Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to go somewhere pretty? It’s hard to beat almost anywhere in New York State when the leaves are changing – but if you’re looking for both pretty and uncrowded, get away from all the tourists in the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley and head down to the western part of the Southern Tier. That’s what NECRAT’s Mike Fitzpatrick and I did last fall, in search of some nearby sites I hadn’t even seen over the years.
With more than half a century of combined tower-hunting experience behind us, we usually have a very good instinct for finding sites quickly and easily – but this time, there was a big exception.
The pretty village of Alfred, New York is an important college town, with two schools facing each other right across Main Street. On the west side is the SUNY school, Alfred State College, and its WETD (90.7) was easy to find, with its own small tower up a service road (and a very pleasant hike) from the school’s athletic fields.
The private Alfred University is older and a little fancier, with a lovely compact campus on the east side. Somewhere in the heart of the campus is the antenna for its station, WALF (89.7) – but even for a small college FM station, it’s well-concealed, because after an hour of walking around campus looking for the antenna, we couldn’t find it! (The listed coordinates put WALF in the castle-esque career center building up near the top of the hilly campus, but there’s no visible antenna anywhere there – is it inside an upper window?)
Keep going south of Alfred on Main Street and you’re back up in the hills, where a few turns bring us to Pingrey Hill Road and a 500-foot tower that’s home to two FM signals. At one time, both WZKZ (101.9 Alfred) and WQRW (93.5 Wellsville) were owned by Robert Pfuntner, a local car dealer who built a big Southern Tier radio empire over the course of several decades.
While most of Pfuntner’s stations were sold off over the years, he’s kept WQRW, now his last remaining signal. (It’s using the lower two-bay antenna). WZKZ, meanwhile, ended up with Sound Communications, which was using it in 2020 as half of “The Ride,” a country format also heard on WOEN (1360) and a 96.3 translator in Olean. Seven Mountains’ acquisition of Sound meant a spinoff for that 101.9 signal – as of a few weeks ago, it’s now part of the Family Life chain of religious stations, with new calls WCOQ.
(That meant, once again, the end of the WZKZ calls – they had a long run on 106.1 in Corning, using the same “KZ” logo that’s still painted on the side of the building up here from the 1999 debut of this WZKZ.)
If WZKZ seems like a new entry – and it is! – its former sister WQRW came along even later, in 2007, as one of the last new commercial stations in the region. (Its calls initially reflected plans to simulcast then-sister WQRS 98.3 in Salamanca, more than an hour to the west, but Pfuntner ended up giving WQRW its own separate hot AC format as “Q 93.5.”)
The other commercial stations in Wellsville are considerably older: its FM competition, classic hits WJQZ (103.5), hit the air in 1986, transmitting from a leased tower site on Alma Hill Road southwest of Wellsville.
And the AM signal in town, WJQZ’s sister station WLSV (790)?
It goes all the way back to 1955, initially as a 500-watt daytimer. It’s now a 1000-watt daytimer, still at its original site on Carter Road near the Genesee River in Stannards, just south of downtown Wellsville. (Try the Texas Hot diner if you’re in town!)
WLSV has a translator these days, too – W262DJ (100.3) now simulcasts WLSV’s classic country format from the AM tower in Stannards.
After a nice lunch at the Texas Hot, we’re eventually headed from Allegany County westward to Cattaraugus County and the bigger city of Olean, but we have a couple more stops to make up and down Route 19, filling in some gaps on the noncommercial side of the dial for Mike’s complete collection of tower sites in the county.
As Family Life began expanding from its original base in Bath, one of its early outposts was in Friendship, along Route 17 (now I-86) in western Allegany County. WCID (89.1) hit the air in 1990 as one of the first relays of flagship WCIK (103.1) up in Bath; today, it’s known as WCOV-FM, and it had just recently put up a new antenna on its tower on Pine Grove Road above Richburg, south of Friendship, when we stopped by.
There’s just one more FM signal to see in Allegany County, and it’s up in the northwest corner of the county, in another small college town. Houghton College put WJSL (90.3) on the air in 1979 (its early student staff included future contract engineer Mark Humphrey and station owner Lloyd Lane, who were Houghton roommates); two decades later, the FM signal was sold to Rochester public broadcaster WXXI, which now operates it as WXXY. We’ve shown it to you in this space before – but since Mike hadn’t seen it before, it was worth the drive up Route 19 to show it to him, too. (See all his pictures from this part of the trip at NECRAT.us!)
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: Olean and Salamanca