In this week’s issue… Binnie slims down NH brands – Who’ll get Reading’s WEEU? – Last days for PLJ – Forever gets more “Happy” – So long, synchro AM – Remembering Canada’s Bookie, Kidder
By SCOTT FYBUSH
That trend has largely died out in recent years…unless you’re headed for the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast or Lakes Region, in which case the dial looks a little different this Memorial Day. That’s thanks to Binnie Media, which pulled the plug on two of its local AC formats last week in favor of a more regional classic hits network.
In the Lakes Region, it was heritage AC on WLNH-FM (98.3 Laconia) that disappeared, giving way to a simulcast of classic hits “Frank FM,” already simulcast in central and southern New Hampshire on WNNH (99.1 Henniker) and WFNQ (106.3 Nashua). At the same time, Binnie also ended its local news-talk format on another even older Lakes Region radio voice, WEMJ (1490 Laconia), flipping that signal – and more to the point, its 107.3 translator – to a simulcast of Concord’s top-40 WJYY (105.5).
Lakes Region listeners won’t lose all their familiar voices in the shuffle; WLNH’s morning team of Mark “Nazzy” Nazzaro and Tara Madison stay with Binnie, moving to WJYY and its new WEMJ simulcast. For Nazzy, it’s a homecoming, since he was doing mornings on WJYY until his move to WLNH three years ago.
On the Seacoast, “Frank FM” and its classic hits replace AC at Binnie’s “Bay,” WBYY (98.7 Somersworth); Madison will be a familiar voice to listeners there, too, since she was tracking an airshift on “the Bay.”
The new four-station Frank network kicked off with a 500-song commercial-free Memorial Day weekend countdown. Once the spot load returns, it will be localized to each station’s market, though the rest of the content on “New Hampshire’s Greatest Hits” will be a full simulcast.
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As you might recall from our visits last year to its studio and its transmitter site, WEEU (830 Reading) is an unusually successful standalone AM station. With no translator, no FM sisters and a market that’s less over-radioed than most, WEEU consistently ranks second in Reading listenership and, we’re told, operates well in the black.
It’s imperiled, though, because of its ownership: while radio-newspaper cross-ownership helped keep WEEU on top in Reading for decades, and while the Reading Eagle is still an unusually robust local newspaper, the family-owned Reading Eagle Company has been in the throes of bankruptcy thanks to some spectacularly ill-timed decisions to take on debt for a new headquarters building and printing plant back in 2008.
Last week, the bankruptcy trustee accepted a $5 million bid for most of the company’s assets, in a way that leaves WEEU somewhat in the lurch for the moment. The bid from MediaNews Group is focused on the Eagle newspaper and the rest of the company’s print assets, which MediaNews will no doubt hollow out much as it’s done to other nearby papers such as the Pottstown Mercury and Norristown Times Herald.
But while the bid included the physical properties of WEEU – its studio building next door to the Eagle in downtown Reading and its transmitter site 16 miles to the north in Shartlesville – it doesn’t include the WEEU broadcast license. That’s partially to avoid having to deal with the legalities of an FCC license transfer, we suspect, and partially because MediaNews has no interest in running a radio station.
So what happens now? Sometime in July, it appears WEEU’s current management plans to shut down the station, which isn’t set up to run completely independently of the rest of the Eagle Company. As you’d expect with a community-focused station, there’s plenty of outcry from local listeners hoping to save their station – and we’re hearing some larger radio operators may also be interested.
The challenge they’ll face now is to put all the pieces back together once the Eagle Company winds down operations. The agreement with MediaNews provides for a new owner of WEEU to continue to use the Shartlesville transmitter site for five years after the bankruptcy sale closes; the reality, we think, is that anyone serious about continuing WEEU as a going concern will have to strike a deal to buy that site outright from MediaNews. Given its rural location and lack of easy access to nearby I-78, the WEEU site shouldn’t be of much value to MediaNews for development – and given the expense of replicating a similar high-power directional AM facility anywhere else, anyone buying WEEU probably wouldn’t find it affordable to build out a new site, either.
So will it be a stalemate? Or will someone emerge who can navigate all this complexity, complete with the deep pockets that will be needed to recreate all the back office functions the Eagle used to provide for WEEU, not to mention the possible need to build out a new studio if a deal can’t be struck for the downtown space where the station has been for 50 years?
We know (thanks, ironically, to a whole bunch of reporting in the Eagle itself) that listeners have been calling in to WEEU’s local shows all week expressing concern and support for the station, and we’ll be watching to see how that translates into a second life for this 87-year-old community institution.
*And then there’s the third story that could easily be our lead this week: the final days of NEW YORK‘s WPLJ (95.5) under Cumulus ownership. We know now that midnight Friday will mark the end of the hot AC format at WPLJ, as well as the secular formats at a half-dozen other stations Cumulus is simultaneously selling to EMF Broadcasting for $103 million. It appears the last two days of WPLJ will be nostalgia-heavy, with special features recalling the station’s nearly 50 years as first a rock station, then top-40 segueing into hot AC.
