In this week’s issue… WBAI adds former WNYC talker – Hall of Famers named – Translator auction wraps – Remembering Hall, Vrable, Johnson

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*There’s a reason most radio trade publications go dormant the week of July 4, especially when the holiday falls in the middle of the week. Not much was happening in broadcasting last week – but we were still here chronicling it, just as we’ve been for almost 25 years now. And this week, we’re making what content we have free for all readers. If you’re already a NERW subscriber, thanks – and tell a friend! (And if you’re not, there’s much more content like this every Monday here at Fybush.com for as little as 29 cents a week – sign up right here!)

*Our lead story, such as it is, is the return of a familiar voice to the NEW YORK airwaves. Leonard Lopate was a midday fixture on WNYC public radio for more than 30 years when he was suspended and then fired last December amidst allegations that he’d sexually harassed and bullied co-workers. Lopate denied the allegations, and in late May he showed up on a new weekly podcast, “Leonard Lopate at Large,” co-produced by Robin Hood Radio (WHDD/WBSL/WLHV) up in CONNECTICUT and by low-power WPWL-LP (103.7), “Pawling Public Radio,” in Putnam County.

As of next week, Lopate’s weekly hour will get bigger visibility when it begins airing at 1 PM on Mondays over WBAI (99.5), Pacifica’s New York outlet. (Monday evening update: a statement released today by WBAI indicates the Lopate show will be heard not just on Mondays but every weekday from 1-2.) It’s a return home for Lopate, in a way; his radio career started there in 1977 during another one of WBAI’s eternal power struggles. At the time, some WBAI veterans attacked Lopate for bringing a more commercial sound to the station (which was thought to be in the acquisition crosshairs of Percy Sutton’s Inner City Radio), and after several years hosting “Round Midnight” and other shows at WBAI, he moved on to WNYC for the bulk of his career.

Will Lopate’s WNYC audience find him in an hour-long slot up the dial at WBAI? The Pacifica station hasn’t been very good at promotion in recent decades, and we’ll be watching to see whether it makes any concerted effort to let New Yorkers know Lopate is back on the radio – and if so, what sort of reaction it will get.

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*It took more than 15 years, but last week the FCC finally closed out its Auction 83 proceeding, resolving the last handful of applications from the so-called “Great Translator Invasion” in which thousands of new FM translators were proposed way back in the spring of 2003.

The proceeding’s second-highest bid brought a translator win for iHeart in western MASSACHUSETTS, where it had applied for 100 watts on 97.3 (transmitting from downtown Springfield but licensed to nearby Westfield). That signal was worth $92,000 to iHeart, which outbid Great Northern Radio, which had applied for 97.3 up in South Hadley to relay WRSI (93.9 Turners Falls). WRSI is now owned by Saga, of course – and iHeart will likely need a different primary for its 97.3 translator, too, which had originally applied to relay what’s now WUCS (97.9), long since moved across the state line to CONNECTICUT.

*Ed Perry has applied for a new version of the Special Temporary Authority (STA) under which his WMEX (1510) is operating from its diplex with WBIX (1260) in Quincy. The latest STA calls for 2 kW day, 100 watts night, non-directional; WMEX is still awaiting grant of a CP for its permanent move to the WBIX site with 10 kW day, 100 watts night, non-directional – and it’s still simulcasting Perry’s WATD-FM (95.9 Marshfield) in the meantime.

Speaking of WMEX, Warren Duffy was “Cousin Duffy,” one of the jocks on 1510 in its top-40 peak in the late 1960s. Duffy came to afternoons on WMEX in 1968 from the Richmond brothers’ sister station in Washington, WPGC, working there for just a year or so before heading west to a new gig at KMET in Los Angeles. After a few years at KMET and KDAY, he moved into record promotion and then became a born-again Christian in the 1980s, handling PR for the Crystal Cathedral and eventually returning to radio at Salem’s KKLA.

Duffy had been battling brain cancer; he died June 13 in Arizona, at 80.

