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November 7-14, 2002

"Tower Site" Does Dallas, part II

When we left you last week, we were poking around the old WFAA-TV transmitter building at Cedar Hill in the congenial company of transmitter engineer Don Guemmer and our Dallas traveling companions, WFAA-TV audio production whiz Wally Wawro, the National Radio Club's John Callarman and the Boston Radio Archives' Garrett Wollman (who has a whole bunch of pictures of his own, too...)

And before we move on to the new WFAA-KDFW site just to the south of the old tower, we should point out a few more goodies in the old building.

After the Navy jet crashed into the old WFAA/KDFW/KXAS tower here in 1989, forcing the top 500 feet of the 1500-foot tower to be removed, the old tower remained in use, with new auxiliary antennas for channels 4 and 8 installed up top and a whole batch of auxiliary FM transmitters and antennas taking up residence as well. What we're seeing in the picture at left is three auxiliary transmitters for Infinity's FMs: KRBV (100.3), KOAI (107.5) and KYNG (105.3), not necessarily in that order.

The old tower is also home to auxiliary transmitters for KKDA-FM (104.5) and KDMX (102.9).

But enough about the past; after that crash, the Hill Tower consortium of WFAA and KDFW decided to build a new, taller candelabra to the south of the old one. KXAS (Channel 5), the NBC affiliate that had been a latecomer to the original candelabra (which was the very first candelabra tower ever), decided to go its own way, leasing land at the eastern edge of the Hill Tower property for a new tower of its own. Former KXAS sister station KSCS (96.3, the old WBAP-FM) moved there as well, and was joined later on by the 97.9 that was WFAA-FM years ago, later to be known as KZEW, KKWM, KLRX, KKRW and now KBFB.

Between the new channel 5 tower and the old Hill Tower tower, three more tall towers lined up along Belt Line Road. You can see them in the image at the top of the page; the leftmost tall tower (and the most westerly) is today home to KNON (89.3), KVTT (91.7), KPXD-DT (42) and the Clear Channel auxiliary transmitters; next in line is a candelabra tower that hosts KZPS (92.5), KLNO (94.1), KLTY (94.9), WRR (101.1), KKDA-FM (104.5), KHKS (106.1), KDTN (2, a very late addition to the dial as a Denton-licensed second PBS service owned by KERA-TV/FM that debuted only in the late eighties), KTXA (21), KDFI (27), KDTX (58) and CPs for KUVN-DT (24, a move-in from Garland, where Univision's analog KUVN operates on channel 23), KDTX-DT (45) and KTAQ-DT (46, a move-in from Greenville, where KTAQ-TV is on channel 47); the candelabra to the right of that holds KEGL (97.1), KLUV (98.7), KVIL (103.7), KFWD (52), KPXD (68) and CPs for KLTY (94.9), KKDA-FM (104.5) and KFWD-DT (51); and after that comes channel 5's tower, shared with KSCS (96.3) and KBFB (97.9).

Off in the distance towards the right edge of the frame is an FM tower that's home to KRBV (100.3), KYNG (105.3) and KOAI (107.5) with a CP for KRBV (100.3), and at the far edge of the frame, looming over the old KDFW building, is the KXTX (39), KXTX-DT (40) and KXAS-DT (41) tower, itself the victim of a collapse in 1996, when a gust of wind apparently caught the gin pole being used for tower work and blew it into several guy wires, killing three employees of Doty-Moore Tower Services. (KRBV, KYNG and KOAI were also on the KXTX tower then.)

Back to KDFW and WFAA, though: they ended up at the western edge of the Cedar Hill tower cluster, on the mightily tall tower seen at left. On the candelabra up top, we find WFAA-TV at left (east), KDFW in the center (north) and KDFW-DT (35) atop WFAA-DT (9) at right (west).

The two stations share a mirror-image building at the base; that's WFAA's space with the open garage doors at left, KDFW's with the closed doors at right (and Wally walking past them while Don made what proved to be a vain attempt to get us inside the KDFW side...)

The space inside the building, at least on the WFAA side, is simple and well laid-out: a long room for processing and transmitter control racks, a smaller workroom off the side, and a very large space designed to hold two TV transmitters. (The building dates to the earliest days of designing for DTV, when it wasn't clear just how large a DTV transmitter would be. As it turned out, the space provided was far more than adequate, as you can see above.)

A few more interesting things about this site, while we're here: yes, that's an ice bridge leading out to the tower from the transmitter buildings. There really is ice, even in North Texas, in enough quantity to make some impressive dents in the roof, which is made up of concrete blocks over a foam substrate that's supposed to absorb the force when the ice cracks the concrete (which is then replaced in the spring.)

