The Year in People and Formats (Part I)

By SCOTT FYBUSH

It’s time once again for our Year in Review, the 25th 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 through next Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, so check back every day for a new installment. We’ll resume our regular NorthEast Radio Watch report with an update on Wednesday, Jan. 2 and then our first regular Monday column of our 25th anniversary year on Monday, Jan. 7. (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.

JANUARY

New year, same old story: Pacifica’s WBAI (99.5) entered 2018 in its usual shambolic crisis state, on and off the air thanks to an aging transmitter at the Empire State Building, where years of unpaid rent finally led to a court judgment that left Pacifica scrambling to figure out how to pay more than two million dollars in back rent and legal fees without actually selling off the 99.5 license. A bid for public sympathy with a rally on the steps of City Hall drew less attention than the station expected, and the crisis dragged on into the first few months of 2018.

Meanwhile, the very end of 2017 brought a few Bay State format changes: in the days after Christmas, WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester) went from oldies to mainstream AC, while WGFP (940 Webster) went from “Cool Country” to classic hits as “The Lake 940.”

A local morning show returned to Philadelphia’s WRNB (100.3) with the arrival of “The Quincy Harris Morning Show with K Foxx,” replacing Tom Joyner; in afternoons, the syndicated D.L. Hughley replaced Lady B. Syndication replaced local in Binghamton at WWYL (104.1), where the Kidd Kraddick show displaced Louie G. In south Jersey, Brady “Mike” Richman and Spring Gonzales’ “Mike Show” was gone from WSJO (104.9), replaced by the syndicated Brooke and Jubal. In Providence, WKLB veteran Steve Kelly took the morning co-host slot at WWBB (101.5) alongside Kristin Lessard.

In Boston, WBIX (1260) went from syndicated Salem talk to Portuguese-language “Radio Nossa” ahead of an eventual sale.

“Hope FM” religion on WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays NY) went away as part of an ownership reorganization, replaced by a mix of oldies and classic rock.

New: On the outskirts of Erie, WLTM (95.9 Mina NY) made its official launch New Year’s Day as “Lite 95.9,” after stunting with Christmas music in late 2017.

Gone: WBZC (88.9 Pemberton NJ) signed off at 9 PM Jan. 13, as owner Rowan College shut down the station it had launched (as Burlington County Community College) back in 1995.

Also gone: Boston’s WLVI, at least from its own separate RF 41 transmitter in Needham, after selling its spectrum in the repack. (But thanks to the magic of channel sharing and virtual channels, a simple rescan kept “CW 56” appearing on Boston viewers’ screens via co-owned WHDH-TV.)  In New York, Univision’s WXTV did a similar channel-share trick, selling its spectrum and shacking up with co-owned WFUT on RF 30. In Philadelphia, Univision’s WUVP (Channel 65) became a channel-share on WPHL (Channel 17). More repack-driven changes included the demise of WXBU (Channel 15/RF 23) in Lebanon, PA; the signoffs of two New Jersey public TV transmitters, WNJN in Montclair and WNJT in Trenton (which became channel-shares with sister stations in New Brunswick and Camden); and WUVN (Channel 18) in Hartford moving to a channel-share with low-power WUTH-CD.

FEBRUARY

The ownership shuffles around Boston moved Rush Limbaugh once more, as “Talk 1430” (WKOX Everett) became “Talk 1200” (WXKS Newton) with the end of Bloomberg’s lease of the bigger 1200 signal; spun into a divestiture trust, 1430 returned to Spanish-language programming.

Was Stephen King’s balance sheet at WZON (620 Bangor) horrific? Perhaps that’s why the station dropped talk for oldies as “Z62,” retaining TV news simulcasts in morning drive and a talk show in afternoon drive. In Connecticut, Spanish tropical “Viva! Radio” (from sister WRYM 840) replaced “The Talk of Connecticut” on WWCO (1240 Waterbury). Up the road, David Fisch launched a new morning show on WHCN (105.9 the River), moving from crosstown WMRQ (104.1).

