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January 3-9, 2003

Cincinnati's WSAI 1530, Covington, Kentucky

We always enjoy the opportunity, here at Site of the Week, to present a site that ties in with the week's events, especially when there's a big signal involved. So when we heard that Cincinnati's WSAI (1530) was making the flip from standards to oldies on Friday afternoon, the week's choice became obvious.

If you live anywhere in the east or midwest, you've certainly heard this big 50 kilowatt signal near the top end of the dial. If you've been DXing for more than a few years, you probably still think of it by its original calls: WCKY.

Those calls come from "Covington, KentuckY," the community across the river from Cincinnati that's long been home to this big signal. WCKY signed on back in 1929, and by the thirties had achieved high power (10 kilowatts, then) and a good dial position (1490, just below the very top end of the dial) by making the case that Kentucky needed more high-power allocations - never mind that the station's market, even then, was across the Ohio River!

The NARBA agreement in 1941 moved WCKY up the dial to 1530, where it shared the clear channel with just one other major station, KFBK in Sacramento. To this day, 1530 doesn't flip to its night pattern until Sacramento sunset.

In the fifties and sixties, WCKY was a major full-service station in Cincinnati - and as a result of that big signal, for much of the midwest as well - providing hefty competion for the other big signal in town, WLW on 700. Later at night, when that huge 1530 signal saturated the ether for a thousand miles, WCKY leased out its time to preachers and baby-chick salesmen, a practice that continues right up to the present day on 1530, in fact.

The 50 kW signal was modified somewhat in the late seventies, when a fourth tower was added to the array, redirecting more of the night signal to the north and east and a little less to the south. By day (and for a few hours after sunset), WSAI is non-directional, using the big Blaw-Knox square tower just east of the transmitter building; at night; that's actually the only original part of the array, since the other two original towers were replaced during the night pattern change. (It's almost impossible to see in the photo, but the Blaw-Knox tower now sports a second set of guys near the top, added after a tornado damaged the tower in 1986.)

In 1994, the growing Jacor group (which already owned WLW and another heritage Cincinnati station, the former WKRC on 550, then operating as a sister to WLW and using the calls WLWA) bought the intellectual property of WCKY, which was by then doing talk, and moved those historic calls down the dial to 550.

1530 became WSAI, another legendary Cincinnati callsign. The original WSAI was itself a sister station to WLW in the years before World War II, serving the local Cincinnati audience while WLW programmed to the entire Midwest. By the nineties, though, the WSAI calls had disappeared from their longtime home at AM 1360 and FM 94.1, where the station was once the city's big top-40 voice, and were available for reuse at the top of the dial. In AM stereo, no less, the new WSAI became the adult standards voice of Cincinnati, with veteran broadcasters Bob Braun and later Nick Clooney (George's dad and Rosemary's brother) as morning host. The WCKY calls eventually left 550 when Jacor's successor, Clear Channel, restored the old WKRC calls there; they now reside - very quietly - on 1360, which is known the rest of the hour as sports station "Homer 1360."

The old calls stayed in place on the transmitter building, though, on a bluff above the Ohio River west of Covington, not far from the airport. (You can read much more about this site at Jim Hawkins' excellent transmitter pages, including some views inside the building.) And as of today, WSAI now cranks out many of the same tunes from this building that the old WSAI on 1360 once did.

Next week, we'll look at the other AMs of the Queen City...stay tuned!

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