New River Tunnel Radio Station
by Rodger Skinner
(Pompano Beach, Florida)
In 1976 I wanted to buy my own radio station but could not afford the high prices, so I created my own. I found that inside the New River Tunnel (now called the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel) on US1 Fort Lauderdale, a car radio lost all AM reception due to the tunnel.
Here we had a blank radio dial with nothing on it, so I petitioned the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Communications Commission and got permission to install the world's first Tunnel Radio Station.
Tunnel Radio had signs in the median at each end of the tunnel on US1 saying "Tunnel Radio Inside Tunnel". No matter which AM station you were tuned to outside the tunnel, we took over your radio and you heard Tunnel Radio inside the tunnel. Getting permission to put in Tunnel Radio took a lot of work and then once obtained, I had to find a way to transmit on 14 AM frequencies simultaneously. There was no such transmitter available at the time, so Loren, one of my ham radio friends, said he could design and build it. He did and within two weeks we were on the air.
With over 2 million cars a month going through the tunnel that gave us a huge radio audience. We aired ten second repeating announcements, since the average transit time inside the tunnel was only 16 seconds. We alternated 15 minutes of a repeating commercial, followed by 15 minutes of a repeating public service announcement like "Fasten seat belts" and "Don't drink and drive", a public service reminder from the Florida Department of Transportation and Tunnel Radio, so a full 50% of our broadcast time was devoted to public service announcements, far more than any other station.
A fellow called my office one day and
told me about his experience the night before going through the tunnel. He said he had too much to drink, but did not know about Tunnel Radio. He said he heard a "Don't drink and drive" message upon entering the tunnel and really didn't want to hear that right then, so he punched up another station on his car radio and heard the same message, punched another station and heard the same message. He said, "I thought God was telling me to not drink and drive." He said he later found out it was Tunnel Radio but had to call me to say it made such an impact on him, he said he would never drink and drive again (true story).
Many people commented that when they had friends or relatives visiting the Fort Lauderdale area they would take them for a ride though the tunnel to "hear this one of kind radio station". Even the tourist boat The Jungle Queen, when it sailed down the New River would announce to their passengers as they passed over top of the tunnel, "You are now passing over the world's smallest radio station below us, Tunnel Radio."
I operated the Tunnel Radio station during 1976-77 and then sold the station to a local radio station. They shut it down later, when the tunnel radio antenna wires inside the tunnel had to be removed to allow cleaning of the tunnel with new automated spinning brushes, rather than by hand as had been done previously.
In it's own way, I guess Tunnel Radio was an attraction of sorts and people talked about it for years afterwards. I later created and sold Tunnel Radio systems in Baltimore, Boston and Montreal. After that I got into Low Power Television but that is another story for another day. :-)