The Year in People and Formats, July – December
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 continued yesterday with the first half of our Year in People and Formats. It will appear daily through our wrap-up on 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 third 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.
Seven Mountains Media had some July 4 fireworks, a day early: it rearranged much of the Elmira-Corning cluster it had assembled from Equinox and Community Broadcasters on July 3. Its trademark “Bigfoot Country” launched on the former “Met” 94.7 (now WOBF), along with the former “Cool” oldies signals, WPHD 96.1 (now WQBF) and WZHD 97.1 over in Hornell (now WZBF). “Cool” and the WPHD calls moved up the road to the former “Wingz” (WNGZ 104.9) in Montour Falls; “Wingz” and its rock format moved to the former WRCE (1490 Watkins Glen) and translators in Elmira and Corning; “Met” and its classic rock, along with the WMTT calls, displaced country WPGI on 100.9, as well as remaining on the former WWLZ (820) and its 101.3 translator in Corning; and hip-hop went from “Loud” on a WPHD HD subchannel and 93.1 translator to “Jamz” on a new 101.7 translator. (All clear?)
The company also launched “Bigfoot Country” in the Poconos, replacing sports on WVPO (840) and its new 103.1 translator.
The first days of July brought several other format changes, too: on Long Island, WABC (770) added an East End FM simulcast as WLIR (107.1) and its 96.9 Manorville translator flipped from VMT Media’s “Real FM” to “Talkradio 107.1,” breaking away from 770 for two hours a day of local talk with Frank Morano.
The first day of July brought a new soft AC format to New Hampshire’s Lakes Region as WZEI (101.5 Meredith) dropped the WEEI sports talk network to become “Lakes FM 101.5,” WWLK.
In Canada, the month started with a Blackburn Radio format change in Sarnia, Ontario, with “Cool” classic hits replacing “K106.3” hot AC on CHKS (106.3), extending that brand north from Windsor and Chatham-Kent.
At the edge of NERW-land, iHeart’s WAKZ (95.9 Sharpsville OH), in the Youngstown market, flipped from top-40 “Kiss” to R&B/hip-hop “Real 95.9” on July 2, competing against “Loud 102.3,” which launched last year over WLOA (1470 Farrell) and a Youngstown translator.
A new programming initiative from iHeart was initially hard to find in NERW-land: while the new Black Information Network got big full-power signals in places like Atlanta, Norfolk and Detroit, it showed up at first only on HD subchannels in New York and Boston.
Fred Toucher of Boston’s “Toucher and Rich” morning show left the airwaves for some time in an inpatient mental health program, dealing with alcohol issues after an uncomfortable on-air appearance in which he talked about the divorce he was going through; he’d be off the air until September.
In New York, Mike Francesca’s temporary return to WFAN ended with a final farewell to the station, his third in as many years.
Mike McCoy moved from Stephens’ hometown of Oklahoma City to its Rochester cluster, becoming the new operations manager for WFKL, WZNE and WRMM here.
There were COVID-related job cuts, of course: Buffalo’s WBFO (88.7) lost five positions, including the retirement of 39-year station veteran Mark Scott.
Hall Communications said it wanted to avoid cuts, but had no choice, which meant the loss of WICH (1310) morning man Glenn O’Brien and live night jock Josh Matty, among others, in Norwich, Connecticut; over in Providence, Kevin Palana replaced Bob Walker as PD at WCTK, as Walker moved his base of operations down to Hall’s Lakeland, Florida stations.
At age 84, “Cousin Brucie” Morrow was the biggest name in New York music radio headlines, departing SiriusXM’s 60s on 6 – and immediately signing on with John Catsimatidis’ WABC (770), which made him the linchpin of a new “Musicradio 77” revival, which grew to include shows from Tony Orlando and a Frank Sinatra show hosted by Joe Piscopo, plus a separate all-music stream.
