Bob Mason and Bill Sheehan were fired from WXCR (102.3 Ballston Spa) last year, just a year or so after jumping to the upstart classic rocker from their longtime home at competitor WPYX (106.5). On Monday, they filed a $50 million lawsuit against WXCR's owner, Clear Channel Communications, alleging everything from fraud to breach of contract to age discrimination.
Mason and Sheehan tell Mark McGuire of the Albany Times Union they were a "valuable commodity" when they made the move to WXCR, but now they're "damaged goods," and they blame what they call a Clear Channel "conspiracy" that's kept them off the air for seven months now.
The pair say Clear Channel hired them away from WPYX to remove the competition they were offering to Howard Stern, heard in Albany on Clear Channel's WQBK/WQBJ (103.9/103.5). With that accomplished, they believe Clear Channel had no further use for them, and they think they're being blackballed from potential openings at other area stations.
The unspoken point here is that the massive consolidation of recent years has created many markets, like Albany, with just three big owners. If you're on the air and you've struck out with one owner (or, like Mason and Sheehan, two), that leaves you looking at a serious dearth of job options if you want to stay in the market.
(Incidentally, McGuire's Times Union' column is one of the best in the region these days, and well worth checking out at the Times Union's redesigned Web site.)
Speaking of media consolidation, one of the more incisive critics of radio these days is folk singer-songwriter Dar Williams. NERW reaches you a few hours later than usual this week because your editor was listening to her perform here in Rochester, a set that included a song about the value of good radio, "Are You Out There?" The song was inspired by Williams' discovery as a teenager of the decidedly out-of-the-mainstream WBAI (99.5 New York), and also mentions by name several of the DJs at WRSI (95.3 Greenfield MA). (There's a live recording of the song on one of her EPs that was recorded in the WRSI studios, as a matter of fact).
We've been to enough of Williams' shows to know her stage patter about WBAI by heart, but this show also included a mention of the WAMC Albany top-hour ID; suffice it to say it's nice to know someone else out there can recite the whole thing, right down to the "W226AC Rensselaer-Troy" at the end. And to top it off, Williams also had nice things to say about another one of our favorite stations, WFUV (90.7 New York). Now if we just had a radio station in Rochester that played Williams' music on a regular basis, the way WFUV and WRSI do...
There's more morning-show shuffling taken place in northern New York, at the Clancy-Mance cluster in Watertown. Johnny and Erica Spezzano's top-rated show is moving from hot AC WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) over to sister CHR "The Border," WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent) and WWLF (106.7 Copenhagen), as part of a series of changes at WTOJ that are moving that station towards a softer AC format. Joe Brosh moves to WTOJ's morning drive from afternoons, and Border morning guy Jack Day completes the circle by moving to WTOJ in afternoon drive. Across town at WTNY (790), Mike Gallagher's syndicated talk show debuts in the 9-noon slot, bumping Laura Schlesinger to the 3-6 PM slot now being occupied by One-on-One Sports. And for those still wondering: Yes, Johnny Spezzano is the brother of Rochester's WPXY morning guy Scott Spezzano, and a dead ringer on the air, too.
There's a format change at Utica's WRCK (107.3), as the station drops the semi-simulcast (same songs and jocks, separate liners and spots) with Syracuse's "TK99" (WTKW Bridgeport/WTKV Oswego) to go a bit harder-edged with "The Best Classic Rock of the 80s and 70s," in direct competition with WOUR (96.9). Also in Utica, WODZ-FM (96.1) is no longer mentioning WODZ (1450) in its IDs, but the two are still simulcasting pending the AM's sale. And W27BJ, a low-power TV construction permit licensed to Souls Harbor Pentecostal Church, has been cancelled.
Rochester's CBS affiliate is being sold. WROC-TV (Channel 8) has had a lack of stable ownership this last decade, passing from Television Station Partners to Smith Broadcasting to Sunrise and now to Nexstar Broadcasting, with Sunrise taking a healthy profit out of the deal. Could Nexstar bring WROC out of its perennial third-place status? It would take a lot of cash and a bit of time...
