The Year in People and Formats, January – June

By SCOTT FYBUSH

It’s time once again for our Year in Review, the 27th 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 Monday with The Year in Sales and will appear daily through Friday, January 1, so check back every day for a new installment. We’ll resume our regular NorthEast Radio Watch report on Monday, January 4. (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 Monday’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

Some of the post-Christmas format changes that kicked off 2020: Townsquare’s WCZX (97.7 Hyde Park) dropped top-40 “Now” to become country “Wolf”; after a brief simulcast, WKXP (94.3 Kingston) went from Wolf to soft AC as “Lite 94.3.” East of Erie, iHeart’s WLTM (95.9 Mina NY) picked up the company’s all-podcast channel after stunting with Christmas music. It was soft AC “Big 100.3” at WKVA (920 Lewistown) in place of classic hits, and currents-based “Hip Hop 103.9” for Radio One’s WPHI (103.9) in Philadelphia in place of classic hip-hop “Boom,” though that format change wouldn’t last out the year.

It didn’t take long for the new year to bring devastating news to hundreds of talented iHeart employees around the region, as the company launched what would turn out to be just the first of several rounds of rolling job cuts aimed at an eventual goal of nationalizing much of its programming. From veteran news people (and the overnight live talk show) at Boston’s WBZ to long-running morning shows on Cape Cod and in upstate New York to most of the remaining local staffers at small outposts like Hudson, NY and Sussex, NJ, the cuts came without warning and without explanation. (We’ll have much more to say about them as we get to our Top 10 Stories of the year later this week.)

A new top-40 format returned to Williamsport as Van Michaels took WLMY (107.9) from variety hits “My 107.9” to top-40 as “Hot 107.9” under new WOTH calls.

It was “Hot” in midwinter Maine, too, where MaineInvests took the rhythmic format from WHTP (104.7 Kennebunk) statewide by adding it to WJYE (1280 Gardiner) and its 100.3 Augusta translator and WCYR (1400 Veazie/Bangor) and its 102.9 translator. The new “Hot” signals took new calls, too – WHTP(AM) in Gardiner and WHZP in Bangor.

North of the border, CKPE (94.9 Sydney NS) flipped from hot AC to classic hits just before the new year, rebranding from “The Cape” to “The Wave.” In Sarnia, CHOK (1070/103.9) shifted from full-service AC to country.

There would be bigger changes later at Seven Mountains’ Elmira-Corning cluster, but the first few incremental format changes started in January, with the end of news-talk on WWLZ (820 Horseheads) and its 101.3 translator, which became a simulcast of “Met” classic rock WMTT (94.7).

Mike Francesa’s departure (for the moment) from afternoons at New York’s WFAN brought veteran Joe Benigno to the 2-6 PM slot alongside Evan Roberts, with Maggie Gray paired with Mike “Moose” Malusis in middays; Gray’s former midday co-host Bart Scott made his debut across town at WEPN (98.7) later in January.

Connoisseur was one of many radio groups doing some downsizing as the year began: its “Anna and Raven” morning show jumped Long Island Sound to simulcast on WALK-FM (97.5) from its Connecticut home base at WEZN (Star 99.9); meanwhile, former Connoisseur AM WALK (1370) became Radio Cantico Nuevo’s WLID. Former WALK-FM morning co-host Jamie Morris moved down the hall to WKJY (K-Joy 98.3), displacing Kara Reifert. And in Connecticut, WYBC-FM (94.3) went back to syndication in mornings, picking up the new Compass Media “DeDe in the Morning” with DeDe McGuire and shifting Juan Castillo from mornings to afternoon drive.

Managers on the move: Greg Ried was abruptly out after many years as VP/market manager at Entercom in Buffalo, while veteran manager Steve Doerr was in as the new VP/GM at Meredith’s “Western Mass News” operation, encompassing WGGB (ABC 40), WGGB-2 (Fox 6) and WSHM (CBS).

At iHeart, a turbulent year for programmer Mike (Kerr) McCabe started with being named PD of WZFT (Z104.3) in Baltimore, moving him south from the Portsmouth NH cluster; at iHeart’s New York stations, front-desk institution Anita Scipio retired, getting a huge, loving send-off that included vacation packages from Elvis Duran.

