In this week’s issue… Next steps for New York’s ailing talker – Remembering a northern Maine FM pioneer – Ion buys a new market – Talk host’s killer dies behind bars – Shortwave transmitter for sale
By SCOTT FYBUSH
First truth: The 77-year-old Imus is undoubtedly a radio legend. There was nobody like him when he came to WNBC (660) in 1971, an irreverent young voice on what had long been a stodgy network-owned competitor. You know the story from there: his exile to Cleveland, his return to WNBC two years later, his rivalry with Howard Stern, his survival on 660 as WFAN replaced WNBC in 1988, his ouster in 2007 over comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, and his return to the air later that year on WABC.
Second truth: Imus almost certainly outstayed his relevance not long into his WABC run. Even in his last years at WFAN, his attentions were straying – his piece of the show often originated from his Texas ranch instead of New York, his fundraisers sometimes overshadowed the meat of the daily broadcast, his sidekicks sometimes seemed to be carrying the show in his absence. For those who’ve taken the trouble to listen in the last few years, it’s often been a hard listen. Imus’ voice is a rough shell of what it once was, he’s working with a smaller staff these days, and he’s not getting the must-listen interviews that used to make his show hard to ignore.
There’s a third truth as well: Cumulus remains in dire financial straits, which is why the company made the decision to pull the plug on “Imus in the Morning” ahead of Imus’ own schedule, which would have wrapped up the show in December.
“They informed me last week, last Tuesday that they weren’t going to pay me past a certain date. Sometime around the end of March. I signed some agreement agreeing to that. I guess they were going to do it earlier but waited a couple of months,” Imus told listeners last week, revealing that March 29 will be his final show.
So what happens next for WABC and Imus’ affiliate base?
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*The affiliates, first – and there weren’t many: after a fairly strong launch into syndication in the 1990s, Imus’ roster has dwindled to just a few smaller signals. In our region, he’s on in Portland, Maine (WBAE 1490), Providence (WPRV 790), New London (WXLM 980), Glens Falls (WWSC 1450), Elmira-Corning (WWLZ 820), Watertown (WATN 1240), Herkimer/Utica (WNRS 1420), and Sharon/Youngstown (WPIC 790). Is Imus drawing even a 1 share at any of them? We’re guessing that’s a no – and so it won’t make much of a difference when he’s replaced with a different syndicated talker.
At WABC, though, one would want to believe there’s more at stake. In 2014, when Cumulus brought back Imus’ morning predecessors Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby to do middays on 770, we speculated that WABC was laying the groundwork for a seamless transition down the road from Imus right back to Curtis & Kuby in morning drive. And indeed, Sliwa remains available and ready for that role, where he’s by far the frontrunning contender. Kuby, however, is gone, a casualty of Cumulus’ ongoing budget cuts last year – and would a solo Sliwa be too grating as a wakeup option?
Then there’s WABC’s current 9-to-noon offering, which pairs Imus’ executive producer Bernie McGuirk and WFAN sports-talk veteran Sid Rosenberg. If that show moves to mornings, it essentially becomes “Imus without Imus.” It might not be the most compelling thing on the radio, but it would be an easy and inexpensive move. And as our colleague Lance Venta noted in a RadioInsight post a few days ago, it would fit perfectly with a Cumulus in 2018 that’s more interested in cutting costs than in trying to create compelling new broadcast content.
(And, honestly, where would a compelling new talker even be found? The weekend slots where talent once could have been developed are now filled with wall-to-wall infomercials, and the small local stations where a young Imus once honed his act are as likely to be carrying syndicated old Imus as anything else. But that’s a rant for another day.)
*Downtown, Dave Stewart is back at WCBS-FM (101.1). The veteran jock, who spent years at WPLJ before taking the overnight shift at CBS-FM in 2012, lost that gig last summer as CBS Radio made some budget cuts ahead of its sale to Entercom. Last week, he announced he’s returning to the station for part-time and weekend work – and that apparently displaces the voicetracking Michael Maze had been doing on his former shift.
