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April 3-17, 2003

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

In the last two installments of Site of the Week, we've been recapping an August 2001 visit to the many interesting sites of San Diego, California. But San Diego is just one half of a fascinating two-nation market; every day, millions of San Diegans tune in to signals that emanate from across the border in Mexico, often without even realizing it. (Listen to "Xtra Sports Radio 690" or "91X" or "Z90," and the only clue that it's a Mexican station is the softly-spoken legal ID in Spanish that's buried around the top of the hour - or, for the especially astute listener, the Mexican national anthem at midnight and the Sunday-night simulcast of the "Hora Nacional" broadcast from Mexico City.)

This sort of cross-border broadcasting has a long and colorful history, stretching back to Dr. Brinkley's goat-gland broadcasts over station XER from Ciudad Acuna, across the border from south Texas, in the thirties. In the Tijuana area, the first "border blaster" was XEBC, broadcasting from the Agua Calienta Spa just south of the border in the early thirties.

In 1937, XEBC (and another lower-powered border station, XEMO) were joined by XERB at Rosarito Beach, with a 50,000 watt signal on 1090 that sailed nicely up the Pacific coast to take in the entire LA basin, day and night - the perfect home a few decades later for Wolfman Jack's howling late-night broadcasts, taped in a studio in Hollywood and ferried across the border to the 1090 transmitter site on the Mexican coast, where the "Mighty X" delivered them to a waiting audience all over southern California.

Down the dial at 690, the ever-innovating Gordon McLendon took over a station called XEAK in 1961, flipping it to the first all-news format ever heard on English-language radio (the format was already well established in Havana, of all places, albeit in Spanish!) as "XETRA," "Extra Radio 690." With a team of announcers reading wire-service stories in a half-hour cycle (gradually expanded from first 7 minutes, then 15 minutes, once McLendon realized how long the LA commute really was), XETRA was a preview of the all-news format that would become common on the U.S. side of the border a few years later - and to its listeners, it was a U.S. based station, "in the air all over southern California at 690 on the dial" from 1961 until 1966, when a dispute with his Mexican partners led McLendon to lose control of the station.

XERB eventually became XEPRS, "Radio Express," still serving a cross-border audience but now in Spanish (it just flipped back to English as all-sports "Mighty 1090" in February 2003); XETRA went through a variety of formats, including oldies with Wolfman Jack back at the mike, before landing on sports as well a few years back - but the cross-border fun continues on FM, where XETRA-FM (91.1), aka "91X," has been rocking San Diego for a generation, joined by newer stations like "Z90" (XHITZ 90.3), "Magic 92.5" (XHRM 92.5) and "Bob" (XHCR 99.3).

Tijuana even provides San Diego with its Fox network service, thanks to XETV (Channel 6), which was once the ABC affiliate for both sides of the border!

At the top of the page, we see the home to most of the big Tijuana FM and TV stations: Mount San Antonio, the rise of land south of downtown Tijuana that's easily visible from the border crossing (though not so easy to actually get to - the roads are steep and not well paved!)

In the photomontage shown here, my back was towards the tall self-supporting tower of XHAS (Channel 33), the Telemundo affiliate that serves both San Diego and Tijuana. At the right side of the picture is the studio and tower of XEWT (Channel 12), Tijuana's premiere Spanish-language station, on the air now for well over 40 years. XETV is up here as well (though its studios are in San Diego's Kearney Mesa area), and I believe most of the big cross-border FMs are here, too. The self-supporting tower at the left of the frame is (I think!) the tower for TV Azteca's Tijuana relay stations, XHTIT (Channel 21) and XHJK (Channel 27); XEWT's tower is also home to XHUAA (Channel 57), a relay of Mexico City's XEW-TV (Channel 2). Only XETV, XEWT and XHAS enjoy any significant cable carriage north of the border, though the 21, 27 and 57 signals are visible off-air in much of San Diego.

That's the three-tower XEPRS site shown above at left, along toll highway 2 south of Tijuana and north of Rosarito. It's very close to the towers of XEKAM (950), a Spanish-language talk station that targets listeners on both sides of the border, as well as to the former site of XEPRS. I didn't see the current XEPRS on this trip; it's now south of Rosarito with a directional 77,500-watt signal aimed north at San Diego and Los Angeles.

Tijuana has a vibrant radio scene of its own, too, with many smaller stations devoting themselves completely to the Mexican side of the market. At left and above is the site of XEC (1310), "Radio Enciso" (named for the family that owns it; calls are given during a top-hour legal ID that generally also includes the station's power but usually not used during the rest of the broadcast hour), one of the oldest of the local stations, broadcasting from that nice little tower right in the heart of downtown Tijuana (and the studios next door). Too bad the sun was in just the wrong direction that afternoon; I guess I'll have to return some morning someday to get some better pictures!

Like XEC, most of the stations in town are nondirectional, often broadcasting from unimpressive towers in crowded residential areas. At left is XEXX (1420), one of the better local signals; it was doing talk as "Doble X" back in 2001 but has more recently hooked up with one of the Spanish religious networks from north of the border. XEXX was also at one time the Spanish flagship for L.A. Dodgers baseball!

Keep heading east towards the Otay Mesa border crossing, as we did at the end of this little day trip into Mexico, and you'll come to a Gigante supermarket, one of the biggest chains in Mexico - but this one is a little unusual. Up there on the roof is a fairly tall, and fairly new, tower! It's home to the station that was called XEJAZZ when we visited, part of Saul Levine's little network that once included the 540 in Costa Mesa CA (which actually transmitted from way out in the desert beyond San Bernardino, and has since been silenced to improve the Tijuana signal), the 1260 in Beverly Hills and classical KMZT (105.1) Los Angeles. Today, this 540 is XESURF, doing standards as "K-Surf," and the signal gets out surprisingly well from that stick.

Up on two nearby hills are two more non-directional towers: one is home to XEMO (860), still playing that regional Mexican music after all these years; the other to XEUT (1630), the first X-band station in Mexico, broadcasting from the local university on a limited schedule, with some very diverse music indeed.

A few other single-tower sites scattered around town are home to XEMMM (800), now the ESPN Radio affiliate for San Diego; XEAZ (1270), doing talk from a site practically across the street from the U.S. border fence on the west side of town; XERCN (1470), now the Radio Unica affiliate and XEBG (1550), another talker.

And that's what we saw in a few hours in Mexico - just enough to whet the appetite for a return trip, I'd say!

(We'll be back in two weeks with our next installment; in the meantime, it's off to southern California and Las Vegas for this year's NAB convention!)

Want to see more neat sticks all year round? Nashville's WSM (at left) is one of the more than a dozen Tower Site images featured in the 2003 Tower Site Calendar, still available 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 WSM, this year's edition includes Providence's WHJJ; Mount Mansfield, Vermont; Buffalo's WBEN; KOMA in Oklahoma City; WTIC, Hartford; 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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