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Quick - what's the only market in the country where one broadcaster programs all of the "Big 4" TV networks?

As far as I know, it's Lima, Ohio, market #201, where all 39,350 TV homes receive their NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox from one building tucked into a residential neighborhood on the city's west side. (Update: my Texas friend David Stewart reminds me that Saga runs all four, plus Univision and Telemundo, on a combination of full-power and LPTVs in Victoria, Texas!)

The four-network master control at WLIO

WLIO's news studio

For many decades, this facility at 1424 Rice Avenue was home to just one station, an NBC affiliate that started out in 1953 as WLOK-TV on channel 73. By 1955, it had moved down to channel 35 as WIMA-TV, and for almost half a century Lima remained one of those fun little one-station markets, getting NBC on channel 35 (which became WLIO-TV when WIMA radio on 1150 went to new owners in the 1970s) and the rest of the networks via cable and big antennas from other markets 60 or more miles away - Toledo to the north, Fort Wayne to the west, Columbus to the southeast and Dayton to the south.

WLIO's channel 8 transmitter

The WOHL channel 35 transmitter
WLIO's tower

But the advent of low-power TV began to break WLIO's monopoly on the market. First came Fox outlet WOHL-LP (Channel 25), which spawned sister ABC (WLQP-LP 18) and CBS (WLMO-LP 38) signals. And then came 2009, when WLIO owner Block Communications bought the LPTV operator, bringing the other three networks under this same Rice Avenue roof. It was completely legal, since there's no market cap on low-power TV signals.

On August 17, 2009, WLIO rearranged its signals to put all four networks on two digital channels: NBC and Fox on WLIO-DT (RF channel 8, virtual channels 8.1/8.2) and ABC and CBS on WOHL-CD (RF channel 35, virtual channels 35.1/35.2), all emanating from right here on Rice Avenue.

That meant some big changes to this venerable facility, and some busy months in the life of its busy vice president and director of engineering, our good friend Fred Vobbe.

Back in 2009, this space showed you a still shot of Fred turning off the analog channel 35 transmitter, a classic RCA TTU-30D (acquired used in 1979!) that we'd seen and admired on numerous visits to Lima over the years. Within hours, that RCA was being dismantled (you can see several video tours here) to make room for a new IT center in the space it had occupied at the back of the building, and that was just the beginning of the transformation.

There's a new master-control center here, not all that different in practice from the "hubs" we've seen elsewhere - except that this hub is entirely local, with four positions all serving the local WLIO/WOHL channels. That's the production control room seen at the rear in the master-control photo at the top of the page, and the newscasts there have transitioned from "WLIO News Journal" to "Your News Now," seen in varying combinations on the NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox outlets that are collectively known as "Your Hometown Stations."

The Axcera channel 8 digital transmitter had already found a home in a small addition just behind master control and adjacent to the base of the TV tower here, and the addition of channel 35 came with a new outbuilding on the other side of the tower. At some point, the WLQP and WLMO licenses will likely be reactivated from here as well. The new building also provides space for storage and engineering projects - and for a "point of presence" for one of the satellite TV carriers, too.

WTGN 97.7

WIMA 1150

As cool as Fred's facility is, it's not the only thing Lima has to offer us, and while your editor has seen the towers here on several occasions (including at least one of the National Radio Club conventions Fred has hosted over the years in his role as editor of the "DX Audio Service"), we're playing host on this warm summer day to NECRAT.us editor Mike Fitzpatrick, who's met up with us here to begin his first visit to the radio and TV sites of the midwest.

It's only half a mile or so north from WLIO/WOHL to Elida Road and WTGN (97.7), Lima's oldest religious FM station, and also not far to either of the city's two religious LPFMs, both on the west side of town. WCBV-LP (105.9) belongs to the Calvary Baptist Church, while WNHC-LP (104.1) belongs to the New Hope Christian Center, which is in turn just down Baty Road from Lima's Christian TV station.

