September 19-26, 2002

Eighty Years of WSYR, Syracuse, N.Y.

Way back in the dawn of radio - September 15, 1922, to be exact - Clive Meredith signed on station WMAC from his property in Cazenovia, some 30 miles east of downtown Syracuse. In 1928, WMAC moved to the top of the Hotel Syracuse and became WSYR, and under those call letters it's been one of the Salt City's leading stations ever since.

What you see at right is a familiar site to drivers headed south out of Syracuse on US 11 (South Salina Street) or nearby I-81: the three towers, lined up north to south, that carry WSYR's 570 kHz signal to Central New York and beyond with 5,000 watts day and night, protecting WMCA in New York and WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio. (The pattern is very similar for day and night operation; a very broad lobe that extends northeast and northwest and a small back lobe pointing south.)

As best I can tell, WSYR moved here, to Valley Road just west of Salina Street, sometime between 1939 and 1944; in 1939, WSYR was still listed with 1,000 watts day and night (having upgraded from 250 watts a few years earlier), while the current power levels were shown by 1944.

In 1939, WSYR was one of just two radio stations in Syracuse (the other, WFBL on 1360, soon to move to 1390, had signed on in 1924), but by the end of the war it had some new company. WAGE signed on at 620 in 1941, later to become WHEN; WNDR on 1260 and WOLF on 1490 also came along in the forties. And even WSYR wasn't quite alone on 570: for many years, the listings for the station showed it as "WSYR-WSYU," with the latter set of calls being used to broadcast programming from Syracuse University. "WSYU" went away around the time SU got its own FM station, WAER on 88.3, in the late forties.

WSYR, too, was an FM pioneer: WSYR-FM claims a 1946 start date, though I've found no evidence of it before early 1948, when it was already operating on 94.5 MHz. (WFBL-FM on 93.1 and WAGE-FM on 98.5, also shown in 1948, would not survive the decade.)

In any case, WSYR-FM eventually ended up at Sentinel Heights, south of Syracuse and overlooking the 570 transmitter site, with a grandfathered 100 kW signal that blankets everywhere from just east of Rochester to well beyond Utica.

The Sentinel Heights site also became home to WSYR-TV, which signed on in 1950 on channel 5, but soon changed to channel 3.

As the NBC affiliate for Syracuse and beyond (CBS was on WHEN-TV, channel 8, and the smaller networks grabbed whatever airtime they could on either station), WSYR-TV was an important force in early Central New York television, particularly in the absence of an NBC affiliate in one-station markets like Watertown and Binghamton. WSYR-TV even built a satellite station in Elmira in 1956; WSYE-TV on channel 18 was that city's only TV station for 13 years.

The WSYR stations had another powerful affiliation as well: owned by the Newhouse family, they shared ties to the city's daily newspapers, the Post-Standard in the morning, the Herald-Journal in the evening and the Sunday Herald American. By the end of the fifties, the stations even had a fancy new studio complex east of downtown at 1030 James Street.

The changes in ownership rules in the seventies split up the stations; channel 3 went to Times-Mirror and changed calls from WSYR-TV to WSTM (Syracuse Times Mirror), remaining at 1030 James Street, while WSYR-AM/FM were sold to Katz Radio in 1982 and moved downtown to 2 Clinton Square. WSYR-FM took on a rock format as "94 Rock," then segued to adult contemporary in the mid-eighties as "Y94," eventually changing calls to WYYY.

The radio stations were sold to NewCity, which was eventually swallowed up by Clear Channel, which made WSYR, by now the city's leading news-talk station, the flagship of its Salt City cluster. Now ensconced at 500 Plum Street, just west of downtown along I-690, WSYR and WYYY are co-owned with market-leading country station WBBS (104.7 Fulton) and simulcast WXBB (105.1 DeRuyter), sports WHEN (620), CHR WWHT (107.9) and urban WPHR (106.9 Auburn).

And WSYR again has a radio partner; Clear Channel's recent acquisition of Ackerley brought ABC affiliate WIXT (Channel 9) into the family. Could the WSYR-TV calls again grace the Central New York airwaves? Stay tuned...

Stay tuned as well for your first chance to place an advance order for the 2003 Tower Site Calendar! We'll tell you all about it next week; in the meantime, we're happy to pass along a special offer from our friends at M Street. They've just released the 11th edition of the M Street Radio Directory, the most comprehensive guide to radio in the U.S. and Canada today. Calls, frequency, power, address, key personnel, ownership, ratings - it's all in the nearly 900 pages of the latest edition, and Tower Site of the Week/NorthEast Radio Watch readers can get it at a special discount.

List price on the M Street directory is $79 - but we're pleased to offer it to you for $69, a $10 savings. (You'll also pay $7 for shipping and handling via UPS.) You can order in two ways: by credit card at 1-800-248-4242. Ask for Irene, and tell her you want the "NorthEast Radio Watch" discount. Or, send a check/money order for $76 (payable to Scott Fybush) to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. It's a great resource, and something that should be in the library of anyone who needs to keep track of the radio industry today!