Way back in 2004, this column featured an extensive look at the many tall towers that dot the landscape of Parma, Ohio, just south of Cleveland. Go ahead and hit that link - you'll get peeks at most of the AM, FM and TV sites that serve this very sizable and interesting market, not to mention a whole heaping pile of history.
After the visit we profiled back then, we've been rather guilty of ignoring the Cleveland market. It's not that we've lacked the opportunity - all those trips from Rochester to Fort Wayne rather inevitably take us through northeast Ohio on a regular basis. But somehow, we'd passed up the chance to get some updated pictures of these sites until the summer of 2010, when we took the opportunity to see how things have evolved here and to get some close-up shots of sites we'd previously seen only at a distance.
We started, just as in that earlier visit, at the big cluster of towers along Broadview Road just south of I-480. That driveway (remember, you can click on any picture here to enlarge it!) still leads to a brick building that's home to NBC affiliate WKYC-TV, and that's still the WKYC tower rising majestically just to the right of the building. But that's not the same WKYC tower we'd seen a decade earlier! In 2009, at the end of the DTV conversion, WKYC owner Gannett built a brand-new tower here and then dismantled the 1950s-era tower that had carried the old analog channel 3 signal.
(That tower had also served as the AM 1100 tower until 1974, when then-WWWE returned to an earlier site out in Brecksville, to the southeast; WKYC engineer David Kushman, who documented the removal of the old tower, got a great shot of the insulators that were at the base of the tower in its AM days.)
From the new tower, WKYC was finally able to move from its transitional digital signal on RF channel 2 (which was just as bad as you'd expect) to a nice high-powered UHF signal on RF 17. The new stick also provided a full-powered home for Cleveland's public TV station, WVIZ (Channel 25), which had been running a very low-powered, low-height RF 26 digital signal from its old studio site on Brookpark Road nearby.
(In the background of the WKYC shot, you can see the two other tall towers in this cluster that are home to CBS affiliate WOIO, CW affiliate WBNX and Univision's WQHS. Two FM signals, WDOK 102.1 and WMJI 105.7, are also in this part of the farm. Want antenna closeups? NECRAT.us has them, in droves...)
Our next stop was at a site we'd seen only from a distance on that earlier trip. WHK (1420) and former sister station WMMS (100.7) sit in a big field just south of Pleasant Valley Road, just east of Broadview and not much more than a mile away from WKYC. Salem's WHK operates with 5000 watts day and night, using just one of these towers during daylight and all three at night. Clear Channel's WMMS sits atop the tallest of the AM towers, and check out that vintage three-bay backup antenna on the telephone pole next to the transmitter building!
Heading west on Pleasant Valley past Broadview to the corner of State Road, we come to one of the oldest TV sites in the farm here. WXEL-TV started out here on channel 9 way back in 1949, when its studio and transmitter were both located at this site. The studios eventually moved into the city of Cleveland, the station shifted to channel 8 as WJW-TV, then WJKW, then back to WJW, and the affiliation shifted from DuMont to CBS to Fox, but this transmitter site stayed constant.
(Even the broadcast channel changed: WJW went from a transitional DTV signal on RF 31 back to channel 8 in 2009, but all of the problems with VHF DTV prompted an attempt to return to channel 31, thwarted by Canadian coordination problems. As a result, WJW and another Cleveland station, WOIO on RF 10, remain stuck in VHF limbo for the most part, though WOIO at least has a powerful translator on RF 24 serving viewers to the south in Akron.)
Back over to Broadview we go, heading south to another venerable site. Cleveland's AM 1220 was long known as WGAR, and it was "GAR" himself - longtime owner George A. Richards - who took what had been a regional-channel signal on 1450 and later 1480 and upgraded it to a 50 kW directional flamethrower on 1220, building this five-tower facility at 9446 Broadview Road. The center tower held a batwing antenna for WGAR-FM (99.5), and the building housed a majestic RCA BTA-50F transmitter, which in later years was joined by a second BTA-50F shipped up here from the old WBAP/WFAA 820 site in Grapevine, Texas.