WTLW (Channel 44) is actually something more than just a Christian TV station. It's also a local sports powerhouse, devoting Friday nights to high school basketball and football coverage. And it shares its tower with WWSR (93.1 Lima), Maverick Media's ESPN Radio outlet in the market.

Oh, and what happened to WLIO's former AM sister station? WIMA (1150) broadcasts from studios on West Market Street near downtown Lima and a four-tower array on McClain Road south of town, the northernmost of a big cluster of sites south of Lima.

WTLW 44 (and WWSR 93.1)

WNHC-LP 104.1

WCBV-LP 105.9

One of WIMA's Clear Channel sister stations, active rock "X107.5" WZRX-FM (107.5 Fort Shawnee), anchors the east end of that cluster, out on Hume Road east of McClain.

Follow Hume back to McClain and head south just a bit and you're at a tower shared by two repeaters of Toledo-based signals. WGLE (90.7 Lima) relays public radio WGTE (91.3 Toledo), while WYSM (89.3 Lima) rebroadcasts contemporary Christian "Yes-FM" WYSZ (89.3 Maumee)/WYSA (88.5 Wauseon).

WYSM/WGLE

WZRX 107.5

WIMT/WMLX

WFGF 92.1

And that leaves the biggest for last: the 1118-foot tower way out to the southwest on Ohio 501 (Wapakoneta Road) near Cridersville that's home to the market's only class B commercial signal, Clear Channel's country "T-102" WIMT (102.1 Lima), as well as class A sister station WMLX (103.3 St. Mary's). This big tower was also home to the WOHL/WLQP/WLMO analog signals back in the day, and if I'm not mistaken, there was even a time, way back when, when the WOHL master control was tucked away in the building at its base.

And that's nearly the entire market - about the only thing we didn't show you here is Lima's other AM station, Maverick's WCIT (940), which shares its two-tower array on Lima's southeast side with sister station WEGE (104.9). Another sister station, WFGF (92.1 Wapakoneta), is down in the tower farm not far from WGLE/WYSM and WZRX-FM, and I can't recall why we didn't get a picture of it...except, perhaps, that we were on our way south to some fascinating tours in the Dayton market, which we'll start showing you in next week's installment.

(Update: Mike reminds me we did get pictures of it, and it's been added above!)

Thanks to Fred Vobbe for the tour!

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Next week: Dayton, summer 2010

5 COMMENTS

  1. Scott,
    Someday, if you haven’t done so already, you need to make a stop on the old Route 66 to the Joplin, Missouri-Pittsburgh, Kansas market. I started my career there at KODE-TV 12, and Brian Williams of NBC News started his at KOAM-TV 7.

    Safe journey.

    Gary Walters

  2. Reading this article caused me to check WAGM-TV in Presque Isle, Main on Wikipedia. Now THERE was a universal broadcaster! I remember the network affiliation for WAGM in the Vane A Jones Directory as being ACN; according to the Wikipedia entry, they picked up NFL games on Fox for a while. Now it runs Fox on its main dot-1 channel and CBS on dot-2. What’s to keep them from doing the same thing they’re doing in Lima, OH and putting NBC and ABC on other subchannels? How do residents of that area who watch TV over-the-air get ABC and NBC? Maine Public Television has repeaters up there; do WLBZ and WMTW have any translators in or near Presque Isle?

  3. I think OTA viewers way up there are basically out of luck if they want anything other than WAGM and MPBN (and CBC!)

    It’s pretty heavily cabled these days, for obvious reasons.

    WAGM wasn’t the only one-station market that carried all three networks. That was actually fairly common at the beginning in places like Watertown and Presque Isle and Zanesville. DTV subchannels have obviously changed all that.

    About the only thing keeping WAGM from adding ABC and NBC, I suspect, is the lack of a second signal (LPTV, even) on which to put them. The networks want to be carried in HD, and you can really only get two HDs on a single DTV channel before the quality becomes insufferably bad. (Some would argue it’s already unwatchable even with two 720p HDs on a single channel.)

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