Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to see a whole bunch of broadcast facilities in a short time? Orlando, Florida isn't really the best place to do it, honestly. Even though most of the market's studios and tower sites are north of downtown, away from the tourist-choked Kissimmee area on the south side of town, there's an awful lot of "north side" to Orlando, even when you leave out the three major sites most distant from the center of the market. (We'll see two of them in upcoming weeks - and as you'll see, we never did make it to the third.)
We'll start at the westernmost major FM site in the market, the pair of 800-foot towers in Winter Garden, out on the south shore of Lake Apopka, that are home to WXXL (106.7 Tavares) and a handful of smaller signals. What's now WXXL started out up to the northwest in Leesburg as the FM sister to WLBE (790) in the 1960s and eventually moved southeast to this site in the late 1970s, when the station was WHLY, "Y106." At one time, it even maintained a studio here in this windowless building. Today, WXXL is owned by Clear Channel and runs 100 kW from a pair of Continental 816s, augmented by a BE transmitter tucked in behind for digital.
There's a separate transmitter room adjacent to the WXXL room, and it's home to several other signals. What was still WLOQ (103.1 Windermere) was licensed at this site in 2009 as a C2 signal - but when we visited early in 2011, its BE transmitter at this site was silent and it was instead running from its old site (now an aux) closer to the middle of town. (We'll catch up with that site in a bit!)
And the Story Road site is also home to a powerful LPTV signal, Daystar's WDTO-LP (Channel 50).
That's WXXL's five-bay Dielectric on the slightly taller of the two towers, and 103.1's four-bay Shively on the right. (Not long after we visited, longtime WLOQ owner Gross Broadcasting sold the station, and it's now broadcasting in Spanish as WHKQ.)
Moving back toward the center of the market, we next hit a whole bunch of sites strung out up and down I-4, the main north-south artery heading out of downtown Orlando. Remember how we'd seen a Daytona Beach facility for Daytona-licensed WESH (Channel 2) in our look at that market a few weeks back? Since the late 1980s, WESH has maintained its main studio on the north side of Orlando, right off the side of I-4 on Wymore Road in Winter Park, and for the last few years NBC affiliate WESH has had a duopoly partner here, CW affiliate WKCF (Channel 18).
It's just a couple of exits north on I-4 to the suburb of Altamonte Springs, which stretches out to the east of the highway, and tucked in on a side street off Ronald Reagan Boulevard is, appropriately enough, Salem's conservative talker in the market. WORL (660 Altamonte Springs) is a very late addition to the dial here, having signed on only in 1999 after a decade and a half as a construction permit, originally on 650 way over in Titusville. Once it was finally built, WORL's kilowatt of power emanated from three flagpole-style towers, with skirts for folded unipoles on each.
Back to I-4 we go, and it's getting late in the afternoon at this point, so the February sun is starting to get low in the sky right behind two neighboring studios on Skyline Drive in Lake Mary, a good 18 miles north of downtown Orlando. This is where we find Fox's duopoly, WOFL (Channel 35) and MyNetwork sister WRBW (Channel 65), right next door to religious WTGL (Channel 45). What's now the WTGL building was the old home of WKCF, before it moved in with WESH; WTGL itself had started out on Cocoa-licensed channel 52 back in the 1980s, then put Leesburg-licensed channel 45 on the air in 2000 as WLCB - and then moved the WTGL calls to 45 and sold off channel 52 to TBN in 2006. TBN now operates channel 52 from a different location as WHLV-TV.
(There's one more mystery at this site - whatever's in the federal offices across the street has a security guard who really doesn't like people in the driveway taking pictures, and so we don't stick around too long to find out!)
The last pictures we get before sunset are at the northwestern corner of the Orlando sprawl, in the Apopka area. What's now WBZW (1520) is one of Salem's business talk stations, but there's a long history of religious radio up here on Sheeler Avenue. This station spent many years as WTLN, with ownership that interlocked with WGCB in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. In addition to AM 1520 (then a 5 kW daytimer, with the subsequent addition of 350 watts of night power), there used to be a WTLN-FM on 95.3; that's what eventually moved closer to town as Maitland-licensed WPYO. (One more northeast connection here: after WTLN, the next set of calls on 1520 was WHIM, long resident in Rhode Island.)
