Every year, the Maritime Radio Historical Societycelebrates the closing of the last commercial Morse code radio station, which happened at 0001 UTC, July 13, 1999. They do this by re-manning the watch for a few hours in honor of all those who so diligently listened for distress signals on 500 KHz and other frequencies continuously for over 90 years. Your humbleauthor was one of those, who in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s strained to hear, through the static crashes and OTHR, the simple, yet effective combination of SOS sent in Morse code.
Fortunately, after the closure of KPH, the National Parks Service took over the land and preserved the buildings and antenna fields intact. Today, a dedicated group of volunteers maintain these facilities as a working museum. This is the earliest history of radio technology and from this, sprang Amateur Radio, then Broadcast Radio services.
So, if you have the opportunity on July 12 (Sunday, starting at 8 pm, EDT), tune around to some of the frequencies listed below and see how ship to shore communications was handled:
425, 454, 468,480,512
These are duplex frequencies, meaning; the ship transmits on one frequency and listens on to the shore station on another and vice versa.
Those medium frequencies do not carry that far during daylight, however the high frequencies should be heard across the world.
In addition to that, there are youtube videos to watch:
There are more videos on youtube, if one is so inclined.
Those old RCA transmitter look like they are in excellent condition. Somebody has spent a lot of time restoring those units.
Hopefully, one of these years, I will get a chance to head out to San Fransisco during the middle of July and see this in person. It would be nice for my children to see what their old man used to do in what seems like a different lifetime.
I found these old drawings in the filing cabinet and thought they were kind of cool. They look like they were drawn sometime in the 50’s for the WPTR studio at 1860 Central Avenue in the Town of Colonie.
It looks like there was a lot of Neon, including a speller, which I take to mean the sign would spell “W-P-T-R 1540” then turn off again.
This was the sign for the entrance to the studio building
WPTR sign for front of old studio building at 1860 Central Avenue
I think this is a take off on the old KHJ sign in Los Angeles.
Whilst working in the generator room at WFLY, I found this bit of treasure stashed on an overhead shelf:
General Electric BY-4-C FM circular broadcast antenna, ca 1948
That is a very old FM broadcast antenna from 1947-48. It must have been intended as a spare antenna in case the main antenna had a problem. It was never needed, so it remains in its original shipping crate. I would think that these were rather well made, since the original main antenna was in service from 1948 until 1970 or so, when it was replaced with a Shively 6710.
General Electric BY-4-C antenna element
The entire antenna is intact including the interbay lines, power divider T’s and tuning section. Of course, it is of little use to the radio station today, as it is horizontally polarized. Perhaps some museum somewhere? I don’t know, it would be kind of neat to put it all together and use it as an exhibit.
Update and bump: I hate to rehash old stuff, but I added quite a bit of information to this post, including .pdfs of all the Barbeau letters, blue prints, etc. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work at this site lately, so it is in the front of my mind. I have also been reading about the Rural Radio Network, which covered western and central New York.
WFLY transmitter site, August 1949
Several years ago, I rescued a old filing cabinet that was being trashed. This particular file cabinet was moved to a transmitter site during the great radio consolidation of the late 90’s and early 00’s. In it, I discovered a treasure trove of early documents about two radio stations from the Albany NY area. I thought it would be interesting to document the building of one of the early FM stations in Albany, WFLY.
Albany is the capital of New York. There were several early (prior to 1940) AM radio stations in the Albany area:
WGY previously owned by General Electric in Schenectady, signed on in 1922
General Electric, who worked closely with RCA in radio development and experimentation, was working on TV in 1928 and FM radio in 1938/39. There were also several early (prior to 1950) FM stations in the area:
GE owned W2XOY on 48.5 MHz (circa 1939), later W85A, WGFM, and WRVE 99.5 MHz.
Independently owned W47A on 44.7 MHz (circa 1940), later WBCA 101.1 MHz, now gone.
