Hums no more

My first job as Chief Engineer was at WPTR and WFLY in 1991. I was young and it was a learning experience. The WPTR transmitter was a Harris MW50A, which reliably went off the air every six months. The transmission lines going out to the towers had fallen off of their wooden support posts, trees were growing up in the antenna field, and sample lines were going bad. In short, it was a mess.  Even so, the station was well-known and well-liked in the community. One could still see echoes of greatness that once was.

When Crawford Broadcasting purchased the station in 1996, they put much money and effort into renovating the facility.  Replacing the Harris transmitter with a solid state Nautel, replacing the phasor and transmission lines, cutting the trees from the field, painting the towers, renovating the old transmitter building into a new studio facility, and finally removing the old Butler building that formerly housed the “Gold Studios.”

Then the depression of 2008-20?? hit.  Once again, the place has fallen on hard times.  WDCD-AM has been silent since last April.  The cost of running the 50 KW AM transmitter being too much to bear in the current economy.  Formatically, the station drifted around for several years.  According to the STA to go silent:


They may need to do something slightly non-religious to survive.

While we were waiting for the utility company to turn the electricity back on after yesterday’s fire, I took a short walk around the WDCD-AM site and took some pictures.  The transmitter disconnect thrown,  fuses are pulled,  it is kind of sad to see the Nautel XL-60 dark:

Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter.  WDCD Albany, NY
Nautel XL-60 AM transmitter. WDCD Albany, NY

I apologize greatly for the blurry picture, it was taken with my cellphone camera, my good camera being back at home on my desk.  Radio stations, when they are on the air, seem like they are alive.  Machinery hums, fans move air, meters move, and there is a sense of purpose.  Silent radio stations give me a sense of foreboding like something is terribly wrong.

WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY
WDCD three tower array, Albany, NY

View of the towers without Butler Building.  The towers are 340 feet tall, which is 206 electrical degrees on 1540 KHz.  The site was constructed like this to suppress skywave signals toward ZNS, Nassau, Bahamas.  ZNS is the only clear channel station allotted to the Bahamas by NARBA.  The other station WDCD is protecting is KXEL, Waterloo, IA.  During the 90’s, I received many QSL requests from Norway/Finland and even a few from South Africa.  I know that the station had a large following in most of New England.

WDCD tower base, tower three
WDCD tower base, tower one (furthest from building)

Tower one tower base.  This IDECO tower had to have the top 60 feet replaced after it was hit by an airplane in 1953.  The tower base also had to be replaced in the late 1980’s as it was crumbling and falling apart.  To do this, Northeast Towers used railroad jacks and jacked the entire tower up off of the base insulator.  They re-formed and poured a new base, carefully letting the tower back down on a new base insulator about a week later.

WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building
WDCD towers looking back toward the transmitter building

Antenna field looking back at the transmitter building.  If you work at radio transmitter sites, I encourage you to take pictures of all these things, as someday, they will all be gone.

WDCD bomb shelter
WDCD bomb shelter

The “bomb shelter” and 220 KW backup generator,  constructed by FEMA in 1968 as part of the BSEPP.  This used to have an emergency studio and enough diesel fuel for fourteen days of operation.  Now, the bomb shelter has a kitchen and bathrooms.  The underground storage tank no longer meets EPA standards and has been pumped out.

WDCD Onan generator
WDCD Onan generator

The Onan generator is conservatively rated at 220 KW, surge rating 275 KW.  These things were way over-constructed, so it is likely it would easily run 225 KW all day.  It has an inline six-cylinder engine with a massive flywheel.  When the engine is stopped, it takes about twenty seconds for the generator to stop turning.

Three phase service
Three phase service

National Grid, 3 pot, 480 volt, 3 phase service, original to the 1947 building.

I wonder if it will return.

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12 thoughts on “Hums no more”

  1. Have you seen if the “WPTR” letters are somewhere out there on the ground?
    I wish I had been photographing towers back when the call sign was still there.

    Albany seems to be (or was) a “hot bed” for AM calls on towers. WPTR, WABY and WGY all had them.
    I was glad to see they at least decided to keep the calls on the tower after the call change.
    WABY (now WAMC)’s tower is now call-less. At least WGY kept theirs on the tower.

    That was back in the days when stations were proud of their towers and transmission facilities. Not just the engineers who are proud of most of them.

  2. Mike, I think the old WPTR letters were scraped when the old butler building was removed. As I recall, they sat next to the dumpster for a number of years. Back in the day, the WPTR call letters were lit with fluorescent lights at night.