We'd seen a few other north-side AMs earlier in the day, all lined up along Silver Star Road in the Pine Hills area, south of Apopka, north of downtown and west of I-4. WRLZ (1270 Eatonville) now runs 25 kW by day, 5 kW at night from its five-tower array off Mercy Drive. Now Spanish-language "Radio Luz," WRLZ traces its heritage back to country WHIY in the late 1950s, later WORJ and then for many years WORL, having grabbed the former Boston callsign in the late 1960s. (Legend has it that Boston's 950 wanted to go back to "WORL" when Carter Broadcasting bought it in 1977, but the Florida station wouldn't yield up the calls and so Boston went from WRYT to WROL instead.)
The newest significant AM on the Orlando dial is practically next door to WRLZ, just to the west across Mercy Drive at Princeton Road.
Licensed to Orlovista, WEUS (810) signed on in 2006 with a potent 10 kW signal by day and 400 watts at night from this four-tower array. It was doing talk when we were there in 2011, trying to get attention with a lineup that included several veterans of the Orlando "hot talk" format on bigger WTKS-FM (104.1), but in 2012 it flipped to sports under new calls WRSO.
WEUS/WRSO itself isn't in Orlovista proper, but a much older Orlando AM has its towers and former studios there. The Orlando-licensed station on 950 uses the five-tower site hidden behind the thick trees on Ring Road, a couple of miles southwest of the WRLZ and WEUS sites (and the nearby WDYZ 990 site we showed you last week, just west of 1270 and 810 off Silver Star Road.)
These days, 950 is WTLN, having picked up those calls and that format from 1520 when Salem ended up with the 950 signal. But 950 has a long and glorious history before that, going back to its 1940 debut on 1230 on the dial as WLOF ("We Love Orlando Florida," or later "Welcome to the Land Of Fun").
WLOF moved to 950 from this site in 1947, and spent many decades as one of the city's top stations, spawning WLOF-TV (Channel 9) in 1958 and later WLOQ in 1966, from a site within spitting distance of the AM array.
Later in the 1970s, there was an interesting do-si-do as Robert Rounsaville sold off WLOF and WLOQ: the new owner, Nationwide, already had a more powerful FM signal, WBJW-FM (105.1), as well as another AM, WBJW (1440 Winter Park). That AM signal went to a new owner as WNBE, carrying NBC's News and Information Service (it later became WPRD), WLOQ went to Gross, and WLOF joined up with WBJW-FM as a potent combination in Orlando radio.
For a time in the 1980s, 950 even simulcast with top-40 "BJ-105," which had taken its calls from Rounsaville's wife Betty Jane. 950 later ended up with Infinity and then briefly with Cox as WZKD before going to Salem. (And while we didn't get to see them, the old WLOF studios apparently still exist alongside the five-tower array; check out photos over at CFLRadio.net, which is a wealth of great information about radio in this area.)
We didn't make it to the WPRD (1440) site, which is east of I-4 in Winter Park, very close to the original WDBO location, and we didn't get any pictures of the undistinguished WRMQ (1140) tower practically spitting distance from the WDBO/Cox studios on Silver Star Road. And on the way out to the WXXL site in Winter Garden, we somehow missed stops at two more AM sites in the Ocoee area on the west side of town, WUNA (1480 Ocoee) and the diplexed site shared by WLAA (1600 Winter Garden) and WOKB (1680 Winter Garden). Fortunately, our tower-photography doppelganger Mike Fitzpatrick was in Orlando less than a year later, and he has photos of all of those sites on NECRAT.us for your enjoyment. (But we did get closer than he did to one site south of town, and we offer it here for your enjoyment: the three towers of WIWA 1160 in St. Cloud, one of the closest AMs to the Magic Kingdom.)
Thanks to Clear Channel's Mike Spry and WPOZ's Jim Hoge, Randy Woods and staff for the tours!
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Next week: Orlando, 2011 (part 3)