Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you were reading NERW a couple of weeks ago, you saw an interview with former Clear Channel CEO Randy Michaels about the death of our mutual broadcasting hero, Erie’s Myron Jones.
Talking to Randy brought to mind the very first conversation your editor ever had with him, in a hallway outside the NAB Radio Show in New Orleans way back in ’01. It went something like this:
“You’re from Rochester? Really? Hey – how’s my new 95.1 working there?”
That’s one of Randy Michaels’ not-so-secret powers: even as he was overseeing all of Clear Channel’s programming and business operations, his true love is and has always been engineering, and he knows every broadcast facility in the country. In this case, that’s one very close to home for us: Baker Hill, up on the Monroe/Ontario county line overlooking I-490 in Perinton, a dozen or so miles southeast of downtown Rochester.
In 2001, Michaels had just finished moving a fairly recent Clear Channel acquisition, then known as “The Nerve,” WNVE 95.1, from Bristol Mountain to Baker Hill, more than a thousand feet lower but much closer to the core of the Rochester market. (And the answer to his question that fall at the NAB Show? It worked – and still works – really well.)
Yet it took us another 16-plus years to finally get inside the building where WNVE was combined with Clear Channel’s existing Baker Hill station, then-WVOR 100.5 – and when we did get inside, it was a lucky accident.
A bit more background before we finally get inside: Baker Hill was considered for broadcast use as early as the 1960s, when Rochester’s TV stations hoped to improve their signals into the Finger Lakes. Constrained by FAA height restrictions on their Pinnacle Hill towers (on the edge of the city line), they looked at the possibility of building a community tall tower on Baker Hill, but to no avail.
It wasn’t until 1981 that radio finally arrived here, when Rochester’s locally-owned WVOR relocated from the top of Midtown Tower downtown (where its studios remained) to a new 150-foot tower behind a sturdy brick building on Baker Hill. Later in the 1980s, the county’s Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) took what had been a 10-watt high school station, WRHR 90.5, and boosted it to 2500 watts from a short tower across the road from WVOR. In 1993, Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes put new WZXV (99.7 Palmyra) on the air from a site right next door to WVOR – and the arrival of 95.1 eight years later completed the radio picture up here.
(There’s a taller tower just north of these three that’s mostly home to two-way radio users, thought it had a now-defunct LPTV up here in the 1990s.)
So with all that as preface, we pulled up here on a chilly but clear winter afternoon at the invitation of WZXV’s contract engineer, Mark Humphrey, to see the new transmitter he was installing. But what was that next door? An engineering truck outside the 95.1/100.5 building – which meant a chance to peek inside at long last!
This is a crowded (but neat) building, holding much more than it was designed for back in 1981. The CCA 25kW main and aux transmitters that powered WVOR back then have been repurposed as dual auxes, one for 100.5 (now WDVI, “Mix 100.5”) and the other for 95.1 (now WAIO, “Radio 95.1”), while a pair of newer BEs facing them are the mains for WDVI and WAIO. Next to them sit crowded racks of STL and processing gear, and looking down at the end of the row of CCAs we spot the little Harris rigs that handle HD for each of the stations.
(A quick word on how Randy maneuvered 95.1 up here: the 95.1 signal was one of the oldest FMs in the state, part of the old Rural Radio Network and licensed to “South Bristol Township.” Moving 95.1 to Baker wouldn’t quite have covered South Bristol – but Clear Channel had picked up another Rochester-rimshot FM along the way, a little class A on 107.3 licensed to Honeoye Falls and known back then as WLCL. That little signal was able to make a minor change to move to Bristol Mountain and take on the “South Bristol Township” community of license, which then allowed 95.1 to go to Baker Hill as a “Honeoye Falls” replacement for 107.3, albeit with a full class B signal over greater Rochester. It was a very clever move, especially considering some of the other chess pieces that had to be shuffled, including a vacant 95.5 allocation to the west of Rochester that had to be moved to 102.1, as well as the silencing of 95.1’s translator in Rochester, also on 95.5.)
Back to 2018: The combiners for analog and HD are packed in along the back wall of the room, behind and to the right of the BEs and racks, and there’s a generator in a side room – and that’s the entirety of this compact site!
Next door, WZXV is a tenant on a multi-user site – and on this February night it’s getting ready to replace its old Continental transmitter with a shiny new Nautel NV-LT feeding that two-bay antenna mounted on a pair of arms offset from the top of the tower. For a class A signal, WZXV outperforms; its 99.7 channel is wide open up here, using Baker Hill’s height to feed a huge network of translators that stretch as far as Buffalo and Syracuse.
We didn’t get in to WBER while we were up here, alas; we’ll have to save that for another visit to this potent site close to home.
Thanks to Mark Humphrey and Joe Kochmanski for the tours!
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