Pamal reacted to Loud Media’s late-July country flip of WNYV/WVNR (94.1/1340) to “K94.1” on the New York/Vermont border, flipping its own WKBE (107.1) from top-40 “Point” to classic country as “Big Country 107.1, Country’s Biggest Legends.” Sean McMaster, who tracked afternoons at WKBE and shared mornings on Albany’s WYJB (95.5) with his wife Andrea, wasn’t around much longer after Pamal canceled their “Breakfast Club” morning show. (Loud would later extend “K94.1” into Albany, via WABY 900 and its 94.1 translator there.)
In Rochester, iHeart launched a replacement afternoon talk show on its WAIO (Radio 95.1), putting comedian Earl David Reed together with two local veterans returning to the company, Megan Carter and Pat McMahon. Tias Schuster, another victim of the company’s January cuts, returned as VP/programming overseeing Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton. Cory “Kobe” Fargo, who lost his iHeart Syracuse gig in January, came to Stephens in Rochester to do afternoons on WZNE (94.1 the Zone), replacing Shane Allen and Mark Maira’s “Gentleman’s Club” ahead of some bigger changes at the station later in the fall.
iHeart’s Black Information Network got a full Philadelphia signal with the LMA of WTEL (610) from Beasley, flipping the station from its mix of ESPN sports and overflow play-by-play at month’s end; the ESPN clearance moved to WNJE (920) in Trenton, NJ, which changed calls to WPST(AM).
Stan Bennett’s revival of the former Gleason Media stations continued in western Maine: after putting country WOXO (92.7/100.7) back on the air, Bennett resurrected the old WIGY calls from the Maine coast, putting them on the former “Big Z” WEZR (1240/105.5) in Lewiston and running hot AC there in a simulcast with WPNO (1450/96.9) in South Paris.
In Vermont, Vox moved Brady Farkas out of the PD and afternoon co-host chair at sports “Game” WCPV, replacing him with T.J. Michaels; Farkas landed down the road in Waterbury at WDEV soon afterward.
Entercom’s realignment of regional presidents’ duties brought some changes in MASSACHUSETTS, where Mark Hannon moved away from day-to-day oversight over the Boston cluster in favor of a broader regional portfolio that put him over most of the company’s Northeast markets – Providence, Springfield, Hartford, Rochester, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – as well as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington.
On Cape Cod, the “Dan and Stephanie” show, cut from iHeart earlier in the year, returned in streaming form, but only briefly; the “Mix 96” online venture hit some snags and their show soon disappeared again.
Where’d the teletype noise go on all-news KYW (1060) in Philadelphia? PD Alex Silverman joked that the supply of ribbons for the machine finally ran out – but in fact, the imaging change was a prelude to some bigger changes coming later in the year for the Entercom station.
Toronto’s “Metro Morning” on CBC Radio One (CBLA 99.1) got a permanent morning host after more than eight months of interim hosts, as Ismaila Alfa replaced the long-departed Matt Galloway on Aug. 24.
Cogeco dropped local programming at its “WOW” stations, CJLA (104.9 Lachute) and simulcaster CHPR (102.1 Hawkesbury ON), switching them to a rebroadcast of sister French hot AC station CIME (103.9 Saint-Jerome.)
Several radio veterans were in the spotlight: in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Jack Michaels stepped down from mornings at WKYE (96.5), 37 years after he helped launch the station and almost half a century after his career started across town at WCRO (1230). Health issues caused Michaels to hand off his morning shift on WKYE to music director Brian Wolfe, who also does middays on Forever Media sister station WCCL (Cool 101.7.)
In Willimantic, Connecticut, Wayne Norman marked 50 years at WILI (1400), while at Hartford’s WTIC (1080), Angela Dias retired after 35 years in the mornings.
New: CBO-FM-1 (104.7), bringing CBC Radio One service to Belleville, Ontario with a stronger signal (Aug. 13)
Gone: CJMS (1040) in St.-Constant, Quebec, Aug. 31, after the CRTC denied its license renewal for repeated regulatory non-compliance; a series of appeals would allow it to return to the air at least temporarily, though the appeals were denied in late December.
