In this week’s issue… Callahan out, Hill-man in at WEEI – What now for WAAF? – Blackout blacks out NYC newscasts – Taylor out, Taylor in at CBS-FM – EMF makes next NYC step – Morning host quits over equal pay
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Nobody anticipated the morning move Entercom made in eastern MASSACHUSETTS late last week, dropping Gerry Callahan from the WEEI-FM (93.7) morning show after more than two decades and looking upstairs to WAAF (107.3) for his replacement, Greg Hill.
What’s a hard rock morning man of long standing doing on Boston’s heritage sports station? The same thing that’s happening across town at WEEI’s archrival, Beasley’s “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5), which has thrived in morning drive with Toucher and Rich, the not-especially-about-sports morning show that it inherited from the old WBCN, which itself had been WAAF’s big competitor back in the day.
Once Hill starts on WEEI July 29, Callahan’s current morning co-host, Mike Mutnansky, will move to nights (insofar as that shift really exists on WEEI during Red Sox season). Hill’s WAAF co-host, Danielle Murr, will join him downstairs at WEEI, while WAAF morning sports anchor Lyndon Byers will stay at WAAF in a new, as-yet-undisclosed role.
The move fills one hole at WAAF, moving Hill’s producer/sidekick Mike Hsu to the vacant afternoon slot – but of course it also creates a big new void in mornings, where Hill has been a WAAF institution since 1986, the last 28 of those years on the early shift.
What does it mean for both stations? Read on for our NERW analysis…
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*On the WEEI side of things, the swap of Callahan for Hill seems to be something of a concession in the station’s heated battle with the Sports Hub. When the Hub launched (ironically, in the very ground floor studios that WEEI now occupies), then-owner CBS Radio made the bet that it could build a broader listener base by being a male-oriented lifestyle talk station that happened to be built around sports, rather than following WEEI’s established formula of being a sports talker that sometimes drifted off to conservative politics.
Callahan, of course, was regularly at the center of some of the controversies that WEEI seemed to court for many years. “Unfortunately, this ain’t a movie. Sometimes the bad guys win,” he tweeted as the news broke after his last show on Friday – an allusion, it seems, to one particular activist listener who’d been dogging Entercom with complaints about the way Callahan and former co-host Kirk Minihane referred to transgender people.
As Entercom kept shuffling hosts, replacing John Dennis with Minihane and then Minihane with Mutnansky, the air of chaos around WEEI never completely seemed to subside, which was fine when WEEI’s teams (primarily the Red Sox) were winning. That became harder to sustain in recent months, though, as the Sox have struggled and as Sports Hub rode the wave of the Patriots’ Super Bowl win and strong postseason runs by the Bruins and Celtics.
And so as Callahan fumes (backed up by Minihane, who admitted on Twitter that he hadn’t been fair to his former co-host), it appears WEEI may be headed for a more stable new chapter in the hands of the veteran Hill-Man, who’s already encouraging his audience to follow him down the dial (and two flights of studio stairs) to his new show in a couple of weeks.
(With less political content in mornings on WEEI, the move also clears the lane for its former Entercom talk sister, WRKO 680, now with iHeart, to completely own the conservative talk market in town.)
*So what happens next at WAAF? There’s speculation in all the usual spots about format changes, of course, but mark us down as at least mildly skeptical on that front. While WAAF draws nowhere near the ratings or revenue of WEEI, it brings a strong male demographic to a cluster that’s otherwise aimed mainly at female listeners (along the three-prong demographic axis from “AMP” WODS to “Mix” WWBX to “Magic” WMJX). Would Entercom give away that niche in favor of, say, classic hits to go against Beasley’s WROR?
For now, the company says it will run music in the mornings on WAAF as it looks for a replacement for Hill to lead into another veteran, Mistress Carrie, in middays and Hsu in afternoons.
At most, we’d expect some music tweaks on WAAF, one of the last holdouts in the active rock genre. Might Entercom, with its corporate predilection for modern rock, swing WAAF that way against Beasley’s WBOS? Or go more classic against WZLX, the iHeart classic rocker that used to occupy the Brighton studio space WAAF now calls home? It’s most likely, we think, that moving Hill out of WAAF was much more about Entercom’s immediate need to make changes at its cash cow, WEEI, and much less about any substantive plans to alter WAAF.
