Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We may not have been able to travel very far in the summer of 2020, but we could get in the car from time to time and take solitary drives around some areas closer to home, and so for the next few months here on Site of the Week, you’ll be seeing quite a lot of New York State and a little of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, too.
One drive we were determined to make in June 2020 was the two-hour trip south to Corning and Elmira, a market that was about to go through some huge changes as a result of Seven Mountains Media’s purchase of the Equinox Broadcasting cluster.
The July 4 weekend brought a big spinning wheel of formats and call letters as Seven Mountains moved the Equinox stations in to its studios on College Avenue and changed their programming (we had all the details in the July 6 NorthEast Radio Watch), and a few weeks before we realized that we’d never seen the studios that Equinox was leaving, which was all the reason we needed to hop in the car and go have a look.
This was a low-profile facility indeed – 734 Chemung Street sits down a secluded driveway without much signage, even though it’s just down the road from Grand Central Plaza and the interchange of busy I-86 and Route 14.
By the time we got here, the offices on the first floor of this little prefab house had mostly been cleared out, so there wasn’t much to see upstairs – and so down we went to the basement, which was the technical heart of this compact three-station cluster. WMTT (94.7 Tioga PA) was the flagship station here; “94.7 the Met” was one of the first new FM signals in the Elmira-Corning market in the early 1990s, shaking up what was then a relatively under-radioed area.
Under Equinox Broadcasting, it eventually moved from its original digs in downtown Elmira up here to Chemung Street, where it was joined by a second FM signal, WPHD (96.1), which had moved in from South Waverly PA to become an Elmira-licensed signal. WPHD did classic hits as “Cool” alongside the classic rock on “the Met,” and a few years ago it gained a simulcast in the Hornell area via a new FM simulcast, WZHD (97.1 Canaseraga). WMTT also sprouted translators around the area, reinforcing its signal in downtown Elmira, Corning, Hornell and elsewhere.
At least in recent years, most of the talent heard on the Met and Cool was voicetracked, either from Equinox’s other cluster over in Binghamton or from several small studios here on Chemung Street. There wasn’t much to see here – just small boards feeding into the RCS Zetta automation that powered the stations, all of which lived in a set of computers and monitors just outside the studios downstairs.
The “rack room” sat right next to the row of automation – EAS boxes, processing, studio-transmitter links, streaming, and an auxiliary transmitter to keep 94.7 on the air in the event its main site over in southern Steuben County lost power. (There was a one-bay antenna up on the roof for that purpose; it wouldn’t have covered much beyond Horseheads and Elmira Heights, but that’s better than being completely off the air, right?)
Most of what was here could easily be controlled remotely from Binghamton, helping to keep Equinox’s costs down.
In these last days of the Met and Cool at this location, change was already in the air: out in the garage, next to one of the Cool promo vehicles, a new GatesAir transmitter sat wrapped on a pallet, waiting for installation a few days later at the 97.1 Canaseraga site to upgrade that signal to HD.
While Seven Mountains kept “Met” and “Cool” going on other signals, their main signals all became part of its flagship “Bigfoot” country format, as WQBF on 94.7, WCBF on 96.1 and WOBF on 97.1, with HD subchannels on 96.1 and 97.1 feeding “Met,” “Cool” and other formats to translators around Elmira and Hornell.
Thanks to Bob Smith for the tour!
THE RADIO HISTORIAN’S CALENDAR IS OUT!
This is a special year for radio, and The Radio Historian is celebrating its 100-odd-year history in the 2022 calendar The calendar features images originating from original black-and-white photographs, digitally remastered and colorized to replicate the original scenes as accurately as possible. You can order it from us here.
And when you buy the Radio Historian calendar, don’t forget to buy the Tower Site Calendar — perfect in any room. We’re marking the 20th anniversary of the Tower Site Calendar, and we’re also celebrating the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. Our calendar showcases the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations. It’s nearly off the press and will ship in time for Christmas. Order yours here.
And check out our other great merchandise!
And don’t miss a big batch of Southern Tier IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Miscellany from Summer 2020