In this week’s issue… Someone’s doing deals (but not iHeart) – Steel City files Chapter 11 – Remembering Boston’s Bozo – Imus checks out – Southern Tier shuffle

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*If you were even minimally conscious and at all involved in radio this past week, your inbox was probably filled with forwards of a not-very-insightful article that claimed iHeart’s bankruptcy will lead to a fire sale of hundreds of its radio stations.

It won’t – but if you look down the road from iHeart’s Manhattan headquarters across to NEW JERSEY, you’ll see that several smaller radio players are indeed buying and selling, with a strong hint that there’s more to come.

The players in Thursday’s deal were new to each other, but not new to the deal market in recent months: Jeff Warshaw’s Connoisseur unloaded its Hartford-market stations earlier this year, while Townsquare began raising some eyebrows with its out-of-left-field purchase of Utica’s WOUR from Galaxy just a few weeks ago.

This time it’s Trenton at play, and Townsquare that’s accomplished what nobody else has been able to pull off in decades of FM competition. For $17 million, Townsquare is adding Connoisseur’s top-40 giant WPST (94.5 Trenton) to its own dominant talk/classic hits signal, WKXW (101.5). Combining PST with “New Jersey 101.5” will give Townsquare a near-complete lock on broadcast advertising in Trenton, not to mention a stronger position in digital advertising and events, which has been an increasing focus of Townsquare’s clusters. (The deal also includes two AMs, Fox Sports WNJE 920 Trenton and leased-time religious WCHR 1040 Flemington, which were likely rounding errors in a deal that was really all about WPST.)

What’s next for each company, and for Trenton radio listeners? Read on…

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*In Trenton, the deal ends an entire generation of competition for ad dollars between two stations with outsized reputations. Under Herb Hobler (who also owned WHWH 1350 in Princeton), WPST on 97.5 was one of the first top-40 FMs in the region, launching careers that included PD/morning man Tom Taylor, who’d later go on to even bigger things in the trade press. Later, it was the flagship of the Nassau Broadcasting group, which moved the 97.5 signal down to Philadelphia but kept the PST legacy alive on 94.5 (formerly religious WCHR-FM, then classic rock “Hawk”). After Nassau imploded, WPST went to Connoisseur, which paid $38 million for it and its sister stations in 2013.

WKXW, meanwhile, was the FM underdog sister of WBUD (1260) for much of its early history – but that all changed when Press Communications took over in 1990, unleashing its big FM signal to make big waves as “New Jersey 101.5.” It quickly became a dominant force in the always-volatile world of New Jersey politics, and it held on to that dominance as it changed hands to Millennium in 2001 and was then merged in to Townsquare in 2011.

Townsquare made a play for WPST in Nassau’s bankruptcy sale in 2012, offering $16 million, but was outbid by Nassau’s creditors. Six years of patience have now paid off – and it’ll now be up to Townsquare to figure out how to combine the old Nassau facility on Alexander Road with the New Jersey 101.5 broadcast center in Ewing Township. There’s no reason to expect much in the way of format changes to either FM; both have enjoyed the unusual situation in which those two FMs have really been the only big commercial competitors in town, where the dial is mostly full of outside signals from Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley and New York. (Better yet for Townsquare, the other potent FM signal in town, WPRB 103.3 Princeton, is run by Princeton students and doesn’t really compete for mass audience or ad dollars – and none of the AMs in the market has managed to do much in the translator era, either.)

If Townsquare is being careful with its latest plays as a buyer – adding WOUR in Utica and now WPST in Trenton as one-off opportunities to bolster market positions where it’s already successful – it’s a little less clear what Connoisseur’s strategy is. In Hartford, Warshaw’s group of one FM and four AMs simply lacked the firepower to compete against the market’s bigger players, including iHeart and CBS Radio/Entercom, so its sale to John Fuller’s Full Power Radio allowed two smaller clusters to combine into a more competitive one. But why sell WPST, which was plenty competitive in the constricted Trenton radio landscape?

