In this week’s issue… Cumulus changes news, traffic services – Minihane extends WEEI leave – New morning show in CT – CBC ends more AM service
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Let’s be honest: working for an outsourced traffic, news or weather service has never been the most stable employment in broadcasting. The bigger the big groups get, the more disruption they cause when they switch providers – and for what’s often considered a commodity service, it usually doesn’t take much to get a radio group to change providers.
But when the group is as massive as Cumulus and when the switch is as big as the one last week that took all of Cumulus’ stations over to iHeart-owned Total Traffic & Weather Network (TTWN), the changes were rather noticeable, nowhere more so than at New York’s WABC (770).
WABC, of course, had been unusually dependent on Cumulus’ previous partner, US Traffic Network. The local newscasts from anchors such as Jerry Barmash and Lisa Ritchie? Those actually came from USTN. The traffic reports from local icon Jeff McKay and others? That was USTN, too – and it all made for a difficult week at both ends of the now-broken connection.
As you’ve read on RadioInsight and elsewhere, Cumulus’ decision to drop USTN was the last straw for the service, which had been embroiled in a legal battle with Entercom. Without those big groups, USTN saw no future in its radio traffic and weather business, shutting them down as of Friday and the end of the Cumulus contract. And so it wasn’t just the end of a client relationship for USTN’s airstaff – it was the end of a job. USTN released its employees from their non-compete deals (where they were enforceable at all), but for now there are still plenty of good news and traffic people in New York and elsewhere looking for work.
Will the switch away from USTN do damage to WABC, too? Voices such as McKay and Barmash made up a lot of the station’s local content during its syndicated dayparts, and losing them all at once can’t be a good thing for a station that’s already struggling mightily for any ratings relevancy at all.
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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: September 11, 2017
*Sports radio works especially well in NEW YORK because it lends itself to very big personalities – and when very big personalities like WFAN (660/101.9) morning co-host Craig Carton get in trouble, they get in trouble in a big way.
It wasn’t anything Carton said on the air that knocked him out of his prominent role at WFAN last week; instead, it was his arrest early Wednesday morning on charges that he started a Ponzi scheme to try to get out of more than a million dollars in gambling debt he’d run up.
Prosecutors charged Carton and Michael Wright with four counts of fraud, alleging that they approached investors to buy into what they said were blocks of concert tickets purchased in bulk at face value to be resold at a premium. As far back as October 2016, the FBI says Carton had lined up $4.6 million from a hedge fund that wanted to invest in the scheme – except that there were no blocks of tickets, just money flowing from the hedge fund to pay off the casinos where Carton had run up his debts.
Not that there’s ever a good time for a prominent morning man in market number one to be arrested, but the timing of Carton’s charges was particularly bad for CBS Radio and WFAN. As one of the top revenue producers in the entire division, a strong WFAN is important to the consummation of the impending spinoff of CBS Radio to Entercom – and any tremors in the foundation at WFAN can have a big effect on that big deal.
CBS moved quickly to suspend Carton, bringing in Phil Simms as the interim morning co-host alongside “Boomer and Carton” host Boomer Esiason. On Thursday morning, Esiason addressed the issue, telling listeners, “I love my partner for 10 years. I still love my partner. I love his family, I love his kids. And I am praying every single day that he lands on his feet, that they land on their feet.”
What next? One potential Carton replacement, frequent WFAN guest and soon-to-be-ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, says he’s not in the running for the spot (and is rumored to be heading for a cable news commentary job). With football season now underway, Simms’ presence in the morning will at least buy CBS some time as it tries to keep WFAN stable ahead of Entercom’s eventual arrival in the market.
Five Years Ago: September 9, 2013
AM 1520 in Buffalo, NEW YORK once proudly boasted that it was “one of America’s two great radio stations,” back in the days when it was top-40 WKBW and its lineup of stellar talent burned a big hole in the ionosphere over a huge chunk of the East every night. Today, as WWKB, it’s a pale shadow of its former self – but it still made headlines last week when the Entercom-owned 50,000-watter flipped formats from progressive talk to ESPN sports.
Message boards lit up, as they so often do, with earnest pronouncements about what the development meant or didn’t mean for the survival of the struggling progressive-talk format; from where we sit 70 miles away at NERW Central, the answer, we think, is “nothing much at all.”
The explanation lies in the strange role WWKB now plays in the Entercom cluster in Buffalo, where it’s little more than a flanker to the two big AMs in the group, news-talk WBEN (930) and sports WGR (550). By holding on to 1520, the only other viable full-market AM signal in Buffalo, Entercom has long prevented competitors from encroaching on its valuable spoken-word turf. For years, that’s meant keeping talk competition away from WBEN, but with that job accomplished, Entercom now wants to throw an additional punch against Cumulus’ WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls), which has been challenging WGR’s dominance with its own sports format driven mainly by CBS Sports Radio. By adding a full-time ESPN Radio outlet to the ESPN product that already fills non-local slots on WGR, Entercom provides some protection to its big gun in town.
While there won’t be any local weekday talk on “ESPN 1520,” WWKB will continue to carry Buffalo Bisons minor-league baseball, as it’s been doing for years; it will also simulcast Sabres games with WGR, giving the Sabres a nice clear-channel AM voice for their night games.
