HARTFORD RADIO HISTORY
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WTIC-AM Engineering
   

Hartford Radio
Author: John Ramsey
ISBN: 9780738576664
# of Pages: 128
Over 220 high quality images
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing


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Book Description: 
Radio broadcasting has been an integral part of the history of Hartford since the early part of the 20th century. WDRC was the state’s first station (1923), and they helped pioneer FM radio technology in the early 1940s. Many Hartford residents learned about the end of World War II via radio, and the medium played a key role in keeping people informed during the floods of 1938 and 1955, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Surprisingly, Hartford, the capital of “the land of steady habits,” saw two stations break from the pack to help bring the British Invasion to the state in the early 1960s. And thousands of schoolchildren eagerly listened to WTIC’s legendary Bob Steele on wintery mornings as they excitedly awaited school closing announcements. Hartford Radio offers a glimpse into the history of the area’s broadcast stations and the people who ran them.





The article below is an unofficial history of WTIC Radio's engineering department written by Charles Fitch.

Writer's note: The author was the original Director of Engineering for WTIC-TV but has never had the pleasure of working at WTIC radio. The author would like to thank John Reno, former Chief Engineer of WTIC, channel 3, Jeff Hugabone, present chief engineer of WTIC radio and Xen Scott of ABC television for their help in researching this article. Any historic or factual errors are those of the author.

A technical history of WTIC radio on its 75th anniversary

by Charles S. Fitch, P.E.

Written Summer of 2000

 

 

Several big anniversaries in the communications industry have been taking place recently. As we all know, wireless transmission in North America began on April 19th, 1899 at Notre Dame University in  Indiana. Last April then was the 101st anniversary of wireless on the North American continent.

 

The first transmission was in 'Morse' code and code transmission dominated the first 25 years of radio due to the relatively primitive nature of the early equipment.

 

Fressenden* startled everyone with his Christmas eve audio broadcast in 1906 reading scripture and playing hymns on his violin. This unscheduled and extraordinary event (audio voice was for the most part unheard of in the din of morse) was so surprising that many operators way out to sea or in other far flung locations thought it was God speaking. Unfortunately it wasn't and we've had trouble with radio ratings ever since.

 

Early radio engineers essentially created broadcasting out of emerging wireless when Dr. Frank Conrad with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh fused together the early physics of audio radio and sound business principles.

 

This took place in November 1920 when he valued broadcasting services in exchange for money and sold the first commercial !!

 

It's been downhill since then with rare exception. One of these exceptions is WTIC radio in HartfordConnecticut, which also has had an important anniversary.

 

That same fertile radio period in the first half of the 20's saw many early broadcasters enter and exit this most speculative business quite reminiscent of internet startups today. Connecticut got its first radio station in 1921, WCJ, which came and went quickly as did the radio station in New Haven that was put on the next year by the A.C. Gilbert company (the same folks that brought us erector sets and American Flyer trains). The first station to go on and stay on was WDRC which signed on December 2nd, 1922

 

One interesting aspect of early broadcasting was that most stations were mixed use spending part of their  day broadcasting and other parts in one and two way communications. WRR in Dallas was part of the police department 'calling all cars!' part of the day and broadcasting other times. Several stations in Philadelphia and New York City were owned by department stores and they would broadcast to the receivers that they had sold their customers  through part of the day and communicate with their other  store locations by radio otherwise.

 

This marriage of business interests and broadcasting prompted the Travelers Insurance Company on July  29, 1924 to apply for a new class B station at 26 Grove St., Hartford, CT. They requested 860 kc. with 500 watts, unlimited hours using the call sign WTIC.

 

This famous moniker stands for the Travelers Insurance Company.

 

The Travelers was notified via telegram of their granted authorization to begin on December 17, 1924. At  that time the federal regulatory  agency for broadcasting was the Bureau of Navigation, Dept. of  Commerce. 

 

The secretary of commerce during this time was probably one of America's most famous engineers and leaders, Herbert Hoover. The custom was for his name (and sometimes signature) to appear on all  licenses.

 

Author's note :  My father, John Alton Fitch, Sr.'s, first amateur license was a letter signed by Herbert  Hoover.

 

The station's first license was issued on January 27, 1925 and its first official day of operation was February 10, 1925.

 

One of the earliest engineers associated with the station and the person whose mark was most indelible on  its technical progress was Herman Taylor. Part of the staff from day one, assistant chief engineer for 17 years, chief engineer for 22 years, he took the station from the cacophony of being just one of the pack to a  national powerhouse on AM and a major market force and pioneer on FM from its beginning in 1940.

 

Entering commercial radio at age 17, Taylor was a Marconi operator and an engineer with RCA before  coming to WTIC for the duration.

From the FCC's 'data card' he and the staff must have been busy. The data card is an abbreviated list that  chronolizes the Federal Communications Commission's processing of required informational filings, technical applications and license changes.

