In this week’s issue… Cumulus winds down big FMs – New brand for CT talker – New music, logo at KYW – Another college drops FM – Halls of Fame induct new members – More consolidation in Ontario
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*You could make the case, I suppose, that NEW YORK‘s WPLJ (95.5) ended its “legendary” days in 1983, when top-40 replaced rock, leaving WNEW (102.7) all alone as the rock FM station in the big city. You could make a case for December 1987, when the callsign changed to WWPR for an unsuccessful year as “Power 95.” You could point to the end of the ABC owned-and-operated stations group with the 2006 sale to Citadel.
But when the history books are written (and, yes, it’s been something like 18 years since I tried to start writing this particular one), we now know that “May 31, 2019” will mark the end of the end of WPLJ. That’s the date when Cumulus will hand over the keys to EMF Broadcasting, which is paying $103 million for a package of stations including WPLJ, WRQX in Washington, WYAY in Atlanta, WZAT in Savannah and – well, keep reading for the other NERW-land piece of this puzzle.
Because you read NERW and other industry trades, this news isn’t coming as much of a surprise to you – except for the actual date of the switch, which WPLJ’s morning team announced Wednesday morning, the rest of the sale was a big headline for us back in February. For the general public, though (and a surprisingly large chunk of the mainstream media), the announcement on Wednesday appeared to be the first they’d heard about WPLJ leaving the airwaves.
That, of course, triggered plenty of nostalgia, if not for the current hot AC version of WPLJ, then at least for its predecessors. If you grew up in New York City or its suburbs in the 1970s and you were a rock-loving teenager, WPLJ was probably where your radio dial was locked – and the teens of the 1970s are the nostalgia-loving 50-somethings of today. Over the next few weeks, we’re guessing they’ll get treated to some remembrances of WPLJ’s heyday as the station winds down to its final days.
And after that? As with so many of the other big-market stations it’s purchased in recent years, EMF will follow the last moments of WPLJ with a prompt switch to its national “K-Love” contemporary Christian format. About the only mysteries still remaining are whether the WPLJ calls will stay in place, whether they’ll be parked on a different Cumulus station elsewhere, and whether EMF will move the WKLV calls down with the format from suburban 96.7 up in Port Chester. (That signal, in turn, is almost guaranteed to go to EMF’s secondary “Air 1” format.)
What else can we learn from the WPLJ reaction? That there are still radio listeners out there paying attention to what’s on the dial – and noticing when there’s change. That’s a theme running through a few other stories this week…keep reading.
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*The other small piece of the Cumulus/EMF deal is upstate in Syracuse, where WXTL (105.9) will go from rocking as “The Rebel” to K-Love at the end of May. As one of the small-to-medium markets where the reworked Cumulus is staking its future, though, the Syracuse cluster will keep the “Rebel” brand alive after it leaves the FM airwaves.
Alongside top-40 WNTQ (93Q), active rock WAQX (95X) and sports WSKO (1260), PD Dave Frisina will stay on board running a streaming version of the classic rock station as TheRebelRocks.com. He’ll keep doing afternoons and his weekend specialty shows – and it appears the Cumulus sales staff will still be selling whatever airtime they can on the stream.
(When K-Love arrives on 105.9, we expect Air 1 to replace K-Love on its existing Syracuse outlets, rimshot WGKV 101.7 Pulaski and the 101.3 Syracuse translator fed from an iHeart HD subchannel of WSYR-FM.)
*We know a little more now about the plans for silent WAIX (1160 Mechanicville) and its new 93.3 translator once Saratoga Media LLC completes its $100,000 purchase from the defunct Empire Broadcasting. As RadioInsight reported, the station will focus on Saratoga Springs with an AC format as “Star Radio,” with a planned relaunch date this Thursday (May 15).
Empire, meanwhile, had a little fun keeping its other silent AMs alive for another year, returning each one to the air for a few days with oldies and a few liners proclaiming “Radio 11” for WAIX, “Radio 12” for WPTR (1240 Schenectady), and, to the great amusement of a few of us, “Radio NINE!” for WABY (900 Watervliet). There’s no word as yet as to whether any buyers have emerged for WABY, WPTR and their translator CPs.
