Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you keep track of such things, as we do for the Tower Site Calendar, you might recall that exactly a year ago, we showed you the site in East Springfield, Massachusetts where WBZ radio made its debut in September 1921, as viewed on the precise centennial date in 2021.
While WBZ didn’t have any sort of formal centennial party, we enjoyed our own private commemoration a few days later, when engineer Marc Fisher invited your editor out to the current WBZ transmitter site in Hull, on the Massachusetts coast, to catch up on everything that had happened here in the quarter of a century since your editor worked for the station.
From the front, nothing looks very different, and that’s by design – when this building went up in 1940, replacing an earlier 50,000-watt site in Millis to the southeast of Boston, it was designed to blend in with the little Cape Cod-style houses on Newport Avenue, at least as much as you can when there’s a pair of 500-foot towers in the backyard.
Inside, however, things look a lot tidier then they did in the 1990s. Since a renovation in the 1970s (more on that in a bit), the main entrance to the building is in the back, where industrial doors open into what’s now a small workbench area adjoining the original 1940s garages, one of which now houses a generator.
Before we enter the main transmitter room, we look to the right, where the telltale U-shaped hallway that winds back into a small fallout shelter, where FEMA-provided equipment from the 1990s still sits, probably never to be used. (That’s a nice clean Otari, though, isn’t it?)
The main transmitter room has changed only incrementally since the 1990s. An older Harris MW50 is gone now, replaced by a newer 3DX50 that alternates main duty with the DX50 that was the newest rig back then.
The desk in the middle of the room looks a little neater now, and there’s some new gear in the rack across from the transmitters, with new STL paths now leading back to WBZ’s new studio in Medford instead of the studio in Allston where your editor worked. (We didn’t have EAS equipment or PPM encoding then, either!)
The phasor from the 1970s is still right where it’s always been, but behind it the formerly blank wall has now been decorated with photos that we recognized right away – they’re from the WBZ 75th anniversary party back in 1997. (One of the photos from that event isn’t here, because it’s in your editor’s home office, showing the aftermath of Hurricane Carol that toppled the 600-foot TV tower behind the Allston studios in 1954.)
Every time we’re here, we seem to learn something new about the history of this building, one of three similar facilities Westinghouse built in the 1940s. (The others were at KDKA in Pittsburgh and KYW in Philadelphia.)
We knew this plant went through a major renovation in the 1970s, but now we have the blueprints to show what moved where. It turns out the original 1940 design had one larger room in what’s now been divided up into three spaces. There was an enclosed office area in the middle of the original transmitter room, where the desk now sits. Where the racks and phasor now sit in front of a wall is roughly where the original Westinghouse 50HG transmitter sat; today, that walled-off area that would have been behind the Westinghouse is now a storage room and home to a big dummy load.
And we know now that this renovation is when the original front door was walled in, replaced by a fake facade in front!
Upstairs, the attic hasn’t changed much – somewhere up here, we think, we’d still find the old transmitter logs for WBOS, the shortwave station Westinghouse operated in the 1940s and early 1950s from antennas mounted on wooden telephone poles in the swamp out back.
Out back, there’s something very new: not long after this visit, WBZ officially dedicated the new FEMA EAS presidential entry point facility that sits behind the transmitter building. While most PEP sites have the enclosures sitting out in the open, the harsh coastal weather here means the main enclosure sits inside a second concrete block shelter.
And yes, we get to walk out the wooden catwalk (which has to be rebuilt every decade or two) to the tuning houses to look up at the huge towers that are a Hull landmark. The tower bases and ATUs went through a big rebuild two decades ago, and WBZ’s signal remains loud and proud into its second century from these big sticks.
Thanks to iHeart’s Marc Fisher for the tour
2023 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK…
The 2023 Tower Site Calendar is in pre-production at the moment. We will be taking early-bird orders very soon!
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Next week: Boston’s Prudential Tower