Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Back before New York State Route 17 began morphing into I-86, there was a weird little quirk that alert drivers might have noticed on the way from Binghamton west toward Elmira: even as you stayed on New York 17, you passed a pair of “STATE LINE” signs.
Why? Because New York’s longest state route actually dips a few hundred feet south across the Pennsylvania line as it bypasses the village of Waverly – and yes, it’s still New York 17 even across the state line. (Which led to an oddity in the days before I-86: there were two Pennsylvania 17s, one the western continuation of New York 17 heading toward Erie, and the other a rural route in the Susquehanna Valley.)
And no, you have not accidentally wandered over to “State Highway of the Week,” though it would be a fun feature to start writing, come to think of it. We’re still doing radio sites here, and we mention the old Route 17 oddity because this week, we’re featuring an AM/FM combo that straddles the state line in the same spot.
The AM side, WATS (960), came first: it signed on in Sayre, Pennsylvania, the small city on the south side of the state line, in 1950 as a 1000-watt daytimer. WATS was the first radio station between Binghamton and Elmira, and the only one at all for another seven years until WEBO (1330) hit the air a few miles to the east on the New York side in Owego.
WATS spawned an FM sister in 1974, when WAVR signed on from Waverly on the New York side, originally at 102.3 on the dial.
Along the way, WATS and WAVR changed hands several times, WAVR moved from 102.3 to 102.1 (but still as a class A FM signal), and the studios moved around Sayre, though never very far. The original WATS studio was in a house on Elmer Avenue, and later locations included a storefront around the corner on Lockhart Drive, another commercial building on Desmond Street, and most recently the stations have occupied a little building on the north side of town at 193 South Keystone Avenue.
The colorful, tidy studio space is divided in half by the stairway up to the upstairs apartment; downstairs, there’s a front desk and a sales/management office space on one side of the building, a main studio looking out the big storefront window on the other, and behind it a smaller production studio and an engineering office with a small rack room.
WAVR and WATS have been simulcast for many years, with an AC/full-service format called “The Choice,” so it’s just one set of studios for both signals – but two very different transmitter sites.
On the FM side, WAVR is at the same place it’s been since day one, up a steep dead-end road (Ranch Road) that rises into the hills east of Route 34 a few miles north of downtown Waverly.
A compact block building holds the McMartin transmitter and a rack of equipment, and there’s a four-bay antenna on the guyed tower out back, and that’s basically all there is to this simple site, which is up at a nice elevation that sends its signal westward as far as Elmira and eastward into Owego.
On the AM side, you might think this is the original site from 1950, but not quite: back in 1960, WATS relocated just 750 feet, moving across Shepard Road to its current site on the south side of the road. (It’s still just 1500 feet south of the state line here, and about a mile and a half northeast of downtown Sayre.)
This, too, is a straightforward site: there’s a Harris MW5, installed after WATS won a daytime power increase to 5000 watts in 1983, and there’s a smidge of night power here now, too, with 50 watts after dark.
And now there’s new ownership at these stations: later in 2020, WATS and WAVR were sold to “WATS Up, LLC,” controlled by Dave Radigan, who already owned WEBO down the road in Owego and its network of translators, including a 105.1 signal in Waverly. That means Dave now runs the entire commercial radio landscape between Binghamton and Elmira, regardless of which side of Route 17 you’re on.
CYBER MONDAY? NO, CYBER WEEK!
If you’re trying to get your holiday shopping done, we can offer you the perfect gifts for your radio aficionado — two brand-new calendars. And this week you can get $1 off your order. Just enter “cyberweek” in the coupon code box after you add your calendar to your cart.
In this historic year for radio, The Radio Historian is celebrating its 100-odd-year history in the 2022 calendar The calendar features digitally remastered and hand-colored photographs. This is a very popular calendar and we have limited quantities of it. 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 Twin Tiers IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Miscellany, Summer 2020