Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

WXKW 850 AM, a “lost” Albany broadcaster

Here’s another Albany “lost broadcaster.” You may remember WXKW as the little soul station at the far right of your dial in the 1960’s, but the first WXKW, totally unrelated, took to the air on July 24, 1948. It transmitted from six 300-foot towers, on Beaver Dam Road in Selkirk, with 10,000 watts on 850 kHz. Within a month of its debut, WXKW – with its much more powerful signal – managed to steal the ABC radio network from WOKO. (Its sister station, WRWR-FM, began broadcasting at the same time on 95.5 MHz. It was actually Albany’s first FM station, with a transmitter “in the carriage house of the old Rooney mansion house on Hunter Avenue, facing the Prospect Reservoir,” behind where Rite-Aid now stands. There’s no newspaper mention of it beyond its debut, and I’m not sure it ever actually took to the air. Article below is from January 14, 1948.)
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WXKW was plagued with technical and legal problems from day one. Its towers were supposed to beam its signal north and south, to protect WHDH Boston, on the same frequency, and KOA Denver, which reached 38 states at night. However, WXKW’s antenna array – the first of its kind in the country – proved an engineering nightmare, never operating to specs. Parts of its signal spilled out east and west. WHDH and KOA immediately filed interference complaints with the FCC. The Bureau mandated that WXKW lower its night power by 90 percent, to a mere 1,000 Watts, until hearings could be held.

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Hearings were scheduled and rescheduled, dragging on almost indefinitely. WXKW continued to limp along on low power at night. There was conjecture in the broadcasting community that WGY, owned by General Electric, was not happy about having a powerful competitor just four channels up the dial, and was doing its best in Washington to make life miserable for WXKW.

At the time of its inception, WXKW (which began as WRWR) had also filed a TV application, just when the FCC instituted a freeze on licenses. When the freeze was lifted in 1952, there was a scramble among the area broadcasters for the two precious new UHF channels (23 and 35). A year later, the owners of WXKW agreed to withdraw from the fray, nominally to spare lengthy litigation that would impede the development of local TV, but more likely because it was offered $300,000 by the other broadcasters to throw in the towel and cease operations.

WXKW-850 went silent at midnight on July 31, 1953.

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