*VERMONT Public Radio was a winner in Auction 83, too, paying $21,000 for 107.5 in Burlington (proposed, for now, to relay flagship WVPS 107.9 from across the lake in Willsboro, NY) and outbidding Steve Silberberg’s application for 107.5 at the WCAT (1390) site in Burlington.

*There was one Auction 83 translator winner in MAINE, where David Stout won 99.3 in Old Town, north of Bangor, for just $750. The new translator is listed as rebroadcasting WZON (620 Bangor); it appears Salt Pond Community Broadcasting didn’t bid for its competing application for 98.9 in Orono, relaying WERU (89.9 Blue Hill).

*Back in New York, we know at least two of the inductees into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame: they were celebrating last week at Rochester’s WHAM-TV (Channel 13) when the news arrived that veteran anchors Ginny Ryan and Doug Emblidge will be joining their record-holding colleague Don Alhart in the hall this autumn. (We’ll have the complete list next week.)

And there’s belated word of the death May 17 of Sam Hall, whose long career in New York City radio news started at the old WNEW (1130) and went on to include stints at WOR and the RKO network, WNBC/WYNY and the NBC network (including some news duties on “Imus in the Morning” at WNBC), and finally at WQEW/WQXR, where he retired as news director in 2006. Hall was 81; a memorial service was held for him on Saturday. (photo: WQXR)

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Seven Mountains/Southern Belle is adding another signal up in the hills between Harrisburg and Lewisburg: it’s paying Starview Media $70,500 for little WJUN (1220 Mexico) along with its translator, W298CR (107.5). The deal will reunite WJUN with its former FM sister, now “Bigfoot Country” WIBF (92.5 Mexico).

There’s another obituary from iHeart in Pittsburgh. Mike Vrable was known as “Mike Steele” during many years there as a WDVE (102.5) part-time jock and Steelers/Penguins producer. Vrable started out up in Beaver Falls on 106.7 before that rock format transitioned down to Pittsburgh as today’s WXDX (105.9 the X) in 1996. He departed for Austin, Texas and KLBJ-FM (93.7), then came back to Pittsburgh in 2011. Vrable died Tuesday (July 3) at just 51; he’d been suffering from bowel cancer.

Over at CBS’ KDKA-TV (Channel 2)/WPCW (Channel 19), Jay Howell is the new general manager, returning to Pittsburgh after holding the same post for a year at sister stations KOVR/KMAX in Sacramento. Howell is the son of John Howell, longtime station manager across town at WPXI (Channel 11).

*Up the road in Loretto, Matt Lightner’s applying for new calls at WWGE (1400). When he takes over, the station will become – yup! – WYUP.

There’s also a call swap in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, and we’re not sure why: WGMF (1460 Tunkhannock) is now WZMF, while WZMF (730 Nanticoke) becomes WGMF. Both AMs serve as parent signals for a big chain of “GEM Radio” translators up and down the valley. And while we’re digging into the callsign database, 7 Mountains/Southern Belle has reserved new calls WZBF for what’s now WVYS (96.9 Ridgebury) when it flips from “YES FM” over to its new “Bigfoot Country” identity sometime this summer.

*And in NEW JERSEY (and far beyond), Tom Petner is being mourned after a long career in TV news. Petner’s management career included stints as VP/news at WWOR (Channel 9) in Secaucus in the 1980s and early 1990s, then at WTAE (Channel 4) in Pittsburgh before going to work for APBNews.com and Vault Inc. He spent some time teaching at Temple University, then joined the ranks of trade publishers as editor of TVSpy and 247Newsroom before retiring in 2013. Petner died July 1 in Freehold after a fight with cancer; he was 71.

*The week after CANADA Day is always a slow one north of the border, and so we don’t have much Canadian news to report in this issue, save for the death of J.J. Richards.

