Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
How many radio stations these days can boast that they’re still in the very same building where they signed on almost 70 years ago?
There’s one just over an hour from our home base in western New York, and it’s a mystery indeed why it took us until this year to finally get inside the 1948-vintage building that houses the station now known as WLVL (1340), over on the west side of Lockport, New York, twenty minutes or so from Niagara Falls.
Dick Greene’s Culver Communications has owned WLVL since 1981, and he’s only the third owner there. The callsign carved above the front door says “WUSJ,” because when this station hit the airwaves on Halloween 1948, the owner was the Corson family, who also owned the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal.
WUSJ, it should be noted, was an FM station when it started out, what we’d now call a class A facility operating at 99.3 megacycles with less than a kilowatt of power. Starting out as an FM probably wasn’t the Corsons’ first choice, but it got them on the air immediately while they awaited the FCC’s decision on the AM application they’d also filed in 1947.
That application started out on 1340 (the frequency Buffalo’s WEBR was in the process of leaving for a new, higher-powered home on 970), moved to 1230 (which ended up as WNIA in Cheektowaga), then back to 1340, where it was granted in the spring of 1949 and signed on May 20.
At first, the Corsons had faith that FM would eventually catch on, and in 1950 they told Broadcasting magazine they had no intention of turning off the FM, but that attitude changed by 1952, when the FM license was surrendered. (WUSJ applied for a new WUSJ-FM 99.3 CP in 1956, which was granted in 1957 and lingered on the FCC’s books until 1960, when it disappeared to clear the way for the new WDCX to appear in Buffalo on 99.5.)
The newspaper sold WUSJ to Hall Communications in 1970, and in 1972 the AM 1340 signal made a belated jump from 250 watts to 1000 watts by day, installing (unusually for a “graveyard” class IV signal) a two-tower directional array to protect co-channel CKOX in Woodstock, Ontario and WKSN in Jamestown, NY. (The DA was cut back to a single tower, with 1000 watts full-time, in 2004.)
The WLVL calls arrived in 1975, followed by the sale to Greene in 1981… and here we are in 2018 in an unusually well-preserved example of late-forties broadcast architecture.
Come in the front door (side door, really) under the old WUSJ calls and you’ll find yourself in a spacious lobby looking through big windows into two halves of a studio complex that takes up most of the back end of the building. On the right side is an unusually large studio that was used for live bands to perform back in the station’s early days. Today, it doubles as both a conference room and as a studio for live events, including “Scholastic Bowl,” the high school quiz show WLVL took over when it was dropped from Buffalo TV a few years back.
A hallway separates the big studio from the rest of the studio cluster at the center of the building, which includes two air studios, a news booth and production space. WLVL’s AM transmitters – a Sparta for backup and a Gates One for main – sit behind the studios, flanking the phasor that isn’t in use any longer; office space for Dick and his staff is at the far end of the building, across another hallway from the studios.
There’s a bit of a mystery out back, where the antenna for WLVL’s current 105.3 translator sits at the top of the former AM tower #2 – and a four-bay horizontal-only FM antenna hangs from tower #1. What’s that antenna? Even Dick himself doesn’t know. It’s not the original WUSJ-FM 99.3, we’re certain, because these towers don’t go back that far (the original WUSJ AM/FM tower was a self-supporting Truscon, and ads from the era show what looked like a turnstile FM antenna up top), so we head out slightly puzzled about just what that is up there.
We’re more certain about the one-bay Shively antenna atop a short tower near the Rapids Fire Company Station #1 a few miles to the east of Lockport: that’s WLNF (90.9 Rapids), the radio companion to Lockport’s community cable TV channel, which signed on at 90.5 in 2011 and quickly changed frequency after suffering co-channel interference from Rochester’s WBER and from a CBC relay in Crystal Beach, Ontario.
Thanks to Dick Greene for the tour!
And don’t miss a big batch of upstate New York IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Penn Yan, NY