Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to meet a busy bunch of engineers? Go visit Syracuse, New York, where there are stations moving, old sites being vacated, ATSC 3.0 being launched… and lots to see when Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us and I stopped by last fall.
The most prominent site in town for almost two decades now has been the 930-foot candelabra on Sentinel Heights south of the city that went up in 2003, replacing the old self-supporter of WSTM-TV (Channel 3). The original plan here was to create a multi-user master site for all the stations in town, and bit by bit, more stations are finally moving here to take advantage of the site’s commanding view overlooking the market.
The busiest room here is occupied by WSTM, now on its post-repack channel 19 from a Rohde & Schwarz transmitter that was converted to ATSC 3.0 a few months after our visit.
Long ago, WSTM was WSYR-TV, and its sister FM station, WSYR-FM (94.5), operated from a short tower here. The FM station is now owned by iHeart as WYYY, still using the short tower with a grandfathered 100 kW signal – and now its transmitter once again shares space with WSTM. (For a few years after WSTM moved into the new building, WYYY stayed put in the original 1950s-vintage building just across the parking lot, but that structure has now been demolished.)
The other original tenant here on the candelabra is the public TV station in town, WCNY-TV (Channel 24), now on RF channel 20 and sharing an antenna with WSTM. WCNY’s FM sister station, WCNY-FM (91.3), stayed put at WCNY’s old location to the east in Pompey after the TV moved – we’ll see that in a moment – but holds a construction permit to move to the candelabra site on a new panel antenna, which was already up on the tower last year.
WSTM’s sort-of sister station, WTVH (Channel 5) – it’s owned by Granite but operated alongside WSTM by Sinclair – will be the next station to join the candelabra, moving across Sentinel Heights Road after many decades on a shorter self-supporter nearby. WTVH’s channel 18 post-repack signal is now also the host for WSTM’s ATSC 1.0 signal. It had to make a hurried move after contractors discovered the old channel 5 tower wasn’t structurally able to hold the new antenna. The old MediaFlo transmitter was repurposed for WTVH at the candelabra, with a new Rohde rig being prepped for installation when we visited.
What’s left at the old WTVH site? The old stacked antenna for the pre-repack RF 47 digital and RF 5 analog signals has been removed from the tower, leaving just a low-power aux RF 18 antenna side-mounted, with another Rohde transmitter sitting all alone in the big old building with its tiled walls.
It’s not yet clear what will become of the old self-supporter, but we know there will still be at least some RF from this site on Bull Hill Road; iHeart’s WWHT (107.9) comes from its own short tower right next to the old WTVH site.
There’s a lot of history in these old tiled walls – this building went into service in the 1950s when Syracuse’s first TV station moved up to Sentinel Heights from its original studio/transmitter site on Court Street north of downtown. Back then, the station was called WHEN-TV and was on channel 8, and it must have been a fascinating project when WHEN moved from 8 to 5 in 1962 on the same day Rochester’s WROC went from 5 to 8.
It must have been a much busier building back then, with a big analog transmitter in the main room, a generator deep in a well behind it, several rooms off to the side holding engineers’ offices, spare parts and a work bench, and it’s all kind of eerily empty now.
From WTVH’s site, you can look east to the next big group of towers on another hill in Pompey, but you have to do some up-and-down driving on side roads to actually get over there.
There are two main sites here on opposite sides of Sevier Road: on the south is the tower of Nexstar’s WSYR-TV (Channel 9), which stayed on RF 17 during the repack. (It now also carries the ATSC 1.0 for WSTM’s CW subchannel.)
This tower used to be WCNY-TV’s analog home, and it has a new tenant: Ion’s WSPX (Channel 56) moved its post-repack signal on RF 36 to this site from its original analog/pre-repack site far to the northeast of town on the shore of Oneida Lake. (That tower, which is now vacant, happens to be the tallest in New York State.)
WCNY-FM is still here, for now, on its short tower just west of WSYR-TV.
And across Sevier Road to the north is the last site we see on this quick Syracuse visit, the main and aux towers of Cumulus’ WNTQ (93.1).
This is another superpower class B, blasting out 97 kW from this site – and it’s full of history, too. This was the original WFBL-FM site, an early FM sister to WFBL (1390) that didn’t stay on the air; 93.1 returned as beautiful-music WDDS (serving dentists’ offices!) before settling in 40 years ago as top-40 “93Q.”
We didn’t get in to the transmitter building this time, but it’s worth checking out our vintage visit here – the current block building that houses the 93Q transmitters was literally constructed around the original Quonset hut here, and then the pieces of the Quonset hut were dismantled and removed from the inside while the transmitters stayed on the air!
Thanks to Vinny Lopez for the tours!
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Next week: Another big TV site in Albany