Richards came to Toronto in 1957 to join the news department at CHUM (1050), back in the days when top-40 AM stations also did international news. Richards moved to TV in 1964, joining CFTO-TV (Channel 9), then to the CBC in 1967 to cover Toronto city hall. (Photo: CHUMTribute.com)

He left Toronto in 1967, working in Greece and then going to the west coast to work in Victoria and Vancouver for 26 years before retiring to southern California. That’s where he died June 30, at age 88.

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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: July 10, 2017

*The cluster of commercial radio stations that makes up most of the radio market in the Berkshires is once again on its way to a new owner.

It was just last week that we reported that a $3 million deal to send WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield), WUPE (1110 Pittsfield), WUPE-FM (100.1 North Adams), WNAW (1230 North Adams) and WSBS (860 Great Barrington) from Vox/Gamma to Galaxy Communications wasn’t going to be consummated. It was the second deal for the stations that failed to make it to closure; back in 2013, they were headed to Greg Reed in another deal that was never completed.

Instead, those six stations are now headed to Townsquare Media in a deal announced late last week. We don’t yet know how much Townsquare will pay for the six stations and two attached translators, which run a total of five formats: top-40 on WBEC-FM (“Live 95.9”), classic hits on “Whoopie” (WUPE-FM, WUPE and translator W277CJ 103.3 in Pittsfield), talk on WBEC and full-service/AC on WSBS (and translator W231AK 94.1 in Great Barrington) and WNAW.

For Townsquare, it’s a deal that makes plenty of sense: the company specializes in small and medium markets, and it has a footprint that already includes the Albany market just across the state line, as well as other nearby medium-market clusters in Utica and Binghamton. Will we see some simulcasting between Albany and the Berkshires, or at least some sharing of resources? And, first, will this deal do what the last two couldn’t and actually make its way to the finish line?

*A surprise from CONNECTICUT: after more than a year on the air, the local full-service format at WSTC (1400 Stamford) is gone as of today. Mike Raub, the Fairfield County radio veteran who’s been leasing the WSTC signal from owner Sacred Heart University, broke the news Sunday that SHU isn’t continuing the lease, apparently sending 1400 back to its previous relay of public radio WSHU-FM (91.1 Fairfield).

“During this last arrangement, we crafted a station that I am extremely proud of,” Raub told WSTC listeners. “We were lucky enough to partner with so many like minded people who shared our dream and I thank each of you for what you gave us. There are those who feel that this market isn’t able to support local product, but even now I refuse to believe that. Hopefully, I will again soon be working with you to help bring our community closer through radio.”

*The sad story of NEW JERSEY‘s WMGM-TV (Channel 40) turned another page last week with the announcement that spectrum speculator LocusPoint Networks is selling the station to Univision for $6 million.

That’s the same price that LocusPoint paid when it bought the station from Access.1 in 2014. At that point, the Wildwood-licensed station was losing its NBC affiliation and shutting down its local newscasts – but it appeared to have considerable potential for profit once the FCC began auctioning off UHF TV spectrum.

We may never know how much LocusPoint hoped to get from that auction, but we know its price wasn’t realized and so WMGM-TV, along with several other LocusPoint licenses, didn’t get taken in the auction. Without much of a future in its current format of mostly infomercials and brokered programming, it’s no surprise that LocusPoint wanted to unload the station, though the buyer comes as a bit of a surprise.

Five Years Ago: July 8, 2013

*Local news quietly faded away from NEW JERSEY’s WWOR-TV (Channel 9) last Tuesday night at 10:30, concluding – at least for now – a chapter of regional TV history dating back three decades. It was back in 1983 when RKO”s struggle to keep the license of what was then WOR-TV prompted it to move the station from New York City across the Hudson to Secaucus, N.J., and ever since then, channel 9’s owners have struggled to balance the business reality of serving the greater New York market against the legal pressure to make good on RKO”s long-ago commitment to servicing the Garden State.

