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W79AI, Torrington CT

by Peter Q. George

What's left of Torrington, CT's Channel 79 (W79AI).
Photo provided by Paul R. Bourque (N1SFE)

The story about W79AI, Channel 79 in Torrington, CT is truly fascinating.

First, let's hear from Jim Schultz, an engineer at WINE/WRKI-FM in the Danbury, CT area. "Thought I'd pass along a quick story about Channel 79 in Torrington, CT. I was passing by the old transmitter hut this spring and since there were no leaves on the trees and brush that has overgrown the site, the old NBC TV logo and CHANNEL 79 lettering on the building were visible (although quite faded). I had to have a look inside that building!! I parked my van by the side of the road and wandered over to the small block building. The door was open (the roof was pretty much nonexistent), but the UHF translator was still there, plugged into a 120 volt outlet (the service to the building had been disconnected years ago) ... the feedlines for the TX & RX antennas were still connected to the antennas that were on the ground, covered in mud and soil. Looks like when they "pulled the plug" they never went back. Someone took the tower that was there years ago, but everything else was pretty much as they left it. The translator, although intact, was mice-ridden and soaked with many years of rainwater. I'm sure only a radio (broadcasting) nut like myself would feel as I did ... kinda sad at part of broadcasting's history was just abandoned to rot."

Ad for W79AH in the July 12, 1964
Waterbury Sunday Republican.

Now, let's hear from Bob Allison (WB1GCM), an engineer at WVIT/30 in New Britain, CT. "I've been with 30 for 21 years and was the last person to service our channel 79 translator, in late 1986. It was a 100 watt pep job on the outskirt of Torrington that hardly made it to downtown. It only had a few viewers that depended on it, one being the channel 30 transmitter engineer's mother. We couldn't even see it from the studio here in West Hartford. It had an audio oscillator tied to the carrier ... as the video level changed, the audio freq changed with the osc. This was fed down a phone line to our main studio. As a master control op, one had to turn up a monitor speaker every hour to make sure we could hear the tone (still on the air)".

Originally, W79AI was a full-time repeater of WHNB-TV/30 (now WVIT), New Britain CT. It provided local and NBC network programming to people in the Greater Torrington area who otherwise would be unable to receive channel 30's broadcasts. Cable, plus a much powerful channel 30 pretty much did in channel 79. Toward the end of its lifetime, only a handful of people depended upon W79AI's signal. The cost of running it was hardly worth the expense. I must say that I was surprised that they left the unit intact and forgotten for years. As a piece of UHF history, I would have gladly taken the unit for posterity.

In addition to W79AI, Connecticut Television operated W79AH Waterbury CT from 1964 to 1966 using WATR-TV/20's tower; the ad at right appeared just as W79AH received its license in July 1964. Contrary to the report given at the Hartford Radio History website, this was not the same translator as W79AI, which was licensed in June 1965 (although it is true that W79AH went dark as a result of WATR-TV changing network affiliations from ABC to NBC in August, 1966).

The FCC database says W79AI's license was cancelled June 1, 1988; the discrepancy between that date and Bob Allison's recollection may have been a case of the license never formally being returned and it simply expiring at the end of its then-current term. Unfortunately, little information exists in the database for stations whose authorizations were deleted more than 25 years ago.

Channel listings in TV Guide, November 29, 1975, showing W79AI (and W59AA) as translators for WHNB-TV.
(Courtesy Jim Ellwanger.)
Click here to see a page from TV Guide's December 5, 1964 issue showing listings for W79AI under the WHNB-TV call letters.

This article originally appeared in the author's "UHF Morgue" at his former RadioDXer site and is republished here with his permission. Reformatting and W79AH information by K.M. Richards.

© World Radio History. Original site concept by Clarke Ingram. Site design and management by K.M. Richards.