The Year in People and Formats (Part I)
By SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s time once again for our Year in Review, the 26th 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 started Tuesday with The Year in Sales and will appear daily through our wrap-up on Tuesday, December 31, so check back every day for a new installment. We’ll resume our regular NorthEast Radio Watch report on Monday, January 6. (And in the meantime, our own Twitter and Facebook feeds and of course Lance Venta at RadioInsight will be here with any breaking news!)
The second installment of our Year in Review (catch up on Tuesday’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 the year of the TV repack across NERW-land, and nowhere more so than in Boston, where two of the big American Tower sites in Needham received big facelifts to accommodate all the antenna moves that were needed in the repack’s big chess game. Above the Sheraton hotel, the candelabra that had long been home to three UHF stations (WFXT, WSBK and WLVI) lost its candelabra, replaced with a new master aux antenna for multiple stations; at year’s end, that aux site would still be where most of Boston TV was transmitting while work continued on the even taller master tower on Cedar Street.
In Vermont, Vox’s takeover of WVMT (620) and WXXX (95.5) came with a big move, as the “Pete and Sarah” morning show migrated from top-40 Triple-X to news-talk WVMT to replace the beloved Ernie Farrar; that experiment lasted only a few months, leaving Pete and Sarah jobless after Elvis Duran had taken over WXXX mornings.
More format shuffles around New England at the start of the year saw “Nash ICON” replace sports talk on WHLL (1450/98.1 Springfield MA), “EZ Favorites” arrive on several Saga translators in Keene and Brattleboro, “Cruisin’ Country” replace oldies on WCTB (93.5) in Fairfield, Maine, with oldies going to WSKW (1160).
In Buffalo, the switch from “Mix” to “Breeze” at Townsquare’s WMSX (96.1) brought Joe Chille back to mornings. In Rochester, Jeremy Kapell’s ouster from WHEC (Channel 10) drew widespread attention as questions swirled about whether he’d simply had a twist of the tongue or had made a racist jibe on the air; the city’s mayor weighed in against Kapell and ended up as the target of a lawsuit after he was fired.
New York City’s WNSH (94.7) dropped the syndicated Ty Bentli morning show, launching a local show ahead of its ownership change from “Nash” parent Cumulus to Entercom, which eventually rebranded the station as “New York Country 94.7.” After a few interim weeks with Jesse Addy at the helm, Bentli’s former co-host Kelly Ford took over the show.
Western Pennsylvania started the year with some format changes: in State College, Forever swapped signals for classic rock WBUS (from 93.7 to 99.5) and top-40 “Majic” WMAJ (from 99.5 to 93.7); in Apollo, WAVL (910) became WXJX as “Jack FM,” touting its 98.7 translator in Latrobe; and in Erie, the former WMCE (1530) relaunched as WZTE, “Talk Erie,” with two translators attached. In Harrisburg, public broadcaster WITF announced plans to close its Radio PA statewide commercial news service, which ended up being saved with a sale to Maryland’s Steve Clendenin. Down the road in Red Lion, WGCB-TV (Channel 49) rebranded as “Lighthouse Television” with the WLYH calls that used to be in Lebanon.
WXZO (96.7) in the Burlington market brought the soft AC “MeTV FM” format to New England; in Bangor, WABK (910) changed calls to WTOS, bringing the rock format of WTOS-FM (105.1) to the market on AM and a translator.
In Boston, Michael Czarnecki departed the PD chair at WRKO (680), as iHeart moved him south to Washington and a new gig overseeing its “WONK-FM” political talk format on an HD2 and translator there. In Hartford, Gary Craig announced his plans for a June departure from WTIC-FM (96.5), ending a run that started there in 1981.
Binghamton-based WSKG realigned its two radio networks, creating a full-time news service over its main network (WSKG 89.3 in Binghamton) and a full-time classical service over WSQX (91.5) there and a combination of HD2s, translators and one full-power relay across its wide service area.
