October 24-31, 2001

The Big Travelogue: Part Nine

There's nothing like a good road trip to get a feel for the state of radio these days. From June 23 until July 7, your editor (accompanied by Boston Radio Archives creator Garrett Wollman) hit the road to see what's on - and in - the air across a broad swath of mid-America.

For the next few installments of Site of the Week, we'll be recapping the many highlights of what we like to think of as The Big Trip, 2001 edition. Come along...

Click here for part one

Click here for part two

Click here for part three

Click here for part four

Click here for part five

Click here for part six

Click here for part seven

Click here for part eight

Monday, July 2 -- We're on track to a four-state day, one of only three on this trip (and the other two are the first and last days, with plenty of high-speed driving and few tower stops.)

After a morning spent finishing up our collection of Omaha sites, we've headed south, past Plattsmouth (home of KOTD, which was on 1000 the last time we were here and is now on 1020), across the Missouri River and back into Iowa for a final time.

Our destination is the small town of Shenandoah, in the Hawkeye State's southwestern corner, home to one of the oldest rivalries in radio. Beginning in the mid-twenties, KMA (of the Earl May Seed Company) and KFNF (of the Henry Field Seed Company) fought it out for listeners in the region, resulting in stations that sounded much bigger than you'd expect for a town this size.

The rivalry ended in the seventies, when KFNF was sold to Family Radio and became KYFR, relaying the religious programming from Oakland.

KMA lives on, though (accompanied these days by KKBZ 99.3, licensed to nearby Clarinda), in a brick box across the street from Earl May's headquarters.

The KMA towers sit off the side of Iowa 48, northeast of town, behind a house-shaped building that still says "KMA" in nice, old-fashioned lettering over the door. We suspect there's plenty of history inside. KYFR is far to the southeast, and we don't have time for that journey today, since our next new state is beckoning us, a few miles down US 59.

That highway takes us across the Missouri line and down to I-29, where we pull off approaching St. Joseph to see the four tall towers of KFEQ (680), the biggest AM signal from this small river city.

Another exit past the KFEQ towers and we're at the corner of 40th and Faraon streets, where a huge self-supporting tower rises from a small hill.

This is KQTV, channel 2, the ABC affiliate for St. Joseph and vicinity, and a signal that's a regular during skip season back home in upstate New York (in fact, the whole area we're traversing this trip is rich with TV and FM stations that tend to ride the skip back home; we're disappointed in the lack of skip in the opposite direction during our travels!)

We've had some excellent travel advice for this phase of the trip, courtesy of radio friends who are Missouri natives (thanks, Mark!), and the key piece of advice where KQTV is concerned is to drive into the parking lot, under the tower, and look up.

So we do...and what a view it is! There aren't too many spots in America where you can do a straight-up view like this, and we savor the sight for a few moments before moving on.

There's not much to say about the rest of St. Joseph radio. KFEQ's sister FM station is KKJO, which has just recently moved from 105.1 to 105.5, thus enabling a new FM signal in Garden City, Missouri to sign on at 105.1 serving Kansas City (it's called KFME and we'll hear it the next day). Its tower was south of town along I-29 as 105.1; as 105.5, it's out near Doniphan, Kansas, and we see neither site this day.

Also on the FM dial is KSJQ on 92.7, from a site up near where I-29 meets US 59. Its sister station is KSFT (1550), whose five towers wind their way up a hill along US 169 southeast of town, a pleasant surprise side trip.

Finally, at least where AM is concerned, there's religious KGNM (1270), which we see next to the I-29/US 36 interchange while heading out to KSFT.

Back to TV for just a moment: this is just a two-station market, with KQTV joined a few years back by a religious UHF station, KTAJ (Channel 16).

Its tower is way out US 169 beyond KSFT, and we notice that its DTV application is nowhere near its existing analog site. In fact, KTAJ-DT, which will be on channel 21, intends to build in the Kansas City TV tower farm, on the KSMO (Channel 62) tower 60 miles or so to the south!

We head out of St. Joe on US 36, crossing the Missouri into our fourth state of the day, Kansas. Following Kansas 7 (with the distinctive yellow sunflower as a state route marker) to US 59 misses KAIR (1470), which is licensed to Atchison but transmits from across the river in Rushville, Mo., but it does offer a chance to pull off on the roadside to hear the handoff on 580 kHz from Manhattan's KKSU to Topeka's WIBW.

KKSU used to be KSAC ("Kansas State Agricultural College"), one of those land-grant college AMs from the same vintage as WSUI, WOI and KUSD.

It never landed its own spot on the AM dial, but continued in the share-time arrangement with commercial WIBW, 50 miles east, that began in the thirties: WIBW signs off at 12:30 in the afternoon to allow KKSU to broadcast for five hours, offering farm news, a local talk show and some NPR talk before returning the frequency to WIBW at 5:30.

The handoff is smooth, with the weaker KKSU signal giving way to the huge WIBW signal precisely at 5:30, and we're soon driving along US 24 just north of Topeka, past the tall tower and studio of NBC affiliate KSNT (Channel 27) to the two towers of WIBW.

There's a nice brick transmitter building, too, off the side of NW Landon Road, a dirt road that runs south from US 24. The sun is directly behind the towers, alas, so we make plans to return the next morning (which is when these pictures were taken).

