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What’s the deal with all the antennas and dishes and stuff up on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown? You know, right there by Wilson High School and Fort Reno? And what are all those towers for, anyway? One of ‘em looks like it isn’t even finished.
And it never will be: On March 17, the District agreed to pay the American Tower Corporation $350,000 to demolish the 281-foot base of an unfinished 756-foot HDTV broadcast tower on 41st Street NW between Brandywine and Chesapeake Streets. The agreement was the result of a court battle that has waged since 2000, when the District revoked the building permit soon after construction began due to neighborhood protests.
Yet despite the victory for the Stop the Tower Coalition, the group that led the battle against the tower, the neighborhood east of Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown remains a near-forest of transmitters, which broadcast signals for television, AM and FM radio, police and fire radios, and cellular phones. As a result, the area is known in communications circles as “Broadcast Hill.”
Why Tenleytown? Broadcasters and other communications companies build towers at the highest elevations possible to avoid interference. That’s why many skyscrapers have antennas on their roof. And it’s the same reason that Tenleytown—located at one of the highest elevations in the city—is an ideal location for broadcast towers, according to Mike Johnson of the District’s Office of Planning.
The first tower was erected in 1947, when the Western Union Telegraph Company built a concrete tower at 41st Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The tower was part of the nation’s first commercial network of microwave-radio relay stations, which linked the District, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York City to relay radio, television, and telegraph signals.
Since Tenley Tower was built, numerous other towers have risen throughout Van Ness and Tenleytown. For instance, WMAL-AM broadcasts from 4400 Jenifer Street NW, and WTTG-TV broadcasts its signals from 5151 Wisconsin Avenue.
Every Monday, the ‘Huh?’ Bub takes your questions. Got one?