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

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*Was it a months-long publicity stunt? A failed attempt to secure a higher salary from a competitor? A power play between veterans of CBS Radio and new Entercom management? All of the above?

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…

The Fybush Media podcast is back!

Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.

Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!

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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: May 1, 2017

*We’re back (if not yet fully rested up yet) from this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas, and we’ll bring you our inside report on what we saw and heard in a NERW Extra for subscribers later this week.

But what was going on while we were in Vegas (and then on a cross-country road trip in the rain?)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, the big surprise of the week was the abrupt exit of WBZ (1030 Boston) morning anchor Joe Mathieu, who’d been one of the rising stars at the news station as it prepares to change hands as part of the purchase of CBS Radio by Entercom.

Mathieu had made his name as the founding PD of SiriusXM’s “POTUS” (Politics of the United States) talk channel, where he worked from 2007 until joining WBZ in 2011. He’d also worked for WXTK on Cape Cod, WRKO in Boston, Metro Networks and CBS MarketWatch before being picked to replace Ed Walsh, whose short run in the morning anchor chair followed Gary LaPierre’s four-decade tenure there.

As the WBZ lineup has shifted in recent years (especially with the departures of veteran afternoon anchors Diane Stern and Anthony Silva, both voluntary retirements as they reached their sixties), it was easy to imagine Mathieu becoming a long-running fixture there – until the sudden announcement late last week that he was leaving effective with Friday’s broadcast.

NERW has learned that when Mathieu gave his notice several weeks ago, it came as a surprise to the station, which tried to keep him on board. We’re hearing from several sources that the anchor’s contract renewal was the sticking point, and that both sides were simply unable to reach a mutually-acceptable deal. Despite what we’d initially speculated in this space, Mathieu’s exit wasn’t connected to cuts that CBS has made in other markets – or to the impending Entercom merger.

*In western NEW YORK, Larry Levite’s death last week brought memories of his many years as owner and publisher of “Buffalo Spree,” the monthly lifestyle magazine he’d owned since the late 1980s. But for those of us in the radio community, Levite is also fondly remembered for his revival of WBEN (930) and WBEN-FM (102.5), the stalwart stations he bought from the Buffalo Evening News in 1978. Levite, who’d worked in radio sales and management, brought a fresh outlook to the stations, reinforcing WBEN’s news primacy and turning WBEN-FM into a potent music presence as “Rock 102.” He sold the stations in 1984; he was 77 when he died last Wednesday.

Five Years Ago: April 29, 2013

*Radio regulation in CANADA can be a funny thing sometimes. Just ask the CBC, which abruptly had to pull its local morning show off the air in Kitchener, Ontario, only to restore it at week’s end.

cbla-fm-2There was never any dispute over the CBC’s ability to broadcast over CBLA-FM-2 (89.1 Paris), the CBC Radio One outlet serving the Kitchener-Waterloo area – just over which programming was allowed to be broadcast on that signal based on the station’s existing license. When the FM station went on the air back in 1999, it did so as one of several new FM “transmitters” attached to the license for CBLA-FM (99.1 Toronto), the FM replacement for the old CBL (740) and its wide-area AM signal.

Last November, the CBC applied to convert the 89.1 signal from a “transmitter” of CBLA-FM to its own separate license, which would allow (and indeed require) the station to originate its own programming rather than relaying the Toronto local programs. In March, the CBC made a high-profile launch of a new morning show for Kitchener-Waterloo on both 89.1 and online. And then, last week, a complaint from a rival commercial broadcaster made the CRTC aware that the CBC had made that on-air launch before the agency had actually approved the November application to grant a new license for a “station,” rather than a “transmitter,” at Paris.

That’s why, for a few days last week, the CBLA-FM-2 signal was back to rebroadcasting the Toronto morning show while the local Kitchener-Waterloo show was being heard only via streaming audio. Fortunately for the CBC, its friends at the CRTC moved quickly: on Thursday, they granted the November application for a new station license for 89.1, and by Friday morning, the local show was back on the air for Kitchener-Waterloo and vicinity.

Ten Years Ago: April 28, 2008

*One of the legendary top 40 voices of the northeast has been silenced, far too young. “Big Ron” O’Brien, whose career included stops at Philadelphia’s WFIL, WYXR/WLCE and WOGL and New York’s WXLO, WNBC and WTJM, died Sunday morning (April 27) of complications from pneumonia.

