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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*First, Warshaw had already gotten what he most needed from the Buckley deal: control of WDRC-FM in order to downgrade its signal. As soon as it took over in 2014, Connoisseur carried out a coordinated signal change, taking WDRC-FM directional with a notch to the south that somewhat reduced its coverage over New Haven. More to the point, that notch pulled WDRC-FM’s protected contour off the north shore of Long Island, which allowed Warshaw’s WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) to drop its directional antenna, significantly improving its coverage of central Long Island.

Once that move was done, Connoisseur didn’t have a lot of obvious reasons to stay in Hartford. With just one FM and a chain of second-tier AMs, it lacked the heft to fully compete with iHeart’s four FMs or CBS Radio/Entercom’s combination of three FMs and the one big AM in town, WTIC (1080). That’s been a challenge for Fuller, too – but adding WDRC-FM as a second big FM, plus the “Talk of Connecticut” AMs to compete with WTIC, boosts him to five formats competing with the big guys in Hartford.

And as Connoisseur sharpens its focus on the ring of suburban markets around New York City, here’s the next big question that will likely shape some big headlines soon: with $8.2 million in his pocket, what’s on Jeff Warshaw’s shopping list?

From where we sit, it looks like no coincidence that in just a few short weeks, the FCC will implement a small rule change that will take Connoisseur’s Long Island and remaining southern Connecticut stations out of any market-cap calculation that would prevent him from buying in other suburban “embedded” markets. Is there a deal coming, for instance, for the central Jersey stations (WMGQ/WCTC in New Brunswick, WDHA/WMTR in Morristown, WRAT/WJRZ at the shore) that Beasley acquired from Greater Media last year? Or for Townsquare’s Hudson Valley cluster? We’ll be watching closely.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, Salem’s format change on WBIX (1260 Boston) has quickly turned into a total sale of the station. It’s filed a $685,000 deal to sell the WBIX license to International Church of the Grace of God, which is currently leasing the 5000-watt signal for its “Radio Nossa” Portuguese-language programming. That’s a profit for Salem, which paid $500,000 when it bought the station (then WMKI) back from Radio Disney in 2015 – and it doesn’t even include the station’s Quincy transmitter site, which the church is buying in a separate deal.

The WBIX filing came just a day after Ed Perry’s Marshfield Broadcasting filed its $125,000 deal to buy the license of silent WMEX (1510 Boston) from Daly XXL. The sale will come with a call change – Daly’s agreement with WMEX-LP (106.5 Rochester NH) to use the “WMEX” calls wasn’t transferable to a new owner of 1510 – and with some legal hassles, too; the agreement filed with the FCC notes that there’s a lawsuit pending against Perry, Daly XXL and previous 1510 owner Blackstrap from Duffy Associates, LLC, which owns the Waltham transmitter site 1510 had used since 1981 and which is apparently seeking back rent and a continuation of 1510’s high-ticket lease at that site.

*The bouncing ball that is “NBC10 Boston” has landed on yet another new location. As of Thursday, NBC/Comcast has taken control of WYCN-CD, the former channel 13 from Nashua, NEW HAMPSHIRE. It left the air from Nashua and has reemerged as a channel-share on Boston’s WGBX (Channel 44/RF 43), where “NBC10” is now broadcasting in full 1080p HD as “15.1,” with its CoziTV subchannel in SD as “15.2.”

That’s a change from NBC’s initial plan to lease only a single SD channel’s worth of spectrum from WGBX. It’s apparently something of a temporary move, bridging a gap that will open when WMFP (Channel 62/RF 18) vacates its UHF spectrum soon, ending the “NBC10” lease of spectrum there (where it’s been “60.5”). That gap will close again in a few years when a future phase of the repack allows Comcast to move its own full-power WNEU (Channel 60/RF 34) down to the Boston antenna farm from New Hampshire. But in the meantime, it’s WYCN-CD via WGBX that will be the main NBC over-the-air signal for most of metro Boston. (And why “15.1” instead of continuing WYCN’s use of channel 13? It’s because WGBX’s signal extends far enough up the coast that there could be potential conflict with WGME’s established use of 13 in Portland, Maine; that overlap with the Portland market also means NBC can’t extend its use of “8.1” from its lower-powered WBTS-LD in Boston.)

*News from the news stations: at iHeart’s WBZ (1030 Boston), the lunchtime “Reporters Roundup” that Rod Fritz had been hosting is now history. It ended after Friday’s show and has been replaced with another half-hour of more tightly formatted news wheel. And while WBZ shifts from talk to all-news at 5 AM, noncommercial competitor WGBH (89.7) is now getting a five-minute jump: it’s doing a local newscast at 4:55 AM on weekdays before the 5 AM national start of Morning Edition.