*It’s tough to fight Comcast, at least if you’re an LPTV station in NEW HAMPSHIRE. Despite enlisting local politicians in its fight to retain cable carriage, WYCN-LP (Channel 13) in Nashua lost its spot on area Comcast systems at the end of August, and without cable visibility in an area of very low over-the-air usage, station managers Carolyn Choate and Gordon Jackson say they can’t keep going with their local programming, which came to at least a temporary end when the station left the cable dial. (While WYCN won’t say so publicly, its long-term future has been in question anyway since spectrum speculator OTA Broadcasting bought the license from Bill Binnie.)
Ten Years Ago: September 8, 2008
*It’s been a rough year so far for the smooth jazz format, with prominent defections in large markets such as New York and Washington, DC. Last Friday, the trend came to eastern PENNSYLVANIA, as Greater Media pulled the plug on smooth jazz at WJJZ (97.5 Burlington NJ).This was the second incarnation of the format in the Philadelphia market – back in August 2006, Clear Channel changed formats at the original smooth jazz WJJZ (106.1 Philadelphia, now WISX), and in November, Greater Media picked up the format and the calls on 97.5, which was in the process of moving into the market from its longtime home in Trenton, N.J.
As the format faded out at 6 PM Friday (Sept. 5), it was replaced by a weekend of stunting that promised something “new” and “now” for the Philadelphia market.
“Now” arrived at 9 o’clock Monday morning, when WJJZ exited its stunt with the now-ubiqitous “Don’t Stop Believing,” then launched into a brief, selective recap of the history of Philadelphia radio before announcing a “new” approach to adult contemporary radio under the moniker “Now 97.5,” with a new website at nowismusic.com.
PD Michael Tozzi (who came to 97.5 from the original WJJZ 106.1) is out, as are the rest of the WJJZ airstaff.
The first song out of the gate was Pink’s “Who Knew,” and the new station’s target appears to be Jerry Lee’s market-leading WBEB (101.1). (It’s probably no coincidence that one of the bits of Philly radio history 97.5 chose to emphasize was 101.1’s long run as an easy-listening station.)
While WBEB made a pre-emptive grab at the rights to the “Fresh” AC format that’s done well up at New York’s WWFS (102.7), it’s “Now” that sounds more like “Fresh” than does B101. Can Greater Media chip away at some of Lee’s revenue and ratings success with a signal that’s not quite full-market? Stay tuned…
Fifteen Years Ago: September 8, 2003
*WVNY (Channel 22) in Burlington, VERMONT announced this afternoon that it will close its news operation after Friday’s 11 PM show, leaving 25 people out of work and cutting Burlington back to two local newscasts. It’s the third time in channel 22’s 30-year history that it’s cancelled news to save money. (NERW notes: the latest generation of WVNY news was by far the most professional, with a staff that included ABC News veteran Barrie Dunsmore; we’re sorry to see that it couldn’t make inroads against the established operations at CBS affiliate WCAX and NBC affiliate WPTZ.)
*It’s been a busy week at the biggest oldies station in MASSACHUSETTS. First, WODS (103.3 Boston) parted ways with morning man Paul Perry after not quite five years – and then the Infinity-owned station began running spots that sound for all the world like political ads. Rather than promoting “Howard Dean for America,” though, these ads tout “Dale Dorman for Oldies 103,” complete with the rushed announcement at the end, “Paid for by Dale Dorman for Oldies 103, Dale Dorman, treasurer.”
*Of course, any “campaigning” here is moot, and the message is clear – the dean of Boston DJs (23 years at “Kiss 108” WXKS-FM, and a long run at WRKO before that) is joining the crew at Oldies 103 to do mornings. (The official announcement came Tuesday afternoon after an “on-air audition”; Dorman will start on WODS September 18.) The move reunites Dorman with former Kiss colleague J.J. Wright, who’s doing afternoons at WODS; as for Perry, we wonder if he’ll head back to Providence, where he was doing mornings at WWBB (B101) before getting the call up to Boston in the fall of 1998…
Twenty Years Ago: September 11, 1998
*We’ll start with MAINE and Guy Gannett for a second week – and this time it’s broadcast-related, as the company sells its television stations to Sinclair for $310 million in cash.
*In the region, Sinclair gets CBS affiliate WGME-TV (Channel 13) Portland, ABC affiliate WGGB (Channel 40) Springfield MA, and ABC affiliate WOKR (Channel 13) Rochester — but because Sinclair already owns a TV station in Rochester, Fox affiliate WUHF-TV (Channel 31), it’s turning around and selling WOKR, and not to Sinclair’s partner company Glencairn Broadcasting, either. Instead, WOKR will be spun off to the Ackerley Broadcast Group of Seattle, which is building quite a cluster of ABC affiliates in upstate New York, including Syracuse’s WIXT (Channel 9), Binghamton’s WIVT (Channel 34), and an LMA with Utica’s WUTR (Channel 20).
*Elsewhere in Maine, we heard the debut Tuesday night of Al Weiner’s new WBCQ (7415 kHz) up in Monticello. Their web presence advertises air time for as little as $50 an hour, and the new station will be home to ex-pirates Radio Newyork International, among others. Should be a fun listen…