In this week’s issue… KDKA starts centennial celebration – New lineups in NYC sports – Country spreads in Hudson Valley – AM’er seeks new home – HD move for Bell – “Abandoned studios” razed
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Welcome to 2020!
This is, remarkably, our 27th year here, week in and week out bringing you the stories of broadcasting and broadcasters all over the northeastern U.S. and Canada. We have no corporate masters or overlords – it’s just me at the editor’s desk, Lisa handling your subscriptions and calendar purchases (you do have your 2020 Tower Site Calendar by now, right?), and Lance Venta as our content partner and web host at RadioInsight.com – and no ulterior motives other than keeping you informed and updated, hopefully with some nice bits of history and a little humor along the way.
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If you missed it over the holidays, our NERW Year in Review is one of our longest-running features, and this year’s edition remains available for your reading pleasure; it appears every year in multiple segments, starting with the Year in Sales and moving forward through the Year in Formats (part 1 and part 2), the Year’s Top Ten Stories (part 1 and part 2) and wrapping up with Those We Lost.
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*The start of the new year and new decade means the centennial year has begun for Pittsburgh’s KDKA (1020), complete with a new logo for the anniversary that’s coming up in November. And while we’ll continue to quibble with anyone who tries to make the ahistorical claim that KDKA was “the first radio station,” we’re certainly enjoying some of the ways in which the Entercom-owned talker is celebrating its history.
On Tuesday morning, for instance, Jack Bogut will return to KDKA as morning co-host for a day at the invitation of current host Larry Richert. Bogut was KDKA’s morning man from 1968 until 1983, later working at WTAE, WSHH and WJAS before his retirement in 2014. More recently, Bogut has been contributing short features to KDKA.
“Larry and I go way back to when he was running the radio station at Clarion State College (University now),” Bogut posted on Facebook, “and we did a Children’s Hospital Broadcast from a Savings and Loan Association window in downtown Clarion, PA. Should be fun,” he said of his return to the morning shift.
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If you missed it, here’s what we wrote about Imus’ death in our “Top Ten Stories” installment of NERW’s Year in Review last week:
Was he a genius who shook up the stodgy sound of New York’s WNBC with a burst of irreverent creativity that set the stage for a generation of morning zoos? An iconoclastic interviewer who probed deeper than most into his guests’ views, providing a speakers’ corner that was a must-listen for political junkies for years? A philanthropist who gave back millions of dollars to help kids with terminal illnesses and Iraq War veterans?
Or was he a misanthrope who made life miserable for many of the people who worked with him, eventually even driving his most prominent sidekick away? A troubled man whose issues with drugs and alcohol exiled him from New York to Cleveland before he staged a triumphant return, sparking the drivetime rivalry that pitted him against Howard Stern during what turned out to be a last golden age for WNBC in the early 1980s? A tired shell of himself who kept a show going for what many thought was years past his prime?
And of course, as so many have been discussing these last few days since news broke of his death Friday morning at 79, how much of his on-air schtick was rooted in racist tropes that had worn out their on-air welcome in the 21st century? The slurs he used against the Rutgers women’s basketball team in 2007 ended his tenure on MSNBC, WFAN and CBS Radio in part because they were far from a one-off event; stories emerged (and had been circulating for years internally) of Imus’ behavior behind the scenes at WFAN, as well as plenty of well-documented jabs on the air that might have gone without notice in the 20th century, but looked and sounded different in the 21st.
Don Imus was, of course, all of those things, in the complicated way that talented, difficult people often are. And a full accounting, when one is finally written, will – and should – remember him for both his triumphs and his failings.
Imus was just 31 and just three years into his radio career when he came to New York and WNBC in 1971, a star on the rise from WGAR in Cleveland. He burned bright, and probably too fast, achieving some degree of national fame with his comedy records and making both friends and enemies inside the station as he slipped into heavy drinking. He was ousted during an overhaul of WNBC in 1977, returning to Cleveland for an unhappy exile at WHK before being given a second chance to return to WNBC for mornings in late 1979.
What followed was some of the most brilliant and sometimes erratic radio in a generation, and you probably know that story all too well – Imus in the morning sparring with Howard Stern in the afternoon for three intense years before Stern’s departure to mornings at WXRK in 1985. Imus survived the end of WNBC in 1988, riding along with the 660 frequency to its new life as all-sports WFAN, where his established show helped carry the fledgling sports format to success.
