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In this week’s issue… Inside Connoisseur’s Hartford exit – Two Boston AMs sell – Country changes in Portland – Bold Gold’s surprise buy – Canada’s new national talker

By SCOTT FYBUSH

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: WABC (770 New York) morning man Don Imus announced on Monday’s show that he’ll be retiring on March 29. Imus has been a fixture on New York radio since 1971 on WNBC, WFAN and finally WABC, and his show has been in national syndication for the last few decades as well. Much more to come…

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*The news rocketed out of CONNECTICUT Monday morning: three and a half years after paying $7.9 million for Buckley Broadcasting’s Hartford cluster of stations, Jeff Warshaw’s Connoisseur Media had found a buyer for most of those signals, and a local one to boot.

John Fuller’s Full Power Radio is paying $8 million for classic hits “Whale” WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), three of the four “Talk of Connecticut” AMs (WDRC 1360 Hartford, WMMW 1470 Meriden, WSNG 610 Torrington) and New Haven-market translator W272DO (102.3). It’s a big move for Fuller, who paid $8 million back in 2009 for his existing big Hartford signal, modern rock “Radio 104” WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), which he later combined with oldies WNTY (990 Southington) and a slew of translators carrying Spanish hits as “Bomba.”

The addition of WDRC-FM and the “Talk of Connecticut” stations broadens Fuller’s demographic reach in Hartford, and he says no immediate changes are planned to either the Whale or the Talk of Connecticut programming as he takes over. The one immediate change on Monday morning was at the New Haven translator, which dropped Connoisseur’s modern rock “Mod 102” (fed from the HD2 of WPLR 99.1) and became the latest link in the “Bomba” chain.

(Connoisseur keeps WPLR, of course, along with sister station WFOX 95.9 and operation of WYBC-FM 94.3 in New Haven – and it keeps Mod going on WPLR’s HD2 and as a stream.)

That left one Connoisseur/Buckley station remaining, WWCO (1240 Waterbury) – and it’s part of a separate deal, since it comes with a shiny new translator CP that was just granted last week. W292FI (106.3) will be a particularly potent translator, with 250 watts from a directional antenna on West Peak in Meriden, covering a big chunk of central Connecticut. It’s going to David Webster’s Trignition Media, which is paying $260,000 for the translator and parent WWCO. Trignition owns WRYM (840 New Britain) and a 107.3 translator, and we suspect its “Viva” Spanish hits format will end up simulcast on WWCO and 106.3, providing fairly complete coverage of the Hartford market.

So why was Connoisseur eager to part with the stations it bought from Buckley? Read on, subscribers…

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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 23, 2017

*A distinctive radio voice in northwestern PENNSYLVANIA will be making a jump to the commercial FM world over the next year. It’s been four years since Mercyhurst College’s WMCE-FM (88.5 Erie) dropped its jazz format to go oldies under the leadership of “Captain Dan” Geary, picking up the format of then-sister AM WYNE (1530 North East).

After agreeing last fall to sell off the AM signal (which is headed to Inspiration Time, Inc.), now Mercyhurst has reached a deal that will take WMCE-FM back to student operation while sending Captain Dan and the oldies format to The ERIE Radio Company’s new 100.9 construction permit.

As regular NERW readers know, that 100.9 class A signal, which will be licensed to Westfield, New York, was created by Connoisseur’s long-pending move of WRKT (100.9 North East) up the dial to 104.9, which finally appears poised to reach completion.

So here’s how it will all play out over the next year or so: by January 20, 2018, Connoisseur has to build out its 104.9 CP for WRKT, moving that B1 signal from its current home just across the New York line over to the much closer tower of sister station WRTS (103.7 Erie). Once “Rocket” makes its move, Rick Rambaldo’s ERIE Radio will then be able to build out the replacement 100.9 signal – at which point the new 100.9 will simulcast with WMCE-FM on 88.5 for a little while so that listeners can move over.

