A Technical History of WHAV

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Sign Off, Aug 2010

When the Haverhill Gazette opened its new WHAV studio building to the public in December 1947, it was an exciting weeklong event. Business people, potential radio time buyers and finally the public were allowed to tour the art deco-styled building. The special week concluded with a live appearance by popular vocalist Vaughn Monroe.

WXRV, the former WHAV-FM, continues to occupy the building to this day. WHAV (AM) left the building upon its sale in 1995.

The new studios were designed by local architect Clinton F. Goodwin and were clearly built for live entertainment -- a style that was about to be upset by television. A copy of the original blueprints remained in the chief engineer's office for at least 30 years. Goodwin confided to me before his death in the early 1980s that he toured other stations, including WEEI, Boston, to determine how best to design the studios. Since few stations were built from the ground up during World War II, he largely copied 1930s radio buildings. Construction was undertaken by William H. Starbird, a local contractor.

WHAV Program Director Warren Greenwood takes an airshift from the main control room in June 1948.

WHAV Program Director Warren Greenwood takes an airshift from the main control room in June 1948.

The station actually signed on March 16, 1947, but operated from temporary studios above a downtown bank while the new building was completed. Construction was delayed both by a lag in receiving permission from the post-war U.S. Civilian Production Administration and a protest by the AFL Teamster and Chauffeurs Local against the non-union Starbird, according to stories that appeared in the Haverhill Gazette.

Visitors during the open house week in 1947 found a square two-story (two and one-half in the rear), white stucco building with masonry glass windows -- one on each side of a large triple-beveled entrance. Because the building was built into a side of a hill, the entrance consisted of two large glass doors and then stairs to the second floor of the building. WHAV's name was engraved in a granite-like floor and also appeared in a neon-lighted sign that rose above the building. Incidentally, I was the one who discovered the shattered glass door when I arrived for my early morning airshift sometime during the late 1970s. I urged one of the owners to restore the door, but he opted for a more secure mostly metal door. The aesthetics have been compromised since.

Once inside, through the doors at the top of the stairs and into the pink granite-floored lobby, visitors probably first noticed the glass window on the left side of the wall ahead of them. This looked into the building's impressive large studio. While waiting for the tour to begin, guests had a chance to take in the happenings all around them in the lobby. Looking back toward the entrance they would have seen the door of General Manager John T. "Jack" Russ' private office on the right. The remaining offices on the left and right were behind a half-high wall of clear varnished wood veneer, topped with a textured glass within stainless steel frames for privacy.

A center opening in the left wall appeared where a quarter round receptionist's counter jutted into the lobby. The receptionist probably asked guests to be seated while she answered calls on the new, free-standing Western Electric 551 switchboard. Those paying attention would notice much of the station was outfitted by Western Electric. The manufacturing arm of AT&T obviously won the loyalty of the station since the company operated a manufacturing plant in the city.

Across the lobby in a similarly styled bank of offices, the clickety-clack of the Associated Press teletype machine can be heard over the half walls. A built-in bin collects the rolls of imprinted yellow paper. Other offices off the lobby housed the commercial manager, program director, continuity writer and schedule supervisor.

The studios

As the tour begins in earnest, the door to the right of the large studio window opens out, exposing a short, sound-proofed hall. Besides the large studio on the left, a door ahead opens into a small announcer's booth. The door on the right opens into a smaller version of the large studio. Most of the interesting elements in 1947, however, were largely on the left side of the building. It seems the right studio and control room above it were reserved for the forthcoming FM station.

In the large studio, about two stories tall, visitors take notice of the 12x12 straight drilled acoustic tiled-lined ceiling and walls, interrupted here and there for half round wooden tubes to help shape the studio's acoustics. It looked something like photographs of the CBS studio Orson Welles used to broadcast the War of the Worlds in 1938. The linoleum floor features cut-in colored shapes and what appears to be a path to the rear door of the studio. The room is well lit from two bands of fluorescent tube lighting in the ceiling. In the rear is the requisite grand piano. Above it is a large round clock and a built-in monitor speaker. A window angles in over the room from about a quarter story above, where the control room is located. Another window to the announcer's booth appears on the right, closer to the entrance.

-- continued on page 2

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