WBTS-LD (Channel 8.1) in Boston and WNEU (Channel 60.2) in New Hampshire, Comcast added a third dial position last week under pressure from local elected officials including U.S. senator Ed Markey – it’s leasing a subchannel from NRJ’s WMFP (Channel 62), which will carry the NBC programming on channel “60.5” to provide additional reach into the South Shore and areas west of Boston that can’t get the low-power WBTS signal.
WMFP has been about as low-profile as it’s possible for a full-power station to be; since losing its Cozi classic TV affiliation back in June (ironically, to WNEU and, soon, WBTS), its main 62.1 channel has been carrying the religious Sonlife TV network.
What’s the long game here? WMFP’s owner, NRJ, had been positioning itself fairly publicly (as much as the rules allow) as a likely seller in the FCC’s UHF spectrum auction. With the auction failing to deliver the returns the FCC had originally expected, the payback to NRJ from selling WMFP’s signal (on RF channel 18 from the FM128 tower in Newton) appears to be falling short of what the company had hoped. And while Comcast says it can’t say anything publicly about station acquisition plans because of the auction’s “silent period,” it looks as though the WMFP license will likely end up in NBC/Comcast’s hands eventually. Whether through purchase or this temporary lease, “NBC Boston” is now claiming the largest over-the-air coverage of any network station in the Boston market – and coverage issues now appear to be off the table as a factor working against the January 1 launch of the new NBC outlet.
Jim Lowe was a multi-faceted talent in a way that doesn’t exist too much anymore: more than just a radio announcer and DJ, he was also a songwriter and a singer, most notably as the performer behind the 1956 hit “The Green Door.” By then, Lowe had moved from his Illinois roots to a spot on the air at WCBS (880); he also worked at WNBC (660) and as a weekend “Monitor” anchor, then for many decades at WNEW (1130) and its successor WQEW (1560). Lowe was 93 and living on Long Island’s East End when he died last Monday, Dec. 12.
On Long Island, standards listeners also tuned in to Gil David at WHLI (1100). From 1987 until 2006, he was a fixture on the airstaff there, most of that time as morning host. David, who’d started his career at Susquehanna Broadcasting in Pennsylvania, was living in North Carolina when he died Dec. 10; he was 85.
*In MAINE, it’s the end of an era for listeners in Calais, Eastport, Machias and surrounding areas (including a big chunk of New Brunswick): as of Friday, Tom McLaughlin has retired as news director/morning man at WQDY (92.7 Calais)/WALZ (95.3 Machias).
“The Firedog” has been an institution there for a remarkable 27 years, following on a career that started in Boston at the old WTBS (88.1, now WMBR) and WBCN (104.1). Weekend announcer Lupe Soto takes on the big task of replacing McLaughlin in a community that’s come to depend on his solid news reporting every day.
Five Years Ago: December 21, 2012
*If any broadcaster has perfected the art of nuclear-level security surrounding a format flip, it’s Clear Channel in eastern MASSACHUSETTS. For several months after announcing its purchase of the former WFNX (101.7 Lynn) earlier this year, Clear somehow managed to keep almost everyone from sniffing out its plans to install an automated adult hits format on what became “101.7 the Harbor,” WHBA.
And after just five months with that format, Clear Channel pulled out an even bigger surprise on Thursday night at 6, when it abruptly drained “The Harbor” and flipped WHBA to electronic dance music (EDM), essentially using the signal as a terrestrial simulcast of “Evolution,” the company’s online dance station that’s been running for the last few months on the iHeartRadio platform.