(And there’s one more shuffle happening on overnights, in a delayed echo of last year’s ownership shuffles: Entercom’s ties to CBS Sports Radio are moving that network to WEEI-FM 93.7, where Amy Lawrence’s overnight show will replace ESPN Radio content starting August 3. Starting later this week, CBS Sports Radio’s current affiliate, WBZ-FM, will instead pick up Fox Sports Radio’s Jason Smith and Ben Maller overnight. ESPN will still be heard on WEEI 850, and we assume FSR’s current Boston affiliate, iHeart’s WXKS 1200, will replace sports with more syndicated conservative talk.)
*There were several big stories in the NEW YORK City market, and we’ll start with the most recent, the blackout that struck big chunks of Manhattan Saturday night.
We write often in this space about disaster preparedness, and we’ll be talking about it again at a panel this fall at the AES Show in New York. While we were on the road last week, our travels included a stop at the most remote 50,000-watt AM in the country, the Navajo Nation’s KTNN 660, where our tour of the new studio complex included a lot of discussion of their emergency generator, UPS and other well-conceived details designed to keep the station on the air when things go wrong. (You’ll hear our interview next week on the Top of the Tower podcast, which returns this Wednesday with a conversation with legendary Los Angeles station owner Saul Levine.)
In that context, then, it was more than a little remarkable to watch from afar as several of New York’s big TV stations struggled to get coverage of the blackout on the air. Sure, CBS on West 57th Street, ABC on 66th and NBC at Rockefeller Center were all right in the heart of the blackout zone – but whatever backup systems were supposed to keep things humming seemed to fail for all of the networks and their O&Os. WABC-TV (Channel 7) recovered fastest, getting local coverage on the air from its newsroom; CBS, meanwhile, appeared to retreat to its CBSN studios.
And while the NBC Nightly News weekend edition had only a brief power glitch in its tiny “news nook” studio, WNBC (Channel 4) was unable to get its 11 PM local newscast on the air from 30 Rock, instead going late to reporter Pat Battle (right) at the New Jersey studios of sister station WNJU before finally getting back on the air from 30 Rock at the end of the show. Watching on cable from way upstate, it appeared Spectrum’s NY1 was unable to get live coverage on the air until 12:30 AM, though it had some coverage online.
WPIX (Channel 11) and WNYW (Channel 5) fared better, since their studios are on the East Side where power stayed on. Most of the city’s radio stations are now in lower Manhattan, which also kept the lights on; in particular, Entercom’s WCBS (880) and WINS (1010) did their normal yeoman work keeping the public informed.
In fairness, the network headquarters in New York are mammoth operations housed in rambling old physical plants, presenting significant challenges to emergency planners charged with keeping operations going when ConEd goes south. In fairness, too, the networks themselves managed to keep humming (it was probably a good thing in NBC’s case that its broadcast operations center is now outsourced in Denver, while MSNBC and its other cable networks are operated from CNBC in New Jersey). But the weeks and months ahead should at least prompt some discussion at the local level about better ways to keep stations like WNBC humming even when the power goes out.
*Before the lights went out on Saturday, the week’s biggest news by far from New York was a midday shakeup at Entercom’s WCBS-FM (101.1), where Dan Taylor was abruptly ousted on Tuesday after more than two decades at the station, to be replaced with another veteran talent, former WPLJ (95.5) afternooner Race Taylor.
What happened? The Post reports Dan Taylor’s exit was tied to an ongoing investigation into workplace misconduct at WCBS-FM and sister station WFAN by New York attorney general Letitia James. We already knew (again, thanks to the Post) that Dan Taylor had been facing some ugly allegations of workplace harassment; it may well be that the availability of Race Taylor after Cumulus’ sale of WPLJ finally gave Entercom the ability it needed to replace Dan Taylor. (And no, Post writers, there’s no longer any “CBS Radio” to be investigated, just former CBS Radio stations now in Entercom’s hands.)
*Speaking of WPLJ’s shift to EMF and K-Love, we’d told you back when that happened at the end of May that EMF would eventually flip its existing New York-market signal to its second network, Air 1. That move is underway now at what had been WKLV (96.7 Port Chester), which dropped the K-Love network feed last week and briefly changed calls to WMKQ, swapping the WKLV calls to another EMF signal down south. For now, 96.7 is running a repeating loop directing K-Love listeners to the bigger 95.5 signal; before long, it will become WARW, carrying Air 1. The current WARW, EMF’s Air 1 on 93.5 in Remsen/Utica, will become WAWR once the swaps are complete. (And no, we don’t yet expect 95.5 in New York to change from WPLJ to WKLV; maybe eventually.)
