What's the oldest radio station in Dayton, Ohio? That's easy: it's the facility that's now WING (1410), the only Dayton station that survived the 1920s.
WING claims a heritage that goes back to 1921, when Stanley M. Krohn began broadcasting, supposedly using the callsign "WXOX." Official records don't show "WXOX" as a broadcast station; instead, it was June 1924 when Krohn first showed up with a license, initially with the calls WDBS ("Dayton's Broadcasting Station") and by 1926 with his initials, WSMK.
(WDBS/WSMK may not even have been the first licensed station in town - in May 1923, Parker High School received a 10-watt license for a new station, WABD, the first installment in a long history of high school radio in the Dayton area.)
Whether it was 1921 or 1924, WDBS/WSMK easily predated the next Dayton radio outlet by more than a decade, establishing itself as an important player while moving from one downtown studio to another. By 1935, it was operating at the Lowes Theater in downtown Dayton, and after a sale in 1941 it changed calls to WING to honor the city's aviation heritage.
In 1960, WING relocated its transmitter to the suburbs, boosting power to 5000 watts day and night with a two-tower directional array at 717 E. David Road in Kettering, just southeast of Dayton. From a showcase studio downtown, WING became Dayton's top-40 giant throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, eventually moving the studios and offices out to the transmitter site in Kettering later in the decade.
Under owner Great Trails Broadcasting, WING added a sister station in the 1970s, the 92.9 facility licensed to Eaton, 20 miles west of Dayton. That station had been the original WCTM (much more about that piece of its history here), and after a few years of unexciting beautiful music as WJAI, it caught fire in the 1980s as WGTZ ("WGTZ, Eaton Dayton and Springfield alive!"), taking the top-40 torch from WING, which eventually ended up doing ESPN Radio.
After spending some time under Radio One ownership, this group of stations is now under the Main Line Broadcasting banner, and when we visited in 2010 it consisted of WING, WGTZ (by then doing adult hits as "Fly 92.9"), urban AC WROU (92.1 West Carrollton) and hip-hop WDHT (102.9). "Hot 102.9" had just changed city of license from Springfield to Urbana, clearing the way for an outlying station, WKSW 101.7, to move from Urbana to Enon, change frequency to 101.5, and enter the Dayton market as WCLI-FM, "Click 101.5" - but that didn't happen until after our visit.
When we were there, the only signs of the impending 101.5 move-in were a few unexplained pieces of equipment in the rack room downstairs and an unused studio in the line of studios along the back of the building upstairs.
About that building: it's a nice piece of 1970s-vintage radio architecture, with lots of skylights upstairs and a somewhat unusual rack room setup downstairs: how many transmitter rooms have a nice wall of glass doors leading out to the back parking lot and the towers?
On one side of the room is the Rockwell-Collins phasor and the main Harris DX10 transmitter; that's an older MW5 aux around the corner, facing the wall of racks on the other side.
We had the chance to get to one of the Main Line FM sites, too: as one of the early FM "move-in" operations, WJAI/WGTZ 92.9 left its original short tower in downtown Eaton behind in favor of a 500-foot tower in Brookville, northwest of Dayton along I-70. That tower went up in 1982, and it's still the WGTZ location today, pumping out 40 kW at 551' above average terrain from a Harris FM25K main transmitter, with a Collins 831 for backup.
After returning to Kettering and grabbing some dinner, we had some time to at least drive by one more AM site in the neighborhood.
WONE (980) was part of the postwar crop of new AMs, started by a WING veteran, Ronald B. Woodyard, who reportedly threatened to put WING "out of business" with his new signal. WONE challenged WING with top-40 in the 1960s but eventually settled in with country; today, it's also doing sports, once again competing with WING from its four-tower site on West Rahn Road about a mile south of WING.
(WONE is part of the Clear Channel Dayton cluster, and one of these days we need to get back for an updated full tour of those facilities, including their studios in the historic Oregon district downtown and the master FM site just off I-75 south of Dayton.)
But we close this installment with one more AM station. WHIO (1290) transmits from a three-tower site on East David Road in Kettering, just a mile or so east of the WING site and just a couple of miles south of the longtime WHIO studio facility (and former TV transmitter site) on Wilmington Pike, seen in an earlier Tower Site of the Week installment.
The wood siding and mansard roof make the transmitter building look something like a 1970s McDonalds, but underneath that renovation is the original transmitter building from 1935, when Governor James M. Cox uprooted WLBW 1260 from Oil City, Pennsylvania and moved it clear across Ohio to become Dayton's second AM signal, WHIO.(It moved to 1290 in 1941 as part of the NARBA shift, at the same time WING relocated from 1380 to 1410.)
Back then, a 5000-watt AM transmitter would have taken up an entire wall of the building; today, the space where the original WHIO transmitter sat is a big empty space between the compact Harris DAX transmitter and the backup DX5 and vintage Gates phasor.
(You can see more pictures of all of these sites over at Mike Fitzpatrick's NECRAT.us, of course...)
Thanks to Main Line's Gene Simmons and Josh Bohn, and WHIO's Kevin Fodor and Benny Spittler for the tours!
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Next week: The Big One - WLW, Cincinnati, Summer 2010