September 12, 2008
WGY 810, Schenectady, NY
So we're all done with our recap of Big Trip 2007 - and just a few days ago, a big pile of boxes of Tower Site Calendar 2009 came back from the printer, all ready for sale and for your office or transmitter shack wall.
For the next few weeks here on Tower Site of the Week, we'll feature some of the sites shown in the new calendar - and we hope you'll take a moment to get your order in for the calendar, or better yet, show your support for Site of the Week and NorthEast Radio Watch with a subscription!
This week, we present a rarity: in a world where (miss ya, Don La Fontaine) radio stations usually go to great length not to advertise the locations of their transmitter sites for fear of vandalism, interference complaints, or what have you, WGY (810 Schenectady) proudly displays its frequency and calls in enormous red letters on the side of a big fat Blaw-Knox tower right alongside the New York State Thruway at the busy I-88 interchange.
For more than a quarter of a century, your editor has been driving past the tower wondering what lurks within. Last summer, I finally had the chance to find out...
As obvious as the tower is from the highway, the actual road into the site is pretty well-hidden, tucked off a side road behind a warehouse. Today, there's not much to see once you get there - a smallish cinderblock transmitter building, a few hundred feet of open-wire transmission line, and of course the tower.
But the present setup - a Harris MW50 for backup, a newer Harris 3DX50 Destiny as the main transmitter, and a rack of STL and processing gear - is just the latest incarnation of a very long history at this site.
While it's located in the town of Rotterdam, this is the famed "South Schenectady" site that General Electric began developing in 1923. WGY was just a year old then, but GE was already experimenting with "superpower" operation that would have been impractical at the station's original location on the roof of GE Building 40 at its Schenectady plant.
The South Schenectady site was designed as a 54-acre laboratory for broadcast transmission, with multiple towers, plenty of available utility and generator power, and lots of space for transmitters and antennas.
By 1925, the site housed an operating 50,000-watt transmitter; by 1927, a 100,000-watt unit was being tested, and in 1930, GE briefly experimented from here at the 200,000-watt level.
GE was experimenting beyond the medium waves, too: 1928 brought its first tests of television (soon moved to the nearby Helderberg Mountains, where WGY's former sister station, WRGB, still transmits), and regular shortwave broadcasting from this site began in the late twenties as well, continuing through World War II and shortly thereafter.
In 1938, WGY installed the current tower at the site. Publicity materials at the time claimed that the 625-foot tower was the tallest in the nation - a bit of an exaggeration, considering that WSM in Nashville already had an 878-footer in place for a few years at that point.
It's still a massive tower, especially as viewed from ground level, looking up at the guy wires that support the tower from four directions.
Alas, much of the history of this site is gone now. At some point along the line (possibly in the late sixties, though the time frame is unclear), the big transmitter building here was torn down. Today, all that remains is a grassless patch next to the current transmitter building, clearly visible in aerial views of the site but less obvious on the ground. Are there pictures of the old building and the transmitters that once filled it? I've never seen any, and with the succession of owners and studio locations that followed GE, any archives from those days appear to be lost, leaving only the majestic tower itself as testimony to what once was here.