The World-Famous Tower Site Calendar 2007

January 19, 2007

The Former WGBI 910, Scranton, PA

As impressive as the demolition of the WOR towers in New Jersey was last week, those weren't the only radio towers in the northeast being demolished.

A couple of hours to the west, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, tower crews were busy taking down another, rather smaller bit of broadcast history.

Fortunately for us (and for you), we were able to make a stop in Scranton on the way to New York to get a few last pictures of the historic little site on Davis Street before the land is sold and turns into a Walgreens or somesuch. (Actually, we have no idea what the land will become - but there's a CVS just down the street, so it's probably inevitable...)

This site on Davis Street on the south side of Scranton was, until just last week, home to WBZU (910 Scranton) - and if those calls don't mean much to you, perhaps you'll recognize the calls under which the station was known for 80 years: WGBI. Said to stand for "God Bless the Irish," but more likely sequentially assigned back in 1925, the calls at least fit neatly with the Megargee family's long ownership here.

From the looks of this site, it was probably built in the thirties, though the self-supporting 270-foot Lehigh tower out back didn't come along until the late forties. (The FCC's antenna structure registration database shows it as having been built in 1974; this is clearly inaccurate.)

By the time we finally made it inside the building, early in January 2007, it had been mostly stripped in preparation for demolition. There was once an RCA transmitter against the back wall, but it's gone off for ham use. The little solid-state BE transmitter that was keeping 910 on the air in recent years is gone, too, and we'll see where it went in a moment. That leaves the Gates BC1G as the last transmitter to put out RF from this old site.

With the lease on the Davis Street up, what did Entercom do with 910? The answer is deeply rooted in WGBI's own history, and we find it at the corner of Penn Avenue and Spruce Street in downtown Scranton, atop the Scranton Times building.

The Times, and the Lynett family that owned (and still owns) it, was an even earlier player in Scranton radio, having put WQAN radio on the air in 1922. By the early thirties, WQAN and WGBI were sharing time on 880. They continued to share the frequency when it was changed to 910 in 1941; by then, it was running 1000 watts by day and 500 watts at night from Davis Street.

That share-time lasted until 1948, when the Lynetts added a new top floor to the Times building, erected a 260-foot Lehigh tower atop that, and moved their AM signal down to 630 as a 500-watt daytimer from the rooftop tower. (There was a WQAN-FM on 92.3 here as well, but it didn't last long.)

WQAN became WEJL pretty quickly, taking the initials of Edward J. Lynett - and there was almost a WEJL-TV, as the Lynetts applied for channel 16 against another local radio station, WARM. To avoid a comparative hearing, the Lynetts then dropped out of the channel 16 race and joined with the Megargees to apply for channel 22. When the FCC ruled against such collaborations, the Megargees ended up with WGBI-TV on channel 22 - using some TV gear that the Lynetts had already purchased and installed in the auditorium on the top floor of the Times building. (WGBI-TV would later become WDAU-TV, then WYOU under separate ownership from the WGBI radio stations; you can follow that history via a very neat tribute site here.)

That was 1953, and it's a pretty good bet that neither the Megargees or the Lynetts could have imagined that their stations would again be sharing facilities more than half a century later.

But expiring transmitter-site leases make strange bedfellows, and when 910 (by now WBZU, simulcasting Entercom's news-talk WILK from Wilkes-Barre and parking calls that had once been used in Wisconsin) went looking for a new transmitter site, it ended up once again paired with WEJL, albeit this time at WEJL's home base.

Someday, we hope to present a full tour of the historic studios at the Times building, including the full auditorium that's still there, right behind the lobby - but for now, we'll focus on the WBZU installation here.

It shares a transmitter room with WEJL (the Nautel in the center) and translator W297AF (the Armstrong at rear right) in what was once a studio on the fifth floor, with the BE that came out of the Davis Street site now installed in a rack next to WEJL, along with a microwave STL and a remote control.

Up on the roof, there are new ATU boxes from Kintronics to handle the diplexing of WBZU (running 900 watts day/440 watts night) and WEJL (which recently was upgraded from 1 kW to 2 kW day, dropping to 32 watts at night), and that fantastic old tower, complete with the holiday lights that make it a distinctive Scranton landmark.

Thanks to Entercom's Lamar Smith for the tours!

The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're going to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Store!