The Justice Department gave CBS the go-ahead on Tuesday to buy American Radio System -- but with the condition that it stay below the 40% revenue limit in every market it's in. Boston would have been the biggest offender, with CBS/ARS taking in 59 percent of the market's revenue. Also at issue were St. Louis (49%) and Baltimore (46%).
In Boston, CBS must now find buyers for talker WRKO (680), sports WEEI (850), classic rock WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence), and active rock WAAF (107.3 Worcester), leaving only modern AC WBMX (98.5) and WAAF simulcast WNFT (1150) to join CBS's existing group of news-talk WBZ (1030), classic rock WZLX (100.7), oldies WODS (103.3), and modern rock WBCN (104.1). (It appears CBS also gets to keep sports WWTM 1440 in Worcester, although that station is largely a simulcast of WEEI and has always been co-owned with WAAF, so NERW expects it will get spun off as well.)
So what's next for the ex-ARS group? Whenever powerful AMs are involved, it's safe to speculate Randy Michaels and Jacor will be interested, especially since New England is one of the only parts of the country with no Jacor presence. Another potential buyer is Chancellor, whose Boston group of CHR WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford), urban CHR WJMN (94.5), and business/standards WXKS (1430 Everett) is beginning to look small by comparison with the CBS and Greater Media mega-groups -- although past relations between CBS and Chancellor have been downright frosty, making this deal a little less likely. NERW's also heard rumblings about ARS' former leadership team buying back their ertswhile flagship stations from CBS. Dark horses? Just look at some of the big groups with no Boston outlets -- Emmis (which once owned WCDJ, now WSJZ, 96.9), Cox, Clear Channel, Entercom, maybe even Disney/ABC...
By the way, if you're keeping track, the other properties CBS will have to divest are St. Louis' KSD-FM (93.7) and KLOU (103.3, one of the original CBS stations as KMOX-FM, and now being spun from CBS for the second time) and Baltimore's WOCT (104.3). Northeast stations included in the ARS purchase: Hartford news-talk WTIC (1080), CHR WTIC-FM (96.5), AC WRCH (100.5 New Britain), and classic rock WZMX (93.7); Rochester CHR WPXY (97.9), rocker WCMF (96.5), AC WRMM (101.3), and modern AC WZNE (94.1 Brighton); and Buffalo country WYRK (106.5), AC WJYE (96.1), urban WBLK (93.7 Depew), modern AC WLCE (92.9), and standards WECK (1230 Cheektowaga).
The final hurdle for the CBS/ARS deal will be FCC approval, which should be a good test of just how serious the new Commission is about attacking radio consolidation.
Also being spun is Capstar's group in Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Frank Washington will pay $15 million to pick up rocker WRKI (95.1 Brookfield), oldies WAXB (105.5 Patterson), country WINE (940 Brookfield) and WPUT (1510 Brewster), AC WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains), news/talk WFAS (1230 White Plains), and smooth jazz WZZN (106.3 Mt. Kisco). It looks like Capstar is keeping oldies WKHL (96.7 Stamford), classic rock WEFX (95.9 Norwalk), and news/talk simulcast WSTC (1400 Stamford) and WNLK (1350 Norwalk).
Up in the Merrimack Valley, the ink's just drying on the $400,000 (or thereabouts) sale of Curt Gowdy's WCCM (800 Lawrence) to Costa/Eagle Broadcasting. WCCM is now running 24 hours, with Bloomberg business news filling up the overnights, and we hear a move from the old studio at 33 Franklin Street is imminent. When WCCM arrives at the Costa/Eagle building in Methuen, it may end up swapping facilities with another Costa/Eagle station, Spanish tropical WNNW (1110 Salem NH). We also hear that WCCM's standards format is giving way to AC, and perhaps to straight news-talk when/if the English-language programming moves to 1110. And the Haverhill Gazette reports veteran morning host Bruce Arnold won't stay with WCCM under the new owners.
Bradley Jay is back at WBCN. The station's former midday guy has rejoined the modern rocker to do evenings.
Pirates? Plenty of 'em this week...NERW's loyal listeners in the Lawrence area are still hearing Spanish-language signals on 1620 and 1700 kHz. In Groton, we're told the "WZEB" on 100.1 emanates from the prep school there. And there's an 89.3 being heard in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.
A programming note: "Let's Talk About Radio", Boston's only radio show about radio, will be heard half an hour earlier starting next Sunday. Listen for LTAR at 11:30 on WJIB (740) in Cambridge.
Radio people on the move: Jonathan Smith has departed his evening gig on rocker WHEB (100.3 Portsmouth) to move crosstown to classic rock simulcast WXBB (105.3 Kittery)/WXBP (102.1 Hampton), where he's co-hosting the morning show with Josh Judge. Tom Larson, ex-PD of AC WBYY (98.7 Somersworth), is now working for Scott Studios, where his first assignment was to install equipment at, yep, WBYY. Jean Fairbanks moves from the newsroom at WKNE AM-FM (1290/103.7) in Keene to Metro Networks, and we're told sales manager Ken Hoffman is the latest WGIR employee to lose his job.
