North East RadioWatch: September 10, 1999

The End of the Summer

by Scott Fybush

And so we arrive at the travelogue portion of our NERW: We took off from Rochester last Thursday, heading for the National Radio Club convention in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and this is what we saw and heard:

Our first stop was in the Erie market, as we finally caught a real legal on little WEYZ (1530 North East). A drive to the transmitter site found the studios of non-co-owned WRKT (100.9 North East) and WRTS (103.7 Erie), complete with mock road signs for "I 101" and "US 104" lining the dirt road down to the building.

Heading south, we passed Titusville and little satellite-fed WTIV (1230), en route to the Oil City-Franklin market. It's all co-owned now, with WOYL (1340/98.5) and WKQW (1120/96.3) sharing space in the Franklin studios of WFRA (1450/99.3). Each frequency does its own thing, but all were sat-fed that afternoon, with 1120 doing '50s oldies, 1340 doing talk (Dr. Dean Edell and the Dolans), 1450 doing standards, 96.3 doing oldies, 98.5 country "the Well", and 99.3 with AC. The WKQW transmitters are on a hill southeast of town, while WOYL's directional (on 1340!) array sits above the old studios due south of downtown. We tried to get to the WFRA(AM) site, but ended up on a dead-end dirt road behind a trailer park and gave up.

Crossing I-79, we headed for New Castle as night set in, arriving in time to see the two towers of WKST (1280), with the studios of WKST-FM (92.1 Ellwood City) there as well, and the four-in-a-row of WBZY (1200) high above route 60 west of town, too. Lots of high school sports on WKST, while WBZY had satellite oldies.

Down PA 60 we drove, arriving in Beaver Falls to see WBVP (1230) and WAMO-FM (106.7) a few minutes after sunset. Also noted here was local religious WITX on 90.9.

Thursday night found us in Pittsburgh, awaiting a Friday-morning appointment with history at the transmitter site of KDKA-TV (Channel 2). DuMont historian (and new WJJJ PD) Clarke Ingram has been corresponding with KDKA-TV CE George Jacob, and the outcome was two hours spent perusing the original transmitter logbooks from the pioneering days of what was then WDTV, Channel 3. You can soon read more about what we found at Clarke's DuMont tribute site.

Leaving the KDKA-TV site, we headed south for Morgantown, West Virginia, where we saw the sites of WAJR (1440) and WCLG (1300/100.1). Morgantown is at the north end of the market where we would spend the rest of Labor Day weekend, and as we headed south toward its center at Clarksburg, we stopped by the Fairmont studios of WTCS (1490) and WRLF (94.3), which also supply LMA'd WMMN (920).

We arrived in Bridgeport accompanied by the sounds of convention station WNRC on 1610, masterfully programmed by club members with automated oldies, news, and weather all weekend.

The rest of the market sounded kinda like this:

Needless to say, most of the airchecks rolled on this trip were "legal ID only"! We did visit some of the transmitters and studio sites on Saturday, though finding some was tough (WOBG was a laser-printed sign attached to a disreputable-looking doorway next to a NASCAR memorabilia sign on the old bypassed highway east of town; WDCI was in a trailer next to the tower on a hill north of town).

There are four TV stations in the market, with NBC represented by Clarksburg's WBOY-TV 12, CBS coming from 30 miles south in Weston and WDTV 5 (albeit with studios right in Bridgeport, just down the street from the convention hotel), Fox on Clarksburg's WVFX 46, and PBS on WNPB-TV 24 Morgantown (one of three West Virginia Public TV outlets, each with its own studios and management, yet running a common schedule and IDs). Cable offers Pittsburgh's affiliates as well.

Sunday found us heading north again, with a stop for lunch in Pittsburgh, then a drive east on the old Lincoln Highway towards Johnstown, where nightfall found us at the WJAC-850 nine-tower array south of town.

On Labor Day morning, we saw the rest of what Johnstown had to offer, beginning with the studios of WJAC and WKYE (95.5) next to a shopping mall and the nearby, historic-looking, facility of WJAC-TV 6. We couldn't get to the mountaintop site of WJAC-TV/WKYE (and also WGLU 92.1 and WQEJ 89.7). We did see the lone stick of WCRO 1230, now running satellite standards and owned by the city school district, as well as the stick of news-talk WNTJ 1490, just down the road from the tall tower of sister country outlet WMTZ "The Mountain" 96.5. (The two used to be WJNL AM-FM, and were co-owned with WJNL-TV 19, which also used that tall tower; it's now relocated 20 miles southwest to serve the Pittsburgh market as WNPA Jeannette.)

