September 9, 2005

WATD, Marshfield MA


We have an affinity in this space for good local radio in small communities. And for years, we'd been promising to visit a station not far from our old stomping grounds in eastern Massachusetts that's often held up as an ideal small local station.

We finally made it to WATD (95.9 Marshfield) in June 2005, and we're delighted to show you what we saw during an extensive tour from station owner Ed Perry.

Even a quick peek into the lobby of the WATD building on Enterprise Drive is enough to demonstrate that this is an unusual station. What you see in the photo at left is - honest - only a part of the collection on display there.

That's a DuMont TV set, if memory serves, and the old phonograph next to it is in working condition. There certainly aren't many station lobbies with this many stuffed animals, and it's hard to imagine any with quite so many news awards on the wall.

WATD owner Ed Perry is a newshound at heart - he was recently arrested while trying to cover a robbery at a local mall - and his station has won quite a reputation as an "awards shop," entering - and very often winning - AP, RTNDA and NAB awards competitions at a steady clip.

The opposite wall of the lobby includes a framed display of two letters - one, from Ed's teenage years in Natick, from the FCC warning his father of the consequences if young Ed was allowed to continue operating an unlicensed station from the Perry family home (it was quickly shut down), and another, many years later, from a local congressman praising the work that WATD does for the community.

We'll head upstairs to the WATD studios in a moment, but first we head to the back of the building. Past Ed's office just off the lobby, we enter the facilities of the Talking Information Center, the reading service for the blind that Ed helped to found. From these studios (including that big room shown above, with two small voice booths dropped in for extra studio space), TIC reaches listeners around New England, including over WATD's subcarrier.

There are sales offices on the first floor, and a conference room, too, but we're more interested in seeing the studios upstairs, so up we go. The newsroom, as you can see at the top of the page, is staffed, which is certainly out of the ordinary for an FM station in mid-afternoon these days. (And woe to any WATD newsperson who misses something juicy on the scanner - even at lunch, Ed's listening to his scanner, too, making frequent use of the station's two-way radio system to call back tips.)

A tidy line of studios stretches from there across the back of the building; that's the air studio at left above, and next to it is a studio that can be used for talk programming, with a production studio next to that and the tech center down at the far end of the hall, near the record library. (Records? Yes...they still play LPs here.)

It's well known that the WATD calls stand for "We're At The Dump," but it's not until Ed drives us out to the transmitter site that we grasp just how apt those calls really are.

WATD's two towers (one for the main antenna, an older one that's now used as an auxiliary) indeed sit in a large clearing that adjoins the Marshfield town dump, the only site where local officials would allow a tower to be built when Ed put the station on the air in 1978.

(The 95.9 frequency had been used on Martha's Vineyard, but that station - WVOI - went dark, and Ed was able to persuade the FCC to reallot 92.7 to the Vineyard, allowing 95.9 to be dropped in on the South Shore.)

There's some neat history out here, too, with lots of old WATD gear in storage in the original transmitter building. The current building a few feet away houses a Harris transmitter - plus Ed's extensive record collection, as well as some interesting old radios.

We'll be back for another visit, sooner, we promise!

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