In 1940, to foster the growth of Armstrong’s new FM radio system, the FCC took the frequencies belonging to TV’s Channel 1 and assigned them to FM broadcasting (Channel 1 was moved to another frequency band). Schenectadian Leonard L. Asch, a GE employee, filed an application to open a new FM station. On July 17, 1941, W47A took to the air from a transmitter site in the Helderbergs, claiming to be America’s first commercial FM station unaffiliated with any broadcast interest. Its schedule was a mishmash of classical music, relays from other stations in John Shepherd’s “Yankee Network,” and soon, war-effort programs and network programs from the Mutual Broadcasting System.
By 1944, it moved studios from the remote transmitter site to an office at 408 State Street in Schenectady, and changed call letters to WBCA, now operated by Asch’s Patroon Broadcasting.
Meanwhile, a battle commenced between RCA chairman David Sarnoff and FM inventor Edwin Armstrong (a fascinating story ending in Armstrong’s suicide). To protect its established NBC radio network and foster its television patents, RCA fought to reclaim the new FM spectrum for television broadcasting. Bending to Sarnoff’s pressure, in 1945 the FCC reallocated the FM band from 42-50MHz (a band where signals carry relatively long distances) to 88-108 MHz (where they do not) , with a mandate for all existing FM stations to vacate the lower band by 1948. This immediately rendered every FM receiver and transmitter in use obsolete.
Having lost over $120,000 since beginning operations, and faced with the expense of starting anew on the high band, Asch quietly pulled the plug on WBCA in late 1947. Asch and Patroon Broadcasting filed an application for a new, high-power AM and TV station combination, WPTR. The TV permit was denied, but the AM station hits the airwaves in 1948.
Dealt a crippling blow, FM broadcasting limped into the 1950’s, nearly forgotten, a niche service serving a loyal but tiny core of “fine music” devotees; it would not become profitable until the mid 1970’s. W47A, however, remains a part of FM history.