Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’re newly back from a very lengthy Western excursion that included the NAB Show and a cross-country road trip back home, and you’ll see all the fun in an upcoming series of Tower Site of the Week installments.
But first, we’re wrapping up the last of our 2016 visits here with a few more stops much closer to home.
We drive through Williamsport, Pennsylvania fairly often, seeing as how it sits neatly between home in upstate New York and pretty much anywhere in the mid-Atlantic. Usually, we’re trying hard to make time down US 15 to Washington or Baltimore – but on a crisp early-winter day last year, we connected with our RadioInsight content partner Lance Venta to actually spend some time seeing the sights (and sites) of Williamsport itself.
That started at Backyard Broadcasting’s cluster, one of the two big commercial groups in town, with studios on the east side of Williamsport in a mid-century office building that’s been neatly converted into a group of radio studios. Walk in the lobby in front (and not into the dentist’s office that leases space in back!) and you can see two of those studios right away: oldies WBZD (93.3 Muncy) off to the left behind the reception desk and country WILQ (105.1) straight ahead.
After checking out the prize wheel in the “OldieZ93” studio, we take a quick peek inside WILQ, where the rack room for the cluster sits just behind the air studio. (Where are all those STLs going? We’ll see in a moment…)
Down the hall to the right of the lobby, two more studios sit amidst the station offices: classic rock WZXR (99.3 South Williamsport) also feeds simulcast WCXR (103.7) down the Susquehanna Valley in Lewisburg; two more mostly-automated stations share a studio to round out the cluster, soft AC WWPA (1340, plus a 101.3 translator) and variety hits WLMY (107.9).
“Got some time to go up the hill?,” asks appropriately-named engineer Brian Hill – and indeed we do, so we pile into the station vehicle and head across the river to South Williamsport, up route 554 and off the sharp turn that leads to Skyline Drive, up on the ridge that sits high above Williamsport.
Coming up Skyline Drive from the west, the first site we encounter is the one non-Backyard FM up here. WKSB (102.7) is iHeart’s big “Kiss,” with a grandfathered superpower signal that’s audible over a huge swath of central Pennsylvania.
The other big class B here is Backyard’s WILQ (105.1), and if that building looks new, there’s a good reason: late one night back in October 2008, a couple of drunken joy-riders stole a logging skidder up here and crashed it right into the front of the building, sending engineers scrambling to get the site stabilized and then quickly rebuilt.
It’s a nice clean site these days, almost a decade after the incident – that shiny new Nautel carries the only HD in the market (Family Life Ministries leases an HD subchannel for one of its translators), and there’s a Backyard translator sitting in the rack to the right, as well, carrying WWPA’s 101.3 FM relay.
Continuing eastward up the ridge takes us to two more neighboring Backyard sites: WLMY (107.9) sits neatly in a small block building of its own, feeding a one-bay antenna on the self-supporter out back.
A much older building just a few hundred yards away was, we think, once part of a microwave relay system for cable TV; today, one side houses some FM auxiliary equipment while the other has the small transmitters for the class A WZXR (99.3) and WBZD (93.3) signals, each feeding its own two-bay antenna on the stout tower outside.
From here, we could continue eastward down Skyline as it takes several sharp bends and makes a quick descent down to US 15 south of South Williamsport; instead, though, we backtrack westward to 552 and then westward along the south bank of the Susquehanna to the tidy little site of WWPA (1340).
This venerable station is tucked away near the riverbank among some warehouse buildings, adjacent to one of the ball fields that dot the hometown of Little League baseball.
From here, we’re off down the river to check out an even older AM station – join us in this space next week as we visit Sunbury, and Bloomsburg too!
Thanks to Backyard’s Brian Hill for the tours!
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Next week: Sunbury and Bloomsburg, PA