O’Brien began his broadcast career in 1969 at KUDL in Kansas City, and in the typical progression of the day, he quickly moved through Denver (KTLK), Chicago (WCFL) and Atlanta (WQXI). By 1974, he was in New York, doing nights at “99X,” and by 1976 he was in Philadelphia at WFIL, where he spent three years.

O’Brien then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked at KFI and KIIS, then to St. Louis and Denver (with a brief interlude at WNBC in the early 1980s) before returning to Philadelphia in 1996, where he worked at WYXR (104.5, later WLCE). In 1999, O’Brien was part of the inaugural airstaff at New York’s WTJM (Jammin 105); in 2002, he joined Philadelphia’s WOGL (98.1) for afternoon drive, and it was there that he remained for what turned out to be the last six years of his career.

O’Brien had been ill for several months, WOGL says. He was just 56.

*Elsewhere in PENNSYLVANIA, the sale of WNTJ (850 Johnstown) from Forever to Birach Broadcasting has closed, and as of midnight last night, the news-talk format that had been on 850 (and simulcast on WNTW 990 in Somerset) has moved back to its former home on 1490 in Johnstown. The 1490 signal, which holds the WPRR calls long heard in Altoona, has been running an all-sports format; it returned to Forever’s hands last fall in a purchase from Nick Galli’s 2510 group. The WNTJ calls will return to 1490 as well, probably later this week.

So what happens now with 850? The $300,000 purchase by Birach includes not only the license for 850 (and for another Forever station, WCND 940 in Shelbyville, KY) but also the 115-acre tower site in Paint Township, Somerset County. Forever was reportedly eager to be free of the hassles of maintaining that nine-tower site, easily the most complex directional array in the northeast, and NERW suspects Birach isn’t in this deal with the intent of maintaining the 10 kW DA-1 Johnstown signal on 850, either. Birach has interests elsewhere in the region (including WWCS 540 in Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh, and WTOR 770 Youngstown, NY, serving Toronto) – could the company have plans to move the Johnstown signal elsewhere? That would be a challenging task, since that nine-tower directional array shoehorns the Johnstown 850 into a tight squeeze between other 850 signals in Cleveland (WKNR) and Boston (WEEI), not to mention 860s in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Toronto and plenty of other nearby-on-the-dial stations that would need to be protected.

In the meantime, there’s a loop repeating over (and over and over) on 850 directing listeners up the dial to 1490 – and no indication at all on the WNTJ website that anything has changed.

 

*The big news in MASSACHUSETTS last week came from the TV management front, where WHDH-TV/WLVI VP/general manager Randi Goldklank was all over the tabloids after being arrested at Logan Airport following an incident during a flight last Sunday night. Goldklank told state police that a male passenger sitting next to her had been harassing her; Delta Airlines told police she had been acting “unruly” aboard the plane. A police report claimed Goldklank told the officers who met the plane, “I’ll have a news crew down here in minutes and you will lose your (bleeping) jobs.”

Goldklank was arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer. She’s on leave from the stations and apparently in rehab. At least for now, station owner Sunbeam Broadcasting is standing behind Goldklank, who was reportedly on medication for depression after the recent death of her mother. Former WHDH-TV general manager Mike Carson, who’d been consulting for the station, is back as interim VP/GM in Goldklank’s absence.

Fifteen Years Ago: April 28, 2003

Just in to NERW is word that Jerry Williams has died. The dean of Boston talk radio, Williams came to town in 1957, already a decade into a career that began in Bristol, Virginia in 1946. At Mac Richmond’s WMEX (1510), Williams’ night shift was a sharp departure from the top 40 the station played the rest of the day. When Williams took the air at 10 PM, WMEX turned into Boston’s first talk station, as Williams interviewed the newsmakers of the day and took listeners’ phone calls.
In 1965, Williams departed for Chicago’s WBBM, but he was back in town four years later, bringing his talk show back to the nighttime airwaves at WBZ (1030), where he stayed until October 1976, when he headed to New York for a brief stint at WMCA (570), followed by four years at Philadelphia’s WWDB (96.5).

In 1981, Williams was back on the air again in Boston as part of the original talk lineup at WRKO (680), the station that was once WMEX’s competitor in the waning days of AM top 40. Williams, now ensconced in an afternoon drive shift, quickly became the best-known and most controversial talker in town, using his show as a forum to oppose mandatory seat belt laws and, most memorably, to support a 1990 tax revolt (launching, in the process, the political careers of Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation – not to mention the radio career of the Herald’s Howie Carr, who would later make that WRKO shift his own).

