Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
“Radio moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and take some pictures once in a while, you could miss it.”
OK, maybe that’s not exactly what Ferris Bueller said, but it’s true – at the speed radio is changing these days, we often find ourselves in danger of missing the opportunity to chronicle broadcast facilities before they move, and our first stop this week is a perfect example.
On the ground floor of an office building just off Route 2 in the eastern Hartford suburb of Glastonbury, Connecticut, this is the Hartford half of John Fuller’s Full Power Radio, or at least it was when we visited in October 2017.
As radio facilities go, this was a bit of an unusual one: it housed WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), the modern rocker Fuller had purchased as a spinoff from Clear Channel, as well as “Bomba,” the statewide Spanish-language station that runs on WMRQ’s HD2 and a plethora of translators that reach from Bridgeport north to Hartford and east to Rhode Island.
Beyond the lobby (where the station swag included, unusually, a bowl full of “Radio 104.1”-branded condoms!), most of this space was a big open bullpen area, with a few enclosed offices and a conference room on one side and the studios for WMRQ and Bomba at the far end, next to an engineering rack room. (Check out that giant circular window from the WMRQ studio out to the building entrance…you don’t see a window like that in many radio facilities, do you?)
We can talk about this Glastonbury facility in the past tense because something very big went down just after our visit: Full Power picked up two more Hartford-market stations, buying WDRC-FM (102.9) and three of the four “Talk of Connecticut” AMs (WDRC 1360 Hartford, WMMW 1470 Meriden, WSNG 610 Torrington) from Connoisseur, which also sold Fuller the WDRC studios and AM transmitter site up on Blue Hills Avenue in Bloomfield, north of Hartford. (We saw it in an earlier ownership incarnation back in 2007.)
And so WMRQ and Bomba have moved on…and we need to get back to Hartford to see how they’ve been integrated into the WDRC facility one day soon.
From Glastonbury, it’s a straight shot up Route 2 and across the bridge into downtown Hartford, where our visits over the years had somehow never taken us inside what’s now one of the city’s oldest radio facilities. iHeart Radio’s four FMs and one AM occupy most of the ground floor in the big office building at 10 Columbus Blvd. on the south side of downtown, the result of steady growth over the three decades since the first of these stations moved in.
That first station was WKSS (95.7), which was only a few years into its transition from beautiful music to top-40 when it relocated from a Victorian mansion on Wethersfield Ave. here to Columbus Boulevard in the late 1980s.
With consolidation in the 1990s, WKSS ended up as part of SFX, which brought in the former Merv Griffin stations – WPOP (1410) and WMRQ – as well as classic rock WHCN (105.9) and eventually also WWYZ (92.5 Waterbury), bringing their studios from three other locations around town to an expanded space here. SFX became part of Capstar in 1997, which begat AMFM, which begat Clear Channel, which begat today’s iHeart. (WMRQ, as noted above, eventually ended up with Fuller, but its space in the cluster was later filled by ESPN Radio outlet WUCS 97.9 Windsor Locks, a move-in from the Springfield, Mass. cluster to the north.)
So how does everyone fit in here? Let’s take a tour, starting with the two mirror-image studios visible behind the lobby glass. That’s WKSS on the left, country WWYZ on the right, each with supporting production rooms and programming offices down halls on either side.
Walk down the hall to the left and we pass the glassed-in rack room, where chief engineer Rick Walsh pauses to pull out a bit of history from the engineering offices behind the racks – that’s the old WPOP sign from the former AM transmitter/studio facility in Newington, which we still need to visit on a future trip.
The hallway turns again past the rack room, where we find another mirror-image studio pair. I think these were originally for WMRQ and WHCN; now one studio is used for WUCS and WPOP (which is mostly satellite-fed talk), while WHCN (now “The River”) occupies the other side, again with production studios and programming offices arrayed down the halls on either side of the studios. (The main air studios were revamped a few years ago with new SAS consoles and networking.)
Around the back side of this studio cluster, a former conference room was recently rebuilt as a really nice-looking talk studio, primarily for the benefit of WUCS’ afternoon Rob Dibble talk show. There’s a desk with spiffy lighting, a video wall and a comfy pair of leather chairs for more intimate interviews, all looking out toward the downtown skyline.
As this cluster grew, it took another big chunk of office space on the other side of the first floor, which is mostly used these days for sales and management offices – at least until you’ve walked all the way to the end of that space, where another former high-ceilinged conference room has been completely transformed into a live performance space, heavily branded with Dunkin Donuts logos.
These performance rooms have become a common feature at big radio clusters around the country, but this one is especially nicely done. Its curved entryway is plastered with photos of performers playing here, and that same curve forms the back wall of the round stage, which faces a seating area that includes some futuristic orange curvy seats that match the color of the big window into the elevated control room.
The video screens flanking the stage can rotate, and of course can display any of these stations’ logos – and to the left of the stage, a roll-up door provides access to a smaller conference area that in turn looks out toward Columbus Boulevard.
Thanks to John Fuller and Rick Walsh for the tours!
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Next week: Univision New York