Down the road – or rather, down Albany Street in Colonie – we now know what the new callsign will be when Mars Hill completes its $600,000 purchase of WDCD-FM (96.7 Clifton Park) from DJRA Broadcasting. When the religious station becomes part of the Mars Hill network based at WMHR (102.9) in Syracuse, it will be WMHH – and the Albany Street facility will fall radio silent after more than 60 years, with neither the FM studio nor the old AM transmitter there active. (The AM, of course, was the old WPTR 1540, later WDCD, and that license has now been deleted.)
Up north, Ricki Lee’s WRGR (102.1 Tupper Lake) applies for a power increase from 140 watts non-directional to 1.2 kW DA, still at 441 meters. The upgrade from class A to class C3 will give “the Lake” better coverage toward Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, the other two communities in the Tri-Lakes market.
If listeners in the Ithaca area were waiting for a fourth local AM signal, they’re going to be disappointed. After a long almost-history that started with an application for 750 kHz in Lansing filed back in 1997, Romar Communications was finally granted a CP in April 2016, calling for 1200 watts day, 720 watts at night from three towers in the hills west of Ithaca. The CP got calls – WTRS – and picked up a permit for a translator, too, in the form of W266DV (101.1). But it was never built, and so the AM permit was deleted at the end of April 2019. The translator CP remains on the books, but it can’t be built without its parent AM, and so it too will end up expiring unbuilt, we think.
And we congratulate Buffalo broadcast veteran Heidi Raphael on her promotion at Beasley, where she moves up from VP/corporate communications to Chief Communications Officer.
*In CONNECTICUT, Full Power Radio launched its new translator for WDRC (1360 Hartford) on Friday. W277DT (103.3) runs 250 watts from the CityPlace tower in downtown Hartford, relaying WDRC’s conservative talk format.
To promote the new FM dial position, Full Power launched a rebranding of the format, touting it as “Trump 103.3” and emphasizing the local Brad Davis and Lee Elci talk shows that have been pushing hard against the Democratic governor’s proposal for tolls on several Connecticut highways.
There’s no change in the actual programming lineup at the former “Talk of Connecticut,” still simulcasting on WSNG (610 Torrington) and WMMW (1470 Meriden). For now, we’re assuming the new branding is more of a stunt than a permanent identity (just like the struggling cluster of stations in Florida that’s using excerpts of presidential speeches to fill unsold ad inventory), but we’ll be watching to see whether canny promoter John Fuller can make more of a dent against the market’s big talker, Entercom’s WTIC (1080), now that he’s on FM. (And we wonder how it’s playing just down the hall at Full Power sister station “Bomba” and its Spanish hits format…)
*And if you’re reading this very early Monday morning, we’re keeping an ear on Connoisseur’s WFOX (95.9 Southport), which was stunting Sunday night with songs featuring the word “Fox” and had wiped its web page clean, save for a new Fox logo and a tease for a 6 AM announcement. Stay tuned – we’ll be updating this item first thing Monday morning.
Monday morning update: WFOX stays classic rock, but in the “next generation of classic rock” flavor that’s growing in popularity, focusing more on the 90s and 2000s and less on the 70s and 80s that have been its formatic staples.
*Congratulations to the newest inductees to the RHODE ISLAND Radio & Television Hall of Fame, which welcomed a new class Friday night. Veteran WPRI/WLNE anchor Walter Cryan and WJAR reporter Patrice Wood entered the hall on the TV side, accompanied by WPRO-FM (92.3) morning co-host Kim Zandy and WPRO (630) news director Bill Haberman in the radio category. The late Art Lake, who spent more than 60 years on radio and then TV at WJAR, was honored with the Pioneer Award. The hall presented “Up and Coming” awards to Alana Cerrone of WLNE and iHeart programmer/air talent Tracy Lynn McCarthy.
*VERMONT‘s Castleton State University has turned off its FM facility. WIUV (91.3 Castleton) had been on the airwaves near Rutland since 1976, but the school says it can better focus on newer delivery methods as it transitions its radio program to the new “Castleton Internet Radio.” It’s not clear yet what will become of the FM license; as yet, no silent notification has been filed with the FCC.
