Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
The winter of 2018 here in western New York? It sucked. The snow just kept falling, the temperatures stayed down in the single digits for weeks upon weeks, and we were penned up here at home for far longer than we’d have preferred.
So when our pals Al Salci (of SAS fame) and Nick Straka were headed this way for the February road tour of SBE chapters, we gladly tagged along for the first part of the trip over to Buffalo, where we had time after the chapter meeting for a visit to Entercom’s studio cluster just off I-290 in Amherst, a few miles northeast of the city line.
We’d been here on several occasions since 2000, when Entercom pulled its stations together from several separate studio sites into one big cluster here on the second floor at 500 Corporate Parkway. WBEN (930) and what was then WMJQ (102.5) had been on Elmwood Avenue with former sister station WIVB (Channel 4) since 1960 or thereabouts; WGR (550), WWWS (1400) and WWKB (1520) and WKSE (98.5) had all been closer to downtown at 695 Delaware Avenue – and what’s now WLKK (107.7) wasn’t even part of the group yet.
This time, though, the place looked a little different. The old lobby had been divided up, with a new showcase studio taking up some of what had been lobby space. It can be used by any of the stations here, but in our late-afternoon visit it was the domain of AC “Star 102,” WTSS. (Roger Christian, the midday veteran who was in the studio when we arrived, was named to the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame a few months afterward…)
Down the hall, the hallway was gone, replaced by new open-plan offices leading to an engineering core that was a little smaller than the last time we visited – and then to a more familiar part of the building, the newsroom/bullpen for the big AMs here, sports WGR (550) and news-talk WBEN (930). Both stations are live and local for most of the day, and so we almost never get a chance to peek into their studios while they’re in use.
(They’re similar in plan, though, to the next set of studios down the hall, for WWKB 1520; that venerable giant is now mostly running ESPN Radio, so its studio and control room are used locally only on weekends and for Buffalo Bisons baseball and other local sports.)
When Star 102.5 isn’t in the lobby studio, it’s in one of several big FM studios arranged along the arched outside windows; down the hall, “Solid Gold Soul” WWWS (1400) has a little studio on an inside corridor for its mostly-automated programming.
Working our way down the last leg of the L-shaped studio complex brings us to the newest addition to the cluster, WLKK.
Licensed to distant Wethersfield Township (and reaching Rochester almost as well as Buffalo), WLKK went from AAA “Lake” to a simulcast of WBEN, then back to music a few years ago as “Alternative Buffalo,” with a modern rock format highlighted by the annual “Kerfuffle” concert downtown at the new Canalside complex.
The launch of Alt Buffalo meant this studio had to be rebuilt (with Axia, like the other newer studios here); it also came with a new translator on 104.7 in downtown Buffalo (fed from a WTSS HD subchannel) and the start of a wall of artists’ signatures on the inside of the studio door.
Last up along this hallway is the other big anchor FM here. As we showed you last week, “Kiss 98.5” is in the midst of a massive transmitter site rebuild up on Grand Island, where its studios used to be for decades before it became a sister station to WWKB and WGR and moved down to Delaware Ave. in the city.
When Kiss joined those AMs in moving up here to Amherst, it brought some history with it – not just that heart-shaped hot tub (no plumbing, alas), but bumper stickers on the wall going back to its Grand Island rock days as WRXT, “98 1/2 FM.”
And finally, we end up at one of WBEN’s production rooms down the hall, where some of its weekend talk shows are recorded. Once all the construction is done up on Grand Island, perhaps we’ll get back out that way to see the new Kiss facility, the WBEN transmitter site – and also a long-overdue return visit to the site south of Buffalo in Hamburg that’s been the shared home of WGR and WWKB since way back in 1940, when the stations were co-owned the first time around!
Thanks to Entercom’s Al Marranca 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.
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 western New York IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: A few sites around Rochester, winter 2018