Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the neat things about this line of work is that I frequently get to go to high places that aren’t generally accessible to the public. (Including, at the moment, regular access to the highest rooftop here in Rochester.)
For a few decades, though, whenever I’m in downtown Buffalo, I’ve looked up at that city’s tallest building and wondered what it’s like up on the roof. So even though it was a gray, rainy typical October morning when the opportunity to go all the way to the top of the Seneca One tower arrived, I was happy to slog through the traffic and meet some engineer friends to help with a project and, yes, check out the view from the 40-story, 529-foot skyscraper that has dominated the skyline here since it went up in 1972 as the new headquarters for Marine Midland Bank.
As with so many of these towers, its original tenant (later known as HSBC) ended up moving out in the 2010s, leaving it mostly vacant before the current developer spent $150 million to renovate it. It’s now painted terra cotta red, and under the new name Seneca One, it’s now home to a mix of apartments and offices, including the local offices for KeyBank.
But what about broadcasters?
As with the tallest building in Rochester, there weren’t initially plans to put broadcasting up here. The building’s footprint is relatively small, and the central portion of the roof is filled with giant AC chillers.
Buffalo’s TV stations didn’t need this rooftop for transmitters – by 1972, they were all on much higher sites in the hills to the south. (Though several did end up taking space here for beauty cameras and ENG receivers, and it’s a very useful site for both.)
The FMs in town were at a variety of locations, including the somewhat shorter Rand Building a few blocks away, and they apparently didn’t see a value in moving just for an extra hundred feet of height or so.
So it took the start of low-power TV and then FM translators for the roof to find broadcast uses, neatly sorted out on two short towers that rise on opposite ends of the rooftop, attached to the corner of the metal-sheathed utility space up top.
There are two LPTVs licensed up here, indie multicaster WBXZ-LD (RF 23/virtual 56) and Daystar’s WDTP-LD (RF 29/virtual 39); in later years, they’ve been joined by three FM translators.
Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes arrived first, moving W227BW (93.3 Cheektowaga) up here in 2010 from an earlier site to the east. It relays WZXV (99.7 Palmyra), 70 miles distant, near the end of a daisy-chain of translators that carries the station’s audio through sites in Batavia and Corfu. (Another translator up in Amherst then receives this signal to complete the daisy-chain.)
More recently, two AMs put up translators here, combined into a pair of slanted antennas lower on the tower: W275BB (102.9) was the first in what’s now a three-translator network for WECK (1230), and W243DX (96.5) brings the urban format of WUFO (1080) to FM over the core of the city.
Where do those transmitters (and a whole bunch of two-way and paging and TV ENG equipment) live? They’re crammed into a small space inside that utility structure, and up on a second floor, at that, reached by a steep outside staircase to the small door. (Scroll back to the picture above and you’ll see the two AM translators on the left and W227BW on the right, I believe.)
Even with rain and fog, it’s still a heck of a view up here. To the northwest, Buffalo’s City Hall remains a prominent site a few blocks away. Straight north up Main Street (which actually passes through a tunnel in the middle of Seneca One’s base), there’s a great line of sight to the Rand Building’s three FMs (WBLK 93.7, WMSX 96.1 and WYRK 106.5), and on a clearer day we’d no doubt have a better view beyond those up to the FMs on the old channel 17 tower in North Buffalo and the TVs up on Grand Island.
The view east takes in the old Central Terminal, still awaiting full restoration, and to the south we look almost straight down at the hockey arena that has long shared a name with the banks here (it’s now the M&T Arena) and the harborfront that’s in the midst of some exciting redevelopment.
And then there’s the view straight down from the east side of the roof, which is especially exciting at the moment we’re capturing it. In October 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays had just wrapped up a weird partial season playing in front of empty seats here at Sahlen Field, since their players couldn’t go back and forth to Canada. From above, we could see some of the redecoration of the field – and thankfully, in the summer of 2021 we’d get the chance to actually sit in the stands to watch two MLB games here before the Jays were able to go back home to Toronto.
And we wrap up our rainy day in Buffalo with some studios: an exterior shot of the WUFO studios, which we’d last seen at their historic location on La Salle Avenue before their move to the corner of Broadway and Elm (we still need to get inside for a tour!), and then a drive up to the north side of town to see the city’s newest studio facility.
Just a few months earlier, in the spring of 2020, local taxicab magnate Bill Yuhnke completed his purchase of Niagara Falls’ WJJL (1440), relocating the studios to a suite in his taxi company offices at 1580 Kenmore Ave. and rebranding the station with the historic calls of WEBR (formerly heard in town at 1310/1340 and then at 970).
We’re glad we visited the two-studio setup when we did, because we had the chance to meet midday host Jack Horohoe, who (sadly) died just a month later, and to catch up with PD (now COO) Dave Gillen in the adjoining control room. And we need to get back, not only to congratulate “DG” on his new job but also to see the Axia consoles that WEBR was getting ready to install to replace the interim setup here.
Thanks to Mark Humphrey and Bill Yuhnke for the tours!
The 2022 Tower Site Calendar – PREORDERING OPEN NOW!
This is a special year for our calendar – it’s the 20th anniversary for us, and the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. This special edition of the calendar will showcase the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations.
Though it’s not off the presses yet, don’t wait or risk shipping delays – you can order it right now.
And check out our other great merchandise!
And don’t miss a big batch of Buffalo IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: TV towers south of Buffalo, winter 2021