*In MAINE, Crash Poteet is departing the PD chair and afternoon airshift at Saga’s WPOR (101.9 Portland), citing “family obligations.” No replacement has been picked yet for Poteet, who came to Portland in January 2018 from West Virginia.
*Who’s the dean of Boston TV sports anchors? We’re pretty sure that title now belongs to Mike Lynch, who’s been with WCVB (Channel 5) for 37 years, 34 of those as weeknight sports anchor. He’ll certainly leave a void in eastern MASSACHUSETTS when he steps down from the main sports chair on August 15. “Lynchie” will stay with WCVB in a more limited role, focusing on his passion of high school sports and assisting with coverage of special events.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA coverage brings us back around to that topic we broached at the start of this week’s column – how listeners handle change on their radio dials. All-news radio, in particular, is a special kind of audio “furniture” for its listeners, who get accustomed to a station’s clock, its audio sounders and its news voices.
So it’s kind of a big deal when programmers move that furniture around. It happened (and got lots of attention) on the national level when NPR rolled out a fairly radical update to its “Morning Edition” theme music last Monday. And it happened on the local level later in the week in Philadelphia, where Entercom’s KYW (1060) unveiled a new suite of theme music and a new logo.
Yes, it’s the end of the Westinghouse font that identified KYW visually from the time Group W came back to Philadelphia in 1965. (It lives on at WINS in New York, at WJZ-TV in Baltimore and at KDKA in Pittsburgh.) It’s also the end of “1060” as the primary branding for “Newsradio,” as an increasing number of listeners connect via streaming, HD2 and other newer methods – which explains why the new logo is a much more visually simple “KYW Newsradio.”
New logos and music don’t improve ratings by themselves, of course, but we’ll be watching to see whether PD Alex Silverman’s changes at KYW do what they’re meant to do – keep a 54-year-old format alive and vibrant in a changing broadcast world.
*At Entercom’s other Philadelphia AM, talker WPHT (1210), Rich Zeoli moves from afternoons to mornings, filling the hole left by Chris Stigall’s departure a few months back. Sean Hannity takes Zeoli’s former afternoon slot, an upgrade from his previous 9 PM delayed airing.
Over at iHeart, Jared Fallon packs his bags to move west from his PD/afternoon slot at WIOQ (102.1 Philadelphia). After five years at Q102, Fallon will stay within the company in his new gig programming KBKS (106.1 Kiss FM) in Seattle, starting next month.
In Scranton, Tom Ferguson returns to Shamrock as PD of WFUZ (Alt 92.1), replacing Phil Kukawinski. Ferguson had been working at Entercom’s WMQX after leaving WFUZ, where he was PD from 2013 until 2017.
*Congratulations to WYEP (91.3 Pittsburgh) GM Abby Goldstein – she’s joining Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) as its new president/executive director. Goldstein served on PRPD’s board from 2008 until 2016, during stints at NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio and, since 2012, in Pittsburgh. She’ll start her new job with PRPD on June 17.
And we send belated congratulations to the newest inductees to the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters’ Radio Hall of Fame, who were honored during an awards dinner May 5 at the Hotel Hershey.
This year’s class includes George Beasley, founder and chairman of Beasley Media Group; comedian/actor Bob Saget; veteran C-SPAN correspondent Steve Scully (an Erie native who started his career at WSEE-TV) and the Steelers’ Jerome Bettis.
*And in CANADA, the supply of independent local broadcasters continues to diminish. The latest consolidation comes in the Niagara Region, where Wellport Broadcasting Ltd./RB Communications Ltd. is selling CIXL (91.7 Giant FM) and CKYY (Country 89) to Stingray. The Welland-based stations have been locally owned since 1957, when CIXL started as CHOW (1470); they’ve been in the hands of David Holgate since 2004, when he bought then-CHOW and later won a new license for CKYY on 89.1.
No purchase price has been announced yet for the stations, which will become sisters to the former Newcap signals in Toronto (Flow 93.5 and Boom 97.3) that Stingray acquired as part of its purchase of that nationwide group last year.
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