MONDAY UPDATE: That “major” station sale in Connecticut? Even bigger than we’d anticipated – John Fuller’s Full Power Radio is buying most of Connoisseur’s signals in the state, including “Whale” WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), “Talk of Connecticut” WDRC (1360 Hartford) and two of its three simulcasts, WMMW (1470 Meriden) and WSNG (610 Torrington), and translator W272DO (102.3 New Haven), which flipped this morning from “Mod 102.3” to a simulcast of Fuller’s “Bomba” network. Terms of the deal haven’t yet been announced, but an LMA began immediately. More to follow!
In this week’s issue… NJ college station to fall silent? – Oldies axed in Boston – “Major” station sale in CT – NY Franken-FM sold
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Two quick programming notes: our content partner, RadioInsight, is making this week’s national FCC report available as a free preview. If you enjoy Lance’s work, you might consider signing up for his weekly updates, which also include his unique Domain Insight columns.
And as we approach the January 25 opening of the final window for AM stations to apply for new FM translators, we have the first reports this week of construction permit grants from the July-August 2017 window – and an important reminder that we’re still helping AM stations with their translator needs via Fybush Media. Can we help make sure your AM signal doesn’t miss out on a translator opportunity? Time is running out…
*It was pretty much a given, things being as they are, that at some point before long in 2018, we’d once again find ourselves writing about a college leaving the FM dial. We didn’t necessarily expect, though, that it would happen as soon as our second issue of January – nor at a fairly sizable signal in NEW JERSEY.
And yet, on Thursday night at 9, WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) will turn off its FM signal and its translator near Philadelphia, W236AF (95.1 Burlington), ending a broadcast history that started in 1995 when then-Burlington County Community College found an available hole on the FM dial and filled it. (The hole opened up when Philadelphia’s WXPN moved from 88.9 to 88.5 and also creating openings for new signals from several other area colleges, including Villanova and Cabrini.)
The school is now known as Rowan College at Burlington County, or RCBC, which explains why “RCBC Radio” is the name it will use when the former “Z88.9” relaunches as a streaming-only operation next Monday. To hear RCBC tell it, the move away from FM is all about “modernizing” the experience for its broadcasting students.
“As a growing number of people are listening to radio through online streams, RCBC Radio will provide a modernized experience for both communications students and our listening audience,” said RCBC Acting President Michael Cioce in a statement. “The new RCBC Radio will preserve the programming that makes Z88.9 special while using current technology.”
Is it really all about giving students the latest technology, though? WBZC sold one of its two translators, W264BH in Mount Holly, for $125,000 last July. Might that deal have awakened college administrators to the value of WBZC’s class B1 signal, as well as the translator that sits atop the Burlington-Bristol Bridge over the Delaware River? We wouldn’t be at all surprised if the “Festival of Music on Your Radio” that’s scheduled to run from 8 AM to 9 PM on Thursday for Z88.9’s last day is followed fairly quickly by news that the licenses are being sold.
We now have the 2019 Tower Site Calendar back in stock — 10 of them, anyway.
Now is the time to order your calendar if you don’t have one yet. This is the last printing for the year.
We also have 10 copies of The Radio Historian’s 2019 Calendar available, which are now 20% off.
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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 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: January 16, 2017
*How will progressive talk go out in upstate NEW YORK? Not with a bang, but with a whimper as Saga pulls the plug on the format at WNYY (1470 Ithaca) on February 1, replacing the talk with oldies.
As general manager Chet Osadchey explained to the Ithaca Times, it’s not so much that WNYY is leaving the format, but rather that the format left WNYY – of the syndicated hosts who were doing weekday shows for terrestrial radio, only Alan Colmes, Stephanie Miller and Thom Hartmann remain available, leaving too many schedule holes for the station to try to keep plugging.
For a format that was once represented in NERW-land markets as big as New York, Boston and Buffalo, what’s left of progressive talk can be counted on one hand. There’s still Saga’s WHMP network in western Massachusetts (though it, too, is on life support in Springfield, where it appears the addition of an FM translator to WHNP 1600 will bring a flip to a music format) and Saga’s WKVT (1490) in Brattleboro, Vermont.
*Formats on the move in VERMONT and vicinity: the oldies that had been on WCAT (1390 Burlington) and its translator at 98.3 are migrating across the lake. That AM signal is silent for the moment, and what had been “Big CAT” is now “Mid-Century Radio” on the former WTWK (1070 Plattsburgh), now renamed WPLB, along with its translator at 103.7. (If you’ve been following the bouncing format ball there, this is the signal that had been simulcasting country from “97.9 the Moose,” WZXP Au Sable, and then had been stunting briefly as “What Is 103.7?”)
