In this week’s issue… WEEI stops down to address controversy – WMGK’s DeBella faces harassment suit – FM sale in Utica – Remembering a Boston TV news icon – PA morning man dies suddenly – Jays’ Howarth retires 

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*In a #metoo world where entertainers and politicians are increasingly under scrutiny for behavior that might not have raised many eyebrows a generation ago, commercial radio has remained largely immune – until now.

On Friday, all the local hosts at Boston’s WEEI were off the air, replaced for the day by syndicated fare from NBC Sports Radio so that the entire staff at the Entercom sports station could spend a day in sensitivity training. WEEI managers said the move was a response to several recent suspensions there, but it’s hard not to believe that the real pressure was coming from a different (and more potent) corner.

In the Globe, columnist Shirley Leung has been pushing back hard on the most recent WEEI misfire, in which midday host Christian Fauria was suspended for using a fake Asian accent to portray Don Yee, Tom Brady’s agent. And unlike many of the columnists who write about stories like this one, Leung has been asking questions to WEEI’s business partners – its advertisers and the teams whose games air there, especially the Red Sox, which shares ownership with the Globe.

At least one advertiser had already pulled out of a WEEI schedule when Entercom called the one-day sensitivity training for Friday. Were others about to follow suit? And will one day of training (which WEEI host Mike Mutnansky described as “heated” when he hit the air on Friday night) make a difference?

Meanwhile to the south, it’s Beasley that will take the next turn in the spotlight, as WMGK (102.9) morning icon John DeBella faces a lawsuit from a former sidekick who says DeBella sexually harassed her at work. Jennifer (“Posner”) Neill was part of DeBella’s show from 2010 to 2016, when she filed a complaint with the state about DeBella’s behavior, which she says included both unwanted physical contact and verbal harassment. She says she was given a choice of staying on the show or taking a lesser job as a traffic reporter, which she did briefly before leaving the station a year ago.

“We are not offering specific comment on the matter,” Beasley said in a statement. For now, DeBella is still on the air.

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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: February 20, 2017

*How much is a TV station worth?

That question may have just become much harder to answer after a very busy week in which we’ve learned how much the FCC’s spectrum incentive auction is paying several independent stations to go dark – and how much a fast-growing group owner is paying for one of the stations that isn’t taking part in the auction.

The week’s biggest headlines included the news from NEW HAMPSHIRE that Bill Binnie’s WBIN-TV (Channel 50) will go dark eventually – and has shuttered its news operation immediately; the news from NEW YORK‘s Hudson Valley that WRNN (Channel 48) may have the auction’s biggest payout; word from MASSACHUSETTS that Ed Ansin will take WLVI (Channel 56) dark in the auction; CBS and Scripps’ decision not to unload any of their spectrum… oh, and then the surprise announcement that MAINE‘s oldest TV station will be getting a new owner.

*It wasn’t all that surprising, in the end, that Bill Binnie put WBIN-TV’s spectrum in the auction. The independent station on channel 50 (ex-WNDS, then briefly WZMY) never reached the entire Boston market over the air, but its UHF channel still had plenty of value in the FCC’s plan to clear out spectrum to be sold to wireless carriers. How much value? $68.1 million, Binnie said – plus another $20 million or so in a side deal with a “major broadcaster” to sell off certain other rights, believed to involve Binnie’s three low-power VHF signals in Nashua, Manchester and Concord.

The bigger surprise, at least where the timing was concerned, was Binnie’s immediate shutdown of its NH1 News operation, which broadcast its last shows on WBIN Thursday night. Launched just a year ago with great fanfare, NH1 had invested heavily in challenging the traditional dominant player in New Hampshire TV news, Hearst’s WMUR (Channel 9). While the NH1 newscasts never came near WMUR’s ratings, their sudden demise puts a newsroom full of good people out of work.

*And there’s still more TV news from MAINE, where Gray Television is buying Bangor CBS affiliate WABI-TV (Channel 5) from Diversified Communications in an $85 million deal that also includes sister station WCJB (Channel 20) in Gainesville, Florida.

The sale makes WABI-TV once again a sister to WAGM-TV (Channel 8) in Presque Isle, which Diversified owned from 1957 until 1984. It also ends one of the longest runs of family ownership in television: Diversified is still owned by the Hildreth family, descendants of former governor Horace Hildreth, who put WABI-TV on the air in 1953.

Five Years Ago: February 18, 2013

*Glenn Ordway was part of Boston’s WEEI before the station was even doing all-sports, and he survived multiple owners and three incarnations (590, 850 and 93.7) – but the veteran sports talker’s long run at WEEI came to an abrupt end late last week when he became the biggest name in a big week of talent shuffles in eastern MASSACHUSETTS.

Perhaps with an eye toward Ordway’s remarkable 27-year run at the station (where he started doing Celtics games in 1987, was one of the charter crew of talk hosts during WEEI’s 1991 flip from all-news to sports and even spent a few years as PD in the mid-1990s), Entercom gave Ordway the chance to say goodbye on the air, announcing his dismissal Wednesday but keeping him on the afternoon “Big Show” through Friday.

