May 30 - June 6, 2001

Smith Hill, Utica, N.Y.

For the seven years in which your editor lived in Boston, the Thruway (and the Mass Pike) between eastern Massachusetts and Western New York was a regular part of the annual travel schedule. About two and a half hours before arriving home in Rochester came one of the highlights: the view off to the north as the NERW-mobile passed Utica.

I speak, of course, of Smith Hill, birthplace of television in the Utica market. It was here that WKTV, channel 13, began broadcasting to Central New York in 1949, reaching out to viewers as far away as Syracuse and Albany.

WKTV's studios are still on the hill, but the tower out back hasn't carried the WKTV signal for many decades. In the early sixties, the shuffling of channel assignments upstate sent channel 13 to Albany (and eventually to Rochester as well), moving WKTV to channel 2, where it was short-spaced to Buffalo's WGR-TV.

The channel 2 tower, then, ended up about 11 miles east of here, high in the hills north of Herkimer and Little Falls. I finally made it there in the fall of 2000, more than four years after the Smith Hill visit documented on this page; I'll feature that tower in a future Site of the Week.

Back to WKTV, then: the old channel 13 tower still sees plenty of use, both as a place for WKTV to mount its ENG receivers and STL dishes and as a site for other broadcasters. Syracuse public broadcaster WCNY uses this tower for both radio and television; WUNY (89.5) has operated from here since the late eighties, relaying WCNY-FM (91.3 Syracuse)'s classical music, while W59AU is a translator bringing WCNY-TV (Channel 24) programming to Utica.

WCNY filed a few years ago to put a full-power channel 59 signal on the air from here; that application remains pending for now.

But WKTV's site is just a small part of the broadcast riches to be found here, just a short drive north (and up!) from the Thruway's Utica exit (follow Genesee Street north and just keep going uphill and you can't miss it...)

While WKTV doesn't transmit from Smith Hill anymore, a new UHF signal debuted from just up the road in 1970.

WUTR is an ABC affiliate on channel 20, with studios and tower located within spitting distance of the WKTV studios. After nearly three decades as a stand-alone station owned by Syracuse's Roy H. Park, WUTR was sold to Ackerley Broadcasting in the late nineties. That move made channel 20 a sister station to Syracuse ABC affiliate WIXT (Channel 9), and instantly transformed WUTR into a much more serious competitor to WKTV.

With a new "NewsChannel 20" logo to match Syracuse's, WUTR became the first test of Ackerley's "CentralCasting" system, under which many of the station's operations, including master control, programming and some sales, were moved to a new central facility in Syracuse.

Over the last few years, Ackerley has expanded its network in Central New York to include stations in Watertown, Binghamton, Elmira and here in Rochester, all controlled from WIXT. The stations share news stories over their fiber network, and today even some of the studio cameras for the newscasts are handled from Syracuse.

WUTR's tower now carries an FM translator that didn't exist in 1996: W201BE (88.1) serves the public interest, convenience and necessity by rebroadcasting Pensacola's WPCS.

Head east on Grace Road and you'll see another tower at the end of a dirt road. This is probably the best FM signal from the hill, even though the tower itself (at least as it appeared in August 1996) is probably the least visually impressive.

WRCK (107.3) runs a full 50 kW from this site, and until a co-channel class A station was built in the Rochester area in the mid-nineties, it was a regular catch here at a distance of over 100 miles.

Since this photo was taken, WRCK was joined at this site by sister station WKLL (94.9 Frankfort), and I suspect both stations are on a new tower now, so a return visit is probably in order one of these days.

There's another reason to go back, anyway: across the street from WKTV is another newcomer. The graceful tower at the the right has long been the home of the class B signal on 98.7, in incarnations that have included WIBX-FM, WIBQ, WNYZ (hit radio "New York Z"), and soft-rock WLZW. Look carefully at the middle of the tower, just below the first power line, and you can see an auxiliary antenna for 98.7 as well.

More recently, Forever Broadcasting has added WODZ-FM (96.1 Rome) to this tower, moving it across the Mohawk Valley from the site near Clinton that's home to WSKS (102.5 Rome), WOWZ (97.9 Whitesboro) and Fox affiliate WFXV (Channel 33).

One more strong signal finishes out our visit to Smith Hill: WOUR (96.9) is the tallest FM on the hill, running 19.5 kW ERP from those three bays at 791 feet abover average terrain.

This tower is across the road from WUTR, just north of WLZW, and appears to carry some paging and perhaps some two-way traffic as well. Since this photo was taken, it's added antennas for UPN affiliate WPNY-LP (Channel 11), licensed to Little Falls, and for W53AM (Channel 53), a translator for WFXV. W53AM is actually a semi-regular catch here in Rochester as well, reinforcing your editor's conviction that this is just a really good site for getting out to the west. (Indeed, all these signals are near city-grade in Syracuse, 45 miles or so to the west).

Connoisseurs of the Utica radio market (and such people do, in fact, exist) will note the absence of one major signal from our list thus far: WFRG-FM (104.3), the best signal of all from Utica, is a grandfathered 100 kW signal that transmits from the south side of the Mohawk Valley, overlooking Hamilton College in Clinton. That facility, the former WRUN-FM, is another one that deserves its own Site of the Week one of these days.

A special note: We'll be on the road this summer gathering many more tower photos to keep this page humming through the fall and winter months - and we just might be near you! Click here for a look at the itinerary!