In this week’s issue: Tower down in Elmira – Boston’s “Harbor” launches to mixed reviews – WGBH buys PRI – Roser sells Utica AMs – Remembering Philly’s “Butterball” – Two Pennsylvania AMs go dark
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*In a year that’s been full of natural disasters from coast to coast, the tornado that cut through Elmira, NEW YORK on Thursday didn’t get much national attention. But the 110-mph, EF-1 twister took a damaging course for the city’s broadcasters, knocking out power to the Hawley Hill TV/FM site on Elmira’s west side and then partially toppling a tower just south of downtown.
The storm’s immediate aftermath Thursday evening found power out in much of the city and most of Elmira’s radio and TV dial dark as a result. NBC affiliate WETM (Channel 18) was especially hard-hit, losing both power to its transmitter on Hawley Hill and the fiber connection to its hubbed master control at WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse. WETM was back on Time Warner Cable screens late Friday, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the over-the-air service (which also feeds satellite viewers and outlying cable systems) was fully restored – and in the meantime, it was ABC/CBS affiliate WENY-TV (Channel 36) providing coverage of the storm to viewers lucky enough to have power.
On the radio, most of the FM dial, including WENY-FM (92.7) on South Hill and WLVY (94.3)/WOKN (99.5) on East Hill, was also off the air Thursday night in the absence of generator power, returning on Friday as power was restored. Pembrook Pines’ WELM (1410)/WEHH (1600) remained on the air from their Lake Avenue studio/transmitter facility just north of the storm’s path.
But the worst damage came just south of downtown on Milton Street, where the city’s oldest AM tower, home to WENY (1230), did not survive the tornado’s fury.
The storm bent the top of the 430-foot self-supporting tower, damaging it beyond repair and taking the 1230 signal off the air indefinitely.
It also ended a long chapter in Elmira’s radio history, dating back to the early 1920s when the Elmira Star-Gazette (the first paper in the Gannett chain) partnered with Cornell University in Ithaca, 35 miles away, to put WESG radio on the air.
As a 1000-watt daytimer, WESG was licensed to Elmira, owned by Cornell, leased to the Star-Gazette and operated from studios in both Elmira and Ithaca in what must have been a most unusual arrangement for the time.
It wasn’t long afterward when the newspaper and the university went their separate ways: Cornell kept the 850 facility (moved to 870 in 1941) for what became WHCU, while the Star-Gazette won a new full-time license on 1200 (soon moved to 123o) under the WENY callsign. It was right about then – 1939 – that the Milton Street tower went up to serve WENY, and it had been there ever since, becoming a landmark for drivers along nearby Route 17.
Now owned by Sound Communications, WENY plans to replace this tower as soon as it can work out the insurance details; it’s not yet clear whether the new tower will be another self-supporter or a guyed tower, or whether it will be as tall as the now-damaged 1939 tower was. We’ll keep you posted…
*The week’s other big development from upstate New York was up in Utica, where what initially appeared to be an LMA of Roser Communications Network’s two AM signals instead has turned into a sale. CNYRadio.com reports former WKTV (Channel 2) executives Tom Coyne and Frank Abbadessa will pay Roser $350,000 for WUSP (1550 Utica, formerly WUTQ) and WRCK (1480 Remsen, returning to its WADR calls while Roser keeps “WRCK”), along with FM translator W238CA (95.5). Roser moved his soft AC/talk “WUTQ” format from the AM/translator combo to what’s now WUTQ-FM (100.7 Utica) earlier this year, and Abbadessa and Coyne’s “Good Guys Broadcasting Corporation” is already running the AMs and 95.5 under an LMA, programming a mix of sports and leased time.
*In Owego, Dave Radigan had plenty to celebrate last Friday: his WEBO (133o) marked both its 55th anniversary on the air and the grand re-opening of its downtown studios after last year’s flood forced Radigan and his staff out of their storefront studio across the street. The flood came less than five years after Radigan had bought the station and built the new studios (and a new transmitter site, plus a new FM translator at 107.9), and it’s a tribute to his dedication to the Owego community that he’s put everything back together so quickly.
*In eastern MASSACHUSETTS, Clear Channel dominated the news at the start of the week as we – and everyone else – waited for the launch of “101.7 the Harbor,” the new WHBA (101.7 Lynn). Clear Channel’s $14.5 million purchase of the former WFNX evidently took a couple of extra days to close, and so the WFNX webstream kept airing on 101.7 until about 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, when Clear Channel finally took over the facility.
After weeks of intense secrecy about Clear Channel’s plans for 101.7 (pierced only by our discovery of the WHBA calls a week or so ago and Lance Venta’s confirmation a few days later on Radio Insight that the new station would be called “The Harbor”), the reality turned out to be not very surprising at all. When Clear Channel finds a formula that works, it tends to repeat that format around the country – and so the recent launches of adult hits as “the Lake” in Cleveland and Charlotte ended up being pretty good previews of what was coming to Boston.