Here’s our theory: in addition to paying down debt, Connoisseur’s stated reason for the WPST sale, NERW readers know that Warshaw recently won an important regulatory victory in Washington. Just a few weeks after the Hartford stations sold, the FCC tweaked its rules on radio ownership caps, ruling that a company like Connoisseur that owns stations in an embedded Nielsen market (in this case, Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut and Nassau-Suffolk on Long Island, both embedded in New York City) could acquire signals in other embedded markets as well without having them all count against the larger market’s cap.

That appeared (and still appears) to us to signal Connoisseur’s interest in adding more stations on the New Jersey side of the New York market, most likely the former Greater Media stations (WMGQ 98.3/WCTC 1450 New Brunswick, WDHA 105.5 Dover, WMTR 1250 Morristown, WRAT 95.9/WJRZ 100.1 in Monmouth) that came along for the ride when Beasley bought Greater’s Boston and Philadelphia clusters.

With some $25 million in the bank from the sales in Hartford and now Trenton, will Connoisseur act soon on its newfound opportunity to close more of its suburban ring around New York City? (And if it does, will it have more success than others who’ve tried the same strategy, going all the way back to the days of the old Herald-Tribune Radio network of AM stations?)

*Speaking of Beasley, it signed a $15,000 consent decree with the FCC last week to resolve some paperwork issues stemming from a reorganization last year that rolled up several of its license subsidiaries (including the one that holds WTEL 610 in Philadelphia, as well as others that held former CBS Radio stations in other markets) into the broader “Beasley Media Group LLC”. If we’re reading the dense legalese right, Beasley made the moves without getting the FCC’s prior consent; the company has also agreed to implement a compliance plan to make sure it handles future transfers correctly.

While we’re in Philadelphia, we note Entercom’s format tweak to one of the stations it picked up from CBS Radio: WTDY (96.5) quietly shifted from AC (“Today’s 96.5”) to hot AC (“96.5 TDY, Today’s Hits”).

And we credit Tom Taylor with the scoop on Entercom’s plans to combine all its scattered Philadelphia-market operations, including its corporate headquarters, under one roof at a new office building at 2400 Market Street in center city, on the banks of the Schuylkill River. The move would pull Entercom’s headquarters into the city from suburban Bala Cynwyd, which is also where WTDY, WOGL (98.1) and WXTU (92.5) have their studios; KYW (1060) would move to the Market Street building from the KYW-TV (Channel 3) studios on Spring Garden, while WIP (94.1) and WPHT (1210) would move west from their current home at 400 Market.

*At the other end of PENNSYLVANIA, the Frischling family’s Steel City Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday for both of its radio markets. In Pittsburgh, “WPNT Inc.” operates longtime Frischling holdings WLTJ (Q92.9) and WRRK (Bob FM 96.9); in Kansas City, “MGTF Radio Co. LLC” (named for Saul Frischling’s sons Michael, Gregg and Todd) operates four FM stations purchased from Wilks in 2014 for $105.5 million.

Steel City says it intends to continue its operations in both markets while it restructures; Michael Frischling says the stations in Kansas City and Pittsburgh remain “very profitable” despite what he describes as “softness” in both markets.

(NERW notes: just as with iHeart, there’s no reason to expect station sales from Steel City. Here again, the stations are worth more as ongoing operations than they would be if put up for sale. While Kansas City is a notable hole in iHeart’s nationwide market roster, there’s no way the cluster would fetch anything close to $105 million if sold today – and the same is likely true of the Pittsburgh FMs, which would bring Entercom’s cluster there to full strength if sold.)

*Up near Clearfield, Seven Mountains/Southern Belle realigned one of its recently-acquired FMs last week, dropping “Clear Rock 95.9” from WZDB (95.9 Sykesville) in favor of a simulcast of top-40 “Pop 93.1” WPQP.

The 95.9 signal, which gets new calls WQQP, had been doing rock even before Seven Mountains/Southern Belle took over last year; adding it to WPQP gives “Pop” better reach toward DuBois and Punxsutawney.

*Our NEW YORK news begins, as it must, with Thursday morning at WABC (770), the end of Don Imus’ long radio career.

