In this week’s issue… Remembering Rita Houston and Chris Tobin – LI AM sells again – Jersey LPFM swaps for translator – Emmis’ NYC exit – FCC cracks down on pirates’ landlords – CRTC gives Ontario FM a choice
By SCOTT FYBUSH
(Barring major breaking news, this is likely to be our final weekly issue of NERW for 2020. With huge thanks for your support in this bizarre and difficult year, we’re finishing things up with our usual Year In Review, which you’ll find in this space starting Monday, Dec. 28 – and we’ll be back with our first NERW of 2021 on Monday, Jan. 4. Follow us @NERadioWatch on Twitter for breaking news from our region, and of course @RadioInsight for daily updates from around the nation. We hope your holidays are good ones, and we look forward to starting our 27th year of covering our region’s broadcast news two weeks from now.)
*It’s an especially sad end to the year at New York’s WFUV (90.7), which lost one of its signature voices on Tuesday with the death of veteran program director Rita Houston.
It had been just a couple of weeks since the Fordham University public radio station announced that Houston’s six-year battle with cancer had turned for the worse, forcing her to step down as PD (her assistant, Eric Gottlieb, has taken that role on an interim basis) and to hand off her beloved Friday night show, “The Whole Wide World,” to Delphine Blue.
Houston had been a part of WFUV for 25 years, arriving in 1994 at the start of the station’s turn to the AAA format that’s become the core of its identity on the New York airwaves. Her career began at Westchester Community College’s WARY, but she started professionally in off-air jobs, working at ABC Radio in production and engineering. She found her way back to the airwaves in 1988 at Westchester’s WZFM (107.1), working the evening airshift and playing an early version of a AAA playlist.
WZFM became WXPS, with a more pronounced AAA lean, but then shifted to harder rock as “X107,” WRGX. Houston cold-called WFUV in search of a new job, was hired for middays, and by 1996 she’d settled in as music director. In that role, she became one of the AAA format’s most important tastemakers, hosting innumerable live concerts on WFUV and in New York clubs, breaking new acts in the New York market (and beyond), and serving as mentor to musicians and DJs for decades.
Houston rose to the PD role at WFUV in 2012, bringing her early WZFM boss Paul Cavalconte back to the airwaves with a Sunday night show, “Cavalcade,” continuing an informal tradition in which WFUV became a refuge for air talents without a home in New York commercial radio.
It was another one of those commercial radio refugees, Dennis Elsas, who was on the air Tuesday to announce Houston’s death, suspending WFUV’s regular playlist for several hours of music in Houston’s memory.
And it was Cavalconte, on Friday night, hosting a special final edition of “The Whole Wide World,” recorded a few days earlier at Houston’s Nyack home as she shared her last music and words with WFUV’s listeners.
Houston is survived by her wife, WFUV new media director Laura Fedele, as well as several siblings. She was 59.
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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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