July 20, 2007

A Day in Syracuse, NY (Part III)

SCHEDULE NOTE: Due to a heavy summer travel schedule, we're actually "Tower Site of the Every Other Week" for a little while. Check back Aug. 3 for the next installment - and get ready for lots of nifty new installments from Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wisconsin, and other fine states, once we settle back down this fall. Thanks for your patience!

Over the last seven years of Tower Site of the Week, we've taken you (virtually speaking) all over the world in search of interesting broadcast facilities - everywhere from Bonaire to Paris to Tijuana, with "guest episodes" from Nome and American Samoa, too.

Amidst the thrills of seeing Walla Walla or Dubuque, though, we tend to forget about all the nifty broadcast facilities closer to our base in western New York. So when our colleague Mike Fitzpatrick called up last summer and mentioned he was interested in spending a few days visiting Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester, it was all the excuse we needed to finally get around to showing you some of the sites in our neighborhood.

Our Syracuse visit wrapped up with a series of sites that together chronicled much of the history of one of the Salt City's oldest stations. We chronicled the first 80 years of WSYR (570) in some detail in a September 2002 installment of Site of the Week, but we'd never actually been inside the late-thirties transmitter building on Valley Drive at the southern edge of Syracuse until this September 2006 trip, when we hooked up with Clear Channel chief engineer Todd Troubetaris for a tour.

Out back, the three 338' towers have been through a lot of change in the last couple of years - they've been completely rebuilt at their bases, with new transmission line and insulators, all set for another six decades on the air. Inside the Art Deco building, the big transmitter room behind the curved front windows houses three transmitters - the current BE AM6A and a backup Harris MW5 on the back wall, taking up a fraction of the space that was probably home to a big GE or RCA back when this room was new, and an older RCA at the front of the room.

The rooms at either side of the building are used for office space and storage, but at one time provided housing for the full-time transmitter operators here; downstairs, there's the inevitable fallout shelter common to transmitter buildings of the era.

WSYR radio hasn't been associated with Syracuse's Channel 3 TV facility since 1980, when the Newhouse family sold its radio and TV stations off to separate owners. But the radio space in the old WSYR building at 1030 James Street is still clearly identifiable as a radio studio more than a quarter of a century later - and when we arrive there, it's sitting vacant.

Here's the explanation: Channel 3, now WSTM (for Times-Mirror, which bought the station from the Newhouse family in 1980), had been operating PAX affiliate WSPX (Channel 56) out of this space for a few years - but the PAX stations, now renamed "i Network," pulled out of most of those LMA arrangements, and so there's a big empty space on the main floor where the radio studios used to be.

Down the hall, there's plenty of non-empty space in the Channel 3 building - the newsroom is at the far end of the hallway, spreading out into a warren of offices and edit bays up and down the stairs at the back of the building.

Behind the former radio space, the old TV control rooms from the late fifties have been replaced with modern equipment for WSTM and its current sister station, WSTQ-LP (Channel 14), known on-air by its cable channel - and on this September afternoon, it's in the process of segueing from "UPN6" to "CW6," as that new network prepares to launch in just a few days.

Though the windows are mostly blocked now, the control rooms still overlook the two big studios downstairs. One of them is home to the news sets for WSTM and for the 10 PM newscast on WSTQ; the other is used for interview shows and other special productions. There's also a huge garage and scene shop, a relic of the days when there would have been all sorts of live performances taking place down here.

Out the back door, one of the big NBC satellite downlink dishes sits next to the set for WSTM's outdoor weathercasts. That little hutch next to the green screen is a perch for "Doppler, the Weather Cat," who has his very own office down the hall from the studios, in what was probably a dressing room back in the day.

(The current Doppler is the third incarnation, incidentally - Doppler #1 met an untimely demise, we're told, and his successor didn't have good people skills.)

From WSTM, it's just a very short stroll over to most of the city's other TV stations. A few years after WSYR built its big studio facility at 1030 James Street, WHEN-TV (Channel 5) and WHEN (620) inaugurated their new digs at 980 James Street in the early sixties. When radio and TV split up in 1976, the TV station stayed here under its new calls of WTVH - and never having been inside, I don't know what's become of the old second-floor radio studios. (I do know that the logo on the front of the building always seems to be a logo change or two behind the current version.

In the eighties, WSTM and WTVH got even more TV company on James Street, as independent WSYT (Channel 68) hit the airwaves from 1000 James Street in 1986. (Still later, the radio cluster that's now Citadel moved in at 1064 James Street, a facility we'll show you in another Tower Site of the Week segment; there are also several LPTV stations on an apartment building across James Street from WTVH.)

We didn't actually go inside 1000 James Street on this trip, but our good friend Vinny Lopez, who's both an engineer there and one of the masterminds behind the big SBE 22 Expo every fall, wouldn't let us finish up a Syracuse Site of the Week without showing off his digs. That's master control, above right, for both Fox affiliate WSYT and its LMA partner, WNYS (Channel 43), which had just moved from The WB to My Network TV.

The WSYT and WNYS transmitters are located at a site in Otisco, 15 miles or so south and west of the studios, where there's a 1019' tower that slams a signal all over central New York and quite respectably covers the 65 miles or so over here to Rochester as well. The original part of the building houses a Pye transmitter (a rare sight in the US) for WSYT, and a newer Harris for WNYS' analog operations. Look closely behind the WNYS transmitter to see the little low-power Harris from which WSYT-DT (Channel 19) first fired up a few years back.


A newer addition to the building houses the current Acrodyne DTV transmitters - the one on the left is for WNYS-DT (Channel 44), while the one on the right is WSYT-DT.

And while this may look like a two-tower site, only the tower shown on the right above is actually in use for broadcast. The left-hand tower is a separately-owned stick that was built for a long-defunct wireless cable operation, and is now available for leasing.

Thanks to WSTM's Sean McNamara and Jim Marco and Clear Channel's Todd Troubetaris for the tours, and to WSYT/WNYS' Vinny Lopez and NECRAT.com's Mike Fitzpatrick for the pictures!

The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is sold out! But we still have other back issues and more goodies availale at the Fybush.com Store - and check back soon for your first chance to order Tower Site Calendar 2008!