Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s one of the most important broadcast sites in all of New England, and yet somehow we let 17 years elapse between visits to the top of Boston’s Prudential Tower.
Back in 2004, we visited in the company of the engineers from what was then Greater Media, passing by competitors’ transmitter rooms without getting inside. By September 2021, a lot had changed, including the ownership and call letters of those competitors.
Let’s start on the mechanical floors at the top of the building, where the original FM tenants here began building out transmitter space in the 1970s. What was then WBCN (104.1) arrived in 1971 from the old Hancock Building, getting a walled-off room to itself that it still occupies half a century later. It’s owned by Audacy now, and those locked doors tell the story of call changes from WBCN to WBMX to the present WWBX, marked off in Sharpie on a “Mix 104” sticker.
There used to be a fenced-in cage nearby housing WXKS-FM (107.9), which arrived in 1973 (as WWEL-FM) from the old AM 1430 site at Wellington Circle. In 1983, what was then WHUE-FM on 100.7 came here to the 51st floor after an ill-fated attempt to use the new Hancock Tower a few blocks away ended after a transmitter fire.
All three stations were competitors for years, until the consolidation of the 1990s put WBCN and 100.7, by now WZLX, under common ownership by Infinity and then CBS Radio. They stayed in separate rooms all that time, and it’s only in more recent years that there’s been physical rearrangement to match the changes in corporate ownership.
When CBS Radio was acquired by Entercom a few years ago, its Boston cluster splintered: Entercom kept 104.1, but ownership caps and market concentration issues forced it to spin off several signals, including WBZ(AM) and WZLX, to what was by then iHeart Media. That opened the way for iHeart to get its WXKS-FM out of the fenced-in cage and into a more proper transmitter room one floor up, shared with WZLX.
Both stations took over a room that had once been used by the defunct MediaFLO service, and they had just finished up the rebuild when we stopped by on a dreary September afternoon. Everything’s new in here: each station has a nearly-identical line of GatesAir main and aux transmitters flanking processing and STL racks. Space remains at a premium here, so the combiner for 100.7 and 107.9 hangs from the ceiling in a corner of the room, part of a larger distributed combiner system that also sends 104.1 and WMJX (106.7) to the upper of two ERI master antennas on the big rooftop central mast.
On the way up to the roof and out to the drizzle and fog, we get a peek through hanging plastic sheeting at the renovations under way to what used to be the Top of the Hub restaurant and observation deck, now gutted and being rebuilt as a fancy event space. (The gutted space includes what had once been the transmitter room of the old WIHS-TV/WSBK-TV 38, then later used by WQTV/WABU-TV 68. Both stations eventually moved elsewhere, and now there’s only some low-power TV up here at the Pru.)
After the initial FMs moved in during the 1970s and early 1980s, there wasn’t any indoor room left for the next round of tenants. WMJX (106.7) moved in the mid-80s from Needham (where it was WBZ-FM, sharing the WBZ-TV tower), followed in the 1990s by what would become its Greater Media/Beasley sister stations: WBOS (92.9), WBQT (96.9) and WROR (105.7). The last three stations got their own separate master antenna beneath the original ERI, while all four stations moved into containers set back from the edge of the building’s lower rooftop.
They’re all still there, though only three of them are Beasley’s now. The end of CBS Radio in Boston included a swap that sent CBS’ “Sports Hub” (WBZ-FM 98.5) to Beasley, while Entercom got WMJX. And that’s why today’s Audacy engineers now take care of transmitters in two areas here – 104.1 in its original room downstairs and, at least for now, WMJX in part of the Beasley container row on the roof.
Even on a lousy day, you still don’t pass up the chance to get some views from the second-tallest rooftop in Boston. Look east and there’s the Hancock tower, with downtown and the Financial District in the haze beyond.
Looking north across the Charles River, there’s MIT and its Eastgate Tower building, home to WMBR (88.1) – but soon to be demolished and replaced with a new building and a new WMBR site on that roof.
Look west and you’re staring right down into Fenway Park, where we’d return later that night to see the Sox in action. (And for once, the Mass Pike was moving fairly freely!)
One more rooftop sight here before we move on – adjacent to the Beasley containers, there’s a shorter mast holding aux antennas for several of the FMs here.
There is, of course, also a great view eastward to the even taller (by about 40 feet) rooftop of the “new Hancock Tower,” formally known these days as 200 Clarendon Street after the exit of its namesake tenant.
While full-power FM was there only briefly after that 100.7 site burned in the early 1980s, plenty of lower-powered signals have used that roof. These days, the FM lineup includes three on-channel boosters for rimshot signals, WXRV (92.5), WXLO (104.5) and WKVB (107.3), as well as translators on 99.9, 103.7 and 106.1.
2023 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK…
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Next week: WRKO 680, Boston