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History Above the Treetops: The Alpine Tower

Check out these great pix of Major Armstrong’s legacy structure

The Alpine Tower shown after a 2010 snowstorm. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Dave Amundsen)

After we published a striking photo of an AM tower array at dusk in the May 24 issue, readers responded to our invitation to send more pictures that capture the romance of radio.

Above is the distinctive 400-foot, three-armed tower built by Edwin Howard Armstrong in Alpine, N.J., overlooking the Hudson River north of New York City. The Major built it in 1937 for use in his work that led to modern FM radio. 

The Armstrong or Alpine Tower is the site of the world’s first FM broadcast station, W2XMN. The call sign is still etched in cement above the front door of the Major’s original station building on the site today.

The photo was taken by Dave Amundsen, director of engineering of the tower’s current owner K2 Communications, in the winter of 2010. (You can learn about K2 here.) It was forwarded to us by Steve Hemphill, owner and licensee of WA2XMN, the experimental “Armstrong memorial station” that transmits on Armstrong’s old 42.8 MHz frequency.

The tower is also home to the antenna serving Fairleigh Dickinson University’s educational FM station WFDU. The structure continues to support other RF services, and it was a temporary transmitter site for some New York TV stations after the terror attacks in 2001. A building at its base houses the Armstrong Field Laboratory and serves as a museum of FM radio technology, which at this writing is closed for renovation work.

Dave Amundsen also shared more photos of the tower from that snowy day in 2010, which you can view below. 

The metal structure that you’ll see outside the brick building is a replica of a strap ball that was atop the transmitter tower on the roof of Aeolian Hall in Manhattan, where RCA once broadcast. 

“Armstrong famously stood on it while having his picture taken, which got him banned from the building by David Sarnoff,” Dave Amundsen tells us. “Charles Sackermann Sr. had the replica built in the 1980s as a tribute to Armstrong.” (Read more.)
You’ll also see pix of this site that were taken in 1949 by Ren McMann, an operator of W2XMN. McMann shared them with Steve Hemphill, who passed them along to us.

Send us your photos to [email protected].

Find a gallery of photos below! Click to toggle between pictures.