“Safe” is probably the best description of the new format, which is running jockless and commercial-free for the rest of the summer. It launched with Dierks Bentley’s “5-1-5-0” followed by the Standells’ “Dirty Water” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and the music that’s played since then has all been carefully-tested hits from the 1970s through today, interspersed with liners by actor Ken Hudson Campbell.
It’s about as far opposite as it gets from the modern rock that WFNX played, and ‘FNX (now in its online-only incarnation) isn’t holding its tongue about what’s become of its old FM home: in a Facebook post over the weekend, it referred to “the awful nonsense that now resides on 101.7 FM,” and then went on to take a slap at Boston.com’s “RadioBDC” (where many former WFNX staffers are now toiling) as “that New York-owned corporate newspaper’s knockoff station that hasn’t launched yet. ”
So what is there to say about “The Harbor”? Not much more, really: it’s clearly designed to fill the hole for “variety hits” that was vacated last fall when Entercom killed off “Mike FM” (WMKK 93.7) in favor of WEEI-FM. If “Mike” never broke any new ground in radio programming, it was at least cheap to run and reportedly quite profitable, and that’s evidently more attractive to Clear Channel than any of the riskier, costlier moves (FM talk, Spanish, and so on) that it might have made.
“The Harbor” probably won’t do as well as “Mike” did, if only because its signal (a class A facility transmitting from downtown Boston, with only limited coverage outside the Route 128 beltway) is more limited than the class B 93.7 facility. Once it settles in somewhere in the middle of the ratings pack, it probably won’t get written about much in this space, because it probably won’t make much in the way of staffing or programming moves. But it will give Clear Channel’s sales team another set of demographics to sell that’s somewhat older and more male than the Kiss 108 (WXKS-FM)/Jam’n (WJMN) top-40 audience and considerably younger and less male than the “Talk 1200” (WKOX) audience. (And in the process, Clear Channel no doubt hopes to at least pull a bit of audience away from Greater Media’s WROR (105.7) and WMJX (106.7) and CBS Radio’s WBMX (104.1).
*It’s not often that a local radio station buys a national network, but Boston’s WGBH (89.7) is no ordinary local station, and it could be argued that Public Radio International (PRI) is no ordinary national network these days.
On Thursday, WGBH announced it’s acquiring PRI and will continue to run it independently from the network’s Minneapolis headquarters. PRI is probably best known right now as the U.S. distributor of the BBC World Service, but it lost those rights at the beginning of July to rival American Public Media, the Minnesota Public Radio subsidiary that also produces “Marketplace” and “Prairie Home Companion.” (Confusingly, Minnesota Public Radio was also one of PRI’s co-founders back in 1983, when the network was known as American Public Radio.)
PRI’s most prominent products these days include “This American Life”; “The World,” the daily news hour produced by WGBH and the BBC; “The Takeaway,” the New York-based morning show that’s moving to middays this fall; the CBC’s “Q” and “As it Happens” – and “Here and Now,” the midday show that’s produced by WGBH’s big Boston public radio rival, WBUR.
National program production and distribution is nothing new to WGBH – on the television side, of course, it’s one of the biggest sources of material for PBS. For the radio side of WGBH, which is still trying to define itself three years after taking 89.7 to nearly fulltime news and talk, the addition of PRI promises to be a significant shot in the arm: not only will WGBH get first crack at new PRI programming, ahead of WBUR, but WGBH-produced programming will have a natural path toward national distribution. And that, in turn, promises to make WGBH a pretty important player in an era when public radio stations will be looking for new programming as existing favorites (“Car Talk,” for instance) wind down.
*Meanwhile on the AM dial, Jeff Santos’ “Revolution Boston” progressive talk lineup disappeared from WWZN (1510 Boston) last week, and while Santos is blaming “technical problems,” it’s hard to imagine what sort of technical issue could take Santos’ local show and the syndicated fare he programmed away from AM 1510 while Santos was still able to originate his show’s webcast from WWZN’s own studio in Marina Bay, Quincy. Santos had lost much of his syndicated lineup a few months back when Dial Global pulled shows such as Ed Schultz and Stephanie Miller, apparently hoping to place them somewhere else in Boston. For now, WWZN is carrying Yahoo! Sports Radio programming while it’s presumably looking for a new leased-time operator.
*On TV, Hearst’s group-wide deal with the “MeTV” network will bring the rerun-heavy service to WCVB-TV (Channel 5)’s 5.2 subchannel sometime later this year. “MeTV” is already seen in two spots in the Boston market, on WMFP (Channel 62) and on the 9.2 subchannel of Hearst’s WMUR in New Hampshire. It will stay on WMUR’s 9.2, but it’s not clear what happens to WMFP’s affiliation when WCVB adds MeTV to its lineup.
