A TOWERING HISTORY
Edwin H. Armstrong
(FM Radio Inventor)
The Alpine Tower is a unique landmark located on the Hudson River palisades in Alpine, New Jersey. Built in 1937 by the late Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM (frequency modulation), the tower was used as an experimental facility and relay station for the development of FM. The 400-foot self-supporting tower sits at a ground elevation of 520 feet, giving it an impressive 920-foot overall height to the top arm. The height to the top of the highest antenna is 425 feet. The design of the tower, with its three 150-foot arms (initially conceived to give vertical and horizontal separation for FM transmission antennas), is ideal for the co-location of directional and omni-directional antennas of all types. The tower is owned and operated by The Alpine Tower Company, a privately held company.
Armstrong built the tower after being told to remove his equipment from the Empire State Building where he had begun trial FM transmissions. His former friend and business partner, David Sarnoff - chairman of RCA, had initially supported Armstrong’s efforts to try to eliminate static from radio but turned against him when he realized that FM was a threat to his AM empire, since it represented an entirely new system of broadcasting. Besides, Sarnoff needed the room at Empire for his experiments on television, which he thought would one day replace all of radio.
The facility occupies 15 acres of land west of route 9W and across the river from where Armstrong’s boyhood home stood at 1032 Warburton Avenue in Yonkers, New York (now an apartment building). As a teenager, the young radio pioneer would cross the river to string antenna wires from the palisades to improve the reception of distant signals.
During WWII the site was used as a radar facility. A 100-foot self-supporting tower was constructed on the site, which had two copper mesh dish antennas that rotated on a turntable at the top. Following Armstrong’s death in 1954, Columbia University maintained the site until it was sold in the late 1960s. Columbia did not have a use for the tower and the new owner did not know what to do with it.
Following Armstrong’s death in 1954, Columbia University maintained the site until it was sold in the late 1960s. Columbia did not have a use for the tower and the new owner apparently did not know what to do with it either.
The late Charles Sackermann Sr., who was in the paging and wireless business, saw great potential in the tower and began leasing space on it. Railroad and tugboat communications were some of the first customers he brought to the tower. In the mid 1970s Mr. Sackermann purchased the tower through a partnership with UA-Columbia Cable Television, Inc. forming The Alpine Tower Company. Mr. Sackermann’s Tele-A-Page Communications would lease space on the tower to wireless customers while UA-Columbia used the tower as the hub of a microwave relay network for cable television signals. Fiber optic cable eventually replaced microwave as the preferred means of transporting cable television signals and UA, which had become TCI Cable, sold its interest in the facility to Tele-A-Page, which still operates the facility as The Alpine Tower Company.
In 1992, a 6900 square foot communications building was constructed under the tower. Built of concrete block with a reinforced concrete roof, it sits directly under the 400-foot tower straddled by the tower legs. Also occupying the site is the two-story brick building built in 1937 which housed the transmitters for Armstrong’s W2XMN and W2XEA experimental stations. It houses a museum of various radio and electronic test equipment collected over the years. A single story wood frame building and a four-car garage were built in the late 1930s and survive today. A shielded concrete slab building was erected during WWII as a radar facility which is used as the site office today. A Quonset hut, guardhouse and open garage from that time also exist.
Following the attacks of 9/11/01 the Alpine Tower assisted in restoring the broadcasts of several New York television stations by hosting antennas and transmitters at the facility. Five stations broadcast from the tower for up to nine months after 9/11 until service could be established at the Empire State Building. The tower is still used by several TV and FM stations for various broadcast operations.
Today, the tower hosts many forms of communications equipment including cellular, PCS, FM and TV broadcasting, point-to-point microwave, government and wireless broadband communications. Operators of these systems lease space on the tower and in the communications buildings below. Fairleigh Dickinson University’s WFDU-FM (89.1 MHz), broadcasts from the tower.
For more information about Major Edwin Howard Armstrong visit http://users.erols.com/oldradio and http://www.oldradio.com/archives/people/armstrong.htm.