WGAR(AM) eventually became sports talk WKNR, and then went religious in the huge 2001 Clear Channel/Salem/Bob Conrad station shuffle that gave 1220 the WHK calls. When WHK went back "home" to 1420 a few years later, 1220 became WHKW, and that's the call that resides there under Salem ownership today.
I believe one of those RCAs is still in the building, but the studios that were built here for WGAR and then WKNR are gone now, leaving only a ghost sign outside.
That 2001 signal shuffle created some new connections among longtime competitors: when Salem moved religion and the WHK calls to 1220, it flipped 850 (the erstwhile WJW) from standards as WRMR to sports as WKNR. For a few years, the sports talk that was originating from studios at the 1220 site over on Broadview was being fed a mile or so west to the 850 site off State Road (SR 3) in North Royalton. This site was extensively rebuilt in the late 1990s when 850 upgraded its day signal from 5 kW to 50 kW, using six new towers.
(Closing the circle, at least on the AM side, the standards format moved up the dial to 1420. Bob Conrad, longtime owner of classical WCLV, acquired the 1420 signal as partial compensation for exchanging his class B 95.5 WCLV-FM signal for Clear Channel's Lorain-licensed class A, WAKS 104.9. Conrad at first changed the 1420 calls to WCLV, then restored the old WRMR calls there. Eventually, he sold the AM back to Salem, which turned it back into WHK. Meanwhile on FM, Conrad's old 95.5 signal became - and remains - Salem's contemporary Christian "Fish" WFHM, while Clear Channel installed "Kiss" WAKS on its Akron-licensed 96.5, which moved up to the WTAM 1100 tower over in Brecksville. But I digress...)
These days, WKNR on 850 is owned by Good Karma Broadcasting, run by Craig Karmazin, son of Mel, and it gets its programming from studios downtown at the Galleria mall. Good Karma also owns a second AM, WWGK (1540), and for a while it was trying to move that station from its non-directional site on Cleveland's east side to a higher-powered facility here at the North Royalton site, though it appears local zoning issues will prevent that from happening.
One AM signal that wasn't part of the 2001 switcheroo was the 5 kW fulltimer on 1300. Long known as WERE, this signal went through its own transition in 2007 when Radio One swapped its calls and format with its sister station, WJMO (1490 Cleveland Heights). The now-WJMO on 1300 shares its four-tower AM site on Ridge Road (just north of the 850 site) with a much taller guyed tower that was the old WVIZ (Channel 25) analog facility. With TV gone, the big tower is now home only to an FM signal, WNCX (98.5), which was once a sister to WERE.
And we close our big loop around the tower farm by heading back up north on Ridge to Pleasant Valley Road, then east to State Road (SR 94). Just north of Pleasant Valley, we find a cluster of four sites straddling State: on the west side, there's the WGAR-FM (99.5) tower back in the woods, just south of the taller tower of ABC affiliate WEWS (Channel 5/RF 15), which also has a shorter older tower still on site as an auxiliary.
MyNetwork TV affiliate WUAB (Channel 43/RF 28) is just northwest of WEWS, and we complete this stop with a quick look at public radio station WCPN (90.3), on the east side of State Road just across from WEWS.
Did this little trip whet your appetite for a deeper look inside Cleveland radio? Ours, too - which is why we're hoping to get back this summer to finally get some tours of some of these sites that we've been looking at from the outside for decades now. In the meantime, the next few weeks of Tower Site of the Week will feature more of Ohio, from an extensive sweep down the I-75 corridor we made back in June 2010. Stay tuned!
The Tower Site Calendar 2012 is now ON CLEARANCE SALE at the all new Fybush.com store!
And don't miss Cleveland legal IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Just south of Toledo, summer 2010