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June 26 - July 3, 2003
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.)
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
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
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
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 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!
Better yet, here's an incentive to make your 2003 NERW/Site
of the Week subscription pledge right now: support NERW/fybush.com
at the $60 level or higher, and you'll get this lovely calendar
for free! How can you go wrong? (Click here
to visit our Support page, where you can make your NERW contribution
with a major credit card...)
You can also order by mail; just send a check for $16
per calendar (NYS residents add 8% sales tax), shipping included,
to Scott Fybush, 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester
Thanks for your support!