In this week’s issue… WICU/WSEE gets Happi – Carlin out at WFAN – Christian finds new radio home – Maine broadcasters honored – WBZ’s Stevens steps back – PA station owner faces charges
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a busy year for radio stations in downtown Erie, PENNSYLVANIA. Back in the spring, iHeart acquired Connoisseur’s seven stations in the windows of the old Boston Store as part of a swap for two trust-bound stations in Frederick, Maryland. And now, just five blocks down State Street, another Erie station is changing hands with the sale of WEHP (92.7 Lawrence Park) from The ERIE Radio Company to SJL Broadcasting, LLC.
The ERIE Radio Company, of course, is Rick Rambaldo’s second go-round as an Erie radio owner after many years at the helm of WRKT and WRTS, which he continued to manage after selling to NextMedia. Once Rambaldo left those stations, he and local car dealer Dave Hallman created ERIE, outbidding Connoisseur’s Jeff Warshaw for the 92.7 frequency in 2011 and coming close to adding a second signal on 100.9 at another FCC auction a few years later. (A glitch with a bank’s missed payment in that auction cost Rambaldo that second signal, which would have done oldies alongside WEHP’s “Happi” top-40 format.)
SJL’s $1.33 million purchase of Happi will bring that FM signal into the same Kevin and Brian Lilly-controlled ownership group that also includes NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) under the SJL banner and CBS affiliate WSEE (Channel 35) under the Lilly Broadcasting banner. It’s Lilly’s second venture into radio in the region, following on the $900,000 deal back in the spring that added WRRN, WKNB and WNAE in Warren, an hour away, to the Lilly family.
In an environment where most broadcasters are rushing to split radio ownership away from TV (CBS and Entercom, for instance), Lilly’s move is a curious one: what does the company see in Erie that makes it think there’s a business advantage to running a top-40 FM station alongside two TV stations? It has, after all, been many years now since WJET-TV (then locally owned) spun off its last radio sisters to what are now the iHeart and Cumulus clusters, and even longer since WICU’s 1970s-era divestiture of what was once WICU(AM). We’ll be watching to see if Lilly has more radio moves in its future. (And, of course, to see whether WEHP stays in its downtown storefront home (seen on Site of the Week back in 2016) or moves south to the Lilly TV studios 22 blocks down State Street.)
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*Elsewhere in the Keystone State, the owner of WQZS (93.3 Meyersdale) is behind bars and facing some serious charges. The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat reports Roger Wahl is accused of placing a camera in a woman’s home, then creating an online dating profile from the photos he obtained – and it gets uglier from there. The charges against Wahl in Somerset County include rape/threat of forcible compulsion; what’s more, police say he committed the crimes from a computer at the address that’s both his home and that of the radio station. Will the FCC take action against Wahl’s license, as it’s done with other licensees (including Scranton’s Doug Lane, who lost his WWDL/WICK there after being convicted)?
In Lancaster, RadioInsight reports Hall’s WROZ (101.3) has cut several jobs, including PD/midday host Michael C. Anthony (a 20-year veteran in the post) and MD/afternoon host Patsy Simpson.
Chris Carlin (left) was supposed to be a big part of WFAN’s future at the start of 2018, when he moved back to New York from sister station WIP in Philadelphia to be paired up with Maggie Gray and Bart Scott as the afternoon replacements for the retiring Mike Francesa. “Carlin, Maggie and Bart” never had a chance to prove itself, though, once Francesa un-retired and reclaimed his afternoon drive slot, exiling the new show to a wedge of a time slot in early afternoons.
With Francesa ever more entrenched at WFAN (where owner Entercom just bought his “Mike’s On” podcast, ending his attempt to run it as a standalone pay site), Carlin and Entercom apparently didn’t see a future with each other, and as of Wednesday he’s gone from WFAN, leaving Gray and Scott alone in that 1-3 PM slot (where they told listeners it was “weird and sad” to be working without Carlin, the most experienced broadcaster of the trio.)
Will there be more changes ahead on WFAN’s lineup? We’d bet on it, especially since even two (presumably relatively expensive) hosts is a lot for a two-hour slot in what would otherwise likely be part of Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts’ 10-1 show had Francesa not reinserted himself into the schedule.