And you know by now, too, all the stories about Imus at WFAN, including the sometimes brutal way he treated co-workers and that Rutgers comment that ended his career at WFAN and MSNBC in 2007.
There was great generosity, to be sure, in the millions of dollars Imus and his family contributed to the causes they supported, helping kids with terminal diseases and Iraq War veterans. There was the return to the air at WABC in 2009, and the sometimes painful years of decline in which it was clear that Imus was far from New York not only in body (broadcasting from his ranches in New Mexico and Texas) but also in mind and spirit.
It was in Texas that Imus died, at age 79, leaving behind a legacy we’ll all be arguing about for many years to come.
*At Imus’ old home station, there’s a new lineup for the new year. Today marks the launch of the revised schedule at WFAN (660/101.9), where we already knew Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts were moving from middays to fill Mike Francesa’s 3-6 PM shift (plus an extra hour at 2 PM) now that he’s retired for a second time. As expected, Maggie Gray moves from her 1-3 PM shift to take the full midday shift from 10-2, pairing with Mike “Moose” Malusis, who moves from CBS Sports Radio down the hall, as “Moose and Maggie.”
Francesa’s not completely gone, of course – he’ll be heard for half an hour at 6 PM starting tonight, leading into an evening lineup that’s being refreshed for the new year with John Jastremski as the new permanent overnight voice, filling the gap left behind by Tony Paige’s retirement last year.
As for former WFAN midday co-host Bart Scott, he’s still headed across town to ESPN Radio’s WEPN-FM (98.7), but not immediately – the Post reports his debut in the 1-3 PM slot alongside Alan Hahn has been pushed back to January 20. ESPN says the delay isn’t due to legal action from Entercom trying to keep Scott off the rival station, but rather to get through some complicated January scheduling that includes a final week of Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN network show in that timeslot from Jan. 13-17.
*In the Hudson Valley, Townsquare has killed off its top-40 “Now” brand at WCZX (97.7 Hyde Park). After stunting over the weekend with a separate country playlist, 97.7 will relaunch this morning as the third link in “The Wolf” simulcast, joining WKXP (94.3 Kingston) and WZAD (97.3 Wurtsboro) to extend that country brand southward deeper into Dutchess, Orange and southern Ulster counties, where Townsquare’s Wolf competes with iHeart’s WRWD trimulcast.
*On Long Island, Connoisseur isn’t replacing Mark Daniels with a new local morning show on WALK-FM (97.5); instead, it began simulcasting the “Anna and Raven Show” from sister station WEZN (Star 99.9) across Long Island Sound in CONNECTICUT last week.
Even if the two markets are separated by only 40 miles or so, the psychological distance across the Sound is a big one; driving through New York City traffic or taking an expensive ferry makes it far less than a casual crossing, which means listeners in Stamford don’t think much about Syosset, and vice versa. Can Connoisseur come up with enough common content to bridge that gap?
(Elsewhere on Long Island, WTHE 1520 in Mineola has returned to the air, now carrying Radio Cantico Nuevo programming from a new transmitter site, diplexed with Connoisseur’s WHLI 1100; WHLI, meanwhile, has apparently ended its simulcast on WALK 1370 in Patchogue as that station’s donation to Cantico Nuevo closes.)
*If you do drive from Long Island to southern Connecticut, you’ll pass through Greenwich, where WGCH (1490) is starting the new year without a tower site.
The little AM signal has been trying for years to secure a better spot than its longtime home at 177 W. Putnam Avenue, where the landlord has been reluctant to extend a long-term lease. On December 30, WGCH made its final broadcast from that location, clearing out its equipment and directing listeners to 105.5 on the FM dial. That’s translator W288DL up the road in Stamford, which had been relaying WSTC (1400) over there.
What’s feeding the translator? WGCH is reportedly on the air at reduced power on 1490 from a temporary site, though there’s no STA yet on file with the FCC for that operation.
*You knew Frank Tavares’ voice even if you didn’t recognize his name or face: for many years, it was his rich tones reading the national underwriting credits and network IDs on NPR. And even if you were enough of a public radio junkie that you knew Tavares’ name, you still might not have known that in later years, he was reading most of those credits from a home studio in Connecticut.