 

On March 27, 1925 the station was instructed to test operation on an alternate channel of  630 kc. On January 21, 1926 the station was instructed to move to  630 kc. pending action on their application. On June 1, 1927 they were moved to 650 kc still using their original 500  watts. Hopefully they had a VFO (variable frequency oscillator) as on June 9, 1927, by Special Order, they returned to 630 kc in a move made permanent on the 15th.

 

Later that busy Summer on August 19, 1927, WTIC was granted 560 kc., 500 watts, shared time with another station, WCAC. WCAC was the radio station of the Connecticut Agricultural College in Mansfield, a forerunner of UCONN.

        

At this point, station personnel and their listeners must have been very frustrated. On June 5, 1928, the station applied for a change of transmitter location, new equipment, power increase to 50 kw and a change in hours of operation from shared with WCAC to unlimited. Hopefully this would give them a permanent fulltime frequency home.

 

 The new Federal Radio Commission must have acted at lightning speed as on September 12, 1928  WTIC was granted a construction permit (CP) to move their  transmitter  location to Avon Mountain, CT., and increase power to 50,000 watts (channel not specified).  This is still the transmitter location to this day at 375 Deercliff Road, Avon.

 

A maximum 50 kw at 560 KHz (their present frequency) would have been a mighty signal but it was not to be as just 3 days later a new  CP was issued for 1060 kc, 50 kw, shared time with WBAL in Baltimore.

 

In a strange interim move but probably viewed as  a temporary expedient to establish a full time service, the station applied for and was granted 600 kc, 250 watts, unlimited time.  This was a reallocation and also involved a change of licensee name to The Travelers Broadcasting Service Corp. Their hope of an exclusive frequency was dashed that January when WCAC was once again reassigned as sharetime on 600  KHz.

 

The 50 kw application was still active however and this was modified on December 15, 1928 to pick up some tech details and the new ownership name change.

 

The 50 kw CP on 1060 KHz was issued on January 31, 1929  sharetime with WBAL in accordance with General Order 42 which apparently reorganized much of the AM broadcast dial.

 

By June 17, 1929 the new site was built and the station was running at 1060 tentatively for testing as well as their regular schedule on 600. The transmitter installed was 'Old Number One', the RCA model 50-B. This was RCA's first attempt at a production 50 kw broadcast transmitter. Leonard Doughty, the last WTIC chief engineer to operate this transmitter, estimated the overall efficiency as 22%. This would be about 200,000 watts in to get 50,000 out.

 

Physically this transmitter was huge (20 ft by 30 ft) with walk in access. A dream to service as long as you had a crane as all the components were big.

 

Their first 50 kw license was granted on July 2, 1929 with 25 kw normally and running 50 kw experimentally shared time with WBAL.

 

High power technology and network radio were all new at this time and when they were not running their 1060 schedule some interesting tests were being run including synchronization tests. These tests attempted to sync up several stations on the same frequency to avoid heterodyning of their carriers. This heterodyne howling was a major cause of the need to sharetime.

 

The networks also tried various permutations of this for stations running the same programming to enhance coverage area. Out of all this came our synchronism booster technology used today. These tests were on 660 with WEAF, New York.

 

Automatic frequency control was installed on  July 15, 1932 which must have thrilled the staff as well as their listeners. Now they really were crystal 'locked' to 1060 kc.

 

Hopefully they kept their VFO nearby as on November 3, 1933  WTIC applied for a 'Special Experimental Authorization' to change frequency from 1060 kc. to 1040 kc., using 50 kw, operating simultaneously with KRLD, Dallas.  This was granted March 30, 1934. 

 

More experiments were permitted through this period as well by the FRC who would soon become the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These tests were conducted with amateur radio station W1XEV to determine the usefulness of very high frequencies (actually what is considered short wave now) to form a relay link. This took place during the period from September 29, 1936 to February 1, 1937. These experiments were very useful as they demonstrated that a reliable link could be created between Europe and the states for programming. This new technique allowed network correspondents just a few years later to provide live 'on the spot reports' from war torn Europe.

 

On January 30, 1939 the station applied  to install a directional antenna for night use to protect KRLD and it was built and running by December. From experiences over the next few months it was found that the station could be non-directional at 50 kw during the day and only needed to go directional to avoid interference when local sunset took place in Dallas. This arrangement was formalized in September 1940.

 

The ink probably wasn't even really dried on the new license and letterhead when in March 1941 the new North American Radio Broadcasters Agreement ( NARBA) moved both WTIC and KRLD to 1080 kc, 50 kw, DA-N, once again only using the directional antenna following sunset  at Dallas, TX.

 

The wartime was an exciting period of service and entertainment programming at WTIC. Probably the most interesting item unique to the station was the special permission that the FCC granted the station to transmit 'V' for victory at the hourly ID.  This would be ' ...- ' in Morse code sent with the emphasis and timing of the opening two bars of Beethoven's Fifth symphony. Obviously  this was in resonance to Churchill's 'V' sign, the most vivid imagery of optimism for victory against the axis tyranny to come out of WW2.