    The 81 WGY sign on the side of there tower used to be lit by a spot light on the ground. I don’t know if that is still working or not.

  3. Paul, I believe you came along about two or three engineers after me as Chief Engineer at WPTR/WFLY. Near the beginning of Rob Dyson’s ownership, I replaced Mike Ericson who lasted for a few months, after replacing the long-time chief, Jim Cruise. I’ve been all around ever since, but Albany was one of my favorite places to work with a real sense of community and fraternity amongst the broadcast engineers there. Glad to read about 1540, but it’s sad to seeing its fortunes sunk so low. FWIW, I remember seeing photos of the old WPTR call leters laying on the ground behind the dumpster when the call was changed to WDCD. In the same location were the rusting remains of the old 1948 vintage GE BT-25A control console and desk which had sat in the middle of the transmitter room where the MW-50A eventually was parked. When I took over engineering at WPTR, the place was like a museum having little changed since its glory days. I even remember dismantling the old, abandoned audio chain, with reverb, that has been installed in the garage during WPTR’s rock ‘n roll glory days. Best regards.

  4. Hey Jim, I need to thank you for the very complete set of maintenance logs and documentation, especially as regards the MW50A transmitter. They were a great help troubleshooting that troublesome box. When the BT-25A was working, it was like being in a museum, even in the early 1990’s. I worked there from 1991 until I went down the street to WGY in 1994. These days when I drive through Albany and hear nothing but static on 1540, I’ll admit, it leaves me a bit sadder.

  5. Agreed about the museum. I saw photos of WPTR when it moved out to Albany St. in the 1960’s. All the same equipment was still in place when I arrived in 1984 with the exception of the transmitter room studio tbat had been dismantled when the MW-50 was installed. The GE BT-25A was a great rig. Only five units were produced, and WPTR has serial #3. The last surviving specimen was operational at WCKY 1530 until very recently.

  6. The call letters on the tower thing: Did Bill Rust catch this from Albany or did he bring it?

    His stations in Allentown also had the call letters on the towers. IIRC, those Allentown towers – kinda down in the Lehigh River valley on the east side of the river – were built in 1964. WAEB was on the one tower and the other tower had the FM calls WXKW on them. When I worked there, the WAEB letters were lit and flashed on in sequence: W- WA- WAE- WAEB, then dark. You could see them from the Lehigh Valley Thruway while crossing over the river.

    The WXKW letters looked like they had been lit in the past but weren’t during my tenure in the late 70’s.

    Those towers are no longer there. The place is a warehouse now with the old studio building serving as the offices and front end of the warehouse constructed over the east end of the antenna field. The original 1949 5-tower site in Whitehall – which was only used at night during the 60s and 70s while the two-tower site was used by day – is now used 24/7. Vandals felled one of the towers a few years ago.

    So after all that blabbing on the question remains: which came first, call letters on the towers in Albany or Bill Rust?

  7. @Mike, I am not sure what came first, Bill Rust or the call letters on the tower. I know they had to apply to the FCC and FAA to get them approved, which was sometime in the late fifties, if I remember the paper trail correctly. I don’t know when Rust took over the stations, but I think it was not until the seventies.

  8. Sorry to read about this one going, I was never a truly addicted MW DXer and certainly never a paper chaser but I remember hearing this one here In the west of Ireland pretty well at times in the 80’s and 90’s when I’d venture down to MW from the tropical bands

  9. Brendan, That is interesting. When I was Chief Engineer for this station in the early 90’s, I received many reception reports and QSL requests from Norway, Finland, a few from Denmark, Germany and one from South Africa, complete with cassette tape containing about 5 minutes of pretty good audio. I never recalled a request from Ireland. One day, just for fun, I calculated the effective radiated power along the antenna array line of bearing, 54 deg T. It worked out to be 212 KW based on 206 degree tall towers and 50 KW transmitter output. For point of reference I used a single 90 degree (1/4 wave) tower.

  10. I know HF is a different Kettle of Fish but recently ‘Local’ radio from Alice springs Australia on 4835KHz has been armchair copy some evenings here In ireland. Admittedly the antenna is a 175M long beverage in roughly the correct direction. According to the NetSDR it’s -85dBm (~S7) this evening and right now its SIO 353
    Much more infrequently I hear their outlet on 2310Khz and Tennant Creek on 2325Khz Here too.
    There’s some good engineering going on down under 😉

  11. We enjoyed WPTR most nights in Stamford CT. Occasionally PTR wasn’t there at all; instead ZNS would be on top. WPTR, along with semi-local WMCA in NY, were our 2 favorites in Connecticut. Best music and best DJs – both stations!

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