November 12-19, 2004

The Sites of Santa Barbara

For the next few weeks here on Site of the Week, we'll be presenting a selection of the sites that are featured on the exciting new Tower Site Calendar 2005, now available right here at fybush.com. A few will be familiar to long-time readers of this feature, and a few have never been presented here before.

This week's site falls into the latter category - KTMS (990) and KTYD (99.9), up on Gibraltar Peak, 2300 feet high above Santa Barbara, California. (You'll find it as "Miss June" on the 2005 calendar, if you haven't gotten yours already...)

During the day, KTMS is a reasonably powerful signal, pumping 5000 watts out of the two self-supporting towers in a cardioid pattern that nulls KFWB (980) down the coast in Los Angeles and aims up the coast at Lompoc and Santa Maria. For many years, that's all the signal KTMS put out; its current 500-watt night configuration came later on, requiring the addition of the guyed third tower to the south, complete with that nifty above-ground counterpoise system.

Why not just bury radials? Look at where this site is - perched on a rocky summit 2300 feet above sea level, yet just a few miles north of Santa Barbara's beautiful (and decidedly sea-level) Pacific Ocean beach. With such a commanding view, you'd think this would really be an ideal spot for an FM station, and so it is: the largest of these three towers is crowned with four side-mounted bays for Clear Channel sister station KTYD (99.9), pumping 34 kW of power (at a calculated 390 meters above average terrain) out over the coast down below.

And if you've driven up here from sea level, as I did this beautiful late afternoon in April 2004, your drive up the twisty Gibraltar Road will have taken you past another, slightly lower site on Gibraltar Peak. You can see in the image above how this promontory looms over the city and the ocean far below, so it's only natural that a number of FMs would have adopted it, joining pioneering tenant KDB (93.7), which has used this site for decades to broadcast classical music up and down the coast. (Especially "down" - there's a pretty clear shot down the coast from here all the way to San Diego, and it's more common than not to experience tropospheric ducting that carries KDB, KTYD and other Santa Barbara signals the 150 miles down to San Diego's northern suburbs.)

That's KDB's five bays on the tallest of the towers in the silhouetted view at right, but it's hardly alone these days; its companions at the site (now owned by Clear Channel) include KQSC (88.7 Santa Barbara), simulcasting LA's classical KUSC (91.5); KSBX (89.5 Santa Barbara), simulcasting public radio KCBX (90.1 San Luis Obispo) up the coast; KJEE (92.9 Montecito), a newish modern rocker; and Clear Channel's KSBL (101.7 Carpinteria) and KKSB (106.3 Santa Barbara), as well as the usual handful of translators, boosters and a whole slew of LPTVs.

If all those antennas look relatively inconspicuous - and they sure do, even the KTMS/KTYD towers - you can either blame or thank the neighbors, of whom there are some mighty wealthy ones up here. (A certain Mr. Jackson and his "Neverland Ranch" aren't far away, you know...)

The KTMS/KTYD towers are exempt from lighting requirements, being below the crest of the mountains, and local authorities require them to be painted in a sort of inconspicuous beige that really doesn't show up very well, especially from ground level.

There's one more mountaintop site in this market, but we didn't get there on this April trip: Broadcast Peak sits about 20 miles to the west, even higher up (some 3500 feet above sea level) on a ridge of the Santa Barbara Mountains. It's home to KEYT (Channel 3), the ABC affiliate that's based in Santa Barbara, serving the sprawling Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo TV market, as well as to KMGQ (97.5 Santa Barbara) and KRUZ (103.3 Santa Barbara), a grandfathered superpower FM signal (105 kW at a whopping 905 meters above average terrain) that's frequently heard all the way down the coast to Mexico. Why no pictures? It's a very long drive down a very unpaved road that's gated many miles from the towers. Someday...

So that's it for the FMs of Santa Barbara - but there are still two interesting AM sites to consider before we move on down the coast to Ventura and Oxnard for next week's installment.

Head west of Santa Barbara just a bit (remember, this is the part of California's coast that runs east and west, not north and south) towards the suburb of Goleta, and right there on Goleta Beach is the two-tower site of what's now KZER (1250). This is the old KTMS, putting out 2500 watts day and 1000 watts night, and programming regional Mexican "Radio Lazer" these days from those two top-hatted towers. (Which sit, incidentally, on the property of a natural gas company, beyond the security gate, so be prepared to ask permission and wait a while if you're aiming to get inside to get some pictures, as we did.)

And that brings us to the last, least - but by far most interesting - of this city's sites. Just a few blocks from downtown, and right along the US 101 freeway on East Yanonali Street, we find the battered and slightly bent flagpole-style tower that was originally the site of Santa Barbara's 1490, historically KDB and now doing regional Mexican for Clear Channel under the name "Radio Bronco."

With land in short supply in this very pricey city, 1490 now has quite a bit of company at this tower, which is now one of the very few triplexed AM sites in the country. (Look to Hawaii for most of the others...)

Clear Channel's talker KTLK is here, running 650 watts on 1340. (It was once the huge top-40 signal in town, under the calls KIST, now found on a rimshot FM signal. Back then, it operated from a rooftop site about a third of a mile to the west, right on State Street, the main drag through town.) And 1290's here too, having relocated some years back from a site just to the south. With 500 watts day, 122 watts night, 1290 plays standards these days, under the calls KZBN. (What does "BN" stand for? The station's owner, one Bob Newhart...)

So that's it for Santa Barbara - but not for southern California. Next week, we'll edge on down the coast to show you the sites of Ventura County. Join us, won't you?

Thanks to fellow DXer Dennis Gibson for his tour-guide services in beautiful Santa Barbara!

It's here - the 2005 Tower Site Calendar is now shipping, with KTMS/KTYD as the June 2005 image! Click here for ordering information!