*Uptown at WFUV (90.7), assistant PD Sarah Wardrop is becoming the AAA station’s production director; no replacement as APD has been named yet.
There’s (yet another) new executive director at Pacifica, as veteran public radio manager/consultant Tom Livingston takes the reins of the perpetually-troubled network. For the moment, the latest crisis at Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) seems to have been averted with a $2 million loan that paid off the judgment against the network from the Empire State Realty Trust. That was a controversial move within Pacifica, where one faction argued strongly for a bankruptcy filing that would have discharged that debt and led to a restructuring. Instead, Pacifica now must find a way to repay the loan – or risk losing its collateral, the studio real estate of its Los Angeles station, KPFK (90.7).
(Structurally, none of the underlying problems that led to WBAI’s problems has been fixed; the station still has ongoing expensive lease payments to make for its Empire State transmitter site and no obvious budget path to the kind of stable fundraising that would allow it to make those payments, nor the dues it’s supposed to be paying to the national Pacifica organization. Will the factions that have long splintered Pacifica give Livingston the free hand he’d need to address those structural issues? We doubt it.)
*Up in the Catskills, WIOX Inc. is taking over WIOX (91.3 Roxbury). The town of Roxbury started WIOX as a community station back in 2010, with WIOX Inc. being formed two years later as a support group. But by late 2013, the town was ready to hand off the signal – at which point Binghamton public broadcaster WSKG stepped in to help. WIOX had already been carrying WSKG’s programming overnight, and in 2014 WSKG took over the WIOX license from the town. WSKG paid a dollar back then, as well as agreeing to keep a local studio open. Now WIOX is returning to local hands, and WSKG gets its dollar back. WIOX says its programming lineup will include local farm news, school news and a folk music show hosted by the sister of legendary folksinger Phil Ochs.
*New translator grants across New York: W263DC (100.5 Tonawanda), to WECK (1230 Cheektowaga); W291DI (106.1 Batavia), to WBTA (1490); W237EV (95.3 Middletown), to WDLC (1490 Port Jervis); W261DP (100.1 Duanesburg), to WSDE (1190 Cobleskill); W223DP (92.5 Liberty), to WVOS (1240); W295CZ (106.9 Amsterdam), to WCSS (1490); W252DX (98.3 White Plains), to WVOX (1460 New Rochelle).
For Corby, who died Jan. 20 in Ohio, KDKA was a stop between two long stints at WTVN (610) in Columbus, where he was the afternoon host for most of his time, from 1984 until 1994 and again from 1997 until his death. Corby, who had also worked at WNCI in Columbus, was just 61.
*We remember Lance Howell, whose engineering career included a stint as chief at WWGO/WCCK in Erie. Howell was on vacation in Cozumel, Mexico when he died Jan. 21, at age 75.
*In Philadelphia, we note (belatedly) that Entercom’s WOGL (98.1) has pulled the plug on Harvey Holiday’s “Street Corner Sunday,” the last doo-wop show remaining on a major-market classic hits station. Holiday remains with WOGL as weekday midday host under a new contract that continues his long run at the station.
*New translator grants: W242CY (96.3 Berwick), to WBWX (1280); W282CO (104.3 Stillwater), to WHLM (930 Bloomsburg); W289CR (105.7 Mexico), to WJUN (1220); W259DC (99.7 Du Bois), to WCED (1420); W233CP (94.5 Milton), to WMLP (1380); W285FP (104.9 Hazleton), to WYCK (1340 Plains); W273DM (102.5 Hawley), to WPSN (1590 Honesdale); W288DS (105.5 Easton), to WEST (1400); W297CL (107.3 Levittown), to WBCB (1490); W224DW (92.7 Greenville), to WGRP (940).
