Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When our tower-hunting pal Mike Fitzpatrick comes to town to see more sites for his NECRAT.us collection of tower and transmitter photos, it’s always fun to introduce him to parts of my home turf he’s never seen.
Last fall, that meant a drive down I-390 early one morning to spend a long day in the Southern Tier, starting at Letchworth State Park (one of my area’s best-kept scenic secrets!) before introducing Mike to all the interesting stuff that sits along the I-86 corridor from Dansville to Hornell all the way west to Salamanca.
Without Mike in tow, I’d visited Dansville’s WDNY before – so enjoy a more detailed tour of mine from 2016 along with these quick images of the station’s downtown Dansville studio and the WDNY-FM tower up on a hill above town.
After that, though, it was some new turf for both of us, starting with a station that barely even existed in 2016.
WZHD (97.1 Canaseraga) was a very late drop-in, signing on in 2011 as a class A relay of oldies WPHD (96.1) from the Elmira side of the sprawling Elmira-Corning market.
From its site on Farm Road east of Arkport, half an hour south of Dansville, the 97.1 signal brought “Cool 96” to the Hornell area. Last year’s big Seven Mountains flips turned 97.1 into WOBF, part of a three-station “Bigfoot Country” network blanketing the entire market – but that change lasted only one year, and WOBF just recently reverted to WZHF as “Cool,” now paired with a new version of WPHD on 98.7 in Corning and several translators.
(Adding HD to 97.1 when it became WOBF allowed Seven Mountains to bring new formats to the Hornell area – “Cool” was heard for the past year on the 95.1 translator that’s lower down on this tower.)
On the south side of Hornell, Ashbaugh Hill Road heads upward from Route 36 past the home of Hornell’s longtime local stations, WLEA (1480) and WCKR (92.1). A knock on the door here yielded a quick tour of this cozy facility, where the walls are lined with historic pictures and newspaper clippings from a history that goes back 70 years to the fall of 1951, when WLEA went on the air as a 1000-watt daytimer from this very spot.
The studios are all tucked away toward the back of the building, where WCKR runs a mostly-tracked hot AC format (after a brief, unfortunately-timed attempt at flipping to sports in early 2020, just as the sports world was shutting down) and WLEA runs a news-talk format.
The WLEA studio looks into the AM transmitter room, where there’s an older Continental, a newer Nautel, plus the transmitter for the translator on 106.9 that WLEA recently added. (Its antenna sits atop the skirted AM tower out back.)
For many decades, the radio competition here in town was between WLEA/WCKR and a rival AM/FM combo, WHHO on 1320 and WKPQ on 105.3. The death of one of those stations’ owners and some FCC compliance problems led to the surrender of the AM license a few years ago, but WKPQ’s big class B signal survived and thrived as the main country signal for the western side of the Elmira-Corning market, in the hands of Corning-based Sound Communications before Sound’s stations sold to Seven Mountains this year.
The WKPQ transmitter site up on Gypsy Hill Road, just west of WLEA and a few hundred feet up, goes way, way back to the 1947 debut of this FM signal. Back then, it was on 99.9 as WWHG-FM, one of those early FM stations that actually predated an AM sister. The AM station, WWHG (1590), hit the air not long after, making the FM a bit of an afterthought; by 1951, WWHG had absorbed a bankrupt AM competitor on 1320 (the first Hornell station to use the WLEA calls) and 1590 had left the air for good.
The WWHG calls (for W.H. Greenhow, owner of the Hornell Tribune) went away in favor of WHHO by 1951, making it WHHO AM-FM; the FM moved to 105.3 and survived the 1950s, as so many early FMs didn’t.
While the transmitters stayed put in that Quonset hut on Gypsy Hill Road, the studios for WHHO and WKPQ moved around over the years; we remember them in the 1990s in a little one-story building in a residential area. By late 2020, WKPQ had a storefront studio right on the main drag in downtown Hornell, but that could change now that it’s been sold to Seven Mountains. Any day now, WKPQ is expected to segue from “Kickin’ Country” to the Bigfoot Country format based in the company’s Elmira studios.
And to the south of Hornell, up on Hinkley Hill in nearby Canisteo, there’s one more Hornell-licensed signal to show you: WSQA (88.7) hit the air in early 2000 as part of the regional extension of services from Binghamton-based public broadcaster WSKG, taking the station’s reach all the way to the western edge of Steuben County.
Thanks to WLEA’s staff for the tours!
Though the months are over the pictures remain, and they remain beautiful. Especially at half price.
This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!
You can get the regular calendar, or you can order a storage bag for it if you keep them, or you can get it signed by Scott (and get a complimentary bag).
And when you’re purchasing your calendar, don’t forget to take a look at the other great products in our store.
And don’t miss a big batch of Southern Tier IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Alfred and Olean, NY