July 2, 2010

WBLS and WLIB, New York

As we continue our look at New York City radio, this week's installment takes us inside one of the market's smaller - but still very important - players: Inner City Broadcasting's WBLS (107.5) and WLIB (1190).

New York's most prominent black-owned stations have moved around Manhattan several times since the late Percy Sutton bought them in the early seventies, making stops in Harlem and at 801 Second Avenue before landing at their current elevated perch on the 41st floor of 3 Park Avenue, just south of Grand Central Terminal, in the nineties.

When we stopped by in the spring of 2008, chief engineer Paul Sanchez was just in the midst of an overhaul to the plant, and the tour provides a nice before-and-after look at the work that was going on.

Above, we see the "after" - the big corner studio for WBLS that was being used by the Wendy Williams show before she made her move to full-time TV work. Paul came up with a neat layout here: check out that translucent countertop surrounding the Wheatstone G-6 console and the spacious separate counter for the talent!

The new studio looked into what was once a mirror-image studio, which was being used for WBLS' music shows and has, I believe, since been renovated as well. The WBLS studios and the rack room below form one leg of an L-shaped studio complex that also includes space for sister AM station WLIB (1190). This pair of rooms was the original home for the Air America talk network when it launched with great fanfare five years ago; Air America eventually moved elsewhere before going belly-up, but WLIB lives on, now with a black gospel format.

(And how about this for a little trivia: since WCBS-FM moved from the 40th floor of 1515 Broadway downtown to Hudson Street last year, the WBLS/WLIB studios are the highest broadcast studio facility in the city, bar none...)

How about some transmitters? We can show you at least half of the lineup here, too - though with the caveat that a repeat visit is in order, since there have already been some changes on this end of the signal change in the two years since these pictures were taken.

The WBLS transmitter room occupies a nice corner space on the 81st floor of the Empire State Building, with a neat row of transmitters that in 2008 included a Harris Z10 as the main and that venerable Rockwell Collins as a backup; since then, WBLS has gone HD, with a new Nautel V15 transmitter for us to check out the next time we're in the city to get some updated pictures.

As for the AM side, it's one of the last New York AMs I still haven't toured on the inside, but how about a look at the towers from the outside?

This site on Valley Brook Avenue in Lyndhurst, N.J. was part of the big rush of Meadowlands tower construction in the late sixties; indeed, WLIB signed on here in 1967, almost simultaneously with the arrival of WOR (710) just around the corner at its own three-tower array (the one that was so famously demolished in 2007).

In WLIB's case, the move to New Jersey meant a big power increase, jumping the station from 1000 watts at its old site on an East River pier in Astoria, Queens to 10,000 watts from New Jersey. But WLIB remained a daytimer, of course, until Inner City made the fateful deal in the nineties to buy Fort Wayne, Indiana's WOWO and downgrade it to class B status. That allowed WLIB to build two more towers (on the right in the photo above, shot from the old WOR site to the east) and add night service with 30,000 watts. (That six-bay FM antenna on the middle tower, by the way, was a WBLS auxiliary facility.)

One of these days, we'll get an inside look at this one, too - and perhaps even get a peek next door at the WSNR (620 Jersey City) five-tower array that went up here in the nineties.

Thanks to Paul Sanchez for the tours!

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