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

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*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.)

*Will the latest raid on prominent Boston pirate radio operators have any more lasting effect than any of the previous times those stations have been shut down?

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.

Lovallo at WDRC in 2007

*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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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 netalks.com 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.