Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you’re going to get stuck in one city for more than a year, there are worse places to be than my hometown of Rochester, New York, especially if you enjoy quirky community radio. In the mid-2010s, the LPFM filing window yielded up six licenses in Rochester and vicinity, and five of those stations remain on the air doing unique things for the communities they serve.
We’ve shown you some of those LPFMs in this space before: there’s Rochester Community TV’s WXIR-LP (100.9), focusing on the inner city, and Christian contemporary WZNY-LP (98.3 Fairport) in the eastern suburbs. Rochester Free Radio’s WRFZ-LP (106.3) carries a mix of progressive talk and specialty music shows (including Mrs. Fybush’s “Tragical History Tour” on Saturday nights, all about the Beatles), while the Ibero-American Action League’s WEPL-LP (97.1) super-serves the city’s Spanish-speaking audiences as “El Poder Latino.”
And since January 2016, there’s been a little bit of everything, one or two hours at a time, on WAYO-LP (104.3). “Way out, right here” has been the listener-sponsored station’s slogan, nicely summing up a block format that’s provided radio voices for lots of creative folks in this very creative community for five years and counting.
Embarrassingly enough, it took us nearly four years to get together with the good folks at WAYO to get the tour of this very impressive facility that would be the envy of many higher-powered stations.
WAYO makes its home in the “Fedder Industrial Park,” a complex of buildings on the east side of Rochester in what was once a Beech-Nut baby food factory. Since the 1990s, this same building (and the tower on its roof) have been home to a small local commercial station, smooth jazz WJZR (105.9), which has its studio just down the hall from WAYO, which got very lucky when a recording studio moved out and left behind a well-designed space suitable for some renovation into a radio station.
Back when you could still bring groups of people together (sigh…), the space that had been the main recording studio was perfectly suited to be a performance and meeting area, with sliding doors connecting to a production space where shows can be pre-recorded and edited. (It’s also where engineers Max and Jarret show off all the custom software they’ve written over the years to make WAYO hum, including music logging, airchecking, dynamic RDS, studio access control and some other goodies. These are creative engineers indeed!)
The main air studio has a separate door off the station’s hallway, and it’s a nice space, too, with a big T-shaped table that has the main air console at one end and a long interview and conversation setup, all looking out into the performance space and back into the production room.
(More evidence of how interlinked the creative community here in Rochester is: the DJ on the air when we visited in late 2019 was Daniel Kushner, who’s also an arts writer and editor at CITY, the alternative newspaper in town that’s now part of our family across town at WXXI Public Media!)
It’s a healthy hike up several flights of stairs through the rest of the building (filled with artist studios and other creative spaces) to get up to the little room on the top floor that has been WJZR’s transmitter space since the early 1990s. WAYO didn’t need much space up here – its little BW transmitter slid nicely into the bottom of the rack next to WJZR’s Nautel, and its antenna sits just below WJZR’s on the tower just above the transmitter room.
(We realized as we were writing this that we’ve still never shown you much of WRFZ or WEPL, two LPFMs that your editor has helped out over the years, so we’ll need to fix that at some point. And that sixth LPFM? Spanish religious WARI-LP 98.5 operated for a year or so from its licensed site on the northeast side of the city, went silent, came back from a different site a little less than a mile to the north, and has been silent again for more than a year…)
Thanks to WAYO’s Max Kelley and Jarret Whetstone for the tour – and check out WAYO’s diverse programming here!
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And don’t miss a big batch of IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Akron, Ohio’s “Summit,” WAPS-FM