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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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
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