That pressure grew considerably back in 2000, when WWOR’s then-owner, Chris-Craft Communications, was sold to Fox Television Stations, putting channel 9 in a duopoly with the unequivocally New York-based WNYW-TV (Channel 5). Under Fox ownership, much of the WWOR operation, including business offices and master control, moved across the Hudson to WNYW’s Upper East Side studios. It’s likely the entire Channel 9 operation would have followed the lead of other Fox/Chris-Craft duopolies such as KTTV/KCOP in Los Angeles and KFTC/KMSP in Minneapolis and combined completely under one roof, but for that 1980s-era promise to retain a New Jersey base for WWOR. New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg stepped in back in 2004 to compel Fox to keep a separate Secaucus-based newsroom for WWOR, using the leverage of WWOR’s license renewal in the 2007 cycle and the ongoing waiver that allowed News Corp. to own both the Fox stations and the New York Post.

In the years since 2004, WWOR’s news commitment had wavered but not disappeared. Its lone newscast moved from an hour at 10 PM to a half-hour at 11 PM in 2009, taking it out of competition with WNYW’s flagship 10 PM show, and while WWOR’s newscast moved back to 10 PM in 2011, it remained mired at a half-hour in length. It wasn’t until last September when WWOR belatedly joined the rest of its New York-market competitors in producing its news in high definition, and even then the Channel 9 news has lingered far back in the ratings, behind WNYW and Tribune”s WPIX.

WWOR, of course, is spinning its decision to drop a locally-produced newscast as a good thing for the Garden State. That”s because the 10 PM slot on channel 9 will be filled, starting tonight, with a new show called “Chasing New Jersey.” The new magazine show, produced in Trenton and hosted by “ringleader” (and former Republican congressional candidate) Bill Spadea, will be outsourced to a company called Fairfax Productions. It”s run by Dennis Bianchi, the VP/general manager of Fox-owned WTXF (Channel 29) in Philadelphia, which will itself also carry “Chasing New Jersey,” albeit buried at 4 AM as the lead-in to WTXF’s early-morning newscast.

*When Cumulus launched its “Nash FM” brand earlier this spring on New York-market WNSH (94.7 Newark NJ), it was a given that the brand would spread to more of Cumulus’ country stations around the U.S.

Memorial Day weekend brought a “Nash” relaunch for five Cumulus country outlets in markets as far-flung as Boise, Des Moines, Green Bay and Lexington, Kentucky – and on Wednesday afternoon at 3, another wave of flips brought a second “Nash” outlet to NERW-land.

This time it’s in northeastern PENNSYLVANIA, where Cumulus (and before that, Citadel) has struggled to make WSJR (93.7 Dallas) a contender against long-established, big-signal Entercom country giant WGGY (Froggy 101.3). While Froggy enjoyed big ratings (and a near-weekly cameo bumper-sticker appearance amidst the filing cabinets on “The Office”), Citadel dumped local staff on what was then “JR 93.7″ back in 2010, and in 2012 it flipped the station to “Great Country 93.7,” an earlier attempt at a national country brand.

Now it’s “Nash,” and so far it’s jockless, save for the syndicated “CMT Live” in evening drive.

Ten Years Ago: June 30 & July 7, 2008

*It didn’t take long for KYW-TV (Channel 3) in Philadelphia to cut its ties with anchor Larry Mendte after he was accused of snooping in former co-anchor Alycia Lane’s e-mail. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Mendte installed a keystroke logger on Lane’s office computer. Mendte has not been charged with any crimes, and his agent tells the paper he expects to be back on the air soon.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 7 & 14, 2003

*Clear Channel flipped two of its VERMONT properties last week, just in time for Independence Day. In Rutland, WZRT (97.1) kept its top 40 format under a new name, taking on Clear Channel”s national “Kiss” branding (and the blue ball logo that”s already been phased out in some other Kiss markets); up US 7 in Burlington, the arrival of “Kiss” was a bit more of a surprise, with the 4 PM change last Thursday (7/3) installing “Kiss 92.1″ on WJVT (92.1 Port Henry NY), the rimshotter that had been doing smooth jazz for the last year and change. Under its (pending) new calls of WVTK, Kiss will pose at least something of a threat to established top 40 WXXX (95.5 South Burlington), though the two stations’ signals have little overlap except over Burlington itself. Through the miracle of voicetracking, the stations share an airstaff that consists of Dave Ryerson, Judy Anderson, AJ and Mike Cruz, though we hear the programming is separate at each frequency. (And wouldn’t it figure that the switch would come not 48 hours after we drove out of the market…)

