By SCOTT FYBUSH
One of New England’s oldest surviving AM transmitter sites is also one of its prettiest. Nestled in the suburbia of Holden, Massachusetts, just north of Worcester, WTAG (580) has called Shrewsbury Street its home since way back in 1936, when the Worcester Telegram and Gazette moved their AM station from their downtown Worcester rooftop to what was then a three-tower directional array, among the more complex DAs built in that early era.
The site went through some early troubles: the mammoth hurricane of 1938 (before the days when hurricanes were named) made a direct hit on Worcester, taking down WTAG’s array. The station quickly rebuilt, and by the end of March 1939 it was back on the air with a three-tower in-line array duplicating its original facility.
In 1941, WTAG added two more towers to boost its night power from 1000 to 5000 watts, and in 1954 the site was again hit by a hurricane. Hurricane Carol (which also toppled the WBZ-TV tower 50 miles to the east in Boston) took out WTAG’s fifth tower, and it was never rebuilt; instead, WTAG re-engineered its night pattern to use only the three original towers (seen behind and to the right of the transmitter building in the photo above) and the fourth tower built in 1941 (at the left).
By then, of course, WTAG was also heavily involved in the new world of FM radio: W1XTG signed on around 1940 from here in Holden but soon moved to Mount Asnebumskit in Paxton, where Boston department store magnate John Shepard and FM inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong were doing their own FM experiments at W1XOJ. WTAG eventually applied for a TV license on channel 5 from Asnebumskit, and even built a studio building up there big enough to house a TV facility, but political pressure shifted the channel east to Boston and WTAG-TV never became a reality. WTAG-FM (eventually on 96.1) was a rare survivor of the early FM days, even as W1XOJ/WGTR shut down, and the Asnebumskit transmitter site and would-be TV studio eventually became the FM studio when WTAG sold its FM license to Norman Knight, who renamed it WSRS. The whole thing came full-circle in the 1980s when Knight also bought the AM station from the Telegram and Gazette; today, WTAG and WSRS are owned by Clear Channel and operating from the Asnebumskit studios, where there’s also an FM translator on 94.9 for WTAG.
And out here at Holden, WTAG’s long history (the station turns 90 in 2014) is still being celebrated. Chief engineer Dan Kelleher has collected as much WTAG memorabilia as he can find to fill the old transmitter building, providing visitors with a feast of old scrapbooks, framed photos and gear dating back to WTAG’s earliest days. Some of it, as shown above at left, fills the space where an earlier, larger 5-kilowatt transmitter once sat in the front wall of the transmitter room, facing the current row of transmitters that includes a Harris Gates 5 and a newer Harris DAX, along with the phasor.
This is the rare site that’s actually open for tours: every few years, Dan holds an open house out here, usually timed to coincide with WTAG’s anniversary. We’d missed a few of those open houses, so we were delighted when Dan put together a gathering just for our visit in the fall of 2010…and we’d love to get back sometime to get a more detailed look at all the goodies in this venerable building!
Thanks to Dan Kelleher for the tour!
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Next week: WGBH-FM, Great Blue Hill, Milton, MA