North East RadioWatch: August 25, 2000

NERW On The Road!

by Scott Fybush

August in the Northeast...and that means the NERW-mobile has been logging plenty of miles surveying the radio scene from Hull to Cape May. In this special issue, we'll recount the details of our travels over the past few weeks.

Phase one of the NERW travels began on the road up to Canada, which turns out to be heavily under construction. (This public service announcement to anyone heading north on I-81 at night: You'll spend something like two hours waiting to get over the Thousand Islands Bridge; use 37 or 12 to the Ogdensburg bridge instead. Now back to our programming...)

Once we had detoured to Ogdensburg, crossed into Canada, arrived long past midnight in Brockville, and gotten some sleep, it was time to begin checking out the morning radio dial, which looked something like this:

Of course, there's plenty more to hear in the Brockville area than just the locals; we had no problem taping the Ottawa FMs from 80 km or so away, not to mention much of St. Lawrence County, New York, just across the river. (More on that market as we continue our journey...)

Back to Brockville, though: After spotting the CBOF-FM-7 stick along the river northeast of town, we retraced our steps out the former provincial highway 29, past the CFJR/CHXL studios, and out to the three-tower CFJR array, which dates back to the station's mid-80s frequency change from 1450.

Continuing north on 29, we came to Smiths Falls, where we nervously hit "scan" on the AM dial to see whether CJET had made the move off 630 yet. The news, in this case, was good: The station's move to 92.3 hadn't yet taken place, and the six towers of the 630 array (two rows of three) still stood behind a farm on a side road east of the former 29.

While navigating our way around the street fair in the middle of town (and being temporarily diverted by the factory tour at Hershey's Canada!), we made our way to the CJET studios as well, but found only a locked door to greet us. (Though there must have been someone inside, since the station's country format sounded live and local...)

From Smiths Falls we continued north towards Carleton Place, passing the tower of CIOX (101.1) along the way. Once a local Smiths Falls station (as CJET-FM and CHEQ), 101.1 is now effectively an Ottawa broadcaster. "XFM @ 101" now operates from the studios of co-owned CHEZ, with a modern rock format.

From there, it was east to Ottawa and rush-hour Highway 417 traffic, leading into a mostly non-radio weekend -- but for NERW, even a "non-radio" weekend still has to include some stops, which is how we came to be strolling through the Byward Market past the future home of Ottawa's CHUM Group radio and TV stations. The former "Market Mall" is being heavily renovated, and when it's done it will house news-talk CFRA (580), sports CFGO (1200), CHR CKKL (93.9), soft AC CJMJ (100.3), and CHRO-TV (aka "The New RO.") When will that happen? The signs outside said "summer 2000," but we suspect fall at the earliest.

The rest of the market sounded mostly the same way we'd left it at the end of our 1998 visit: Shaw's oldies CIWW (1310) and country CKBY (105.3) up in their 19th floor aerie downtown on York Street; new sister stations CHEZ (106.1, rock) and CIOX (see above) in their home in Byward Market; the CBC holding forth in English (CBO 91.5 and CBOQ 103.3) and French (CBOF 90.7 and CBOX 102.5) from the Château Laurier hotel at the heart of the city; rocker CKQB (106.9 the Bear) out in Nepean, next door to CJOH-TV on Merivale Road; Christian contemporary CHRI on 99.1; and university stations CKCU (93.1, Carleton U.) and CHUO (89.1, U. of Ottawa). On the Francophone side, it's all Radio-Média's world, with news-talk CJRC (1150), AC "Rock-Détente" CIMF (94.9), and rhythmic "Energie" CKTF (104.1).