As Imus’ featured interview on “CBS Sunday Morning” reminded us, even if his best days are long past, Imus is still a seminal figure in radio history – and if you’re not sure about that, just ask Imus, who declared himself one of the five most important radio talents, ever. (The others? Arthur Godfrey, Jack Benny and Imus’ former WNBC colleagues Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern. It was an odd interview.)

Seriously, though, Imus was enormously influential for many years, and it’s hard to imagine his replacements on WABC, Bernie McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg, having anywhere near the impact on the market that Imus had in his stints on WNBC, WFAN and WABC over the decades. And even if we haven’t been paying much attention to the show in recent years, we’ll be tuned in for Imus’ last few appearances and the end of this chapter of New York radio history.

*Where are they now? As first reported on our sister site RadioInsight, Gregg “Opie” Hughes is joining Westwood One for a new podcast that will launch April 17. The former “Opie and Anthony” co-host will also be doing some as-yet-unspecified new radio work for Westwood One, returning him to broadcast radio after stints with SiriusXM and streaming. And Brian Thomas, whose New York days included PD stints at WCBS-FM and WNSH, is now Cumulus’ PD in Atlanta at “Kicks” WKHX (101.5), moving south after programming WLS-FM in Chicago.

*Upstate, Sound Communications realigned several of its signals in the southern tier last Wednesday. WZKZ (101.9 Alfred) kept its country format, but it’s now “101.9 the Ride,” and it’s picked up a simulcast a half-hour to the west in Olean on WOEN (1360, formerly standards) and new translator W242CT (96.3). WOEN’s former simulcast another 20 miles to the west in Salamanca, WGGO (1590), is back on the air from its new Valcom whip antenna (replacing the old tower that was downed last year in a storm). Instead of standards, WGGO is now simulcasting sister “98 Rock” WQRS (98.3 Salamanca).

In Buffalo, WEDG (103.3) PD Jim Kurdziel has been upped to regional VP/rock programming for parent company Cumulus. He’s now overseeing rock formats in Syracuse, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and as far afield as Wisconsin and Louisiana, all while continuing to program WEDG and track middays there. And over at public radio WBFO (88.7), we’ve been remiss in not noting Dave Rosenthal’s promotion to news director, replacing the departing Brian Meyer at the end of March. Rosenthal had been managing editor for the “Great Lakes Today” regional journalism center, a partnership between WBFO, Rochester’s WXXI and WCPN/Ideastream in Cleveland.

*In Syracuse, Mark Wainwright is back on the air with a reduced schedule at iHeart’s WSYR (570/106.9) as he recovers from his fight with throat cancer. Wainwright, who’s still dealing with a weakened voice, is hosting the 6-9 AM portion of the morning show as he works his way back to full strength.

*In VERMONT, Saga took WKVT-FM (92.7 Brattleboro) from classic rock to adult hits last week, trading “Iconic Rock 92.7” for a new identity as “92.7 Bratt-FM.” The format flip on Friday comes with a staffing shuffle today as morning host Fish moves to afternoons, trading airshifts with Tom Mayo.

Up north at Vermont Public Radio headquarters in Colchester, there’s now a replacement for departing president/CEO Robin Turnau. VPR is bringing Scott Finn aboard as its new leader, hiring him away from a five-year stint at the helm of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, Frank Avruch was a real Bozo – and that’s no insult at all. Avruch, who died Tuesday (March 20), played the famous TV clown on the old WHDH-TV (Channel 5) from 1959 until 1970, as well as in national syndication.

But the versatile Avruch was much more than just a kiddie host; in more than 40 years at WHDH-TV and its successor, WCVB, he did the sort of wide-ranging hosting and announcing that’s now a lost art on television.

At WCVB, his signature role was as host of “The Great Entertainment,” suavely introducing a new generation of late-night movie viewers to classic Hollywood films.

Avruch was 89.

*The exodus continues from iHeart’s WBZ (1030 Boston), where Chris Citorik has left his Sunday night “Up Front” talk show and his weekday role producing Dan Rea’s “Nightside.” He’s joined public broadcaster WBUR (90.9), where he’s now part of the production team for the weekday “Radio Boston.” And down the hall in the engineering department, longtime WBZ chief engineer Mark Manuelian has also moved to public radio, joining the growing engineering staff just around the corner at WGBH (89.7).

