By SCOTT FYBUSH

2013-yirtop

We’re kicking off a big year in the history of NERW: the spring of 2014 will mark the twentieth anniversary of this column, and we’re planning a big celebration for all our loyal readers. But before we get to the big two-oh, it’s time for our annual review of the year gone by. As we did last year, we’re bringing you Year in Review 2013 in a series of daily installments through New Year’s Eve, which we’ll collect on one page for archival purposes at the start of 2014.

Click here for Part 1: The Year in Station Sales

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The Year in Formats, People and Calls

JANUARY:

The new year kicked off with two big FM shifts in two of NERW-land’s biggest markets. In Boston, Greater Media pulled the plug on the last vestiges of FM talker WTKK (96.9) a few days into January, launching into more than a week of one-day “microformat” stunts that ranged from straight-out urban to active rock to adult hits. The format wheel finally landed on rhythmic top 40 as “Hot 96.9,” with a jock lineup introduced later in the spring, plucked straight from the glory days of Clear Channel competitor WJMN (94.5).

969logosWhile WTKK was spinning through its wheel of formats, New York City added a commercial FM to its airwaves. Family Radio signed off WFME (94.7 Newark) on January 11 and handed the keys over to Cumulus, which simulcasted WPLJ (95.5) for ten days before bringing country music back to the big city on the new “Nash FM” January 21. (Jocks and the new calls WNSH would take a few more months to arrive…)

Other flips at the start of the year included Cumulus’ launch of FM sports in Bangor, as WEZQ (92.9) dropped AC to become “The Ticket,” while across town Stephen King pulled away from the spoken word as he flipped WZLO (103.1) to AAA as “The Loft.”

In Erie, Captain Dan Geary brought oldies to the FM dial on January 8, flipping WMCE-FM (88.5) from jazz to oldies, picking up the format from AM sister WYNE (1530 North East), which took the WMCE(AM) calls.

It was a month for veteran upstate New York rock jocks to return to the air: Bill Keeler shifted to the AM dial in Utica, taking over mornings at WIBX (950), while Bob Wolf tried his hand at AAA at WDST (100.1) in Woodstock. That experiment ended very quickly, but Wolf found a new home up the Thruway at Albany rocker WKLI (100.9), at least until it flipped formats at year’s end.

Along the simulcast spectrum, southern Vermont’s WTHK (100.7 Wilmington) dropped “Fox” classic rock as its ownership split from parent WEXP (101.5 Brandon); it ended up as part of a “Kixx” trimulcast with WXXK (100.5) and WKKN (101.9). New Hampshire’s Lakes Region picked up a WEEI sports simulcast, as WWHQ (101.5 Meredith) became WZEI.

In the Hudson Valley, Clear Channel’s WHUC (1230 Hudson) dropped standards to simulcast country WRWD (107.3 Highland). And in south central Pennsylvania, WLLI (1150 Huntingdon) returned to its old WHUN calls, flipping to ESPN Radio on New Year’s Eve; the WHUN calls would go to WNTW (990 Somerset).

Speaking of sports, the veteran Gil Santos called his last Patriots game after nearly four decades in the booth; later in the year, the Pats and flagship WBZ-FM (98.5) named Bob Socci as Gil’s successor.

New to the air: WPNJ (90.5 Easton PA), WXTC (88.1 Greenville PA), WMEY (88.1 Bowdoin ME), WPAZ (89.1 Mohrsville PA)

FEBRUARY:

What would  turn out to be a troubled year for Boston’s WEEI-FM (93.7) began with the abrupt departure of veteran talker Glenn Ordway, who was ousted after 27 years at WEEI (including several as program director). Sagging ratings and sharp competition from CBS Radio’s “Sports Hub” (WBZ-FM 98.5) led Entercom into a year-long overhaul of WEEI, including replacing Ordway with newcomer Mike Salk in afternoon drive.

Down I-95, another talk veteran was out at WPRO (630), where Ron St. Pierre was sent packing, landing later in the year at crosstown competitor WHJJ (920).

wbai-moveIf WEEI was troubled in early 2013, New York City’s WBAI (99.5) was downright cursed by comparison. Beset by sagging listener donations, continued internal political controversies and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation at its Wall Street studio site, WBAI moved out in February, taking up temporary residence in a borrowed studio at Harlem Community College’s WHCR (90.3) way uptown while its remaining office staff remained downtown at the World Financial Center.

