Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In the eight years since we last spent any significant time in State College, Pennsylvania, it’s gotten a little easier to get from here to there. With the completion of the US 15 (soon to be I-99) expressway from New York’s Southern Tier to Williamsport, it’s now just a little more than four hours from here to there – and if the rest of I-99 ever gets finished along the US 220/I-80 corridor between Williamsport and Bellefonte, it will become an even straighter shot to Happy Valley.
We made the drive in the autumn of 2016 to rectify a big omission: though we’d driven past State College’s radio facilities several times (and recapped those drives here back in 2010), we’d never been inside any of them…until we made it inside nearly all of them in one busy day.
We begin on West Clearview Avenue, not far south of downtown State College, at the studio building that belonged to the old 2510 group the last time we were in town. It’s now Seven Mountains Media, a cluster that encompasses 2510’s three stations and a fourth that had formerly been independent – and while Seven Mountains belongs to the wife and daughter of the founder of rival Forever Broadcasting, these stations operate very separately from Forever, creating a surprisingly spirited rivalry.
Turn right down the hallway from the Seven Mountains lobby and you’ll come to the formerly independent station, WZWW (95.3 Bellefonte), where the “3WZ” morning show was just wrapping up when we stopped by. 3WZ had moved in here just a year or so earlier from its previous home up near the big mall north of town; its arrival came with a format shuffle that turned sister station WEMR (98.7 Pleasant Gap) from rock “Eagle” to alt-rock “Freq” as WFEQ – and what a neat studio “Freq” has down at the end of the hall! They really do bring bands in to perform in one corner of the room, which has some of the more creative lighting and furniture design we’ve seen of late in small-market radio.
The venerable WBHV calls live on in this cluster, too, as top-40 “B94,” with a studio right next to 3WZ.
Way over at the other corner of the building, oldies WOWY (97.1 University Park) occupies an older studio space, where it’s a tight squeeze behind the tall furniture – and where a mirror ball makes the view very entertaining once we’ve found our way back there!
WOWY’s transmitter is one of the more accessible of the State College-market FMs, most of which are up in the hills to the west of town; as the erstwhile WRSC-FM, WOWY is still perched atop one of the three towers of WRSC (1390 State College), even though WRSC now belongs to rival Forever.
(Go back far enough, to WRSC’s beginnings in the early 1960s, and you’ll find that the station was a 500-watt daytimer broadcasting from right behind the present 2510 studios on Clearview Avenue; I’m pretty sure the present WOWY studio was the original WRSC studio from way back when!)
The current WRSC site, dating to the late 1980s when the station went full-time, sits out to the west of State College, south of I-99 beyond some fairly recent development that includes the area’s lone Wegmans supermarket. Inside, WRSC(AM) and WOWY sit opposite each other, each station with several generations of transmitter evolution on display.
One of WOWY’s old transmitters still displays that station’s earlier calls, WQWK, as well as its earlier frequency, 96.7. Today, the WQWK calls are parked on State College’s other AM station, the kilowatt signal on 1450 long known as WMAJ – and it still says “WMAJ” right on the side of the transmitter building just off Route 26 at the edge of the Penn State campus north of town.
Inside the 1450 site, we walk past several retired transmitters for the FM that used to be here (103.1, which was historically WBHV, “Beaver 103,” for many years), as well as a sign for WOWY on its previous 98.7 incarnation, before rounding the corner to see the current 1450 main and aux transmitters. One of these rigs came here from one of the AMs Forever shut down (I think it was the 1340 in Connellsville, if memory serves); both of them face a stairwell that leads down to a fallout shelter that went in here in the 1960s.
Want to see Forever’s studios? Of course you do – and for that, we go to the southern end of town, where we find the turn-of-the-millennium studio complex in an office park off College Avenue/PA 26 South.
All of the studios for Forever’s stations are neatly tucked in to one rear corner of the complex, where they hug an L-shaped hallway surrounding the rack room and engineering office. How often do you see neon station logos used as “on-air” lights?
The line of studios here includes classic rock “Bus” WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), hot AC “Majic” WMAJ (99.5 Centre Hall), the huge signal of “Froggy” country WFGE (101.1 State College, with a recent COL change from Tyrone), and the corner studio that’s used by news-talk WRSC (1390) and sports WQWK (1450).
Around the corner of the “L” is the newest format in the cluster, classic hits “Happy” WAPY (103.1), which had been doing news-talk as WRSC-FM until the 2015 format change to “Happy.” (Its studio doubles as a production room when WAPY doesn’t have a live jock on the air.)
Between Forever and Seven Mountains, we’ve just seen most of the commercial dial in Happy Valley. (The third, smaller player is Magnum, which has studios in a converted house near downtown State College; its stations, all rimshots, include news-talk WBLF 970 Bellefonte, which was off the air this particular day; country WPHB 1260 Phillipsburg; “Qwik Rock” WQCK 105.9 Phillipsburg; and 80s rock WQKK 106.9 Renovo.)
In next week’s installment, we’ll show you Penn State’s public broadcasting facilities – and we’ll go afield to show you some of the signals along the I-80 corridor beyond State College, too!
Thanks to Joe Portelli and Bob Taylor for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
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 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.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of central Pennsylvania IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: State College and Beyond, 2016