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
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*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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*Why Fritz, and why so suddenly? From here on the outside (it’s been over 21 years since your editor last worked at WBZ), we can only speculate – but here’s how it looks to us.
Fritz isn’t speaking publicly, save for a Facebook post thanking friends and colleagues for their support, but it appears his abrupt exit was the result of his contract ending and not being renewed. We know that relations between iHeart and SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents WBZ’s newsroom staffers, have been incredibly tense since iHeart tried, and failed, to get rid of the union when it took over from CBS Radio last fall. Was Fritz, one of three WBZ radio staffers on the SAG-AFTRA local board, singled out for his union leadership, especially for his fierce defense of the union during last fall’s negotiations? And will SAG-AFTRA challenge Fritz’s dismissal? We don’t know yet, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised – and we’ll keep you posted as we learn more on that front.
What’s next? It’s hard not to imagine more cuts coming. We’re hearing the station may finally be on the verge of naming a new PD to replace the long-departed Casey, and we’ve been hearing for a while now that it’s been a difficult hire because several candidates for the job have turned it down to avoid having to swing iHeart’s axe against the remaining staffers there.
For those who are left, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to stay. As we’ve been reporting, part-time staffers are finding their hours being cut – in some cases, what had been standard eight-hour shifts are being reduced to seven or eight, for instance, and some weekends find just a single reporter out on the streets trying to cover WBZ’s vast listening area. That’s a very different environment from the one other former CBS Radio all-news staffers are experiencing at the other stations that went to Entercom instead of iHeart, and it’s not one that looks very comforting for anyone who cares about WBZ’s survival as an important news voice for New England.
(One more WBZ note that’s actually somewhat positive: Marissa DeFranco is the new Sunday night 9-midnight talk host, taking over from the departed Chris Citorik – and so, at least for now, some of WBZ’s unique local weekend flavor survives.)
There was plenty of publicity, to be sure, after the Justice Department sent out a press release announcing it had seized equipment from a warehouse (shown at left) in an abandoned theater on Blue Hill Avenue and closed down “B87-7” and “Big City Radio,” at least temporarily silencing their broadcasts on 87.7 and 100.3, respectively.
“When pirate radio stations refuse to cease operations, despite multiple warnings, action must be taken,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in the announcement. But that action has been taken several times before – and each time, those stations (and many others around the region) have been back on the air before long.
B87, in particular, is still streaming programming; it doesn’t appear that the raids made it as far as the stations’ studios, just this particular transmitter site that’s been a favorite of pirate operators over the years. And for every B87 or Big City that gets silenced for a while, there are literally dozens of other unlicensed signals out there, some of them on first-adjacent or even co-channel to local signals in town, making a continued mockery of the FCC and law enforcement attempts to get the problem under control.
*After the demise of the old WFNX (101.7) in 2012, many of the modern rock station’s staffers ended up working for the Globe‘s Boston.com at its new streaming station, RadioBDC.com. Tomorrow at 2 PM, that service gets a new name – Indie617.com – and new ownership, as the Globe sells the station to managers Paul Driscoll and John LaVasseur. Driscoll is now president of Indie617, while LaVasseur serves as general sales manager. Midday host Julie Kramer and afternoon host Adam 12 remain with the station, too.
WNTN (1550 Newton) has completed its power increase at its new transmitter site shared with WJIB (740) in Cambridge. WNTN had been a 10 kW daytimer at its former studio/transmitter site on Rumford Ave. in Newton, but it dropped down to 750 watts when it made the move to Cambridge last year. Based on better ground-conductivity measurements, WNTN was able to apply to go back up to 6700 watts – and since WJIB’s tower is taller and more efficient, those 6700 watts get out just as well as the 10,000 watts did from Newton. WNTN still drops to 3 watts at night to protect the Canadian clear-channel station, CBEF Windsor, on the 1550 frequency.
*NBC Boston viewers (what few there are) have one fewer over-the-air signal as of the start of April; with the end of NBC’s lease with WMFP (Channel 62/RF 18), the NBC Boston signal that had been on WMFP as “60.5” is now gone. WMFP also dropped two more subchannels, Comet and Charge, leaving it with just SonLife religion on 62.1 as it prepares to leave its RF 18 signal and channel-share south of Boston with WWDP (Channel 46) on RF 10.
*The “Talk of CONNECTICUT” lost one of its signature talkers on the way from Connoisseur to new owner Full Power Media. Dan Lovallo, who’d been co-hosting mornings on WDRC (1360 Hartford) and sister stations WSNG (610 Torrington) and WMMW (1470 Meriden), said last week that he was unable to reach a deal for a new contract with Full Power, and so he’s moving on, leaving Brad Davis working solo in mornings for the new owners. This is the second time Lovallo and WDRC have parted ways; in 2012, he was the victim of budget cuts, only to be reinstated later on. Lovallo is blogging at danlovallo.com and doing sports broadcasts for the Hartford Yard Goats and Catholic high schools.