Since that 1998 trip didn't give us much time to see the Ottawa tower sites, we left time this year to finish the job, starting north of Hull up in Gatineau Regional Park. From the base of the Camp-Fortune ski area, the intrepid tower-hunter is offered a splendid view of the mammoth tower that carries just about all of the region's FM and TV activity. On FM, that means CHUO, CBOF, CBO, CKCU, CKKL, CIMF, CJMJ, CBOX, CBOQ, CKTF, CKBY, CHEZ, and CKQB. On TV, the mighty stick carries the CBC's CBOT (4), Global's CIII-TV-6 (6), Radio-Canada's CBOFT (9), TVOntario's CICO (24), Télé-Québec's CIVO (30), TVA affiliate CHOT (40), and TQS affiliate CFGS (49).

Staying on the Quebec side for another hour or so, we tried to find the site of the long-dead CKCH (970), but new townhomes now fill the site in Aylmer, west of Hull.

Some live AMs awaited us back on the Ontario side (after a drive past the industrial park on Walkley Road where CFRA and CKKL still have their studios while CHUM finishes the Byward Market facility), with CIWW's five towers and CFGO's six towers both out in the farm country southwest of Ottawa. (CFGO apparently moved at some point, since a housing development occupied the more northerly of the two sites listed for the station in FCC records, which was the site shown on a fellow tower-hunter's early 1980s map. We found the same six-tower setup at the more southerly of the two sites, near the village of Richmond.)

And this being Canada, there were dead AMs to chase, too: we saw the transmitter building that once belonged to CJSB (540), as well as the one once used by CBO and CBOF in their 920 and 1250 days, about a kilometer apart and just south of CFGO.

One last Ottawa site to finish things off: the Rogers Cable tower far to the southeast of town carries CHRI (99.1), CHCH-TV-1 ("OnTV" Channel 11), CFMT-TV-3 (Channel 60), CITY-TV-3 (Channel 65), and CHRO-TV-1 (Channel 43). The first three TVs are all relays of Toronto/Hamilton signals; the CHRO relay brings CHUM's Pembroke-licensed operation to the viewers it's now aimed at in the Ottawa area, 140 or so km away. (Ain't Canadian TV fun?)

As the rain began falling, we made one last Sunday-evening stop, at the water tower just off Highway 401 outside Iroquois, Ontario, from which little CISD (107.7) provides its community-oriented signal. Automated classic rock was the order of the night, with frequent announcements mentioning that CISD would go silent the last two weeks of August for technical repairs and maintenance.

Monday (8/7) turned out to be a holiday, so the studios of Cornwall's two commercial radio stations were closed when we pulled up outside. CFLG (Variety 104.5) offers AC music, while sister CJSS and its country format uprooted last year from 1220 AM to "Blaze" 101.9 FM. We found what appeared to be the CFLG/CJSS transmitter site, adjacent to 401 at McConnell Street, and just a bit to the north, on Headline Road, we saw the two towers of AM 1220, soon to be back in use as a new adult-standards outlet co-owned with the two FMs.

We saw from 401 (but didn't stop at) the transmitter of Cornwall's French-language community station, CHOD (92.1).

Cornwall also has a TV station of sorts: a drive east to Lancaster, then north on Highway 34, brought us to the tower of what was once CJSS-TV (Channel 8). While its local identity has vanished after thirty-plus years as CJOH-TV-8, rebroadcasting the Ottawa CTV outlet, the huge "8" on the building at the tower base is a reminder of a long-gone small-town TV operation.

Two more Cornwall sites before crossing the border: The CBC's CBOC (95.5) and CBOF-FM-6 (98.1) transmit from a stick west of Cornwall, on Power Dam Road, and downtown, Tim Martz' US-based WVNV (96.5 Malone NY) and WYUL (94.7 Chateaugay NY) have a sales office on Pitt Street.

And with that, we were over the bridge (passing through the Akwesasne reservation that's home to eclectic CKON 97.3) and back in the U.S., en route to Massena.

