The Year in People and Formats (Part II)

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 and Thursday’s installment here) concludes 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.

JULY

It was a quiet end to a long-running Boston morning dynasty, as Loren Owens exited what was left of the “Loren and Wally” morning show on WROR (105.7). Wally Brine returned from retirement to help send his partner off; Bob Bronson, late of WLTW in New York, replaced him alongside the remaining L&W cast.

In Hartford, Gary Craig’s exit from WTIC-FM (96.5) after 38 years came with the arrival of Ryan “Salt” McMillan from WWBX (Mix 104.1) in Boston to launch the new “Christine and Salt Show.”

Meanwhile back at Entercom in Boston, Greg Hill moved downstairs from WAAF (107.3) to take his “Hill-Man Morning Show” to sports sister WEEI-FM (93.7), where he replaced Gerry Callahan to take the mornings there in a different, less sports-centered direction. (At year’s end, WAAF still hadn’t replaced Hill, instead playing music in the mornings.)

Entercom’s New York cluster was also going through changes, with Dan Taylor exiting middays at WCBS-FM (101.1) to be replaced by Race Taylor, late of WPLJ. (And with EMF’s K-Love format ensconced on WPLJ, former K-Love outlet WKLV 96.7 in Westchester changed calls to WMKQ and then to WARW as it became an Air 1 affiliate; the WARW calls came off 93.5 in Remsen, now WAWR.)

In the Adirondacks, Ricki Lee’s WRGR (102.1 Tupper Lake) dropped its classic hits “Lake FM” format, entering an LMA with North Country Radio’s WSLP (93.3 Saranac Lake), now branded as “The Best Hits, Mix 93.3/102.1.”

In Albany, Townsquare moved its “Q103,” WQBK (103.9)/WQBJ (103.5), to the former “Alt,” WQSH (105.7); after some simulcasting and stunting, 103.9 relaunched Aug. 1 with soft AC as “Breeze” WPBZ, while 103.5 split from the simulcast after 25 years to go back to “Alt.”

In central Pennsylvania, Seven Mountains began simulcasting oldies WOWY (97.1) from State College on WHUN (1150) and WHUN-FM (103.5) in Huntingdon.

AUGUST

In Rochester, veteran WBEE (92.5) morning man Steve Hausmann ended the month with a retirement from the “Bee Morning Coffee Club,” wrapping up 51 years on the air in Boston and Rochester; Terry Clifford took over the lead role on the show, while Hausmann launched a new venture providing voiceover work for phone systems. (And he talked to us at length on the Top of the Tower Podcast, too…)

Woodstock’s 50th anniversary came with plenty of on-air commemorations, including a full airing of the entire weekend’s audio (stage announcements and all) over Philadelphia’s WXPN.

On the Jersey Shore, WEZW (93.1 Wildwood Crest) dropped its soft AC format to pick up standards as a simulcast of WMID (1340) from Atlantic City. Meanwhile, WBSS (1490) in Atlantic City became one of the first two affiliates of the new BetR sports gaming network (the other, of course, was in Las Vegas.)

In Philadelphia, iHeart’s WDAS (1480) and its 102.5 translator dropped the “Breakthrough Radio” format they’d been running in conjunction with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, replacing it with sports talk as “Gambler Radio.”

Verizon surprised viewers all around the New York metro with the announcement it was shutting down its “FiOS 1” news channel, ending the contract that had Rye Brook-based RNN producing the regional channels and leaving dozens of talented news people without jobs.

To the north, WPTZ (Channel 5) opened a new main studio/office in Burlington, Vermont, relegating its old studio across the lake in Plattsburgh to bureau status.

SEPTEMBER

Roger Christian, who’d been synonymous with Buffalo’s 102.5 through many incarnations as WBEN-FM, WMJQ and WTSS, lost his longtime midday gig there in an Entercom budget cut; he quickly resurfaced up the street at Buddy Shula’s WECK, taking over mornings in place of Tom Donahue and Gail Huber.

Connoisseur was cutting, too, pulling Bill “The Wiseman” Wise off mornings at Long Island’s WHLI (1100); he soon resurfaced over at JVC’s “Oldies 98.1.”

In Erie, Craig Warvel exited iHeart’s WXBB (94.7), closing out his long career in morning drive there.

On TV, Laura Hand announced her retirement from WSTM (Channel 3) in Syracuse after more than four decades; Sinclair sister station WHAM-TV (Channel 13) in Rochester lost morning anchors Jennifer Johnson and Norma Holland in quick succession.

Your editor lost several Boston benchmarks all at once: longtime WBZ (1030) colleague Carl Stevens stepped back from full-time reporting to part-time status; up the road in Lowell, WCAP (980) left the Central Street studios it had occupied since 1951 (and where yours truly had his first ever paying radio gig, 40 years later) for new streetfront digs on Market Street.


OCTOBER

Did we really get this far into the year without a WBAI crisis? October more than made up for that, as a new group of national leaders at Pacifica decided to try to address the ongoing financial shortfalls in New York by closing WBAI’s local studios and rebooting the station with a national programming lineup fed from Pacifica national headquarters in California.

Predictably, this did not go well. Lawsuits ensued, and within a few weeks the local management and programming had been restored, with no evident improvement in the station’s financial picture.

