Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
There are a few markets that are just close enough that we get to them a few times a year – but also just close enough that we rarely have a reason to spend a full day or an overnight there. Utica, New York is one of those, two hours or so to our east down the Thruway, and when we see its towers, it’s usually a quick stop on the way somewhere else.
That’s the case with this week’s update: what you see here is actually the result of a few visits during 2021, catching a few sites on the way to a more distant locale. Our first few stops this week were actually the last few stops on the way home from the Mohawk Valley sites we showed you last week. They’re connected, too, thanks to long chains of co-ownership along the narrow valley.
It’s just over a mile uphill and southward from the Thruway to Shoemaker Hill in the town of German Flatts, but it takes at least 15 minutes to get up here from the Thruway, up remote county roads and eventually just a dirt path back to the site of WSKU (105.5 Little Falls). This class A signal was dropped in back in 1990 as “Wow-FM,” WOWB, and soon ended up in the hands of local broadcaster Ken Roser, who also owns WVTL in Amsterdam, as we showed you last week. Roser sold the signal to Clear Channel in 2000 (that’s when it became “Kiss-FM” under the current calls), then bought it back in 2007.
Under Roser and Clear Channel, WOWB/WSKU was a sister station for a time to the much older AM station across the river in downtown Little Falls. WLFH (1230) signed on way back in 1952 and was, for decades, a great little small-market station, launching careers for many broadcasters who went on to bigger things in Utica, Albany and beyond. By the 1990s, Roser had made it part of his valley-wide “Bug Country” format, and under Clear Channel it became part of a sports simulcast with three other AMs in the valley (we’ll see another one in a moment) as the “Sports Stars” network.
Clear Channel got rid of the heritage calls in 2005 to park the WIXT calls after it flipped Channel 9 in Syracuse to become WSYR-TV, and those WIXT calls remained after Clear Channel sold off the cluster. WIXT ended up with Galaxy Communications, which kept doing sports for a while and now uses this little AM signal to simulcast its “Tony-FM” variety hits format, which is heard on an HD2 and translator in Utica.
Is there anything left of the old WLFH inside the little building in front of the tower right in the middle of downtown Little Falls? We’d love to see it up close someday.
It’s a very easy and quick drive uphill to the north from the Utica Thruway exit to Smith Hill, home base for most of Utica’s TV and FM signals. We’ve shown you several of these sites up close in the past, so this visit is just a quick update to see a few new antennas.
On the right as you get to the top of Smith Hill is the longtime studio and former transmitter site of Utica’s NBC affiliate, WKTV (Channel 2), and we stop to get a quick shot of the new antenna here for W22DO-D (Channel 22), the Utica translator for Syracuse PBS station WCNY. (This tower is also home to WUNY 89.5, which simulcasts classical WCNY-FM 91.3 from Syracuse, and to commercial classic rocker WXUR 92.7.)
Across the road is the tower of Townsquare’s WLZW (98.7) and WODZ (96.1) – but we’re here to take a careful look around the side for a little antenna between the two big sets of FM bays. W231DZ (94.1) went on the air here in early 2020, relaying WRCK (1480 Remsen) – and since Fybush Media did the engineering for the FCC application in the 2018 translator window, we were excited to see the results. (This 79-watt signal gets out very well up here, we’re proud to say…)
There’s a new antenna just to the northeast, too, where WFXV (Channel 33) moved from RF 27 to RF 34 in the repack, sharing a tower and studios with Nexstar sister WUTR (Channel 20), which stayed put on RF 30.
A different visit a few months later took us north of Utica to a few sites we’d never chronicled here before.
The small village of Remsen, 18 miles north of Utica, has been a radio town since 1958, when WREM signed on here as a daytimer on 1480. Like WLFH in Little Falls, the Remsen station (renamed WADR in 1966) became a training ground and launching pad for young broadcasters in the region.
The AM station has seen a lot of changes over the years, becoming part of the “Sports Stars” quadcast along with WLFH under Clear Channel and Galaxy, then returning to Roser, who eventually spun it off to a new local group that tried a different sports format. Under its current calls of WRCK, 1480 is now owned by Utica’s Phoenix Broadcasting, which has been leasing it out to a Christian broadcaster as “Up Music Radio,” simulcasting on that 94.1 translator on Smith Hill.
WADR added an FM simulcast, WADR-FM 93.5, in 1983 at its site on Prospect Road east of Remsen. It’s been through plenty of formats and owners over the years, too, ending up under Clear Channel as “The River” and for a time taking the WOKR calls that had long been in Rochester on channel 13 (now WHAM-TV).
When Clear Channel left the Utica market in 2007, WOKR ended up with EMF, which eventually put its Air 1 format on the 93.5 signal. Now known as WAWR, 93.5’s main transmitter site moved a few miles southeast in 2010 to better cover Rome, but there’s still an aux here at the 1480 site.
And there’s another Remsen-licensed FM these days: up at a small tower on a hill northwest of the village, Albany’s WAMC network put WRUN-FM (90.3) on the air in 2008. At the time, it was a sister to WRUN (1150 Utica), WAMC’s initial venture into the market, but that venerable AM eventually went silent, leaving only the FM to rimshot the Utica market.
(The drive uphill to the WRUN-FM tower goes past a neat bit of history, the farm where Revolutionary War hero Baron Friedrich von Steuben settled down in the late 18th century, and where he was buried after his death in 1794.)
There’s one more site we can show you in the Utica area from yet another quick stop in the spring of 2021, and that’s Prospect Hill, southeast of Utica. Just west of Clinton and about equidistant from Rome and Utica, this site came into use in the 1980s as several new FM signals hit the air in the market in the aftermath of Docket 80-90.
The market’s Fox TV station, then WTUV (Channel 33), started up here before moving to Smith Hill, and what’s now WODZ (96.1) was up here as well after upgrading from its start as a class A on 95.9 in Rome and before it, too, moved to Smith Hill. Two more drop-in FMs from the era started here and are still here. WSKS (97.9 Whitesboro) started as WOWZ, a “Wow-FM” sister station to WOWB in Little Falls. Like the Little Falls station, it went from Roser to Clear Channel and back to Roser, which still operates it here as half of the “Kiss FM” top-40 simulcast with WSKU.
And the oldest FM up here is the one on 102.5, now Galaxy’s “Mix” WUMX. It came on the air in 1982 as WUUU, and its history is deeply entangled with most of the other FMs we showed you. It was a sister for a while to 93.5 in Remsen, swapping formats and calls – WUUU went to 93.5, while 102.5 became country WKDY. Under Al Dame’s ownership, WKDY became the original “Kiss” as WSKS, and under Clear Channel “Kiss” moved to 97.9/105.5, while 102.5 became country again as “Bob” WRBY. The WUMX calls and Mix format soon followed, and in 2007 WUMX was part of the half of Clear Channel’s Utica cluster that went to Galaxy.
There’s another FM up here too these days – Family Life Ministries recently moved its WCIT-FM (106.3 Oneida) to this site for better Utica-Rome coverage. That’s the 106.3 two-bay Shively on the center tower, under the old Channel 33 antenna. I’m pretty sure WSKS on 97.9 is the two-bay on the left, while WUMX on 102.5 is the six-bay antenna on the right.
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 Mohawk Valley IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Up in the Catskills and Northeast Pennsylvania