The surreal trip to the WICC transmitter site

What could be so bad about going to an AM transmitter site on a peninsula off of the Long Island Sound.  Sounds pretty nice, right?  It began just so, driving through the town of Stratford Beach parking lot to the construction gate, the towers were visible off in the distance.  A nice crushed gravel road across the barrier island, I have certainly been to worse places.

WICC towers pleasure beach island
WICC towers Pleasure Beach Island, CT

And then, things begin to look a little bit different.  It is really hard to put into words, seems like some other country.

Pleasure Beach Bungalows
The beginning of the Pleasure Beach Bungalow Colony

It turns out this is not quite a nice trip after all.

Pleasure beach lawless zone
Pleasure Beach Lawless Zone

I’ve been to several so-called “developing areas” like Port Au Prince, Hatti for example.  Nothing ever looked this bad.

Pleasure Beach ocean side bungalow
Pleasure Beach Ocean Side Bungalow

I can imagine some family coming here every summer to spend time at the beach.

Burned out bungalows
Burned out bungalows

What anarchy looks like.

Pleasure beach burned out cottage
Pleasure Beach burned out cottage

The back story is this:  From the 1920s until 1996, Pleasure Beach was a nice seasonal oceanside bungalow colony, complete with an amusement park.  These cottages (but not the land they were on) were owned by people from the surrounding cities and towns and the entire area appeared to be quite nice in its day.  Then, in 1996, the wooden bridge that connected Pleasure Beach to Bridgeport burned.  There are several theories; crackheads, radical environmentalists, etc.  The city of Bridgeport did not rebuild the bridge, which meant the only access was by walking from the Town of Stratford beach parking lot, a trek of at least a mile or longer.  In 2007, the town of Stratford decided not to renew these land leases, and the building owners were forced to remove any remaining items they wanted by barge.  Soon thereafter vandals began walking down the peninsula from Stratford.  Slowly, most of the bungalows were broken into and several were burned.  This is mostly the work of “kids,” who, because they are under the age of 18, get a slap on the wrist and returned to their parents.  Oh, those wacky kids, what will they do next?

Truth be told, they should be the ones out here cleaning this up, for free.

Finally, this year, the city began tearing down and cleaning up the remaining buildings, trying to put the former bungalow colony “back to nature.”

WICC transmitter building
WICC transmitter building

The transmitter site for WICC moved here in 1932.  This building contained a nighttime operating studio, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.  I can imagine hanging out here some summer night, spinning tunes, and having a good time.  The former amusement part is just out of the picture to the left.  At the amusement park, there was a carousel, a big snack bar, a dance hall, and an area for portable rides like Ferris Wheels and such.

Now the building is full of disused gear, old carts, transmitter, and tower parts, the water has been shut off and I’d not want to be out here at night under any circumstances.

WICC south tower
WICC north tower 

The antenna array consists of two 300-foot Milliken towers, originally installed at WNAC (Now WRKO) Boston, MA. They were moved to Pleasure Beach Island in 1932. Many people mistakenly think these are Blaw-Knox towers.  Milliken preceded Blaw-Knox by several years.  They built and designed towers around the world for radio and electric transmission.  In the late 1930’s they were bought out by Blaw-Knox, which kept the design.  I love these tapered self-supporters, they have survived several major Hurricanes since 1932.  The south tower is about 150 yards from the Long Island Sound.  Salt air seems to do them no harm, either.

WICC Milliken tower, south looking up
WICC Milliken  south Tower, looking up

The station operates at 1 KW day, 500 watts night, DA2.  The towers are 60 degrees tall, spaced 149 degrees.  That is a little short, however, they are surrounded by salt water, so the signal goes like gangbusters.  Because they are short, the impedances are low, about 10 ohms for nighttime and 30 ohms for daytime.  Since the towers are so wide, the impedances are flat far beyond 50 kHz on either side of the carrier, which makes it a nice broad-banded antenna system.  The 1932 phasors and ATUs were redone in 1972.  All of the common point impedance measurements are still posted on the wall.

