Along the Hudson River's majestic journey from Albany down to the New York City suburbs, there are plenty of decently damp spots to locate AM stations. But finding just the right location for an FM signal to cover the long, narrow valley is a bigger challenge - and in all our years of traveling through the region, we'd never really spent much time up in the hills examining the valley's FM and TV sites...at least until the June 2010 excursion we're in the process of recapping here at Site of the Week and over at Tophour.com.
The 2011 Tower Site Calendar (and a Tower Site of the Week post in late 2010) showed you what may well be the finest location for serving the southern part of the Hudson Valley, Mount Beacon. But while Beacon's elevation on the east side of the Hudson blasts a mighty signal from just north of New York City up past Poughkeepsie, it's just a little too far south for anything but a class B signal (such as WSPK on 104.7) to fully blanket the "Mid-Hudson" as far north as Kingston - and there are a lot of signals in the region that fall well short of class B power.
Enter Illinois Mountain. Part of the 25-mile-long Marlborough Mountain ridge that stretches from Newburgh almost to Kingston, the Illinois Mountain peak rises some 1100 feet above the Hudson's west bank at Highland, just across the river from Poughkeepsie, the commercial center of the region.
FM only came to Illinois Mountain in the early 1970s, when WEOK-FM (101.5) moved up here from its original site about four miles to the south (we'll get back there later on in this installment). WEOK-FM became WPDH, and after a few years as a country station it changed course to rock and roll and never looked back.
Today, WPDH is the big gun up here on the mountain, running 4.4 kW/1538' from a two-bay ERI antenna side-mounted near the top of the 850-foot tower. (I don't have great pictures of that antenna here, but you just know that Mike Fitzpatrick does over at NECRAT!)
WPDH's neatly carpeted room takes up half of "Building #1" at the south end of the Illinois Mountain site, and its Continental backup and Harris main transmitters share the room with two BE rigs. One (on the left side of the photo above) powers WRHV Poughkeepsie/WFNP Rosendale on 88.7, shared by Schenectady's WMHT (the WRHV half) and SUNY New Paltz (the WFNP half). The other one, seen behind a filing cabinet on the right, is WRRB (96.9 Arlington), a Cumulus sister station to WPDH that moved here from another shorter tower up the hill. The 88.7 signal comes from a two-bay vertical antenna near the top of the tower; 96.9 is on a one-bay ERI lower down.
Clear Channel's WRNQ (92.1 Poughkeepsie) came up here in 2000 after signing on in 1992 from a much lower site on the Poughkeepsie side of the river, not far from the WKIP site we showed you last week. Its little QEI rig shares the other room of "Building #1" with a bunch of two-way transmitters, the National Weather Service and translator W213AC (90.5, relaying Family Stations' WFME Newark NJ).
There's a back room here, too, but it's empty now after the DTV transition moved Trinity Broadcasting outlet WTBY (Channel 54) from Illinois Mountain over to Mount Beacon, on RF 27. The old WTBY analog antenna is still on top of the tower, and if I'm not mistaken, the tower was actually built for Channel 54 (originally WFTI) in the early 1980s. (WPDH had been on a shorter tower out behind the building before that.)
WRNQ uses a one-bay Shively antenna just above WRRB's, which you can see near the bottom of the picture above at left.
These aren't the only class A FMs up here. In a market that's heavy with small FM signals, one of the first was WHVW-FM (97.7 Hyde Park), which evolved over the years to become WHVS, WJJB and eventually WCZX, now another part of the Cumulus cluster.
Along the way, WCZX moved from the WHVW (950) tower near Hyde Park over here to Illinois Mountain, taking up residence on a shorter self-supporter just north of the WPDH tower.
(Like so many of the small FMs in the region, WCZX uses a QEI transmitter; the company must have had a good sales rep in the area in the 1980s and early 1990s!)
The WCZX tower is also home to a translator of Albany's WAMC network, W271BF (102.1 Highland), and there's another short tower nearby that used to be home to 96.9 and today has two more translators on it, W247AW (97.3) and W292CM (106.3).
The main Illinois Mountain site isn't the only FM site along the ridge here. Remember the original WEOK-FM site, circa 1962? It's still there, up along the Marlborough Mountain ridge on Mount Zion Road in Milton, and it's now home to Vassar College's WVKR (91.3 Poughkeepsie).
And between the WVKR tower and the main Illinois Mountain site, just north of the little pass where US 44/NY 55 cuts through the ridge on its way west to the Catskills, there's another important FM site.
This one is known variously as "South Illinois Mountain" and the "Walker Tower," the latter name coming from William Walker, the Hudson Valley broadcaster who put several stations on the air from here in the early 1990s and still owns the tower.
The full-power stations here are more class As: WBWZ (93.3 New Paltz) and WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland), both now part of the Clear Channel cluster and both sharing a panel antenna at the top of the tower, fed from a pair of QEI transmitters in a small room near the entrance to the building. Inside the building, there's plenty of two-way stuff and three more translators.
When we were there in 2010, those translators were W239BL (95.7, relaying WVOS-FM 95.9 from Liberty), W255BY (98.9, relaying WJUX 99.7 from Monticello) and W279AJ (103.7, relaying WQXR 105.9 from New York). Since then, the 98.9 translator has been displaced by new WGNY-FM (98.9 Rosendale), so it's now W295BK on 106.9.
Two of those translators are shown in the rack above: the Studer tuner picks up WQXR and feeds it to the BE exciter just below; the BEXT transmitter below that was 98.9, and it was getting its 99.7 audio from a Sony "wonder tuner" XDR-F1 beneath.
Thanks to Bill Draper, Bill Weeks and Dave Groth for the tours!
It's not too late to order the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2012, still available from the all new Fybush.com store!
And don't miss more Hudson Valley IDs over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Newburgh down to Peekskill, 2010