Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our SBE chapter meetings here in upstate New York tend to follow a predictable pattern: a presenter, usually from a vendor, works the “Thruway circuit,” presenting in Buffalo on a Tuesday night, in Rochester for lunch on Wednesday, Syracuse for dinner on Wednesday and then Albany on Thursday.
Every once in a while, though, our chapters get together for a joint meeting that sometimes involves a tour. So it went in December 2016, when we were all invited to Syracuse for a meeting that was all about one of the exciting new broadcast facilities there.
We’ll show you the pictures from that tour in a moment – but before we got there on this chilly night, we stopped over to visit good friend (and former national SBE president) Vinny Lopez at his current gig with Sinclair’s WSTM (Channel 3) and its shared-service partner, WTVH (Channel 5).
We’d visited here before (back when Vinny was working two doors down at Fox affiliate WSYT and its MyNetwork partner WNYS), but this visit gave us a chance to see some serious studio overhauls in the pair of studios that anchor the west side of this classic late-1950s building. While WSTM has a spiffy new set and lighting in its big studio (and now uses its main set for its 10 PM show on sister station CW6, instead of the separate set it had a decade ago), some of the original lighting controls have been preserved here for history’s sake.
Next door in the smaller of the two TV studios, CBS affiliate WTVH has also had a refresh to its set, albeit a much less elaborate one than WSTM’s.
Both the WTVH and WSTM studios show their 1950s origins when you look up and see the big windows that looked into the original TV control room, back in the days when architects thought line of sight from studio to control room was important.
Up on the second floor, the old WSTM production control room off the engineering core has been gutted, and the WSTM/WTVH newsroom at the east end of the building is getting ready for some renovations.
WSTM’s new control room sits at the far end of the second floor from the newsroom – right back in the original control room space that overlooks the studios. (Look carefully under the monitor walls and you can see those 1950s windows, which aren’t really all that useful today.)
There’s a new master control room since we were last here, too, occupying one of the old radio studios on the second floor from this building’s origins as the WSYR AM/FM/TV building. (WSYR radio moved out in 1980, and the WSYR-TV calls, confusingly, now live on the archrival ABC affiliate owned by Nexstar.)
After our solo tour of the WSTM renovations, it was off to the “Near Westside” neighborhood near downtown Syracuse and the real SBE tour destination of the night, the new 56,000-square foot digs that public broadcaster WCNY moved into in 2013. (It replaced the former industrial building in suburban Liverpool that WCNY had called home since 1965; you can see our earlier tour of that building in this 2007 Site of the Week installment.)
The $20 million facility is a combination of an existing century-old Case Supply warehouse and a new studio/technical plant, joined by a big atrium decorated with a color-bars mural.
Head up the stairway in the lobby into the new part of the building and you’re right in front of the TV studios on the second floor, an L-shaped area that can be walled off into two separate studios or opened up into one big studio (which doubles as our meeting room for the evening.)
The TV control room sits just off the studios, with equipment that was largely moved here from Liverpool.
Across the atrium in the old part of the building, the first floor is largely occupied by a big open office area where most of the WCNY staff intermingles without much physical differentiation between departments or job titles.
Off the back of this big open office are the studios for WCNY’s “Classic FM” service, heard on WCNY-FM (91.3) locally and on WUNY (89.5 Utica) and WJNY (90.9 Watertown). This row of studios is equipped with fairly new PR&E consoles and well-soundproofed exterior windows.
This complex includes a few areas you don’t typically find in a broadcast facility: up on the third floor of the old building is “Enterprise America,” a 10,000-square foot educational facility where middle-school students from across the area can spend a day or a week running what amounts to their own city, complete with government, business and, yes, its own radio studio.
(WCNY is also very big on education at a higher level, with an extremely robust internship program that works closely with area colleges.)
And back down on the ground floor of the new building is something else that’s unusual: the unusually spacious rack room behind the lobby’s front desk connects across a small hallway to the Joint Master Control (JMCO) that WCNY inaugurated in 2012.
This is one of three such facilities for public television around the country, competing for business with the WGBH/Sony joint venture in Boston and another such facility in Jacksonville, Florida. The operators here at JMCO in Syracuse keep the automation running that powers all the public TV stations in New York State and New Jersey, as well as other clients as far away as Hawaii Public TV.
Nowadays, that requires less hardware than you’d imagine: each of those operator pods keeps tabs on perhaps half a dozen stations or statewide networks, monitoring the flow of programming, transmitter site status and the fiber links that connect them to Syracuse. Across the hall in the rack room, each station has its own pod of encoders for each of its program streams and for the fiber transmission back home. (And there is, we’re told, plenty of room for new additions…)
It being December in central New York, there’s a bit of a snowstorm underway as we head out of Syracuse the next morning, but as hardy natives of upstate, a little blowing snow on I-81 can’t keep us from making the 45-minute drive south to a friendly stop we’d been meaning to make for a while.
Even as most of the local radio in the Ithaca-Cortland area has been swallowed by one big national player, Saga Communications, there’s one station that’s stayed local to Cortland County. WXHC (101.5 Homer) has been in the hands of the Eves family since day one back in 1991, broadcasting from a third-floor perch in an historic building right on Main Street in Cortland.
As we make our way up the big wooden staircase to WXHC’s compact offices, we pass through the reception area and sales office to get to the studios that face the Main Street side of the building. There’s just one small rack of processing and STL gear outside the two studios, which are in the midst of renovation to install new Arrakis boards.
We’ll have to get up here again sometime soon, not only to enjoy the deep “Always Classic” playlist that distinguishes “X101” but also to see the finished product at the end of the studio renovation.
And one more thing: If you enjoy the sort of thing we present here on Tower Site of the Week, you should think about becoming a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, if you’re not one already. You might have a local chapter that’s already actively providing opportunities for professional development and camaraderie, or this might be your chance to help build up a new local chapter or to benefit from SBE’s national opportunities. Learn more here – and tell them I sent you!
Thanks to Vinny Lopez at WSTM/WTVH, the staff of WCNY and Brad Smith at WXHC 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 Syracuse IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Boston TVs, New Year’s 2017