Gone: the tower for WGCH (1490 Greenwich CT); the old studio building for Providence’s WHJJ/WHJY; VOAR (1210 St. John’s NL, survived by VOAR-FM 96.7), Jan. 9.

New to the air: Bell’s “Pure Country” format on HD subchannels of CKFM (99.9 Toronto) and CKKW (99.5 Kitchener-Waterloo); French community relay CHOD-1 (92.1 Dunvegan ON)

FEBRUARY

The end came swiftly for legendary New England rocker WAAF as the sale to EMF closed, but Entercom at least gave Mistress Carrie, Mike Hsu and the rest of the staff two days to say goodbye on the air before the switch was flipped and 107.3 became K-Love (as WKVB) on Feb. 21. While the WAAF brand survived on HD2 subchannels, it was only as an unstaffed shell of what it once was.

Entercom was at the forefront of February’s job cuts in other markets, too, axing night jocks and pushing veteran WOGL talent Marilyn Russell out of mornings in Philadelphia, even as it completed the consolidation of its Philadelphia stations into its new Market Street headquarters.

It wasn’t just Entercom where veterans were out: Stan Main exited the operations manager job at Stephens Media Group in Rochester, and Joe Bartlett prepared to leave New York’s WOR after 34 years, though his exit would be delayed for reasons nobody could yet imagine in that last innocent month of 2020.

Stephens, meanwhile, was on the losing end of a labor complaint, forced by the National Labor Relations Board to rehire four fired employees in Watertown and Massena after a union battle there.

Buffalo’s WNED public radio and TV stations rebranded as “Buffalo-Toronto Public Media,” hoping to continue building on WNED-TV’s viewer and donor base across the border that nobody yet knew would slam shut in just a few weeks. Over at Entercom’s Buffalo cluster, WBEN (930) talk host and Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia stepped away from his afternoon duties, only to return to the station in July as its new morning host.

WCKR (92.1 Hornell NY) flipped from hot AC “Fun 92.1” to sports, a move that immediately proved to be ill timed and was reversed a few months later.

In New Jersey, public jazz station WBGO saw CEO Amy Niles resign amidst protests from staffers about the firing of another executive who spoke out about racism within the station.

In Connecticut, Irv Goldstein launched the first of two new formats in 2020, replacing classic hits “B94.5” with classic rock “Hawk” on WAXB (850) and its 94.5 translator.

New: NBC’s “NBCU Boston Media Center,” a new state-of-the-art broadcast center in Needham for WBTS (NBC Boston), NBC Sports Boston and NECN; CIND-HD2 (88.1 Toronto) with an active rock format; CFAJ (1220 St. Catharines ON) testing with oldies through the rest of 2020; local programming on Ed Perry’s WBMS 1460 in Brockton, though it would soon be suspended for a few months.

Gone: the five towers that held KQV (1410 Pittsburgh) in the north hills since the 1940s, replaced by a one-tower diplex to the southeast of town; WRSA (1420 St. Albans VT), silent February 6 amidst financial issues.

MARCH

There was some normal news, briefly, early in the month before the pandemic hit and the shutdowns began.

In Pennsylvania, Bold Gold dropped sports at WICK/WCDL in Scranton, replacing “The Game” with “The Mothership,” playing oldies on the two AM signals and two FM translators.

North of the border, Corus rearranged morning shows, bringing the “Morning Grind” from Hamilton’s Y108 to replace Ruby and Alex Carr on 102.1 the Edge in Toronto, and putting a simulcast of London’s “Taz Show” on in Hamilton. Stingray planned to install the US-based “Breakfast Club” morning show on CFXJ (93.5 the Flow) in Toronto, only to delay those plans once the virus arrived.

There was plenty of change on the morning airwaves in Portland, where veteran morning man Chuck Igo headed to a long-planned retirement from an unexpectedly empty studio at Saga’s WYNZ at month’s end, replaced by AJ Dukette, who’d just been ousted across town at Townsquare’s WHOM. Down the hall at WMGX, veteran Eva Matteson was replaced in mornings by salsa-maker Kelly Towle in mornings.

Townsquare was cutting in other markets, too, including several managers on the New Hampshire seacoast – and Igo’s planned exit from Portland was accompanied by job cuts for others at that cluster, including operations manager Jeff Pierce.

