May 12, 2006

WFNX, Lynn, Massachusetts - Old and New


This week on Tower Site of the Week, we continue our "Things That Won't Be There Much Longer" tour of Boston, which took place over a couple of days in March 2006.

When we left you last week, we were heading north out of Quincy on a journey that would eventually take us from WJDA down there to sister station WESX up in Marblehead.

But before we could get there, we wanted to make good on a promise to engineer Chris Hall that we'd see his new setup for WFNX (101.7 Lynn), atop Boston's One Financial Center office tower.

On this Friday in March, WFNX was still transmitting from its old site above Malden Hospital, but it had been conducting testing from the One Financial Center site. (It would make the move permanently less than a month later.)

Built in 1983, One Financial Center rises 46 stories and 590 feet above Boston's financial district, just a block or so from South Station. It didn't get its first broadcast tenant until 1991, when Emerson College's WERS (88.9) moved here from the Prudential Center, trading a few hundred feet of height for more power and considerably less expensive site rent. In 1995, WHRB (95.3) became the second radio tenant, improving its signal dramatically by moving from its low antenna atop the Holyoke Center in Harvard Square, which is now licensed as an auxiliary site for WHRB.

And after many years of trying to put a better signal over its target audience - the college students and young adults who populate so much of Boston and Cambridge - WFNX has now joined them here in the packed transmitter room behind an unmarked door on the 44th floor, just down the hall from one of Boston's most prominent law firms, Mintz Levin.

In addition to WERS and WHRB (which are right by the door leading into the room) and WFNX, which has a nice space right by the south-facing windows, the room is full of other transmitting and receiving equipment, including skyline cameras and ENG receive sites for several TV stations, cellular and paging transmitters and a few government agencies.

The WFNX setup is a simple one - the Harris Z-series transmitter that had been the main at its old site in Medford, a Harris Intraplex for STL, an Omnia processor and a Burk remote control. It feeds a two-bay directional antenna (1.7 kW ERP/191 meters AAT) that's mounted above WHRB's four-bay antenna on the east tower on the roof.

Eventually, the BE auxiliary transmitter that's been temporarily pressed back into main service in Medford will move here as well, and we'll have to come back and see it again once that happens.

In the meantime, we take a quick look - through the cages - at the WHRB and WERS setups and at the nifty view of the South Bay interchange and Big Dig construction before following Chris north over the Zakim Bridge and up to the soon-to-be-former WFNX site overlooking Malden Hospital.

This site on Murray Street is actually in Medford, just barely, and it has a very long history that predates WFNX's arrival here in 1988. This 356-foot tower was built in 1948 by CBS, which used it initially for WEEI-FM (103.3), but with the intention of eventually getting a license for a WEEI-TV to broadcast from up here as well.

(Just down the street, another self-supporting tower also went up in 1948 for WNAC-TV on channel 7. It's still there, though it was shortened dramatically in the early seventies after channel 7 departed for a new tower in Newton.)

WEEI-TV never did happen, but this tower did become a TV site anyway, thanks to Hurricane Carol in 1954. After the storm destroyed the self-supporting tower of WBZ-TV (Channel 4), behind that station's Allston studios, channel 4 moved temporarily to the WEEI-FM tower. (The engineering drawings for the Channel 4 antenna are still tacked up in what's now the WFNX transmitter room at the site.)

Channel 4 would remain at the Medford site until 1957, when WBZ completed its present tower site in Needham. WEEI-FM eventually left Medford as well, relocating to what's now the "FM128" tower in Needham in the seventies. With no further use for this site, CBS donated the tower and land to Harvard University with the idea that it could become a useful site for WHRB. That didn't happen, either, but Harvard still owns this site. (It's managed by Industrial Communications and Electronics, which has numerous non-broadcast users at the site.)

WFNX's transmitter room here is small, but functional, with the BE transmitter holding down temporary main-transmitter duty now that the Harris Z has been relocated to One Financial Center. (As we noted earlier, the BE has by now also been moved up to One Financial Center to resume its life as an auxiliary transmitter.)

The BE was the main transmitter here when WFNX put this site on the air in 1988. Before that, WFNX was on the WLYN (1360) tower on Route 107 just south of Lynn, the same site from which the former WLYN-FM signed on back in 1963. Until just a few years ago, the old WLYN-FM antenna bays could still be seen atop that short tower.

We see the WLYN tower off in the distance as we follow Chris up to downtown Lynn and the rambling office building at 25 Exchange Street that's been home to this station since its WLYN-FM days. (In its last few years as WLYN-FM, it was rocking as "Y102," before the Boston Phoenix alternative weekly bought it in 1983 and brought WFNX to life.)

Over the years, WFNX has gradually expanded its space here, with numerous production studios and a big main studio with a nice adjoining "green room" that makes a pleasant hangout space for visiting bands and live performances. (It also has a very close-up view of the nearby Lynn commuter rail station, for whatever that might be worth.)

There's also a large office space for the station upstairs, as well as an engineering center on the studio floor that handles all the signal distribution from here to WFNX's satellite stations in New Hampshire and Maine, as well as WPHX (1220 Sanford ME), whose sports format is programmed from Lynn. (The monitors above the air talent in the studio show the automation status for each of the stations. I think there's still a monitor here for the former WWRX in Rhode Island, which was sold to Entercom a couple of years ago and is now WEEI-FM.)

And beyond WFNX's Medford transmitter site, there's still more soon-to-disappear Boston radio history to chronicle on this trip, as we'll see in our next installment. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Chris Hall for the WFNX tours!

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