In this week’s issue… Fritz latest cut at shrinking WBZ – Globe spins off streaming station – PA anchor at center of workplace dispute – Corus makes more cuts – PLUS: Baseball on the Radio – The Major Leagues



*The biggest radio newsroom in MASSACHUSETTS continues to shrink as iHeart tries to grapple with the unfamiliar challenge of running the all-news giant that is, or at least was, WBZ (1030 Boston).

Need a gauge of how low morale has fallen in the WBZ newsroom in the months since iHeart took over? Within minutes of the abrupt firing of veteran midday anchor Rod Fritz on Friday, our inbox had lit up with multiple copies of the almost cruelly terse memo from assistant news director Jon MacLean, who’s been running the newsroom since ND/PD Peter Casey was sent packing in November.

“We want to make you aware of a change here in the newsroom. Rod Fritz is moving on and will no longer anchor here at WBZ. We thank Rod for his years of service and wish him all the best.”

That was all, after a career that had extended over four decades and taken Fritz to most of the city’s radio newsrooms, including the old all-news WEEI (590) and multiple stints at WBZ and WRKO (680), including a run as news director there.

What happened? And what’s next at WBZ? Read on…

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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: April 3, 2017

*We may not know yet where “NBC Boston” will be found on the RF spectrum in a few years, but we know that parent company NBC Universal is getting ready to make a big brick-and-mortar investment in eastern MASSACHUSETTS.

Since launching its owned-and-operated NBC signal on New Year’s Day, it’s been a crowded house for Comcast’s local TV operations in the Boston market. NBC Boston is currently crammed in with sister stations Telemundo Boston (WNEU) and New England Cable News at the original NECN facility on Wells Ave. in Newton, while Comcast Sports Network is up in Burlington.

That’s about 375 employees in all, and late last week NBC Universal announced plans to bring them together under one roof on the Needham side of the “N-Squared Innovation District,” the development district that spans Route 128. Assuming Needham Town Meeting voters approve a $2.1 million tax break for the project, NBC plans to move all its operations into the former General Dynamics building on B Street, one of the last big unclaimed pieces of the Founders Park development (above).

The project will include about $63 million to renovate the building itself, plus another $61 million for new equipment; NBC says it will also upgrade shuttle service from Founders Park (already home to TripAdvisor’s headquarters, among other prominent tenants) to the Needham Highlands T stop as part of its commitment to its new home.

When the new NBC facility opens in 2019, it will create a significant media presence along the 128 corridor from Dedham (WFXT) up to Needham, where NBC will sit just one exit south of WCVB’s longtime home at the Highland Ave. exit.

*There’s a new format on the air in the Merrimack Valley, where W255DA, the fairly recent 98.9 translator for Costa-Eagle’s news-talk WCCM (1110 Salem, NEW HAMPSHIRE), has flipped to classic hits as “Valley 98.9.” The former talk format on WCCM and the translator survives as “The Net, New England Talks” at and on the HD2 of the 102.9 translator that relays co-owned WNNW (800 Lawrence).

Five Years Ago: April 1, 2013

*Still don’t believe that FM translators have become very big business indeed? This week’s column brings news of more than a dozen new translator signals poised to hit the airwaves all over the region – as well as two full-power stations preparing to move their existing formats to translators to make other uses of their main signals.

wfasfmThe first of those is in NEW YORK‘s Westchester County, where Cumulus has quietly struck a deal to take over translator W232AL (94.3 Pomona). Until now, that little translator across the Tappan Zee in Rockland County was best known – if it was known at all – as the middle link in the chain that once brought “Jukebox Radio” from its nominal primary home up in the Catskills down to translator W276AQ (103.1 Fort Lee, N.J.) overlooking upper Manhattan. “Jukebox,” of course, ended up being silenced after the FCC started to dig deeply into the relationship between translator owner Gerry Turro and the ownership of primary station WJUX (99.7 Monticello), and the entire network ended up in the hands of a religious group, Bridgelight, which has been running the stations noncommercially.

But last week, Bridgelight applied for a big change that will take W232AL out of its own network and put it in Cumulus’ hands. The translator is asking the FCC for permission to move to the WFAS tower in Greenburgh, where it would run 250 watts from a directional antenna – and where it would use WFAS (1230 White Plains) as its primary. (The move hinges on FCC dismissal of two other 94.3 applications in Westchester and New Jersey that have been tied up in the freeze of the 2003 translator filing window, but Cumulus expects those applications to end up being dismissed.)

