In this week’s issue… Francesa returns to WFAN, over local objections – Remembering Lana Jones – Quebec stations sold – Ontario broadcast veterans retire
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Whatever the case, Mike Francesa’s return to the NEW YORK airwaves over WFAN (660/101.9) went from tabloid rumor to reality in the space of just a few days last week, completely reversing a departure from WFAN that played out over two years, wrapping up with a farewell week of shows last December that drew massive media attention.
At the time, Francesa was clear that he was leaving WFAN but had no intention of retiring from sports broadcasting entirely, which no doubt meant that his agents at CAA were busily shopping his services around to the obvious places – ESPN Radio’s WEPN-FM (98.7), of course, as well as iHeart’s sports-heavy talker WOR (710) and perhaps also Cumulus talker WABC (770).
No other deal materialized, and now Francesa will be right back on the air at WFAN tomorrow afternoon. What happened, and why? Read on…
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*Let’s stipulate two things here: first, that Francesa is, and has long been, a polarizing figure in the New York media community; and second, that the reporting in the New York tabloids probably ought to be taken with several grains of salt.
Here’s how it looks from where we sit, though – it seems pretty clear that something big changed when Entercom took over WFAN from CBS Radio just as Francesa was in the midst of his long-planned departure. We know that Entercom CEO David Field is a big fan of sports radio (he’s made on-air appearances on his hometown sports station, WIP in Philadelphia, to talk up the extension of Eagles football rights there), and it appears Francesa and his agents went straight to Field for negotiations once it became clear that a return to WFAN was probably the best remaining option for Francesa. Those negotiations cut out Mark Chernoff, WFAN’s PD (and Entercom’s head of sports programming), and while Chernoff later told Newsday and other outlets he was happy to have Francesa back, it doesn’t appear that was the case at first.
That’s understandable; after all, Chernoff expended lots of goodwill promoting WFAN’s revamped schedule in the new year, in particular the replacement “CMB” afternoon show starring Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott. That show suffered the expected drop in audience after Francesa’s departure, and with Francesa’s return it won’t get the time it might have needed to find its groove, if it was ever going to get there.
For now, “CMB” will live on, awkwardly squeezed into a new 1-3 PM slot that cuts back WFAN’s existing Joe Benigno/Evan Roberts midday show by an hour and leads into Francesa’s new 3-6:30 PM shift. Will Entercom want to keep carrying all those salaries indefinitely? We’d bet the answer turns out to be no.
Will the audience welcome Francesa back? While there’s bound to be some resentment of his quick return after all that “retirement” buildup, his return will likely be a ratings boon for WFAN, which is also launching a companion digital presence that will include show archives and video streaming. (We’d expect to see Francesa’s show get a TV simulcast once again, too, as soon as negotiations with one or another of the city’s sports channels can be worked out.)
*Another New York talent who’s gone away and come back is Luis Jimenez, who’s gone once again after his second run in mornings on Univision’s WXNY (X96.3). Jimenez had been with Univision at predecessor WCAA (105.9) and then at WXNY from 2008 until 2014, returned to his previous home at SBS for a while in 2015, and then came back to WXNY from March 2017 until just last week. Chris Mambo appears to be holding down mornings now on WXNY.
And we’ve been remiss in not noting the death of Ken Dolan, who moved from Wall Street to Broadway in 1985 when he and his wife Daria became financial talk hosts at WOR (710). “The Dolans” became a staple of the talk lineup both locally on WOR and on the WOR Radio Network, eventually taking their insight to television as well at CNN, CNBC and “CBS This Morning.” After retiring a few years back, the Dolans moved to Florida, where Ken Dolan died from cancer on April 17. He was 75.
*Another WBZ obituary leads our MASSACHUSETTS news this week, and once again we’ll abandon any pretense of impartiality as we write about the stunning news Wednesday morning that Lana Jones had died suddenly overnight.
Jones had arrived at WBZ in 1991, a year before your editor, but with a much deeper well of experience. Her radio career started in Worcester in the 1970s at WAAF (107.3) and sister station WFTQ (1440), which had briefly been doing an all-news format that produced an impressive roster of talent. (That talent included Steve D’Agostino, who became Lana’s husband in 1983.)
Lana moved on to Boston radio, working at the earliest incarnation of WMJX (106.7) and later at WHDH (850) before joining WBZ as a weekend anchor and weekday reporter. In 27 years at WBZ, she was never flashy, never self-promoting, always dependable and universally respected by co-workers, competitors and those she covered. (The state gaming board, for instance, left a chair empty in her honor at a news conference right after the news of her death broke.)
Amidst all the recent chaos at WBZ, Lana soldiered on; her final assignment on Tuesday had been covering the wake for her former sports colleague, Gil Santos. She went home Tuesday night, complained of feeling ill, said D’Agostino in a Facebook post, woke up several times in the night and then collapsed in the hallway around 5 o’clock Wednesday morning. By the time she was taken to a Worcester hospital, her aorta had burst and she was gone.
A memorial celebration is set for September, on what would have been Lana and Steve’s wedding anniversary.
*Out west, we salute Ray Hershel, who marked 50 years on the air at Springfield’s channel 40 on April 15. When Hershel started at the station, it was WHYN-TV, paired with WHYN radio (560/93.1); he stayed on as a reporter through the TV station’s sale, its change to its current WGGB-TV calls and its eventual addition of Fox and CBS outlets.
