It’s taken us four Tower Site of the Week installments to cover all the ground that we surveyed in real life back in June 2010, when we spent three very busy days traversing New York’s Hudson Valley in the company of our longtime tower-hunting colleague Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us.
In our first three installments, we’ve shown you most of the central and southern Hudson Valley; this time out, we wrap things up with a selection of sites from the valley’s northern reaches.
At some point, we need to get back to Kingston to show you more of this historic city and its radio stations. (In the meantime, you can find WGHQ, WKNY, WKXP and some others not featured here over at Mike’s Hudson Valley page.) For us, on this trip, Kingston was limited to one stop – a quick snap of the little antenna of WKHV-LP (103.9), a fairly new religious LPFM transmitting from the top of a church building in an old neighborhood right down by the river.
From Kingston, it’s only a few short miles north and west to Woodstock – but it’s a whole other world up there in the hills, and it was at the dampest, drizzliest moment of this trip that we made the drive just north of Woodstock up to Overlook Mountain.
Like so many mountaintops along the Hudson, this one was home to a resort hotel in the 19th century, and like so many of those resorts, this one was abandoned in the early 20th century – and today, it’s just these eerie ruins that greet us as we come up the road from the gate down below. (Read more about the hotel’s history here…)
There’s some abandoned broadcast infrastructure here, too: when independent station WTZA signed on in 1985, the new signal on channel 62 was licensed to Kingston but transmitted from up here on Overlook. While the station’s calls claimed coverage from the “Tappan Zee to Albany,” the signal from up here never quite made it down to the New York metro area, or up into Albany, and the analog channel 62 plant was among the first analog stations to go dark for good back in 2005. By then, WTZA had become WRNN, the “Regional News Network,” with news eventually giving way to infomercials; the WRNN-DT facility is on channel 48 from Mount Beacon to the south.
That leaves just two FM stations up here, 2600 feet above sea level. WFGB (89.7) and WAMK (90.9), both licensed to Kingston, share a site on a rocky outcropping just around the corner from the old WTZA/WRNN facility near the hotel’s ruins. WFGB signed on in 1985 as the first signal of the Sound of Life religious network, which now includes nine full-power signals and three translators that really do cover from the Tappan Zee up to Albany and then all the way up to Glens Falls. WAMK came on in 1992 as one of the first relays of Albany’s WAMC (90.3), which of course now boasts an even more expansive network of its own. Their shared antenna system is a pair of panels mounted on a short pole; inside the transmitter building, that’s WAMK’s new Harris HD transmitter on the far right and WFGB’s transmitters (including the original QEI) on the left.
Just before the Hudson Valley shades into the southern end of the Albany market, there’s one more small cluster of stations for us to visit.
Hudson is the “big city” here in Columbia County, hugging the Hudson’s east shore some 25 miles south of Albany as the river flows (but more like 45 miles away by road), and it boasts a radio history that goes back to 1947, when WHUC (1230) signed on with 250 watts. WHUC-FM (93.5) came along in 1969, and WHUC gained some AM competition a year later when WCKL (560) signed on. A 1000-watt daytimer, WCKL was licensed to Catskill, just across the river in Greene County, but its three-tower studio and transmitter site has always been located on the Columbia County side of the river, along Route 9G just south of Hudson.
WCKL gained an FM sister in 1990 when WQKZ (98.5 Catskill) signed on from the middle tower of the 560 array. That FM station became WCTW (“The Cat”) in 1992 – and in 1995, Straus Communications brought all four of the area’s stations under a common roof when it bought WHUC and its sister FM station, by then known as WRVW. moving them in along Route 9G with WCKL/WQKZ.
The Straus stations were sold en masse to Clear Channel a few years later, and so the sign outside the building was “Clear Channel Radio” when we pulled up here late on a June afternoon for our very last stop on this busy three-day trip up and down the valley.
By then, the station lineup here had changed yet again: the Hudson-licensed 93.5 signal had become oldies WZCR, the Catskill-licensed WCTW (98.5) had flipped to “Lite FM” and then back to “The Cat.” WHUC was doing standards, and WCKL had spent much of the early 21st century off the air. That’s rather a sad story, and it goes like this: Clear Channel ended up over the ownership limits in this area, forcing it to spin a signal, and so it unloaded WCKL to the Black United Fund of New York, which never really knew how to run a radio station 120 miles north of New York City, leaving poor little WCKL dark for most of each year and reactivating it as a sort of “radio Brigadoon” for just a few weeks each summer, usually with a simulcast of either WZCR or WCTW.
But WCKL remained a tenant at the facility along Route 9G, and so this was still a four-station plant when we stopped by to say hello to Bill Williams, who runs the place more or less as a one-man band. doing airshifts on both WZCR (mornings) and WCTW (voicetracked afternoons) and keeping the stations humming along the rest of the time with automation and some tracking from Clear Channel’s larger staff to the south in Poughkeepsie.
Heading inside the little one-story building, we enter through a wood-paneled lobby that looks into the air studio from which Bill handles both FM stations and whatever local content needs to be inserted on WHUC. (Proving, as always, that the only constant is change, Clear Channel has filed to change 1230’s calls from WHUC to WAIP, making it a simulcast of Poughkeepsie’s news-talk WKIP 1450, but the change hasn’t happened as of this writing.)
There’s a larger area adjoining the front lobby that houses the WCKL transmitter (I believe that’s an old McMartin, but I’m prepared to be corrected on that) and phasor and the racks for the remaining Clear Channel stations, including the Prophet automation that keeps them humming.
WHUC and WZCR transmit from a different site, a short tower off Union Turnpike (NY 66) on the eastern edge of Huds0n’s city limits.
WCTW transmits from right here at the WCKL site – but its transmitter is located out at the base of tower #2, avoiding the significant line loss that would come from the long run from the building out to the towers.
The shed that houses WCTW’s transmitter – and yes, this one is definitely a McMartin, the station’s original transmitter and still its main transmitter after all these years – also houses the STLs that feed WHUC and WZCR to their tower to the north, as well as an STL connection from the Clear Channel Poughkeepsie studios, via Sam’s Point over in Ellenville.
One more note about this site before we close out our files on this fun excursion to the Hudson Valley: not long after we visited WCKL, the Black United Fund struck a deal to lease out the 560 signal to Brian Dodge, the religious broadcaster whose adventures in New England occasioned lots of headlines in the early days of NERW back in the mid-1990s.
Since the summer of 2011, WCKL has been back on the air full-time (it now has a minimal night authorization), operating, from what we understand, from the old studio-turned-conference room behind the AM transmitter, and there’s even a deal pending (but not yet consummated) for the Black United Fund to sell WCKL to the Dodge-connected Family Broadcasting and Media, for just $25,000.
Thanks to Bill Williams and Bud Williamson for the tours!
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Next week: Cleveland’s Seven Hills/Parma Tower Farm, 2010