In this week’s issue… Bill Parker, Binghamton’s broadcast dean – Tom Taylor remembers NJ owner Herb Hobler dies – Post-repack headaches in Boston, Philly – Catholic radio’s growth spurt – Arson damages Canadian FM
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Until just last year, you could visit Binghamton and meet both the engineer who signed on the city’s first TV station in 1949 and one of the station’s first (and biggest) on-air personalities. Engineer Gino Riciardelli died last year at 95 – and now Binghamton is also saying goodbye to its “dean of broadcasting,” Bill Parker, who died Thursday in Vestal at 91.
Parker, a native of Canastota, played in Army bands during World War II, spent a year at Columbia College in Chicago, then came to Binghamton’s WNBF radio in 1948 as a young announcer. With TV on the horizon, Parker was one of the announcers who helped put WNBF-TV (Channel 12) on the air, and he stayed with the stations for decades.
As with most announcers at small stations, Parker did a little of everything on Channel 12, including serving as the “Atlantic Weatherman” on the evening news, but he was best known for his service as the host of numerous kids’ shows – “TV Ranch Club” in the 1950s, before a strike at the station briefly sent him across town to WINR, then “Captain Galaxie” and “Officer Bill” after his 1960 return to WNBF-TV.
After the TV and radio stations split in 1972 and “Officer Bill” handed in his badge, Parker stayed on WNBF radio, hosting midday music and talk shows until his retirement in 1999. (And even then, he remained a regular voice on Binghamton’s airwaves, endorsing businesses and doing remotes now and then.)
Parker was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015 and was a regular at the Binghamton Broadcasters reunions.
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*From NEW JERSEY comes news of the death of another broadcasting pioneer, Herb Hobler, longtime owner of WHWH (1350 Princeton) and WPST (97.5 Trenton) and, eventually, of the Nassau Broadcasting group that grew up around them.
Among the talent incubated at those stations was Tom Taylor, who graciously took a break from retirement to share some of his thoughts about Hobler with NERW readers:
Herb Hobler (“HO-bler”) grew up around radio and the advertising business – his father was the Founder/Chairman of Benton & Bowles Advertising agency – and after years of working for NBC Television and TelePrompTer, Herb decided that Princeton, NJ deserved its own station.
He wanted the future WHWH/1350, to be rooted in the community and accountable to it, so he enlisted many local residents as shareholders in the new-build AM. Not long after its September 1963 sign-on, Herb persuaded the reluctant board of Nassau Broadcasting to acquire then-WTOA Trenton/97.5 from the Times of Trenton newspaper, foreseeing that someday FM would be important.
(WTOA became WPST, for “Passport Radio,” one of Herb’s many marketing ideas. There was briefly a sister Passport FM in southern Connecticut.)
Herb was a quintessential “idea generator,” as well as a local broadcaster who held bedrock beliefs about community service and the First Amendment. (He was an ardent free speech advocate during his two terms on the NAB Radio Board.)
Hobler fostered a well-staffed newsroom and sports department, whose alumni can be found all over the industry. (Think of Judy Muller, Howard David, Wayne Cabot and NPR’s Jack Speer.)
As I told the NJ Broadcasters Association conference in June, Herb never liked much music made after about 1950, but he came to understand that WPST could be a winning top 40 station that kept to his goal of serving the community. (Though he did vigorously object to running the Sunday night Dr. Ruth show!)
Herb Hobler personified the energetic and principled local broadcaster who realized that serving the community was both a condition of holding an FCC license and also good business. He was also, to use a cliche, one of the good guys. I – and dozens of broadcast pros who came through WHWH and WPST at 221 Witherspoon Street – owe him a lot.
Hobler retired from broadcasting after selling his 80% interest in Nassau to Lou Mercatanti in 1986. As Taylor notes, Hobler remained active in Princeton alumni circles, as well as appearing at a WPST reunion a few years back.
Hobler, who was an Army Air Corps navigator on B-29s over Japan in World War II, died August 10 at a nursing home in Skillman, NJ, at age 96. (And we thank Tom for taking some time to share his stories with us!)
*Verizon is getting out of the local TV news business in New Jersey and NEW YORK, and that’s sad news indeed for the 150 or so anchors, reporters, editors, producers and technicians who worked for RNN, the Westchester-based company that held the contract to produce those hyperlocal “FiOS News 1” channels for Verizon TV customers.