*In VERMONT, the new owners at Burlington’s WCAX (Channel 3) made some cuts last week. Gray Television says it let six people go from the CBS affiliate, in what managers say is a push for efficiency. As at many smaller-market stations, that includes a move to “one-man bands” in the field, which explains why half of the job cuts were news photographers, among them 36-year veteran Bob Davis and his colleague Tyson Foster. Gray says no other cuts are planned right now at the station.
(And a reminder that Vermont media consumers value longevity: over at WVMT 620 in Burlington, not only did morning co-host Ernie Farrar recently mark 51 years on the air, but his co-host Charlie Papillo just hit the 20-year mark on their morning partnership.)
Down the road at Northeast Broadcasting’s “Point” (WNCS 104.7 Montpelier and satellites), music director/midday jock Mike Luoma is out after eight years with the station. No replacement has been named yet.
*Where are they now? Justin Tyler (Clapp) went from the PD chair at Great Eastern Broadcasting in NEW HAMPSHIRE and Vermont to the OM seat at Townsquare in Fort Collins, Colorado back in 2014, but that gig came to an end last week. “They say you aren’t officially in radio until this happens to you, so I guess I’m now officially in the business after 20 years,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “But here’s the thing: I’m completely fine with it.” He’s looking for a new gig now, and here’s hoping he finds one soon.
*CONNECTICUT Public TV wants to make a change at WEDW-TV (Channel 49), which has been licensed to Bridgeport ever since it went on the air more than 50 years ago. Now that WEDW shares its spectrum with commercial station WZME (Channel 43), which is also licensed to Bridgeport, it’s asking the FCC to allow it to change its official community of license from Bridgeport to Stamford.
What difference does that make? None at all, technically, since its transmitter will stay right where it has always been, up on Booth Hill in Trumbull. But from a regulatory point of view, WEDW’s signal will be more clearly part of the New York City DMA, which should make it easier for CPTV to continue to make the case that it should be available on satellite and cable platforms in the nation’s #1 market.
*In central PENNSYLVANIA, afternoon host Phil Smith is off the air at WJTL (90.3 Lancaster) after being arrested Thursday on 18 charges of raping a teenage girl. Police say Smith, 52, began assaulting the girl in 2013 when she was just 15, and first raped her three years later.
In a statement, WJTL management said “we only know what we read in the press. Please join us in praying for all those involved and that truth and justice will prevail.” Smith was ordered held in county jail on $250,000 bail.
*In happier news, Beasley’s WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia) marked its official 50th anniversary as a rock station on Sunday, celebrating the 1968 debut of “The Marconi Experiment,” its first venture into progressive rock programming. The celebration included daily noon retrospective shows from long-running midday jock Pierre Robert all last week, special “MMRchives” segments all day Saturday and a five-hour live shift from Robert on Sunday.
Philadelphia’s WURD (900) is again looking for a new morning show after cutting ties with the latest hosts of “Wake Up With WURD.” Chris “Flood the Drummer” Norris and Isaac “Ikey Raw” Gardner Sr. had been with the station only four months when they were removed from the morning show last Monday. Substitute hosts have been filling the shift, and WURD says Norris and Gardner will continue to be involved with the station in other roles.
*In French CANADA, RNC Media is dramatically downsizing, selling 10 FM stations (plus four repeaters) in Quebec to Cogeco, already one of the province’s biggest broadcasters. The C$18.5 million deal will leave RNC with only five remaining radio stations (CKLX “91.9 Sport” in Montreal, CHOI “Radio X” and CHXX “Pop 100.9” in Quebec and CFTX “Pop 96.5” and CHLX “Wow 97.1” in Gatineau/Ottawa), as well as TV stations in Gatineau and Abitibi/Temiscamingue.
For its C$18.5 million, Cogeco gets four “Planète” stations – CFGT 104.5 Alma, CHRL 99.5 Roberval, CHVD 100.3 Dolbeau-Mistassini, and CKXO Chibougamou – as well as two “Pop” stations (CJLA 104.9 Lachute and CHPR 102.1 Hawkesbury), two “Capitale Rock” signals (CJGO 102.1 La Sarre/CJGO-1 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda and CHGO 104.3 Amos/Val-d’Or), “WOW 96.5” (CHOA 96.5 Rouyn-Noranda/CHOA-1 103.5 Amos/CHOA-2 103.9 La Sarre) and “Radio X” CKYK (95.7 Saguenay)/CKYK-1 (96.3 Alma).
Steve Faguy speculates, with good reason, that Cogeco will move at least some of these signals to its “Rythme FM” network – and notes that the deal will put Cogeco radio outlets within 100 km of every major population center in Quebec except Rimouski and Sept-Iles.
*Up along Georgian Bay, Ross Kentner retired Friday after a remarkable 56-year career with Bayshore Broadcasting, retiring as general manager of the same station where he started as a high school volunteer, CFOS (560 Owen Sound). Kentner, now 76, was only the third general manager in CFOS history, overseeing massive growth for Bayshore that has included two more FM stations in Owen Sound and additional FM signals in five more nearby communities.
And down the road in Peterborough, CHEX-TV (Channel 12) says goodbye today to Graham Hart, who’s been a fixture there since 1973 (with a one-year break) as an anchor, manager, host of “Campus Quiz” and station ambassador. He says he’ll keep that last role, but won’t be on the air anymore. Hart says he’ll likely divide his time between Peterborough and his native Nova Scotia.
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