WFAA-DT was one of the very first DTV stations on the air, so long ago that it's already celebrating its fifth birthday, and when it made its debut on channel 9 it wreaked some havoc in area hospitals, which were using the channel 9 bandwidth (186-192 MHz) for medical telemetry and had to retune when a new local signal popped up unannounced.

While WFAA-DT has viewers as far south as Waco and north to the Oklahoma line (and in several apartment complexes in the Dallas area that use the DTV signals, downconverted to NTSC, to feed their master antenna systems), it's been crunched of late by KCEN-DT Temple, also on channel 9 and barely 100 miles away. How did KCEN get assigned to channel 9 so close to WFAA? We don't know - but it seems like another good reason to hope for a timely transition to digital-only TV and eliminate some of the signal crowding (WFAA-DT would likely end up back on channel 8 when that happens...)

A few more towers wrap up our visit to Cedar Hill: south of the WFAA/KDFW tower is yet another tall stick that's home to KPLX (99.5), KDGE (102.1), KDMX (102.9) and an auxiliary for KVIL (103.7).

Heading to the next site on our agenda, we stop on the eastern edge of the Hill Tower property to get a nice group shot of the towers (yes, you can expect it to grace the 2004 Tower Site Calendar in a year's time!)

Shown here, from left to right (south to north, roughly): the KPLX/KDGE/KDMX tower, the KRBV/KYNG/KOAI tower (foreground), WFAA/KDFW (rear), KXTX/KXAS-DT, the old Hill Tower Tower (rear), KXAS/KSCS/KBFB, KNON/KVTT (barely visible far to rear and just to the right of KXAS), KDTN/KTXA/KDFI/etc. (painted) and KFWD/KPXD/KEGL/KLUV/KVIL.

Away from the Hill Tower property, a mile or so to the east on the US 67 frontage road, a separate site is home to KTVT (Channel 11), the former independent (and long-ago KFJZ-TV) that became a CBS affiliate (and eventually an O&O) when KDFW went to Fox in 1995. Public broadcaster KERA-TV (13) and KERA-FM (90.1) shares the stick - and you've got to love that groovy transmitter building!

We're not showing the top of this tower because it was in something of a state of disarray; new antennas are going up here for KERA-DT (14) and KTVT-DT (19), and everyone's using low-power auxiliary antennas at the moment while the work goes on.

Still another cluster of towers sits about two miles to the south off US 67; it's home to Telefutura's KSTR (49) and KSTR-DT (48), religious KLDT (55) and KLDT-DT (54) and several LPTVs; it will also eventually be home to KDTN-DT (43), which apparently still won't fit on the rebuilt KTVT tower.

And with that, we say our farewells to Cedar Hill and head back up north, where our next appointment is at a high school radio station, KEOM (88.5) in Mesquite, just east of Dallas.

KEOM, licensed to the Mesquite Independent School District, is most decidedly not your average high school station. If the studio setup doesn't prove it, the format of 70s pop just might. (It was chosen, by the way, to attract the parents of current high school students. Feel old yet?)

And if none of that proves it to you, how about this: KEOM operates with 61,000 watts of effective radiated power, blanketing Dallas and vicinity from the antenna at the top of that very funky tower behind one of Mesquite's several high school football stadiums. It's a "Star Tower," made by the same folks who gave Cincinnati its channel 64 tower and Washington its channel 50 tower, and it was paid for by wireless companies eager to give the city of Mesquite and the Mesquite schools transmitter space in exchange for the land to build this stick for their own uses.

By the time we're done with KEOM, it's well past three, and we're still going, notching a few more AM sites on Dallas' east side, including the single stick of KGGR (1040), an unexciting tower indeed, even if it is right around the corner from the JAM jingle factory.

A few miles to the southeast, lined up north of Bruton Road just west of Loop 12, are the three towers of religious KSKY (660), which changed its city of license from Dallas to Balch Springs when it added night power a few years back.

Enjoy it while it lasts; as we'll see in the final installment of this series, KSKY will double its power from the current 10 kW to 20 kW when it begins using a new site up north of town soon - and this site will be history.

Just around the corner, down off Lake June Road near US 175, the four towers of KRVA (1600 McKinney) are almost impossible to see, unpainted and unlit and hiding deep in the trees behind a locked gate.

But there's still more for us to see, so we head out US 80 to Terrell, a pleasant little town 20 miles or so southeast of Dallas, where little KPYK (1570) plays standards as "the Pick of the Dial." Wally has never seen its studios, so a few minutes after five we pull up at the strip mall on the west side of town, where the Radio Shack store is co-owned with KPYK.

A quick inquiry there tells us that the station is also in the strip mall, and the four of us are soon inside the little mom-and-pop operation. As Callarman puts it, "pop" isn't home, so a surprised "mom" lets us take a few pictures before stepping back into the studio to do a live top-hour ID!