The FCC has approved the trade of David Wolfe's new WASB-FM (105.5 Brockport) for Russ Kimble's WRSB (1310 Canandaigua), but as of tonight, Wolfe's religious programming continues to be heard on both WASB-FM (which is sounding almost listenable now that it's turned off an apparently defective stereo generator) and WRSB, which Wolfe has been leasing pending the sale. Kimble's other station, WCGR (1550 Canandaigua), has been running liners blasting Jacor's Canandaigua FM, WISY (102.3), for having its studio in Rochester. Ordinarily, we'd be on our feet applauding...but there's a certain irony here, in that the cash that's enabled Kimble to keep community programming on WCGR and to make the trade for the Brockport FM came from the sale of the 102.3 (ex-WLKA and WMHX-FM) to Jacor last year. We'll stop screaming at the radio now...
Plenty of rumors swirling in Buffalo under the melting snow, starting with the change of calls on Mercury's 1120 from WHTT(AM) to WMNY; could the business-news format that used to be on Sinclair's WWWS (1400) be making a return? And if so, where will all the polkas go? Meantime, an industry gossip sheet is claiming CBS is on the verge of flipping WLCE (92.9) from modern AC "Alice" to rhythmic oldies. We'll believe it when we drive a few miles west out of the Rochester FM haze and hear it for ourselves. Down in Olean, LPTV W25AK becomes WONS-LP. In Warsaw, the FCC has approved a power change for WCOU (88.3), from 7000 watts at 150 meters to 4000 watts at 163 meters from the same site.
Heading back downstate, there's nothing but silence where the lone local voice of Rockland County used to be. WRKL (910 New City) signed off at 3 PM on Thursday (March 18), as new owners Polnet decide what to do with the station. Rockland County officials are understandably uneasy about this, since they've relied on WRKL as essentially their only conduit for emergency information. We'll be keeping an eye on this one; WRKL was always one of the best small-market news operations in the state, and it would be a shame to lose it for good. Rockland's only other radio station, noncommercial WNYK (88.7 Nyack), has applied to move its transmitter slightly to the northeast, moving up from 10 watts at 17 meters to 2 watts at 139 meters, which should improve coverage considerably.
Woodstock's WDST (100.1) is reportedly on the air from its new transmitter on Hallihan Hill overlooking Kingston, providing a much better signal to the south into Poughkeepsie (which used to hear WDST over 96.9 Arlington in the latter station's WDSP days), and offering a nice clean transition to the Newburgh translator (W272AV) on 102.3. NERW hears that the old WDST site further north could end up becoming the site for Eric Straus' 92.9 Saugerties construction permit someday.
New York City pirate "Steal This Radio," which has operated on 88.7 on the Lower East Side for several years, was ordered off the air by a Federal court this week. STR's operators recently won one court battle, to keep their real names out of their lawsuit against the FCC. No word on whether the station plans to obey the order to go dark...
Out on Long Island, the Monroe (CT) Board of Education wants to move a new translator of WMNR (88.1 Monroe CT) from Quogue, where it holds a CP for 89.1 as W206AU, to Southampton, much further to the east. While we're out that way, there are two applicants for 88.7 in Montauk, "Broadcasting for the Challenged" (which has applied for numerous noncomm FMs around the country lately) and Montgomery NYC Broadcasting.
Across the border in Canada, the very big news is that the CBC has settled one of the two union disputes that threatened to silence its English-language radio and TV networks. The Canadian Media Guild, which represents CBC on-air talent, writers, and producers, was set to strike at noon Friday, but reached a tentative settlement just hours before. The union that represents CBC technicians remains on strike, continuing to disrupt CBC programming. Elsewhere in Ontario, "Power 88" wants to make its name a reality; CKDX Newmarket has applied to increase from 500 watts to 11,300 watts, which would cover much more of the greater Toronto area. And CFLG/CJSS Cornwall have a new Web presence, serving both stations.
Digital TV is getting closer in Hartford, with CPs being granted for WTIC-DT (Channel 5) and WVIT-DT (Channel 35).
Plenty of changes this week involving Chancellor Media, beginning with the company's decision not to follow through on plans to acquire LIN Television. LIN's Northeast properties are WTNH (Channel 8) New Haven and WIVB (Channel 4) Buffalo. Chancellor did win FCC approval this week for its merger with Capstar, which brings a whole host of Northeast stations into the Chancellor group, including the Albany cluster of WGNA AM-FM/WTRY AM-FM/WPYX/WXLE, the Hartford cluster of WPOP/WWYZ/WKSS/WMRQ/WHCN, New Haven's WPLR, and Stamford/Norwalk's WNLK/WSTC/WEFX/WKHL. (That's just the start of the list; keep reading!)