*A coda to the murder of a NEW JERSEY talk host: April Kaufmann’s husband, James, was found dead in his jail cell on Friday morning after apparently taking his life. As we reported two weeks ago, James Kaufmann faced murder and racketeering charges in connection with the 2012 killing, allegedly carried out by an accomplice he paid. Prosecutors say Kaufmann, a doctor, was running a drug ring in south Jersey; they believe he had April Kaufmann, a WOND (1400) talk host, killed when she discovered the ring and threatened divorce.
*New translator grants in the Garden State: W260DK (99.9 Millmay), to WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton); W228DY (93.5 New Brunswick), to WCTC (1450); W238CZ (95.5 Atlantic City), to WPGG (1450); W252DY (98.3 Sussex), to WYNY (1450 Milford PA).
*In northern MAINE, Dennis Curley’s Canxus Broadcasting stations made up most of the dial at the top of Aroostook County. Curley founded the first of his “Channel X” outlets back in 1986, growing the network to include WCXX (102.3 Madawaska), WCXU (97.7 Caribou), WCXV (98.1 Van Buren) and translator W276AY (103.1 Fort Kent).
Curley was more than just the owner; he was also on the air at “Channel X” as Douglas Christensen. He was 76 when he died of a stroke on Jan. 19.
*Ion Media is buying an outlet in the Portland market, 15 years after its predecessor Pax sold off its original Portland-market station, then-WMPX (Channel 23). Ion’s new Portland home will be WPME (Channel 35), the Lewiston-licensed MyNetwork TV affiliate that’s been a sister station for many years to CW affiliate WPXT (Channel 51). (Ion had already been available in the market for the last few years via WPME’s 35.2 subchannel.)
WPME/WPXT owner Ironwood Communications will get $900,000 from Ion for the WPME license, plus a shared-services agreement under which Ironwood will continue to operate WPME’s transmitter and studio. Ion will change the station’s calls when it takes over; the MyNetwork programming will move to a subchannel on WPXT.
One new translator grant in Maine: W265DP (100.9 Augusta), to WMDR (1340).
*New translator grants in MASSACHUSETTS: W259DD (99.7 Middleborough Center), to WVBF (1530); W234DD (94.7 North Adams), to WNAW (1230); W251CT (98.1 Springfield), to WHLL (1450); W251CR (98.1 Medford), to WZBR (1410 Dedham); W287DE (105.3 Orleans), to WFPB (1170); W251CQ (98.1 Gardner), to WGAW (1340).
*And there’s just one story out of CANADA that’s been making news in recent days: more than five years after Radio Canada International shut down its massive shortwave transmitter plant in Sackville, New Brunswick, the new owners of the facility are still trying to sell off some of the equipment that was left behind. RCI tried to sell Sackville as an operating broadcast facility but couldn’t find a buyer, and so last year the transmitter building was sold to Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated, an enterprise of the Mi’Kmaq First Nations. Last week, a CBC story made the rounds about the group’s attempt to sell off a 1940s-vintage RCA shortwave transmitter from the site for $5,000.
Will some pieces of Sackville finally end up in a museum? There are lots of shortwave relics out there – our friends at the Antique Wireless Association museum here in western New York now have the control room from the former VOA Delano facility in California on display at their excellent museum, for example. And we, of course, try to preserve as much history as we can in virtual form. It’s been almost 20 years since we visited Sackville, but you can see what we saw of RCI in operation at this archived Site of the Week page.
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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 30, 2017
*How many radio personalities these days are recognizable by nothing more than their initials? In NEW YORK, there was only one “HOA,” and now the city is mourning one of its radio greats after the death Sunday morning of the legendary Herb Oscar Anderson.
Anderson’s broadcast career began in Janesville, Wisconsin, just out of high school after World War II, when he moved from sportswriting at the local paper to announcing at the radio station it owned, WCLO (1230). His early radio career took him to Rockford, Illinois, then to the Air Force for three years, to WDBO in Orlando, then to Iowa and to what became his big break at WDGY in Minneapolis. Anderson’s success on the air at the Todd Storz-owned top-40 pioneer got the attention of CBS, which hired him at WBBM in Chicago.
