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WNYC's New AM Transmitter, 1937

History Notes: Volume 2, Issue 25

Friday, September 02, 2011 - 10:30 AM

WNYC's Greenpoint, Brooklyn transmitter on opening day, October 31, 1937. (New York Times)

Following the landfall of Hurricane Irene this past weekend, flood waters overtook the WNYC AM transmitter site in Kearny, NJ, causing the station to stop over-the-air broadcasting. WNYC has owned several other transmitters in its history -- indeed, the AM tower used to be in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in the location that will soon become WNYC Transmitter Park. This AM transmitter was dedicated in a ceremony on October 31, 1937.

Previous to the installation of the new transmitter, WNYC broadcasts were sent out to listeners through a transmitter located on the 25th floor of the Municipal Building in downtown New York City, where tall buildings around the site created interference for the transmission signal, causing "dead spots" in broadcasts.

These dead spots were so notorious at the time that, in his opening remarks at the ceremony, Commissioner of Plant and Structures Frederick Kracke described WNYC as "practically a useless shamble" when La Guardia came into office in 1934. In order to improve reception around the city, the new administration had to find a spot to build a new transmitter that would not create interference. They discovered the ideal spot "in our backyard," the old Greenpoint ferry slip. "And so, with the usual frugality of the present administration, this property was immediately utilized," Kracke says.

With the Mayor's consent and underwriting from the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the form of a $30,000 grant, ground was broken in November, 1935, and in less than two years, "a dilapidated, discarded ferry slip gave place to this beautiful new building that houses your station's transmitter." Kracke goes on to explain, in detail, how the new transmitter improves broadcast quality for listeners. The WPA also paid for new sound-proof and air-conditioned studios at WNYC headquarters in the Municipal Building.

For his part, Mayor La Guardia anoints WNYC "New York's OWN station" and describes the new equipment as "right up to the last minute." He continues, "the micro-ray system installed here is ... the only one in use outside of the Vatican."

Towards the end of his remarks, La Guardia also mentions his intentions to provide the very finest educational courses and to get the FCC to allow inter-station short wave communication to retransmit on the regular frequency.

An article published in the Christian Science Monitor on May 26, 1937, describes the transmitter site:

"In April, a small army of WPA workers did the initial work, and today two four-legged galvanized steel structures rising 304 feet in the air are ready to send the voice of WNYC around the world.  Each one of these towers resembles the famous Eiffel Tower of France...While the work on the new transmitting home is being finished, new spherical microphones are being acquired at the studios as well as the latest type of speech amplifiers and frequency monitors...In the field of symphonic music, 'New York City's Own Station' made its influence particularly felt. These musical activities are comparable with similar programs transmitted by the large commercial networks...In the modernization program of WNYC, Monitor News was selected first by Director Siegel because of his belief that its news could be relied upon and because of its 'orderly and unbiased presentation of world-wide news.'" [1]

The AM transmitter in Greenpoint was used until 1990, when the station began broadcasting from the Meadowlands. The two towers were torn down several years later, and ground was broken on the WNYC Transmitter Park in August, 2010.

 

[1] "WNYC Showing What City-Owned Station Can Do," Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1937,  pg.8.

 

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.

 

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Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1925: Speeches from the conference of the National Council of Traveling Salesmen's Associations at the Hotel Pennsylvania.

1939: Mayor La Guardia addresses the conflict in Europe and its impact on New York City. "Germany has invaded Poland and Poland is resisting this invasion. England has served an ultimatum on Germany, and so has France. There is still a slight, very slight, chance for peace. The chances, however, would indicate that there may be another European war. That being so, it occurred to me that it was proper at this time, as your Mayor, to discuss the situation in so far as it relates to our city. It would be useless to say to a people as enlightened and educated as the people of our city that there should be and must be no discussion of the subject. Of course, there will be discussion, and the events followed with keen interest."

1940: President Roosevelt dedicates the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "This Chickamauga Dam, the sixth in the series of mammoth structures built by the Tennessee Valley Authority for the people of the United States, is helping to give to all of us human control of the watershed of the Tennessee River in order that it may serve in full the purpose of men." He continues, "There were and are those who maintain that the development of the enterprise that lies largely in this State is not a proper activity of government. As for me, I glory in it as one of the great social and economic achievements of the United States. Today we are facing a time of peril unmatched in the history of the nations of all the world. And because we are undertaking the total defense of our nation, the Tennessee Valley region has assumed, in addition to its own domestic betterment, its share of responsibility for national defense." It was the first of two public speeches the President gave in Tennessee that day.

1954: Dorothy M. Horstmann speaks about Epidemiology and Pathogenesis of Poliomyelitis on For Doctors Only.

1963: For a special Labor Day program, Felix Leon reads his translation of Brecht's "Questions of a Reading Worker," Orson Welles reads Zola, and Walter Reuther speaks on civil rights.

1982: Listeners discuss all the news in sports on the call-in show Grandstand Managers.

1992: Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter Edna Buchanon discusses her book Contents Under Pressure: A Novel of Suspense, Barry Tarshis talks about his book Grammar for Smart People: Ways to Actually be Understood When You Speak, and lawyer Peter Strauss explains "Estate and Contingency Planning" on New York & Company.

1998: Helen Gurley Brown offers "The Writer's Rules" on New York & Company.

2004: Andrea Bernstein reports that Governor George Pataki is showing plenty of signs he hopes his introduction tonight of President Bush will move him up from the role of understudy to star performer.

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