November 14-21, 2001

The Big Travelogue: Part Eleven

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

Click here for part ten

Tuesday, July 3 - Our visit to Kansas City may have included plenty of fine AM sites (see part ten), but there's also much to see here where FM and TV are concerned.

On the Kansas side of the line, where our visit begins, there's just a single relevant site to visit: the Shawnee Mission Parkway studios of the market's CBS affiliate, KCTV (Channel 5).

The station moved here when it abandoned its original home at 125 E. 31st Street in Kansas City proper - but that's an address to which we will return in earnest in just a little bit. (Can't wait? Just look at the top of the page for a hint of what's still there...)

After making our way around the west side AM sites, we enter downtown Kansas City, where we find ABC affiliate KMBC-TV (Channel 9) in a building apparently shared with an...opera house? (We await clarification on this one from those who know the market better...)

Just up Central Street is a storefront where KMBC's LMA partner, independent KCWE (Channel 29), has its sales office.

From downtown, we head south on Main Street, admiring one of the most distinctive features of the Kansas City skyline: the tall towers of Signal Hill.

That 31st Street address? KCTV doesn't use it for a studio anymore, having donated that space to public station KCPT (Channel 19), but its transmitter is still there, feeding an antenna atop what I'm told is the tallest self-supporting tower in America. (KC radio historian Mark Roberts says it was the tallest in the world until 1968!)

The tower is shared with KCMO-FM (94.9) (KCTV was, you see, the former KCMO-TV) and Leavenworth-licensed KQRC (98.9), as well as the future KCTV-DT (Channel 24). At night, we'll see it again, illuminated by strings of white lights that outline the corners of the tower and create a sight visible for miles around.

Head west on 31st Street for a mile or so and you come to the corner of Summit, and there you'll find another distinctive Kansas City site.

The street address is 3030 Summit, but it's known far and wide simply as "Signal Hill, Kansas City, MO," home to WDAF-TV (Channel 4), the city's first TV station.

For decades, WDAF-TV was the NBC affiliate for Kansas City, but the mass affiliation swaps of the nineties brought some big changes to this heritage station.

In September 1994, WDAF-TV was sold to New World (separating it from WDAF radio after 45 years), and promptly joined the rest of the New World stations in becoming a Fox affiliate.

That, in turn, put NBC on the UHF dial, on relative newcomer KSHB (Channel 41) - but it meant no change of transmitter site at all. KSHB (and KSHB-DT 42) share this tower with WDAF-TV, WDAF-DT (Channel 34) and the FM on 102.1 that's now KSRC and used to be WDAF-FM, KYYS and KOZN.

Wednesday, July 4 - Independence Day finds us in Independence, Missouri, heading west back towards Kansas City to pick up a few more sites before heading off to our next destination.

A cluster of towers rise over the east side of the I-435 loop near where it crosses I-70 (and not far from the Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium and the Royals' Kaufman Stadium).

On E. 22nd Street, a candelabra tower is home to KMBC-TV, itself a product of a long-ago affiliation swap and a long-ago channel-sharing deal.

Back in 1953, the owners of KMBC radio and WHB radio decided to try to resolve the long fight over channel 9 by telling the FCC they'd share the channel. It signed on that year as a CBS affiliate, with KMBC-TV and WHB-TV trading off 90-minute blocks of time.

(A similar arrangement lasted from 1953 until 1961 back home in Rochester on channel 10, but that's a tale for another time...)

KMBC-TV bought out WHB-TV in 1954, and channel 9 became an ABC affiliate the following year, with KCMO-TV going to CBS. In 1967, KMBC radio (980/99.7) was sold and became KMBZ, calls that live on to this day on the AM side.

None of this explains the satellite truck with the big "12" logo at the base of the tower - until you recall that KMBC-TV is today owned by Hearst-Argyle, which also owns WISN-TV (Channel 12) in Milwaukee...

In any case, this tower is now home as well to KCWE, KCWE-DT (Channel 31), KMBC-DT (Channel 7) and KYYS (99.7, the former KMBC-FM).

Crossing I-435, we find ourselves on the Blue Ridge Cutoff, which parallels 435 to the east. Just north of I-70, a guyed tower carries FM antennas for KUDL (98.1) and more recent move-ins KCFX (101.1 Harrisonville), KCIY (106.5 Liberty) and KLJC (88.5).

A mile or so to the north, a cluster of towers includes the tall one shown to the left, home to KCPT (Channel 19), KBEQ (104.3) and public radio KCUR (89.3). This tower also held KSMO (Channel 62), but we believe that station has moved a bit north, to another site we'll examine shortly.

