In this week’s issue… Thank you, Tom Taylor – Remembering J.R. Reitz – Urban One flips in Philly – Sox drop Neverett – Public broadcaster buys weekly paper
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*This has been a very busy middle of what’s typically a very busy news month, and we’ve started every day hereabouts the same way we start every weekday: the alarm goes off, your editor reaches blearily for his phone, opens the inbox and immediately looks for the new issue of Tom Taylor’s NOW newsletter.
It is, of course, what all of us in the business have been doing for years, in one form or another, going back to the days when you knew you were “in the loop” at your radio station if you were on the list to get Tom’s daily fax cycled around to your desk. Tom himself cycled through employers and formats – Inside Radio, M Street (which then absorbed Inside Radio), Radio-Info and, since 2012, his own independent partnership as RTK Media.
Through it all, Tom himself remained perhaps the most respected, most decent, most thoughtful writer in our sometimes grubby little corner of the business. Tom was a radio guy himself – before he jumped into the trade publication game in the late 1980s, he was well known as the PD of WPST in Trenton, where he launched the top-40 format on FM in the 1970s and woke up a generation of listeners as the morning host. More so than almost anyone in the business, Tom is always quick with a kind email or a plug for a project in his newsletter. As a colleague of his in the M Street/second Inside Radio era, I can say that the public Tom in the newsletter every day was exactly the private Tom behind the scenes.
This all sounds like an obituary, but of course by now you know it isn’t: with a significant birthday approaching and some family health issues weighing heavily on his head (a subject we here know all too well), Tom made the public announcement Tuesday that this coming Friday will be the final issue of “Tom Taylor NOW,” as he heads for a very well-deserved retirement.
What happens next? For Tom, we hope it’s many years of good health and relaxation. For the industry… well, we’ll be here with the last new issue of NERW for 2018 next Monday morning, our annual Year in Review package over the next few days that follow, and then right back at it with our 25th year of NERW starting Monday, January 7. Our content partner, Lance Venta at RadioInsight, will be here all through the holidays breaking format-change news.
And from there… well, as we say so often here, stay tuned.
(Especially to the Top of the Tower Podcast, where we’re hoping to have Tom on very soon as a guest to talk about his fascinating career!)
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*Another of the week’s big developments came from MASSACHUSETTS, where there are a lot of rumors and a few bits of concrete information about what will happen to the radio broadcasts of the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox (nope, it never gets old) as they turn the corner into their 2019 season.
What we know with certainty is that Tim Neverett won’t be returning to the WEEI-FM (93.7) broadcast booth. Neverett, who joined the Sox radio booth in 2016, tells the Globe he started to get word back in June that it was time to start looking elsewhere, but that it was ultimately his choice to let his contract expire.
More specifically, he says it was WEEI management that wanted him gone, not the team itself. “When you can say that after you get to call a World Series victory, then you know it was pretty disappointing on how it all went down,” he told Chad Finn.
Neverett says he’s working to line up a new job, though he’ll keep his home in Boston.
And then, the rumors: what, exactly, does WEEI have in mind for the revamped sound of the Red Sox radio network? Joe Castiglione, who’s called all four Sox championships this century (nope…it really never does get old!), isn’t going anywhere. No new partner has been named in the booth. But the interesting part here is the suggestion that WEEI at least considered radically changing the way the broadcast was structured, replacing classic play-by-play with a more conversational approach that’s being described as talk radio that happens to be about a live ballgame.
What would that sound like, and how serious is WEEI about making the change? It’s sounding – at least to us on Sunday night – more like a trial balloon than a definite plan. But if WEEI is seriously thinking about changing the sound of baseball on the radio, it’s a move that could carry a lot of weight. After all, Entercom controls radio rights for nearly half of the MLB teams, including all five on the US side of NERW-land, so if it finds a model that works better at attracting new listeners, it could roll it out quickly not just on the Red Sox but also on 13 other MLB teams from coast to coast. (But then – if you’re going to try an experiment like this and you’ve got all those rights deals in house, why do it first on a team where there’s as much at stake as with the Red Sox?)
Reitz was part of the impressive crowd of radio folks who emerged from the Utica area in the 1970s, in particular at WTLB (1310) and then later as one of the signature voices of WRCK (107.3) in its “Rock 107” era.