KPYK's lone tower is just across the street next to the mall, which makes for one of the shortest microwave STL hops we've ever seen.

And with that, we're off to one of the most legendary sites in all of American tower hunting.

In a land where six towers is a big site and eight towers is a huge one, twelve towers is, well, Texas-sized - especially when they're used only at night, as the site out in Rockwall, Texas is.

Add to that the history of Gordon McLendon, one of the inventors of top 40 radio, and his KLIF (1190), which built this site more than thirty years ago, and you've got something that every tower hunter should see once in a lifetime.

This site, designed to put a usable 1190 signal over Dallas while protecting the dominant stations in Fort Wayne to the northeast, Portland to the northwest and Guadalajara to the south, needs all twelve of those towers to do it, cranking out an amazing 2642 millivolts of signal at 1 km in its massive broadside lobe to the west while generating just 26 millivolts in the nulls - all from a 5000-watt signal! How narrow is the main lobe? It was once said that the KLIF night signal shot down the middle of Commerce Street (a main Dallas artery) without ever touching the curb on either side!

(The site went on the air in 1970, replacing KLIF's original 1000-watt night site on Scyene Road, not far from KSKY; while it did improve the signal in Dallas and brought KLIF to Fort Worth after dark, it missed the fast-growing suburbs north of Dallas, where the 1190 signal is hard to hear at night even now.)

Without an airplane, it's almost impossible to get a picture that does this site justice. These towers are widely spaced, stretching out - and out - and out along the housing developments that have just recently sprung up to the north. The only way to get all 12 in frame is to pull down the access road from FM 549 (not a radio station, a "Farm-to-Market" highway!) and up to the gate - and even then, the towers at the far end all but vanish from view!

(The story that a plane once mistook the long rows of red lights for a runway and tried to land down the middle of the array is believed to be apocryphal; it is true, however, that the poor engineer on duty was required, back in the old days, to take readings at the base of each of the 12 towers, which required a Jeep to traverse the half-mile-long array!)

As legendary as KLIF was, this site and the 1190 frequency in general fell on some hard times after the McLendon era. Fairchild Industries bought KLIF from McLendon in 1972, and the station kept going with an AC format (McLendon, meanwhile, kept his FM outlet, KNUS 98.7, today known as KLUV) but quickly succumbed to the overall trend that was moving music listening to FM.

Susquehanna bought KLIF in 1980 and flipped the station to country a year later, then to talk in 1986. And in 1990, Susquehanna bought the former WFAA radio at 570 and moved the KLIF calls and talk format to that superior signal.

1190 briefly became KLAF, a non-commercial simulcast of KLIF, then switched to CNN news as KYII, then KUII under new owner Greystone Broadcasting. Then came Salem, which took 1190 back to talk as KGBS, and then to talk and religion as KDFX. And then Salem traded 1190 to Infinity (for what's now KLTY 94.9), which relaunched 1190 yet again as "Talk 1190," KOOO. In 1998, 1190 regained a piece of its heritage when it was rejoined with the old KLIF-FM/KNUS 98.7, by then doing oldies as KLUV. 1190 became oldies KLUV(AM), first with a simulcast of the FM (whose morning man is veteran KLIF'er Ron Chapman) and then with separate programming of 50s and early 60s oldies. And then Infinity had to divest a station to stay within the market caps, so 1190 was spun again to Radio One, which ran it for a few months as oldies KJOI. Radio One then sold it to Clear Channel in 2001, which flipped 1190 to Fox Sports as KTRA ("Xtra Sports") and changed calls yet again to the current KFXR ("Fox Sports 1190") about a year ago.

Is it any wonder most people in Dallas (even those who actually go back more than a few years in the Metroplex) have forgotten about the Mighty 1190?

Next week, we'll see another huge Dallas signal and head out to Fort Worth...see you then!

Special thanks to WFAA transmitter engineer Don Guemmer, Wally Wawro, John Callarman, Chris Huff of KSCS, Wayne Kube at Belo corporate, and KRLD's Tyler Cox! Also be sure to check out Mike Shannon's excellent Dallas radio history pages at, and Steve Eberhart's amazingly comprehensive History of KLIF site...

Like our recent WTIC picture? It's one of the more than a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar, coming this fall from Tower Site of the Week and

If you liked last year's edition, you'll love this one: higher-quality images (in addition to Avon Mountain, this year's edition includes Providence's WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma City; the legendary WSM, Nashville; Brookmans Park, England; WPAT, Paterson; Four Times Square, New York; WIBC in Indianapolis; WWVA in Wheeling, W.V.; WGN Chicago and more), more dates in radio history, a convenient hole for hanging - and we'll even make sure all the dates fall on the right days!

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