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Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH

(Originally published Dec. 18, 2013)

crestwood-coverYou know what I'm a total sucker for? A good sunset right behind an interesting tower site.

In more than 20 years of chasing towers all over the country, I've been lucky enough to see a few really glorious sunsets at just the right spot to make a memorable tower image.

There was that night in Duluth, back on the "Big Trip" in 2005. Tower Site Calendar 2013 included a pretty spectacular example from South Bend.

And right on its cover,  Tower Site Calendar 2014 features another impressive dusk shot...which gets extra-creepy when you know that your intrepid photographer was standing in the middle of a cemetery to shoot it!

This particular August night in 2012 found us (not just your editor but also my Indiana RadioWatch counterpart, Blaine Thompson) in the midst of "Big Trip 2012," a four-day whirlwind that took us across central Illinois and on a deep dive into the St. Louis market.

The Crestwood transmitter building
The Crestwood transmitter building

Combiner room
Combiner room

We'll show you much more of St. Louis in the next few weeks on Tower Site of the Week, but this week we reprise our Tower Site Calendar preview with this bonus look inside one of the most impressive master FM facilities in the whole country.

On this blazingly hot August night, we find ourselves in Crestwood, in the southern suburbs of St. Louis. For reasons of terrain, among other things, most of the city's TV stations ended up building tall towers down this way, where the flat land along the Mississippi begins to tilt upward into the Ozark foothills. NBC affiliate KSD-TV (Channel 5, later KSDK) set up shop on Heege Road, just south of the cemeteries along MacKenzie Road. To the north, independent KDNL (Channel 30, later Fox and now an ABC outlet) built its tower behind a shopping center on busy Watson Road. CBS' KMOX-TV (Channel 4, later KMOV) was just a few miles to the southeast in Lemay, while ABC affiliate KTVI (Channel 2, later Fox) put a tall tower to the southwest near Sappington.

Antenna switch and monitoring
Antenna switch and monitoring

Transmission lines
Transmission lines

As FM grew in the market, stations popped up on all of those TV towers - but in the 1980s, EZ Communications led the way on an ambitious project to build an FM-specific tower with a pioneering master antenna. Six stations shared the Harris CBR antenna at the top of the 1115-foot tower: KSHE (94.7 Crestwood, moving from a tower behind its old studio location here in town); KADI (96.3 St. Louis, now KIHT); KYKY (98.1 St. Louis); KFUO-FM (99.1 Clayton, now KLJY); EZ's own KEZK (102.5 St. Louis) and KWK-FM (106.5 Granite City IL, now WARH).

The hallway upstairs
The hallway upstairs

KSHE 94.7
KSHE 94.7

Over the years that followed, the "Crestwood master tower" (which is actually in the adjacent community of Shrewsbury) picked up more tenants: religious KSIV-FM (91.5 St. Louis) and KMJM (107.7 St. Louis, now KSLZ) joined the crowd in 2000, at which point the Harris antenna failed and had to be rebuilt. (A separate antenna, lower on the tower, is used by the lower-power station at 104.9 licensed to Columbia, Illinois, now known as KBWX.)

By 2005, the tower was in the hands of American Tower, and the entire transmission system was completely reconfigured. A Dielectric FM-Vee antenna replaced the Harris, and a new combiner system made it possible to send both analog and digital HD Radio signals through both the top and bottom segments of the HDFMVee, which can function together or separately should half of the system fail. (Radio magazine published a great article about the project back in 2006, still available here.)

This system was designed with room for even more stations, which is a good thing: it added Clear Channel's KSD (93.7, formerly at the KSDK-TV site next door) and KLOU (103.3, formerly at the KMOV site in Lemay) a few years ago. All those class C1 and C0 stations add up fast: each half of the antenna carries about 120 kW - not ERP but TPO - for a total of more than 240 kW ERP analog, plus another 3 kW or so of digital.

KIHT 96.3
KIHT 96.3

KYKY 98.1
KYKY 98.1

The combiner room fills nearly the entire bottom floor of the two-story transmitter building, reached by a winding road that leads right through the cemetery to the back corner where the tower is located. In recent years, the side rooms off the combiner space have filled up with even more new tenants: CW affiliate KPLR (Channel 11) had operated in analog from the KMOV tower in Lemay, but its digital signal on RF 26 comes from a side-mounted tower here on the Crestwood tower, a few miles closer to the center of the market.

KEZK 102.5
KEZK 102.5

WARH 106.5
WARH 106.5
At the tower base
At the tower base
Looking up
Looking up

And while we were visiting in 2012, work was underway to add another high-powered FM here: Emmis' KPNT (105.7) held a CP to move from St. Genevieve, far to the south, to a new city of license of Collinsville, Illinois, using another side-mounted directional antenna on this tower and a transmitter in one of those ground-floor rooms behind the combiner.

The incumbent FMs here all operate from small rooms on the second floor, sending their signals straight downstairs to their combiner modules.

There's a little bit of everything in the transmitter rooms: it's not a very long drive from St. Louis northward to Quincy, Illinois, so it's no surprise that the Quincy-built products of Broadcast Electronics were popular in the first phase of this site's existence. There are still some of the old "blue BE" transmitters to be seen here, along with Quincy-built Harris transmitters and at least one Continental. (And as you can see from some of the pictures above, a few of the Emmis rooms had some new gear still boxed up and waiting to be installed!)

CBS favored Nautel when it revamped its sites here, putting NV40 transmitters in both KEZK's and KYKY's rooms. (As you'll see when we show you the rest of this St. Louis trip, the transmitter site rebuild was just part of a much bigger renovation of the CBS facilities in town, including the consolidation of two aging studio facilities into one new one.)

Crestwood FM tower
Crestwood FM tower

KDNL
KDNL

KSDK
KSDK

Unlike our original Big Trip back in 2001, which took us around to all of the southside TV towers, we didn't get to spend much time in 2012 seeing the other towers down here - so we'll leave you with some quick shots from the cemetery of its closest tower neighbors.

To the north, Sinclair's KDNL (virtual 30/RF 31) shares its tower off Watson Road with public radio KWMU (90.7), and to the southwest, KSDK (virtual 5/RF 35) is the only full-time signal on its tower these days, though there's an aux there for Clear Channel's 103.3 and 107.7.

Thanks to Emmis' Sam Caputa and CBS Radio's Mike Waldman and Joe Geerlings for the tours!

Next Week: KMOX and CBS Radio, St. Louis, 2012