Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Erie, Pennsylvania is a regular stop on our travels, not just because it’s a convenient break on our usual drives from western New York to Indiana, but also because it’s a fascinating radio and TV market where there’s always something going on worth seeing.
With Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us at the wheel, we made Erie not just a stop but a destination in the fall of 2021, starting just across the state line at a tower we’d both seen before, but not with the current antenna payload.
A few hundred yards into New York, this tower went up originally to give WRKT (100.9 North East) a better rimshot signal into Erie. A few years ago, though, “The Rocket” pulled off a move of both frequency and tower site, trading 100.9 for 104.9 and moving fully into the Erie market. In the meantime, a new class A frequency was allocated on the New York side, at 95.9 in Mina, which hit the air as part of iHeart’s cluster from a little one-bay antenna on the old WRKT tower. The 95.9 signal doesn’t really reach Erie at all, and it’s bounced back and forth among formats, including a stint carrying iHeart’s all-podcast channel. Now using the WEBG calls, it recently became a simulcast of WFNN (Fox Sports 1330) in Erie for listeners along the state line.
Crossing into Pennsylvania, we zigzag up into the hills southeast of Erie to find two big FM sites that we hadn’t visited in years. On Heibel Road, we find the tower of Cumulus’ WXKC (Classy 100), the AC station at 99.9 that’s one of the original two class B FMs in the market.
It hasn’t changed much since our last visit – but the site just around the corner on Knoyle Road has. Built for what’s now iHeart’s WRTS (103.7), this tower has become much busier in recent years. WMCE (88.5), the oldies station that now belongs to the local LECOM college, signed on here in 1989, operating from that two-bay ERI antenna partway down the tower. And when WRKT moved to 104.9, it diplexed with WRTS on that new six-bay ERI at the top of the tower. (WRTS’ aux is the three-bay down below.)
From here, we head down into the city, starting with a very familiar stop. We’ve been inside WJET-TV (Channel 24) and its Fox sister station WFXP (Channel 66) before – but there’s a new transmitter building here now that we haven’t seen before, constructed off to the south side of the studio building for the DTV transition that moved WJET to RF 28 and WFXP to RF 26.
Before we step inside, we look around at some of the other towers that are easily visible from the I-90/Peach Street interchange just north of here. Public station WQLN (Channel 54) and WQLN-FM (91.3) has its studio/tower complex just behind WJET’s, with Gannon University’s WERG (90.5) also here as a tenant.
Right next door to WJET is the tower and antenna for WXBB (94.7) and WQHZ (102.3), both of which used to be sister stations to WJET-TV (102.3 was actually WJET-FM for a while), but now sold off to separate owners, iHeart and Cumulus, respectively.
Let’s take a peek inside the new transmitter building, a big double-height prefab metal structure…
There’s some storage space in here, a work desk for chief engineer Paul Strater with a nice wall lineup showing all the subchannels on WJET and WFXP, and two quiet new Rohde & Schwarz liquid-cooled transmitters, a two-cabinet model for WJET and one cabinet for WFXP.
From here, we’ll head to an old TV site to the south that’s been reactivated in a big way – stay tuned back in this spot next week and we’ll W-SEE what that’s all about…
Thanks to WJET/WFXP’s Paul Strater for the tour!
2023 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK…
The 2023 Tower Site Calendar is in pre-production at the moment. We will be taking early-bird orders very soon!
While you’re waiting, we have some great books about broadcasting in our store.
Please browse our other items, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Erie IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More Erie