January 21-28, 2005

San Diego's "North County"

It's not big enough to qualify as its own radio market, exactly, but that doesn't mean that the area north of San Diego isn't full of interesting sights for the intrepid tower hunter - at least, the intrepid tower hunter who happens to have family nearby and a few hours with nothing better to do.

"North County" is a loosely-defined area that encompasses pretty much everything north of La Jolla along I-5 and I-15 and south of the Orange and Riverside county lines. It has its own daily newspaper - the North County Times - and a strong sense of identity that can pretty well be summed up as "Not San Diego." And it has four AM stations, a couple of FM stations, and a lot of back roads to get to all of them.

In fact, it took more than an hour of somewhat lost back-road driving to get to the first of those four AMs during a visit in October 2004, and for that we can blame the housing boom that's blanketing the hills between I-5 and I-15 with new developments.

KPRZ (1210 San Marcos) was no doubt out in the absolute middle of nowhere when these three flagpole-style towers went up in 1985, and the maps we had suggested it was still in the middle of nowhere. It turns out that there's a whole new town called San Elijo that now sits between Rancho Santa Fe Road (the main drag inland) and the tower site, and we spent way too long trying to reconcile our maps with reality (and a bunch of roads that were closed for reconstruction) before we finally found our way down a twisty road, beyond the end of the pavement and over to the site. And what do you suppose we found there? Yup, that's a new road under construction in the foreground, and this area will no doubt be equally overrun with new housing in a year or so. (In the meantime, Salem's religious KPRZ could get a power upgrade by then; Salem's working on a whole series of upgrades and changes in San Diego, Los Angeles and Honolulu designed to improve several of its southern California signals.)

A different kind of construction was on view when we emerged from the tangle of roads around San Elijo and finally found our way north to Highway 78, the big east-west freeway across North County. The major inland community here is Escondido, where 78 meets I-15, and it's here that we find the AM signal on 1450 that's been known over the years as KOWA (country "Kow"), standards KSPA and most recently as KFSD, the calls that used to go with commercial classical music on San Diego's high-power 94.1. Under maverick owner Art Astor, 1450 has gone back and forth between classical (from Boston's WCRB) and 70s pop; when we visited in October, it was doing classical. It was also surrounded by a mammoth construction project on the west side of Escondido, where there's apparently some huge natural gas facility being built. The best vantage point we could get of the 1450 tower found it dwarfed by big construction equipment, and KFSD now holds a CP to move to a different part of town.

The tower hunting gets considerably easier from here, thankfully: a drive west on the 78 freeway towards the coast, a quick stop at In-N-Out Burger (mmmmm....) for lunch, and a short drive north on College Boulevard and Mesa Road brought us within sight of the four towers of KSPA's sister station, KCEO (1000 Vista). This interesting station runs 2500 watts by day with a format of business news (and some talk from another Art Astor station, KSPA 1510 Ontario) and 250 watts at night with oldies. And who's that doing nights on KCEO? None other than the late Wolfman Jack, voicetracking from beyond the grave through recordings licensed by his estate. The KCEO site looks like another one that must have been pretty rural when it was built, but today it sits in a valley surrounded by newer housing developments.

Our final AM site is easily found a couple of miles to the west, where Oceanside Boulevard and El Camino Real intersect in, you guessed it, Oceanside. Here we find the 500-watt KKSM (1320 Oceanside), the noncommercial voice of Palomar Community College.

Before this little AM signal was donated to the college, it was commercial, operating under calls such as KGMG, KUDE and KEZL from studios in a little building just to the right of that car wash there.

Its former FM counterpart on 102.1 has been through many more changes; today, it's licensed to Encinitas (south of Oceanside) and doing a nifty blend of AAA under the calls KPRI (a heritage call of San Diego's 106.5, now KLNV) from a site overlooking San Elijo, plus a number of on-channel boosters throughout the San Diego area.

There's one other North County FM, licensed to Escondido. The 92.1 signal there was KOWF, "the Kow," then modern rock KFSD-FM before Art Astor sold it to Jefferson-Pilot, which is now using it to simulcast its country KSON-FM (97.3 San Diego) to North County, an area KSON-FM has trouble reaching from its main facility at the KOGO (600) towers that we saw last week. Under the calls KSOQ, 92.1 now operates from Mount Whitney, south of San Marcos and not far from good ol' San Elijo.

And with that, we bid southern California adieu for a little while (though there's still more in the archives to be revisited later on) and head down south for some nifty Atlanta sites, including a station you've definitely heard. Stay tuned!

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