In Halifax, Stingray’s planned flip of CKUL (96.5) from hot AC to soft AC as “Breeze” Jan. 17 was beaten to the punch one night earlier, when Evanov flipped CKHY (105.3) from active rock to soft rock “Jewel.”
Gone: WTHE (1520 Mineola NY), taken silent on Jan. 25 over a dispute between licensee Universal Broadcasting and rival ethnic broadcaster Dr. Richard Yoon, who took over the lease on the station’s site and allegedly tried to pressure Universal to sell him the license.
In New Bedford, Hall’s WNBH (1340) dropped its sports format, relaunching with a new 101.3 translator and classic hits as “Big 101.3.”
Leadership changes in the public broadcasting world found Mark Contreras, formerly of Quinnipiac University, replacing Jerry Franklin at the helm of Connecticut Public; in New York’s North Country, Lynn Brown announced her retirement from WPBS-TV, while station manager Ellen Rocco and news director Martha Foley both announced plans to leave North Country Public Radio.
In Boston, staffers at WBUR voted to unionize; a few weeks later, Charlie Kravetz announced his departure as station manager, a role to be filled in 2020 by former NPR executive Margaret Low, who’d spent the last several years working for The Atlantic.
New York’s Bill Evans left his morning weather slot at WABC-TV (Channel 7) to focus on his new project as co-owner of Long Island’s WLNG (92.1), where changes to the station’s distinctive jingle-heavy sound prompted complaints from listeners and some advertisers, too.
In Toronto, Stingray’s CFXJ (93.5) dropped “93.5 the Move” to return to its earlier branding, “Flow 93.5.” Down the dial, the insurgent “Save JAZZ.FM” group won its battle for control of the board of CJRT (91.1), ousting a board and managers that had been criticized for being unresponsive to listeners.
Gone: WVTT (96.7 Portville-Olean), taken silent by Andrulonis Media as owner Jeff Andrulonis focused on his South Carolina properties.
New: WBRU-LP (101.1 Providence), eventually to share time with two other LPFMs.
Pennsylvania format changes dominated the month: in State College, Seven Mountains ditched AAA “the Freq” WFEQ for “Bigfoot Country Legends 98.7,” with new calls WLEJ. (A State College legend, AccuWeather’s Elliot Abrams, also eased into retirement this month, dropping down to part-time status.) Down the road in Johnstown, WKGE (850) launched a new translator at 101.3, with a new classic hits format. In Allentown, iHeart dropped a Spanish hits format on WSAN (1470) in favor of a broadcast outlet for its all-podcast format.
Boston’s WBZ was at the center of iHeart job cuts that eliminated positions for many veterans of the all-news operation, including former morning host Josh Binswanger, air personalities Fausto Menard and Garo Hagopian and longtime producer Vic Ramos. Down the hall, Ashlee Feldman launched a new morning show on rhythmic WJMN (Jam’n 94.5).
Over at WGBH, Phil Redo announced his eventual retirement as head of the public broadcaster’s radio division, though he remained in place at the station into 2020.
Rochester’s WCMF celebrated 50 years as a rock station with induction into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame, plus a Special Merit Award for veteran middayer Dave Kane.
As spring training gave way to the regular season, the New York Mets kicked off their first season on new broadcast home WCBS (880).
New: WUMZ (91.5 Gloucester), the Cape Ann link in the growing WUMB public radio chain based in Boston.
Back on the air: WGGO (1590 Salamanca), with talk.
Gone: W285FF (104.9 Philadelphia), Beasley’s translator for WWDB (860) that was unable to overcome interference complaints; CKCI (103.3 Sarnia ON), license cancelled after two years of silence.
Western Massachusetts’ public broadcasters joined forces under the new “New England Public Media” banner, combining management for New England Public Radio’s WFCR (88.5) and its network of stations alongside WGBY (Channel 57), the Springfield public TV station owned by Boston’s WGBH.
