February 12-19, 2004

Cleveland's Parma/Brecksville/Seven Hills Tower Farm

If you were a fan of the "Drew Carey Show" a few years back, you might remember the way it opened in its first few seasons - a cartoon drawing of Cleveland's most famous son singing a little ditty called "Moon Over Parma." The song was a gentle jibe at the unpretentious suburb south of town - but for tower aficionados, there's no more interesting spot in the market.

Perhaps the song could have been called "Tower Beacons Over Parma," because there are certainly plenty of them - every TV station in the market, most of the FM signals and even most of the important AMs in Cleveland broadcast from somewhere within the area encompassed by I-480 to the north, I-71 to the west, I-80 (the Ohio Turnpike) to the south and I-77 to the east.

Your editor passes through Cleveland several times a year, but these towers remained terra incognita until the summer of 2000, when an (in-laws') family reunion provided the perfect opportunity (or should that be excuse?) to get away for a few hours and see what the rolling hills west of the Cuyahoga River had to offer.

Broadview Road (Ohio 176) is sort of the "Main Street" of this big tower farm, and we began our tour at the north end of the farm, just a couple of miles south of I-480. That's where Cleveland's channel 3, WKYC-TV, has been since the mid-fifties. But this 912-foot tower was once more than just a supporting structure for a TV antenna - it was also a directional array for a 50,000-watt AM station.

A one-tower directional array? It's not impossible, though this was the only one ever used by a class I-A clear channel station. The station was the 1100 kHz facility that began as WTAM, ended up in NBC's hands (along with WTAM-FM 105.7 and WNBK, channel 3), and was then traded to Westinghouse in 1956 (along with $3 million) for KYW (1060) and WPTZ (Channel 3) in Philadelphia. Westinghouse moved the KYW calls to Cleveland, and for a few years this tower was home to KYW-TV on channel 3, KYW-FM on 105.7 and, yes, KYW 1100. From one of the guy wires of the tower, a vertical wire descended to the ground and functioned as the other tower in a directional array, somewhat nulling the station's massive signal toward Lake Erie. Just to add to the fun, the big tower was (if memory serves) sectionalized and center-fed - yup, a Franklin antenna!

If you were reading our series on the Roxborough tower farm in Philadelphia, you already know how this story played out - the Justice Department immediately launched an investigation into NBC's conduct in instigating the station trade, and in 1965 NBC was forced to reverse the deal, return the Philadelphia stations to Westinghouse and take back the Cleveland properties. The KYW calls returned to Philadelphia, but Westinghouse had in the meantime developed an image of "KY" as a top 40 giant in town. So NBC kept the "KY" in the middle of the calls and rechristened the stations WKYC AM-FM-TV.

The FM side eventually became oldies outlet WMJI, and in time moved off the channel 3 tower to the tower at left in the top photo. That's the channel 61 tower, whose primary occupant signed on in the early eighties as subscription-TV WCLQ (reoccupying a UHF channel left vacant when WKBF-TV signed off in the seventies) and later went home shopping as WQHS. (It's now Cleveland's Univision outlet, though this is one of the least Hispanic large markets in the nation.) The channel 61 tower is also home to WDOK (102.1).

The other tower at the left side of the photo was under construction when we saw it; today it's home to WB affiliate WBNX (Channel 55, licensed to Cuyahoga Falls).

At the right of the frame is another tall tower (1148 feet) that went up in the mid-eighties for the debut of WOIO (Channel 19), the last major UHF signal to sign on in Cleveland. At the time, WOIO was an independent, then a Fox affiliate, but it became a CBS affiliate when the longtime CBS affiliate, WJW-TV (Channel 8), flipped to Fox in the big New World station deal of 1993.

Channel 8's not far away - less than a mile, in fact, just south on Broadview Road and then west on Pleasant Valley Road to the corner of State Road (Ohio 94), where its tower rises from an old brick building on the southeast corner. This site has been the home of channel 8 ever since it signed on - and back then it was on channel 9 and known as WXEL-TV. (It was also a DuMont affiliate then, and I'm told this old building was actually the studio at the time; today, channel 8 occupies a prominent spot overlooking I-90 and the Lake Erie waterfront just east of downtown Cleveland.)