In Philadelphia, VP Broadcasting took over operations at WHAT (1340) and its 99.9 translator, replacing “Z99.9” with “La Kalle,” playing salsa and reggaeton.

*And then, of course, everything changed very quickly mid-month.

The immediate impact of the shutdowns was brutal for some struggling operations: in western Maine, Gleason Media, already facing the loss of owner Dick Gleason a few months earlier, turned off its seven stations March 29.

With no live sports, many local sports shows went on hiatus, and even big operations like New York’s WFAN dropped weekend hosts, making weekday talkers do extra duty for a few months. In Ithaca, Saga’s “Buzzer” translator ditched its sports format entirely on weekdays, instead carrying a loop of information about the region’s COVID testing site.

Even as news-talk stations moved quickly to build out home studios for their anchors and reporters, they added new programming and simulcasts of vital information – Beasley brought former morning host Bert Baron back alongside his new boss, New Brunswick mayor Jim Cahill, for a daily COVID report, while Connoisseur in Connecticut simulcast some of its talk programming on its FM stations. But there was a limit to resources: public station WSHU in Connecticut cancelled its daily local talk show in late March.

At Entercom in Rochester, Steve Hausmann came back from retirement to host mornings from home, replacing Jeremy Newman after an ouster that still lacks explanation. (A few months later, Chris Konya and TJ Sharp took over Coffee Club duties alongside veteran Terry Clifford.)

In Canada, the CBC’s initial response, cancelling its local evening newscasts across the country, met with immediate criticism and was soon partially reversed. CBC Radio also made schedule changes, adding call-in shows and dropping some of its music hosts temporarily.


APRIL

It was a bleak month for many in radio, especially at Entercom, which started the month with a deep job cut that included veteran staffers such as Nancy Quill, part of the original airstaff at WMJX in Boston, and John Minko of WFAN in New York. There were cuts in Hartford, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and at Boston’s “AMP” (WODS 103.3), which lost its morning show, prefacing bigger changes soon to come there. Those who remained took pay cuts and lost other benefits.

Other companies were forced to make cuts, too: Beasley released morning co-host Tra Thomas at WPEN in Philadelphia, while Townsquare cuts included Monmouth-Ocean operations manager Steve Ardolina. Ron DeCastro, who’d been running sister station WKXW in Trenton, moved up the Turnpike to take over as market president for the MediaCo stations in New York.

A smaller cut was still noticed at Boston’s WBZ (1030), where weekend talk host Morgan White Jr. was sidelined by the pandemic’s restrictions on the use of the station’s studios; he’d return at year’s end in a different weekend shift. At former sister station WBZ-TV (Channel 4), Barry Burbank’s long career in weather ended with a drive-by parade outside his home in lieu of the usual farewell walk down WBZ’s main hallway.

*Away from the daily struggles of the pandemic, there were some of the usual format changes, too. In Warren, Pennsylvania, Lilly Broadcasting extended its “Happi” top-40 brand from WICU-FM (92.7) in Erie to WNAE (1310) and its 96.7 translator, which changed calls to WICU; sister “Kinzua Country” WKNB (104.3) took the historic WNAE calls.

Across the state, Forever closed out the month with flips at the cluster it had recently purchased in Lebanon: news-talk WLBR (1270) went to classic hits as “WiLBuR,” while soft AC WQIC (100.1) relaunched with the company’s trademark “Froggy” country format as WFVY, “Froggy Valley.”

Cantico Nuevo leased out WXMC (1310 Parsippany-Troy Hills NJ) and its Edison translator on 96.7 to the Radio Zindagi South Asian network.

After closing on his purchase of New York’s WABC in March, John Catsimatidis began making changes. Even before the station left 2 Penn Plaza in July for new studios across town, “Cats” began adding new weekend debate shows, with bigger weekend changes yet to come.

Up in Buffalo, Buddy Shula brought former morning host Tom Donahue back to the station to resume morning duties.

And in Montpelier, Vermont, WSKI (1240) dropped CBS Sports Radio for a simulcast of rock sister station WWMP (103.3 Waterbury).

Gone: silent WJDM 1530 Elizabeth NJ, surrendered (along with an unbuilt translator CP on 107.9) to allow new sister WTHE on Long Island to move to 1530.

