Television Tower (camera lens looking north)
1230 East Mermaid Lane
(Click on the photo to see a larger version)
This photo was taken at the transmitting facilities at 1230 East Mermaid Lane in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, just a block outside of Philadelphia.
We have not been able to date it. We believe it to be from the WPTZ era. That would make it post World War II. However, this is the initial site of Philo Farnsworth's experimental television station, W3XPF. In fact, Farnsworth built the towers and buildings.
The structure on the right seems to be small, however, it wasn't. Broadcast Pioneers member Dave Custis surveyed the site and found that the building was oblong shaped with the part shown in the photo being the smallest size. Farnsworth used the site from the summer of 1936 until the spring of 1939.
In a magazine article dating from the summer of 1941, Philco still said it was transmitting from atop their factory at C & Tioga Streets in Philadelphia. Later that year, the station W3XE changed from experimental status to commercial and assumed new calls, WPTZ. Known test patterns showing the calls W3XE and also showing Philco and Wyndmoor, Pa exist. That pattern would have had to be used in 1941. We therefore assume that Philco took over the property in 1941.
This was also the location for the first transmitter site of WPHL-TV, Channel 17 in Philadelphia, which came on the air in 1965. One additional piece of information, also near the tower that replaced the one in the photo was the transmitter and studio of WQAL-FM (now WJJZ).
In the fall of 1953, WPTZ went to maximum power but stayed at their Mermaid Lane location. Early in 1957, WPTZ, now using the calls WRCV-TV switched transmitting from this site to the one in Roxborough. Somewhere between the time this photo was taken and 1957, the tower in this picture was replaced with a tripod mounted, 585 foot tower. The new tower was (and still is) located directly behind the building on the left. That would place the new tower directly in the center of this photo.
WPTZ went to maximum power at this location late in 1953. Station engineers at that time said that the change increased its visual and aural power by more than six fold. Many viewers who were in the secondary areas of Channel 3, saw a much improved signal once maximum power was in use.
Broadcast Pioneers member Charlie Higgins, a long-time tech at WCAU, e-mailed: The RCA TT5-A transmitter was left at Wyndmoor when they (Channel 3) moved to Roxborough where they had two new RCA TT6-AL transmitters plus 20KW amplifiers and a 1100 foot tower in combination with WFIL-TV. I checked on this with Frank Ney and Roy Moyer, both of whom worked at the (Channel 3) transmitter. They believe it was January of 1957 (that) the move was made. This would agree with what I said.
1957 press reports said that the tower would be in use by both stations soon. The predicted height of the new tower was 1115 feet added with the average 250 feet above sea level for most of the Roxborough area. The stronger signal for Channel 6 was expected to add 10 miles to their pattern whereas Channel 3 would gain about 20 miles.
Charlie Higgins e-mailed again: in my conversation with Roy Moyer last evening he mentioned that when NBC first took over Channel 3 they were more concerned with the studio than the transmitter. But Sales was more concerned with coverage, hence the move to Rox and I guess the increase in transmitter power to 22KW. Of course that was not ERP (Effective Radiated Power).
Broadcast Pioneers member Jack Jones (not the anchor), Chief Announcer for WCAU AM & FM and Assistant Chief for WCAU-TV says that he remembers going to school at Temple University and riding by Roxborough. He says that at that time of 1948 or 1949, the WFIL-TV tower was already in the area. On July 20, 1953, Channel 6, WFIL-TV went to maximum power, the first in our area. The increase was from 27 kw to 100 kw ERP. This increased reception in what were distant communities at the time including Easton, Reading, Lancaster, Wilmington and Frederick, Maryland.
Charlie Higgins said: I can recall seeing Tom Rodgers, a WFIL announcer, dressed up in some sort of black outfit as Capt. Max Power, when WFIL-TV increased their power....
WCAU-TV first transmitted from Roxborough in May of 1954 with day long tests of regular programming. A month later, the station was on the air permanently from their new location. All broadcasts from the Roxborough location were at maximum power, even the tests.
The new tower was claimed by the station to be the tallest in the Delaware Valley at that time. Located high on a hilly area, the top of the structure was 1,261 feet above sea level. The station started to prepare for the changeover earlier in 1954 with the purchase of a 30 acre piece of land located at Domino Lane and Fowler Street in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. The station's previous tower was on top of the PSFS Building at 12th and Market Streets in center city. It had a total height of 748 feet. Nicknamed "The Sky Tower," the new construction was started in March and finished in May of 1954. WCAU-TV went from 5KW to 50KW with their maximum power at 316 kw ERP. At that time, the station said that this change gave them an additional two million viewers in 35 counties and four states. Like WFIL-TV, this increased their viewership into Lancaster county and the Poconos. Also added were Delaware and sections of Maryland and the entire southern Jersey shore.
