Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Some (not us here on this page, but others, anyway) may think that driving around looking at broadcast towers is an odd hobby. Maybe so… until you meet our good friend who occupied himself during those long, empty pandemic months by driving around taking pictures of every single post office in western and central New York. Without much else to do, we rode along on some of those trips, which just happened to go by some broadcast sites where we needed updated pictures.
On a couple of snowy days as 2020 gave way to 2021, we ended up driving around south and east of Buffalo, starting with a pass by one of the market’s newer AM stations. WXRL (1300 Lancaster) was WMMJ when polka broadcaster Stan Jasinski put it on the air in 1965 here in the eastern suburbs. After Jasinski moved on to independent TV, putting WUTV (Channel 29) on the air in 1970, WMMJ became WXRL when it was sold to country DJ “Ramblin’ Lou” Schriver, and it’s been playing country ever since from this studio/transmitter site on William Street. These days, it’s operated by Schriver’s kids, running 5000 watts by day, 2500 watts at night from a four-tower array – plus a translator on 95.5 on that pole right behind the studios.
Making our way south and west toward the lakeshore in Hamburg, we get an updated picture of an older AM site. WEBR built this five-tower facility after World War II as it moved from 1340 to 970, throwing a very directional 5000-watt signal north over Buffalo and toward Toronto. In 1976, WEBR was sold to public broadcaster WNED, which operated it as an unusual noncommercial all-news station for a few years. WEBR later became WNED(AM), then was sold off to religious broadcaster WDCX-FM, which now simulcasts here as WDCZ.
In recent years, Cumulus began diplexing its WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) down here after moving off WHLD’s original Grand Island site north of Buffalo; today, WHLD carries an all-syndicated talk format.
Southward and eastward we go again, up into the hills that rise sharply east of Hamburg. Just before crossing US 219, we turn on Zimmerman Road to see the two high-powered FM sites that sit just west of that highway. WEBR’s former FM sister on 94.5 was also part of the 1976 sale to WNED, which flipped it from easy-listening WREZ to classical WNED-FM, and it’s been classical ever since.
Just to the south, WDCX-FM on 99.5 is also a superpower class B signal with 110 kW. There’s an FM translator on this tower, too, though not a very useful one: W231EA (94.1) rebroadcasts WDCZ 970, and at least for now, Crawford Broadcasting runs the same programming on 970 (and thus 94.1) as is heard on the big 99.5 signal. What’s more, the 94.1 signal is only clear for a couple of miles before it’s drowned out by a much bigger 94.1, CBL-FM Toronto from way up on the CN Tower. (Listen on 94.1 in downtown Buffalo, just a few miles north, and it’s usually all Toronto.)
Continuing east from these FM towers, we dip down into a valley and then back up an even higher ridge in the town of Colden. Here’s where we come to the oldest active sites in these hills (the only older one, in nearby Boston, is the circa-1948 site formerly used by WBUF 92.9, which we showed you a few months back, but it’s not currently in use for broadcast,)
On Center Street in Colden, we find the site that was built in 1952 for WBEN-TV (Channel 4), Buffalo’s first TV station. It had been on the air for four years from the Statler Hotel downtown when it moved up to the hills and broadened its coverage to include all of western New York and a big chunk of southern Ontario. It’s been here ever since – well, almost. Now known as WIVB-TV, channel 4 left this site briefly when it began channel-sharing with sister station WNLO-TV (CW 23), initially from WNLO’s Grand Island site until the repack allowed the joint WIVB/WNLO operation to return down here to a new top-mounted antenna on RF 36.
The WIVB site never went completely dark: it’s also home to the former WBEN-FM on 102.5, another superpower class B. That 105 kW signal is now known as WTSS-FM (Star 102.5), and it puts out what’s arguably the best FM signal in the market from a side-mounted antenna on the WIVB tower.
A mile and a half to the south of channel 4, Buffalo’s third VHF signal hit the air in 1958 when WKBW-TV (Channel 7) signed on as the city’s ABC station. It’s been at this same Center Street location ever since, all by itself on a tall tower. (These days, it’s on RF 34.)
The third VHF station in Buffalo, WGR-TV (Channel 2), hit the air in 1954 from a downtown Buffalo site atop the Hotel Lafayette. In 1959, after NBC gave up its experiment with a UHF owned-and-operated station, WBUF-TV (Channel 17), WGR-TV took over the NBC affiliation and moved to the Channel 17 tower on Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo (the WBUF-TV studio building under construction next door ended up becoming the home of WBEN radio and TV the next year), and then in 1968, WGR-TV joined its VHF neighbors in the hills, building a new tower in South Wales, a few miles northeast of channels 4 and 7.
For a few years, this site on Warner Hill Road was also home to WGR’s FM sister on 96.9 (known as WGR-FM, WGRQ, WRLT, WGR-FM again and now WGRF), but that signal eventually went back to North Buffalo – so now it’s just “channel 2” up here, now known as WGRZ-TV and now actually on RF 33.
The next TV site to hit the air out this way took another 20 years: it was 1987 when WNYB-TV (Channel 49) began blasting out 5 megawatts of independent TV and Sabres games from a site next to a golf course just across the Wyoming County line near Cowlesville.
Channel 49 changed hands to the Christian broadcaster TCT, then went back to commercial operation in 2001 as WNYO-TV, a sister to WUTV. After the repack, WNYO-TV moved to WUTV’s Grand Island tower – but the Cowlesville tower was handed off to the market’s Ion station, WPXJ (Channel 51), which moved west from its original site in Pavilion, Genesee County. (There’s an FM signal on the Cowlesville tower, too – Catholic station WLOF 101.7.)
And just east of the Cowlesville tower along Big Tree Road, if you look up at the silos on one of the local dairy farms, you might notice transmit and receive antennas for a new translator in the area. W265DQ (100.9) hit the air late in 2020 as the newest signal for “CJ Country,” the network of one big AM (WCJW 1140 Warsaw) and six translators based on the east side of Wyoming County.
This is a rare translator site where the transmitter is under constant supervision – not by humans, mind you, but by the cows who now share their barn with the little enclosure that houses the receiver (listening to another WCJW translator) and transmitter. Are they keeping an eye to ensure there’s no excessive “moo”-dulation going on here?
We’ll stop milking the situation for so many udder-ly bad puns at this point as we say goodbye for now to greater Buffalo and hoof it to the North Country… cud you stand to join us back here next week for more?
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND….
It’s the annual Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 23rd edition of our popular wall calendar, featuring gorgeous full-color photos of tower and transmitter sites from around the country, and sometimes the world. Our photos capture the sites throughout the day and throughout the year.
This makes a great gift for the tower enthusiast in your life — or a special treat for yourself!
Because it’s not yet off the press, we’re offering a pre-production price of $20. Once the calendar is printed, the price will go up to our regular price of $21.
Don’t wait – order yours today!
We have the Radio Historian’s Calendar again this year, too. There are only 25 in stock and they sell fast, so don’t wait to order.
And don’t miss a big batch of Buffalo IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: FMs around Watertown