WTRY owned WTRI-FM on 102.7 MHz (circa 1947), off air by 1954. 102.7 frequency later used by WEQX in Manchester, VT
These stations operated from transmitter sites in the Helderberg escarpment on land that was formerly owned by the Albany Bible Institute. It is interesting to note that two of the four FM stations did not make it past 1955. In 1967, WTRY did make a second attempt at FM, launching WDKC on 106.5 MHz, which is today known as WPYX.
It would appear the Troy Record initially applied for an FM broadcasting license in late 1946. The paper trail that I have starts in early 1947, when the station hired consulting engineer Ernest Barbeau of Schenectady to oversee the construction process for the studios and transmitter site. Ernest Barbeau, in an introductory letter to Frank York, publisher of the Troy Record, notes himself as a former GE engineer and assistant to W.R.G. Baker, General Electric’s television pioneer. At the time, it was already understood the height means almost everything in FM broadcasting. There are several letters dealing with land acquisition and transmitter building construction.
Below is a chart of all the various Barbeau letters written in 1947. I have scanned and uploaded .pdf files of each letter, sorted by date (the entire archive is available here (6.5 Mb .zip)):
This is a treasure trove of information on how this, and perhaps other early FM and TV stations went about finding land and building remote transmitter sites. Remember that before this, AM transmitters could be placed in any convenient location with enough space for the tower and ground system. The line of sight nature of VHF required high locations, which in the Northeastern US, means prominent hills or mountains. Sadly, this paper trail goes away in 1948.
Here are some of the highlights found in the letters above:
Washington DC consulting engineer for the project is John Barrons, who at one point suggests a different transmitter location closer to the city of Troy. Barbeau insists that the Helderberg location is best because the GE engineers chose it for their FM and TV experiments.
Negotiations with several land owners along the edge of the Helderberg escarpment are finally successful, with a 10 acre parcel of land purchased from Mr. La Grange, noted as being across Camp Pinnacle Road to the south of the WBCA transmitter and adjacent to the west of the GE parcel, cost $2,000. From this, I surmise the former W47A/WBCA site stood where the former WHMT/WVCR site stands today.
Land survey completed by Mr. J. Kempf of Albany.
The FCC application is completed with new transmitter location, antenna height and frequency of 92.5 MHz (this was changed to 92.3 MHz prior to sign on).
At one point, Barbeau tried to hire Walter Watson, an RPI architecture student, to draw up the studio floor plan, paying him $15.00. At first Watson agrees, then backs out of the deal. Frank York hires an architect to draw the studio floor plan and the transmitter site building plan.
Once the plot of land for the transmitter site is purchased, several different building locations and antenna configurations are discussed. It is noted that both WBCA’s and WGFM’s original antenna was mounted on a pole at ground level. The later station was moved to a makeshift tower.
WBCA management raises concern with the FCC about potential interference from the new station’s transmitter and potential STL, noted as an S-T link.
In September of 1947, Frank York expresses some concern with viability of project, Barbeau sends several “pep talk” letters saying that FM radio is the future of broadcasting.
The building site is chosen, land cleared, access road installed, work done by Orsini Brothers Construction from Altamont, clearing and road work cost $2,000.
The call letters WFLY are chosen, they are the initials of Frank Lloyd York.
An 80 foot Blaw-Knox self supporting tower is purchased and installed by Zane Construction, cost of tower is $1,700 installation was another $200.00.
Well is drilled by Stewart Brothers well drilling from Guilderland, cost of $5.90 per foot drilled, total cost unknown.
Transmitter building work began, building is noted as a two story, concrete block construction, work done by Orsini Brothers.
A GE BY-4-C four bay circularly horizontally polarized antenna and 3 1/2 inch Andrew transmission line is installed on tower.
Building construction progresses, telephone and electric service installed. Three phase electrical service cost $2,100 from New York Power and Light.
Studio site chosen in at the Troy Hotel in downtown Troy.
Living quarters constructed on second floor of building for full time transmitter engineer.
A GE BF-3A 3 KW FM transmitter purchased and shipped.
