In this week’s issue… Rochester hosts fired (again) – Station owner recovering from shooting – Fewer live voices in Syracuse – New FM in Philly – Montreal AM silenced
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Oh, yeah – May 26, 2014, when we reported on the dismissal of a controversial pair of talk hosts here in Rochester: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a remarkable thing. It protects my rights – and yours, on this Memorial Day – to stand on our front lawns, or in the town square, or here on the Internet, and proclaim our opinions as loudly as we’d like about just about anything. But what it doesn’t do – and has never done – is to guarantee us the right to use a soapbox we don’t own to express an opinion without backlash and consequences. Over the years, we’ve chronicled the misfortunes of plenty of broadcasters who’ve forgotten that distinction, and last week it hit home again right here in this column’s hometown of Rochester, NEW YORK, where Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck are now the former morning hosts at Entercom’s WBZA (98.9 the Buzz).
Four months later, “Kimberly and Beck” were back on the Rochester airwaves as the new afternoon hosts across town at what was then Clear Channel. And six years later, the duo are once again former hosts, quickly dropped from what’s now iHeart’s WAIO (95.1 Honeoye Falls) after once again moving from their usual spot just barely on the safe side of the line between “edgy” and “about to prompt massive listener and advertiser backlash.”
The specifics almost aren’t worth the recounting – after years of using their platform to incite division, Ray and Beck stepped over the line Tuesday with a discussion of one of the more troubling videos from the protests that had gripped the city the previous weekend. The actual “n-word” never made it on the air, not that it ended up mattering. The clip of their comments rocketed around social media within just a few hours, and by late Tuesday night iHeart regional management had already made the decision to fire the hosts.
While some of the trades described WAIO as a “classic rock” station, that’s not accurate; as NERW readers know, iHeart had built “Radio 95.1” in recent years into perhaps the last of the new hot talk FMs. The station was built around Rochester veteran Brother Wease, who was never quiet about his displeasure sharing the frequency with Kimberly and Beck in the afternoon. But it was Wease’s news anchor, Deanna King, who was loudest about her loathing of the Tuesday comments, tweeting late that night that she’d refuse to go on the air the next morning unless the duo were fired.
The Wease show ended up running a best-of Wednesday, while midday hosts John DiTullio and Bill Moran avoided discussing the issue. The DiTullio/Moran show has been temporarily extended all the way from 11 AM to 6 PM, running a mix of new segments and best-ofs. (When the Wease show returned to the air Thursday, there was still no discussion of Kimberly and Beck, apparently at corporate’s directive.)
It’s unlikely at best that there will be a third act in Rochester for Ray and Beck; if their first firing back in 2014 somehow didn’t make them too toxic for other stations to touch, this one certainly should be, especially in the (one hopes) more enlightened environment of 2020. And what happens to WAIO’s unique format now? There’s community pressure on iHeart to find more diverse hosts to fill the vacancy – but at a time when the company has continued to cut back on local content, it’s also entirely possible the talk may give way to more generic music as the dust settles.
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*If there wasn’t much sadness around the Rochester media community at Kimberly and Beck’s ouster (Ron Howard, offscreen: “There wasn’t.”), the story was different at the next iHeart cluster to the east along the NEW YORK State Thruway.
Rich Lauber, who was the very first voice heard at the launch of country on 104.7 (then WKFM) in Syracuse way back in 1993, was also (as best we can tell) the last local voice on any of iHeart’s music stations in the city when he was let go Wednesday from his role as operations manager, senior VP of programming and afternoon jock on what had become top-rated country station WBBS (B104.7).
“Shanna,” who showed up on the B104.7 afternoon schedule Thursday, is tracked from sister station WMIL in Milwaukee, where she’s known as “Quinn” (a Buffalo native, she’d also been heard at WRVE in Albany.) Now every music shift on B104.7 and sister stations WYYY (Y94), WWHT (Hot 107.9) and WHEN (Power 620) is either syndicated, tracked or automated – with just one local shift, mornings, on talk WSYR (570/106.9), though there’s a Syracuse-exclusive afternoon talk show there hosted by Rochester’s Bob Lonsberry. (And in an odd twist, former WYYY morning co-host Pat McMahon had actually just returned to iHeart, where he had the uncomfortable role of being Kimberly and Beck’s producer, where he could be heard trying to stop the hosts from driving their careers over that cliff last week.)
