Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In the absence of bigger trips (like, for instance, our usual April flight westward to NAB in Las Vegas) in early 2021, we took a few shorter trips up to New York’s North Country, which we’ve been chronicling here in a sort of piecemeal form.
(Fear not – we got to do some longer traveling later in the year, too, and pretty soon you’ll start seeing our bigger trips from the summer and fall, including a deep dive into Virginia and a long-awaited return to New England.)
We start with a few quick snaps on the way up toward Watertown, including one we simply omitted in an earlier Watertown segment here a few weeks ago. North of Syracuse but still well south of Watertown, WZUN (1070 Sandy Creek-Pulaski) sits just west of I-81, the northernmost piece of Galaxy Media’s Syracuse-based cluster. Once a vibrant local station back in its days as WSCP, 1070 now is just a simulcast of Galaxy’s “Sunny 102” (WZUN-FM 102.1) from Syracuse, existing mainly to feed the 106.1 translator that brings “Sunny” to nearby Oswego.
Another Syracuse-based cluster, Craig Fox’s WOLF Radio, also has Oswego County outlets, and we saw one on the way up to our next Watertown visit back in April. WSEN (103.9 Mexico) carries a historic Syracuse callsign (its old home on 92.1 there is now Fox’s WOLF-FM), and it reaches eastern Oswego County and the eastern end of Lake Ontario from a site just off Route 104 east of Oswego, carrying Fox’s “Dinosaur Radio” oldies format.
Coming into Watertown itself from the south, the first big site you see off the side of I-81 is the longtime home of WTNY (790), the Stephens Media news-talker that has more recently taken sister sports station WNER (1410) as a diplex partner.
The 790 signal started up as WWNY radio in May 1941, and it wasn’t 790 for its first year and a half. Before the NARBA frequency shuffle, the original WWNY construction permit was for a daytimer on 1270, which moved to 1300 in NARBA two months before the station actually hit the air. It quickly applied for more power and fulltime operation, and by November 1942 it had built this site on Ives Street Extension a few miles south of downtown.
It’s been out here ever since, though it’s lost some of the decoration it once had – as recently as a few years ago, there were ornamental railings above the transmitter building doorway where the metalwork spelled out “W T N Y,” and they’re gone now. One of the original 1942 towers is also gone, lost in a storm and now replaced by a newer self-supporter. (You can see the post-storm damage and the old railing, along with more Watertown history, in this vintage Site of the Week segment from 2004.)
WWNY radio was already co-owned with the Watertown Daily Times, and it completed the media trifecta when it spawned a TV sister in 1954. Because the new channel 7 was licensed to nearby Carthage rather than Watertown itself, it couldn’t share the WWNY calls under then-current FCC rules, and so the market’s first TV station hit the air as WCNY from a studio/transmitter site on Champion Hill, on Route 126 west of Carthage and a few miles east of Watertown.
A few years later, it was allowed to dual-identify as “Carthage-Watertown.” By 1965, it had become WWNY-TV, and by 1972 it had moved its studios down the hill to downtown Watertown, donating the old Champion Hill studio space to become the first studio home for Watertown’s new public TV station, WNPE (Channel 16). Look closely at the faded sign in front of the building up here and you can see both the WWNY-TV callsign and the remnants of the signage for WNPE and its sister station up north, WNPI (Channel 18) in Norwood.
In later years, channel 16 moved into Watertown, too, and the building up here became a town courtroom for a while. It still holds the WWNY transmitter (now on RF channel 8), as well as the low-power transmitter for Fox sister station WNYF-CD (Channel 28/RF 35). There’s FM up here, too: K-Love station WKWV (90.1) has its two-bay antenna near the top of the tower, with Community Broadcasters’ hot AC WTOJ (103.1 Carthage) just below.
Once channel 7 established itself at the top of Champion Hill, other broadcasters followed along Route 126 down the slope of the hill heading into Watertown. A few miles west of WWNY-TV, there’s an old self-supporting tower at a site that’s also owned by the TV station, and today that tower holds the antennas of North Country Public Radio’s WSLJ (88.9) and a translator, W283CC (104.5), that augments the north-of-Watertown signal of variety hits “Tunes” WBLH (92.5).
What was this tower here for originally? It dates back to 1948, and I think it was the old WWNY-FM, which operated on 100.5 as part of the Rural Radio Network until going dark in the early 1950s; in later years, channel 7 used this site for its CBS satellite receiving dishes, since there wasn’t much room or a good southern view from the downtown studios.
There’s another big FM site just to the west and a little downhill from the old WWNY-FM site, just before the road drops down sharply into the city of Watertown.
This is the biggest FM signal in town, and the highest-rated, too: Stephens Media’s “Froggy” WFRY-FM (97.5), now sharing its tower with smaller sister station WCIZ (93.5). The 97.5 signal signed on from up here in 1968 as WOTT-FM, sister to then-WOTT (1410), then became WNCQ two years later. 97.5 had the WCIZ calls in the late 1980s, then became “Froggy” in 1996 and never looked back, often posting 20+ shares as it rode the country format to ratings dominance.
The second tower at this site is much newer, home to two Stephens translators that had just signed on in early 2021: W240EA on 95.9 relays WTNY 790, while W250CI on 97.9 relays WNER 1410.
Across Route 126 to the north, there’s one more small cluster of shorter towers up on Miser Road. One holds the antenna of Watertown’s relatively new NBC affiliate, low-power WVNC-LD (Channel 45/RF 24), while across the road another one is home to the latest station to bear the WOTT calls. That’s Community’s 94.1, licensed to Calcium, New York and carrying a rock format from its three-bay antenna.
There’s still more to see in Watertown and the nearby Black River valley, and we saw it later in 2021 – stay tuned, and we’ll show you the other TV towers and a busy studio/transmitter facility in upcoming Site of the Week installments.
CALENDARS ON CLEARANCE
If you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Watertown IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Some Updates from Elmira and Corning