Magazine article The New Yorker

Moving Day

Magazine article The New Yorker

Moving Day

Article excerpt

On Thursday night, at Carnegie Hall, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra opens its thirty-seventh season, and WQXR, the nation's first and largest strictly classical commercial radio station, begins its new, listener-supported life under the control of WNYC, which acquired it from the Times this summer. Laura Walker, the president of WNYC Radio, will appear onstage at eight o'clock to flip the ceremonial switch and make official what Jim Stagnitto, the station's director of engineering, and his crew have been working on for weeks: the relocation of WQXR on the FM dial, from 96.3 to 105.9.

"I will push the button," Stagnitto said the other day at the Empire State Building. "You'll be hearing boom boom, whiz whiz, big production values and everything, and then there's going to be silence." He was referring not to the sound at Carnegie Hall but to the listening experience at 105.9, currently known as La Kalle, a Spanish-language station run by Univision. "I may leave a few seconds of silence--just a little chshhhh--and then turn it on," he said. Think of it as an FM eclipse. About ten seconds later, the airwaves will realign, and before long unsuspecting Univision fans will hear the opening bars of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto live from Fifty-seventh Street. (La Kalle will take WQXR's place at 96.3.)

In these days of podcasts and centralized satellite feeds, it can be comforting to contemplate the local mechanics of FM radio. A small gray microwave dish, mounted on a Varick Street roof, points northeast, and communicates with a dish behind a south-facing window at the Empire State Building. That dish is connected to a whirring boxlike transmitter, which pumps signals through a filter below the observation deck, and out to an antenna thirteen hundred feet above the snarls of midtown traffic, so that the residents of Tuxedo Park, some forty miles away, might enjoy Leonard Lopate over cucumber sandwiches.

A shift up the dial can require lugging heavy machinery down two stories. Stagnitto, or Stag, as he is known among the electricians at the Empire State Building, is a short man with a plumber's build. He conducted a run-through of the move, beginning on the seventy-ninth floor. "You'll recall that an airplane hit the Empire State Building in the forties," he said. …

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