In this week’s issue… Breaking down the big Cumulus/Connoisseur swap – Remembering Glen Clark, Bill Flynn – PA college station abruptly sold – Toronto FM goes RED

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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Did you miss last week’s Top of the Tower podcast? We spoke with Tom Taylor about what he’s up to after “Tom Taylor NOW” – and with Nautel’s Jeff Welton at the NAB Show, plus our thoughts on what we saw on and off the show floor in Vegas!

*Didn’t see that coming, did you? Not even the usual rumor-peddlers seem to have picked up on what turned out to be by far the biggest story in the region – and the country – last week, with major effects in both CONNECTICUT and PENNSYLVANIA.

That, of course, was the latest shedding of valuable assets by Cumulus, which is reinventing itself as a smaller company that looks more like the old medium-market Cumulus than the behemoth that swallowed Citadel, and with it the former ABC Radio stations. Another of those big-market ABC properties, KLOS (95.5 Los Angeles), left the family last week in a $43 million deal that sends it to the fast-growing Meruelo Media radio/TV group out there.

But that news broke Monday afternoon right alongside another Cumulus deal: a straight swap of assets that sends WEBE (107.9 Westport) and WICC (600 Bridgeport) into the hands of Connecticut-based Connoisseur Media in exchange for Connoisseur’s stations in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

The object here, quite clearly, is to build a bigger cluster for each owner in each market, and this deal does that quite handily. In Connecticut, Connoisseur adds AC WEBE and news-talk WICC to its already dominant station group in the area – classic rock WFOX (95.9 Southport), classic rock WPLR (99.1 New Haven), hot AC WEZN (99.9 Bridgeport) and the LMA of urban AC WYBC (94.3 New Haven). In Pennsylvania, Cumulus gets sports WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown), classic rock “Hawk” WODE (99.9 Easton) and alternative “Spin Radio” WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ)/W234AX (94.7 Allentown).

How does this all play out, and what’s next? Read on for our analysis…

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*Let’s start in Connecticut, where Connoisseur market manager Kristin Okesson already has plenty of history with WEBE/WICC, having been general sales manager there before moving over to competitor WEZN. Adding WEBE to its holdings actually triggers a market cap, because Westport is part of the Stamford-Norwalk Nielsen Audio market, which is embedded in the huge New York market. So is Long Island, where Connoisseur owns two AMs and four FMs – which means the addition of WEBE takes the company to five FMs in New York, the most it can hold. (The move a few years ago of WFOX plays a role here, too – if it were still licensed to Norwalk, it would put Connoisseur over the limit, but since it was “moved” to Westport in the Bridgeport market, it’s not counted in New York or Stamford-Norwalk. In Bridgeport, WICC doesn’t push Connoisseur over the cap when paired with WFOX and WEZN, and WPLR and WYBC-FM in the New Haven market don’t count at all, even though all these signals overlap in the real world.)

What will Connoisseur do with the format overlap between WEBE and WEZN? Our guess – and it’s only a guess – is not much. “Star 99.9” runs a hotter, more contemporary music mix, while WEBE skews softer and older, and with both stations right up there at the top of the revenue charts, there’s little reason to fix what’s not broken. Will WICC and WEBE eventually move their studios from downtown Bridgeport to the Connoisseur cluster in Milford? We’d bet on it.

*As for the Lehigh Valley, Cumulus gets to add WODE, WEEX/WTKZ and WWYY to what was already one of the two biggest clusters in the market, where Cumulus already has “Cat Country” WCTO (96.1 Easton) and AC WLEV (100.7 Allentown). (Connoisseur retains hot AC WSBG 93.5 and sports WVPO 840 in Stroudsburg, in the nearby Poconos.)

The swap makes the Lehigh Valley essentially a two-company market, with iHeart holding the other big commercial hand, rock WZZO (95.1), top-40 WAEB-FM (104.1), news-talk WAEB (790) and all-podcast WSAN (1470).

Factor in nearby markets and Cumulus looks like an even more dominant regional player, with strong clusters in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Reading, Harrisburg and York. It’s in regions like this where Mary Berner’s slimmed-down Cumulus seems to be staking its future, which of course continues to raise the question of what becomes of some of its “rump” big-market signals. The sale of big NEW YORK FMs WNSH and WPLJ leaves behind struggling talker WABC (770) and afterthought urban AC WNBM (103.9); in Washington, news-talk WMAL (630/105.9) is left behind, and now talk KABC (790) will be left behind after the sale of KLOS in Los Angeles.