Four Capstar stations that aren't going to Chancellor are WRKI/WINE Brookfield and WAXB/WPUT just across the New York line in Patterson and Brewster. They remain in trust awaiting a buyer; a proposed sale fell through last fall.
And we've just gotten word of the death March 7 of Dave Kiernan, who worked at WNHC New Haven from 1952-1958, did news on WNHC-TV (now WTNH, Channel 8) for a few years after that, then spent more than 30 years in public relations before retiring to Florida. Kiernan came from a long line of broadcasters; his father was commentator Walter Kiernan of the old Blue Network, WOR, and RKO, his widow Joan was doing traffic at WNHC when they met, and his daughter Kathy works for KNX (1070) in Los Angeles. Kiernan was 69.
More Capstar-to-Chancellor in the Ocean State: Providence's WHJJ/WHJY, and WSNE Taunton, just over the Massachusetts line.
Monday morning's storm was a harrowing experience for WBZ (1030) reporter Flo Jonic, who rolled a station vehicle down an embankment while feeding a report to the station early in morning drive. Jonic was treated and released with minor neck injuries, and was back on the air by the end of the morning news to report that the vehicle was unharmed. Our best wishes for a speedy recovery...
More developments among the little AMs west of Boston: WBNW (1120 Concord) is reportedly moving its studios to Wells Ave. in Newton. Paul Parent's gardening show, heard until recently on WRKO Saturday mornings, is going syndicated from WRPT (650 Ashland, not, as the Globe had it, "Allston"), with WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester) one of the first affiliates and WPLM (99.1 Plymouth) taking a Sunday version. We also hear that WRPT's "Health and Fitness Today" morning host, Frankie Boyer, is being asked to move from being a station employee to leasing time for the show -- and she's none too pleased. And we're told WKOX (1200 Framingham) was silent as early as 11:00 one recent weeknight; has J-Light stopped leasing the overnights there, we wonder?
In Boston itself, WHDH-DT is now testing on Channel 42. On radio, there are some changes in the jock lineup at WROR (105.7 Framingham), with Jimmy Roberts following Loren & Wally in middays, J.J. Wright settling into the 3-7 PM slot, Dan Justin doing 7-midnight, and the versatile and underrated Chuck Igo on overnights. NERW wishes WROR (and the other Boston stations) would start Webcasting; we'd love to be able to hear J.J., Chuck, and the others out here!
UMass Boston's WUMB is playing the "expand or get squashed" game that many public broadcasters are facing. To avoid encroachment on their signals from new noncomms, often outlets of national religious chains, public stations have started applying for new relays on the fringe of their signal areas. WBEZ Chicago is a pioneer in the technique, and now WUMB's trying to play the game by applying for 91.7 in Newburyport. NERW thinks that's awfully close to co-channel WPAA in Andover, not to mention WJUL (91.5 Lowell).
A few quick corrections from last week: Gary James is being replaced by Ron Roy as the VP/General Manager, not Program Director, at Springfield's WHYN/WNNZ. And the Web site for WUNI (Channel 27) is <http://www.wunitv.com>.
Capstar to Chancellor in the Bay State? Worcester's WTAG/WSRS, Northampton's WHMP AM-FM, and WPKX Enfield CT-Springfield.
The FCC granted a new translator in Burlington for religious KLOV out in Oregon; W213AZ will be on 90.5.
Vermont Public Radio's new 88.5 St. Johnsbury was granted the WBJU calls, which seem so random that we wonder if they were requested or just assigned.
And for everyone who wrote in, yes, we meant to say in last week's issue that WFAD is in Middlebury. Oops!
As Fuller-Jeffrey's WCLZ (98.9 Brunswick) segues from AAA to an unusual mixture of AAA and AC (think lots of Eagles tunes!), PD Brian Phoenix is out, headed down the coast to mornings and the PD chair at CHR WRED (95.9 Saco).
Maine's first digital TV station will be a public station. WCBB (Channel 10) in Augusta applied this week for a CP for WCBB-DT (Channel 17); we don't envy the job ahead of Maine Public TV as it tries to cover the Pine Tree State's wide-open spaces and mountain ranges with DTV signals.
That'll do it for another week at NERW Central. We'll see you next Friday!