In 1994, Reitz moved east to WFHN (107.1 Fairhaven) along with another Utica transplant as half of the “JR and Kookinbocker” morning show, and he became a “Fun 107” institution for almost 20 years, most of it with the late Sharon Fogaren after Kookinbocker went back to Utica.
After a little while in Phoenix, JR went back to Utica for a bit, too, at WLZW (Lite 98.7), before returning to the South Coast last year to do news at WBSM (1420). He’d just recently started in mornings at WPLM (99.1) in Plymouth; alas, he never really had a chance to settle into that new gig. He died at home last Sunday night or Monday morning, at just 66 years old.
*In western Massachusetts, it gives us great pride to report that WTBR (89.7 Pittsfield) returned to the air Friday after more than five months of silence. The station’s old transmitter/studio site at Taconic High School was torn down, and Pittsfield Community TV worked with the school to take over station operations and find a new site for the station.
Here at Fybush Media, we were delighted to be able to help with the project, especially since it was our colleague Mike Fitzpatrick doing much of the on-the-ground work to bring WTBR back on the air for PCTV and its leader, Shawn Serre, shown here putting the signal back on the air under STA.
(photo credit: Mike Fitzpatrick/NECRAT.us)
*Back in Boston, Beasley’s country WKLB (102.5) has named a new morning co-host for Jackson Blue. Ayla Brown starts today on what is inexplicably not being called the “Blue and Brown Morning Show” (it’s “Jackson and Ayla Brown” instead) – and if you don’t know who Brown is, you haven’t been following Boston pop culture for the last few years, ever since she was a finalist on American Idol. (Her father, meanwhile, is former US senator Scott Brown.)
More Radio People on the Move: Cindy Howes is the new marketing and promotions director at WERS (88.9 Boston), where she hosted folk music shows when she was an Emerson student. More recently, she’s been hosting the “Folk Alley” streaming/HD service at WKSU public radio in Kent, Ohio.
*There’s never any shortage of pirate radio in NEW YORK, and while we’ve become so inured to the constant stream of notices of violation that we don’t even bother reporting them routinely in NERW, we do notice when there’s an actual arrest for unlicensed broadcasting. That happened north of the city, where the Westchester County DA’s office worked with the FCC to pin down Richard Dominguez as the operator of “La Mojada FM,” which was operating on 98.5 in Croton-on-Hudson, right next door on the dial to New York’s WEPN (98.7).
Will this crackdown make Westchester’s pirates any warier than those just to the south in New York City, where there are routinely dozens of unlicensed signals on the air any given night? We’ll be listening as we pass through in the months to come.
*In the city, Cumulus has a new lineup at WABC (770), where the syndicated Ben Shapiro show takes the 3-6 PM block, live in the first two hours (replacing Michael Savage) and then the existing 5-6 PM broadcast of his podcast.
*Public TV station WNET is making some changes at the “zombie” licenses it picked up a year ago. The former WEBR-CD (Channel 17) couldn’t keep using that virtual channel when its license was moved to share bandwidth with WNET’s much bigger channel 13 signal (which has overlap with WPHL, channel 17 in Philadelphia). Instead, the license now uses virtual channel 14, and it’s using the WNDT calls that were on channel 13 from 1962 until 1970. The new WNDT-CA is currently carrying the MHz Networks programming that had formerly been seen in the market on WNYJ (Channel 66/RF 29) until that station sold its spectrum into the auction last year. The same MHz Networks programming also runs on a second “zombie” station owned by WNET, WMBQ-CD (virtual 46).
(There’s more change coming to WNET’s DTV lineup on January 28, when the new “ALL ARTS” channel launches on streaming platforms and on the 21.4 subchannel of sister station WLIW, which will soon be transmitting its digital signal from 1 World Trade Center after 50 years on Long Island.)
And there’s an ownership change on the DTV dial, as BuenaVision sells WBQM-LD (Channel 51/RF 50) to NEW JERSEY‘s Press Communications for $300,000. Why such a low price? WBQM doesn’t have a protected channel in the upcoming repack, which will take its current spectrum away. Will Press channel-share WBQM on full-power WJLP (Channel 33/RF 3), which is owned by sister company PMCM?
