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June 26 - July 3, 2003

North Carolina's Triad

When we left off two weeks ago in our recap of our March visit to the Carolinas, we were heading east on I-40 from Asheville and the mountains of western North Carolina.

Past Statesville, the landscape changes dramatically. Mountains give way to flat countryside, and the rural character of western North Carolina yields to a fast-growing suburbia known locally as "the Triad."

The name comes from the three cities at the region's heart - Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point - but now applies to a wide swath of west central North Carolina that extends south to Asheboro and north almost to the Virginia border.

Lexington, at the south end of the Triad, has one feature that appeals to tower buffs: a two-site AM operation.

WLXN (1440) does sports, running 5000 watts non-directional by day from a tower next to its studios along business I-85 and 1000 watts directional at night (aimed largely to the east) from these three towers near a farmer's market west of town. (Lexington also has an FM outlet on 94.1, WTHZ, that's in the process of being sold and moved south to the Charlotte market.)

From Lexington, it's a short drive on I-85 to High Point. The smallest of the three central Triad cities, High Point is known internationally for its furniture industry - and indeed, the whole town sort of smells of furniture lacquer.

There must not be a lot of activity in High Point - at least, that's the only explanation we can think of for why our tower-hunting activity suddenly attracted the attention of the local constabulary.

Granted, it was just a few days after the start of the war - but do you see anything that looks sensitive in the photo to the left?

That's WHPE (95.5), the Triad outlet for the Bible Broadcasting Network and a very old FM facility, tracing its history all the way back to the forties and the High Point Enterprise newspaper, which put WHPE on the air as one of the region's first FM facilities. WHPE went religious in the sixties and hasn't changed much since; like so many Bible Broadcasting Network facilities, it's run primarily from network headquarters down in Charlotte, with the local studio staffed only a few hours a week.

Because of that, WHPE has the neighbors keep an eye on the property - and the "neighbors" turn out to be a chemical plant with a very jumpy operations manager, who came out to see what we were up to (remember when we mentioned that our rental car had Pennsylvania plates?) and apparently didn't care for our explanation that we weren't interested in his facility at all. At least, that's the only explanation we can find for the phone call we got from the High Point police department a couple of days later...

Anyway, we know we're harmless...

From WHPE, we moved on to the not very exciting (but tall) tower and studio of WIST (790) and WIST-FM (98.3) in nearby Thomasville, then back through downtown High Point to see the rooftop antenna of WMFR (1230). See the old FM bays way up top there? That's the antecedent of today's WMAG (99.5)...

Southeast of High Point are some tall towers for the Greensboro TV stations: CBS affiliate WFMY (Channel 2) belongs to the owns the very tall one at left, with the candelabra behind it playing host to UPN affiliate WUPN (Channel 48) and the DTV for its sister station, ABC affiliate WXLV (Channel 45), as well as the DTV for religious WLXI (Channel 61).

Another tower just south of here is home to WKRR (92.3); just a few miles further south, near US 311 and the town of Randleman, is the equally tall tower of High Point-licensed WGHP (Channel 8), once the ABC affiliate but now a Fox O&O.

Had we kept going south, we'd have ended up in Asheboro (home to WZOO 710, whose calls stem from the North Carolina Zoo in town) - but sunset got in the way, so instead we turned north on US 220, the future I-73, and up to Greensboro to spend the night (passing along the way the towers of WQMG 97.1 and WTWB 20/WOZN 98.7/WVBZ 100.3, just west of the highway.)

We'd made contact by e-mail with Jackson Armstrong, the legendary DJ who made a name for himself in the early seventies at stations such as WKBW, Buffalo and KTNQ/KHTZ, Los Angeles. Jack now calls the Triad home, and for the last few years he's woken up the oldies audience at WMQX (93.1 Winston-Salem), part of the Entercom cluster in town. A few months ago, he added a new task to his Entercom duties: voicetracking nights at WWKB (1520 Buffalo), the reborn "KB Radio," where we've become regular listeners.

And so it's a thrill to get to sit in for a little bit of Jack's morning show on "Oldies 93," even though the Armstrong Winston-Salem listeners hear is a much more subdued version of the screaming night jock that Armstrong was (and still is on KB). No sidekick here - and "The Gorilla" was a bit camera-shy that morning - so it's just Jackson and his news guy for a 5-10 AM shift every day.

When the WMQX show is over, Jack heads around the corner to a little booth off the newsroom, where he plugs into an ISDN line to Buffalo and whips through his 6-10 PM show, with a producer at the KB end of the line feeding him the ends of songs as he goes.

Say what you will about voicetracking - this is great radio, and you haven't lived until you've heard Jack launch into a full-volume "Your LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEader" from just a few feet away. (Staffers at WMQX have been known to stand outside the door while Jack is tracking his KB shift just to hear the performance...)