There’s always a controversy at Boston’s WEEI, and this one was racially-tinged, when midday host Christian Fauria used a fake Asian accent to read a series of tweets from sports agent Don Yee, which led to Fauria’s suspension – and then to an entire day of syndicated talk while the whole WEEI local talk crew sat through a day of sensitivity training. (And you know what? WEEI’s talkers were mostly out of the headlines for the rest of the year, come to think of it.)

At month’s end, Michael Holley left the WEEI afternoon show, a decision he said he’d already made long before the latest set of controversies.

In New York, Rita Cosby joined Curtis Sliwa in middays on WABC (770) as part of a “dream team,” but the pairing didn’t last out the year. In Buffalo, John Zach departed the news chair at WECK (1230) rather abruptly; another market veteran, Steve Cichon, came on board, only to leave himself a few months later.

In central Pennsylvania, K-Love replaced classic rock at WTPA (92.1 Palmyra).

Gone: WTHE (1520 Mineola NY), which lost the lease on its studio/transmitter site.

MARCH

So long, Don Imus: the veteran morning man grumpily showed up for just over an hour of his farewell show March 29, leaving an hour and a half of best-of segments to round out his last morning on WABC (770) and a handful of syndicated affiliates. Bernie McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg replaced Imus on WABC’s morning shift, with Chris Plante filling their former mid-morning shift.

Over at WOR (710), the Post‘s Michael Riedel joined Len Berman as morning co-host, replacing the departed Todd Schnitt.

The Ides of March brought a format swap for Cumulus in Harrisburg, as “NASH FM” WZCY went from 106.7 Hershey down the dial (and down in power) to 93.5 Mechanicsburg, trading places with “Hot” WWKL. Up the Susquehanna River, Seven Mountains flipped WZBF (106.1 Beaver Springs) from “Bigfoot Country” to “Hanna” classic hits as WNNA.

One of the strangest format flips of the year happened in Albany, when both Townsquare and Pamal jumped on the alternative rock bandwagon at once. Townsquare’s WQSH (105.7 Malta) dropped classic hits “Rewind,” Pamal’s WINU (104.9 Altamont) dropped CBS Sports – and both became “Alt.” We expected the cease-and-desist letters to go flying, but nine months later, it’s still “Alt 105.7” and “Alt 104.9” fighting it out with identical branding.

In the Hudson Valley, Townsquare flipped hot AC “Mix” (WCZX 97.7) to top-40 “Now,” replacing former morning host Mark Bolger with the syndicated Brooke and Jubal.

Philadelphia’s WTDY (96.5) heated things up, going from AC (“Today’s 96.5”) to hot AC (“96.5 TDY, Today’s Hits.”)

Along the Pennsylvania/New York border, Sound Communications moved country WZKZ (101.9 Alfred NY) to new branding as “The Ride,” adding an Olean simulcast on WOEN (1360) and its new 96.3 translator. Across the state line, Seven Mountains dropped “Clear Rock 95.9” from WZDB (95.9 Sykesville) in favor of a simulcast of top-40 “Pop 93.1” WPQP, with new calls WQQP.

Saga flipped WKVT-FM (92.7 Brattleboro) from classic rock to adult hits as “92.7 Bratt-FM,” swapping morning host Fish to afternoons for Tom Mayo.

Near Utica, WIXT (1230 Little Falls) dropped its sports simulcast to pick up “Tony,” the variety hits format that runs on the HD2 of WKRL (94.9) and on Galaxy’s 99.1 translator in Utica.

On the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, “2day FM” (CJED 105.1) went from top-40 to AC as “the River,” while classic hits “Juice” (CFLZ 101.1) went adult hits as “More FM.”

At month’s end, the end of the Latino Public Radio lease of WRPA (1290 Providence) returned that AM signal to a simulcast of owner Rhode Island Public Radio; it later went silent and is now for sale. (Talk to us at StationSale.com and we’ll tell you all about it!)

