In this week’s issue… New England remembers WBZ’s LaPierre, Maine’s Gleason – Talker Williams dies – Gray adds in the North Country – LI AM dispute now includes a sale – Forever’s new growth direction
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When Boston’s WBZ began to build a wall of Hall of Fame plaques outside its front door in 2007, there was never a moment of doubt about who’d be the first inductee. Gary LaPierre had just retired after a remarkable run of more than 40 years as WBZ’s morning news voice.
Along the way, he served as more than just the indelible voice of nearly a hundred thousand newscasts, thousands of snow day school closures and countless election nights and Marathon days. Behind the scenes, he was the conscience of the newsroom, teaching generations of newspeople how to write and deliver the news crisply, clearly and fairly.
Your editor was one of those newswriters in the early 1990s, as WBZ made its final turn from full-service to news. This is, therefore, not an easy story to write – but here’s how Gary would have wanted it written:
Gary LaPierre died Monday. (You didn’t write Gary copy that said someone had “passed away,” or worse yet, “been slain.” At least not more than once.)
Gary was, very proudly, a native of Shelburne Falls. He learned broadcasting at Grahm Junior College in Boston and worked in the mailroom at WBZ. After college, Gary moved quickly through several small-market newsrooms, from WHAV in Haverhill to WTSN in Dover and WKBR in Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE. (That’s Gary in 2016 at an event launching the latest LPFM version of WHAV.)
By 1964, he was back at WBZ as a reporter, his deep voice hiding the fact that he was just 22 years old. One of his first assignments was covering the Beatles’ arrival in town. By 1966, he was anchoring the newscasts during Carl deSuze’s morning show, and the rest, pretty much, was history: his was the voice that told Bostonians about RFK and MLK and Chappaquiddick, that man had landed on the Moon, that interviewed president after president. He covered Princess Diana’s funeral from London and held things together on the air on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Over the years, he served several stints as noon anchor on WBZ-TV (Channel 4), but he never wanted to leave radio behind. He had plenty of opportunities to leave Boston for bigger markets or even network jobs, and even came close more than once, but in the end he always stayed put on Soldiers Field Road. (In the early 1990s, he did take advantage of ABC Radio’s offer to serve as a fill-in for Paul Harvey News several times. It was a huge thrill for your editor to get to write for some of those fill-in stints – but it was just as big a thrill for Gary to do the national broadcast, too.)
Behind the scenes, Gary’s humor enlivened the newsroom for decades. His camaraderie with morning sports partner Gil Santos was as real off the air as it seemed on the air for all the years they worked together, culminating in an emotional farewell as the two anchored together for the last time on Gary’s retirement day in 2006. (By then, of course, he’d been spending more of the winter months at his second home on St. Augustine Beach, even anchoring some newscasts from a home studio.)
Gary’s voice was hardly absent from WBZ after retirement; freed at last to do commercials, he used his home studio to voice testimonials for advertisers and promotional pieces for the station and even returned as a guest fill-in anchor in 2010 after his successor, Ed Walsh, departed.
In retirement, Gary and his wife, Peg, split their time between Florida and Ipswich, enjoying the company of children and grandchildren. Gary was diagnosed with leukemia late last year; his family was with him at home in Ipswich last Monday when he died. He was 76.
A funeral was held on Friday, and while we were unable to get to Boston, we’re told that it was full of alumni from throughout Gary’s WBZ career, and that his colleague Carl Stevens delivered a heartfelt eulogy.
(We’ll have more on Gary’s life and legacy, and some archival audio, on the Top of the Tower podcast this week here on Fybush.com.)
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After being part of the team that put WTOS (105.1) on the air atop Sugarloaf Mountain in the early 1970s, Gleason started buying radio stations, first WOXO-FM (92.7) in Norway in 1975, then WKTQ (1450 South Paris, now WOXO) a year later. Later acquisitions included WTBM (100.7 Mexico), WRUM (790 Rumford, now WTME 780) and WEZR (1240 Lewiston), all operating together as Gleason Broadcasting Services and super-serving western Maine.
Always active in community affairs, Gleason served on numerous local boards and committees and even served as mayor of the city of Auburn from 2009-2011. Gleason was also active in the national Idea Bank group, and was named Maine Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcaster of the Year and inducted into the group’s Hall of Fame in 2003.
Gleason had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease; he had just turned 71 when he died Friday night.
*A union organizing drive is moving forward in MASSACHUSETTS at WBUR (90.9 Boston), where more than 80% of the station’s content creation staff signed a petition to begin the process last month. WBUR and licensee Boston University fought the inclusion of some of the 94 staffers who’d be part of the union, but in an appearance before the National Labor Relations Board Friday, the organizers won – and now a vote on joining SAG-AFTRA will take place Feb. 27 at WBUR.
