In this week’s issue… Beasley flips Boston – WGBY, NEPR join forces – Lilly re-enters radio – Format shuffle in NH
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s an abbreviated NERW this week – as usual, we returned from a week-plus in Las Vegas both excited and thoroughly exhausted, and so a lot of our usual NERW-writing time these last few days has been spent sound asleep regenerating energy for all our projects ahead.
But there were a few big stories that emerged during the week while so many broadcasters were out west, including one that literally broke while we were at the airport about to board the flight home on Thursday morning.
That was at Beasley’s Boston cluster, where our colleague/Vegas suitemate/RadioInsight proprietor Lance Venta had been tracking domain registrations ahead of what looked like a format flip at “Alt 92.9,” WBOS (92.9 Brookline). After days of waiting, it dropped at 10:30 Thursday morning at the end of the Detroit-based “Dave & Chuck the Freak” morning show, as “Alt” transitioned to “Rock 92.9.”
The flip takes WBOS – which had been on a nice upward ratings trend – away from contemporary alternative rock and into a playlist heavy with classic rock sounds from the 1980s and 1990s, a mix they’re billing as “the next generation of classic rock.” It’s aimed at competitors in the two other big clusters, most notably iHeart’s older classic rock mix at WZLX (100.7) and Entercom’s active rock WAAF (107.3), and so far it arrives without any lineup changes at WBOS, which had already been fairly thinly staffed for a Boston FM. (Beyond the morning show from sister station WRIF, afternoons are also tracked from Detroit.)
There’s at least one staffing change: WBOS eliminated its music director position, and with it the job of Joel Weiss. (Monday update: midday jock Amy Brooks is also out as a result of the flip.)
Will Beasley’s move prompt any reaction elsewhere in town? Entercom and iHeart both have their own “Alt” stations in big markets including New York (Entercom’s WNYL 92.3) and Los Angeles (iHeart’s KYSR 98.7), and that’s a format niche and branding that ought to have some place in a market like Boston. So far, though, both companies seem to be doing well enough with even their lesser players that there’s no flip appearing to be imminent at signals such as Entercom’s top-40 “AMP” WODS (103.3) or iHeart’s country “Bull” WBWL (101.7).
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*What was happening nationwide – and in MASSACHUSETTS – was another series of job cuts across iHeart. In Boston, those cuts eliminated the executive producer job at the WZLX (100.7) morning show, where Michael Mayer had been filling that role for the “Karlson, McKenzie and Heather Show” and apparently isn’t being replaced. (We’re also hearing some news voices were shifted at sister talker WRKO 680, whose newscasts come from down the street at iHeart’s Total Traffic and News.)
Also caught in the iHeart downsizing was ex-Bostonian J.J. Kincaid, who spent many years doing nights and then afternoons at New York’s Z100 before taking over mornings at Denver’s KPTT (95.7 the Party) a few years back. Where will a solid talent like J.J. land next? We’ll be watching.
*The other big Bay State news came from the western side of the state, where New England Public Radio (WFCR/WNNZ) already had a long history of partnership with public TV station WGBY (Channel 57). NEPR maintained a newsroom at WGBY’s Springfield studios until (and even for a little while after) it opened its own shiny new downtown Springfield studios in 2014.
Now the two entities are joining forces in a more formal way, creating a new organization called New England Public Media that will operate both WGBY’s TV channels and NEPR’s radio streams, the news-and-music mix on WFCR (88.5 Amherst) and the all-news service on WNNZ (640 Westfield) and more than a half-dozen smaller FM signals around the region.
NEPR’s CEO, Martin Miller, will become NEPM’s president, while WGBY general manager Anthony Hayes will be COO/GM of the new entity. It appears NEPM won’t actually hold any of the station; the WFCR license will still be held by UMass Amherst, which will have a seat on the board alongside a representative from the Five College Consortium that gave WFCR its name. WGBY’s license will continue to be held by the WGBH Educational Foundation, which is putting $6 million into the venture. (We’ll be watching to see what happens with the WNNZ-related licenses, which are currently held by the New England Public Radio Foundation, Inc.)
Martin Miller, CEO and general manager of New England Public Radio, will become President of NEPM. Anthony Hayes, general manager of WGBY Public Television, will become COO and general manager of the new organization. The 78 combined employees of NEPR and WGBY will all stay on, and Miller and Hayes say they’ll immediately begin hiring more news staffers as they look to expand the joint news offerings of the radio and TV signals.
*While we’re out west, there’s another wrinkle in the sad story of WJDF (97.3 Orange): not only has the FCC pulled WJDF’s license after receiving no response to its inquiry about five years of missing regulatory-fee payments, there’s now a lawsuit pending against the Deane brothers, who own the station.
