In this week’s issue… NASH, WMAS handoff is quiet, but what about WINS and WCBS? – Union wins big newsroom victory – Format flip in VT – Veteran weatherman retires – Remembering Moncton’s “Dude”
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – We’re on our way back north from Florida, headed back to a region that mostly weathered the heavy wind last weekend (the one tower that came down, as seen all over social media, was a communications tower atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine that carried cellular and two-way traffic; the mountain’s most famous radio tenant, WTOS 105.1, was on a nearby tower that survived intact, thankfully!)
And if we had ever entertained the thought of getting to NEW YORK for the March 1 handoff of WNSH (94.7 Newark) from Cumulus to Entercom, it’s a good thing we didn’t bother. The start of the LMA on Friday produced essentially no change at all at “NASH,” and it doesn’t appear that Entercom has any plans to make more than minor tweaks to the market’s only big country voice.
Even the Cumulus-specific “NASH” branding appears to be staying for now, as are morning host Kelly Ford and the rest of the current airstaff. Will anything change later this year when that LMA converts to an outright sale? Aside from the eventual studio move from Cumulus’ 2 Penn Plaza digs downtown to Entercom’s 345 Hudson Street cluster facility, it’s looking more like status quo than anything else. (The same is true up the road in Springfield, Mass., where WMAS 94.7 continues its AC format and sister station WHLL 1450 retains “NASH Icon” country as Entercom’s LMA gets underway.)
But back at Hudson Square, something else is changing in Entercom-land. As the Daily News first reported, Entercom is sparring with the writers’ union at its all-news stations, WCBS (880) and WINS (1010), where the company wants to at least start a negotiation over “cross-utilization” of some resources at both stations.
Fierce competitors under separate CBS and Group W ownership from the 1960s until Westinghouse bought CBS in 1995, WCBS and WINS remained at separate locations for another decade – and even after both stations arrived at Hudson Square, they’ve still been very separate operations, with newsrooms on separate floors of the building and staffers who don’t interact much and never, ever share content.
But with Entercom’s arrival as the new corporate owner, there’s new pressure to cut some costs – and in particular, to find a way to share some resources behind the scenes while still maintaining the two stations’ separate brands (and, of course, their two separate robust revenue streams.)
The Writers Guild of America, East says Entercom won’t budge on raising wages at WINS and WCBS, where no new contract has been signed since 2015, until the guild agrees to start a conversation about that “cross-utilization” proposal. But WGA officials tell the News that Entercom won’t provide any details about what sort of sharing it has in mind, or how it might affect overall employment. Union officials tell the paper they think Entercom wants to effectively merge the two newsrooms, even if they’re still serving separate anchor teams. Entercom says that’s not its intention – and in the meantime, local politicians are making hay out of the matter, sending a letter to the company opposing any newsroom consolidation.
Will WCBS and WINS survive indefinitely as separate operations? New York, certainly, is a different market from Chicago or Los Angeles, where the CBS/Westinghouse merger led to the closure of Group W’s all-news competitors, WMAQ and KFWB. But the realities of 2019 are different from 1995 – and we’d bet that at some point before long, Entercom will persuade the union to accept at least some behind-the-scenes sharing of resources.
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*On the public radio side of things in MASSACHUSETTS, the SAG-AFTRA union won a big victory late last week as employees of Boston’s WBUR (90.9) voted almost unanimously to recognize the union and begin contract negotiations with Boston University, the station’s owner. The vote was 96 percent in favor of the union, which will represent not only the local news staffers but also the production teams behind national shows such as “Here & Now,” “On Point” and “Only a Game.”
South of Boston, mark down a call change for Ed Perry: his AM 1460 in Brockton, which recently returned to the air after a long silence, has applied to change from WATD(AM) to WBMS, reflecting its “Metro South” identity. What’s next for the AM station and its new 101.1 translator? At least a partial break from its current simulcast with Perry’s WATD-FM (95.9 Marshfield), with local programming debuting in the next few months.
*In VERMONT, the transition from Sison to Vox AM/FM has turned out to be a rocky one for Sarah Mitiguy and Pete Belair. The longtime morning duo on Sison’s top-40 WXXX (95.5) shifted down the hall to sister talker WVMT (620) at the start of 2019, where they had the big job of replacing WVMT morning institution Ernie Farrar and his partner Charlie Papillo.
Top-40 to old-line talk isn’t an easy transition to make, and now the “Pete and Sarah” show is history; as of today, WVMT’s new morning team is Kurt Wright, Burlington City Council president, along with Marcus Certa, who’s been doing weekends on Vox’s WEZF (Star 92.9).
On Friday, WTSA dropped ESPN Radio in favor of rock as “The Beast, Brattleboro’s Rock Station.” So far, it’s running jockless, but we’re hearing the syndicated Bob & Tom morning show will be arriving there soon.
*Back in upstate NEW YORK, we’re picking up our tickets to this year’s induction ceremony for the Rochester Music Hall of Fame soon, because it has a big radio connection this year. Entercom classic rocker WCMF (96.5), which is marking its 50th year as a rock station, is among this year’s inductees, with a Special Merit Award going to 38-year WCMF veteran Dave “Kane-O” Kane. Other inductees at the April 28 ceremony will include the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine, who grew up in Rochester when his father was working for Kodak, and folk singer Christine Lavin, a native of nearby Geneva.
*A PENNSYLVANIA translator is changing hands, though it won’t mean any changes for listeners. iHeart is starting the week with a station swap involving its Aloha divestiture trust and EMF Broadcasting. As RadioInsight first reported late Sunday night, four of Aloha’s stations are going to EMF in exchange for six EMF-owned translators, including one in NERW-land.
That’s W292DH (106.3 Pittsburgh), which iHeart has been operating for years under an LMA from EMF, most recently as the FM relay of sports WBGG (970 Pittsburgh). That format will stay in place as the translator becomes an iHeart-owned facility.
*We’re still a couple of weeks away from our big annual Baseball on the Radio roundup (even if we did spend a lot of time last week hanging out in the sunshine watching spring training in Florida), but baseball’s affecting radio in Philadelphia this week.
That enormous contract Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies last week isn’t just the talk of the sports stations, WIP and WPEN – it also meant a stunt rebranding down the Beasley hallway from WPEN at sister station WBEN-FM (95.7 Philadelphia). “Ben FM?” Not over the weekend, when the adult hits station rebranded itself as “95.7 Bryce FM” to celebrate the city’s expensive new baseball star. (And better yet, its existing red and white station colors already work just fine for the Phillies!)
When will Philly get a “Gritty”-branded station with a bright orange furry logo? We imagine it’s just a matter of time…
*And we salute Elliot Abrams, chief forecaster and senior VP at State College-based AccuWeather, as he retires from full-time duties there after a 52-year career. Abrams was the first employee at the company back in 1967; over the years, his pun-laced forecasts became fixtures on the morning shows at client stations that included KYW in Philadelphia, WINS in New York and WBZ in Boston.
Abrams will continue with AccuWeather in a part-time capacity.
O’Donnell started as a club DJ in town but worked his way into a full-time job at C103 three years ago, doing nights and weekends on the rock station. By then, he’d already been diagnosed with cancer, which spread to his liver, lungs and colon. He continued working through chemotherapy and surgeries. O’Donnell is survived by his parents, his wife and a young son.