WSRO Power Increase Party, July 2012

WSRO (650 Ashland) used to be a 250-watt daytimer, serving the first-generation Brazilian community in the MetroWest region. In July, 2012, the station completed an upgrade, becoming a 1500-watt facility, still a daytimer, still serving the Brazilian community in MetroWest. Langer Broadcasting, the station's owner, held a party at the station's Mount Wayte Avenue, Framingham, facility on July 17 to celebrate the upgrade, with Governor Deval Patrick on hand to do the ceremonial pushing of the button. This was followed by speeches from station staffers and local politicians, and a birthday celebration for Pearl Oliva, the 92-year-old host of the station's Italian show, which she has been doing for 62 years, counting both WSRO and the former WKOX (1190, later 1200 Framingham, now WXKS 1200 Newton).

WSRO didn't start out in Framingham, licensed to Ashland, or even on 650. The station was originally WSCV, a thousand-watt daytimer on 1050 in Peterborough, N.H., which began operation in 1970. WSCV's tower stood on Jaffrey Road (US 202) a mile or so south of Peterborough. WSCV became WRPT in February, 1981, when new sister station WMDK (92.1A Peterborough) signed on. After sales in 1984 and 1988, WRPT took the WMDK calls (with WMDK becoming WMDK-FM) in 1989, and the stations began to simulcast. The simulcast was broken in 1991, with the FM becoming adult-contemporary WNHQ and the AM returning to a talk format and the WRPT calls. In 1992, WRPT went silent, and so it looked to remain.

Enter Alexander Langer, a Florida businessman. He had recently acquired silent WBIV (1060 Natick) from California-based Family Radio, and had plans to expand its daytime operation to 50 kW. The station had lost its transmitter site when Family had swapped its construction permit, WBMA (890 Dedham), for WBIV; WBIV's five-tower array in Ashland had never been especially stable, and the new owners did not want to deal with diplexing the two. Any plausible new transmitter site would require the elimination of the first-adjacent station, WRPT. Langer and the owners of WRPT made an agreement to turn in WRPT's licnese, if the FCC allowed him to put WBIV back on the air.

Langer looked at numerous possible sites for the 1060 signal, but was stymied by local zoning boards, and had to settle for diplexing on the one existing facility that would allow WBIV to maintain “first local service” to Natick: the WKOX (1200 Framingham) site on Mount Wayte Avenue. Framingham, too, would not allow new tower construction, which meant that Langer would have to make the station work with WKOX's existing two-tower directional array.

Meanwhile, a long-standing construction permit for a new 10-kW full-time station, WBSO (650 Clinton), was about to expire unbuilt.

Then Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. One of the law's little-known provisions strips the FCC of the authority to allow stations to remain silent for longer than 12 months, making a station's license expire as a matter of law if it doesn't return to the air within a year of going silent. The ostensible purpose of this clause was to force station owners who are not actually interested in operating their stations to either sell or turn in their licenses, so that those frequencies could be better used by other operators. (So long as the license remained outstanding, other stations had to protect the nonexistent operation.) With the one-year deadline starting as soon as the new law took effect, Langer pared back his plans for 1060, putting it back on the air as a 1000-watt daytimer in February, 1997, shortly before its license was due to expire.

Langer realized that, with the expiration of the WBSO construction permit, a new station could be licensed on 650 kHz in eastern Massachusetts. The only problem was the FCC's prohibition of new daytime-only facilities. In order to get around that restriction, an existing daytimer would have to be moved—and if that existing daytimer was about to lose its license after a year's silence, the FCC would approve such a move expeditiously. So he renegotiated his deal with the owners of WRPT to instead acquire the station and move it to Ashland, Mass., where it would be “first local service”—which he could do with 250 watts, non-directional, from the WKOX tower he was already leasing in Framingham.