Building construction completed.
Transmitter installed and tested.
Telephone circuits between new studio installed and tested.
WFLY transmitter site building elevations
WFLY transmitter building floor plan
WFLY electrical drawing showing grounding and tower
The transmitter site construction was finished in the spring of 1948. The studios were completed in late July of 1948 and the station signed on the air on August 18, 1948. This is the transmitter site that they ended up with. as it looks in 2015:
WFLY transmitter building, New Scotland, NY
In addition to the construction, there was quite a bit difficulty from the WBCA management, who were concerned about possible interference. WBCA was part of the “Continental Network” and received most of it’s network programing via direct over the air relay from W2XMN/W31NY, 43.1 MHz, in Alpine, NJ. They complained to the FCC about potential interference on both their over air network relay (43.1 MHz) and the Studio to Transmitter Link from downtown Schenectady on 950 MHz. In the end, the FCC was unimpressed with these arguments and granted WFLY its operating license.
The transmitter building was made twice as large as needed because the Record had plans to launch a TV station and possibly a radio facsimile service. In addition to this, there were complete living quarters on the second floor which included a bathroom, shower, kitchen, bedroom and large living room area. This was in the era before remote controlling of transmitters was permitted by the FCC. It took a hardy soul to live at the remote transmitter site full time. Even today, it is far outside of town and can be difficult to get to in the winter time
These mountain top transmitter sites did not exist prior to the advent of TV and FM. The amount of planing and work went into launching this station is quite impressive. For the early FM radio stations, this type of effort and expense was probably typical.
By Paul Thurst, on September 15th, 2014 4 comments
It seems branding and programming issues are a long running problem for radio stations. This is a copy of something that was made at WALL in 1974. It has been circulated extensively in the NY metro market, but perhaps some of you from other areas or countries have not heard it yet. There is no WVWA 900 in Pound Ridge, it is a fictitious station:
What is hilarious is that the same exact this is still going on forty years later. How many times have programming consultants, program directors, corporate programming guru’s sat around and said “What we really need is a catchy name, like The Buzz or something.” I don’t know how many times I have heard “The X” or “The Eagle” or “fill in stupid name here.” Do the listeners really think “Oh wow, they changed their name, I will listen to this station now!” No, not likely.
The funniest part; “After more than 100 hours of extensive research… (the programming consultant) developed, refined, molded, polished, honed, shaped and pulled out of left field a revolutions new formatic programing concept…” Play music, say nothing, and scream “NINE!” between each song.
Perhaps that is one Shively Antenna that you haven’t heard of. They were an odd-ball combination of a horizontally polarized antenna with an adjustable vertical element. This design allowed the station to adjust the ratio of horizontal to vertical power from a range of 1:1 to about 4:1 (H:V). Why would this be a desirable feature?
Back in the early days of FM broadcasting, almost all stations had horizontally polarized antennas. This system worked remarkably well, stations could broadcast at moderate power levels over fairly long, line of sight (or mostly line of sight) paths. Most FM receivers were stationary units installed in people’s homes often with outdoor antennas.
It was not until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that FM radio receivers became a stock option in most low and mid cost automobiles. It was then that a slight problem with FM broadcasting was discovered; car antennas are vertically polarized. People driving around in their new machines found that the FM reception was not all that great. Stations began adding a vertical component to their signal to help improve the mobile reception situation.
I found this Shively Brochure in a file cabinet drawer at the WFLY transmitter site. This model antenna was ordered and installed by that station in 1970. It had a 3:1 horizontal to vertical ratio. Why not install a fully circularly polarized antenna? Because often that necessitated installing a new, more powerful transmitter. Every watt of power taken from the horizontal plane and added to the vertical plane reduced the ERP by that much and had to be made up with more transmitter power output. Often times, the ratio of H:V power would be adjusted to take up whatever headroom there was in the transmitter and the station would run that way until the next transmitter replacement cycle.
I found the remains of this antenna in the woods, north east of the tower.
