Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to see some transmitter sites from the very dawn of FM radio? You’ll find several in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, where several big FM signals claim histories going back almost 80 years.
One of those is what’s now WZZO (95.1 Bethlehem), which has been the valley’s big rock station since the late 1970s. But the class B FM facility already had a long history by then – it signed on in 1947 as WGPA-FM on 94.7, quickly moving to 95.1 (presumably to avoid co-channel interference with WAAT-FM in Newark, New Jersey.)
We’ll get back to WZZO and its history, but this actually isn’t why we’re here – we’re seeing the translator that’s been up here for a few years. W258DV (99.5) has been tied to Easton’s WEST (1400) since 2018, which means these days it’s the “Loud” hip-hop station for the eastern half of the Lehigh Valley, paired with the 106.9 translator in Allentown we showed you last week.
The WEST translator lives in a little back room of the block building directly under the self-supporting tower that’s been here since the 1940s, up a little driveway from Applebutter Road, up on the ridge alongside I-78 southeast of Bethlehem.
More than a thousand feet above sea level, this was a commanding site back in the 1940s and it still is now – you can hear WZZO going southward into Philadelphia and on a good day eastward almost to New York City. Back at the beginning, when this was WGPA-FM, it would have been a most impressive coverage advantage over its daytime-only sister station, 1000-watt WGPA (1100), which barely reached the whole valley.
By the 1970s, the newspaper interests that had put WGPA on the air sold the signals. WGPA-FM went easy listening as WEZV before being sold off separately to become WZZO.
What’s up here these days in the front room, WZZO’s space? Turn to your right as you walk in and you’ll see the station’s analog transmitters, two Harrises of older vintage. There’s another set of racks perpendicular to the analog rigs, backing up to the translator room, where we also see the Z-era Harris for WZZO’s HD signal.
Up on the tower, the 3-bay Shively at the top is WZZO’s main, while a one-bay Jampro halfway down serves as the aux. In between, that’s a 4-bay Shively for the 99.5 translator. (And that odd little tower that’s bracketed right on to the original tower carries multiple two-way antennas for non-broadcast services.)
We’d have spent more time up here on this ridge, but we were out of daylight, so there’s a return to the valley in our future to see more history up here.
WE’RE FIRMLY IN 2023
And if you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Lehigh Valley IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: A new tower in the Finger Lakes