That comes on the heels of a “Time Machine Weekend” over the last few days, somewhat incongruously mixing classic WPLJ tracks into the current hot AC playlist – and it follows a big reunion event last week at The Cutting Room in New York, when alumni from as far back as the 1970s gathered to pay tribute to their years under ABC Radio, Citadel and the early years of the Cumulus era.
How will it all end Friday night? We don’t know any details yet about what the last song will be or who’ll get to sign the station off for the last time before K-Love takes over the frequency at the stroke of midnight. It appears the WPLJ calls will stick around, at least initially; while EMF has filed for new calls at several of the other stations it’s buying in places such as Atlanta, Savannah and San Jose, it has not yet done so for WPLJ or for WXTL in Syracuse, which will send its “Rebel” active rock format to streaming-only when K-Love signs on there at 105.9 on the FM dial.
(And the WRQX calls, which will be leaving 107.3 in Washington, are apparently being swapped for WSOM; Cumulus will keep “WRQX” parked on AM 600 in Salem, Ohio, at the edge of the Youngstown market, while 107.3 will at least temporarily become WSOM.)
Stay tuned here and at RadioInsight; we’ll be in New York listening as WPLJ says farewell, with complete coverage next week.
*There’s yet another piece of radio history headed for the exit this week, and it’s in the Merrimack Valley of MASSACHUSETTS, where for 82 years WLLH (1400) has operated synchronous transmitters in Lowell and nearby Lawrence. In its current form as Spanish-language “Mega,” WLLH reaches most of its listeners on its 95.1 translator, which may explain why owner Gois Broadcasting has been trying for the last few years to do away with the Lowell side of the synchronous AM. That’s the original WLLH license, dating to 1934, three years before Lawrence joined the simulcast – and now it appears it’s going away for good.
In an STA application filed last week, Gois says it’s now lost the lease on the Lowell transmitter site. WLLH is asking the FCC for temporary permission to make its rooftop site in Lawrence its primary site, instead of a synchronous relay of Lowell; it says it will soon be filing an application to make the Lawrence-only operation permanent. (And if you’re keeping track of such things, that Lawrence site, in use since 1937, is now one of the oldest AM sites in constant use anywhere in America; it’s also the oldest in Massachusetts and, we think, the second oldest in New England after VERMONT‘s WDEV.)
*Radio People on the Move in New England: Jessica Tyler has followed her former Detroit boss, Robbie Bridges, to Townsquare’s NEW HAMPSHIRE country stations. Tyler is the new assistant brand manager for WOKQ (97.5 Portsmouth) and WPKQ (103.7 North Conway), and she’ll also do middays on WOKQ.
At Beasley in Boston, “Adam 12” Chapman is the new midday jock on WBOS (92.9), the first talent hired for its new “Rock 92.9” format. His move to WBOS’ 11 AM-4 PM shift returns him to the terrestrial airwaves after a long streaming run at RadioBDC and its successor Indie617; before that, of course, he was a veteran of WFNX and WBCN. Down the hall at WKLB (Country 102.5), the search is on for a new afternoon jock to replace Kevin Kennedy, who’s heading down south to be closer to his family.
At iHeart, Adam Ralston takes the reins as VP/marketing at the Boston cluster, filling the considerable void Shaileen Santoro leaves behind as she moves up to an exciting new iHeart corporate post as VP of live entertainment and events. (She’d been with iHeart Boston and its predecessors for a remarkable 24 year run.)
Over at Entercom, former WEEI (93.7) morning co-host Kirk Minihane is a free agent, now that the company has released him from his contract and non-compete. Minihane made headlines one night last week with a rambling live video feed from a Boston-area CVS store, criticizing his former employer and co-workers.
And we send our best wishes to WCVB (Channel 5) morning anchor Randy Price, who’s on the mend after what he called a “bike mishap” in New Hampshire last weekend. Price was hospitalized with a banged up face, stitches and a concussion.
*In RHODE ISLAND, Hall’s WCTK (Cat Country 98.1) is looking for a new morning host after the unexpected departure of Amanda Leonardo. She’d gone on maternity leave in March after giving birth to a baby girl, but instead of returning this week, as planned, she’s decided to pursue something new.
*Friday will be the last day Quinnipiac University operates WQUN (1220) in Hamden, CONNECTICUT. The station’s morning show has already ended, and this week will mark the last shows for middayer Pam Landry and afternoon host Brian Smith. The station’s license and transmitter facility are for sale through Fybush Media (you can see details at StationSale.com), with hopes that new ownership will be announced soon. Stay tuned…
*More Radio People on the Move in New York: at Entercom, the APD slots at classic hits WCBS-FM (101.1) and WNEW (102.7) are being filled by one talented programmer. Michelle Stevens joins Entercom in that dual role after a career spent largely at WPST in Trenton and its sequence of corporate owners; she moved up to executive VP of programming at Nassau and then served as director of brand management for Connoisseur.
