The Year in People and Formats (Part I)
By SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s time once again for our Year in Review, the 23rd time we’ve gathered up our headlines from the previous 12 months and tried to sum it all up for you. Year in Review installments will appear daily beginning today through our wrap-up on Friday, December 30, so check back every day for a new installment. We’ll resume our regular NorthEast Radio Watch report on Monday, January 2, 2017. (And in the meantime, our own Twitter and Facebook feeds and RadioInsight will be here with any breaking news!)
The second installment of our Year in Review (catch up on yesterday’s installment here) begins our annual roundup of people and formats on the move in the never-ending whirl that is radio and TV in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.
It was a quiet start indeed to 2016 across the region. In northeastern Pennsylvania, Connoisseur dropped religion at WBYN (1160 Lehighton), instead installing another simulcast of its “Lehigh Valley ESPN,” already heard on WEEX (1230 Easton) and WTKZ (1320 Allentown). At the other end of the state, WRWJ (88.1 Murrysville) took new calls WKGO under new owner Bob Stevens, who would later install an easy listening format on the station southeast of Pittsburgh.
In Connecticut, the WNTY calls were reserved for a return to WXCT (990 Southington) as John Fuller installed “Kool Oldies” on what had been a Spanish-language signal. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart University took WNLK (1350 Norwalk) and WSTC (1400 Stamford) silent while looking for either new owners or at least new programmers for the Fairfield County AM pair.
New to the air: tests from CHRN (1610 Montreal), CJRU (1280 Toronto)
The month began with a format change near the top of the New York dial, as WWRL (1600 New York) went from regional Mexican “Radio Invasora” to South Asian “Radio Zindagi.”
Downtown at the World Trade Center, the Durst Organization signed the first TV tenants for its new 1776-foot spire, as CBS, NBC and public broadcaster WNET announced they’d be bringing broadcasting back to 1WTC for the first time since 2001.
In Boston, former WFXT (Channel 25) star anchor Maria Stephanos joined rival WCVB (Channel 5), quelling speculation that she’d become part of the new NBC Boston lineup. Over at Greater Media, veteran WKLB (102.5) morning man John “JW” Willis exited after 22 years, the first of what would be a parade of Greater Media departures during the year, even ahead of the company’s sale to Beasley. On the AM dial, Alex Langer’s WZBR (1410 Dedham) went urban as “the Bass of Boston.”
Pamal was making cutbacks across its clusters; in Albany, that meant the exits of Marissa Lanchak from WFLY, Carmen Hsieh from WAJZ and Bob Green from WROW; in the Hudson Valley, it was the closure of the cluster’s newsroom. The company also ended an LMA of WGHQ (920 Kingston) to Robin Hood Radio, bringing the signal back in house as part of its classic country simulcast with WBNR (1260 Beacon)/WLNA (1420 Peekskill).
In Pennsylvania, Laurel Highlands Total Communications flipped WCNS (1480 Latrobe) to all-talk; to the east, Seven Mountains created a second “Bigfoot” country simulcast on WQBG (100.5 Elizabethville, ex-WYGL), WRBG (98.3 Mifflinburg, ex-WWBE) and WCFT (106.5 Bloomsburg, ex-WFYY) and launched classic hits “Hanna” (WHNA 92.3 Riverside) on what had been sports WVSL-FM.
Perhaps the happiest story of the year came from Rochester’s WROC-TV (Channel 8), where chief meteorologist Scotty Hetsko came back to the air after a heart transplant and eight months off the air. (Later in the year, he’d move to WHAM-TV/WUHF for a lighter workload, making Stacey Pensgen the new chief at WROC.)
In Canada, classic hip-hop “Flow” segued to rhythmic AC “93.5 the Move” at Newcap’s CFXJ Toronto. Out east, Newcap’s CKUL (96.5 Halifax) ended the month with a flip from AAA “Radio 96.5” to hot AC “Mix 96.5.”
New to the air: CBC Radio One nested repeater CBIS (92.1 Sydney NB, augmenting CBI 1140); WBNH-LP (105.1 Bedford NH, with local emergency information and an alternative rock format); WDBA-LP (105.5 Bethpage NY).
One of the bigger shuffles of the year came on March 28 in Syracuse, as Family Life Ministries took over Leatherstocking’s FM signals, leading to the end of oldies on WSEN-FM (92.1 Baldwinsville) and the mass migration of WSEN’s talent to Galaxy’s WZUN (102.1 Phoenix). WSEN’s Gary Dunes joined “Big Mike” Fiss and Cindy Humble on morning drive, Humble split middays with WSEN’s Diane Wade; and in afternoons WSEN’s John Carucci joined WZUN’s Rick Gary. (Carucci exited WZUN within a few months.)
