October 10, 2008
WTLB/WRCK/WKLL, Utica, NY
So we're all done with our recap of Big Trip 2007 - and just a few weeks ago, a big pile of boxes of Tower Site Calendar 2009 came back from the printer, all ready for sale and for your office or transmitter shack wall. We hope you'll take a moment to get your order in for the calendar, or better yet, show your support for Site of the Week and NorthEast Radio Watch with a subscription!
This week, we continue to look at some sites that aren't in the calendar, but are well worth a feature here on Site of the Week.
Earlier this week, we spent a pleasant few days at the SBE 22 Broadcast and Technology Expo, held each October at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, just east of Syracuse.
Verona sits right on the line between the Syracuse and Utica radio markets, and that reminded us that we took some pictures in Utica last summer that are already rather historic, thanks to all the changes on that market's radio dial in the ensuing months.
WTLB (1310 Utica) is one of those stations that enjoys an outsized reputation in upstate New York, thanks to all of the jocks and newspeople who got their start there in the sixties and seventies. (One of my first bosses, Brian Whittemore at Boston's WBZ, launched his career there, for instance.)
A bit of history? WTLB traces its history to the years just after World War II, when Eric Williams put WGAT on the air, a 250-watt daytimer at 1100 on the dial, with studios in the Mayro Building downtown. WGAT soon moved to 1310, and by 1952 was established at the location it still calls home today, on Kellogg Road in Washington Mills, a few miles south of downtown Utica. Back then it ran 1000 watts by day, 250 watts at night, later upgraded to the present 5000 watts by day, 500 watts at night.
When we stopped by in the summer of 2007, WTLB was owned by Galaxy Communications, and the building on Kellogg Road was home to three stations: WTLB itself, then running a satellite-delivered standards format; rocker WKLL (94.9 Frankfort), carrying Galaxy's "K-Rock" format fed from Syracuse; and classic rock WRCK (107.3 Utica).
The layout of the Kellogg Road building is simple: it's long and narrow, with studios (and the WTLB transmitter room) at one end and offices at the other; out back, there's a smaller building that houses WTLB's phasor, surrounded by the station's four towers.
There was a lot of change in the air that summer: Galaxy was in the process of buying Clear Channel's Utica/Rome cluster, spinning off some of those stations to two other companies, Ken Roser's Roser Communications and EMF Broadcasting. And Galaxy was about to sell WRCK to EMF as well.
The resulting Galaxy cluster would still include WTLB, but now flipped to sports and simulcasting on two of the former Clear Channel AMs, WRNY (1350 Rome) and WIXT (1230 Little Falls). WKLL stayed in the family as well, now joined on FM by classic rocker WOUR (96.9 Utica) and hot AC WUMX (102.5 Rome) from the Clear Channel portfolio.
We definitely need to get back to Kellogg Road to see how the planned renovations turned out - the WRCK studio shown here, for instance, was slated to become WUMX's studio, with WOUR moving into a renovated former production studio down the hall next to a renovated WKLL studio. Across the hall, at the back of the building, plans were in the works to renovate the WTLB studios as well to make room for a local sports-talk show.
After lunch, we headed north to Smith Hill, the prominent tower farm northeast of Utica, easily visible from the Thruway as it slices through the city.
Back in 2001, we profiled Smith Hill on Tower Site of the Week, and if you go look at that page, you'll see the WRCK/WKLL site as it then appeared, with a squat little garage-like building housing the stations' transmitters.
Where one tower once stood, now there are two, carrying both main and aux antennas for the stations, and there's a nice new two-stort transmitter building replacing the old garage, too.
(That's WUTR, Channel 20, in the background behind the WRCK/WKLL site at left.)
Inside the transmitter building, at least as it appeared in the summer of 2007, there's lots of history, especially at the rightmost end of the long row of transmitters. That old Gates FM transmitter was the one that signed 107.3 on the air, back when it first came on in 1962 as WUFM, broadcasting from atop the Hotel Utica downtown. I suspect that EMF has by now replaced the CCA next to the Gates, which was WRCK's main when we stopped by. On the left side of the row, those two older Gates transmitters keep WKLL alive - and now Galaxy has a second site up on Smith Hill for WOUR as well.
We're definitely overdue for a return to Utica to see how these sites have changed - stay tuned!