December 9, 2005

The AMs of Scranton, Pennsylvania


For the next few weeks, we're featuring some of the images you'll find in our new Tower Site Calendar 2006, along with some stories and extra pictures from each visit. This week, it's the July 2006 image, the very photo you see above. That lovely rooftop tower has graced the Times Building at 149 Penn Avenue in downtown Scranton since 1948, when the Times, which already owned WQAN(AM), put WQAN-FM (92.3) on the air as well. If the antenna structure registration information is correct, the building's 124 feet tall, and the tower adds about 260 more feet to it, which would have put WQAN-FM about 380 feet above the streets of downtown Scranton. (There are some nifty postcards out there that make the tower look like it rises 600 feet or so above the building, with giant "W Q A N" lettering all the way down; these, obviously, are an artist's fantasy, albeit a really nifty one.)

This tower also allowed WQAN(AM) to begin a new life on 630 kHz, after several decades (beginning in 1922) of sharing time with the city's other major radio outlet, WGBI, initially on 880 and later on 910 kHz. At first, the new WQAN on 630 was a 500-watt daytimer - still, presumably, an improvement from the share-time arrangement.

By 1955, the FM station had gone silent, and the AM station took the calls that had shown up on the FM - WEJL, honoring E.J. Lynett, the paper's late publisher.

In later years, WEJL on 630 would increase power (it's now 2,000 watts by day, with 30 watts of night power) and would add FM service again. WEZX signed on in 1967 as a class A facility on 107.1, operating - I believe - from this tower atop the Times building. It's since upgraded, moved to 106.9 and a new tower site on Bald Mountain, overlooking Scranton to the west - but its legacy lingers on, via translator W297AF, relaying "Rock 107" with 250 watts from this tower.

Today, WEJL is an ESPN Radio outlet, simulcast on WBAX (1240) down in Wilkes-Barre, and the studios on the top floor of the Times building are also home to WEZX, its simulcast WPZX (105.9 Pocono Pines), and to oldies simulcast WQFM (92.1 Nanticoke)/WQFN (100.1 Forest City).

So what became of its erstwhile share-time partner? WGBI survived and thrived by itself on 910, using its 1000 watt day/500 watt night signal (and later its FM sister on 101.3) to become one of the market's top-rated stations. (It also spawned WGBI-TV 22, later WDAU-TV and now WYOU - check out a great WDAU tribute page, with some nice vintage WGBI material as well, along with lots of photos of the very vintage WGBI/WDAU basement studios, right here!)

After a few decades doing country, WGBI ended up as a sister station to Wilkes-Barre's WILK (980), and by the early nineties the WGBI calls were heard only once an hour during the legal ID for the "WILK News-Talk Network." And then, a few months ago, even the calls went away - it's now WBZU, parking call letters that were last used on an Entercom sister station in Madison, Wisconsin.

The 270-foot tower still stands, at least, at the corner of Davis and McCarthy Streets on the south side of Scranton.

(And the former WGBI-FM is now WGGY, "Froggy 101," the market-dominating country monster. You can even see its distinctive yellow bumper sticker on a filing cabinet in the background of NBC's "The Office," which is nominally set in Scranton, not that you see much of the city on the show.)

WGBI may have lost its call letters, but it's still in somewhat better shape than the other former powerhouse Scranton AM. WARM (590) was the top-40 giant in northeastern Pennsylvania for decades, cranking out 5,000 watts day and night from its five 495' towers in Falls, Pennsylvania, way out in the countryside northwest of Scranton.

The towers still stand, and the station's still on the air, but even when the photo above was taken in 1999, things were looking pretty run-down at the site in Falls. Today, WARM's signal is a shadow of what it once was, and all its programming comes off the satellite. (And the old "WARM Building" that was once proudly visible alongside I-81 is gone now, too.)

The last remaining Scranton-licensed AM signal is WICK (1400), whose little self-supporting tower is tucked in behind some warehouses and railroad tracks north of downtown off Olive Avenue. It's had its share of difficulties, too, including the child-molestation conviction of its former owner, Doug Lane - but it's now in the hands of another regional owner, Bold Gold, and it continues to crank out "real" oldies, simulcasting with WYCK (1340 Plains), the modern incarnation of onetime Wilkes-Barre powerhouse WKRZ.

WICK and WYCK had a third simulcast partner at one point. The Pittston-licensed station that's now WITK (1550) was, for many years, daytimer WARD (1540). In the late eighties, WARD moved to 1550 and went full-time, putting up three new towers not far from its old 1540 site in Duryea (halfway between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre) and cranking out 10 kilowatts by day, dropping to 500 watts at night. By the mid-nineties, 1550 was WKQV, simulcasting a new FM talk outlet on 95.7, and in 2000 it became WITK, simulcasting WICK. With Lane's legal problems came an end to his lease of 1550; for the last few months, it's been simulcasting the Catholic programming of WQOR (750 Olyphant).

One more AM is worth a picture here: WEMR (1460) was a fairly late arrival on the AM scene, signing on in Tunkhannock (northwest of Scranton) in the mid-eighties with 5000 watts by day, 1000 watts at night. It's gone through several sales since then, including a few years under Citadel ownership as a sister station to WARM, but it's now in the capable hands of Ben Smith and his partners, who are using it to simulcast the soft AC sound of WCOZ (103.9 Laporte).

And we can't leave Scranton without remembering one more station: WSCR, later WTSS, on 1320, which went off the air in the early nineties. We actually saw its old site on N. Keyser Avenue being demolished in 1994, but we weren't taking still pictures yet, so all we have is some blurry videotape to prove that there was once a station there.

LIKE THAT WEJL PICTURE? You should see it in printed form, in the 2006 Tower Site Calendar! Click here for ordering information!