Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’ve shown you a lot of Erie, Pennsylvania over the years. It’s a neat small city filled with more than its share of broadcast history and interesting sites – and yet somehow, there were at least two sites we’d never been in until our friend Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us came to town in the summer of 2021.
In this week’s installment, we show you the last of the Erie TV sites we’d never seen before – and it’s a doozy.
The second TV station to go on the air in Erie, WSEE-TV (Channel 35) hit the airwaves in 1954, trying to compete on UHF against what had been the monopoly VHF station, WICU-TV (Channel 12). It secured the CBS affiliation and built a thousand-foot tower off Peach Street in the hills south of Erie to get a signal edge over WICU’s original site lower down in the city.
The two stations (and eventually WJET-TV, the ABC affiliate) competed fiercely into the 21st century before merging operations under Lilly Broadcasting in 2009. We captured some of that transition in this Site of the Week installment that spring, as WSEE prepared to leave its longtime downtown studio home at 1220 Peach Street, since demolished.
Back then, Lilly centralized its transmitters for WICU and WSEE at WICU’s tower site south of I-90 in Greene Township, but with the DTV repack, that’s changed: in more recent years, Lilly decided to move both stations back to what had been the original WSEE site. After the end of its analog channel 35 operation in 2009, WSEE’s Peach Street tower had gone mostly dark, with just a few radio tenants, but that has changed rather dramatically.
We never got inside the building in the analog WSEE era, nor during its years without a full-power TV tenant, so it was exciting to finally set foot inside the oldest operating TV facility in town even after some big renovations.
It’s very easy to aim a TV antenna these days in Erie – a circle with about an 800-foot radius can now encompass all the full-power signals emanating from this part of Peach Street: WJET and WFXP just north of here, public broadcaster WQLN to the northeast and now WSEE and WICU here at 8631 Peach Street, the southernmost of the big towers.
There’s an old radar tower out here and a blocky gray building next to the big TV tower. (True-crime aficionados may know this location for another reason: back in 2003, a pizza deliveryman was sent to this address, where he was allegedly accosted at gunpoint, fitted with a locked collar with a bomb, sent to rob a bank and then killed when the bomb went off. Investigators later determined the deliveryman was actually in on the scheme, though he believed the bomb was fake and was double-crossed.)
These days, the big room that once housed the analog channel 35 transmitter sits mostly empty, used only for storage of some vintage WSEE memorabilia, including sets from WSEE’s weather broadcasts serving the Caribbean viewers who got their CBS network feed from Erie via satellite.
All the transmitters are neatly packed in to the back room here, mostly lined up along one central row. There’s a pair of Rohde & Schwarz transmitters for the two Lilly stations, WSEE on RF 21 and WICU on RF 12. This site had also been used by a low-power DTV station, the now-defunct WLEP-LD (Channel 9/RF 43) before its spectrum was sold, and I think that’s what that rack in the middle was.
There’s a radio tenant here, too: religious broadcaster WCTL (106.3) moved north from Union City a few years ago to operate in HD from a panel antenna partway down on the big tower. WCTL’s HD2 carries a talk format, which operates on two translators, including 105.9 here at the WSEE site and a 103.3 signal to the south that’s tied in to AM station WZTL (1530 Union City). That’s WCTL itself on the Nautel GV5 and the 105.9 translator in the rack to the left.
There’s another translator here, too, on a small rack off to the site: Family Life Ministries’ W254AJ (98.7) picks up an HD Radio feed from WXKC (99.9), at least for now – FLM is buying the new 100.9 CP that will hit the airwaves soon, potentially making this translator redundant.
Outside on the big tower, you have to look carefully from a distance to see both stacked antennas at the top, WSEE all the way up and WICU beneath. WCTL’s panel antenna rings the tower below that, just above the one-bay 105.9 translator, and 98.7 is down below those.
Thanks to Mike Kobylka for the tour!
2023 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK…
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Next week: WICU-FM, Erie