Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we pointed the NERW-mobile toward Cleveland in late February, it wasn’t with radio as our top priority. Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band were playing that night, the first of three shows we’d see on his tour that week. (And it was amazing.)
But with a few hours to spare before showtime, there was no good reason not to have some radio fun first – and it happened that several engineering friends were at work that afternoon at a site we’d seen many times from the outside.
This site on Ridge Road in Parma, Ohio is at the western edge of the Cleveland tower farm we’ve featured here as recently as a year ago.
It was built in 1948 for WERE-FM (98.5), a standalone FM that was joined a year later by WERE (1300), which added three more towers to the FM tower to create a challenging four-tower inline array.
The FM signal, later known as WGCL and now as WNCX, eventually moved to an 826-foot guyed tower closer to the transmitter building; that tower was also the analog home of public broadcaster WVIZ (Channel 25) for a few decades.
In 2007, Radio One swapped calls between two of its Cleveland AMs, making this 5000-watt facility on 1300 into WJMO and parking the WERE calls on the smaller AM 1490 facility in Cleveland Heights.
Enough history – let’s go inside, where a transmitter room runs the length of the building from south to north. The south end is (and has always been) FM, now home to both WNCX and its CBS Radio sister station, WQAL (104.1), powered by Nautels that face each other. The north end is where the AM lives, complete with the RCA BTA-5F that was the original AM rig back in 1949.
The RCA still runs, though it was later supplanted by a Harris MW5 and a newer BE that’s now the main transmitter (and that somehow didn’t get photographed, distracted as I was by the lovely RCA!)
The WQAL and WNCX signals feed a combiner in what appears to have once been the engineering office near the south end of the building, from which a half-flight of stairs leads down to a low-ceilinged basement area that’s full of interesting castoff equipment from the stations’ history.
Out back, we get to see the results of a recent project on the AM towers, in which several of the insulators at the tower bases were very, very carefully replaced after jacking up the towers. It was dangerous work on this 65-year-old steel, but it all went well and now 1300 has towers that are ready to carry on for a few more decades.
Thanks to WJMO’s Gary Zocolo and Stephanie Weil for the tour!
And don’t miss a big batch of Ohio IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Big Trip 2016 – Raleigh