Back at iHeart, WRKO (680)’s Howie Carr picked up an unexpected endorsement late Sunday night: President Donald Trump promoted Carr’s self-published book about Trump, “What Really Happened,” in a late-night tweet that we’re sure Carr will be talking about today.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Latino Public Radio will leave the airwaves of WRPA (1290 Providence) at the end of March, as its lease with Rhode Island Public Radio expires. LPR had been heard for part of the day on the Wheeler School’s WELH (88.1 Providence) until 2012, when RIPR took over programming on WELH and in turn leased out its AM signal (then known as WRNI) to LPR.

RIPR and LPR had reached a deal last year to sell 1290 to LPR, but the sale was never consummated, and the AM signal will now be put on the open market, while LPR will go streaming-only starting April 1. (The 1290 signal will temporarily simulcast RIPR programming until it’s sold.)

“We regret that the budget realities at Latino Public Radio meant we couldn’t
complete the station sale as both parties had hoped,” said Rhode Island Public Radio
CEO Torey Malatia. “We’re grateful, though, that they intend to continue reaching
their audience online.”

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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: March 27, 2017

*When Entercom filed its applications with the FCC last week to acquire CBS Radio’s stations in big markets around the country, we had an initial glimmer of hope that we were all about to learn just which stations were destined to be spun off to keep the new Entercom under the FCC’s market caps in places like Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston.

Then we started looking through the filings as they hit the FCC’s website late at night, startled to see major CBS properties such as Boston’s WBZ and San Francisco’s KCBS appearing to be headed for the spinoff trust being administered by broker Eliot Evers.

“WHAT?” was roughly the tone of the text messages heading back and forth between the headquarters of NERW and our media partner RadioInsight, at least for the few minutes it took us to dig deeper into the hard work being done by the fleet of lawyers both companies have no doubt engaged.

And here’s what we can conclude after that deeper examination: at least for now, Entercom hasn’t actually decided which stations will be sold (with one exception in our region, which we’ll get to in a moment), and so it’s playing a clever waiting game with the FCC.

In its filings, Entercom acknowledges that it will have to sell at least two FM stations in the Boston market, but it’s asking the FCC for general permission to potentially put any of CBS Radio or Entercom’s current Boston signals into the eventual spinoff trust. That could include Entercom’s sports WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence), R&B WKAF (97.7 Brockton), rock WAAF (107.3 Westborough), or even AMs WRKO (680) or WEEI (850). On the CBS side, it could include sports WBZ-FM (98.5), classic rock WZLX (100.7), top-40 WODS (103.3), AC WBMX (104.1) or even the mighty WBZ (1030).

We can speculate endlessly, of course, about which signals might actually end up in other hands, and whose hands those might be, but there’s something else quietly telling about the Entercom filing: it strongly suggests that Entercom itself doesn’t actually have a buyer (or more likely, a tax-free swap partner) lined up yet, which means we may be in for a few months (if not longer) before we have any actual answers about what happens next and what the final picture will look like in Boston.

*In northeast PENNSYLVANIA, there’s more news from Entercom beyond the impending sale at WGGI. Back at the core of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre cluster, Entercom’s WILK talk network abruptly ditched afternoon host Steve Corbett last week. The Citizens Voice reports that Entercom market manager Ryan Flynn sent out a terse memo to staffers Wednesday: “Effective immediately, Steve Corbett will not be returning to WILK. Steve will be shifting his focus to work on some other projects outside our company. We appreciate the work Steve has done on WILK and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Corbett had been with the stations (WILK-FM 103.1 Avoca, WILK 980 Wilkes-Barre, WBZU 910 Scranton) since 2006, when he returned to the area after a newspaper stint in California; he’d previously worked for 17 years at the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre.

