In this week’s issue… Boston TVs on the move – Vox shuffles Burlington – Saga, Cumulus shuffle translators – Remembering CT’s Dresner – and more to come tomorrow!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Welcome to 2019! This year, we’ll be marking the 25th anniversary of what started as “New England Radio Watcher” back in 1994 – and after our annual New Year’s hiatus, we have so much news to kick off the new year that we’re actually splitting our NERW report in half this week.
So today, you get “New England RadioWatch,” with all the headlines from Connecticut to Maine. We’ll bring you the news from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and eastern Canada in part two of this week’s report, bright and early tomorrow morning. Need a reminder? Don’t forget to sign up on the right side of the page for our email list, which sends you a free reminder every day there’s new content here on Fybush.com.
And if you value the service we provide here, there’s no better way to show it than to tell a friend or colleague to join you as a subscriber!
*Most of the commuters headed to work over New Year’s week in eastern MASSACHUSETTS probably didn’t register any big visual difference as they sped down Route 128 or Route 9. But a few of them – and no doubt any NERW readers who might have been among them – noticed something very big missing from the candelabra tower that’s been a Route 128 landmark for almost half a century just off Highland Avenue in Needham.
If you’d wanted to book a room on an upper floor of the Sheraton right under the tower over the last weekend of December, you would have been sent downstairs – the top floors of the hotel were closed, bought out for safety issues (and to house tower crews) as a huge helicopter hovered repeatedly over the tower to remove the antennas that used to carry WFXT (Channel 25), WSBK (Channel 38) and WLVI (Channel 56), the three UHF stations for whom the tower was built in the early 1970s.
WSBK moved its digital signal over to the other big tower in Needham (on Cedar Street) a decade ago when analog TV went away, and WLVI sold its spectrum last year, moving its signal to share the spectrum of sister station WHDH-TV at that station’s tower just down the road across the Newton city line. That left Fox affiliate WFXT as the big UHF signal on the Cabot Street tower, which it was sharing with auxiliary transmitters for several FM stations and an FM translator.
With the upcoming repack, though, Boston’s TV broadcasters and American Tower, which owns all the Newton-Needham towers except for WHDH’s, saw an opportunity to do a more comprehensive rebuild of the market’s transmission capabilities. In particular, after multiple failures of the master TV antenna at the Cedar Street site over the last few years, the post-repack plan will create a full auxiliary facility when it’s all done: the stations that use Cedar Street for their main transmitters (WBZ-TV, WCVB, WSBK, WGBX) will have backups at Cabot Street, while WFXT’s main transmitter at Cabot Street will have a full auxiliary facility at Cedar Street.
Getting there, however, will be a little more of a challenge, and that’s where the big helicopter lift at the end of December came in: in order to make room for a new master UHF antenna that will be mounted right at the top of the Cabot Street tower, the existing antennas on the three arms of the candelabra had to be removed, and that took multiple helicopter lifts over the course of the weekend. It also required WFXT to move to Cedar Street for now; later in the process, the Cedar Street stations will move to their new auxiliary facilities at Cabot Street when the Cedar Street antennas are removed and replaced.
Still later on, there will be more motion: Telemundo’s WNEU will move from New Hampshire down to the Cedar Street tower, while WGBH-TV, relocating from UHF to VHF on RF channel 5, will get a shiny new antenna on the Cabot Street tower. In the meantime, though, those who know will be forgiven if they keep looking up at the Needham skyline and thinking something looks a little off for now. (And yes, those three arms of the candelabra will remain, without their antennas, even after the new antenna rises from the center of the tower.)
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*One of the stations that used to broadcast from the Cabot Street tower started 2019 with a format tweak. WROR (105.7 Framingham) moved its transmitter to the Prudential Center years ago, and last week the Beasley-owned station revamped its playlist, adding more 80s pop and even some R&B-flavored tunes to its classic rock lineup, now branded as “105-7 WROR, the 80s and More.”
Across the hall at the “Sports Hub,” WBZ-FM (98.5) signed a deal to extend its long association with the New England Patriots. The new multi-year deal will keep the Pats where they’ve been for the entire ten-year history of the station (which in turn extended the long deal the team already had with then-owner CBS Radio, which had moved them around from WBZ AM to WBCN-FM before launching the Sports Hub in 2009.)
Over at the former CBS Radio cluster, now Entercom, WWBX (Mix 104.1) morning co-host Karson Tager signed his own three-year extension to stay in the position he’s held for seven years.
*To the west, our partners at RadioInsight have picked up on an “Outlaw Country” website ready to roll for Saga’s WPVQ (700 Orange-Athol) and its 92.3 translator signal in Greenfield; the new format, when it launches, will complement Saga’s “Bear Country” on WPVQ-FM 95.3 in Greenfield.
*Down the road in Springfield, Cumulus has dropped CBS Sports Radio from WHLL (1450), replacing it in late December with country as “Nash Icon 98.1.” The move accompanied the launch of WHLL’s new translator, W251CT, from the WHLL/WMAS-FM tower at the edge of downtown Springfield.
*It was a sad start to the new year for radio traffic fans in Boston, and for the city’s acting community as well. Joe Stapleton was, well, a staple on WBZ (1030) traffic reports for several decades, and had also been heard on WAAF (as “Major Dick”) and on WBZ-TV and WHDH-TV. When he wasn’t reporting on traffic tangles on 128 and the Expressway, Stapleton had a second career as an actor, playing small parts in numerous movies shot around town.
Stapleton was just 55 when he died on New Year’s Day.
