February 19, 2010

Carlisle and a bit of Harrisburg, PA, 2008

This week's installment brings the final photos from our big July-August 2008 trip down to Washington, DC - and any trip down to Washington from our home base in western New York inevitably takes us through central Pennsylvania along the Route 15 corridor. After years of making that trip, we were still missing one corner of central Pennsylvania, though: the Carlisle area west of Harrisburg.

By the time we were heading home from Washington, we were out of excuses for omitting Carlisle from our itinerary: our good friend and fellow DXer Bruce Collier had taken over operation of WHYL (960), and a visit to see Bruce and his station became the mandatory last (well, nearly-last) stop on the itinerary on a warm Friday afternoon.

When we visited, Bruce was LMA'ing the station from owner WS2K Radio, the arm of investment firm WallerSutton that took over the old Route 81 Radio group when it went belly-up. With a partner, Bruce has since purchased WHYL - but it was already "his" station as he showed me the studio and office building tucked away on placid Walnut Bottom Road while Ari snacked on cookies on the lobby sofa.

It's a pretty simple studio setup: one good-sized air studio for the local morning show and the rest of the locally-automated "Nice 960" AC format (he's since added a local afternoon show and John Tesh in middays), and a production studio in back.

This building used to house WHYL-FM (102.3 Carlisle), too; that facility is now WCAT ("Red 102.3") and is owned by Citadel, programmed from a cluster studio in the Harrisburg suburb of Camp Hill. (Citadel had briefly owned the AM station as well before selling it and several Scranton-area signals to Route 81 back in 2004.)

From the WHYL studios on Walnut Bottom Road, it's a quick jaunt east on I-81 (the signs say "north," but the highway really runs east-west past Carlisle) to the two-tower transmitter site that abuts the north side of 81 between the Hanover Street and York Road exits.

While the pair of 269-foot towers are easily seen from I-81, they're not easily accessed; the dirt road that leads back to the transmitter site actually starts on the far side of the property, at the back of an unmarked driveway between two houses off Spring Garden Street.

Once we find the way back to the big field where the towers sit, a tour of the transmitter shack is a fairly quick affair: there's a Harris SX-series transmitter that's been giving Bruce some overheating troubles (he's since fixed it), a phasor and some STL and processing gear, and that's about all it takes to put out 5000 big watts by day and 22 not-so-big watts after dark.

A quick bit of history before we move on from WHYL: the station went on the air in 1948 as WLXW, a 1000-watt daytimer on 1380. A realignment of the AM dial in the region a few years later shuffled Harrisburg's WHP from 1460 down to 580 and relocated WCMB (then licensed to Lemoyne) from 960 to 1460, clearing the way for WLXW on 1380 to become WHYL on 960, and that's where it's been ever since.

Carlisle gained a second AM station in 1965, when WIOO (1000) signed on the air as a 1000-watt non-directional daytimer. We'd passed its tower on Holly Pike (PA 34) south of town on the way in to visit WHYL, and we pass its studios on York Road (PA 74) on the way to the WHYL towers.

WIOO went through some big changes just a few months after we drove by: it added a full-time FM translator on 97.9, giving "Country Gold Radio" 24-hour coverage of Carlisle.

Down I-81 in Shippensburg, WIOO simulcasts on another daytimer, WEEO (1480), and that station has an FM translator as well.

One of these days, we'll have to stop back in Carlisle to pay a call on Ray Thomas and his crew at WIOO/WEEO and present a more detailed tour of that facility...but with daylight beginning to run out and a long drive back to Rochester still ahead of us, we say goodbye to Carlisle and head east to Harrisburg to pick up the highway home.

There's at least one more stop to be made before we turn north on US 15, though: just off I-81 before it crosses the Susquehanna River into Harrisburg, there's a new three-tower array to be seen just off the south side of the highway.

This is Clear Channel's WTKT (1460), the descendant of the old WCMB that gave up its 960 frequency to WHYL in the early fifties. I remember seeing the Harrisburg 1460 array in the early nineties, when it was in its final years at the old site on Poplar Church Road in Camp Hill, across the river from downtown Harrisburg. That site was in use by WCMB back in its 960 days as well, and remained in use by WCMB when it shifted to 1460. WHP, meanwhile, was on 1460 from a site east of Harrisburg on the Harrisburg-Hershey highway; it moved to 580 from a six-tower site in Enola, just west of the site where WTKT now sits. There's a Site of the Week series on Harrisburg coming up in a few months, and I'll dig out those vintage pictures of the Poplar Church Road site and post them when we get to that series.

In any event, 1460 lost the Poplar Church Road site when the land was sold in 1997, and the station spent a decade at low power diplexed on the WKBO (1230) tower across the river before building this new site off A Street in Summerdale. From here, WTKT runs 5000 watts by day and 4200 watts by night, a slight reduction from its old 5000-watt fulltime service from Poplar Church Road.

This series of Site of the Week installments is once again accompanied by weekly ID updates over at our sister site, TopHour.com. Stop by on Wednesday, Feb. 24 for the next big batch of IDs...and in the meantime, don't miss your chance to grab one of the dwindling remaining stash of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2010, just in time to fill that space on the wall where your 2009 edition once hung.

(It's more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support!)

Thanks to Bruce Collier for the tour!

- Find out when the new Tower Site is posted, and much more! Follow us on Twitter @NERadioWatch -