In this week’s issue… Quinnipiac abandons AM – Seven Mountains crosses border – Statewide net to shutter – MeTVFM enters region – Blueberry shifts in Bangor – Remembering two big Canadian talents
By SCOTT FYBUSH
FCC shutdown notice: With no immediate end in sight to the partial government shutdown, the FCC has remained largely closed since its appropriations ran out January 4. For the moment, the CDBS filing system remains active, so we can bring you at least some news about technical filings that are being made. However, filers cannot currently pay fees for any filings that require them; the Callsign Reservation System (CSRS) is also down, so the last of the pre-shutdown callsign changes appear this week. Because TV repack-related filings are funded by auction revenue, the Commission continues to process those, and we’ll report on them as merited. Stay tuned here and on RadioInsight for updates.
Also, a technical glitch meant subscribers to our email list did not receive notifications about the two new issues of NERW that went out last Monday and Tuesday. That’s been fixed, so watch your inbox every Monday at 5 AM for a link to our latest column – and sign up for free on the right side of this page if you’re not yet on the email list!
*We have a soft spot here for anyone trying to do interesting things on the AM radio dial, and so we’ve been watching and listening over the last 22 years as CONNECTICUT‘s Quinnipiac University has programmed a small AM signal with a lively mix of local news, standards and oldies.
Quinnipiac bought silent WXCT (1220 Hamden) in late 1996, paying $500,000 for the station that had been serving the New Haven area with a wide (and frequently-changing) variety of formats and calls since it went on the air as a daytimer in the early 1960s. WDEE, WCDQ, WOMN, WSCR, WNNR – it had been a little bit of everything over the years before finally finding stability in the hands of the Quinnipiac communications program and professor Lou Adler, a veteran of New York City radio who persuaded the college to invest in its own commercial signal.
Under Adler and Quinnipiac, WQUN took on the trappings of the full-service stations of an earlier era, heavy on local and CBS network news and personality jocks, all designed to give Quinnipiac students a taste of what the real world of commercial radio would be like after graduation. (The school also had, and still has, a small class D noncommercial FM station, WQAQ 98.1, that’s run as a more traditional college radio station.)
After Adler’s retirement and eventual death, WQUN continued on, moving to a well-appointed new studio facility in a detached house near campus, adding more sports coverage and emphasizing its streaming as well as its limited AM signal. The station became something of a refuge for commercial radio talents displaced from bigger stations, picking up personalities including Pam Landry and Brian Smith, who’d both spent many years down the road at WPLR.
Along the way, though, the industry changed. As a standalone AM station (it didn’t apply for an FM translator in any of the recent windows), WQUN became somewhat less visible to students, which appeared to reduce its perceived value as a promotional and educational tool for the university. Last week, Quinnipiac announced that it had “re-examin[ed] the prudence of continuing to operate a community radio station,” and decided to shut down WQUN over the next few months.
“The number of students who even consider a career in radio, or who want to
intern at WQUN-AM has declined sharply,” said Quinnipiac VP Lynn Bushnell in a statement that noted the “tectonic” changes in the radio industry.
WQUN will fall silent at the end of May, winding down its operations behind the scenes and closing completely June 30. Quinnipiac’s letter says the Whitney Avenue studio building will be kept for other university uses. As for the AM license (1000 watts by day, 305 watts at night) and the transmitter site and former studio building up on Denslow Hill Road a couple of miles to the west? The university’s statement was silent on that point, but we’d expect those will go up for sale.
And for those who appreciated the quiet professionalism and full-service sound of WQUN over the last two decades? There will be one fewer choice out there on the airwaves, as a changing industry continues to change – and as financially-challenged colleges and universities continue to reconsider whether radio is a part of their futures.
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*The week’s other big story spans the PENNSYLVANIA/NEW YORK border – Pennsylvania because it’s where Kristin Cantrell’s Seven Mountains radio group has been growing in a big way in the last few years, and New York because that’s where Seven Mountains is headed next with its acquisition of Community Broadcasters’ cluster of stations in the Elmira-Corning and Olean markets.
Seven Mountains was already at the edge of the market when it picked up Ridgebury, Pennsylvania’s 96.9 from GEOS Communications last year, flipping it to the company’s “Bigfoot Country” format as a simulcast of WNBT-FM (104.5 Wellsboro), which also rimshots Elmira and Corning from the south.
Jim Leven and Bruce Mittman’s Community group, meanwhile, has been focusing more on its newer clusters down south in South Carolina and Florida, a long way from Elmira-Corning, Olean and the clusters in Watertown and Ogdensburg that it’s keeping. In the relatively small Elmira market, Community has faced a market filled with aggressive competition from multiple radio players (Equinox, Sound Communication and Tower Broadcasting), plus Nexstar’s dominant TV station, WETM, and two other TV competitors.
