Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Let me tell you a little something about my good friend Mike Fitzpatrick, proprietor of that “other” tower picture site, NECRAT.us.
The man is madly in love with a certain small city in northwestern Pennsylvania, so much so that whenever he comes up my way to western New York, it’s a given that we’ll be making the not-quite-three-hour drive westward to spend some quality time in Erie.
And so it was this past May, when Mike had a few free days and so we hit the road to spend one night and one full day in and around Erie. (With just enough daylight on the way there, I’d note, to grab one site we’d never seen before in western New York – that sunset shot above is Family Life Ministries’ WCOM-FM Silver Creek, south of Buffalo.)
The next morning found us making a semi-return visit – we’d seen Gannon University’s WERG (90.5) before, but our last visit was to the station’s old home at 705 Peach Street, and since then the station has moved across the street to the second floor of the new college communications center at 700 Peach Street.
This is a spiffy facility indeed, with a big Wheatstone-equipped main studio overlooking Peach Street, an office space just outside, and in that office a voice booth that doubles as a very useful little production space. Gannon does TV production, too, and that’s in a virtual-studio-equipped space downstairs.
On our last Erie visit, veteran station owner Rick Rambaldo was just starting to build out his new FM allotment, WEHP (92.7 Lawrence Park).
This visit gave us a chance to see what Rick had built – the tower and four-bay antenna atop a lakeshore condo building just west of downtown, and the new storefront studio space at State Street and 13th Street on the south end of downtown. This was once a plate glass window company, and the ERIE Radio Company has made neat use of the old space.
There’s a studio in the front window that’s used mainly for voicetracking. It sits next to the front door, which opens into a sales and promotions office area with a double-height ceiling. And that, in turn, looks up to the main “Happi 92.7” studio, up in a loft area that overlooks the offices and out to the street. There’s a small rack room up here, and a production studio as well, all painted in a distinct “Happi” shade of green.
How about some LPFM action? We make a quick stop on the south side of Erie to find the tiny little antenna of WBTB-LP (107.9), tucked away on the back side of the roof of the church that owns the station.
After another quick stop nearby to say hi to “Captain” Dan Geary and his great oldies station, WMCE-FM (88.5)/WMCE (1530) at Mercyhurst University, we point Mike’s Jeep southward to pay a call on some friends in the greater Meadville area, 45 minutes or so below Erie along I-79.
There are some neat sites along the way that Mike had never seen, and so we pull off at the Edinboro exit to see the unusual transmitter site of Edinboro University’s WFSE (88.9), a three-bay Shively mounted on the side of a rusty old H-shaped signpost that once announced a gas station or maybe a truck stop along the highway on-ramp.
There’s also a Family Life Ministries station here, easily seen on the east side of I-79: WCGF (89.9 Cambridge Springs) had just changed calls to WCOB, part of FLN’s plan to give “WCO-” calls to all its western stations and “WCI-” calls to its eastern outlets.
And then, at day’s end, we made it to Meadville, where a quick turn to the right on US 6 took us up the hill to the strip mall where WMVL (101.7 Lineville) makes its studio home.
Joe Vilkie’s hometown radio operation includes a front office (where we admire the antique radio and shoot the breeze with Joe’s dad while waiting for Joe to come back from checking on the local college station that uses him as a contract engineer), as well as two back studios that service oldies “Cool 101.7” and its AM sisters, WGRP (940 Greenville) and WLOA (1470 Farrell). (Look carefully to the left of Joe in the photo above and you can see the AM stations’ board and automation system.)
From here, we head west with Joe to see the WMVL tower, up on a hill a dozen or so miles out of town on the way to the Ohio state line. And then it’s back north, catching some triple atomic wings at Erie’s Quaker Steak (um, thanks, Mike!) before returning to Rochester to get ready for another day of radio and TV – which we’ll show you in next week’s installment.
Thanks to WERG’s Chet LaPrice, (then-)WEHP’s Cooper Fox and WMVL’s Joe Vilkie for the tours (and NECRAT’s Mike Fitzpatrick for driving!)
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Next week: A Day in Utica