North East RadioWatch: April 9, 2001

"WWZN Stole the Celtics!"

by Scott Fybush

And all this talk about Youngstown and vicinity gives us the perfect segue into our little trip down to western Pennsylvania a couple of weekends ago.

We started off by tuning to 96.5 as we sped through Chautauqua County, New York, hearing the 80s-pop sounds of "Kix," WBKX (96.5 Fredonia), where country long occupied the frequency. No stop in Erie this time -- instead, we wanted to spend a bit of time around Meadville to hear all of Keymarket's maneuvers.

It plays out like this: At 94.3, there's now classic rock "Wuzz" (WHUZ Saegertown), with liners like: "Because the music is, we is Wuzz" and a nice live remote on a Sunday afternoon. Not much of a change from the old classic rock format as WMDE, really, but at least it was live. Up the dial at 100.3, "Froggy" country has arrived at the former WZPR Meadville. Now WGYY, it's simulcasting with WGYI (98.5 Oil City), another station with a long country heritage as WOYL-FM. And where oldies once held forth, at WAQM (104.5 Cambridge Springs), it's a sort of pop-CHR as "Kiss" WXXO, simulcasting with WOXX (formerly AC WFRA-FM) 99.3 in Franklin. Why those calls? "We spell Kiss with two kisses and a hug..."

A stop at the outlets in Grove City gave us a chance to hear the Clear Channel "Kiss" over in Youngstown, the aforementioned WAKZ, as well as the new urban format on WBTJ (101.9 Hubbard); alas, we were a few hours too late to hear one of the two brief weekly activations of WSAJ (1340 Grove City), which runs for just a few hours each week to keep the license alive, or so we're told.

From there it was over to Butler, a little three-station market nestled at the northern edge of the Pittsburgh metro. All three stations are co-owned, but they still operate from two separate facilities. WBUT (1050) and WLER (97.7) -- BUT and LER, get it? -- share a guyed tower northeast of downtown and a modern-looking studio facility north of town off route 8. Standards WISR (680) has a very old guyed tower next to a very old concrete-block building at the top of a very rutted road on a hill just west of downtown. The WISR studios, complete with garish green awning and "680 kc" sign, are on Main Street downtown.

After a night in Pittsburgh, we set off to see the historic Conrad Garage, where amateur operator Frank Conrad built 8XK, which evolved into today's KDKA. First, though, we wanted to see a few Pittsburgh sites that had escaped our attention on prior visits. WQED (89.3/Channel 13) and WQEX (Channel 16) share a candelabra tower that rises over the Pitt campus in the heart of the city; the concrete studio building is nearby on Fifth Avenue. We had little trouble finding the day site of WPTT (1360 McKeesport), a single stick in the front yard of the Squirrel Hill Manor retirement home, or the WRRK (96.9 Braddock) and WYEP (91.3 Pittsburgh) towers that rise behind the home. We did, however, spend a lot of wasted time looking for the right road to WJAS (1320 Pittsburgh)'s two-tower site, which can be seen from the entrance to the Squirrel Hill Tunnel but requires a detour through Swissvale for a closer look. Back on I-376 (the "Parkway East"), we exited again at US 30 to check out WURP (1550 Braddock), a single stick a mile or so east of the Parkway; religious WPCB-TV (Channel 40), a few miles east and a bit north in the hamlet of Wall (with two very tall towers, one new, the other a bit older); and WEDO (810 McKeesport), a bit south of US 30 with a fairly new tall guyed tower replacing an older stick felled by vandals.

And then we headed west again, passing the WTAE (Channel 4) studios as we drove through Wilkinsburg to the corner of Penn Avenue and Peebles Street. That's where Conrad lived, in an 1860s-era brick Victorian house that's since been surrounded by an ugly 1950s-era brick Elks lodge. The lodge, and the land on which it sits, will soon be demolished to build a new Wendy's restaurant -- and the drive-through will go right where the garage now sits.

Enter the National Museum of Broadcasting/The Conrad Project. These underfunded volunteers raised enough money to carefully demolish the garage and put its bricks in storage, and that's just what was going on when NERW arrived. The two-story structure was down to one story, with pallets of painstakingly-cleaned bricks sitting in front awaiting transportation to a storage facility. By now, it should be completely demolished. The NMB folks hope to find a site someday to reconstruct the garage, working from a series of photos and laser measurements taken before demolition began. We hope they're successful...and we'll report any developments right here as they happen.