In Pittsfield, WBRK (1340) has flipped the switch on its new translator, W246DM (97.1), and with the translator will come a format tweak on both AM and FM. The locally-owned station will rebrand as “The Peak, K97.1,” relaunching officially on March 1.
In New Bedford, Hall flipped its switch on the new 101.3 translator of WNBH (1340) last week; as we’d told you last week, a classic hits format has replaced ESPN Radio there, and we’re hearing “Big 101.3” might be the new branding.
*A small-dollar translator sale on Cape Cod finds Jeff Shapiro’s Nantucket Public Radio selling three signals to John Garabedian’s Codcomm, which has been broadcasting over the translators for several years now. W263CU (100.5 Hyannis) and W300BE (107.9 Vineyard Haven) relay soft AC “Koffee 98.7” WKFY, while W230AW (93.9 Hyannis) carries adult hits “Frank 93.5” WFRQ, all fed by HD subchannels of WPXC (102.9 Hyannis). Codcomm is paying $11,250 for the three signals.
*In CONNECTICUT, the FCC paid a visit to Gois Broadcasting’s WLAT (910 New Britain) and its translator W269DE (101.7) in October, then returned in November after being denied entry for an inspection. That’s against the rules – and so is operating a translator over-power, which is exactly what the Commission found W269DE doing, to the tune of 740 watts instead of its licensed 33 watts of total power output. Inspectors also found WLAT’s towers weren’t properly lit, and now Gois has to answer to a hefty Notice of Violation from the Commission.
To the east, WINY (1350 Putnam) has turned on its new translator at 97.1, giving Gary Osbrey and his top-notch community station another way to reach listeners in the region.
*Bruce Williams started his broadcast career in his native NEW JERSEY, where he attended Upsala College and Newark State Teachers College, became active in politics, and in 1975 joined the staff of WCTC (1450 New Brunswick) as host of the “At Your Service” talk show. Within three years, that led him across the Hudson to join WMCA (570) in New York, and three years after that, Williams was one of the inaugural hosts for the 1981 launch of NBC’s Talknet.
After surviving a small plane crash in 1982, Williams went on to become an institution in talk radio, becoming one of the first national talk hosts to make personal finance a big part of his format. Williams’ show long outlived Talknet, moving to several other networks before the host’s retirement from daily radio in 2010.
In recent years, Williams had been living in Florida, running businesses that included (no kidding!) an online store selling New Jersey’s famed pork roll. He died Saturday at his home near Tampa, just a week short of what would have been his 87th birthday.
*Our NEW YORK news starts up in the North Country, where Watertown’s WWNY-TV (Channel 7) and its low-power Fox sister, WNYF-CD (Channel 28), have been half of United Communications’ entire station holdings for more than four decades. In an increasingly conglomerated TV world, that wasn’t going to last long – and just as with the last two big independently-owned TV stations in New England, it’s Gray Television that’s arriving as the new owner in Watertown.
Gray will pay United $45 million for WWNY/WNYF and their lone sister station, KEYC-TV in Mankato, Minnesota, and it will take over operation at both stations via an LMA on March 1. While it’s Gray’s first station based in New York State, WWNY/WNYF will have nearby company, since its market abuts the western edge of the Burlington/Plattsburgh market where Gray bought WCAX-TV (Channel 3) not long ago. (Gray also bought WABI-TV in Bangor, Maine around the same time.)
In Watertown, Gray will inherit a dominant position in the market – WWNY is the oldest station in town by more than 30 years, and the only one of three stations in town that does local news.
*There’s another twist in the story we reported last week about silent WTHE (1520 Mineola): as the station struggles to return to the air amidst a fight over control of its leased transmitter site, there’s a buyer trying to buy the daytimer from longtime owner Universal Broadcasting.
That’s Pastor Erick Salgado’s Radio Cantico Nuevo, which has filed a $200,000 purchase of WTHE. Cantico Nuevo has been leasing airtime from Dr. Richard Yoon’s WNYH (740 Huntington) – and it’s Yoon who’s accused of representing himself as WTHE’s licensee in order to secure an exclusive option on the lease for WTHE’s tower site.
We’re told there’s a lawsuit between Universal and Yoon over that matter; in the meantime, Salgado’s purchase of WTHE would add that signal to his existing eastern Long Island duopoly of WNYG (1440 Medford)/WLIM (1580 Patchogue), WPDI (103.9 Hazlet NJ), as well as his recent purchase of WXMC (1310 Parsippany-Troy Hills NJ). Salgado also leases time on WJDM (1530 Elizabeth NJ), which feeds a powerful Jersey City translator at 97.5.
*Bill Evans has moved on from his long career at WABC-TV (Channel 7), though it’s not clear which side actually did the moving on. Whatever happened behind the scenes, Evans hadn’t been seen in his role as senior meteorologist and morning/noon weather anchor on Channel 7 for several weeks before announcing last week that he’s gone from the station. Evans had been with WABC since 1989; now he’s turning his full attention to WLNG (92.1 Sag Harbor), where he and his wife, Sandra Foschi, continue to tweak the legendary station’s sound in an attempt to build a new audience while keeping the station’s longtime fans happy.
