In this week’s issue… A deeper look into the end of WAAF – NYC news vet retires – Format swap in Ontario – Morning show swap in Kingston

By SCOTT FYBUSH

Jump to: MENHVTMARICTNYNJ PACanada

*It happened so abruptly: just after the close of business Tuesday, Entercom announced that its WAAF (107.3) in the Boston market was the latest big-market station to be sold to pretty much the only buyer out there spending big money on individual signals. By Friday night at midnight, the hardest-rocking station on the Boston airwaves was heading into the history books alongside former rivals WBCN, WFNX and WCOZ, replaced on the air by EMF’s national “K-Love” contemporary Christian format, checking off one of the last top-20 markets where it was still missing from the airwaves.

While it didn’t have anywhere near the lead time of other recent K-Love conversions – Cumulus’ WPLJ in New York last summer, and before that WBRU in Providence and WCCC in Hartford – WAAF’s staff was still allowed to use the station’s last two days on the air Thursday and Friday to send the station off in style.

(photo: John Lawrence)

On Friday, midday veteran Mistress Carrie and afternoon jock Mike Hsu took the airwaves together at 10 AM and rode WAAF all the way to the end 14 hours later, joined all the way by former WAAF jocks, local musicians and fans of the station who stopped by the Entercom studios to pay their respects.

With just over half an hour to go, PD Joe Calgaro joined Carrie and Hsu to say his own farewells – and to reveal what had become a poorly-kept secret over the previous 48 hours: before corporate management abruptly pulled the plug, WAAF had been planning a major overhaul of its music and airstaff scheduled to take effect March 2. (Hear the last hour on our sister site FormatChange.com)

Mike Brangiforte, who’d worked at WAAF in the 1990s and early 2000s, had been tapped to do mornings, filling a shift that had been empty since last fall when longtime WAAF morning man Greg Hill moved downstairs to sports sister station WEEI-FM (93.7). Calgaro was going to join Hsu in afternoons, while Jim Ryan would have filled out the day with a local morning show to replace the syndicated “Men’s Room.” Mistress Carrie, who would have stayed put in middays, told listeners she’d been working extra hours to put together a new music playlist, which would have “taken more chances” on newer music, including local artists.

It was not to be, though – while that was all happening on the local level, Entercom corporate was quietly working out its $10.75 million deal to unload WAAF to EMF, and while local GM Mark Hannon was at least able to push for the farewell show (which earned him emotional on-air thanks in the final hour), there was no stopping the sale. As the tears flowed, it was Carrie and Hsu who took WAAF out, chanting the call letters as they spun the final song, “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath, a nod both to WAAF’s impending 50th anniversary and (in a backhanded way) to the very different format that hit the air a few seconds after midnight.

Over the fold for subscribers (or single-column purchasers!), we answer some of the biggest questions about what happened, what’s next and why.

(Not yet a subscriber? It costs as little as 29 cents a week to join – and to support the reporting that’s been digging deep into the stories of Northeast radio and TV since 1994.) 

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*Let’s start with “why WAAF in particular?” EMF, of course, doesn’t really care what formats were on the signals it buys. As the network has carried out a relentless plan of growth over the last few networks, it’s bought what’s become available, and it’s benefited from a continuing slump in station values. (Consider: back in 2014, it cost EMF $9.4 million to acquire WCCC-FM and its sister AM station in the much smaller Hartford market.)

As EMF looked to fill out the remaining big holes in its K-Love lineup, we can surmise that it’s probably reached out to the other standalone FMs remaining in greater Boston – Steve Silberberg’s WXRV (92.5 Andover) would have been an obvious target, and Cumulus’ WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg) could have been as well, especially as it used boosters to push its signal deeper toward Boston. Did EMF try to pick something up from the huge 2017 shuffle that resulted from CBS Radio’s exit? Likely so – but that shuffle ended up rearranging signals within three existing big clusters, Entercom, iHeart and Beasley, instead.

WAAF stayed with Entercom in that rearrangement, a relatively small piece of a cluster whose revenue picture was dominated by WEEI-FM’s sports format, alongside the one-two AC/hot AC punch of WMJX (Magic 106.7), which came over from Beasley, and WWBX (Mix 104.1), which had been a CBS station. Was it the move of Hill over to WEEI, leaving WAAF with no morning show, that triggered a new look at unloading the 107.3 signal? Or did Entercom’s recent financial struggles make a bid from EMF suddenly more desirable? We may never know.

What now for the Entercom cluster? WAAF wasn’t contributing much in terms of ratings (it had fallen below a 1 share) after Hill’s move to WEEI, and from a sales perspective, its mostly male audience was probably a challenge to sell alongside the female-heavy FM lineup of Magic, Mix and the other ratings laggard in the cluster, top-40 “AMP” WODS (103.3). Would EMF have preferred the 103.3 signal, which covers much more of the core of the Boston market, to the 107.3 signal? No doubt – and EMF could have afforded to splurge on the more potent signal, too. But Entercom has remained doggedly committed to keeping AMP alive, which suggests that it’s a bigger revenue producer than its ratings would suggest.

