In this week’s issue… Broadcasters continue pandemic scramble – CBC cancels local TV news – Chuck Igo to go – Townsquare cuts in Maine – WMEX flip delayed again
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How do you even lead off a column like this in times like these?
We all need to stick together to get through the next weeks, and probably months – and then whatever it will look like as our industry and communities begin to rebuild from all the disruption and damage caused by the need to bring them to a halt to try to save lives.
Here at NERW and Fybush Media, we’re trying to do our best to provide useful information and ideas for you, which is why we’ve launched a new series of Top of the Tower podcasts (in collaboration with RadioInsight) covering as many aspects as we can of the one big question – how do we all survive these unprecedented times?
We launched last week with a very practical question: how do you keep your mics and headphones clean and safe? This week, we’ll show you some ideas for making audio sound as good as it can from locations far outside your regular studio, and we’ll tackle some of the legal questions facing broadcasters right now. And we want to hear your ideas for future installments, too – what issues are vexing you that we might be able to help you solve?
What else does our new reality look like? For the time being, it means we’ll be starting off the column each week with some of the biggest developments as radio and TV in the northeast adjust to the pandemic:
No local news for CBC TV in Canada. While many news operations add broadcasts – NBC, for instance, has added new 7 or 7:30 PM shows at owned-and-operated stations, as well as extending its 11 PM newscasts for an additional 25 minutes and delaying the Tonight Show repeats that usually run at 11:35 – Canada’s national broadcaster moved in the opposite direction last week with the temporary cancellation of all of its local TV newscasts around the country. In place of the usual hour of local news at 6 and half-hour at 11, CBC stations have been carrying CBC News Channel national content, with a promise (as yet only awkwardly executed) to include local content from each newsroom in those national shows.
While the local newsrooms remain open to produce radio and online content, CBC officials cited staffing and safety issues at the national TV master control in Toronto for the move, which is already drawing considerable opposition. Will the CBC be forced to find some way to return those local newscasts to the air – especially in places like Charlottetown, P.E.I., where there is no commercial TV station doing local news?
CBS Broadcast Center remains closed. One of the biggest disruptions stateside has been at the sprawling complex on W. 57th Street in Manhattan, where the CBS Broadcast Center is still undergoing cleaning and disinfection after several workers there became ill. WCBS-TV (Channel 2) anchors spent part of the week doing shows from the sidewalk on 57th Street before relocating to Stamford, Connecticut, where the studio normally used for Yankees pre- and post-game shows on the YES Network has been sitting mostly idle. “CBS This Morning” is now broadcasting from the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater a few blocks to the east, while Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” remains shut down. CBS Radio News continues operating from Washington, while CBSN and the “CBS Weekend News” are originating from other CBS stations around the country. (This past weekend, “Weekend News” came from KTVT in Fort Worth/Dallas, with a local anchor there at the helm.)
College station shutdowns continue. With almost all colleges now shut down for the rest of the semester, more of their radio stations are falling silent in the absence of students to keep them running. Boston College’s WZBC (90.3 Newton) is on full automation now, for instance, and it’s no doubt just one of many stations that may not return to the airwaves for quite a while now that campuses are locked down and students and volunteers are unable to access studios.
At a few stations, dedicated volunteers are finding workarounds – WRHU (88.7) at Long Island’s Hofstra University is setting up two remote locations that can feed live programming to the station’s transmitter and stream, providing some much-needed musical comfort when it’s most needed.
Going remote whenever possible. As shutdown orders and health concerns increase, broadcasters are clearing out their studios of as many people as they can. Sinclair’s local TV stations, for instance, have gone to single-anchor formats to avoid putting staff closely together at their anchor desks. Radio and TV hosts are working from home or remote locations as much as possible, and that picture has been changing so fast there’s no way to keep up with who’s doing what from where in our usual detail.
Sales down – and staffing, too? As the businesses that usually advertise on radio and TV shut down for the duration, so too do most of their advertising budgets, which means cutbacks in staffing are coming at many stations. As you’ll read deeper into the column, Townsquare has already begun reducing some of its staffing, and we’re hearing it won’t be alone.
How can broadcasters find ways to keep doing what they’re doing, keep staffers employed – and keep revenue as high as possible, considering? We’ll be talking to the experts about that on upcoming podcasts, too.
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*In MASSACHUSETTS, today won’t mark the relaunch of Ed Perry’s WMEX (1510 Boston) after all. Instead of going to a daytime oldies format – the move Perry had first planned to make two weeks ago, then delayed because of technical problems – WMEX will instead continue its simulcast of Perry’s flagship WATD (95.9 Marshfield) for a while longer. What’s more, Perry dropped his separate programming on WBMS (1460 Brockton) Friday evening, returning that station to a WATD simulcast for the duration of the crisis.
He’s now tentatively aiming to relaunch WMEX and WBMS on May 4, but of course any target date for anything is highly subject to change right now.