Family Life, meanwhile, migrated a bunch of its callsigns so that its “WCI-” calls were all on the eastern side of its vast coverage area and its “WCO-” calls to the west. If you had your scorecard out at home, that took WCIS (90.9 Laporte PA) to WCOV-FM and then WCID; WCID (89.1 Friendship NY) to WCOV-FM; WCOV-FM (93.7 Clyde) to WCIS and then WCIP; WCIT (90.1 Trout Run PA) to WCOX; WCGF (89.9 Cambridge Springs PA) to WCOB – and eventually put WCIS on the former WOLF-FM (105.1 DeRuyter NY), WCIO on the former WWLF (96.7 Oswego NY) and WCIT-FM on the former WMCR-FM (106.3 Oneida). (Please make a note of it…)
Also along the Pennsylvania-New York line, GEOS Communications flipped “KZ-FM” from hot AC to AC as “Yes-FM,” bringing new calls to WDYS (103.9 Dushore PA, ex-WNKZ) and WVYS (96.9 Ridgebury, ex-WZKN). In Wilkes-Barre, WYCK (1340 Plains) dropped its sports simulcast with WICK (1400 Scranton) to go AC as a simulcast of WWRR (104.9 Scranton), feeding a new FM translator.
On TV, WLYH (Channel 15) in Lebanon changed calls to WXBU as it handed off its CW affiliation to a subchannel of sister station WHP-TV (Channel 21) in Harrisburg.
The demise of all-news WNEW (99.1) in the Washington/Baltimore market freed up that historic callsign to make a quiet return to its longtime home on 102.7 in New York, displacing the WWFS calls but not the AC “Fresh 102.7” format.
Up north in Plattsburgh, RadioActive found new tenants for two FMs: WNMR (107.1 Dannemora NY) became WBKM, picking up a AAA format from a Burlington-based webcast, while WPLB (100.7 Plattsburgh West NY) became WIRY-FM, simulcasting venerable community-oriented AM’er WIRY (1340). On TV, WNMN (Channel 40) in Saranac Lake became WYCI.
A fire in Boston University’s old College of Communications building severely damaged the studios of student-run WTBU, taking the webcaster off the air for several months while it rebuilt its space, which had long belonged to big sister WBUR (90.9).
In southern New England, Red Wolf brought “Kool Oldies” to FM, adding FM translators to WNTY (990 Southington, on 96.1), WSKP (1180 Hope Valley RI, on 104.3) and moving “Kool” from WACM (1490 West Springfield) to WSPR (1270 Springfield) to give its Spanish-language “Bomba” format first crack at an FM translator alongside the 1490 class C signal. Meanwhile in Hartford, University of Northwestern – St. Paul took over the former WCCC (1290 West Hartford) from EMF on March 29, relaunching it with a new religious format as WNWW, “Faith Radio 1290.”
And in Cobourg, Ontario, March 7 saw CKSG (93.3) flip from “Star” to “MyFM” under its new owners.
New: WMVX (1570 Methuen MA, moved from Beverly); WWRN (88.5 Rockport MA, moved from 91.5); WWRI-LP (95.1 Coventry RI, classic rock “I-95”); WJOP-LP (96.3 Newburyport MA, “Joppa Radio,” March 17).
The month began with a reunion of the old WHTZ “Z Morning Zoo,” but it happened over at CBS Radio’s WCBS-FM (101.1), where Scott Shannon now holds court in the mornings. Ross Brittain, Steve Kingston, Anita Bonita and others from the old Zoo all came together 33 years (!) after the original Z launched.
Forever flipped another newly-acquired York/Hanover/Gettysburg signals to start the month – after January’s flip of country WGTY (107.7 Gettysburg) to “Froggy,” April saw a flip of classic rock WYCR (98.5 York-Hanover) from “The Peak” to “Rocky 98.5.” WYCR’s Davy Crockett went over to WGTY as… yes, “Davy Croakett.”
Over in Lancaster, Hall’s WLPA (1490) and its 92.5 translator went from standards to an ESPN Radio simulcast with WONN-FM (92.7 Starview).
In central New York, Craig Fox wrote the next chapter in the WSEN-FM story, swapping with Family Life to take the 92.1 Baldwinsville signal under his control. Fox traded calls to make 92.1 WNDR temporarily, turning “Dinosaur” WNDR (103.9 Mexico) into WSEN-FM to keep those calls out of Galaxy’s hands. The WNDR calls ended up on another Dinosaur outlet, the former WMBO (1340 Auburn), once 92.1 became WOLF-FM.