Look carefully at the left edge of the picture and you can see the KMBC-TV tower back in the distance, too.

Just to the right and out of frame is another tower that holds community FM station KKFI (90.1).

(We didn't make it to another group of FM towers a few miles south along 435, one housing KMXV 93.3, KFKF 94.1, KRBZ 96.5 and KPRS 103.3, the other home to brand-new KFME 105.1, licensed to Garden City, Missouri and just on the air a few weeks prior to our visit as "e-fm.")

One more tower completes our Kansas City visit: a new candelabra tower just south of Truman Road that's home to KSMO-DT (Channel 47), the KSMO analog channel 62 that used to share the KCPT tower...and to the application for religious KTAJ's DTV operation.

KTAJ, you may recall, is licensed to St. Joseph, 60 miles north, but it wants to put digital channel 21 right in the heart of the Kansas City market when it signs on.

From here, we diverge from the radio agenda for an hour or so to visit Harry Truman's home in Independence, where we note the rooftop Yagi antenna that the Trumans apparently used for the little TV they watched. (Our tour guide, upon being asked, points out that the TV is in a corner of the living room where it would have been impossible to see from most of the chairs!)

Back on the road, we drive two hours or so east to a late lunchtime stop in the college town of Columbia.

Before lunch, we stop along Business Loop 70E at the market's number-three station, little KMIZ (Channel 17). KMIZ also operates Fox LPTV K11SN and a cable-only WB affiliate, but it's outspent and outrated by the two big VHF stations in the market, which we'll see in a bit.

It being a holiday and our time being short, we don't spend much time with Columbia radio, driving past the nearby KFRU (1400) tower and trying, but failing, to find the KTGR (1580) tower close by, before heading south on US 63 and out of town. (In retrospect, we should have stopped to see KFMZ 98.3, as well; it lost its license a few months later and is now dark!)

KMIZ and most of the FM stations are north of town, and we're not headed that way.

Instead, we're pointed south on 63, heading straight for the very tall tower that belongs to Columbia's NBC affiliate and its NPR station, which are co-owned.

Puzzled? No need; you see, KOMU-TV (Channel 8) and KBIA (91.3) both belong to the University of Missouri.

KOMU is a full commercial station with a very respectable news commitment, staffed by students from Missouri's prestigious journalism school. Never mind internships; these students get to shoot, report and anchor the news on the market's top station!

(KOMU, too, would be in the headlines a few months later, as state politicians protested the news director's decision to ban the anchors and reporters from wearing flag pins in the days after September 11...but that was all far in the future on this sweltering July 4 afternoon...)

A half-hour later and we've arrived in the penultimate state capital of our trip.

It's a very, very quiet Independence Day in Jefferson City, and we have the west side of the capital building all to ourselves as we drive up for the requisite picture.

(Later, watching the local TV news, we'll learn that there's a party taking place on the other side of the building, but we never drove over there to see what was happening!)

We don't observe much of the Jeff City radio dial, since KLIK (1240) and KWOS (950), which recently swapped dial positions, are both south of town and we're not headed that way.

Instead, we point the car north again, this time on US 54, which cuts a diagonal towards the northeast and our ultimate destination of St. Louis.

Exiting the US 54 freeway at the exit for highways "OO" and "AA" (which strikes us as an appropriate preview for the fireworks we hope to see later in the evening!), we turn north onto old 54 at Holts Summit for our last two mid-Missouri sites.

First up is the region's CBS affiliate, KRCG-TV (Channel 13), with studios at the base of this tall guyed stick.

(In an earlier, lower-powered era, KRCG operated KMOS, channel 6 in Sedalia, as a satellite station; later, it donated that facility for use as the region's public TV outlet.)

We're told Jeff City viewers gravitate to KRCG for their news, while KOMU dominates in Columbia, belying the idea of a joint TV market...

Another mile north and we're at a slightly less impressive site, the newer tower of religious KNLJ (Channel 25), operated by a minister who runs a homeless shelter in St. Louis and frequently uses the residents to host his telethons! (He also owns KNLC in St. Louis, which is becoming that city's UPN affiliate for lack of a better option.)

KNLJ now has an FM sister, KNLG (90.3), advertised on a wooden sign leaning against the channel 25 building. We hear it, and several sister stations, identified as part of a group ID on several stations along the route of our trip this week.

From here, it's another two hours or so east to St. Louis, where you can meet us next week for Part Twelve! 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.

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