Nobody’s saying what happens after that, but it’s not hard to speculate: with a new Westchester-based FM outlet that will put a usable signal over most of the central part of the county, will Cumulus then feel more free to move the existing AC format from WFAS-FM (103.9 Bronxville) to 1230 and 94.3, thus allowing the 103.9 signal to finally complete its long-planned move inside New York City limits, where a transmitting facility already exists and has been tested atop the Montefiore Hospital tower in the Bronx?

*We were pretty sure DJRA Broadcasting wasn’t going to let its 50,000-watt AM license in Albany evaporate – and sure enough, WDCD (1540) was back on the air last Monday, just a few days before the one-year mark on its silent period would have hit, triggering an automatic license cancellation. WDCD’s temporary return to the air finds the station simulcasting the religious programming that moved to sister WDCD-FM (96.7 Clifton Park) after the AM shut down last year; DJRA says it’s still looking for an economically viable format (or a buyer) to return the AM to the air permanently.

*The public radio war in eastern MASSACHUSETTS is now being waged on a new front, thanks to NPR’s surprise Friday morning announcement that it’s pulling the plug on its DC-based “Talk of the Nation” after 21 years on the air. NPR officials said the move came in response to member stations’ demands for more magazine-style midday offerings like “Here and Now,” the noontime offering from Boston’s WBUR-FM (90.9) – but we hear that even many staffers at WBUR itself were surprised by the news that “Here and Now” is shifting its distribution to NPR in July after several years of syndication by PRI, the rival programming service now based across town at WGBH-FM (89.7). NPR will assist in staffing a revamped “Here and Now,” which will add a new co-host (Jeremy Hobson from “Marketplace Morning Report”) alongside Boston-based Robin Young and Meghna Chakrabarti.

hereandnow“Here and Now” will continue to be produced live at noon five days a week, adding a second hour at 1, and NPR will also offer a rollover in the 2-4 PM timeslot “Talk of the Nation” had occupied. Meanwhile, “Science Friday,” the New York City-based show that occupied the “Talk” timeslot on Fridays, will continue to be produced as well. We’ll be watching to see how the region’s public broadcasters shuffle their schedules to accommodate the changing programming offerings out there…

Ten Years Ago: March 31, 2008

*As 2007 came to a close, it appeared that Entercom was poised to extend the highly successful sports-talk format of its WEEI (850 Boston) far beyond its present home turf in MASSACHUSETTS and RHODE ISLAND. A syndication deal with Nassau was to have taken WEEI’s programming regional, picking up Nassau-owned affiliates in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as on Cape Cod.That deal abruptly collapsed just before the new year, but the dream of regional syndication remained alive inside the New Balance Building. Last week, Entercom announced that it will begin offering WEEI’s lineup of local sports talk to other broadcasters in the region, and it’s moving fast – holding meetings with interested broadcasters “over the next few weeks, with the goal to launch a
syndicated regional network during the Spring 2008 ratings period.”

Who’ll sign on with WEEI’s network? Entercom already runs WEEI relays in many of southern New England’s biggest markets – Providence (WEEI-FM), Worcester (WVEI) and Springfield (WVEI-FM). It’s hard to imagine Connecticut stations, sitting on the fence between Red Sox/Yankees and Patriots/Giants, warming to the very Boston-centric WEEI network. But that still leaves much of the territory the Nassau deal was to have covered – Cape Cod, Manchester/Concord, the Upper Valley, Portland – as well as the rest of Maine, not to mention smaller communities in New Hampshire, Vermont and western Massachusetts – where a turnkey affiliation with the big-city sound of WEEI might be just the ticket, as it were, for struggling AM operators.

*A major piece of Bay State broadcasting history may soon have a date with a wrecking ball. After sitting all but vacant for the last few decades, the old Westinghouse Electric plant on Page Boulevard in East Springfield is being targeted for demolition, with its high-visibility site just off I-291 to become home to a new shopping center.

There’s just one thing, though – it was on the roof of one of those Westinghouse buildings that a little radio station called WBZ made its first broadcasts in September of 1921. No, it wasn’t the “first” anything, except to receive the first “commercial broadcast” license (though Westinghouse would promote that technicality for many decades thereafter), but it was the beginning of a long and distinguished broadcast history for New England’s biggest AM station. And as time and development took their toll on other pioneer broadcasting sites – nothing now remains of the original homes of KDKA or WJZ or 1XE – the towers that supported WBZ’s first antenna endured.