Five Years Ago: March 25, 2013

*Does NEW JERSEY need more TV service? We know plenty of Jerseyites who’d say “yes” – but there’s probably not one of them who will end up being satisfied with the FCC ruling last week that will create (at least on paper) a new TV station serving Middletown Township in Monmouth County. We’ve been following this story here at NERW for almost four years, starting from the day back in June 2009 when the principals behind Press Communications asked the FCC to reallocate KVNV (Channel 3) from Ely, Nevada to Middletown (and, at the same time, to move KJWY channel 2 from Jackson, Wyoming to Wilmington, Delaware.)

The FCC, of course, thought it had a way to block KVNV and KJWY (doing business as “PMCM, LLC”) from making their epic cross-country moves: not long after KVNV and KJWY applied, the Commission created two new (and highly unusual) VHF digital allotments on its own for New Jersey and Delaware – and it placed channel 4 in Atlantic City and channel 5 in Seaford specifically to put them far enough away that they couldn’t put their transmitters in New York City or Philadelphia, as PMCM planned for its stations.

Channel 4 went on the air quickly and is now WACP-TV, running a nonstop diet of infomercials, and channel 5 holds a construction permit and is expected on the air soon. But with everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose, PMCM continued to appeal its case. Back in 2009, we told readers that “our reading of Section 331(a) suggests that the Commission would have a hard time saying no” to the move in the end – and not to brag or anything, but we turned out to be right.

PMCM went to court seeking vindication of its theory, and in December it won a unanimous ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, ordering the FCC to approve the KVNV and KJWY moves. Last week, the FCC took the first step toward complying with the court’s order: it issued a pair of Report and Orders reallocating the Ely and Jackson channels to “Middletown Township” and “Wilmington,” respectively, and directing PMCM to submit applications within 30 days for construction permits for its new facilities.

Those facilities won’t be in New Jersey or Delaware, of course: KVNV’s new allotment coordinates put its new 10 kW signal atop Four Times Square in Manhattan, while KJWY’s new channel 2 facility would be in the Roxborough tower farm in Philadelphia.

*In CONNECTICUT, they’re mourning a DJ who died far too young. The name on his birth certificate was Kevin Cleary, but for most of his time at WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford), and before that at WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), he was known as “KTAG” – “Kevin the Afternoon Guy.” More recently, he’d been “Kevin the Part-Time Guy,” but he was still a beloved part of the Hartford radio family when he died on Friday at his home in Bristol. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Cleary was just 44 years old.

Up on West Peak, John Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting has put its “La Bomba” Spanish-language service on the air at W258AL (99.5 Clinton), which just completed a ten-mile move up to West Peak in Meriden. From there, it’s now relaying the HD2 of co-located WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), adding lots of “Bomba” coverage to the existing Red Wolf translators in Bolton and Bridgeport.

*There’s one fewer TV newsroom now in NEW YORK‘s state capital. Friday’s 10 PM newscast was the last to originate from the Corporate Circle studio of WXXA (Channel 23) as the Fox affiliate completed its operational merger with ABC outlet WTEN (Channel 10). In the months since WTEN began operating WXXA for its new owners, Shield Media, the Fox station cancelled its 5 and 11 PM newscasts and began shedding staffers such as lead anchor Ann Hughes.

The Times Union reports Friday’s WXXA newsroom closure meant the elimination of 20 more jobs, including meteorologist Jason Caterina and reporter Steve Flamisch. WXXA’s remaining morning and 10 PM newscasts now come from WTEN’s Northern Boulevard studios, produced mainly by WTEN’s existing staff.

*Radio folks all over western New York are mourning Burton O. Waterman. “Uncle Burt” had a long career in engineering, largely based around his home in Cassadaga, near Jamestown. That’s where he built WNYP (Channel 26) in the 1960s, and where he worked for many years engineering WKSN (1340) and WHUG (101.7). After retiring, Waterman continued to work with former WKSN/WHUG colleagues Dan and Deb Fischer, building a new storefront studio in Batavia afeter they bought WBTA (1490) there in 2003. That studio on Main Street is now named after Waterman, complete with a plaque in the entryway. Waterman died last Monday (March 18), at age 89.

Ten Years Ago: March 24, 2008

*Ask just about any top-40 DJ of a certain generation to list their most respected colleagues, and the name “Jackson Armstrong” is almost sure to pop up somewhere near the top.