That, in turn, prompted a job offer from New York’s WABC (770) – but HOA’s first stint there was a short one. He was quickly moved to the ABC network, where his variety show met a quick demise as ABC pulled itself out of the network radio entertainment business. HOA had brief stints at WMGM (1050) and WMCA (570) before being called back to WABC in late 1960 to become the morning link in the “Swinging Seven,” the station’s original rock ‘n’ roll DJ lineup.
Something of an anachronism even at the beginning of WABC’s rock era, HOA nonetheless became an institution on the New York radio dial of the 1960s. His mellow approach started with the ditty he sang to start each show – “Hello again, here’s my best to you. Are your skies all gray? I hope they’re blue” – and continued through the morning as he pulled off the surprisingly difficult feat of appealing to both WABC’s core teenage audience and older listeners. He was part of the remarkably stable WABC lineup throughout the sixties until he departed in 1968, saying the arrival of a harder rock sound just didn’t fit with his show.
Anderson decamped to Minnesota after leaving WABC, but when country upstart WHN came calling a few years later, he returned to New York for another chapter, which also found him spending some time at WOR (710) before leaving the city’s airwaves for good later in the 1970s. (He was approached for a morning opening at WCBS-FM in the late 1970s, but turned down the chance for yet another bite at the apple.)
In recent years, Anderson had been splitting his time between homes in Hutchinson Island, Florida and Hoosick Falls, NY. In addition to appearing on the occasional “Radio Greats Weekend” (including one a decade ago on the Jersey Shore), he’d returned to the radio in both locations, appearing on an Albany-based streaming station and doing Sunday nights on WOSN (97.1) in Vero Beach, where his sound remained remarkably unchanged from his WABC days.
Anderson’s health apparently took a turn for the worse last week, when he was hospitalized in Vermont. He was 88.
*We salute the Bay State’s own John Garabedian, who hung up the proverbial headphones Saturday night as he hosted his last “Open House Party” broadcast from his Southborough basement studio, wrapping up a radio tradition that he started on WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) in 1987 (and which dates back to an earlier “Open House Party” that started on Worcester’s WORC in 1955!)
Five Years Ago: January 28, 2013
*After a whirlwind first few weeks of 2013, January is finally closing out on a more typical quiet note – even in NEW YORK, where the market continues to be abuzz about last Monday’s launch of the much-anticipated “Nash FM” from Cumulus. For all of the research and planning that went into the debut of the number-one market’s first big country signal in almost 17 years, there were some odd bits missing at 9:47 AM when WRXP (94.7 Newark NJ) spun out of its “wheel of formats” for the final time.
Perhaps most notably, the new country station launched with essentially no local staff in New York, which led to the odd spectacle of a TV reporter interviewing Cumulus’ New York market manager Kim Bryant in a studio that was otherwise empty and running on automation (a situation that found WNYW-TV entertainment reporter Jill Nicolini herself pretending to take over the air chair in what had been a production room at the WABC/WPLJ 2 Penn Plaza studios!) That will change relatively quickly; now that the “Nash” cat is out of the bag, Cumulus is advertising for air talent and a PD who “live the country lifestyle” and can relate to a New York audience.
*Great Eastern is once again expanding the reach of its “Kixx” country brand across southern VERMONT. After adding WKKN (101.9 Westminster VT/Keene NH) as a simulcast of “Kixx” mothership WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH) last year, “Kixx” is now also being heard on WTHK (100.7 Wilmington) and its translator, W284AB (104.7 Jamaica). Those signals had been carrying the “Fox” classic rock from WEXP (101.5 Brandon/Rutland), but WEXP is headed to new ownership under Ken Squier.
Ten Years Ago: January 28, 2008
*Now that NEW YORK‘s “Lite 106.7” has cut its ties to most of the airstaff who helped lead it to the top of the city’s ratings and revenue charts over the last two decades, the station is also losing the program director who oversaw many of those successes.