(2018 update: It didn’t quite play out that way. A procedural problem caused Rambaldo to lose the 100.9 frequency, and so Captain Dan and his oldies ended up streaming instead. And Rocket? It completed its move to 104.9 in November 2017.)

Five Years Ago: February 7, 2013

*Cumulus’ “Wheel of Formats” ended right on schedule, with a New York -focused audio montage including Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” – and moments ago, that launched into the city’s first full-signal country format in more than a decade and a half.

“The World’s Biggest Country Station, New York’s new Nash FM” is, as expected, the market #1 outpost for what Cumulus expects to make into a national lifestyle brand. (“Country for Life” is the tagline on the fairly skimpy site that went live just as the station was launching.)

There’s no sign – yet, at least – of live air talent or even much of a New York-based staff to the station, which we’re expecting to be programmed on more of a national level, likely with a lot of input from Cumulus in Nashville and Dallas. And in a way, that shows how it was only Cumulus that had the ability to pull off a successful country station in New York City in 2013. The company’s existing New York cluster of WABC (770) and especially WPLJ (95.5) already has a sales force that’s heavily focused on the suburbs, which is where 94.7 will draw the bulk of its audience, too. And Cumulus’ strong national sales focus should also help overcome a lot of the perceived “New York agency bias” that has kept country off the dial in New York City since WYNY (103.5) flipped to WKTU 17 years ago this month.

The WYSX/WPAC site, Sunday morning (photo: Dave Merz/WYSX)
The WYSX/WPAC site, Sunday morning (photo: Dave Merz/WYSX)

*Way up north, Stephens Media is scrambling to get two of its stations back on the air after a lightning strike early Sunday started a fire that destroyed the transmitter building shared by WYSX (96.7 Morristown) and WPAC (98.7 Ogdensburg). The fire also knocked off sister station WNCQ (102.9 Canton), which had an STL link running through the WYSX/WPAC tower. WNCQ was able to get back on the air with a computer running automation from its transmitter site south of Canton, but WYSX and WPAC are reduced to streaming-only services for now as Stephens works to get temporary transmitters in place to restore signals from their shared site.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, the upset win by the Baltimore Ravens last night not only ended the New England Patriots” season, but also the broadcast career of one of the greatest sports voices New England has ever known. Former WBZ (1030) sports director Gil Santos was already honored lavishly for his 36 years as the Pats” play-by-play announcer at the team”s last regular-season game, where he was inducted into the team”s Hall of Fame alongside his longtime broadcast partner Gino Cappelletti. Like most of New England, Santos was hoping his retirement at the end of the Patriots season would come with a Super Bowl win in New Orleans, but it wasn”t to be: the team”s loss Sunday night marked his 745th and last game behind the microphone. Santos has suffered serious health problems in recent years, and we wish him all the best in his retirement.

Ten Years Ago: January 21, 2008

*It”s been a while since Bob Grant was making headlines in NEW YORK – but the WABC (770) night talker was back in the news last week after Radio & Records cancelled its plans to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award at its upcoming convention.

The about-face apparently followed a barrage of e-mails to the magazine and its parent company from Scott Pellegrino, a former producer for rival talk host Jay Diamond, and it revived the controversies that got Grant ousted from WABC back in 1996. This time, though, most of Grant”s fellow talk hosts closed rank around him, with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others using their shows to speak out in Grant”s defense, with some of them vowing to boycott the R&R award ceremony.

At week”s end, one of R&R“s rivals, Talkers magazine, seized the opportunity to announce that it would give Grant an award of its own in conjunction with WABC, to be presented at its own convention in June.

 

*While MASSACHUSETTS waits to see whether the Patriots can make it 19-0, there”s a change of voices coming in another Boston sports broadcast booth. After several years heading the Red Sox PR office, and one year as a part-time color commentator in the Sox radio booth, Glenn Geffner is heading south to join the Florida Marlins radio team. Geffner (who was also a broadcaster for the Rochester Red Wings a few seasons back) had been handling color for games when Dave O”Brien was working for ESPN; O”Brien”s committment to ESPN has ended, and he”ll now join Joe Castiglione for the full 2008 season.