*Just in to NERW at press time is word that one of the best-known voices in MASSACHUSETTS has been silenced. Ernie Boch never had an airshift, but his trademark “Come on DOWN!” beckoned listeners to his auto dealerships over decades of high-intensity radio and TV advertising. In 1991, Boch became a broadcast owner with the $825,000 purchase of WOCB (1240/94.9 West Yarmouth), and in the years that followed he expanded his Cape Cod holdings into one of the market’s most important clusters. With his 1996 purchase of three more FMs and his 2001 donation of the former WOCB(AM) to Boston University, Boch”s cluster now consists of news-talk WXTK (95.1 West Yarmouth), AC WCOD (106.1 Hyannis) and oldies simulcast WDVT (93.5 Harwich Port) and WTWV (101.1 Mashpee) – and with Boch’s death Sunday at age 77, the rumors are already flying about potential purchasers interested in the stations.

*Up in CANADA, CHUM officially launched its new FM signal in Brockville, Ontario, transforming CFJR (830) into CFJR-FM (104.9), aka “JRfm.” The FM signal has been on the air testing for several weeks, but the official launch today sets the clock running to the signoff later this year of the AM signal. (Oddly, CFJR’s website makes no mention of the FM yet!) But in the midst of launching “JRfm,” CHUM also flipped its older Brockville FM signal. CJPT (103.7) has been doing top 40 as “the Point,” but as of today it’s a clone of CHUM”s CKKL (93.9 Ottawa), running classic hits and hot AC currents as “103.7 Bob FM.”

Twenty Years Ago: July 3 & 9, 1998

*Another billion-dollar deal is making news in CONNECTICUT. New Haven’s WTNH (Channel 8) is one of the stations Chancellor Broadcasting is buying from LIN for a total of $1.72 billion. Investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate, and Furst has significant interests in both LIN and Chancellor — and in Capstar, which owns WPLR (99.1) and LMAs WYBC (94.3) in New Haven, as well as owning four FMs and an AM in Hartford. The trades are already buzzing about a combined Capstar-Chancellor, which would create a massive media conglomerate in the Nutmeg State.

*In NEW YORK, it’s tower-shifting time in the Watertown market. WUZZ (1410) has applied to move from its current 5000/1000-watt DA-N three-tower array to a single tower of the array at sister station WTNY (790). As a non-directional station, WUZZ would use 3500 watts by day, and just 58 watts at night. Meantime, WCIZ (93.5, moving to 93.3) and WFRY (97.5) are building a new tower next to the current WFRY stick in the town of Rutland.

*Big Apple news anchor Ernie Anastos is becoming a station owner. The WWOR (Channel 9) anchor is one of the partners buying WJKE (101.3 Stillwater) in the Saratoga Springs market. Peter Coughlin’s Fair Way Communications gets $900,000 for the adult contemporary station. He’s using the money to buy two stations in Florida.

*Dedham-licensed WBPS (890) is one of several stations being transferred to Z Spanish Radio from current owner TSG Associates (which holds the stock of John Douglas’ Achievement Radio Holdings). NERW expects WBPS to begin running Z’s nationwide Spanish programming, which would mark the first time a national Spanish-language broadcaster has operated an O&O in the Boston market. This also explains why WBPS cancelled the proposed sale to Salem last month. The full deal, which includes stations in Chicago, Houston, and San Jose, is valued at $27 million.

*An upstate NEW YORK station has changed cities of license; Johnstown’s WSRD (104.9) is now Altamont’s WSRD (104.9), which NERW suspects opens the way to a transmitter-site move that would make it more of a player in Schenectady and Albany.