October 31 - November 7, 2001

The Big Travelogue: Part Ten

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

Click here for part nine

Tuesday, July 3 - We're well past the halfway point of our journey chronologically, and now we've reached the halfway mark geographically. From our morning in Topeka, the rest of our trip will take us eastward, towards home - but with so much more to see in the five days before our return to Rochester.

So it's on to the Kansas Turnpike we head, getting off 30 miles or so later in the college town (University of Kansas, to be precise) of Lawrence.

There's not a great deal of radio to see here; local AM KLWN (1320) has a single, unexciting stick near the K-10 bypass on the southwest side of town, while the university's public radio KANU (91.5) and student-run KJHK (90.7) have sticks on the campus.

Lawrence's commercial FM station, KLZR (105.9), has long been a rimshotter targeting the much larger Kansas City market some 25 miles away, but its studios remain in Lawrence, on West 6th Street (aka US 40). A quick dash into the lobby finds a rotating postcard rack chock-full of KLWN and KLZR stickers, and we obtain samples for the collection.

The K-10 freeway delivers us into the Kansas City metro area by way of the southwestern suburb of Olathe, Kansas, where we make a quick stop for a newspaper (noting the tower of religious KCCV-FM 92.3 alongside K-10 just before it approaches the merge with the I-435 loop and I-35 itself), then head on to the big show of the day.

I-435 heads east, and we hop off at the State Line Road exit, heading north - but not quite ready to leave Kansas behind. A left on Somerset and a mile west to Mission Road, and we're at the mighty stick that graces the top of this week's page. WDAF is a heritage station if ever there was one (just look at the old "W" call that predates the redrawing of the W/K line along the Mississippi River!), running 5 kW day and night, non-directional, from that big square-faced tower just south of W. 79th Street. Those 5 kilowatts way down at 610 on the dial get out better than a lot of 50,000 watters we've heard!

(It was probably a more impressive sight twenty or so years ago, before a townhome development was built right up to the edges of the guy wires, but it's still something to see...)

Now we're ready to cross into Missouri, if only to find a good restaurant in the Country Club Plaza area (we do) and get out of the hot sun (it's in the nineties again) for a leisurely lunch and a chance for some aircheck tapes to roll in the car.

After lunch, it's back to the Kansas side, along US 56 (Shawnee Mission Parkway), turning off just across the state line on Belinder Road for a stop at another big site.

This building at 4935 Belinder Road used to house just two radio stations: KMBZ (980), whose two towers are out back, and its sister FM, KMBR (99.7).

That was before clustering - and today, 4935 Belinder accomodates eight Entercom stations. In addition to KMBZ and the 99.7, now KYYS (the heritage calls that used to be on 102.1, now KSRC., which is also here), this building houses WDAF radio, KUDL (98.1), KRBZ (96.5), KCIY (106.5) and KXTR (1660).

A few quick historical notes: KMBZ is the former KMBC(AM), and those heritage calls live on at KMBC-TV, channel 9 (we'll look at that station next week when we do the FM and TV facilities); the KXTR calls and classical format had a long history at 96.5, until that family-owned facility was sold a few years back. Entercom has tried to maintain at least a vestige of the old KXTR, putting the format and calls first on AM 1250 (which was moved into the Kansas City market from Topeka after decades in that city as WREN, with a long-defunct sharetime at the university in Manhattan), then on the X-band facility at 1660. 1250 is now KWSJ, a leased-time Spanish-language outlet; we won't make it to the tower site it shares with KGGN (890 Gladstone) northeast of town.

After Belinder Road, we head west on Shawnee Mission Parkway (past the KCTV-5 studios, which we'll feature next week) and north on I-35 to I-635.

(First, though, we stop near the Shawnee Mission/35 interchange at 6230 Eby Drive, which our historical maps show as the 1970s-era home of KUDL-FM 98.1 and its then-AM sister at 1380. A tower here was apparently KUDL-FM's home back then as well; today it carries cellular antennas and such, and is owned by American Tower.)

Jumping off 635 just before we cross the Kansas River, we find the current home of AM 1380. KCNW is the callsign now, and the station is licensed to Fairway, Kansas, where it runs a religious format from its single tower on Metropolitan Avenue, just west of the highway.

Just a mile away, we find one of Kansas City's more dramatic sites: the six towers of the station now known as KUPN, licensed to Mission and running a Spanish-language format.

A long driveway leads off S. 55th Street down to the studio building, nestled next to three of the sticks - quite possibly the three that are used for the station's 1000-watt daytime operation, which sends a teardrop-shaped pattern to the east-southeast.

The two towers to the left of the picture (the north side of the property), along with the one in the middle and (I think) one of the three day towers form a parallelogram for the 500-watt night signal, aimed mainly to the south-southeast.

As we're parked on the driveway taking pictures, a woman leans out the door down below to ask us what we're up to; we're not quite sure she believed our explanation!

In any case, a quick jog back to 635 and over the river soon takes us to the interchange with US 24 (State Avenue), which is graced by a tall tower with some old FM bays.

The bays, it turns out, are the former site of KFKF-FM (94.1), and the stick itself is still used by KFKF's former AM sister, the station on 1340 that's been KCKN, KFKF(AM), KNHN and now KFEZ.

