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 17, 2017
*Is there any broadcast story that’s dragged on so long, with so little chance of a happy resolution, as the slow-motion decline of Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) in NEW YORK? While most of the station’s nearly six decades under Pacifica have been defined by some degree of internal chaos, the last few years have been especially anarchic. WBAI lost its Manhattan studios, most of its audience and much of its financial backing, but it’s held on to its biggest asset, its big class B signal from the master antenna on the Empire State Building, even as it’s struggled to pay a monthly bill there reported to be somewhere around $57,000.
While WBAI holds a construction permit to move a few blocks away to the Durst Organization’s 4 Times Square tower (and what would be a nearly-identical signal), it’s now turning to political pressure in an attempt to stay put at Empire, or at least to get released from its contract with Empire and its obligation to pay a rent shortfall that’s now somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.3 million.
The Empire State Realty Trust began forcing the situation a couple of months ago when it filed for summary judgment against Pacifica to get $1.8 million of that backlog paid. Pacifica fired back late last week by enlisting New York mayor Bill DeBlasio and other city and state officials to sign on to its appeal, wherein WBAI claims that Empire is charging the station more than “market rates” to be at the site where 99.5 has transmitted since 1966. WBAI general manager Berthold Reimers and station staffers took to the steps of City Hall to plead their case in public, though the event received little coverage from other New York media.
Will Empire’s owners be moved by WBAI’s publicity campaign? Will WBAI be forced to move off Empire? Can Pacifica persuade Durst to give the station favorable lease terms over at 4 Times Square? Will a court side with Empire and force Pacifica to pay up? Will one of the “contingency plans” outlined in Pacifica’s latest “Recovery and Stabilization Plan” kick in, in which WBAI would finally swap its big 99.5 signal for a lesser New York facility plus the cash it so desperately needs to right its troubled ship?
*While we sometimes lament the high security around so many studios in major markets these days, there are times when locked doors and buzzers are needed these days. Take, for example, the scene on Monday in Medford, MASSACHUSETTS outside the studios of iHeart’s WXKS-FM (107.9), where an irate listener showed up armed with an ax to demand that Kiss 108 play Insane Clown Posse.
That wasn’t on the playlist, and while the man made it inside the Cabot Road building, he didn’t get into the iHeart offices. After a three-hour standoff with police, the man was finally taken into custody; nobody was hurt, though the incident certainly made headlines in town.
We’ve been remiss, incidentally, in not noting the recent move of Kiss 108 and its iHeart sisters to new digs just across Cabot Road; while we’re up that way, we note that Kiss night jock Mikey V (Michael Vinci) has been promoted to assistant PD/music director, though we’re pretty sure he’s still not going to play any Insane Clown Posse. Also at iHeart Boston, Shaileen Santoro moves up from marketing manager to director of marketing to replace the departed Dennis O’Heron, now in a national marketing role with iHeart.
*In VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE, Great Eastern Radio is realigning some of its signals along the Connecticut River. WFYX (96.3 Walpole NH) has been relaying the “Greatest Hits” of Great Eastern’s “Kool” WWOD (93.9 Woodstock VT), but a message to Kool’s listeners on Facebook says the 96.3 transmitter on the New Hampshire side will soon flip to a simulcast of adult top-40 WGXL (92.3 Lebanon NH), bringing that station’s programming southward down the valley.
Five Years Ago: July 15, 2013
*There was a time when AM 1360 in western PENNSYLVANIA was one of the hottest spots on the dial. As WIXZ, the McKeesport-licensed signal provided Pittsburgh-area listeners with some of the hottest top-40 music on the dial between 1969 and 1974 and a jock lineup that included Terry Lee and a young morning guy who went by “Jeff Christie” on the air but answered to “Rusty Limbaugh” when the mic was off.
In the years after WIXZ was edged out of the top-40 landscape by bigger Pittsburgh-based competitors, the station ended up as the first radio holding of a former TV ad salesman named Tony Renda. As country WIXZ and later as talker WPTT and business-talk WMNY, 1360 became the building block on which Renda constructed a radio empire that eventually stretched as far afield as Oklahoma and Florida.
Within that empire, little AM 1360 eventually became a money-losing afterthought, recently switching back to talk from business news to no particular ratings effect. As WPTT in 2005, Renda almost had a deal in place to make the station more of a player in Pittsburgh by completely abandoning McKeesport: the 1360 frequency would have moved northeast of Pittsburgh to Apollo as the new home of religious WAVL, while WPTT would get WAVL’s 910 frequency and use it to build a new high-powered signal licensed to Mount Lebanon. But that plan proved not to be cost-effective and was eventually dropped, and in the meantime Renda had to spend money to fix 1360’s decaying four-tower nighttime array near McKeesport. (In its waning years as WIXZ, 1360 had moved its 5,000-watt non-directional daytime facility to Pittsburgh, giving it a respectable daytime reach but still fading away for most Allegheny County listeners at sunset.)
After nearly four decades in the Renda Broadcasting family (give or take a few years when WIXZ was sold to a Renda business associate to stay under the ownership cap after Renda’s acquisition of WJAS 1320 and WSHH 99.7), AM 1360 is about to change hands again. Last week, Renda announced it would donate the AM 1360 facility to Rev. Loran Mann’s Pentecostal Temple Development Corp.