TV People on the Move: Mike Fitzpatrick, whose NECRAT.us is a vital resource for fans of broadcast towers everywhere, is changing stations. After several years as a maintenance engineer at WFXT (Channel 25), he’s headed onward and upward to the engineering department at WCVB (Channel 5). Congratulations!

*There are some big shifts going on in country radio in southern MAINE, including the return of at least part of a former simulcast. It’s been a few years now since Townsquare split off WPKQ (103.7 North Conway NH) from WOKQ (97.5 Dover), allowing the Mount Washington-based 103.7 signal to focus on the big swath of territory it covers from Portland all the way into northern New Hampshire. Now “103.7 the Peak” is rejoining WOKQ for a simulcast of Bill Fox and Kira Lew’s “Big Breakfast” morning show, starting today. Dave Winsor had already departed WPKQ last month, and his morning co-host Annie Snook moves to middays.

Over at Saga’s WPOR (101.9), Crash Poteet arrives as brand manager and afternoon talent, replacing Mark Jennings. Poteet’s resume includes country radio in West Virginia, Oklahoma and KSCS in Dallas.

*In Orono, the University of Maine’s WMEB-FM (91.9) is silent after what it tells the FCC was a devastating fire that severely damaged its transmitter. WMEB’s request for silent authority says the recovery from the fire will be delayed a bit by university bureaucracy, since replacement of the transmitter has to go through UMaine’s in-house insurance and disaster recovery systems.

Stephen King’s probably not a guy you want to get angry at you, especially if you’re the Boston Red Sox and he’s one of your most famous and prominent fans. But there’s tension now between the team and the writer, thanks to the Red Sox Radio Network’s decision to move its Bangor radio rights away from WZON (620), the sports station King has owned for many years.

Townsquare’s Bangor cluster announced last week that it’s struck a new three-year deal to move the Sox over to its sports station, WEZQ (92.9 the Ticket), which can now boast play-by-play of all four of Boston’s big major-league teams. (The MLS Revolution, maybe not so much…) That was good news for the Ticket, but it caught King by surprise after 24 seasons of Sox coverage on WZON. He tells the Bangor Daily News “we had the rug pulled out from under us,” saying the Sox never opened any renewal negotiations. “I don’t get mad about these things, but I am unhappy,” he told the paper. “I think it was shabby treatment.”

New translator grants in northern New England: W252DW (98.3 Monticello), to Allan Weiner’s WXME (780); W258DI (99.5 Brunswick), to Jim Bleikamp’s WCME (900); W287DD (105.3 Bath), to Bob Bittner’s WJTO (730). (Fybush Media assisted Bittner in the Bath project.)

In New Hampshire: W248DA (97.5 Hanover), to Great Eastern’s WTSL (1400); W232DN (94.3 Claremont), to Great Eastern’s WTSV (1230).

And in VERMONT: W276DK (103.1 Newport, actually closer to Derby), to Bruce James’ WIKE (1490 Newport).

*In other Connecticut news, Dennis Jackson is applying to slide a Westport translator down the dial. His Sun Signals owns W273CN (102.5), which is on the books as a relay of WPKN (89.5 Bridgeport) – and now it’s applying to go to 102.1, losing some of its directionality and adding more of Westport to its existing Fairfield/Bridgeport coverage area.

There was one new translator grant: Marshall Miles’ Tri-State Public Communications gets W248CZ (97.5 Kent), for WKZE (1020 Sharon).

And we remember Claude Dixon, who died Jan. 7 at 92. Dixon was a World War II Navy veteran, a schoolteacher in Stamford, a reporter for Bridgeport’s Post and Telegram, and for many years a newsman on WSTC (1400 Stamford) and WGCH (1490 Greenwich). For some years, he worked multiple jobs, teaching school and then going to WSTC to read the evening news. (You can read a touching tribute from his son, Connecticut Post columnist Ken Dixon, here.)

*A translator grant in RHODE ISLAND: W266DI (101.1 Newport), to Bonnie Gomes’ WADK (1540).

*NEW YORK‘s Elvis Duran is picking up another big honor: at the NAB Show in Las Vegas in April, the WHTZ (Z100) morning man will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He’ll receive the award at a dinner on Monday, April 9 – and this is a good time to make our first announcement that the annual Broadcasting Club Kickoff Party that we’ve been hosting for the last few years will once again happen this year, on Sunday, April 8.

