Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We spent a lot of time in and around Watertown for various reasons in 2021, but what with the pandemic and all, we didn’t get inside as many broadcast facilities as we might have liked.
Revisiting the city, though, did give us a chance to dig a little deeper into history – so, for example, while we’d suspected on an earlier visit to the hill just east of town that it was the original site of WWNY-FM (100.5) in the 1940s, we’re now quite certain that the tower that now holds WSLJ (88.9) was the earliest FM site in town. That quonset hut near the base? That’s almost certainly the original WWNY-FM transmitter shed.
While WWNY-FM is long gone, another venerable Waterown broadcast facility is still alive and well at the dead end of Wealtha Avenue, just a block north of the busy Arsenal Street commercial strip.
We’ve been inside this building before, but when you get a chance for another tour and a visit with co-owned Jim Leven, why not stop by for an update?
This low-slung block building went up in the early 1960s for WATN, one of the city’s original three AMs. WATN went on the air just ten days before the 1941 NARBA shuffle, operating very briefly on 1210 before settling in at 1240 from a studio and transmitter on Washington Street downtown.
When urban renewal claimed that building, WATN moved out here, and has been here ever since – but these days, Community Broadcasters operates much more than just WATN in here.
At the front of the building, we see the start of some renovations with a nicely redone room for top-40 “Border” WBDR (106.7 Copenhagen), complete with new wall treatments and a new Wheatstone console.
A larger room next to WBDR, which we think was the original live performance studio here, holds AC “Magic” WTOJ (103.1 Carthage), one of the big guns in this cluster.
Another line of studios runs through the middle of the building: there’s a small booth that serves as the main studio for country “Eagle” WEFX (100.7 Henderson) and the nominal main for WLYK (102.7 Cape Vincent), which is leased out to Rogers to serve Kingston, Ontario from its transmitter site just across the St. Lawrence from Canada.
Talk station WATN itself is still at the core of the building, with a main studio that once had a transmitter taking up most of a wall.
Want personality? It’s in the next room at the end of the hall, where WOTT (94.1 Rock) rocks out from a studio filled with posters, action figures and memorabilia.
The current WATN transmitter is a compact Nautel in a former storage area behind a wall from WOTT, which in turn opens out to the field where WATN’s tower sits.
On the way back to Rochester in the company of our tower-hunting buddy Mike Fitzpatrick (who’s featured all of these sites in his NECRAT.us pages), we stop by two more FMs we’ve never seen: between Watertown and Syracuse, K-Love’s WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) sits up on the Tug Hill Plateau, on Vorea Road near Orwell, New York. (This is the same site that 101.7 used in its commercial days, when it played country as WSCP-FM.)
Returning home by way of Oswego, there’s one newish FM site we want to see just before sunset: in order to re-acquire WZUN-FM (102.1 Phoenix) in the Syracuse market, Galaxy moved one of its Oswego-area FMs, WKRH (106.5), out of the Syracuse rated market. Originally licensed to Minetto and broadcasting from Galaxy’s transmitter farm just south of Oswego, WKRH moved to Fair Haven, west of Oswego, in 2015.
That move took WKRH (a simulcast of Syracuse’s “K-Rock” WKRL 100.9) from Oswego County into Cayuga County and out of the Syracuse market – but from this county-owned tower on Bunker Hill Road just east of Route 104, WKRH still covers Oswego just fine.
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And don’t miss a big batch of Watertown IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Batavia, New York