Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of our recurring themes here at Site of the Week is “things that won’t be around much longer,” and it feels like we’re getting more and more “last chance to see this, so you’d better get here” opportunities lately.
One such opportunity presented itself in the fall of 2022, when WNAV in Annapolis, Maryland was in its final days in the “Radio Park” building it has called home almost since it hit the airwaves in 1949. As it turned out, our drive down to Annapolis was just the beginning of a week on the road seeing radio, TV and baseball around Maryland and Virginia – but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
WNAV gets its callsign from the big local institution, the US Navy and Naval Academy, and it’s had those calls and this location for more than 70 years, on Admiral’s Drive just west of the historic downtown area. (It spent only a year or so at a different studio location downtown before moving its studios out here.)
This is one of those fascinating buildings that just kept accreting history over the decades, and we start with a room that contains the entire history: hang a right behind the reception desk and you’re in the transmitter room, where pretty much every rig WNAV has ever operated is still in place. That’s the original 1950-era GE transmitter back in one corner, two RCAs that aren’t that much newer, and if you look closely in that first photo, a newer Armstrong that keeps things on the air these days.
WNAV increased power over the years, starting at 500 watts and growing to 5000 watts from its two-tower directional antenna; it’s pretty amazing to think it took that enormous GE rig just to generate a kilowatt back at the beginning.
There are a lot of studios here, and to be honest we sort of lost track of them all as we wound our way through the building. The present-day main air studio sits just behind the reception desk looking out into the lobby, originating the “Capital Gold WNAV” oldies format now on the air. It’s part of a cluster of studios that also includes a production studio and a talk studio.
Deeper into the building, there’s a newsroom and another cluster of studios that once had a very important role in the region’s radio history. Before WNAV was on AM, it was one of those post-war stations that first made it to the air on FM. WNAV-FM on 99.1 stayed on the air even after adding AM 1430, slogging along as a simulcast for many decades. Just after changing calls to WLOM as a beautiful music station in the early 1980s, both stations found a new owner: the Einstein family that had started progressive rock in the Washington market on the original WHFS (102.3). After selling their DC-market FM, they bought WNAV and WLOM and turned the FM into a new incarnation of WHFS, reaching both Washington and Baltimore on the 50 kW 99.1 signal.
For much of the 1980s, the hippest radio station in Baltimore and Washington came from out here in Annapolis, in this carpeted corner studio in an addition to the building’s north side. (Later on, WHFS would be sold separately to what became CBS Radio and then Audacy, which moved its studio and transmitter elsewhere; today, that 99.1 signal is leased out to Bloomberg Radio as WDCH.)
You can still see where the old WNAV-FM/WLOM/WHFS had its antenna, on a pole attached to the southernmost of the two towers here.
Today, there’s a new FM signal on the tower, a translator at 99.9 that puts WNAV’s oldies on FM, operating from a transmitter at the base of the tower (and yes, that’s a very, very short 950 MHz link between the back of the building and the transmitter hut.)
What’s next here? When former owner Pat Sajak – yes, that Pat Sajak – sold WNAV a few years ago, it was in two parts, separating this site on Admiral’s Drive from the station license. As with so many sites, the land is now quite valuable for development, and now that these studios have moved to rented space elsewhere in Annapolis, it’s just a matter of time before the site comes down, towers and all, with the AM and translator likely moving elsewhere.
As with so many of these little bits of history, at least now we’ve seen it – and now so have you!
Thanks to Chris Roth, Steve Clendenin and Tom Lawler for the tour!
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 Maryland IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Salisbury, Maryland revisited