March 27 - April 3, 2002

"We Love L.A.," Part Three

If you ordered the 2002 Tower Site Calendar a few months back, you might recognize the image to your right (at least if you've already flipped ahead to December's page).

These three towers along Burbank Boulevard in, yes, Burbank were the longtime home of Gene Autry's "Station of the Stars," KMPC 710, licensed originally to Hollywood and then to Los Angeles.

Look carefully at that great old transmitter building, and you can see "K M P C 50,000 Watt Station" still emblazoned above the door, even!

Alas, all good things must change, it seems - and a few years ago, KMPC was sold to Disney. After a brief stint as a talk station (KTZN, "the Zone") aimed at women, meant to complement Disney's male-oriented talker KABC, the big signal on 710 became Southern California's Radio Disney outlet, KDIS. But you can't change history, at least, and the ghostly image of those "K M P C" letters above the door should stay there for a long time to come, we hope!

The 710 sticks aren't far away from NBC's Los Angeles home, the studio complex on Alameda Avenue that's home to the "Tonight" show, "Days of Our Lives," "Access Hollywood" and much more.

The building shown at the left is on the northwest corner of the studio lot and is home to NBC's West Coast flagship, KNBC (Channel 4), once known as KNBH and then KRCA. (The KNBC calls had been up in San Francisco at what's now KNBR 680, before being moved south for TV in 1960).

As NBC adopts the "centralcasting" approach to its owned-and-operated chain of TV stations, this facility is also handling most of the operational aspects for KNSD (Channel 39) down in San Diego and, soon, KNTV (Channel 11) up in San Jose - er, "San Francisco." NBC also operates Pax affiliate KPXN (Channel 30, licensed to San Bernardino) from this facility these days, and it won't surprise us if some Telemundo facilities (or even LA outlet KVEA, channel 52) eventually end up in here.

You can (and we did) take a brief tour of the NBC studios, including visits to the Tonight Show studio and the soap opera set. It would have been neat to see some of the engineering here as well, but that's not part of the public tour. But, hey, we did see Pat O'Brien walk past us in a hallway, so it was hardly a complete loss!

From Burbank, we headed over to the hills east of downtown Los Angeles, in search of some of the less-potent Los Angeles AM signals. At left, you see the site that's shared by KFWB (980) and KLAC (570), on Multnomah Street. KFWB uses 5 kilowatts day and night, nondirectional, from the tall center tower (though even with a decent facility like that, it was a tough catch in the Wilshire/405 area where we were staying); KLAC is non-directional by day with 5 kilowatts, switching at night to a two-tower 5 kW pattern that throws a broad lobe south and west towards Santa Monica. Both stations held CPs to improve their signals, with KFWB applying at one point to go 50 kW from a directional facility far to the northeast and KLAC proposing a move to the KSPN site in Baldwin Hills by day, but neither facility was ever built, nor does it seem likely they ever will be built.

From KFWB/KLAC, you can look up to the northeast, towards the Ascot Reservoir, to see the three towers of the station on AM 1540. This was KPOL for years, then KZLA(AM) for a while, simulcasting 93.9 FM, then KSKQ and KXED in Spanish, then KCTD with One-on-One Sports, but now it's using the KMPC heritage calls as the Sporting News Radio outlet in Southern California. We didn't get up the hill, but we could see the towers just fine from down below.

A harder one to get to was the site you see at right. Today, this hilltop site overlooking the Pasadena Freeway just east of I-5 is home to just one station, the 96.3 outlet that's leased to Spanish Broadcasting as "El Sol," KXOL.

But one look will tell you there was once much more going on up on Radio Drive, up there off Montecito. This was the home of AM 1150 for much of its life, until just a few years ago when that frequency boosted power and moved east to the KTNQ (1020) site we showed you last week.

And what a history there is on that frequency in Los Angeles, all the way back to evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, whose Church of the Foursquare Gospel put KFSG on the air back in the regulation-free twenties. When Sister Aimee didn't care for the wavelength the Commerce Department tried to give her, she simply shifted to a higher power on a different channel and reported back to Washington that she was guided by a higher authority!

Sister Aimee eventually disappeared, but KFSG lived on, ending up sharing time with commercial station KRKD on the frequency that would eventually become 1150. KRKD-FM on 96.3 ended up in the hands of the Foursquare Gospel folks when it became clear that FM had no future, and as KFSG-FM remained a religious outlet until just a year or so ago, when it was leased out to SBS. (The Foursquare Gospel programming moved down the dial to the pair of 93.5 allocations in Ontario and Redondo Beach, as KFSB and KFSG).