Tavares, who died Dec. 30, was a native of New Bedford, Mass. After leaving NPR headquarters in Washington, he settled in Hamden, teaching communications at Southern Connecticut State University and recording his underwriting announcements from a converted closet studio. Even after NPR moved on to other voices in 2013, Tavares was still heard locally as the top-hour ID voice on Connecticut Public/WNPR.
Tavares had been diagnosed with ALS a few months ago; he was living in Florida when he died.
*Another obituary that was slow to make the news: in Buffalo, June Bacon-Bercey was one of the first women, and one of the first African-Americans, to take the screen as a TV meteorologist when she moved to weather from news at what was then WGR-TV (Channel 2) in the 1970s. She earned a meteorology degree from the University of Kansas back in 1954, then a masters degree from UCLA, and went on to work for the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Weather Service before landing at WGR as a reporter in the early 1970s.
After covering stories that included the Attica prison uprising, she got her break on the weather desk after chief meteorologist Frank Benny was taken off the air after robbing a bank. Bacon-Bercey stayed at WGR for four years, leaving in 1976; she went on to work for the weather service and NOAA again and was living in retirement in California when she died last July 3, at age 90.
*Is a format change on the way in northern PENNSYLVANIA? As Van Michael’s new version of the Backyard group takes over at the Williamsport cluster that includes WLMY (107.9), that station filed a request in late December for a call change to WOTH. While there’s been no change yet on the air – 107.9 was still doing its usual AC format as “My 107.9” when we drove through just before the new year – we’ll be watching this one closely, especially recalling that Michael once owned a similar-sounding set of calls in the market, back when sister station WBZD (93.3) was “Hot” top-40 as WHTO.
We’re watching, too, for a format change in Erie, where Lilly Broadcasting is taking over WEHP (92.7 Lawrence Park) from the ERIE Radio Company. Lilly has already applied for new calls, WICU-FM, to link the FM signal up with its WICU-TV (Channel 12); it’s not clear yet whether it will exercise its right to continue using ERIE’s “Happi” top-40 format on the signal.
The end of Christmas music on WLTM (95.9 Mina NY) did bring a new format to the Erie market, at least to the eastern edge of the market along the state line where that small signal can be heard. New owner iHeart has killed off the old “Lite” format there, replacing it with the same all-podcast format it runs at the other end of the state on WSAN (1470 Allentown).
In Lewistown, there’s a format change to start the year at Nittany Media’s WKVA (920) and its 100.3 translator, where “Big 100.3” classic hits has given way to soft AC, branded as “Gold Hits WKVA.” It’s the first big move for the station under new GM Tony Peiffer, who’s returned to central Pennsylvania after more than a decade doing engineering at several New York City stations. WKVA’s airstaff remains in place, adding Delilah’s syndicated show at night.
In Lancaster, Ronnie Ramone is the new PD at Hall’s WROZ (Fun 101.3), adding those duties to his existing role as night jock and brand manager there.
All the way at the western edge of the state, Cumulus’ WWIZ (103.9 Middlesex) was the first station to flip to Christmas music last fall, fueling speculation of a format change at the Youngstown-market outlet. But when the holiday tunes ran out at year’s end, it turned out nothing changed at “Z104,” which returned to its previous oldies format.
*In Philadelphia, Radio One rebranded WPHI (103.9) on Christmas Eve, dropping “Boom 103.9” in favor of “Hip Hop 103.9,” reflecting the more current playlist that has replaced its original classic hip-hop format.
There’s no morning show right now on the station, which is expected to pick up the new “Morning Hustle” syndicated offering once Radio One launches it this month.
*It was a fairly quiet couple of weeks in MASSACHUSETTS, except perhaps on the editorial page of the Boston Globe, which weighed in on Thursday with a curious editorial advocating for a path toward licensed operation for the pirate radio operators who’ve long sprouted on the airwaves in and around Boston.
There are some glimmers of truth in the Globe‘s argument – over the years, the pirates have indeed found audiences who aren’t getting full service from licensed full-power radio. But the editorial board also ignores a lot of reality on its way to its idealized conclusion: many of the higher-powered pirates in Boston have been running commercial business enterprises that have long deliberately flouted regulations, dodging taxes, business licensing, music licensing and other niceties that they’d have to obey if, for instance, they leased or bought any of the existing AM stations in search of programming tenants. There’s little question that some of these pirate operators have made considerable profits over the years that they wouldn’t have seen if they’d been following all the rules, not just the FCC’s.
