By SCOTT FYBUSH
As regular readers of this feature well know, we spend much of each summer visiting the in-laws in Fort Wayne, Indiana - and indeed, that's where we find ourselves as we post this week's installment.
But as close as northeast Indiana is to the Michigan state line - it's barely an hour up I-69 heading north - we've been so busy in recent years visiting just about everything in Indiana that we haven't made much time for our neighbors to the north. (And also, our buddy Tom Bosscher has been doing his own diligent job chronicling Michigan Broadcast Towers on his own site, which is well worth a visit!)
In the summer of 2010, though, a busy travel schedule found us including a jaunt northward to take in a Tigers game at Comerica Park in Detroit - and then a rainout of that game found us making the Detroit-Fort Wayne trip twice in three days, which in turn gave us some opportunities to get off I-94 and I-69 and see some of what there was to be seen along the way.
Our trip begins this week not at michigan.org (though we heard plenty of those radio spots along the way!) but instead right over the state line in Coldwater, the first town along I-69 north of the border. WTVB (1590) is the local AM outlet here, a venerable local voice dating back to 1949. The calls stand for either "Twin Valley Broadcasting" or "The Voice of Branch (County)," and the signal is 5,000 watts nondirectional by day, 1,000 watts into three towers at night, now accompanied by an FM translator at 95.5. One of these days, we'll get back up to Coldwater for a more comprehensive tour; just a few months after taking these pictures in 2010, we ended up sitting next to WTVB's general manager and morning man on a flight from New York to Dublin as he led listeners on a tour of Ireland, and we're looking forward to seeing him back in Michigan sooner or later.
WTVB's FM sister station is WNWN-FM (98.5), a booming class B signal audible across much of southern Michigan and northern Indiana - and it's because of that big signal from its tower north of Coldwater that "WIN 98.5" long ago moved its studio out of town, operating instead from Midwest Broadcasting's Battle Creek studios some 20 miles to the northwest.
Before we go north to Battle Creek to see some of its radio, though, we take a quick detour westward along the Indiana-Michigan border. Go west-southwest from Coldwater on US 12 and you'll come to Sturgis, Michigan, home to an AM-FM combo that dates back to the early 1950s.
These stations (at 1230 AM and 99.3 FM) used to be WSTR/WSTR-FM, then became WMSH/WMSH-FM (for the "Michiana" region they serve), and since 2009 they've-been WBET and WBET-FM under current owner Steve Swick, who also owns a bunch of signals just across the Indiana line that we'll see in a future Site of the Week installment. Today, WBET(AM) runs ESPN sports while WBET-FM does oldies.
Back up north we go, to close out this week's installment with a quick spin around the towers of Battle Creek, the city best known as the home of Kellogg's cereals.
The biggest AM signal out of Battle Creek is at 930 on the dial, still using the same WBCK callsign it had when it signed on back in 1948. For many years, its 5,000 watt day/1,000 watt night signal was the home to news and talk in Battle Creek, but that format moved to the FM dial in 2007, leaving AM 930 behind as a classic country outlet. It also became the odd signal out when Clear Channel and Cumulus swapped station clusters, ending up in a divestiture trust when Clear handed its Battle Creek signals over to Cumulus in exchange for several Ohio signals.
The WBCK transmitter site on Golden Drive just south of downtown Battle Creek is also the studio location for the rest of the Cumulus cluster, so the towers and the AM signal have stayed while they seek a new owner.
WBCK isn't the only AM array visible from Golden Drive: go east a mile or so over I-194 to 6 1/2 Mile Road and you'll see another four-tower array, the former WOLY (1500), still standing in the summer of 2010 more than a year after it was last on the air - and more than four years after its license was cancelled.
Perhaps WOLY was cursed - it signed on as WVOC on November 22, 1963, beginning its life with the announcement of President Kennedy's assassination, and it changed calls often (WWKQ, WCLS) before ending up as WOLY in 1988. And then in 2004, WOLY failed to file for license renewal when Michigan stations were due, touching off a five-year fight for reinstatement that pitted it against an application for a power increase over at AM 1510 in Jackson, to the east. (The gist of WOLY's argument was that its paper renewal application should have been accepted because the station's owners lacked internet access to file the proper electronic renewal.) By 2009, WOLY had lost its fight, leaving an empty studio and these four towers standing.
Back to WBCK for a moment: when the news-talk format moved from AM 930, it went to FM 95.3, the former WBXX. Its class A signal comes from a tower adjacent to WOLY, behind a church on 6 1/2 Mile Road.
The WBXX callsign and AC format that used to be on 95.3 moved to 104.9 in Marshall, east of Battle Creek where I-69 meets I-94, and while we didn't see that tower on this trip, it brings us to our final Battle Creek stop. That's because 104.9 in Marshall was paired for quite a few years with AM 1400 in Battle Creek, the city's oldest radio station. The AM signal started out in 1925 as WJBM, then flipped the next year to WKBP ("We Keep Breakfast Popular" - this is the "Cereal City," after all) and later on to WELL (because Kellogg's cereals made you..."well"). Still later, 1400 was WKFR, a West Michigan sister to Detroit's big "Keener" WKNR - and when the Detroit "Keener" changed calls, the WKNR calls were parked out here for a while. (The WKFR calls survived at 103.3 on the FM dial, a spot licensed to Battle Creek but now serving the larger Kalamazoo market just to the west.)
The WKNR calls went to Cleveland in the late 1980s, and 1400 in Battle Creek flipped through a succession of calls: WELL again, WWKN (a resurrection of "Keener"), WRCC ("Radio Cereal City") and eventually WBFN, "the Fan." The calls survived when 1400 was spun off from Clear Channel to Family Life Communications, which still runs it today. Its tower on Territorial Drive, a half-mile or so north of WBCK, is much newer than the station itself: it went up in the 1970s, when 1400 moved from its longtime home on the Michigan National Bank building in downtown Battle Creek.
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Next week: Jackson, Michigan and points east, 2010