May 15-22, 2002


Chattanooga: No Choo-Choo, Just Towers and Studios

As we criss-cross the country visiting radio stations and towers, there are some places we visit with big expectations. Pulling into Yankton, South Dakota last summer, we knew we were going to see the tallest AM tower in America. And we expected to see some unusual AM facilities in San Diego last August.

But Chattanooga, Tennessee...well, it was a convenient stop for the night between Nashville and Atlanta during our big mid-South trip this past February and March. A few AM stations, a bunch of FM rimshotters - not much to see, right?

Surprise! What we found in Chattanooga was a vibrant, interesting radio market, a neat variety of tower sites, and a small city that appears to be growing and healthy, surrounded by some awfully pretty scenery.

All that, and we saw most of the town in just a few hours one Thursday morning in late February...

We pulled in at night, which left us time to do little more than grab some dinner at the Waffle House (when down south...) and watch the local TV newscasts, which weren't half bad for a market this size.

The sun was out the next morning, and a beautiful blue sky greeted us as we headed down Broad Street out of downtown to begin our tour. Four stations are housed in the brick building at number 2615: adult standards WDOD (1310, live and local in morning drive); sports WDEF (1370); AC WDEF-FM (92.3) and AAA WDOD-FM (96.5). (They're all locally owned, even!) Just down the street at number 3300 is the very old, very attractive studio building of WDEF-TV (Channel 12), the CBS affiliate that's no longer related to its former radio sisters.

From here, we headed west, up the old road that snakes over Lookout Mountain, overlooking the big bend in the Tennessee River. The mountain itself has no radio or TV (save for one translator), but it does preserve an earlier, more innocent era in tourism history: you can still see the old motels and tourist attractions (See Rock City!) on US 11 as you head west.

Licensed to "Lookout Mountain," the small community just northwest of the mountain itself, is the station seen at left, WFLI (1070). This religious station cranks out 50 kilowatts by day with three towers, then switches to four towers at night for 2500-watt operation, yielding a site that's got plenty of steel to be seen. (If memory serves, none of the day and night towers are in common, so what you see here is really two arrays on the same piece of land!)

Today, there's also a WFLI-TV, the WB affiliate on channel 53 licensed to nearby Cleveland, Tennessee.

From Lookout, we headed back into Chattanooga, then north on the US 27 freeway to old 27, which winds its way uphill to the north end of the Signal Mountain tower farm, where most of Chattanooga's TV and FM originates.

A cluster of towers off Sawyer Road is home to Fox affiliate WDSI (Channel 61, still living down the embarrassment a few years ago when it was caught offering favorable news coverage to its advertisers, for a price!), PBS outlet WTCI (Channel 45), public radio WUTC (88.1) and country giant WUSY (100.7).

Follow Sawyer down to US 127 and head south, and you come to the original Signal Mountain cluster. East of the highway is the relatively short tower of WRCB (Channel 3, the NBC affiliate), with the big Channel 3 antenna up top.

Just across the street is another cluster of steel, seen in the photo at right, above. From right to left, we see: WTVC (Channel 9, the ABC affiliate), with two Citadel FM stations: classic rock WSKZ (106.5) and oldies WOGT (107.9 East Ridge); several non-broadcast sticks; and at right, WDOD-FM (96.5).

Keep heading south on 127 for another half-mile or so, and you see the tallest of the Signal Mountain sticks, WDEF-TV (Channel 12), which still has former sister station WDEF-FM (92.3) as a tenant.

This stick rises from what's become a very expensive neighborhood of big homes overlooking Chattanooga (this is the east side of the Signal Mountain ridge, you see, with a sharp drop-off creating a dramatic vista of the river valley below), and WDEF has done a nice job of concealing its transmitter building behind a spiffy metal fence with big brick posts, in keeping with the neighborhood aesthetic.

From here, we headed south on 127 back into the valley, in search of three Chattanooga AM stations that transmit from the flats enclosed by the big bend in the Tennessee River, just across the river from downtown.

