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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*In NEW YORK City, a new FM signal is drawing attention – at least in the areas that can hear its directional signal, the first FM to broadcast from the new 1 World Trade Center. As we’ve been chronicling here in NERW over the years, Rahul Walia’s 99-watt W284BW (104.7) hopscotched its way to the top of 1WTC from NEW JERSEY. It signed on for real last week with a two-hour loop of songs about New York (Springsteen’s “The Rising,” among others), and while it’s shown on the FCC’s books as a relay of WPAT (930 Paterson), the programming is actually coming from the HD2 of SBS’ WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson), where Walia is presumably looking for a tenant willing to pay big dollars for the translator’s reach. While it has a sharp directional null to the north to protect co-channel WSPK up in Poughkeepsie, we’re hearing the translator comes in nicely across most of Brooklyn and well out the south shore of Long Island.
*Translators were making news upstate, too, where Saga ended its brief “XA Radio” stunt (all X Ambassadors, all the time) and launched “Alt 95.9” on its Ithaca translator, W240CB, last Tuesday afternoon, competing against the Cornell students who’ve been doing an alternative format on their commercial station, WVBR (93.5).
You really do need a scorecard to keep track of everything that’s supposed to be going on over Saga’s Ithaca signals, which now shake out like this: news-talk WHCU (870, plus a 97.7 translator); oldies WNYY (1470, plus a 94.1 translator); top 40 “Z95.5” WFIZ (95.5 Odessa, plus a 94.9 Ithaca translator and WQNY-HD2); AC “Lite” WYXL (97.3); classic rock “I100” WIII (99.9 Cortland, plus a 100.3 Ithaca translator); country “Q Country” WQNY (103.7, plus a 103.3 Ithaca translator); modern rock “Alt” (WQNY-HD3, plus a 95.9 translator); sports “Buzzer” (WYXL-HD2, plus a 96.3 translator); AAA “Vine” (WYXL-HD3, plus a 96.7 translator) and 80s “Rewind” (WFIZ-HD2, plus a 107.7 translator).
(And why do we say “supposed to be”? A reconnaissance mission to Ithaca on Alt’s first night found WHCU’s programming still running on WQNY-HD3 and no HD at all on WYXL – and ended with what we hope won’t be a too-expensive speeding ticket on Route 89 on the way home!)
In other translator news around upstate New York, Bob Savage’s WYSL (1040 Avon) has turned on its second translator. W238DE (95.5 Spencerport) brings WYSL’s talk programming to the west side of Monroe County, augmenting his existing Rochester 92.1 translator. In Syracuse, Craig Fox’s “Dinosaur” oldies are now also on 107.5 in the Baldwinsville area, fed by WFBL (1390). That’s the sixth translator for Dinosaur, if we’re counting right, part of a network that now stretches from Auburn to Oneida. And south of Buffalo, Crawford’s WDCZ (970) has filed for a license to cover for its new translator at 94.1, which will fight back and forth with CBL-FM (CBC Radio 2) on the same frequency from Toronto.
In Jamestown, WLKW-FM (95.3 Celoron) applies to move off the downtown office building where it’s had its antenna ever since it signed on in 2012. That building also houses the studio of WLKW-FM and sister station WKZA (106.9 Lakewood), but with WKZA being sold to crosstown rival Media One, and with WLKW-FM being donated to EMF, the plan is to move the 95.3 signal over to the big WWSE (93.3) tower behind Media One’s studios on the hill west of Jamestown. (You can virtually visit both sites in this Tower Site of the Week installment from 2017.)
WLKW-FM would drop from 2.5 kW down to 700 watts, but would go up from 10 meters to 123 meters with the move, greatly improving its signal over Jamestown and vicinity as it becomes “K-Love.”
*Way up north, RadioActive’s WWWF (107.1 Dannemora) files to change calls to WPLA, which makes the calls less connected to the “What the FM?” variety format that’s been programming the Plattsburgh-market signal.
And back down near the big city, a pair of translator applications on Long Island are part of a group of 16 mutually-exclusive groups of “Auction 100” translator proposals subject to a Sept. 20 deadline from the FCC. WLIE (540 Islip) applied for 99.1 in Hempstead, while WNSW (1430 Newark) applied for 99.1 in nearby Manhasset. They both have the opportunity to file for minor changes to eliminate the mutual exclusivity, though there’s no other channel either signal can use – and thus these are likely headed to auction unless someone drops out first.
*In CONNECTICUT, the syndicated Tom Joyner morning show is history at its longtime New Haven home, WYBC-FM (94.3). The Yale Broadcasting Company station, which operates under an LMA with the Connoisseur cluster in town, is going local for the first time we can recall since it started its urban AC format. Operations manager Juan Castillo will host the new show.
There are two Nutmeg State translator applications subject to the FCC’s Sept. 20 minor change settlement deadline – WFNW (1380 Naugatuck) and WSNG (610 Torrington), both for 104.5. Can they resolve their conflict with directional antennas?
