Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
There’s no question that we need to spend a lot more time catching up on sites in and around New England. It’s where our sister column NorthEast Radio Watch began, after all, almost 30 years ago, and for a few years while we still lived in the Boston area, we had the chance to see almost every important site in the region.
It’s been too long since we’ve been back, though, especially to northern New England. During a short trip in the fall of 2021, we only scratched the surface. Our traveling companion, Lance Venta of RadioInsight, had literally never set foot in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine, so we did a quick spin through those states on the way to a little longer time back “home” in Boston.
The trip started, though, on a very important date: September 19, 2021, precisely 100 years to the day after Westinghouse Electric turned on its second station. Like KDKA in Pittsburgh 10 months earlier, WBZ was built atop a Westinghouse factory, this one in East Springfield, Massachusetts.
By 1924, WBZ had spawned a Boston satellite station, WBZA, and by 1931 the main WBZ facility had made the 90 mile move east to Boston, with the Springfield license becoming WBZA. For another 31 years, WBZA Springfield operated as a (mostly) simulcast of WBZ, never moving its transmitter from the longwire atop the roof here at the factory on Page Boulevard.
After WBZA left the air in 1962, the towers and the factory building remained, rusting away even after Westinghouse itself ended operations here.
As an alumnus of WBZ decades later, I had very much hoped that when the centennial date rolled around in 2021, the original Springfield site might still be there and could even be the site of some sort of celebration. Alas, plans for a shopping center led to the demolition of most of the old Westinghouse plant a few years ago, including the towers and the building on which they sat.
So on September 19, 2021, the only recognition this site had was your lonely editor, stopping by on Page Boulevard to get some pictures of the empty field where the old building and towers once held forth, as well as of the original Westinghouse administration building that still stands as part of the industrial park that now occupies the site. (I believe they now make train cars in that newer building out back.)
After a detour into Connecticut to see the Hartford Yard Goats, we turned around and headed north again on I-91 to give Lance a chance to spend a night in Vermont and part of the next day driving across New Hampshire. Right across the bridge from our Vermont hotel, Great Eastern Radio’s Upper Valley stations occupy an office building in what I think was an old bank in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. This busy building is home to rocker WHDQ (106.1 Claremont), country WXXK (100.5 Lebanon), hot AC WGXL (92.3 Hanover), hip-hop WTSL (1400 Hanover and a 97.5 translator), WWOD (93.9 Woodstock), and several more outlying signals heard on full-power FMs and translators.
The weather cleared dramatically as we headed down I-89 into Concord and then 93 into Manchester, where we made a quick stop to get an exterior shot of the new home of iHeart’s WGIR (610) and WGIR-FM (101.1), in one of the old mill buildings that line the Merrimack River. As we’ll see in a few installments, this building was about to add more stations with the closure of the company’s Portsmouth office.
From Manchester, Route 101 heads east toward the Seacoast, but before reaching the ocean we made a stop in Exeter, where the little building at 11 Downing Court has been home to radio stations since daytimer WKXR (1540) signed on here back in 1966.
55 years later, WKXR had become oldies WXEX, part of the “Seacoast Oldies” simulcast that includes its translator here on 97.1 and WXEX-FM (92.1) up in Sanford, Maine, all operating out of the old WKXR building here. (This was, of course, also the longtime home of WKXR’s former FM sister. WERZ on 107.1 eventually left this site to become part of what’s now the iHeart cluster, now operating from those Manchester studios 30 miles inland.)
A few hours later, we were in the heart of Maine, having checked into a hotel in Brunswick and then backtracked down the coast for a delicious seafood dinner right along the harbor in bustling downtown Portland.
Even after business hours, a stroll through downtown takes you past several broadcast facilities new and old without ever turning off Congress Street. At the corner of Congress and High, NBC affiliate WCSH (Channel 6) has long operated from a four-story studio and office building that now also originates everything for its Bangor sister, WLBZ (Channel 2), simulcasting as “NewsCenter Maine.”
The WCSH callsign came from the old Congress Square Hotel, which was attached to the neighboring Eastland Hotel starting in the 1920s. At the top of the Eastland’s roof, we spy the antenna for translator W223BH (92.5), which carries the sports programming of AM sister WRED (1440 Westbrook).
The nearby “Time and Temperature Building” at 477 Congress Street gets its name from the big digital display on its roof, and there’s broadcast history here, too. ABC affiliate WMTW (Channel 8) had its studios and newsroom here for a while, and Binnie Media has streetfront studios at Congress and Preble for its Portland stations, country WTHT (99.9 the Wolf), classic rock WFNK (Frank FM 107.5) and active rock WHXR (106.3 the Bone).
Two blocks to the southeast, the big One City Center office complex sits just south of Congress. It has long been home to the cluster that’s now Townsquare Media, occupying office and studio space on the second floor.
We peer through the glass, at least, to catch a glimpse of the studios of AC WHOM (94.9), modern rock WCYY (94.3), top-40 WJBQ (97.9) and classic rock WBLM (102.9), and one of these days we’ll get back up here longer and get some proper tours.
(But it was worth it just for the seafood, really!)
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND….
It’s the annual Tower Site Calendar!
This is the 23rd edition of our popular wall calendar, featuring gorgeous full-color photos of tower and transmitter sites from around the country, and sometimes the world. Our photos capture the sites throughout the day and throughout the year.
This makes a great gift for the tower enthusiast in your life — or a special treat for yourself!
Because it’s not yet off the press, we’re offering a pre-production price of $20. Once the calendar is printed, the price will go up to our regular price of $21.
Don’t wait – order yours today!
We have the Radio Historian’s Calendar again this year, too. There are only 25 in stock and they sell fast, so don’t wait to order.
And don’t miss a big batch of New England IDs next week, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: WJTO, Bath, Maine