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May 22-29, 2003

A Sunday in Columbia, S.C.

We continue our recap of our March visit to the Carolinas this week with our first visit to the Palmetto State. (Well, nearly the first: the Georgia-Alabama-Tennessee tour in 2002 included a brief dinnertime swing through Spartanburg, Greenville and Anderson, but it was already dark and no towers were seen...)

In any case, when we left you last week, we were pulling out of Charlotte and heading south on I-77 towards a Saturday night in Columbia, S.C. Before the sun went down, we had a chance to pull off the highway near Rock Hill to see South Carolina ETV's WNSC-TV (Channel 30) and South Carolina Educational Radio Network's WNSC (88.9), which serve northern South Carolina from this tower just east of the highway and south of Rock Hill.

It's only about 15 miles from here to Charlotte, and the folks at SCETV and SCERN realized long ago that it didn't make sense to use these transmitters (which serve the Charlotte market just fine) to duplicate the full statewide program service, most of which was already being seen in Charlotte on UNC-TV and local WTVI (Channel 42) or being heard on WFAE (90.7).

So WNSC-TV does some breakaway programming from a studio right here at the base of the tower - and WNSC radio programs a format that's almost all jazz, offering Charlotte listeners something they can't get elsewhere on the public radio dial. (Other South Carolina listeners can hear the SCERN jazz service on a Webcast that the network offers.)

From Rock Hill, it's about 75 miles south to Columbia, and it was already dark by the time we pulled in at our hotel on the east side of town - so after dinner and the local newscasts, we called it a night and prepared for a full Sunday of tower-hunting to come.

The first stop on Sunday morning was northeast of town, up off Highway 12 near Elgin, north of Fort Jackson and most of the way to Camden. That's where Columbia's TV stations have landed - first WIS (Channel 10), and eventually everyone else as well over the years, all operating from tall towers (this is very flat country!)

Seen at left are two of the big ones: NBC affiliate WIS in the background, now operating WIS-DT 41 as well from its tower. When WIS moved out here in 1959, its 1526-foot tower was then the tallest structure east of the Mississippi. At right is ABC affiliate WOLO-TV (Channel 25), which shares its tower with Fox affiliate WACH (Channel 57/DTV 48) and Sumter-licensed UPN/WB affiliate WQHB (Channel 63). Nearby on Screaming Eagle Road, not far from the northern boundary of Fort Jackson, is CBS affiliate WLTX (Channel 19/DTV 17).

We made a brief stop west of Elgin to check out the three towers of WCEO (840), a relatively recent facility that runs 50 kW as a daytimer; the towers were hidden at some distance from the road and were nondescript enough that we didn't bother with a photo.

Moving back in towards Columbia itself, we stopped on Hard Scrabble Road, about nine miles north of downtown, to see the flagship stations of SCETV/SCERN.

WRLK (Channel 35/DTV 32) and WLTR (91.3) operate from this tower. Why do all the SCETV and SCERN stations have non-matching calls? We don't know...but we'd bet it had something to do with wealthy donors along the way. (We've since been informed that WRLK is named for R. Lynn Kalmbach, the network's original executive director; the original plan was to have all the calls be of the form WxTV, as seen at WNTV Greenville and WITV Charleston, but not enough of those calls were available...)

Not far from here, surrounded by an upscale housing development, another tall tower is home to WNOK (104.7), one of the most short-spaced stations in the country, a full class C signal that's only 90 miles or so from WSSS on 104.7 in Charlotte, also a class C! Good thing they have directional antennas...

From here, it's back around the east side of town to the area near Fort Jackson's main gate where we spent Saturday night - as we check out a few of the studios that we couldn't see in the dark the night before.

Inner City Broadcasting, best known in the Northeast for New York's WLIB and WBLS, owns a cluster of stations down here as well, and they're pretty far from the inner city, way out east off Garner's Ferry Road. When we were here in March, the cluster included market-leading urban station WWDM (101.3 Sumter, "The Big DM"), modern rock WARQ (93.5), classic rock WMFX (102.3 St. Andrews) and ESPN sports WOIC (1230); later in the spring, Inner City would add "beach oldies" WZMJ (93.1 Batesburg) and urban WHXT (103.9 Orangeburg) to the group.

Back out Garners Ferry Road towards the city, we pass a shopping center on the left - and on the right the studios of WLTX (Channel 19), a station with a long and convoluted history.

WLTX began life in the fifties as WNOK-TV, channel 67, TV sister of WNOK (1230) and later of WNOK-FM (104.7), operating from a tower on Cushman Road in the Dentsville area of town that's now home to WOMG (103.1).

In June 1961, WNOK-TV moved to channel 19, and in 1977 it changed calls to WLTX. The new tower up in Elgin went up in 1985, expanding channel 19's signal considerably. The building you see above was built in 1969 for WNOK radio and TV, and has clearly been renovated since!

