Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
July in eastern Long Island – sunshine and beaches, right? Not so much for us on the second day of our trip out there this past summer, which dawned gray and rainy and got grayer and rainier as the day wore on.
But towers wait for nobody, and so we set out to get some pictures despite the weather, starting out on the south shore in East Patchogue, at the waterside Colonial Drive site that’s been home to WALK (1370 Patchogue) since the day it signed on back in 1952.
Three years ago, WALK’s new owner, Connoisseur Media, uprooted WALK and sister station WALK-FM (97.5) from their longtime studio home here, moving them in with their new sister stations in Farmingdale and leaving this building to sit vacant (and rather sadly, at that!)
From sea level here at Patchogue, we head back north toward the LIE, where the elevation rises to a mountainous (for Long Island!) 300 feet or so – and where two of the island’s biggest FMs rise above a residential neighborhood north of Farmingville.
Cox’s WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) is the westernmost of the two, and while it’s not obvious from the angle where we shot it, there’s actually a four-bay directional antenna up there, squeezing WBLI’s class B signal in against adjacent-channel WQXR (105.9 Newark NJ) over in New York City. This tower is also home to SUNY Stony Brook’s WUSB (90.1) and a few of the many translators that dot the dial out here, including W227CL (93.3 Coram, which was relaying the soft AC from WLIX-LP 94.7), W245BA (96.9 Manorville) and W289CL (105.7 Selden, relaying public radio WSUF, which we’ll see in a bit.)
The other big tower up here is a self-supporter, home to WALK-FM (97.5) all by itself up top.
The weather stays gray as we get back on the LIE and take it almost all the way to its eastern end. Two exits shy of the end of the LIE, we hit the last big cluster of FM towers on a little hilltop in Manorville, in an area that’s changed dramatically since we were last out here many years ago. We remembered it as being out in the middle of nowhere, but now there are two neighborhoods full of McMansions surrounding the towers off Eastport-Manor Road and County Road 111. (How can you call a street “Oceanview Drive” when you can’t see the ocean there at all?)
The northernmost tower here is home to three class A FMs: WEHM (92.9 Manorville) and two JVC stations, WBON (98.5 Westhampton) and WPTY (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke), plus JVC’s “Oldies 98.1” translator fed from WPTY. There’s a WLIR-fed “Hope” translator here (W243BF Shirley on 96.5) and a WSHU translator, too (W293BT 106.5 Ridge). The tower to the south is, I believe, the older of the two, carrying JVC’s WJVC (96.1 Center Moriches) and WRCN (103.9 Riverhead).
It’s lunchtime now, and before we stop at a quaint little sandwich shop in downtown Riverhead for a bite, we build up our appetite with a climb up three flights of stairs to the studios of Riverhead’s local AM voice, WRIV (1390), overlooking downtown from a turn-of-the-last-century building.
It’s a neat little throwback to an earlier era of radio here, with rotary-pot boards and a full-service format – and a great preview for our next stop 20 miles or so to the east in Sag Harbor, where full-service radio at its finest lives on at the legendary WLNG (92.1).
We had been to the WLNG studios once before, but had never made our way up “Mount Sidney,” the transmitter site on a steep cliff off Millstone Road. This site is named, of course, after WLNG’s legendary Paul Sidney – and it’s packed full of transmitters!
WLNG itself is all the way at the top of the tower, and at the right end of the cramped row of transmitters, running off an old CCA. To its left are several of the translators that lease space here, including W262AS (100.3 Bridgehampton, relaying Connecticut’s WMNR), W233AI (94.5 Sag Harbor, relaying WMNR via WGRS 91.5 Guilford), W227AN (93.3 Southampton, relaying religious WEGB 90.7 Napeague) and W298BN (107.5 Noyack, relaying classical music from the HD2 of WSUF 89.9, part of the WSHU network from Connecticut.)
It’s about 15 minutes along winding roads in the rain from here to WLNG’s legendary studio on the Redwood Causeway in Sag Harbor, where Brian “The Cannon” Bannon is just about to hit the afternoon airwaves.
Before his airshift starts, though, we take a few minutes to soak in the WLNG experience, including the bus that’s home to more remote broadcasts in a month than most radio stations do all year. (Did we mention WLNG is everywhere on the East End?)
The ends of the building are home to offices – sales at one end, management at the other – and the studios have pride of place right in the middle of the building. Yes, those are carts all over the air studio, and they can still play them on the air even if most of the audio comes from the automation system these days.
It’s an unusual afternoon for Brian, surrounded by visiting radio guys as he plays the oldies and the jingles and the lost-pet reports – and an even more unusual afternoon for yours truly when Brian hands the headphones over and gives me a chance to pilot the airwaves for a thrilling half-hour or so of WLNG radio fun!
After that experience (check one off the radio bucket list!), we continue the tour for a bit, examining the thousands more carts that line the walls of the adjoining back room, which was the old transmitter room back when there was a WLNG (AM) on 1600 and now serves as the rack room and a backup production space. As the weather clears a bit, we also walk out to the back deck and out the walkway that leads to the old AM tower, which now holds the STL antenna for WLNG-FM. (Few stations have a view out back as lovely as that of WLNG, overlooking Upper Sag Harbor Cove.)
The narrow little studio next to the air studio is busy with production all afternoon (they have a lot of local spot load here), but we finally get a peek in there, too, before making the long slog back west to the mainland.
Thanks to WRIV and to WLNG’s Brian Bannon for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
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 (finally!) 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.
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Next week: Somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, Summer 2017