While WAAF’s airstaff exited at the end of Friday night, its music format lives on in zombie form: to augment the 107.3 signal after its former Boston-area simulcast, WKAF (97.7 Brockton), changed format, Entercom had put a WAAF simulcast on the HD2 of WEEI-FM, later adding WAAF to the HD2 of WWBX as well. Those HD2s, as well as the Radio.com stream, remain (barely) alive in automated form, running jockless. Entercom will keep the WAAF calls, too: on Wednesday, those calls will be parked on what’s now WBZU (910) in Scranton, part of the news-talk network there that’s branded as “WILK.” The WBZU calls, meanwhile, will be swapped on to 107.3, though only temporarily until EMF’s LMA of the signal can be turned into a closed sale. (And no, the once-an-hour use of “WBZU” in a market that also has a WBZ, a WBZ-FM and a WBZ-TV under three separate owners probably won’t cause much confusion in a PPM world.)

The 107.3 signal, which originated in Worcester and was moved a little eastward in 2011 to its present COL of Westborough, had itself been carrying WEEI’s sports programming on its HD2; that ended abruptly Friday night, and we wonder if there were any WEEI fans out to the west who were suddenly deprived of a strong signal as a result.

Shedding WAAF opens up a slot, in theory, for Entercom to eventually acquire another FM in the market while remaining under the ownership cap. But assuming Beasley and iHeart aren’t dealing anything back after the 2017 shuffle (and there’s no reason they would), there’s not much out there for Entercom to buy, even if it had the financial wherewithal to do so. With EMF’s needs satiated, could Entercom be an eventual buyer for the last independent commercial FMs in the market, Silberberg’s WXRV, the Campbell family’s WPLM-FM (99.1 Plymouth) or WBOQ (104.9) on the North Shore? None are full-market signals, and none actually appear to be for sale at the moment anyway.

How will the rest of the market react?  WAAF’s hard-edged format had little direct in-market competition at other clusters. When iHeart acquired WZLX (100.7) from CBS, it kept the classic rock format there, aiming both older and softer than WAAF (and with considerably higher ratings.) And while iHeart has been big on “Alt” formats in other markets, it doesn’t have any obvious candidates in Boston, where its flanker country format on WBWL (101.7 the Bull), the former WFNX, might be a logical choice if its own ratings hadn’t been on the increase.

Over at Beasley, meanwhile, WAAF’s exit could be an opportunity for struggling WBOS (92.9), which itself dumped “Alt” to go a little harder-edged (and older) as “Rock 92.9” last year. There’s not much local presence on WBOS these days; could Hsu or Mistress Carrie end up over there? (Here’s where we pause for a moment to note how effectively Carrie has connected with listeners over the years, in particular with her ongoing support of military causes.)

But again, with only a 0.9 share at the end, it’s not as though WAAF left a huge listener base to find its way elsewhere; many might already have been listening to the fringe signals of other rock stations such as iHeart’s WHJY from Providence or WGIR-FM from New Hampshire.

Is EMF satisfied? The California-based K-Love operator has been on a quest to bring its format to a full nationwide audience. The addition of 107.3 fills a big hole, to be sure, but still leaves K-Love with some voids. Unlike commercial operators, K-Love doesn’t need to worry about Nielsen market lines; if listeners donate, it doesn’t matter whether they’re tuned to WLVO (95.5) from the Providence market or to 107.3 – or to other recent smaller K-Love acquisitions such as WFNX (99.9) to the northwest in Athol, or WUBG (1570 Methuen), the Merrimack Valley signal EMF has been leasing along with its 105.3 translator in Medford. While it made some sense on paper for Entercom to have made its 107.3 signal move off Mount Asnebumskit, trading broad coverage of western Massachusetts outside Boston for a slightly closer signal to the city, EMF probably would have been happier with the broader Asnebumskit signal, but that ship has sailed; other stations have since moved in ways that likely prevent EMF from moving back to the mountain from the current 107.3 site in Boylston.

And so EMF is likely to continue to look to fill some gaps. Will it keep the 105.3 translator lease to serve the suburbs just north of Boston? Perhaps so – and it’s also probably on the hunt, still, for something to fill in the urban core of Boston, the Merrimack Valley, Cape Cod and points west of Worcester.

(Farther afield, K-Love’s biggest remaining missing markets include Houston, Dallas, Tampa and Orlando; here in NERW-land, prominent holes include Erie, Elmira, Binghamton and much of northern New England. It’s a good bet we’ll be writing about future K-Love expansion in many of those areas before long.)

One more loose end – what about WAAF’s 50th anniversary concert? The celebration of WAAF’s half-century of rock on 107.3 was supposed to have been capped off April 25 with the “Big Gig” at Worcester’s DCU Center, featuring headliner Godsmack. The concert is still on, Entercom says, but the rest of WAAF’s anniversary celebration came to a screeching halt Tuesday night. What will the April show look like? It won’t feature any WAAF talent, since they’re out of work; perhaps Greg Hill will be called upon to represent his longtime station at what will now be something of a memorial?

