Trading was halted for a brief time yesterday in stock of Boston-based American Radio Systems, after the company announced that it's hired CS First Boston to explore ways to "maximize shareholder value" -- an announcement that's being read in some circles as a "for sale" sign on the rapidly-growing company...or at the very least, an invitation for a merger. Among the names being mentioned are Jacor, CBS, Chancellor, and Clear Channel.
ARS owns large clusters in Boston (where CBS and Chancellor are also group owners), the New Hampshire Seacoast, Hartford (adjacent to Clear Channel territories in Springfield and New Haven), Rochester (where a consent decree with the Justice Department forced it to spin off part of its cluster to Jacor last year), and Buffalo.
Also making the rounds of the rumor mill is word that SFX Broadcasting may be seeking a buyer for its station group, which includes large clusters in Providence, Hartford, New Haven, Springfield, and Albany.
As always, count on NERW to keep you posted as we brace for another round of mega-deals.
The move will mark the second time in as many years that WKLB-FM has changed frequencies; it was just last year that Greater bought WKLB-FM 105.7 Framingham-Boston from Evergreen to bring an end to the country wars in Boston, merging the WKLB-FM calls and much of the station's airstaff with what was then WBCS "Country 96.9." It will also return smooth jazz to the 96.9 frequency, which spent several years in the early 90s as WCDJ, "CD 96.9," until Emmis sold the station to Greater.
So why make country listeners spin the dial yet again? Greater is hoping the 99.5 signal, which comes from Wood Hill in Andover, will do a better job of reaching core country listeners north of the Hub, while the 96.9 signal will do better with in-office listeners in downtown buildings.
Both stations are planning heavy ad campaigns to promote the move, with "Country 99.5" hiring Reba McEntire for its spots, while "Smooth Jazz 96.9" will use Geoffrey Holder (you might remember him from his 7-Up spots in the 70s) for its campaign. And say goodbye to the "Oasis" moniker for the smooth-jazz outlet; it's already dried up in on-air use, and will vanish completely with the frequency change.
Greater is also looking to consolidate its five Boston stations in one facility. Right now, the studios and sales offices of WMJX (106.7), the studios of WKLB-FM, and the sales offices of WROR-FM (105.7) are in the Salada Tea building on Stuart Street, while the WKLB-FM sales offices and WROR-FM studios are down the street in the Prudential Tower, and the WOAZ and WBOS (92.9) studios and offices are out at 1200 Soldiers Field Road in Brighton. A report in the business pages of today's Boston Globe says Greater is looking at a new building on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester to house all five stations -- right next door to WLVI (Channel 56) and just down the street from the Globe.
And one more note on the big swap: Smooth jazz listeners in Onset Beach and Wareham won't go unserved; translator W221AG, which brings WOAZ to the area on 92.1, will switch primaries from 99.5 to 96.9 when the format moves.
In other Bay State news, one of the Hub's longest-running sports talk shows has come to an end. Jim McCarthy and Mark Witkin hosted their final "Sports Huddle" on WEEI (850) last Sunday, with no fanfare at all. Huddle had been on the Boston airwaves for 29 years, most of them with Eddie Andelman at the helm. Andelman will take over the 7-10 PM Sunday slot with a new show called "Eddie And..."
The New England Patriots will stay on WBCN (104.1) through the millennium and beyond. The team has reportedly signed a five-year deal with the CBS-owned modern rocker. Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti stay behind the mikes on Patriots play-by-play.
Nantucket Public Radio isn't giving up; after settling with WBPR (91.9 Falmouth) to abandon its application for the 91.9 channel, the Nantucket group has now applied for a station on 89.5.
Moving west, the FCC has deleted translator W221AP (92.1) Westfield, at the request of owner Gary Kenny. You'll recall that this translator was one of those supposedly under the control of Brian Dodge, and was found operating illegally from way up on Mount Tom, with far more power than authorized.
And we have more information to offer this week on what's really up with little WNSH (1570 Beverly). The station is running 125 watts nondirectional from Hamilton, under special temporary authority. Studios are now located in Beverly, just down Enon Street from WBOQ (104.9). Most of the programming heard on WNSH these days is from TalkAmerica.
Down the coast in Bath, Bob Bittner's WJTO (730) has dropped the last of its talk programming. "Free Spirit Radio" now runs the same music tapes as sister station WJIB (740 Cambridge-Boston), a mix of 25 percent vocals and 75 percent instrumentals (including new age, big band, jazz, and beautiful music). WJTO remains on the Boston Red Sox network.
In southern Vermont, Wilmington's WVAY (100.7) has a new simulcast. The station flipped from relaying rocker WHDQ (106.1 Claremont NH) to co-owned soft AC WSSH (101.5 Marlboro, also heard on WZSH 107.1 Bellows Falls).
The Utica area could soon have another public radio relay. Albany-based WAMC has applied to build a station on 90.3 in Remsen, some 20 miles north of Utica. Syracuse's WCNY and Oswego's WRVO already operate satellite stations in Utica.
In Syracuse, WSYT (Channel 68) and LMA partner WNYS (Channel 43) are looking for a new general manager, following the departure of Linda Gray after more than five years. She's headed to Indianapolis to run Fox affiliate WXIN (Channel 59). Liverpool's "Rick" the pirate operator is back on the air, a month after shutting down "WLIV" on 90.3. His new venture is "WHIT" on 103.3, another hit radio outlet known on-air as "Beat 103."
Auburn's 106.9 has officially ditched its longtime WPCX calls and is now offically WHCD, to go along with its new smooth-jazz format.
Rochester's "Warm 101.3," WRMM-FM, is going automated overnights starting this weekend. Overnight jock Chad Michaels is leaving the ARS-owned station, and his replacement will be an AudioVault.
Check out the brand new on-line presence of ARS sister station "The Zone" (WZNE 94.1 Brighton).
And up to the north, get ready to say goodbye to "CBC Radio" and "CBC Stereo." The networks will soon be known as "CBC Radio One" and "CBC Radio Two," to go along with the move of the Radio network from AM to FM in Montreal and Toronto next year. Radio One will use the slogan "News. And More", with flagship programming to include the new "This Morning" with Michael Enright and Avril Benoit. Radio Two's slogan will be "Classics. And Beyond", with new programming to include an afternoon arts block called "Take Five," hosted by longtime "Morningside" fill-in Shelagh Rogers.
Of course, to listeners on the US side of the lake, it will all be "Radio Zero" once the Toronto and Montreal AM signals go dark next year...
And that's it for another exciting week in NorthEast radio...see you next Thursday!