We’ve been remiss in not sharing the roster for September’s Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame induction: this year’s class includes WCVB meteorologist Dick Albert and newsman Jim Boyd, former WBUR general manager Jane Christo, Kiss 108 morning veteran Matt Siegel, WBZ-TV anchor Jack Williams, engineering executive George Capalbo and station owner Joseph A. Ryan. In addition to those seven living inductees, there are seven posthumous additions: WJDA/WESX founder Jim Asher, sports announcer Leo Egan, pioneering female broadcaster Priscilla Fortescue, WBZ traffic legend Joe Green, radio hosts Bill Marlowe and Gus Saunders and longtime news director and educator Jim Thistle.
They’ll be inducted into the Hall on September 13 at a luncheon at the Boston Marriott Quincy Hotel hosted by WBZ’s Jordan Rich. The ceremony will also include a special appearance by Tom Bergeron, who was inducted into the Hall in 2007 but couldn’ t break away from his busy TV schedule to attend that year.
*Out on Cape Cod, John Garabedian’s Codcomm group has found a new home: it’s paying $380,000 for a building at 243 South Street in Hyannis that used to be home to a law office. With Terri Gamble now at the helm as VP/general manager, the Codcomm stations (WPXC 102.9, WFRQ 101.1 and the future WHYA 93.5) are hoping to move from West Yarmouth to the new Hyannis digs by early September.
*In MAINE, the Bangor Baptist Church is spinning off its radio holdings to a new group, Lighthouse Radio Network, Inc., led by church pastor Tom Obey. Lighthouse will pay the church $100 for WHCF (88.5 Bangor), WHMX (105.7 Lincoln) and translators in Ellsworth, Orono, Hodgdon and Calais, and its filing with the FCC suggests WHMX may flip from its own “Solution FM” programming to a simulcast of WHCF’s own religious programming.
Up the coast in York County, Port Broadcasting is adding an FM translator to its new WWSF (1220 Sanford): Carl Strube and Pete Falconi are paying Light of Life Ministries $75,000 for translator W272CG (102.3 Biddeford).
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA, they’re mourning Joe Tamburro, one of those very rare, very lucky radio guys who managed to spend an entire career at one station. For Tamburro, that station was WDAS (1480/105.3), where he broke in way back in 1964 as a sales guy but soon persuaded station managers to put him on the air as a rare white voice playing R&B music.
Dubbed “Butterball” for his girth – and commonly known simply as “Butter” – Tamburro became a WDAS fixture and an institution in the Philadelphia community. Over the decades, “Butter” served on and off as WDAS’s program director and operations manager. In recent years, Tamburro was focused mainly on reviving WDAS (AM), where he presided over a reinvigorated classic R&B format and had been tracking afternoon drive.
Tamburro died on Friday, at age 70.
*There’s a new translator coming to Wilkes-Barre. Bold Gold is seeking to move W265BM (100.9 Folstown) north from the Nanticoke area into Wilkes-Barre, moving it down the dial to 100.7 and using it to relay WYCK (1340 Plains), part of its “Game” sports-talk network. The translator would boost power from 5 watts to 99 watts, operating from WYCK’s AM tower near the I-81/PA 309 interchange east of downtown Wilkes-Barre.
If the WRQQ calls ever made it on to EMF Broadcasting’s “K-Love” station in Halifax, north of Harrisburg, they didn’t last long: parked there when EMF swapped the former WLVU calls to its new purchase in the Nashville market, “WRQQ” has now gone back to Cumulus, which owned the Nashville-market 97.1 signal. That means the Halifax station is now WKHW, while WRQQ has replaced WCDV on Cumulus’ 103.3 down in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana market.
*Out in western Pennsylvania, Keymarket has returned two small AM licenses to the FCC for cancellation. It’s been a long time since AM 1340 in Connellsville (formerly WCVI) or WASP (1130 Brownsville) had offered their own programming; both daytimer WASP on 1130 and the fulltimer 1340, more recently WBGI, were simulcasting FM sister station WPKL (99.3 Uniontown).
WBGI becomes, interestingly, the fourth signal on 1340 in the region to be taken dark, three of them by Keymarket or associated entities: in recent years, the 1340 signals in Steubenville, Ohio (WSTV), Oil City (WOYL) and Grove City (WSAJ) have all fallen silent.
*In NEW JERSEY, Gary Cee has a new job: the WPDH (101.5 Poughkeepsie) veteran is the new operations director at Clear Channel’s Sussex County cluster of WSUS (102.3), WNNJ (103.7) and WHCY (106.3).
*This is the week when CANADA‘s national public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, is shutting down its remaining analog transmitters, including big ones in cities such as London, Kitchener, Sudbury and (in French) Halifax and Charlottetown. And the CBC is not the only public broadcaster shutting down analog service: last week, the CRTC granted applications from Ontario’s provincial broadcasters, TVO and TFO, to eliminate many of their smaller analog transmitters as well. TVO will silence more than 100 low-power signals in small towns, mostly up north, as well as higher-powered analog services in 14 communities including Kingston, Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins and Peterborough (see the whole list here); TFO will go dark in Sudbury, Hawkesbury, Lac Ste-Thérèse and Pembroke.