WRPT made it back on the air from its new facilities with just hours to spare, on February 9, 1997. The initial programming was from the Talk America network; the following year, Langer purchased another station which had lost its transmitter site, WSRO (1470 Marlborough), and the two began to simulcast. The simulcast ended in early 2000, when WRPT swapped programming with its sister station, WJLT (1060), the old WBIV, and soon took the WJLT callsign as well. (The calls stood for “J-Light”, reflecting the station's leased-time Christian Contemporary format.) The newly upgraded 1060 signal took over WRPT's talk programming and became WMEX. WMEX later gave way to a leased-time business format as WBIX, and Langer eventually sold the station to J. Bradford Bleidt, the Boston-based financial advisor who was programming the station. Bleidt spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make WBIX a full-time station, making it a two-site operation, with the night signal coming from the station's old five-tower array in Ashland.

It turned out that Bleidt had actually stolen the money from his clients. His business was placed in receivership, and Langer agreed to buy the station from the receiver for $8.8 million, including cancellation of the $7.3 million note he had written to finance Bleidt's original purchase. Langer had recently completed the sale of WSRO, now licensed to Watertown and transmitting from Lexington, to Arthur Liu's Multicultural Broadcasting, for $1.8 million; when the sale closed, WJLT took over the WSRO callsign and programming (which it had returned to simulcasting), and 1470 became WAZN. By the mid-2000s, the talk programming had largely been replaced by Portuguese-language programming for the large Brazilian community in Framingham and Ashland. (Just how large is not clear, as the Census Bureau has not published this information since the 2000 Census—more recent surveys lump Portuguese in with all other Indo-European languages from Persian to Icelandic. It is considered likely that the number of households where Portuguese is the language of the home is equal to that of Spanish speakers.)

Meanwhile, the wind-down of the Fairbanks estate, which owned WKOX and the Mount Wayte Ave. transmitter site, saw that station sold to Clear Channel, which worked for a decade to move it to Newton with an upgrade to 50 kW, a move which was finally completed in 2009. Once the Newton facility received its license, Mount Wayte Ave. was surplus property to Clear Channel, and Langer was able to purchase the transmitter site which was now only used by WSRO and WBIX. That same year, Langer filed for a construction permit to finally give WBIX 50 kW daytime operation, by moving its day operation back to the Ashland facility where it had previously been located, and where its night site already was.

In September, 2010, Holy Family Communications, a Buffalo-based Catholic broadcaster, acquired WBIX from Langer and took the station silent pending completion of new studios and the 50 kW upgrade; they did not take a lease at Mount Wayte Avenue, so WSRO was left as the only station remaining there.

The elimination of the old “triplex” configuration made it practical to increase WSRO's power to 1.5 kW-D, 62 W-N, DA-1, eliminating all of the old combiner hardware. The application to do so was originally filed in 2010, and granted in January, 2012; the work was completed in mid-June, and the ceremonial button-pressing was scheduled for June 28. However, when it became clear that the United States Supreme Court would hand down its decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) on that day, Governor Patrick cleared his calendar so that he could be in Washington. WSRO quietly completed the upgrade and filed for a license to cover on July 12; meanwhile, the celebration was postponed to July 17 so that the Governor could attend.

Event tent
Event tent
Back side of the building
Back side of the building
New and old transmitters
New and old transmitters
Speaker's podium
Speaker's podium
Press photogs setting up
Press photogs setting up
Optimod 9100
Optimod 9100
Transmission line
Transmission line
Forward power 250 watts
Forward power 250 watts
Photog scrum
Photog scrum
Transmitter now at power setting 5
Transmitter now at power setting 5
Grady Moates and the transmitter
Grady Moates and the transmitter
Forward power 1650 watts
Forward power 1650 watts
Gov. Patrick speaks
Gov. Patrick speaks
State Sen. Karen Spilka
State Sen. Karen Spilka
Spilka and Langer
Spilka and Langer
Leandro Luis
Leandro Luis
Ilma Paix„o
Ilma Paix„o
Alexander Langer
Alexander Langer
Gov. helps Pearl Oliva up
Gov. helps Pearl Oliva up
Pearl and Alex
Pearl and Alex

Copyright 2012 Garrett Wollman. All rights reserved.