May 14-21, 2004

Watertown, New York

It's not a very big place (just over 111,000 people), nor a very warm one (114 inches of average snowfall each year), but Watertown, New York has some pretty interesting broadcast facilities to recommend it to the intrepid tower hunter.

Those of us who have occasion to drive from western New York to Ottawa know Watertown best as a convenient stopping-off point on the drive north from Syracuse on I-81. State route 3, aka Arsenal Street, is lined with fast food and gas stations...and a fair amount of broadcast activity, too. In fact, it's less than half a mile off the highway to Stateway Plaza, where we find the studios of ABC affiliate WWTI (Channel 50). Very much the number-two station in town, channel 50 signed on in the eighties as WFYF, went out of business, returned as WWTI and has failed to make much of a ratings dent ever since. For the last few years, under the ownership of Ackerley and then Clear Channel, channel 50 has been part of the Upstate New York Station Group, sharing resources with WIXT in Syracuse and sister stations in Rochester, Binghamton and (until recently) Utica - in fact, the announcer you hear during station promos and newscasts is veteran WOKR (Channel 13 in Rochester) anchor Don Alhart!

Just down Arsenal is the studio of Watertown's PBS outlet. When we stopped by on the way home from Ottawa and our Maritimes trip in the summer of 1998, channel 16 was still known by its longtime callsign of WNPE - but just a few weeks later, the station struck a deal with a small AM station in Georgia to share its call letters...and promptly became WPBS-TV. (As you'll see in next week's installment, WNPE/WPBS-TV has a relay transmitter way up in the St. Lawrence Valley on channel 18, which was and is WNPI-TV.)

On a visit to Watertown later in the summer of 1998 (when most of these photos were taken), I stayed in a motel next door to channel 16 - and was surprised, come morning, to find that little WATN (1240) was blowing everything else off the dials on my radio. The mystery was solved the next morning when I walked out to my car and discovered that the motel parking lot backed up to the WATN studio/transmitter site on Wealtha Avenue.

WATN added an FM outlet in the early eighties when it signed on WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) just east of town; in more recent years, Clancy-Mance Communications has added several more FMs: top 40 "Border" WBDI (106.7 Copenhagen, originally WWLF), country WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent, until recently a "Border" simulcast), rocker WOTT (100.7 Henderson) and a cluster of stations up north in Gouverneur and Ogdensburg. And the WATN tower is also home to W281AA (104.1), a translator that relays the Gouverneur oldies station, WGIX (95.3).

Heading downtown on Arsenal Street, we come to Arcade Street and the studios of Watertown's perennially top-rated TV station, CBS affiliate WWNY-TV (Channel 7, licensed to nearby Carthage). WWNY signed on back in 1954 as WCNY-TV, the video sister to radio station WWNY (790) and soon-to-be-defunct WWNY-FM (100.5); today, in addition to dominating the market with CBS, WWNY also operates Fox LPTV WNYF-CA (Channel 28). (Watertown gets NBC from Syracuse's WSTM-TV; The WB is on a cable-only outlet operated by WWTI and UPN used to be on two LPTVs located downtown.)

On the east side of downtown is Mullin Street, and there we find out what became of WCNY radio: it changed calls to WTNY when it was sold away from the TV station and is today the dominant news-talk voice in town. WTNY-FM (93.5) signed on in the eighties, and a few years later the WTNY stations duopolized with what had been top 40 WOTT (1410) and country WNCQ (97.5). WNCQ later became rocker WCIZ, which called itself "CIZ" and opened a sales office across the river in Kingston, Ontario to target Canadian listeners. The WCIZ calls and format eventually moved to 93.5, with 97.5 reverting to country as "Froggy 97" WFRY. That proved to be a good move - on the enormous 100,000 watt 97.5 signal, Froggy regularly pulls rating shares in the high 20s or even low 30s.

93.5, meanwhile, moved down the dial to 93.3 right around the time of that 1998 visit. And 1410...well, 1410 didn't have quite as happy an ending. It changed calls several times - from WOTT to WNCQ to WUZZ to WNER (all-sports "The Winner") - and it lost its original studio/transmitter site east of town on Route 12 (Gifford Street Road). Those towers shown above are gone now, and WNER is essentially a daytimer, running 3500 watts by day and 58 watts at night from one tower of the WTNY site south of Watertown along I-81.

That site is normally a three-tower directional array - but our visit in 1998 came just a few months after the devastating ice storms that January, which toppled the middle tower. If memory serves, it was several years before the missing tower was rebuilt.

(And you've just gotta love that railing on the roof of the transmitter building!)


And we'll close this look at Watertown by heading back east, up to the plateau that rises from Lake Ontario. Follow route 12 east out of town to route 126, and the first site you'll see is WFRY. Those eight bays not only throw a massive signal over the Watertown and Kingston markets, they even hit Rochester fairly well - and last year, a DXer in Ireland actually logged WFRY via double-hop E-skip, in the first confirmed trans-Atlantic FM E-skip reception. When WCIZ moved to 93.3 from 93.5, it relocated to this site from a nondescript tower north of town on route 12.

Just up 126 is the channel 7 site, also home to WTOJ and to religious WWJS (90.1 Watertown); for some years, channel 7 had a studio here, and the office space in the building had just been vacated by the town court when I stopped by.

Another ridge just to the south, near Copenhagen, N.Y., rounds out our visit. WWTI has a tower here with a side-mounted antenna; WBDI shares that tower, too. And nearby, the WPBS-TV tower (shown above at right) is also home to two public radio relays, WJNY (90.9, relaying Syracuse's classical WCNY 91.3) and WRVJ (91.7, relaying Oswego's WRVO 89.9). (A third public radio relay, WSLJ 88.9, rebroadcasts North Country Public Radio from WSLU 89.5 Canton; it used to transmit from downtown Watertown but now shares a tower near WFRY with WNYF-CA).

And that's pretty much it for Watertown, but not for northern New York as a whole. Next week, we'll wrap things up by taking you to exotic garden spots like Massena, Malone, Canton and Potsdam - and then we'll (finally) bring you some fresh tower sites from New England!

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