*Out on Long Island, Friday was closing day for the $3.9 million sale of legendary little WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor) from Main Street Broadcasting to Sandra Foschi’s Bark Out Loud Dogs Media. Foschi and husband Bill Evans (of WABC-TV) will be meeting with station staffers this week as they negotiate the delicate balance of making the station theirs while preserving all the special little quirks that have made it so beloved by so many radio people over the years.
“The task of attracting new listeners and advertisers while respecting and honoring the core group of dedicated followers is not an easy one,” they told staffers in their welcome email. “We ask for your patience and support as we move forward with what we feel is necessary to achieve these goals.”
*Upstate, public broadcaster WXXI in Rochester has taken on some unusual brand extensions in recent years, operating the Little movie theater and cafe, among other things. Now it’s moving into print, signing a letter of intent to acquire City newspaper, the alt-weekly that’s been owned by Bill and Mary Anna Towler since it was founded back in 1971. The Towlers approached WXXI more than a year ago as they sought to find a buyer for their paper so they could eventually retire; if all goes well, WXXI will create a new for-profit subsidiary that will continue to operate City as a commercial enterprise.
(Your editor is, of course, a casual WXXI employee; for more on this story, we’d point you to Dru Sefton’s reporting in Current, where your editor is also an occasional contributor.)
*Radio People on the Move: Ryguy is the new night guy on WFLY (92.3) in Albany, where he replaces Mike Ryan. Ryan’s taking over mornings on Pamal sister station WKBE (107.1) up in Glens Falls, while Ryguy moves south from VERMONT and afternoons at WXZO (Hot 96.7) in the Burlington market just ahead of the big changes coming to the Vox AMFM cluster up there.
*In the Olean market, Jeff Andrulonis’ Colonial group has a new deal to sell WAGL (103.9 Eldred PA). Earlier this year, “the Eagle” had been one of several Colonial stations being sold to Richard Freeman’s On Air Inc. for $615,000 (paid through the Ideum cryptocurrency), but that sale never closed. Now WAGL is instead going to Family Life Ministries, which will trade translator W285ES (104.9 Smethport PA) to Colonial, as well as paying $153,000 in cash and valuing the remainder of the deal as a charitable donation worth another $153,000.
*The big format change of the week in PENNSYLVANIA was in Philadelphia, where Urban One’s latest spin of the format wheel at its three-station cluster finds classic R&B replacing black gospel on WPPZ (107.9 Pennsauken NJ).
“Praise” lives on in streaming form and on WPPZ’s HD2, while the main channel rebranded Monday as “Classix 107.9,” focusing on the soul music of the 1970s and early 1980s that was such a big part of the Philadelphia sound. As RadioInsight reports, it’s the second “Classix” for Urban One, which started the format on an HD2/translator combination in Atlanta a year ago.
*Entercom’s takeover of WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia) means the exit of one station veteran: PD Chuck Knight came to work for Jerry Lee 11 years ago, helping to keep the station at the top of the ratings and revenue, but he departed last week, and we expect his replacement will come from within Entercom’s own ranks.
Down the street at ABC’s WPVI (Channel 6), we salute Vernon Odom, who retired last week after a remarkable 42-year run at the station, which he joined in 1976 after starting his career in his native Atlanta covering the civil rights movement.
*In Philadelphia, they’re mourning Tom Maloney, a veteran sports reporter who worked at WPEN (950) and WWDB/WHAT (96.5/1340) before joining KYW (1060) in 1988. Maloney worked at KYW for 25 years. He died Dec. 8, at 74.
In Scranton, we somehow missed the November 25 death of Bill Kelly, the longtime general manager of public broadcaster WVIA-TV/FM.
Kelly started his radio career in his native Towanda at WTTC, attended Bloomsburg University, and moved on to work at WYBG up in Massena NY and then the big WARM in Scranton. He became a volunteer at WVIA in the early 1970s, amped up the station’s pledge drives, then moved up the ranks within the station until he became president in 1991, a post he held until his retirement in 2014. Along the way, he was instrumental in making WVIA something of a regional public TV superstation, seen as far afield as New York City and Long Island, and he oversaw the donation of the Chiaroscuro record lable to the station. Kelly was 71.
*And we wrap up this busy week with a callsign assignment: the new 850 in Enola, near Harrisburg, has taken the calls WXPA.