Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
A few years ago, we thought it was a pretty big deal to be able to tour multiple TV stations in Albuquerque, New Mexico just by walking out the door and across the street. Little did we know that a year or so later, in the sweltering summer of 2012, we’d top that by touring three radio stations in under an hour, all with a simple elevator ride.
Welcome to Penn Treaty Park Place, a former industrial building in a gritty neighborhood of Philadelphia, sandwiched between I-95 and the Delaware River north of Center City. Twenty years ago, the building was converted to office space (actual tenant testimonial: “The facility is in reasonable shape”), and not long afterward, broadcasters began moving in.
By the summer of 2012, 1341 North Delaware Avenue was home to no fewer than four broadcast tenants scattered around the building, and we got to see three of the four, starting on the third floor at the city’s black talk station, WURD (900). WURD came here in the mid-2000s, and now occupies a small office suite on the west side of the building just off the elevator. There’s a studio complex on the outside wall just past the reception desk, and that leads back to an open office area for sales and programming, with a small tech area off to the side – all fairly simple, for a relatively small station.
One floor up, we found a more elaborate setup in what was then the newest studio in the building. WWIQ (106.9 Camden NJ) was, of course, Merlin Media’s attempt to launch a brand-new commercial FM voice over a frequency that had largely been ignored in the market over four-plus decades as Family Stations’ sleepy WKDN-FM. Merlin started out building an all-news station, complete with a sizable newsroom enjoying the south-facing window wall overlooking the Center City skyline. The original idea here was that “FM News 106.9” would share resources with Merlin’s FM News outlets in New York (WEMP 101.9) and Chicago (WWWN 101.1), but the plan quickly morphed into more of a talk-focused lineup once Merlin pulled Rush Limbaugh and other syndicated offerings away from CBS Radio’s WPHT (1210).
In any event, the WWIQ buildout included a sizable talk studio on the southwest corner of the building, home to a morning show that started off with veteran talker Al Gardner at the helm. The talk studio looked into a control room/news studio, which in turn backed up to a production studio. The production studio was the only room in active use when we wandered in late in the afternoon; the air studio was on automation, and the newsroom was entirely empty.
As it turned out, WWIQ didn’t have long to live. After barely more than a year, Merlin sold the station to EMF Broadcasting, and by the summer of 2013, 106.9 had become “K-Love” outlet WKVP, Rush had moved back to WPHT, these studios were empty and the nearly new gear you see here had all been sold off.
While “IQ 106.9” couldn’t make it, the next stop on our elevator ride was a bit more resilient.
WEMG (1310 Camden NJ) was the first radio station to call this building home, and its fifth-floor digs, down a couple of twisty hallways on the river side of the building, were certainly the most lived-in of the bunch.
WEMG moved here in the early 2000s, not long after then-owner Mega Communications rearranged its Philadelphia-market lineup, moving “Mega” WEMG from 900 to the former WSSJ on 1310 and selling off the 900 facility. For a time, both WEMG on 1310 and former sister station WURD on 900 were neighbors in another office building at 1080 N. Delaware before they separately relocated to different floors here at this building, first WEMG and then WURD. (Mega also owned WEMG-FM 104.9 in Egg Harbor Township, NJ for a few years before selling it off in 2003; WEMG on 1310 also changed owners, and is now a Davidson station.)
If colorful studios are your thing, “Mega” is your place: the main air studio boasts bright orange walls and bright blue acoustical foam. There’s a smaller production studio next door, and a compact rack room adjacent.
And WEMG’s air talent can do something not many stations can do these days: if they want to make sure the tower’s standing, all they have to do is look out the window across the river, where the station’s relatively new self-supporting tower in a Camden park can clearly be seen in the distance just behind the hulking power plant that sits between the building and the riverbank.
There was one more station here when we visited, but we didn’t get to see it on our quickie tour: Telemundo affiliate WWSI (Channel 62), licensed to Atlantic City, was also on the fourth floor, down the hall from WWIQ. Just like its neighbor, WWSI has moved on: it ended up being sold to Telemundo’s parent Comcast, and it’s now sharing space with NBC O&O WCAU (Channel 10) in its building out in Bala Cynwyd.
(Where, we’d note, a diligent Philadelphia elevator tourist can do even more of these limited-travel tours, seeing the many commercial radio clusters located in and around the Bala Plaza office buildings – but that’s another trip, for another day…)
UPDATE: After posting today’s column, we learned something we hadn’t known before. When WWSI moved out of the fourth floor, another Spanish-language station moved in. WHAT (1340) now calls that space home, so there are still three separate radio stations in the building.
Thanks to Dana Puopolo and Peter Gowen for the tours!
And don’t miss a big batch of Philadelphia IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Cleveland’s IdeaStream