New: CHFO (1350 Gatineau), with French-language community programming.

Gone: CKRN-TV (Channel 4), Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, March 25; WYBE (Channel 35) Philadelphia, which entered into a channel-share with WBPH (RF 9) up in Bethlehem and changed calls to WPPT on March 15.


APRIL

Mike was back On again – at New York’s WFAN, that is, where Mike Francesa returned to the afternoon airwaves just four months after his well publicized departure from that slot at the end of 2017. What happened? WFAN’s change of ownership from CBS Radio to Entercom gave Francesa and his agents the chance to work around local GM Mark Chernoff, negotiating directly with Entercom’s David Field to bring Francesa back to WFAN, displacing his replacements (the Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott show) to middays.

WBAI’s turmoil found at least a temporary impasse with a deal to pay off its debt to the Empire State Building with a new loan arranged by the Public Media Company. That deal included funding to allow WBAI to quickly move to the nearby 4 Times Square transmitter site, where the cost of a new transmitter will be rolled into that loan, which Pacifica will eventually pay off by… well, they’ll deal with that question somewhere down the road, presumably.

It was a better month for Elvis Duran of iHeart and WHTZ fame, who was inducted into the NAB’s Hall of Fame during the big show in Las Vegas. (Among his gifts was a custom gold-plated SAS console, which he installed at his new remote studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico at year’s end.)

A turbulent year at Boston’s WBZ (1030) included the exit of midday anchor Rod Fritz after his contract wasn’t renewed, leaving a void to be filled by rotating hosts for the rest of the year. The ownership change at WDRC (1360 Hartford) left morning co-host Dan Lovallo behind, with Brad Davis doing mornings solo for new owner Full Power Radio. In Ithaca, Saga pulled the plug on Lee Rayburn’s local “Morning Newswatch” on WHCU (870), replacing him with Gordon Deal’s syndicated morning show.

“Big 105.3” was the new addition in Massachusetts, as WCCM (1570 Methuen) changed calls to WUBG, flipped to oldies  and added a translator just north of Boston. It was classic hits for WLIR (107.1) on the East End of Long Island, which relaunched as “Real FM” after several months of stunting.

In northeast Pennsylvania, WMMZ (103.5 Berwick) changed format to a simulcast of new owner Bold Gold’s classic hits “the River” (WWRR 104.9 Scranton) at the start of the month. Down the road in Harrisburg, iHeart went “Alt” on WHKF (99.3), replacing top-40 “Kiss.” (And on TV, the market was astir when veteran WHTM news anchor Flora Posteraro was fired; she said it was because she’d filed a harassment claim against GM Bob Bee, and several advertisers dropped their support of the station in hopes of getting Posteraro rehired.)

New: WSJQ (91.5 Pascoag RI), April 25 with contemporary Christian as “Q-91.5.”

MAY

In southern Maine, Saga flipped WBAE (1490 Portland)/WVAE (1400 Biddeford) from talk to soft AC as “107.1/93.5 the Bay, EZ Favorites,” branding with the translators for both. (WBAE and 107.1 had been doing their own second-tier talk format, while WVAE and 93.5 were simulcasting talker WGAN 560.)

In New Hampshire, “The Peak” got harder as WKKN (101.9) in Keene shifted from AAA to rock.

Kara Reifert got the nod as Steve Harper’s morning co-host at Long Island’s WKJY (98.3), later going solo with Harper’s exit at year’s end.

In Boston, veteran programmer Ginny Rogers Brophey took over from Lance Houston as PD of iHeart’s WBWL (101.7 the Bull), competing with her longtime former home, WKLB. Up on the North Shore, WBOQ (104.9) dropped legendary Boston talent Dana Hersey and his co-host Kevin “Mugs” McGonagle from their morning slot.

At northeast Pennsylvania’s WILK news-talk network, Sue Henry exited the mid-morning talk chair, later to be replaced by Jason Barsky.