Armstrong, whose real name was John Larsh, died Saturday at his North Carolina home, ending a career that found “Your LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEADER” behind the mic everywhere from Los Angeles (KTNQ, KKHR, KFI) to Boston (WMEX).

Armstrong’s career began at his hometown WCOG in Greensboro, NC in 1964, but he came into his fast-talking persona in Cleveland, where he worked both for WIXY and competitor WKYC.

Armstrong came to Boston in 1968 to work at WMEX, spending most of the next seven years in the northeast at CHUM in Toronto, WKBW in Buffalo (where his three-year stint on the night shift is still fondly remembered by listeners all over the northeast), WPOP in Hartford, WKTQ in Pittsburgh (where he was a key part of 13Q from 1973-75) and even a short stint at KDKA. A few years later, he did one shift on New York’s WNBC as “The Unknown DJ” before heading west to work in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno.

Armstrong returned to the northeast airwaves in 2003 when WKBW (by then known as WWKB) returned to an oldies format, voicetracking first an evening shift and then an afternoon shift from North Carolina until the demise of the oldies on KB in 2006.

In a memorial message, Armstrong’s daughter Devon writes, “If you knew him at all, you’d know he wouldn’t want you to be sad for a moment…he would also want you to help fight to bring back the personality in radio if at all possible. He loved being a DJ almost as much as he loved being a father and that says A LOT.”

Armstrong was 62.

*In CONNECTICUT, NBC Universal is putting WVIT (Channel 30) up for sale after just over a decade of network ownership.

The New Britain-licensed station has actually been owned by NBC twice during its 55 years on the air, first from 1957-1959 (under the WNBC-TV calls) and then again since a 1997 trade with Paramount (which acquired WLWC-TV New Bedford/Providence and WWHO-TV in the Columbus, Ohio market). Under NBC’s ownership, WVIT has been a solid competitor in the spread-out Hartford/New Haven market, consistently hitting at least second place in the local news ratings, with some nice first-place finishes in the February sweeps among 25-54 viewers in the mornings and at 11.

When NBC Universal announced plans to shed many of its smaller-market stations (including Providence’s WJAR), WVIT was conspicuously missing from the list – and indeed, it wasn’t long after the sale of WJAR and other NBC O&Os to Media General that NBC announced plans to build a new high-tech studio facility for WVIT next door to its half-century-old facility on New Britain Avenue in West Hartford.

That new building is currently going up in what had been WVIT’s parking lot, but by the time it’s finished, the station is expected to have a new owner.

That’s because even with all the money it’s spending on WVIT, NBC says it’s focusing its station ownership on the top 10 markets. It owns stations in eight of them, leaving only Detroit and Boston without NBC O&O presence. (In Detroit, NBC has a long association with Post-Newsweek’s powerful WDIV; in Boston, the network has long been rumored to be interested in a deal to buy WHDH from Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam.)

Outside the top 10, NBC will be left with only KNSD in San Diego once it completes the latest round of sales, which also includes WTVJ in Miami.

*In Brunswick, Maine, it’s the end of the line for an old studio/transmitter building. The barnlike structure that was home to the stations on 98.9 and 900, variously WCME, WKXA and WCLZ, for almost half a century came down last week, we’re told. There hadn’t been studios in there for several years, since WCLZ (98.9 North Yarmouth) was swallowed up by first the Portland-based Citadel cluster and then the South Portland-based Saga cluster.

The AM side on 900, which is part of JJ Jeffrey’s “Big Jab” group of sports stations, changed calls last week as well – it had been WJJB and is now WWBK. (The WJJB calls are apparently headed for Westbrook to replace WJAE on the 1440 half of the simulcast.)

In place of the old building, there’s now a small prefab structure housing the transmitters for WCLZ and WJJB.

*There’s a new TV newscast on the air in VERMONT. As we predicted when Fox outlet WFFF (Channel 44) launched a 10 PM newscast last year, the same news team is now producing a broadcast for sister ABC outlet WVNY (Channel 22).

