Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Regular readers of this column know that one of our favorite subjects is the “before” and “after” of a station move, especially when the “before” is a facility the station’s called home for a long time.
So when the news spread in early 2012 that WLAD (800) and WDAQ (98.3) in Danbury, Connecticut were getting ready to relocate, we knew we had to make a stop in northern Fairfield County, and quickly, to get the “before” half of the story while it was still there to be seen.
WLAD signed on in 1947 as part of the massive post-war rush of new stations, and it was joined by WLAD-FM (later WDAQ) in 1953. Until 1962, they were housed at 207 Main Street – but that year, the stations crossed the street to what was then the Hotel Green, at 198 Main Street. And for half a century, that’s where they remained, with offices under the awning down at street level and a warren of studios tucked in behind an otherwise-anonymous door on the fourth floor.
Along the way, the hotel changed rather dramatically. What had once been a typical mid-century downtown hotel became Ives Manor, a subsidized senior housing facility, making for some unusual neighbors for the WLAD/WDAQ studios. Behind that door, the WLAD/WDAQ facility was a truly old-school place – a warren of narrow corridors and low-ceilinged, windowless studios. (But it felt like a real radio station, if you know what I mean…and if you’re reading this column, you know what I mean.)
The facility here had undergone several renovations by the time the end came in 2012, but the most recent one of any significance had been back in the 1980s, as witnessed by the reel-to-reel and cart decks still occupying one corner of the little booth looking into the main WLAD air studio. The air studio, in turn, looked into several production and rack rooms lined up in this compact space.
WDAQ’s studio was, if memory serves, just across the narrow hallway from the WLAD cluster. There’s a third station in the cluster, too, WAXB (850 Ridgefield), the former competitor (then known as WREF) that WLAD/WDAQ bought a few years back. That AM signal is now augmented by an FM translator in Danbury, and by 2012 it was playing oldies as “B107.3,” with little mention of the AM frequency.
Going, again, from memory, I believe that was the WAXB “air studio” below at left, tucked into a corner of a rack room at the core of the studio complex here.
That’s about all we have to show you of that historic studio facility – but how about a transmitter site, too?
Head south on Main Street and South Street, turn right at the birthplace of noted composer/insurance salesman Charles Ives, and head up Brushy Hill Road – and before long you’ll find yourself at the base of the hill where the WLAD/WDAQ tower sits.
The current 276-foot tower here is relatively recent, but this is the very site where WLAD has been since its debut in 1947.
That cute little tower in the foreground at right holds a backup antenna for WDAQ, mounted on a much earlier RCA pylon antenna for the FM station.
The translator that relays WAXB, W297AN (107.3) is mounted on the tower here, too, and it’s all powered by transmitters lined up neatly in a prefab structure down at the foot of the stairs at the bottom of the hill. (It replaced an earlier transmitter building that burned.)
Those are the WDAQ main and auxiliary Harris 5K1 transmitters at the left in the photo above, then STL, processing and the translator in the middle racks, and the AM transmitters: a little rack-mounted BE main, a Harris MW1 aux, and a second MW1 that’s out of service.
And we leave you at a site we’ll have to come back to soon: in June of 2012, the new WLAD/WDAQ studios in an office building at 98 Mill Plain Road on Danbury’s west side were still under construction, with lots of hustle and bustle ahead of the move that took place over the July 4 weekend. Like the old downtown studios, this facility was built in two halves: the business and sales offices are on one side of the office building’s main hallway, while the studios are on the opposite side. But unlike the claustrophobic old studios, these new digs have plenty of windows looking out on the busy road just off I-84, with plenty of air and light and more space for the staff. We’ll be back soon to see how the project turned out!
Thanks to WLAD/WDAQ’s Irv Goldstein and (then-CE) Tom Osenkowsky for the tours!
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Next week: Crawfordsville, Indiana