*Our VERMONT headlines are going to be focused in one place for a while, it seems: Vox AMFM took over operations of the former Sison stations, WVMT (620 Burlington) and WXXX (95.5 South Burlington) at the start of 2019, bringing some big lineup changes to both signals. For the staid talk format on WVMT, it’s a bit of a shakeup with the arrival of former WXXX morning hosts Pete Belair and Sarah Mitiguy. Will listeners who had more than four decades to get used to WVMT’s previous morning man, Ernie Farrar, warm to the “Pete and Sarah” show that had been on top-40 “Triple X” until now? (Farrar’s name, meanwhile, will reportedly soon be gracing Mallets Bay Avenue outside the WVMT/WXXX building.)
Down the hall at Triple X, it’s syndication in mornings now with Elvis Duran; at night, the syndicated Jackson Blue replaces Danny Trevor.
But that’s not all that’s changing with Vox: over at its existing Burlington cluster a few miles away, WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY) appears to be due for some big changes. It’s still playing rhythmic top-40 as “Hot 96.7” for now, but we’re hearing it’s just dead-segueing music with one hourly ID, and all the air talent is gone. (The only local hosts there were middayer Stevie Beats and night guy RyGuy, who’s now at WFLY in Albany.)
What’s next at 96.7? That may well be one of next week’s stories.
*Saga stayed busy over the holidays with format changes at its Keene, NEW HAMPSHIRE cluster: soft AC “EZ Favorites 100.3/107.5” launched just after Christmas on Keene’s W298BT (107.5), fed by the HD2 of WKNE (103.7); it’s also heard across the state line in Brattleboro, Vermont on W262CL (100.3), fed by the HD2 of WKVT (92.7).
The Keene translator had been carrying news-talk WKBK (1290), which moved to a new 94.1 translator; in Brattleboro, 100.3 had been carrying WINQ (1490), which moved to a new translator on 106.9.
*When Robby Bridges departed Cumulus’ WDVD/WDRQ in Detroit, he said he was headed in the direction of his native RHODE ISLAND, but in fact he’s on his way to the Granite State seacoast, where he’s the new operations manager for Townsquare’s cluster, including country WOKQ (97.5 Dover), WPKQ (103.7 North Conway) and “the Shark,” WSHK/WSAK, where he’ll do an afternoon airshift. (Joe Limardi, who’d been programming WOKQ/WPKQ, will now focus on his other responsibilities in New York’s Hudson Valley.)
*In MAINE‘s capital city, there’s a new classic country format on the FM dial. Mountain Wireless flipped WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) from oldies to classic country on Dec. 26, keeping the former “Cruisin'” branding as “Cruisin’ Country 93.5.” As part of the change, WCTB picks up Randy McCoy for mornings, bringing him back to the air two months after crosstown WEBB (B98.5) cut him loose; as for the oldies, they move down the dial to sister station WSKW (1160 Skowhegan), which had been running classic country.
*One of the reasons there was no NERW last week was that your editor was driving south on a road trip to Florida, which of course included plenty of stops to visit radio friends along the way. At one of those stops in North Carolina, the conversation turned to veteran CONNECTICUT station owner Sy Dresner, best known for his many years at the helm of WCCC (106.9/1290) in Hartford.
So it was a bit disconcerting, once we’d arrived and celebrated the new year, to learn a few hours later of Dresner’s death in south Florida, at the age of 89.
Dresner (whose actual first name was “Saul”) and his brother Al started their careers in New York, building WWHG in Hornell, WELV in Ellenville and WBNR in Beacon. The Dresners still owned the Ellenville AM (and had applied for a CP for its sister FM at 99.3, which eventually carried the “WDRE” calls for their surname) at the end of the 1960s, when they filed to buy WCCC from Elektra Broadcasting (commonly owned with the record label of the same name) for just $325,000.
At WCCC, Dresner became a legendary owner, overseeing a revolving cast of low-paid jocks who filled the Hartford airwaves with rock music. Early on, that cast included Rusty Potz, later famous at WLNG; later, it briefly included Howard Stern, who came to Hartford in 1979 on the rise from his first job at WRNW in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Stern’s presence in the market was enough of a threat that crosstown WHCN began airchecking him and sending tapes to bigger-market stations in hopes of getting Stern hired somewhere else; Dresner, as it turned out, aided that quest by denying Stern a raise to $250 a week in 1980, whereupon Stern took a job offer at WWWW in Detroit.
WCCC kept rocking, and Dresner stayed at the helm until 1998, when he sold the AM and FM stations to Marlin Broadcasting for $15 million, a considerable profit from his $325,000 purchase three decades earlier. Dresner retired to Florida after the sale.
*Down the road, Bridgeport’s WICC (600) was the first commercial broadcast home of Ed Baer, who grew up in nearby Westport and did college radio at the University of Connecticut. After transferring to the University of Bridgeport, Baer landed part-time work at WICC, where his colleague Dan Ingram eventually brought him down the road to New York, finding him work in 1961 as one of the “Good Guys” at WMCA (570).
Baer stayed on as a talk host after WMCA changed formats in 1970, then moved on to WHN (1050) and WYNY (97.1) through the 70s and into the 80s. In 1986, he moved north to WHUD (100.7) in Peekskill, where he did mornings until 2000 and remained on the air in a part-time role until 2016. Baer was also featured on oldies weekends on WCBS-FM and did some work for Sirius Satellite Radio. All the while, he remained a Westport resident, and it was in nearby Norwalk where he died New Year’s Day at age 82.
That’s not all for this week – we’ll be back with more NERW bright and early Tuesday morning, bringing you up to speed on all you missed over the holidays in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and eastern Canada!