But instead of competing head-on with the Burlington/Plattsburgh market’s two news behemoths, WCAX (Channel 3) and WPTZ (Channel 5), WVNY is running its newscast on weeknights at 7 PM. And it’s branding the show, oddly enough, as “Fox 44 News at 7.”

*A NEW JERSEY format change: Press Communications is replacing oldies with Fox Sports at WBUD (1260 Trenton). When the flip takes effect on March 31, WBUD will run Fox 21 hours a day, with three hours a day of Jim Rome in middays.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Greater Media is preparing to relaunch its AM sports talker, WPEN (950 Philadelphia). The station has dropped its 6-9 AM show with Glenn Foley and Michael Bradley, replacing it with ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike. It’s part of an overall rebranding of the station that will take effect April 1, as it picks up the ESPN affiliation and becomes “950 ESPN.”

The rest of the WPEN day will shape up like this: former afternoon host Jody McDonald moves to the 9 AM-1 PM slot, followed by the Mike Tirico show from ESPN and then former WIP/WMMR talker Mike Missanelli from 3-7 PM. Harry Mayes moves from middays to nights, where he’ll do 7-11 PM alongside Dan Schwartzman, who comes to WPEN from former Philly-area ESPN outlet WPHY (920 Trenton).

Across the state in Pittsburgh, Steel City media is making changes at WLTJ (92.9). As of Sunday evening, “Lite Rock 92.9” is no more, and we hear the station has reimaged as “Q 92.9.”

*Eastern CANADA is losing one of its biggest remaining AM signals in just a few weeks. The CBC signed on CBAM (106.1 Moncton) in January, and that set the clock ticking for the end of 50,000-watt, non-directional CBA (1070 Moncton), which has long been a beacon of CBC service not only for much of the Maritimes but for the northeastern U.S. as well.

We’re hearing that CBA will breathe its last on the AM dial early on the morning of April 7, with the final sign-off coming at 8:30 AM ADT (7:30 AM EDT).

Fifteen Years Ago: March 24, 2003

One of the best known broadcast voices in central PENNSYLVANIA came back to the air last Thursday (March 20). Bruce Bond was a fixture in afternoons at WNNK (104.1) until December 2001, when the Cumulus station shifted from CHR to hot AC and let him go. Bond and sidekick “Stretch” quickly found a new home at Citadel’s classic hits WRKZ (102.3 Carlisle) – but Cumulus soon filed suit to enforce Bond’s one-year noncompete agreement, which left Stretch working mornings solo on “Z102.” His absence from the airwaves (and a paycheck) hasn’t been easy for Bond; a note on his brucebond.com Web site asks for donations from listeners to help him pay his bills.

Over in Pottsville, WPAM (1450) has returned to the air after being silent for a short time after its LMA by crosstown WPPA/WAVT ended. The station is now being run under a five-year LMA to Bob Murray (a former WPAM PD); it signed back on March 16 with a day of Bruce Springsteen singing “The Rising,” followed by a day of Irish music; the permanent format at the new “Phoenix 1450” is classic rock.

NEW YORK is seeing some talk schedule changes as well; WABC (770) has pulled George Noory’s “Coast to Coast AM” (the old Art Bell show) and installed Steve Malzberg in the 1-5 AM slot. That gives him four solo hours instead of the two hours he was sharing with Richard Bey from 6-8 PM. (Monica Crowley is filling that seat now.)

Upstate, rumors are swirling about the fate of WNSA (107.7 Wethersfield Township), the Buffalo-market sports station that’s owned by bankrupt Adelphia. WNSA’s afternoon host Howard Simon is now being seen on TV as well, with a 3-6 PM “Simoncast” on sister cable network Empire Sports; that pushes the “Fan TV” talk show back to 7 PM.

Down in RHODE ISLAND, the “O” word is becoming a thing of the past at Clear Channel’s WWBB (101.5 Providence). That’s “O” as in “Oldies” – the music B101 is playing is now going under the moniker “Big Hits of the Sixties and Seventies.” This is a (forgive the pun) “Big” thing these days; we’ve seen similar shifts up the New Hampshire seacoast at WQSO (96.7 Rochester) and over in Utica at what’s now WUCL (93.5 Remsen), and we expect to see more of these “non-Oldies” oldies stations in the months to come.

