Monday, March 21, 2011

WKOK at Fort Augusta

I am entertained by radio stations built in odd places, or radio stations that build odd places around them. The text on the postcard above reads "Model of Ft. Augusta on the grounds of Sunbury's Radio Station, River Front Drive, Sunbury, PA. The calls are not disclosed but that radio station was 1210 WKOK-AM. But FYI: The calls are on 1070 these days. (They were also on 1240 from 1941 to 1964.) They have been owned by the Sunbury Broadcasting corporation for 78 years.

The real Fort Augusta was a British fortification built in 1756 to protect against French and Indian raids in what was then claimed to be their westernmost settlement. It was dismantled in 1794. The remaining structures burned down in 1852. The commanders residence (the Hunter House) was rebuilt by his grandson.  In 1920 the State of Pennsylvania acquired the property. In 1931 the Hunter House was acquired by the state as well and it became a museum. The tract  serves as headquarters for the Northumberland County Historical Society (1150 North Front Street.)

That address was key to my stumbling upon this. The street address for WKOK-AM in the 1935 Broadcasting yearbook was also 1150 North Front Street. The WKOK-AM studios were then located in the basement of the Fort Augusta building. WKOK-AM didn't sign on until may of 1933 and was the first commercial radio station in Sunbury. Their license was the handiwork of Professor C.W. Halligan of Bucknell University. In 1924 he made a little experimental transmitter and went on air with 50 watts on 1420 under the call letters WJBQ-AM. In 1925 he changed calls to WJBU-AM and increased power to 100 watts. In 1928 he was shifted to 1210 and made to share time with WBAX-AM. Then as now running a station was difficult and expensive. On May 12th 1933 they sold the station and it's hardware to the Sunbury Broadcasting Corp. C.W. Halligan is an odd character, he wrote occasionaly for Popular Science and later worked for Bell labs. He may be the same one that headed up MITRE.

In 1947 Sunbury Broadcasting launched WKOK-FM on 94.1. It simulcasted the AM programming for years. In 1951 National Geographic stopped by to do a photo op with the station engineer who posed in the dry moat of the model fort. The stick on 94.1 Sunbury changed calls to WQKX in the 1950s. In 1973 they stopped publishing the Front Street address in the radio directories and went to a PO Box. I suspect that's about when they moved to their new location parting ways with the little fort in their front yard. The scale model is still at  1150 North Front Street and still replicates the original structure from drawings to one sixth scale.