An apology, by the way, to Burlington oldies outlet WKOL (105.1 Plattsburgh), which is not automated as we suggested last week.
Radio people on the move: Matt Zako leaves nights at WRKI (95.1 Brookfield) for a new gig with the Speedvision cable network. News director Greg Little keeps his title but moves from Waterbury's WATR (1320) to Hamden's WQUN (1220). WATR sports director Jim Sennich takes over morning news duties there. And congratulations to WKCI (101.3 Hamden) PM driver Michael Maze and salesperson Michele Lin -- we're told they tied the knot last weekend.
It's time for baseball -- and thanks to Marc Bramhall for updating us on where to find the Nutmeg State's teams on the dial. WNTY (990) in Southington is where you'll find the New Britain Hardware City Rock Cats, while the New Haven Ravens will be heard all season long on WAVZ (1300), along with WLIS (1420 Old Saybrook) and WMRD (1150 Middletown), with Friday night games also going out on WELI (960). More baseball flagship stations next week; we'll be busy in the meantime pulling the "1997 Governor's Cup Champions" T-shirts out of the drawer for the Rochester Red Wings' home opener in just a week or so...
There's a new station on the air way up north in Ogdensburg. WZEA (98.7) signed on this week, playing a loop of CHR music with the slogan "Continuous Hit Music, the all new Zed 98-7." NERW thinks this one just might be aimed at the Canadian market, though we're not quite sure what gives us that hunch. WZEA and the other Tim Martz stations in Ogdensburg have also just moved into new studios.
While we're in the St. Lawrence Valley, let's welcome the newest oldies station up there. Country WLKC (100.7 Henderson) has been replaced by "Fun Radio" WOTT, reviving the calls that were last heard on AM 1410 in the Watertown market a few years ago.
Saranac Lake's WNBZ (1240) and WSLK (100.9) are being sold by WNBZ, Inc. to Saranac Lake Radio.
Geneva's WFLK (101.7) has apparently abandoned its plans to move to the tower of quasi-sister station WNYR (98.5 Waterloo), some eight miles southeast of town at the intersection of routes 96 and 336.
In Binghamton, it's been just a month or so since Majac was granted the CP for 107.5 in Endwell -- and already we're hearing it's planning a country format with the nickname "B107-5," no doubt a bid to shave a few ratings point off market monster WHWK (98.1), which almost by itself helps owner Wicks to an amazing 60-plus percent of Binghamton radio revenue. NERW heard nothing yet on 107.5 when we passed through last weekend -- but we did note Owego's 101.7 using the new WLTB calls, and Conklin's WCDW (100.5) running modern AC with no legals at all that we heard, just a stolen-right-outta-Philly "CD 100.5 knows music" a few minutes past the hour. And since it was dark when we passed through in each direction, we didn't get to hear the new modern rock format on WEBO (1330) in Owego.
We mourn two Empire State broadcasters who have passed away recently. Bernie Meltzer was 81 (according to most accounts, anyway), and until his retirement in 1991 was the host of WOR's "What's Your Problem" talk show. And Danny Fusco, who died earlier this month at 76, was the founder of WBVM (1550) in Utica back in 1961. He and his brother sold the station (whose calls stood for "Blessed Virgin Mary") in 1978, and after consulting for a few years, he returned to radio in 1984 as morning host at 1550, now known as WUTQ. Earlier, Fusco had worked at Rome's WKAL (1450, now WFRG) and Utica's WRUN. WUTQ broadcast Fusco's entire memorial service live, in place of the morning show.
In a stellar demonstration of "public interest, convenience, and necessity," radio listeners in lower Westchester county will soon have a harder time hearing the uniquely diverse programming of WPKN (89.5 Bridgeport CT) -- all so they can hear the satellite-delivered religion of KGNZ (88.1) Abilene, Texas. KGNZ's owner, the Christian Broadcasting Company, has been granted an 89.7 translator, W209BB, in Port Chester, over the objections of WPKN. NERW would like to restate our strong editorial conviction that the FCC is already several years too late to do what should have happened years ago -- call a freeze on noncomm translator applications while it studies how to close the loophole that's allowing de facto LPFM operation -- but only if there's NO local content. And we reiterate: this is not an editorial stance against religious radio, per se, but a call to end the wholesale abuse of a loophole (satellite delivery of audio to translators) that was meant only to aid statewide public radio networks in sparsely-populated Western states. Okay, back off the soapbox...
From the "And you thought YOUR station was a pigsty?" files: Health inspectors in Niagara Falls paid a call on WJJL (1440)'s Main Street studios last week, to tell owner John Phillips to clean up a variety of problems -- exposed electrical outlets, hallways made impassable by piles of papers and boxes, and health code violations in the kitchen area -- or face having the station padlocked. At last word, Phillips had negotiated an extension to clean up WJJL's studios, according to the Niagara Gazette.
