Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the Cradle of Liberty, and not just because the younger child, now 10, is a huge history buff who’d probably move in to Independence Hall if they’d let him.
The summer of 2018 found us in Philadelphia for another hobby interest, but with a free afternoon to break away and catch up with some radio friends to update our Philadelphia coverage – and to see some things that weren’t going to be there much longer.
(As well as to see the prodigious construction in Center City – check out that crane overlooking the old WMMR 93.3 backup on the PSFS building and the One Liberty site of WMMR’s main and of Radio One’s WPPZ 107.9 beyond. It’s one of many that now dot the city in the midst of a big building boom.)
It wasn’t all that long ago – 2013, to be exact – when we last visited the building at 400 Market Street, on a different “this won’t be here much longer” quest. At the time, CBS Radio was the cluster owner here, and it was about to uproot its all-news KYW (1060) for the second time in just a few years. KYW had spent 35 years next door at the corner of Fifth and Market in the building Westinghouse had built for radio and TV in the early 1970s. KYW-TV had moved a mile or so to the northwest, while KYW radio slid next door to this building, but not for long, as it prepared to reunite with the TV station up at 15th and Spring Garden.
KYW’s FM sister station, then WYSP (94.1), also moved here to 400 Market, where it joined up with a new CBS Radio sister, all-sports WIP (610)…which eventually moved its format and calls over to 94.1, after which the AM signal was eventually sold off to Beasley.
And by the time we made it back to 400 Market in the summer of 2018, WIP (now on 94.1) had been joined by more new CBS sisters, talker WPHT (1210) and WOGL (98.1). Except that WOGL then moved back out to suburban Bala Cynwyd, whence it had come just a few years earlier…and with CBS having just sold its radio operations to Entercom, all of its far-flung Philadelphia properties were busily preparing for a 2019 move that will consolidate them all within Philly city limits, just across the street from 30th Street Station west of downtown.
When we arrived on the ninth floor, the WIP part of things looked pretty familiar from our last visit. There’s a new lounge area just outside the main talk studio, sponsored by Xfinity, and the studio itself doesn’t just have naming rights paid for by Tastykake – it has an entire well-stocked rack of Tastykake goodies right there outside the studio door!
Look closely in the control room and you’ll see an entire second SAS console there, which I believe is used for some of the sports play-by-play that originates here (WIP has the Eagles and Phillies, while crosstown rival WPEN has the Flyers and Sixers. It’s no coincidence that the main WIP studio is all done up in a tasteful shade of Eagles green.)
Down the hall, there’s plenty of additional studio space, going back to when WYSP and WIP were operating separately here.
Up one floor, the space where KYW’s newsroom and its studios (“Studio K,” “Studio Y” and “Studio W”) used to be had been extensively remodeled when WOGL and WPHT moved in from Bala. There’s a big guest lounge area at one end of the hallway next to WPHT’s studio and control room; WOGL had been down at the other end, more or less where KYW’s newsroom used to be.
There’s some local talk here on WPHT, but it was syndicated fare (Rush Limbaugh) on the air when we stopped by, so the sunny talk studio was fairly quiet.
While WPHT, WIP and their Entercom sisters prepare for another round of moves, it’s been a nice long stable run for one of their public radio sisters, WXPN (88.5) at the University of Pennsylvania. Back in 2004, WXPN moved out of its cramped old digs up in the attic of a Victorian mansion on the Penn campus, setting up camp in a former plumbing factory a few blocks away on Walnut Street.
We’d been there when the studios were new, and wanted to stop back in to say hello and see how the space had evolved over the years.
From Walnut Street, which is elevated over train tracks, you enter the building on the top floor, where you’re greeted by a jukebox, the main WXPN office lobby (with a production studio off to the side) – and, if you look to the left, the bar for “World Cafe Live!,” the restaurant/performance venue that leases part of the building and licenses the name of WXPN’s flagship national show.
A big stairwell at the middle of the building takes us down two flights to the main World Cafe Live! performance space downstairs – and to the main WXPN studios across the hallway, where visitors are greeted by a case of historical material going back to WXPN’s earliest days as the Penn student station.
Through the door, the studios haven’t changed much since 2004 – except that the walls have been mostly covered by now by the signatures of all the musicians who’ve passed through here.
The studios are cleverly named – “John,” “Paul,” “George” and “Ringo” – and the bathroom around the corner is “Liverpool.” The main air studio (“John,” if memory serves) is home, as it is every afternoon, to David Dye, who’s given up hosting the national “World Cafe” broadcast but still does WXPN’s local show in front of the latest generation of the Logitek consoles that went in here on day one.
The production studios are all fairly similar, with earlier versions of the Logitek gear; one of them was, for a time, running the “Y Rock on XPN” format that made its home on WXPN’s HD2 for a time after Radio One shut down the late, great “Y100” alternative format on terrestrial radio.
The rack room down the hall has gotten a little more crowded over the years, now that WXPN feeds not only its main Philadelphia transmitter site (we saw that a few years ago over in the Roxborough farm) but also satellite stations WXPH in Harrisburg, WXPJ up in northwest New Jersey, and WKHS down in Maryland.
The performance studio across the hall from the main air studio is still a beautiful, great-sounding room, with a very new console that had just been installed in its adjoining control room. When we stopped by over the summer, there was also a new video production room being installed down the hall that can be fed from the World Cafe Live! theater next door.
One more site completes this trip: our last night on the road found us in Trenton, New Jersey to see the Trenton Thunder play AA baseball – and the next morning, on the way to show the history-buff youngster the site of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, we passed the Yardley, PA transmitter site of what’s now WNJE (920 Trenton). This was religious WCHR for most of its existence, and those calls (now on a sister station) still adorn the front of the old transmitter building here.
Thanks to Entercom’s Dave Skalish and WXPN’s Jared Styles for the tours!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss a big batch of Philadelphia and Trenton IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
In two weeks: Back to Boston