Those stations all clear Cumulus’ Westwood One programming, so they continue to have value to Cumulus if they can be run at fairly low cost – but we’re hearing there was at least one proposed sale of those signals to another AM talk player that fell through earlier this year, so we know they’re on the market in one form or another and may not be part of the long-term plan for the new Cumulus. Stay tuned…

(Meanwhile, the swap of the Connecticut and Pennsylvania stations will take place via an LMA ahead of closing starting May 1.)

*Speaking of WPLJ, when it’s handed off to EMF sometime later this spring or summer, the legendary station will be sent off with some fanfare. We don’t yet know exactly what’s going to happen on the air in WPLJ’s final days, but we do know that former PD Tom Cuddy is hosting a reunion for staffers from all of WPLJ’s 48-year history. The event will be held May 21 from 6-9 PM at the Cutting Room, just a few blocks east of WPLJ’s Penn Plaza studios.

Where are they now? Former CBS Radio New York VP/GM Steve Swenson has landed a new job at the helm of Nashville Public Radio (WPLN/WPLN-FM/WFCL), where he’s just the latest manager to make the move from commercial radio to the public side.  (Want to hear from another one? Our “Top of the Tower” podcast this week features an extended interview with Phil Redo, who moved from Greater Media to Boston’s WGBH. Be sure you get to hear all his stories – sign up on the right side of the page for our free e-mail updates!)

At WFUV (90.7 New York), overnight host Eric Holland has a new role: he’s moving into the evening shift vacated by Alisa Ali, who’s now in middays – and he also takes over the assistant music director role that Carmel Holt had held at the AAA public station at Fordham University.

And here in Rochester, we’re saddened indeed to report the death of one of our fellow local broadcast historians. Bill Flynn took particular interest in the history of the old WSAY (1370, now WXXI), and with good reason – he started at WSAY in 1976 after beginning his radio career at high school station WRHR (90.5, now WBER), and stayed with the station as it became WRTK and then WXXI. His long career there included an award-winning documentary about the last days of Rochester’s Silver Stadium and a feature about never-winning racehorse Zippy Chippy that drew national attention on NPR’s “Only A Game.”

Flynn later worked across town at WHAM (1180), collected sports memorabilia and was a constant presence on the local sports scene, being honored by the Red Wings on the Frontier Field Walk of Fame. In recent years, he’d been working on a book about local radio history (to which we’d been looking forward to contributing); he’d been diagnosed just a few months ago and died April 16 at just 60 years old. (Photo: Rhonda Austin/WXXI)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, Karen Blake is the newest addition to the airstaff at Entercom’s WMJX (106.7 Boston), where she takes over from Mark Laurence in afternoon drive. She’s no stranger to the market, the ownership or even the studio building – she was one floor down at what were then CBS Radio’s WODS (103.3) from 2005-2012 and WBMX (104.1) from 2012-2014, and before that she worked for Entercom a block away doing mornings at “Star 93.7,” WQSX, for a decade. Before that, of course, she made a name for herself in the 80s and 90s at WXKS-FM (Kiss 108), WZOU (94.5) and WKLB-FM (105.7).

Since leaving WBMX in 2014, Blake had been working on Cape Cod, where she’d been doing mornings on WQRC (99.9) alongside fellow Boston veteran Ralphie Marino; Rebecca Romo is co-hosting with him now on “The Q.”

*NEW JERSEY 101.5 (WKXW Trenton)’s Craig Allen has a new role with owner Townsquare Media. The weekend music host is now out to play with the music on a national weeknight classic hits show, “The Night Shift with Craig Allen.” Townsquare has already placed the syndicated show on 17 stations, with more on the way.

And in a world where younger broadcast engineers are becoming increasingly scarce, we’re delighted to share some news from our friends at Seton Hall’s WSOU (89.5 South Orange), where student engineer Rachel Haggerty was one of just four students nationwide accepted into the NAB’s Technology Apprenticeship Program (TAP). As part of the program, Haggerty got to attend the NAB Show in Las Vegas, where she toured local stations, attended sessions and met engineering mentors. She’ll also do an apprenticeship, study for SBE certification and attend a two-day seminar this fall at NAB headquarters in Washington. (Read more about Haggerty and the program here.)

*Meanwhie along the Susquehanna River in central PENNSYLVANIA, another college station is going away.