*There’s a new market manager for Cumulus’ WEBE (107.9 Westport) and WICC (600 Bridgeport), where Steve Chessare is inbound. His resume includes management posts at Greater Media in Detroit, Westwood One, CBS Radio Sales and WLTW in New York.
*RHODE ISLAND Public Radio took WRPA (1290 Providence) silent Sunday morning as Latino Public Radio’s lease on the AM signal expired. A noisy PR campaign on LPR’s part failed to overcome the reality that the Spanish-language broadcaster was simply unable to muster the finances it needed to cover RIPR’s expenses for leasing the station, never mind LPR’s inability to come up with funding to close its attempt to purchase the AM signal, on which it had the right of first refusal. WRPA will remain silent for a while before returning with RIPR programming, simulcasting the network’s new flagship WXNI (89.3 Newport).
(Disclaimer: Fybush Media has provided consulting services to RIPR.)
*In Portland, MAINE, Light of Life has dropped its attempt to move translator W273DF (102.5) to 98.3. The FCC rejected the translator’s claim that it was “displaced” from 102.5 by a power increase down the coast at WQSS (102.5 Camden), and now Light of Life has applied to move the translator back to its previous frequency, 102.3, where it would run 35 watts. (The 98.3 frequency, meanwhile, is now home to a new application for a translator from Saga’s WGAN 560.)
And while it’s not a broadcast story, it’s pretty big media news that one company will soon own all but one of Maine’s daily newspapers. MaineToday Media, which already owns the Press Herald and Sunday Telegram in Portland, the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel in Augusta/Waterville and the Sun-Journal in Lewiston, is buying the Times Record in Brunswick and the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, which will leave only the Bangor Daily News under separate ownership.
*Before Don Imus called it a career on Thursday at NEW YORK‘s WABC (770), we joked to friends that it would be no surprise, given his last few often-disengaged years, if the legendary morning man didn’t even show up for his final day on the air.
We were close: Imus was on the air from his Texas ranch at 6 AM, made it through the top of the 7 AM hour…but then wrapped up his emotional farewell a few minutes later, hung up his headphones, dropped the mic (figuratively, if not literally), and walked away from 40-plus years on the radio, leaving WABC and network affiliates with an hour and a half of best-of segments before replaying his farewell at the end of the 8 AM hour.
With former mid-morning hosts Bernie McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg moving to Imus’ former morning shift (extended back to 10 AM), WABC now turns to more syndication, using Chris Plante from 10-noon and plugging in a new hour-long broadcast version of Ben Shapiro’s podcast from 5-6 PM.
*Out on Long Island, CBS wants to get its WLNY-TV (Channel 55) off its current RF channel, 47, before it’s forced to do so by the FCC’s spectrum repack. With wireless carriers (especially the aggressive T-Mobile) already making plans for that 600 MHz spectrum, WLNY applied for special temporary authority to make an interim move to RF 28 as soon as NBC’s WNBC (Channel 4) vacates that channel in a few weeks. (WNBC is already channel-sharing with sister station WNJU on RF 36 and will repack to 35 in the end.) If approved, WLNY will go to 28 for a little over a year before settling in on its final repack channel, 29.
There’s a new president and general manager at WABC-TV (Channel 7) in New York, following the abrupt exit of Dave Davis a few weeks back. Debra O’Connell moves over from Disney/ABC Advertising Sales, taking oversight not only of the local WABC-TV operation but also its syndication arm, which produces “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”
In Watertown, WTNY (790) is looking for a new news director as Matt McClusky heads across town to ABC affiliate WWTI (Channel 50). The Nexstar-owned station, which we hear is moving to new downtown digs from its longtime home at Stateway Plaza, doesn’t have a full-fledged news operation, but McClusky will be doing features that will run during WWTI’s simulcasts of news from Syracuse sister station WSYR-TV (Channel 9).
In Buffalo, Dave Debo is the latest move from Entercom’s WBEN (930) over to the world of public radio. Debo left his anchor/reporter job at WBEN on Friday, and this week he joins WBFO (88.7) as its news director, working alongside Dave Rosenthal, the station’s new senior director of news and public affairs. (Rosenthal will oversee more of the big picture there, including public affairs on sister station WNED-TV, while Debo will oversee the day-to-day operations in the newsroom, where he’d worked some years back before joining WBEN.)
Here in Rochester, we said farewell on Thursday to Kent Hatfield, who’s been VP/technology at WXXI Public Broadcasting for 18 years. In that time, he’s overseen the complete renovation of the studio building, the conversion of WXXI-TV to DTV and HD and the addition of several new radio services.