WICC Harris SX-1A, Phasor and Harris BC1H
WICC Harris SX-1A, Phasor and Harris HC1H

The main transmitter is a 1990 Harris model SX-1A.  It seems to be reliable enough, my experience with the SX-1 is it has an overly complicated control system.  The backup is a Harris BC1H, a sort of hybrid solid-state tube unit, which is also reliable.

Frequency voltage meter
WICC frequency and voltage meter

This high-tech test and measurement center is attached to the incoming electrical service.  Over the years, there have been some quality control issues with the incoming electrical service, mostly due to Osprey building nests on the crossarms.  During rain storms, these nests catch on fire and kill the power to the site.  The power company is in the process of redoing the electrical service to the building.

This is a video of the former amusement park and cottages shot two years ago when the cottages were more or less intact. It is a bunch of stills set to Pink Floyd music:

Looks like they all just got up and left.

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11 thoughts on “The surreal trip to the WICC transmitter site”

  1. The images immediately reminded me to think I was in Detroit! I would have never thought heuty-toity Connecticut would have tolerated such a slum. However, it is no wonder that after instituting an income tax in 1982, and the fairly recent Supreme Court case, (Kelo vs. City of New London) in 2005 whereby private property was unconstitutionally seized and affirmed by “Conservative” Bush’s “scholarly pick”, David Souter and his tie-breaking vote, it can be easily seen why people have left. And it appears that yet another eminent domain case is lurking in Branford, CT and possibly headed for the Supreme Court also.
    As for the technical details, I cannot understand how the base impedance of a tower can change between day and night? If the frequency is constant and the height of the tower remains constant, why would the base impedance change based upon the clock? I would think that at 600 kHz. the 10 ohm figure is about right for a 65 degree self-supporting wide-base tower.
    As to the transmitters, I would keep the BC1H in good shape as many of the RF devices in the SX-1 are already obsolete. At least the BC1H will be fixable when the SX-1 crashes.

  2. I cannot understand how the base impedance of a tower can change between day and night?

    yeah, now that you mention it, me neither. Now I’ll have to go back and look at that again. It might be the old ATU/Phasor common point vs the new ATU/Phasor common point. Now I have to go back out there and look at it again.

    Regarding CT, there are many areas that are not all that hoity toity, like most of the cities along the LI sound. Kelo ranks as the worst supreme court decision in the history of the country. The City of New London paid nearly $78 million all totaled, the land that they ceased by eminent domain sits vacant and undeveloped.

    This is slightly different in that the City never sold the land, merely leased it to the building owners. They could have built a road down the peninsula, but environmentalist blocked it. According to one story, the first time the city tried to dispatch 4WD fire trucks down to put out the first of many cottage fires, the environmentalists showed up and laid down in the way. By the time the police arrested all of them, the fire had burned itself out. Of course those same idiots eye the radio towers with suspicion and I am sure would like to see them go away too.

    Once all the buildings are torn down, I believe the plan is to sell the land to the national park service or the state and make a wildlife refuge.

  3. Simply horrible the way things are going. And what about the station?? Will that land be seized after the NIMBY’s get the area cleared? It is on a good channel with excellent ground wave propagation even with the 65 degree towers. I’m not holding my breath about Cumulus, as they may take any cash and run if it looks like a big real estate battle. The only AM stations that the big operators seem to be interested in are at 50 kW, and I wonder what the future holds with those?

  4. I hear you. Unlike most, this station still has quite a bit of local content, and it is well thought of in the community. As far as the land goes, I can’t really say, they lease the tower site from the City of Bridgeport (the city line intersects the island/peninsula right on the edge of the tower site). The coverage for a 1 KW station is outstanding, I get it easily into Danbury, 35 miles away.

    The one thing they could do is get it listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The radio station and transmitting towers have quite a history, it would hard do tear them down then

  5. Wow, leasing from government can be very risky. You really don’t have any rights under this scenario. When the Lease is over, it just might be all over for the station. And moving a directional AM means big time dollar signs. The United States is slowly returning/moving to Feudalism, and as author John Holt stated in his 1982 book, “children today are schooled but not educated”. And this fact has dumbed down much of the populous as to the U.S. Constitution and limited government.