*Elsewhere in MASSACHUSETTS, Beasley has promoted Jim Louth to assistant PD of WBZ-FM (“98.5 the Sports Hub”), where he’s been producing the Zolak and Bertrand midday show. Louth’s move fills the hole left behind when Rick Radzik moved up to the PD chair at the Sports Hub.

Out on Cape Cod, CodComm has completed its move of WKFY in East Harwich from 98.7 to 101.5. The class A signal was one of the last to be added to the increasingly crowded Cape dial, signing on in 2013 as soft AC “Koffee” with a 3.2 kW/47 m signal from a site in Chatham that reached only the elbow of the Cape. The move to a new site in Orleans with 6 kW/87 m gives WKFY much better reach up the outer Cape, up past Truro almost to Provincetown.

But CodComm has also been canny with its use of translators (fed from the HD2 of sister station WPXC 102.9) to augment the main WKFY signal; in fact, it’s now promoting its 100.5 signal, W263BU in Hyannis, as the first listed frequency for “Koffee” to serve the more populous lower Cape; it has also moved another translator, W300BE, from 107.9 to 103.5 with a bigger signal that covers Falmouth, Mashpee and parts of Martha’s Vineyard (which is where W300BE is actually licensed, even though it transmits from the Cape.)

*An update on the Boston TV transmission woes we reported on last week: the signals from the Cabot Street backup facility for CBS’ WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WSBK (Channel 38) and for WGBX (Channel 44) and its channel-share, NBC’s WBTS-CD (Channel 15) continue to operate at reduced power while engineers work on repair plans for a damaged antenna system. While they plug away at that – and at the final piece of the project, the full-power post-repack facility over at the Cedar Street tower for WBZ, WSBK, WGBX, WBTS and WCVB (Channel 5) – NBC has lit up a second WBTS signal. Using the Cedar Street transmission facility for its Telemundo station, WNEU, NBC has once again begun transmitting WBTS’ two streams on 15.3 and 15.4 for viewers who are having trouble with the 15.1/15.2 signals via WGBX. (Confused yet?)

*Some sad news from VERMONT, where we were following along from a distance as Eric and Tiffany Miller took over WRSA (1420 St. Albans) and the CP for a 100.3 translator from Steve Silberberg and rooting them on as they revived local radio north of Burlington under their “Radio Sound Company” banner.

While WRSA was making strides with its new “Radio St. Albans” identity, that’s come to a halt: on Feb. 6, the station went silent, telling the FCC that “(the) owner has had major financial issues and is out of funding to proceed any further with the project.”

On Friday, Radio Sound Company applied to transfer WRSA back to Silberberg, for just $1.

*NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio is going for more power at its Upper Valley signal, WEVH (91.3 Hanover), applying to increase power from 165 to 600 watts/369 m at its current site.

*In NEW YORK City, Joe Bartlett has been the single most consistent voice on WOR (710) as the station has changed hands from RKO to Buckley to iHeart and moved studios from Times Square to Wall Street to Tribeca. But after 34 years as a fulltime news staffer at WOR (and six years before that stringing stories from Albany), Bartlett is stepping down as news director, effective April 10.

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Kevin Battle is joining the elite group of broadcasters who’ve been on KDKA (1020)’s morning show. Battle will join Larry Richert beginning March 9, filling the slot formerly occupied by John Shumway. A Pittsburgh native, Battle worked at WDVE and WRRK, then later at  at Fox News Headlines 24/7 on SiriusXM, CBS Radio’s WNEW (99.1) in Washington and CBS/Entercom’s WJZ-FM (105.7 the Fan) in Baltimore.

*After striking out in front of CANADA‘s regulators with several other proposals recently, the Evanov family’s Dufferin Communications has a win under its belt in Brantford, where the CRTC last week approved its application for a format swap between bands.

Dufferin can now move ahead with its plans to move CKPC(AM)’s country format from 1380 to 93.9 and CFWC’s Christian format from 93.9 to 1380; it was also granted approval of a second application to move the 93.9 transmitter and raise its power from 250 watts/24 m to 1.7 kW average/3 kW max DA/34 m.

Unlike Evanov’s other recent applications, aimed at improving its competitive position against other stations and groups in the nearby Toronto market, this move won’t change the competitive balance in Brantford, where Evanov was already the only operator, owner of “Jewel” CKPC-FM (92.1) as well as CKPC(AM) and CFWC.

In Kingston, Rogers Media opened up its studio Friday so fans could say goodbye to two local radio veterans who wrapped up their show on Country 93.5 (CKXC). Gary McColman and Wayne Mathews, aka “Big G and Matty,” had been paired up on the morning show since the station launched 16 years ago. Carl Richards and “Boss Lady” Leanne Cater take over the morning show there today.

*Stingray is extending the programming from its Q104 (CFRQ) in Halifax across the Bay of Fundy to Saint John, N.B., where it’s now simulcasting the “BJ & the Q Morning Crew” morning show on Q88.9 (CHNI).

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