As for 1150, KFSG eventually yielded its hours to its share-time partner, KRKD. And KRKD eventually ended up changing calls to KIIS, doing top-40 as "Kiss" and soon adding FM service on 102.7, the former KKDJ. KIIS was doing at least some separate top-40 programming on the AM side well into the eighties, and it was the mid-nineties before KIIS(AM) finally went off the air completely, as 1150 became KXTA, "Xtra Sports," simulcasting much of the programming from San Diego-market border blaster XETRA (690 Tijuana) before developing its own identity as "Fox Sports 1150" - but by then, it was out in Baldwin Hills.

KIIS-FM, of course, became the template for all of Clear Channel's "Kiss" CHRs around the country once the radio behemoth ended up with the station in the late nineties. And it's the original trademark registration that then-owner Gannett put in for "Kiss" in the seventies that underlies the Clear Channel national trademark rights to the name "Kiss." How 'bout that?

Could there be anything more to say about the KFSG/KRKD/KIIS saga? You bet - but we didn't realize it until we abandoned our attempts to get to the top of the hill and headed down Broadway into downtown Los Angeles, in search of KYPA 1230.

It's a good thing Mrs. NERW was at the wheel when we caught site of the tower at left - the original KRKD tower, still proudly bearing those calls a good six decades after it last emitted a watt of RF! A quick grab for the camera while stopped at the red light allowed us to capture this bit of history to share with all of you.

We wonder what Angelenos make of this tower as they drive by; we doubt most of the crowd around us on Broadway had any idea what "KRKD" once meant.

Even more ancient radio history awaited us as we turned west on Washington Boulevard. Just a block or so from the freeway, we caught sight of what may be the last "hammock" antenna still in active use in the U.S. Once a common antenna design, these were quickly replaced by vertical radiators in the thirties and forties, and today there are but a handful of horizontal antennas to be seen anywhere in the country, most of them of the center-fed dipole variety.

This signal was KGFJ on 1200 and then 1230 for decades and decades, slowly raising power from 100 watts to 250 to 1000, but cutting back to 100 watts twice a week when KPPC in Pasadena was on the air on 1240. As we told you in recounting KPPC's history last week, that share-time lasted into the nineties, when John Douglas bought both stations, shut down Pasadena and changed KGFJ from its longtime urban format to "Personal Achievement Radio" as KYPA. It's still KYPA, but 1230 is now Korean - still transmitting from that hammock overlooking downtown.

From KYPA, we headed west again, taking in some of the famous studio sites of Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the Westside.

A few that we don't have pictures of are on the eastern edge of Hollywood: the Prospect Avenue ABC facility that's home to KABC-TV (Channel 7) and, a few blocks away, the public TV studios of KCET (Channel 28) on Sunset near Hillhurst.

We passed the studios of KWHY (Channel 22, now a Spanish-language duopoly partner of Telemundo's KVEA 52) and KTLA (Channel 5, the WB affiliate) on Sunset Boulevard (at 5800, right next door to the studio lot that was the longtime home of KTTV, channel 11) before pausing briefly at 6121 Sunset, which has been the home of CBS Radio in Hollywood for six decades.

"Columbia Square" was built as the West Coast headquarters of CBS and as the studios of KNX radio in the thirties. The postcard shown at right was dated 1948; what a thrill it must have been to eat in the "Radio Center Restaurant"!

Today, the courtyard in the center of the complex is fenced off and the restaurant is long gone, but Columbia Square remains an active CBS facility. It's still home to KNX, now doing all-news on 1070, as well as KCBS-FM, "Arrow 93.1," and it also houses the local news operation for KCBS-TV (Channel 2).

It's even retained most of its Art Deco charm, outliving its counterparts from that era up Vine Street. (NBC is long gone from Hollywood and Vine, and I don't think there's anything left of the studios ABC once maintained on Vine, save for old postcards on eBay.)

Today's CBS operations in Los Angeles extend far beyond Columbia Square, of course; in the fifties, CBS built the huge "Television City" studios out at Beverly and Fairfax to the west to accomodate the volume of television production demanded by its growing network schedule.

We'll get out there, but first we'll turn on Vine Street, heading north towards Yucca Street and the old supermarket building that's long been home to another famous Southern California signal.

KFWB (980) was the Warner Brothers station in the thirties and forties, before ending up in the hands of Crowell-Collier Broadcasting and embarking on a new era as one of the Southland's pioneering top-40 stations.

"Color Radio, Channel 98" was home to names like Chuck Blore and a young Casey Kasem, playing the hits for Los Angeles right up until 1965, when it was sold to Westinghouse and became the first U.S.-based all-news outlet in Los Angeles (we have to add the disclaimer because of Gordon McLendon's XETRA, which was doing news for Southern California from its transmitter site south of the border as early as 1961!)

