Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
March in North Jersey? It’s not so bad – especially when you have the chance to peek inside some facilities that we’ve never had the chance to feature in this space!
For example, how about the studio/transmitter site in Morristown that’s been home since 1948 to WMTR (1250)? It’s now part of the Beasley group, but under prior owners this facility grew significantly, adding on more studio and office space to accommodate FM sister WDHA (105.5 Dover) and largely obscuring the original 1948 building, which is now just the left side of the larger complex here.
When you walk in to this building today ,you’ll find yourself in a lobby that sits right in front of the main WDHA air studio at the center of the whole facility. This part of the building went up around 1990, when WDHA moved here from Randolph.
That’s the legendary Terrie Carr on the air at WDHA, doing middays on the heritage rock station. A hallway behind the main studio leads to a production room, and to offices on the other side of the building.
But we go up the stairs and into the older part of the building, where the nifty crescent-moon cornerstone from the original 1948 structure has been left visible in what’s now a hallway that leads to the WMTR studios and transmitter room.
The transmitter room has seen plenty of changes since 1948 – those are newer Harris DX10s next to the phasor on one side, and lots of recent processing and STL gear in the racks across, all bearing the neat engineering touch of former Greater Media engineering boss Milford “Smitty” Smith, who worked here for years.
The WMTR studios themselves still look a little more like 1948 – there’s a talk studio that looks into a spacious main air studio where WMTR’s oldies format originates.
From here, we head north to Denville Township, where WDHA’s tower sits on a ridge more than 400 feet above sea level.
From here, even a small class A signal like WDHA gets out, covering a huge chunk of New Jersey (so much so that when WDHA first signed on back in 1961, it eventually pushed a co-channel 105.5 signal, WHTG-FM in Eatontown on the shore, up the dial to 106.3 to avoid incoming interference.)
WDHA’s transmitter room is a tidy, compact one, with a new HD transmitter on one side and older Harris analog units on the other for backup.
The site is also shared with a newer low-power station, religious WCFT-LP (107.9 Dover), which has its own little rack in a common room on the other side of the transmitter building. (And there’s also an old fire tower up on the hill here, which was the previous home to WDHA’s antenna before the current tower went up.)
Our next stop is now a former FM station: Centenary College in Hackettstown sold its FM license, the former WNTI (91.9), not long ago, and while the FM signal now relays WXPN from Philadelphia, the AAA sound of WNTI lives on at wnti.org and from its well-appointed studios that have a nice window view out to a hallway of the student center.
When WXPN bought the 91.9 signal (now WXPJ), it moved the transmitter facility ever so slightly, leaving its previous site off Thomas Drive in the hills west of town and moving to another tower…right next door!
WXPJ’s new tower home is owned by (and sits in the backyard of!) the owner of Hackettstown’s commercial station, WRNJ – and not long after WXPJ moved, Larry Tighe also ended up buying the previous WNTI tower next door. That tower’s remaining tenant is New Jersey Public Broadcasting, which runs translator W49BE-D from the tower and building here, at least as long as spectrum space for translators lasts.
Larry’s studios for WRNJ are more centrally located, just off US 46 as it approaches Hackettstown from the east – and they’re bigger on the inside!
Enter the lobby upstairs and there’s the main air studio and a rack room just to your right; in back on the main floor is Larry’s spacious office, filled with memorabilia from his long career in broadcasting. (There’s even a teletype in the lobby.)
And then there’s a flight of stairs leading down to another floor of studios on the ground floor – WRNJ’s talk programming comes from here, and I believe this was where the studio for the old WRNJ-FM (107.1 Belvidere) used to be, before it was sold to become part of the ill-fated “Y107” country quadcast that surrounded New York City. (It’s still WWYY but now serves the Lehigh Valley as part of the Connoisseur cluster as “Spin 107.1.”)
When the FM was sold, WRNJ didn’t stay AM-only for long.
WRNJ’s AM outlet, originally a daytimer on 1000 from the tower behind the studio building (next to the garage that houses Larry’s helicopter), upgraded to full-time operation on 1510 in the 1990s. That move was made possible by the demise of the old WRAN on 1510 in Dover (and from WINS in New York buying out the 1000 facility to permit an expansion of the 1010 pattern in New York). Then came translators – and now WRNJ is heard by many more people on its 92.7 and 104.7 signals than on AM 1510.
The AM 1510 signal, for whoever’s still listening, comes from a four-tower array south of Hackettstown on a horse farm – it’s hard to get a shot of all four short towers, but we did at least get a peek at the transmitter in a shipping container.
Thanks to Nick Straka and WRNJ’s Larry Tighe for the tours!
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Next week: Allentown and the Lehigh Valley