Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s always nice when we can time a feature in this column to a big anniversary, and boy, did we ever come close this week.
WPIC (790) in Sharon, Pennsylvania turned 80 on October 25, just a day after your editor’s dad, and just a few months after we drove eastward from an overnight stop in Youngstown, Ohio, detouring from our otherwise westward route to get a peek inside a very old radio building.
WPIC was a daytimer on 780 on October 25, 1938, when it fired up the very Western Electric transmitter shown at left, from this very site on Pine Hollow Boulevard, less than two miles from the Ohio state line.
“WPIC” stood for “Western Pennsylvania Industrial Center,” and the station had interlocking ownership with the Sharon Herald, complete with a remote studio at the newspaper’s headquarters for regular news updates.
The building here grew several times over the year, most notably when WPIC-FM (102.9) signed on 10 years to the day after the AM station.
Ownership changes over the years eventually put WPIC and its FM sister (by then known as WYFM) into the hands of Cumulus, which eventually added two more FMs on the Pennsylvania side – WLLF (96.7 Mercer) and WWIZ (103.9 West Middlesex) – and then moved most operations across the border into Ohio, where we’ll see its facilities in a minute.
Back here in Pennsylvania, this building hasn’t housed anything but transmitters since Cumulus opened a new local office up the road in 2016 – but the old studios are still here and full of radio ghosts.
The transmitter room at the back of the building still has that 1938-vintage Western Electric, lined up next to the much newer GatesAir transmitter that now powers WPIC’s 1300-watt signal. WPIC’s old AM studios look in to the transmitter room in one direction, and into the old WYFM studio in the other. (Check out those amazing sound treatment walls in what eventually became the FM studio – you just know that at one time, live local music must have been played in that room!)
The front parts of the building are even newer, and the second floor was also added on sometime after 1938; today, it’s all just empty offices, though it’s still easy to pick out the big wood-paneled office upstairs that once housed the station’s general manager.
The current tower out back went up in 2005, replacing the 1948-vintage tower that had gone up for both the AM station and its new FM sister – and yes, we regret not having come down here to watch the old self-supporting tower come down! (But engineer Jerry Starr was there, and shared some pictures with us that we ran back then on Site of the Week.)
Where’s WPIC now? Just a half-mile up the road in a little office building on the slightly-misnamed “Shenango Valley Freeway,” US 62, where we get a quick tour of its new offices and studios before heading back to Youngstown.
There are studios on opposite sides of the wall here for WPIC and its sister FM, WLLF, which carries CBS Sports Radio and some local sports. A rack room links this building to Cumulus over in Youngstown and to the WPIC transmitter site, and the small lobby shows off a vintage radio and a few pieces of WPIC memorabilia that made it over here from Pine Hollow.
Back to Youngstown we go, with a quick drive past a couple of radio sites in that same area south of downtown where we looked at TV sites last week.
Cumulus has its main studios in the “Radio Center” on Simon Road, where the tower out back carries antennas for WYFM (now a classic rocker as “Y103”) and top-40 WHOT (101.1). Their studios are inside the building, along with country WQXK (105.1 Salem) and its AM sister WSOM (600), plus classic hits WWIZ (“Z104”) and sports WBBW (1240). (We saw inside them here on Site of the Week back in 2006.)
WBBW’s transmitter is just north and west of here on Knox Road, right by I-680 near the WFMJ-TV tower; it sits behind the old “Youngstown Radio” cluster studios that once belonged to WBBW and former sister station WBBG (93.3), which now belongs to iHeart as classic rock “Wolf” WNCD and still shares the tower with its former AM sister. This visit caught us up a bit from that previous Youngstown trip, where we saw the current 1240/93.3 tower in the midst of construction.)
And after that, with the family all loaded up in the NERW-mobile, it’s westward we go across Ohio, making one quick stop along the way in Alliance, 45 minutes west of Youngstown.
WDPN (1310) uses three towers by day, all four at night from this studio/transmitter site on the outskirts of Alliance, sharing the building with the studios of FM sister WDJQ (92.5), which rimshots both Youngstown and nearby Canton. Perhaps on our next trip through this area, we’ll get a chance to stop by for a tour of this facility, which has launched a lot of radio careers over the years.
Thanks to Cumulus’ Dave Supplee, Ben Slagle and Wes Boyd (ret.) for the tours!
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Next week: Chicago, summer 2018