*And in Shawinigan, Quebec, we’ve been remiss in not reporting the application from Radio Shawinigan’s community station CFUT for a move from 91.1 to 92.9, with a power boost from 199 watts/9.2 meters to 3.7 kW/123.4 meters.
Yup, we’ve been doing this a long time now, and so we’re digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five, ten and – where available – fifteen years ago this week, or thereabouts.
Note that the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as “New England Radio Watch,” and didn’t go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997.
One Year Ago: August 1, 2011 –
The ranks of major-market independent broadcast owners are a little smaller this week. Rick Buckley, longtime CEO of Buckley Broadcasting, died of a brain embolism Sunday morning, a few hours after taking ill at his Hamptons beach home Saturday afternoon.
Buckley was a second-generation broadcaster, son of former WNEW (1130 New York) executive Richard D. Buckley, Sr., who partnered with WNEW colleague John B. Jaeger in 1957 to form Buckley-Jaeger Broadcasting.
The elder Buckley started his company with the purchase of WHIM in Providence, but soon added a second signal, WDRC (1360 Hartford) – and it was that station that became the core of the Buckley broadcast holdings, which grew to include stations in San Francisco, Seattle, the Los Angeles suburbs and Minneapolis.
Buckley-Jaeger Broadcasting became simply Buckley Broadcasting in 1968, when Jaeger sold his interest in the company, and with the death of Richard Buckley Sr. in 1972, the company ended up in the hands of Rick Buckley, then overseeing sales at the company’s California stations, who guided it to success over four decades.
In addition to WDRC/WDRC-FM (102.9) and its eventual Connecticut sister stations, Buckley expanded the company into other markets as close as Syracuse (WSEN/WFBL) and as far afield as Monterey/Salinas and Bakersfield, California – and he took a big gamble in the late 1980s with the $25 million purchase of WOR (710 New York), turning what had become largely a medium-market broadcast group back into a major-market broadcaster with a single big-ticket purchase.
Under Buckley’s leadership, WOR carved out a distinctive niche: as an unapologetic stand-alone AM, it’s maintained a somewhat old-school on-air sound featuring veteran broadcasters such as Joan Hamburg and the venerable Gambling family even as it’s been a technological trailblazer, launching its own national talk network, building a new tower site in the New Jersey Meadowlands, becoming one of the first test beds for HD Radio and leading the eventual flood of stations moving their studios from midtown Manhattan to less-expensive digs in lower Manhattan.
For his accomplishments and his considerable service to the broadcast industry, Buckley received a plethora of honors, most recently his June induction to the New York State Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame.
Buckley is survived by his wife, Connie, who serves as director of human resources for the company, and by his daughter, Jennifer, who serves as sales manager of WOR, as well as by numerous other Buckley family members who are involved in the family business, including his sister Martha Buckley Fahnoe, a board member, and her son Eric, who’s general manager of WDRC and its Connecticut sister stations.
*Another longtime NEW YORK broadcaster died last week as well. Robert Lessner was one of the founders of Beacon Broadcasting Corporation in 1967, making WBNR (1260 Beacon) the start of a broadcast group that grew to include WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie), WENE/WMRV in Binghamton and WTHT in Portland, Maine. Lessner began his career as a sound engineer (including work on “Candid Camera”), and he appeared on-air at WSPK for many years as “Word Builder Bob” during WSPK’s morning show with Mark Bolger. Lessner sold his radio stations in the mid-1990s, but continued to own the Mount Beacon tower site until 2006. He died July 25 at age 77.
*One of the worst-kept secrets in Buffalo radio in recent years has been the plan to sell public broadcaster WBFO (88.7) to its longtime crosstown competitor, WNED. Even before both stations acknowledged way back in February 2010 that they were talking about joining forces, there was little question that the State University of New York was looking to unload its Buffalo radio operation.
It took longer than just about anyone expected, but last week finally brought the official word that WNED’s parent, the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association, will pay $4 million for WBFO and its Southern Tier simulcasters, WUBJ (88.1 Jamestown) and WOLN (91.3 Olean), merging those signals into an operation that already includes WNED-TV (Channel 17), classical WNED-FM (94.5)/WNJA (89.7 Jamestown) and news-talk WNED (970), whose programming has increasingly overlapped with WBFO in recent years.
There’s no LMA as part of this deal, so the existing WBFO operation on UB’s South Campus will continue until the sale closes, probably sometime later this year. When it does close, it’s still not clear how much of WBFO’s staff will come downtown to WNED’s headquarters. With a sale in the offing, the WBFO news operation has succumbed to some attrition in recent years as veterans such as Mark Scott and Mark Wozniak have retired or moved to part-time status, but there’s still a solid core of newspeople there, led by news director Eileen Buckley, as well as a small but equally solid group of music programmers who’ve been largely cut back to weekend duty since WBFO went full-time news and talk on weekdays a few years back. WBFO station manager Mark Vogelzang, who was hired on an interim basis back in 2009, will move on after the sale closes; it’s possible that some other WBFO staffers will stay with UB in other capacities.