MAY

One of the year’s biggest format changes came near the end of May, when Entercom abruptly killed off top-40 WODS (103.3 AMP) in Boston on May 26 after an eight-year struggle with the format. Never able to overtake iHeart’s dominant WXKS (Kiss 108), AMP had already lost its morning show, with the remainder of the airstaff gone as the station went jockless in its new identity as WBGB, “Big 103,” playing classic hits with a strong 90s-00s lean.

Two days earlier, on May 24, iHeart made a subtler format shift in Philadelphia, relaunching “Radio 104.5” WRFF as “Alt 104.5” with some airstaff moves and new imaging.

There was another Saga ouster in Portland, but this time with some extra reverberations: when 38-year veteran Randi Kirshbaum was let go as brand manager of WCLZ/WMGX, it wasn’t just budget considerations: Saga managers openly told local media that it was because Kirshbaum had refused to come back to work in the building, something Kirshbaum said was doctor’s orders because of medical vulnerabilities. By year’s end, the dispute escalated into an age-discrimination complaint with both state and federal authorities.

Down the road at Binnie Media, where WTHT (99.9 the Wolf) PD Stan Bennett departed, there was a better reason, which would become clear very quickly when Bennett turned to station ownership as the new head of the former Gleason stations.

There were cuts at Cumulus, which put its staff on rolling furloughs, and at Radio One, which dropped afternoon jock Dyana Williams at Classix 107.9 in Philadelphia. At Connoisseur in Connecticut, Tony Reno was out of mornings at WICC (600), while John “Wigmaster” Griffin was gone from middays at WPLR after four decades.

Bob Matthews’ exit from his longtime evening sports shift at WHAM (1180) in Rochester was apparently voluntary – and quite abrupt, too, as he complained there was simply nothing to talk about. (He’d later return for a weekend shift down the hall at sports sister WHTK 1280.) Another voluntary departure at iHeart in Rochester was WAIO (95.1) producer Pauly Guglielmo, whose pasta sauce business grew from a side hustle into a successful full-time venture.

Randy Price’s departure was voluntary, too; at 70, he was ready to leave New England and his morning anchor slot at WCVB in Boston to move to South Carolina for good. WCVB GM Bill Fine also announced his retirement, capping a long and honored career in the city.

After several COVID-related delays, Ed Perry finally launched his separate oldies format and airstaff on WMEX (1510 Boston), leaving only a morning drive simulcast with sister WATD (95.9) in place. (In Brockton, sister station WBMS 1460 followed suit for real in late June.)

EMF began rearranging its new New England holdings: in Athol, WFNX (99.9) flipped to K-Love as WKMY, while WKMY (91.1 Winchendon) went to Air-1 as WRWX; in Boston, its new WKVB (107.3) applied for a new transmitter site and three new on-channel boosters to strengthen its signal close to the city.

In Vermont, Holly Groschner exited as president and CEO of Vermont PBS – and we didn’t yet know the next chapter for that statewide network, which would soon announce plans for a merger with Vermont Public Radio.

Bruce James’ Vermont Broadcast Associates quietly flipped WSTJ (1340 St. Johnsbury) from its longtime full-service format to a simulcast of AC “Magic” WGMT (97.7)

In Buffalo, Cumulus regional VP/rock James Kurdziel exited WEDG (103.3) as PD and mid-dayer, heading to Minneapolis and sister station KQRS. John Murphy exited the “One Bills Drive” show heard on Entercom’s WGR and seen on MSG, while retaining his Bills play-by-play duties.

In Albany, Randy McCarten returned from the January iHeart cuts to become PD of WRVE and WTRY, SVP of programming for the Albany cluster and morning host on WRVE, which displaced morning hosts Jason Howard and Tracy Villaume.

Gone: the 400-foot tower of WILI (1400) in Willimantic, Connecticut, which Hall dismantled and quickly replaced because of structural issues; CHRF (980 Montreal), surrendering its license and signing off May 31.

New calls: silent WQUN (1220 Hamden CT) returned to the air temporarily as WATX to keep its license alive while awaiting a sale.