Ten Years Ago: July 14, 2008
*Central NEW JERSEY is a tough place to operate a local AM station these days, up against a dial full of FM signals from within the state and neighboring New York and Philadelphia, not to mention a plethora of other entertainment and information choices.
So it was probably only a matter of time before Greater Media pulled the plug on most of the local programming at news-talker WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) and oldies WMTR (1250 Morristown). That day arrived July 2, as both stations flipped to satellite “Good Time Oldies,” with only separate local morning shows remaining to provide some sort of local identity.
At WCTC, the format flip kept veteran jock Jack Ellery in the morning chair, once again playing the music that was a station trademark before it switched to talk, but it ousted afternoon talker Alan David Stein, middayer Lauren Pressley and a mid-morning block of financial and food talk.
At WMTR, the move to satellite oldies knocked out local jocks MK Dombrowski and the “Golden Gup,” Robert Gascoigne, who minced no words when he told the Star-Ledger, “Radio has become a waste of electricity.” WMTR”s local voice-tracked part-timers, including Mark Mitchell and Pete Tauriello, are also out, but at least they’re able to keep their day jobs – Tauriello, for instance, is the morning traffic voice on WINS (1010 New York). Chris Edwards stays on board doing mornings at WMTR.
*There’s a new signal on the air in the Garden State, but it won’t do much for the cause of local radio, either: WNJY (89.3 Netcong) signed on July 8, bringing NJN Radio’s mix of NPR news/talk and jazz to the I-80 corridor through Morris County and parts of neighboring Sussex County.
*The biggest news out of PENNSYLVANIA over the last couple of weeks came from the State College area, where veteran station owner Cary Simpson handed over the keys to WGMR (101.1 Tyrone) to Forever on July 7, bringing an end to the station’s many decades under those call letters, most recently with top 40 as “G101.”
To nobody’s surprise (but lots of chatter on the message boards), Forever promptly flipped the station to country as “Froggy,” using its big class B signal to give that regional brand new reach in the areas north and east of Forever’s other Froggy stations in the area, WFGY (98.1 Altoona) and WFGI-FM (95.5 Johnstown). The WGMR calls are gone from 101.1, too, replaced at week’s end by WFGE.
*In Buffalo, former staffers and listeners of WKBW (1520) held a small gathering outside the station”s old 1430 Main Street studio building July 3 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic 1958 flip to “Futuresonic” top-40 radio.
We stopped by to check out the party, which included commemorative posters, classic cars and live music.
KB veterans Stan Roberts and Tom Donahue were on hand when we pulled up, and Danny Neaverth showed up in a zippy little convertible not long afterward. (We’re told that later in the evening, Neaverth even took the stage to perform the only-on-KB classic “Rats In My Room,” and we’re sorry we missed it!)
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 18, 1998
*Can you say “rat”s ass” on the radio in Boston? It”s a safe bet that the folks at CBS-owned WBCN (104.1) wouldn”t give a you-know-what if Howard Stern used the phrase in the morning — but it was enough to end Bob Lobel’s career on the radio side of (also CBS-owned) WBZ last Sunday.
The WBZ-TV (Channel 4) sportscaster was hosting his weekly call-in show with Upton Bell when prolific caller “Butch from the Cape” dialed up to offer his comments about the World Cup, including the observation that most native-born Americans probably don”t give a — yes, that phrase — about the competition.
Within seconds, the “batphone” at 1170 Soldiers Field was ringing, as program director Peter Casey ordered “Butch” to be cut off the air. And that was all it took for Lobel to leave the show.
In following days, both sides of the controversy took to the pages of Boston newspapers (and to the mailing list associated with NERW) to make their cases. Lobel says he was “censored,” while Casey argues that WBZ is a family radio station that shouldn’t tolerate the use of such language on the air.
In any event, Lobel and Bell have been replaced with Steve DeOssie and Dan Roche for the time being, and “Butch” says he’s taken WBZ off his speed-dial. As for us here at NERW, we”ll keep you updated if we decide we give a — oh, never mind!
In other news from around MASSACHUSETTS, Lobel won’t have a new boss on the TV side of WBZ after all. Former WHDH-TV (Channel 7) head honcho Joel Cheatwood tells the Boston Herald that talks to bring him to WBZ have broken off. Cheatwood will remain in Chicago for now, working in a corporate capacity for NBC. Another Cheatwood protege, Peggy Phillip, also won”t be moving in at WBZ. Phillip had accepted a job as assistant news director, but changed her mind last week to take a news director job down South instead.
Could Entercom become the new owner of WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WAAF? The radio trades were abuzz this week with rumors that CBS may swap the stations to Entercom, which has no Boston presence right now. Meantime at WBMX (98.5), the only ARS station CBS is keeping in Boston, APD/MD Michelle Engel departs for a PD gig out West at CBS”s KBBT in Portland.
Lowell may soon be home to a 24-hour Portuguese station, albeit without a license. We”re hearing rumors that a “WKNM” will start broadcasting August 2 at 1570 kHz.
One big piece of news in MAINE this week, as Mariner Broadcasting completes its set of the Pine Tree State’s classical outlets, with the purchase of WAVX (106.9 Thomaston) from Jon LeVeen. Mariner put WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) on the air a few years back, and just took over WPKM (106.3 Scarborough), flipping it to WBQW and a simulcast of “W-Bach.” LeVeen tells NERW he”s not sure whether Mariner will continue originating programming at WAVX, or whether it will become a third simulcast.