Peace declared in the great Bronx tower war

By Steve Behrens

The new tower will stand atop a hospital. (Photo rendering courtesy of WFUV.)

The new tower will stand atop a hospital. (Photo rendering courtesy of WFUV.)

At a feel-good press conference May 13, all parties hailed the resolution of a decade-long fight over the tower of Fordham University’s WFUV-FM in New York City.The Daily News likened the scene to a Rose Garden peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Even Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a joint news release endorsing Montefiore Medical Center’s offer to put the antenna atop its residential building. The new site is one-and-a-half miles from the scene of the station’s festering dispute with the nearby New York Botanical Garden, which says the present tower spoils the surroundings.

Ralph Jennings, WFUV’s g.m., is saving his big hooray for the day when the station starts transmitting from the new tower.

With its new antenna nearly 500 feet above average terrain and radiating 50 kilowatts of power, the station will reach farther into Brooklyn, Westchester County and Connecticut, instantly doubling its potential audience to more than 13 million.

“Honestly, we have had so many ups and downs in this whole undertaking,” Jennings says, “one doesn’t want to get out the party clothes until we know we’re at the end of the ride.”

Jennings won’t predict the costs and schedule for relocating its transmission site. The New York Times cited estimates by unnamed officials that the project will take a year and cost $2 million to $3 million. WFUV will rent the site from the hospital for $100,000 a year.

The tower will be little more than a needle on the Bronx skyline when viewed from the famed botanical garden, which took legal action to stop construction of WFUV’s present tower in 1994. But the new tower will perch atop a 28-story building full of Montefiore medical staffers, and at least one questions the safety of living under a 50-kilowatt transmitter.

The Times quoted Dr. Carlos Timaran, a surgical fellow at the hospital: “I don’t know what the adverse effects are of a radio tower.”

FCC radiation restrictions were one reason the station moved its antenna from a shorter tower atop a classroom building at Fordham 10 years ago.

Jennings says the new antenna on a 140-foot mast will be designed to throw its signal away from the complex, not downward, yielding radiation levels in the building “significantly lower than the FCC now requires.”

“We’re absolutely convinced of its safety,” says Montefiore spokeswoman Pamela Adkins. “That’s why we were willing to offer it as the site.” The hospital has seen research on the question and plans to hire its own experts to confirm it, she says.

Though the relocation plan shelves an ongoing FCC proceeding, city agencies and the commission will review the new site before the move occurs.

All legal venues are familiar to WFUV, which fought off the botanical garden on zoning, historic preservation and other issues in every forum from the city building agencies to the state Court of Appeals and the FCC, not to mention newspaper editorial pages. WFUV considered two dozen alternative sites before getting FCC approval for its present tower and looked at a dozen more since then, according to Jennings.

Obstacles including airport flight paths and objections from the Bronx Zoo foreclosed other options. At one point in 1996, the botanical garden designed an ornamental bell tower for its grounds that would hold the antenna, according to an FCC report, but both parties rejected the idea.

Finding the new tower site is a great milestone, Jennings says, adding, “But the fat lady ain’t sung yet.”

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