Lauber’s exit means the end, at least for now, of a 35-year Syracuse radio career that started at WYYY in the mid-80s.
*And we’re sending best wishes for a speedy recovery to JVC Broadcasting owner John Caracciolo, who’s on the mend after a scary incident a week ago at his Kissimmee, Florida home. In an interview Friday on his WRCN (LI News Radio 103.9), Caracciolo shared the details of an attack in which he was shot in the head by a man trying to steal a car from the garage. Miraculously, the bullet passed through Caracciolo’s head without penetrating his skull or causing any brain damage – he was sent home from the trauma unit after only a short visit, saying the staples he was given at the ER hurt more than the actual gunshots. (You’ve really got to go hear the interview…)
*In southern NEW JERSEY, WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton) has a new identity: the full service/AC station rebranded last week from “SNJ Today” to “Pop FM 99.9, the Power of Positivity.” That cheerful new slogan was inspired in part by the station’s morning show, “The Positive Perspective,” which remains on the station from 8-10 weekday mornings.
Up the shore, Matt Ryan has a new gig in addition to his on-air and assistant PD jobs at Townsquare’s WJLK (94.3 the Point) in Asbury Park: he’s replaced Lisa Paige as host of the nationally-syndicated “Pop Crush Nights.”
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Beasley is shifting staff at its Philadelphia cluster: Chuck Damico moves down the hall from the PD gig at adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7) to take over as PD of sports “Fanatic” WPEN (97.5). Damico will remain assistant PD at WMMR (93.3), and Eric Camille, who’s been the Fanatic’s interim PD since Eric Johnson left the job last year, will continue as APD/OM at the sports station.
A new translator-based format in Philadelphia makes its official launch today: W264BH (100.7 Mount Holly NJ), fed by the HD3 of Beasley’s WJBR (99.5 Wilmington DE), has been on the air for a couple of weeks now as “Philly’s Favor 100.7” with a black gospel format. The translator, which sold to Fred Weinberg for $1 million a few months ago, is being operated under LMA by JamJackJr Enterprises LLC, and most of its hosts are syndicated, including Dee Lee’s morning show.
Eugene Lothery, who was the last general manager of WCAU-TV (Channel 10) in Philadelphia under CBS ownership, has died. Lothery had a long career with CBS that also included service in Boston as VP/GM of WEEI (590/103.3) from 1974-1981, VP of CBS Radio’s AM stations division, VP/station manager of WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York, VP/GM of the CBS TV Stations Division and VP of operations at CBS in New York after the WCAU sale closed in 1995. Lothery was living in Atlanta when he died May 31, at 78.
Mike Ebersole was a 23-year veteran of WLBR (1270)/WQIC (100.1) in Lebanon, where he anchored morning news and sports reports, hosted middays on WQIC and was a sports PA announcer for several area schools. Ebersole had been ill for several months. He was 53 when he died Thursday.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Beasley will be losing a PD and national brand manager at the end of the month, after veteran programmer David Corey couldn’t work out a new contract with the company. Corey had been serving as PD of WKLB (Country 102.5) in Boston and as Beasley’s national country format brand manager.
On Martha’s Vineyard, Hilary Greene is the new director of underwriting for noncommercial WMVY (88.7), returning to radio after serving as executive director of the American Red Cross’ Cape and Islands chapter; her sales career had included stops in Boston at WBMX, WBCN and WFNX, as well as on the Cape at WCOD.
*WGBH’s “East Cambridge” translator is poised to change channels again: after starting out in the late 1980s on 97.7, W242AA moved to 96.3 in 1992, operating with just 5 watts from the same Eastgate tower on the MIT campus as WMBR (88.1). But with demolition of the Eastgate building set to start in the next few months, both WMBR and W242AA are poised to move. WMBR already holds a CP to move to a new MIT building across the street, and now WGBH is applying to move the translator to that structure as well – albeit on 97.3 instead of 96.3, with 25 watts and a somewhat broader DA pattern aimed eastward for more coverage of Boston’s Back Bay and the east side of Cambridge.
