Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back/ So put your makeup on and fix your hair up pretty / And meet me tonight in Atlantic City”
–Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”
As it turns out, the Boss wasn’t quite right, at least when it comes to broadcasting. In Atlantic City radio and TV, “everything that dies” just sort of stays in place. So put your makeup on and fix your hair up pretty, and let’s check out some of the sites we saw one night (and the next day) in Atlantic City.
Most of the “night” part, and a big chunk of the “everything dies,” too, we’ve already covered. Our main reason for going to the Shore on a beastly cold November day was to pay our respects to the newsroom at WMGM-TV before it went out of business at the end of 2014, and we showed you around there in a Site of the Week installment back then.
Even at the end, WMGM-TV shared space with its former sister radio stations on New Road (US 9) in Linwood. While the TV station’s studios were in an old warehouse-style building out back, its offices were on the third floor of a newer office building up by the road. The first and second floors of the building were all radio, and while we didn’t get a tour of Longport Media’s studios, we did get some peeks through the open first-floor windows into some of the studio spaces, as seen above.
The next morning dawned sunny but still brutally cold as we headed into a whirlwind day of station visits. A bit of geography before we get going: Atlantic City itself sits on a barrier island along the shore, connected to the rest of the state by three east-west highways that cross some swampy marshland to the mainland. US 30, the northernmost, is the White Horse Pike. US 40/US 322, the southernmost, is the Black Horse Pike, and the Atlantic City Expressway toll road runs just north of the Black Horse Pike.
We start our day along the Black Horse Pike about halfway between Atlantic City and mainland Pleasantville, where Equity Communications has offices and studios on the first floor of a big modern office building, “Bayport One.”
Gary Fisher’s cluster here started off with WAYV (95.1 Atlantic City) and has grown over the years to include six more FMs – AC/Christmas WEZW (93.1 Wildwood Crest), R&B “Touch” WTTH (96.1 Margate City), rhythmic WZBZ (99.3 Pleasantville)/WGBZ (102.3 Cape May Court House), classic rock WZXL (100.7 Wildwood) and WAYV simulcast WAIV (105.5 Cape May) – and the oldies AM simulcast of WMID (1340 Atlantic City)/WCMC (1230 Wildwood).
The whole thing operates from studios arranged along an L-shaped corridor: WAYV/WAIV is right in front, next to a rack room and across from a production studio that doubles as a space for WTTH. WZXL is in a newly renovated studio in back, with more work coming to create more studio space here.
Want to see some transmitters? Us, too – and so on this really windy, frigid morning we head to the mainland end of Black Horse Pike and into Pleasantville, where we find the westernmost of three major AM/FM sites we’ll see this day. This one is Longport’s, and it’s home to WMGM-FM (103.7 Atlantic City), talker WOND (1400 Pleasantville) and oldies WBSS (1490 Pleasantville, simulcasting WTKU 98.3 Ocean City). WMGM-FM has a building to itself, up on stilts next to another prefab building that’s home to the two AMs and a backup FM transmitter. This is a temporary-ish facility that was put together after a fire here a few years back, but it gets the job done, doesn’t it?
From here we head north to US 30, the White Horse Pike that becomes Absecon Blvd. as it heads back out to Atlantic City from the mainland. Our tour guide, ace engineer Tom McNally, stops us along the highway to show us…what? a billboard for AT&T on the south side of the road?
What kind of billboard has that sort of base? Why, one that’s built atop what used to be an AM tower. This was the original home of WMID, it seems, before a shuffle in which WMID took over what had been the site of WFPG (1450/96.9) just to the southeast while WFPG moved over to the north side of the highway.
What’s now the WMID transmitter building and tower, tucked into the tidy little Venice Park neighborhood just south of the highway, has a wild history behind it: as Tom chronicles on his website, this site was home to WFPG-TV (Channel 46), one of the first UHF stations to hit the air in December 1952.
What had been a big AM/TV transmitter room at the back of the building is still there, but it’s been through a lot of changes over the decades. The TV station didn’t last long (more on that at Tom’s site), and where it once sat, there’s now an old RCA transmitter and a new Nautel for WMID’s FM sister on 99.3. That was once WGRF (for owner Merv Griffin) and is now WZBZ, “the Buzz.”
WMID’s old RCA and current BE are at the back of the room, next to main and aux transmitters for WTTH (96.1), the most recent addition here.
And after WMID and WZBZ moved to the current Equity studios a few years back, the old studio setups were pretty much just left in place in the newer addition at the front of the building. There’s one intact studio that I think was for 99.3 in its later incarnation as WSAX, as well as another older studio in what had been WFPG-TV’s film room.
And dig that automation! That powered WGRF and its successors for quite a few years, right across the hall from the WMID studios, all frozen in time here in the swamps of Jersey.
In next week’s installment, we’ll go across the street to the current WFPG setup, as well as WAYV, the Townsquare studios and a few more sites farther afield in the region.
Thanks to Tom McNally for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
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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We’re getting caught up on IDs – catch a big batch from the Jersey Shore next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More Atlantic City, 2014