If you're a shortwave listener, you already know Greenville as the home of one of the Voice of America's transmitter sites. Actually, it's the home of two of the Voice of America's transmitter sites - and until recently, it was the home of three of the VOA's transmitter sites. Imaginatively titled "Site A," "Site B" and "Site C," the three sites are all a good few miles outside Greenville proper - on roads creatively named "VOA Site A Road" and so on.
Our visit to eastern North Carolina one Friday in March began 30 or so miles to the northwest, with lunch in Rocky Mount and a largely unsuccessful attempt to tape legal IDs from the Rocky Mount and Wilson AM stations (they didn't, pretty much, and on top of that my camera jammed and my pictures of the Rocky Mount towers didn't come out.) So we headed southeast and ended up on VOA Site C Road, west of Greenville off US 264 and NC 43 - only to find no more VOA Site C!
What was Site C is now part of Eastern Carolina University's Western Research Center - and by the time you read this, the many, many towers that dot the landscape here may have been torn down. Sites A (east of Greenville, off NC 33 near Grimesland) and B (south of Greenville off NC11 near Ayden) still stand, though, and we'll get back to visit those someday.
But Greenville offers more than just shortwave for the dedicated tower gawker. How about a six-tower AM array? Here we see WNCT (1070), whose site occupies this well-groomed piece of land on Radio Station Road, just off US 264 on the west side of town.
The WNCT calls go way back in Greenville - to 1953, in fact, when they showed up on channel 9.
In 1963, WNCT owner Roy Park bought Greenville's oldest radio station, WGTC, which had started on 1490 and was by then running 5 kw day and 1 kw night on 1590. WGTC became WNCT, added an FM signal on 107.9, and by the early seventies landed on 1070 with 10 kilowatts.
These days, WNCT's big AM signal runs a regional Mexican format as "La Favorita." It and WNCT-FM (and four more FM stations) are owned by Beasley Broadcasting, and all of them have their studios in this building on Radio Station Road.
WNCT-TV is owned by Media General, and its studios are on South Evans Street, south of Greenville's 264 bypass. I think that's the original channel 9 tower behind the studio building.
Greenville's other AM, WOOW (1340), is downtown - and we're running short on time (not to mention running into a nasty thunderstorm!), so we head around town on the bypass, east on NC 33 past VOA Site A Road, and finally out to Washington, N.C., where the entire broadcast community is clustered along US 17 near Chocowinity, south of downtown Washington.
WRRF, at 930 on the dial, was the first radio station here in 1942.
In 1955, WITN-TV signed on just down the road on channel 7 as the market's NBC affiliate, and by the late sixties AM 930 was co-owned under the Tar Heel Broadcasting Company as WITN(AM), joined by WITN-FM on 93.3.
In later years, the stations would split apart again, and today WITN-TV is owned by Gray Communications, while AM 930 is talker WDLX, 93.3 is top-40 "Bob" WERO, and they share this building on Highway 17 with quite a few other NextMedia stations in a big cluster.
WITN-TV is still down the road, and behind its studio building lurks an old STL dish that may well hold the last NBC "snake" logo to be seen in public.
(Add that to the old-fashioned "N" logo on the sign out front, and you have a full gallery of NBC logos over the years...)
One more Washington station also operates from US 17; WTOW is the latest set of calls on the AM 1320 facility just south of the Tar River. It's been on the air in Washington since 1946 and now runs black gospel music.
From Washington, we head southwest, aiming for one of the tallest towers in the region, the 605-meter stick on NC 118 near Grifton that's shared by WITN-TV, WNCT-TV, WERO and WNCT-FM.
When we visited in March, the DTV revolution had yet to strike this tower; the only DTV on the air in the Greenville/Washington/New Bern market came from the ABC affiliate, WCTI (TV 12/DT 48), located south of here in New Bern, and from UNC/TV PBS outlet WUNK (TV 25/DT 23), whose tower is southwest of Greenville.
(Completing the TV dial in the region are Pax outlet WEPX Channel 38, whose short tower is just north of the WITN/WNCT site, and Fox affiliate WYDO Channel 14, whose tower and studio are just north of WEPX in Ayden. WYDO has a second transmitter, WFXI Channel 8, in Morehead City, way southeast of New Bern and tightly dropped in at the edge of the 7/9 signals.)
At this writing in July, WNCT-TV and WITN were operating at low power from their auxiliary antenna lower on this tower while antennas were being installed for WNCT-DT (Channel 10) and WITN-DT (Channel 32), so it's safe to say that eastern North Carolina is finally getting fully in the DTV game.
(In fairness, we must point out that viewers in Greenville have no problem picking up the signals from Raleigh, just 50 miles or so to the west, where WRAL-DT (Channel 53) was a DTV pioneer way back in 1996 and now offers what may be the only local newscast produced in HDTV anywhere in the country.)
Darkness was setting in at this point (though the storm had passed, at least), and so we didn't get the chance to add New Bern's stations to our itinerary, nor to see the towers of Kinston or Goldsboro on the way back to Raleigh (a much longer drive than we'd anticipated, forgetting how far southeast we'd traveled since beginning this little jaunt in Rocky Mount.)
We'll have to make a return trip sometime; in our haste to see all these towers in the space of about three hours (remember, this was March and the sun set early!), we missed many aircheck opportunities - and we'd love to hear from anyone down that way who might be interested in doing some trading to help fill out our collection.
And we'll be on the road again next week (ironically, in the much bigger Washington a few hundred miles north of this one), so the next Tower Site will be here August 7. See you then!
Tower Site Calendar 2003 is now SOLD OUT! Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we open ordering for the even more exciting Tower Site Calendar 2004!