The Athol Daily News reports Steven Wendell, who owns WGAW (1340 Gardner) and was operating WJDF under an LMA, is now planning to sue the Deanes for $1.8 million. Wendell tells the paper that amount includes the value of the station itself, which he planned to purchase, plus the revenue he says was lost as a result of WJDF’s ongoing problems. In addition to the non-payment of fees (which Wendell says the Deanes never told him about), that also included station downtime for several months last year after lightning strikes at the transmitter site. Wendell says he paid for a replacement transmitter to get WJDF back on the air in December.
As for the Deanes, Jay Deane told the News, “I don’t have anything to say at the moment,” promising a statement later on.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Binnie Media was busy during NAB week: it started April by adding WNNH (99.1 Henniker) as a Concord-market simulcast of its classic hits “Frank” WFNQ (106.3 Nashua), extending the “Frank” brand all along the corridor from Concord down through Manchester to Nashua. The flip from a short-lived True Oldies format on 99.1 brought Frank back to that frequency; it had been there from 2007-2009 as a simulcast with WLKZ (104.9) up in Wolfeboro.
The new Frank duo gets a new morning show starting today, as former WZID (95.7 Manchester) morning man Mike Morin returns to radio after a five-year absence. He’s being paired with Lori D., who’s been doing afternoons at Binnie’s WBYY (98.7 the Bay) on the Seacoast.
In Buffalo, we noted a change at Cumulus’ cluster while we waited for our ride home from the airport – WBBF (1120) is now simulcasting classic hits sister WHTT (104.1), apparently after the lease ended for the Totally Gospel programming that had been running on WBBF and translator W262CM. The translator, owned by Idaho’s Edgewater Broadcasting, is still on the air with Totally Gospel, apparently without any nominal primary signal. (This wouldn’t be the first time the Totally Gospel folks have been somewhat at right angles to FCC rules; Pastor John Young lost the construction permit to WFWO 89.7 a few years back after putting a signal on the air from downtown Buffalo instead of the authorized site in Medina, 35 miles away.)
In Philadelphia, Adimu Colon joins iHeart’s WDAS-FM (105.3) as the new host of “The Quiet Storm” on weeknights from 7 to midnight. Colon had been a fixture in the Washington market, working for WPGC and WMMJ.
*The big Keystone State news, though, comes from the other side of the state, where Lilly Broadcasting is re-entering radio with the purchase of Frank Iorio’s three stations and one translator in Warren.
Lilly had radio in the area, briefly, when it acquired WENY (1230) and WENY-FM (92.7) along with WENY-TV (Channel 36) in Elmira – but it didn’t stay in radio long, selling off those radio signals and instead focusing on growing its TV business. In addition to WICU-TV (Channel 12) and WSEE (Channel 35) in Erie, that now also includes stations in Honolulu; Marquette, Michigan and an extensive Caribbean operation fed from studios in Erie.
Iorio’s cluster, held as Radio Partners LLC, includes classic hits WRRN (92.3 Warren), country WKNB (104.3 Clarendon) and news-talk WNAE (1310 Warren)/W244DY (96.7 Warren). “92 Gold,” “Kinzua Country” and WNAE almost sold two years ago, when Iorio struck a $1 million deal to sell them to Denny Heindl’s Laurel Media, but that sale never closed. We don’t know yet what Lilly is paying for the Warren stations, an hour’s drive east of Erie – and we don’t know yet what the TV company’s plan for radio there looks like yet, except to note that Warren is within the Erie TV market, making this a rare move for radio-TV cross-ownership in an era when most broadcasters are splitting radio away from TV.
(Monday update: Lilly is paying $900,000 for the three stations and translator.)
*Sad news from CANADA, where veteran jock Bobby Gale was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Highway 401 near Kingston Saturday morning. Gale was reportedly walking back to his car with a gas can when he was killed. He’d most recently been working at CJPE (99.3), the community station serving Prince Edward County, but his career included stops at CJOM (88.7, now 89X) in his native Windsor as well as Q107 in Toronto and CHOM in Montreal before moving into the record industry in the 1980s. Gale was 62.
And some happier news from north of the border, too: when the Association of Public Radio Engineers held their annual banquet in Las Vegas, they awarded their annual Engineering Achievement Award to Jeff Welton, who’s based at Nautel in Halifax but does most of his business in the U.S. as the central U.S. regional sales manager for the transmitter company.
Jeff is a good friend to many of us in the industry, and you’ll hear from him on an upcoming edition of our Top of the Tower Podcast – which is also where you’ll hear much more about what we saw and heard in Las Vegas at PREC, PBS TechCon and the big NAB Show.
(You’ll also hear from the legendary Tom Taylor, who won a very well-deserved recognition from the NAB at their opening ceremony Monday, where he appeared alongside Alan Alda. What’s Tom been up to since ending Tom Taylor NOW in December? Stay tuned…)
That’s all coming later this week – and if you’re not yet on our email list, do please take a moment to sign up over on the right side of the page to be notified right away as soon as new editions of NERW, the Top of the Tower Podcast and Site of the Week appear on fybush.com!