(Due to some unexpected travel, Tower Site of the Week will return with a new installment July 22.)

July 8 & 15, 2011

Mount Tom (WGGB/WGBY), Springfield, MA

One of the fun parts of traveling the world to visit transmitter sites hither and yon is the chance to travel with other tower buffs - and there are few as dedicated to the task as my friend Mike Fitzpatrick, proprietor of the fine collection of tower and antenna photos over at NECRAT.us.

Over the last few years, I've had the pleasure of traveling with Mike on several excursions that you'll soon see documented here on Tower Site of the Week - but before we launch into those later this summer, we'll spend a couple of weeks rectifying a big omission on the site.

As Mike noted a few days ago, there's never been much here on Site of the Week from the market where he got his start in the business, and with Springfield, Massachusetts having been so much in the news lately after being hit by tornadoes, it's time to do some rectifying.

And there's no better place to start than atop Mount Tom, 1200 feet above sea level and about a dozen miles north of downtown Springfield. This site isn't just one of the highest peaks in the area, it's also beautifully situated to look both south into the Springfield/Chicopee/Holyoke metro area and north up the Pioneer Valley into Northampton, Amherst and beyond.

Broadcasting came to Mount Tom on December 1, 1947, when three FM stations signed on simultaneously up here.

Holyoke-licensed WHYN-FM (93.1), Chicopee-licensed WACE-FM (100.5) and Springfield-licensed WMAS-FM (94.7) boasted of a shared transmission facility, though it didn't last long - WACE-FM quickly went away and WMAS-FM eventually moved to a new site atop the WMAS (1450) tower near downtown Springfield.

But WHYN survived up here, and soon added a TV outlet: WHYN-TV signed on here in 1953 on channel 55 as one of two TV stations to debut in Springfield that year (we'll see the other one in next week's Site of the Week installment), and it was a CBS affiliate for its first five years on the air, switching to ABC in 1958 when Hartford's new WTIC-TV (now WFSB, channel 3) took over CBS for the region.

The next station to arrive up here was WGBY-TV (Channel 57), Springfield's PBS station, which signed on in 1971, and in the years since only three more signals have been added up here: a second FM, WVEI (105.5 Westhampton) in 2007 and two low-power TV stations, WFXQ-CA (Channel 28) and WSHM-LP (Channel 67) in the last decade or so.

Our pictures come from two trips up the mountain in 2006 and 2007, in the midst of the DTV transition and just as WVEI was being built, and we'll have more to say about both situations as we continue.

First, the geography: with the exception of WFXQ-CA, all the transmitters on the mountain are tightly clustered in a fenced-in area toward the southern edge of the ridge that makes up Mount Tom, on a plateau where a resort hotel once sat. (Hikers approaching the site and a nearby overlook get to walk up some of the concrete steps that once formed the resort's porch, where vacationers enjoyed a commanding view of the Pioneer Valley to the north.)

The gated road that leads up to the towers comes in from the north, and the first buildings and towers past the gate belong to the original tenants. The former WHYN-TV moved to channel 40 in 1959 and became WGGB-TV in 1980, and at least when we visited in 2006-07, it had two towers up here: a guyed tower (at left in the left-hand photo above) bearing the antenna of the interim WGGB-DT operation (ironically enough on RF channel 55) and a self-supporting tower with the channel 40 antenna, in the foreground of the left-hand photo at the top of the page.

After transition, and after our visit, WGGB returned to RF channel 40 for its digital operation, since 55 was out of core.

Heading inside the transmitter building, which is actually an accumulation of attached buildings that have gone up over the decades, we start with WGGB's big transmitter room.

(You'll note a common thread in all our Springfield TV pictures: most of the transmitters are all of a common family. Whether they're branded "Comark" or "Thomcast" or "Thales," they're all local products, coming from a factory in Southwick, just a few miles west of Springfield, and it's no wonder that most of the stations in town preferred a product with very local support!)

