Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In last week’s installment, we showed you a big chunk of the commercial radio dial in State College, Pennsylvania. This week, we kick things off north of town at the region’s public broadcaster, Penn State’s WPSU-TV (Channel 3) and WPSU-FM (91.5).
The TV and radio stations landed here at Penn State’s Innovation Park in 2005, 40 years after channel 3’s debut (as WPSX-TV back in 1965) and more than half a century after WPSU-FM had signed on way back in 1951 as WDFM. The move from Penn State’s Wagner Annex building gave both stations state-of-the-art studios arrayed around the Innovation Building’s atrium, including a TV studio that opens right up to the atrium to accommodate big crowds when needed.
(The TV studio can handle much smaller jobs, too; when we stopped in last fall, we were just a few hours behind Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’d been here the night before to make a live cable appearance after speaking on campus!)
There are TV production facilities around the front side of the building, including an audio recording suite where some of the vintage equipment from channel 3’s past now resides.)
WPSU-TV’s production control room was dark the day we visited, and its master control was running on automation (albeit, at least, local automation). Licensed to Clearfield, WPSU’s old analog channel 3 transmitter and its main DTV signal on RF 15 come from Penfield Mountain, far to the northwest of State College, a relic of the days when channel 3 had to be fully spaced from Philadelphia. While that site gave the station huge coverage of rural central Pennsylvania, it’s now augmented by a distributed transmission system that includes a second RF 15 transmitter up on the ridge southeast of State College, giving better reception throughout Happy Valley.
Here’s where we take a moment to digress on the unusual nature of the TV market here: this is part of the beyond-sprawling “Johnstown/Altoona/State College” market that exists only on cable, satellite and for a few lucky hilltop viewers. NBC comes from distant Johnstown via WJAC, channel 6, which has a State College translator; Altoona’s CBS (WTAJ channel 10) and ABC (WATM channel 23) are viewable from State College only with a decent antenna, with Fox (Johnstown’s WWCP channel 8) riding along on a WATM subchannel. As the latecomer to the market, WATM actually competes in State College with a translator of distant WNEP from Scranton. CW arrives on cable from New York’s WPIX, while My Network is represented by a local LPTV, WHVL channel 29.
Where were we? Right – making our way around to the back side of the WPSU operation, where the rack room for radio and TV sits across the hall from the radio newsroom, which adjoins the main air studio for WPSU-FM. The radio half of WPSU serves a sizable chunk of central Pennsylvania from its transmitter on the ridge northwest of State College, augmented by full-power relay WPSX (90.1) up north in Kane and a number of translators dotting the valleys across the region.
As we exit the building, there’s a nice display of past channel 3 logos on one atrium wall, installed as part of the 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.
Our path back into town takes us past the studios of the Magnum cluster we mentioned last week, and we’ll definitely have to come back here to East Atherton Avenue at some point to get a tour of this house-turned-broadcast facility, where a format change was just about to get underway to bring all-80s to WQKK (106.9 Renovo) and its State College on-channel booster.
Our long drive home this October day included one more radio stop, right on the main drag in Lock Haven, some 30 miles northeast of State College.
The window in this Main Street store says “Music One,” and if you walk in the door and head straight for the back of the building, you’ll find two levels of guitars, amps, keyboards and anything else a Lock Haven area musician might need.
But before you get back to the music part of the store, you’ll pass two studios and an office on your left – because the owners of the music store also own WBPZ (1230) and WSQV (92.1) here in Lock Haven!
The Schlesinger family bought these stations from longtime owner Lipez Communications back in 2010, and they’ve done a great job keeping them visible in the community with these storefront studios, which in turn have great synergy with the music store and a weekly paper, the Record.
We made it back to this part of Pennsylvania a couple of months later to grab some IDs (for our sister site, Tophour.com) that we didn’t get on this trip – and we picked up a few more pictures, too.
We’ll have to head back again in better weather to see more of the stations along the corridor from Phillipsburg to Clearfield to DuBois to Clarion, but we did pull off the side of US 322 west of Clearfield to see the WOKW (102.9 Curwensville) site, and we made it a point to stop in the tiny town of Sheffield to see the tiny transmitter site of WLSF (105.1). This 200-watt signal way down below average terrain won’t be on top of this old inn forever; it’s just a makeshift site until owner EMF Broadcasting can move it up into the hills that will give it coverage of nearby Warren and beyond. (Former sister station WKNB 104.3 Clarendon had planned at one point to swap COLs between 104.3 and 105.1).
Thanks to the staffs of WPSU and WBPZ/WSQV for the tours!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss a big batch of Pennsylvania IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Mansfield, Ohio