In this week’s issue… Arnie Ginsburg, 1926-2020 – Seven Mountains ready for Elmira flips – Philly AM sold – Great Eastern adds in Burlington – Sports flip in Ontario
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*This time, sadly, the news is real: Arnie Ginsburg, perhaps the most versatile and enduring air talent/station executive/mentor in the modern history of Boston radio, died Friday at his home in Framingham, MASSACHUSETTS.
For generations of Boston radio fans, Ginsburg’s career echoed in different ways: in the mid-1950s, he was one of the pioneering voices of top-40 radio when the format was still at the margins of the dial, as conductor of the “Night Train” on WBOS (1600) as that station pivoted from ethnic programming to pop music. Ginsburg, then in his late 20s, was a Brookline kid who’d been working behind the scenes engineering shows. His high-pitched voice was a far cry from the traditional radio announcer of the day, and he kept his own name back when that was a rarity.
Ginsburg followed the top-40 format to bigger stations: for the kids of the early 1960s, he was one of the signature voices of WMEX (1510), blowing the slide whistle that gave him his “Woo-Woo” nickname, promoting shows from artists as big as the Beatles, and relentlessly touting the Adventure Car Hop, where patrons could get their “Ginsburger” served on a 45 rpm record as a platter.
Later in the sixties, Ginsburg was recruited for an even bigger top-40 station, the 1967 launch of WRKO (680). Legal action from WMEX took him off the air not long afterward, but that turned out to be a good thing for Ginsburg in the end, because WRKO moved him into sales, where he turned out to be just as skilled.
Boston radio listeners of the 1970s might not have known as much of Ginsburg as an air personality, but they heard his management work: he started the decade as general manager of progressive rock WBCN (104.1), then moved to sleepy beautiful music station WWEL (1430/107.9) in Medford two years later. He was back on the air a year later playing weekend oldies on WBZ and then back at WMEX.
And then he returned to WWEL for what would turn out to be one of his most enduring stints: as a partner with entrepreneur John Garabedian, he presided over the worst-to-first flip that took WWEL-FM to top-40 (with a heavy disco flavor) as “Kiss 108” at the end of the decade. Ginsburg was credited with coming up with the WXKS call letters that replaced WWEL; he also managed the AM side there, introducing “Music of Your Life” to Boston listeners on 1430.
Into his fourth decade in Boston media, Ginsburg was still innovating: the Boston-area kids of the 80s who fiddled with UHF antennas to pull in the music videos that filled the airtime of WVJV-TV (Channel 66) might not have known who Ginsburg was, but there he was, working alongside another legend, John Garabedian, as part of the ownership/management team that briefly made “V-66” an unforgettable interlude in Boston TV history.
After selling WVJV, Ginsburg began easing into retirement, spending most of his time in southern Maine, where he became a fixture in the Perkins Cove neighborhood of Ogunquit. He married late in life, too: in 2016, he wed Carlos Vega, his longtime companion. And he continued to appear in retrospective shows on Boston radio, where he was known as a generous mentor to younger broadcasters.
Ginsburg had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; he was 93.
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This is a special year for our calendar – it’s the 20th anniversary for us, and the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. This special edition of the calendar will showcase the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations.
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*In upstate NEW YORK, change is coming to Elmira at week’s end. As we’ve been hinting to you over the last few weeks here in NERW, Seven Mountains has a big shuffle ready for Friday at its cluster of two AMs, six FMs and a whole passel of translators across the Southern Tier and into northern Pennsylvania.
Here’s what we’ve now pieced together:
The prime driver for the moves is to introduce Seven Mountains’ signature “Bigfoot Country” format into the market, where it already has some fringe coverage from the south via WNBT (104.5 Wellsboro PA) and WZBF (96.9 Ridgebury PA).
Elmira-Corning’s Bigfoot will be separately programmed from the former Community Broadcasters studios on College Ave. in Elmira, where the new cluster will be based. In a sprawling market that’s hard to serve with any one individual transmitter, Bigfoot will occupy three of the cluster’s FMs: WOBF (ex-WMTT) on 94.7 from Tioga PA will cover most of the southern half of the market, WQBF (ex-WPHD) on 96.1 from Crane Hill in Elmira will be at the core of the market, and WCBF (ex-WZHD) 97.1 Canaseraga NY will cover the Steuben County side of the market from Dansville down through Bath and Hornell. (There’s a translator for 96.1 on 107.9 to fill in Corning, at the edge of Steuben County.)
The current country entry, WPGI (100.9 the Wolf), will be sent to a farm somewhere in the country, with its Horseheads FM signal becoming the new full-power home of WMTT-FM, “the Met,” and its classic rock format. The Met will also continue to be heard on WWLZ (820 Horseheads, taking the WMTT calls) and WWLZ’s 101.3 translator that serves the I-86 corridor from Corning to Elmira Heights. Several of the existing WMTT translators will also stick with “The Met,” taking the feed from an HD subchannel of 96.1 and a new HD subchannel on 97.1, which is adding HD just to feed the translators.
The “Cool” classic hits now heard on 96.1 and 97.1 will move to their own new set of signals: the WPHD calls and Cool format will replace “Wingz” active rock on WNGZ (104.9 Montour Falls), up at the northern end of the market. “Cool” will also survive on HD subchannels of 96.1 and 97.1, feeding several translators including the 103.3 in Elmira that’s been doing hip-hop as “Hot 103.”
And “Wingz” will live on, too, using a combination of translators (93.1 in Elmira and 93.5 in Corning) and the smallest signal in the cluster, the little AM 1490 in Watkins Glen that’s been WRCE and will become WNGZ. (Which explains why 1490 started simulcasting “Wingz” a few months back, even though its coverage area is completely encompassed by the 104.9 signal.)