When Stevens starts at WNEW, she’ll be down one production suite. That’s because Entercom has completed its move of WNSH (94.7) from Cumulus’ 2 Penn Plaza studios downtown to the Entercom cluster at 345 Hudson Street. For now, “New York Country” is making its home in what had been a WNEW production room; if Entercom is getting crowded down on Hudson Street, it must be getting pretty empty at 2 Penn Plaza between WNSH’s departure and the impending end of WPLJ. (If EMF follows earlier practice in markets like Chicago, it’s likely to keep looping its signal through the Cumulus studios for at least a little while, until EAS and other functions can be moved up to the transmitter site at the Empire State Building.)
In Albany, A.J. Bodden is moving from radio to TV, taking a sales role at Sinclair’s WRGB/WCWN as he leaves the GM chair at Pamal’s Albany Radio Group. He’d been with Pamal for just over a year after moving over from Townsquare; they’re now looking for a replacement over on Johnson Road.
Up the road in Saratoga Springs, mark down “WSSV” as the requested new call sign for WAIX (1160 Mechanicville), which is getting ready to relaunch as “Saratoga’s Star.”
In the Finger Lakes, producer Tish Perlman is ending her “Out of Bounds” interview show, which has aired on WEOS (Finger Lakes Public Radio) and Binghamton-based WSKG for 14 years. Perlman says funding for the half-hour show has dried up after more than 700 episodes, and that the half-hour format made it difficult to syndicate beyond her home base of Ithaca.
In Buffalo, they’re mourning Dennis Keefe, whose news career included two decades at public radio WEBR/WNED, including a stint as assistant news director. Keefe later worked in print for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, then was news director at WHTT (104.1) through much of the 1990s. More recently, he’d been working for Geico insurance. Keefe was 66 when he died May 17 of melanoma.
*As vacationers head for the start of the summer season on the NEW JERSEY shore, they’ll find a new format in Atlantic City. After moving the FM translator feed for news-talk WPGG (1450) to a new signal at 95.5, Townsquare has launched classic rock “Rock 104.1” on the former FM home of “WPG Talk Radio,” W281BH (104.1).
Like its sister station up the shore, WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin), the new Atlantic City format starts the day with the syndicated Free Beer & Hot Wings show. And if you’re the FCC and you’re checking up, you’ll find the originating feed for “Rock 104.1” on the HD4 of Townsquare’s WENJ (97.3).
*In Philadelphia, Buster Satterfield (his driver’s license calls him “Brandon”) is the new PD at iHeart’s WIOQ (Q102), making the in-house transfer from Tampa’s WFLZ (93.3) just in time to avoid Florida’s summer swampiness. He replaces Jared Fallon, who left a few weeks ago for yet another iHeart top-40, KBKS in Seattle.
Head west down US 30 past Lancaster and York, and you’ll come to Gettysburg and Hanover, where Forever has imported its “Happy” AC brand from its State College cluster to replace two AM/translator formats. In State College, of course, “Happy” denotes Happy Valley; in Gettysburg and Hanover it’s just a new brand for WGET (1320) and WHVR (1280), which drop ESPN sports and classic hits, respectively. WHVR’s 95.3 translator was already on the air; WGET’s flip to “Happy” comes with the launch of a new translator, W229DK, on 93.7.
At Toronto’s CIND (Indie 88.1), Dave “Bookie” Bookman was a distinctive voice, sharing his passion for the music on the midday shift and Sunday mornings for the last six years. Before that, Bookie made a name for himself in several stints at CFNY (102.1 the Edge), where he started as a street reporter in 1991 and worked on-air until 2012.
Bookman apparently suffered a brain aneurysm last month; he died early Tuesday morning, just short of what would have been his 59th birthday this week.
*Last month, friends of veteran sales executive Gord Kidder (CKTB, CHUM) raised more than $100,000 to get him back home to Canada after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while attending a World War II memorial event in the Czech Republic. (Kidder’s uncle was shot down over the North Sea, taken to a prison in Poland, then escaped in what became the basis for the movie “The Great Escape.”)
The campaign successfully paid for an air ambulance to return him to Canada; sadly, Kidder never emerged from his coma and died Wednesday, at 74.
And Christine Crosbie, who was a reporter for CTV’s CFTO and then for Global News in the 1990s and 2000s, died of cancer last Sunday (May 19). Crosbie was just 52; since leaving Global in 2007, she’d been working in corporate communications. Her death came just a year after that of her husband, Douglas, who was killed when his bike was hit by a car.