Roy Moyer, an engineer who worked for Channel 3 at this location e-mailed: When I was hired in July of 1946, the large building in the photo contained the transmitter, master control, projection room, announce booth, receiver area where signals were received from the studio, remote pickups, and Mt.Rose. The studio had been moved from C and Tioga, to the Architects Building at 17th and Sansom. The smaller building housed a complete machine shop and two full time machinists. All of the equipment had been designed and built by Philco engineering with the exception of the audio equipment and the projectors (although the projectors had to be modified to convert from 24 frames to 30 frames). The remote links were on 210 and 236 mhz. The Mt. Rose link was a tower Philco erected near Princeton, N.J. The signal from WNBC-TV was picked up and re transmitted via this remote link to WPTZ-TV. This constituted the first TV network. In 1946, Philco acquired two of the first RCA image orthicon cameras. Two more were purchased for the studio. The picture of Harold (Penny) Pannepacker at the Mummers Parade was one of the first uses of these cameras. About 1948, Philco erected the 500' ft tower and installed a RCA TT5AL transmitter feeding a three bay turnstile antenna. They also purchased two 7 Mhz microwave links. Everything except the transmitter was moved to the renovated 1619 Walnut St. Building. In 1953, Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation acquired the station. They installed a power amplifier on the transmitters and a six bay super turnstile antenna. When NBC bought the station in 1955, they immediately started plans for a 1000' tower and in January of 1957 in a televised dedication moved the transmitter to Roxoborough. This ended the saga of the Wyndmoor site.
Broadcast Pioneers member George Scott who also worked for Channel 3 at this location e-mailed I have concluded that the picture is not the WPTZ transmitter building. When I started working at the transmitter in February 1947 there was a building just north of our driveway. I was told at the time that it was Milton Roy Pumps and the building had been the Farnsworth research site. The WPTZ transmitter building was on the right side of the driveway and parking area. On the opposite side was a machine shop, and to the right of that was a 250 foot tower. A585 foot tower was eventually built to the left of the transmitter building.. Roy’s description of the buildings is right on the nose. I was living in South Philadelphia when I started working there, and two weeks after I started we had a tremendous snowstorm. I took a trolley from 10th and Oregon Ave. to Broad and Snyder, the lower end of the Broad Street Subway. Then I took the subway to Broad and Erie, which was the upper end of that route. I then took the C bus to Cheltenham & Olney. There I took the C1 bus to Mermaid Lane. Then I walked to the transmitter where I was welcomed with open arms because I could put us on the air.
Broadcast Pioneers member Dave Custis went to the local Springfield Township building in Montgomery County and looked up who owned this land (1230 East Mermaid Lane) and when. Here's what he found....
March 11, 1936 - Seymour Turner
July 6, 1939 - Farnsworth Television of Pennsylvania, Inc.
December 22, 1941 - Philco Radio & Television Corporation
May 1, 1946 - Philco Television Broadcasting Corporation
March 31, 1953 - The Philco Corporation
August 12, 1953 - Westinghouse Radio Stations, Inc.
January 21, 1956 - The National Broadcasting Company
January 12, 1959 - The George Voron Company
July 13, 1966 - George & Abe Voron
January 15, 1999 - Pinnacle Towers, Inc.
Chris Bors of Land Mobile Corporation of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a visitor to our website e-mailed:
I grew up in the late sixties in the Elkins Park section of Abington township, in eastern Montgomery County. A few blocks from our house, there was a vacant acre or two which everyone in the neighborhood referred to as "Philco". The place consisted of a big open field with a wooden tower in the middle and a few associated small buildings. It was a great place for kids to play football, ride bikes, and generally hang out. One day I was hanging out there when someone suggested that we climb the tower. This was actually a lot easier than it sounds, since there was a ladder to the top (it may have even been a staircase, I can't quite remember) and the whole thing wasn't more than forty feet high. Although I somehow felt that I shouldn't, I was actually enthusiastic about the idea; I was eager to climb but wasn't quite sure why.
When I reached the top my world changed forever. As I cleared the trees, the Philadelphia skyline emerged in front of me. I could see buildings and bridges; pieces of another world that had been accessible only through travel along miles of highways and railroad tracks. I had only moved forty feet, barely the distance to our next door neighbors house, but in a direction perpendicular to the everyday concept of motion. And with that unbelievably short journey in the vertical, I had condensed the world of the horizontal by a factor of thousands. I was perched above a map whose scale read one foot equals one foot, and I've never lost the magic of that feeling.
Thirty five years later I have an electrical engineering degree, my own family, and a two way radio dealership and service shop. I also do as much tower work as I can. When I'm climbing I can't ever seem to forget that first climb so many years ago. I would love to know more about what that tower site was for, and to see some photos if they exist. The site became a residential subdivision in the late 1970's. I would be very happy to hear from anyone ...who has information that would bring back some more memories for me.
Chris Bors of Land Mobile Corporation of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a visitor to our website e-mailed again:
I can't remember a lot about the "Philco" site except that the tower was constructed of wood and not too difficult of a ten year old to climb. There were a few small clapboard buildings about fifty or so feet from the tower. The site was located on Shelmire St. in eastern Abington township, not too far from Rockledge. I recall that there was an antenna at the top which resembled a UHF bowtie, but I can't say for sure whether or not there was even a transmission line connecting it to any of the buildings. I remember seeing someone working there only once; it was a man with a television receiver at the base of the tower.
I have since climbed six of the seven (soon to be eight) 1000+ foot towers in Roxborough, as well as the beautiful free stander on Mermaid Lane, and lots of others. But I still remember that first climb like it was yesterday.
Anyone have any ideas what this wooden tower was? It was located about 6 miles away from the tower on Mermaid Lane.
More WPTZ Tower Photos
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo courtesy of Norman Gagnon and the GGN Information Systems Website
Text researched and written by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
© 2006, All Rights Reserved
The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is firstname.lastname@example.org