In this week’s issue… What’s next for Entercom after WBEB buy – WFAN’s Benigno on leave – WEEI’s airshift shuffle – Station sale in RI – VT channel-share kicks in

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*A quick bit of housekeeping before we head into this week’s column: are you on our Mailchimp-based email list? It’s quick and free to sign up in the right-hand bar of our website – and it’s a separate list from our paid subscriptions, which means that even if you’re a paying NERW subscriber (for which we thank you!), you’re not automatically getting our morning emails when there’s a new NERW, Tower Site of the Week, Top of the Tower podcast (check out our latest, featuring an extended interview about the all-digital AM HD experiment underway in Maryland!) or, especially, breaking news.

Breaking news like, for instance, the stunning announcement on Thursday morning that Philadelphia’s WBEB (101.1) was headed to a new owner – not to Beasley, as the rumor mill had been speculating, but rather to Entercom, which defrays some of the cost of the $57.5 million deal with a $38 million side deal spinning WXTU (92.5) back to former owner Beasley.

As loyal NERW subscribers, you expect some detailed analysis of this complex deal, and we’re here to serve, right over the fold…

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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 (finally!) 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.

This week: Hubbard’s Dave Kolesar talks about his all-digital AM HD experiment

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: July 24, 2017

*Is there any market more resistant to outside talent than Boston? The notoriously provincial listeners of eastern MASSACHUSETTS have been pretty consistent over the years in rejecting shows that originate from outside the market. With the possible exception of a few successful years for Howard Stern in WBCN’s waning days, Boston listeners want to hear Boston voices on their Boston morning airwaves…which is what makes it puzzling, at best, to read Beasley’s announcement that it’s importing the morning team from its WRIF (101.1 Detroit) to be heard in the morning on “Alt 92.9” WBOS (92.9 Brookline).

Starting today, the “Dave and Chuck the Freak Morning Show,” hosted by Dave Hunter, Charles Urquhart and Lisa Way, will be simulcast on both stations. “The Dave & Chuck the Freak show is both funny and relatable, and its cast is made up of masterful storytellers with an eye for the extraordinary,” said PD Cadillac Jack in the corporate press release. “When you combine their natural talent, great chemistry, and impeccable work ethic, the results are unparalleled, and we’re especially excited to welcome them to ALT 92.9!”

But will WBOS listeners welcome Dave and Chuck? It’s a sure bet that any mention of the Tigers, the Walter Reuther Freeway or Governor Rick Snyder will be an instant turn-off for Sox fans driving on the Pike – and that means that Dave, Chuck and Lisa will have to try to be fairly generic, which is usually the last thing anyone wants a morning show to be. (For contrast, just look down the hall from WBOS to Beasley’s WROR, which has had literally decades of morning radio success with the these-guys-could-only-be-in-Boston voices of Loren and Wally.)

*Heading out to the Berkshires, there’s now a price tag on Townsquare’s planned purchase of the Vox/Gamma cluster: the national small- and medium-group owner will pay $3.535 million for the three AMs, two FMs and one translator that make up most of the Berkshire County radio market (WBEC-FM, WBEC, WUPE/WUPE-FM, WNAW and WSBS), plus $20,000 to Northeast Airchecks LLC for WSBS’ Great Barrington translator. That’s about $400,000 more than Galaxy had agreed to pay for those stations before its deal with Vox/Gamma failed to close.

*We send our sympathies to our MAINE radio friends mourning the sudden loss of Mike Poulin, the central Maine radio veteran who died Friday night at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, apparently after suffering a heart attack. Poulin’s four-decade career included long runs at WMME (92.3 Moose) and more recently at WEBB (B98.5) in Augusta, where he was doing afternoons. He was also tracking middays at Townsquare’s “Capital 95.9” (WJZN 1400 plus translator). Poulin was just 62.

Five Years Ago: July 22, 2013

What’s Entercom up to in northeast PENNSYLVANIA? It appears this week will mark the end of “The Mountain” and its AAA format on WDMT (102.3 Pittston) and the launch of a new sports talker to compete with Bold Gold Media’s “Game” simulcast based at WICK (1400 Scranton) and Shamrock’s ESPN outlet, WEJL (630 Scranton)/WBAX (1240 Wilkes-Barre) and their FM translators. Our content partners at RadioInsight report that Entercom has registered a series of new domains including “102theScore.com” and, interestingly, “SportsHub102.com,” borrowing the nickname of its sports arch-enemy in Boston, where Entercom’s WEEI competes against CBS Radio’s “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM. WDMT already has one key piece of the region’s sports puzzle, carrying play-by-play of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League.

