November 19-26, 2004

Ventura County, California

As we work our way through the sites featured in the brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2005, now available right here at fybush.com, we spent last week's edition visiting the interesting and distinctive towers of Santa Barbara. This week, we continue that April 2004 trip with an overview of the sites to be found in the next county to the south.

"Ventura Highway, in the sunshine..."

If you grew up on seventies AM radio, that's probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Ventura County, and your editor freely admits that the America tune in question was being hummed as the rental car headed south, hugging the Pacific shoreline on US 101 on one of those gorgeous April mornings that only Southern California can offer.

And it's only appropriate, then, that the first stop in Ventura County was at one of the handful of AM stations that just might still have America on its playlist. KVEN (1450 Ventura) is operated by legendary jock Lee Marshall, well-known in Southern California for his stints at KHJ, KDAY and KABC in Los Angeles and back east for his tenure at the mighty CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. "The Boomer," as KVEN calls itself, features Lee in the morning and a steady diet of rock and roll (with a heavy emphasis on the pre-Beatles era) all day. KVEN has a mystery, too - when we arrived at its transmitter site (on "Tower Square"), we found not one but two towers, both apparently insulated at the base. Was this graveyard-channel AM station once directional? If so, that would have been unusual indeed for a kilowatt on 1450.

But we don't have much time to ponder the KVEN mystery (which has since been solved - thanks to Ventura native K.M. Richards for letting us know that KVEN ran 1000 watts directional during the day, 250 watts ND night until about 1978, when it went 1 kW ND fulltime!); there's plenty more to see in this small county. Our next stop, heading south from downtown Ventura and hopping off the US 101 freeway behind a row of auto dealerships, turns out to be four towers behind a golf course, the access to which is a long and poorly-paved road that runs alongside a golf course and ends dead at a gate in front of an abandoned building.

This is the other AM licensed to Ventura, the 1590 signal that was just finishing a call-and-format swap when we arrived. Formerly Spanish as Radio Unica's KUNX, 1590 was just settling in with standards in English as KKZZ when we pulled up. It runs 5000 watts day and night from this site, with two different directional patterns.

Look closely at one of the two foreground towers and you can just make out some FM bays; those now belong to Radio Lazer's regional Mexican KXLM (102.9 Oxnard), a relatively recent drop-in.

After (very carefully) turning around and heading back out to 101, our next destinations are inland, where the relatively affluent coastal community of Ventura gives way to the agricultural communities of Saticoy and Santa Paula. Right off CA 118 at CA 232 in Saticoy, a gated road to a railroad facility leads as well to KOXR (910 Oxnard), a ranchero station that's a sister to KXLM. KOXR's three towers put out 5000 watts by day, 1000 watts by night.

Back on the 126 freeway, it's a few miles east to Santa Paula, where the local 1400 signal sits along the Faulkner Road frontage. The former studio/office building is vacant and for sale, but the 1400 transmitter is still here, having recently flipped from standards to Spanish talk in the other half of the call-and-format swap with 1590 Ventura. So 1400 is now KUNX, and its old KKZZ calls now live on 1590 with a more potent signal.

Stand in the 1400 driveway and turn around, facing south across the 118, and you can just make out a hilltop tower in the distance. This is "South Mountain," not to be mistaken with the far more dramatic peak of the same name in Phoenix, and it's home to two TV stations (KJLA 57 Ventura and what's now KBEH 63 Oxnard, both rimshotting the LA market from the north) and one FM, KCAQ (104.7 Oxnard).

From here, it's back out to the coast, moving well south of Ventura to Port Hueneme (say it "Why-neem" if you want to sound like a local), home to the county's most potent AM signal. Talker KVTA (1520 Port Hueneme) actually transmits from Dodge Road in Oxnard, and its proximity to the ocean makes this signal really travel up the coast, especially when it's on its 10 kW day rig. (It drops to 1 kW at night with a more restrictive pattern that sends much of the signal out to sea.)

Our last stop of the day proves to be a disappointment - not that we were expecting much to begin with. The former KIIS (850 Thousand Oaks) had gone silent a few months earlier, and we knew that the reason it had gone dark was that it was losing its hillside tower site to development, and that the old towers were already gone. That didn't stop your editor (and fellow DXer/tour guide Dennis Gibson) from clambering to the top of a hill to see what we thought was the old site - and turned out to be a reservoir, instead. With a pressing appointment in LA and a flight to catch later that night, that was the last chance I had to find the location, but as I drove away about half an hour later, my cell phone rang with Dennis' announcement that he had found the towers on the next hilltop over, in a fast-growing residential area not far from the Ronald Reagan presidential library.

Dennis was kind enough to share his pictures with us (as well as his KVTA image, since my camera jammed there), and you can see one of the old 850 towers in horizontal mode on the cleared site, with the transmitter building next to it. (An interesting story here, by the way; this station, which had been through many, many owners, calls and formats in its short history, had most recently been owned by Clear Channel, which apparently didn't realize that the tower site lease was nearing its end and couldn't be renewed. After some talk of finding a new site to operate under special temporary authority, Clear Channel ended up selling the 850 license to Salem, which promptly returned it to the FCC in order to facilitiate an upgrade of its KRLA 870 down in Glendale.)

And there's one more Ventura County AM station, though it's right on the edge of the county in an area that's really now part of the northwestern sprawl of Los Angeles. KIRN (670 Simi Valley) went on the air in the eighties as KWNK, targeting the adjacent San Fernando Valley with English-language AC music, in AM stereo no less. Later, it ended up in a simulcast with its close dial neighbor, sports XETRA (690 Tijuana), reinforcing XETRA's already-potent signal for the northern end of the LA market. And today, this signal, with 5000 watts day and 3000 watts night, targets LA's substantial Iranian community as KIRN, "Radio Iran."

KIRN's three-tower site, up Tapo Canyon Road a few miles north of Simi Valley, may soon be supplanted by an even more powerful facility. A few years ago, KIRN negotiated an interference agreement with the big 670 signal out west, KBOI Boise, that resulted in KBOI reworking its nighttime signal to put a null towards Southern California. That opened the way for a CP for 35 kilowatts day and night from a six-tower array up west of Lancaster, about 20 miles and a mountain range more distant from Los Angeles in a pretty barren part of the high desert. (It also cleared the way for a new 670 signal in Las Vegas, eventually.)

Next week, we'll return to the snowy East and dip into the archives for an updated look at Binghamton, N.Y.'s Ingraham Hill, which also happens to be the January page of the calendar. See you then!

Thanks to fellow DXer Dennis Gibson for his tour-guide services!

It's here - the 2005 Tower Site Calendar is now shipping! Click here for ordering information!