It was Entercom cutting jobs again, with a focus on midday and afternoon personalities at local stations who could be easily replaced by national programming, especially in the company’s “Alt” format. A new talent lineup at WNYL (Alt 92.3) in New York, led by Cane and Corey in morning drive, replaced most of the local staff at stations such as WLKK (Alt 107.7) in Buffalo, where PD/afternooner Nik Rivers and middayer Axe were among the cuts, along with WCMF Rochester PD “Mud” (Michael Gross).
Wendy Bell was out at Entercom’s KDKA (1020) in Pittsburgh, but that was the result of on-air controversies she spurred, prompting sponsors and listeners to complain. Bell had been in afternoons with KDKA for a year, after an earlier controversy had taken her off WTAE-TV (Channel 4). After several months with fill-in hosts, KDKA would name former KDKA-TV anchor Rick Dayton to the slot in December.
Leave off the “W”: Boston’s public broadcaster is still “WGBH” to the FCC, but its new corporate identity was just “GBH,” in an effort to better position it as a national media player far beyond the reach of Boston’s TV 2 and 44 or FM 89.7. The new branding came with a new color – purple – and a streamlined new logo.
One of Connecticut’s best-known TV anchors departed: after 28 years at the WFSB (Channel 3) anchor desk, Dennis House stepped down from both weekday duties and his Sunday “Face the State” show; at year’s end, he announced plans to join WTNH (Channel 8) as chief political anchor early in 2021. Another veteran anchor, Doug Emblidge of Rochester’s WHAM-TV (Channel 13), moved from his longtime split shift doing mornings and 5 PM to a more humane split, anchoring the 5 PM newscast on WHAM and the 10 PM show on sister station WUHF (Channel 31).
There were more veterans retiring in northwest Pennsylvania: at the Cumulus cluster in Erie, Jim Griffey ended a half-century radio career, all of it spent in Erie at just four station groups, starting at Gannon’s WERG and for the last 30 years at WRIE and its sister FM stations, where he served as production director.
Erie vet Bill Shannon retired from WWOW (1360) in Conneaut, Ohio, just over the state line, where he was a co-owner. And Mark Silvis left WRRN (92 Gold) in Warren after 44 years in town and 47 years in the radio business; Johnny Marx succeeded him on the WRRN morning show.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, in State College, Seven Mountains shifted WZWW (3WZ 95.3) from AC to hit AC, with a new logo and new “Happy Valley’s Best Mix” slogan to go with a new logo. Lightner Communications shifted WTRN (1340/96.9/100.7) in Tyrone and Altoona from “Easy Favorites” soft oldies over to classic hits as “96.7/100.7 Classic Favorites.” Up in St. Mary’s, WKBI (1400/94.5) reversed its 2019 shift from oldies to news-talk, returning to “Classy 1400/94.5.”
In Boston, Bill Blount returned WILD (1090) to the air after a long silence, carrying the same “Life Changing Radio” religious format heard on his other New England stations.
The pandemic economy kept taking its toll on radio employment: at Maine Public, three longtime personalities took early retirement offers, including “Morning Classical” host Robin Rilette. In New York’s Finger Lakes, the slowdown of the tourist-driven economy hit WFLR hard; the Finger Lakes Radio Group station parted ways with its longtime morning man, Mike Smith, after 11 years at WFLR and 29 years with the company and its predecessors.
In Canada, cutbacks at Global meant the end of a local anchor at its Montreal evening newscasts, where Jamie Orchard left, replaced by newscasts recorded ahead of time by Toronto anchor Tracy Tong.
My Broadcasting changed formats at CIYN (95.5 Goderich) along the Lake Huron shore, flipping it from “My FM” AC to “Shoreline Oldies,” playing classic hits just a few days after Blackburn Radio dropped rock from CIBU (94.5 Wingham), replacing “Rock 94.5” with “Cool 94.5.”
