October 8, 2010

Pinnacle Hill, Rochester, NY (Updated)

For a long time, Tower Site of the Week somehow managed to neglect the very tower site that sits closest to our headquarters here in suburban Rochester, New York.

We began to rectify that omission with a two-part series about the history and present appearance of Pinnacle Hill that appeared here in 2007. (You can find those installments here and here, and they provide a lot of background to this week's episode.)

We continued our look at Pinnacle Hill in June 2009, when we showed you the analog signals up there being shut off.

But two things were still missing: first, an appearance by Pinnacle Hill in the Tower Site Calendar, and second, an update to bring our look at this historic site up to the present day.

We're pleased to say that Tower Site Calendar 2011 (now shipping!) fixes that first omission: our photo for October 2011 is a lovely view of Pinnacle Hill in its full autumn glory. (It took a few afternoons up on nearby Cobbs Hill to get just the right combination of blue sky and the desired late-afternoon light on the towers, but isn't it worth it?)

And this week, we're fixing the second omission by bringing you some updated photos of some corners of Pinnacle Hill that weren't included in the first two installments, or which have changed significantly in the years since.

Because your editor works there - and because it's been through the most dramatic changes - we'll start off in the middle of the hill at WXXI's transmitter building, which got much emptier after WXXI-TV (Channel 21) silenced its analog transmissions on July 10, 2009 at the end of the nightlight period. On January 22, 2010, the old Harris analog UHF transmitter was finally removed from the building, divided into pieces and hoisted down from the top of the hill by a very impressive crane.

With the big Harris gone, the building got very empty for a while. For the first time, it was possible to get a picture showing the row of new transmitters that sits almost exactly where the front of the original 1966 WXXI-TV transmitter (a GE, if memory serves) was once located.

The view above at left shows the WXXI-TV digital (RF 16) transmitter, a Thales, at the left, and at right the Harris digital transmitter for WXXI-FM (91.5)'s HD Radio service. (No combiners or reject loads here; WXXI-FM uses a space-combined interleaved antenna system.) The WXXI analog FM transmitters are tucked behind this row of transmitters, and in front of it, that ugly spread of linoleum where the Harris used to sit has since been replaced with shiny new flooring and a brand-new Harris transmitter for WRUR-FM (88.5 Rochester).

That little rack in the big empty room above is Pinnacle Hill's newest signal, W221CL (92.1 Rochester), the translator formerly known as W220DE (91.9 Greece) before Family Life Ministries sold it to WYSL (1040 Avon) owner Bob Savage, who moved it one notch up the dial and a few miles across town to Pinnacle Hill, where it briefly resided in the WXXI building before moving one door down to the WHEC-TV (Channel 10) building, in the downstairs space once occupied by WCMF (96.5).

That's engineer Mark Humphrey in the blue shirt and Bob himself in the leather jacket, admiring their handiwork just after they (with your editor lending a helping hand) had signed W221CL back on from its new home. "FM Talk 92.1" feeds the audio from Avon via a DSL line and a pair of Barix boxes, which in turn feed a BE STX transmitter and an antenna on the WXXI tower.

Two more pictures complete our Pinnacle Hill update for now: When the analog shutdown finally came to pass in 2009, three of Pinnacle's five full-power TV stations were already using their post-transition transmitters and channels: the pictures we showed you in 2007 of the WROC-TV (RF 45), WXXI-TV (RF 16) and WUHF-TV (RF 28) transmitters are still valid today.

The two VHF stations with out-of-core UHF DTV allocations returned to their old VHF facilities: WHEC-TV (Channel 10) simply put a new exciter on its old Harris Platinum solid-state VHF transmitter, using only a handful of the power modules and leaving the rest as spares. But WHAM-TV (Channel 13) had to make a more complex transition, since its old RCA G-Line analog transmitter wasn't about to be converted to digital.

So while the old G-Line and the even older TT-11 that signed channel 13 on the air back in 1962 were retired for good, WHAM-TV installed a new Larcan solid-state VHF transmitter, and today that little Larcan is the only thing on the air in that big transmitter building.

In our 2007 visit, we showed you the new WPXY (97.9)/WCMF (96.5) combined transmitter facility at the American Tower site at the peak of the hill, but back then the buildout wasn't complete, with big empty rack holes where the digital transmitters for both stations would someday go. Now we can show you the finished product: those black Harris ZX transmitters in the middle racks are the HD transmitters, with the bigger Harris HT-series transmitters on the ends of the row handling analog for each station. Behind the row of transmitters are combiners for both the analog and digital signals, which feed separate interleaved Shively antennas up on the tower.

And at a site that just keeps changing, there's still more change coming: by the time you flip your 2011 Tower Site Calendar to the October page, the old WUHF-TV Channel 31 analog transmitter building will have been demolished (that's coming any day now, we're told), while the crossbar atop the WXXI tower will have been removed, along with the analog channel 21 and 31 antennas mounted on the crossbar. There's a new ERI panel antenna to be installed for a WRUR power increase, a second transmitter cabinet for WUHF's digital signal that just went in, and eventually a new WXXI-TV antenna, too - so count on yet another Pinnacle Hill installment here on Site of the Week sometime next year.

And in the meantime, we're now shipping Tower Site Calendar 2011, so you can have that lovely view of Pinnacle Hill up on your wall in time for all those changes...

- Find out when the new Tower Site is posted, and much more! Follow us on Twitter @NERadioWatch - and don't miss your chance to order the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2011 at the Fybush.com store!