March 11-18, 2004

Aroostook County, Maine and Edmundston, N.B.

When we left off last week in our recap of a summer 1998 visit to the Canadian Maritimes and northern New England, we were headed south out of Fredericton, New Brunswick, bound for the Maine border at Calais. We'll look at the towers of Calais (and at the rest of New Brunswick) in a future Site of the Week; for now, we'll head up US 1 along the Maine/New Brunswick border (a secondary goal of this trip was to drive every mile of US 1 in Maine), only to re-enter New Brunswick at the end of I-95 near Houlton, Maine. I-95 becomes a short freeway called NB 95 when it crosses the border, and NB 95 soon deposits us in Woodstock, New Brunswick.

In the summer of 1998, Woodstock's radio voice was a station called "CJ Radio," a mix of country and AC on CJCJ (920) and two low-power AM relays (CJCJ-1 1140 Perth-Andover and CJCJ-2 990 Plaster Rock). You can see CJCJ's two-tower directional array above, tucked in neatly behind a couple of farmhouses. A few years later, 920 was history - after launching a new FM station up in Grand Falls to the north (CIKX 93.5), CJCJ itself moved to FM on 104.1 and shut down the Perth-Andover relay, leaving Plaster Rock as a relay of CIKX.

Back across the border just 20 minutes later, to the puzzlement of the border guard, we headed into Houlton to hear WHOU (100.1), then pushed north on US 1 to Monticello. On a side road there, we found the farm that belongs to Allan Weiner, the one-of-a-kind radio junkie and former pirate broadcaster. Allan's autobiography, "Access to the Airwaves," tells the story of his northern Maine radio adventures far better than I ever could, and it's well worth seeking out and reading - but in a nutshell, after running a series of prominent pirates in the New York City area, Weiner bought this land in the seventies and moved up here. He first put a 10-watt class D on the air, WXMN (89.5), which later went dark. In 1979, Weiner bought WELF (101.7 Presque Isle) and changed the calls to WOZI - and on November 3, 1981, he signed sister station WOZW (710 Monticello) on the air from this 400-foot tower, using a 50 year old RCA transmitter from WTRY (980 Troy NY).

Not long afterward, Weiner began lighting up this tower at night with the unlicensed signal of "KPRC" at 1616 kHz (and later on shortwave as well); it ran sporadically for two years and then signed off after the FCC paid Weiner a visit. Later, Weiner used the WOZW license to get a remote pickup license, under the calls KPF941, to operate on 1622 kHz from Yonkers, N.Y. his hometown. While Weiner insisted he was playing by the FCC's own rules, the Commission accused him of running KPF941 as a programming service for Yonkers listeners. In the aftermath, Weiner ended up selling the WOZI and WOZW licenses. WOZW went to a family friend and changed calls to WREM, and for the last decade or so it's been on and off the air with a variety of formats. By our visit in 1998, Weiner (who, alas, wasn't around when we drove by) had regained control of WREM, which was simulcasting talk WEGP (1390 Presque Isle) - and he held a construction permit to build a shortwave station, WBCQ, which signed on a year or so later and now runs four transmitters from this same site in Monticello.

A few miles to the north sits Mars Hill, home to Maine Public Broadcasting's WMEM (106.1 Presque Isle) and WMEM-FM (Channel 10), as well as hot AC WQHR (96.1 Presque Isle). Since our visit, Mars Hill has added more stations to the tower - WAGM (Channel 8) is now up here, as is oldies WOZI (now at 101.9 as a C2).

I'm told it's possible to drive up Mars Hill, but we didn't get there on this trip. Someday...

Heading north again, we arrived in Presque Isle itself, the commercial hub of Aroostook County. There's a college station there - the University of Maine/Presque Isle's WUPI (92.1), a little class D 10-watter - as well as the commercial cluster that includes WOZI, WQHR and country WBPW (96.9 Presque Isle), the latter operating from a 408-foot tower right behind the studio building, in which the three studios were squeezed into the main floor with sales offices down in the basement. (That tower came down in 2002 to make way for a replacement, so the image below is itself a bit of history!

