In this week’s issue… Connoisseur, Cumulus take reins at new clusters – Remembering Tom Ellis, Al Bernstein – Silent station sells in upstate NY – Canadian FM deal cancelled
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When Connoisseur Media got the keys to two more signals in southern CONNECTICUT last week, it didn’t take long to make changes. While Cumulus is still the licensee at WEBE (107.9 Westport) and WICC (600 Bridgeport), Connoisseur’s LMA took effect on Wednesday – and so did a new lineup at WICC, the full-service AM with a big signal along the shoreline.
The changes start in morning drive, where Tony Reno stays in place but news anchor/co-host Mike Bellamy is out after 12 years at WICC. Replacing him is Melissa Shetekoff, who’d been working up in VERMONT at WCAX-TV and WDEV after starting her career as a WICC intern. Shetekoff was originally tabbed to take the vacant afternoon slot on WICC (her show even had a name, “Dialed In”) – but now that she’s part of the “Melissa and Tony” morning show, afternoons go to Paul Pacelli, who’s been up at former Connoisseur station WDRC (1360 Hartford) co-hosting mornings. Pacelli’s show, which will start next Monday, will feature sportswriter Aaron Johnson as well.
But while operations manager Keith Dakin says the goal is “an on air product that the Bridgeport community can be proud to call their own,” WICC and WEBE won’t be in Bridgeport much longer. By year’s end, we’re hearing Connoisseur will move the stations from their longtime downtown Bridgeport studios over to Milford, where they’ll share space with new sister stations WFOX, WEZN, WPLR and WYBC-FM.
On the WEBE side of things, PD/afternoon jock Mike McGowan and morning co-host Megan Stone weren’t kept on by Connoisseur, which promoted OM/middayer Danny Lyons to PD. Stone’s co-host Jay Michaels moves to afternoons, which clears out mornings for the return of Storm N. Norman. He was part of the original WEBE airstaff back in 1984 and stayed on in mornings until his retirement in 2013.
*On the PENNSYLVANIA side of the Cumulus/Connoisseur swap, the changes have been far more minimal as Cumulus starts its LMA of classic rock WODE (99.9 Easton), alternative “Spin” WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ) and sports WEEX (1230 Easton)/WTKZ (1320 Allentown). There’s some physical change in the future there, too – we hear Cumulus is looking for a consolidated space closer to Allentown to combine the former Connoisseur stations with its existing WCTO (96.1) and WLEV (100.7).
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*Cumulus was making some news near NEW YORK City last week, too, where it finally killed off the last remaining vestige of the old WFAS-FM. Once a powerhouse AC station serving Westchester County, WFAS-FM’s full-power 103.9 signal was moved from White Plains into New York City five years ago this summer, becoming WNBM, licensed to Bronxville and transmitting from the Bronx.
WFAS-FM’s AC format continued on in a sort of zombie form via an HD subchannel (first on WPLJ, then on WNSH) and translator W232AL (94.3), owned by religious broadcaster Bridgelight but simulcasting the “WFAS” format as part of a swap for HD subchannel space on WNSH for Bridgelight’s own programming.
A local morning show on “WFAS” ended fairly quickly, leaving just Westwood One satellite programming on 94.3 – and now even that has ended, with the translator temporarily silent and the HD subchannel gone. The last remaining legacy of 87 years of WFAS in Westchester is now WFAS(AM) on 1230, broadcasting CBS Sports Radio’s satellite feed from the otherwise empty WFAS facility in Greenburgh. How much longer will Cumulus hold on to that valuable piece of real estate?
*Out on Long Island, Radio Vision Cristiana has swapped calls at its two AM signals in Suffolk County, ending very long histories for two callsigns. The WNYG call, which moved with 1440 from Babylon to Medford, is now on co-located 1580 – and the Patchogue-licensed 1580 facility has sent its longtime calls of WLIM down the dial to 1440.
*Upstate, next week marks a year of silence for Empire Broadcasting’s three Albany-market AMs, which are keeping their licenses alive with brief returns to the air. WPTR (1240 Schenectady) was heard back on the air over the weekend, and we’re sure WAIX (1160 Mechanicville) and WABY (900 Watervliet) will follow between now and May 14, when their licenses would otherwise expire.
When WAIX gets back on the air, it will have a new owner: Saratoga Radio LLC filed on Friday for a $100,000 purchase of the dark AM and its unbuilt translator on 93.3 in Saratoga Springs. Who’s behind the new group, which will take over under an LMA before closing? Ricki Lee, who recently returned WRGR (102.1 Tupper Lake) to the air a couple of hours to the north, along with fellow North Country broadcaster Aaron Ishmael.