There”s a new station on the air near Warren, in northwestern Pennsylvania. WNAE-FM (102.7 Clarendon) has signed on with a simulcast of “Kinzua Country” WKNB (104.3 Clarendon); expect a new permanent format there soon.

We”ve been remiss, incidentally, in noting the death of the founder of WKNB and its sister stations WNAE (1310 Warren) and WRRN (92.3 Warren). LeRoy Schneck died January 3 after a short hospitalization following a fall. Schneck began his broadcast career in 1941 in Du Bois and put WNAE on the air in 1946. He ran Kinzua Broadcasting until the stations were sold in 2005 to present owner Frank Iorio. Even then, he made occasional on-air appearances on the stations he founded, where he was perhaps best known as host of the “Just Stuff” talk show. Schneck had been named “Man of the Century” by the Warren County Chamber of Commerce, among other honors. He was 88.

*On the MAINE-NEW HAMPSHIRE line, Clear Channel indeed flipped the format on WUBB (95.3 York Center ME) to top-40 “Kiss” last Monday, and for the moment it”s a complete simulcast (except for spots) of Boston”s WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), including the “Matty in the Morning” show.

*CANADA’s biggest market is one radio station smaller this week. CFBN (1280 Toronto) turned its license in to the CRTC, after the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which owned the station, discontinued its operation.

1280 was originally CFYZ, programmed with live reports about airport traffic and travel-related features, but changed calls and format last April, switching to business news and information. The business programming continues , at least for now, or so CFBN’s website claims; we weren’t able to connect to the CFBN stream on Sunday night.

Fifteen Years Ago: January 20, 2003

Buffalo’s WWKB (1520) will ditch its business talk format next Monday morning (Jan. 27) to become “a thing of the past,” with legendary ‘KB morning man Danny Neaverth at the helm. Stay tuned for much more in next week’s issue…

Alex Langer is selling his original MASSACHUSETTS radio station, but it won’t lead to much change for listeners. WBIX (1060 Natick) is being transferred to Perspectives Broadcasting, controlled by Brad and Bonnie Bleidt, the same folks who have been programming a business-news format on the station under an LMA with Langer. The deal values the station at $10 million; it’s a nice payoff for Langer, who bought then-silent WBIV for just $50,000 back in 1995 and put it back on the air from the WKOX (1200) site in Framingham. Today, WBIX runs 40 kilowatts by day and 22 kW during critical hours with a format that includes news updates from the Boston Business Journal. Langer, who also recently sold his 1470 signal in Marlborough (ex-WSRO, now WAZN), keeps WSRO (650 Ashland); he’ll also take a seat on the board of Perspectives.

Meanwhile out in Winchendon, WINQ (97.7) is getting a new owner as well, as Saga makes the station its latest acquisition in a region that stretches from Springfield north through the Pioneer Valley and into southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Saga pays Joseph Gallagher’s Aritaur group $400,000 for the station, which programs hot AC for the area west of Fitchburg; we expect it will end up combined somehow with Saga’s Keene operations (WKBK, WZBK, WOQL, WKNE-FM).

Twenty Years Ago: January 19 & 22, 1998

On both sides of the border, the cleanup continues from the Ice Storm of ’98. Power has been restored to all but a few small corners of Ontario, New York, and northern New England, while it may be another week or more before the “Dark Triangle” south of Montreal finally gets its power back. For broadcasters across the region, it’s also been a slow return to normal. NERW visited some of the communities in Ontario and New York hit by the ice storm, and here’s what we found:

ONTARIO: In much of the province, the only way you’d know there was a storm was to look at the news. Headlines on radio, TV, and in the newspaper continue to track the cleanup. Even CPAC, the Canadian equivalent of C-SPAN, got into the act, offering an unedited video view of the newsroom of CFRA (580 Ottawa) as its reporters, anchors, and editors covered the storm’s aftermath.