RNN began producing the FiOS News 1 channels under a 10-year contract with Verizon in 2009, giving Verizon a local product to compete with Cablevision’s (now Altice’s) News 12 channels across the region. The Verizon contract revived an RNN operation that had by then largely stopped producing its own local newscasts for WRNN-TV, which now fills its day mostly with infomercials and “Richard French Live,” the evening talk show produced and hosted by RNN’s owner. It’s not clear whether that show, which also ran on the FiOS News 1 channels, will continue on WRNN after those channels shut down at the end of the day Nov. 15.
In a letter to employees, French said RNN has been trying for almost a year to work out a contract renewal with Verizon, and he says his company is still open to a reversal of Verizon’s decision, should the company change its mind.
*At New York Public Radio, Goli Sheikholeslami starts her new job as president and CEO in October, moving east from WBEZ in Chicago to replace longtime leader Laura Walker after her resignation earlier this year. Sheikholeslami spent five years at WBEZ after working for the Washington Post, where she oversaw the integration of its digital and print newsrooms. That skillset should be of value at NYPR, where she’ll preside over not only WNYC radio and its sister stations, WQXR and New Jersey Public radio, but also the fast-growing WNYC Studios podcast operation, the Gothamist website and the Greene Space performance venue.
*If you’re in eastern MASSACHUSETTS and having trouble watching TV over the air, don’t adjust your set – the problem (probably) isn’t at your end. Instead, several Boston-market TV stations are operating at reduced power because of a failure in the new transmission system at the Cabot Street tower site in Needham on the night of August 10.
That site will eventually (once again) be the main site for Fox affiliate WFXT, as well as the backup site for CBS’ WBZ-TV/WSBK, Hearst ABC affiliate WCVB and public TV WGBX (which also hosts the main signal for NBC’s WBTS.) For now, though, it’s been serving as the only site for some of those stations while work continues a mile away at the Cedar Street tower to complete repack work for WBZ, WSBK, WCVB and WGBX. And so when Cabot Street failed, several of those stations scrambled for options. WCVB had a working backup facility at Cedar Street, and WFXT was able to reactivate the temporary Cedar Street facility it had been using during repack work at Cabot Street. (WSBK won’t repack until January, so it’s still at full power from Cedar Street.)
But for WBZ and WGBX, the best option – at least initially – was low-power operation from the one working transmission line at Cabot Street. That’s meant reception problems for viewers searching for CBS, NBC and PBS, and it’s been especially challenging for WGBX. After the main WGBH-TV (Channel 2) service moved from UHF to low-band VHF in the repack, WGBH put standard-definition feeds of both WGBH’s 2.1 and WGBX’s 44.1 on the WGBX UHF transmitter, hoping that would keep a signal going to viewers without good low-band VHF antennas – but now that WGBX signal is also impaired.
As for NBC, which was also depending on WBTS’ channel-share via that big WGBX signal to reach viewers, it added NBC and COZI-TV feeds to its WNEU (Channel 60), which moved in the repack from New Hampshire to the Cedar Street site. At least until the WGBX signal is fully restored, NBC is on both 15.1 via the low-power WGBX and 15.3 via WNEU, while COZI is on 15.2 and 15.4, respectively.
(There are also post-repack issues in Philadelphia, where Fox’s WTXF is being seen, at least temporarily, via a 6.4 subchannel of ABC’s WPVI while WTXF resolves issues with its own post-repack channel 31 signal.)
While we’re talking about WCVB, we salute the long career of sports director Mike Lynch, who wrapped up his 37-year run at the station Thursday night with his final 11 PM broadcast. Lynch will remain with WCVB in a part-time capacity, mainly covering his passion, high school sports.
*Over on the radio side, Catholic broadcasting continues to grow, especially at the hands of Immaculate Heart Media. The Wisconsin-based group is entering Boston and eight other markets with an $8.73 million deal to buy nine AM stations and four translators from Salem Media.
We don’t have a breakdown of how that money is allocated, but it’s pretty clear that it sets a new low price benchmark for big AMs in markets that also include Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Denver and Houston.
In Boston, IHM’s Relevant Radio format will replace the leased-time Spanish-language “Radio Luz” that has been running on WWDJ (1150) as soon as a time brokerage agreement takes effect, likely October 1.
After selling off another Boston AM, WBIX (1260), last year, Salem’s spinoff of WWDJ will leave it with only two remaining stations in the market, Christian teaching WEZE (590) and religious/ethnic WROL (950).
