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June 5-12, 2003

Spartanburg and Greenville, S.C.

When we left you last week in our recap of our March visit to the Carolinas, we were spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon exploring the small-town radio of Newberry and Union, South Carolina, about halfway between Columbia and Greenville.

It was a fun afternoon, but there were more towers calling our we kept going from Newberry into Spartanburg, where the radio dial has been doing some spinning these last few years.

It used to be that the low end of the AM dial in Spartanburg was home to WORD (910) and WSPA (950), competitors with a long history. WSPA was first in town, in 1930; WORD came along a decade later, and for years that was pretty much that.

WSPA's owner, Walter Brown, ended up with a TV license in the mid-fifties, putting WSPA-TV (Channel 7) on the air as the region's CBS affiliate, using a two-bay batwing antenna atop one of the AM 950 towers on Broadcast Road, northwest of downtown Spartanburg near Business I-85. (Brown not only owned the land but built his house right there!)

WSPA also had the heritage FM signal in town; WSPA-FM signed on in 1946, soon moved to 98.9 and stayed there ever since.

The ownership, however, didn't; in 1998, Brown's Spartan Radiocasting Company sold its stations, with WSPA radio going to Sinclair and then to Entercom when Sinclair exited the radio business a year later.

And as it happened, Sinclair already owned WORD - so after nearly sixty years as competitors, WSPA and WORD became sisters. In January 2002, Entercom completed the process with a move that would have been unthinkable a decade earlier: WORD's higher-rated program lineup moved to the superior 950 signal, sending WSPA and its weaker talk lineup down the dial to 910!

At least the building at the 950 site still has the old call letters on it; 910's far less attractive site on Belcher Road (which looks relatively new) wasn't very easy to get close to, so we have no idea what, if anything, its building might say.

WSPA-TV is owned by Media General these days and operates from a newish concrete building on International Drive, the I-26 frontage road; Media General also operates UPN affiliate WASV (Channel 62, licensed to Asheville NC) from here, and does a 10 PM WSPA-produced newscast on WASV that we somehow completely forgot to tape...

There are two other AM stations in Spartanburg: WKDY (1400) does classic country from its studio-transmitter site on Garner Road, northeast of downtown; it traces its heritage back to WTHE in 1953 and, more recently, standards WMMZ. Just as the sun was setting (and the station was signing off), we passed through downtown Spartanburg and out the west side to see WASC (1530), the newest of the AM stations in town, which does R&B oldies. (Not only don't we have a picture, we didn't even get a clean legal ID from this one...)

We spent that Sunday night in Greer, halfway between Spartanburg and Asheville on US 29, the old road. Greer is home to two AM stations of its own: black gospel WPJM (800) and southern gospel WCKI (1300), but we picked it on the theory that it would give us a chance to aircheck the little AMs from both Greenville and Spartanburg come Monday morning drive. What we forgot was just how bad the ground conductivity is in this very rocky part of the Carolinas: the Greer stations came in fine, as did the more powerful AMs from both bigger cities - but stations like WSPA, WKDY and WASC, not to mention WPCI in Greenville, were tough catches indeed. We'll know better next time...

In any case, after a quick swing past the unexciting studio/transmitter combinations of both Greer stations on Monday morning, we pointed the rental car into Greenville, the commercial and social hub of the Upstate. This is a very conservative part of a very conservative region: one of the first things we passed heading down Wade Hampton Boulevard (US 29) into Greenville was Bob Jones University, where the girls wear long skirts and can't even hold the boys' hands. (Oy, the things we got away with at Brandeis...)

But Bob Jones is more than just a reactionary educational bastion: it's also a broadcaster, and just down the street from the campus is the well-tended studio building that's home to WMUU (1260) and WMUU-FM (94.5). The AM side, whose tower is now surrounded by expensive residential developments a mile or so north of US 29, is a reasonably standard religious outlet. The FM, on the other hand, does beautiful music, and lots of it - one of the last of its kind in the country!

Downtown Greenville is small but pleasant, and a few minutes after leaving WMUU we're parked on Rutherford Street, just north of downtown. The big brick building here is the epicenter of Greenville broadcasting, which long revolved around a trio of stations called WFBC. WFBC(AM) signed on in 1932, co-owned with the Greenville News and the Greenville Piedmont. In 1947, WFBC-FM came along, and in 1953, WFBC-TV on channel 4 completed the picture as the Upstate's first TV station.

In 1978, Multimedia (then-owner of the News and Piedmont) sold channel 4, which changed its calls to WYFF ("We're Your Friend, Four") but stayed put on Rutherford Street. WFBC (1330) and WFBC-FM (93.7) moved into a building right next door in the same complex, and everyone stayed friendly.