Meanwhile, WFAN also said goodbye over the weekend in a more orderly fashion to one of its longest-running and most liked hosts. Tony Paige has been part of the WFAN lineup since 1995, most recently on weekend nights, where he hosted a stream of guests and tearful farewell callers as he wrapped things up early Sunday morning.
*Over at iHeart, a veteran New York air and production talent is at last back home on the city’s airwaves. Howard Hoffman made an early mark at WABC (and, for aficionados of the medium, the famed “Nine!” tape made up at WALL in Middletown) before going west for a long run as production director at KABC in Los Angeles. After being caught in Cumulus downsizing a few years back, Hoffman moved around a bit, spending time in the Pacific Northwest until coming home to New York earlier this year.
Now he’s found a spot at WOR (710), where he started last week as production director, just in time to produce some moving on-air tributes to the 9/11 anniversary. Here’s hoping he gets to stick around for a while this time!
*On Long Island, Bill Wise (the “Wiseman”) surprised listeners to WHLI (1100 Hempstead)/WALK (1370 Patchogue) on Friday by announcing it was his last day on the air, four years after his arrival to replace the late Dean Anthony. It’s not clear exactly what’s ahead for the standards/oldies station, which also appears to have removed its other weekday host, middayer Joe Satta, from its schedule.
(Here’s where we take a moment to mention ratings, which we don’t often do – while WHLI wasn’t making much of a dent, the Nassau/Suffolk ratings showed a big bump initially credited to leased-time WNYG. Turns out that 2.4 share actually belonged to WLIM, the new callsign that swapped with WNYG on 1440 in Suffolk County, and it appears to be a legitimate rating for the soft AC “Breeze” format that nominally originates there and is heard on several FM translators on the island. An equally big surprise was the 0.0 posted by WPLJ, apparently the result of new owner EMF not encoding the K-Love station for PPM through much of July and August.)
*Upstate, two new translators have hit the air in Albany and just north: iHeart’s Fox Sports WOFX (980 Troy) is now reaching Capital District listeners on W240EC 95.9, broadcasting from the WGY-FM (103.1) site across the Hudson from Albany, while Ricki Lee and Aaron and Jessica Ishmael have signed on W227DW 93.3 in Saratoga Springs, bringing the revived “Star” AC format on their new WSSV (1160 Mechanicville) to FM.
In Buffalo, Roger Christian didn’t stay off the air long at all: after being walked out of Entercom’s WTSS (102.5) following a remarkable 43-year run, Christian quickly became the latest Buffalo radio veteran to hook up with Buddy Shula’s WECK (1230/102.9/100.5). At WECK, Christian will start out on weekends and fill-ins, while bringing his event DJ business over to Shula’s company as the “WECK Music Road Show with Roger Christian.”
In Syracuse, Ed Levine is shuffling his schedule at his Galaxy ESPN outlets, WTLA (1200/97.7) and WSGO (1440/100.1 Oswego). After Daniel Baldwin exited the station back in April, Galaxy plugged in ESPN’s Dan LeBatard from 10-noon – but now it’s going local again. Seth Everett and Paulie Scibilia are on from 10-11 weekdays, followed by a basketball-focused show from 11 to noon with ex-players Etan Thomas and Danny Schayes. Levine says there’s also a new 3-4 PM show coming, with details yet to be announced.
On TV, Syracuse is getting a 7 PM newscast starting October 7, when WTVH (Channel 5) evening anchor Michael Benny will jump to the studio next door to anchor on Sinclair sister station WSTM (Channel 3). It’s the first 7 PM offering in the market, at least in recent memory.
*As the TV repack adventure moves south – it was rescan day over the weekend in markets from Virginia to Georgia – stations up our way are still trying to recover viewers they lost when they changed frequencies over the summer. In eastern MASSACHUSETTS and adjoining states, many public TV viewers discovered they couldn’t get WGBH (Channel 2) after it gave up its UHF frequency and took millions of auction dollars to go down to low-band VHF on channel 5.
