Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If it feels like I spent most of the start of 2019 somewhere other than home, there’s a good reason – I was indeed on the road a lot, and you’ll see the fruit of some of those travels in this space over the next few months.
But in between trips, there were more than the usual number of visits to my local stations here in Rochester, New York, including a few I’d never seen before.
So before launching into the next big travelogue (that one starts in next week’s installment in Macon, Georgia and winds its way down to Florida and back to coastal Georgia), how about a few quick looks at some of my smaller locals?
We just showed you Baker Hill, right at the southeastern corner of Monroe County, a few months back. At that point, our friend and colleague Mark Humphrey was just getting started installing a new Nautel transmitter for WZXV (99.7 Palmyra), the Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes religious station that feeds an extensive translator network across western and central New York in a daisy chain that starts up here. When we returned over the winter, there was another new station up here, too: the Finger Lakes Radio Group’s WCGR (1550 Canandaigua) used the new 25-mile rule to put a potent translator up here on 100.1, W261DR – and it’s now running a cool classic rock format as “The Lake,” also heard on a second big translator up on Bristol Mountain, W283BF (104.5), and serving a big chunk of the Rochester market these days.
Until just a few weeks ago, we’d never seen WZXV’s studio, even though it’s been right there for 25 years now at the Calvary Chapel building right alongside busy Route 332 on the way from Rochester down to Canandaigua.
We finally rectified that, just in time to see a nearly-complete renovation that removed some walls, created a bigger outer office for the station, and put in some neat new furniture and a small but tidy Axia installation. Check out the split console – and the homebrew speaker stands, too. (That second little booth across the glass will eventually do call screening and become part of a production suite.)
Just before 2018 gave way to 2019, we finally had a chance to stop in for a peek at Rochester’s oldest noncommercial station. Public radio WXXI? The University of Rochester’s WRUR? Nope – this one is considerably older, in fact, going all the way back to 1959 and the launch of 10-watt WIRQ (90.9) at Irondequoit High School just north of the city.
As with so many of these little class D stations, WIRQ got bounced around over the years, landing (and then getting displaced from) 93.3, 94.3 and then 104.7 before landing back on 90.9 a few years back. And there it sits today, in a cozy studio just off the student media center, with a few hours a day of live student DJs and automation to fill the rest of the time, give or take some transmitter issues that have laid it low lately. (Here’s hoping it gets back on its feet in time for its 60th anniversary this fall!)
How about an LPFM station? We have plenty of those here in town (six, in fact, in all of Monroe County), but few are as well engineered as WXIR-LP (100.9).
“Extreme Independent Radio” is part of Rochester Community TV, the community access channel that’s long made its home in the shell of what started out as the American Cable TV building back around 1980.
American Cable lasted only a few years before merging with the suburban People’s Cable system, becoming Greater Rochester Cablevision and building a much larger plant south of downtown. (In later years, when it became Time Warner Cable, your editor worked at that new building as part of the new R News local cable news channel, but we digress…)
Anyway – in addition to TV studios and editing rooms, the old cable building had plenty of space on the first floor for a big radio suite, including a corner air studio, a conference room and another room that’s used to record talk shows and interviews.
WXIR’s transmitter sits in a storage room in back, and its two-bay Shively antenna conveniently fit right on the old microwave tower behind the building on Gorham Street. (Looking for it? Drive past the Genesee Brewery and turn right – it’s just around the corner!)
And while we’d been over to Browncroft Boulevard on the east side several times before to visit the studios of DJRA Broadcasting’s oldies station, WLGZ (102.7), and its Crawford Broadcasting cousin, religious WDCX (990), a sharp new renovation brought us back for another visit early in the new year.
This is a compact second floor space (made even more so when WLGZ and WDCX gave up first floor office space that’s now a dentist’s office), but a coat of colorful paint in the studio hallway and new studio furniture in the main WLGZ “Studio C” make all the difference up here.
Most of the equipment in here was recycled from the earlier incarnation of the studio – but check out what a little LED string lighting under the board and around the edges of the furniture does to make this studio really pop! (Morning host Marti Casper uses the color-changing remote for the lighting to pick a “color of the day,” which is now part of her social media routine in here every morning. How much fun is that?)
WLGZ’s production rooms sit just across the hall, and they’re busy thanks to a lot of local advertisers who make good use of the unique format on “Legends” and its all-local airstaff.
And the other side of the hallway is home to WDCX, which is tied in with Crawford’s big WDCX-FM (99.5)/WDCZ (970) an hour away in Buffalo. Did you know WDCX-FM’s morning show now comes from the Rochester studios? We didn’t, either, but now we do.
(Which reminds us – there’s a lot we haven’t seen lately in Buffalo, which means we need to get in the car and go visit some of the recent studio buildouts and renovations over there, too!)
Thanks to WXIR’s Jan Pazral, WZXV’s Mark Humphrey and the staffs of WLGZ/WDCX and WIRQ 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: Macon, Georgia