WAMC purchases radio tower atop Mount Greylock

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ALBANY, N.Y. — WAMC Northeast Public Radio's superpower FM transmitter on a tower atop Mount Greylock is safe for many more years of broadcasting to Western New England and New York state.

The tower, which had been owned by WTEN, Channel 10, in Albany, N.Y., was purchased by WAMC in a deal completed on Friday, said WAMC President and CEO Alan Chartock.

WTEN recently auctioned its WCDC, Channel 19 relay signal atop the tower to the Federal Communications Commission for $34.5 million, to be used by wireless carriers.

WCDC, licensed to the town of Adams, had lost most of its audience since about 97 percent of Berkshire residents now subscribe to cable or satellite services. The tower itself has been for sale, and Channel 19 went "dark" on Dec. 1, much to the dismay of an estimated 1,500 viewers still using it in remote towns such as Savoy, New Ashford and Washington.

WAMC's purchase price was "slightly above $1 million," Chartock told The Eagle shortly after he made the announcement on WAMC's mid-morning "Roundtable" program.

"I'm almost quivering over this news, we've been working on this for a long time," he told listeners. "It's huge news for us, the top thing that's happened since I've been here starting in 1979." The station and its tower were previously owned by Albany Medical College for broadcasts of news and discussions directly to physicians.

To pay for the acquisition, WAMC's February fund drive will aim to raise $2 million, instead of the $1 million target since 2011. The station's goal for its first fund drive in 1981 was $125,000.

"It took months and months" to seal the deal, said Chartock. He credited managing partner Lucy Prashker of the Cain Hibbard & Myers law firm's Great Barrington office for the successful negotiations.

WAMC holds three fundraisers annually and recently has completed them in just a day or two, thanks to promotion of a "locked box" that listeners can fill for weeks ahead of the drive. This February's $2 million goal is for one time only, Chartock stressed. Future drives will return to the $1 million target.

Funding the purchase of the WTEN tower "took most of our available operating funds out of the bank," he acknowledged. "The only way we'll get the money is if people ante up. We're prepared to go long."

WAMC's operating budget is about $7 million a year, according to its latest nonprofit Form 990 filing with the IRS, close to half of it raised from underwriting announcements by supporting businesses and organizations.

In a "Save Our Station" message to WAMC members on Friday, Chartock wrote "on a matter of utmost urgency," noting that "with the loss of the tower, we would certainly lose many of our underwriting partners and many of our members, who would no longer be able to hear us. It could spell the end of WAMC as we know it."

"WAMC has never given up in the past, and we will not now," he said. "I can't believe it is happening, but we are going buy the tower! We all are."

The structure adjacent to Bascom Lodge sits on land in Mount Greylock State Reservation owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. WAMC has just signed a lease with DCR through 2025 for the parcel occupied by the transmitter, Chartock noted. The previous lease held by WTEN had expired two years ago.

WAMC has 28 additional transmitters and low-power translators in Great Barrington, in New York state from Westchester County to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, as well as Milford, Pa..

But the mountaintop tower known inside the station as "the mother ship" reaches listeners up to 100 miles away in all directions on FM 90.3. WAMC Northeast Public Radio has an audience of more than 400,000 individual listeners each month, Chartock pointed out.

"If anybody else had bought the tower and made us move, most of the listeners would not be able to hear us," Chartock told the audience on Friday morning. "We had to buy it, otherwise there would be no radio station as we know it today."

The tower has several "tenants" with antennas situated on the pole, including the Massachusetts State Police and a low-power relay signal on Channel 38 for WNYT, Channel 13, in Albany.

"This is an incredible high point for me," Chartock said. "It's an extraordinary moment not only in WAMC's history but mine too. I can't tell you what this means to me; it's incredible. This guarantees the future of WAMC."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.

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