January 22-29, 2004

Oklahoma City, part II

At the end of last week's installment of our August 2002 visit to Oklahoma City, we had reached the very southern end of OKC's sprawling city limits, at the KTOK (1000) transmitter site, and we were heading south to Moore and Norman.

We'll get there, but first an additional note on KTOK: correspondent Fred Morton down in Texas reminds us that before it made the move to 1000 in the fifties (with 5 kW day, 1 kW night at first), KTOK was on 1400 as a 250-watt graveyarder. Thanks, Fred!

Back to Moore, though: it's home to the most important AM signal in town, out on SW Fourth Street just west of I-35. These three big square Blaw-Knox towers are home to the city's only fulltime 50,000-watter, the legendary KOMA (1520), which rocked much of the midwest for several decades.

When we visited in 2002, KOMA was winding up its days as an oldies outlet, spending most of the day simulcasting the oldies format of sister KOMA-FM (92.5) but breaking away for several hours of talk in the middle of the day, paid religion overnight and, awkwardly, CBS News on the top of each hour. (Why "awkwardly"? The breakaway wasn't coordinated with the FM's programming and usually came in the middle of a song, later rejoining the FM in the middle of a jock's break.) A few months later, KOMA finally pulled the plug on AM oldies, flipping to a full-time news and talk format.

KOMA's big signal is non-directional by day, and I believe it's coming from the middle of these three towers.

At sunset, it goes directional, mutually protecting WWKB in Buffalo (the old WKBW), but still throwing a monster signal out to the northwest and across much of the western U.S.

While KOMA continues to use this site in Moore as its transmitter, the only part of the site it was occupying when we visited was the blocky transmitter building out by the towers.

The studio building just to the west of the towers still had the signs outside for KOMA, KOMA-FM and KRXO (107.7 Oklahoma City), but those studios moved north a few years earlier to a facility on East Britton Road that was home to their new Renda Broadcasting sister station, KMGL (104.1 Oklahoma City) and had earlier been home to WKY radio. (We'll check that out next week...)

One more note before we leave KOMA and keep heading south: check out that STL tower behind the studio building - just below the guy wires is a detuning skirt to keep this little stick from becoming part of the 1520 array. It looks to be perhaps 80 or 90 feet tall, which would make it 50 or 60 electrical degrees tall at 1520 kHz - so detuning it is important. (We'd first thought it was a short folded unipole antenna for backup use...)

But KOMA's not the only interesting site in Moore - just three miles south of KOMA, on W. Indian Hills Road, sit the four towers of one of the market's oldest stations. WWLS on 640 is licensed to Norman, the next community to the south, and for most of its history this station was licensed to the University of Oklahoma.

Originally a daytimer under the calls WNAD (an early sequential assignment from the pre-1923 days when Oklahoma was still "W" country), the university's station signed on in September 1922 and had settled down as a daytimer on 640 by the thirties, much later adding night power. In 1972, the university sold WNAD to a commercial operator (also spinning off WNAD-FM 90.9, which eventually became religious KOKF Oklahoma City, and hanging on to commercial student station KGOU 106.3, which eventually became a university-operated public broadcaster), and in 1981 WNAD changed calls to WWLS, a rare instance of a new "W" call being issued in what by then was firmly "K" territory. By the mid-eighties, WWLS was programming sports talk, and today it still does so under Citadel ownership, running 5000 watts during the day from all but the tower shown at far left above and 1000 watts at night from all four towers (you can just see the tip of tower 4 at the right of the frame.) Over the years, Citadel has tried to augment the 640 signal with various incarnations of WWLS-FM, currently heard on the 104.9 signal in Bethany OK.

The original sports operator at WWLS, Fox Broadcasting, got back into the business after selling off 640, buying Norman's KNOR (1400, which came on the air in the fifties after KTOK moved to 1000) and eventually changing the calls to KREF. It operates from a single tower and a small studio building on Alameda Street, east of downtown Norman. (We found some relief from the 100-degree weather that afternoon at a nearby Braum's ice cream shop - yum!)

Two more relatively nondescript towers finish off our Norman visit (and also aren't shown here) - KGOU and home-shopping KQOK (Channel 30, licensed to Shawnee) are way out northeast of town.

Speaking of "out of town," we next turned our attention west of Oklahoma City, heading out I-40 and old US 66 to El Reno, probably best known these days as the site of a big federal penitentiary. El Reno has one AM signal - Spanish-language KZUE, running a regional Mexican format for the fairly large Hispanic population in the area. It's only 500 watts day, 136 watts night from that single tower right on old 66 (at Radio Road!) east of El Reno, but it gets out fairly well.

Its major competition is out this way as well, on a tall tower (1040 feet) about seven miles north of KZUE. That's KTUZ (106.7 Okarche) on that big tower off in the distance, a C2 signal (13 kW/958') that was moved in to the Oklahoma City market in 2000 after more than thirty years in Clinton, Oklahoma, where it was on 106.9. Tyler Broadcasting moved the KTUZ calls and regional Mexican "Zeta" format to 106.7 from their earlier home at 105.5 in Chickasha, and KTUZ became part of a rather eclectic cluster that also includes black gospel KTLR (890), classic country KKNG-FM (93.3 Newcastle, picking up the heritage calls that had been on 92.5 in its pre-KOMA days) and Radio Disney's KWCO (1560 Del City, an OKC move-in from Chickasha the year after our visit.)

From here, we head east again - into the big cluster of tall towers on the north side of Oklahoma City. Check them out right here next week, won't you?

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