We’ll have more on this when we get back to home base next week (we’re coming to you from South Carolina at the moment, as we gather new pictures for Tower Site of the Week) – but some local sound is coming back to WWRX (103.7 Westerly). It’s getting detached from the FNX Radio Network up in Boston, with PD Cruze taking over mornings and afternoon guys Storm and Birdsey becoming WWRX-only. Details on the 31st…

Twenty Years Ago: March 26, 1998

There’s a new CHR on Cape Cod. The former WJCO (93.5) in Harwich Port slipped away to an all-Chumbawamba stunt format over the weekend before resurfacing Monday morning as WYST, “Star 93.” Chris Boles is PD for Ernie Boch’s station, which goes up against established CHR WRZE (96.3) Nantucket.

Other news from MASSACHUSETTS: Boston’s WBZ (1030) is making good on its claim of “news all day, every day” next month by dropping its “Sports Saturday” and “Sports Sunday” shows in favor of all news. BZ’s specialty sports shows, “Calling all Sports,” “Upton Bell and Bob Lobel,” and “The McDonoughs on Sports” will continue.

Moving along to RHODE ISLAND, we find two call letter changes this week. In Providence, Portuguese WRCP (1290) will change to WRNI when Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9) takes over operation of the station this spring. And in West Warwick, the venerable WHIM calls have been pulled from AM 1450 for WDYZ — for Radio Disney, of course. NERW wonders if WDYZ owner Hibernia will be applying for new calls for its WPZE (1260 Boston) and WRDM (1550 Bloomfield CT) as well.

The FCC has paid a visit to a MAINE radio station that was operating without a license. “I 97-3” was visited by an FCC agent last Tuesday night, with a promise of a formal letter from the FCC to follow. In a posting to a pirate radio newsgroup, the station’s owner says he was running just half a watt — and notes that the visit came just a few days after his station was mentioned here in NERW. The station remains on the air, reportedly running just a tenth of a watt for the moment.

In NEW YORK, we bid farewell to one noncommercial station. WOSS (91.1) in Ossining has returned its license to the FCC. No word on why the school-owned station is calling it quits.

Staff changes at several upstate CHR outlets: at Syracuse’s WWHT (107.9), PD Ed Lacomb is out; no replacement has been named yet. In the Utica area, WOWZ (97.9 Whitesboro)/WOWB (105.5 Little Falls), a.k.a. “Wow FM,” is shuffling staff in the wake of the departure of middayer Pam Anderson. Donna Jeffries is taking midday duties temporarily, while part-timer “Kookinbocker” (we don’t make these names up, really!) takes over afternoons under the air name “Rick Devoe.” (Or perhaps that’s “Kehoe” — we’ve heard both versions) And in Rochester, overnighter Magic Man has resigned from WPXY (97.9). “Norm on the Barstool” extends his 10PM shift all the way to 3AM, while former morning sidekick Athena takes on 3 to 5:30 AM, followed by producing duties for Scott Spezzano’s morning show. As for the rumors of a job out of town for ‘PXY PD Clarke Ingram, word at press time is that he’s about to sign a new deal to stay with ARS/CBS and 98PXY.

There are new calls for Binghamton’s soft AC outlet. The former WGRG (101.7 Owego) is now WLTB. NERW’s still waiting to hear the modern rock format on its sister AM station, WEBO (1330).

Rochester’s “Sunny 106” is finally using its new calls on-air — WYSY (106.7 Irondequoit) and WISY (102.3 Canandaigua) replace WMAX-FM and WMHX, respectively. The WMAX-FM calls migrate to the former WRCD (107.3 Honeoye Falls), where they’re still hidden away as “WMAX-FM Honeoye Falls no longer lives…this is Jam’n 107.”

The country trimulcast on 107.1 surrounding New York City (WWXY Briarcliff Manor, WWVY Hampton Bays, and WWZY Long Branch NJ) is adding a fourth player. Big City Radio is buying WRNJ-FM (107.1 Belvidere NJ), which serves the Easton PA market. It’s expected to join the “Y107” simulcast April 1.

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