Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
After more than 20 years of these columns and literally thousands of tower sites, transmitters and studios, I can safely say that this week’s column is the most personally important one I’ve ever done, because at long last I get to show off a project that I was not only intimately involved in executing – and one I’ll be working with, I hope, for years to come.
As you know if you’ve been reading NorthEast Radio Watch, WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester purchased a class A FM signal last year to provide a new FM home for the news-talk programming that’s been airing for almost 40 years on WXXI (1370), with some drivetime programming also simulcast on the University of Rochester’s WRUR-FM (88.5), which WXXI operates under a public service operating agreement.
As you probably also know, I’ve been an on-air host on 1370 for almost 20 years now – and as a station broker through my Fybush Media business, I had the distinct pleasure of working with WXXI on the purchase of that new FM signal, the former WJZR (105.9 Rochester).
On July 12, 2022, Lee Rust took WJZR silent, ending 29 years of operation under his North Coast Radio banner. Lee’s “North Coast Radio” was a one-man operation in its final years, with its studio and transmitter both located in an old Beech-Nut baby food factory that’s now an industrial park on East Main Street a few miles from downtown Rochester.
Once WJZR went silent, WXXI’s engineering team began the work of taking down its transmitter facility up on the roof of the East Main Street building.
Lee hadn’t changed very much at all up here since WJZR hit the air in 1993 – it was the same Nautel main transmitter at the end that had been there at the beginning, along with an older Harris that he had purchased back then as an aux but which had never actually seen on-air use.
Tower climbers from the local Fred Nudd Co. made easy and quick work of taking down the four-bay Shively antenna from the short tower on the roof, but it was a rather bigger job for the movers charged with getting the transmitters out of the rooftop room and down to storage. The building does have a freight elevator – but it doesn’t run all the way up to the transmitter floor, and so it was an impressive display of brute force and gravity to watch the movers carefully get the Nautel and then the Harris down two long flights of stairs to the floor where they could be loaded on the freight elevator and then hand-trucked to the other side of the building where a moving truck waited in a loading bay.
Once that job was finished, a few months elapsed while FCC applications were filed and granted and orders were placed and fulfilled for the new 105.9 transmitter facility, just a couple of miles to the south at WXXI’s Pinnacle Hill site, home to WXXI-TV, WXXI-FM (91.5) and WRUR.
(Meanwhile back at East Main Street, the almost-empty WJZR tower and transmitter room live on. WAYO-LP 104.3, the nifty community station that also has its studios in the building, kept its antenna on the tower and its little BW transmitter in the middle rack that used to sit between the WJZR main and aux.)
Flash forward to May 2023 and Pinnacle Hill: all the pieces have arrived, an FCC construction permit has been granted to take 105.9 from a less-than-full 3 kW class A to a full 6 kW equivalent, and it’s time to start building a new radio station.
There’s been some change at WXXI along the way: VP of technology Dave Lot, who oversaw the relocation of 105.9, had just officially retired, but on the day the Fred Nudd crews arrive to hang the antenna, he’s on hand, now as a consultant to supervise the work.
The new Dielectric antenna is a three-bay, neatly matching the older and larger Dielectric for 91.5 on the opposite leg of the tower. (On May 10, 91.5 changed its calls from WXXI-FM to WXXO, though the branding remains “WXXI Classical,” while 105.9 took the WXXI-FM calls. We’ll use the new calls from here on out…)
To get each of the three new 105.9 bays up near the top of the tower takes some careful rigging work, because there’s a lot else on this tower these days. That’s an auxiliary antenna for WXXI-TV on the opposite leg from where 105.9 is being mounted. Below that is a seven-around panel antenna for WRUR that creates a pretty significant protrusion from the tower in every direction.
How to get the bays past WRUR? The Nudd climbers have a solution: they’ve rigged the tower so that they’re pulling each antenna bay up behind the WRUR antenna, between the panels and the tower structure itself. It’s a tricky bit of work, but these guys know what they’re doing. After all, they built this tower in 1980 and significantly reconfigured it after the end of analog TV, removing what had been a crossbar at the top that had held two analog TV antennas. They’re also rebuilding the WXXI AM transmitter site, where three of four towers have been dropped and rebuilt, with the fourth coming soon.
It’s pretty quick work, all in all, getting each of the three bays clamped to the tower and connected to each other, but rather more work to then get the transmission line up the tower and along the ice shield that carries it (and many other lines!) in to the transmitter building.
Inside the building, WXXI’s engineers have been getting things ready for a few weeks. The old WJZR main Nautel becomes an aux for WXXI-FM, lined up near the back of the building along with the current (and startlingly small) WXXI-TV DTV transmitter, a far cry from the days when the old analog Harris TV transmitter took up half of the building.
There’s a new Nautel GV as the main transmitter, next to a rack with the STL and monitoring gear, all sitting across from the space where the other FMs now sit. (WXXO and WRUR both use GatesAir transmitters, taking up most of the space where the old analog TV rig used to be located.)
Once everything is connected and tested, there’s nothing else to wait for, and at 4:59 AM on Wednesday, May 24, the new WXXI-FM lit up the airwaves in a soft launch, simulcasting the news and talk of WXXI(AM) with much better reach into the eastern and western suburbs where the AM’s nighttime directional pattern is severely nulled.
It was a long time coming, but it’s here, and I’m hoping to be on its airwaves for quite a while to come. (And not just with the first legal ID that ran that morning, which was indeed one I had recorded…)
Thanks to WXXI’s engineering staff, the climbers of Fred Nudd Co., Lee Rust of WJZR and the engineers of WAYO-LP
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 the new WXXI/WXXO IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Our Norfolk visit resumes, at WHRO’s studios