There was a quick slogan change in central New York last week, as WMCR (1600 Oneida) and its new 101.1 translator segued from “The Breeze” to “The Wave” after just a couple of weeks. Why the abrupt shift? We’d guess it has something to do with “Breeze” being a trademark of iHeart – and WMCR’s signal getting into at least part of iHeart’s Syracuse market.
A “Baseball on the Radio” update from Binghamton: Tim Heiman, the radio voice (and director of broadcasting/media relations) for the AA Rumble Ponies, has left the team for a new job outside the industry, working as a mechanical engineer for BAE Industries. (Job stability and better pay? Sure – but can it compare to handling the media frenzy around Tim Tebow’s baseball debut with the team last year?)
Jacob Wilkins, who’d been with SiriusXM and New York’s WFAN, took over last week in the Rumble Ponies booth; Heiman will continue to keep a toe in radio as the voice of Binghamton University football this fall.
*In New York City, they’re mourning Al Bernstein, the versatile jock best known for almost three decades at WLTW (106.7). Bernstein had already been at then-WKHK for three years when it became WLTW, and he remained there in the midday shift until 2007. He later worked at WCBS-FM (101.1) and, for the last decade, on weekends in the Hudson Valley at WHUD (100.7 Peekskill). He’d also worked at WNEW-FM, WQIV, WBLS, WYNY and at the original occupant of 106.7, WRVR. Bernstein died Thursday; funeral information wasn’t immediately made available, but we’ll update as more is known.
*Radio People on the Move: in Philadelphia, Solomon Jones returns to WURD (900/96.1) this morning as the host of “Wake Up With WURD,” where he replaces Dr. Aaron Smith, who will host remotes for the station. Jones was WURD’s morning host from 2014 until 2017, when he went to Radio One as midday host for the now-defunct WPPZ (Praise 107.9).
Born in Texas, Ellis worked in radio and TV for a decade there before moving to Boston and WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in 1968, where he quickly topped the ratings. Paired with Tony Pepper, Ellis stayed on the desk at channel 4 until 1978, when he moved across town to WCVB (Channel 5), spending four years alongside Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobsen. In 1982, Ellis completed the trifecta of the big network affiliates by joining WNEV (Channel 7), part of a team of talent that tried to take the third-place station out of its ratings doldrums with an aggressive new regional news effort. (photo: MBHOF)
Ellis left WNEV in 1987, then returned to the screen seven years later as part of the 1994 launch of New England Cable News, where he was one of several experienced veterans working alongside the new regional network’s younger staffers. Ellis stayed with NECN until 2009, when he retired. Along the way, he also developed a successful acting career; on his 2010 induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, his bio included three feature film appearances.
Ellis was 86 when he died April 28.
*Fitzroy Gordon gave his initials to one of CANADA‘s premiere urban FM stations when his Intercity Broadcasting launched CKFG (G 98.7) in Toronto in 2011, and he’s guided the station through a very competitive market over the years, catering to the city’s sizable Caribbean community.
Gordon’s media career began not long after he arrived in Canada from Jamaica in 1979; he worked as a sportswriter and sports broadcaster, but was soon best known as “Dr. Love,” hosting an overnight Caribbean show on CHIN, the pioneering multicultural station in town. Gordon left CHIN to begin pursuing a station of his own in 2001, a quest that resulted in a 2009 CRTC ruling that granted him a license but didn’t approve a frequency. It took two more years for him to navigate the political and technical waters that led to a compromise with the CBC allowing him to use the tightly-spaced 98.7 frequency in Toronto, close to the CBC’s own stations in Toronto on 99.1 and Peterborough on 98.7.
Gordon was still CEO of the station when he died April 30 at 65; he was also still hosting several weekend gospel and talk shows.
*In Quebec, Leclerc Communications now has CRTC permission to acquire CHOI (98.1 Radio X) in Quebec City and CKLX (91.9) in Montreal from RNC Media – but don’t expect a consummated sale any time soon. While the CRTC granted Leclerc’s request to drop CKLX’s sports format in favor of AAA music, it denied the bigger request in Quebec, to allow CHOI to join both of Leclerc’s existing stations in the market, CJEC (WKND 91.9) and CFEL (BLVD 102.1).
Leclerc says the C$20 million deal only works if it’s allowed to exceed the usual CRTC rules and own all three stations in Quebec, and so it doesn’t plan to follow through on the purchase. RNC isn’t saying yet what it plans to do next.
*There’s a new native station coming to Afton Station, Nova Scotia, where the Paqtnkek Radio Society has been granted a 50 watt/8.5m signal on 104.5. The Mi’kmaw Nation station will program a mix of country and pop/rock. And in Sheet Harbour, N.S., the Sheet Harbour Radio Society is applying to take its internet station to FM. It’s asking for 45 watts/-19 m on 94.7.
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