Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our end-of-summer travels focused mostly on greater Boston, since that’s where so many studios (and a few transmitters!) were on the move. But we headed south at the end of the trip, too, to catch up with old friend Aaron Read and see the project he was getting ready to take to air.
Aaron is the chief engineer of Rhode Island’s public radio stations, which have been going through a whole bunch of transformations. That new name, “The Public’s Radiiiiiiiiiiio”? While the sign was up at the new transmitter building, that new branding for the former Rhode Island Public Radio hadn’t yet been officially unveiled when we visited at the very end of August.
And in fact, this facility wasn’t even on the air yet, though we missed it by only a day or two. This is Tiverton, Rhode Island, on the east shore of the Sakonnet River, and it’s been a broadcast site since the very first day of 1963, when WTEV (Channel 6) signed on from a thousand-foot tower here as the third VHF station serving the Providence market. Licensed to New Bedford, Massachusetts, channel 6 was long the third-place station in town, even after switching from ABC to CBS and back again, and changing calls along the way to WLNE and moving its studios to Providence. The advent of digital TV moved WLNE’s transmitter up to Rehoboth, Mass. with the rest of the market’s stations, giving it better signal parity – and leaving behind a big, mostly-empty tower here in Tiverton.
There’s only one active room now in the old WLNE building, home to the transmitter of Spanish-language WKKB (100.3 Middletown) and an STL hop for Hall’s WCTK (98.1), which has its transmitter in New Bedford and its studio in Providence.
Upstairs, the old WTEV/WLNE transmitter room has been mostly emptied; there’s nothing left of the channel 6 analog transmitter, though some racks of old STL equipment still sit silently in the control room.
So why are we in here and what does it have to do with The Public’s Radiiiiiiiiiiiiiio? Back in the summer of 2017, then-RIPR beefed up its lineup of signals by acquiring WUMD (89.3 North Dartmouth MA) from UMass Dartmouth. Renamed WXNI, that signal provided more robust coverage for the network east of Providence – but there was room to make it even bigger, and so Aaron and his team moved swiftly to apply to move 89.3 here to Tiverton. With a new city of license of Newport and a new set of calls, WNPN, the new class B1 signal from Tiverton was just about to hit the air when we stopped by to see the new Nautel transmitter in the old MediaFLO enclosure at the WLNE compound and the new Shively panel antenna up near the top of the tower, just under the old channel 6 antenna that still sits up top. (Why use the enclosure instead of the old WLNE building? Easier to control heating, cooling and access…)
With plenty of late-summer daylight, we hop back in the NERW-mobile to follow Aaron eastward to the UMass Dartmouth campus to see where 89.3 was moving from.
This was still the University of Southern Massachusetts when its first radio voice signed on in 1974. WUSM was on 91.1, transmitting from the top of the distinctive concrete campanile tower that was already a landmark at the center of the oh-so-late-sixties Brutalist concrete campus.
WUSM became WSMU, and then not long after USM was absorbed into the UMass campus in 1991, the university applied for a second FM license with higher power at 89.3. That hit the air in 2006 as WUMD, using a new three-bay vertical antenna above the old 91.1 antenna; 91.1 was then sold off to EMF to become a K-Love outlet under the new calls WTKL. (WUMD survives now as a streaming-only station after 89.3 was sold off to RIPR in 2017.)
EMF’s 91.1 and what’s now TPR’s 89.3 still share a transmitter building, a squat concrete building next door to the base of the campanile tower – and 89.3 will stay here as an auxiliary site now that Tiverton is up and running with its bigger signal.
(Disclaimer: Fybush Media provides consulting services to TPR, including serving as broker for the sale of TPR’s former AM station, WRPA 1290 Providence and its new FM translator CP, W275DA 102.9 Providence. Can we help you with your signal needs?)
After spending a night in Providence (and enjoying some nice seafood), we headed back home the long way the next day, checking out some signals in north central and western Massachusetts and grabbing IDs that you’ll hear soon on Tophour.com – and eventually winding our way down through the Berkshires to end up along US 20 in Pittsfield. The lovely late-afternoon summer light showed off two of the three AMs in town – WUPE (1110) and WBEC (1420) are now both owned by Townsquare Media, with studios at the WBEC site (albeit on the other side of the property from this southern view, which also showcases the aux antenna of WBEC-FM 95.9.)
There’s one more stop before we cross back into New York, and it’s another station we’ve had the pleasure of helping at Fybush Media. WTBR (89.7 Pittsfield) lost its studio and transmitter site when Taconic High School built a new building last year – at which point the nice folks at Pittsfield Community TV stepped in to help save the community’s station.
PCTV worked out a deal with the school to operate the station, finding a new transmitter site in downtown Pittsfield (we helped with that!) and moving the WTBR studio equipment to what had been an office space right at the front of the PCTV facility out on the edge of town, in space shared with Spectrum’s cable offices.
That studio was still under construction when we stopped by (and the transmitter site hadn’t been built yet), but we got the tour of the rest of PCTV’s spacious and well-equipped plant, including a studio where the curtains hide a secret – check out the WTBR record library, which now lines the walls of the big TV studio!
Thanks to TPR’s Aaron Read and PCTV’s Shawn Serre for the tours!
The 2020 Tower Site Calendar will soon be off the press, but you don’t have to wait to order it.
For the month of September, you can order your copy in advance for 20% off the regular price.
Note to our regular buyers (and our irregular buyers — we love every one of you): This is not this year’s cover, as this year’s calendar is still in production. We promise the real cover will be just as beautiful, if not more.
Visit our store to buy the new calendar and check out our other products.
And don’t miss a big batch of Providence/New Bedford and Pittsfield IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Close to Home – Some Rochester Sites