Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This is kind of a sad episode of Site of the Week this week, because it’s a station that isn’t there anymore.
When we made the two-hour drive down to Salamanca, New York in late March, we knew that WGWE (105.9 Little Valley) would soon be changing hands, as its founding owner, the Seneca Nation, shifted priorities away from running a commercial FM station.
Visiting with our station brokerage hat on, we hoped to be able to match this station with a buyer before the deadline at the end of March.
Spoiler alert: sometimes deals don’t come together, and for a variety of reasons outside the scope of this column, the stars didn’t align. After 11 years on the air, WGWE said its farewells late on the night of March 31, and it’s still silent as we write this, though a buyer has apparently emerged with hopes of getting it back on the air.
If nothing else, we were at least able to document the tidy facility that housed WGWE from its first day in 2010 until its last in 2021. A bit of explanation here: when the Senecas put the station on the air (having bought the CP from Randy Michaels’ RadioActive after Michaels found the hole for a new class B1 facility not far from his hometown, Fredonia), they had plenty of places to put the studios and offices.
That’s because the city of Salamanca sits on Seneca land, inside the Allegany Reservation, and the nation owns many of its commercial properties, including the big casino along I-86 and this property, a former gas station/convenience store on the west end of downtown right on Route 417, the former main drag through the Southern Tier.
How do you turn a convenience store into a radio station? Surprisingly easily, in this case. The big windows at the middle of the building stayed put, now looking into an open main office area with a reception desk and a few cubicles for office staff at the back. A wall divided off a sales office on the north side, just off the lobby, and at the back of the main office area was a bathroom and a small closet area that housed the station’s automation system, EAS and the cable modem feeding the link to the transmitter.
On the south side of the building, a wall divided the studio spaces from the offices, creating a hallway that looked into a row of studios: a production room near the front of the building, a main air studio in the middle, and a conference room that doubled as a talk studio for larger groups.
Simple, yes, but it worked just fine for more than a decade, powering WGWE’s classic rock format that provided another fun radio choice for the triangle south of Buffalo, east of Jamestown and west of Olean that otherwise didn’t have a lot of local radio.
(The callsign? It’s from a Seneca word, “gwe,” that basically means “what’s up?”)
We took a ride up to see the tower site, too, on a leased tower up a steep hill just south of the village of Little Valley, seven miles or so north of Salamanca.
This, too, was as straightforward as it gets – a Nautel transmitter in a prefab container at the tower base, feeding a two-bay antenna near the top of the tower. From here, 105.9 reached north into Buffalo’s southernmost suburbs, south to the Pennsylvania line and covered I-86 from west of Jamestown to well east of Olean.
What’s next for this station? We’re in wait-and-see mode – if it changes hands to a buyer, it’s without the studio setup you saw here, which was dismantled almost immediately after WGWE signed off March 31. (WGWE staffers were having a listener appreciation party while we were there, handing out goodie bags of station swag from a tent next to the station van out front; when we passed by again later in the year, all the signage was gone and the building was empty.)
While WGWE was going away, a new FM signal was just about to hit the air closer to the core of the Buffalo market.
One of the last of the AM-on-FM translators from the 2018 filing window that hadn’t yet been built, Cumulus’ W255DH (98.9 Buffalo) was getting close to its deadline to hit the air when we drove by its site in February 2021.
The antennas were up but not yet on the air when we took these pictures on an overcast winter day at the translator’s site, sharing the tower on the northeast side of Buffalo that’s home to Cumulus sister station WEDG (103.3) and its erstwhile AM sister, now Audacy’s WWWS (1400).
This tower on Fillmore Avenue near the Route 33 overpass went up in the late 1970s when 1400 was WYSL and 103.3 was WPHD and the stations relocated from their previous home east of downtown on the Larkin Warehouse Building. It’s well-positioned for 98.9’s format: when the translator did hit the air a few days after our visit, it was with a classic hip-hop format as “98.9 the Vibe,” fed from a newly-reformatted WBBF (1120 Buffalo). Why not put the translator on the 1120 tower? Because that’s south of Buffalo, and the target audience for the 98.9 format is all over here on the east side, much of it within view of this prominent tower site.
THE 2022 CALENDARS ARE HEADING YOUR WAY!
It’s been a challenging year, but at long last, the 2022 Tower Site Calendar is finally headed to the printer! We will be shipping them as soon as they’re in our hands, and it’s not too late to have yours in time for Christmas! (And check out the cover design, seen here for the first time!)
This year, we’re marking two milestones – it’s the 20th anniversary of the Tower Site Calendar, and we’re also celebrating the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. Our calendar showcases the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations. If you haven’t bought it yet, order yours here.
And there’s more at the Fybush.com store! In this historic year for radio, The Radio Historian is also celebrating its 100-odd-year history in the 2022 calendar. The calendar features digitally remastered and hand-colored photographs. This is a very popular calendar, and our supplies are very limited, so don’t wait! You can order it from us here.
And don’t forget to check out our other great merchandise!
And don’t miss a big batch of western NY IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Watertown-area FM sites, spring 2021