Unsurprisingly, indoor antennas that aren’t usually designed for VHF caused problems receiving WGBH’s new signal, which is why the station submitted hundreds of names of complaining viewers from southern Maine to eastern Connecticut as it requested a power increase from 6.7 kW to 34 kW ERP. The FCC has routinely granted these “maximization” applications for low-band VHF, especially since it’s not as though there are any other nearby channel 5 signals to be interfered with. (In any event, WGBH has placed SD-quality simulcasts of WGBH and WGBX’s 2.1 and 44.1 main programs on its WGBX UHF transmitter to help reach viewers.)
*We salute WBZ (1030) reporter Carl Stevens, who moves from full-time to part-time status today, a move he says he requested because “At the age of sixty-four, I don’t want to do this anymore.”
That, as he notes, was the age at which his mentor (and mine) Gary LaPierre retired – and in a moving letter to his colleagues, Stevens said the deaths of LaPierre and so many other newsroom friends and co-workers (especially fellow reporter Lana Jones) had him thinking about his next steps.
“I no longer want to drive through nor’easters, trudge through blizzards, walk up an icy hill to a three alarm fire, or transcribe the tears of a grieving father. I’ve had enough icy hills. I’ve had enough tears. I got old,” he said.
At the same time, Stevens reminded friends, “I ain’t dead yet. I plan on being a reporter until I stop being a reporter. I’ll just be doing it more on my own terms.”
Whatever those terms are, it’s safe to say there won’t ever be another Boston radio reporter quite like Carl, with his poems, his love of pizza by the slice and sunrise photos on the North Shore, and – well, wait, this isn’t a eulogy, and we do indeed look forward to much more from him as he eases into semi-retirement.
*Northeast Broadcasting has promoted Donald St. Sauveur from GM of its Boston-market WXRV (92.5 Andover) to chief operating officer, giving him additional oversight over Northeast’s VERMONT sister stations, including WNCS and its “Point” network.
Out west, the FCC has added the now-vacant 97.3 class A channel in Orange to its FM table of allocations. That’s a procedural move that will allow 97.3 to eventually go to auction, which will someday put it back on the air after the Deane Brothers’ WJDF lost the license for the channel earlier this year for non-payment of regulatory fees.
*The MAINE Association of Broadcasters honored their own Saturday night, with a Hall of Fame induction that included veteran Portland morning jock Lori Voornas, now of WJBQ, as well as Marty Engstrom, the venerable engineer/weatherman known as “Marty on the Mountain” in his many years high atop Mount Washington for WMTW-TV (Channel 8). And Jeff Pierce (right), operations manager at Saga’s Portland cluster, was honored with the MAB’s Broadcast Achievement Award.
(A reminder to all our state broadcasting association friends: please let us know all your good news, so we can share it with our readers across the region!)
*On the NEW HAMPSHIRE seacoast, Townsquare has a new operations manager at its Dover cluster, where Robby Bridges is exiting just a few months into the gig. Sammy Cruise moves north from WIRK in West Palm Beach to oversee the stations in Dover, where he also takes over as brand manager of country WOKQ (97.5) and WPKQ (103.7) and afternoon jock on “Shark” WSAK/WSHK (102.1/105.3).
As for Bridges, who took the Townsquare job as he moved back east from a similar post at Cumulus in Detroit? He says there are new adventures awaiting him, perhaps elsewhere in New England.
*At Bridges’ old stomping grounds, the now Cumulus-owned cluster in RHODE ISLAND, Neil Larrimore has exited as PD of WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7) and WPRV (790). No replacement has been named yet at the news-talk and business talk signals.
*In CONNECTICUT, Joey Brooks is the new senior VP/programming for iHeart’s Hartford and New Haven clusters, which means a return to WKSS (95.7 Hartford), where he was APD/MD from 2002-2006. Brooks had most recently been with iHeart as PD of WMIA and APD of WHYI in Miami.
*Job cuts were the story in CANADA, too, where Rogers’ Citytv is cancelling Breakfast Television on its Montreal outlet, CJNT (Channel 62) and cutting back on local production in Vancouver and Calgary, which will now share segments with flagship CITY-TV (Channel 57) from Toronto. The cuts, which take effect next Monday, will take away 23 jobs across the country.
In southwest Ontario, Brian Langston is retiring from radio after being diagnosed with ALS. Broadcast Dialogue reports his last day as GM/GSM at Woodstock’s CIHR (104.7 Heart FM) will be Sept. 27, ending a 40-year career in the business.