Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What wraps up first – our recap of two trips to New York’s scenic and remote North Country in late 2014, or the hunt for those two prison escapees who might (or might not) still be somewhere in the woods up there? We’d have bet on the search, but we’d have been wrong.
This week’s installment takes us all the way up by the Canadian border to Malone, 30 miles or so northwest of the now-famous village of Dannemora. This is one of several border towns where broadcaster Tim Martz has stations that serve both US and Canadian audiences – in this case, oldies WICY (1490), Malone’s original station, along with newer FM sisters WVNV (96.5) and WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay).
The three stations share a low-slung building at the WICY transmitter site on Porter Road, just south of US 11 on a hill east of downtown Malone. Walk in, as we did right around sunset, and you’ll find offices on your left and studios down a long hallway to your right. First up is the studio of WICY, which now simulcasts its oldies format on an FM translator, W274BI (102.7). The translator is located on a hill west of Malone at a site shared with WSLO (90.9 Malone), the local outlet of North Country Public Radio, and we didn’t get there on this trip.
Across the hall from WICY is WYUL (94.7), the top-40 station that has the airport code for Montreal in its callsign for a very good reason: this signal reaches across the border to serve the Anglo audience west of Montreal with a format that plays more hits and less of the CanCon that Canadian-licensed signals have to include.
Down at the end of the hall is “Wild Country” WVNV (96.5), which serves both US and Canadian audiences from a studio back by the transmitter shed at the rear of the building.
That’s where we find the WICY(AM) transmitters, an older Gates and more recent Harris, right across from the racks that are full of STLs and processing for the FM side of the operation.
(WICY, incidentally, had several CPs at one time to crank up its power all the way to 50 kilowatts by going daytime-only at 1500 on the dial. One proposal would have involved a three-tower array east of Malone on US 11, while a later CP would have built a four-tower array even farther east with a city of license change to Mooers, New York. The object, of course, was to hit Montreal, which has become so full of FMs that it appears a new daytime-only AM wasn’t economically viable.)
With daylight waning, let’s go get a quick look at the FM tower site, shall we? On a hill off Teboville Road, south of the studios and AM site, we find the small block building that holds a pair of Energy-Onix boxes that pump 94.7 and 96.5 over the North country. That’s a directional SWR antenna at the top of the tower, fed by a combiner down in the building, with an STL hop pointing up to the 102.7 translator site, too.
The next day of this trip is a Saturday, which doesn’t stop us at all from squeezing in another radio visit before heading back home.
Over in Plattsburgh, on the western shore of Lake Champlain, WIRY (1340) has long been a local radio fixture, with live DJs playing music in AM stereo long after most AMs moved onward (and downward?) to satellite feeds. We visited WIRY for the first time 20 years ago, and featured those pictures in a 2002 Tower Site of the Week installment. (Later on, Mike Fitzpatrick got some even better shots that you can see at NECRAT.us.)
WIRY’s still on the air and still sounding good – but that building on Cornelia Street that we featured in 2002 is gone now, replaced by a chain drug store.
In 2008, WIRY packed up and moved from the west side of Plattsburgh to the city’s south side, into a new studio/transmitter site on US 9 within site of the lake shore.
Yes, it’s a Saturday morning, but the door’s open at WIRY as the classic country show plays, and so we stop in to see how the old gear has moved into a new home. The main studio is still lined with vinyl, with a nice window view looking into the front hallway on one side and the newsroom on the other. (Check out the RCA ribbon mike that made the move and is still the main on-air mike!)
There’s another vintage RCA mike in the back production room, too, down at the end of the hall by the little transmitter nook.
The old Collins AM transmitter from Cornelia Street didn’t make the move; now it’s just the BE AM-1 keeping this wonderful throwback signal on the air.
Out back, WIRY put up a Valcom fiberglass whip antenna to replace the guyed tower they’d used at Cornelia Street. It’s a little less efficient, but the proximity to the lake gives the signal a nice water boost across to Vermont.
Our next batch of pictures comes from another North Country weekend trip just a month later: a drive home from a hockey game in Glens Falls that provided an excuse to take the northern route and see a few stations we didn’t see in September.
Massena sits right on the St. Lawrence River, right where the river enters Canada and the US-Canada border becomes a straight line along land. Stephens Media Group, which we visited in Watertown in an installment a few weeks ago, has signals up here, too. There’s nobody around on a Sunday morning at WMSA (1340 Massena) and its sister stations WVLF (96.1 Norwood) and WRCD (101.5 Canton), but we stop along Route 420 south of downtown to grab some quick shots of the studio and AM transmitter site anyway.
(This was a Martz property until a sale to Stephens in 2008, which explains why we saw a former WRCD transmitter at the site of Martz’s WNCQ 102.9 in Canton, just south of Massena, in another installment last week.)
There’s a small independent AM in Massena, too: WYBG (1050) has a tower site off Route 56 (Andrews Street) southeast of downtown and studios right in downtown, which we showed you back in 2004.
Heading upriver along Route 37, the next major town is Ogdensburg, about 20 miles to the southwest. There’s a Community Broadcasters cluster here: WSLB (1400) does sports and WQTK (92.7) is news-talk, both on the tower next to the studio building on Knox Street, while WLFK (95.3 Gouverneur) does “Wolf” country from a site halfway between here and Watertown.
Martz still owns a cluster in Ogdensburg, too. You’ll go all the way to the bridge to Canada before making the very last left turn in the US that goes to the historic building where the Martz Ogdensburg stations are located. As we explained in some detail last week, these signals all went through a swap a few years back: the former 102.9 license in Morristown moved to 96.7 to become the new home of hot AC “Yes FM” (WYSX), while the 102.9 frequency replaced 96.7 in Canton with country as WNCQ, the biggest of these signals. The third frequency in this cluster, Ogdensburg-licensed 98.7, was the original home of WYSX; it’s now oldies WPAC with the callsign that used to be down the dial at 92.7.
WYSX’s Dave Merz is nice enough to stop by on a Sunday to give us the nickel tour of the second-floor studio space, where three long, narrow rooms serve as studios for each of the three stations and double as office space for the small staff that keeps them all running for listeners on both sides of the border.
We’ll have to come back another time to see the 96.7/98.7 tower south of Ogdensburg. This was the original 102.9 site when that signal signed on in the early 1990s; the 102.9 license became 96.7 in 2004, and 98.7 moved there from its original 1990s home, perched atop the big prison right near the river just across the bridge access road from the current Martz studios. (Prison at the beginning of the column, and at the end – see what we did there?)
Thanks to Bill Teed, formerly of Martz in Malone, Dave Merz at Martz in Ogdensburg and Taz Michaels at WIRY for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
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Other work (including getting Tower Site Calendar 2016 ready!) has kept us away from posting for the last couple of weeks, but we’ll be back with a big batch of Canadian and US IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Atlantic City, 2014 (part 1)