Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the quirkier radio events that we’ve gone to over the years is the annual “SWL Fest” for shortwave broadcast listeners. These days, it’s held in Plymouth Meeting, just outside Philadelphia, but when we were regularly attending in the 1990s, it was a fixture at a somewhat rundown hotel in Kulpsville, off the Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension deep in the Montgomery County suburbs of Philadelphia.
One of the strongest AM signals at that location is WNPV (1440), licensed to nearby Lansdale, and while we listened to it regularly at those conventions, we never made it inside until 2013, when we stopped by on the way home from the Washington and Philadelphia tours we’ve been documenting in our last few installments here.
WNPV was a 500-watt daytimer when it signed on back in 1960, and the years since then have seen it grow to 2500 watts by day and 500 watts after dark.
More than half a century later, WNPV is still in the same little brick building on Snyder Road, less than a mile from the Turnpike and right behind North Penn High School. (The callsign stands for “North Penn Valley.”)
Walk in the front door and you’ll be greeted by a sample from chief engineer Dave McCrork’s collection of vintage radios, right across from the window that looks right into the main studio. It doubles as a transmitter room, and along the back wall we find the current Harris transmitter and the RCA that was WNPV’s original rig all those years ago.
WNPV is a talk station these days, and there’s a talk studio across the glass from the control room console, down the hall behind the station’s sales offices.
WNPV’s five towers are out back, two of them used by day and three at night. By day, WNPV aims most of its signal to the northeast, up toward Bucks County, with a deep null down the Turnpike spur toward Philadelphia. At night, protections to Worcester, Mass., Warren, Ohio and other older 1440 signals make for a four-leaf pattern with major lobes to the north, south and east.
Just two weeks after WNPV signed on for the first time, a standalone FM station made its Halloween 1960 debut a dozen or so miles to the northwest in Boyertown, across the Berks County line. WBYO (107.5) belonged to Dave Hendricks’ Boyertown Broadcasting, and it’s been through a lot of changes along the way to its current incarnation as WBYN-FM. For many years a religious station, 107.5 went secular in 1989 as WYCL, back to religion as WBYN a few years later (owned by the Crawford family’s WDAC 94.5 in Lancaster), then ended up LMA’d out to Nassau Broadcasting from 2006-2009 as WFKB, “Frank FM.” After Nassau hit a financial pothole, WDAC resumed operation of the station, and it’s been back with religion ever since.
The original 107.5 transmitter site was at what’s still the studio location, up on the side of a hill on Mill Street south of Boyertown. Since the mid-1970s, 107.5 has operated from a much higher location six miles or so to the north near Bechtelsville, and we got to see both sites during our tour.
The studio first: this low-slung building is split roughly in half, with offices on one side and studios on the other. Our focus, of course, is on the studio side: there’s an elevated main studio in the front of the building, and toward the back a larger room that was the original WBYO studio and now serves as a talk studio. The old tower site sits out back, up the hill, where an STL path now aims over to the main tower site.
Up the hill at the main site, a Continental 816 powers WBYN-FM’s 50 kW/610′ directional signal. During the Nassau years, 107.5 added HD, using its HD2 to carry the old WBYN-FM religious format, which had been displaced to an AM signal on 1160 up north in Lehighton; these days, there’s no HD, but the digital transmitter sits silently in the old office area of the transmitter building.
From this site, WBYN-FM’s big signal serves much of southeastern Pennsylvania including nearby Reading, where a translator on 103.7 fills in some terrain blockage.
Thanks to Mark Humphrey and WNPV’s Dave McCrork for the tours!
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Next week: WTVB, Coldwater, MI