[JPL] WBGO's new Times Square antenna

TomtheJazzman tomthejazzman at embarqmail.com
Thu Dec 29 17:25:44 EST 2011

Tomorrow afternoon, Rhonda Hamilton, the only original DJ left at 
Newark’s jazz station WBGO, will start her show with the first song she 
remembers spinning 32 years ago. But it won’t sound the same, because at 
1 p.m., WBGO will flick on a brand new antenna in Times Square, shooting 
crisp, clear jazz through the five boroughs and far-flung regions of the 
Garden State. "We’re moving from a flagpole in Newark to a bona fide 
broadcast tower in Manhattan," said Cephas Bowles, president and CEO of 
the station. "It’s important to reach across the Hudson, but also in New 
Jersey–in Bergen County, in Essex County. Right now, we have a listener 
in Livingston who, if he turns on WBGO in his living room, he hears 
static." The reason for the static is that the Newark antenna at 744 
Broad is 428 feet tall–not high enough to get around steel and concrete 
between it and listeners. The new antenna at the Conde Nast Building in 
Times Square will nearly double the antenna height to 834 feet. "Radio 
waves are line of sight," explained WBGO marketing manager Brandy Wood. 
"If you can’t hear it, you can’t see it." That means Carl Goldstein, a 
loyal listener and Westfield doctor, can’t pick up the station’s signal 
on the 88.3 FM frequency unless he tunes in online. "In moving around 
Union County to our different offices, there are little two, three, four 
block-long pockets where the signal will disappear or dissolve in 
static," Goldstein said. "The worst thing is to be in the middle of some 
long rendition by (Thelonius) Monk or Sonny Rollins and the signal 
disappears. That’s just wrong." Even though WBGO is the only full-time 
jazz station in the New York metropolitan area, Bowles said signal 
matters because WBGO listeners might touch that dial if the station’s 
broadcast doesn’t come in clear. WBGO plays its own mix of jazz, from 
straight-ahead to Latin to bluesier fare around the clock with original 
news reporting thrown in as well, so it wants listeners’ attention all 
the time. "If we don’t have a great signal, we’re not going to get 
noticed, or get our share of the time they can give us," Bowles said. 
Jazz legend Jimmy Heath, who lives in Corona, Queens, near Louis 
Armstrong’s old house, has supported WBGO for 15 years despite not 
getting a signal. "I’m anxiously waiting to hear the station in my 
home," Heath said yesterday. "When I hear it, I’ll know if it’s cool." 
Radio analyst Scott Fybush of Northeast Radio Watch said the station is 
unique in its focus on jazz, and stands to gain a huge number of 
listeners in New York who are currently blocked by the jagged ridge of 
skyscrapers that bisect the city. "If you’re anywhere east of the West 
Side of Manhattan, you have all of Manhattan blocking you from that 
signal in Newark," Fybush said yesterday. "All of the sudden, to be able 
to pick all of that up as a potential audience, is huge for them." For 
non-profit radio stations like WBGO, a strong FM signal isn’t just a 
matter of pride. It’s the magnet that draws the donations that are its 
lifeblood, amounting to nearly half of operating revenue, according to 
Bowles. The number of listeners tuning in online has increased in recent 
years, now including residents of 45 states and 14 countries, but those 
members only contribute 10 percent of the station’s donations. "We are 
non-profit by corporate type, but we are in every sense of the word an 
ongoing business," Bowles said. "The largest single piece of our funding 
comes locally. That’s why it’s important to serve the local community 
with as good a broadcast as we can." The hunt for a better broadcast led 
WBGO to rehire Iowa-based Doug Vernier, who originally set the station 
up in 1979. It also led Bowles and station staff on a walking tour of 
New York City rooftops. "We walked across Donald Trump’s rooftop at East 
48th and First Avenue. We walked across 4 Times Square," Bowles said. 
"They’re all expensive." WBGO is about 80 percent done raising $2 
million to get the antenna up and humming. The station already signed a 
25-year lease deal for its new location. Now it will cost $200,000 a 
year to operate on top of the station’s $5.2 million annual budget for 
its Newark offices, 32 full-time staff and 18 part-timers. The station’s 
headquarters, purchased in 1981, will not move. "BGO these days kind of 
stands on its own in upholding the jazz torch," Fybush said. "Something 
that’s been holding them back is they haven’t had a full metropolitan 
area signal until now. The question is: Starting at 1 o’clock (Friday), 
how many people will be out there?" -- Jazz Programmers' Mailing List: 
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