From the garage, we headed to Pittsburgh's north side and three more sites we'd never had a chance to visit. WAMO (860) now has three towers on its hilltop site, reflecting its new night power (and change of COL from Pittsburgh to Millvale). The former WAMO-FM (105.9) still uses the site as well, though it's now modern-rock WXDX.

A short drive away on the next hilltop to the west is religious WPIT (730) and WORD (101.5), sharing a self-supporting tower. From there, it's easy to see (but not so easy to drive to) the newest stick on the north side, the very tall strobed, guyed tower that's home to several FMs. WDSY (107.9) and WZPT (100.7) already use this tower, and WJJJ (104.7) will be moving there eventually.

Traffic was surprisingly light as we crossed back through downtown to the south side and a visit to Clarke Ingram at WJJJ's new home in Green Tree, where all of Clear Channel's Pittsburgh stations are now co-located. WJJJ moved there a few months ago (with WWSW 94.5 and WBGG 970) to join WKST (96.1) and WXDX at their 200 Fleet Street facility.

The next morning found us heading home, searching unsuccessfully for the WPGR (1510 Monroeville) towers before driving east through the snow on US 22, turning off to see the unimpressive single sticks of WRDD (1580 Ebensburg) and WEBG (1400 Loretto), up in the hills between Johnstown and Altoona.

We spent quite a while in those two towns in 1999, so this time we limited ourselves to a bit of dial-scanning (WUZI 105.7 Portage, near Johnstown, runs the same "Wuzz" format as Saegertown, and we did hear WFJY 1470 on the air simulcasting the FM; WSPO 850 Johnstown is simulcasting its sports format on WVSC 990 Somerset; Johnstown's CHR "Power" WGLU has indeed moved from 92.1 to the more powerful Ebensburg-licensed 99.1, relegating "Qwik Rock" WQKK to the weaker 92.1 Johnstown signal; what we'd heard stunting on 104.9 Hollidaysburg in '99 is now "Magic" WMAJ-FM serving Altoona) and headed north on I-99 (or, to roadgeeks out there, US 220!)

A brief stop in Tyrone took us past the quaint little studio and tower of WTRN 1340, and from there it was north again to State College. There we saw the three towers of WRSC (1390), with the bays of "Qwik Rock" WQWK (97.1 University Park) hanging off one of the sticks. With the radio tuned to Penn State student station WKPS (90.7), we drove around campus a bit (lots of traffic, nowhere to park) before heading up to Bellefonte, past the single stick of standards WMAJ (1450). In Bellefonte, we saw the single tower of WBLF (970), simulcasting WRSC's talk format, while waiting for the decks to finish rolling on the rest of the market. WTLR (88.9 State College) does religion; WPSU (91.5 State College) is typical NPR fare; WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg) is the classic rocker; WFGI (94.5 State College) is "Froggy Country," not quite parallel to Altoona's WFGY 98.1; WZWW (95.3 Bellefonte) is AC "3WZ;" WGMR (101.1 Tyrone) goes for the students as "Revolution" modern rock; WBHV (103.1 State College) does CHR as "Beaver 103;" WUBZ (105.9 Phillipsburg) is more modern rock as "the Buzz;" and oldies come in on WNCL (107.9 Port Matilda), or "Cool."

Last time we drove US 220 from Bellefonte to Williamsport, it was in the middle of a storm. This time it was clear and dry, so we pulled off in Lock Haven to see WBPZ (1230), a single tower next to a nursing home near the Lock Haven Hospital, and then again near Jersey Shore to see the little hillside stick of religious WJSA (1600), half of an AM-FM simulcast. On the dial, we heard the new "Bill Country" WBYL (95.5 Salladasburg) and the revived WWPA (1340 Williamsport), doing talk and CNN Headline News, before pointing the car north towards sunset and home.

And that's it for this time out, we'll run down the baseball dial in the Northeast. A happy and unleavened Passover to those of you observing, a happy Easter if that applies...and we'll see you next Monday.

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