The site in East Springfield remained a transmitter site until 1962, when Westinghouse finally pulled the plug on WBZA, the synchronous repeater that kept WBZ’s programs coming to Springfield after the main station was moved to Boston in 1931. Even after Westinghouse shut down the East Springfield plant completely in 1970, the towers remained a fixture on the rooftop. As far as we’ve been able to tell here at NERW – and we’ve tramped all over the country seeking out evidence to the contrary – the East Springfield towers are the oldest AM broadcast facility still standing in the United States, by at least three years. (The other contenders would be the WCCO site in Minneapolis, where the 1924 transmitter building remains, but without the original towers; the KGFJ site in Los Angeles, dating to 1927 and still in use; and at least an honorable mention to the building on the University of Wisconsin campus that was home to 9XM/WHA as far back as the teens, though only a basement storage room remains there, with no visible signs of the station. Ironically, the Westinghouse building in East Pittsburgh where WBZ’s older sister station, KDKA, got its start in 1920 was itself razed last year for new development; any sign of KDKA’s presence there had long since been obliterated, however.)

Fifteen Years Ago: March 31, 2003

It’s always sad when we have to begin the column with an obituary, and sadder still when it’s a radio personality who died in the line of duty – and so it is this week with Bob Anderson, “The Duke of Portland.”

Anderson spent forty years on the air in MAINE’s largest city (a former mayor dubbed him “the Duke” and the name stuck), with stints at WPOR (1490), WLOB (1310), WMGX (93.1) and most recently at oldies WYNZ (100.9 Westbrook), where he was working Saturday morning (March 29) doing his usual weekend shift. About 7:30, staffers at the other stations in Saga’s Portland cluster heard the silence sensor going off in the WYNZ studios and walked in to find that Anderson had collapsed, apparently of a heart attack. After Donna Steele of WMGX found Anderson, Joe Lerman and Glori Marie Shanda of WPOR-FM (101.9) performed CPR on Anderson until an ambulance could get there; alas, it was too late to save him. (NERW notes: it is an excellent reminder of the value of CPR training for everyone on a station’s staff, though!)

We’ll go next to CONNECTICUT and the sale of a longtime community voice: for $1.5 million, Business Talk Radio takes over from John Becker as the owner of WGCH (1490 Greenwich). Widely regarded as one of America’s best community stations, WGCH was founded almost 40 years ago to provide an alternative voice to the then-commonly owned WSTC Stamford, Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate – and Becker was one of the founders. Now he’s cashing out, but not without ensuring that WGCH will keep doing what it does: the contract includes a provision that WGCH’s current news team will continue to have jobs for three years. The deal also appears to solve, at least for now, the dilemma of WGCH’s transmitter site. Since the station has still been unable to get permission from Greenwich officials to build a new tower, it looks as though WGCH will stay put at its Putnam Avenue site with a new (and more expensive) lease.

Albany-based Pamal is moving deeper into MASSACHUSETTS. Jim Morrell’s group is paying $8 million to acquire WRNX (100.9 Amherst) and WPNI (1430 Amherst) from Tom Davis’ Western Massachusetts Radio Company, making the Pioneer Valley stations its first in central Massachusetts. WRNX does a rock-leaning AAA format for Amherst, Northampton and Springfield, while WPNI operates in a partnership with the University of Massachusetts’ public WFCR (88.5), carrying a schedule of NPR news and talk programs that complements WFCR’s offerings.

The big news out of NEW JERSEY is the sale of yet another Mega property – this time, the first of the group’s FMs to be sold. WEMG (104.9 Egg Harbor City), which puts a remarkably solid class A signal across most of south central New Jersey and well into the Philadelphia market, is about to become the latest addition to Nassau’s growing Jersey group. For now, the station is stunting with a loop directing “Mega 104.9” listeners to the AM side of the former simulcast, WEMG (1310 Camden NJ); we’ll keep you posted as a new format arrives on 104.9 any day now.