By the late nineties, the radio stations were in the hands of Sinclair, which was a TV competitor to WYFF by virtue of its purchase of ABC affiliate WLOS (Channel 13, licensed to Asheville, N.C.) and then-independent channel 40 in Anderson. (We didn't get to Anderson, about 25 miles away, but channel 40 has a neat history that deserves a quick mention: it began, way back in the fifties, as CBS affiliate WAIM-TV, owned by WAIM radio and the Anderson Independent-Mail; in the eighties, it went independent as WAXA; in 1995, under Sinclair, it changed calls to...WFBC-TV! With the coming of the WB and Sinclair's spin of the radio stations to Entercom in 1999, channel 40 became WBSC, and it still is today.)

The WFBC calls disappeared from AM as well; in the mid-nineties, WFBC had begun simulcasting the talk programming of Spartanburg's WORD, and in 1997, 1330 became WYRD, calls it still uses today.

The 1330 transmitter site, with three towers, sits on North Vance Street west of downtown, a stone's throw from the single tower of WPCI (1490), a quirky (and remember, we like quirky) locally-owned station that plays R&B oldies with a decided minimum of interruption - just an ID twice an hour! It's apparently a one-man operation, known locally as "Radio Randy" for owner Randy Mathena; the calls stand for "Paper Cutters, Inc."

From WYRD, it's a short drive to the US 25 bypass around the west side of Greenville, home to most of the rest of the city's AM signals.

From south to north, the first one we pass is the very pretty four-tower array of WGVL (1440), which broadcasts in Spanish to the growing Hispanic population. A supermarket parking lot next door provides a fine view of this site.

Just a mile or so north, three towers are home to the 50,000-watt daytime signal of WLFJ (660), which is a religious station these days.

For many years, though - as recently as 2000, in fact - the 660 spot on the dial was WESC, Greenville's big voice for country music. First with 5 kilowatts, then with 10 and ultimately with 50, this AM signal was a dependable part of the local radio scene, and its heritage lives on today on country giant WESC-FM (92.5). WESC-FM and WLFJ (and WGVL, for that matter) are part of a Clear Channel cluster in town; it's a sign of how much of an FM market this has become that Clear Channel leases out both AM signals rather than try to compete against Entercom's AM dominance with WORD/WYRD.

Two more AM stations complete our little Greenville tour, even though neither is licensed to Greenville.

WCSZ (1070) is licensed to Sans Souci, the town just northwest of Greenville (don't bother trying to Frenchify it - without worry, you can call it "Sann Soo-see" up here) and programs sports on its 50,000 watt day/1500 watt night signal from these three towers up on the US 25 bypass. (Since our visit, it's shifted to more of a talk format.)

The studios are in that trailer in the shadows at the base of the towers; they had some local sports on when we pulled in.

And Travelers Rest is the town north of Greenville where US 25 and US 276 come together; it's home to a daytimer on 1580 called WDAB, which is the other Spanish station in town. We saw its tower poking up above the trees, but instead headed off to look for traces of WPLS (96.7), the former student station at Furman University. WPLS is still licensed, but it can't operate any longer; as a class D, it was bumped by the move of WPEK-FM (96.7, now WBZT-FM) from Greenwood to the Greenville suburb of Malden, S.C. a couple of years ago. Furman now has a CP for an LPFM on 95.9, which should actually provide a much better signal than WPLS ever did anyway.

And we'll wrap up our look at Greenville with some of the TV and FM sticks. North and west of town, things start getting pretty mountainous, which makes for some awfully remote sites for some of the big signals around the area. The least remote site is Paris Mountain, easily reached on a paved road just a few miles north of Greenville, and it's here that we find WNTV (Channel 29/DTV 9) and WEPR (90.1), the local South Carolina public broadcasting stations, as well as a trio of religious stations: Bob Jones' WMUU-FM (94.5), WLFJ-FM (89.3, the folks who lease 660 from Clear Channel) and WGGS-TV (Channel 16). A religious LPFM, WWOK-LP (95.3), will soon join them up here, and promises to have a very good signal indeed.

A half hour north along twisty US 276 brings us almost to the North Carolina border, and it's here that channel 4 and WFBC-FM have a tall tower on Caesar's Head Mountain. Alas, the access to the tower is through a very expensive gated community, and it's so heavily forested here that it's hard to get a clean shot of the tower any other way. (Channel 4 drew a truly lousy DTV assignment: channel 59, which guarantees they'll go back to 4 when the analog signal goes away...)

Beyond this site, off in the hills of North Carolina, are towers for Fox affiliate WHNS (Channel 21, with studios south of Greenville but licensed to Asheville), WESC-FM (92.5) and WASV (Channel 62), but we don't have the time to explore them this Monday. Instead, we backtrack to state highway 11 and then up US 25 into North Carolina - where in next week's installment, we'll see Spindale, Rutherfordton, Forest City and Asheville!

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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