The World-Famous Tower Site Calendar 2007

January 26, 2007

Twenty Years of WYSL, Avon, NY

The headline on Tower Site of the Week reads "A selection from a decade of visits to tower and studio sites," but that's not quite accurate. In fact, for this week's edition, it should probably read "two decades of visits," because this time around, we're presenting some of the earliest photos in our archives - and they're almost exactly that old.

It was twenty years ago today - well, OK, this week - when Bob Savage lived the dream of every radio geek, flipping the switch to turn on a brand-new radio station that he built and owned himself.

Licensed to the small town of Avon, 20 miles south of Rochester, WYSL took to the airwaves on January 23, 1987, running a mighty 500 watts, sunrise to sunset, on 1030 kHz, non-directional from a 246-foot tower out back.

The calls came from Buffalo, where they had recently been abandoned on AM 1400 (then WPHD, now WWWS); for Bob, who'd worked on-air in Buffalo at WKBW earlier in his career, it was perfect timing - he could have been WNYS, too, since those calls had just been dropped by AM 1120 and FM 104.1 in Buffalo, which became WHTT right around the time Bob was putting his signal on the air. (Ironically, 1120 would much later take the WBBF calls that had been in Rochester!)

For your editor, who was then in high school, it was the first opportunity to see a new radio station sign on in his own home market, and even before WYSL's first official day of broadcasting (and before I could drive!), I was down there with camera in hand to see what such a broadcast facility might look like.

The pictures may not seem all that impressive in retrospect, but the little radio station on South Lima Road was a pretty exciting place to be. It was (and still is) in a little prefab two-bedroom house, and back then it was as simple as a radio station could be. Walk in the door, and to the right was the station office, with the kitchen behind it.

To the left, a window looked into a little production studio, and down a corridor doors led to that studio, to the main studio next door, and to the transmitter room in back, where a pair of kilowatt RCA transmitters had been obtained on the used market and lovingly restored. (And, yes, that is a Volumax in the rack to the left of the transmitters!)

The studio was simple, too - a few cart machines, a rack with a reel-to-reel, a cassette deck and some satellite receivers, and that classic rotary-pot board.

WYSL's programming, in retrospect, was something of a classic back then, too: live DJs playing AC music and a heavy diet of news and public affairs aimed at Avon and the surrounding towns in northern Livingston County.

While your editor left town the next year for California, and then Boston, WYSL kept going down there in Livingston County, upgrading to a kilowatt by day, then taking a big leap in 1997, adding three more towers to go to 2500 watts by day, 500 watts by night - and moving to 1040 in the process.

That wasn't the only change at WYSL; Bob had obtained a construction permit for an FM signal, a class A on 93.3, in the early nineties, which came on the air in 1993 as WYNQ, briefly simulcasting WYSL, before becoming easy-listening WEZO, resurrecting a call that had once been on Rochester's 101.3 (now WRMM-FM). It was first LMA'd, and then sold outright to, Rochester's Lincoln Group, and eventually (under subsequent owners) moved fully into the Rochester market with a new city of license of Avon. (It's now Entercom's adult hits WFKL, "Fickle" - and it also had the WBBF calls along the way.)

In the process of getting the FM on the air, WYSL finished the basement of its building, creating a new rack room downstairs from which the FM automation operated, as well as new offices for Bob and other staffers. Later on, a new sunroom was added on the west side of the building, providing still another office for sales that's now occupied by Bob's wife, Judith Day. (That room, as well as the adjacent kitchen, seem to be the usual hangout spots for WYSL's director of security, Daisy the English sheepdog, as well.)

By the late nineties, WYSL had been through several formats, too. After quite a few years as a CNN Headline News affiliate, WYSL hooked up with AP's All News Radio in 1999, and stayed with the format until its demise a couple of years ago. Since then, WYSL has rolled its own all-news product, including material from ABC Radio, CNN, and simulcasts of the newscasts from Rochester's WHEC (Channel 10), as well as its own local newscasts, talk shows and a heavy diet of sports play-by-play.

In 2005, the little building sprouted yet another sunroom addition on the east side, as Bob prepared for WYSL's biggest move yet - an increase to 20,000 watts by day and 13,000 watts during critical hours. Behind the sliding glass doors marked "News Power 1040" soon arrived a refurbished Nautel AMPFET transmitter, purchased used (but refurbished to like-new condition) after service at one of the many Canadian AM stations that's moved to FM.

A visit to WYSL in 2005 found many changes from the little radio station I first set foot in back in 1987. Even before entering the new transmitter wing, the most obvious change was in the room to the right of the front door, once Bob's office and now a well-equipped talk studio.

New gear, including a modern console and digital audio editor, had sprouted in the production studio across the hallway, and in the main studio next door, computer monitors, CD players and other new equipment now surrounded a different (but equally historic General Electric) main air console.

Things had changed in the transmitter room at the back of the building, too, where one of the original RCA BTA-1Rs now kept company with a BE 2500-watt solid-state transmitter and a new phasor cabinet for the daytime two-tower and nighttime four-tower patterns.

Another visit the next summer found plenty of progress toward the big power increase, including a new Kintronics phasor in the new transmitter room, new transmission line laid out across the field, and new high-power ATUs at each tower base.

In October 2006, Bob threw the switch to make WYSL the second most-powerful daytime AM signal in the Rochester market, blasting "News Power 1040" all the way north to Lake Ontario (and beyond).

It's hard to believe it's been two whole decades since Bob first opened the doors of WYSL to me, and it's probably true that neither of us could have guessed what the years to come held in store for either of us. (I couldn't have dreamed that within five years, I'd be working at a certain other, much bigger, 1030 to the east. And we certainly couldn't have imagined the internet, and all the e-mail forwards back and forth with pictures of old-time radio gear and stories of the way things were in Bob's time at CKLW, WKBW and other legendary callsigns.)

It's good to know that WYSL's still there, and still going strong in the hands of a local owner who really cares about radio.

Thanks to Bob Savage and everyone at WYSL for twenty great years!

The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're going to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Store!