In Montreal, Rogers began its takeover of CJNT (Channel 62) from Channel Zero, rebranding the independent station as “CityTV.” CBS Sports Radio added a new affiliate north of Albany, as WENU (1410 South Glens Falls) returned from a lengthy silence during a tower-replacement project with a new sports format.

Gone: WVSL (1240 Selinsgrove PA), which returned its license after losing its transmitter site; CKOT (1510 Tillsonburg ON), the last Canadian daytime-only AM; CBEF (540 Windsor ON), which moved to 1550 on the former CBE facilities after the English-language signal moved to FM.

New: WSMJ (91.9 North Wildwood NJ), with Catholic programming, WMHY 88.7 Richland Springs (Feb. 15) Call changes: WPAZ (89.1 Mohrsville PA) became WZMV, while new sister station WBZH (1370 Pottstown) reclaimed its historic WPAZ calls.

MARCH:

In Boston, the comedy format on WXKS (1200 Newton) proved short-lived, replaced by Bloomberg Radio in a new partnership with Clear Channel. Equally short-lived was the online-only incarnation of the Boston Phoenix‘s WFNX.com, which went away the afternoon owner Steve Mindich announced the closure of the print Phoenix, though not before WFNX.com’s online staffers could stage a drunken, stoned on-air (well, online, anyway) farewell.

The first chapter in a year of talk radio shifts in Philadelphia came with the departure of morning man Al Gardner from Merlin’s WWIQ (106.9), a few months before the station’s sale ended the talk format there. Over on the AM side, CBS Radio brought political consultant Dick Morris on for afternoon drive to replace Michael Smerconish, who took his moderate talk to satellite radio.

Tommy Edison (photo: WEZN-FM)
Tommy Edison (photo: WEZN-FM)

In Connecticut, veteran morning traffic man Tommy Edison never let blindness get in the way of a long radio career at WEZN (Star 99.9), where he hung up his headphones and moved on to try new ventures in TV.

Way up north, WPAC (98.7 Ogdensburg) and WYSX (96.7 Morristown) struggled back to the air after suffering major lightning damage to their shared antenna, forcing a complete rebuild of the transmitter site.

In Utica, longtime WOUR staple Genesee Joe moved down the street to WXUR (92.7 the River), while WXUR’s sister station WNRS (1420 Herkimer) dropped sports for True Oldies Channel. Clear Channel rearranged its Binghamton lineup, flipping hot AC WMRV (Star 105.7) to top-40 as “Now,” WBNW, shifting oldies WBBI (107.5) to country as “B107.5” and moving the oldies to a new translator home on 96.9 augmenting WINR (680).

In southern Rhode Island, WJZS (99.3 Block Island) changed calls to WMNP, ahead of a format flip to “Mixx.”

Back in Boston, Cate Wilber was named PD at WUMB (91.9), where longtime GM Pat Monteith had gradually been eased out in the preceding months.

In Maine, Saga flipped WVAE (1400 Biddeford) from a simulcast of Portland’s WBAE (1490) to sister talker WGAN (560); WVAE changed calls to WGIN and WBAE later flipped from lifestyle talk back to standards as “The Bay.”

On TV, Albany Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23) began closing down its independent news operation as it became a sister to ABC affiliate WTEN (Channel 10), which took over all WXXA news production later in the spring; meanwhile, the FCC granted the controversial long-distance moves of PMCM’s KVNV (Channel 3) and KJWP (Channel 2), headed from Nevada and Wyoming to New York and Philadelphia, respectively.

Cumulus provoked plenty of speculation with a deal to take over translator W232AL (94.3 Pomona NY) and move it to Westchester County, but by year’s end no move had been consummated.

New to the air: WNNU (89.5 Great Barrington), repeating WNNZ 640 Westfield, March 29 at 8 PM.

Gone: WRDD (1580 Ebensburg PA), whose license was cancelled March 20.

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APRIL:

Philadelphia’s Radio One cluster caught the “Old School” R&B wave, rebranding WRNB (100.3 Media) as “Old School 100.3.”

whyaOn Cape Cod, John Garabedian’s Codcomm group launched the first of two new stations for the year, signing on WHYA (101.1) as top-40 “Y101” April 4, replacing half of the former “Frank” simulcast.