*Meanwhile in NEW YORK, the week before Christmas brought a less pleasant surprise for many staffers at WOR (710). On Wednesday, Clear Channel closed on its $30 million purchase of the talker from Buckley, and as is typical in such deals, that meant the end of employment for Buckley’s staff, with only some of them being offered jobs with the new ownership. WOR morning man John Gambling survived, as did veteran midday host Joan Hamburg, but several other prominent talk hosts are out: Dr. Joy Browne, who was heard both locally on WOR and in syndication, is gone, as is former New York governor David Paterson, who’d been doing afternoons. WOR’s news staff is gone, replaced by Clear Channel’s Total Traffic service. Behind the scenes, we’re hearing at least one engineer and many of the station’s board operators weren’t picked up by Clear Channel, leading to some chaos as WOR’s remaining operations staff tried to figure out how to keep things running in the short term.
*Family Radio has been gone from eastern PENNSYLVANIA since April 16, when its sale of WKDN-FM (106.9 Camden NJ) to Merlin Media closed. But the California-based religious network known for founder Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction is now back in the Philadelphia market. Family sold 106.9 (now talker WWIQ) for $22.5 million, and it’s now paid $8.5 million to acquire WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media. As of 6 PM on Friday, WPEN’s sports format is gone from 950, living on via WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ), and the AM signal becomes WKDN with Family Radio. (And no, it’s escaped nobody’s irony detectors that the flip takes place on December 21, another date that will go down in history for another “end of the world” that appears not to be happening.)
Ten Years Ago: December 17, 2007
*The weekend’s icy, windy storm in northeast PENNSYLVANIA destroyed one Scranton/Wilkes-Barre TV tower early Sunday morning and caused serious damage to several others.
Just before 7:00 Sunday morning, the 823-foot tower of ABC affiliate WNEP-TV (Channel 16) atop Penobscot Mountain, east of Wilkes-Barre, collapsed under the weight of ice that had formed there overnight.
As it fell, the tower’s guy wires apparently hit the next tower over on the mountain, belonging to public broadcasters WVIA-TV (Channel 44), WVIA-DT (Channel 41) and WVIA-FM (89.9), toppling the upper portion of that tower and taking those TV/DT signals off the air.
The WNEP tower fell on the station’s transmitter building, damaging most of the equipment inside, including the station’s two analog transmitters. (WNEP-DT is at a different tower location on Penobscot, and it was on the air through much of the storm, albeit at reduced power.)
Within a few hours after the collapse, engineers for WNEP and WVIA were making their way through the wreckage and the debris to figure out what could be salvaged and what was beyond hope.
*A veteran CONNECTICUT morning man lost his job last week. John LaBarca came to WICC (600 Bridgeport) from WMMM (1260 Westport) in 1989, and had been hosting the station’s morning show and its Sunday “Italian House Party” ever since. He tells the Connecticut Post that he was on vacation when station management came to his house on Thursday to inform him that he wouldn’t be returning. LaBarca admitted to the Post that there had been personality conflicts with WICC GM Ann McManus, and operations manager Curt Hansen told the paper that there had been long-running “personnel issues” with LaBarca. Replacing LaBarca in mornings is Tony Reno.
*Yet another AM station in CANADA has made the move to FM.
CKEC (1320 New Glasgow NS) flipped the switch on the new CKEC-FM (94.1) at 9:41 AM last Tuesday (Dec. 11). The new “East Coast 94.1” is playing hot AC, and the AM signal will go silent in three months, leaving nine AM stations in the province – and five of those are planning FM moves as well.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 16, 2002
The big story this week comes from the snowy northern reaches of NEW HAMPSHIRE — but it’s a precedent that broadcasters all over the country could soon be studying as they fight local zoning boards standing in the way of broadcast tower construction.
Longtime NERW readers are already familiar with Bob Vinikoor’s struggles to build WQTH (720 Hanover), the construction permit he was granted five years ago for a 50,000 watt daytime, 500 watt nighttime signal that would be a counterpart to his existing WNTK (1020 Newport), WNTK-FM (99.7 New London) and WNBX (1480 Springfield VT). The station would use four 266-foot towers on Etna Road in Lebanon, in an area zoned for industrial use. But Vinikoor ran up against a Lebanon ordinance that prohibits any broadcast tower higher than 42 feet — and a city government that was unwilling to accept the laws of physics (and FCC minimum efficiency requirements) that dictate that no station operating on 720 can possibly use a tower that short.