As he heads off into retirement in eastern Tennessee, he’s being succeeded by Dave Lot, who’d been WXXI’s chief engineer.
(Usual disclaimer: your editor has been employed by WXXI’s news department for most of Kent’s time at the station.)
Where are they now? Zann, who’d worked at the old WRDW-FM in Philadelphia and WNOW-FM in New York, has been cut loose by Cumulus in Dallas, where she was doing middays on KLIF-FM (Hot 93.3) and syndicated work for Westwood One.
And there’s word from Utica of the death of Jack Moran, a market veteran who spent years at the old WUUU (U102)/WRNY (1350) in Rome and had more recently been at WXUR (92.7 Herkimer). We’ll have more details in next week’s NERW.
*Not many college stations get to celebrate a 70th anniversary, but not many college stations are NEW JERSEY‘s WSOU (89.5 South Orange). The Seton Hall University rock station is holding a banquet at the Grand Summit Hotel in Summit, N.J. on Saturday, April 14, the exact anniversary of its 1948 debut.
More than 200 alumni will be at the dinner, which will also serve as the induction ceremony for three new members of the WSOU Hall of Fame: professor Stanley Kosakowski, host of “Polka Party”; Bishop John O’Hara ’67 and Frank Garrity ’82. WSOU will present its Distinguished Young Alumna award to Gabby Canella ’12, a programmer at Music Choice.
*In central PENNSYLVANIA, former WHTM (Channel 27) anchor Flora Posteraro is drawing support in her complaint against the Nexstar-owned ABC affiliate in Harrisburg. Posteraro, who anchored the noon and 5 PM shows, filed a sex- and age-discrimination suit against WHTM and GM Bob Bee, saying she was demoted and then fired after joining a group that had filed an internal complaint against Bee. According to the paperwork filed with the state, the complaint accused Bee of calling another anchor a “fat pig” and ordering female talent to wear long sleeves on the air to hide what he called their “flabby arms.”
Nexstar appeared to be circling the wagons around Bee, reportedly summoning staff to a meeting at which corporate executives reminded them to stay silent on social media. But in the #metoo era, word of the meeting got out anyway – and at least one advertiser, Capital Blue Cross, said it’s suspending its ad buys on WHTM until the issue is resolved.
*Is there a format change coming at iHeart in Harrisburg? “Kiss” WHKF (99.3) has been heard running promos sending its top-40 audience over to sister station WLAN-FM (96.9 Lancaster), and the rumor mill says modern rock may be the next format on 99.3 any day now, especially as the top-40 fight heats up with the recent signal upgrade that moved Cumulus competitor WWKL to a bigger regional signal as “Hot 106.7.”
*Up in northeast Pennsylvania, Bold Gold started April with a format change at its newest acquisition, WMMZ (103.5 Berwick). The former classic rocker, which reaches from Bloomberg up to Wilkes-Barre, flipped to a simulcast of Bold Gold’s classic hits “105 the River” (WWRR 104.9 Scranton) at midnight on Sunday when the sale from Joe Reilly’s Columbia Broadcasting completed. (“River” is also heard on Bold Gold’s WYCK 1340 Plains, which feeds a Wilkes-Barre translator at 100.7 and a Hazleton translator at 104.9.)
*In Philadelphia, the WYBE callsign is history after 28 years on the air. New owner Lehigh Valley Public Telecommunications (WLVT), which bought the channel 35 “zombie license” after Independence Public Media sold WYBE’s UHF spectrum, quietly changed the calls to WPPT on March 15. The WPPT license is now part of a channel-share in the Lehigh Valley, broadcasting over RF channel 9 in Bethlehem along with religious WBPH (Channel 60), and eventually also with WLVT (Channel 39) and commercial rival WFMZ (Channel 69).
And on radio, Spanish tropical “Ritmo” has added translator W237EH (95.3 Pennsauken NJ), fed from the HD3 of WJBR (99.5 Wilmington DE). The Philly-market translator had been carrying WVCH (740 Chester), which is still being heard on its own 103.3 translator out in Chester County; “Ritmo” is also on translators in Millville, NJ and Wilmington, Delaware.
*Which big broadcaster in CANADA was making cuts last week? This time it was Corus, where the job losses included two Toronto program directors, Ross MacLeod at CFNY (102.1 the Edge) and Blair Bartrem at CILQ (Q107), with Tammy Cole inbound from Winnipeg to program both stations. Q107 also lost veteran jock Al Joynes, who’d been there on and off since 1988.
And in London, Corus’ CFPL (Global News 980) lost talk host Andrew Lawton, who’d also been a regular fill-in host at Toronto sister station CFMJ (640) and several other Corus stations.