Five Years Ago: January 14, 2013
*When WFME (94.7 Newark) signed off for the last time as a Family Radio affiliate Friday afternoon, it marked the end of one of the longest-running formats not only in the NEW YORK market, but anywhere in the country. Family had owned the station since 1966, and if you rewind back to that era (say, through the excellent Broadcasting Yearbook archives at AmericanRadioHistory.com), you’d find only one other commercial-band FM station with an even longer run under the same owner and essentially the same format, that being WBAI (99.5 New York), running freeform under Pacifica ownership since 1960. On 94.7, Family’s religious programming actually predated its ownership; as far back as April 1963, the station then known as WJRZ-FM began leasing some airtime to Family, and by 1965 the station was in what we’d now recognize as an LMA, carrying Family’s programming nearly fulltime.
While LMAs are commonplace half a century later, Family’s $40 million sale to Cumulus did not include one – and so the timing of the handoff of 94.7 appeared to be tied directly to the last bits of closing paperwork being completed. It happened at 3:35 on Friday afternoon, and it happened fairly abruptly: as you can hear over on FormatChange.com, longtime WFME GM/chief engineer Charlie Menut broke into regular Family programming with what sounded like an unscripted announcement that after a week’s delay, the time had come to hand over the facility to its new owners. Menut acknowledged that while Family has been looking for an AM replacement for WFME, it hasn’t found one yet – and so in the meantime, those looking for the WFME programming can find it via streaming audio or Family’s other lower-powered signals in the region, including WFRS (88.9 Smithtown) on Long Island and WDVY (106.3 Mount Kisco), the northern Westchester signal Family is acquiring from Cumulus as part of the WFME sale.
WFME was silent for only a few minutes before programming once again appeared on 94.7 – but as of Sunday night, we’re still not really any closer to knowing exactly what Cumulus has planned for its new acquisition. What appeared immediately on 94.7 was the audio of sister station WPLJ (95.5 New York), sometimes with HD Radio running, sometimes without, and with every indication that the Cumulus engineers are busy tweaking the 94.7 audio chain for whatever is coming next.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news starts up in the state’s northwest corner, where Tuesday at noontime brought a format change at Mercyhurst College’s WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie). After many years of jazz, WMCE has taken over the oldies format that’s been playing on sister station WYNE (1530 North East) – and as of Tuesday, the North East signal is now WMCE(AM), simulcasting with the FM.
*You’d think our lead story from MASSACHUSETTS would be the final format change at WTKK (96.9 Boston), and we’ll get there – but it was overshadowed a bit by a sadder story a few days later as news spread that Rex Trailer had died.
If you didn’t grow up around Boston, or if you’re younger than about 50, that name might not mean much. But for New Englanders of a certain age, Trailer was once as big a name as ever graced local TV, thanks to his 18 years as the star of “Boomtown” on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). No phony TV cowboy, Trailer (whose real name was, in fact, Rexford Trailer) grew up on a ranch in north Texas before coming east to work at the new DuMont TV network, where he hosted the “Oky Doky Ranch” show in the late 1940s. That led him to Westinghouse in Philadelphia, where he was on the air at WPTZ (Channel 3) from 1950 until 1956, when Westinghouse’s forced sale of Channel 3 to NBC gave Trailer the choice of moving to sister stations in Cleveland or Boston.
Trailer chose Boston, of course, and the rest is history: “Boomtown” on WBZ-TV from 1956 until 1974, followed by stints as host of the syndicated “Earth Lab” and a full post-“Boomtown” career teaching at Emerson College, running a video production company, piloting planes and helicopters, advocating for children with disabilities and making nostalgia appearances all over New England as recently as his 84th birthday earlier this year.
As we told you last week, Trailer had become ill while visiting family in Florida at Christmastime, and he didn’t recover; his website reports he died January 9, “surrounded by love and song from his family.”
*On to 96.9: Greater Media’s “wheel of formats” on WTKK finally came to an end Tuesday morning at 11, and as had been widely expected, the new rhythmic format is a shot straight up I-93 at Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5). “Hot 96.9” launched with 13,000 commercial-free songs in a row, which means it will be sometime in late February before PD Cadillac Jack launches the station’s airstaff, led off by former WJMN morning co-host Pebbles in morning drive.
