Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It took almost 20 years after leaving Boston for your editor to finally make it inside all of the Hub’s major TV stations – and it took one of our tower-photography colleagues getting hired there to make it happen. Yup…Mike Fitzpatrick of the mighty NECRAT.us is also the transmitter engineer these days at WFXT (Channel 25), and one morning this summer he had the fun of playing tour guide at the station’s spacious plant in Dedham, right off the side of Route 128.
WFXT came to this site in Dedham in 1991 from the station’s original 1970s-era home in Needham, a low-slung industrial building located just below the station’s tower. The move to Dedham brought the station (then owned by the Boston Celtics) into another industrial building, this time with more studio space to allow for more local program origination and, eventually, local news.
Under Fox ownership around the turn of the millennium, WFXT did a massive expansion to the original building in Dedham, adding the signature two-story newsroom/studio that became a signature of the station’s newscasts as they surged in the ratings.
When we stopped by in the summer of 2016, WFXT’s new owner, Cox, was getting ready to make some big renovations in the newsroom, building up more of a set in the middle of what had traditionally been a very open space.
(So open, in fact, that the station’s previous robotic camera system looked way, way up to the ceiling to use those concentric bar-coded circles for navigation.)
Off the sides of the main newsroom floor are offices for top news executives, a conference room and an ingest room where microwave and IP-delivered live shots can be dialed in; the ingest room doubled as a backdrop for a lot of the studio shots before the new set went in later in 2016, full of new video screens as background.
As WFXT grew into its 2000s addition, much of the original 1991 infrastructure on the older side of the building ended up being essentially abandoned in place, which is why there’s a new HD control room on the new side of the building and the remains of the old SD control room over on the other side.
The old 1991 studio on that side of the building was left in place, too, after the newsroom-studio opened; that came in handy, among other things, as a space to use for a temporary news set in the summer of 2016 while the newsroom was being renovated. (It also provides a convenient meeting space for large-scale station gatherings!)
From the state-of-the-art plant at WFXT (which we’ll now have to revisit to see the new news set), we head north on traffic-snarled Route 128 to the Newton/Waltham line, which is where we find the dead end of Rumford Avenue and the only home WNTN (1550) has known for almost 50 years on the air.
This 10,000-watt daytimer was one of the last new signals on the Boston dial when it debuted in 1968, and we wanted to make a stop at its cozy home to check it out before some big changes come its way soon. WNTN has a construction permit to move to Cambridge, diplexing on the WJIB (740) tower with a new, as-yet-unannounced, studio location.
Walk in the front door of WNTN’s Cape Cod-style home and you’ll find station offices to your right, a stairway straight ahead and a couple of small studios off to the left along the hallway that leads out the back door to the tower.
The two control rooms and the wood-paneled talk studio down here were quiet when we stopped in. Instead, all the action was upstairs, where a bigger studio is tucked in under the eaves. This is the “Orestes Demetriades Studio,” named for the longtime host of “Grecian Echoes,” the show that’s underway as we walk in with Demetriades’ son Ted now hosting.
This is great community radio in action, with lots of sponsorship, a mix of Greek and English on the air, and plenty of live voices in the studio. Long may it run! (Or should we just say, “Opa!”?)
And where’s the WNTN transmitter that feeds the short tower out back? There’s not a wasted inch of space in this small building – the transmitter plant is down in the basement, where an old Rockwell Collins 10 kW rig recently gave way to a shiny new Nautel.
Thanks to WFXT’s Mike Fitzpatrick and the staff of WNTN for the tours!
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Next week: West Virginia, 2016