Let’s face it. There’s always an unpleasant macho subtext in intra-corporate rivalries, and here at the Phoenix Media/Communications Group, WFNX 101.7 FM has always had a clear edge over the Boston Phoenix newspaper in at least one regard: its broadcast tower. Or, to put it another way, its giant, vibrating … Oh, you get the idea.
So it was with a bit of corporate crow-eating — and some basic anxieties around the issue of size — that I fulfilled my duty and checked in with Max Tolkoff, FNX Network program director and operations manager, about the station’s recent power upgrade, from 3000 to 6000 watts, and the broadcast tower’s move from Medford to the top of One Financial Center, in downtown Boston. When I asked my pal Max (hey, we’ve had a few tussles around the corporate conference table, but always in the spirit of what my boss calls “a frank and open exchange of ideas”) what the power upgrade meant, his deadpan answer made my blood run cold: “More power, more penetration.”
Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich (whom I always let win our frank and open exchanges) bought the then-WLYN license 24 years ago. Since then, the tower has moved once, from Lynn (home to the station’s offices) to Medford (in 1988), but its coverage of Boston and Cambridge has always been spotty (thus the first slogan for the new station: “Some get it, some don’t”). A power upgrade can require a new license, but FNX engineer Chris Hall was able to explain successfully to the FCC that a power upgrade in the downtown location would not infringe on other stations.
“We’re not allowed to have a signal that goes into Canada, or to have a signal at 101.7 that extends to Providence and the South Shore,” Max explained. Signals are shaped into lobes. “We have a sort of kidney-bean-shaped lobe, and the signal is shaped so that we protect to the south and we protect to the north. We’ve always had good North Shore coverage, but we needed better concentration in downtown Boston, Back Bay, Allston, Brighton.
“If you look at all the territory covered within the Route 128 loop, even at 3000 watts out of Medford, we had fairly decent coverage. But what the 6000 watts does from the top of One Financial Center is it helps to fill in the gaps we were missing. If we were spotty out by, let’s say, Watertown, we shouldn’t be spotty out there anymore. We should have great downtown penetration now into office buildings, we should have better Back Bay coverage, we should have better coverage in Allston-Brighton. All these places where a lot of FNX fans live and where it was kind of sketchy before, we should have full coverage now.”
I’ll admit, the business about the lobe was bothering me — maybe even more than the tower. Its size and shape would remain the same?
“The lobe has to stay the same; we’re just covering it better.”