By Claire Walla
The radio tower resting in the brush just off Montauk Highway along the Napeague Stretch has been out of use as a broadcast device for some time — but John Fuller hopes to help change that.
Fuller, the president of Red Wolf Broadcasting, which runs four FM stations in Connecticut and one AM station in Burlington, Vermont, aims to add an East End radio station to his company’s radio cache. Fuller explained his vision to the East Hampton Town Planning Board at a meeting last month, unveiling vague details about his new station, 94.9 FM, which he hopes to transmit from the Montauk tower.
According to Fuller, the proposed station would be affiliated with CBS radio and the Wall Street Journal report, allowing the station to broadcast breaking news and national headlines. But the station will also feature radio personalities and local reporting, as well as arts and entertainment updates.
“We’ll have a local morning show and we’ll have news from all over Long Island—so we’ll report on things going on in Sag Harbor,” Fuller explained in an interview on Wednesday. He added that some local news will also come out of Connecticut.
As for news radio on the East End, Fuller added, “it’s really an interesting market. There are a bunch of papers, but for media news, there really aren’t a lot of options, especially for breaking stories.”
The ratio of original programming to network news would probably be 50/50, Fuller added.
Though he has been in the radio business for over 25 years, Fuller said he has never developed a news station before. In fact, when he first set his sights on 94.9 FM about 10 years ago, he never expected to turn the station into a straight news venture.
But by the time he bought the license this summer, after consulting with radio research companies, he said it was clear that radio news is switching over from AM to FM. “This is the wave of the future,” he added.
East Hampton Town Planner Eric Schantz explained in an interview earlier this week that until this past October, the tower in Montauk had only held defunct radio transmitters, which could only effectively transmit cell phone service. That changed when the Community Bible Church (located in Noyac) received its license from the FCC to run radio station WEGB 90.7 and 93.3 FM.
He added that Fuller’s plan is not only to install an FM radio antenna, like CBC, but to remove a total of five unused antennae —two of which rest at the very top of the tower — and replace them with his own radio antenna. The project would result in a net reduction of three of the tower’s currently estimated 20 antennae (at least five of which are abandoned).
According to the site plan offered by the applicant, the proposed antenna would reach approximately 167 feet above the existing grade, which is about 20 inches taller than the two antennae that currently exist at the top of the tower.
Brian Rheaume, vice president of Red Wolf Broadcasting, told the East Hampton Town Planning Board that the radio tower is not currently visible from Montauk Highway, either with or without the proposed addition of 20 inches of antenna.
“We had to go to the top of the landfill to actually get a picture [of the antenna],” he noted.
In addition to the radio antenna, Rheaume added that the company would also need to install a four-foot dish, which would act as the station’s studio transmitter. The dish is proposed to be mounted at about 112 feet, where a couple of abandoned antennae will be removed.
“That’s vital to get the signal from our studio location to the tower itself,” he explained. While the broadcast company has not yet set-up offices on the East End, Fuller said he hopes to find an office space somewhere on the South Fork or even the North Fork sometime soon, because he expects the station to be up and running by the first week in February.
“I don’t see any real issues here in replacing some antennae,” said Planning Board Member Nancy Keeshan, echoing the sentiments of the rest of the board. “And I have no problem with the added height. It’s insignificant.”
According to Eric Schantz, a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for after the New Year, most likely at the board’s first meeting on January 12.
When asked by the planning board why he chose to broadcast his new station out of Montauk, Fuller admitted that his station, 94.9, needs to maintain a certain amount of distance from radio stations in order to be transmitted clearly. (He said 95.1 is already being broadcast out of Connecticut.)
But, he also said he likes the area; he and his wife frequently travel to the north and south forks of Long Island. “We really like it out here, and I think [the radio station] would be good for the community,” he continued. “We think there’s a need for it out here on the East End.”