Remember when Red Sox radio negotiations were a white-knuckle affair? This time, the team’s extension of its Entercom/WEEI radio deal through the 2023 season barely made the headlines.
In Bangor, Chuck Begin began flipping formats at the former Dan Priestley AM signals: WWNZ (1400 Veazie) went from news-talk to “Country Road” classic country WCYR, four months after he took WGUY (1230 Veazey) to a simulcast of “Wave” AC from WRMO (93.7) at the end of 2015.
In Concord, New Hampshire, Steve Silberberg installed new WXRG calls on his “River” AAA simulcast, formerly WWHK (102.3).
In Canada, CICW (92.9 Fergus ON) moved to 101.1 as “The Grand at 101.1.”
New: CHAW (103.1 Little Current ON), at noon April 1 as “Country 103, Great Lakes Country”; sister CFRM (100.7) flipped from country to dance-CHR as “Glow 100.”
It was a month of job cuts, especially at several iHeart clusters across the region. In Boston, the syndicated “Breakfast Club” replaced the local Frankie V and Ashlee at WJMN (JAM’N 94.5); in Springfield, Adam Wright and Bo Sullivan were gone from WHYN (560), replaced by a simulcast of Jim Polito from WTAG in Worcester; in Syracuse, Kathy Rowe was out at WYYY (94.5) after decades there; and in Binghamton, the ousters of OM Jim Free, PD Tom Scott, 20-plus-year production vet Matt Guido and others left just one live airshift in the entire cluster.
(Meanwhile, there was one new live airshift in Syracuse with Galaxy’s launch of “In the Booth” in early afternoons on WTLA/WSGO.)
Saga rearranged its translators – er, “metro signals” – in Keene, N.H., taking W276CB (103.1)/WKNE (103.7-HD3) from “Keene Classics” to “The Mountain.”
In Maine, May 9 was the soft launch of MPBN’s new classical network, initially on W281AC (104.1 Portland, fed by WMEA 90.1-HD2), WFYB (91.5 Fryeburg), W291CO (106.1 Bangor, fed by WMEH 90.9-HD2) and augmented by translators in Waterville (99.7 W259BY, fed by WMEW 91.3-HD2) and later by WRMO (93.7 Milbridge).
Allentown, Pennsylvania’s WSAN (1470) went from ESPN to ESPN Deportes on May 26, though it continued to carry Phillies baseball in English through the end of the season.
In Canada, two of Quebec’s “trash radio” stars were off the air almost simultaneously. Jeff Fillion was fired from Bell’s CHIK (Energie 98.9) after a tweet that made fun of a father whose son had killed himself, with Andre Arthur announcing his retirement from CHOI (98.1 Radio X) days later amidst rumors that he was about to be fired as well over comments he’d made after the March plane crash that killed political commentator Jean Lapierre.
New to the air: WGUA-LP (98.1 Lawrence MA), WBCA-LP (102.9 Boston), WUUK-LP (105.7 Canadohta Lake PA, May 28).
Sacred Heart University started the month with new LMA tenants at its Fairfield County AMs. WSTC (1400 Stamford) launched a local big-band and talk format under VGR Radio Agency, led by former WFAS manager Martin Sheehan; WNLK (1350 Norwalk) picked up much of the religious programming that was on WDJZ (1530 Bridgeport) before it went dark. By year’s end, WSTC had built out its own studios in an attempt to bring back some of the local flavor that had gone missing from Fairfield radio in recent years.
In Maine, Mike Violette departed WGAN (560 Portland), though it took several weeks of his absence before the Saga talker and Violette announced they’d split on amicable terms.
In Albany, Empire Broadcasting took WAIX (1160 Mechanicville/W291BY 106.1) and WPTR (1240 Schenectady) from AC “Mix” and NBC Sports Radio, respectively, to an “Empire News Network” simulcast with Bloomberg business radio by day and syndicated talk at night.
Up north, “Musicheads” AAA vanished from WZXP (97.9 Au Sable NY), apparently because of unpaid bills; the signal would soon relaunch with country as “The Moose” under a new LMA. Over in Saranac, WYZY (106.3) took new calls WNBZ-FM to match its simulcast with WNBZ (1240).
WWCB (1370 Corry PA) signed off June 12 amidst a dispute between partners Sam Jordan and Bill Stafford.
New to the air: WLAS-LP (102.9 Newton MA), CJVA-FM (94.1 Caraquet NB, replacing CJVA 810), WRFZ-LP (106.3 Rochester NY, June 26 at 6 PM).