Turn north on State Road and it's less than half a mile to another cluster of towers. WEWS (Channel 5), Cleveland's first TV station, is here (and very well marked at the entrance to its driveway at 7080 State Road, I might add!); just to its south is WGAR-FM (99.5), and just across the street is public radio WCPN (90.3). Just north of WEWS is another major UHF tower site, home to WUAB (Channel 43), now the UPN affiliate in town but once a major regional independent superstation seen on cable as far away as Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. WUAB shares its site with WQAL (104.1) and WMVX (106.5), though WQAL has a CP to move a mile or so southwest to another neat old site.

The four big (423-foot) self-supporting towers of WERE (1300) would be quite a landmark just by themselves, and indeed they were for the many years in which they sat here on Ridge Road (Ohio 3) - but they're even more impressive with that 829-foot guyed tower right next to them. That tower is home to public TV WVIZ (Channel 25), which started out in 1963 atop one of the WERE towers before building the big guy there. (It's also home to WNCX 98.5, which was once a sister station to WERE.)

As impressive as those AM towers are, by the way, this is one of those signals that's just simply been outgrown by its market; WERE still blasts into downtown Cleveland and the nearby suburbs to the east and west, but it just doesn't reach the newer (and wealthier) suburbs beyond, and it's now mostly doing leased-time programming.

Another mile or so to the southwest, where Abbey Road crosses the Turnpike, is the four-tower array of daytimer WCCD (1000 Parma), now part of the Salem Broadcasting family of stations in Cleveland.

But we're headed due south instead, down Ridge Road to its intersection with Royalton Road (Ohio 82), to Cleveland's newest AM array. When we visited in 2000, this site had just been rebuilt with six towers for the new 50,000-watt signal of AM 850, the old WJW radio and the erstwhile home of Alan Freed, the original rock and roll DJ. (Wondering why the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland? Now you know.)

In the mid-eighties, WJW 850 became WRMR, playing standards (at which point the WJW calls returned to channel 8, which had been WJKW-TV since the radio and TV sides of WJW separated in the early seventies), and in 2000 the station boosted its day power from 10 to 50 kilowatts. The 850 day signal is now a powerhouse to the north, stopping the scan on car radios in places like Port Huron, Michigan and London, Ontario, but it's still full of nulls to the south, even as close in as Cuyahoga Falls and Akron, and it still has a huge null to the southeast to protect the 850 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

It's also not WRMR these days, and for that we must now digress a bit to explain the big station shuffle that took place a year after we took these pictures. On July 1, 2001, the sports format and WKNR calls that had been on the 50,000-watt 1220 facility (whose five towers and studio facility sit at 9446 Broadview Road, just a mile or so east of the 850 site down Royalton Road) moved to 850. 1220 picked up the WHK calls and religious preaching format that had been on 1420 (we'll see that site in a moment.) 1420 went to WCLV, Cleveland's classical broadcaster, and picked up the standards format from 850, becoming WCLV(AM). And that was just the AM shuffle, which was really a sideshow to the FM flip-flop that gave Salem the big class B 95.5 signal that had been classical WCLV-FM. 95.5 became contemporary Christian "Fish" WFHM. WCLV-FM moved to the west-side rimshot signal on 104.9 that had been Clear Channel's top 40 WAKS ("Kiss"). WAKS moved to the Akron-market signal on 96.5 that had been top 40/hot AC WKDD. And WKDD moved way down south to Canton, on the 98.1 signal that had been Salem's WHK-FM, simulcasting WHK 1420.

But wait - it gets much more complicated than that! In order not to lose the grandfathered three-letter WHK calls, Salem temporarily parked them on what had been WCCD (1000), so 1420 was temporarily WHKK before becoming WCLV. 95.5 briefly took the reins as WHK-FM before making the WFHM calls official, and 1220 actually changed from WKNR to WHKC before becoming WHK. Oh, and after a couple of years as WCLV(AM), 1420 eventually switched to the WRMR calls that everyone in town associates with the standards format anyway. (Thanks to a lucky bit of scheduling that found us going through Cleveland a week before the flip on the way out to the Big Trip of 2001 and back through Cleveland a week after the flip on the way home, your editor was able to get every single one of those legal IDs - even the rare WHKK 1420, WHK 1000, WHKC 1220 and WHK-FM 95.5 ones - into his collection, a pointless feat of which he is nonetheless absurdly proud.)