Today, the music legacy lives on only in the big neon sign facing the parking lot a block from the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine (and in a handful of radio history Web sites), while KFWB lives on as one of two all-news stations in L.A.

Since the late nineties, it's been co-owned with erstwhile competitor KNX under the Viacom-CBS umbrella, and recent rumors suggest it could even be spun off, if needed, to account for Viacom's planned purchase of KCAL-TV (Channel 9), but for now KFWB is upholding the proud Westinghouse all-news tradition even as "Group W" itself becomes a relic of radio history.

Move down the Sunset Strip a few blocks and you come to the studios of L.A.'s country station, KZLA (93.9), the frequent target of format-change rumors but still hanging on with the format under new owner Emmis.

Backtrack a bit to La Brea Avenue and head south, past the old Warner studios (not to be confused with the huge Warner Brothers lot up in Burbank), and you come to the studio lot of KCOP (Channel 13), long a secondary player on the L.A. television scene.

KCOP was originally KMTR-TV, co-owned with KMTR (570). Both stations changed calls to KLAC before the TV was sold off to the Copley group and took on its current calls in the fifties.

Under Chris-Craft/United Television ownership, KCOP became the West Coast flagship of the new UPN network in the nineties; today, though, it's part of the first Los Angeles VHF TV duopoly, created by Fox's purchase of Chris-Craft/United last year. KCOP is already being managed by many of the same executives who oversee Fox outlet KTTV (Channel 11), and we wouldn't be one bit surprised to see its news operation and technical facilities get merged into KTTV's new digs on Bundy Drive sometime soon.

A few more blocks south on La Brea and we come to Melrose Avenue, where the Paramount Studios occupy a huge block that stretches north to Santa Monica Boulevard.

On the western edge of the lot sits a pink Art Deco building that was itself home to plenty of Hollywood history, of the broadcast variety.

5515 Melrose is, today, the home of KCAL-TV (Channel 9) - but KCAL-TV is the descendant of KHJ-TV, and 5515 Melrose was the home of KHJ radio and television during the glory days of "Boss Radio" in the sixties.

With the demise of the RKO broadcasting empire in the seventies, KHJ radio (and KRTH-FM) left Melrose for a new building at the AM transmitter site on Venice Boulevard. KHJ-TV was the last RKO station before being sold, in the eighties, to Disney, which changed the TV calls to KCAL-TV and tried a news-heavy approach. Disney's purchase of ABC meant Channel 9 had to be sold again, and that's how Young Broadcasting entered the picture, continuing to offer news in prime time to counter the entertainment programming on the other VHF stations.

Just a few weeks ago, Viacom announced it would buy KCAL to create a TV duopoly with KCBS-TV (and a huge group that includes radio stations KNX, KFWB, KTWV, KCBS-FM and KROQ!)

What happens next? Will 5515 Melrose give way to Columbia Square or CBS Television City as channel 9's new home? And will the UPN affiliation eventually move here from channel 13? That will be the next chapter in L.A.'s television history, we suspect...

For us, it's time to move south and west again - south to Beverly Boulevard and west to number 7800 to see (at least from the outside; there are no public tours) CBS Television City, built in the late fifties on the land that had been the L.A. Farmers' Market.

It's a huge compound, home to game shows like "The Price is Right" (surely you remember the "7800 West Beverly Boulevard" address from there, if nothing else), CBS entertainment productions, and the network's West Coast programming and promotions offices. (Most of those are located in windowless basement offices, so an in-house cable channel offers a view from a camera on the roof pointed north at the Hollywood sign!)

There's one more studio building worth mentioning in the general vicinity: KFI and KOST (103.5) occupy a building just off Wilshire Boulevard on Ardmore Avenue, back towards downtown.

But we're still heading west, with one more studio building to see before we leave town: the facility in West Los Angeles that became KTTV's home in 1996 when the Fox flagship station abandoned the Sunset Boulevard studios it had called home since 1951.

The big, shiny new building just north of the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) on-ramps on Bundy Drive is indeed impressive (especially when you consider that the Fox network operations are located elsewhere in Century City, so this building is all Channel 11); impressive, too, is the attitude of the guard who tries to tell us we're not allowed to take a picture of the building!

That might have held weight had we actually been on Fox property, but of course nobody can stop anyone from taking a picture from a public road, and so we give you this image of KTTV from across the street.

(We were standing in front of another Bundy Drive office building with broadcast connections; it's home to KSCI Channel 18, which offers the L.A. basin a daily diet of programming in Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese and other languages.)

And with that, we take our leave of Los Angeles for now. We hope to get back soon and see some of the things we missed (most notably Mount Wilson, but there are plenty of AM facilities that need documenting as well); in the meantime, we're off to Las Vegas for the NAB convention - so stay tuned to this space next week to see what the sticks of Sin City look like! See you then...