*There’s more coronavirus news on Boston’s radio dial: WGBH (89.7) has launched a nightly hour, “In It Together,” weeknights at 7. The new show, hosted by Arun Rath, displaces WGBH’s simulcast of PBS NewsHour to 8 PM, which in turn replaces a replay of “The World.”
*How about some non-virus news?
We have the first images of what’s being planned for the eventual replacement of the WBZ-TV/WSBK studios on Soldiers Field Road in Allston, thanks to a lengthy filing with Boston development officials by National Development, the aggressive company that’s acquired the present WBZ studio site and adjacent parcels.
National’s plan for WBZ calls for a 55,000-square foot, two-story building (with covered parking underneath) that would be built just east of the present WBZ facility, on part of its current parking lot along with the adjoining corner parcel at 1200 Soldiers Field Road, which was itself once home to WBOS (92.9) and the old WSSH (99.5).
Unlike the present WBZ building, which is an agglomeration of additions and renovations built around the original 1947-48 Westinghouse radio/TV studio, the new building would be a more compact, sleek facility clad in glass and metal – and with much more of a public face looking south toward Allston, not just north toward the Charles River as the original building did.
Whenever the new building gets finished, National would be left with a sizable parcel for much bigger development on the footprint of the existing WBZ building, just one of several big projects the company has underway. (Ironically, another is along Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, where a multi-use planned project will eventually once again displace WBOS, now part of the Beasley cluster that will lose its present building at 55 Morrissey.)
*In southern CONNECTICUT, Connoisseur has added a partial FM simulcast for the talk and information programming on WICC (600 Bridgeport): its Paul Pacelli afternoon show is now also being heard on classic rock WFOX (95.9 Southport) for the duration of the crisis; WFOX has also started simulcasting the Chaz and AJ morning show from sister WPLR (99.1 Hamden) again.
Just up the road at WSHU (91.1 Fairfield), talk host Ron Ropiak is out and his daily talk show, “The Full Story,” has been cancelled. The station says it needs to reallocate limited resources to covering coronavirus news and the upcoming elections, and that it hopes to relaunch local talk on a weekly basis later on.
In Hartford, Entercom’s WTIC (1080) is giving its weekend “Healthy Rounds” talk show more prominence on weekdays during the pandemic; last week, the show preempted several days of substitute hosts during the Rush Limbaugh timeslot from noon to 3, and now WTIC is airing the show on weekdays from 6-8 PM for the duration.
Chuck Igo, who’s been doing mornings at Saga’s WYNZ (100.9 South Portland) since 2003, says his final show will be this Friday, March 27.
“Like most, I’ll never say never again – but for now, I’m going to try to repay my family for too many years of lost time,” he tells NERW about his decision to retire. Igo, a Maine Broadcasting Hall of Fame inductee, started his Portland career in 1979 while still in the Navy, began working full-time at WGAN (560) two years later, and then spent many years shuttling between Portland and various Boston stations, including WHDH, WBZ, WKLB and WROR, before joining WYNZ in 2001 and taking the morning shift two years after that.
*Across town, AJ Dukette is out as brand manager and morning man of Townsquare’s WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH-Portland) after more than four years with the AC station.
What happened? Apparently it was part of what look to be nationwide job cuts at Townsquare as the company deals with the revenue hits that all of radio is taking right now. AJ, who’s got a long history in the region (he was with Binnie in New Hampshire before WHOM), is doing voiceover work and looking for what’s next.
Down I-95 at Townsquare’s Portsmouth, NEW HAMPSHIRE cluster, Sammy Cruise exits after just six months as operations manager and as brand manager for WOKQ (97.5). Sarah Sullivan, brand manager for WSHK (105.3)/WSAK (102.1), adds OM duties for the cluster, while WOKQ midday jock/assistant brand manager Jess Tyler takes on brand manager duties there.
*The Townsquare cuts also hit in NEW YORK‘s Hudson Valley, where Brian Baylee (Brian Thompson) is out from the midday slot at country “Wolf” (WCZX 97.7/WZAD 97.3).
Here in Rochester, retired morning host Steve Hausmann is back on the air temporarily at Entercom’s WBEE (92.5), and it’s not clear (at least to us, so far) what’s going on with his successor and former co-host, Jeremy Newman. He’s still listed on WBEE’s website, but there’s also a petition online calling for his return from what appears to be his ouster over something said on the air last week. We’ll be following this story as it develops…
The former “Z99.9” now has a new LMA operator, Victor Martinez’ VP Broadcasting. “VJ Mar” has changed the station’s slogan to “La Kalle 99.9” and focused the music more on salsa and reggaeton; it’s now being operated in tandem with VP’s “La Mega” stations in the Lehigh Valley and Reading.
*While the CBC’s national news changes dominated the news in CANADA, one commercial group was headed in a more local direction: Stingray decided on Monday not to launch the US-based “Breakfast Club” on its CFXJ (Flow 93.5) after all, and will instead keep local morning hosts Blake Carter and Peter Kash in place to provide a local voice for the duration of the emergency. Carter and Kash were to have displaced afternoon host Mastermind, who will end up staying with the station after all, at least for now.