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Sounds Familiar: WKCR Is Looking at World Trade Center, Again

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Author Topic: Sounds Familiar: WKCR Is Looking at World Trade Center, Again  (Read 94 times)
Michelle Jahn
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« on: October 02, 2011, 05:44:19 pm »

Sounds Familiar: WKCR Is Looking at World Trade Center, Again

DESCRIPTION The death of a radio transmitter at 515 Madison Avenue was the beginning of WKCR’s stay at the World Trade Center — and of a reporter’s career.

In the life of any aspiring reporter, there are few moments as terrifying as the first. And there are few places in which to experience those first few moments as daunting as the newsroom of The New York Times.

Of course, even as the stomach somersaults from anxiety, the brain is already composing an acceptance speech on receipt of the Pulitzer as the youngest reporter ever to be so honored — since the day of one’s debut will surely coincide with some big, enduring news event in which journalistic mettle is tested and found sterling.

Or not.

My assignment on my first day as a reporter 30 years ago was to cover the failure of the old transmitter of Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, which was then perched on 515 Madison Avenue, at 53rd Street. (I said 54th Street in the article. The Times may or may not regret this error. I certainly do.)

It was a Sunday. The weekend metro editor then was James Gleick. Foreshadowing his later role as an erudite guide to the realms of information and knowledge, Jim would sometimes send me off to cover weekend academic symposia as news events. But there was no scholarly conference this day. Nor much news of any kind.

Yet, I was able to ferret out something more than what was already obvious to anyone trying to listen in at 89.9 on the FM dial. WKCR intended to use the death of its Midtown transmitter to spur a long-planned move to a much higher, newer and more reliable antenna — atop the World Trade Center.
DESCRIPTION A modest debut: Page B3, Monday, July 20, 1981.

This week, I asked Russell Baker, the longtime host of the “Out to Lunch” jazz program on WKCR, to cast his mind back to Sept. 11, 2001. “I remember watching the images on television and maybe five hours later thinking, ‘Oh, that antenna was where KCR broadcast from,’ then turning on the radio and hearing pure fuzz,” he said.

WKCR erected a temporary antenna on the Carman Hall dormitory, but the signal scarcely reached beyond Morningside Heights. In 2003, the station began transmitting from 4 Times Square, where it remains.

Benjamin Young, the director of broadcasting, who has been at WKCR for 20 years, said: “The two years following 9/11/01 were our darkest period ever. Our signal was inaudible to most former listeners while we looked for a new transmitter site. WKCR was the last of the old World Trade Center radio stations to get back on its feet.”

So what should be on WKCR’s horizon today but the ever-rising 1 World Trade Center (the skyscraper formerly known as Freedom Tower)?

“We’ve certainly not yet sealed the deal, nor even seen the terms of moving there,” Mr. Young said, “but it is a hope and an ambition that we might make that our new main transmitter site when it launches in the coming years. It will be a welcome return.”

In other words, exactly 30 years after learning that WKCR was planning a move to the World Trade Center, I have now learned that WKCR is planning a move to the World Trade Center.

My first story may not have been big. But it definitely proved to be enduring.
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