The easiest of the three to locate, by far, is the site shown at right: 821 Pineville Road, home of WGOW (1150) and its Citadel brethren. WGOW is Chattanooga's news-talk voice, simulcasting its morning show on WGOW-FM (102.3 Soddy-Daisy), which then splits off with a separate talk lineup for much of the rest of the day. WGOW(AM) runs 5 kilowatts non-directional by day from one of these three towers, switching to 1 kilowatt from all three after dark.

The studio building is also home to WOGT and WSKZ, as noted above. (WGOW-FM transmits from a tower just east of the 27 freeway, on a slope of Signal Mountain.)

Keep going south on Pineville Road and it becomes a narrow dead-end route into the Moccasin Bend Golf Course, which is where we were able to get a somewhat distant view of the four towers of WDEF, which uses just one stick by day for its non-directional 5 kilowatts, then switches to all four at dark, remaining at 5 kW with a teardrop signal aimed southeast.

WDEF's sister, WDOD, is another 5 kilowatt DA-N operation, using three towers (a tall daytime stick in the middle and the additional two nighttime sticks surrounding it) just north of WGOW.

The WDOD sticks are easy to see, but not very easy to get to; we ended up in a maze of dead-end streets in a very industrial neighborhood hemmed in by railroad tracks, emerging with a somewhat obstructed view of the towers (and some puzzled looks by the various plant guards who saw us driving around and clambering up the sides of railroad embankments!)

There's one more broadcast facility in the neighborhood before we cross over the river and into downtown again: the studios of New York Times-owned WRCB (Channel 3) overlook the US 27 freeway from a little one-way street called Whitehall Road. This building is easier seen from the freeway than from ground level, but we grabbed a shot of one end of it, in any event.

Downtown Chattanooga has little to offer these days, where broadcasting is concerned; just east of US 27 on 6th Street is the former home of WTVC (Channel 9), in what looks like a sixties-era shopping center that's now home to an HMO's offices and some college classrooms.

Passing the actual "Chattanooga Choo Choo," which is now a hotel (!), we turned east on Main Street, passing the WDSI studios behind a big brick wall at number 1101 and heading into some of Chattanooga's less well-off neighborhoods.

On East Third Street, we pause briefly at the little self-supporting tower of religious WLMR (1450), then head north again a few blocks to our final Chattanooga directional: WNOO (1260), with two towers next to the little studio building of the black gospel station, at 1108 Hendricks Street.

But wait - on closer inspection, we see that WNOO is actually non-directional, running 5 kilowatts by day and a whopping 25 watts at night from just the one tower next to the studio building. So what's that other tower doing there? It's another station - religious WJOC (1490), running a kilowatt day and night from its tower just east of the WNOO stick!

Two more stops complete our day in Chattanooga, and they're both in the fast-growing suburban area along I-75 east of town.

In a colonial-style building where Old Lee Highway crosses I-75, we saw Clear Channel's Chattanooga cluster, which includes urban "Love 97-3 and 99-3," WLOV-FM (97.3 South Pittsburg TN, with translator W257AZ atop Lookout Mountain); "Kiss 98.1," WKXJ Signal Mountain; country WUSY (100.7 Cleveland TN); oldies "Magic" WSGC-FM (101.9 Ringgold GA); "Rock 105" WRXR (105.5 Rossville GA) and sports WUUS (980 Rossville GA).

Yes, you read that right - an entire cluster with not a single station actually licensed to Chattanooga!

And where's WTVC now, since its old Sixth Street facility is empty? Up on a hill overlooking I-75, thanks, in a brand-new facility that opened just a few years ago to house the market-dominant Freedom Communications ABC affiliate.

From here, we headed out of Chattanooga, bound for a visit to Monitoring Times in Brasstown, N.C., dinner in Spartanburg, S.C. and a hotel much later that night in Atlanta. You'll see plenty of pictures and stories from our weekend in Atlanta over the next few weeks here on Tower Site of the Week - and then we'll begin showing off our pictures from our most recent trip, to England, Wales and France!

In the meantime, we left Chattanooga without managing to grab legal IDs from several AM stations; if there's anyone in Chattanooga who could help us out with a bit of taping on some of the smaller AM signals (820, 910, 980, 1070, 1240 and 1490 to be exact), drop us a line and let us know; we'd be grateful!