Speaking of TV, Altoona and Johnstown share a market, with ABC and Fox coming from a common source in Johnstown. WWCP (Channel 8) is the Fox station licensed to Johnstown, WATM (Channel 23) handles ABC from Altoona, and both share studios on Scalp Avenue in Johnstown. We watched their Sunday night newscasts, which were essentially the same show with different graphics! WJAC-TV is the NBC station for both cities, and has the honor of being western Pennsylvania's oldest TV station.

We also saw WFJY AM-FM Portage, some 15 miles north of Johnstown off US 219. These guys simulcast WFGY 98.1 Altoona.

The market as a whole:

And from there it was over the mountains towards Altoona, where the AMs were very directional and clustered towards the south end of town, starting with WFBG 1290's four towers at the studio site on Logan Blvd. These studios are now home to WFBG, WFGY "Froggy 98," WALY "Wally Oldies 104," and WMXV Hollidaysburg, which was stunting in preparation for a Tuesday-morning format change (which, alas, we had to miss!) Just to the north are the three sticks of WVAM 1430, at the hilltop site shared with the studios of WPRR 100.1. Nearby, we found the old-looking studios of WTAJ Channel 10, the CBS affiliate that used to be WFBG-TV, up the street from the studios of "Q94", the classic rock simulcast of WBXQ (94.3 Cresson) and WBRX (94.7 Patton).

Heading into downtown, we saw the studios of talker WRTA (1240), but couldn't get to the transmitter site on a hill south of downtown Altoona, so we headed north instead, to the Wopsononock Mountain site of channels 10 and 23, WPRR, WFGY, WALY, WMXV, and religious WKBS (Channel 47, relaying WPCB 40 in Greensburg). It was an impressive bunch of towers, but equally impressive was the cloud cover gathering force. As we drove down from the mountain and started north towards Tyrone (where little WTRN 1340 slid through the Pirates' ID break without ID'ing at least once!), the remnants of Hurricane Dennis caught up to us, putting an end to tower-hunting for this trip.

Before we leave Altoona, a look at that market...

So the NERW-mobile headed north on "I-99"/US 220 in the driving rain, pulling off at State College to sample radio there, which sounded like this:

It was a very live, local market, a far cry from West Virginia! The road called, though, so we pointed the NERW-mobile back up US 220 towards Lock Haven, Avis, and Williamsport (where we heard WLYC 1050 not legalling again, although the Liberty Works network heard on WLYC runs a Talk America-style group legal at :50 that did not include WLYC!)

From there, it was the usual long drive up US 15, NY 17, and I-390 to home.

One final note before we go this week: We were saddened to learn of the passing September 1 of Bill Pfeiffer, the creator and moderator of Radio Journal. It was back in 1991, at the birth of r.r.b., that a college student in Boston began contributing local items to Bill, who always welcomed them with the same respect and professionalism with which he greeted items from "big-time" industry folks like Rich Wood and Mark Howell.

As I moved ahead in my career, Bill was always there at the other end of the e-mail, offering advice, humor, and sometimes a dissenting (but always civil) viewpoint. In the last year or so, we crossed ways a bit when it came to distribution of NERW -- but always in a friendly fashion, ending with a solution we could both agree upon. We corresponded almost daily for eight years, and though we never met in person, and talked by phone maybe half a dozen times in all those years, the news of Bill's death in a crash caused by a drunk driver came with as much of a jolt as the loss of a close local friend would have.

Bill was a staunch crusader for local radio, and even though his own career in the field was spotty at best, I'd like to think he inspired a lot of us to strive for the kind of radio he loved best. He died far too young, just a few months shy of his long-awaited marriage, and just three years after the death of his beloved mother following a tragic fire in their home in Missouri.

Bill Pfeiffer leaves a void in the on-line radio community that won't soon be filled. So long, friend...hope there's a dozen live, local stations on the dial where you are now.

That's it for this week. We'll be back next Friday...

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