There is, of course, no dial space left for more of the low-power FMs that the Globe would make available to these operators, nor any way for licensed stations to recoup the listenership they’ve lost over the years as pirates have cut into the signal coverage they’ve fought to retain. (Ask WUMB on 91.9, for instance, how much it’s suffered from a series of pirates that have squatted on 92.1 in Boston.)
Is the field level? Of course not; there are significant structural issues that do create unnecessary barriers to entry for broadcasters who’d like to operate legitimately. (Ask us, for instance, to put on our brokerage hat and talk about the incredible difficulty of obtaining financing for would-be new station owners, especially minority groups.)
But that doesn’t make the Globe‘s position right, either, and we’ll be interested to see what kind of pushback the industry offers.
*Speaking of “the industry,” we salute the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame as it moves into a new phase with the new year. It’s dissolved its independent 501(c)(3) organization, becoming a committee under the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association.
“We’re striving to make as seamless a changeover as possible,” the MBA said in announcing the change; we’ll be following closely to see how the Hall moves forward under its new management.
*In East Providence, RHODE ISLAND, the former studio building of WHJJ (920)/WHJY (94.1) has taken on an almost iconic status online over the last few years. Left largely intact but abandoned after then-Clear Channel moved the WHJJ and WHJY studios into Providence two decades ago, the two-story building at 115 Eastern Avenue became an inadvertent magnet for “urban explorers” who posted videos and photos of the old studios that in turn drew others to break in and have a look around.
(If you’re part of any radio group on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen these “ABANDONED RADIO STATION! HAUNTED!” videos posted every few months or so, and if you moderate any of those groups, you’re surely sick of seeing them by now.)
Whatever equipment was left behind was already fairly outdated and had long since been ruined by water and weather getting into the building. And the stations themselves, of course, were and are still on the air – WHJJ’s transmitter is a few miles away on Wampanoag Trail, while there’s a separate and well-secured building elsewhere on the Eastern Avenue property that houses the operating transmitters for WHJY, WLVO (95.5) and now for WPMZ (1110), which did in fact once have its transmitters inside the old studio building.
Why mention this again in this week’s NERW? Because at the end of December, Vertical Bridge, which bought the Eastern Avenue site from iHeart a few years back, finally razed the old building. (Not that it’s likely to stop the flow of “Look at this ABANDONED RADIO STATION” posts, alas…)
*Saga has given its “Outlaw Country” format a signal boost in NEW HAMPSHIRE, now that it’s closed on the $200,000 purchase of W295BL (106.9 Manchester) from Basic Holdings. That translator had apparently been relaying classical WCRB from Lowell, but is now simulcasting “Outlaw” from WZID (95.7)’s HD3, giving it analog coverage southward from its existing 103.1 translator that serves Concord to the north.
*In CANADA, Bell Media is beginning to make some use of the HD subchannels it’s added on its bigger FMs: Toronto’s CKFM (99.9) had already been carrying CFRB (1010) and CHUM (1050)’s talk and sports programming on its HD2 and HD3, and had lit up an HD4 with iHeart-provided Christmas music over the holidays. Now that HD4 has flipped to “Pure Country,” the national country format Bell launched in 2019, giving it a Toronto signal to go with the local Pure Country stations elsewhere in Ontario (including CJBX in London, CKQM in Peterborough and CKLC in Kingston.)
(We should mention here, too, that Evanov lit up new HD signals last fall on its CKPC-FM 92.1 in Brantford, extending the reach of its Toronto-area “Z103.5” and CHLO 530 on CKPC’s HD2 and HD3 channels.)
In eastern Ontario, there’s a new high-power relay in Dunvegan for the French-language community station CHOD (92.1 Cornwall), reports Canadian Radio News. The new CHOD-1 also operates on 92.1, with 20.5 kW, serving the Francophone community along the Ontario/Quebec border between Ottawa and Montreal.
And since we have a thing for those “VO-” callsigns that are holdovers from the days before Newfoundland was part of Canada, we note that VOAR (1210) in St. John’s will be leaving the AM dial for good on Thursday, a year after it launched VOAR-FM on 96.7. The religious station is one of three VO- calls remaining in Newfoundland, along with commercial VOCM/VOCM-FM (590/97.5) and religious VOWR (800), also in St. John’s.