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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 names...so we kept going from Newberry into Spartanburg,
where the radio dial has been doing some spinning these last
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
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
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
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
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
Two more AM stations
complete our little Greenville tour, even though neither is licensed
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 fybush.com.
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!
This year's edition is still available in limited quantities!
And this year, you can order with your Visa, MasterCard,
Discover or American Express by using the handy link below!
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