In this week’s issue… Remembering Harry Harrison – More cuts, exec moves at iHeart – Entercom realigns in Philly – Format change in WNY – Veteran PA morning man steps down – CRTC to Evanov: Again, no Toronto upgrade
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*At the end of a month when the idea of “radio personality” seemed to be discounted by some of the biggest companies in the business, the news of the death of legendary NEW YORK morning man Harry Harrison came as a reminder that there was a time when a friendly voice and pleasant demeanor was still enough to make a kid from Illinois into a big star in the biggest radio market in the country.
Harrison grew up in Chicago and started as a summer replacement DJ at WCFL, but his first big break was a couple of hours away in Peoria. Starting in 1954, he took WPEO to the top of that market – and back then, that was enough to land a gig in New York, where he became one of the “Good Guys” at WMCA (570) in 1959, doing middays as part of the city’s first truly legendary jock lineup.
In 1968, as WMCA began its slide away from top-40 toward talk, Harrison was recruited to rival WABC (770), where he took the morning slot that had long belonged to Herb Oscar Anderson. The smooth transition – he was on WMCA on Saturday afternoon and on WABC the next Monday morning – was an immediate success. Harrison became the last puzzle piece in the transition from WABC’s stodgy old network-flagship days to “Musicradio 77,” winning over the morning audience one listener at a time as he saluted birthdays and anniversaries, treating metro New York like a big small town.
Harrison made just one more move in his long, stable career, and it would turn out to be his longest: after the end of his WABC run in 1979, as the station tried to skew younger in a last bid to sustain “Musicradio” against the rise of disco and FM, he was snapped up in early 1980 by WCBS-FM (101.1).
The oldies station was a perfect fit for the Morning Mayor, where he was soon joined by WABC colleague Ron Lundy. His WCBS-FM show allowed him to keep playing the music he made famous at WMCA and WABC, while giving him new on-air colleagues including colorful weatherman “Mr. G.” and Phil Pepe on sports. Harrison remained a CBS-FM fixture almost to the end of the station’s oldies era, stepping down from mornings in 2003 but returning for a Saturday morning show in 2004 that lasted until WCBS-FM flipped to “Jack” the next year.
Harrison remained in touch with his fans, in part through the social media efforts of his daughter, Patti; his last public appearance was in November, when he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He died Jan. 28 at his home in New Jersey, at age 89.
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*Meanwhile in the radio world of 2020, the slow drip of iHeart cutbacks continues, affecting even little corners of programming that couldn’t possibly have been very expensive for the huge company. In Syracuse, for instance, we already knew that urban “Power 620” WHEN had lost PD Kenny Dees – but as syracuse.com dug into the cuts at the local cluster, it turned out they went deeper.
Rick Wright, for instance, has spent his life doing radio, including many years running WAER (88.3) and advising WJPZ (89.1) at Syracuse University, where he retired a few years ago as a professor. But he remained involved in the community as host of WHEN’s weekend talk/music show, “Old School Sundays” – at least until it disappeared with no announcement and no warning a few weeks ago.
“It was handled horribly. And we should have been given some warning,” Wright told syracuse.com about the cuts, which also eliminated another weekend show, Cora Thomas’ “Gospel Powerhouse,” leaving WHEN with a lineup that includes no local talent on weekdays and only a handful of paid religious shows on weekends.
(Kudos to syracuse.com for diligently tracking this story, including a long Sunday feature that revealed there are now more radio stations in iHeart’s Syracuse lineup than there are local voices on those stations.)
*A few other smaller bits of news from upstate New York: in Hornell, PMJ Communications has flipped WCKR (92.1) from hot AC (“Fun 92.1”) to sports as “92.1 the Team.”
Citing expensive music royalties as the reason for the switch, WCKR says it will continue to emphasize local programming, though most of the format (at least initially) will come from CBS Sports Radio. WCKR’s sister station, WLEA (1480), is mostly syndicated talk; Hornell’s other station, WKPQ (105.3), now operates its country format from Corning, at the other end of Steuben County.
In Buffalo, Buddy Shula strikes again: his oldies station, WECK, has hired another local radio veteran. Cindy Chan (“the Zeppelin Fan”) was a staple for years on the air at “97 Rock” WGRF, and now she’s been hired for an as-yet-unspecified role as part of WECK’s growing air staff.
*It’s not just iHeart making job cuts – it’s Entercom, too, even on its home turf in PENNSYLVANIA. In Philadelphia, the company is being blunt about its desire to reduce talent payrolls to focus more money on staffing its digital ventures. That means no more live night shifts at AC WBEB (B101) or classic hits WOGL (98.1) – and a shuffling of the lineup at WOGL that moves Marilyn Russell out of her morning co-host gig.