(WLTX is owned by Gannett these days; we incorrectly gave it to the New York Times in the first version of this page!)

Garners Ferry Road, aka US 76, becomes DeVine Street and then Millwood Avenue as it heads into the city - and as it does, it passes a tower that's still home to WCOS (1400), Clear Channel's Fox Sports outlet.

The studios were here too, until a few years ago, for both WCOS(AM) and WCOS-FM, the big country station on 97.5. (There was a WCOS-TV, too, once upon a time...we'll see what became of it in a moment!)

And now we're in downtown Columbia, turning left on Gervais Street just after passing WCOS. Two TV stations have studios downtown: in an office building on Pickens Street are the studios of Fox affiliate WACH (Channel 57), and right at the corner of Gervais and Bull in the heart of downtown, filling an entire city block, is the handsome brick building that's home to WIS (Channel 10).

The WIS calls stand for "Wonderful Iodine State" (really!), and were first heard in 1930 on the facility that is now WVOC (560).

WIS-TV signed on from this building at 1111 Bull Street in November of 1953, the second TV station to take the air in Columbia (WNOK-TV was first), but the first and only one to do so on VHF.

Coupled with the prime NBC affiliation (WNOK had CBS, DuMont and ABC), WIS-TV became - and remains - the dominant TV presence in central South Carolina. How dominant? They don't even need to use a channel number in their IDs - just the calls!

In 1959, as noted above, WIS-TV moved its transmitter from the self-supporting tower here on Bull Street to the new stick up in Elgin, in an attempt to expand its service area to Florence and the rest of eastern South Carolina, which then had only WBTW (Channel 13) for TV service. WIS became, and remains, the NBC affiliate for that area - all the way east to Myrtle Beach.

WIS radio was sold off at the end of 1986, so WIS-TV became WIS(TV), for you nitpickers out there. For the rest of you, we'll head a few blocks east on Gervais to see one of two state capitals on this trip. The South Carolina statehouse, of course, was the site of that nasty dispute about the flying of the Confederate battle flag. It no longer waves above the rotunda - but now it's out by the street there. (And you numismatists will recall that the statehouse dome is a central design feature of the South Carolina state quarter...)

The main campus of the University of South Carolina, as well as the transmitter of WUSC (90.5), sits just a few blocks from the statehouse; a mile or so to the south sits the University's Brice Stadium, home to the USC Gamecocks - and in the shadow, literally, of the stadium is the administration building of SCETV and SCERN. Big as it is, the administration building is just part of the complex: across the street is the mammoth studio building for the statewide network!

If we had headed south along the Saluda River, we'd have reached the riverside site of WTGH (620 Cayce); flooding in the previous days had made that site inaccessible, though - and now we'll never see WTGH, since it's changed calls since then to WGCV.

Moving north along the river, then, we pass the little WOIC (1230) tower tucked in near downtown on the east side of the river, then cross to West Columbia and the four-tower riverside site of WISW (1320), which actually makes some historic sense - 1320 is the legacy holder of the WOIC calls, you see. (The current "WISW" calls are tied in, at least for marketing purposes, to WIS; 1320 simulcasts WIS' evening newscasts and calls itself "WIS Radio.") There's an old studio building, too, at this site on Comanche Trail.

On the other side of the river, a mile or so to the west beyond the I-20/I-26 interchange, are the four towers of WVOC (560). You don't see them here because the sun was in the wrong place for a closeup and the towers are nearly impossible to see from any distance because of the very heavy vegetation along the river! This area is also floodprone, perhaps one reason why WVOC no longer uses the spacious and fairly new building - which looks to have been built around the time WIS became WVOC in the mid-eighties - for studios. (Clear Channel's studios are now in a nearby office park.)

One more photo will finish Columbia for us this Sunday, as we head west on I-26 to Newberry, Union and Spartanburg: WOLO (Channel 25) has its studio facility on Shakespeare Road, north of town in that Dentsville area that's also home to the old WNOK-TV tower. (On the way, we also pass the site of WQXL 1470, but for some reason don't stop for a picture...)

WOLO, originally known as WCCA-TV, signed on in 1961, using the allocation that had originally belonged to WCOS-TV. Perpetually number three in the market, WOLO more or less gave up a year ago, when owner Bahakel Communications moved the production of the nightly newscasts (only two a day, anyway, and none on weekends) 90 miles north to sister station WCCB in Charlotte.

Had we seen WOLO's newscasts (which we didn't, since we were passing through on a weekend), we'd have been watching anchors in Charlotte introducing stories from reporters in what now must be a fairly empty building here in Columbia. Look how deserted the parking lot is...since master control is also in Charlotte, there's almost certainly nobody home here at WOLO this Sunday midday!

And on that note, we'll head out of town and up to a small-town station that's most definitely occupied on a weekend. Tune in next week to see the mighty WKDK in Newberry and much more!

Want to see more neat sticks all year round? Nashville's WSM (at right) 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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