North Campus radio tower still used after WBFO sale in 2012

400-plus foot tower houses radio, internet, phone services for Western New York

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Over a decade since its completion, North Campus’ radio tower still stands high above the student body.

The 443-foot tower was built for WBFO, the UB-owned radio station from 1959-2012, and for additional tenants to improve their signal quality. After Buffalo’s public radio station WNED acquired the station’s rights in 2012, UB kept the tower, which houses six tenants today.

Of the six tenants, three are Western New York radio stations, according to Kathleen Manne, UB assistant vice president for business operations. Besides WNED/WBFO, the tower sends signals of religious stations Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes and Calvary Chapel of the Niagara Frontier.

The tower’s tenants also include Verizon’s broadband internet service, and two wireless phone providers Blue Wireless and Transwave Communications Systems, according to Manne.

The tower is located east of the Millersport Highway on roughly 210 acres of UB-owned land. 

Nearly 60 years ago, in 1959, WBFO began airing from South Campus on 88.7 FM. The UB-owned station, founded by volunteer UB faculty members and students, would broadcast everything from news to jazz until 2012.

WNED paid UB $4 million for WBFO operating licenses along with two other stations, WUBJ 88.1 in Jamestown and WOLN 91.3 in Olean, according to the UB Reporter. Marsha Henderson, a consultant for UB President Satish K. Tripathi at the time, said UB will use the $4 million from the sale toward student scholarships and faculty research support, according to the UB Reporter.

Signs leading up to the tower indicate WBFO’s ties to the tower antennas, which Manne said is due to WBFO’s continuing service on the tower.

“After WNED acquired the license to operate WBFO from UB in 2011, WBFO retained its call letters and continued operating on the same frequency which is why its antenna is labeled ‘WBFO,’” Manne said. 

“As per the agreement that is in place between WNED and UB, WNED pays UB for space on the tower for their broadcast equipment and WNED is also responsible for general tower maintenance.”

WNED/WBFO are responsible for the tower’s maintenance, according to Manne, which is everything from structural repairs to tower inspections.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, UB billed tenants $67,960, according to Manne, and the tower’s expenses were $48,260. “Any money remaining each year” after expenses, Manne said, is “set aside to fund the decommissioning of the tower at the end of its useful life.”

“Expenses for the tower include items such as an outstanding loan from when the tower was built, insurance and security alarm contract,” Manne said.

“A tower’s useful life is generally around 30 years. There are many factors that play into that including regular maintenance and upkeep, the load and associated stress that the tower is under, along with the conditions of the location in which it’s built.”

Manne said at the end of this past fiscal year, UB had $123,166 saved toward the tower’s future decommission. The tower is a decade old this year and Manne said UB anticipates the tower’s “useful life will end in approximately 20 years,” or around 2038.

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubpsectrum.com and @BenjaminUBSpec on Twitter.