Originally published June 27, 2008
Our preview of the brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2013 (just back from the printer and now shipping!) continues this week with another one of the sites featured in the new calendar: KWAL (620) in Wallace, Idaho.
We visited KWAL during "Big Trip 2007," a huge loop that took us from Salt Lake City up to central and western Montana, all over Idaho and into bits of eastern Washington state, and eventually back to Utah. One of the longest driving days of the two-week trip took us from Missoula, Montana 200 miles west to Spokane, Washington, then south another 100 miles or so to the Lewiston, Idaho/Clarkston, Washington market - and along the way, it produced some of the most memorable visits of the trip.
The most memorable of them all - possibly one of the most unusual sites we've ever encountered in hundreds of thousands of miles of tower-site driving - came about 15 minutes after we crossed the Montana/Idaho border heading east on I-90. It's there, in the small town of Osburn, Idaho, that the interstate actually crosses through the middle of an AM directional array.
This is KWAL, Wallace, Idaho, and as far as we're aware, this is the only place where an interstate crosses through an AM DA. (It's one of only a few places where a major road of any kind passes through an array; other prominent examples include San Diego's KFMB 760, where state highway 52 separates two towers from a third; WDAE 620 in Tampa, astride the Gandy Bridge; KTSA 550 in San Antonio, where busy Eisenhauer Road divides the array; and WPEN 950 in Philadelphia, where a city street separates two towers from a third.)
In this case, the radio station long predated the highway. KWAL was founded in 1939, calling itself "Silver Dollar Radio" after the silver mining that was the backbone of the economy in this mountainous region. Back then, it was a 250-watt Class IV signal on 1450, but in 1947 it was granted the move down the dial to its present facilities on 620. Inside the red and white building just off the highway in Osburn, theer are still vestiges of 1947 - the main air studio is elevated, and looks out through a big plate glass window into what's now the front office of the station, but was once the live performance studio where local bands came to play. (There's even an announce booth, just visible on the left side of the office picture.)
In the main studio, the old GE transmitter is now out of commission, and there's a little BE tucked in just to its left to power KWAL's 1,000 watt signal, which is non-directional by day from the tower out behind the building and quite directional at night, using both towers to create a figure-8 that pumps the power southeast and northwest, protecting older 620 signals in Portland and Phoenix and Regina, among others.
Today, KWAL runs an locally-automated country format, with its small staff devoting most of their time to ad sales and gathering local news. But we're not really here for the programming, are we? No, our real mission here is to see this unusual directional array and to learn the story of how it ended up like this, and here it is: the town of Osburn is tucked into an extremely narrow east-west canyon between tall mountains to the north and south. When I-90 came through here, there was literally no available land where KWAL could move that would still allow it to aim its pattern up and down the valley to hit its city of license, Wallace, five miles east, and nearby Kellogg, a few miles west.
So the highway went about the only place it could go - right between towers one and two. There was supposed to be a culvert under the highway big enough to walk through, to make sure transmission lines could be repaired down the road if need be, but when we headed across the highway at the Osburn exit, then down the narrow frontage road that runs west to tower 2, we found what actually ended up getting built: a pipe about 2 feet across to carry transmission and sampling lines from the swamp behind the building under the highway and out to the tower north of the interstate. It's quite a site, and quite a sight. (The view in the big picture is from the passenger seat on I-90 westbound; the studio and tower 1 are to the left, south of the highway, while tower 2 is to the right, north of the highway.)
It's that time of year! We’re now shipping the all new Tower Site Calendar 2013 from the all new Fybush.com store! Order now and be one of the first to have your copy…why wait? (We’ve also got the very last FM Atlas copies available for sale, and the new edition of the National Radio Club’s AM Log.)
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And don't miss more IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Previewing Tower Site Calendar 2013 - The TV stations of Albuquerque