Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When winter comes to our neck of the woods, it comes hard: traveling gets difficult, and so we don’t do much of it. But when the sky clears and the roads get plowed, we use the winter months as a chance to catch up on some stops closer to home. This week, we show you three short trips we made in December 2017, our final station visits of the year.
It’s a little over an hour from our home base in Rochester to Grand Island, in the Niagara River between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and it’s a drive we’re happy to make this December because it gives us a chance to see something new and something that’s about to go away.
The “new” is a three-bay FM antenna mounted high on one of the two towers of Entercom’s WBEN (930) at the island’s southern tip. It’s there to keep sister station WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls) on the air while Entercom works on replacing the current “Kiss” site half a mile to the northeast on Staley Road.
That Staley Road site is the only one the 98.5 signal has ever had, all the way back to its sign-on back in 1950 as WHLD-FM. Back then, it was the sister station to WHLD (1270), owned by the Niagara Gazette. The AM and FM stations stayed paired into the 1980s, when WKSE became a sister to WWKB (1520); that’s when the FM studios moved over the bridge to Buffalo. The AM station stayed here a while longer, but eventually ended up with Cumulus’ Buffalo cluster, first leaving these studios behind and then, in the early 2000s, moving its transmitter south to Hamburg, diplexed with what’s now WDCZ (970).
With the building vacant (save for the WKSE transmitter) and the towers aging, Entercom decided to update things; on May 15, once WKSE was safely transmitting from over at the WBEN site, tower crews took down the WKSE tower and the other former WHLD tower next to it, and they’ll soon start erecting a new replacement tower that will keep WKSE’s transmission facilities solid for years to come. (The antenna on the WBEN site will stay put as an auxiliary for WKSE.)
It’s about a two-hour drive from Rochester down to Elmira, where we’d been to most of the commercial stations in town but had never stopped by Elmira College just north of downtown, where WECW (107.7) is one of the region’s oldest college radio stations.
It was way back in 1959 when WECW hit the airwaves as a 10-watt signal at 88.1 on the dial.
WECW moved to 95.5 when class D FMs were displaced in the 1980s, and then to its current spot on 107.7 in 1993, with 9 big watts of power from a two-bay antenna on the college campus, one building away from the student center where WECW’s studios occupy two rooms on the ground floor.
There’s some nice documentation of WECW’s early history to be seen on the walls, a lounge/office area inside one room (complete with a big mural of WECW’s “Pulse of Music” logo painted on the wall), and a compact studio in the other room, nicely equipped with a new Wheatstone/AudioArts console on the desk and processing/STL gear in a locked rack mounted on the wall above.)
And our very last station visit of 2017? That was right here in greater Rochester, a few miles east of home in the scenic canalside village of Fairport, where pastor Brian Warner operates WZNY-LP (98.3) from the basement of his Greystone Church just a block off Main Street.
Our good friend and engineering colleague Mark Humphrey built this one out, and he had to rebuild it recently after the village tore down the water tower on the hill behind the church which the antenna was originally mounted.
The village put up a new monopole in place of the water tower, and if you look very carefully up there through the forest of cellular antennas you can see the one-bay WZNY-LP antenna on the right side of the top of the mast. There’s line of sight from here to a little unlicensed 5.8 GHz antenna mounted behind the church to get the programming up the hill.
The programming on “Z98” is contemporary Christian, very closely modeled on the legendary “Z88” in Orlando, WPOZ. It’s mostly automated from this tidy studio next to the rec room in the church basement, full of gear that Mark (as always) has scrounged up from stations around the region he serves.
Thanks to Mark Humphrey and Mike Kerr 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 upstate New York IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More upstate New York, early 2018