Shively 6710 antenna section
This section looks pretty well destroyed. It is probably better to dispose of these type things by scraping, rather than dumping them in the woods. While there is not a lot of scrap value to this unit, it can become an attractive nuisance copper thieves and other vandals if it is left laying about.
It is a strange looking piece of kit, a sort of make do until the situation could be fully rectified. I think this antenna was in service until 1986 or 87 when it was replaced with a circularly polarized ERI.
This is a reprint of an article by the same title first published in the December 1963 “Broadcast Engineering” magazine; volume 5, number 12. By George W. Yazell:
In planning a new installation, the broadcast station engineer will be called upon to evaluate the products of various manufacturers before an order is placed for new FM stereo station equipment. In preparing his recommendation, the engineer will review descriptive literature, advertisements, and instruction books. He will seek information and advice from his consultant, other station engineers with stereo experience, and sales representatives of broadcast equipment manufacturers. His thinking may also be influenced by magazine articles and advertisements.
It is unfortunate, but true, that during the engineer’s survey he will encounter many conflicting opinions and claims. Some “advisors” may go so far as to imply that their system of stereo signal generation is the only one worthy of consideration, and all the rest have so many shortcomings as to be impractical or even unworkable.
The simple truth is that any manufacturer offering a transmitter or associated device for sale to broadcast stations must obtain FCC type acceptance. In doing so, complete and authentic test data is submitted for the Commission’s review and approval. Type acceptance by the FCC is your assurance that the equipment will meet certain specifications.
Thus you can either draw straws, or accept the views of the “advisor” with the most forceful opinion and still feel safe that the equipment you recommend will work. A more practical solution would be to prepare a list of equipment and features you require, with careful attention to needs peculiar to your own station; then select the equipment which most nearly matches your requirements.
List What You Have
The first step is to list and evaluate any equipment, facilities, and assets already available for the proposed installation – even if it is only a construction permit, a bank account, and a plan of operations. Some items to consider include:
Ask management for a budget. This is probably the most significant factor in your recommendation. You should set both a practical budget and an absolute top limit. If you find it impossible to do the job within the budget limitations, do not hesitate to say so. Point out that stereo is a two channel system and that in addition to special transmitting equipment, the studio installation will require two of each amplifier, loudspeaker, telephone line, etc. Therefore, a stereo installation will cost considerably more than monophonic facilities.
Review the program plans for the station. The quantity, complexity, and flexibility of the audio equipment selected must adequately meet these needs, with some reserve facilities for future expansion.
You may presently have an FM, AM, or TV station a combination of these. In this case you can probably count on using existing studio facilities, some of the technical equipment, the tower, remote control facilities, and technical manpower.
Consider the abilities of your technical staff. You may be the only engineer, or may have available a large staff of technical personnel. In any event, select equipment having circuits and components your technicians can install and maintain.
Survey the supply situation. Determine the location and stock capabilities of electronic supply houses in your area. Keep in mind that any electronic component must eventually fail; and an inexpensive component can cost hundreds of dollars if you are “off the air” several days while a replacement is being flown in from a distant source of supply. If the supply picture is discouraging, you can best protect yourself by selecting practical equipment employing readily available components – and ordering an adequate supply of spares for parts you cannot obtain locally.
List your needs
Your next step is to prepare as complete a list as possible of the total equipment requirements.
Broadcast Engineering, Typical Stereo diagram
Sketch a block diagram of your proposed layout (Fig. 3). Then prepare a chart of all the equipment you will need with space provided for prices, data, and notes on each device. As you prepare these charts several things will become evident:
You will probably discover more equipment is needed than you originally anticipated.
In determining what must be purchased, you must carefully integrate your needs with equipment now on hand.
Your ultimate decision will depend on many interacting factors rather than on one outstanding feature of a particular device.
It will be wise to purchase as many items as possible from a single source to take advantage of: compatability of equipment that is designed to work together as a system, coordinated shipments and service, possible lower cost because of quantity purchase and -if required- simpler finance arrangements.