Boston’s WEEI turmoil continued with the exits of Pete Sheppard and Jon Rish; Sheppard later resurfaced with brief stints on WUFC (1510) and WCAP (980), while Rish, who quit in the face of what would have been a big pay cut, took his Sox knowledge down the road to NESN, where he ended up filling in for Jerry Remy on Red Sox TV broadcasts for much of the championship summer. (What – you thought we’d get all the way to October without mentioning that?)

The big news from Boston, of course, came on Marathon day and in the week that followed, when broadcasters gave their all to cover one of the biggest and most disturbing stories in the city’s history. (More on that in our wrapup of the year’s top 10 stories this weekend…)

In Maine, antenna maker Dielectric abruptly closed up shop right after NAB, only to reopen in May after being purchased by broadcaster Sinclair.

In Portland, Bill Binnie added translator W245AA (96.9) to his “W-Bach” classical network, fed by an HD-2 subchannel of parent WTHT (99.9). Another 99.9, Steve Silberberg’s WXRG (99.9 Athol), picked up the WFNX calls to keep them alive, though it kept relaying sister station WXRV from the Boston market.

As college administrators turned to the sale of radio licenses to meet budget challenges, Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Carbon Community College sent WXLV (90.3 Schnecksville) to online-only status, as the FM frequency went to “Word FM” as WLHI.

wwzy-1071fmOn the Jersey shore, WWZY (107.1 Long Branch) and WBHX (99.7 Tuckerton) dropped soft AC breeze for hotter AC, verging on AAA, branding simply as “107.1 A Music Station.”

In Syracuse, Mike Lindsley disappeared from afternoons at Cumulus sports talker WSKO (1260), moving down the Thruway to Albany’s WTMM only to return later in the year.

In Rochester, a stroke ended the long career of WXXI (1370) talk host Bob Smith; your editor, among others, filled in for him on “1370 Connection” until a new permanent host, WHAM-TV’s Evan Dawson, was picked in November.

On TV in Buffalo, Sinclair moved its 10 PM newscast, produced by WGRZ (Channel 2), from My affiliate WNYO (Channel 49) to Fox affiliate WUTV (Channel 29), heretofore the largest Fox station in the country with no local news.

In Hamilton, CING (95.3) dumped classic hits “Vinyl” for hot AC as “Fresh FM.”

Gone: never-built WXNH (540 Jaffrey NH), deleted from the FCC’s records after more than a decade.

MAY:

wuowAn unusual story out of Oneonta, New York found the local SUNY campus abruptly pulling the plug on the small public broadcaster it was running, WUOW (88.5 Milford). Despite having invested in upgrading from an LPFM to a full-power license just a few years earlier, and despite offers from other broadcasters for the WUOW license, SUNY returned the license to the FCC for cancellation…only to reapply for an LPFM later in the year.

In Portland, Maine, Saga’s WYNZ (100.9) flipped from “Big Hits Y100.9” to “Rewind 100.9,” going jockless for more than a month before returning veteran morning man Chuck Igo to the air. Up the coast, Blueberry’s WRKD (1450 Rockland) changed calls to WVOM, matching its simulcast with WVOM-FM (103.9) in the Bangor market.

In New Hampshire, Bill Binnie dropped the Iowa-produced local news on his WBIN (Channel 50) while tooling up for a bigger local news effort in 2014; local news also vanished in Olean, where WVTT-CA (Channel 25) folded its news operation. (WVTT’s operator, Colonial, was busy with some radio moves as well, relocating WBYB 103.9 from Kane, Pennsylvania up the road to Eldred, where its signal now serves Olean.)

Down the road in Williamsport, Ken Sawyer retired after decades of wakeup duty at WWPA (1340), though he’ll keep announcing Little League games.

Cichon (photo: WBEN)
Cichon (photo: WBEN)

In Buffalo, news director Steve Cichon departed WBEN (930) and the radio industry in general, turning his attention to a new venture, “Buffalo Stories LLC,” managing publicity and storytelling for local small businesses.