Behind the main WGGB room are several smaller rooms, home to various non-broadcast transmitters as well as to the current transmitter room of WHYN-FM (now a Clear Channel station) and of the rack that housed WSHM-LP. That little facility on channel 67 was the over-the-air component of "CBS3," the relatively new local CBS affiliate operated by Meredith as a sister to Hartford's WFSB. (We'll see more of WSHM in a future Site of the Week installment.) Since our 2006-2007 visits, WSHM has gone digital, and its current facility on RF channel 21 is at a different site in Wilbraham.

When we visited, WHYN-FM's analog antenna was on the original 1947 FM tower, the self-supporter shown at right - and those four ERI bays are actually mounted on what's left of the first WHYN-TV channel 55 antenna, long since out of use since the move to channel 40 and the construction of the TV station's newer towers up here. Another four-bay ERI on a short tower (at center in the top left photo) served as the FM's analog aux and digital main, while the WSHM-LP antenna was mounted on the side of the 1947 FM tower.

WGBY's building is toward the rear of the compound, and here too we found a Comark analog transmitter on channel 57 and a Thomcast digital transmitter on channel 58, both feeding antennas on the self-supporting tower (at right in the top left photo, and in the foreground of the top right photo) that went up for the public TV station in 1971.

(After transition, WGBY had to change channels, since both 57 and 58 are out of core; it ended up on channel 22, the former RF home of NBC affiliate WWLP, and its old channel 57 antenna has been replaced by a new channel 22 antenna on the same tower.)

The newest FM facility on the mountain was just being built during our 2006 visit. WVEI-FM (105.5) was the result of a shuffle that moved the former WBEC-FM license from Pittsfield more than 30 miles east to Easthampton, the very town in which Mount Tom actually sits. The WBEC-FM calls and "Live" top-40 format moved down the dial to 95.9, replacing the former WUPE-FM (its calls and oldies format in turn went to 100.1 in North Adams, replacing WMNB-FM there), and the new 105.5 in the Springfield market ended up in Entercom's hands as a simulcast of Boston sports-talker WEEI. The BE transmitter went into one of the oldest buildings up here, which I believe was actually originally a piece of the resort hotel's basement, and the Shively antenna went up on a telephone pole, seen at left in the right-hand picture at the top of the page.

That leaves just one more site to examine, about half a mile north of the main transmitter compound along the Mount Tom ridge. WFXQ-CA (Channel 28, since converted to digital as WFXQ-CD) is a sister station to NBC affiliate WWLP, and while its calls suggest that it once was meant for a different fate (the Fox affiliation in town ultimately landed on "Fox 6," aka WGGB's 40.2 subchannel), WFXQ now provides a fill-in simulcast of WWLP to serve viewers in Easthampton and other areas shadowed from WWLP's main RF 11 transmitter on Provin Mountain...which we'll see next week.

(The area where WFXQ is located is also where Clear Channel will soon be moving WRNX 100.9 Amherst, which currently transmits from a different site across the Connecticut River to the east. That site is accessible only by hiking; when it moves, WRNX will have an easier time reaching its site, not to mention better coverage into Springfield and vicinity.)

And we leave you this week with some studio pictures from our 2006 Springfield visit:

We didn't get inside the WGGB studios on Liberty Street, which is something we'll have to rectify one of these days, since this facility goes way back to the days when the building near the Springfield/Chicopee line was home to both WHYN-TV and WHYN radio. But we did get to visit the Hampden Street studios of public broadcaster WGBY, in a beautifully-renovated turn-of-the-century downtown building that's had a very blue studio addition tacked onto the side of it.

WGBY is owned by Boston's WGBH Educational Foundation, but it maintains its own programming and operates its own master control. That facility, in the basement, was in the process of being upgraded to digital when we visited, and we caught some of the last shots of the old analog master control (above left) and the soon-to-be-inaugurated digital MCR across the room (above right).

Upstairs, the production control rooms look out through glass and wood to the lobby, and the studio is just off to the right of the lobby. The studio gets plenty of use: it's now home to a nightly public-affairs show, "Connecting Point" as well as other local productions. (WGBY's other weekly local show, "As Schools Match Wits," emanates from Westfield State University, continuing a tradition that began decades ago down the road at WWLP.)

Thanks to Mike Fitzpatrick and former WGBY chief engineer Ray Miller for the tours!

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