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March 6-13, 2003

Rambling Around Central Massachusetts

For a site that got its start in the Boston market, we've actually featured relatively few New England broadcast facilities here on Tower Site of the Week. Why? Who knows...but let's dip into the archives and show off a few interesting sites west of Boston and east of Springfield, shall we?

We'll start with a station that's been in the news lately: Greenfield's AM 1520.

This station began life in the late seventies as WPOE, named for "Poet's Seat," a local landmark in the Franklin County seat, an hour or so north of Springfield. WPOE was nicely squeezed into the AM dial for such a late bloomer, with 10 kilowatts of power into two towers, daytime-only, directional to the east to protect the mighty WKBW in Buffalo, N.Y.

You'd expect to find such a site west of town, and indeed it's on the northwest side of town, on Chapman Street not far from where I-91 meets Route 2 heading east toward Boston.

WPOE didn't stay WPOE for long; by the late eighties it was WGAM, paired up with WRSI (95.3) under the ownership of Ed Skutnik.

And when Skutnik sold off his stations (WRSI went to the Vox group; its calls and programming moved down the dial to 93.9 Turners Falls, while 95.3 became country WPVQ), WGAM went to former Springfield personality Philip "Phil D." Drumheller. He brought 1520 back to life just a few months ago as WIZZ, playing a diverse mix of oldies...and we can't wait to get up there and hear it for ourselves!

When 1520 signed on in 1978, Greenfield had already been on the radio map for forty years, thanks to the Haigis family and WHAI radio.

WHAI signed on at 1210 in the dial from a tower on Woodard Road back in 1938; in 1941 it moved to 1240 and in 1948 it added FM service at 98.3. That little FM signal hung on all through FM's "dark years" in the fifties and early sixties, operating from an antenna atop the AM tower, finally moving to a hilltop outside town much later on.

The Haigis family operated WHAI as an archetypal small-town station for more than 60 years. In the nineties, it moved from its Main Street building to a new building next to the AM tower; finally, a few years back, it was sold to Saga Communications. The Michigan-based broadcaster has left the FM side, with its locally-oriented full-service programming, pretty much alone.

But WHAI(AM) isn't being run from Greenfield any longer; it's now WHMQ, part of a three-station news-talk simulcast based at WHMP (1400 Northampton) that also includes WHNP (1600 East Longmeadow) down in the Springfield market. It's still transmitting from that very same tower where Franklin County radio began back in 1938, though...

We'll show you the Northampton and Amherst stations another time; right now, let's head south and east to one of just two stations in America whose call letters and city of license are one and the same.

WARE (1250) in Ware traces its history back to 1948, when it became the first station between Springfield and Worcester. I'm not sure whether the transmitter site WARE now uses on Coy Hill Road, southeast of Ware, is that old; that self-supporting tower in the middle of the photo certainly looks older than the other two, doesn't it?

These are actually just three of the five towers that make up the array; WARE uses three towers by day and three at night to generate its signal. With 5 kilowatts by day, WARE does a good job of covering the territory between Worcester and Springfield; its 2500-watt night signal is aimed mostly to the southeast.

WARE has been in the news lately, too; after a stint as a Spanish-language outlet owned by Mega Communications, WARE is now owned by Marshall Sanft, whose family once owned WESO/WQVR in nearby Southbridge, and it's running a neat mix of oldies and local talk. If that sounds similar to the WIZZ story, it should; both stations have had help with their launches from Dennis Jackson, the Connecticut station owner whose holdings include WMEX (106.5 Farmington NH), WQQQ (103.3 Sharon CT) and WRIP (97.9 Windham NY).

Keep heading east on route 9 and you'll pass through Spencer and then, on the outskirts of Leicester, find yourself at the three-tower site of WCRN (830 Worcester). This facility was originally granted as a Cherry Valley station, but by the time it signed on in the mid-nineties it was Worcester's strongest AM radio signal, with 50 kilowatts (by day, anyway) of religious programming from the Carter Radio Network.

When Ken Carberry sold his other stations (including WROL in Boston) a few years back, he kept WCRN - and flipped it to big-band music as "Swing 830," with an AM stereo signal that easily reached well into the Boston market. With the addition of a fourth tower at this site, WCRN hopes to boost its night power to 50 kilowatts as well, making for a truly impressive signal over all of eastern Massachusetts.

Keep going on route 9 and you'll soon reach Worcester city limits, whereupon (if you're like me) you'll get hopelessly lost. But if you can find Moreland Street, in the Tatnuck neighborhood not far from the airport, you'll see the two towers of WVEI (1440), the descendant of an old-line Boston radio station. WVEI can trace its heritage back to a station called WAGS, a low-power station in Somerville that lived and died around 1927. WAGS' equipment was moved to Lexington, where it became WLEX; in 1931, WLEX was sold to John Shepard and became WAAB, Boston, a sister to Shepard's big WNAC radio.

When the FCC outlawed radio duopolies in the early forties, Shepard had a plan to avoid selling WAAB: he moved it to Worcester, a separate market. WAAB (and sister station WAAF 107.3) eventually separated from its Boston sister; by the mid-seventies, the WAAB calls gave way to WNCR (as an all-news operation) and WFTQ (as top 40 "14Q"). Things went downhill for 1440 after its WFTQ days; it simulcast WAAF for a bit, then began simulcasting Boston's WEEI (still on 590) as WVEI. 1440 had one more brief fling as a standalone sports station under the WWTM calls in the mid-nineties, then returned to the WVEI calls and WEEI simulcast when it and WAAF were bought by Entercom, which by then owned WEEI (now on 850) as well.

(Here's some irony: Entercom also owns WRKO 680, the descendant of Shepard's WNAC!)

North of Worcester and just east of I-190, Shrewsbury Street in Holden is home to the towers of the oldest station in Worcester. WTAG stands for "Worcester Telegram and Gazette," and this site was already home to the 5 kilowatt signal on 580 kHz even before World War II.

WTAG's building has to be one of the nicest-looking transmitter facilities in all of New England, and the grounds of this four-tower site are always meticulously maintained.

(The Telegram and Gazette eventually sold WTAG to the Knight Quality group; it eventually ended up with Capstar, which merged into today's Clear Channel group.)

This site was originally home to W1XTG, one of the earliest FM stations in New England. W1XTG eventually became WTAG-FM, then WSRS, and it's still going strong at 96.1 on the dial...but not from this site in Holden.

No, the WSRS transmitter and the WTAG/WSRS studios can now be found a few miles west of Worcester on Asnebumskit Hill in the town of Paxton, a site that is itself one of the most important in New England broadcasting history. We'll take a look at its colorful past and scenic present next week here on Tower Site of the Week - don't miss it!

(And if the WTAG pictures above look familiar, you're probably one of the lucky few who own the 2002 Tower Site Calendar, for which WTAG was the cover picture!)

Want to see more neat sticks all year round? Nashville's WSM (at right) is one of the more than a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar, still available from Tower Site of the Week and

If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality images (in addition to WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma City; WTIC, Hartford; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson; Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling, W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall on the right days!

This year's edition is back from the printer, and shipping is underway. Orders placed now will be shipped within 24 hours! And this year, you can order with your Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express by using the handy link below!

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