Why is Entercom parting ways with someone they valued highly enough to give a reported five-year, million-dollar-a-year contract as recently as 2009? The company’s not saying, but the immediate reasons are pretty obvious. When Ordway re-upped in 2009, CBS Radio was still months away from launching its rival “Sports Hub” (WBZ-FM 98.5), which quickly turned out to be a much more potent threat to WEEI’s sports dominance than most observers had expected. Had WEEI quickly shifted gears to FM itself, it might have staved off “Sports Hub,” but instead Entercom held its fire and remained on the AM dial for two long years – which also, unfortunately for WEEI, turned out also to coincide with a downward slide for its bread and butter, the Red Sox.

Chained to a painfully expensive Red Sox rights deal, that appears to have left Entercom with little choice but to cut costs where it can – and while it can’t easily get out of its Sox contract, WEEI did apparently have a ratings-target clause that gave it an out from Ordway’s five-year deal.(The Globe reports that Ordway’s salary was already cut in half in 2011 when his show failed to hit its ratings goal, but even $500,000 a year is a lot to be spending on talent in 2013.)

The station also had a ready replacement waiting in the wings, at least if “the wings” are 3,000 miles to the west at sister station KIRO (710) in Seattle. That’s where Boston native Mike Salk has been working since 2009, and where he’s now packing his boxes to move back home as Ordway’s replacement alongside Michael Holley on “The Big Show.” Salk has prior Boston radio experience at the old “ESPN 890″ (WAMG) and at WWZN (1510), but the WEEI gig will put him in a much bigger spotlight as Entercom tries to attract the same younger listeners who’ve been moving to the Sports Hub’s afternoon show with Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti. (They, in turn, spent part of their Thursday show praising Ordway, who gave them prominent exposure as guest hosts on the “Big Show” earlier in their own careers.)

*Amidst all the arrivals, Boston radio veterans are mourning a prominent departure. Paul Benzaquin was one of the city’s talk radio pioneers, moving into talk in 1963, three years after starting at CBS-owned WEEI (590) as a newsman. Already well-known in town as a columnist for the Globe and Herald in the 1950s, Benzaquin became an even bigger star as a talk host. After a year in Chicago in 1970, Benzaquin came home to Boston in 1971, doing a morning talk show on WNAC-TV (Channel 7) and afternoons on WEEI through the middle of the decade. Benzaquin later worked at WBZ (1030), WITS (1510), WHDH (850) and ended his career in the early 1990s at WRKO (680). Benzaquin was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2007. He died Wednesday (Feb. 13) at age 90.

*Another of the week’s big headlines came from southern CONNECTICUT, where Cox Media Group found a buyer for the last remaining stations in its Milford-based cluster. Over the last few years, Cox has been tightly focusing itself on markets where it can own dominant combinations of radio, TV and often print as well (think Atlanta, where the company owns WSB-TV, a five-station radio cluster including WSB radio, and the Journal-Constitution) and seeking to exit markets where it doesn’t see a path to that sort of dominance.

In Fairfield County, there’s no TV to own at all, so Cox has been making a gradual exit, spinning off WKHL (now WKLV-FM) to EMF and the AM duo of WSTC/WNLK to Sacred Heart University in recent years. With a big splash last week, Cox announced two deals to unload many of its remaining radio-only clusters, with a management-led group (doing business as Summit Media) acquiring clusters from Birmingham to Honolulu – and the Connecticut stations going to Jeff Warshaw’s Connoisseur Media for  $40 million.

*In RHODE ISLAND, veteran broadcaster Ron St. Pierre is gone from WPRO (630)/WEAN-FM (99.7), and rather abruptly at that. St. Pierre came to WPRO in 1988 as program director, moving over from competitor WHJJ (920) to help transition the station all the way to talk. He went on the air in 2001 as morning host (while also serving as operations director), and has moved around the schedule in the ensuing decade, co-hosting middays with Buddy Cianci and then doing afternoons with Cianci.

Ten Years Ago: February 18, 2008

*Make a list of the most memorable voices in the history of Boston morning radio, and a few names are bound to be at the top. There’s the roster of legends at WBZ – de Suze, Maynard and Lapierre – and several greats from the FM era, such as Laquidara and Siegel.But at or near the top of that list, for anyone who listened to the radio in eastern MASSACHUSETTS between the late fifties and early nineties, would be the name of Jess Cain, who died Thursday morning at his Back Bay home.

A World War II veteran, the Philadelphia native turned to acting after the war, then took a job teaching communications at Notre Dame University before moving to Boston in the mid-fifties with his colleague Jack Hynes.

