Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What brought us to Altoona, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2021? Plenty of reasons – a minor-league ball team (the Curve) we’d never seen in person before, a radio dial we hadn’t checked out in a while, the world headquarters of the mighty Sheetz convenience store chain… and some friends who have built one radio station into a growing cluster that’s expanding across western Pennsylvania, too.
We’d known Matt Lightner for years as an engineer, building and maintaining facilities all over Pennsylvania and beyond, but a few years ago he began making a move into station ownership. In 2017, he bought WTRN (1340) up in Tyrone, north of Altoona, from Cary Simpson’s estate, growing it into Altoona via an FM translator.
In 2018, Lightner added a signal west of Altoona, now WYUP (1400 Loretto), again augmenting it with a translator to become Altoona’s “Jack FM.”
And then in 2019 came a big addition – four stations from Handsome Brothers, Inc., along with a studio building on Sixth Avenue south of downtown Altoona.
What happens when an engineer buys radio stations? Everything gets tweaked and improved, and that’s what we found when we stopped by after the Curve game for a late-night tour with Matt.
The front of the building is one big bullpen area for salespeople, facing the busy corner of Sixth and Union. There are lots of station logos in the windows and a van on the side for WBXQ (Q94), the classic rock station that’s been an Altoona staple since the 1980s.
Lightner’s 2019 purchases included not only WBXQ and sister hot AC station WBRX (Mix 94.7) but also news-talk WRTA (1240) and, to the south, WKMC (1370 Roaring Springs). Lightner has augmented both AMs with translators, and he’s flipped WKMC to classic country as “Hank 96.1.”
The studios for all of Lightner’s stations are along a long hallway that runs off the back of the building, mostly one room to a station (except for WYUP, whose Jack format is completely automated.)
There’s a rack room that was undergoing some reconstruction at one end of the studio hallway, tying all of these signals together and sending them out to transmitter sites all over the region.
All the way in back, there’s a big garage, too, where more station vans can stay out of the weather.
Matt’s still in growth mode here – he was also feeding a soft AC format to Johnstown’s WCRO (1230), he’s acquired an AM and translator in Kittanning, north of Pittsburgh, and recently he struck a deal to bring his Jack format to Johnstown, too, over a translator he’s acquiring from WKGE (850) down there.
It’s exciting to see a good engineer move into ownership, and one of these days we’ll get back to Altoona for another Curve game and a look at some of Matt’s transmitter sites.
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Next week: More from Altoona