Vol. 15, No. 14      July 18 - 31, 2002


Public Weighs in on Fordham Tower Fight


A pair of hearings held by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 26 allowed the first opportunity for public comment in the eight-year struggle between the New York Botanical Garden and WFUV over a proposed 380-foot radio tower on Fordham's campus across the street from the Garden. Hundreds of supporters of both institutions took advantage of the opportunity.

The Garden and its supporters insist the half-finished radio tower can't be completed where it stands since it mars the beauty and serenity of its grounds. Joseph DeSciose, an independent contract garden photographer, said the tower was the "equivalent of a hog farm on Fordham's campus," and suggested that if Fordham didn't care about aesthetics they should place the tower on their church steeple.

In turn, WFUV supporters wore black T-shirts with the slogan, "No Tower, No Tunes," reflecting their belief that if the station can't finish its tower, it will be forced to shut down. Several speakers referred to the station as an "audio oasis." Cephas Bowles, general manager of public jazz station WBGO, said, "Each day you delay hurts the station," and robs it of potential and current listeners.

Crotona resident Karen Washington wanted a resolution between the two Bronx institutions. "I don't want to have come back here next year," she said, to waves of laughter.

The conflict started in 1994, when Fordham University began building a radio tower on its campus in response to a tightening of FCC standards for radiation emissions and to reach more listeners. Once the metal tower rose above the tree level at 260 feet, the Garden appealed to the New York City Buildings Department and the FCC to have the construction halted. The FCC will convene the consulting parties in Washington in mid-August to discuss whether the negative visual impact can be mitigated, or if alternative sites exist that would avoid any local impact altogether.

"At that time, we will grant or deny the application to build a 380-foot tower at that location," said Peter Doyle, of the FCC Audio Division, which handles AM/FM licensing matters. "If we deny it, then Fordham must find a new spot or go off the air."

So, are there other spots? Fordham and the Garden are jointly investigating a site in Westchester south of the Cross County Parkway, which both sides said they couldn't discuss. "We are cautiously hopeful," said Fordham spokesman Joe Muriana, "We're working very hard on it." Muriana said it's currently illegal to build at the site and that local laws would have to be changed to allow them to even apply for a special permit. But the site appears to be suitable technically.

But if that site doesn't work out, will it really be "No Tower, No Tunes?" Garden officials say no and claim Fordham is refusing to consider options as close as their own Keating Hall.

Denis O'Connor, the Garden's legal counsel, faults a feasibility study for a Keating Hall tower that Fordham submitted to the FCC. "They submitted this obviously absurd drawing of a 400-foot tower stuck on top of the [Keating Hall] clocktower," O'Connor said, adding that the Garden has an engineer's report which shows that a modern antennae rising only 45 feet above the clocktower of Keating Hall would more than meet the FCC safety requirements (by directing radiation out and not down like older antennas) and reach 93 to 97 percent of the new tower's intended audience.

But Fordham claims the antenna would be too disruptive to the historic structure of Keating. The repairs done on Keating Hall starting in 1994 "were a result of damage caused by the first antenna over the 50 years it was used," Muriana said. Heating, air conditioning, and satellite equipment that services the entire campus is also located on Keating's roof.

Doyle allows for the possibility that a new antenna on Keating could work, though he says he has not looked through the Garden's engineer report and can't confirm its potential. "There are two variables, height and power," O'Connor said. "If they could [safely] increase the power, they may be able to broadcast from that height."

The Garden has appealed Fordham's request to continue broadcasting from the half- completed tower. "They say they support WFUV," Muriana said. "But without that authority to broadcast, we are not licensed, and we will go off the air."

In the political sphere, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion weighed in with a strong statement to press gathered at a luncheon in between the two hearings, which took place at the Garden in the morning and Fordham in the afternoon.

"I want to make my position on this issue clear and unequivocal," Carrion said. "The radio tower must be placed at a new site."

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