Ten Years Ago: January 14, 2008
*There’s nothing terribly unusual about a contract dispute between a prominent radio personality and a radio station. But in the case of upstate NEW YORK‘s Brother Wease, who’s been off the air at WCMF (96.5 Rochester) since December 21, the dispute is playing out on newspaper front pages and even on the air.
That’s something most stations, and most air talent, try to avoid, but Wease has long prided himself on running what he calls an “honest show,” where he and his co-hosts talk frequently about internal business at the station. As WCMF has gone through a rocky transition from former owner CBS Radio to new owner Entercom, that’s made for some stressful times on both sides of the studio glass.
As we told you last week, Wease’s contract expired at the end of 2007, leaving the rest of the “Radio Free Wease” crew on the air without Wease himself. As contract negotiations between Wease and Entercom dragged on with no resolution last week, tempers began to flare on the air – and at one point, Entercom regional vice president Mike Doyle joined the Wease crew in the studio to take phone calls and talk about the progress of the negotiations.
The news wasn’t good – Doyle said he’d started out being “90 percent sure” that a deal could be reached to bring Wease back, but he told listeners he’s growing more doubtful. And Wease himself appeared briefly by telephone, sounding equally uncertain. (The station’s website changed to an “under construction” message around the same time, as Entercom finally took down the old Wease-heavy CBS site.)
It’s a high-stakes game for both sides: Entercom was clearly counting on Wease to be the face and voice of WCMF for some time to come, since it didn’t bring over most of the rest of the station’s airstaff from CBS, so it would be a big rebuilding effort if the station loses Wease – and Wease, for his part, doesn’t have many other local options if he can’t come to terms with Entercom.
With a ratings book now underway, how long will Entercom keep the rest of the Wease team on the air before it tries something, or someone, else in morning drive? It’s no wonder that they, too, are uneasy about the situation – and it’s admirable, we think, that they’re carrying on as well as they are under the circumstances.
Fifteen Years Ago: January 13, 2003
It’s a hot New Year in RHODE ISLAND, thanks to Citadel’s purchase of urban “Hot” WWKX (106.3 Woonsocket) and WAKX (102.7 Narragansett Pier) from AAA Entertainment. The deal adds “Hot” to an already significant Citadel presence in the Ocean State: talk WPRO (630 Providence), sports WSKO (790 Providence) and WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), CHR WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence), AC WWLI (105.1), as well as the adjacent New Bedford cluster of news-talk WBSM (1420), CHR WFHN (107.1 Fairhaven) and rocker WKKB (100.3 Middletown RI). For the $16 million purchase price, Citadel also gets to add one more station to its regional cluster: WMOS (104.7 Montauk NY), the Long Island station that markets to southeastern Connecticut from its studios at the Mohegan Sun casino in Ledyard, Connecticut.
Twenty Years Ago: January 12 & 15, 1998
Much of the upper Northeast remains paralyzed by the Ice Storm of ’98, with hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the border without power or heat. The storm has taken a major toll on the region’s broadcast facilities. NERW’s correspondents across the area have been checking in throughout the weekend with updates, and here’s what things look like for the broadcasters of the Northeast as of Monday evening, starting with the areas that have suffered the most damage:
QUEBEC – Montreal’s top-rated English-language news outlet, CJAD (800), lost all four towers at its South Shore transmitting site at the height of the ice storm early Friday morning. CJAD management decided not to move the news programming to their FM sister station, CJFM (95.9), and “Mix 96” continued to play soft-rock tunes while 800 remained silent, adding only a top-hour newscast from CJAD to its usual morning show. That decision prompted CJAD news anchor Jim Duff to fire off an angry letter to station management, saying he’d rather quit than work for a station “that put the motive of profit ahead of public service.”
In the meantime, the newly Duff-less CJAD leased time from Ottawa’s CFRA (580) for a bottom-hour newscast that reached listeners on Montreal’s West Side. CJAD also arranged to borrow the La Prairie, Quebec transmitter site of the former CFMB (1410). The foreign-language station moved to 1280 (the former CJMS facility) last September, leaving the fully-functional four-tower 1410 array standing but unused. CJAD turned on its temporary 1410 transmitter on Sunday, after securing a source of fuel for the generators at the La Prairie site. It will be Wednesday at the earliest before a temporary 800 kHz facility can be operating again at CJAD’s own site in Saint-Edouard. The 675-foot towers that had been standing there since 1962 were crusted with as much as 6 inches of ice on each face when they toppled.
