Whitemarsh Township has been home to the transmission towers for several radio stations that serve metropolitan Philadelphia. The geographic location of Whitemarsh and the elevation of the land in the Township allows radio waves to be carried some distance throughout the Delaware and Lehigh Valley Valleys.
WFIL Radio once had three transmission towers operating in the center of the community. At one point, WFIL Radio owned 214 acres of land – roughly almost all of the ground from Germantown Pike to Flourtown Road and from Colonial Drive (it did not exist at that time) to Joshua Road.
In 1946, the owners of the radio station requested permission from the Township to build three radio transmission towers on its property. According to a news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on December 19, 1946, sixty large landowners in Whitemarsh Township had been opposed to granting WFIL permission to build the transmission towers.
The newspaper reported that these estate owners initially succeeded by securing the rejection of the request by WFIL that had been made to the Board of Adjustment. It was this board, at that time, that reviewed zoning requests. This board needed to grant its approval to allow radio transmission towers on the property that was then zoned A Residential.
Many local residents, the newspaper reported, were strongly in favor of the request by WFIL because the owners of the radio station offered to donate land to create a park centrally located for the Township.
After the rejection by the Board of Adjustment to permit the transmission towers, the newspaper reported that the Board of Supervisors re-zoned the property as Industrial on December 9, 1946, and granted WFIL the right to build the three radio transmission towers.
Less than six weeks later, on January 17, 1947, Triangle Publications – the owner of WFIL Radio – broke ground to build its transmission towers in Whitemarsh Township. (Things moved much quicker in those days.)
WFIL Radio proceeded with its commitment to help Whitemarsh Township develop recreational facilities. On April 6, 1948, the firm donated 11 acres of land that form the central part of Miles Park. In addition, WFIL Radio also donated $5,000.00 to the Township for development and maintenance of recreational facilities at the donated site.
To put things into perspective, WFIL Television – today’s WPVI – TV (6ABC) did not yet exist. In 1947, WFIL Radio was owned by the same company that owned The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Daily News was still owned by a separate newspaper company. Philly.Com was not even a gleam in someone’s eyes.
Some years later, the owners of WFIL-AM-FM-TV considered moving their entire operations to Whitemarsh Township. According to a news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on August 11, 1960, Mr. Richardson Dilworth, then the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, asked the Philadelphia City Council for authority to sell 3.5 acres of city-owned land to WFIL. The land was located in the Fairmount section of the City. The price was estimated to be $2 million. The news article indicated that the Mayor made the offer to sell the land to stop WFIL from moving its operations to Whitemarsh Township.
Instead, on June 5, 1961, WFIL purchased four acres of land from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy; today, this educational institution is known as the “Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine”. The land was located on City Avenue and Monument Road. This allowed the stations to remain within the borders of the City of Philadelphia. WPVI-TV (6ABC) is still broadcasting from this site.
Prior to its ownership by Triangle Publications, WFIL had had several different owners.
WFIL as a distinct radio station began as a merger of two separate radio stations in 1935.
WFI Radio was started by the Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store in Center City Philadelphia in 1922. In the same year, WDAR Radio was established by the Lit Brothers Department Store in Center City Philadelphia; this radio station was later re-named “WLIT”.
The merged radio station took the call letters of WFI and WLIT to create WFIL.
As a side note, two other department stores in Center City Philadelphia operated radio stations. According to WHYY, the Gimbels Department Store operated WIP Radio and the John Wanamaker Department Store operated WOO Radio.
In 1971, Triangle Publications sold the three WFIL broadcasting stations (AM Radio, FM Radio, and Television) to Capital Cities Broadcasting. The AM radio station was then sold to LIN Broadcasting, while the FM radio station (now known as “WIOQ-FM”) was sold to Richer Communications. Capital Cities Broadcasting retained WFIL-TV, but re-named it as “WPVI-TV”.
Beyond the initial land donation to Whitemarsh Township in 1948, an additional land donation occurred thirty years later. In 1978, Capital Cities Broadcasting – which had retained ownership of the land that contained the radio transmission towers for WFIL Radio – donated five acres of land to the Colonial School District for use as athletic fields. These five acres served as the initial section of the Victory Fields created by the School District.
At roughly the same time, Capital Cities Broadcasting sold other acreage along Flourtown Road. That land was then developed for residential purposes and became the site of the Joshua Knoll neighborhood.
The remaining land continued to be used by WFIL for its three radio transmission towers. Ownership of the land itself was transferred in 1987.
Ten years, ownership of the land changed again. A California-based buyer purchased the remaining 46.94 acres in 1997 for $1,892,767.00.
In the same year, WFIL stopped using the radio transmission towers on this site. At that time, WFIL moved to transmit its radio waves from radio towers located in a different neighborhood in Whitemarsh Township. Since 1997, WFIL – as well as its sister radio station WNTP (formerly WZZD and formerly WIBG) – continue to operate and transmit from that site near Ridge Pike and Spring Mill Road.
As WFIL moved its operations, proposals were announced for residential development of the land that included the three transmission towers. In 1997, the plans called for potentially 91 houses to be built at this site. In 1998, the plans called for potentially 82 houses to be constructed on the land.
In 1997, the Colonial School District and Whitemarsh Township began separate negotiations to acquire this remaining land. Both governmental entities eventually agreed to acquire separate pieces of the property. Negotiations did not proceed well with the California owner of the land, so both the Township and the School District began condemnation proceedings.
The Board of Education of the Colonial School District voted to condemn approximately 29.6 acres of the site in December of 1998. The School District indicated that it planned to use the land for additional athletic fields and more parking as well as utilize the transmission station building for administrative purposes. This acreage is the site today of the Victory Fields of the School District.
The Board of Supervisors of Whitemarsh Township voted in January of 1999 to condemn the remaining 17.39 acres of the site. The Township indicated that it planned to use the ground for parkland. This acreage is the site today of the McCarthy Park of Whitemarsh Township.
The Victory Fields of the Colonial School District can be seen in the foreground
of this photograph. McCarthy Park, maintained by Whitemarsh Township, is seen
in the background of this image. This acreage was once the site of three
radio transmission towers for WFIL Radio.
In Part Two, we’ll detail how the 214 acre initial site of WFIL Radio has changed through the years in central Whitemarsh Township.
The image of the former transmission station building of WFIL Radio is courtesy of Google, 2017.
The image of the WFIL Radio Transmission Towers under construction is courtesy of JSF0864, 1947.
The image of the Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store is courtesy of the Library of Congress, 1904.
The image of the Lit Brothers Department Store is courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The image of the Victory Fields is courtesy of Google, 2015.
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