April 16, 2010

WEBO, Owego, NY

Back home in America's great northeast, there are a handful of guys I like to think of as "radio Johnny Appleseeds," sowing new small-town radio stations all over the region.

In New England, there's my friend Dennis Jackson, who's built stations everywhere from the Hudson Valley to the New Hampshire seacoast and who's inspired friends and colleagues to build many more, all of them using his trademark combination of a super-local morning show and quality voicetracking the rest of the day to bring radio to communities that would otherwise go without.

And west of Dennis there's Joe Reilly, who parlayed a career as a DJ (under the airname "Bobby Hatfield") and programmer into his own brand of small-town radio ownership, crafting WHLM in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania into a top-notch local station and in turn inspiring his own followers.

That's where this week's station comes in: Joe's last stop before Bloomsburg was at what's now the Entercom cluster in Rochester, where he mentored an ambitious young guy by the name of Dave Radigan. Dave was barely out of high school when he started helping out at Entercom, and the radio bug bit him hard.

After a few years at Entercom, Dave decided to buy a radio station, and before long he'd landed in Owego, a small town west of Binghamton, as the new owner of WEBO (1330), which is where we found him when we stopped by for a visit in the autumn of 2008.

What Dave bought (as Radigan Broadcasting) in 2006 wasn't much more than a license. WEBO was a venerable part of the radio landscape, having signed on back in the 1950s, but it was in rough shape by the time Dave got there. It had lost the lease to its old transmitter site behind Owego High School on the west side of town, and was operating off a longwire antenna with a signal almost inaudible 20-odd miles away in Binghamton. There was only a rudimentary studio in the back of an antique store downtown, and Dave's first job (with the help of Joe Reilly and others in the area's broadcast community) was to find new studio and transmitter sites for the station.

The studio was relatively easy: downtown Owego, like too many upstate small towns, has plenty of storefronts readily available for tenants, and WEBO settled into one on North Avenue, a block from the middle of town, where Dave built a studio in the front window with office space just behind.

As for the transmitter site, Dave found a piece of land just across the Susquehanna River from downtown Owego, and a few months before our 2008 visit he inaugurated the new site on Montrose Turnpike in grand style, leading a caravan of trucks from the old site to the new one, complete with the little transmitter shed riding proudly in the procession. (The event received news coverage in Binghamton that day, if memory serves!)

Upon being planted at the new site, with a new tower out back, the transmitter shed got a new occupant: a BE AM-5E transmitter, which Dave reports has run flawlessly from day one.

WEBO had run 5000 watts by day and 50 watts at night from its old site, but its move across the river initially downgraded the station slightly to 3500 watts days and 36 watts at night. It has since received a CP to crank the day power back up to 5000 watts, non-directional.

The next phase in WEBO's life was just beginning when we came to town in 2008: in addition to that wide-coverage AM signal, Dave had just obtained an FM translator, W300BV (107.9).

In 2008, AM-on-FM translator operation was still handled under Special Temporary Authority, and on this clear October morning, Dave hadn't yet obtained STA for W300BV to relay WEBO; indeed, he hadn't even gotten the translator on the air yet!

The antenna and the little portable rack case holding the translator gear were still in Dave's office when we first saw them, but we stopped by the next day to see Dave and his crew (including another radio "Johnny Appleseed," Pennsylvania's Mark Humphrey) installing the equipment at a site on East Beecher Hill, just north of Owego.

That turned out to be only a temporary location for W300BV; last year, Dave moved the translator to a tower of his own on Bornt Hill Road between Owego and Endicott, where it now enjoys coverage all the way into Binghamton with a 160-watt directional signal.

(Ironically, that area has a previous history with WEBO: it was home to the erstwhile WEBO-FM on 101.7, which eventually moved into Binghamton under separate ownership; today it's WLTB, licensed to Johnson City.)

Thanks to Dave Radigan and crew for the tours!

This Tower Site comes with audio over at TopHour.com, where (starting April 21) you can hear a whole bunch of IDs from Owego, Elmira and Binghamton - and in the meantime, we urge you not to 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.

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