September 17-24, 2004

A Few More Providence Sites

It's been a sort of unscheduled monthlong hiatus - but we're back to a weekly Tower Site schedule for the new fall season, and we'll start by dipping into the archives to finish up our look at the sites of Rhode Island's capital city.

There's a whole cluster of AM sites located in East Providence, several of them (including WHJJ 920) strung out along Wampanoag Trail. At the southeastern end of the string, we find the two towers of WPRO (630), which has had its transmitter out here for decades.

In more recent years, WPRO has had its studios at this location as well, in a building now known as the "Salty Brine Broadcast Center," after the station's longtime morning man (who's also the father of WROR Framingham-Boston's morning jock, Wally Brine.)

And in even more recent years, this has become the headquarters of a cluster (now owned by Citadel) that also includes WSKO (790 Providence), WPRO-FM (92.3 Providence), WWLI (105.1 Providence) and WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale).

Head back toward Providence on Wampanoag Trail and you'll pass the two big WHJJ towers - and if you then turn to the north, you'll pass the WPMZ (1110) facility that we showed you a few weeks ago and you'll come to another two-tower array.

This one (seen at right) is WSKO, another 5000-watter on a regional channel, directional only at night - and back in the day, this station was known as WEAN, the radio voice of the Providence Journal. In later years, 790 operated under calls that included WWAZ (as an AM stereo classical station!) and WLKW before going to sports as WSKO, "the Score," in 1997.

We showed you the last of the East Providence AMs, WRIB 1220, a few weeks ago - and there's just one AM station that operates within the city limits of Providence itself. We don't have a decent picture of the 1290 station on Douglas Avenue, either in its old configuration (5000 watts from four towers) or its new arrangement (10 kW from three towers), though we do have some video shot inside the building in the early nineties when it was doing Portuguese programming as WRCP. (Before that, it was top 40 WICE; today, it's public radio WRNI and the Douglas Avenue facility is strictly a transmitter site.)

But we're not quite done with Providence AM. In fact, we've saved the most interesting site for last.

Keep going all the way out to Burrillville, Rhode Island, way out to the northwest of Providence, and you'll eventually wind up at the six-tower site of what was once WLKW, so named for the 50 ("L" in Roman numerals) kilowatts ("KW") that it sent towards Providence when this site went up in the sixties.

This is what an engineer friend calls a "letterhead 50," a station that puts up an elaborate directional array just so it can achieve a power level that's worth bragging about. In the case of WLKW, those 50 kilowatts on 990 - daytime only, no less - were aimed in the narrowest of lobes southeastward at Providence - and then out over the deep blue sea, where countless generations of fish were no doubt entertained by the easy listening sounds of WLKW. (Most human listeners on land found WLKW-FM at 101.5 and tuned in the Mantovani and 101 Strings in FM stereo on the former WTMH/WXCN/WCRQ instead.)

In 1987, WLKW(AM) changed calls to WEAN, picking up the identity of the old 790 (which would reciprocate later by becoming WLKW for a while) and trying a news format; two years later, WEAN became WALE, grabbing the calls that had long been a fixture on 1400 in Fall River, Massachusetts. By now, 990 had a little night power as well, but that kilowatt from so many miles out of town was no match for everything else on the channel. (Your editor vividly remembers driving down from Boston to Pawtucket to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox play the Rochester Red Wings - and listening to the Red Wings' pregame show on what was then WCMF 990 Rochester, with nary a sign of the much closer WALE signal on the frequency.)

It's no wonder, then, that WALE's then-owners (who were subsequently forced to sell the station at bankruptcy) were rumored to "forget" to drop down to night power on many occasions. Today, WALE runs Spanish-language programming, and it's up to 5000 watts at night, in part thanks to a change of community of license to Greenville, R.I.

And we'll close with a mystery: there was once another Providence station on the AM dial. WFCI on 1420 started out in Pawtucket, moved to Providence, operated as a 5000 watt directional outlet and ended up in the hands of the Providence Journal-Bulletin as WPJB circa 1952. Within a few years, the paper bought WEAN on 790 and signed off the 1420 outlet, giving up its frequency to WBSM in New Bedford, which moved off 1230. Anyone know what became of the 1420 site? Any remnants? We'd love to know...

(Update: our Rhode Island engineering buddy Craig Healy checks in to tell us that the two-tower 1420 site was right across the river from what's now the WDDZ 550 site in Central Falls, and that the tower bases were still there the last time he looked, though that was many years ago. Thanks, Craig!)

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