What do Seven Mountains and its partner, Southern Belle (which will hold the license assets) get in their new markets? There’s big top-40 “Wink” WNKI (106.1 Corning), the largest FM signal in town; country “Wolf” WPGI (100.9 Horseheads); classic rock “Wingz” WNGZ (104.9 Montour Falls); news-talk WWLZ (820 Horseheads, plus a translator at 101.3); and classic country WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen).
Over in Olean, an hour and a half to the west, Community picked up the market’s dominant cluster when it bought up much of the old Backyard group. WPIG (95.7 Olean) is by far the number-one signal in town with its country format, and it will be interesting to see if Seven Mountains attempts to transform it to “Bigfoot” or leaves it alone. The cluster also includes WHDL (1450), which does top-40 via a translator as “Hot 107.1.”
When Community bought these clusters from Backyard back in 2013, it paid $3.6 million; because of the FCC shutdown, we haven’t yet seen the filing for this deal, and we’ll be interested to see how the value of these stations has changed in six years. We’ll also be watching to see where Seven Mountains is headed next as it continues its growth; from its core markets in State College, Lewistown, Huntingdon, Du Bois and the Susquehanna Valley up to Elmira, there’s an obvious hole now in Williamsport that would provide geographic continuity – and then what about Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Jamestown and Erie?
*There’s some sad news from Harrisburg, where public broadcaster WITF told affiliates last week that it’s shutting down its the Radio PA news service that it’s been operating as a for-profit subsidiary.
“It has become painfully apparent that the statewide news network model is no longer sustainable,” the network wrote in its letter to affiliates, who have until April 15 to try to find a substitute for the services Radio PA has been providing.
*Over in Reading, a Keystone State native is coming home. Pat Grooves (Cerullo) launched his “LOUD” hip-hop format on the 99.3 translator in Reading, fed from an HD subchannel of WLEV over in Allentown – and now he’s left his programming gig at Alpha Media in San Antonio to move back to Reading to run (and expand) LOUD in a more hands-on fashion. Grooves will also continue his weekend syndicated “In the Mix” mixshow, of course.
*One of those last call changes before the shutdown came from the TV dial in central Pennsylvania, where the WGCB-TV callsign has disappeared from channel 49 in Red Lion. The independent station (which now channel-shares with Harrisburg’s WHTM on VHF channel 10) started the new year with a new LMA from Sonshine Family Television, which also operates religious independent WBPH (Channel 60) in Bethlehem) – and instead of WGCB-TV, it’s picked up the venerable WLYH calls to match its new branding of “Lighthouse Television.”
(WLYH was the callsign on Lebanon’s channel 15 for many decades; that station, once a CBS affiliate and later UPN, is also now a channel-sharing “zombie” as WXBU, on the spectrum of former sister station WHP-TV, channel 21.)
*In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Cumulus is shifting syndicated morning shows on WBHT (97.1 Mountain Top)/WBHD (95.7 Olyphant). The longtime home of the Kidd Kraddick morning show has switched over to Westwood One’s “Bert Show,” starting today.
*In Philadelphia, Mark Razz (Radziewicz) moves up to the PD chair at Beasley’s country WXTU (92.5), where he’s been APD/MD and afternoon host for the past decade.
*Radio People on the Move in New York City: at iHeart’s WKTU (103.5), there’s a sudden opening for PD as Rob Miller departs that post after a dozen years. Miller is staying within the company as he moves up from hot AC brand manager to executive VP/hot AC programming and strategy and relocates to south Florida. Down there, Miller will also be senior VP of programming for a broad swath of iHeart markets stretching from Miami and West Palm Beach across to Fort Myers. The proverbial nationwide search is now underway for Miller’s replacement in New York.
A lower-profile change affects several of iHeart’s HD subchannels on the FM dial: its New York version of “Breeze” soft AC has shifted from WLTW (106.7)’s HD3 to WKTU’s HD3, with iHeart’s Broadway channel replacing Breeze on 106.7-HD3. Down the dial, the two-hour loop of New York City-themed songs that had been on the HD2 of SBS’ WPAT-FM (93.1) has moved to an HD sub of Univision’s WXNY (96.3).
*In Buffalo, Townsquare’s flip to “Breeze” on WMSX (96.1) is keeping Chris Crowley busy – in addition to serving as brand manager down the hall at country WYRK (106.5), Crowley is now the brand manager for “Breeze” and has taken himself off the afternoon shift at WYRK. Dave Fields, who’d been doing mornings on WMSX’s previous incarnation as “Mix,” moves to afternoons on WYRK – and WYRK morning co-host Liz Mantel is out, leaving a two-person morning team of Clay Moden and Dale Mussen.
And with Joe Chille having moved to WMSX as the new “Breeze” morning man, his former PD/afternoon duties over at WECK (1230/100.5/102.9) have been filled by Glenn Topolski.
*On the NEW JERSEY shore, Townsquare wants to make a big translator move attached to its WOBM (1160 Lakewood Township): it applied at year’s end to move W228EH (93.5) to 104.1, moving south into Ocean County to the Bayville tower of WOBM-FM (92.7) and, soon, WCHR-FM (105.7). Will the move give Townsquare enough FM signal to launch a new format and separate WOBM from simulcast sister WADB (1310 Asbury Park)?
