Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
You know what we really, really enjoy? Visiting a station that’s been in one place for a very long time, constantly evolving along the way. And there are few stations that have done so as well, for as long, as WICH (1310) and its Hall Communications sisters in Norwich, Connecticut.
On a bright early spring day this past March, we made the drive over to Cuprak Road to visit with Jim Reed, who’s the second-generation operations manager up at this hilltop site that WICH has called home since 1951, before it was even WICH. The station started in 1946 as WNOC, operating at 1400 on the dial from downtown Norwich studios and a transmitter site south of town in Thamesville.
WICH grew fast, leaving the Thamesville site for this location due north of downtown, then filing in 1954 for the big move from 1400 to 1310, which took the station from 250 watts to a full kilowatt, then to 5000 watts in 1965. (The 1400 frequency was soon reused up the road in Willimantic by a new station, WILI, which would many years later become a Hall sister station to WICH.)
The building here doesn’t look like 1951, and with good reason – it’s one of those neat radio palaces that’s been expanded over and over again, transforming from a typical 1950s blockhouse with the addition of a new front entrance in the 1970s and then a big addition in the 1980s that put a new row of studios behind a new facade in what had been part of the front yard.
This studio complex in front houses the two original stations here, full-service WICH and its FM sister, country WCTY (97.7), which had signed on in 1968 as WICH-FM. It’s quite the row of studios here – big rooms at either end of the hall for each station with a newsroom/news booth in between, all looking out at a long row of racks that forms the station’s tech core (and is built roughly into what would have been the old front wall before the addition went on.)
There are live people on the air in both studios all day long, and live local news, and yes, those are actual vinyl (ok, maybe polystyrene) records lining the back wall of the WICH studio, where they’re still doing all the things that made full-service AM radio so much fun.
WICH is the only one of the four Hall stations that transmits from this site, and its transmitter room back behind studio row is the original transmitter room, though the original 1951 transmitter is of course long gone.
Now there’s a Nautel AMPFET powering WICH, a backup Collins Power Rock next to it, and the phasor that drives 1310’s rather directional three-tower signal. (Most notably, it has to protect co-channel WORC in Worcester, just an hour or so up I-395, which has a similar DA that aims north from south of Worcester.)
There’s plenty of history still to be found here, including a vintage wire recorder still sitting on the shelves, and we could spend hours looking at it all – but there are still more studios to be seen.
Consolidation in the 1990s brought a longtime competitor into the Hall family: down the road in New London, WNLC (1510) and its sister FM stations operated from studios next to 1510’s legendarily directional 8-tower (!) AM array. The AM was shut down (and the land eventually redeveloped), and WNLC’s calls and format moved to its East Lyme-licensed FM sister on 98.7. The standards format gave way to the rock that’s now on 98.7, from a studio down the hall.
(And dig the production studio here – it’s built into the 60s-era fallout shelter on the side of the building, with heavy steel beams in the ceiling that will survive absolutely anything that comes this way.)
The fourth station here is the original FM sister to WNLC, and it was going through some big changes when we dropped by. The former WTYD 100.9 did beautiful music for years, then went oldies under Hall as WKNL, “Kool 101.” After a few years as “Roxy,” playing hot AC, WKNL had just flipped back to classic hits as “K-Hits” when we peeked into its “lavish studio” (hey, the sign says so!) over on the side of the building.
Upstairs here is all office space, including Jim’s own memorabilia-filled office from which he can look out at his signature yellow Mustang in the parking lot…at least until we head out and follow its taillights down the road for lunch and the swapping of plenty of radio tales.
Thanks to Jim Reed for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
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 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.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Connecticut IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: WGFP, Webster, MA