Making a Decision
After considering the points outlined above, and making the lists, you are ready to select equipment.
If the budget is limited you may investigate the possibility of some used equipment. However, since today’s FCC Stereo Specifications were only established as recently as 1961, there will be little used equipment available. In the majority of cases, converting old monophonic equipment will be difficult, costly, and the end result may be less than satisfactory. Old “dual channel” audio consoles have been successfully converted, but in the process usually require almost complete rebuilding. It is necessary to install dual faders, correct phase differences, and balance gain between channels.
Used FM transmitters are frequently advertised, but many are left over from the early days of FM. Some transmitter manufacturers of the late ’40s are no longer in business. Replacement tubes and parts are difficult, if not impossible, to get. Some older transmitters lack stability and some contribute to degradation of stereo separation, because they do not maintain the proper phase relationship between upper and lower sidebands. If such a transmitter is to be used, it probably will be necessary to purchase a new exciter and, of course, a stereo generator.
Since stereo listeners are a discriminating and critical audience, audio equipment should be chosen with care. It will be wise to settle for only the finest professional stereo turntable and tape equipment. It is better to have the minimum requirements of excellent equipment than a control room crowded with “make do” items.
Stereo consoles are available with a wide range of prices and facilities. Some offer stereo channels only for record and tape inputs, while the more complete models even make provision for stereo network and remote circuits. Much of today’s programming is on records and tapes, but regional “off -the -air relay” stereo networks are springing up. Stereo microphone facilities are a must if you want your locally produced commercials to sound as impressive as your stereophonic music.
Current models of FM transmitters are highly efficient, trouble free, and easily remote controlled. All FM transmitters follow one pattern- a basic exciter and a number of amplifier stages to produce the required power output. The power amplifiers in the various models are somewhat similar, except in high power transmitters (20 kw and up).
A wide variety of FM exciters and stereo generators is offered, and this is one area in which confusion might occur. (Again, it should be pointed out that all these units are subject to FCC type acceptance.) A typical exciter and stereo /SCA generating system is shown in Fig. 5. The block diagram explains the signal path and function of the various circuits.
Broadcast Engineering, FM stereo exciter diagram
The selection, installation, and operation of FM multiplex stereo equipment requires the careful attention of a highly skilled technician. Installation, adjustment, and maintenance should be in exact accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction book. Following these instructions, the broadcast engineer can feel confident in planning a stereo installation that will be a pleasure to operate and a source of pride and profit.
I found a stack of these old Broadcast Engineering magazines from the early sixties when cleaning out the WUPE-FM (formerly WNMB) transmitter site. I thought it would be interesting to see how Broadcast Engineers some 50+ years ago were planning for FM stereo. One of the stations I worked for, WRVE (formerly WGFM) was the first station in the country to broadcast with the General Electric stereo system. This was later adopted as the standard for FM stereo broadcasting in the US.
Another one of those former ATT Long Lines sites which has been re-purposed. This site was known as Rock City and as the name suggests, it is a fairly remote location. These locations were chosen by ATT to facilitate microwave relay between cities. Some of the more remote rural locations are so far off the beaten path that they do not make good wireless carrier sites today. Such is the case here, there simply are not enough people around to turn this into a profitable cell site.
Former ATT long lines site, Rock City, NY
This site is useful in other ways, the local township purchased it and has put it to use for E911 dispatch and other uses such as WKZE translator W290BZ.
Former ATT long lines Western Electric Tower, Rock City, NY
The tower is less than 200 feet tall, therefore it is no longer painted or lit. These old Western Electric towers were really built. Under that peeling paint, the galvanizing is still in near perfect condition. The tower dates from 1968.
Former ATT tower, Rock City, NY
The Western Electric KS-15676 microwave antennas and waveguide have been removed. The top platform is quite large, one could build a house up there. The W290BZ antenna is the cross polarized LPA attached to the center pole which is barely visible.