Up north, new owner Steve Martz split programming on WSNN (99.3) and WPDM (1470) in Potsdam, flipping the FM to “B99.3” with 80s hits and installing CBS Sports Radio on the AM.

On TV in Boston, the short-lived “Plum TV” feed on WMFP (Channel 62) gave way to NBC’s CoziTV rerun channel as the luxury-focused Plum operation went out of business.

Across the border, Sarnia’s CHOK (1070/103.9) flipped from country to a mix of AC and classic hits. New: WZDD 101.3 Strattanville PA, simulcasting WZDB (95.9 Sykesville/Du Bois).

Silent: WUTI (1150 Utica), after severe damage to its antenna system. As of year’s end, it’s yet to return.

Gone for good: WKZV (1110 Washington PA), which returned its license and took down its towers.

JUNE:

The long, strange saga of WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville NY), complete with license deletions and Senatorial intervention to restore the construction permit that almost got pulled, finally came to a happy ending. The new station made it on the air with an AC format running in parallel to sister WCSS (1490 Amsterdam).

Down the road in Albany, CBS Sports Radio’s slow affiliate growth included the Schenectady-licensed 1240 now known as WPTR.

radiocanada-iciIn Canada, the CBC sparked controversy with a plan to rename Radio-Canada’s broadcast services as “Ici.” Anglophone Canadians bristled at the removal of the “C”-word from the networks’ names, and new Montreal TV entrant CFHD-DT protested that it had already trademarked “ICI” as the name for its new “International Channel/Canal International” service, soon to launch. In the end, the CBC semi-backtracked, retaining both the Radio-Canada name and the “Ici” branding.

Radio People on the Move: Boston veteran Mike Addams quietly retired from mornings at WMJX (106.7), which plugged another veteran, David O’Leary, into the shift. Over at WBZ (1030), Jen Brien got the nod as permanent overnight talk host, but it didn’t last. Z100 veteran Shelly Wade departed New York’s WHTZ (where she’d been shuffled to overnights) for a new Clear Channel gig doing middays in San Diego. Clear Channel also moved Adam Rivers back home to New England from Virginia to be APD/afternoons at WKCI in New Haven.

In Philadelphia, Clear Channel plugged smooth jazz back into its analog lineup, displacing black gospel at WDAS (1480). Elsewhere on the AM dial, WIBG (1020) in south Jersey flipped from talk to Spanish AC as “En Vivo,” while Rochester rimshots WASB (1590)/WRSB (1310) flipped from religion/talk to business under new owner Brian McGlynn on June 8.

Dignitaries unveil the Armstrong plaque (photo: Scott Fybush/NERW)
Dignitaries unveil the Armstrong plaque (photo: Scott Fybush/NERW)

FM’s genius inventor, Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, received another long-delayed bit of recognition with the dedication of a plaque honoring his work in his birthplace of Yonkers, right across the Hudson from his famous tower in Alpine, New Jersey. And what would the Major have made of one of the big FM signals just down the river in Manhattan? WBAI (99.5) continued to struggle through a difficult spring, issuing layoff notices to most of its staff and holding emergency fundraisers to try to keep the rent paid at its Empire State Building transmitter site.

In Binghamton, Equinox killed off its “Q106.7” AC format on WRRQ (106.7), moving the “Cool” oldies from a weaker signal, WCDW (100.5) up to the bigger 106.7 signal from Ingraham Hill.

In New Jersey, WPDI (104.7 Hazlet) slid down the dial to 103.9 with its Indian programming.

New to the air: WZWG (91.7 West Grove PA), WUUA (89.5 Glen Spey NY), WZXY (90.7 Spring Grove PA), CIHI (93.1 Fredericton NB) as “Up!,” 7 AM June 24, WNAK-FM (105.9 Long Lake NY)

We’ll continue our month-by-month look at the year’s news in our next Year in Review installment, coming Friday, Dec. 27 right here on fybush.com!

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1 COMMENT

  1. For June: WDAS Philly switched to smooth jazz from R&B Oldies, not black gospel as indicated. They really tried to make a go of it too with Bobby Holiday in mornings, and – until his death – Butter in afternoons. Simulcast first on 106.1 HD2, moving to 105.3 HD2 (‘DAS-FM) later. Cool station. Sorry it’s gone.

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