Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
The final installment of our massive February-March 2011 trip all over northern, central and southwest Florida finds us on the way back to Jacksonville and our flight home...but not without one more big day of tower, transmitter and studio excitement.
On the way north from Ocala to our last overnight stop in Gainesville, our tour guide (and DXer extraordinaire) Lee Freshwater makes it a point to stop just off the east side of I-75 near Micanopy (mick-uh-NOPE-ee), roughly two-thirds of the way between Ocala and Gainesville.
That's where we find the 500-foot tower of Entercom's WSKY-FM (97.3 Micanopy), the powerful news-talk voice of the Gainesville-Ocala market since its 1998 debut as an early FM entry into the format. This signal began life in 1985 as class A WGLV on 97.7 and went through several formats and calls before making the 50,000-watt upgrade to 97.3.
And a few years after making that upgrade, WSKY-FM upped the ante with a rather unusual new transmitter. We're accustomed to seeing water-cooled transmitters in high-powered TV applications, but the complexity of a cooling system is usually more trouble than it's worth in the world of medium-powered FM. But WSKY decided to give it a whirl, installing one of only two water-cooled 816 transmitters ever made by Continental.
The first "816HD-28L" went to WNCI (97.9) in Columbus, Ohio, followed by number two here in Micanopy. The biggest obvious advantage to liquid cooling is apparent as soon as we open the door to the transmitter enclosure: without a big cooling fan in the transmitter, this is far less noisy than your average 28-kilowatt FM transmitter.
The downside, of course, is that there's a bit of extra plumbing required: water lines going up from the transmitter, out to a heat exchanger mounted just outside the building, and back inside to cool the transmitter. It's a nice elegant piece of engineering, and something you won't see many other places.
From Micanopy, I-75 slashes northwest, skirting the west side of Gainesville - and our next stop is up on the city's northwest corner, where Entercom's studios for WSKY-FM and sister AC station WKTK (98.5 Crystal River) sit in a little office park on NW 43rd Street. This is a compact, simple layout: mirror-image studios for both stations sit near the front of the facility, facing the lobby and surrounded by offices and production rooms, with the rack room tucked in just behind the studios at the back of the building. (WKTK's 100 kW transmitter facility is rather remote, out to the west of Ocala almost to the Gulf coast.)
We alluded briefly last week to the oddity that is the Gainesville TV market: while Ocala and Gainesville are combined in an ungainly radio market, Ocala goes with distant Orlando for TV. Gainesville, however, gets its own small TV market, though for many years it lacked a full complement of network affiliates. The University of Florida got there first, putting noncommercial WUFT-TV (Channel 5) on the air in 1958. For commercial TV, Gainesville pointed its antennas at Jacksonville and Orlando stations, for the most part, until the 1971 debut of ABC affiliate WCJB (Channel 20). A second commercial station, WB affiliate WGFL (Channel 53), came along in 1997, licensed to nearby High Springs - and in 2002 it became a CBS affiliate, filling a gap in Gainesville coverage left when Jacksonville's powerful channel 4, WJXT, dropped CBS to go independent. (The replacement CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, WTEV channel 47, didn't reach Gainesville over the air or on cable.)
WGFL soon dubbed itself "CBS 4," taking WJXT's old spot on cable; WB went to cable and a low-power analog TV outlet that eventually became MyNetwork TV outlet WMYG-LP on channel 11. And then, in 2009, it gained a new full-power sister station: WNBW (Channel 9) was one of the first DTV-only stations to come on the air, and when it debuted with the NBC affiliation it gave the market a full complement of its own affiliates for the first time. (CW is on WCJB's 20.2, for whatever that's worth, branded as "CW 10.")
(As a result of the odd history of TV here, there's considerable overlap and grandfathering: cable customers in Ocala get WUFT and WCJB, and WUFT is also seen on cable as far afield as Jacksonville; Ocala cable gets both WCJB and Orlando's WFTV for ABC, while Gainesville cable gets both WNBW and Orlando-market WESH for NBC. And Ocala-based Fox affiliate WOGX provides that network to both Gainesville and Ocala on cable, but it's seen on satellite only in Gainesville and not in its home base of Ocala.)
WGFL/WNBW and WCJB both offer local news: the WGFL/WNBW newscasts are branded as GTN ("Gainesville Television Network") and produced out of INN in Davenport, Iowa with the help of local reporters at a newish facility just west of I-75 on the far west side of Gainesville, while WCJB's anchors are based locally at its studios off NW43rd Street, just a mile or so north of the Entercom studios.
WCJB's transmitter (now on RF 16) is south of Gainesville and west of I-75; WNBW and WGFL (now on RF 28) are out by Newberry, west of Gainesville. We didn't get to those, but we sure did get to see the tower for WUFT-TV and sister stations WUFT-FM (89.1) and WRUF-FM (103.7), which have their tower just west of the WCJB studio.
(The University of Florida has an unusual spread of broadcast outlets: its students are involved in the operation of commercially-licensed WRUF 850 and WRUF-FM 103.7, doing sports and country, respectively, but it also has professionally-run public outlets WUFT-TV and WUFT-FM in the fold, including a student-produced local newscast on WUFT-TV. There's also a low-power student-run TV station, WRUF-LD, on RF 5, virtual 10, which is now doing mostly nonstop weather after state budget cuts.)
In next week's concluding installment of our Florida "Big Trip," we'll finish up Gainesville and head out to Starke, Florida for a surprising end to the series...
Thanks to Lee Freshwater for the tours!
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Next week: Gainesville and Starke, Florida, 2011