Front door at the SBS townhouse
Front door at the SBS townhouse

Over at SBS’ WSKQ (97.9) and WPAT-FM (93.1), RadioInsight is reporting that there was a round of job cuts last week. Most of the pain was felt at WSKQ, which lost afternoon co-host Janeiro Matos, overnight host DJ Jumpin Jay, weekend host JI Starr and cluster News Director Renato Morffi, as well as cuts were made in the programming and promotions departments.

Congratulations to Alex Silverman, who’s adding the title of assistant director of news and programming to his reporting duties at Entercom’s WCBS (880 New York).

On Long Island, WKJY (98.3 Hempstead) is looking for a replacement for morning co-host Leeana. She’s been with K-JOY for 13 years and on the morning show for the last 6, but is leaving to join a local nonprofit.

Farther east, JVC Broadcasting has been busy hiring talent for its “LI News Radio,” WRCN (103.9 Riverhead). KC Armstrong, a former Howard Stern producer who’d been doing internet radio, starts there tonight as the host of a new 7-8 PM daily show.

Upstate, one of the hardest-working jocks in radio is settling down a bit. Mike Kerr, aka “McCabe,” has been wearing out his tires for the last few years shuttling among on-air shifts at Entercom in Buffalo and Rochester, Community Broadcasters in Elmira-Corning and Saga in Ithaca, all while taking classes at Elmira College and managing WECW (107.7) there. Now he’s graduated – and he’s taken a gig as brand manager and afternoon talent at Saga’s WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) in Ithaca. He replaces Gabe Carrillo, who recently moved to Saga’s Milwaukee cluster.

There’s more local talk at Cumulus’ sports WSKO (1260) in Syracuse: “The Score” is replacing CBS Sports Radio’s “Tiki & Tierney” with “Drive Time Sports” in its weekday 3-6 PM slot. Paul Esden, the station’s executive producer, is hosting the new show; he’s also been the update anchor for WSKO’s other local show, the midday “Bud & the Manchild.”

In Watertown, today marks the launch of the market’s first 5 PM TV newscast, as WWNY-TV (Channel 7)’s John Moore adds a half-hour at 5 to his 6 and 11 PM anchor duties.

Where are they now? Brett Beshore, whose management career in NERW-land included stints with Clear Channel in the Hudson Valley, Times-Shamrock in Scranton and Greater Media in Philadelphia, had been spending the last few years managing what had been Clear Channel’s outdoor division in Indianapolis. Now he’s returning to radio, taking over as market manager at iHeart in Indianapolis.

New translator grants: W284DG (104.7 Hempstead), to Connoisseur’s WHLI (1100); W236DH (95.1 Patchogue), to Connoisseur’s WALK (1370); W266DJ (101.1 Oneida), to Towercast Media’s WMCR (1600); W295CW (106.9 Hornell), to PMJ Communications’ WLEA (1480); W278CS (103.5 Akwesasne), to Tim Martz’ WICY (1490 Malone), extending the station’s FM reach to the northeast from its existing 102.7 translator right in Malone.

*Joe Frank was already almost 40 when he started out in radio as the host of “In the Dark” on New York’s WBAI (99.5). Frank soon moved to NPR, anchoring the weekend version of All Things Considered in the early 1980s. More recently, he’d been working at KCRW in the Los Angeles market, doing shows that were also heard back in New York on WFMU. Frank was 79 when he died last Monday (Jan. 15).

And Ed McLaughlin, who died Jan. 18, was best known for launching Rush Limbaugh into syndication – but he had a long and colorful career in radio long before creating the “EIB Network.” McLaughlin started his career in radio sales in the San Francisco market, where his leadership of KGO radio propelled him to the helm of the ABC Radio Networks. He moved to New York in 1972 to serve as network president, overseeing the heyday of ABC’s innovative four-network strategy.

McLaughlin founded EFM Radio in 1987 and changed the face of talk radio a year later when he brought Limbaugh on board. Working outside the traditional radio network structure, EFM aggressively marketed Limbaugh directly to stations, sparking the explosive growth of the talk format in the early 1990s.

McLaughlin was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 and became closely involved in his later years with the Broadcasters Foundation of America, where he served as chairman beginning in 1998. The Foundation had just announced McLaughlin as this year’s recipient of its lifetime achievement award, which was to have been presented in March; following his death, it quickly established a memorial fund for him.

Ed McLaughlin was 92.