This cluster also includes two big urban FMs (WJMH 102.1 Reidsville and WQMG 97.1 Greensboro), hot AC WOZN (98.7 Greensboro) and two gospel AMs, WPET (950 Greensboro) and WEAL (1510 Greensboro).

WPET still transmits from the south side of Greensboro, on a tall tower on Meadowview Drive next to a funky-looking building that was once home to the studios of WPET and the 98.7, ex-WKSI. (There are old 98.7 bays on the tower as well.)

This building may soon be history, though; WPET holds a CP to move to the WEAL site, a shorter tower just south of downtown Greensboro, leaving this site behind.

From a broadcast standpoint, there's not much else to note in downtown Greensboro - the short tower of WKEW (1400) and class D WUAG (103.1) - but there are some interesting sites on the outskirts of town.

On the northeast side of Greensboro, just off the US 29 freeway, CBS affiliate WFMY (Channel 2) sits in a remodeled building at 1615 Phillips Avenue. The tower out back, complete with an auxiliary set of channel 2 batwings (as seen in the photomontage below), is testament to this station's long history at the same site - until the new stick went up out near High Point, this was WFMY's studio and transmitter site.

Two more AMs complete the Greensboro side of the market, and they share a site in an upscale neighborhood north of the airport, northwest of Greensboro. WCOG (1320) is the Radio Disney outlet; WWBG (1470) broadcasts in Spanish to the growing Hispanic population here, simulcasting with WTOB (1380) over in Winston-Salem (albeit with separate top-hour IDs!)

Winston-Salem is about half an hour to the west in some heavy traffic on I-40, and the AM dial is a little quieter than we'd expected: WAAA (980) and WSMX (1500) are both off the air, though WSMX's towers on the east side of town are at least still standing. We skip the WPOL (1340) tower south of downtown (it's simulcasting with WKEW over in Greensboro), make a quick stop at the tower and studios of WBFJ (1550) north of downtown (from which we can see the WPIP 880 tower a few blocks away), then head out to the west side of downtown and the biggest AM signal in town: WSJS (600).

What with the sprawl of the market and the miserable ground conductivity in these parts, Infinity can't reach east of Greensboro with this news-talk signal, especially at night (we had trouble with it even at the airport, between Greensboro and Winston-Salem), so for the last few years WSJS has been simulcasting on WSML (1200 Graham), out by Burlington, some 35 miles east of Greensboro. Infinity also owns WMFR in High Point, which operates from this same studio building on West Fifth Street with a complementary diet of news and talk (and a stunningly good signal for a rooftop 1230!)

Winston-Salem's VHF station, channel 12, used to be WSJS-TV. Today it's WXII, affiliated with NBC and owned by Hearst-Argyle, operating from a studio building northwest of downtown on Coliseum Drive.

Keep heading west from WXII and you end up on Robinhood Road, where WSJS's four towers probably sat in splendid isolation as recently as a decade ago. Now they're surrounded by McMansions almost to the edge of the ground system, as this area becomes the ritzy part of Winston-Salem's exurban sprawl. Wonder if the neighbors are surprised to hear Rush Limbaugh on their toasters?

One more AM tower stop, and it's a hard one to photograph: WTOB (1380) has a big array completely enclosed by an older suburban neighborhood a few miles north of downtown Winston-Salem. (WAAA was near here as well, and as we approach the spot where its tower used to be, we can hear a very weak 980 signal with nonstop R&B and no IDs - a low-power placeholder to keep the license alive?)

If we had more time, we could head east to the WTRU (830 Kernersville) site, which cranks out 50 kilowatts by day but drops down to 10 kilowatts at night; we're headed north to Roanoke before the day is out, though, so instead we head north on NC 66 to Flat Rock and Sauratown Mountain, home to WXII, WXLV (Channel 45, the Sinclair ABC affiliate that dropped local news a few months before our visit) and public TV WUNL (Channel 26), as well as WTQR (104.1 Winston-Salem, the old WSJS-FM). Alas, a gate keeps us from getting all the way to the towers, but we can at least offer this view.

And there's one more stop before we cross the North Carolina-Virginia state line: Andy Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy. We expected a very Mayberry-like town, but as the rain started to roll in, there didn't seem to be much Mayberry in downtown Mount Airy - so we retreated to a Subway for lunch while rolling tape on one of the neatest AM stations of the whole trip.

WPAQ (740) was built by Ralph Epperson way back in 1948 - and nothing much has happened to it since. That's a good thing: if you tune into WPAQ during its daylight hours of operation, you'll hear old-time bluegrass music, and it's not unusual for a local musician to drop in to sit for a spell and pick some tunes, live on the air. We should have stopped in to say hi; we're told that the inside of this little brick building is a veritable museum of old-time radio! Guess we need to plan a return visit...and perhaps when we do, the other AM in Mount Airy, WSYD (1300), will at least do a local ID.

Next week, we'll continue our journey, crossing the line into Virginia and checking out the sights (and sites) of Roanoke!

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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