December 22, 2006
WHOT/WYFM, etc., Youngstown, OH
Some cities never seem to have much change when it comes to broadcast facilities - Boston, for instance, hasn't seen a completely new tower go up in decades.
Others seem to have something new to offer every time. Better yet, some communities also have broadcast engineers with a keen sense of history, who are eager to show off their new - and old - facilities to an interested visitor.
One of those communities is Youngstown, Ohio, 70 miles southeast of Cleveland and about the same distance northwest of Pittsburgh, and not far out of the way on our regular jaunts to the midwest.
Such a jaunt took place over Labor Day weekend, 2006, as we headed to Akron, Ohio for this year's National Radio Club convention.
In part one of our Youngstown visit last week, we visited several Clear Channel sites, including the Knox Street facility that's home to WNCD (93.3) and former sister station WBBW (1240). As we mentioned then, the tower that was being erected during our visit (and which has since been completed) is WBBW's third, replacing the 1967-vintage tower that has now been dismantled.
But before that tower went up, there was an earlier WBBW tower, original to the station's debut in 1949. As with pretty much all the Youngstown-area towers of that era, it was a Truscon tower, Truscon being the local tower manufacturer. (Their factory still stands, though there's nothing there that shows it as having been the home of so much great steel over the years.)
It was a perfectly good tower in 1967, just not tall enough for WBBW's FM signal - so it was dismantled and hauled to the nearby town of Struthers, where it was erected next to Struthers High School to become the support structure for WKTL (90.7), the high school radio station. And 40 years later, it's still there, still holding the WKTL antenna and still going strong. Now you know its history, too..and now we can move over to 4040 Simon Road, on the southeast side of Youngstown, to see Cumulus' ever-growing compound of studios and transmitters, in the company of longtime engineer (and jock) Jerry Starr and current chief engineer Wes Boyd.
"The Radio Center" began simply as the studio home of WHOT-FM (101.1) and WHOT (1330 Campbell) in the late eighties, when they moved south from their former studio at the 1330 day site on North Blaine Avenue on the city's east side, taking over an industrial building that had been home to a construction company's offices, garage and warehouse.
In 1992, WHOT-FM moved its antenna from the nearby WKBN-TV tower, just a few hundred yards to the west, over to a new 694-foot tower that it built on the Simon Road property. With the construction of the new tower, there's now something of a tower farm here - heading west on Midlothian Boulevard (Ohio 625) from I-680, one finds the WYTV (Channel 33) tower, the WHOT tower and the WKBN main and auxiliary towers all within a mile or so.
Over the next decade, things got very busy here on Simon Road. WHOT traded 1330 for 1390, then eventually sold that AM facility off. With the coming of new multiple-ownership rules, more stations came into the family - WBBW (1240) on the AM side in Youngstown; WPIC (790) and WYFM (102.9), licensed to Sharon, Pennsylvania; WSOM (600) and WQXK (105.1), licensed to Salem, Ohio, 15 miles or so to the southwest; and two more Pennsylvania-licensed FMs, WLLF (96.7 Mercer) and WWIZ (103.9 Mercer).
Today, most of those stations have moved their studios to "The Radio Center" here in Youngstown - WBBW, WYFM, WSOM, WQXK and WWIZ are all here. The former WPIC/WYFM studios in Sharon are now home to WPIC and WLLF, and the old WSOM/WQKX studios in Salem are empty.
Out back, there are now two small transmitter buildings next to the WHOT-FM tower. One of them is home to WHOT-FM's BE main transmitter and Harris backup, while the other is now home to the Harris transmitters of WYFM, which moved to this tower from the old WPIC/WYFM tower in Sharon a few years ago. (That tower eventually had to be demolished due to structural problems, and has very recently been replaced with a shorter guyed tower for WPIC.)
There's one more station out here at the time of our September visit - since the WBBW tower over on Knox Street is undergoing reconstruction, the 1240 signal is temporarily operating from a wire antenna strung from the WHOT-FM tower here on Simon Road.
There's a little Nautel 1000-watt transmitter on the floor of the WHOT-FM transmitter building that's keeping WBBW on the air, and the signal sounds pretty good, all things considered.
(By December, WBBW was back to Knox Street, using the new antenna strung on the new WNCD 93.3 tower there.)
With the transmitters properly visited, we begin our studio tour in the former garage building at the back of the "Radio Center" property. It's been extensively renovated, and now houses the engineering office for the cluster and the studios and traffic departments for WQXK, WSOM and WWIZ. WQXK - aka "K105" - is the big gun here, with a class B FM signal that serves not only Youngstown but also Canton and even parts of the Akron market with country music.
WSOM does standards, with former WHOT personalities Johnny Kay and Dick Thompson on the air - and a few classic WHOT "Tunedex" surveys taped to the studio window. That's Johnny and Dick in the upper right corner of that 1973 survey, and Jerry Starr right below them. (Love the glasses!)
WWIZ - aka "Rock 104" - has its own little studio at the front of the back building. (Why are all these rooms empty? Our visit coincided with the big Canfield Fair, at which all the Youngstown stations do daylong remotes. The Cumulus stations all had their air personalities out at the fair, and through the miracle of computer automation, there's not even any need for a board operator back at the station - the jocks can run everything right from the fair!)
Crossing the parking lot into the main building (which fronts on Simon Road, but with its entrance on the back side, facing the parking lot and the old garage building), we head first into the lobby, where Jerry regales us with some reminiscing over the big displays of WHOT history. WHOT's a rare beast - one of only a handful of stations that have successfully stuck with top 40 through the transition from AM to FM (another was WJET in Erie, also owned by Myron Jones, which has since changed FM format and calls) - and it's proud of its nearly half a century playing the hits.
Down the hall to the right of the lobby, we find the WBBW studio, where there's a daily local sports talk show amidst the ESPN Radio satellite programming, and next to that the WYFM studio.
Across the hall, facing out to the back parking lot, is the WHOT-FM studio, a cleverly-designed space with lots of room for the jock, soundproofing foam not only on the walls but also on the ceiling, and a nifty black curtain concealing the equipment racks behind the DJ. It may not be the slickest, most modern studio around - but it sure gets the job done. K105 and Y103 are consistently the top two FMs in town, and WHOT's not far behind.
Next week, we'll close out 2006 with a studio that looks more like 1936 - don't miss it!
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