Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
For our last new Tower Site of the Week of 2014, we show you something bittersweet: a station that won’t make it into 2015.
We seem to have developed a knack here for getting close to the end of a year with a bucket list full of “gotta see this before it’s gone” places, and this year one of those places is out back at 1601 New Road in Linwood, New Jersey, on the mainland just west of Atlantic City.
It’s been a rough few years for Atlantic City, and 2014 brought the news that the region’s lone network TV affiliate was about to be no more. We already knew that WMGM-TV (Channel 40) had been sold to LocusPoint Communications, a spectrum speculator, and early in the year NBC announced that it would pull its affiliation from the station at year’s end. That, in turn, prompted former WMGM owner Access.1, which has been operating the station under an LMA with LocusPoint, to announce that at year’s end it would be ending the local news operation and programming on the station.
And so it was that we ended up here late one evening in early November to see the place while it was still here to be seen.
A bit of obligatory history: what’s now WMGM-TV started out in 1966 as WCMC-TV, a sister to Cape May’s WCMC (1230/100.7), operating from a studio at its transmitter site down the shore in Wildwood. An ownership change in 1981 made channel 40 WAAT-TV, and by 1984 it belonged to Howard Green as WMGM-TV, sister to a cluster of radio stations that included WMGM (103.7) and WOND (1400). After Green’s death in 2002, the stations were sold and eventually ended up withe separate radio and TV owners (after a long soap opera on the radio side), but they remain co-located at 1601 New Road.
Or at least “sort of” co-located: while the sign shown at the top of the page sits outside a fairly modern-looking three-story office building facing New Road/US 9, that building is home only to the radio stations (now in the hands of Longport Media) on the first and second floors and to channel 40’s sales and business offices up on the third floor.
All the technical and production pieces of NBC40 are (for now) out back, in a low-slung building that stretches out behind the office building along a side road.
This building went up in two phases, with the older part at back. Entering there, we pass some small edit rooms and offices before turning in to the small but functional channel 40 newsroom, which is quiet when we stop in between the 6 and 11 PM shows.
A hallway from the newsroom leads up to the newer front part of the building, past the TV studio. When we arrive, Atlantic City radio legend Pinky Kravetz is taping his “Pinky’s Corner” talk show, which airs Saturday nights, but once he wraps up, we enter to see his small set, another small talk set for the morning news, and perpendicular to both, the main news set. It’s been around for a while – behind the desk, that NBC peacock covers up a wall of small CRT TVs that once flickered (behind frosted plexiglass) with all the analog cable channels in town until analog cable went away.
The control room for the newscasts is down a hallway behind the studio, and the crew there is just about to go on break after taping Pinky’s promos for his show. Across the hall, there’s a room that housed master control in the analog days, as well as one of two rack rooms.
The newer part of the WMGM facility is up front in the addition to the building. There’s a small rack room that houses an HD server and NBC network gear (for now), with sliding glass doors leading into master control. Down the hall, a second studio space was constructed but never fully built out, and now serves as a storage area.
And that’s WMGM-TV, for now. It’s still not clear, with just a few days to go, exactly what will become of either the channel 40 (RF 36) broadcast facility or the “NBC40” news programming as we enter 2015: LocusPoint will presumably air something over the channel 40 license to keep it alive until it can go into the spectrum auction. Meanwhile, the current WMGM staff, led by GM J. Roger Powe III, have been fighting hard to keep some sort of local news presence in place for south Jersey. Powe started a “Friends of NBC40” membership drive over the summer, and in early December announced that Access.1 is working on relaunching local news over a new broadcast facility sometime in 2015.
That closes out Site of the Week for 2014 – but we’ve got plenty of great pictures and stories cued up for you in 2015, including sites from Washington DC, Toronto, San Francisco and much more from Atlantic City, too. Happy New Year – we’ll see you back here in this space January 9 (and stay tuned all next week for our big NorthEast Radio Watch Year in Review!)
Thanks to WMGM-TV’s Robert Cox and J. Roger Powe III for the tour!
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Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
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Next week: Belleville, Ontario