Presque Isle once had two AM stations, but the 950 facility that began as WAGM and was later WKZX had gone dark before our 1998 visit. That left WEGP on 1390, and we saw its two towers and transmitter building on Chatman Road.


The WAGM calls live on up on the TV dial, where WAGM (Channel 8) is the only commercial TV signal north of Bangor.

When we visited, the channel 8 signal still came from the tower out back; it put a fine signal up to Madawaska, where we were staying (though WAGM also has a translator, W11AA, up there.)

And look carefully to the left of the call letters on the building: that sign reads "CBS/NBC/ABC." When you're the only station in town, you can pick and choose, and WAGM used to do just that. More recently, WAGM has been primarily a CBS affiliate, with today's schedule showing a few NBC daytime soaps, Saturday Night Live, some stray UPN programming and no more ABC.

Otherwise, northern Maine gets Bangor on cable (or, more commonly these days, distant signals by satellite!)

There's nothing like a really small-market TV newscast (number 205, to be precise), and WAGM didn't disappoint: one camera, a tiny carpeted set, bare-bones graphics - and a vital public service for a county that doesn't even have a daily newspaper to call its own! (A check of the WAGM Web site these days shows that it looks a bit slicker now than it did six years ago; it even has a morning newscast and a five-minute show at noon now.)

From Presque Isle, we took advantage of the long twilight of mid-June to take in still another site. Up along Route 161 in Caribou, there was another AM station to visit. WFST is a former daytimer on 600 that now has 127 watts at night to add to its 5000 by day. When we drove by, the staff had long since left for the day, but we got a nice view through the window...

You can just barely make out two FM bays at the top of the AM tower; those are the old WFST-FM 97.7, now WCXX and operating from a different location. WCXX has a sister AC station in Madawaska, WCXU (102.3); we saw its tower the next morning and then headed down the road to Fort Kent and the end of US 1. Near there, we also saw Maine Public Radio's WMEF (106.5) - and then we headed back to Madawaska and across the border to Edmundston, New Brunswick.

Edmundston is an interesting town - it's almost entirely Francophone, sitting as it does in the narrow spur of northeastern New Brunswick that's squashed between Quebec and northern Maine (itself heavily French-speaking) - and we visited Edmundston at a most interesting time. The local commercial station, CJEM (570), had just turned on its new FM transmitter at 92.7 (and when I say "just," I mean that it was turned on the day before we visited), so a visit to the two-tower 570 site was a must. The 570 signal went silent a couple of months after we passed through the area, leaving 92.7 as its replacement.

The CJEM studios were in an old building on the edge of downtown, and we put our rusty French to the test in communicating with the staff there - but we did end up getting a nice tour of the studios. CJEM operates a satellite transmitter in Grand Falls (or "Grand-Sault," in French) called CKMV; it was on 1490 back then but has since moved to FM as well, at 95.1.

With the exception of a small community station (CFAI 101.1), the rest of the broadcast dial in Edmundston belonged to the CBC and Radio-Canada; we saw the little CBC newsroom in the same building as CJEM, then searched in vain for the 40-watt transmitter of CBAM (1320), which must have been hiding on a wire antenna somewhere. CBAM has since moved to FM (at 99.5), on the same tower that housed Radio-Canada's CBAF-FM-4 (100.3) and CBAL-FM-5 (94.3) when we visited. (There's TV on this tower as well, but only relays of Radio-Canada's CBAFT from Moncton and TVA's CIMT and TQS' CFTF from Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec.)

Riviere-du-Loup was our next stop as well - and next week we'll show you what we saw there and in Quebec City.

Still haven't ordered? It's not too late - Tower Site Calendar 2004 is STILL AVAILABLE! All orders placed by Tuesday, March 9 have now been shipped - and if you haven't yet ordered, what are you waiting for? Click here for ordering information!