Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
The town that gave us Lucille Ball and 10,000 Maniacs also has some neat radio, and we don’t get down there often enough, considering how close it is.
So on a random autumn afternoon, we pointed the NERW-mobile south and west to Jamestown and Chautauqua County to make some overdue visits to check out the radio scene there, starting with an impromptu visit to Cross Country Communications’ pair of stations in the old Hotel Jamestown, just a couple of blocks down the street from the Lucy-Desi Museum.
Look up at the featured image at the top of this page and you can see the Hotel Jamestown in the distance, complete with the tower of WLKW-FM (95.3 Celoron) on the roof. WLKW-FM is the newcomer in this two-station cluster, having signed on only in 2011. Its big sister, “Kiss FM” WKZA (106.9 Lakewood), isn’t all that old either, having signed on in the fall of 2000.
Both stations share a studio/office complex on the second floor of the hotel, which is otherwise now used for senior apartments. “Kiss” and its live air talent (including morning host Heather Skuggen, seen below) get the corner studio, while the automated talk and sports on WLKW-FM come from the smaller studio next door.
(And what’s the venerable Rhode Island callsign of “WLKW” doing out here? Cross Country is owned by the same Rowbotham family that owns Hall Communications, which currently has the WLKW calls on AM in Warwick, R.I.)
We don’t get to see the WKZA transmitter this time around; it’s across the state line on the Pennsylvania side, a few miles south of Jamestown.
Jamestown was early to get low-power FMs, with two religious outlets (WIHR-LP 94.1 and WOGM-LP 104.7) and a community signal all signing on in the first flush of LPFM in the early 2000s.
The community station, WRFA-LP 107.9, has nice visibility right in the heart of downtown, with streetside signage outside the community arts center that’s home to its studio and its two-bay antenna tucked away on the roof.
Before WKZA came along, the Jamestown radio scene had long been a competition between two venerable AMs and their newer FM sisters. WJTN (1240) dates back to 1924, and for almost fifty years now, it’s made its studio home up on a hill at the top of Orchard Road west of downtown, at the base of the tower that’s home to its FM sister WWSE (93.3).
Here’s where the history of Jamestown radio gets a bit tangled: WJTN came here from a previous studio in the Hotel Jamestown (I’m not sure if it was in the same space WKZA and WLKW-FM now use) – and it came here after buying the property from the competition, WKSN (1340) and its sister stations!
WKSN started out as a daytimer on 1470 in 1948 as WJOC, moved to 1340 two years later, operated as WXYJ for a bit in the 1960s, and came up here to join sister stations WXYJ-FM (101.7) and the TV venture of young owner Bud Paxson, WNYP (Channel 26).
After the TV station went dark, Paxson sold the property to WJTN, moving 1340 and 101.7 to new studios in suburban Lakewood and eventually selling them – but the former Paxson stations came back in 2003 when Media One bought them and moved them up here to Orchard Road once again.
Today, WKSN is “Kissin’ Oldies,” and its studios are the first ones on the left as you walk down the studio hallway that leads off to the right from the lobby.
WJTN now mixes AC music with its talk format, which comes from a studio/control room pair just down the hall from WKSN.
The longtime star of WJTN was Jim Roselle, who was a fixture at the station from 1953 until his death in March 2016. When we visited later in the year, his old office across the hall from the WJTN talk studio had been preserved as a museum to his legacy in Southern Tier radio, and it’s going to stay that way, we’re told.
The three FMs in the Media One cluster occupy a trio of newer glassed-in studios just off the lobby on the opposite side of the hall from their AM sisters.
WQFX (103.1) is the lone Pennsylvania-licensed station in the cluster, serving Russell, just south of the state line, and carrying a classic rock format as “The Fox.”
If you have an AM station called “Kissin’,” you need an FM called “Huggin’,” right? That’s WHUG (101.9), the descendant of the old WXYJ-FM on 101.7. It’s next to the flagship FM here, the big class B signal on 93.3 that was once WJTN-FM and has for many years been WWSE, “SE93,” with hot AC .
Continue down the hall from the main studios and turn left, and you’ll find yourself in the transmitter room that once served Channel 26 and now serves WWSE since its 1971 move up the hill.
The old Collins transmitter for WWSE had recently been supplanted by a sleek new Nautel NV-LT series 20 kW rig, which feeds a four-bay antenna on the tower just outside.
There are production rooms down the hall here, too, and a huge garage that’s now used for storage.
But an enormous garage like this isn’t here by accident: this big room was the original TV studio for Channel 26, which makes it a very important part of TV history. Paxson, of course, went on to found Pax TV, but before that he built the Home Shopping Network from scratch, based on ideas he developed as a Florida station owner and a few that he came up with right here in Jamestown, too.
We still haven’t actually gone inside the Lucy-Desi Museum, because Mrs. NERW wants to see it, too, but we weren’t going to let a lovely late afternoon in town go to waste without at least visiting the pair of Lucille Ball statues that sit at the edge of Chautauqua Lake in the town park in Celoron.
These statues wouldn’t be all that famous if the “Nice Lucy” statue had gone up here first, but it didn’t; instead, that rather odd-looking statue featuring Lucy hawking Vitameatavegamin was the first to go up, quickly achieving internet fame as “Scary Lucy.” (Heather at WKZA claims she started “Scary Lucy” on her path to meme status with her social media posts, and today she’s become a curious tourist attraction all her own.)
From here, our drive back to downtown Jamestown and the road home takes us down Jones and Gifford Road and past the WJTN tower, on which WKSN has been diplexed for the last decade or so since losing its old rooftop tower near downtown.
Speaking of losing towers, there’s one more stop on the way home at dusk: about 20 miles east of Jamestown in Salamanca, the single tower of WGGO (1590) sat behind the station’s former studio building. That’s past tense, because a winter windstorm took down this tower, which is now in the process of being rebuilt. (WGGO and sister FM station WQRS 98.3 operate from studios in Olean these days, shared with Olean sisters WOEN 1360 and WMXO 101.5.)
Thanks to Ron Smith and Jim Warren at Media One and Heather Skuggen of WKZA for the tours!
We hope everyone’s year has gotten off to a good start. Although our January started out rough, we’re chugging along now with another great offer from the Fybush Media Store.
For the entire month of January, all of our books are $2 off. Just enter the coupon code “readabook” in the coupon code field in your cart.
We know you made a resolution to read more this year (doesn’t everybody?). Let us help you keep it.
Don’t forget to check out all the other great items in our store.
Though the Radio Historian’s calendar is sold out, you can still get your copy of the 2018 Tower Site Calendar. You can even get the autographed and hand-numbered edition. Hurry, though — there are less than 10 left.
And don’t miss a big batch of Southern Tier IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Down the Susquehanna Valley