*In Buffalo, Paul Hamilton had a busy week: after having been furloughed from his role as Sabres beat reporter at Entercom’s WGR (550) at the start of the pandemic, his job was cut outright (as was Rosemarie Paternostro from the Entercom promotions department.) But the popular Hamilton wasn’t out of work for long: within days, he’d been hired by TEGNA’s WGRZ (Channel 2), where he’s labeled a “contributor” but has already been filling in as weekend sports anchor.
And while Fritz Coleman’s retirement was very big news in Los Angeles, where he closed out 40 years doing weather for KNBC (Channel 4) on Friday, we note that he was a familiar radio voice in Buffalo before heading west to seek fame and fortune in 1980. Coleman worked at WBEN and then in afternoons at WKBW (1520) in the Queen City, then went to LA intending to build a career in comedy until KNBC came calling in 1982. (Coleman’s still got comedy in his blood, and he says he intends to spend more time pursuing that goal now that he’s retired.)
*Out on Long Island, Connoisseur has swapped programmers at two of its stations, sending operations director Patrick Shea from classic hits WBZO (103.1 Max-FM) to hot AC WALK-FM (97.5) and sending Tommy Conway to WBZO. Shea will also take over from Conway in middays on WALK, while Conway will do afternoons at WBZO, replacing Long Island radio veteran Ralph Tortora in both the airshift and the PD chair there. Production director Sean Lynch moves from the night shift to middays to fill Shea’s former Max airshift.
*In NEW JERSEY, Salem has a new morning producer alongside Joe Piscopo at WNYM (970 Hackensack), as Joe Sibilia returns to the show to replace station mainstay Frank Morano. Where’s Morano headed now – over to WABC (770) to work with John Catsimatidis, whose show he produced at WNYM?
*In PENNSYLVANIA‘s largest market, WHAT (1340 Philadelphia) and its 99.9 translator are changing hands again. It’s a safe bet “La Kalle 99.9” will stay as a Spanish-language station when Matt Braccili and Victor Martinez’ VM Broadcasting takes over; VM owns Spanish tropical “Mega 99.5” (WEST/WHOL and translators) in Allentown-Easton. VM is paying $1.5 million for the Philadelphia signals.
Over in State College, Joe Wowk is the new market manager for Seven Mountains Media’s cluster. Wowk’s been running broadcast media operations for the Dealer World ad agency in Lehighton; he’s also been the PA announcer for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in Allentown. (And yes, we’re amused that a guy named Wowk will now have a portfolio of stations that includes WOWY, the classic hits station on 98.7).
And that LPFM that seems to get mentioned here mostly for changing its calls has done so again – but don’t go listening for the new “WNUZ-LP” calls on the former WLRI-LP on 92.9 in Gap, east of Lancaster, because the station has also gone silent, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. (This is call change number 25 in 17 years, if you’re keeping score at home.)
*Great Eastern is taking aim at the Burlington, VERMONT market with another simulcast: on Thursday, it took over WPLA (107.1 Dannemora NY), flipping that RadioActive LLC station from classic hits “Lake-FM” to a simulcast of Great Eastern’s “Frank FM” rock format from WRFK (107.1 Barre). The two 107.1 signals serve opposite sides of the greater Burlington area, with the Dannemora signal covering the New York side of Lake Champlain, the Barre signal strong to the east in central Vermont, and both 107.1s often clashing for listeners in and around Burlington itself.
Combining them with the simulcast should clean some of that up, especially once Great Eastern moves ahead on its stated intent to buy WPLA (soon to be renamed WWFK) from Randy Michaels’ RadioActive. It’s Jeff Shapiro’s second such move in just a few weeks, following on the start of its simulcast of Barre’s “Froggy” country (WWFY 100.9) on WJKS (104.3 Keeseville-Burlington) in mid-June.
*Congratulations to Heath Cole, who’s been promoted to VP/programming for Binnie Media’s stations in NEW HAMPSHIRE and MAINE. Cole, a veteran programmer, fills the shoes being vacated by Stan Bennett, who’s getting into ownership with the purchase of the former Gleason Media stations in western Maine.
“This weekly podcast features artist interviews with up and coming bands, bands that you already know you love, backstage antics, lifestyle topics like travel, motorcycles, tattoos, and skydiving, plus she continues her extensive work with the U.S. military, veteran’s community, and first responders,” says Carrie about her new outlet.
*Saga is applying to move one of its FMs across the Pioneer Valley: WRSI (93.9 Turners Falls) applies to trade its longtime site on the east side of the valley, up on “The Rock” overlooking Deerfield, to a new tower it will share with sister station WHAI (98.3 Greenfield) up at WHAI’s existing location in the hills west of the valley. WRSI will run 4.9 kW/111 m at that site, while WHAI will have 2.4 kW/111 m.
*In western CONNECTICUT, cuts at Townsquare meant the end of a 31-year career for Tim Sheehan at WRKI (I-95) in the Danbury market, where he’d been both PD and afternoon jock.
The former “90.5 Extra” is now “Alternative Rewind, freq 90.5” playing throwback modern rock, with minimal jock presence. Because of its specialty format license, it will continue to have a heavy load of local news, as well as Peterborough Petes and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey once games resume.
*There’s a new afternoon show in Ottawa, where Corus has pulled the plug on “Brooke and Jeffrey” (formerly “Brooke and Jubal”), the US-based syndicated morning show that it was carrying in the afternoons on “Jump! 106.9” (CKQB 106.9). The Ottawa station has moved middayer Jeunesse to afternoons, with Kella as the interim midday host.