Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’ve been going back and forth from western New York to Pittsburgh for decades now, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that we finally made a few detours off the usual I-79 route that we’d been meaning to make for a while. On a sunny Sunday morning after a rainy Pittsburgh Pirates game (but hey, any game in that gorgeous ballpark is a good one, right?), we checked off a few more western Pennsylvania sites we’d never really gotten close to.
50 miles to the north (and a little west), New Castle, Pennsylvania is actually closer to Youngstown, Ohio than to Pittsburgh, flooded by signals from both markets. But there’s been radio in New Castle itself since all the way back in 1938, when WKST signed on as a daytimer on 1250 from a spot off Old Pittsburgh Road that’s still in use all these years later by WKST’s current owner, Forever.
The original WKST moved to 1280 in the 1941 NARBA shuffle, adding night service from a second tower a few years later. WKST-FM arrived in 1948 on 101.1, but didn’t last long (the frequency was revived a decade later in Youngstown by what’s now WHOT-FM), and the UHF boom of the early 1950s brought WKST-TV into the mix on channel 45.
WKST-TV was only up here on this hill south of New Castle for a few brief years – it quickly tried to move to Youngstown, entering into a big fight with another Youngstown station, WXTV, that eventually resulted in WKST-TV moving to channel 33 and becoming present-day WYTV, while WXTV briefly took over channel 45 before going dark.
In the 1990s, WKST on 1280 came under common Jacor ownership with the other AM station in New Castle. WBZY had signed on in the 1960s as a daytimer on 1140, then went full time on 1200 in the late 1980s from a four-tower array southwest of New Castle off the side of what’s now I-376. In 1999, Jacor swapped calls, moving WKST’s news-talk format to 1200. The 1280 facility went through a series of calls and formats as this cluster changed hands to Forever; today, it’s WUZZ with classic hits, simulcasting on a 97.5 translator up here on the AM towers. WKST also has a translator up here, on 97.9 – and the Forever studios here are also home to “Pickle” oldies WKPL (92.1 Ellwood City) and to “Willie” classic country WYLE (95.1 Grove City).
WKST 1200From New Castle, I-376 and Pennsylvania 18 head south into Beaver County, where Beaver Falls is the main business center – and right there on Main Street, we found the prominent studios of the local AM duopoly, WBVP (1230 Beaver Falls) and WMBA (1460 Ambridge.)
Nobody was around on this Sunday morning, which was truly a shame, because at the time the storefront windows here were just jam-packed with a museum of Beaver County radio memorabilia going back to the early days of both stations back in the 1940s and 1950s.
By now, this may all be gone – a few months later, WBVP and WMBA and their FM translators were sold to the St. Barnabas Health System, which now uses them to simulcast its Pittsburgh talk station, WJAS (1320), from studios in Allegheny County.
The next day, we began moving east from Pittsburgh, headed to Altoona by way of a stop in Indiana – not the state, of course, but the Pennsylvania college town an hour or so east of Pittsburgh and north of US 22.
The Pittsburgh-based Renda group owns the radio dial here in Indiana, including the oldest station in town, classic hits WDAD (1450).
WDAD goes back to 1945, though its original transmitter site south of town and downtown studio site are long gone. Since the 1980s, WDAD has shared a hilltop site on Elkin Avenue, north of downtown up the steep hill of Old Route 119, with its FM sister station. WQMU signed on in the 1960s at 103.1 as WDAD-FM, moving much later to 92.5 as part of a frequency shuffle that put a new signal on the air to the north, in the Punxsutawney area, on 103.3. (That’s also now a Renda-owned station, WKQL.)
In more recent years, this tower has sprouted three more FM facilities: translators on 100.3 for WDAD and 101.1 for country sister station WCCS (1160 Homer City), plus a local Christian station, WMUG-LP (105.1), founded by a former WDAD announcer.
There’s a newer Renda studio downtown, too – and we’ll have to see that on a future trip to this picturesque small town, where there’s also a museum we need to visit, devoted to Indiana’s most famous native son, Jimmy Stewart.
The Tower Site Calendar is nearly sold out.
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And don’t miss a big batch of Pennsylvania IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Lightner Communications, Altoona