Massena turned out to be a nifty little town, at least where the AM dial was concerned. At 1340 on the dial, and with a neat old self-supporting tower behind the studio building on route 420 south of town, WMSA was live, local, and everything a small-town AM used to be, complete with death notices. It now shares the studios with its Martz sisters and brothers: "Rock 101.5" (WRCD Canton), "The Valley 96.7" (WVLF Canton), and country "Q102.9" (WNCQ Morristown), all of which had gone to satellite by afternoon (though all, except Imus affiliate WRCD, are live and local in the morning).

But Massena proved to have another AM surprise as well: Downtown, we were treated to a tour of mom-and-pop talk station WYBG (1050), a rare stand-alone daytime AM that seemed to be doing well with its mix of local and national talk. (When we say "mom and pop," we mean it: our nickel tour of WYBG's studios was conducted by Dotty Wade, who not only owns the station with her husband, she also hosts the daily "North Country Speaks" talk show!)

From Massena we followed the river south and west to Ogdensburg, where we met longtime NERW correspondent Michael Black for lunch, followed by a visit to Ogdensburg's stations. WYSX (98.7), the western half of the Martz AC "Yes FM" combo, turned out to emanate from a tower on the state penitentiary just off route 37, while the "Wireless Works" trio of news-talk WSLB (1400), classic rock WPAC (92.7), and oldies WGIX (95.3 Gouverneur) had studios next to the WSLB/WPAC tower on the town's east side.

Turning away from the St. Lawrence, we next pointed the NERW-mobile south to Canton and the hilltop sites of WVLF/WRCD and, nearby, public radio WSLU (89.5), the flagship of what's now an extensive web of primaries and translators across the North Country.

Continuing in the public-broadcasting theme, our next stop found us on route 68 in the Adirondack town of South Colton, looking up the hillside at WNPI (Channel 18), the Norwood-licensed northern half of the public TV combo based in Watertown at what's now WPBS (formerly WNPE).

Tupper Lake offered a distant view of the hilltop site of WRGR (102.3), part of the "Radio Lake Placid" quadcast that includes WIRD-WLPW over in Lake Placid and WIPS in Ticonderoga. In addition to local news and the usual fun AAA-ish music mix, we caught their simulcast of the 6PM news from WPTZ (Channel 5) up in Plattsburgh.

A few miles away in Saranac Lake, a narrow dirt road south of the village led us to WNBZ (1240), which was running satellite oldies. The little red building next to the WNBZ tower is also home to the studios of country WSLK (106.3), which was also off the bird when we arrived.

And after a stop in the "other" Town of Brighton (the remote Franklin County one that's home to Paul Smiths College -- with no sign of college station WPSA 98.3 visible or audible -- not the Rochester suburb where NERW is based!), we at last pulled into Malone for the night, with a final stop on the hill just east of town where Tim Martz' WICY (1490, oldies) and WVNV (96.5, country) are based, and where WICY's transmitter is located. (Even though it was very obviously satellite-delivered, the WICY oldies format seemed quite popular, judging by the number of stores we visited where the radios were locked on 1490.)

Tuesday morning dawned clear and warm, and we set out to finish up our North Country excursion, starting on the other side of Malone at the hill that's home to WVNV and, a few hundred feet away, WSLU's relay on 90.9, WSLO.

This time, it was US 11 all the way to Watertown, with just a handful of stops. One was in Potsdam, where WSNN (99.3) and WPDM (1470) simulcast a live-and-local CHR format as "99 Hits," with the AM on the air from 6 AM until 6 PM and the FM going it alone from then until midnight sign-off. We also found Potsdam's two college stations, WAIH (90.3) at SUNY Potsdam and more-powerful WTSC (91.1) over at Clarkson. As noted a few months ago here in NERW, WAIH and WTSC are simulcasting for the summer with a modern-rock format.

An hour or so later, it was Gouverneur's turn to be visited, starting up on the hill where the WGIX transmitter now sits. Down in the village itself, a weed-choked dirt road and a peeling sign announce the former home of WIGS (1230), WGIX's late sister station. The WIGS tower still stands, overlooking a parking lot full of broken beer bottles and a boarded-up building. (The license was returned to the FCC and the calls deleted a couple of years ago.)