From here, we turn back on 24 to the US 75 bridge over the river and into Topeka itself, where we head over to the hotel to get the VCRs rolling on Topeka TV news and IDs.

With less than an hour of daylight left, we drive into downtown, looking for the studios of ABC affiliate KTKA (Channel 49) in a maze of one-way streets off I-70 at 101 SE Monroe, unaware that the station has moved!

We give up on KTKA for the moment and point the car toward the next spot on the itinerary, along 8th Street.

The statehouse in Topeka is the third of the trip for each of us (Des Moines for both, Pierre for Garrett, Lincoln for me), and it makes for a nice sight as the sun begins to set.

Better yet, we look up at the office building just to the east, at SE 8th and Kansas, where we see the bays of KWIC (99.3), a fairly recent class A drop-in to the market. (Even a little A has good reach here; we recall hearing tapes of the station's early days recorded from Kansas City, 50 miles east!)

Our final stop takes us to the campus of Washburn University, a school neither of us knows much about.

We do know that it's home to Topeka's public TV station, KTWU, which occupies a very nice, newish-looking building off the 21st Street entrance to campus (although the official address is "19th and Jewell.")

From KTWU, it's off to dinner, where our path intersects that of another broadcasting pilgrim, George Greene of Akron, Ohio. He's on a quest of his own, to visit every county in the U.S., and by the end of this night he'll be in Oklahoma, en route to completing all but one of his missing counties. (The last, International Falls, Minnesota, remains unvisited for now - but George says he'll get there next summer!)

This is barbecue country, and we settle in for a very tasty meal with George and Topeka's own Paul Swearingen, editor of the National Radio Club's DX News.

The evening ends with bumper-sticker trading in the parking lot, then back to the hotel to see the local news on KTKA, KSNT and the market's dominant station, CBS affiliate WIBW-TV (Channel 13). (Topeka also gets Kansas City's big stations on cable, with Fox coming locally from KTMJ-LP, an LPTV in Junction City, 45 miles west. We'd hoped to make Junction City and Manhattan part of our plans, if for no other reason than to see Kansas State University and the other half of 580, but time didn't allow it...)

Tuesday, July 3 - The next morning begins with a stop at KTKA's new home, in a building shared with KTPK-FM (106.9) at 2121 SW Chelsea, a few blocks from our hotel.

From there, we head to the bluffs of the Kansas River west of downtown and just north of I-70, for a look at an interesting pair of sites that sit along a winding road that branches off SW 6th Street, adjacent to the famous Menninger Institute for the mentally ill.

At the very end of the road, we come to a gate, beyond which we can see the very tall tower of KTWU. As we're admiring the view, a truck pulls out of the gate...and KTWU's engineers ask us what we're doing.

We explain the Great Trip project and they invited us to come inside the gate and check out the site more closely while they head out for some lunch.

They also explain a bit of the history: it's no coincidence that this tower sits adjacent to the WIBW studios. In fact, this is the old WIBW-TV tower, which the station donated to KTWU in the sixties when it built a much taller tower some 15 miles west of Topeka.

That tower, which we won't make it to, carries WIBW-FM (97.3) and religious KBUZ (90.3) as well; two other tall towers nearby are home to KTKA (along with KTPK and KMAJ-FM, 107.7) and KDVV (100.3). Those full-C FM signals are monsters; they're listenable in Kansas City as well as Topeka, not to mention Manhattan and Junction City.

But we digress, don't we? Leaving the KTWU site, we find the driveway that leads to the WIBW studios, where the first sight is of several giant satellite dishes, one painted with a faded "13" logo that's at least a generation earlier than WIBW's current logo.

The building itself is a relic of the days before radio; in fact, it bears a distinct resemblance to the Menninger Institution buildings nearby. It's home to all three WIBW stations, as well as the Kansas State Network that feeds news to dozens of stations around the state.

From WIBW, we cross I-70 and pass the studios on SW 7th Street that are home to KMAJ-FM, KDVV and two AM stations, KMAJ (1440) and KTOP (1490), then head out to see WIBW(AM) in better light.

And for no better reason than that Paul had told us the night before that he'd never found the KTOP tower, we finish our Topeka visit by heading down Topeka Avenue, through a mobile-home park, and over to the undistinguished KTOP tower on NW Buchanan. (How undistinguished? It appears we didn't even take a picture of it!)

And from there, we made our way out to the Kansas Turnpike, which joins I-70 (or, should we say, is joined by I-70) at the I-470 interchange southeast of town. We look to the right a few miles past the interchange in hopes of seeing the KMAJ(AM) site, but we don't.

From here, it's off to Lawrence, the Kansas side of Kansas City, and lunch...but we'll get there in Part Ten, next week!

Meanwhile...you can enjoy last week's lovely KFAB view and eleven more favorites from Tower Site of the Week all year long, if you order the Tower Site 2002 Calendar! This full-color, 8.5-by-11 inch, glossy calendar features a dozen exciting tower images, and it can be on your wall for just $15, postpaid! (NY residents include sales tax; US$20 postpaid to Canada).

You can have yours for the holidays - but you need to order now. We'll print only enough copies to fill orders received by October 31, so don't delay. Send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush (that's me), to 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester NY 14618.

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