New: CHLP (100.1 Listowel ON), with country as “100.1 the Ranch” (Sept. 15)
More iHeart job cuts roiled the industry, in what would turn out to be a long wave of job losses that continued (at least) into December. Some of the iHeart staffers who were furloughed in the spring found out their job losses were now permanent, including part-timers such as Angie C (WZLX) and Jay Brown (WKAF) in Boston; elsewhere in the company, this round of job losses left remaining iHeart employees on edge, with no guidance from above as to why jobs were being cut or how long they might have to wait to find out if they were affected.
In Rhode Island, Chris DiPaola moved his classic rock “I-95” up the dial, transferring it from WWRI-LP (95.1), which went silent pending transfer to new operators, over to his newly-purchased WPVD (1450 West Warwick) and its 105.5 translator, now as “I-105.5.”
On Long Island, South Asian “Radio Zindagi” was on the move: the sale of its previous leased home, WBWD (540 Islip), sent it to WNYH (740 Huntington) – only to see Zindagi go back to 540 in December, with 740 picking up Korean-language Christian programming.
Beasley shuffled programmers in Philadelphia, moving Kristen Herrmann into the PD role at WBEN-FM (95.7 BEN FM) to replace Chuck D’Amico, now programming sports WPEN (97.5 the Fanatic).
In Allentown, WHOL (1600) and its 106.9 translator dropped “Mega” Spanish hits, becoming an English-language talker as “The Talk, 106.9.” The former “Mega” format continued on WEST (1400 Easton) and its translator, moving from 99.5 to 101.7 as “Mega 101.7.”
Across the state, EMF moved the calls of WEKV (105.1 Sheffield) out to a newly-purchased station serving Evansville, Indiana; the little 105.1 K-Love signal became WJKB.
In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Entercom’s top-40 WKRZ (98.5) celebrated its 40th birthday as best it could given the pandemic; afternoon host Jeff Walker, who’s been there almost since the beginning, brought some of his early KRZ colleagues back on the air, and the station hosted a monthlong virtual concert series in place of what surely would have been a big in-person party.
At Buffalo’s WNED, veteran president/CEO Don Boswell announced his plans to retire in June 2021, starting the search for what will be only the third CEO for the organization in 60 years, following Boswell and his predecessor, the long-tenured Michael Collins.
Hartford radio veteran Mike Karolyi came back to terrestrial radio as the new brand manager for Townsquare’s WQBK (Q105.7) in Albany, replacing former Townsquare OM Steve Richards in that role.
In Binghamton, it was – of all things – a weekend polka format war, as Barb Mack returned to the air to do a Sunday morning show on Equinox’s Cool 106.7 (WCDW), opposite that slot’s former host, Bill Flynn, now heard on Townsquare’s WNBF on Sundays.
Jack Heath, the former WMUR-TV anchor, made an abrupt jump from iHeart’s WGIR (610 Manchester) and WQSO (96.7 Rochester) mid-month, telling audiences at the end of his Oct. 15 show that it was his last edition of “NH Today.” While that show continued with another anchor (not that you’d know from iHeart’s websites, which still listed Heath at year’s end), Heath quickly resurfaced with competitor Binnie Media, where he immediately started a new 9-noon show, “Good Morning NH,” on a network that includes WTSN (1270/98.1 Dover), WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough), WEMJ (1490 Laconia). Heath’s arrival at Binnie came with some exits: at WTPL (which rebrands from “The Pulse” to “WTPL News-Talk”), morning co-host Peter St. James and midday host Ken Cail were both out, with Pat Kelly remaining in mornings. And at WJYY (105.5 Concord), Tara Madison was gone as morning co-host, with Nazzy remaining solo.
Jadd Naamani, whose New England career had taken him to iHeart in Tulsa before the January job cuts, landed back in Maine to fill the hole AJ Dukette left behind back in March, serving as brand manager at WHOM (94.9) in Portland and afternoon jock at WOKQ (97.5) in Dover, N.H.
