In this week’s issue… Amp yields to Big in Boston – iHeart refreshes in Philly – CT AM lives – Plattsburgh FM flips – New FM in North Bay

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*Every few years, there’s a guessing game in Boston radio. For a long time it was “when will a full-time FM signal launch with an urban format,” then “when will the market get a country station on FM,” and then “when will sports radio land on FM.”

With all of those questions eventually answered over the years, the big question these last few years was “when will CBS Radio (and then Entercom) pull the plug on AMP top-40 on WODS?”

All the way back to AMP’s launch in 2012, the station never quite seemed to jell in a crowded Boston market. Up the dial, Clear Channel/iHeart had the mainstream top-40 audience locked down with its veteran “Kiss 108” (WXKS-FM), flanked by rhythmic top-40 “JAM’N” WJMN (94.5). Within the CBS/Entercom family, “Mix” (originally WBMX 98.5, later 104.1 and now WWBX) was a hot enough hot AC to significantly overlap the AMP playlist across the hall. The station AMP replaced on 103.3, with a heritage back to 1987 as “Oldies 103.3,” left behind a devoted listener base that likely would have followed it if it had moved in the same classic hits direction as its big brothers in New York (WCBS-FM) and Philadelphia (WOGL).

Instead, that classic hits void ended up getting filled across town at Greater Media/Beasley’s WROR (105.7), while AMP floundered at the bottom of the ratings. There were opportunities for flips at big transition points: when CBS exited radio in 2017-18 and AC “Magic” WMJX came over to the revamped Entercom cluster, for instance, it could have been a chance to take Mix closer to full-fledged CHR and free up 103.3 for something new.

Yet as AMP’s ratings continued to move down toward a 1, the format somehow survived. Entercom’s cutbacks in April ended T.J. Taormina’s morning show after more than seven years, with his former producer taking interim host duties until…

Until, for whatever reason, 10 AM Wednesday. After giving what remained of the AMP staff half an hour to say their farewells, Entercom pulled the trigger at long last, relaunching 103.3 as “BIG 103, Music Unleashed.”

But it’s not classic hits in the successful model of WCBS-FM and WOGL. Instead, the new “BIG” is more of a variety hits station ranging from the 1980s through the 2000s. That’s a format that’s been missing from Boston since 2011, when Entercom killed off “Mike FM” (WMKK 93.7) in favor of what turned out to be a wildly successful move of WEEI’s sports format to FM.

(In the sort of irony we enjoy so much here, it was WMKK’s own flip to variety hits back in 2005 that was widely believed to have preempted a plan by CBS back then to flip WODS from oldies to “Jack.”)

So how does Entercom’s move rearrange Boston’s music radio scene now? There weren’t many top-40 listeners to move from AMP to anywhere else: in April’s ratings, WODS drew just 1.0 (6+), compared to 7.3 for iHeart’s Kiss. AMP’s online presence was quickly redirected to Mix, which is already pretty hot for a hot AC.

Entercom’s strategy with Big now likely depends on siphoning off listeners from WROR, which drew a 6.8 in April. Even if Big gets only a fraction of WROR’s audience, there’s a prize there for Entercom: while most of its music lineup has leaned heavily toward female listeners since the big 2018 realignment, the new Big (which will be jockless for now, and which will soon take the calls WBGB) has the potential to draw more male listeners – and especially since selling off WAAF a few months ago, Entercom has had only WEEI to attract the male audience that advertisers value.

And with this latest Boston radio question answered, what’s the new one we’ll all be pondering? Our money’s on “when will iHeart bring WBZ’s news format to FM?” Let the speculation begin…

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*We don’t do quite as much Philadelphia speculating here, but there was certainly reason to wonder how long iHeart was going to keep modern rock “Radio 104.5” WRFF hanging on with middling ratings.

The answer, as it turns out, is “a while longer, with some fresh paint.” At noon last Monday, WRFF relaunched the station as “Alt 104.5,” with new imaging and a day of commercial-free music. Middayer Amber Miller moves up from assistant PD to PD, filling the void left by the January iHeart cuts that pulled PD/morning man John Allers out of the WRFF lineup.

*In other Pennsylvania news, Bob Harvey has died. “Captain Bob” began his Pittsburgh radio career as an airborne news and traffic reporter for KQV (1410) in the 1960s. Harvey’s career as a reporter and anchor at KQV continued into the 1990s, when illness forced him to retire. He had been battling lung cancer when he died Wednesday (May 27), at 75.

Over in Latrobe, WCNS (1480) is applying for a new frequency for its translator, proposing to move the present W247CX from 97.3 to 107.5 with a little more signal to the north and west of Latrobe. And Youngstown State University’s WYSU (88.5 Youngstown OH) has been granted a move of its New Wilmington translator from 89.9 to 89.7.

And a late bit of news early this Monday morning: Seven Mountains is adding to its Williamsport holdings with a $100,000 deal to buy WEJS (1600 Jersey Shore), WLYC (1050 Williamsport) and three translators from the receiver handling Colonial Radio Group’s bankruptcy. The AMs and translators will add to another translator on 94.7 that Seven Mountains is buying from Family Life Ministries.