Glenn Kalina goes solo in mornings, with Russell on the air for just a two hour shift, from 10-noon. Then it’s Bobby Smith from noon to 6, two hours of Angela Mason from 6-8… and if you’re still listening to WOGL after 8, it’s just music and liners until Kalina’s show the next morning. Nicky G., who’d been doing middays and was WOGL’s music director, is out.
Meanwhile at iHeart, several executives were promoted last week: Brit Goldstein moves up from area president for Wilmington/Salisbury to area president for iHeart’s entire Pennsylvania region. (Under the company’s new market-size structure, “Pennsylvania” includes all of iHeart’s Keystone State stations except the big-market Philadelphia and Pittsburgh clusters; it also encompasses the region stretching down to Salisbury, Maryland that Goldstein had already been running.) Nick Mickley becomes market president for Harrisburg, Reading and Lancaster (moving from SVP of sales for Pennsylvania), and Dave Hovel moves up from Wilmington/Salisbury SVP/programming to SVP/programming for the entire Pennsylvania region.
In Scranton, promotions coordinator Mark Hoover moves up to PD at Shamrock’s WEZX (Rock 107), where he also does afternoons.
And in the Poconos, some sad news from WABT (96.7 Lehman Township), where Gary Smith has stepped down from his “Gary in the Morning” show, ending a run that started back in 1990 across town at WSBG (93.5). Smith had mostly been off the air since the death of his co-host Elisa Chase in early January, and while he’d tried to return briefly, he told listeners last week that he just couldn’t keep doing the show without Chase.
Owner Bud Williamson told listeners it’s been a difficult month at the small station after Chase’s sudden death:
“While a larger broadcast company would have immediately plugged in a syndicated morning show from far away, our company is much smaller, local and respectful. We will not do that. Following the Gary In The Morning Show is no easy feat and our mission to place another show is enormous. That search has begun, and our goal is to have someone waking up the Poconos as quickly as possible along with restoring important elements that were featured on the show.”
*In CONNECTICUT, the convention center in Hartford was packed last week as friends, colleagues and viewers remembered the life of WFSB (Channel 3) anchor Denise D’Ascenzo, who died suddenly in early December. Among the memorial tributes for D’Ascenzo will be a new street address for WFSB, which is working with local officials in Rocky Hill to change its address to “3 Denise D’Ascenzo Way.”
In New Haven, iHeart has added an FM translator to its news-talk AM signal, WELI (960), which is now also heard at 96.9 via W245DK, broadcasting from Mad Mare Mountain in Hamden just below sister station WKCI (101.3).
*Broadcast regulation is often as much about politics as it is about physics, and so it goes in CANADA, where the CRTC has once again rejected an attempt by Evanov to improve its signal reach in and around Toronto.
More than two years after submitting the latest version of its application, Evanov learned last week that it won’t be allowed to move its CIRR (103.9) in Toronto to 103.5, where it hoped to bump power up from its present 225 watts to a full-metro 20 kW signal. The tradeoff Evanov proposed was to adjust its current 103.5 signal, CIDC (Z103.5) in Orangeville, moving it to 103.7 and directionalizing it northward into Cottage Country and away from Toronto.
While the CRTC acknowledged that the proposal was technically sound and would better utilize the scarce available spectrum in and around Toronto, it faced a sea of objections from other broadcasters who have long objected to what they see as Evanov’s attempt to back-door a move of the Orangeville signal and format into the bigger Toronto market. So the CRTC’s decision hinged on what it said was an incomplete case for CIRR’s power upgrade: its ruling found that Evanov failed to present evidence that the current 103.9 signal required more power to become economically successful. And it explicitly rejected Evanov’s suggestion that a more robust Toronto signal would provide revenue that could be used to support Evanov’s other operations in smaller Canadian markets.
(The CRTC also balked at Evanov’s plans to move CIRR’s current “Proud” LGBTQ-oriented format to an HD Radio subchannel, though it notes that in the absence of a formal licensing scheme for HD Radio in Canada, Evanov is free to ask for permission to experiment further with digital radio.)
Will Evanov try again? While the CRTC hasn’t warmed to any of its proposals so far, there’s also little for the company to lose by filing another application, perhaps this time with more of the hard evidence of 103.9’s signal weaknesses that the agency said was lacking this time.
*To the east, the CRTC has opened a call for comments on a proposal to add one last FM signal in Ajax/Pickering, where 91.7 is the final remaining open slot on the dial. We told you late in 2019 about one application for a new station there, and now the CRTC has set Feb. 9 as the deadline for comments on whether the market can support another ethnic station and whether a call for applications should be opened.
In the Maritimes, the CRTC has approved Maritime Broadcasting’s proposal to formalize its power reductions at CFBC (930 Saint John NB) and CKAD (1350 Middleton NS). CFBC, which has already been running at reduced power, would officially drop from 50 kW to 2 kW days and 150 watts at night, non-directional; CKAD would go from 1 kW to 400 watts at night, also dropping its directional array.