After 11 years at the helm of WLTW, Jim Ryan announced last week that he’ll step down at the beginning of May to form his own consulting firm focusing on adult contemporary stations. And just as WLTW looked to Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1) to find Ryan back in 1997, the station is once again calling on a veteran of Jerry Lee’s Philly AC giant as Ryan’s replacement.
Chris Conley replaced Ryan at B101, but recently left the station to become vice president for AC programming at McVay Media. He’ll leave that firm on May 1 to become WLTW’s next PD, where he’ll face some interesting challenges. Clear Channel budget cuts over the last year have left WLTW without most of its signature personalities, and the financial pressures of the company’s impending privatization look to leave Conley without much in the way of resources to rebuild.
*Way back in December 2006, NERW was the very first to report that Clear Channel had begun shopping its Long Island properties, WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) and WALK (1370 East Patchogue), to prospective buyers.
More than a year later, those stations are finally about to leave the Clear Channel fold, even though they’ve yet to find a buyer. On Thursday, the FCC released its decision approving the as-yet-unfinalized deal that will take Clear Channel private under the ownership of the Thomas H. Lee and Bain Capital private equity funds. To keep the new privatized Clear Channel under the FCC’s current multiple-ownership limits, stations in several markets will be transferred to the “Aloha Station Trust” – and that includes the Long Island stations, which are nested into the New York market, where CC already owns the maximum five FM signals.
So WALK and WALK-FM will become Aloha holdings, with an FCC mandate to try as hard as possible to find a buyer for the stations within six months.
Fifteen Years Ago: January 27, 2003
Just in to NERW Central Thursday afternoon is word that one of New England’s longest running morning teams is no more. Smith and Barber, of Cox’s WPLR (99.1 New Haven), are calling it quits after more than 18 years at the rock station. Bruce Barber had been looking at getting out of radio for several months, we’re told, and WPLR management decided not to keep going with just Brian Smith. Inbound to ‘PLR are “Chaz and AJ” from WRCN (103.9 Riverhead) on Long Island; they’ll work with the rest of the Smith and Barber morning team when they start on WPLR in mid-February. Much more in next Monday’s NERW….
To the strains of Don McLean’s American Pie, a legend returned to the airwaves of western NEW YORK this morning at 6. As first confirmed right here at NERW last week, Entercom pulled the plug on the ratings-challenged business talk format that had been occupying the 50,000 watts of Buffalo’s WWKB (1520), returning the erstwhile WKBW to the music that made it great — the hits (don’t call them “oldies” these days) of 1958 through 1973. And what a way to do it — complete with ads in the Buffalo News, a spiffy new Web site at www.kb1520.com, plenty of cross-promotion on Entercom sister stations WGR (550) and WBEN (930), including 90 minutes’ worth of Friday’s Sandy Beach (himself a ‘KB alumnus) talk show on ‘BEN, and a lineup of talent that Buffalo radio history buffs have long fantasized of reuniting at the top of the dial.
Anchoring the revitalized ‘KB, as long rumored, is Danny Neaverth, a morning fixture on the original ‘KB from 1963 until its 1988 demise — and joining him on the 6-10 AM shift is Tom Donahue with “Pulse… Beat… NEWS”. On afternoons is Hank Nevins, who followed Neaverth out the door at Citadel’s oldies WHTT (104.1) last year, and holding down the 6-10 PM shift by voicetrack from his home base at WMQX (93.1 Winston-Salem NC) is none other than “Your LeeeeeeeeeeeeDER,” the legendary Jackson Armstrong. Completing the initial lineup is Joey Reynolds’ overnight talk show — and Reynolds, who worked at ‘KB in 1964-1965, will do his show live from Buffalo tonight.
