In this week’s issue… CT anchor dies suddenly – Morning change in Syracuse – Remembering Joe Smith, Carroll Spinney – Toronto anchor retires – Galaxy gets Twitch-y
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*For more than 33 years, Denise D’Ascenzo’s calm demeanor was a fixture on CONNECTICUT television screens, a rare constant presence amidst other anchor changes as she remained in place as the evening anchor on Hartford CBS affiliate WFSB (Channel 3).
D’Ascenzo came to WFSB in 1986, moving east from Cleveland’s WJKW (Channel 8, now WJW), where she’d been the 6 and 11 PM anchor for three years; before that, she’d been at WIXT (Channel 9, now WSYR-TV) in Syracuse, after graduating from Syracuse University. The move to Hartford was for family, to be closer to her fiance, and it was the last one she’d make: she settled in at WFSB and never moved again.
Much of her time on the WFSB anchor desk was spent next to Dennis House, who had the tearful duty of announcing her death Saturday night. “She was my sister, my TV wife, my best friend here and my co-anchor for 25 years,” House said on the air.
D’Ascenzo won 11 Emmys, two Murrows, and many other awards. In 2013, she was elected to the NATAS Silver Circle for her significant contributions to broadcasting, and in 2015 she was inducted into the Connecticut Broadcasting Hall of Fame. D’Ascenzo, who was 61, is survived by her husband and a daughter.
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*It’s the end of an era in Syracuse, NEW YORK, where iHeart’s WBBS (104.7 Fulton) is dropping its local morning show. “B104.7” says it’s a retirement for Tom Owens and Becky Palmer, who at least get a couple of weeks to say goodbye to listeners ahead of their final show Dec. 20. Palmer, who started on the morning show back in 1997 alongside Ron Bee, says she’ll be working on restoring a mobile home and raising awareness about mammograms, which has been a personal cause of hers since surviving breast cancer. Owens, who’s been on the show for 11 years, says he’ll spend more time at a home he owns in Fort Myers, Florida.
And after they do their last Tom and Becky show, it’s off to syndication for the B104.7 morning shift, where Premiere’s Bobby Bones Show will get a live clearance in place of its current delayed evening airing.
*It was also the end of an era (again) on New York City sports radio Friday, when Mike Francesa once more did a last afternoon shift on WFAN (660/101.9).
Two years after his original high-profile retirement announcement made big headlines across the radio industry, this latest step back for Francesa happened in much quieter fashion. Unlike his 2017 retirement, when it appeared (for a few months, anyway) that Francesa was really parting ways with WFAN after three decades as an afternoon staple, this time we know he’ll continue to appear on the FAN in various forms: primarily on Radio.com, Entercom’s streaming/podcast platform, but apparently also in a new half-hour 6 PM show that will somehow become part of the WFAN schedule early in 2020.
The rest of WFAN’s lineup in the new year is still unclear; in the next week or two, we expect there will be an announcement of a new afternoon show, which will in turn likely include some midday shuffling. WFAN initially kept all three of Francesa’s afternoon replacement hosts, Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray, moving them to the 1-3 PM slot when Francesa came back to WFAN later in 2017. Carlin has since moved on after his contract wasn’t renewed – but will the afternoon revamp include either Scott or Gray? We’d expect at least one of them to get a second shot at that slot.
*With rather less fanfare, Cumulus has ended the last of its local programming on WNBM (103.9 Bronxville), the last piece of what was once a substantial cluster at 2 Penn Plaza. Cumulus sold off WPLJ (95.5) to EMF back in May, of course; it handed off WNSH (94.7) to Entercom, and its sale of WABC (770) to Red Apple still appears to be in progress, though it’s already past the initial closing date that had been projected.
What becomes of the little class A signal on 103.9, which Cumulus had moved south from its longtime tenure in Westchester County as WFAS-FM? Its apparent purpose from the moment it moved was to provide a New York-market clearance for syndicated urban content from Cumulus-owned Westwood One; as of last week, that means a full-time clearance for Westwood’s “The Touch” network outside of morning and afternoon drive, where “Radio 103.9” has been carrying Tom Joyner and D.L. Hughley, respectively.
The last local presence on WNBM had been Sharon Montero in middays, known on air as “La Loca.” She’d been part of the station since it launched in 2014, right up until her departure last week, which she announced in a YouTube video alluding to a pending sale of the signal. (There’s been no public announcement of a sale yet.)
“La Loca” will continue to work at 2 Penn Plaza for at least a little while longer, tracking an airshift for another Cumulus station, KLIF-FM in Dallas.
For now, it appears 103.9 will chug along in mostly automated form until a buyer emerges; it’s not clear what will happen in the spring once the lease runs out at 2 Penn Plaza, when WABC will move to new studios being built by Red Apple and remaining Cumulus staffers will relocate elsewhere in Manhattan.
(Across the country, Cumulus made big cutbacks last week at WABC’s longtime sister station, KABC 790 in Los Angeles, which is now down to just one local talk shift surrounded by syndication. RadioInsight has all the details on that, of course.)
*At iHeart in New York, Bernie Weiss is the new market president, moving up from the role of regional VP/sales. Steve DeLusant, the cluster’s director of FM sales, replaces Weiss as regional sales VP; Weiss’ move, in turn, displaces Scott Hopeck, who remains with iHeart as division president/iHeart Media Market Groups.
