A Technical History of WHAV

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Sign Off, Aug 2010

At the time, a Gates FM-10H 10kW transmitter powered the FM. A power increase to an effective radiated power output of 50kW using a Gates FM-20H3 was partly financed by a Rhode Island station on an adjacent frequency as a condition of its own power increase, according to a former chief engineer. An Optimod 8000A processed audio -- still carried between the studios and transmitter by telephone company equalized lines.

A trade ad placed by Western Electric touts the installation of equipment at the new radio station.

A trade ad placed by Western Electric touts the installation of equipment at the new radio station. Click to enlarge.

Several disasters took the FM off the air for days at a time while I was there in 1979. First, vandals pierced the coaxial cable while trying to take out the tower lights with rifle shots. Water eventually entered the cable. Later, what seemed to be a routine move by an operator at the studio to rotate the antenna switch by remote control to place the now-backup FM-10H on the air turned into a crisis. The antenna switched was not interlocked and allowed the FM-20H transmitter to remain powered up while not actually connected to the coax. The Andrew switch burned and melted, and the transmitter building filled with smoke. I helped Chief Engineer Ted Nahil bolt together sections of spare coax "plumbing" and create a direct path around the destroyed switch between the backup transmitter and tower. The FM-20H was not seriously damaged and was restored within a few weeks when the new antenna switch arrived.

In defense of the operator on duty at the studio, the remote control with only "raise" and "lower" switches often got out of sync with its sister device at the transmitter and created confusion.

Stereo required retrofitting the studios. A Gates Executive 10-channel stereo transistor console was purchased for the FM. At first, it occupied a new desk sitting in the large performance studio. Later, it was moved to the small announcer's booth where a new Scully stereo reel-to-reel joined the complement.

About the same time a dual-channel Gates Diplomat board forced the retirement of the Western Electric console on the AM station. New Gates CB-1200 turntables with stereo Micro-Trak tonearms were added to the main AM control room now above the small studio. Gates solid state preamps are mounted under the desk. The RCA cart machines were replaced with the Gates Criterion series. The older control room, now largely used only for the nightly Open Mic call-in show, still contained the Gates Studioette, CB-500 turntables and RCA cart recorder and player.

A new Harris MW-1 AM was placed into service near the end of the decade, moving the RCA to back-up duty and readying the Raytheon for disposal. The MW-1 proved troublesome at first. A bit of icing on the tower frequently knocked the unit off the air. After the station accepted a trial of the new Orban Optimod AM 9000A, my boss fell in love with the sound and bought it.

1980s and the end of an era

A "distressed sale," forced by the FCC over Equal Employment Opportunity violations, brought Northeast Broadcasting on the scene in 1981. Eventually WHAV AM's studios moved to the nearby city of Methuen and, by 2002, was renamed WCEC. It still uses a portion of the old transmitter building. The FM was renamed WLYT for a time and today is known as WXRV -- The River.

Between 1947 and the early 1980s, and thanks to the relatively frugal first two owners, WHAV's studio and transmitter buildings continued to convey a vintage look. Almost every piece of equipment ever owned by the stations either remained on air in some fashion or carefully stored in the chief engineer's workspace. I was pleased to learn the history of the station simply from digging through the relics.

The WHAV call returned in 2004 when I brought it back for an Internet, cable television and low-power (Part 15) radio station. One of WHAV's first announcers, Phil Christie, and one of its last, Marc Lemay, continue to be heard daily, but that is another story.

Tim Coco worked in the original WHAV studio building between 1978 and 1980. At the time, the building was largely unchanged from its construction 30 years before. He is currently president and general manager of the Internet incarnation of the station.

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