From there, there were just a few new things to hear in Watertown: Christian contemporary WWJS (90.1), live, local, and with the "What Would Jesus Say?" slogan we guessed at when the calls were announced; the new WBDI calls on the 106.7 Copenhagen half of CHR "The Border" (ex-WWLF); and the active rock format that's now on WOTT (100.7 Henderson) as "Real Rock 100.7."

After a day's rest back home in Rochester, we headed back out on the road for the second half of our August travels. This time, south and east were the directions of choice as we approached the American Numismatic Association convention in Philadelphia. (Coins were a strong secondary theme of both trips; the Ottawa destination was chosen for the Canadian Numismatic Association gathering the weekend before...)

A late start and cloudy weather meant only one stop along the way to Philly: Hazleton, at the south end of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.

After trying and failing to reach the four towers of WILP (1300 West Hazleton), we made it to the city's east side and WAZL (1490 Hazleton) just as the sun was setting. Meanwhile, we heard the newest simulcasts in this most duplicative of all markets: WQFN (100.1 Forest City) relaying the oldies of WQFM (92.1 Nanticoke); WPZX (105.9 Pocono Pines), the new relay of rocker WEZX (106.9 Scranton); and WITK (1550 Pittston), now relaying the oldies (and Red Barons baseball) of WICK (1400 Scranton) and WYCK (1340 Plains). Both Hazleton AMs are also relays: 1300 rebroadcasts news-talk WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre), and 1490 simulcasts the standards of WEMR (1460 Tunkhannock) and WKJN (1440 Carbondale).

We'd seen most everything in and around Philadelphia on previous trips, so this visit found us enjoying non-radio tourism instead -- but not without a walk past the newly rebuilt Independence Mall home of WHYY public radio and TV. (We also had a chance to watch their "Delaware Tonight" 5:30 TV newscast aimed at WHYY-TV's nominal city of license, Wilmington.) We also had a chance to hear the formats that had changed since our last visit a couple of years ago: Mega's Spanish tropical on WEMG (900); the return of leased-time ethnic and religion to WTEL (860) after a brief stint as WWDB(AM); more Mega Spanish on WSSJ (1310 Camden); the arrival of Radio Disney on WWJZ (640 Mount Holly NJ); the arrival of Jammin' Oldies on WEJM (95.7), which we'd last heard as modern AC "Max;" and the modern AC sounds of "Alice," WLCE (104.5).

After a few pleasantly sunny days in Philadelphia, it was off to the Jersey Shore for a weekend visit to the Atlantic City-Cape May area. On the way, we set off to see the stations of Salem and Cumberland counties, a new territory for us.

First up was the Philadelphia-area Pax TV tower, WPPX (Channel 61) on the Salem-Gloucester county line. Yep: a station licensed to Wilmington, Delaware, with studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, transmitting from southern New Jersey! (And with no programming local to any of those three states...)

Salem County's radio offerings were likewise targeted across the Delaware River: WNNN (1510 Salem) is religious "Faith 1510," with four short towers behind the studio on route 48; while WJKS (101.7 Canton) has studios in Wilmington feeding its transmitter on the Jersey side.

Economically-struggling Cumberland County had some interesting radio to offer: Bridgeton's WSNJ (1240/107.7) looked and sounded like the archetypal small-town station of decades ago. Both AM and FM transmit from the tall self-supporting tower where routes 56 and 77 meet, offering a very local and very live mix of news, community announcements, very soft AC, baseball games, and promos touting "FM stereo" -- not to mention a midnight sign-off!

A few miles away, WMIZ (1270) and WVLT (92.1) both serve Vineland from their studio and transmitter alongside the route 55 highway, with WMIZ in Spanish and WVLT offering AC in English. Just down route 55 in Millville, we found WMVB (1440) just as the sun set, with a very local, very quirky oldies program filling the Saturday night airwaves.

