by Peter Q. George
W69AQ was originally put on the air in November 1977 to re-broadcast the sports programming of WSBK-TV/38 in Boston MA, via WRLP/32 in Greenfield MA which was under common ownership with WWLP/22 in Springfield MA. W69AQ, while being licensed to Margaret S. Downey of Agawam, MA (a friend of former WWLP and Springfield Television Corporation CEO Bill Putnam), was actually being supported by WWLP in order to try to stave off the cable "monster" in Springfield, a city not yet wired for cable at the time. Virtually every other community around the Pioneer Valley had been wired for cable for years.
Originally, W69AQ was to pick-up the off-air signal of channel 32. However, WRLP was to permanently leave the air in March 1978 at the request of Springfield Television due to continued operating losses. Thus, W69AQ was stuck in a limbo as its primary, WRLP, ceased to exist. Without WRLP's off-air signal to feed it, how could the translator continue to rebroadcast the Red Sox and Bruins games to Springfield? At that time, the FCC did not allow retransmission of distant signals via microwave links on translators. Low Power TV (in the way we know it exists today) was still many years into the future. Apparently, WWLP sought and received a special FCC waiver of this rule and got special permission to rebroadcast WSBK-TV only during sports programming. This had never been done before.
However, WWLP staffer Mike Fitzpatrick posted on a couple of industry message boards in 2001 that W69AQ never did receive its sports programming via WRLP-TV. Rather, it received its signal from WSBK-TV, using a microwave hop from an off-air receiver at Coy's Hill in Warren, MA to Provin Mountain in Agawam. WRLP did receive its feed directly off-the-air from WSBK-TV, due to the height of the receive antenna at the Gun Hill transmitter site in Winchester, NH. (The microwave setup at Coy's Hill was in place to receive Boston television stations for sports programming and news footage for WRLP, and was dismantled in the late 1990s.)
W69AQ was simply turned on and off by a switch at the master control console. Many times the evening Master Control Director would forget to tell the overnight MCD that the channel 69 transmitter was still on, meaning that the WSBK programming would be seen long after the Red Sox or Bruins games where over. Fitzpatrick says that one of the evening master control operators was a big fan of Hogan's Heroes, which aired in late nights on WSBK, and would leave W69AQ turned on when he went home for the night so he could watch it.
In essence, W69AQ was the first LPTV per se in existence; which technically still falling within the definition of a translator (rebroadcasting WSBK-TV) it operated outside of the rules prohibiting the microwave feeding of a translator. Even without that technicality, though, as the cost of programming the games from channel 38 went up -- and WSBK-TV itself became available on cable in Springfield -- W69AQ was taken dark in 1982 and subsequently sold in 1985 to WHLL/27 in Worcester. They only operated it the bare minimum one hour a week required by the FCC to maintain the license, and before the decade had ended, the final output tube of the small General Electric transmitter died and the station never saw the light of day again; the construction permit to build W46CS as a DTV displacement expired in 2001 and has since been deleted from the FCC database.
Bill Putnam retired from broadcasting in 1984 and died December 20, 2014 at age 90.
This article originally appeared in the author's "UHF Morgue" at his former RadioDXer site and is republished here with his permission. Reformatting by K.M. Richards.
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