Just when we thought ‘KB’s return would be the week’s big story out of New York, though, the message boards began crackling early Monday morning with news that Infinity’s WNEW (102.7 New York) was finally waking from its slumber and heading for a new format. WNEW’s hot talk format has been on the endangered list, of course, since last summer’s suspension of the station’s flagship talk hosts, Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia. With the duo off the roster, WNEW has been limping along with syndicated talk, a deliberately weakened morning show (so as not to challenge Infinity sister WXRK and Howard Stern), Ron and Fez in the evening and plenty of infomercials. Monday morning at 1:00, though, that mess of a non-format was abruptly replaced by Jennifer Lopez’ “Jenny from the Block” and an announcement (on the air and on the station’s Web site) that a new station was on the way to 102.7. That, in turn, is sparking a new round of rumors in the nation’s biggest market — will WNEW go to a female-leaning AAA-ish AC format, as message-board guru Allan Sniffen declared he’d been tipped last week? Will it fill the gaping hole in the country format? Or will Infinity shift 102.7 in some completely different direction?
New York was one of the few states where nobody could see the Super Bowl in digital form; amazingly, not one of the Empire State’s ABC affiliates has its DTV signal on the air yet! Only a few viewers in the Albany area had a chance to see ABC’s DTV presentation from San Diego, thanks to the signal of WCDC-DT (Channel 36) from Adams, Massachusetts, which beat its parent station (WTEN Albany) to the digital airwaves — and which was picked up on Albany’s cable system for game day.
Twenty Years Ago: January 26 & 29, 1998
Montreal’s CJAD is sliding around the dial again. The station’s attempt to return to the 800 kHz frequency with a single tower proved unsuccessful, since non-directional operation on the crowded 800 frequency meant extremely low power. The temporary use of CFMB’s old 1410 kHz facility was also less than successful, since the 1410 directional pattern misses most of CJAD’s Anglophone audience to the west of Montreal. Enter CKGM, the CHUM Group talk station on 990 kHz. After reportedly failing to interrupt its diet of US talk shows (Dean Edell, “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger, etc.) for ice storm coverage, CKGM has now agreed to lease out its signal to CJAD until CJAD’s own facility is rebuilt, which could take several more months. CHUM Group officials are making no promises that the low-rated talk format will return to CKGM once the CJAD lease is over; the CKGM facility has been troubled by low ratings and frequent format changes ever since dropping its CHR format, changing calls to CKIS, and moving off 980 kHz in the late 1980s.
Sinclair Broadcasting is finally free to sell four Rochester, NEW YORK stations that it hasn’t even bought yet. WBBF (950), WBEE-FM (92.5), WQRV (93.3 Avon), and WKLX (98.9) are among the Heritage Media stations Sinclair is buying — and they’re part of the group that both Entercom and Jacor wanted to buy. Both companies sued to get the Rochester stations, along with a 2 FM – 1 AM combo in Portland, Oregon. Jacor dropped its lawsuit earlier in the month, and Entercom dropped its suit this week after reaching a deal to pay $126.5 million for the seven stations. NERW wonders how long Entercom will hang on to the Rochester outlets. Portland is already an Entercom market, with 2 FMs and an AM there, but you’d have to go to Florida or Missouri to find the closest Entercom stations to Rochester. NERW suspects the Rochester group may get spun yet again in the near future…stay tuned.
Meantime, Sinclair may not be gone long from Rochester TV. The group is reportedly eyeing Sullivan Broadcasting, which owns Rochester Fox affiliate WUHF (Channel 31) and Buffalo Fox station WUTV (Channel 29). Sinclair is already buying Syracuse’s Fox outlet, WSYT (Channel 68), and it’s a major radio group owner in Buffalo. By the way, WUTV is finally giving up its secondary UPN affiliation. The weblet moves to little WNGS (Channel 67) Springville, which is not yet seen by most Buffalo-area cable homes.
On the TV side of things, WHEC (Channel 10) reporter Kendis Gibson is off to bigger things; he’s headed for a reporter job at Fox O&O WTXF (Channel 29) in Philadelphia — just three years after starting his very first paying TV job at WHEC.