Toronto doesn’t warm to US-based morning shows, as Stingray learned when it pulled the plug on the New York-based “Breakfast Club” on CFXJ (93.5 the Flow) after just a few months. As the Breakfast Club turned increasingly political ahead of the US elections, its content was out of sync with Toronto audiences, bringing Blake Carter and Peter Kash back to mornings from afternoons after five months. (And yet: up the dial on Evanov’s little CIRR 103.9, “Proud FM” launched the Elvis Duran show, based just down the hall from the “Breakfast Club” at iHeart in New York.)
Gone: the auxiliary AM tower at the former WBZ (1030) studios in Allston, dismantled early in the month after 70 years at the site.
The big radio owners didn’t do much buying in 2020 – except when it was a strategic move like the Entercom-Radio One station swap that moved Philadelphia’s WPHI (103.9 Jenkintown) from Radio One to Entercom as the new FM home of all-news KYW, starting Nov. 23.
WPHI’s exit from the Radio One cluster meant a big shuffle of the remaining signals there: the hip-hop format from 103.9 moved down the dial to WRNB (100.3), which merged its branding to become “R&B and Hip-Hop 100.3” using the former 103.9 airstaff.
The former 100.3 adult R&B format and its mostly-syndicated airstaff moved to a new HD2 on 100.3, which continued the old “RNB” branding from the main channel.
Adding the 103.9 FM signal to its longtime AM home on 1060 brought a new on-air lineup to KYW, where afternoon co-anchor Ian Bush joined Carol Mackenzie in morning drive, while Brandon Brooks retired from that shift after 31 years with KYW and a 48-year career in the business. Jay Scott Smith moved from part-time to a full-time afternoon slot alongside Michelle Durham, and Denise Nakano, formerly of WCAU-TV, became midday anchor at the Entercom all-newser.
Across the state, Entercom was also adding FM to KDKA (1020) in Pittsburgh, which marked its big centennial Nov. 2 by adding an FM translator on 100.1. That had been one of the two FM homes of Tim Martz’s WAMO stations, which consolidated to a single AM-translator simulcast format, playing hip-hop as “107.3 the Beat” on 107.3 and WAMO (660 Wilkinsburg).
In New York, Entercom’s WFAN (660/101.9) said goodbye to veteran sports host Joe Benigno, who retired from afternoons, clearing the way for the return of controversial host Craig Carton after serving just over a year of a three-year-plus sentence for running a ticket-resale pyramid scheme.
November 2 was also launch day for the Black Information Network on iHeart’s new acquisition there, WWRL (1600), where BIN replaced Radio Zindagi South Asian programming on that AM signal, operating at reduced power after losing part of a tower in a storm.
Rod Wood was one of the most familiar faces on Syracuse TV for more than half a century, starting in 1966 at WHEN-TV and moving to WIXT-TV (Channel 9) ten years later. After 44 years at channel 9, now WSYR-TV, Wood retired from his 6 and 11 PM anchor chair Nov. 18, replaced by Jeff Kulikowski.
Another central New York veteran, Dave Coombs, left the region for a new gig in western Massachusetts. Coombs handed off the “Dave and Beth Show” on WLZW (98.7 Utica) to Dave Wheeler before heading out to Saga in Springfield, where he replaced Pat Kelly on Saga’s “Lazer” (WLZX/WLZX-FM) in mornings as Kelly moved to afternoons on sister station WAQY. (As for Beth, who’s also Mrs. Coombs…. she’s staying put for now at WLZW with her new Dave co-host.)
In Connecticut, WTIC (1080) talker Joe D’Ambrosio announced his plans to leave the station when his contract runs out next June, citing frustration about not being able to voice his own opinions on the air.
In Danbury, Cumulus dropped CBS Sports Radio on WINE (940 Brookfield), switching to a simulcast of country sister WDBY (Kicks 105.5).