*On the radio side – or rather, the audio content side – of things, WNYC has named Andrew Golis as its new “chief content officer.” Golis comes to WNYC from Vox Media, where he was general manager and VP of network development. He’ll oversee content across many of WNYC’s platforms, including its on-air signals, WNYC Studios and the WNYC newsroom.
In Rockland County, WRCR (1700 Ramapo) could be back on the air soon. Owner Dr. Alex Medakovich tells the Rockland County Business Journal that he’s closed on the purchase of a new tower site in Haverstraw, and is hoping to restore WRCR’s over-the-air signal before the end of February. The station has been silent since the summer of 2017, save for a brief return to the air last July to keep its license alive; it’s kept some streaming programming on the air in the meantime.
*Reports of the demise of the Radio PA Network turned out to have been exaggerated, and that’s good news for the affiliates who wondered where they were going to turn for statewide news after April 16, when owner WITF had planned to shut down the Harrisburg-based network.
Enter Steve Clendenin, whose Maryland Media One started the Maryland News Network last year. Now he’s expanding across the border and acquiring Radio PA from WITF, and he says affiliates won’t see any interruption in service when the network changes hands.
*In Altoona, the impending arrival of a new translator for Forever’s WVAM (1430) has also brought a new format. Instead of ESPN Radio, WVAM has flipped to “The All New Toona,” running Westwood One’s Good Times Oldies; at least for now, the station’s still carrying the afternoon “Sports Central” show, which simulcasts on co-owned WQWK (1450) in State College.
(Once the new translator is on the air at 99.7, we’re pretty sure it will get prominent play in the branding for the new “Toona.”)
*And we note the death of Dr. Frank Franco, one of the partners in City Broadcasting Company, which owned WRAW (1340 Reading) and signed on its FM sister, WFRF (now WRFY 102.5) in 1962. Franco and his partner Howard Reber also owned stations in Melbourne, Florida. They sold the Reading stations in 1989, but Franco, a well-known physician in town, continued to live in nearby Wyomissing. He was 93 when he died Feb. 3.
For one thing, the Delmarva stations (WDEL/WSTW in Wilmington, WXCY in Havre de Grace, Maryland, plus a cluster of smaller signals in central and southern Delaware) are the last broadcast remnant of the old Steinman Stations group, one of the more prominent small clusters in the broadcasting landscape from the 1950s into the 1980s. (For many of those years, Steinman was known for buying the front cover of the Broadcasting Yearbook, touting TV holdings that included WGAL-TV in its home base of Lancaster, PA and WTEV in New Bedford, MA.)
For another, the Steinmans’ exit from radio with the Delmarva sale will leave them with just one remaining media holding, Lancaster’s LNP newspaper, the descendant of the old Lancaster New Era and Intelligencer Journal.
On the buyer side, Forever, of course, is solidly based in NERW-land, where it’s headquartered in Altoona and where it owns station clusters that stretch from western Pennsylvania eastward to one of its more recent acquisitions in York/Hanover. Adding the Delmarva stations will neatly fill in a gap in coverage between those stations and another recently-purchased cluster in Easton, Maryland.
And one more thing – the Delmarva stations Forever is acquiring will also bring the company’s footprint into a small corner of southern NEW JERSEY, where the cluster includes religious “Faith 1510” WFAI (1510 Salem) and WDEL-FM (101.7 Canton), which simulcasts news-talk WDEL in Wilmington.
What will Forever do with its new $18.5 million acquisition? It’s already widely expected that some of the company’s signature brands will show up on Delmarva’s airwaves; if “Froggy” country doesn’t show up on WXCY, for instance, we’d be quite surprised. Will WDEL’s strong local news commitment continue?
*And while we’re in South Jersey, we note that Townsquare’s WENJ (97.3 Millville) is adding two hours of new local sports talk to its midday schedule. Harry Mayes and Eytan Shander had been with Beasley’s WPEN (97.5 the Fanatic) in Philadelphia; starting in April, they’ll replace two hours of ESPN’s Dan Le Batard from noon to 2 on WENJ.
Fill-in host Peter Shurman is handling the 9 AM to noon shift for now while Corus looks for a permanent replacement for Gurney’s “Exchange” show.
*To the north, the CRTC has turned down an application from Hunters Bay Radio to expand the reach of its community signal, CKAR (88.7 Huntsville).
Hunters Bay had hoped to add a new signal on 104.7 in Bracebridge, to the south, with 4.1 kW average/18 kW max DA/138 m – but the CRTC ruled that CKAR had been licensed specifically to serve the Huntsville area, not the greater Muskoka region to the south.