One of the favorites from the Anoka County Historical Society archives, consider this a Thanksgiving treat as we head into the holiday week! This article was originally published in our member newsletter of September/October 2014. Does this trigger more WCCO memories? Submit them now at AnokaCountyHistory.org.
One of the most hard-to-miss landmarks in Anoka County stands along Coon Rapids Boulevard — the WCCO Radio tower.
The broadcasting towers for the station are fixtures in the area that delivered broadcasts for generations of listeners. Sometimes even in the fillings of teeth and in dryers.
George Collier worked inside the building located at the foot of the tower as the transmitter technician for 45 years before he retired in 1974. The station operated a 5000-watt transmitter on a 500- by 700-foot piece of land bought from a farmer. It had been on the air for three years when Collier came to work at the site in 1928. He worked on that first transmitter four years before it was replaced with a 50,000-watt transmitter. Western Electric was developing the transmitters, and the one bought for WCCO had the dubious distinction of being serial number “1.” The operating manual was dated 1927, but it had all the latest developments and was as modern as transmitters could get in 1932.
Collier was impressed by the immense size of the transmitter. Three box cars brought all the pieces as far as they could, then transferred to trucks for the last mile to the station. He noted a fair amount of damage as they started to uncrate the pieces, and it required replacement parts from Western Electric. With the new parts and some ingenuity from the WCCO personnel, the transmitter came on.
The first antenna at the site was a “T” style antenna comprised of two 300-foot towers with a wire strung between them. The “T” antenna was used until 1939 when the present tower was built. That tower stands at 654 feet tall. It was staffed 24 hours a day by a crew of eight. In 1950, a second 50,000-watt transmitter was installed in the same building. It was much smaller and far more efficient that the first one, but it was still manufactured by Western Electric. It also happened to be the very last transmitter Western Electric ever built. Collier said when the employees realized they had the first and the last transmitters of Western Electric, they named one Alpha and one Omega. Omega, the more efficient one, was operated as the main transmitter, and Alpha was the auxiliary until 1967. In that year WCCO bought the latest and greatest in 50,000-watt transmitters from the Continental Electronics Company.
“Poor old Alpha, good and faithful servant, was scrapped and went to Maxie Schwartzman,” wrote Collier. “Part of my heart went with it.”
Collier cared for Alpha for 40 years, but even he had to admit getting the right replacement parts was growing very difficult. Alpha took 260 Kw of power to broadcast the signal, while Omega took only 150 Kw to do the same job. The new transmitter, by comparison, used 90 Kw. Omega became obsolete and went for scrap at Maxie Schwartzman’s, a metal recycling plant on Ferry Street near the railroad tracks, in 1967.
The Man in the Tower, Collier, was 21 when he began working for WCCO, leaving only to serve in WWII where he built radio towers throughout England and Scotland. After the war, Collier returned to Anoka, married Elaine, and moved into a house on Third Avenue in Anoka. Elaine often said it was Collier who “kept the station on the air.” She also said they would drive to open fields to check the radio signal for WCCO to see how far the station could reach.
Collier passed away in 1996 and was laid to rest in the Fort Snelling Cemetery.
This column was written by Vickie Wendel for the Anoka County Historical Society.