December 4, 2009

WEPN 1050's New Site, Secaucus/North Bergen, NJ

Welcome to our new season of Tower Site of the Week - and the latest in a series of TSoTW installments showcasing the images you'll find in the brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2010, arriving any day now in a mailbox near you.

(It's more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support!)

As the nation's largest radio market, New York City has played a part in every Tower Site Calendar so far, and 2010 is no exception.

The new calendar features a brand-new site: the new home of ESPN Radio's New York flagship, 50,000-watt WEPN (1050), and there's quite a story to tell about how WEPN got to this site, spanning the border between Secaucus and North Bergen, N.J., from the longtime home of AM 1050 a few miles to the northwest near Giants Stadium.

You can see our 2005 visit to the old site here - and if you look behind the old towers in the photo at the top of that page, you'll see the arena (then Continental Airlines Arena, now Izod Arena) that sits north of the old site, and a big, empty piece of land between the arena, the old site and Route 120.

But by the time we visited the old WEPN site in 2005, that empty land was already starting to be transformed into a huge retail/entertainment/amusement venue to be called "Xanadu." And as the cranes and the steel for Xanadu started to rise in 2005-2006, just a football's throw away from the WEPN towers, it became clear that a 50,000-watt directional AM facility wasn't going to coexist comfortably with a huge shopping mall and amusement park right next door. As an interim measure, WEPN installed a transmitter at the Lodi, N.J. site of then-sister station WABC (770), and for several years that site saw plenty of use while the cranes were swinging next to WEPN's main site.

Meanwhile, ESPN started looking for new sites, and after a few false starts and lots of negotiating with state and federal officials, WEPN settled on a piece of land just east of Exit 16E on the New Jersey Turnpike and just south of the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.

In late 2007, WEPN received its construction permit to make the move to the North Bergen site, using essentially the same pattern it had at the old East Rutherford location. After a year of preparation work, the steel for three new 489-foot self-supporting towers began to rise from the swampland in March 2009. At such a high-profile site, within view of not only Lincoln Tunnel and turnpike traffic but also commuters using New Jersey Transit trains to Manhattan, the new towers drew immediate attention, and for a few weeks we were receiving a steady stream of photo updates over at NorthEast Radio Watch.

It was May by the time we made it out to see the site for ourselves, and by then the towers were standing proudly against the skyline. It's an interesting site for several reasons: for one, it sits in wetlands so deep that it's over a hundred feet down to bedrock in some areas, requiring deep piles to be driven to support the towers. You don't bury transmission lines in a swamp, of course, so those run between the towers in a raceway attached to a wooden catwalk, which will carry engineers back and forth between the towers once the construction is completed.

During the construction project, there was a temporary road that ran from the transmitter building site, behind the Secaucus public works building next to the Turnpike toll booths, out to the towers themselves, nearly half a mile distant. (With that sort of distance, it made sense to run just a single transmission line from the building out to the first tower, where the phasor sits in a prefab structure that also houses that tower's ATU.)

All of that temporary roadway was removed once the towers and catwalk were in place, and by now the reeds and rushes should have grown back to their usual height, leaving the area around the towers back in its natural state - which means these are the only photos you'll probably ever see of these towers from "ground level," such as it is in the marshy Meadowlands. (It was rather disconcerting at first to feel the temporary road sway almost like the deck of a boat as trucks drove back and forth!)

The transmitter building was still very much under construction in May, so we'll have to go back for another visit soon to see the Nautel transmitters that are now housed inside. In the meantime, WEPN now boasts the closest 50,000-watt transmitter site to midtown Manhattan - and a directional pattern that's no longer distorted by all the steel of Xanadu and the other structures in the Meadowlands.

(And in the meantime, the old site still sits in East Rutherford, backed right up to Xanadu, which ran into financial problems and now sits nearly-complete but with no opening date in sight.)

Thanks to ESPN Radio's Kevin Plumb for the tour!

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