*Our big New England news comes from VERMONT, where, as expected, Vox AMFM had some changes up its sleeve at rhythmic top-40 WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY). The “Hot” format went away there midweek, replaced by a stunt loop promoting Thursday’s launch of the syndicated “MeTV FM” soft AC/oldies format.
WXZO is the first MeTV FM affiliate in our region and just the fourth overall, joining flagship WRME-LP (Channel 6/87.7) in Chicago, an HD2 in Milwaukee and an AM/translator combination in Saginaw, Michigan.
*Down the road at Hall Communications, they’re saying goodbye to promotions/special events director Wendy Mays, who’s moving over to the Vermont Association of Broadcasters as its new executive director, effective at the start of February. Mays had been working with the VAB to keep things going after last summer’s death of Jim Condon, its longtime director; she’ll take the reins from interim director Eric Michaels.
*In MAINE, Blueberry Broadcasting has found a clever way to extend the already-big reach of its rock station, WTOS (105.1 Skowhegan). From its perch atop Sugarloaf Mountain (the calls stand for “Top of Sugarloaf,” after all), WTOS reaches almost from Portland to Bangor, augmented way Down East by WTUX (101.1 Gouldsboro), carrying the signal almost to the Canadian border.
Now WTOS is also being heard clearly right in Bangor, where Blueberry has flipped WABK (910) from a simulcast of its “Big 104” FM trimulcast (including WBAK 104.7 Brewer, which completely overlaps the 910 coverage area) to a simulcast of WTOS. The AM station has changed calls from WABK to WTOS (which means the 105.1 signal now officially becomes WTOS-FM), and most critically, it’s added an FM translator, W287DM (105.3 Bangor), which means WTOS listeners can find it on 105.3 in and around Bangor.
“WONK FM” debuted Wednesday over WWDC-FM (101.1)’s HD2 and a translator at 104.7, using two anchors for a 6 AM-6 PM wheel of news headlines and short excerpts (“Reaction Zone”) of iHeart talk hosts from all around the country. Later at night, “WONK FM” clears Premiere syndicated talkers Armstrong & Getty and Joe Pags. (Back in Boston, we assume Czarnecki’s duties at WRKO are being handled by news-talk programmer Rob Sanchez, who also oversees WBZ and WXKS.)
*Back in Connecticut, Townsquare has named Mike Rich as its new market manager for its Danbury/Brookfield cluster, WRKI (95.1), WDBY (105.5) and WINE (940). Rich joins Townsquare from Irish Studio, where he served as CEO.
*And we remember Harve Alan, who died January 6 in Los Angeles, ending a long career that had most recently found him running his own consulting firm. Earlier on, Alan’s PD travels found him programming WCCC-FM (106.9) in Hartford and WAAF (107.3) in Worcester.
“Mark Elliot” was one of the best-known names in top-40 radio across Canada for many decades, rocking listeners everywhere from his start at little CHIC in Brampton to Winnipeg (CFRW) to CFOM in Quebec City, CFGO and then CFRA in Ottawa. Elliot made headlines in 1987 when CFRA fired him after his substance addiction issues became obvious on the air; he entered recovery in Windsor and later returned to the air there on CKLW.
Elliot turned his recovery into a new chapter of his radio career, starting a radio show about addiction and recovery called “People Helping People” on CKLW in 1995, later syndicating it to Toronto’s AM 640 and then becoming a host across town on CFRB (1010).
In more recent years, Elliot returned to using his legal name, Nils Johanson, working as a counselor and writing about his radio career and his battles with addiction. Johanson had become seriously ill at the end of 2018; he was in a medically induced coma when he died January 11 in St. Catharines, at 65. Funeral services will be held in Niagara Falls on Wednesday.
*Over at CHUM (1050), Brian “Henny” Henderson was a longtime fixture as a jock and newsman, starting in 1977 and continuing through the ill-fated “Team 1050” sports era and into CHUM’s brief revival as an oldies station. Henderson, whose earlier career included several stints at CKBB and CKVR-TV in Barrie and CHLO in St. Thomas/London, had his own struggles with alcoholism and depression, then battled cancer in his final years. He suffered a fall at the end of 2018, and died Jan. 11. His family has set up a website to share stories of “Henny” and his career, here.
Speaking of the CHLO callsign, it appears to be poised to replace CIAO on Evanov’s AM 530 in Brampton, ending 32 years of the CIAO call on 530 and earlier on 790. There’s no change to the station’s multilingual format, which has deemphasized the Italian-language programming that in earlier years gave the station the “Ciao” (“hello!”) callsign.
*To the east, CIGO (101.5 the Hawk) in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. is changing hands. Acadia Broadcasting, controlled by the powerful Irving family, is buying the station from independent owner MacEachern Broadcasting. Bob and Brenda MacEachern have owned the station since 1994, when they bought what was then AM 1410, moving it to FM in 1999.