Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
I’ve been on the road a lot lately (with still more travel coming as the NAB Show makes its annual approach), so it’s nice this week to stick close to home.
Whenever my tower-photography pal Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us comes to town, it’s always a good opportunity to make some visits around Rochester to see what my local engineers are up to – and to get to places I’ve been meaning to visit!
One of those was a signal I had a direct hand in – W298CH (107.5 Webster) is the FM translator for WXXI (1370), the AM public radio signal where I work occasionally, and Fybush Media was the brokerage firm that arranged the sale of that construction permit from WRVO in Oswego a few years ago.
WXXI built its new transmitter up along the shores of Irondequoit Bay northeast of Rochester, at a site it had owned since the mid-1970s when it needed a remote location for a huge downlink dish for the new PBS satellite delivery service. The dish still sits there, and the tower that once held the microwave link back to the downtown studio now hosts the two-bay antenna for the translator, whose transmitter sits in a rack inside the little prefab building at the base.
It wouldn’t be a visit from Mike without at least one trip up Pinnacle Hill, the cluster of five towers less than a mile from our home base that carries all the TV signals and much of the FM dial for Rochester.
At WXXI’s building, there’s been plenty of rearrangement since our last visit. WXXI-TV (Channel 21) had a catastrophic failure of its old Thales transmitter a few months earlier, and delivery of its new repack transmitter, a GatesAir Maxiva, was moved up to get the signal back on the air at full power faster. That transmitter will move from WXXI’s current RF 16 to its repacked channel, RF 22, later on – but for now, it’s chugging along on 16 from a spot behind the old Thales, in what used to be the transmitter row for WXXI-FM (91.5). WXXI-FM’s old Harris still sits here as a backup (its predecessor, an even earlier Harris, was scrapped out to make room for the Maxiva); the current main WXXI-FM transmitter, another GatesAir, sits across the room, facing the transmitter row for WRUR (88.5). (Look closely above and you can also see the rack on the right for W234AZ, the 94.7 translator for Family Life Ministries’ regional network.)
Two buildings over from WXXI is the similar-looking brick building of Rochester’s ABC affiliate, WHAM-TV (Channel 13), and we stop upstairs there for a quick “before” peek. This is an unusual room here, because it still contains every transmitter Channel 13 has used since it signed on in 1962 as WOKR. That massive original 1962 RCA transmitter still has pride of place in the middle of the room, with the G-Line RCA that succeeded it built into a wall to the left. To the right is the current solid-state Larcan that powers WHAM-TV’s current digital signal on RF 13, but not for much longer – WHAM-TV will be repacked to RF 9 soon.
Up a road at the top of the hill is the old AT&T Long Lines microwave building, which was gutted and rebuilt when American Tower took down the microwave tower more than a decade ago and replaced it with a new guyed tower.
At the top of that tower is WHAM-TV’s Sinclair sister station, WUHF (Channel 31), chugging away with its Acrodyne transmitter in what had been the main room of the AT&T bunker. (It will stay put on RF 28 in the repack, so no changes here.)
Catholic radio in town is in this same room, where a small rack holds the gear for W225AR (92.9), the translator for Holy Family’s WHIC (1460).
And the outer room in the building is full of full-power FM – there’s the Entercom pair of WCMF (96.5)/WPXY (97.9), whose mirror-image analog/HD setup we’ve shown you plenty of times before in this space, as well as WPXY’s top-40 rival, iHeart’s WKGS (106.7), with its own row of transmitters tucked into the very front of the room.
How about a quick studio update? Down in Henrietta, a few miles south of Pinnacle Hill, WHAM-TV has been in its same building on West Henrietta Road since the late 1960s, when urban renewal displaced it from its original downtown home (in the building that had previously belonged to WVET-TV 10 and WVET 1280 before that station’s owners bought rival WROC-TV and moved its operations over there.)
The layout here is fairly simple – business, sales and programming offices up in the front of this former lens-grinding plant, in front of a core that houses the compact studio and an adjoining pair of control rooms. One of those spaces has been converted to a production room, and the other has been extensively renovated as a modern automated control room.
The window that once looked into the studio has long since been blocked off by the latest set redesign, and it’s a remarkable one: this is a small, fairly low-ceilinged space that was never designed as a TV studio originally, and WHAM-TV gets more versatility out of its set here than a lot of stations with twice the space. The studio had a recent refresh with a new monitor wall behind the main anchor desk, while the morning show, especially, makes tremendous use of that “BAM” monitor you see in the background at right.
And there’s still a little more Rochester for us to show you – stay tuned next week!
Thanks to WHAM-TV’s Louie Volino and WXXI’s engineering crew 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 Rochester IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: At the top of Rochester