Up in Sanford, MAINE, the morning show on WCDQ (92.1) greeted listeners with the news that the owner lost the station in a poker game the night before -- then spent all day plotting on the air to keep "Mount Rialto Radio" from becoming "Hot 92." NEW HAMPSHIRE listeners heard WOKQ (97.5 Dover) morning host Mike Martelle swap jobs with the town's police chief. In Manchester, WZID's Charlie O'Brian was absent from his morning gig -- while his wife, Rhonda, took over for the morning. MASSACHUSETTS listeners tuned to WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence), where they heard all sorts of songs announced on the Carlson and Mackenzie morning show...which all turned out to be the Beatles' "Fool on the Hill." In NEW YORK, Ted and Amy at Syracuse's WNTQ (93.1) told listeners Leonardo DiCaprio was in town...and hired a limo to drive around town pretending the "Titanic" star was inside. Up in the North Country, the morning show at "Full Service Radio" WSLB (1400 Ogdensburg)/WGIX-WIGS (95.3-1230 Gouverneur) was replaced by the annual "Hall of Shame," with the worst songs in the stations' collections. And Rochester's Jacor outlets traded air talent for the midday, with rustic talk host Bob Lonsberry moving from talker WHAM (1180) to play modern rock tunes on WNVE (95.1 South Bristol), while the Nerve's "E-Man" talked with callers on WHAM.
Finally this week, a quick look at what we heard as the NERW-mobile headed for Pennsylvania and New Jersey (and topped the 100,000-mile mark) last weekend:
The SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE simulcasts just keep growing, with WKQV-FM (95.7 Olyphant) joining WZMT (97.9 Hazleton) as "The Bear." Eclectic WMXH (750 Olyphant) was gone from the airwaves. NERW's quirky side enjoyed the small-town local feel of standards WEJL (630 Scranton)/WBAX (1240 Wilkes-Barre) and beautiful music WICK (1400 Scranton)/WYCK (1340 Plains). The towers of the old WTSS (1320 Scranton) on N. Keyser Avenue are gone now...
In the POCONOS, we heard local standards (and a pre-recorded local newscast) on WVPO (840 Stroudsburg). The former WPMR (960 Mount Pocono) is now WILT, a simulcast of WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre), and a sign on the studio door directs visitors to a local bait and tackle shop to find the public files; the old studio building is empty now. WESS (90.3 East Stroudsburg) was a nonstop BBC relay.
Not much has changed in ALLENTOWN-BETHLEHEM-EASTON since our last visit last fall, but we did enjoy a nice visit to the Capstar stations (WZZO/WAEB AM-FM/WKAP) with 'ZZO night jock Blake Dannen...not to mention a yummy lunch at the City View Diner. We rolled tape on WRNJ-FM (107.1 Belvidere NJ) one last time; it's now a relay of the Y107 country trimulcast from New York City, at least if the plans went right.
On we went into NEW JERSEY, where we saw the many changes at the Lyndhurst transmitter sites since our last visit in 1994. Gone are the stubby towers of WINS (1010), replaced by a tall four-tower array. Across Valley Brook Road, the two additional towers of WLIB (1190) are in place, awaiting that station's nightttime operation soon. Just behind it, WJWR (620) now holds forth with its five towers, replicating the array that's now demolished out in Livingston. And WOR (710) still dominates the neighborhood with its big sticks at the end of the street.
Your NERW editors took a drive through suburban North Jersey on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, visiting (among others) the late WNJW (88.7) Franklin Lakes, oldies WGHT (1500) Pompton Lakes, WXMC (1310) Parsippany-Troy Hills, now in Spanish and with a very friendly staff greeting us, WMTR (1250) and WDHA (105.5 Dover) in Morristown, and the brand-new WJHR (1040) in Flemington, which was live, local, and rather unfriendly to visitors on a Saturday night. Was it something we said?
Sunday brought us back through North Jersey, seeing the now-defunct but still standing WRAN (1510) in Dover, WRNJ in Hackettstown, which has taken over the 1510 frequency and was doing a neat local show featuring VH1's top 100 artists of all time, and Sussex County's stations, which are all housed in one building now (if you're counting, that's standards WNNJ 1360 Newton, hot AC-ish WSUS 102.3 Franklin, classic rock WNNJ-FM 103.7 Newton, and country WHCY 106.3 Blairstown). Great DX spot: High Point, the highest point in New Jersey, from which we heard FM from NYC, Philadelphia, Allentown, Scranton, the Hudson Valley, and even Connecticut. Not a bad view, either...
And from there it was a stop at Port Jervis' WDLC (1490) and up through Monticello to NY 17 (soon to be Interstate 86) to NERW home base.
And that's it for this week; we'll be back next Thursday. See you then!