Several years of court battles ensued, including a setback last year when a state trial court found in favor of the city and refused to grant summary judgment in Vinikoor’s favor. The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted his appeal, though, and on September 11 Vinikoor and attorney Fred Hopengarten of Lincoln, Mass. appeared before the court for oral arguments, with Chris Imlay, lawyer for the Society of Broadcast Engineers, submitting a friend of the court brief in support of Vinikoor.
The court issued its ruling on Thursday, and it’s a pretty clear victory for Vinikoor and for the radio industry in general. In particular, the court agreed with Vinikoor that the city’s laws prohibiting a 266-foot tower are in conflict with the federal regulations that require a tower of that height for a station on 720 — and that simply arguing that Vinikoor is “not required by federal law” to build the station doesn’t give the city’s regulations precedence. Vinikoor’s next step: returning to the trial court for an actual court order, after which he’ll be free to apply for a building permit and build the most powerful AM signal (at least during daylight hours) in northern New England.
Jukebox Radio is off the air in northern NEW JERSEY and Rockland County, NEW YORK, but NERW’s ears down that way report that the oldies/infomercials format continues for now on primary WJUX (99.7 Monticello).
Why was the plug pulled on the WJUX feed to translators W232AL (94.3 Pomona NY) and W276AQ (103.1 Fort Lee NJ)? The Bergen Record reports that Jukebox owner Gerry Turro received a letter from the FCC in mid-November raising questions about a loan Turro made to the former business partner who purchased the WJUX studios from him. The FCC says the loan creates an impermissible business relationship between the primary station and the two translators, which operate outside WJUX’s primary contour. While Turro has won previous fights to keep the unusual translator network (fed from studios in Dumont, N.J., near the Fort Lee transmitter) intact, he tells the Record, “I’m sorry, I no longer feel like fighting.” Turro and Wesley Weis, who owns WJUX, are reportedly trying to sell the three transmitters to a noncommercial operator, which would be able to legally operate the translators and the primary together.
Twenty Years Ago: December 18, 1997
After six years of morning drive talk radio in Boston, Marjorie Clapprood is leaving the airwaves. Clapprood’s contract with WRKO (680) is up at the end of December, and is not being renewed. Her last show was this morning. Clapprood started out on WHDH (850), co-hosting with Pat Whitley. Their show moved to WRKO in 1992 when the stations came under common ownership (ARS, soon to be CBS), and with Whitley’s departure this past spring, the show was re-named “Clapprood and Company.” Current co-host “Tai” will stay with WRKO, possibly filling the 10 PM to 1 AM slot now held by Jeff Katz, who moves to mornings to replace Clapprood. As for Clapprood’s future, she tells the Boston Globe she’ll work on a book while considering returning to law school or to television.
Plenty of news this week from NEW HAMPSHIRE, starting with the “other shoe dropping” in the ARS-Capstar deal on the Seacoast. Earlier this fall, Capstar picked up oldies WQSO (96.7 Rochester) and CHR WERZ (107.1 Exeter); now AM sister stations WZNN (930, CP 1700 Rochester) and WMYF (1540 Exeter) are being added to the deal, for a price reported at between $3 and 6 million.
An upstate NEW YORK daytimer is trying again to find a new frequency. WSIV (1540 East Syracuse) has withdrawn its application for 1500 watt daytime-only operation on 670 kHz. It’s apparently part of a deal with Binghamton’s WINR (680), which now gets the go-ahead to raise its daytime power from 1 to 5 kilowatts. WSIV has applied for 1500 watts, daytime-only, on 720 kHz instead.
WYSL (1040) in Avon has finally turned on its night power, several months after moving to the “24-hour” 1040 frequency from its old daytime-only spot on 1030. WYSL is staying on until 6:30 pm nightly with a simulcast of WOKR (Channel 13)’s newscasts.