*On Tuesday, the NEW JERSEY Public Broadcasting Authority turns off two of its four RF signals. NJPBA gets $194 million from the spectrum auction for WNJN (RF 51) in Montclair and another $138 million for WNJT (RF 43) in Trenton, and after they sign off Tuesday, those licenses will live on as zombies over the remaining two stations, WNJN’s virtual 50 over the RF 8 of WNJB (Channel 58) in New Brunswick, WNJT’s virtual 52 over the RF 22 of WNJS (Channel 23) in Camden.

Rowan College of Burlington County turned off the FM transmitters at WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) and its translator W236AF (95.1 Burlington) on schedule Thursday night, and it launches its new streaming-only service today. What’s going on with the FM licenses? It doesn’t appear there was a buyer immediately at hand, so color us a little mystified as to RCBC’s urgency for abandoning the FM dial.

*One new Garden State translator grant: W241CS (96.1 Millville), to Martin Muniz’ WMVB (1440).

*Northeast PENNSYLVANIA‘s Bold Gold Media Group is adding to its holdings with an expansion to the south and west of its Scranton base. Vince Benedetto’s company is paying $700,000 to buy WMMZ (103.5 Berwick) from Joe Reilly’s Columbia FM, Inc., which paid $800,000 for the station back in 2006.

WMMZ is the former WHLM-FM, and before that WKAB. It’s been running a mostly automated classic rock format while most of Reilly’s local programming energy has been focused on WHLM (930 Bloomington)/WBWX (1280 Berwick) and their translators around the region.

For Bold Gold, 103.5 will extend its reach out to the far edges of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. Will it end up as a simulcast of “River” WWRR (104.9) from Scranton? Or of talker WTRW (94.3 Carbondale)? Or as something else entirely? We’ll be watching.

*In the Harrisburg market, the FCC has now approved Pat Sickafus’ $700,000 sale of WTPA (92.1 Palmyra) to EMF. WTPA’s on-air crew said their farewells more than a week ago, and we’d expect the automated rock format that remains to give way to K-Love any minute now.

*The former WURD (900 Philadelphia) morning show has resurfaced just down the dial at Beasley’s WWDB (860), where the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler and Denise Clay have raised money to buy some time for their “Mark and Denise in the Mornings” show. It’s running Monday through Wednesday in morning drive on WWDB.

On TV, Univision’s WUVP (Channel 65) turned off its RF 29 transmitter last week; it’s now channel-sharing with Tribune’s WPHL (Channel 17) on RF 17.

*Translator grants were flowing all over the state: in Phillipsburg, Magnum gets W281CB (104.1) for WPHB (1260); in Towanda, W299CM (107.7), to Cantroair’s WTTC (1550); in Titusville, W287DC (105.3), to Forever’s WTIV (1230); in Meadville, W264DK (100.7), to Forever’s WMGW (1490);  in Somerset, W278CR (103.5), to Forever’s WNTI (990); in Kittanning, W279DN (103.7), to Family-Life Media-Com’s WTYM (1380); in Warren, W246DO (97.1), to Radio Partners’ WNAE (1310); in Erie, W244DX (96.7), to Connoisseur’s WJET (1400); in Easton, W279DM (103.7), to Connoisseur’s WEEX (1230 Easton); in Reading, W253CK (98.5), to Cumulus’ WIOV (1240), replacing an earlier 98.5 translator there; in Altoona, W253CJ (98.5) to Handsome Brothers’ WRTA (1240) and W241CQ (96.1) to Handsome Brothers’ WKMC (1370 Roaring Spring); in Monroeville, W236DJ (95.1), to Radio 1150’s WMNY (1150 New Kensington); in Waynesburg, W292FM (106.3), to Bob Stevens’ WANB (1210); in Latrobe, W250CP (97.9), to Stevens’ WQTW (1570); in Coudersport, W243EB (96.5), to L-Com’s WFRM (600).

*In CANADA, Corus is betting on a Canadian voice in the overnights after dropping “Coast to Coast AM.” The radio conglomerate has tapped Justin Wilcomes, known on-air as “Drex,” as its new national overnight host. He remains based at CKNW (980 Vancouver), where he’s been a nighttime talker for years, but “The Shift with Drex” is now airing across the country, including on CFMJ (Global News Radio AM 640) in Toronto, CHML (900) in Hamilton and CFPL (980) in London.

At the northwestern corner of Quebec City sits the First Nations community of Wendake, where Radio communautaire Huronne-Wyandot has just been granted a power boost for its aboriginal-community station CIHW (100.3). It goes from 50 watts/16.6m ND to 239 watts average/400 watts max DA/18.9m.

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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.