*In MAINE, our friend Bob Bittner has scored another broadcast bargain. We’re still in awe, more than two decades later, at Bob’s alacrity in snapping up what was then WLVG (740) in the Boston market for just $277,115 at auction in the early 1990s. Now he’s picked up a 5,000-watt fulltime AM signal for just $16,200.

wfau-foxsportsmaineThe station is WFAU (1280 Gardiner), and it comes with a big catch: Blueberry Broadcasting is selling it so cheaply because it’s not operating at full power. Last November, it applied to operate with its nighttime antenna pattern during the day because of problems with its antenna switching system, and it went silent at the beginning of July after Blueberry determined that the cost of repairs would be “prohibitive.”

Bittner’s purchase, by way of his Blue Jey Broadcasting, includes the station’s current three-tower array and the land below it; will he fix the station at that site, or will he move it elsewhere? Either way, we expect WFAU to return as a simulcast of Bob’s WJTO (730 Bath), playing a soft mix of AC and standards; it certainly won’t return with the format it was using before it went dark, when it was part of Blueberry’s “Fox Sports Maine” simulcast – later flipped to CBS Sports Radio. That format continues on WIGY (97.5 Madison) and WVOM (1450 Rockland).

Ten Years Ago: July 21, 2008

The lead financier behind Route 81, the radio group that made a big impact in central PENNSYLVANIA and upstate New York in recent years, has taken over operations of the company’s stations after a foreclosure sale last week.

WallerSutton owned 50% of Route 81’s clusters in Elmira (WENY AM-FM, WENI AM-FM, WCBA, WGMM), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (WNAK, WCDL, WAZL, WLNP), Carlisle (WHYL) and Coatesville (WCOJ); now its subsidiary WS2K Acquisition has taken control of those stations in the wake of last Monday’s foreclosure.

The stations remain on the air under their current management, though we hear there were some problems with last week’s paychecks clearing, leaving employees unpaid for several days; we’re also hearing there are new owners on the way to WHYL and WAZL. More next week…

(There’s a Massachusetts connection to WallerSutton as well; in addition to Route 81, its other radio investment is in J Sports LLC, owner of “ESPN Boston” WAMG 890/WLLH 1400.)

Forever is shuffling its simulcasts in Huntingdon, east of Altoona. It’s been a while since the AM/FM pair there has originated its own programming; in 2004, WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) began simulcasting news-talk WFBG (1290 Altoona), while the FM on 106.3, formerly WQHG, shuffled through callsigns as it flipped from a simulcast of oldies WALY (103.9 Bellwood) to “Froggy” country from WFGY (98.1 Altoona). The 106.3 signal changed city of license along the way, too; it’s now WFZY, licensed to Mount Union. As of last Monday, WHUN is relaying news-talk WRSC (1390 State College), while WFZY is relaying classic rock WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), with new calls WBSS.

Fifteen Years Ago: July 21, 2003

A short column this week (is everyone away on vacation?) – but some big news to tell you about in MASSACHUSETTS: Sporting News Radio laid off about 20 staffers at its struggling WWZN (1510 Boston) last week, axing its morning show and its ties to the Boston Globe in the process. Among the layoffs announced Friday were morning hosts Kevin Winter and Holden Kushner, who had been doing that shift with Ryen Russillo. Russillo stays with WWZN as part of an expanded “Die Hards” afternoon show (with current hosts Anthony Pepe and Mike Winn); Eddie Andelman and Dave Jageler stay on board as well with their noon-3 PM show, and the station still has the Celtics’ broadcast rights. Other than those shows, though, WWZN will now be a relay of Sporting News’ national network programming…and Boston has never been a kind market to nationally syndicated sports talk.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Barry Lunderville is about to add another station to his growing holdings, as he gets ready to take over operation of WMOU (1230 Berlin) from Steven Griffin’s Jericho Broadcasting. Lunderville, who owns WLTN (1400 Littleton), WLTN-FM (96.7 Lisbon) and WXXS (102.3 Lancaster), tells the Berlin Daily Sun that he had the chance to buy WMOU three years ago and regretted passing it up. He’ll take over with an LMA from Jericho on July 28, adding a simulcast of WLTN-FM’s morning show (with local inserts); it appears that WMOU’s long-running “Forum” talk show may be over, now that host Rod Ross has left the station and moved to Florida.

We’ll start our NEW YORK report way out on the East End of Long Island, where WWHL (92.9 Southampton) changed calls to WHBE last week. 92.9 is still carrying the AAA programming of “EHM,” while WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) itself has flipped to Bloomberg business news. A call swap is expected; meantime, the WEHM Web site is a confusing mess, with graphics that still proclaim “96-7 EHM” and text that reads “92-9″…

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!

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.