May 21-28, 2004

New York's North Country

Last week, we showed you the sights (and sites) of Watertown, New York - and for most of us who live anywhere south of there, that's pretty much the definition of "northern New York." But if you follow US 11 north and east out of Watertown, you'll find that the Empire State continues on for miles and miles and miles beyond Watertown - and one fine day in the summer of 2000 (well, two fine days, actually), we set out to see what was out there.

The first stop, alas, was one that wasn't anymore - in Gouverneur, some 20 miles north of Watertown, we found where WIGS (1230) had once existed. But WIGS had signed off a few years ago, and its sister FM station WGIX (95.3) had moved to a new transmitter site a few miles away...so on we went.

Keep going up 11 and detour to the north up 812, and you'll eventually come to the border town of Ogdensburg, where the Ogdensburg-Prescott Bridge and its scary metal grating span the St. Lawrence River.

The old-line station in Ogdensburg is WSLB (1400), one of the pioneer stations in northern New York. WSLB signed on in 1940, and within a few short years it had been joined by an FM sister, WSLB-FM (106.1), the northern link in the old Rural Radio Network.

WSLB-FM didn't last, though, and it wasn't until 1981 that WSLB again got an FM sister, this time a class A facility on 92.7. Under the calls WPAC, "93-PAC" became a major player in the radio scene up here for many years. In late 2003, though, WPAC and WSLB (and WGIX in Gouverneur) were sold to Watertown's Clancy-Mance group. WPAC became WBDB, a simulcast of the "Border" top-40 format on WBDI (106.7 Copenhagen-Watertown), and WSLB kept on talking. Here we see the station's tower behind what I think may have been the original WSLB building at the end of Knox Street; I suspect that's the old WSLB-FM antenna at the top of the tower. (WPAC is on the three bays just below.)

Another FM signal, WYSX (98.7), signed on in 1998 - and from a most unusual tower site. Check out those three bays atop the power plant of the state correctional facility out near the bridge on Route 37!

(WYSX has a pending application to move to the transmitter site south of town that's home to WNCQ 102.9 Morristown, another 90s sign-on - and WNCQ has a pending CP to move to 96.7, trading frequencies with the Canton-licensed signal that used to be WVNC and now has the WPAC calls parked on it, simulcasting the top 40 "Yes FM" format with WYSX. And 96.7 was the original frequency of St. Lawrence University's WSLU, which moved to 89.5 in the mid-eighties and subsequently spawned dozens of relay transmitters and translators across the North Country.)

Canton - and St. Lawrence University - have a prominent place in the very earliest radio history of the North Country. Station WCAD signed on way back in 1922 from the university and remained in operation until 1941, when it voluntarily surrendered its license and signed off. The 1250 frequency it vacated (1220 until March 29, 1941, just a month before it signed off) ended up being reused up in Ottawa for Radio-Canada's CBOF a few years later.

East of Canton, as we head up the foothills and into the Adirondacks, we come to Route 56 and enter South Colton - where we see the tower of WNPI (Channel 18) perched on a hill just east of the highway. WNPI, licensed to Norwood, is the other half of the Watertown-based public TV station that used to be WNPE (Channel 16) and is now WPBS-TV; on a good summer day, we used to be able to watch both of them here in Rochester - until local WXXI-DT signed on on channel 16 last year!

Back up 56 to the college town of Potsdam we go - and there we find two college stations, Clarkson University's WTSC (91.1) and SUNY Potsdam's newer WAIH (90.3), which was simulcasting WTSC (or was it the other way around) that summer. Just outside town on Route 11, we encounter the studio and tower of WPDM (1470), which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary next year, and its FM simulcast WSNN (99.3).

Keep going up 56 and we come back to the St. Lawrence River and the community of Massena, home to two AM stations.

WYBG (1050) is locally owned and operated, with studios right in the heart of downtown (where we had a nice visit with owner Dottie Wade) and a tower in a residential area a mile or so away; WMSA (1340) plays oldies as part of the Martz group that owns a whole bunch of stations up and down the St. Lawrence Valley (WYSX and WNCQ in the Ogdensburg area; WPAC 96.7, WVLF 96.1 Norwood and WRCD 101.5 Canton in the Canton area; WICY 1490, WYUL 94.7 Chateaugay and WVNV 96.5 over to the east in Malone.)

Massena sits just across the St. Lawrence from Cornwall, Ontario, which has three commercial FMs of its own (CJUL 1220, CJSS-FM 101.9 and CFLG 104.5) along with CBC relays and a noncommercial French-language community FM station (CHOD 92.1); we'll feature the Cornwall stations in a future Site of the Week.

We somehow forgot to take out the still camera when we stopped another 25 miles to the east in Malone, but we can testify that WICY was doing oldies and WVNV was doing country, both off the satellite.

Keep going east of here on 11 and you get into the Plattsburgh market on the shores of Lake Champlain, but that's a story for another Site of the Week someday. Head south into the Adirondacks and you eventually come to the picturesque community of Saranac Lake, home to another very old AM signal. WNBZ (1240) has been on the air here since 1927, and its studio and tower are up a little side road in the hills. In 1989, WNBZ got an FM sister, which today is known as WYZY (106.3).

And we come full circle just down the road from Saranac Lake, where we find sister station WRGR (102.3 Tupper Lake) - which got those call letters from former owner "RGR Broadcasting," the very same company whose name was peeling off the sign at WIGS/WGIX at the start of our trip in Gouverneur!

(Today, WRGR and WNBZ/WYZY are co-owned with another pair of Adirondacks stations, WIRD 920 and WLPW 105.5 in Lake Placid.)

Next week, we'll keep moving east - as we make a return visit to Boston.

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