 

To strike a dichotomy between commercial message stations and broadcasting, for years and years broadcasters were forbidden to send any messages in Morse code. In radio and television dramas (including movies shown on TV) whenever a Morse key was heard operating it had to send dot and dash gibberish. This permission to send such a potent portent of patriotism in plain text was a clear telegraphing that the federal government recognized this station's key position in the American Broadcast service.  During these troubled times the station had an astounding audience and listener coverage over half the nation's population. The AM station still sends a 'V' as the hourly time tone to continue this old tradition.

 

 

When the war ended and communication manufacturing and production return to normal, the station  installed a new transmitter, a Westinghouse 50-HG-, getting it into operation as main in Summer 1947.

 

 

 Although the Broadcasting yearbook lists WTIC-FM as beginning on February 5th, 1940 apparently from the FCC's records, all that was happening that year was an application to build a new station on 45.3 MHz initially annotating a 50 kw transmitter plant. This application went in July 26, 1940. The application was amended to a lower power and a license was granted for that facility on July 24, 1942.

 

Not everyone was convinced that FM would prosper and in the new high frequency band as AM, FM and 'special modulation' for facsimile, etc., could be used on request. That request was made on February 19, 1944.

 

Surprisingly right in the middle of the war fledgling WTIC-FM changed frequency to 43.3 MHz and installed an RCA FM 50A transmitter finishing out the war and their time on the FM 'lowband' running considerable power.

 

The end of the war brought peace and a new FM spectrum and so on January 20th, 1947 the station applied to move to 93.5 MHz using an REL model 519A-DD 3 kw transmitter producing about 8 kw ERP which was installed and licensed on March 18, 1947. The next transmitter was an RCA BTF-1D 1 kw which precipitated an ERP reduction to 5.45 kw.  In 1964 the station increased power to 15 kw ERP and finally to it's present 20.2 kw in August 1980. Somewhere in there, WTIC-FM was assigned its present frequency of 96.5 Mhz.

 

The station, like many early FMs, was programmed with a heavy classical music format. In the late 70's with the success of  contemporary music on the AM side, the FM moved to more modern music triggering one of the strongest listener reactions ever witnessed. The public response and petitioning before the FCC

to make the station's format a license renewal issue was acrimonious to say the least and set the arguments and issues that would be used as a model by all that followed seeking format redress before the Commission.

 

Eventually market place economics were viewed as the ultimate criterion for what was the best format use of a station and modern music continued on the station to this day with 'dancin oldies'  music being programmed at this writing.    

 

The Travelers added television on channel 3 to their Hartford radio stations and Avon Mountain site on September 23, 1957.

 

In 1961 all three stations were moved into a new 'purpose built' studio located in Broadcast House, Three Constitution Plaza, in the center of downtown Hartford. Constitution Plaza was a huge universal effort to rejuvenate the center city area and these new, almost opulent studios were a very visual statement, on

behalf of the Travelers, of their commitment to the city and state.

 

Up at the transmitter the quest for efficiency and reliability caused a new Continental Electronics 317C to be installed in August 1971 retiring the Westinghouse transmitter to standby.

 

Much of the engineering effort through this period was done under the direction of  Harold Dorschug. In his early career as a radio network master control operator, he was on duty at CBS the night Orson Wells infamous 'War of the Worlds' broadcast aired. Mr. Dorschug retired from TIC in 1978 and died just this past Summer at 86. 

 

In 1974 the Travelers decided after nearly 50 years to sell the stations. Because of the restrictive multiple ownership rules at the time, the TV station went to Post-Newsweek and the radio stations went to a consortium of distinguished local business people who had formed the Ten-Eighty Corporation.  They moved the studios to One Financial Plaza in Hartford which is also affectionately known as the 'Gold Building' due to its distinctive gold tint window reflective treatment.

 

 In January 1977, one of the partners, David T. Chase, at the time Connecticut's largest commercial real estate developer, bought out his partners and took control of the station.

 

The Chase family instituted a major technical enhancement and rebuilding program including a second alternate main Continental 317 and a completely new FM transmitter plant.

 

In recent days during the present wave of station consolidation, WTIC AM-FM were bought by the well-known Steven Dodge and David Pearlman who paired them with their other Hartford stations. About two years ago they blended them into the CBS/Infinity group.

 

A recent effort to consolidate the CBS/Infinity stations in Hartford has caused the studios of WTIC AM &  FM to move into a compromise consolidated site in Farmington, CT, a rather tony suburb of Hartford, which brings us to the present.

 

 

Over seventy-five years of distinguished service is a long time under any criterion. Most amazing in the fact  that it was rendered by really only three licensees that have chosen to have one and only one callsign, WTIC, for the entire duration.

 

A callsign that has come to singularly symbolize the best in public service and entertainment to Connecticut, the Northeast and America.

 

 

* The first experimental broadcast stations operated in the United States in the years prior to World War I. They had sporadic schedules of but a few hours a week. The first broadcast in the world was probably done by Reginald Fessenden in 1906 from a transmitter south of Boston, Massachusetts. Some debate exists about the year of this ‘broadcast’ as some texts place it in 1912.

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