*When Andy Roth departed the PD chair at Entercom’s WGR (550 Buffalo), the initial speculation was that he was headed to a bigger job within Entercom. The “bigger job” part turns out to be true, but not the “Entercom” part. Instead, Ohio Media Watch reports that Roth is now in place at CBS Radio’s Cleveland cluster, where it’s believed he’ll become the PD of a new FM sports-talker that will replace either classic rock WNCX (98.5) or active rock WKRK (92.3), challenging Good Karma Broadcasting’s WKNR (850) and, indirectly, the Clear Channel cluster that holds most of the market’s play-by-play rights that are spread across several non-sports stations.
In Rochester, veteran WHAM (1180) program director/station manager Jeff Howlett is out – and that’s about as much as we know about what’s going on at the Clear Channel news-talker, where officials aren’t even confirming that Howlett’s gone after just over 25 years with the station. (Howlett himself, who has a long history in Rochester radio, hasn’t returned NERW’s messages either.) Operations manager Dave LeFrois is handling programming for WHAM and sister station WHTK (1280/107.3).
Another bit of Rochester broadcast history quietly disappeared this month: as the city of Rochester continues to raze the former Midtown Plaza property, work crews recently took down the old WVOR (100.5) antenna and supporting tower that went up on the Midtown office tower back in 1963 when both the station and the plaza were new.
WVOR moved its transmitter out to Baker Hill decades ago, and its studios moved out of their second Midtown Tower location, in the 17th floor penthouse just below the tower, in the 1980s, and now the demolition crew is stripping the tower (which also once housed the studios of WBBF/WMJQ) down to the bare steel as it awaits rebirth as a new office tower.
(As for the other radio history at the Midtown complex, the Forman building that later housed WBBF has already been razed, and demolition is underway now on the Euclid Building where WVOR – and eventually the entire Lincoln Group/Jacor/Clear Channel cluster – later operated.)
*More upstate TV news: In Buffalo, there’s a new identity coming to independent station WNGS (Channel 67), which becomes WBBZ-TV today. New owner Philip Arno says the new calls stand for “Buffalo’s Buzz,” and that’s what he’s hoping to create with an ambitious plan to launch a slate of local programming from new studios in the Eastern Hills Mall. The station is moving its current This-TV programming to a subchannel as it affiliates with the growing MeTV network – and that’s just part of a sudden burst of new MeTV affiliations up and down the Thruway, as the Chicago-based program service also lands on subchannels of Hubbard’s WHEC-TV (Channel 10) in Rochester and WNYT (Channel 13) in Albany. Albany recently added an Antenna TV affiliate as well, on the 51.2 subchannel of WNYA.
*Smooth jazz has been fading away on the airwaves for the last few years, and now two of the last smooth jazz outlets in NERW-land have signed off within days of each other.
Central PENNSYLVANIA was the last sizable market on the U.S. side of our coverage area to still have a terrestrial smooth jazz station, WSJW (92.7 Starview) – but it’s gone now, replaced late last week by nonstop stunting en route to a new format. “Listenership to Smooth Jazz in this area never reached predicted levels,” says the station’s placeholder website.
(Early Monday morning, 92.7 flipped to classic rock as “92.7 KZF,” with new calls WKZF; an alert NERW reader notes that one more small-market smooth jazz outlet survives in the region, independently-owned WEIB 106.3 in Northampton, Mass.)
Fans of real jazz, meanwhile, have a new outlet in the Steel City: “Pittsburgh Jazz Channel” makes its official launch today at PGHJazzChannel.net, kicking off with a 24-hour Tony Mowod marathon. The new service picks up where WDUQ (90.5) left off before being transferred to the new Essential Public Radio operators a month ago, and it has not only Mowod but several other ex-DUQ’ers behind it, including former WDUQ chief engineer Chuck Leavens, who’s running the show now at the PubRadio programming service that includes the Pittsburgh Jazz Channel.
*In Erie, they’re mourning one of the market’s best-loved radio voices. Frank Martin started out in Erie radio back in 1954 and spent most of his career at WJET, first as a top-40 “Good Guy” at its original home at 1400 on the AM dial and later at WJET-FM (102.3), where he was half of the popular Martin and Warvel morning team. Martin (whose real name was Francis Wambaugh) later went on to WFGO (94.7, now WXBB) before retiring in 2003. Dubbed “The Morning Mayor” by a former (real) Erie mayor, Louis Tullio, Martin was inducted into the hall of fame at the Museum of Radio and Television in 1994. Martin died last Monday after a struggle with lung cancer; he was 85.
*Another college radio voice is disappearing from the RHODE ISLAND FM dial. On the heels of Bryant University’s move of its student broadcasts from WJMF (88.7) to an HD subchannel, Brown University’s student-run Brown Student Radio is gone from WELH (88.1 Providence) as of today.
