Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
How far will we go for a day trip from our home base in western New York? We tested those limits at the end of November 2021, heading south and east before sunrise to spend a day catching up with radio friends in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a good five-hour haul from Rochester.
The connecting thread in all these visits is our friend Pat “Grooves” Cerullo, proprietor of the growing network of “Loud Radio” hip-hop stations that now stretch from the Lehigh Valley westward all the way to State College. (Fybush Media has been pleased to be of assistance to Pat as he’s expanded that network!)
Much of the “Loud” network has been built on AM stations feeding translators, and one of the first in the chain was WHOL (1600) in Allentown, which has long made its home up on the hill overlooking Little Lehigh Creek just southeast of downtown.
It’s a little confusing here these days, because while WHOL’s AM signal carries “Loud,” the studios here on Colorado Street are still home to WHOL’s former format, VP Broadcasting’s Spanish hits “Mega.” When we visited at the end of 2021, Mega was using an HD subchannel of Cumulus’ WLEV (100.7) to feed its 101.7 translator signal, but that changed a few months later as part of a signal swap in which VP acquired WTKZ (1320 Allentown) from Loud’s parent company, Major Keystone LLC.
Conveniently, that didn’t require much rearrangement of studio-transmitter links, since WTKZ has spent the last couple of decades diplexed from the WHOL towers next door to the studio, ever since losing its original site north of Allentown, a location that eventually got paved over for retail. (Somewhat confusingly, 1320’s original calls, WKAP, ended up for many years right across the street from that site on Allentown’s 1470, which has since returned to its heritage WSAN calls. That site somehow survived the retail onslaught and now sits in the parking lot of a Kohl’s store.)
We aren’t showing you too much of the Mega studios inside the Colorado Street building, because they were just on the verge of a major renovation and we’re eager to get back for the “after” tour, especially to see how they’re set up for video. (Mega simulcasts on a local cable channel, using its morning show for both radio and TV.)
How does Loud’s hip-hop format get on the air from here? Those little antennas on the fence around one of the AM towers feed a cellular hotspot inside the AM tower’s doghouse, which supplies connectivity to a laptop on top of the transmitter for Loud’s 106.9 translator, W295CR. (And yes, there’s an FM radio inside the WHOL transmitter room in the basement of the studio building that sends the Loud audio to the Harris AM transmitter there!)
We didn’t get to see WTKZ’s transmitter; it’s in the locked phasor building between the two AM towers.
Where to next on this snowy day? We head east along the valley to Bethlehem, where WGPA (1100) has been the local AM station for more than 75 years through many owners and studio locations. WGPA hit the airwaves in 1946 as the radio voice of the Globe-Times newspapers, then changed hands several times before local polka radio legend “Jolly Joe” Timmer took over in 1991. After Timmer became ill, “Sunny 1100” was sold once more, this time to CC Broadcasting, which also owns WMGH/WLSH in Tamaqua to the north.
“Sunny 1100” is a wonderfully quirky small station, carrying a music format that mixes standards, oldies and still some polkas, too, along with some local talk, all coming from a converted ranch house on Easton Avenue northeast of downtown Bethlehem.
The main studio is right in what would have been the living room, with the console taking up most of the middle of the room, backing up to what’s still a working kitchen. There’s a production room in one of the bedrooms and offices in the others, and these days there’s a 24-hour translator on 98.5 augmenting the daytime-only AM signal.
What does any of this have to do with Loud Radio? The answer is in the basement of WGPA, where Pat maintains a rack that houses the servers that actually run the automation for all of Loud’s signals. Why here? There’s good connectivity to everywhere else, making it easy for Pat to access it remotely and to get the feeds out from here to Loud’s sites here in the Lehigh Valley and over in Reading and State College.
As part of Major Keystone’s acquisition of WHOL, Pat also picked up an AM and translator on the east end of the Lehigh Valley. WEST (1400 Easton) has a long history going back to the late 1920s in Lancaster, when it was licensed as WKJC. It moved here to Easton in 1936 and has operated ever since from this little brick building and self-supporting tower on St. John Street, south of downtown and just north of I-78.
The building has seen some better days, to be sure, but it’s still chugging away with WEST’s AM signal and an unrelated translator. W294BQ (106.7) uses the top of the AM tower to relay community station WDVR (89.7 Delaware Township NJ) into Easton. Meanwhile, WEST’s own translator for the Easton end of the valley is on 99.5 – and we’ll show you that site next week!
CALENDARS ON CLEARANCE
If you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Lehigh Valley IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: WZZO, Allentown