Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we pulled into Olean, New York with Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us last fall, change was already in the market’s airwaves – but at the time, we didn’t know just how much was still about to happen in this busy little market just north of the Pennsylvania border and 90 minutes southeast of Buffalo.
What we did already know in late 2020 was that the smallest of the commercial radio clusters in town, Jeff Andrulonis’ Colonial Media, had gone silent pending the sale of most of its stations to the biggest operator in town, Seven Mountains.
At the time, Colonial’s main signal, WUDE (96.7 Portville), was licensed to operate from a tower up the hills southeast of downtown Olean. Andrulonis had moved the 96.7 signal into Olean from Coudersport, Pennsylvania (where it was WFRM-FM) a decade or so earlier, outfitting it with HD Radio to feed a cluster of translators that at one point included several new formats. There was AAA (from sister station WXMT in Pennsylvania) on 98.7, classic country on 99.1, and a new translator about to hit the air on 104.9, all up at that site on Indiana Avenue. (A site we couldn’t reach because of ongoing road construction blocking access from the north, so the distant picture is all you get.)
What did Seven Mountains plan with those Colonial signals? We may never know all the details, because just a few months later, it struck a new deal to buy the other commercial cluster in town from Sound Communications.
Sound had four signals in town: Olean-licensed WOEN (1360) and WMXO (101.5) served the market from a shared tower site on Windfall Road north of downtown. WOEN’s “Ride” country format (simulcast with WZKZ 101.9 over in Alfred) was also heard on an FM signal on 96.3 from the Indiana Avenue site to the southeast, while WMXO’s “Mix” format supplied hot AC to the market. The Windfall Road site is also home to another translator on 100.5, fed by WGGO (1590) to the west in Salamanca and doing news-talk. Those three formats, plus active rock WQRS (98.3 Salamanca), all came from storefront studios on North Main Street in Olean’s busy downtown.
As we write this in July 2021, we’re still waiting to see how the revised version of Seven Mountains’ Olean strategy will play out – but we know a few things for sure. The dominant station in the market by far, Seven Mountains’ WPIG (Big Pig 95.7), will stay right where it is, with studios in the old WHDL radio building out on Route 16 to the east of Olean, right next to the St. Bonaventure University campus. What was long known as WHDL on 1450 is now WOLY, “Big Oly 107.1,” doing classic hits on AM and on a 107.1 translator on the AM tower behind the studios.
What else does Seven Mountains keep? WMXO stays, as does WOEN on AM and its 96.3 translator. So does WQRS over in Salamanca, and several of the now-silent translators. But the 96.7 signal from Colonial got spun off again (Family Life Ministries is moving it down to Bradford, Pennsylvania), as did WGGO in Salamanca and its 100.5 Olean translator.
While we wait to see what becomes of those stations, let’s finish off what was staying put in Olean. Next door to Seven Mountains, St. Bonaventure’s student-run station, WSBU (88.3), has its four-bay antenna on the side of the student center building.
And if you go south on Route 16 from downtown Olean, up to the area they call Rock City, you can turn on Page Road and continue uphill to the Seven Mountains FM site. This has been home to 95.7 since it signed on way back in 1949 as WHDL-FM; in later years, it was WSFM and then WEBF (named for co-owner E.B. Fitzpatrick) before taking on its WPIG identity a couple of decades ago.
Since 1993, WPIG has shared this site with a public radio signal: WOLN (91.3) is a rebroadcaster of Buffalo-based NPR news-talker WBFO, filling in what would otherwise be a gap in public radio coverage.
With daylight fast running out on us, there’s just enough time to head west toward Salamanca, where we check out those two outlying bits of what was then still the Sound Communications cluster.
Off Ten Mile Road northeast of Salamanca, we find the ridge that’s home to WQRS (98.3), the rock station that went on the air in 1998 as a sister station to a much older AM, WGGO (1590 Salamanca).
WGGO’s longtime home on Killbuck Road, just northeast of Salamanca, is still there, even though it’s been years since WGGO and WQRS had studio operations in this building. WGGO’s transmitter was still there, just as it had been since 1957, but the tower out back was much newer: the original 1957 tower had rotted away over the years, and had recently been replaced by a Valcom whip antenna.
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Next week: Onward to Buffalo