As we drove east on Highway 401, the scope of the damage became more apparent. Many of the trees in the Kingston area are missing limbs, and there are still crews along many roads repairing power lines. On the air, the most obvious sign of storm damage is on the FM dial, where both CFMK (96.3) and CFLY (98.3) are operating with extremely low power, barely enough to reach the city limits. CFMK’s tower on Wolfe Island, shared with CKWS (Channel 11), was toppled by the ice, while CFLY’s transmitter building in Harrowsmith was hit by ice falling from that tower. CFLY and AM sister station CKLC (1380) are running a daily program every afternoon at 1 with a roundup of storm news, including community-by-community updates from local officials and the power companies. CFMK’s sister station, CFFX (960), has returned to its usual oldies format. The sign outside its studio on Counter Street tells the story — “Riders on the Storm.”

NERW rode the ferry to Wolfe Island to see the CKWS site firsthand. Late on a Sunday afternoon, the property was swarming with workers. The twisted wreckage of the old 840-foot tower has been stacked in several neat piles, and tower segments for a replacement are on hand. CKWS is on the air with a very low power signal, not strong enough to make it to the cable headend serving Trenton, some 60 miles to the west. Wolfe Island remains without power, and it was a sobering site to see the darkness cover the island at sunset as we rode back to the mainland on the ferry.

Further up the St. Lawrence River, generators continue to power the main Ottawa transmitter sites, both the Camp Fortune site where most of the big FM and TVs are located and the Rogers site where several newer TV stations are located.

On the NEW YORK side of the river, several Watertown stations remain off the air or at low power. Right now, all three Watertown AMs are either simulcasting their FMs or being simulcast on them. Here’s how the lineup looks:

WTNY (790) lost a tower to the storm and is operating non-directional from one of its remaining towers in the meantime. Its programming, mixing storm updates and adult contemporary music, is being simulcast on WCIZ (93.5), which is operating with a flea-powered temporary transmitter that covers only the city of Watertown. WATN (1240) and WTOJ (103.1) are simulcasting as well, with daytime programming that’s still dominated by storm information. Sister station WWLF (106.7 Copenhagen) has returned to its usual CHR format as “The Border.” The other half of the Border’s usual simulcast, WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent), remains silent due to serious power problems in that area. Cape Vincent’s other station, WMHI (94.7), is also dark. WUZZ (1410) also lost a tower and is operating non-directional for now, simulcasting country sister station WFRY (97.5). NERW wonders why the storm information heard on WATN/WTOJ wasn’t put on WFRY’s big signal, the only class B FM in Watertown…

Up in QUEBEC, the CBC sprung a surprise this weekend while returning CBM (940) to the air. In the process, they’ve also jumped the gun on the startup of CBC Radio One’s new FM signal into Montreal. CBM (88.5) signed on today, a few months ahead of schedule. There’s scheduled to be a six-month transition period, after which CBM will leave 940. CJAD remains on 1410 for now, although even that interim frequency has been experiencing occasional power failures. NERW wonders whether CJAD might try to persuade the CRTC to let it move straight from 1410 to 940, eliminating the need to rebuild the destroyed CJAD facilities on 800? Just a hunch…

CBC Radio Two programs returned to CBM-FM (93.5) today as well, after an eleven-day absence as CBM-FM was used for storm coverage.

La Société Radio-Canada (that’s the CBC to Anglophones) has sprung another FM surprise. The 95.1 Montreal facility that will soon be the home of SRC’s AM service (now heard on CBF 690) took to the airwaves early, signing on as “Radio-Services Monteregie,” a French-language service aimed at the inhabitants of the devastated “Dark Triangle” south of Montreal, where power has yet to be restored to thousands of homes.