ONTARIO – A wire-service photo that appeared on the front page of Monday’s Buffalo News (among other papers) showed the tangled wreckage of “a TV tower on Wolfe Island, near Kingston.” That tower carried CKWS (Channel 11) and CFMK (96.3); the CFMK web site still doesn’t reflect that station’s presumed off-air status.
Still dark is Cornwall’s CJSS (1220); its newscasts are being heard on Ottawa’s CFRA (580), which has been doing an extraordinary job of informing its own listeners in Ottawa, as well as filling the gaps of the missing stations in Cornwall and Montreal. CFRA can be heard on the Internet at www.cfra.com; it’s well worth a few minutes of listening.
NEW HAMPSHIRE – Worst damage in the Granite State was suffered by Laconia’s WLNH (98.3), whose 300 foot tower came down in the storm. With help from Manchester’s WZID (95.7), which loaned a remote truck, WLNH engineers were able to put a flea-powered signal on the air from the truck’s 30-foot mast. WLNH was a key station in the New Hampshire EAS system; the 14 Lakes Region stations that monitored it will have to rely on alternate sources until WLNH gets up to full power again. Chief engineer Dick Wholey came to town from WLNH corporate parent Sconnix to help restore the signal. Also affected by the collapse of WLNH’s 35 year old tower was WBHG (101.5 Meredith), which shared the tower. It’s been operating from a backup antenna with extremely reduced power, in part simulcast with WLNH. Laconia’s WEZS (1350), the former WLNH(AM), also helped out with a WLNH simulcast for part of the weekend.
NEW YORK – Only one station in St. Lawrence County has remained on with full power throughout the storm; it’s WMSA (1340) in Massena. Nearly everyone else in the St. Lawrence Valley has suffered at least on-and-off power failures, including Watertown TV stations WWNY (Channel 7) and WWTI (Channel 50). WWTI was off the air Friday and Saturday, and WWNY, which lost power at its studio, was programming directly from its live truck to its transmitter on Saturday. The WCIZ (93.5) tower on Perch Lake Road north of Watertown was reportedly toppled by the ice buildup, while sister station WFRY (97.5) is operating with only 20 watts or so from its exciter. WTNY (790) has been on and off the air since the start of the storm because of repeated power failures. NERW hasn’t heard anything yet on the status of stations in Potsdam, Ogdensburg, and Canton, areas most heavily affected by the storm. In Plattsburgh, WIRY (1340) has continued its long tradition of community service with comprehensive local information updates, as well as storm information and Real Audio on its Web site. WMEX (102.5 Westport) is reportedly silent.
MAINE – It appears the Pine Tree State suffered the worst damage from Ice Storm ’98, with several stations still off the air from the storm. Portland’s WBLM (102.9) remains silent because of the ice damage to its antenna. Its Fuller-Jeffrey sister stations, WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) and WCYI (93.9 Lewiston) have become the “Rock Radio Shelter,” adding ‘BLM’s album rock to their modern rock formats, and adding WBLM jocks (including morning team The Captain and Mark) to its usual voice-tracked format. (NERW would love to hear tapes of this one — and anyone else running storm-altered formats). The 102.9 signal may return with minimal power soon from a temporary antenna, perhaps just with a tape loop telling listeners to move down the dial to 94.3 or 93.9.
Portland’s four commercial broadcasters joined forces for a simulcast telethon that raised more than $300,000 for storm relief. The telethon was broadcast from the studios of WGME (Channel 13) and was also seen on WCSH (Channel 6), WMTW (Channel 8), and WPXT (Channel 51). WGME has been working with WGAN (560) to simulcast morning news programming, to reach the many Mainers who still have no power for their TVs. Knowing that some of them are listening to channel 6’s 87.75 MHz audio frequency on battery-powered radios, WCSH has been making sure to read closure information out loud in addition to putting it on screen.
We’ve finally heard from a NERW reader in Bangor; apparently the most damage up there was to WBFB (104.7 Belfast), whose tower on Mount Waldo collapsed. “The Bear” is back on from a backup site belonging to WKSQ (94.5 Ellsworth). WEZQ (92.9) remains silent after losing part of its tower. WKSQ has been on the air with public service broadcasts of storm information in place of its usual hot AC format. On the TV side, WLBZ (Channel 2) ran its own telethon the same night as the Portland simulcast.