On the Jersey Shore, Coastal Broadcasting flipped WJSE (106.3 North Cape May) back to alt-rock from classic hits, dropping its “106.3 the Shore” identity after three years.
At Newark’s WBGO, Steve Williams was named as the new president/CEO, starting at the beginning of January. Williams, a former PD at the station, had been consulting WBGO during a turbulent year in which staffers raised diversity concerns.
Bob Oakes announced his plans to step down as local “Morning Edition” host at Boston’s WBUR (90.9) at year’s end, after 27 years with the public station.
Stephanie McNamara Bitis pleaded guilty to a felony charge of “access device fraud” for embezzling money from Long Island Broadcasting, the locally-owned cluster on the East End that includes WEHM/WEHN (92.9/96.9), WBEA (Beach 101.7) and WBAZ (102.5). After two years with the stations, owner Lauren Stone became suspicious and started reviewing the company credit card statements, which prompted an outside investigation that turned up hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal expenses that Bitis apparently charged to the station AmEx card. Bitis could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In Buffalo, Townsquare pulled the plug on “Jack” at WBUF (92.9) after 15 years, replacing it with harder-edged classic rock under the “Everything that Rocks” brand, with Chris Crowley adding PD duties there to his job down the hall at WYRK (106.5).
Down the road in Rochester, there was a rock change at Stephens’ WZNE (94.1), too: after shedding all of its airstaff (including PD/middayer Violet and the syndicated Rover’s Morning Glory) with the exception of afternooner Kobe Fargo, “the Zone” promoted Kobe to PD and relaunched with new imaging and a new morning show, the syndicated Jubal Show from the West Coast. (Rover fans soon found a new home, as the show got a delayed airing at night on iHeart’s WAIO 95.1.)
And then there were more job cuts, especially at iHeart, where every week brought more bad news. In Boston, Doug “VB” Goudie lost his midday talk shift at WRKO (680) with little explanation to listeners (later to be replaced by a new Grace Curley show produced by afternoon host Howie Carr’s outside production company), while KJ Carson lost his morning gig, the last local airshift at WKAF (Hot 97.7). Brian Check was cut loose from his VP/programming and PD gig at WISX in Philadelphia after 18 years with the company, Sheri Van Dyke lost her midday job at 3WS in Pittsburgh, Z100/WKTU veteran Jagger lost his PD/afternoon job at WKSS in Hartford, as did morning hosts Gavin on WKSS and David Fisch on WHCN, Terry O’Donnell lost his programming VP spot in Albany – the list went on and on.
Some NERW-land veterans in other markets were hit, too: Mike Kerr lost his Baltimore job, though he was soon rehired in a talent development role. Tim “Romeo” Herbster had been with Q102 in Philadelphia and Z100 in New York before moving to Portland, Oregon’s Z100, where he lost his PD/SVP programming job.
It wasn’t just iHeart, of course; Spectrum News made big cuts at its local newsrooms in upstate New York (and it sure did show on the air), and Townsquare’s cuts included Hudson Valley vet Bill Dunn, who’d been PD at WRRV/WRRB for 16 years.
While the Thanksgiving week in the US brought a brief reprieve from the bad news of job cuts stateside, Canadian broadcasters weren’t so fortunate: that was when Rogers launched its round of coast-to-coast cuts, including morning shows in several Ontario markets where “Kiss” stations picked up the “Roz and Mocha” morning show from mothership CKIS (92.5) in Toronto. The cuts claimed newspeople in North Bay and on-air staffers in North Bay, Timmins, Sudbury, Ottawa and Kingston.
Vista Radio rebranded several of its stations as “Moose FM,” bringing CKVV (97.5 Kemptville, ex-“Juice FM”) and CKPP (107.9 Prescott, ex-“Coast FM”) under the “Moose” brand along with CJNH in Bancroft and CHBY in Barry’s Bay.