The BSR/WELH situation was always an odd one, since BSR didn’t own WELH. The station belongs to the private Wheeler School, which leases out most of its airtime to other groups. BSR had been airing on WELH from 9 PM-3 AM daily, but the school terminated that lease-time deal in July, telling BSR it plans to lease the newly-upgraded 88.1 signal to a new 24/7 tenant.
BSR will continue as a 24/7 online service at BSRLive.com.
*And while Bruce Sundlun is being remembered primarily for his late-in-life political role, serving as governor of Rhode Island from 1990-1994, he’s being recalled in the broadcast world for his role two decades earlier at the helm of the Outlet Company, where he took a clothing retailer that owned a legacy broadcast signal, WJAR in Providence, and transformed it into a broadcast conglomerate that at one time owned radio stations from Los Angeles to Washington and a sizable cluster of TV signals as well. Sundlun died July 21 at age 91; his survivors include his daughter, Kara Sundlun, who’s now an anchor at Hartford’s WFSB (Channel 3).
*Earlier in the column, we noted that the last smooth jazz signal on the U.S. side of NERW-land has gone dark. But WSJW wasn’t the only smooth jazz station wrapping things up last week: in CANADA, where CIWV (94.7 Hamilton) was the last major-market smooth jazz operation remaining, the format’s also going away.
In place of the smooth jazz that’s been a staple on “The Wave” since the station signed on in 2000, the frequency is flipping this morning to country as “KX 94.7,” with new calls CHKX. That’s the same imaging as on Durham Broadcasting sister station CJKX (95.9 Ajax) across Lake Ontario, east of Toronto, but the new “KX94.7” won’t be a straight simulcast of “KX96” up in Durham Region.
Durham plans to continue “The Wave” as an online streaming service, at least for now – and it’s not at all clear what Hamilton’s existing country station, CHAM (820), will do now that it once again has an FM competitor. (The last time an FM station challenged CHAM, it responded by flipping to talk, only to return after the FM station, CING 95.3, dropped country for classic hits.)
*A venerable set of MASSACHUSETTS call letters will move to yet another spot on the dial (just over the state line in NEW HAMPSHIRE, actually) on Wednesday. That’s when Costa-Eagle will move the WCCM calls and talk format down the dial from its present home on Haverhill-licensed 1490 to the 1110 signal that’s licensed to Salem, NH.
1110’s current occupant, Spanish talk “Impacto” WCEC, will take over the 1490 signal – and listeners who’ve been following the “WCCM” identity around the dial will have to adjust their presents for the second time in five years.
It was back in August 2002 that Costa-Eagle dislodged WCCM from the most potent signal in its cluster, the Lawrence-licensed 800 facility that had operated as WCCM since 1947, in order to install Spanish tropical WNNW (previously at 1110) on the 800 signal. WCCM in turn replaced the equally venerable WHAV on 1490 – but that signal, while licensed for fulltime operation, was hard to hear in much of the Lawrence area even by day, and nearly impossible at night. That, in turn, made it vaguely pointless for WCCM to carry some of the Lawrence-oriented programming it had carried, not to mention Lowell Spinners baseball, which was heard on 1490 for several years as well.
The latest move will bring WCCM’s signal back to more solid coverage of Lawrence and vicinity, but at a price – the 1110 signal signs off at sunset, with no night power at all, so there still won’t be local sports on the “new” WCCM. As for WCEC on 1490, the Hispanic population in and around Haverhill continues to grow, so that half of the move promises to be successful – but we still vividly remember the days, not all that long ago, when Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell each had multiple local English-language radio voices, too, and it’s sad to think that the days of the old WHAV, WCCM and WLLH are long gone.
*In Worcester, Clear Channel has signed on a new translator for WJMN (94.5 Boston). W235AV (94.9 Tatnuck) runs 235 watts from the WSRS (96.1) tower in Paxton, reinforcing the “Jam’n” signal in Worcester County at the expense of the fringes of WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH).
*Back in 1980, NEW YORK‘s WNBC-TV (Channel 4) blazed a new path for TV news when it debuted “Live at Five,” one of the first local TV newscasts to air an hour earlier than the usual 6 PM slot. Now the station is getting out of the 5 PM news race, effective September 10. That’s when it will pull the plug on the latest version of “Live at Five,” moving anchors David Ushery and Linda Baquero to the 6 PM slot long held by Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons. That, in turn, frees up Scarborough to anchor a new 7 PM newscast, leading out of the Brian Williams national news at 6:30, while Simmons will cut back her schedule to 11 PM only. The 5 PM slot will be filled by “Extra,” followed by the “News 4 You” feature-laden 5:30 newscast anchored by Perri Peltz. The station will also add hourly news updates from 11 AM until 5 PM on weekdays.
