Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This week’s images may be a little gray – but rest assured that after a long, cooped-up COVID winter here in Rochester, even a gray day on the road in New York’s Thousand Islands region as winter 2021 turned to spring was a welcome respite, not to mention a chance to drive by some smaller FM sites we hadn’t ever had a chance to see.
The oh-so-scenic Thousand Islands stretch out in the St. Lawrence River west and north of Watertown, the compact city that is the commercial heart of New York’s North Country. Most of the radio stations we’ll see on this day trip are part of Watertown-based clusters, but the market stretches out these days to the southern edge of Jefferson County, where it touches Oswego County and the northern end of the Syracuse market.
The southernmost FM in the market? That’s Community Broadcasters’ WEFX (100.7 Henderson), a 1990s-era drop-in class A signal (“100.7 the Eagle”) playing country from a tower site on Route 178 in Adams, west of I-81 and about 15 miles south of the Community studios in Watertown. (We saw them later in the summer and you’ll see them soon in this space.)
An even newer drop-in is just northwest of Watertown, on Perch Lake Road off Route 12: WBLH (92.5 Black River) is a locally-run adult hits station, “Tunes,” using a tower that had previously belonged to the former class A on 93.5 in Watertown. (That station, originally WTNY-FM, is now WCIZ and is now on 93.3 from the main tower farm east of the city – we’ll show that to you in more detail on a later trip, too.)
Getting from one site to the next (and stopping for lunch) took us right through Watertown, where we grabbed some updated exterior shots of the city’s TV stations.
CBS affiliate WWNY (Channel 7) and Fox affiliate WNYF-CD (Channel 28) are just where we found them last time we visited, in a blocky 1970s-era building on Arcade Street (which, we now know, is named for the very non-blocky 19th century commercial arcade that sits between that street and the heart of downtown Watertown.)
Watertown’s ABC affiliate, WWTI (Channel 50), has moved since the last time we were in town: instead of its original home in a former commercial building in a shopping center near I-81, it’s now in the heart of downtown, occupying some office space right along Route 3. (There’s not much “there” here, to be fair – WWTI doesn’t do local news. instead simulcasting sister station WSYR-TV from Syracuse, and its master control is at one of Nexstar’s hubs, so this is really just a glorified sales office.)
And the PBS station in town, WPBS (Channel 16), is right where it’s been for years, on the Arsenal Street commercial strip that links I-81 to downtown.
Let’s get back on the road, up Route 12E beyond the WBLH tower to Cape Vincent, right at that spot where the end of Lake Ontario drains into the St. Lawrence River and Canada comes into view.
Approaching the pretty little village of Cape Vincent, look to your left along Fox Creek Road and you’ll see the tower of WMHI (94.7), the local outlet of Syracuse-based Mars Hill Network (based at WMHR 102.9).
Keep going on Route 12E almost all the way into town, hang a left on Stone Quarry Road, and you’ll come to the other two signals licensed to Cape Vincent, sharing a tower: at the top, WLYK (102.7) and below that, WSLZ (88.1). WSLZ is one of the many signals of North Country Public Radio, based up at St. Lawrence University in Canton, and WLYK – well, that one’s a little unusual, because while WLYK is a US-licensed station operating from the Community studios in Watertown, the programming comes from across the river at the Rogers cluster in Kingston, Ontario, where it’s programmed as top-40 “Kiss.”
How close are we to Canada? Go just a mile or so to the ferry landing in Cape Vincent and it doesn’t take that long a lens to look across the river to Canada’s Wolfe Island, where we find the tall tower of Kingston’s CKWS-TV (Channel 11), CFMK (96.3) and CKWS-FM (104.3). Someday soon, we hope we’ll be able to get across the border and see them more closely again – it’s been a while!
Route 12E is a very pretty drive along the St. Lawrence heading north and east toward Clayton, where it turns into Route 12 as it continues toward I-81 and the international bridge that, when we were up here, was still closed to leisure traffic. Along the way, we pass what may be the newest full-power FM up this way: in 2012, Oswego-based public broadcaster WRVO (89.9) put relay station WRVH (89.3 Clayton) on the air from a site just east of Route 12, augmenting the existing signal reach of Watertown’s WRVJ (91.7) and the main signal from Oswego, which are both pretty fringe up here.
There’s one more site we didn’t even expect to photograph, but while we were wandering around another scenic village, Alexandria Bay, just north of the bridge, we took a break from buying really good cheese to grab a picture of the local North Country Public Radio signal. That’s translator W217AE on 91.3, up atop the small hospital that sits right at the edge of the river, rebroadcasting NCPR’s WSLJ from Watertown.
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 North Country IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: New York’s Mohawk Valley