June 17, 2005

WMGX, WYNZ and WGAN, Portland, Maine


It made big headlines (at least in the tower world) when the 528-foot tower of WMGX (93.1) and WYNZ (100.9) in Portland, Maine came crashing down on December 11, 2003. The tower wasn't all that old - WMGX had built in in 1986, when it moved to the banks of the Presumpscot River, just north of downtown, from its original site atop a downtown building - but it suffered from corrosion in the guy wire anchor that was planted in the water. When that guy wire gave way, the tower plunged in the opposite direction, crushing a couple of cars and coming within feet of hitting the rear of the warehouses along Presumpscot Street.

Saga moved quickly to get the stations back on the air, moving WYNZ to the nearby site of WGAN (560) and WMGX, temporarily, to the even closer Baxter Boulevard site of WBAE (1490), then to the Blackstrap site of WPOR-FM (101.9), a few miles north. But several short-spacing issues (most notably to WOXO 92.7 in Norway, Maine) made that an undesirable permanent site for WMGX - and Saga quickly enlisted ERI to build a replacement tower for WMGX back at the Presumpscot Street site.

That tower was finished just a couple of months ago, and we were pleased to be able to stop by and see it during an early-June jaunt up to Maine.

It's a pretty good bet that the new tower won't have the same corrosion problems that the old one did - the guy wires that extend into the water now land at a most substantial elevated concrete platform. The tower itself is located a few feet inland from where the old tower base can still be seen, right at the water's edge. That meant moving the container that houses the WMGX transmitters and the adjacent enclosure that houses the generator, too. Once that was done, WMGX's Harris transmitters returned to the container, along with something new: those enclosed, cooled racks to the left of the phone house a BE IBOC transmitter, making WMGX the first station in town to go digital. There's something new-ish at the top of the tower, too - a "lambda section" antenna, carefully designed by ERI to optimize WMGX's signal. And there's something you won't find here anymore: WYNZ. When all was said and done, there wasn't room in the little container for the oldies station, so Saga decided to give it a new permanent home over on the western edge of Portland, at the Lane Avenue site that has been home to WGAN (560) for decades.

In the process, Saga gave the entire facility a well-deserved renovation, replacing the insulators at the bases of the two self-supporting towers and completely replacing the third, guyed tower that became home to WYNZ's four-bay antenna. (The tower and the FM antenna are both the handiwork of Maine's own Dielectric.)

Inside, beyond the nifty old "W G A N" lettering in the front hall linoleum, the building is less full than it once was. (It is, at least, still standing; Saga apparently considered replacing it with a new building, but decided to leave the old one in place in deference to the residential neighborhood in which it sits. And the very old "WGAN" sign above the door was left in place when the building was sided, too!)

For many years, there were staff living quarters here, with a small kitchen area adjoining the garage and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. It made for a nice job perk for station employees, and chief engineer Andy Armstrong, our tour guide this beautiful morning, tells us he even lived here for a while.

Things change, though; insurance issues being what they are, these rooms haven't been occupied for a few years and now sit vacant, testimony to an earlier day when almost every AM station had someone living at the transmitter site.

(The garage sits mostly empty, too - but that's just evidence of the difference in size between a 1930s garage and the sort of vehicles a 21st century radio group might want to try to park there!)

So what is still here? Most of the first floor, to the right of the front door, is taken up by the transmitter room, and there's still evidence within of how very big the pieces of a 5,000-watt AM station used to be.

At the rear of the room are two phasors, an old RCA that appears gutted and a somewhat newer CSP unit that actually handles WGAN's day and night patterns, each using two of the three towers.

The really old AM transmitter (an RCA, if memory serves) is gone, but there's still a fully operable Gates BC5 for backup use, as well as the Harris SX5 for primary use. To the left of the AM transmitters are the WYNZ transmitters: a BE for primary use and a Continental for backup, along with the requisite STL and processing racks.

And aside from the generator in the back room, that's pretty much all that lives out here on Lane Avenue these days. We're only halfway through with our little tour of Saga's Portland transmitters, though - join us again next week as we check out WPOR and WZAN!

Thanks to Andy Armstrong for spending the morning showing off his sites!

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