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Majors Spotlight
Majors Spotlight
February 21, 2024
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Radio Silence: The History of Tech’s Retired Radio Tower

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Although scaffolding obstructs Brooklyn Tech’s building all around, above it stands a 420-foot radio tower, housing the now defunct NYC Department of Education radio station WNYE-FM, the tower being over two times the height of the building.

The tower was built in 1939, and before going out of commission in the 1990s, students and staff members pioneered the Department of Education’s radio operations, hosting the original studio and transmitter that was used before being relocated in the 1970s. Throughout the tower’s usage, various projects were completed, and opportunities were available for students to participate in programming at the station, which was part of an effort to promote work experience before students entered the workforce. Later on, topics expanded to include community interest and adult learning. 

According to George Cuhaj (‘77), Tech alumni and archivist, one of the projects that Tech ran into the 80’s “allowed students who were unable to attend school classes to keep up with coursework, and was mostly for elementary or junior high school [level] students.” The broadcasts were an early form of remote learning that relied on radio broadcasts from to students could tune in. 

Similar to courses at Tech, the tower allowed students to learn the basics of a real-world job, aligning with the Techs’ founding mission to create “a better trained technical workforce.” Another notable activity of the tower was to air a monthly report by mayors, such as Fiorello La Guardia, using Tech’s radio station.

The first radio tower at Tech’s current building stood at 350 feet, shorter than the current 420-foot one, making the building and tower combined into the largest structure in Brooklyn up until 2015 with the construction of The Hub in Downtown Brooklyn.  

Since its closing, there has been much curiosity among students and staff about what the tower is used for today. Principal David Newman explained “[the radio tower] is just a metal structure that has a flashing bulb so planes don’t hit it,” with work still being done by Tech to follow lighting requirements set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA states that “all structures exceeding 200 feet above ground level (AGL) must be appropriately marked with tower lights or tower paint.” Therefore, Tech must have a contractor on hand to climb the ladder and replace lighting on the tower yearly. 

While the exact reason for its being shut down is not clear, Newman noted that it was partly due to health concerns stemming from exposure to radio waves. “From what I understand, somebody determined at some point that having an active radio tower on top of kids’ heads was not a good idea.” However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates radio, satellite, and television communications interstate and internationally, believes that “there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.” 

Since its final broadcast, the radio room, situated on the 9th floor, has been sealed off. The radio equipment has been dismantled, essentially leaving the room abandoned. Tech, however, has plans to repurpose the space as a recording studio for the music department. The radio room is just one of the former school facilities, alongside the foundry, for which the school has big plans. Due to how iconic the radio room is, many members of the alumni foundation are in support of bringing its legacy and use back to life.

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About the Contributor
Adeeb Mohammed (they/them) is a Staff Writer. Adeeb joined The Survey to inform more students about STEM opportunities, clubs, and events in the Brooklyn Tech community. Adeeb frequents The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Adeeb aims to be an astrophysicist and hopes to better educate people in STEM-related subjects. Adeeb likes to study astronomy, talk about NYC rail and transit around the world, and join many extracurriculars such as Science Bowl and Science Olympiad.

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    Tom LoMacchioJan 29, 2024 at 1:49 pm

    In my senior year, 1960 – 1961, I was one of a small group of no more than six classmates who were selected to take scholarship or honors English. I believe it was 7th Semester. Our teacher was Mrs. Horowitz, a kind and caring lady who guided us through the course material which included some readings in Shakespeare. The unique aspect of our class was that we would broadcast from the 9th Floor Studio over WNYE 91.5 FM on the “High School of the Air”. I seem to recall that we participated in two 15 minute broadcasts each week while sitting at a large wood rectangular table with Mrs. Horowitz at one end and two or three of us facing each other on the sides. In front of each student was a large disc shaped microphone on a stand that looked like it had been in service since the early 1940’s. Nothing was rehearsed. We had to be prepared as the answers we submitted to our teacher’s questions went right out over the air in real time. We had been told we were broadcasting to handicapped children at home long before handicapped accessibility. Unfortunately, I am unable to come up with the names of my fellow class members. I will always look back fondly on that relatively unique experience. Tom LoMacchio, ’61

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