Tower Site Calendar now available!

March 13-20, 2003

Asnebumskit Hill (and Little Asnebumskit), Paxton, Mass.

If you're looking for important sites in the history of FM broadcasting, it's hard to beat New England and the northeast! Previous installments of Tower Site (and have you checked out our comprehensive index?) have taken us to the top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire and to Alpine, New Jersey, where FM radio began at the hands of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong.

This week, we present some pictures from a clear, crisp day in the fall of 2001, when our travels around central Massachusetts took us to another pioneering site, the rise of land northwest of Worcester called Asnebumskit Hill in the town of Paxton, Massachusetts.

On May 27, 1939, Major Armstrong signed on an FM station here under the calls W1XOJ, part of the Yankee Network's regional FM service and a critical link between the Armstrong-built stations at West Peak in Meriden, Connecticut and the Mount Washington transmitter. W1XOJ was soon being used as part of a programming relay that brought broadcasts from Armstrong's own W2XMN at Alpine all the way to Mount Washington - and to nearly all of New England in the process.

W1XOJ became W43B, a commercial license (the "B" standing for Boston, 45 miles or so distant), and with 300 kW ERP at 44.3 was, for a time, the most powerful FM station in the world. After World War II, when FM moved up the dial, W43B became WGTR (for "General Tire and Rubber," which had purchased the Yankee Network) on 99.1 and later 103.1 MHz.

General Tire's focus was on Boston rather than Central Massachusetts, though - and the company had plenty to focus on there: WNAC radio (originally on 1260, later on 680), WNAC-FM (on 98.5, with the transmitter that had been in use on Mount Washington, by then shuttered) and the new WNAC-TV on channel 7. So the company sold WGTR around 1950, and within three years the first FM station in Massachusetts had closed down for good.

Asnebumskit returned to the airwaves almost immediately - but on the television dial. WWOR-TV signed on from the Armstrong facility in December, 1953, operating in the hinterlands of the UHF dial on channel 14. Salisbury Broadcasting owned the station, which was affiliated with the struggling ABC and DuMont networks, along with a secondary NBC affiliation that allowed channel 14 to pick up whatever shows WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in Boston chose not to carry. The combination of weak networks and the absence of UHF receivers spelled doom for WWOR, as for so many early UHF'ers, and channel 14 fell silent in September, 1955.

But channel 14's story was far from over. With a signal that reached into Boston, Providence, southern New Hampshire and eastern Connecticut, it was an attractive target for the ambitious UHF operators at WWLP (Channel 22) in Springfield, which bought the station in 1958 and returned it to the air as a simulcast of WWLP and its satellite, WRLP Channel 32 in Greenfield.

As our colleague Peter George explains in his "UHF Morgue" history (check it out at!):

This would be the "norm" for Channel 14 for the next six years until December, 1964 when they decided to experiment with 6 to 7 hours a day of independent of programming, except for the Huntley/Brinkley Report and the WWLP-TV News from Springfield. With the 1964 "all-channel legislation" now being the law of the land, Springfield Television decided to try let Channel 14 become the first true Independent UHF TV station in the Greater Boston/Worcester area since the demise of WTAO-TV/Channel 56 in Cambridge and WNET-TV/Channel 16 in Providence, several years before. WJZB-TV provided local sports programming from Assumption College in Worcester, plus Boston Celtics Basketball and Boston Bruins Hockey. Also, they bought a package of feature length movies and some syndicated product such as Ripcord, Susie, Highway Patrol and The Aquanauts. They also got other syndicated sports programs such as Roller Derby and Kyle Rote's World. As usual, they also had some "table scraps" such as "travelogues" and standard "filler material" to round out the day.

Under its new calls of WJZB-TV (for WWLP staffer John Z. Buckley), channel 14 struggled along as an independent for three more years. By 1967, it was down to just 90 minutes of programming a day - WWLP news, "Western New England Highlights," the "Huntley-Brinkley Report" - and sign-off at 7:30 PM. In 1968, the station was sold; a year later, it suffered a fire that took it off the air once and for all, cancelling big plans to install a new color transmitter and even to relocate to the new Needham tower that was going up for channels 25, 38 and 56.

(Worcester would return to the TV dial in 1970 with the debut of State Mutual's WSMW on Channel 27, operating from Stiles Hill in Boylston; Asnebumskit itself would once again get a TV station in the late nineties with the advent of WYDN on channel 48, a full-time relay of the Daystar religious network, operating from the very same Armstrong building and tower as WWOR/WJZB all those years ago!)

In the meantime, though, the ghost of W43B/WGTR was stirring on the hill. WGTR's sister AM station in Worcester was WAAB (1440), whose peripatetic history we chronicled last week, and while WGTR went silent, WAAB flourished. In 1961, WAAB launched WAAB-FM on 107.3, and naturally enough looked to Asnebumskit and the old Armstrong tower as the site.

It was an outstanding choice - from here, signals can be heard all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the New York state line. Under the new calls of WAAF, which 107.3 adopted in 1967, the facility quickly became more than just a Worcester station. By the nineties, WAAF had found a niche as the hard-rock station for headbanger types all over southern New England - and with its sale to American Radio Systems in 1996, it was reunited (so to speak) with its long-lost Yankee Network sister stations, WRKO (the former WNAC) and WBMX (the former WNAC-FM). A later sequence of purchases would put WAAF and WRKO in the hands of Entercom, and today they share a studio complex in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton.

(By then, WAAF had moved off the Armstrong tower to a separate tower nearby, as shown above; it holds a pending CP to move to the channel 27 tower in Boylston and change city of license from Worcester to Westborough.)

Our last stop on Asnebumskit is actually just as historic as the Armstrong site, even if it doesn't always get the respect it deserves.

On June 17, 1940, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette put W1XTG on the air from the WTAG (580) transmitter site in Holden.

Within a few years, it had moved to a spot called Little Asnebumskit Hill, just down the hill from Armstrong's site - where it became commercial WTAG-FM after the war, first at 102.7 and later at 96.1 MHz.

In 1963, the newspapers sold WTAG-FM to Knight Quality Stations, which flipped 96.1 to WSRS, "Worcester's Stereo Radio Station," broadcasting beautiful music and showtunes in stereo every day from 4 PM until midnight. Today, WSRS is an AC station, and by far the most successful FM station in the Worcester market. (Though its signal reaches almost as far into Boston and neighboring markets as WAAF's, WSRS has always chosen to focus on central Massachusetts in its sales and imaging.)

WSRS was reunited with WTAG in the eighties, when Knight bought the AM station as well from the newspaper (by then the merged Telegram and Gazette); WTAG's studios moved up to Asnebumskit from the newspaper building in downtown Worcester. A later sequence of sales found WSRS/WTAG in the hands of Capstar and eventually Clear Channel, which still owns the stations. In the photomontage shown here, that's the original 1940s-era tower at the right; WSRS's main antenna now sits on the taller tower in the center of the image.

That's a lot of history for just a single turn off Route 56 in Paxton, isn't it?

Next week, we'll head for the sun as we begin a long-promised look at the towers of San Diego (and even a quick jaunt across the border to see some of the sticks of Tijuana!)

In the meantime, there's plenty of good material available on the Web about the history of Asnebumskit and the early years of Armstrong and Yankee FM. Three good places to visit:

Want to see more neat sticks all year round? Nashville's WSM (at left) is one of the more than a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar, still available from Tower Site of the Week and

If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality images (in addition to WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma City; WTIC, Hartford; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson; Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling, W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall on the right days!

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