(The translator was said to have been paid for originally by a wealthy donor who had trouble with the main WGBH signal at a home on Beacon Hill across the Charles River; in more recent years, it’s been fed by WGBH’s HD2 as a relay of classical WCRB 99.5.)
Will New Bedford’s WJFD (97.3), which fiercely fought off a proposed 97.3 translator in Worcester last year, object to the WGBH move? The Cambridge site is within WJFD’s 45 dBu contour, which would give the Portuguese-language station standing to file interference complaints.
*Where do old Boston callsigns go to retire? For Entercom, the answer lately seems to be Scranton, Pennsylvania, for some reason: after parking the WAAF calls there when it sold 107.3 to EMF a few months ago, Entercom has also moved the WODS calls to Scranton now that Boston’s “Big 103” has officially changed calls to WBGB.
You can now hear both “WAAF” and “WODS” in the same legal ID, in fact: while WAAF is now on Scranton’s 910 (ex-WBZU), WODS has now replaced WKZN on 1300 in West Hazleton, another part of the “WILK NewsRadio” simulcast network based at WILK (980)/WILK-FM (103.1) in Wilkes-Barre.
*And we remember Scott Beels, who was known to all in radio as “Bumper Morgan” over a 43-year career that included NERW-land stops at WBZZ (B94) in Pittsburgh and at multiple stations near his Cape Cod home, among them WXTK, WCOD, WPXC and the Frank-FM stations. As a production guru and VO/imaging pro, his voice work was heard nationwide for many years. Beels was 59 when he died May 24, a year after being diagnosed with ALS.
(While he had a stop in Pittsburgh, Beels shouldn’t be confused with an earlier “Bumper Morgan,” Frederick Merrin, who came from Binghamton to a long Pittsburgh career before his death in 2005.)
*In CONNECTICUT, Mark Graham was best known for his decade of ownership of WMMM (1260 Westport), from 1987 until the station was donated to Sacred Heart University in 1997. Graham, who died in late May, started doing radio in high school, interned at WMMM in the 1970s, then worked at WTBQ in Warwick, N.Y. and at Connecticut’s WMMW (1470 Meriden), WSTC (1400 Stamford) and, in 1988, at KMOX in St. Louis.
Graham was 64.
CHRF (980 Montreal) was an iffy proposition from the beginning: the result of a call for new AM applications in the city following the move of Bell’s CKGM from 990 to 690 in 2012, it was Toronto-based Evanov that won a new AM license, promising a French-language “Radio Fierté” to parallel its English-language LGBT-focused “Proud FM” in Toronto.
After relocating from 990 to 980 (reversing the move CKGM had made decades earlier), CHRF hit the air in early 2015, but the LGBT talk format lasted only ten months before Evanov pulled the plug in late 2015. Since then, CHRF has operated largely with automation, taking some stabs at adding Haitian programming along with a soft AC format modeled on Evanov’s English-language “Jewel” stations.
But on May 31, Evanov returned the CHRF license to the CRTC for cancellation, taking the station silent just before midnight. The handful of remaining CHRF staffers and live shows will move to Evanov’s multi-ethnic sister station, CFMB (1280), reports Steve Faguy.
CHRF’s closure is just part of a bigger set of problems for the Montreal AM dial: two other AMs, co-owned CJMS (1040) and CJWI (1410), face a CRTC hearing in a few weeks for continued non-compliance with the terms of their licenses, while TTP Media’s two barely-there AMs, CFQR (600) and CFNV (940), have never fully launched, and CFQR has reportedly been on and off the air in recent weeks.
Acadia Broadcasting’s CKBW (94.5 Bridgewater, plus transmitters in Liverpool and Shelburne) had been running a hot AC format, but as of noon Friday it became “a thing of the past,” flipping to classic hits from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s with a promotional message heavy on the idea that the familiar music will help buoy listeners’ moods as they cope with the pandemic and lockdowns.