Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This week's Site of the Week installment takes us inside two of the larger cluster studios in two of the larger markets along the Thruway in eastern New York. We don't usually spend a lot of time showing you cluster studios, because so many of them look so similar, but there's some interesting history to examine at both the Albany Broadcasting (Pamal) group in Albany and the Townsquare group in Utica, so let's hit the Thruway and see what there is to see.
The licenses for most of the Pamal stations in Albany list "6 Johnson Road Licenses" as the licensee, which should give some sense of the pride Jim Morrell and his crew take in this facility in suburban Latham, which actually puts it off the I-87 Northway a few exits north of the Thruway.
The 6 Johnson Road facility dates to the late 1990s, when this cluster took shape with the consolidation of stations that had been scattered at several locations. The core of the cluster was (and is) two big class B FM signals, WFLY (92.3 Troy) and WYJB (95.5 Albany), each of which had its studios with its AM sisters. WFLY was paired with WPTR (1540 Albany) at WPTR's historic studio/transmitter location between Albany and Schenectady, while WYJB and sister WROW (590) were co-located with former TV sister WTEN (Channel 10) on Central Avenue north of Albany. The TV station needed more space in that building, and the sale of WPTR to Crawford Broadcasting meant WFLY needed a new home - and in the meantime, Pamal was adding more signals to the cluster, which prompted the move to Latham.
The Latham facility is built around a big open sales/programming area that sits at the center of the spacious layout, with studio facilities and conference rooms surrounding it. A suite of executive offices - Pamal's corporate headquarters, in fact - is just off the reception area, leading back to the ring of studios. When we visited in 2011, WROW had recently dropped a news-talk format for standards, leaving a relatively empty newsroom/talk-prep area outside its air studio, which sits adjacent to longtime AC sister WYJB.
Top-40 WFLY and the rest of the music-oriented FMs sit at the back of the facility, in two rows of studios adjacent to a spacious rack room. Renovations were underway during our 2011 visit, and you can see the newer SAS boards in the WYJB and WFLY studios. There are now three more FMs in the cluster, each with similar studios to WFLY: rhythmic top-40 WAJZ (96.3), rock WKLI (100.9) and country WZMR (104.9 Altamont). WAJZ had moved from its startup studios in a Western Avenue office building, WZMR was the move-in of a former Johnstown-licensed FM signal, and WKLI moved here from its transmitter site on Dennis Terrace in Schenectady.
From Albany, it's about a 90-minute drive westward to the Utica market, and if you're paying attention as you're heading just past the Utica Thruway exit, you might notice a building just off the north side of the highway festooned with STLs and station logos.
If this building in the Utica suburb of Marcy looks like it was once a bowling alley, there's a good reason for that: I believe it once was. In 2003, though, it went through an extensive renovation to become the new home of what was then the Regent Broadcasting cluster of three FMs and two AMs. Those five stations had been packed into a facility designed for just two: the Whitesboro transmitter/studio building of WIBX (950 Utica) and FM sister WLZW (98.7 Utica).
During the consolidation of the 1990s, the Whitesboro building also ended up as the home of country giant WFRG-FM (104.3) and its AM sister WRUN (1150), as well as Rome-licensed oldies station WODZ (96.1). It was a tight squeeze in the old WIBX building, and it must have been quite the relief to expand into this much more spacious building on River Road.
This building is divided roughly into thirds: executive offices are in front, sales occupies the middle, and studios are all lined up in back along a corridor that faces the rack room. WLZW is tucked into one corner, with WODZ, WFRG, WIBX's air studio and the WIBX newsroom all facing out to the Thruway right behind the building. When we visited in 2011, Regent had become Townsquare, and one station had been spun off: the former WRUN studio had become a production room after that AM signal went to Albany public broadcaster WAMC (and then to Leatherstocking, which was running it as a commercial talk competitor to WIBX, though it's been dark for technical reasons of late.)
And we close with a neat little bit of connective trivia: the Albany-based GM who cut the ribbon to open this facility in 2003, Bob Ausfeld, retired from Townsquare a few years later - only to "un-retire" in 2012 to once again become a general manager...over at 6 Johnson Road. It is, as always, a small, small world out there...
Thanks to Pamal's Jim Morrell and Joe Condon and the Townsquare Utica staff, including Peter Naughton, for the tours!
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Next week: TBA