WHAV Call Returns to Haverhill After High Seas Adventure

The U.S. Coast Guard had placed the WHAV call letters on a barge named Penn 91, associated with the tugboat Skipjack, seen here.

The WHAV call letters are officially back home in Haverhill after having been on a high seas adventure for a few years.

Haverhill’s new FM radio station at 97.9 will go on the air using the heritage WHAV call sign. Up until today, however, that was not a sure thing. As late as Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard controlled the call letters. The military branch previously assigned WHAV to an oil industry barge, “Penn 91,” for its onboard radio station.

“Heartfelt thanks go out to the U.S. Coast Guard and Kirby Corporation for their behind-the-scenes work in releasing the WHAV call sign,” said WHAV President and General Manager Tim Coco. “I particularly want to acknowledge the work of Kim E. Demory at the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center and Joseph H. Reniers, senior vice president—Diesel Engine Services and Marine Facility Operations.” Coco also thanked WHAV attorneys Howard M. Liberman and Lee G. Petro of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Washington.

Coco received a Massachusetts service mark for the WHAV name in 2004 and federal trademark protection in 2008. Those protections, however, do not prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from granting use of the letters to the Coast Guard.

In 2008, Penn Maritime launched the 414-foot Penn 91, built by Corn Island Shipyard Inc. of Grandview, Ind. It is part of an “articulated tug and barge unit” with the tugboat Skipjack, also built in 2008 by Thoma-Sea Boat Builders of Lockport, La.In 2012, Kirby Corporation of Houston, Texas, acquired Penn Maritime. Kirby is the nation’s largest tank barge operator.

History Repeats Itself

The Haverhill Gazette found itself in the same position in 1947. The newspaper was almost forced to use the call letters WHGF for its new radio station since WHAV was assigned to the Haverhill Police Department’s shortwave radio station. Police Chief Henry J. Lynch agreed to swap letters, and the transaction won FCC approval Jan. 11, 1947.

“The WHAV call was desired because of its close association to Haverhill, its easy identification and the part it will be able to play in promoting public interest in the new station,” reported The Gazette, quoting then-incoming Commercial Manager James B. Dunbar.

Non-profit WHAV is now conducting its “Make Waves” campaign, with Tom Bergeron as honorary chairperson, to raise money needed to construct FM transmitter facilities.

The WHAV call letters have been associated with local broadcasting since 1947. WHAV is today operated by Public Media of New England Inc., a not-for-profit corporation. Since 2004, the call has served the Merrimack Valley’s pioneer Internet radio station at WHAV.net and a number of public access cable television stations in Andover, Haverhill and Methuen, and Plaistow and Sandown, N.H. The Federal Communications Commission recently granted WHAV a construction permit to build a new FM license at 97.9 MHz.

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