Quebec’s Attraction Media is selling its 15 small-market radio stations and exiting the business. Sylvain Chamberland, who’d been running the radio division for Attraction, is buying the stations and spinning them off into a yet-to-be-named new company. Attraction’s roster of stations includes the “Plaisir” and “O” brands in Victoriaville and Matane, “Rhythme” in Saguenay and CJLM (M103.5) in Joliette, north of Montreal.
*Back in Toronto, it was veteran broadcaster Steve Anthony’s last week on the air as breakfast co-host at CTV’s CP24 news channel, which meant an all-star roster of guests. That was supposed to include legendary CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, who was on his way down the Don Valley Parkway to the CP24 studio Thursday morning when his car was hit by another car, driving him into a guardrail and then ricocheting into a box truck.
Robertson, 84, was shaken but unhurt, and he soon showed up on a CP24 live shot, wishing Anthony a happy retirement from the scene of the crash.
*As long as we’re north of the border, let’s start our annual Baseball on the Radio wrap-up with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays’ broadcast outlets are pretty much fixed in stone now – the team shares ownership with radio flagship CJCL (Sportsnet 590 The FAN) and primary TV broadcaster Rogers Sportsnet – but there are new voices in the booth this year after the abrupt off-season retirement of Jerry Howarth.
Ben Wagner, who’d been the radio voice of the Jays’ AAA farm club, the Buffalo Bisons, makes the drive up the QEW to take over as the major league team’s new play-by-play man, and former ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” voice Dan Shulman will join him for some games, as well as hosting a podcast for Sportsnet.
As usual, the Jays have a coast-to-coast(-ish) radio network, now including Rogers-owned Sportsnet outlets in Vancouver and Calgary as well as a string of affiliates across Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
*Our usual lead-off team, the Boston Red Sox, remains in place on all its usual outlets – the team owns TV outlet NESN, of course, and WEEI-FM (93.7) is midway through the latest deal between the team and station owner Entercom. For once, the sometimes-tense relationship between the shock talkers on WEEI and the Sox isn’t Entercom’s biggest sports headache; this time, the spotlight is out on the west coast, where a tasteless self-promotional tweet from the new morning man at new Padres flagship KEGY (97.3 the Machine) had that team threatening to end its brand-new relationship with that Entercom station. The new morning show at KEGY, set to start on Thursday for opening day, didn’t air on Thursday or Friday, and its opening day party was cancelled; as of Friday, Entercom wasn’t responding to media requests about the situation – but it’s hard to imagine that it won’t result in more reminders to talent at WEEI and elsewhere to rein in some of the more outrageous behavior at the station.
As Lance Venta noted over at RadioInsight, Entercom’s sports president Mike Dee has relationships with both teams, having been CEO of the Padres and COO of the Sox.
*In New York, it’s a status quo year for both the Yankees and Mets. Yankees radio flagship WFAN (101.9/660) changed hands from CBS Radio to Entercom during the off-season, but its extensive affiliate network remains largely unchanged. (Is anyone but us wondering when John Sterling, now well into his 80s, might call it a career? That question seems likely to become a bigger one in the next few years.)
The Mets, well-entrenched on iHeart’s WOR (710), lost two affiliates over the winter: in Albany, Pamal’s format flip to “Alt” at what had been CBS Sports Radio WINU (104.9) sends the Amazins over to sister station WROW (590). And here in Rochester, the demise of Genesee Media’s “Team” on WRSB (1590/105.5) and WOKR (1310) leaves no Mets affiliate in the hometown of play-by-play voice Josh Lewin. (At least we have Lewin’s new “Daily Mets Podcast” to listen to every morning after a game.) Update: Genesee Media head honcho Brian McGlynn checked in to let us know the Mets remain on WOKR 1310 with its new talk format. Lewin fans rejoice!
On TV, of course, the Yankees are on YES and the Mets on SNY, with 21 Yankee games and 25 Mets games on WPIX (Channel 11) in the New York market and a piecemeal network of broadcast affiliates upstate. (The demise of Spectrum Cable Sports last year wiped out a lot of the Mets’ upstate network for those non-SNY games.)
*In Philadelphia, the Phillies also changed radio owners – but not signals – as WIP (94.1) passed from CBS Radio to Entercom. Its big network of affiliates in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware stays intact, and so does the TV package that splits games among Comcast’s NBC Sports Philadelphia, Comcast Network and WCAU-TV (Channel 10). The WCAU games are also fed to a small network of TV affiliates in Harrisburg, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, State College and Rehoboth Beach, Del.
The only change across the state for the Pirates is also in the ownership of the radio flagship, with KDKA-FM (93.7 the Fan) also going from CBS Radio to Entercom. TV coverage remains in place on what’s now the AT&T Sports Network, ex-ROOT Sports.
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