For years, this station's history has been tangled with the station on 1190 known variously as KJLA, KFEZ and now KPHN. At the base of the tower, behind the supermarket, an abandoned building still shows signs of both stations' histories; peer closely at the sign in front and you can make out the CNN logo from 1190's days as a CNN Headline News relay.

This tower has another occupant these days: this is where the KXTR 1660 facility operates, serving Kansas City with classical music programmed back in Boston at the WCRB facilities. (There's something wrong with the automation this week; the station is alternating between long stretches of dead air and music!)

From here, we follow US 24 into downtown Kansas City, Kansas, a community that's unquestionably seen better days, then over the bridge on I-70, into the tangled mess of highway that surrounds the heart of downtown Kansas City.

We'll cover this part of the trip in much greater detail next week, since it encompasses the major TV and FM sites, not to mention a freeway exit improbably marked "Exit 2Y" - but suffice it to say we end up pointed north on I-29 and US 169, exiting at Cookingham Road just before 169 crosses the northern end of the I-435 loop. (We're in extreme northern Kansas City here, past a big chunk of rural land that was apparently annexed to the city to connect it to the airport.)

It's here that we see Kansas City's only 50,000 watter, the 810 kHz signal known for most of its life as KCMO.

By day, this is a non-directional 50 kW blowtorch; at night, it takes five towers and 5 kilowatts to produce a figure-eight pattern aimed to the north-northwest and south-southeast to protect WGY and KGO on the coasts.

As you can make out (just barely, to be sure; this is a tough array to get a good picture of), the five towers include three in a row behind the old brick transmitter building and two more spaced widely to the west.

That's quite a building, isn't it? We've seen pictures that show it in its heyday, when the huge letters above the door still clearly spelled out "K C M O," now represented only faintly in the brick (look very closely and you might see it!)

Why no calls? A couple of years ago, Entercom traded this signal for the 710 kHz facility long known as WHB. The idea was to give WHB, then running a farm format, the wide coverage of 810's day signal, while giving news-talk KCMO the superior 5 kW night coverage on 710. A useless bit of trivia that resulted (thanks to Mark Durenberger for noticing this one): All three 50,000 watt stations on 810 now bear three-letter calls.

Heading east on Cookingham, across the northeast corner of the 435 loop and north on Eastern brings us to that 710 facility, another five-tower array.

We've seen old pictures of this transmitter building before, too, so we know that the roofline of the tall part of the building once continued to the right, framing big "W H B" letters made of stainless steel. It looks like those disappeared long before the WHB calls left this building...

This is another tough one to get a picture of, largely because it's late in the day and we're looking west, directly into the sinking sun.

These five towers are arranged roughly on a southeast-northwest axis, using 10 kW by day and 5 kW by night to generate a figure-eight with major lobes broadside to the array and nulls towards other 710 signals in places like Shreveport and Seattle.

The I-435 loop takes us south again, not far from that 1250/890 array that we don't have time to see (we're told it's hard to get to by road, anyway) and over to our motel in Independence, where we set up the VCRs to capture Kansas City's TV news, cool off with a quick swim, and then head back into Kansas City for one of the culinary highlights of the trip: the legendary barbecue at Arthur Bryant's (special thanks to Mark Roberts and Sandy Smith for weighing in on the vital "where should we eat?" question!)

The food is great, and keeps us sustained for a speedy drive back to Topeka to retrieve the box of tapes we realize we've accidentally abandoned at the previous night's hotel. (Oops!)

Wednesday, July 4 - Our Independence Day begins here in Independence with a drive back into Kansas City to catch a few sites we'd missed the day before - mostly TV and FM sites, but with a few AMs mixed in.

Just south of I-70 near the I-435 interchange, we find the six towers of KPHN (1190), north of 35th Street behind a school bus garage.

This site puts out a 5000 watt non-directional signal by day, dropping to 1000 watts during critical hours - and then fading down to just 250 watts from all six towers at night to protect all those other 1190 stations in places like Portland, Dallas, Guadalajara -- and, yes, Fort Wayne. (KPHN will likely be able to boost power or alter its pattern now that WOWO has been downgraded to class B status. Thanks, WLIB!)

One more site completes our AM tour of Kansas City, and it's nothing you'd look twice at, unless you know the history.

KPRT cranks out 1000 watts by day from this little stick on Linwood between Myrtle and Norton, dropping down to 46 watts at night on 1590.

Why do we care? Under its old call of KPRS, this little signal was the Carter family's original station in Kansas City, beginning a history of black-owned community radio here that's now in its fifth decade.

The KPRS calls moved to 103.3 FM decades ago (that's an old set of 103.3 bays on the side of the 1590 stick), and today the Carters program R&B on the FM and gospel on the AM, and regularly sit atop the ratings in their hometown, still with plenty of community involvement and responsiveness.

From here, our journey takes us east again to the Truman home in Independence, and then across Missouri to Columbia - but we'll get there (as well as stopping at Kansas City's FM and TV facilities) in part eleven, next week...

Meanwhile...you can still enjoy the Big Trip'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 - and our ordering deadline has been extended, so it's not too late to send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush (that's me), to 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester NY 14618.

Your purchase of a calendar helps keep Site of the Week coming all year round...thank you!