Clear Channel’s Rochester cluster has been trying some very interesting non-traditional revenue tactics with one of the lesser signals in its arsenal, the class A on 107.3 (currently doing country as WCRR) that’s licensed to South Bristol Township. It’s stunted in recent years as “Huge Radio” (for a local car dealership), and now it’s spending the rest of the summer as “Labatt Blue Country 107.3,” having sold what amount to naming rights to the station. (Can “NERW Country 107.3” be far behind?)
The soap opera that is WKPQ (105.3 Hornell) added a few more chapters last week, and we’re still trying to sort them all out. Here’s what we do know so far: the big FM signal is back in the hands of longtime owner Bilbat Radio for the moment, as an LMA to Anthony Panetta appears to have fallen apart. The LMA, which started in April, was part of a larger deal that was to have resolved the long-running legal battles between Bilbat and regional group owner Pembrook Pines over WKPQ’s ownership – but now we’re hearing that the deal that would have given WKPQ to Pembrook Pines in exchange for WABH (1380 Bath) and $400,000 in cash may be dead. In the meantime, WKPQ is again simulcasting with Bilbat’s WHHO (1320 Hornell), which kept the “old” WKPQ format going after the FM went into the LMA. Stay tuned…
While we’re down around Pembrook Pines’ home base in Elmira, we note that the market’s one step closer to a new FM move-in. The FCC last week approved the reallotment of The Radio Group’s WFLR-FM from 95.9A in Dundee to 95.5A in Odessa, rejecting Bible Broadcasting Network’s proposal to allot 95.5A to Savona, in Steuben County. The Odessa signal would be an Elmira rimshot, and would supersede the construction permit WFLR-FM already holds to move to 95.5 at the Dundee site.
In Utica, we can put a sale price on at least part of the big transaction that involves Galaxy Communications, Clear Channel, Ken Roser and EMF Broadcasting – the sale of Galaxy’s big-signal WRCK (107.3 Utica) to EMF will add $1.225 million to Galaxy’s bank accounts.
We’re still waiting to hear how much Galaxy’s paying for Clear Channel’s 5 FM/4 AM cluster in Utica, and how much Roser will pay to acquire the 2 FMs and 2 AMs that Galaxy will spin off from the deal.
And one more Galaxy-related note: we’re sorry to report the recent death of Frank Toce, the Syracuse engineer who put WTKW (99.5 Bridgeport) on the air in 1992, eventually selling the station to Galaxy while continuing to consult on engineering matters. Toce was a native of Torrington, Connecticut, where he started in the radio industry in high school as chief engineer of WTOR (1490, now WSNG 610). Toce went on to work for General Electric before founding Syracuse Scientific (now Lakeshore Technologies) in 1978, manufacturing closed-circuit TV systems for medical applications. Toce retired in 2001, and in recent years could be found tending to his collection of antique cars and an extensive gathering of vintage radio equipment (including transmitters) at his home on the shore of Oneida Lake. Toce was 72.
*A veteran radio voice is going silent in MAINE, as Harry Nelson says he’s retiring from afternoon drive and the PD chair at Saga’s WPOR (101.9 Portland), as well as PD duties at sister WBAE (1490 Portland)/WVAE (1400 Biddeford). Nelson made his name in New England with a long mid-70s run at WRKO (680 Boston), and was later heard at WZOU in Boston, WAPP in New York, KFRC in San Francisco and many other stops before returning from his first retirement in Florida to take the WPOR job in 2005. No replacement’s been named yet in Portland, and we wish Harry all the best as he heads out!
Up in Aroostook County, WREM (710 Monticello) has new calls and a new frequency: Allan Weiner’s AM signal is now “WCXH,” and we hear it’s made the move up the dial to 780 kHz, where it will keep its 5 kW non-directional daytime signal and add 60 watts of night power.
Better yet – the website for sister shortwave station WBCQ includes this nifty picture of a 1932-vintage Western Electric 12A transmitter that’s being restored for night use on 780. Weiner claims – and we have no reason whatsoever to doubt him – that the Western will be the oldest transmitter in regular service anywhere on the AM dial in the country. (We’ve got to get up there and visit the WBCQ/WCXH site, one of these days…)
There’s a new expanded-band AM station testing in CANADA. CHTO (1690 Toronto) began testing on Saturday. When it’s up and running at full blast, the Canadian Hellenic Toronto Radio station will carry a multicultural slate of programming aimed primarily at the city’s Greek community.
Toronto’s Humber College signed CKHC (96.9) on as “Humber Radio” in 2005, with an all-Canadian playlist – and now the little 5-watt station is getting bigger. Last week, the CRTC granted Humber a new instructional/campus license for 60 watts on 96.9, which should bring the signal to a wider area around the Humber campus, in north Etobicoke on Toronto’s west side.
*The long-rumored sale of WBEC (1420) and WBEC-FM (105.5) in Pittsfield, MASSACHUSETTS, from Tele-Media to Vox is finally becoming a reality – and it includes WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY) as well. The move puts Vox in a new market not far from its existing strongholds in southern Vermont, the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts and New York’s Glens Falls market, and leaves Tele-Media with only WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg NY) remaining from its former Albany-centered cluster.
