July 29, 2011

A Springfield, Mass. Grab Bag

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.

This week's installment wraps up a 2006 visit I made to Springfield, in which Mike and I drove around to some of the smaller sites in town that I hadn't previously photographed. And unfortunately, it was a rainy, stormy day as we shuttled around town looking at a few of the city's many small college stations.

At Western New England College (now Western New England University), WNEK (105.1) wasn't even on the air when we pulled up in the rain - and it's something of a miracle the station still exists at all. It's a class D signal that's been bumped around the dial over the years, moving from its original 89.1 to 97.5 to its present home at 105.1.

Down the road just a bit is Springfield College and WSCB (89.9), and it's a good thing we snapped this photo when we did: five years later, the college ended up right in the path of the June 2011 tornado that ripped across Springfield, causing severe damage to the college's facilities. (As we write this in late July, WSCB has yet to return to the air.)

Also nearby, though we didn't shoot it on this trip, is Mike's alma mater, WTCC (90.7) at Springfield Technical Community College - but never fear: you can see that and plenty more Springfield towers over at Mike's Springfield NECRAT page.

How about some AMs? Mike's page has pictures of some of the bigger AMs in town, but on this trip we were focused on a few of the less-prominent signals in the area.

One of the older AMs in town is WACE (730), transmitting from a venerable Lingo flagpole-style tower behind its studio building along the Connecticut River north of downtown Chicopee, its city of license. This Carter Broadcasting station is a daytimer, blanketing much of western New England until sunset with its religious programming.

At the top of the Springfield AM dial and the opposite side of the market, the East Longmeadow-licensed station on 1600 has had many identities over the years, including WIXY and WAQY and WPNT. For the last decade or so, it's been WHNP, a Springfield-market relay of sister talk station WHMP (1400) up in Northampton - but on this day in 2006, it was very briefly operating as "WNND," parking those calls before owner Saga moved them to a station in the Columbus, Ohio market. 1600 used to be a four-tower array at this site on Fisher Avenue barely a mile from the Connecticut state line, but it gave up its 5000-watt day/2500-watt directional night signal a few years ago to downgrade to daytime-only status with 2500 watts from the one remaining tower next to the studio building here. While WHNP's programming comes out of the Northampton facility we'll see in next week's installment, this studio building is home to WHNP's much bigger FM sister station, rocker WAQY (102.1), which maintains an aux antenna on the AM tower.

And after we parted ways with Mike for the evening, we had one more late-night tour on our agenda: right across the street from our hotel in downtown Springfield was Monarch Place, one of the city's most prominent office buildings - and on the third floor was the suite that was home to the city's newest television station. WSHM began operation in 2003 as the first CBS affiliate in Springfield since the days when the old WHYN-TV (Channel 40, now WGGB) yielded up the Eye affiliation to Hartford's channel 3, WTIC-TV (later WFSB). After decades of serving as Springfield's CBS outlet from a distance, WFSB launched WSHM on a low-power transmitter (analog 67, now digital 21) and on a subchannel of WFSB itself, branding the new station as "CBS 3 Springfield" and offering separate 6 and 11 PM newscasts from this newsroom at Monarch Place.

It was (and still is) a fairly stripped-down operation, heavily dependent on newsroom automation to produce a local newscast with a relatively small staff, augmented by the hefty resources back at the Hartford mothership, where WSHM's master control is located. But under founding news director Doug Lezette (like your editor, an alumnus of Rochester's R News), it was a pretty credible shop, and it's even given WGGB a run for second place in the ratings.

There's much more Springfield to show you, of course...but we're almost out of pictures from the archives, which means we'll have to head back to the Pioneer Valley sometime soon for more tours and more pictures. Stay tuned!

Thanks to Mike Fitzpatrick and former WSHM ND Doug Lezette for the tours!

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