Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Whenever our tower photographing buddy Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us comes to the area, there’s one destination that’s always on the list for a day trip, because there’s always something interesting to see over in Buffalo.
Or, in some cases, on the way to Buffalo – as, for instance, the little religious LPFM that’s been on the air since 2003 in the village of Arcade, 30 miles or so southeast of Buffalo, without us ever driving by for a picture. WNAR-LP (100.3) is chugging along out there in Wyoming County, running 14 watts from its own small tower on a farm south of Arcade, and now we (and you) have seen it.
Another quirky Buffalo-area signal is the lone high-band VHF digital TV broadcaster in town. WBBZ-TV is channel 67, virtually, but operates on RF channel 7 from a former telco microwave site off US 219 north of its city of license, Springville. (The studio for the MeTV affiliate is in the Eastern Hills Mall all the way across town, and we showed that to you in this space back in 2014.)
Next up as we head north toward Buffalo? How about a site that eluded us on previous visits, because it’s oddly hard to access for a tallish tower not far from a big city. When we first tried to get a shot of Buffalo’s 89.9, it was owned by Family Stations and called WFBF, but by the time we figured out how to get to this tower up on Chestnut Ridge in North Boston, the signal had been sold to EMF and had become “K-Love” outlet WBKV.
You really can’t see the WBKV tower or the three-bay antenna from much of anywhere unless you have the code for the gate, which sits almost three-quarters of a mile north of the tower site itself, up at the end of a long driveway that leads past several private properties before it finally gets to this SBA-owned tower site.
It’s a good thing we saw WBKV when we did, because it’s on the move: EMF holds a construction permit to move the station to a higher and much more accessible site with a very long history.
The ATC-owned tower on Cole Road in Boston, just east of US 219, went into radio use in 1948 for what was then WBNY-FM on 92.9, the FM sister to WBNY(AM) on 1400 and one of the first FM signals to hit the air in Buffalo on the new 88-108 FM dial. The 92.9 signal was sold off away from the AM in 1959, becoming WBUF, a callsign it has retained (with a couple of breaks) for more than half a century. But 92.9 isn’t here anymore – in 2006, it moved into the city of Buffalo to try to improve its urban signal in a market that has lots of in-city FMs that tend to overload radio front ends, making it hard for signals coming from the south hills to break through.
(Irony alert: the tower WBUF 92.9 now uses, behind the WIVB-TV studios on Elmwood Ave. in North Buffalo, is the one NBC built in the 1950s when it was trying to operate its own UHF station in Buffalo, a channel 17 signal then known as…. WBUF.)
We’ll show you one more Buffalo-area stop in this installment, and it’s a fun one. WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) has transmitted from the same low-slung building on Genesee Street not far west of the airport ever since it signed on in 1956. (Back then, it was WNIA, owned by maverick broadcaster Gordon P. Brown as a sister station to Rochester’s WSAY.)
For the last few years, WECK has been owned by another maverick broadcaster, longtime Buffalo sales maestro (and sometimes on-air talent) Buddy Shula. He’s extensively renovated this old studio/transmitter building, complete with lots of promotional signage and wraps outside and inside what was once a pretty bland facility.
That’s new Axia gear and some nice accent lighting and wall treatments in the main studio, part of a three-studio complex that also includes a production room and a news booth/voicetrack studio.
The transmitter room sits just across the hall from the doorway to the studio, and there’s a lot happening in here, too – two Harris transmitters for WECK, plus a third tucked in back for WUFO (1080), which now diplexes on the WECK tower out back.
Did we mention that Buddy does a lot with promotional wraps on all the surfaces in the building?
Check out the studio doors and the nice lighting – you know you’re in a radio station when you’re in the WECK facility.
That’s the air studio behind the door at the end of the hallway, the newsroom to the left, and the production studio and transmitter room off to the right; behind us is a long corridor full of sales and programming offices, and downstairs there’s a nice conference room and a storage room full of neat historic goodies.
(Among them, oddly, are the very Pacific Recorders consoles your editor used 30 years ago as a tape op at Boston’s WBZ. How did that happen? Because when WBZ was moving studios in Boston in 1996, it was owned by CBS, which had also acquired the American Radio Systems cluster in Buffalo, which back then included WECK. So when WECK needed to build out a new studio in downtown Buffalo, it apparently inherited my old WBZ consoles, which then moved back here to Genesee Street when Buddy bought the station. We live in a small world sometimes!)
Out back, we get a quick look at the diplexing setup at the base of the WECK/WUFO tower – and then we’re off to see some of WECK’s FM translator network, which we’ll show you as part of our continued Buffalo look next week.
Thanks to WECK’s Dennis Majewicz for the tours!
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Next week: More Buffalo