*In Binghamton, George Hawras’ Equinox Broadcasting is taking sole ownership of “Hot 92.9” (W225BC Endicott), as he buys out partner Kevin Fitzgerald’s 50% interest in the signal for $30,000.
*When we had Galaxy’s Ed Levine on our Top of the Tower Podcast last month, he alluded to another big announcement coming soon from his innovative radio and events group, and it dropped last week: Galaxy is working with DK Media and Syracuse University to launch a new “Cuse Sports Talk” service – but not on the radio. The new stream will go where so much of the young sports-minded audience has gone, over to the Twitch streaming service that’s focused on gamers.
Galaxy will put cameras in the studios of its “ESPN Syracuse” (WTLA 1200/WSGO 1440, plus translators on 97.7 and 100.1) to bring studio conversation to Twitch viewers. In addition to the radio simulcasts, the new Cuse Sports Talk will originate some of its own programming, starting next weekend with former SU basketball players Lawrence Moten, Roosevelt Bouie and Eric Devendorf commenting on and reacting to the SU-Georgetown basketball game.
*Here in Rochester, Steve Kronquest had a long career at WHEC radio and TV, where he started as a radio sales manager in 1958 and eventually became senior VP/GM of WHEC-TV. Kronquest moved to Syracuse in 1984 to manage WIXT (Channel 9, now WSYR-TV), then retired in 1995 to explore hobbies that included aviation. Kronquest died Nov. 29 at age 85, at his home on Conesus Lake.
*When Joe Smith died Monday, he was remembered across the music industry for his many years running Warner Brothers Records, Elektra-Asylum and Capitol-EMI Music, where his career highlights included signing the Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt and Garth Brooks.
But before he moved west in 1960 to begin working at Warner Brothers, Smith was already a big name in MASSACHUSETTS radio. The Chelsea native was one of the first top-40 DJs in the market, first as “Jose” at WVDA (1260) in 1956, then continuing at 1260 as it was sold and became WEZE. He worked afternoons at WMEX (1510) near the start of that station’s top-40 era, then moved over to WILD (1090), where his on-air career was cut short by the payola scandal, where he ended up testifying in a hearing in Washington.
By then, Smith had already begun sliding into his new music industry role, and he was on his way west, becoming Warner Brothers Records president in 1972, moving to Elektra/Asylum from 1975 until his first retirement in 1983, then returning to the business in 1987 to run Capitol/EMI until he retired for good in 1995. Smith was 91.
*Another prominent industry obituary over the weekend also had Boston-market ties: Carroll Spinney, whose voice and movements brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life on “Sesame Street” for almost 50 years, came to the show in 1969 with children’s TV experience in Boston as part of the “Bozo Show” on WHDH-TV (Channel 5), where he also had his own show for a time, “Judy and Goggle.”
The Waltham native was 85 when he died Sunday.
*The call letters of MIT’s WMBR (88.1 Cambridge) stand for “Walker Memorial Basement Radio,” but the programming that originates in the basement studios at the Walker Memorial Building on the MIT campus has to go to a transmitter site elsewhere on campus for broadcast to greater Boston. That spot is the top of the Eastgate Building, where WMBR has transmitted with 720 watts/90 meters for many years. (photo: wmbr.org)
But MIT is planning to tear down the Eastgate complex soon, and so WMBR has filed for a new location: it’s hoping to move to a new building of similar height going up just across the street soon. When WMBR moves, it will have a nearly identical signal, with 720 watts/92 meters.
(We assume there will be a similar move to be filed for the other occupant of the Eastgate roof, WGBH’s translator W242AA on 96.3.)
*Up on VERMONT‘s Mount Mansfield, WCAX (Channel 3) and WPTZ (Channel 5) are back on the air for over-the-air viewers in Burlington, Plattsburgh and Montreal after the antenna fire that took them dark. A permanent repair to the stations’ shared antenna will have to wait for better weather in the spring, but the Gray and Hearst engineering teams worked together to pull off a minor winter miracle, obtaining a broadband temporary antenna and finding crews and helicopters to get the new antenna up and running at reduced power on the snowy mountaintop.
*In CANADA, two AM frequencies are dark again in Montreal. Canadian Radio News reports TTP Media’s CFQR (600) and CFNV (940) have been silent for more than a week now, with no word from TTP about whether it’s technical or financial issues that took the signals silent.
Those frequencies both had long histories in Montreal – 600 was pioneering station CFCF, later CIQC; 940 was the CBC’s CBM, then became all-news CINW after CIQC moved up the dial. After several years of silence, TTP won licenses for 600 in English and 940 in French with big promises of new news-talk formats, which never materialized at either station; 600 had been running automated music, while 940 was rebroadcasting a local streaming audio service.
*Ken Shaw is retiring from the noon and 6 PM anchor desk on CTV’s CFTO (Channel 9) in Toronto, a post he’s held since 2001. Shaw has been with CTV Toronto in the newsroom for more than 40 years, and worked in CFTO’s engineering department before that for much of the 1970s. Shaw’s last show will be Jan. 6, but he’ll continue to contribute reporting to CTV News after he steps off the anchor desk.
In Hamilton, veteran jock Darrin Laidman is returning to a regular shift: he’s taking over middays on CKLH (102.9 K-Lite), a shift Jack Peets had held before retiring.