Over where there was more money and more listeners, WNYC (93.9) faced listener and donor backlash when it announced the cancellation of “New Sounds,” its nightly music show; whatever its plan had been for taking 93.9 to full-time news and talk, there was more demand than WNYC had apparently expected to keep some music there. (WNYC also named its new chief executive, tapping Goli Sheikholeslami for that post.)

Public TV outlets were dipping their toes into radio: New York’s WNET signed a deal to begin operating WPPB (88.3) out on Long Island’s East End. In the Lehigh Valley, public TV station WLVT took over operation of Lehigh University’s WLVR (91.3 Bethlehem), promising a new local public radio service for the region that would complement music-focused independent local station WDIY (88.1).

Up the road, Connoisseur installed its “Cat Country” format from WCTO (96.1) on newly-acquired WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ), replacing the alternative “Spin Radio” format there. (Spin’s Allentown translator on 94.7 was switched to a relay of sports talk from WEEX 1230/WTKZ 1320.)

Over in Harrisburg, Cumulus’ cuts focused on local morning shows, cancelling the “Morning Madhouse” on WWKL and Chachi Angelo on WZCY. In Philadelphia, Chris Stigall returned to the air a few months after his exit from Entercom’s WPHT, starting a new local morning show on Salem’s WNTP.

Ricki Lee and Aaron and Jessica Ishmael relaunched the former WAIX (1160 Mechanicsville) as WSSV, “Star Radio,” adding a translator on 93.3 and new streetfront studios in Saratoga Springs. Over in Watertown, Alan Walts departed morning drive at WTNY (790) after a long run.

In Rochester, iHeart’s entire radio engineering team, veterans Randy Orbaker and Joe Kochmanski, retired on the same day, leaving the cluster to visiting engineers from elsewhere in the company. (Is this also where your editor might discreetly note that he took over engineering duties in late 2019 for Rochester’s WDKX, the locally-owned urban station?)

On Martha’s Vineyard, WMVY (88.7) bought a new building for studios and offices, preparing to leave the small building at its transmitter site that had been the station’s home since it started on 92.7 in the 1980s.

Mike Thomas left Boston’s WBZ-FM (98.5 the Sports Hub) for a new corporate programming gig in Chicago with Good Karma Brands; APD Rick Radzik moved up to take over the PD reins there. Another good guy getting PD stripes was Adam Rivers, who became programmer for iHeart’s entire New Haven cluster.

NOVEMBER

Is Mike Francesa’s exit from WFAN becoming an annual event? After returning to the afternoon shift at the Entercom sports talker in 2018, he announced his semi-retirement again, with plans to continue contributing to radio.com and to do a half-hour show on WFAN starting in early 2020. Unsurprisingly, Francesa’s second departure from WFAN occasioned far less excitement than his first retirement, especially when the ratings showed him lagging behind rival WEPN in afternoon drive.

On Long Island, veteran WALK-FM (97.5) morning man Mark Daniels exited when the station made its annual flip to Christmas music; at year’s end, WALK announced it won’t have its own local morning show, instead simulcasting “Anna and Raven” from Connoisseur sister WEZN (Star 99.9) across Long Island Sound. (WEZN’s Milford studios got more crowded in late 2019, too, as new sisters WICC and WEBE moved in from their longtime home in downtown Bridgeport.)

On public radio in Connecticut, Faith Middleton did her last “Food Schmooze” show, retiring from Connecticut Public/WNPR after almost 40 years of talk radio.

In Portland, Saga flipped WZAN (970) from sports to classic country as “101.5 the Outlaw,” adding a new translator as part of a marketwide shuffle that also launched “Pure Oldies” on the 105.5 translator that had been relaying WGAN (560), which moved its news-talk FM feed to a new translator at 98.5.

Above Burlington, Vermont, the Mount Mansfield antenna carrying WCAX (Channel 3) and WPTZ (Channel 5) caught fire, taking the CBS and NBC stations off the air until a temporary replacement antenna could be flown in.

DECEMBER

Cumulus’ exit from New York continued with the shutdown of local programming on WNBM (103.9), where Sharon “La Loca” Montero had been the last local jock. “Radio 103.9 New York” continues with syndicated content, presumably until Cumulus can find a buyer. Downtown at Entercom, Pat Farnack’s retirement from WCBS (880) middays marked the end of 47 years on the radio, the last 19 in New York.

In Syracuse, Tom and Becky (Owens and Palmer) did their last morning show on iHeart’s WBBS (104.7), with the country station moving the syndicated Bobby Bones show from nights to mornings in the new year.

WTIC (1080 Hartford) midmorning host Jim Vicevich retired after a long battle with lupus; Will Marotti replaced him in that slot on the Entercom news-talker.

Year-end format changes included Urban One’s rebranding of “Boom 103.9” WPHI in Philadelphia as “Hip-Hop 103.9” and iHeart’s flip of Erie rimshotter WLTM (95.9 Mina NY) from “Lite” to the iHeart all-podcast format.

Back on the air: KQV (1410 Pittsburgh), returning from a new site with a simulcast of beautiful music sister WKGO (88.1).

New: CIRF (1350 Brampton ON), testing as “Radio Humsafar.”


> > > Coming Monday, Dec. 30: The Year’s Top Ten Stories

We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.

Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.

Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!