Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Consider this week’s Site of the Week installment a bit of a teaser – our stop in Reading, Pennsylvania last fall was just a few hours long, and on a Saturday afternoon when nobody was home to show us inside this interesting small radio market’s facilities.
Reading is an interesting place, just far enough from Philadelphia to have its own radio scene, but just close enough to Philadelphia to operate somewhat in that market’s radio shadow – and almost entirely in Philly’s TV shadow.
It wasn’t always thus; back in 1923, when WRAW signed on as the city’s first station, owned by Horace Good’s Avenue Radio Shop, Reading was a flourishing place, and Good must have done strong business on WRAW for the decade until it was joined by a second station, WEEU.
Not that WEEU was competition, exactly – by the time Berks Broadcasting Company put it on the air in early 1932, the owners of Berks had also acquired WRAW under the name of the Reading Broadcasting Company. For another decade, both stations functioned as sisters under a common roof at 533 Penn Street, until the FCC broke up radio duopolies in 1943, forcing WRAW’s sale to a new ownership group.
Within a few years, WRAW would end up owned by Lancaster’s Steinman media family, while WEEU was sold to the Reading Eagle, which still owns the station to this day and operates it as a vibrant full-service station from a studio building just across the street from Eagle headquarters on North 4th Street, just a couple of blocks from the old WRAW/WEEU site.
After starting out pre-NARBA as a daytimer on 830, WEEU became a full-time 1 kW signal at 850, then returned to 830 in 1999 from a new site way out of town in Shartlesville. (We showed you both sites in an early Site of the Week installment back in 2003; the old 850 site is now a shopping center, and the Wawa where we stopped on the way out of town sits almost where the old WEEU transmitter building once did.)
There’s a whole piece we could write someday on Reading’s brief but exciting TV history; in 1953, WEEU-TV 33 was an early UHF entrant, competing with Humboldt Grieg’s WHUM-TV 61, an offshoot of the city’s third AM station, WHUM 1240. By 1956, both were gone, leaving Reading to be covered every once in a while by Philadelphia stations and Lancaster’s WGAL-TV. In the 1980s, newcomer WTVE 51 tried as a local independent, and more recently Allentown’s WFMZ-TV 69 has provided a daily “Berks Edition” newscast from a studio on the ground floor of a parking garage a block west of WEEU and the Eagle. (You can see WFMZ’s main Allentown facility in this Site of the Week installment.)
WRAW, which moved from 1310 to 1340 in NARBA and stayed put thereafter, went through several owners over the years, including Rust Communications and eventually Clear Channel/iHeart. By the time it ended up in corporate hands, it had settled in to a studio site on Perkiomen Avenue on the city’s east side, where it remains today. (It’s Spanish tropical now, as “Rumba 1340 & 92.3,” with the inevitable FM translator.)
From the east side studios of WRAW and sister FM station WRFY (Y 102.5), we head north, skirting the western slope of Mount Penn. Off Spring Street, a cell tower carries the antenna of translator W257DI, which brings hip-hop to Reading as “Loud 99.3,” fed by an HD subchannel of WLEV (100.7) over in Allentown; we can look eastward up to the top of Mount Penn to see the sites of several more translators – as well as the historic home of WEEU-TV during its brief existence, and later of WTVE
We very much need to get back to Reading to look more closely at the history up on Mount Penn (as well as to go up the observation pagoda that’s been a landmark there for the better part of a century, and to make it to a ballgame at historic Municipal Stadium, or whatever they call the place where the Fightin Phils play these days!)
And perhaps when we do, we can also get closer to the two towers on the south side of town. In 1973, WRAW moved from a rooftop site at the Pomeroy Building (6th and Penn, downtown) to its current tower site off South 9th Street near the Neversink Reservoir; the FM station, meanwhile, has long made its home a mile or so to the east and a few hundred feet higher, up off Neversink Mountain Road overlooking the borough of Mount Penn.
(And what of the old WHUM 1240? Cumulus owns it now, as sports WIOV, and its tower sits across the Schuylkill River from downtown Reading. We need to see that, too, when we make our return visit.)
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Next week: Connecticut, autumn 2017