Evanov pulled off its big Brantford swap the first week of September, sliding its Christian contemporary “Arise” format from CFWC (93.9) over to CKPC (1380), simulcasting both frequencies for a week, and then relaunching 1380’s former country format on 93.9 with a higher-power signal as “Country 93.9.”
At Toronto’s Global News Radio (CFMJ 640), morning co-host Supriya Dwivedi left after four years with an emotional farewell statement, saying she was frustrated by the constant attacks she was receiving on social media. Her former co-host Mike Stafford, sidelined for part of the year after injuring his neck in a fall from a ladder, returned in time to say goodbye, then took over solo hosting duties.
Over at CJRT (JAZZ.FM91), former sales director Dana Wigle returned as general manager, replacing the retiring Lorie Russell as the listener-supported station settled back into some stability after a few turbulent years.
Around the corner at “Indie 88” (CIND), the rock format that launched on HD2 earlier in the year got a formal debut with a logo and slogan, as “Real Rock Toronto.”
In Montreal, Mike Finnerty departed “Daybreak” morning host duties on CBC Radio One (CBME 88.5) after 14 years, though he’d been on and off with sabbaticals in recent years. Sean Henry, who’d been anchoring the late-night CBC TV news, took over the morning show at year’s end.
Emmis nearly completed its exit from the New York market by ending its management deal to run WQHT (Hot 97) and WBLS (107.5) for MediaCo, the Standard General-backed venture that bought the stations in 2019. That deal left Emmis as a minority owner, running the cluster under a shared services agreement. The end of that deal brought some personnel changes – WBLS PD Skip Dillard moved to a sales job, succeeded by APD Cynthia Smith – and the end to local programming on gospel WLIB (1190), which stayed in Emmis’ hands and is now being run from company headquarters in Indiana while it seeks a buyer.
National formats and consolidation were a big deal in Canada: first it was Bell in November, killing off the long-running 89X (CIMX 88.7) and River (CIDR 93.9) brands in Windsor and replacing them with its generic Pure Country and Virgin Radio as part of a larger move that also put Pure Country on the air at CJCJ (104.1 Woodstock NB). Then it was Rogers, ditching a big chunk of its staff at CJNI (News 95.7) in Halifax, and then Bell again, cutting staff at its Halifax cluster.
Then it was Rogers’ Ottawa shuffle, adding a simulcast of CIWW (1310) on rimshot CKBY (101.1 Smiths Falls) under the new “CityNews Ottawa” brand, with CKBY’s country format replacing “Jack” on CJET (92.3 Smiths Falls), plus a call swap on the two FMs. And then came the big one – right after Christmas, Bell (which uses the iHeart brand under contract in Canada, but doesn’t share ownership with the US iHeart stations) launched a new “MOVE” hot AC brand in 10 of its Canadian markets.
The “MOVE” took out local brands from coast to coast, including CIOO (C100) in Halifax, CIBX (106.9 Capital FM) in Fredericton, CJMJ (Majic 100.3) in Ottawa, CFJR (104.9 JRfm) in Brockville, CFLY (98.3) in Kingston, CKPT (Energy 99.7) in Peterborough and CHRE (EZ Rock 105.7) in St. Catharines – and we’ll have more to say about it in our upcoming Top Stories of the Year, tomorrow.
Pat “Grooves” Cerullo launched hip-hop in his hometown of Allentown, expanding his “Loud” brand from Reading to the new “Loud 99.5,” W258DV in Easton, fed by WEST (1400).
Two veteran morning hosts left the airwaves after long careers: Chuck Custer started at Schenectady’s WGY in 1984, eventually serving as news director, PD and then as morning host after Don Weeks’ retirement. In Scranton, John Webster was half of the “Daniels and Webster” morning team on Rock 107 (WEZX) for 25 years, then moved to news and talk in 2010 to do mornings on Entercom’s WILK news-talk network.
In New York City, Chris Booker didn’t stay long at WNYL (Alt 92.3), leaving the Entercom station after just three months to return to Los Angeles and iHeart’s KYSR (Alt 98.7).
