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.
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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