When you look up "exurb" in the dictionary, the illustration you should see there is the Santa Clarita Valley. 35 miles north of Los Angeles along State Highway 14, the valley is now home to some 200,000 residents, a big amusement park, the Walt Disney-founded CalArts school that's the destination for anyone pursuing a career in animation...and precisely one full-power radio station.
The city of Santa Clarita, which encompasses most of the valley's population, was founded in 1987 from the merger of four smaller communities (Valencia, Saugus, Newhall and Canyon Country), but by the time it came into existence there was already a license proceeding underway to start a radio station in one of those towns, Canyon Country. Engineer Larry Bloomfield and a partner put KBET (1220) on the air in 1987 to help remedy a problem being noticed by the valley's growing population: the combination of distance from Los Angeles and some mountainous terrain in the way meant that the big city's radio signals weren't easily audible in Santa Clarita.
KBET started off as a community station par excellence: starting with the "Barry and the Beast" morning show, its studios were wide open to the community at as close to a central location as existed amidst the exurban sprawl, right at the intersection of Sierra Highway (old US 6, the main commercial drag that connects the San Fernando Valley to the south to the Antelope Valley to the northeast) and Soledad Canyon Road, one of the main east-west highways across the valley. But KBET couldn't quite make it in that incarnation, and after going into bankruptcy in 1990, the station ended up in the hands of Saddleback Broadcasting, led by Carl and Jeri Goldman. They ran KBET for eight years as an oldies station with a heavy community presence (including serving as the valley's only local source of information after the 1994 Northridge earthquake cut off Highway 14 and I-5 from LA) before selling it to Jacor, which merged into Clear Channel, changed the calls to KIIS(AM) and eventually turned the 1000-watt daytime/500-watt nighttime signal into little more than a satellite of KIIS-FM down the freeway in LA. (Larry Bloomfield, meanwhile, went on to run the "Taste of NAB" traveling engineering road show for many years before his death in 2010.)
In 2003, Clear Channel spun off the little AM signal, selling it back to the Goldmans (this time under the Jeri Lyn Broadcasting banner) but retaining the KIIS calls. AM 1220 became KHTS ("Home Town Station") and went back to doing local radio - and as we were passing through in April 2010, LARadio.com editor Don Barrett (himself a Santa Clarita Valley resident) told us we absolutely had to stop by and see what the Goldmans were up to with their radio station. And so we did, dropping by the studios on the second floor of a little office complex off Soledad Canyon Road at Camp Plenty Road, a mile or so west of the old KBET studio location.
There's a steady stream of people passing through the little lobby here, as there should be - and just as there should be, there's a studio window (seen in the photo at top right) looking out into the lobby. This is one of two studios here in the facility - the other, shown above at left, is a production room - and while neither is especially fancy, they work just fine for the KHTS format, which mixes lots of local talk and sports with AC music.
But the Goldmans understand that there's more to a small-town media operation these days than just AM radio. They maintain a very active website (hometownstation.com) and social media presence that is itself chock-full of local news, provided by a staff working in a busy newsroom just up the stairs from the studios. There's even "KHTS-TV," providing news updates to "SCV-TV," the local cable access channel.
What hasn't changed in all these years is the 1220 transmitter site: it's an array of three short towers way up at the northeast corner of the valley up where Sierra Highway rises up into the hills that separate the Santa Clarita Valley from the Antelope Valley. And that brings us to an interesting point: thanks to the huge expanse that is Los Angeles County and the way Larry Bloomfield shoehorned this signal in so late in the game, KHTS is half of the answer to a great radio trivia question: what are the only two fulltime stations in the US on the same frequency within the same county? (The other 1220 is KWKU in Pomona, 50 miles to the southeast and just barely within Los Angeles County as well; we'll see it in an upcoming installment of Site of the Week.)
We noted at the start of this week's installment that the valley is well shielded from FM signals from the Los Angeles market, and that's been a growing concern for LA broadcasters as the population up here has grown, seeing as how the valley is very much part of the Arbitron market. They've been trying to rectify the problem with boosters and translators, and now the valley is served by on-channel boosters for public stations KPCC (89.3) and KUSC (91.5) as well as for Spanish-language KXOS (93.9) and KBUA (94.3), Saul Levine's KKGO (105.1) and CBS Radio's KROQ (106.7) and a translator (K261AB 100.1) for Bonneville's KSWD (100.3). Most of these low-power signals aim north into the valley from either the Santa Susana Mountains to the southwest or the San Gabriel Mountains to the southeast; the exception is KXOS-1 on 93.9, which we spotted just below those cellular antennas on a little ridge near the middle of the valley.
Thanks to Carl Goldman for the tour of KHTS!
Don't miss your chance to order the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2012, available now from the all new Fybush.com store!
And check out our sister site, Tophour.com, beginning Wednesday, February 1, for Santa Clarita legal IDs...
Next week: KRLA 870, Glendale, California