In Boston, Emerson College’s WERS (88.9) launched a new HD2/streaming service aimed at the area’s Black community, called “ERS+.” The new service draws on the heritage of past WERS programming such as “The Black Experience,” “Rap Explosion” and “88.9@Night.”
Springfield’s iHeart cluster added a new HD2/translator format, launching “97.3 the Beat” over translator W247DL (97.3), with hip-hop fed from the HD2 of WHYN-FM (93.1) and an airstaff entirely syndicated and voice tracked from out of market.
Irv Goldstein launched a sixth format in the Danbury market, converting WAXB (850 Ridgefield) to Spanish adult hits as “Juan 850” and splitting it from its former translator, W233CF (94.5), which kept rocking as “the Hawk,” fed from the HD4 of WDAQ (98.3).
In Pittsburgh, Relevant Radio brought a second Catholic voice to the airwaves, via translator W292DH (106.3) and an HD3 of WWSW (94.5), leased from the translator’s seller, iHeart, which had been using 106.3 to relay its Fox Sports outlet, WBGG (970).
Beasley’s WPEN (97.5 the Fanatic) let Marc Farzetta go from its morning show after two years, setting up for a new lineup in 2021.
There were big lineup changes in the works at ESPN Radio’s WEPN-FM (98.7) in New York, with Bart Scott and Alan Hahn preparing to move from local to national, clearing the way for the first local morning show in 98.7’s sports history to debut in January.
A Christmas flip for Shamrock’s WFUZ (92.1) in Scranton meant the end of its “Alt 92.1” format; after the holidays, it went to hot AC (with a heavy lean on the 90s) as WQFM, “Q92.1, the 90s and Now.” (The WQFM calls came from Shamrock’s 1240 in Wilkes-Barre, which swapped for the WFUZ calls.)
At year’s end, WNCK (89.5 Nantucket) dropped “Nantucket NPR” news and classical, becoming “89.5 Quahog Country.”
And yes, there were more job cuts, all month long.
Townsquare’s nationwide cuts hit Monmouth-Ocean (WJLK morning co-host Liz Jeressi, WOBM-FM’s Justin Louis, and WCHR-FM’s Chris Varacchi and Andy Chase, the last local talent at “the Hawk”), Portland (WJBQ PD Kwame Dankwa and WBLM’s Tommy C), and the New Hampshire seacoast (WOKQ brand manager Jessica Tyler, out in less than a year.)
At iHeart, the cuts were relentless: in Providence, it was Ron St. Pierre at WHJJ (920), replacing its lone local talk show with a simulcast of Jim Polito from across state lines at WTAG in Worcester. There was late-night jock Brady at Z100 in New York, veteran morning co-host Nancy Ryan at WRBT (Bob 94.9) in Harrisburg, afternoon and production guy Scot “Woody” Mark at Rocket 105 and morning co-host Ted Hallowell at Star 104 in Erie, and many more whose names were never confirmed, since iHeart never made any official announcements.
A few more loose ends to close out the year: there were sports play-by-play cuts as that industry struggled to recover, and so Mike Wilner’s out at Rogers Sports & Media as one of the play-by-play voices for the Toronto Blue Jays, wherever they end up playing in 2021.
And some things are eternal, among them cable carriage disputes. Nexstar and Dish engaged in a lengthy national game of chicken that ended on Christmas Eve, sparing viewers from what had turned into an especially annoying series of crawls and ads. Tegna and AT&T/DirecTV settled their fight nationally, too. And Hearst struck a deal to keep its stations on Comcast before a Dec. 22 deadline, including some signals that are technically out of market (New Hampshire’s WMUR in the Upper Valley, Boston’s WCVB in Bristol County) but are still important sources of in-state news for local viewers.
*What will we take away from this remarkable, impossible year? Join us again tomorrow as we boil it down to our Top Ten Stories – and they’re not all the pandemic.