In Binghamton, the CHR wars took another turn Sunday, as Clear Channel pulled the plug on country WBBI (107.5 Endwell) and replaced it with a dance-heavy CHR as “Kiss 107.” If you’ve been following this small-town CHR battle, you know that it has pitted Clear Channel’s established pop-CHR “Star 105.7” (WMRV Endicott) against Citadel’s newcomer, “Wild 104” (WWYL 104.1 Chenango Bridge) – and that Wild has been making big inroads in the last few books. The latest move, then (assuming it’s not a stunt), gives Clear Channel a second competitor against Wild, flanking it on both sides of the format. It’s not all bad news for Citadel, though: the demise of “B107.5” removes the only competition to its market-dominant country outlet, WHWK (98.1 Binghamton). Stay tuned to see how this all plays out…

TUESDAY UPDATE: “Assuming it’s not a stunt,” we said – and hey, it is April Fool’s Day, isn’t it? At noon today, “Kiss” went away, the folks at Wild breathed a little easier, and their colleagues down the hall at Citadel classic rocker WAAL (99.1 Binghamton) had their turn to get nervous as Clear Channel launched classic rock “107.5 the Bear,” with Jim Free handling PD duties. (Former B PD Doug Mosher is still with the cluster in an off-air capacity.) We’re told this one is the real format, at least for now!

Twenty Years Ago: April 2, 1998

What’s the most powerful government agency involved with broadcasting today? Give yourself a point if you said the Justice Department. This week, DOJ antitrust inquiries prompted CBS to agree to spin off most of the Boston properties it’s buying from ARS, and killed SFX’s plans for Long Island expansion. Let’s go to the scoreboard:

The Justice Department gave CBS the go-ahead on Tuesday to buy American Radio System — but with the condition that it stay below the 40% revenue limit in every market it’s in. Boston would have been the biggest offender, with CBS/ARS taking in 59 percent of the market’s revenue. Also at issue were St. Louis (49%) and Baltimore (46%). In Boston, CBS must now find buyers for talker WRKO (680), sports WEEI (850), classic rock WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence), and active rock WAAF (107.3 Worcester), leaving only modern AC WBMX (98.5) and WAAF simulcast WNFT (1150) to join CBS’s existing group of news-talk WBZ (1030), classic rock WZLX (100.7), oldies WODS (103.3), and modern rock WBCN (104.1). (It appears CBS also gets to keep sports WWTM 1440 in Worcester, although that station is largely a simulcast of WEEI and has always been co-owned with WAAF, so NERW expects it will get spun off as well.)

So what’s next for the ex-ARS group? Whenever powerful AMs are involved, it’s safe to speculate Randy Michaels and Jacor will be interested, especially since New England is one of the only parts of the country with no Jacor presence. Another potential buyer is Chancellor, whose Boston group of CHR WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), urban CHR WJMN (94.5), and business/standards WXKS (1430 Everett) is beginning to look small by comparison with the CBS and Greater Media mega-groups — although past relations between CBS and Chancellor have been downright frosty, making this deal a little less likely. NERW’s also heard rumblings about ARS’ former leadership team buying back their ertswhile flagship stations from CBS. Dark horses? Just look at some of the big groups with no Boston outlets — Emmis (which once owned WCDJ, now WSJZ, 96.9), Cox, Clear Channel, Entercom, maybe even Disney/ABC…

DOJ, part II: Hicks, Muse’s Capstar and Chancellor groups are slimming down in the New York market. Unable to win Justice approval for its proposed purchase of SFX’s Long Island group, Capstar is spinning rockers WBAB (102.3 Babylon) and WHFM (95.3 Southampton), CHR WBLI (106.1 Patchogue), and talk/gospel WGBB (1240 Freeport) to Cox for $48 million. Cox has no Long Island properties…but it does own the powerful “Star 99.9,” WEZN Bridgeport, just across Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Capstar keeps AC WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue) and soft AC WALK (1370 East Patchogue, which had been simulcasting part-time on WGBB), as well as Chancellor’s Big Apple group of WLTW (106.7), WBIX (105.1), WAXQ (104.3), WKTU (103.5 Lake Success), and WHTZ (100.3 Newark, N.J.).

Also being spun is Capstar’s group in Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Frank Washington will pay $15 million to pick up rocker WRKI (95.1 Brookfield), oldies WAXB (105.5 Patterson), country WINE (940 Brookfield) and WPUT (1510 Brewster), AC WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains), news/talk WFAS (1230 White Plains), and smooth jazz WZZN (106.3 Mt. Kisco). It looks like Capstar is keeping oldies WKHL (96.7 Stamford), classic rock WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), and news/talk simulcast WSTC (1400 Stamford) and WNLK (1350 Norwalk).

And across the border, Toronto’s CBC Radio One outlet could be on FM as early as next month. Once 99.1 FM signs on, the six-month clock starts ticking for the demise of CBL on 740 kHz.