[Millville's other station, WBSS 97.3, has little to do with Cumberland County; it's a full-time relay of talk-and-oldies WKXW 101.5 Trenton, with local news inserts from a studio in Linwood, Atlantic County.]

The rain began falling as we approached Atlantic City, and never stopped the rest of the time we were there, so Sunday's excursions were conducted quickly and damply, as follows:

Atlantic City has become a very clustered market, making studios very easy to find. The Citadel cluster operates from the second floor of what looks like an old motel in Northfield, offering listeners:

Nearby on US 40/322 (Black Horse Pike), Equity Communications has its cluster:

Heading into Atlantic City on US 30 (White Horse Pike), we passed Atlantic City High School along the causeway, home to:

It was automated, but sounding pretty good, all in all.

The only studios in Atlantic City proper belong to two smaller clusters owned by Margate Communications. On Atlantic Avenue, an office building is home to:

Out in the Venice neighborhood where Black Horse Pike heads for the mainland, the old WFPG-TV (Channel 46) tower from the 1950s is now home to two more Margate Communications outlets:

Just across the highway, two more towers carry WFPG AM-FM, WAYV, and independent WWAC-TV (Channel 53). [There are also two rooftop FMs in the market: WPUR's antenna sits atop the Trump Taj Mahal, while WTTH is on a shorter building a few blocks south.]

At the other end of the causeway, in Pleasantville, sits the tower that carries three of Howard Green's stations:

We found their studios out on US 9 (New Road) in Linwood, along with the rest of the group:

Nearby on New Road is the studio of one of the few stand-alone FMs in the market:

WJSE and WTKU transmit from Strathmere, on one of the barrier islands along the coast, and we didn't have time to go over for a look. Another time...

The pressing order of business, though, was to cross the toll bridge into Cape May County, heading for the stick that's home to WKOE's transmitter, and non-co-owned:

Continuing south on US 9, we turned off twice, first to the west to catch the transmitter of:

...then to the east, along the NJ 47 causeway to Avalon, to see the transmitter tower that's home to WMGM-TV and WZXL (100.7).

Also visible behind the trees where 47 and 9 meet is the antenna of:

The rain kept falling as we passed our last few sites. Just outside Cape May Courthouse was the little building that's home to:

As we entered Cape May itself, we passed the southernmost transmitter in New Jersey:

And after an hour stuck in Cape May traffic, we circled back to the north and on to the barrier island that is "The Wildwoods," where we found the transmitter of:

and the nearby studios of WCMC/WZXL. One last stop on the causeway that returned us to the mainland was the transmitter of WCZT's sister station:

From there, it was back to the casinos of Atlantic City (nope, we didn't win anything!), a night's sleep, and then one last stop as we headed back towards Philadelphia the next day, the single tower of little:

And after all that, we still missed a handful of transmitters:

Oh well, we can use a return trip one of these days! (For much, much more on the Atlantic City market, check out Chris Coleman's pages. Our thanks to Chris for his help with transmitter locations, as well as for some interesting listening late Saturday night on WVLT's " Radio Radio Show"!)

We turned off the Atlantic City Expressway after Hammonton to remain on US 30 towards Berlin, in order to see two final sites on this trip. Near the community of "Waterford Works," we braved the rain on Arrowhead Road for the New Jersey Network's Camden-area tower, carrying WNJS-TV (23 Camden) and WNJS (88.1 Berlin), and then headed just a few hundred feet north for the tower of USA Broadcasting's WHSP (Channel 65 Vineland), which is now running home shopping but will presumably someday be "Cheesesteak TV" or something similar as a "WHUB" style indy.

And from there, it was back through Philadelphia, up the Turnpike Northeast Extension, and home!

Next on the travel agenda: the National Radio Club's 2000 convention in beautiful Lima, Ohio, by way of Pittsburgh, Wheeling, and Columbus. Stay tuned...

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