Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If the pandemic year of 2020 kept us from traveling very far from home, it at least gave us the chance to spend more time visiting some sites close to home. Here’s a look at a few that we saw last summer…
There are only two AM directional arrays between Rochester and Syracuse, and one of them is also the only AM station in Wayne County. WACK (1420) has been serving Newark and vicinity since 1957 (its initials come from a local judge, Arthur C. Kyle, who put it on the air).
After starting out as a 500-watt daytimer at a site on Route 31 east of town, WACK went to 5000 watts by day, 500 watts at night with a move to Vienna Street, south of the village limits, in 1976.
It took six towers in a big directional array in the field just downhill from the studio/transmitter building, but it gave WACK a signal that can be heard from the Rochester suburbs to the west all the way east into the suburbs of Syracuse.
In 1991, WACK gained an FM sister with the addition of WNNR (103.5), licensed to nearby Sodus and sharing the studios on the lower level of the Vienna Street building. (The upper level? It’s a rental apartment with a separate entrance.) After a few years as “Winner,” 103.5 flipped to country, becoming WUUF (“Big Dog Country”), the format it still carries today.
Walk into the WACK/WUUF building these days and you’re in a spacious lobby area with a nice display of WACK station history and memorabilia. The business offices are straight ahead and off to the right, and the AM transmitter room and phasor are just behind the reception desk – the main WACK transmitter sits right behind the desk, while the phasor and a backup transmitter sit in a room behind it.
Turn left and there’s a row of studios for both AM and FM. “Big Dog” has its control room right next to the front desk, with a production room beyond it, while WACK’s control room and its local morning show come from another studio across the hall.
It’s a bit of a drive up to WUUF – the allocation had to be carefully dropped in just far enough north to clear Ithaca’s WQNY (103.7), and so the FM signal ended up some 17 miles north of Newark, up along the escarpment a few miles south of Lake Ontario near Pultneyville.
This is upstate New York’s fruit belt, and you have to drive through an orchard to get to the 103.5 tower and its tidy building, where we find three generations of transmitters, two of them still ready for use. (The Harris on the right is the current rig, and your editor has done some contract engineering work here, in the interests of full disclosure.)
There’s one more signal in owner John Tickner’s arsenal these days – WACK spawned an FM translator, W245DI on 96.9, and it’s on a county-owned tower on Brantling Hill, right in the middle of Wayne County and right near the local ski slopes. We saw it under construction (in the able hands of consultant Mark Humphrey), and we can hear it on the air as far west as eastern Monroe County most days.
Another trip last fall took us east to Syracuse and Oswego, and while it wasn’t primarily a radio trip, we caught a few updates along the way. East of Oswego, we saw the new tower for Family Life’s WCIO (96.7) on County Road 29. It replaced an earlier self-supporter nearby that collapsed in a winter storm back in 2012, when this signal was still WWLF-FM and was part of Craig Fox’s Syracuse-based cluster.
We finally tracked down a lost bit of history (well, lost to us, anyway) along the side of I-81 in Syracuse, too. We knew that when Meredith Corp. brought TV to Syracuse in 1948, it was in the form of WHEN-TV on Channel 8, but we’d never actually gone looking for the spot where it happened. With a little more research, we learned that the fledgling TV station went on the air from studios and a short tower at a former optical company building at 101 Court Street, but an initial map search for that address didn’t come up with anything that looked like the old pictures.
The answer, as it turned out, is that I-81 construction later on rerouted Court Street slightly south, but the old WHEN-TV building still exists, now home to a liquor store tucked between North Clinton and Genant Drive a block north of the current routing of Court Street. The 1948-vintage tower is long gone (after a few years at Court Street, WHEN-TV’s transmitter moved south to Sentinel Heights, as we showed you last week), and the TV history of the building was largely forgotten after Meredith built a modernistic new building out on James Street in the 1960s for WHEN radio and TV. The TV station later became today’s WTVH, channel 5, and has moved again, now sharing space with longtime rival WSTM-TV just down James Street – but isn’t it fun to imagine the primitive early days of TV here back in this old warehouse space in 1948?
A few more translators round up this installment of catching up on sites close to home.
West of Rochester, WCJW (1140 Warsaw) has one of the most extensive networks of translators of any AM station, thanks in part to Mark Humphrey (who is also a minority owner of the station alongside Lloyd Lane) – and we finally had the chance to see one of its first translators after years of driving past.
W288BZ (105.5) brings WCJW’s country format to Batavia, the biggest city between Buffalo and Rochester, and it does so from a Genesee County-owned tower off Cedar Street on the east side of Batavia.
The translator shares a building and an antenna with another signal, W275BL (102.9), part of the Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes’ extensive relay network based at WZXV (99.7 Palmyra). This is an important link – not only does it bring WZXV’s programming to central Genesee County, but it also provides a signal that can be heard at the next WZXV translator down the chain in Corfu, which in turn hops WZXV programming into the Buffalo area.
(We’ll see more WZXV and WCJW translators in an upcoming installment…)
And we wrap this up with a new translator: Batavia’s WBTA (1490) already had a translator on 100.1 on its AM tower, but now it’s added a second signal to serve eastern Genesee County. W291DI (106.1) hit the air in 2020 from an antenna on the tower at the fire station in LeRoy, 10 miles to the east.
(Never heard of LeRoy? It was the birthplace of a product you’ve certainly heard of – and if you visit the village, you can check out the early history of your favorite jiggly dessert at the Jell-O Gallery and Museum!)
Thanks to Mark Humphrey and John Tickner for the tours!
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Next week: Pittsburgh’s KDKA at 100