*Upstate, WPXY (97.9 Rochester) morning co-host Whitney Young made headlines late last week by leaving her job at the Entercom top-40 station. Young, who’d just joined the “TeamPXY” morning show last year, says she was being paid only half as much as co-host Corey James, who’d been on the show for five years.
“I was unable to negotiate a raise that would reduce the pay disparity,” she said in a Facebook post, admitting that it’s “risky at best and stupid at worst” to walk away from a full-time job and take the outspoken position she’s taking. In New York, though, she now has the benefit of a state law against gender disparity in pay, should she decide to sue Entercom.
As expected, there’s been plenty of online outcry against Young’s comments – but also, somewhat more quietly, plenty of women who are telling their own stories about pay discrimination and other disparities in the way the industry has long treated them.
(Admit it: when you go to make a list of the number of women given the chance to carry a morning show on their own or as the primary host in a larger cast, it’s never been that long a list. The same is true of women in PD and other management chairs, and that’s certainly not for any lack of talent. Can radio truly defend itself against the charges Young and others are making?)
*Back in New York City, we’re saddened to report the death of Richie Herby, whose long engineering career included stints with CBS Radio’s FM stations and more recently at Multicultural Radio Broadcasting. Herby died July 11; he was 62. A funeral Mass will be said this morning in the Bronx, where Herby was born and lived his whole life.
*Where are they now? Ralphie Marino, the veteran Boston jock who’d most recently been doing mornings at WQRC on Cape Cod, has found a plum new gig after relocating to southwest Florida. Marino was already part of the Beasley family through his weekend airshifts on WKLB in Boston, and now he’s full time as the morning man on WJPT (106.3) in Fort Myers, where he’s also serving as assistant PD for the AC station, known as “Sunny 106.3.”
And one more Bay State story: after months of rumors about a studio move, we’ve now seen visual confirmation that WCAP (980 Lowell) is indeed building out a new storefront home at 61 Market Street, the former Lowell Visitor Center. Why is that significant? Because it means WCAP will soon be leaving the only studio it’s ever known, the second floor at 243 Central where the Cohen brothers built the station way back in 1951.
(You can see our 2011 profile of that facility on Site of the Week, including our own reminiscences of beginning our radio career right there in the newsroom above Cappy’s Copper Kettle, a bar where we were as yet too young to drink legally.)
*In VERMONT, AllAccess reports T.J. Michaels is out as PD at Great Eastern’s WRFK (107.1 Frank FM) in Barre and WJKS (104.3 Kiss FM) in Burlington. Michaels had been with what’s now WRFK for 18 years; he also did afternoons on Frank and tracked nights on Kiss.
*In CONNECTICUT, we salute WKCI (101.3 Hamden), which marked its 40th anniversary as a top-40 signal over the weekend with a well-attended reunion that included founding PD Pete Salant, current PD Adam Rivers and a long list of KC101 voices from the four decades in between. Tove Lo performed at an anniversary concert for the station, now owned by iHeart.
It was an anniversary week, too, for RHODE ISLAND‘s first TV station. WJAR-TV signed on in July 1949 on channel 11 before moving to its familiar channel 10 four years later; it put on a 70th anniversary show last Wednesday.
*A station sale in western PENNSYLVANIA grows Matt Lightner’s Lightner Communications quite substantially in the Altoona market. Lightner already has soft AC WTRN (1340 Tyrone, plus big translators at 100.7 Tyrone and 96.9 Altoona) and “Jack FM” WYUP (1400 Loretto, plus that big 107.1 Altoona translator). Now he’s adding another cluster in that competitive small market owned by three commonly-controlled companies: Sherlock Broadcasting’s “Q94” WBXQ (94.3 Patton), Sounds Good, Inc.’s “Mix” WBRX (94.7 Cresson), plus Handsome Brothers, Inc.’s news-talk WRTA (1240 Altoona, plus a 98.5 translator). The purchase price of $650,000 includes $275,000 for the studios and $100,000 for each license; it sets up what’s now effectively a two-company battle in Altoona between Lightner’s five stations and Forever’s four FMs and two AMs.
*Across the state, Chad Gerber departed WAVT (T102) in Pottsville just before the Fourth, ending a 29-year career at that most distinctive regional hot AC signal. For the last 20 years, he’d been PD (a role afternooner Dave Smith now holds), and for 23 years he’d been hosting mornings, where his co-host Courtney Roberts is now on her own.