Elsewhere in Massachusetts, what started out as a quiet summer is heating up – literally and figuratively – with a new program director and a new morning show vacancy in Boston.
We’ll start with the vacancy, created when WZLX (100.7 Boston) sent morning guy Tai (Thomas A. Irwin) packing last week. Tai and comedian Steve Sweeny had held down mornings at the Infinity classic rocker for two years, following Charles Laquidara’s decamping to Hawaii in 2000. Sweeny remains on WZLX’s morning shift, with a new co-host not expected for a few weeks, at least. (One reason for the delay: WZLX’s new program director, Beau Raines, is just settling into the job, officially. Raines was picked for the post back in April [NERW 4/17], but contractual issues with his old employer, Greater Media’s WROR, kept the move from becoming official until just last week. And speaking of Greater Media and Infinity, we have it on good authority that the possibility of Loren and Wally making the jump from Greater’s WROR to Infinity’s WODS was more than just a rumor – it came close to happening before Greater came through with the contract Loren and Wally wanted!)
Tai will likely surface elsewhere on the Boston radio scene; in addition to his best-known gig as “Morning Guy Tai” on WFNX, he spent some time doing talk at WRKO as well.
A long-disputed FM channel has been granted in MAINE. Robert Scott Hogg (former owner of WMDI in Bar Harbor) and Lyle Robert Evans both wanted 93.7A in Millbridge, way down East between Bangor and Calais, and now a settlement has put the CP in the hands of Evans.
Up here in Rochester, WBBF (950) continues to stunt as “Swifty 950,” still playing a music-test tape of 70s and 80s pop and classic rock – but we now know at least one of the local personalities who’ll be heard on the station when it relaunches as a news-talker. Allan Harris left WHAM (1180) last week, ending a long career at the Clear Channel news-talk outlet, where he’d been a traffic reporter, fill-in news guy and late-night/weekend talk host. We hear he’ll show up on WBBF whenever the new format launches; in the meantime, the Michael Savage show has appeared in his old late-night slot on WHAM.
Fifteen Years Ago: July 31, 1997 –
NBC will soon be reunited with one of its oldest owned-and-operated TV stations. Paramount agreed today to trade WVIT (Channel 30) New Britain-Hartford to NBC in exchange for WLWC (Channel 28) New Bedford-Providence and WWHO (Channel 53) Chillicothe-Columbus OH, which are owned by Fant Broadcasting and LMA’d to NBC. The deal would bring channel 30 back into the NBC family after nearly four decades. NBC bought what was then WKNB-TV (along with WKNB 1410 AM) back in 1956, as part of a project to develop UHF owned-and-operated stations by the major networks (NBC also owned a station in Buffalo, while CBS owned UHFs in Hartford and Milwaukee). The TV calls were changed to WNBC-TV, and then to WHNB-TV in 1959 when NBC sold the station to Transcontinental Properties. In 1978, WHNB-TV was sold to Viacom (now Paramount), becoming WVIT.
NBC and Paramount would both need waivers to make this swap work, since WVIT’s signal overlaps with NBC O&Os WNBC-TV (Channel 4) in New York and WJAR (Channel 10) Providence, while the WLWC signal overlaps with Paramount’s WSBK (Channel 38). If the deal is consummated, WLWC and WWHO would switch affiliations from The WB to UPN.
An ownership change on the way in MASSACHUSETTS: Curt Gowdy is preparing to bow out of Bay State broadcasting after nearly 35 years of ownership (and years of on-air work before that). Gowdy has reportedly reached a deal to sell WCCM (800) in Lawrence to Costa-Eagle Broadcasting, the partnership that owns WNNW (1110) Salem NH and operates WHAV (1490) Haverhill. Costa-Eagle may switch WNNW’s Spanish-language format to the WCCM signal, which covers the Hispanic market in Lawrence much better, while moving WCCM’s English-language talk to the less-potent 1110 operation. Auto dealer Charles Daher is reportedly upset with Gowdy; he says he was close to signing a purchase agreement for WCCM when Costa-Eagle stepped in with a higher offer. Gowdy bought WCCM and then-WGHJ (93.7) back in 1963. The FM was later WCCM-FM and WCGY; Gowdy sold it to American Radio Systems several years ago. Long retired and living in Wyoming, Gowdy still owns several stations in the Laramie area.
A format change in New Hampshire: WOXF (96.5) Bedford-Manchester shed its year-old classic rock format Tuesday afternoon, changing from “the Fox” to oldies “Cool 96.5.” WOXF was recently LMA’d by Saga Broadcasting, which appears to be targeting competing oldies station WNNH (99.1 Henniker) with the move. PD Keith Murray is out of a job; airstaff Dorien Jaye (mornings) and Peggy James stay with the station for now.