In this week’s issue… WPLJ winds down with a love letter to radio – WXTL shifts to the stream – WEEU bid date set – Station sale in Maine – Bell consolidates country formats

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*NEW YORK – Can you hold two conflicting truths in your mind at once?

One: When Cumulus handed off WPLJ (95.5 New York) to new owner EMF at 7 o’clock Friday night, the station it was selling was, in its current form, an afterthought in the nation’s biggest market. Down in the ratings cellar, WPLJ in 2019 was the third-rated of three stations competing for hot AC listeners – and unlike competitors WLTW (iHeart) and WNEW (Entercom), it lacked the support and sales heft of a large cluster of music stations flanking it. If it hadn’t borne the callsign and frequency that still linked it back to the glory days of New York FM radio in the 1970s and 1980s, its demise might have been unmourned beyond the message boards and a NERW story.

Two: But because WPLJ did still have that callsign and frequency, its final days did end up mattering. And because PD Dave Labrozzi and his team were given the chance to go out in style, they tapped into the 48-year history of WPLJ, inconsistent though it might have been, to tell a moving, passionate story about what radio once was and can still be.

If you care about radio and its history, it’s not hard to see why this particular ending was an important one. Rewind to 1977, when an FM station first topped WPLJ’s sister WABC in the ratings, or to 1982, the “day the music died” when WABC went talk, or to 1983, when WPLJ dropped rock for top-40. Look at the radio listings (when there were such things) in the newspapers (when there were such things), and almost every other touchstone of the FM music dial is long gone.

WKTU, WYNY, WRKS, WPIX-FM, WNEW? WPAT-FM, WTFM, WRFM? All of them had their endings, even if a few of the calls or formats returned later. Only WCBS-FM and WBLS would still be at least vaguely recognizable to a 1970s listener. And WPLJ – well, that was the interesting one, because even if it changed completely over the years, it did so gradually. That 1983 format change? PD Larry Berger, who executed it, stayed on, and so did much of the airstaff. The brief exile of the WPLJ calls later in the decade? It didn’t come with a complete upheaval of the staff, either, and neither did the return of the calls a year later.

In the years that followed, the station’s other shifts were also gradual ones, which explains why WPLJ on its penultimate day in 2019 was one of the few stations anywhere in the country that could play Taylor Swift, segue into a vintage Bruce Springsteen live cut, and somehow plausibly have it all feel like it was part of the same thing over the decades. (And then sell its listeners a $20 t-shirt featuring five decades of station logos…)

Berger, sadly, left us last year and so wasn’t around to be part of the giant radio group hug that was WPLJ’s remarkable Thursday on the air. Everyone else, however, all seemed to make it up to the 17th floor at 2 Penn Plaza (or at least to the phone lines) to share in a succession of memories and moments. Competitors? Not on Thursday, when Scott Shannon and Dave Stewart and Broadway Bill Lee came over from Entercom, and Jim Kerr and Shelli Sonstein and Carol Miller came over from iHeart, and Pat St. John from SiriusXM, and… well, it seemed like everyone who’d ever cracked a mic at 95.5 on the dial was there to share a memory or play a favorite song or enjoy a vintage aircheck. Joey Kramer shared his evening shift with yet more PLJ alumni, wrapping up a day of radio about radio that will long be remembered.

On Friday, it was all about the current airstaff and the listeners. Todd Pettengill and Jayde Donovan and their cast said their tearful farewells in morning drive, Melony Torres opened the phones wide for listeners in the midday, and in WPLJ’s final hours, it was veteran afternoon voice Race Taylor who had the honor of bringing it all home. His last show included tributes to WPLJ’s engineers over the years, to Labrozzi and his predecessors in the PD chair, and a montage of so many of the on-air voices from over the years.

It ended the way it had to end: just as WABC ended its music era to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” so too did WPLJ. It wasn’t quite the last song; with a few minutes remaining, Taylor closed it out with the song that gave WPLJ its name, “White Port and Lemon Juice,” a few more staff goodbyes, followed by the coda to the Beatles’ “The End,” and his own final toast:

“May the 48 year run of this radio station prove to be a testament to the power and the love of terrestrial radio and may the mere thought of the letters PLJ bring a smile to your face, a warmth to your heart and a tingle to your ears. Heres to those who have walked these halls and breathed life into these microphones. It is with peace, love and joy that we toast the white port and lemon juice… and for one final time, from high above Madison Square Garden, this is the world-famous WPLJ, New York.”

And then, a minute or so of dead air and another WPLJ legal ID, this time as “New York’s K-Love.”

No, there won’t be any local voices on 95.5 under EMF. As we’ve covered repeatedly over the years here in this space, the EMF model is very different from commercial radio – and, like it or not, very, very successful at what it does. It’s inoffensive, it can verge on the bland and repetitive, and from coast to coast it attracts a flood of listener dollars that keep paying for the acquisition of more and more signals, including the half-dozen former Cumulus stations that came on board Friday in Washington, Atlanta, San Jose and elsewhere in addition to New York.

What happens next? Read on…

The 2020 Tower Site Calendar will soon be off the press, but you don’t have to wait to order it.

For the month of September, you can order your copy in advance for 20% off the regular price.

Note to our regular buyers (and our irregular buyers — we love every one of you): This is not this year’s cover, as this year’s calendar is still in production. We promise the real cover will be just as beautiful, if not more.

Have a suggestion for a cover photo? Look through our Tower Site archives, and if you see a beautiful photo we haven’t featured yet, suggest it to us!

Visit our store to buy the new calendar and check out our other products.

Click Here To Register And Purchase This Column!!

You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.


Click Here To Register And Purchase This Column!!

You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Scott:
    In concern to EMF, and “K-Love” in Syracuse, the northern most station in the trio that you mentioned, WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) is still “K-Love”. However, they have a new legal ID which mentions 105.9 Syracuse as an additional tuning option, but doesn’t legal the 105.9 signal. Additionally, gone from that WGKV legal is any mention of WSYR-HD3 and the 101.3 translator. Also, 105.9 Syracuse is mentioning WKVU (107.3 Utica) as additional listening option when I tuned in for the legal on this new “K-Love” outlet.

    • EMF has a very particular way of doing those IDs. Because every transmitter is fed directly by satellite, the legal ID plays out locally at the transmitter site, and is specific to every transmitter. And because the K-Love network is so extensive now, there’s a standard for most of them: legal ID for the specific transmitter you’re listening to, then a mention of the next adjacent frequency if it’s close enough. Thus “105.9 WXTL Syracuse, also on 107.3 in Utica,” Or “101.7 WGKV Pulaski, also on 105.9 Syracuse.”

      The WSYR-HD3/101.3 situation seems to be in flux right now. Because iHeart lit up a 101.7 translator of its own in Syracuse for WHEN 620, the feed to WSYR-HD3 seems to have changed. It’s now picking up WKVU 107.3 Utica over the air, and relaying that to 101.3, and so the ID on both 106.9-HD3 and 101.3 is the WKVU 107.3 ID.

      I strongly suspect that this is temporary and that EMF will soon put Air 1 on 106.9-HD3 and 101.3, probably as soon as it can put the needed satellite receiver in place.

Comments are closed.