The WWDJ sale means there will be two Catholic broadcasters competing for Boston-area listeners, with Relevant (already heard in parts of the market via its RHODE ISLAND signal, WSJW 550) squaring off against the established entrant, Holy Family Communications’ WQOM (1060 Natick), which has been providing Catholic programming since 2010.
*There’s new Catholic radio in CONNECTICUT, too, where the Veritas Catholic Network has closed on its purchase of WNLK (1350 Norwalk) from Sacred Heart University. Veritas will debut its new format there Wednesday, the feast day of St. Pius X. The addition of its new translator at 103.9 will apparently come somewhat later, after the AM signal joins Veritas’ existing streaming operation.
*The news from VERMONT is… well, news from Vermont instead of from across Lake Champlain in New York State. After 65 years of maintaining its main studio in Plattsburgh, NBC affiliate WPTZ (Channel 5) has opened a new main studio at 30 Community Drive in Technology Park in South Burlington. The new digs replace not only the Plattsburgh studio (which will remain as a news bureau for the New York side) but also WPTZ’s previous Vermont home in Colchester. WPTZ has also replaced its previous Valley bureau in White River Junction (the old WNNE-TV studio, if memory serves) with a new bureau across the river in Lebanon, NEW HAMPSHIRE.
And (with thanks to Burlington’s excellent Seven Days for its top-notch coverage of other local media), we also note that in the next few weeks, Vermont PBS will move out of its longtime home at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, relocating to a new studio and office in the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. building at 10 E. Allen St. in downtown Winooski. The 1967-vintage building at Fort Ethan Allen had problems with its air conditioning and with noise from military jets overhead.
(All of which reminds us that we really, really need to get up to Burlington soon to catch up with the many moves that have been taking place there in recent years.)
*In MAINE, Townsquare’s WEZQ (92.9 Bangor) rearranges its lineup today, moving morning host Dale Duff to the 3-4 PM hour (along with his duties as brand manager) and welcoming Wayne Harvey to mornings on “The Ticket.” Harvey, who used to do sports radio across town on WZON (620) and was on WABI-TV (channel 5), will be heard from 6-8 AM as host of “The Morning Line.”
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA‘s Pocono Mountains, WSBG (93.5 Stroudsburg) is by far the dominant radio voice – and now it’s getting a new owner. Southern Belle LLC/Seven Mountains Media, which keeps marching across the Keystone State radio landscape, will pay Connoisseur $1.1 million for hot AC WSBG and its AM sister, ESPN affiliate WVPO (840 Stroudsburg), plus the construction permit for a new 103.1 translator for the daytime-only AM.
It’s a pretty good bet that Kristin Cantrell’s group will leave well enough alone at WSBG, but we’d bet heavily on one of Seven Mountains’ music formats replacing sports once the translator is up and running for WVPO.
*At the southern edge of the state, there’s a new translator-driven format for WCBG (1380 Waynesboro), where Verstandig Broadcasting has dropped ESPN Radio (“1380 the Bull”) for a new talk/business format as “The Line,” with new calls WLIN. The new format promotes the translator on 100.9 ahead of the AM signal; its lineup includes America in the Morning, Chris Plante, Dave Ramsey and Ben Shapiro, with CBS Sports Radio nights and weekends.
*And we’re saddened to report the death, too young, of longtime WHP-FM (97.3)/WARM-FM (103.3) morning personality Kelly West. West, whose real name was Harriet Cote, came to WHP-FM in 1980 from her native Lynchburg, Virginia, then became part of WARM-FM’s inaugural airstaff in 1983. She stayed in mornings there until 2004, returning in 2006 before retiring in 2009. West died Thursday, at age 67.
*In CANADA, “Hunters Bay Radio” (CKAR 88.7 Huntsville ON) is operating at low power while it recovers from an apparent arson at its transmitter site in Dwight, Ontario. The station reports vandals broke into the site and poured some sort of accelerant on microwave gear inside the building; while CKAR’s own transmitter didn’t burn, it suffered soot and smoke damage as a result. The station is currently on air at about a quarter of its regular power, and it’s offering a reward for information about the arson.
And Canadian Radio News reports a format change on the Quebec side of the Ottawa market, where RNC Media has flipped CFTK (96.5 Gatineau) from French oldies to top 40, retaining its “Pop 96.5” branding.