Former ATT long lines site, Rock City, NY. The big empty.
This room held the switch gear and TD-3 microwave radios.
Former ATT site, Rock City, NY 100 KW generator
The original General Motors 100 KW diesel generator. The fuel tank was removed before the site was transferred from ATT to the new owners. If reconnected to a fuel supply and the block heater turned on, I’d bet this unit would start and run.
ATT Rock City, NY generator Detroit Diesel straight six engine
ATT Rock City, NY fuel tank cathodic projection unit.
The tank had a Cathodic protection unit installed, which ran a small DC current through the tank to keep it from rusting.
The original visitors log book is still there, showing every ATT person who visited the site from 1968 until it was decommissioned in 1994. This site was unmanned and remotely monitored and controlled from somewhere else. Maintenance personal showed up at regular intervals or to fix specific problems.
Like many of its rural counterparts, this site sits mostly empty since the microwave equipment was removed in the early 1990’s. This one seems to be well taken care of, others are in terrible shape.
A very interesting bit of broadcasting history in Moscow may disappear forever. Designed and built by Vladimir Grigoryevich Shukhov, the Shukhov Tower was completed in 1922. Since that time it has served as a AM broadcasting and later and FM broadcasting tower. In the picture, one can see what looks like a massive FM panel antenna at the top. According to this website: www.shukhov.org, the tower is in very poor shape and is slated to be demolished.
The tower itself is described as 160 Meters (525 feet) tall, hyperboloid steel lattice structure. The design is unique in that it is very strong, yet uses approximately 60-70 percent less steel than a comparable four legged structure like the Eiffel tower. An amazing feat of engineering for its day, when everything was calculated and drawn by hand.
Shukhov Tower, Moscow, FSR.
The antenna is a little hard to discern, however, it looks like a horizontally polarized six or eight around 4 bay FM antenna. Could also be low band VHF TV.
Unfortunately, time is running out and little or nothing is being done to protect the steel structure from the elements. The last paint job was more than twenty years ago. The land it currently occupies has some value, and there is talk of putting up a high rise development in its place.
During the digital TV conversion in the US, all broadcast television stations installed new transmitting equipment and antennas. Most stations ended up on a different frequency than their original analog channel. In Albany, New York, all of the TV stations moved to a common transmitter site and installed their antennas on a single tower.
Albany DTV tower, home of WRGB, WTEN, WNYT, WXXA, WMHT, and WCWN
So, what happened to the old Analog TV sites in Albany?
For the most part, after the analog turn off on June 12, 2009, the sites have sat empty. Such is the case with the former WMHT site.
Sign outside of former WMHT transmitter building
This old sign about sums up the end of analog television.
Former WMHT Comark analog transmitter
Former WMHT analog transmitter wide shot
Former WMHT operator position
The former transmitter operator desk. Maintenance log is still open. From the looks of things, they opened the circuit breakers and walked away. Everything remains intact from the antenna to the klystrons and exciters. It does appear that the coolant has been drained from the system. Other than that, it seems like the whole thing could be restarted with minimal effort.
Former WMHT Onan DFN 350 backup generator
There were two Onan DFN 350 backup generators. With a TV transmitters, it is vitally important to run the cooling system after shutdown. The idea here is that both generators in parallel could run the whole station, if one generator failed, then the cooling system would still run and cool the klystrons.
Former WMHT site kitchen
Former WMHT tower, wave guide and WVCR antenna
The former WMHT tower, which currently holds the WVCR-FM, WXL-34 (NOAA weather radio), and W44CT-D (Three Angles Broadcasting) Low power TV transmitter.
Current site occupants; WVCR-FM and W44CT-D
These equipment racks and the NOAA weather radio transmitter in the other room are the only active equipment at this site.
WMHT-TV Chanel 17 (488-494 MHz) signed on 1962 from this site. The Comark transmitter was installed in 1984. The station’s analog ERP was 2000 KW visual, 200 KW aural.
A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution
Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19
...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.