In Boston, Beasley flipped WBOS (92.9) from “Alt 92.9” to a more mainstream active rock format as “Rock 92.9,” keeping the “Dave and Chuck the Freak” morning show imported from Detroit. Over at Entercom, Boston veteran Karen Blake returned to the market (after doing mornings on Cape Cod) to do afternoons at WMJX (106.7).
In New Hampshire, Binnie Media’s WNNH (99.1 Henniker) relaunched as a Concord-market simulcast of its classic hits “Frank” WFNQ (106.3 Nashua), extending the “Frank” brand all along the corridor from Concord down through Manchester to Nashua. Former WZID (95.7 Manchester) morning man Mike Morin returned to radio to become the new Frank morning man, working alongside Lori D., who’d been doing afternoons at Binnie’s WBYY (98.7 the Bay) on the Seacoast. (WBYY flipped to Frank itself a month later, as did WLNH 98.3 in Laconia.)
WGHT (1500 Pompton Lakes NJ) found new life, returning to the air under new operator Frank Truatt, who started with a simulcast of his WTBQ (1110 Warwick NY). Not too far away, WRCR (1700 Pomona NY) also returned to the air after locating a new transmitter site to serve Rockland County.
Toronto’s ethnic CIRV (88.9) relaunched under new management as “Red FM,” sharing branding with a sister station in Vancouver and moving to shiny new studios that allowed it to add three HD subchannels to serve more nationalities.
Gone: WJDF (97.3 Orange), license deleted by the FCC after the station’s owners failed to respond to inquiries about the station’s silence.
The end of the month also marked the end of two radio stations: in New York, alumni of WPLJ (95.5) returned to the airwaves to honor nearly 50 years of rock history ahead of the station’s sale from Cumulus to EMF. An hour and a half or so away in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac University shut down WQUN (1220) the same day, ending two decades of local commercial operation there.
With WPLJ’s disappearance, iHeart saw some opportunity to bring younger listeners to WLTW (106.7), moving Paul “Cubby” Bryant down the hall from WKTU (103.5) to replace Bob Bronson alongside Christine Nagy in morning drive. (And out on Long Island, Connoisseur rebranded “K-98.3” WKJY as “K-Joy,” which is what everyone was calling it anyway…)
Cumulus’ big EMF sale also brought K-Love to WXTL (105.9 Syracuse), but that was the one station where Cumulus kept its format going, retaining PD Dave Frisina to run “The Rebel Rocks” as a streaming-only feed with local talent.
In Hartford, Full Power Radio drew attention by launching its new 103.3 translator for WDRC (1360) as “Trump 103.3,” though it would later revert to “Talk of Connecticut” branding.
Atlantic City’s WPGG (1450) moved to a new translator at 95.5, allowing its former 104.1 translator to move to an HD2 feed as “Rock 104.1.”
In southern Pennsylvania, Forever expanded its “Happy” AC format, using translators alongside WHVR (1280 Hanover) and WGET (1320 Gettysburg) to launch the format in that market.
Gone: WVCA (88.3 Newbury), returning its CP to the FCC amidst questions about whether it had been built out properly; WIUV (91.3 Castleton VT), returning its license to the FCC May 18 and going streaming-only.
North of the border, Bell Media rebranded a dozen of its stations as “Pure Country,” including a format flip at CKLC (98.9) in Kingston, Ontario and the end of several longtime local country brands such as “BX93” (CJBX 92.7) in London.
New York’s veteran overnight voice Tony Paige announced his retirement from talking sports at WFAN (660/101.9); competitor ESPN announced the impending end of its ESPN Deportes Spanish-language radio service, flipping WEPN (1050) to a full-time feed of the English-language ESPN Radio network.
In Boston, WKLB (102.5) moved Jackson Blue from mornings to afternoons, opening the way for Jonathan Wier to join Ayla Brown on mornings in September.
WBEN (930 Buffalo) talk host David Bellavia received the Presidential Medal of Honor, the only Iraq War veteran to have been so honored thus far.