*Even the longest-running relationships between outsourced traffic/weather providers and big station groups weren’t secure last week. Just ask Elliot Abrams, one of the signature voices of AccuWeather and a longtime morning fixture on WBZ (1030) in eastern MASSACHUSETTS. (How long? Way, way back in 1992, one of your editor’s first tasks there was to answer the phone when Elliot called and to record his forecasts on carts – carts! – to be loaded into the primitive automation system.)
After all those years, we’re hearing Abrams’ tenure at WBZ was unceremoniously ended last week, and while AccuWeather will continue to provide forecasts to WBZ, it will be with voices other than the pun-happy Abrams.
Behind the scenes, Friday brought still more changes in the WBZ newsroom with the exit of assistant news director Jon MacLean, another veteran whose time there went back to the Westinghouse era. No replacement has been named yet, with Kate Gallagher and Jay Borselle filling MacLean’s duties for now.
*Across town at Entercom, morning co-host Kirk Minihane won’t be returning to his WEEI-FM (93.7) duties on the “Kirk and Callahan” morning show any time very soon. In a statement Thursday, Minihane said he’s taking an “indefinite” leave of absence as he deals with mental health issues that have had him mostly absent from the show since August, when he was hospitalized after what he later revealed had been a suicide attempt. “Truth is I came back to work too fast,” Minihane wrote; in his absence, Mike Mutnansky will continue to co-host the show.
*In TV news, WMFP (Channel 62) finally pulled the plug on its RF channel 18 signal from the FM128 tower in Newton late last week. After selling its spectrum at auction, WMFP found a repack channel-share partner south of town in the form of WWDP, whose RF channel 10 signal isn’t seen well outside the greater Brockton area. For most viewers, WMFP’s programming (just one stream of the SBN religious network) will thus become cable-only – if they notice at all. (And if they do notice, they’ll see that WMFP’s city of license changes from Lawrence to Foxborough as a result of the move.)
More viewers, perhaps, will notice the disappearance of the “Decades” retro network from the subchannels of CBS’ owned-and-operated stations, including WBZ-TV (4.2) in Boston as well as WCBS-TV (2.2) in New York, KYW-TV (3.2) in Philadelphia and KDKA-TV (2.2) in Pittsburgh. Those subchannels will be carrying the new “Start TV” service instead, and the CBS/Weigel partnership that runs Decades is looking for new subchannel homes in the lost CBS markets. (In Philadelphia, we hear Decades has already landed on one of the many subchannels of KJWP channel 2.)
*In VERMONT, there’s no replacing former Vermont Association of Broadcasters head Jim Condon, but the VAB’s business has to go on after his untimely death – and so Eric Michaels, formerly of WDEV in Waterbury, has taken over as interim executive director of the state association until its board can find a permanent new leader. The VAB says there will be a celebration of Condon’s life next month, and of course we’ll keep you posted as we learn more about those plans.
When Barrie Dunsmore died August 26, he was remembered – and rightly so – for his many years of international reporting, mostly at ABC News, where he spent 30 years. But we remember him, too, for his retirement years in Vermont, where he wrote for the Charlotte News and contributed commentaries for WVNY (Channel 22). Dunsmore was 79.
*From Bangor, MAINE comes word of the death of Chuck Foster, who was a beloved voice on the dial there for more than 30 years. Foster (whose real name was David Turke) started his career in Gardiner at WABK, then went to Bangor at WGUY and WLBZ (Z620). In the early 1980s, he started “All Hit Videos,” a local TV competitor to the nascent MTV (it aired on WVII-TV in Bangor and was briefly syndicated to other markets), then went on to start WBZN (107.3). Even after selling “Z107,” Foster continued to do afternoons there. Foster was 64 when he died August 28.
*There’s another Spanish-language signal on the air in Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA, where “La Matraka” began airing in late July over Kevin Fitzgerald’s W293BW (106.5), fed by the HD3 subchannel of iHeart’s WZZO (95.1).
In Johnstown, the FCC has granted Ted Schober’s application to move WKGE (the old WJAC) from 850 to 870, dropping it down to a three-tower, 7 kW daytimer and clearing the way for Schober’s related application in Enola, near Harrisburg, to also be granted. That one will be a 6500-watt day, 3400-watt night, DA-N signal on 850.
*In CANADA, CityTV debuted its new local newscasts in Montreal (on CJNT, channel 62) on Sept. 3. Like the other new “CityNews” newscasts in Edmonton and Winnipeg that recently launched, these new shows at 6 and 11 on weeknights have no anchors, just reporters presenting their own stories along with sportscasts from Rogers’ SportsNet operation in Toronto. (Read more about the launch from Steve Faguy, here.)
Several more CBC/Radio-Canada low-power AMs are disappearing. In La Romaine, Quebec, way out there on the Gulf of St.-Lawrence, the CRTC granted permission to convert Ici Premiere outlet CBSI-8 (1550) to FM, where it will run 50 watts/41.2 m on 99.9, still fed from CBSI (98.1 Sept-Iles). And in McAdam, NB, Radio One outlet CBAX (600) has signed off, having moved to FM as CBZF-1 on 95.5 with 50 watts.
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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…