WNYC's New AM Transmitter, 1937

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WNYC's Greenpoint, Brooklyn transmitter on opening day, October 31, 1937.

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 opening to much fanfare a week earlier.

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.