Bucknell University’s WVBU-FM (90.5 Lewisburg) went on the air with 10 watts in 1965 and now runs 225 watts. And in a deal filed with the FCC last week, Bucknell is selling WVBU to Scranton-based public broadcaster WVIA for just $17,600, plus a collaboration agreement between the university and WVIA. Students at Bucknell don’t even keep the WVBU calls after all these years; the sale agreement says they can use them for a streaming service for no more than 180 days – and it also prohibits any on-air mention or other public announcement of the impending sale other than the FCC-required public notice.

WVIA, incidentally, already has a powerful translator that serves the same area, W261CA (100.1 Lewisburg).

*Glen Clark’s radio career included time at WLS in Chicago, but his national fame as a broadcast engineer happened once he took root in Pittsburgh, where he served as chief engineer at WPEZ (94.5)/WWSW (970) later in the 1970s. Locked in a tight format war with rival WXKX (96.1), Clark needed a magic box to compete with the CRL audio processor that “KX 96” installed in 1979 – and in those days before Omnia and Ariane and Wheatstone, that meant building one himself.

As he explained in a history for the Broadcaster’s Desktop Resource, Clark’s homebrew box was the prototype for what became the Texar Audio Prism. Within a few years after going on the air at WPEZ, the Audio Prism became standard gear at many of the biggest FMs around the country (and more than a few AMs, too) later in the 1980s and well into the 1990s.

But Clark’s engineering genius extended far beyond audio processing. He was also one of the most brilliant minds to turn to AM directional array design, and the first to turn supercomputer power loose on the problem. Clark was involved in designing and fixing AM systems all over the country, including prominent moves like the 50 kW move and upgrade of Detroit’s WWJ (950), one of the first computer-designed arrays that broke the symmetry that usually characterized big AM arrays, as well as the rebuilding of WMVP (the old WCFL) in Chicago in the 2000s.

In recent years, Clark had moved into fields outside broadcasting with his supercomputing power. He’d been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and he died at his home outside Pittsburgh on Saturday, mourned by radio and aviation friends all over the country.

*The Pittsburgh Steelers have been closely tied to iHeart’s WDVE (102.5) for many years now, and that relationship will continue through the 2023 season thanks to a new extension the team and the station signed last week.

The games will also continue to air on iHeart’s ESPN outlet, WBGG (970) and its 106.3 translator – and the Steelers will continue to have 24/7 coverage on “Steelers Nation Radio” on WDVE’s HD2.

Also extending their relationship are Beasley’s WMGK (102.9) in Philadelphia and afternoon vet Andre Gardner. Gardner just marked 17 years with the station, all in afternoons (plus his Sunday morning Beatles show), and he’s now been extended for another (undisclosed) term with the classic rocker.

Family Life Network has new calls for the Eldred station (really serving Olean, NY across the state line) that it’s buying from Jeff Andrulonis: after holding the WVTT calls, the 103.9 signal will become WCGH when Family Life takes over.

*It’s really an OHIO story, mostly, but since we had a hand in it, we’re happy to report that Over/Under LLC’s WLOA (1470 Farrell) launched its new “Loud 102.3” hip-hop format on Monday. What’s that doing on AM in far western Pennsylvania? Not much, of course – just serving as a placeholder for WLOA’s new translator on 102.3 that blankets Youngstown, Ohio from the WFMJ-TV tower just south of downtown. Fybush Media was pleased to provide technical assistance on this one, especially because it involved two great small-market broadcasters, seller Joe Vilkie and buyer/operator Pat “Grooves” Cerullo, who launched “Loud” on his 99.3 translator in Reading.

*How about another good news story, this one from CANADA? CIRV (88.9 Toronto) has mostly flown under our radar even as it changed hands in 2016 from original owner CIRC Radio to the South Asian Broadcasting Corp., which owns multiethnic stations in Vancouver under the “ReDFM” brand.

Last Monday, owner Kulwinder Sanghera (shown at right) relaunched CIRV under the “RedFM” brand, too, debuting new studios in Brampton in the heart of greater Toronto’s South Asian community.

The “ReDFM” brand stands for “Reflecting Ethnic Diversity” (and also provides a bright color for the new studios, of course, built by Gus and Richard Sondermeyer) – and under VP/GM Bijoy Samuel, CIRV’s relaunch does just that. After launching back in the late 1980s as primarily a Portuguese-language service, CIRV now broadcasts mainly in South Asian languages, producing all of its programming in-house from its new studios. It’s also an HD Radio pioneer, using HD2, HD3 and HD4 for full-time services in several of its primary languages.

We’re hoping to get a chance to see these new studios ourselves soon – and thanks to Mark Lewis for the pictures and information!

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