Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
There's not much excuse required, ever, to abandon snowy upstate New York in the dead of winter in order to spend a week or so in sunny south Florida.
So why did it take us so long to finally add Miami and vicinity to our "life list" of station visits? Hard to say...but in any case, we rectified that big omission in a big way in a March 2015 trip that took us all over south Florida. And it all began bright and early one morning along the Broward/Miami-Dade county line, where the center of gravity of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale broadcast market now lies. Nearly all of the market's FM and TV signals now come from the Miami Lakes area just west of I-95 (we'll see them in detail next week, I promise!)
Our first stop in the neighborhood on this blissfully warm and sunny March morning is already a bit of history: when we pulled up along NW 2nd Avenue (US 441) just south of NW 207th Street on the Miami-Dade side of the line, the low-slung building on the west side of the street belonged to Lincoln Financial Media and housed three program services operating on four frequencies. This is now one of the older studio addresses in Miami: it was built in 1984 by what was then Jefferson Pilot for the two signals it then owned, WGBS (710) and WLYF (101.5), relocating them from Storer Broadcasting's longtime studio home at 710 Brickell Blvd. downtown.
WGBS didn't stay long; in 1985, Jefferson Pilot swapped it out (it became Spanish-language WAQI) in order to acquire all-news WNWS (790 South Miami). A second FM, WMXJ (102.7 Pompano Beach), came into the building in 1994 when Jeff-Pilot bought it from Sconnix Broadcasting for $17.8 million. The last signal in the cluster, Miramar-licensed 104.3, was a move-in from West Palm Beach in 2012.
When we visited in March 2015, WLYF's main air studio enjoyed pride of place right behind the lobby window, part of a studio cluster (originally built for WGBS, if I'm not mistaken) that includes not only the spacious main air studio but a news/producer booth on one side and a production room on the other. Somewhere along the way, the production room took on a black-and-white color scheme that's been augmented over the years by lots and lots of toy zebras and a rather distinctive striped wall - and so it's now "Studio Z."
WMXJ, now playing classic hits as "Magic 102.7," occupies a big studio suite in the middle of the building, across the hall from the rooms that were built for 790 when it was all-news WNWS. The all-news format didn't last all that long; by 1990 this signal was doing standards as WMRZ before segueing into sports with the WAXY calls that had been on RKO's 105.9 Fort Lauderdale signal. (We'll catch up with that signal again later.)
It's back here that things have changed the most dramatically in the last couple of years.
When Lincoln Financial bought the West Palm 104.3 signal in 2012, it quickly flipped that station (formerly WEAT-FM and then WMSF) to a simulcast of WAXY's sports-talk format. "104.3 and 790 the Ticket" gained full FM coverage of the Miami-Dade market to augment the somewhat limited reach (especially at night) of the 790 signal, which aims eastward from a directional array way out in the Everglades due west from Miami.
But then things changed again: Lincoln Financial's long-delayed sale to Entercom finally closed in August 2015, and when Entercom came in, the FM sports simulcast went out. As of a few weeks ago, the former WAXY-FM is now modern rock "Shark," with new calls WSFS.
On the way from I-95 over to Lincoln Financial, we'd passed the relatively new studio building of ABC affiliate WPLG (Channel 10), and now we're headed back along Hallandale Beach Boulevard on the Broward side of the county line to get a closer look at this state-of-the-art plant. The newsroom set was being renovated when we arrived, and so we have no pictures of the big two-story atrium that serves as the station's news center. But that round news set was impressive (and somewhat reminiscent of the BBC, we thought), and the tech plant behind it was spacious and carefully thought out.
They get more than their share of severe weather down here, and so the new WPLG building was designed to be hardened and ready for just about anything, with multiple power sources and the ability to be self-sustaining for an extended period if the area is hit by, say, a major hurricane.
Later in the day, after some impressive transmitter sites that we'll show you next week, we ended our busy first day in greater Miami with a late-afternoon stop at the iHeart Radio studio complex on Riviera Drive in Miramar, right off the Florida's Turnpike Extension.
This facility was built around a large atrium that's home to sales and promotions staffers in the middle. At one end, the engineering offices surround a rack room for all of the stations here - two AMs, five full-power FMs and two translators fed by FM HD channels.
The studios for all those stations are upstairs, mostly along a hallway toward the front of the building. Production rooms on one side of the hallway face down toward the atrium, while the corresponding air studios are across the hallway facing outside.
At one end of the hallway (right up over the main lobby) is the studio/newsroom complex for the AM stations here. WIOD (610) is one of the oldest stations in Miami and the only English-language news-talk station serving a market where English is increasingly not the primary language. Its talk studio sits right at the corner, looking into a control room and out into the newsroom beyond.
If the WIOD hosts look to the right, they're staring right into the control room and studio of their AM sister station, WINZ (940), the broadcast home of Marlins baseball and Dolphins football.
Down the hall, there are four music stations lined up in a neat row, all in the midst of upgrades to new Axia consoles: WHYI (100.7 Fort Lauderdale) is the legendary top-40 "Y100," where we catch the afternoon team recording breaks when we pop in; WMGE (94.9 Miami Beach) is now Spanish pop "Mega," but back in the day it was equally legendary rocker "Zeta-4" WZTA, FM sister to WINZ; WMIA (93.9 Miami Beach) was soft AC "Love 94" as WWWL and WLVE but now does hot AC as "My 93.9"; and at the opposite corner from the AMs we find "Big 105.9," WBGG-FM, playing classic rock on the old WAXY-FM.
Hang a left at WBGG along the balcony that overlooks the atrium and we find another row of studios. This is where we find the last of the full-power FMs, WMIB (103.5 the Beat). This Fort Lauderdale-licensed signal is probably best remembered as rocker WSHE, the rival to Zeta-4; it's bounced back and forth between Spanish and urban in recent years.
And we close out this tour with production rooms that double as studios for the two translators that get fed by HD2 programming here. Thanks to the sprawl of this market, both of these translators share the same frequency. In the heart of Miami and Miami Beach, "Evolution 93.5" (W228BY) plays dance music (and has since been leased out by iHeart to an outside operator); up in Fort Lauderdale, "93.5 the Bull" (W228BV) does country, fed by the HD2s of WHYI and WMIA, respectively.
Thanks to Gary Blau and Jim Leifer for the tours!
WHAT'S ON THE 2017 TOWER SITE CALENDAR COVER?
That's for YOU to decide.
We have so many beautiful photos set for the 2017 Tower Site Calendar. Several of them would make great covers. So this year, we want your input!
Check out the three following pictures, then cast your vote in the box below them. After that, send your name and preferred email to Lisa to receive your coupon for $1 off anything in our store and be entered in our drawing for a free 2017 calendar -- which is now on sale.
COVER CHOICE ONE
And don’t miss a big batch of south Florida IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Miami 2015 - The Tower Farm