Gone: Empire Broadcasting’s three AMs, WABY (900 Watervliet), WPTR (1240 Schenectady) and WAIX (1160 Mechanicville, plus a translator on 106.1), amidst disputes among the company’s principals. The stations went silent just months after a shuffle that moved AAA “the X” from 1160/106.1 to 900 and restored the old “Jockey” AC format to 1160/106.1 after Empire sold its previous home, WJKE 101.3, to EMF. The stations remained for sale at year’s end as the one-year silent clock kept running down.

Also gone: the venerable towers of WKSE (98.5) and the old WHLD (1270) on Grand Island, near Buffalo; Entercom moved WKSE temporarily to the nearby WBEN (930) site while it built a new WKSE tower at the old Staley Road site.

Also also gone: the less-venerable tower site of WMEX (1510 Boston), where the four towers on Waverley Oaks Road in Waltham were dismantled after 37 years, a year or so after the station went dark after ending its lease on the site in an office-park parking lot.

Returning: WLPW (105.5 Lake Placid NY), after a long absence, with “everything that rocks” as “Adirondack 105,” under new owner Jon Becker.

New: “Hot 102.9” (W275AB) and “93.1 the Drive” (W226BA), new Elmira translators for Equinox Broadcasting, fed from HD2/3 subchannels of WPHD (96.1). Rhythmic CHR “Hot” would later move to 103.3.

JUNE

It took a few months, but New York’s “Alt 92.3” finally got matching calls, as WBMP became WNYL. (In a much less prominent change way up north, the WLUP calls that had been parked on 97.9 Au Sable/Plattsburgh, replacing WZXP, became WXMS, still as “the Moose.”)

Forever shuffled calls and formats in western Pennsylvania, killing off “WUZZ” classic rock on WUZZ (94.3 Saegertown)/WUUZ (107.7 Cooperstown) in favor of harder rock as “Rocky,” with new calls WRQI/WRQW. The WUZZ calls ended up parked in New Castle, on the former WJST 1280.

In Toronto, Ross Porter’s exit as president and CEO of CJRT (JAZZ.FM 91) was the first big public sign of bigger troubles at the listener-supported station, which spent the rest of the year embroiled in lawsuits over sexual harassment allegations and a fight over access to the station’s membership lists.

In Boston, Rob Sanchez arrived as VP/news-talk-sports programming for iHeart, filling a leadership void at WBZ that followed the ouster of Peter Casey back in late 2017.

In St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Acadia Broadcasting’s CHTD (98.1) flipped from country (“the Tide”) to AC (“98.1 Charlotte FM”), named for the surrounding county.

Saga’s translator shuffles continued in western Massachusetts, where W245BK (96.9 Northampton) went to “Pure Oldies” from an HD signal of sister WLZX (99.3); the former simulcast of talk WHMP (1400) moved to a new translator at 101.5. Up the Connecticut River, Great Eastern moved WTSL (1400 Lebanon NH) from ESPN Radio to hip-hop as “Hot 97.5,” feeding a new translator in Hanover; in Brattleboro, Vermont, Saga flipped WKVT (1490) from talk to country as WINQ, simulcasting WINQ-FM 98.7 across the river in Keene.

And several heritage TV stations from the pioneering Class of 1948 marked 70th anniversaries: WBZ-TV in Boston on June 9 and WPIX New York and WTNH New Haven a week later.

New: WZDV (92.1 Amherst NY), June 4 with religion as “Dove FM.” And across the border, long-delayed CKNT (960 Mississauga) finally began testing.


> > > Coming Friday, Dec. 28: The Year in Formats, People and Calls, cont.

So we’ve heard from some people who were worried they missed their opportunity to buy the Tower Site Calendar.

They didn’t, and neither did you.

We have our new batch of calendars. We’re ready to ship them.

If you were waiting to make sure we got new ones in, wait no more.

We also have a dozen left of The Radio Historian’s 2019 calendar.

It’s a new year; treat yourself to both. Check them out now at the Fybush.com store!