*Radio Sharon Foundation wants to make a big move with the translator it recently bought from Rowan College: W236AF (95.1) is applying to move from Burlington, NEW JERSEY, where it was relaying the old WBZC (88.9), to a new 160-watt facility on the WPST (94.5) tower on Route 1 aiming into Trenton, with a frequency change to 98.5. For now, Radio Sharon is proposing to have the translator relay Catholic WFJS (1260 Trenton), but we’d expect that to change before the move happens.

*The group of Gleason Media stations that went dark in late March in western MAINE won’t stay silent for good. Bennett Media Group, owned by former Binnie Media programming VP Stan Bennett, is paying $300,000 for the licenses, along with the transmitter sites and a studio in Norway, Maine.

The signals he’s getting are the former country “WOXO” on 92.7 and simulcast WRMO (100.7 Mexico), the former hot AC “Maine’s Big Z” on WEZR (1240 Lewiston)/WPNO (1450 South Paris) plus translators on 105.5 and 96.9, and the former sports WTME (780 Rumford), and we wish him well as he works to get them back on the air.

*It’s been a year now since Quinnipiac University signed off WQUN (1220) in Hamden, CONNECTICUT, but the station’s license is being kept alive. With new calls of WATX, the 1220 signal lit up again last week with a filler format of NOAA weather radio. The university tells the New Haven Register‘s Luther Turmelle that it’s working on a deal to sell the 1220 license to an as-yet-unnamed buyer.

WILI AM 1400
WILI AM 1400

Another Nutmeg State AM is silent, but only temporarily: WILI (1400 Willimantic) took down its aging 400-foot tower last week, saying the structure wasn’t safe and couldn’t be maintained.

WILI is now rushing to replace the tower with a shorter Valcom whip antenna so it can get the news-talk AM station back on the air, along with its translator at 95.3.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, Kyle Grimes has been named to fill the big shoes Bill Fine leaves behind as general manager of Hearst ABC affiliate WCVB (Channel 5) in Boston.

Grimes, who’ll start the new job July 1, moves to Boston from Hearst sister station WGAL (Channel 8) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but he has New England experience – before WGAL, he was general manager at Hearst’s WPTZ/WNNE in VERMONT. No replacement has been named yet at WGAL.

*The RHODE ISLAND Radio and Television Hall of Fame won’t hold a 2020 induction ceremony after all. After initially postponing its planned ceremony from April 30 to Sept. 24, the hall announced last week that it’s instead pushing the event to the spring of 2021, with the same slate of inductees. No firm date has been announced yet.

The Ocean State lost one Hall of Famer last week: Jean “Gentleman Gene” DeGraide was a 2008 inductee, with a career that went back to 1947 at Woonsocket’s WWON (1240, now WOON). DeGraide later worked at WJAR radio in Providence and WKRI in West Warwick, as well as on TV at WJAR-TV and WPRI. DeGraide was 97 when he died last Monday (May 25).

*There are formats flipping in northern NEW YORK: Loud Media (the Ricki Lee/Aaron Ishmael partnership) switched from rock (“107.1 Plattsburgh Rocks”) to a wide-ranging classic hits format as “107.1 Lake-FM” on WPLA (107.1 Dannemora) last Monday. (The station is owned by Randy Michaels’ RadioActive LLC, but operated by Loud, and the “Lake” format was previously heard on WRGR 102.1 down in Tupper Lake.)

To the west, Tim Martz’ Cartier Communications is applying to move WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay) back to its original transmitter site. WYUL currently shares a site south of Malone with sister station WVNV (96.5), where it runs 50 kW/137m as a C2; its old site east of Malone near Brainardsville has remained in use as an aux site, and now WYUL wants to go back there with 11 kW/180m. WYUL, of course, targets a Montreal rimshot audience with its “Hits FM” format, and the move would give it more signal to the east and a smidge more toward Montreal.

*In Buffalo, George Hamberger was a versatile air talent whose long run on the airwaves included stints at progressive WYSL-FM (103.3, where he started in 1969), WYSL (1400), WGRQ (96.9), WKBW (1520), WBEN (930) and finally WGR (550), with a stop across the border along the way at CFTR (680 Toronto) in its top-40 days. Hamberger moved into real estate sales in the 1990s, but did weekends on WHTT (104.1) until 2001. Hamberger died May 29.

*A familiar callsign is coming back to CANADA, where the CRTC has granted Vista Radio a new signal on 90.5 up in North Bay, Ontario. Vista’s new station will carry a classic hits format, with 45.8 kW/145.5m ND – and it will carry the callsign CFCH. That’s one of the oldest calls in Canada, dating back to 1922 in Iroquois Falls, followed by a move to North Bay in 1930. The original CFCH ended up on 600, changing calls to CKAT in 1996; it’s now part of a three-station Rogers-owned cluster that competes with Vista’s existing North Bay signal, “Moose FM” CFXN (106.3).

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