In 1994, Carr replaced Williams in the afternoon, with the veteran host moving to mid-mornings on WRKO (a shift he derided as “The World’s Shortest Talk Show”); by January 1997, Williams had been relegated to a weekend slot, and by 1998 he was gone from WRKO and living in retirement on the South Shore.

Williams couldn’t stay silent for long, though. In January 2000, he resurfaced as part of an ambitious talk lineup on the “new” WMEX (1060 Natick), but health problems got in the way, and he was off the air there within two months. A stroke in April 2001 further weakened him, but not enough to keep him from trying a daily show on WROL (950 Boston) last December and even making a return to WRKO to do some weekend fill-in this past February.

It was October 20, 1927 when the callsign “WEVD” was first heard on the NEW YORK radio dial, on a little 500-watt signal way up there at 1220 kilocycles – and ever since then, those calls have been heard somewhere on the dial in market number one. But after more than 75 years and three distinct spots on the dial (the original WEVD, which landed on 1300, then on 1330, and is today’s WWRV; WEVD-FM, which lasted on 97.9 from the fifties until 1988; and the former WHN/WMGM/WHN/WFAN/WUKQ on 1050, which took the WEVD calls in a trade for the FM signal in 1988), the initials of famed labor leader Eugene Victor Debs are about to bow out for good. It’s no surprise, really, that Disney will change the calls when it formally converts its LMA of WEVD (1050) into a $78 million purchase that’s expected to close within the week; after all, the WEVD calls have long since ceased to have much relevance to New York radio listeners, and they’ve only been heard once an hour since 1050 flipped to ESPN radio in September 2001. So “WEPN” it will be at 1050 on the dial…and only those few of us who feel a deep passion for New York radio history are likely to spend much time reflecting on the loss of the fifth-oldest callsign in continuous New York use. (Only WOR, WNYC, WMCA and WWRL have been around longer.)

Twenty Years Ago: April 30, 1998

Boston has lost one of its legendary broadcasters. Carl DeSuze died Wednesday night at the age of 83.

DeSuze was WBZ’s morning host from the 1940s until the early 1980s, a record that’s unlikely ever to be broken. His urbane on-air manner and affection for all things European made for an unlikely fit with WBZ’s top-40 format in the sixties, but the combination worked, and DeSuze remained on top of the ratings for years. In addition to his duties as “New England’s Alarm Clock,” DeSuze traveled the world, relating his experiences in lectures across New England. A Maine native, DeSuze was proud of his Bowdoin education. After college, he worked at several Maine radio stations before moving to Boston and WBZ.

On a personal note, your editor had the opportunity to work with DeSuze while helping to prepare WBZ’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1996. While DeSuze’s health was already failing, he was eager to share his memories and his memorabilia. I’ll long treasure the memory of spending several afternoons at his home in Concord, as he sifted through several boxes of photos and posters, recounting the stories of celebrities interviewed and distant capitals visited. DeSuze’s death follows that of Gordon Swan by only a few months; together, they represented an era of WBZ history that’s now all but lost.

Listeners to Boston’s number-three public radio station will be hearing some changes come June. WUMB (91.9, simulcast on WFPB Falmouth and WBPR Worcester) is abandoning its nighttime smooth-jazz “Quiet Storm” format in favor of a mixture of blues, world music, gospel, and reggae. Days are changing too, as the acoustic traditional folk is joined by “electric folk” (their words!) and world music. Could WUMB be taking a cue from public radio stations like Philadelphia’s WXPN or Spindale, North Carolina’s WNCW, which have found new audiences for public radio with their folkish spins on the AAA format? We’re looking forward to giving the new 91.9 a listen…

And we mourn the passing of two veteran broadcast engineers. Charlie Hallinan died last Wednesday at his home in Binghamton. Hallinan was one of the founders of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, and built many of the Southern Tier’s radio stations. And Mike Venditti of Cherry Hill, N.J. died at home on Monday. Venditti was a legend in the world of superpower AM, having rebuilt border blaster XERF (1570 Ciudad Acuna, Mexico) in the 1970s and returned it to the air. Over the years, Mike built 57 AM stations. He’ll be deeply missed.