October 19, 2007

Pinnacle Hill, Rochester, NY (Part II)

Welcome back to another exciting season of Tower Site of the Week - and thanks for your patience during our busy summer and fall travel schedule! We're excited about all the great tours we'll be sharing with you in the months to come.

We'll take you to some big AM signals (WBBM, WSCR, KSL), some unusual arrays (how about an AM directional array with I-90 running right through the middle?), some prominent FM/TV mountaintops (Boise's Deer Point, Las Vegas' Mount Arden), not to mention the fields of Iowa, the FMs of Utica, and many more.

This week, though, we continue our look at some sites that are much closer to home - and right now, we wrap up our look at a site that's as close to home as we've ever been: 4300 feet northwest of our front door, at Rochester's foremost TV/FM tower farm, Pinnacle Hill.

Last week, we looked at the various stations that have all called Pinnacle's original 1949 tower (at right in the photo at right) home. This week, we turn our attention to the second tower to be built on Pinnacle: the stick at left that went up in a big hurry in the summer of 1962 for the debut of Rochester's third television station, WOKR (Channel 13).

While Channel 13 had been allotted to Rochester in the late fifties, it wasn't able to sign on right away: WKTV in Utica was still occupying channel 13 back then, and it had to move to channel 2 before Rochester could get 13. (As part of the same shuffle, WROC-TV in Rochester and WHEN-TV in Syracuse swapped channels, moving to 8 and 5 respectively, and thus opening channel 9 for use in Syracuse.)

There was a fight over channel 13 from the beginning, with nine applicants battling for the last VHF channel in town, and it wasn't until the middle of 1962 that the matter was resolved, at least on an interim basis, by creating a partnership among the competing applicants to get the station on the air until a permanent licensee could be chosen. The new interim licensee took the studio space at 17 S. Clinton Ave. downtown that had belonged to WVET 1280/WVET-TV 10 until earlier in 1962, when Veterans Broadcasting bought WROC-TV and moved into Rochester Radio City on Humboldt Street.

It needed a new tower, though, and space was quickly secured just up the hill from the WROC/WHEC tower on Pinnacle for that purpose. A two-story brick transmitter building almost identical to the channels 10 and 8 buildings went up next door to channel 10, and tower crews swung into action to put the new stick in place. Construction wrapped up with just days to spare, and in September 1962, the Rochester TV dial was turned on end: WROC-TV moved from channel 5 to channel 8 on September 9, followed on September 15 by the debut of WOKR, bringing a full ABC schedule to town for the first time. (Local viewers with good antennas had ABC service from Buffalo's WKBW-TV 7 beginning in 1958.)

Like the older channel 8 and 10 buildings, the channel 13 building was designed with a garage and workspace on the first floor and a transmitter room on the second floor. Remarkably, 45 years after the station signed on, the original 1962 RCA TT-11 transmitter is still in place, and still functioning.

It's an auxiliary transmitter today, supplanted some years back by a newer RCA TTG-30H, which carried the station through its call change to WHAM-TV in 2005. (The last signoff as WOKR was voiced by Jerry Carr, who'd been the first voice heard on channel 13 back in 1962.) By then, the station had added a DTV signal on channel 59, initially at low power and later at full power from a transmitter in one of the downstairs workrooms.

(Those rooms have been versatile over the years: WROC used its garage to house its new Larcan analog transmitter and its initial low-power DTV transmitter while it gutted its old transmitter room upstairs for the new digital rig; WHEC leased out a room downstairs in its building for WCMF 96.5 from the early 80s until 2005, when the space was needed for WHEC-DT and WCMF moved next door to the WROC building.)

Today, WHAM-DT operates from a Harris Sigma transmitter downstairs; in 2009, WHAM-DT will move to channel 13, presumably with a new transmitter installed for that purpose.

(And wouldn't it be really neat if the last broadcast on analog channel 13 were to come from that old TT-11 that was used to sign the station on for the first time in 1962? That would be something to see!)

We already touched on the 1966 debut of Pinnacle's fourth station, WXXI-TV (Channel 21), in last week's Site of the Week; it always had its own transmitter building, just uphill from and behind the WROC building, but it shared the WROC/WHEC tower until 1980, when WXXI built its own tower on a corner of channel 13's property, between the 8/10 and 13 towers. The new candelabra tower had an immediate tenant: Malrite's independent WUHF (Channel 31) signed on from that tower on January 28, 1980.

Now a Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate, WUHF uses the same Harris transmitter with which it signed on, housed in a one-story brick building in a little hollow next to one of the legs of Channel 13's tower, almost hidden from view from the road that slopes up past the main TV tower cluster to another group of towers at the peak of the hill.

It's there that we find Pinnacle's newest tower, the 320-foot self-supporter that American Tower built in the summer of 2003 after a fairly lengthy set of public hearings. (Disclaimer: your editor was a participant in that process, speaking in favor of towers to a very chilly reception from the neighbors.)

The new tower replaced an old AT&T microwave site, and the old AT&T building, divided into two rooms, was reborn as a broadcast site. WUHF-DT (Channel 28) was the first tenant here, signing on with a Sinclair-standard Acrodyne transmitter in 2004. In 2006, it was followed by CBS Radio's FM stations, WCMF (96.5) and WPXY (97.9), moving up the hill from the channel 8 building to a slick new room with a pair of Harris transmitters and a ceiling-mounted Shively combiner feeding a new interleaved analog/digital antenna on the American tower.

(Our picture, above, isn't quite up-to-date: it was taken before the installation of the HD transmitters in the center racks; those feed another small Shively combiner on the floor, which feeds those two interleaved bays near the bottom of the antenna.)

There's one more tower to mention on the upper part of the hill, though it's by far the smallest of the bunch: a 200-foot self-supporter erected in 1987 by Pinnacle Hill Associates. Over the years, it's been home to several LPTVs (currently, TCT's religious W42CO and home-shopping WAWW-LP 38 and WHSH-CA 36), as well as to now-defunct translator W238AR (95.5), which served as half of the "95.1, 95.5 the Nerve" simulcast before WNVE (95.1 South Bristol) moved to a better full-market signal from Baker Hill in Perinton and rendered the translator unnecessary.

And in 1997, the little tower became home to a new full-power FM: class A WAQB (94.1 Brighton), which signed on with a rotation of rock instrumentals playing out of a CD player in one corner of the transmitter room. It was later sold to American Radio Systems, which flipped it to "the Zone," WZNE, which has evolved from a modern AC to a modern rocker over the years. (It's now part of the CBS Radio group that's being sold to Entercom, though WZNE will then be resold to a yet-to-be-determined buyer.)

Thanks to Lou Volino of WHAM-TV, Don Roberts of WUHF and Mike Raide, formerly of WCMF/WPXY/WZNE, for the tours!

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