May 30 - June 6, 2001
Smith Hill, Utica, N.Y.
the seven years in which your editor lived in Boston, the Thruway
(and the Mass Pike) between eastern Massachusetts and Western
New York was a regular part of the annual travel schedule. About
two and a half hours before arriving home in Rochester came one
of the highlights: the view off to the north as the NERW-mobile
I speak, of course, of Smith Hill, birthplace of television
in the Utica market. It was here that WKTV, channel 13, began
broadcasting to Central New York in 1949, reaching out to viewers
as far away as Syracuse and Albany.
WKTV's studios are still on the hill, but the tower out back
hasn't carried the WKTV signal for many decades. In the early
sixties, the shuffling of channel assignments upstate sent channel
13 to Albany (and eventually to Rochester as well), moving WKTV
to channel 2, where it was short-spaced to Buffalo's WGR-TV.
The channel 2 tower,
then, ended up about 11 miles east of here, high in the hills
north of Herkimer and Little Falls. I finally made it there in
the fall of 2000, more than four years after the Smith Hill visit
documented on this page; I'll feature that tower in a future
Site of the Week.
Back to WKTV, then: the old channel 13 tower still sees plenty
of use, both as a place for WKTV to mount its ENG receivers and
STL dishes and as a site for other broadcasters. Syracuse public
broadcaster WCNY uses this tower for both radio and television;
WUNY (89.5) has operated from here since the late eighties, relaying
WCNY-FM (91.3 Syracuse)'s classical music, while W59AU is a translator
bringing WCNY-TV (Channel 24) programming to Utica.
WCNY filed a few years ago to put a full-power channel 59
signal on the air from here; that application remains pending
WKTV's site is just a small part of the broadcast riches to be
found here, just a short drive north (and up!) from the Thruway's
Utica exit (follow Genesee Street north and just keep going uphill
and you can't miss it...)
While WKTV doesn't transmit from Smith Hill anymore, a new
UHF signal debuted from just up the road in 1970.
WUTR is an ABC affiliate on channel 20, with studios and tower
located within spitting distance of the WKTV studios. After nearly
three decades as a stand-alone station owned by Syracuse's Roy
H. Park, WUTR was sold to Ackerley Broadcasting in the late nineties.
That move made channel 20 a sister station to Syracuse ABC affiliate
WIXT (Channel 9), and instantly transformed WUTR into a much
more serious competitor to WKTV.
With a new "NewsChannel
20" logo to match Syracuse's, WUTR became the first test
of Ackerley's "CentralCasting" system, under which
many of the station's operations, including master control, programming
and some sales, were moved to a new central facility in Syracuse.
Over the last few years, Ackerley has expanded its network
in Central New York to include stations in Watertown, Binghamton,
Elmira and here in Rochester, all controlled from WIXT. The stations
share news stories over their fiber network, and today even some
of the studio cameras for the newscasts are handled from Syracuse.
WUTR's tower now carries an FM translator that didn't exist
in 1996: W201BE (88.1) serves the public interest, convenience
and necessity by rebroadcasting Pensacola's WPCS.
Head east on Grace
Road and you'll see another tower at the end of a dirt road.
This is probably the best FM signal from the hill, even though
the tower itself (at least as it appeared in August 1996) is
probably the least visually impressive.
WRCK (107.3) runs a full 50 kW from this site, and until a
co-channel class A station was built in the Rochester area in
the mid-nineties, it was a regular catch here at a distance of
over 100 miles.
Since this photo was taken, WRCK was joined at this site by
sister station WKLL (94.9 Frankfort), and I suspect both stations
are on a new tower now, so a return visit is probably in order
one of these days.
reason to go back, anyway: across the street from WKTV is another
newcomer. The graceful tower at the the right has long been the
home of the class B signal on 98.7, in incarnations that have
included WIBX-FM, WIBQ, WNYZ (hit radio "New York Z"),
and soft-rock WLZW. Look carefully at the middle of the tower,
just below the first power line, and you can see an auxiliary
antenna for 98.7 as well.
More recently, Forever Broadcasting has added WODZ-FM (96.1
Rome) to this tower, moving it across the Mohawk Valley from
the site near Clinton that's home to WSKS (102.5 Rome), WOWZ
(97.9 Whitesboro) and Fox affiliate WFXV (Channel 33).
One more strong signal
finishes out our visit to Smith Hill: WOUR (96.9) is the tallest
FM on the hill, running 19.5 kW ERP from those three bays at
791 feet abover average terrain.
This tower is across the road from WUTR, just north of WLZW,
and appears to carry some paging and perhaps some two-way traffic
as well. Since this photo was taken, it's added antennas for
UPN affiliate WPNY-LP (Channel 11), licensed to Little Falls,
and for W53AM (Channel 53), a translator for WFXV. W53AM is actually
a semi-regular catch here in Rochester as well, reinforcing your
editor's conviction that this is just a really good site for
getting out to the west. (Indeed, all these signals are near
city-grade in Syracuse, 45 miles or so to the west).
Connoisseurs of the Utica radio market (and such people do,
in fact, exist) will note the absence of one major signal from
our list thus far: WFRG-FM (104.3), the best signal of all from
Utica, is a grandfathered 100 kW signal that transmits from the
south side of the Mohawk Valley, overlooking Hamilton College
in Clinton. That facility, the former WRUN-FM, is another one
that deserves its own Site of the Week one of these days.
A special note: We'll be on the road this summer gathering
many more tower photos to keep this page humming through the
fall and winter months - and we just might be near you! Click
here for a look at the itinerary!