Before we leave 9446 Broadview Road, by the way, a few notes on this 50,000-watt signal: For most of its life, 1220 in Cleveland was WGAR ("George A. Richards"), operating at this site since the mid-forties, when it moved (overnight!) from its old spot on 1450 (later 1480) from a tower on Harvard Avenue east of downtown Cleveland. After World War II, WGAR went from 5 to 50 kilowatts, building this five-tower array (you can only see four in this picture, and a trick of perspective, along with the enhancement I needed to make the towers show up at all against strong backlighting that afternoon, makes the middle tower appear much taller than the others - it isn't) and installing two gorgeous RCA BTA-50F transmitters, which you can see in detail at Jim Hawkins' excellent page on 1220 and its history. The old batwing antenna on the middle tower was the RCA antenna for WGAR-FM 99.5 for many years. (Oh, and one of those RCAs came from Dallas, where it was the 50 kw unit on 820 shared by WBAP and WFAA before they lost their shared transmitter site to the DFW airport construction!)

And there's one more fillip to the 2001 call and format changes - Clear Channel soon moved that 96.5 Akron signal north, right into the tower farm, by planting it on the granddaddy of all the towers in the region.

We get to 8200 Snowville Road, a mile or so east of 1220 and almost south to the Summit County line, by heading past an FM tower that's home to Moody Broadcasting's religious WCRF (103.3) and a four-tower in-line AM array at Miller Road and I-77 that was once top-40 behemoth WIXY (1260), but is now Radio Disney's WWMK. (Like 1300, 1260's signal has simply been outgrown by the market; the protection it has to provide to the 1260 in Erie, Pennsylvania, barely 100 miles to the east, makes this signal impossible to hear in Cleveland's affluent eastern suburbs.)

Cross I-77 and Brecksville Road (Ohio 21) and we reach the tower seen at left, a 480-footer built in 1937 for NBC's WTAM, then on 1070 and later on 1100. (WTAM had earlier used a wire antenna at this same site.) When NBC put a TV station on the air in 1948, WNBK, it put the channel 4 antenna right on top of the WTAM stick - and later added WTAM-FM 105.7 here as well. As we noted at the beginning of this week's installment, all three stations then relocated to Parma in the early fifties, WNBK having moved down to channel 3 when the co-channel interference to and from Detroit's channel 4 became intolerable.

But in 1974, AM 1100 - by then "3WE," or WWWE - came back to Brecksville. Its original transmitter building, shown here, had become the offices of the Carl Smith engineering firm, so a new transmitter building was built out back.

And when WWWE changed calls back to WTAM in the mid-nineties, the circle was complete - albeit with a little bit of company along the way. WBNX (Channel 55) used this tower for a while in the eighties and nineties before relocating to Parma, next door to channel 3. WZAK (93.1) located its antenna bays here, and then in 2002 WAKS (96.5) moved in as well. There are also various ham repeaters and whatnot on this tower; it's by far the most crowded stick of any class I-A AM facility I've seen (and I've seen all but three of them...)

One last site finishes up our tour of the tower riches to be found south of Cleveland: three miles or so north of WTAM along I-77 brings us back to Pleasant Valley Road (not far from the WJW-TV tower), where we see the three-tower array of the 1420 facility. This was WHK when we saw it, heir to the oldest set of calls (and oldest license - 1921) in Cleveland; after a stint as WCLV(AM), it became - and remains - WRMR, playing standards. The FM antenna on one of those towers is rocker WMMS (100.7).

(Where are the other big Cleveland FM signals? The former WCLV-FM, now WFHM, shares a tall self-supporter east of town alongside I-271 with WXTM 92.3 Cleveland Heights; WENZ 107.9 has a tall tower way out east in Geauga County alongside Ohio 87.)

And with that, we say goodbye to Cleveland and head south on I-71 for still more Ohio tower fun. See you next week!

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