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All posts in May, 2021

At this time, the WMBR community should be aware of a project we have been undertaking for the past few years: the relocation of our FM broadcast antenna on MIT’s campus. 

WMBR has been a part of MIT since its early days as WMIT, then WTBS: we have always broadcasted from a location on campus. For the past 50 years, that location has been the Eastgate graduate student residence, MIT Building E55. As one of the tallest buildings at MIT, E55 was the perfect home to our 60’ tower atop the elevator machine room on the roof. As we have updated our transmission equipment and increased our radiated power, E55 has continued to serve us well. And in March of last year, we outfitted our transmitter room there with the necessary devices to broadcast fully remotely, 24/7.

But in early 2016, MIT’s ambitious plans to rebuild its properties in Kendall Square were released for public approval, including the removal of E55 to make way for a lower-profile new building. Also in the plans was the construction of a new high-rise, Site 4, which would replace E55 as (among other things) housing for married graduate students. WMBR immediately engaged with MIT leadership to ensure this building would also be the new home for WMBR’s antenna. MIT agreed, as the move was fitting, and the new building would be even taller than E55, allowing us to maintain our antenna height and ability to cover the expansive territory around greater Boston that we do today.

In the fall of 2016, I joined with a team of advisors on the Technology Broadcasting Corporation to plan our path forward. We engaged FCC consulting engineers to scope the permitting required to move our antenna; we planned on major items such as the new antenna, tower, and transmitter; and we started talking to MIT about how we would best work together to incorporate our structure into the new building.

MIT generously agreed to cover all costs associated with moving our station, and with the support we’ve gotten from listeners like you in our annual fundraisers, we were able to plan for upgrades too, taking the opportunity to purchase new equipment that will last us for years to come. I worked with the MIT project team to plan our tower and equipment room facilities into the building, so that what we needed was built right in. And last fall, after completing a skyscraper in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the building opened for residents, and I began to build out our new transmitter and antenna setup with the (mostly remote) support of the WMBR tech team.

In June, E55 will start to be disassembled to make way for the new development in the next phase of the Kendall Square Initiative. We are wrapping up our installation in the new Site 4 building and will make a mad dash to take the last of our equipment out of E55 before the building is decommissioned. In the intervening weeks, testing of the new site will cause some disruption in our broadcast, which will affect our stream as well. 

We are planning to cut over from the old site to the new site on Saturday, May 22. That date may shift depending on progress and availability, but when the cutover occurs, we’ll be off the air for some hours. We hope to be able to make any missed shows available on our archives. And prior to that date, we will be taking our old site off the air to test the new site. During those test times, you’ll hear a transition to static, then periods of silence as we test the new transmitter (which will be broadcasting 88.1 megahertz of silence!), then a return to the scheduled programming.

And, once we do cut over and are broadcasting from the new site, there may be unexpected downtime – because no project is 100% perfect the first time around, and we may need to fix a few things. Hopefully, this downtime will be much less than a day. It’s also worth mentioning that we designed our new antenna’s pattern to nearly match our existing one – so that if you can tune in to WMBR on FM today, you can probably hear us just as clear after we make the switch.

For a short period after we cut over – probably a couple weeks – we will have to reduce our transmitter power to 50% to comply with FCC regulations until our license is updated. If you are further from Kendall Square, you might not be able to tune in during that time. You can always listen to our stream, and please know that this condition is temporary.

We appreciate your patience as we undergo this transition. It is because of your support that we can thrive in our new home at MIT – and it’s because of the supportive WMBR community that we know independent, community-driven, FM radio is an essential part of Cambridge and greater Boston!