JUNE

Loud Media had a busy month up in New York’s North Country. After the late May flip that took WPLA (107.1) from “107.1 Plattsburgh Rocks” to classic hits “107.1 Lake-FM,” it dropped oldies “Mid-Century Radio” from WPLB (1070) and its 103.7 translator, replacing it with throwback hip-hop “Jump.” Meanwhile, Great Eastern Radio flipped its WJKS (104.3 Keeseville) from classic hip-hop “Kiss” to a simulcast of its “Froggy” country across the lake in Montpelier, Vermont, WWFY (100.9).

More iHeart cuts kept rolling: in addition to the ouster of Rochester’s Kimberly and Beck from WAIO (Radio 95.1) after once again crossing the lines of good taste, this time with comments about the anti-racism protests rocking the city, the company made more budget-related cutbacks, too. In Syracuse, Rich Lauber had been the last local voice on any of the company’s local music stations when he was cut loose as operations manager, senior VP of programming and afternoon jock on WBBS (B104.7), where he’d been the first voice heard when that format launched back in 1993.

The big companies kept cutting: in Boston, Beasley couldn’t work out a new contract deal to keep David Corey as PD of WKLB (Country 102.5) and national country format brand manager; down the road at public radio WBUR (90.9), a round of companywide job cuts included the demise of the long-running “Only a Game” national sports show. In western CONNECTICUT, cuts at Townsquare meant the end of a 31-year career for Tim Sheehan at WRKI (I-95) in the Danbury market, where he’d been both PD and afternoon jock.

Phil Zachary, longtime Entercom exec in Boston, Hartford, and Washington, came to Portland to replace Bob Adams at the helm of Saga’s Portland Radio Group, in a bid to bring some stability to a cluster with immense staff turnover and turmoil.

WSNJ (1240) in Bridgeton, NJ rebranded from “SNJ Today” to “Pop FM 99.9, the Power of Positivity,” trying to put a cheerful spin on a tough year. Not far away, near Philadelphia, W264BH (100.7 Mount Holly NJ), fed by the HD3 of Beasley’s WJBR (99.5 Wilmington DE), launched as “Philly’s Favor 100.7” with a black gospel format.

On Long Island, public radio WPPB (88.3 Southampton) rebranded as WLIW-FM June 15, matching new TV sister station WLIW (Channel 21) and parent WNET (Channel 13).

In New Hampshire, a rare LPFM format change found WLGV-LP (95.1 Londonderry) becoming WEVX-LP (95.1 Derry), changing hands from Londonderry ALERT to the Town of Derry. As part of Derry’s DerryCAM community access media group, WEVX flipped to a AAA format under programmer Owen Provencher, as “Derry’s Evolution Radio.”

More veterans stepped away: in Binghamton, Roger Neel had been with WNBF since 1978, most recently as morning man; Doug Mosher replaced him after his June 19 departure. Scott “Fitz” Fitzgerald left Rochester’s “Fickle” WFKL after six years in mornings to focus on his podcast studio. John Summers left Saga in Ithaca, where he was brand manager/news director for WHCU, to join Cumulus’ KKOB in Albuquerque as news director.

Buffalo’s Paul Hamilton wasn’t sidelined for long: after his furlough from Entercom’s WGR (550) became permanent, he was quickly hired by crosstown WGRZ (Channel 2), where the Sabres beat reporter had already been filling in as weekend sports anchor.

More managers on the move: Seven Mountains in State College hired Joe Wowk as its new market manager, while New Hampshire veteran Heath Cole joined Binnie Media’s stations in New Hampshire and Maine as VP/programming.

In Canada, Acadia Broadcasting flipped CKBW (94.5 Bridgewater NS) from hot AC to classic hits, while June 17 brought “WKND” French-language pop music to CJPX (99.5 Montreal), replacing Radio Classique classical music. In Quebec City, CHIK (Energie 98.9) dropped its French talk format for rock music, with big staff cuts along the way. And one of the few all-sports stations in small markets, My Broadcasting’s CJMB (90.5 Extra) in Peterborough, Ontario, dropped the format to become “Alternative Rewind, freq 90.5.”

Call changes: Having already parked one former Boston callsign, WAAF, on the former WBZU (910 Scranton PA), Entercom followed up with WODS on the former WKZN (1300 West Hazleton).


> > > Coming Wednesday, Dec. 30: The Year in Formats, People and Calls, cont.

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