  6. I remember a very good newsman at WICC where I worked for a few years, telling me about how much he loved his family cottage on Pleasure Beach.
    It astonishes and disheartens me that people who had such wonderful places for so many years, were simply abandoned.
    I also remember the engineer for WICC (Norm, I forget his last name…this was in 1976 or thereabouts) telling me how he kept vandals away from the towers by putting up “radiation hazard” signs, with the characteristic graphic.
    Nobody dared come near.

    Norm had some other stories to tell…including being in the Pacific during world war two and cutting brush with a machete, only to find a decapitated king cobra in the debris. He had never seen it, but if he hadn’t cut its head off, there would have been a different engineer on Pleasure Beach:-)

    There has to be more to this Pleasure Beach story, it was a small catastrophe, but a real one, I think, for those involved. My guess, somebody thought they would make a lot of money by not replacing that bridge (not “environmentalists” but more likely “pols and investors” a Bridgeport tradition) but it just didn’t pan out. Everybody lost.

    A tragedy for folks who lived there. A footnote for Bridgeport. Hopefully Ospreys and Nature will benefit ultimately.

  7. I suspect the measurement data is for common point, and not base impedance. It’s not unusual to see different common point impedances between day and night patterns. However, most modern phasors have input matching networks that effectively transform the common point to become 50 ohms +/- j0. This keeps solid state transmitters happy. When tube transmitters ruled, they were much more forgiving.

  8. The engineer Bruce Johnson wrote about was Norm Howard. Quite a guy! He came to WICC from WNAB in the late 70’s. He trained Ed Butler who eventually took over for him upon his retirement from WICC. He also mentored me (a bit) at both stations. I learned allot from Norm!

    Thanks for the trip to Pleasure Beach even though it was so heartbreaking. I remember going there as a kid, just as my parents did. I always thought it was very cool when hired at Radio 6-0, that I was modulating those “twins” out on the island (nobody around here calls it a peninsula even though it is).

    One further story about the history of the towers and Pleasure Beach…At the same time the towers were being erected back in the 30’s, Bridgeport was removing all of it’s cable cars. The owners of the station at that time offered to “dispose of” the miles of cable that was being removed for FREE! The city quickly agreed.

    When the land was excavated to construct the towers, they laid all that cable out – flat under the spot where the towers were to stand. Sadly, over the weekend right before the tower erection, the Mafia came and stole all that cable! Now THAT’S organized crime!

    Late in the 1970’s or early 80’s, the FCC offered to allow WICC to go up to 10kW if they moved their towers off the Island. Field strength readings though already showed that the station radiated with the equivalency of about 9.6kW, so the station owners declined the FCC’s generous offer. Can you imagine the pattern that station would have had if the cable car ground plane was never stolen! WOW! A huge ground plane AND the salt water!

    Please don’t let this story be lost to history. I first leaned about it from Norm Howard and had it confirmed by a few others in the know. I think Sal Capella (Al Warren) was one, Irwin Jacob (Tiny) Markle, another, and if I remember correctly, Emanuel Ondeck – an engineer who assisted in the construction of WNAB, a long time friend of Norm Howard’s, and as fate would have it…my English teacher at Fairfield Prep!

    Thanks again for the wonderful tour of the twins!

  9. Great images of the island and the twins. Thank you for preserving the history of WICC.

    Incidentally, does anyone know why everyone over the course of 30-years at WICC and WEBE are GONE, except Danny Lyons (Danny Mangini) ? Just curious.

  10. Thank you for the beautful tour of Pleasure Beach and the WICC transmitter site. I am a Biologist – Broadcast Engineer (GROL) and hold Amateur Radio License – W1WAV. I knew Norm Howard well, and remember him as a friendly, caring, stimulating and knowledgeable person. I miss him terribly. About the future:
    Radio, both AM and FM needs to redefine itself if it’s going to survive in this century. This means we must love it, and see to it that it has it’s place in a world of computers and satellite communications. Again, good job. And Best Regards.

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