Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s hard to believe it’s been 22 years now since we made our home in eastern New England and could get out to any of these sites any time we wanted. We don’t get back to the Boston area as often as we’d like, but in the late summer of 2018 we found ourselves with a free Sunday and not much to do – and so off we went to collect some new airchecks and update some of our photo albums, starting up in the Merrimack Valley.
First stop on this sunny August morning was in downtown Lawrence, where an unsual bit of history continues to tower over Amesbury Street. Way back in 1937, WLLH in nearby Lowell received FCC permission to put up a synchronous on-channel booster here in Lawrence, and today it’s one of only a tiny handful of such synchronous AMs remaining. Not long ago, WLLH’s current owners came close to shutting off their Lowell signal and making Lawrence the primary transmitter, but that plan was scuttled, and now “Mega 95.1” continues to be heard in both cities, as well as on an FM translator over in Lowell. (Read more about the early days of WLLH in this nifty station booklet over at American Radio History!)
After World War II, WLLH got competition in both cities – in Lowell, from my alma mater, WCAP (980), and here in Lawrence from WCCM (800). It had been a while since we’d been out to the old WCCM site in Andover, which has changed quite a bit. WCCM is now WNNW, part of Costa-Eagle’s broadcast group here, and while it no longer shares its tower with its former FM sister, it does now have a translator here (on 102.9, and in HD no less!), as well as a new diplexed AM sister, WUBG (1570 Methuen). The AM is the old Beverly 1570, which moved inland and added a translator to the south on 105.3, becoming “Big 105.3” with oldies; the WNNW translator on 102.9, meanwhile, carries “NETalks.net” on its HD2, continuing a format that used to be on 1110 over in Salem, New Hampshire (which is now WMVX, playing classic hits as “Valley 98.9” with a powerful new translator.)
Confused yet? Let’s keep going just to the west across I-93, where we find the beefy tower of what was once WLLH’s FM sister, the old WSSH (99.5). It’s still licensed to Lowell, but it’s now “Classical New England” WCRB, programmed out of WGBH in Boston and carrying on the legacy of WGBH’s erstwhile commercial competitor that used to be on 102.5 in Waltham. This tower also carries WLLH’s 95.1 translator and a fairly potent LPFM, WGUA-LP (98.1).
Head south from here on I-93 and you’ll see something that looks more like Las Vegas than Boston: that’s the new (and as yet still unopened) casino in Everett sitting incongruously in an old industrial area. And yes, it’s pretty much identical in appearance to the twin resorts Steve Wynn built in Vegas; it started out with plans to be another Wynn, but now it instead carries the name of its sister property, Encore.
But this isn’t “Casino of the Week,” it’s “Site of the Week,” and the point here is that those two towers in the foreground are Everett’s AM station, WKOX (1430), the former WXKS (AM). They now also carry a diplex partner, WILD (1090) – and this picture was taken from the current iHeart studios nearby at 1 Cabot Road, right on the spot where the old WILD 1090 tower once sat back in the day. (We’ll see it in more detail in an upcoming installment.)
And we’ll close out this week’s installment with still another AM diplex.
WJIB (740) in Cambridge is a station near and dear to our hearts – your editor used to co-host “Let’s Talk About Radio” there with station owner Bob Bittner back in the 1990s, and spent plenty of time in this self-storage complex that houses WJIB’s studio and transmitter and abuts its self-supporting tower. Only now, that tower carries more signals: we were proud to have helped Bob get a construction permit for a translator on 101.3, and this was our first chance to see its antenna shining there up on the top of the tower.
And what’s that running up the middle of the tower? It’s the tuned feed section for WNTN (1550), which moved here last year from the old studio/transmitter plant on Rumford Ave. in Newton where it had started back in 1968. (Bob spent some of his early radio years working there – and also spent time at 1430 when it was WXKS AM!)
That property in Newton became very valuable in recent years, so WNTN ended up with new studios in Needham, a new city of license of Cambridge and a new diplex here at WJIB’s tower, where it runs 6700 watts by day and 3 watts at night.
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Next week: Boston’s Public Broadcasters, 2018