Cain was the morning man at Boston’s WHDH (850) from 1957 until 1991, a remarkable run that spanned multiple owners and multiple formats. Along the way, he contributed characters like Sidney Flack and Hap Smiley to the lexicon, as well as tunes such as “Fly Me to Methuen” (to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon”) and the immortal “Yaz Song” that was one of the theme songs for the “Impossible Dream” season in 1967.

In addition to his radio career, Cain returned in later years to the stage, taking part in amateur theater productions until the last few years, when his illnesses began to take a toll.

It’s arguable that Cain never received the honors he deserved, in part because WHDH radio ceased to exist not long after his retirement. (Its successor at the 850 spot on the dial, WEEI, aired the “Yaz Song” in Cain’s memory Thursday, and over at WBZ, Jordan Rich devoted an hour of his show Friday to Cain.)

Cain was 81; a public memorial service is scheduled for Saturday (Feb. 23) at 10 AM at the Glastonbury Monastery in Hingham.

*In other Boston news, it turned out CBS Radio wasn’t done cutting jobs in the Hub even after the axe had swung in most of its other markets. In all, we’re told there are now 15 or so fewer jobs at CBS’ Boston stations.

Among the positions cut was that of WBZ assistant news director Paul Connearney, who’d been at the station since the 1991 demise of his previous employer, all-news WEEI (590). WBZ also lost one IT position, while over at WBCN (104.1) overnighter “Juanita the Scene Queen” was moved off that shift to part-time weekend status. And at WODS (103.3), Patrick Callahan lost his spot on the jock roster, with JJ Wright moving from overnights to Callahan’s former night slot.

Over at Entercom, there’s a new member of the Red Sox radio team for the 2008 season. With the departure of Glenn Geffner, Dave O’Brien will now handle 135 of the 162 regular-season games alongside Joe Castiglione. Dale Arnold will cover most of the rest, with studio host Jon Rish filling in on a few while O’Brien is taking care of his ESPN duties.

*One of NEW YORK‘s more obscure spots on the FM dial is about to get an injection of new programming ideas from the opposite coast. WNYE (91.5), which has programmed a mixture of overflow NPR talk programming and ethnic shows for the last few years, has signed a deal with Seattle’s KEXP (90.3) to provide it with music programming.

KEXP, which is licensed to the University of Washington but operated as an independent alternative music voice (with funding from Microsoft founder Paul Allen, among others) will supply WNYE with a three-hour weekday morning show customized for the New York market, followed at 9 AM by a three-hour simulcast of KEXP’s Seattle morning show, as well as several weekly specialty shows.

Upstate, Eric Straus has sold the last of his radio holdings. The onetime Hudson Valley owner moved heavily into Internet advertising a few years back, creating the “regionalhelpwanted.com” and “cupid.com” sites that link with local radio stations to provide non-traditional revenue. Now he’s selling that business to onTargetjobs, which owns sites such as CareerBank.com. The $100 million sale apparently includes Regional’s three radio stations in the Glens Falls market, WWSC (1450 Glens Falls), WCKM (98.5 Lake George) and WCQL (95.9 Queensbury).

In Albany, “Talk 1300” has new calls. Paul Vandenburgh’s station was to have become WCBI (Capital Broadcasters, Inc.), but those calls already belong to a TV station in Mississippi – so the former WTMM (1300 Rensselaer) is now WGDJ.

*Two veteran PENNSYLVANIA radio newspeople are taking voluntary retirements as part of CBS Radio’s cutbacks. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that 37-year KYW (1060 Philadelphia) veteran Don Lancer, the station’s business editor, and South Jersey bureau chief Ed Kasuba, who’s been with the station 33 years, both offered to retire to fulfill CBS’ goal of reducing two positions from the KYW news staff. Lancer is the longest-serving member of KYW’s staff.

Meanwhile over on the engineering side, CBS Radio engineering honcho Glynn Walden is relocating from New York to Philadelphia, where he’ll also serve as chief engineer of KYW.

A new owner is taking control of Philadelphia-market independent TV station WTVE (Channel 51). Richard French, who owns the New York-market Regional News Network, based at WRNN-DT (Channel 48 Kingston NY), is leading a group that’s paying $11.5 million to buy WTVE out of bankruptcy. Will WTVE become a southern arm of French’s RNN?

*In CANADA, there’s a frequency change coming in Ontario’s “Cottage Country” next month, as Larche Communications completes its acquisition of Rogers’ “Jack FM” CICX (105.9 Orillia), which it received (along with C$8.2 million) in trade for its “KICX” CIKZ (106.7 Kitchener). Up in the Midland/Orillia area, Larche will move the “KICX” country format from CICZ (104.1 Midland) back to 105.9, where it started back in the nineties. That March 3 shuffle will bring a new, as yet undisclosed, format to 104.1.

Fifteen Years Ago: February 17, 2003

*A week after a fire severely damaged their transmitter facilities high atop Mount Washington, NEW HAMPSHIRE, the radio stations (and many other users) that depended on New England’s highest peak are still struggling to get back to normal.

The former WMTW-TV transmi