January 28 - February 4, 2005

A Return to Atlanta (Part I)

In the spring of 2002, your editor spent a day and a half checking out the many nifty tower sites and studios that make up the Atlanta market. (You can see those segments in the Tower Site Archives, here and here.) But as enjoyable as those 36 hours in market #11 (#9 for TV) were, there were still sites that we hadn't seen and pictures left untaken. So when the combination of low non-stop airfares (thank you, AirTran - for keeping Delta's prices down!) and an Atlanta convention for tower-hunting partner-in-crime Garrett Wollman came together in November 2004, there was no reason not to spend a couple more days in the Crossroads of the South.

A speedy afternoon flight left just enough time to hop MARTA into downtown Atlanta for the last tour of the day at the CNN Center - expensive, but worth doing (once) to get a gander at the warren of strangely laid-out spaces that house CNN's domestic channel, Headline News, CNN International, and so on, all spread out on multiple floors of what was once the World of Sid & Marty Krofft theme park. (Home, we'd add, to the longest escalator in the U.S., which you ride up from the floor of the CNN Center atrium to the start of the tour, after which you walk down, down, down to eventually end up back at floor level.)

No cameras on the tour, though, so we can't show you the various newsrooms - but we can show you the view from Ponce de Leon Avenue outside the CNN Center, looking over at the Westin hotel and the WZGC (92.9) antenna that crowns its roof. That UHF stick all the way at the top used to be WUPA (Channel 69), but it's since moved out to one of the many towers on the east side of town, amply chronicled on the last trip.

After meeting up with Garrett and admiring the tower view from the 40-somethingth floor of his downtown hotel (from which, unsurprisingly, he could hear WZGC really well!), we headed up to the area known as "Uptown" Atlanta, not far from the WTBS (Channel 17) tower and the Turner Broadcasting mothership overlooking I-75/85. Al Hardee, afternoon jock on WMLB (1160 East Point), had invited us up this way to check out the brand-new studios of his station, which was just in the process of moving in when we stopped by. WMLB's an interesting station - it's owned by Joe Weber, a wealthy Atlantan who used to own WGKA (1190 Atlanta) and who can now do pretty much whatever he pleases with this facility. So you'll hear standards on 1160, but a rather wider variety than you'd find on the typical "Music of Your Life" outlet.

We'll see more of WMLB in our final installment of this Atlanta trip - but for now, we move on to the next morning (after a delicious dinner at the world-famous Varsity Diner a few blocks away) and the most prominent Atlanta-area site left unseen on our 2002 trip.

"Georgia's Stone Mountain Park," some 10 miles east of Atlanta, is a slightly tacky shrine to the Confederacy - and the home to one of the more oddly-situated TV/FM sites we've happened across.

Georgia Public Television's WGTV (Channel 8) is licensed to Athens, some 40 miles off to the northwest, but it's really an Atlanta station, serving the region from this 312' tower perched atop the solid mass of granite that is Stone Mountain.

Getting here is an adventure in itself - after paying the admission (er, "parking") fee to enter the park, we then lined up for the aerial tram that carries visitors from ground level up to the top of the mountain, passing along the way the monumental carving of Lee, Jackson, et al sculpted into the side of Stone Mountain.

The tram lets visitors off right next to channel 8's transmission line, and we quickly realized that the WGTV transmitter was, in fact, downstairs in the very snack bar/observation lounge in which we were standing. (We found out on the ride down that the site is usually staffed, so at some point we'll probably have to head back and try to get a look.)

A careful look at the tower will reveal that there's a set of FM bays below the TV antenna (which apparently is now a broadband model that can also handle WGTV-DT 12.) That's the former home of WABE (90.1 Atlanta), the city's public radio station, which has moved around a bit over the years and is apparently back to operating from one of the towers just east of downtown. WABE is a sister station to WGTV's public TV competitor in Atlanta, ironically enough - it's operated by the Atlanta Board of Education in conjunction with WPBA (Channel 30).

(One more note about WGTV before we head on: it ended up with the plum channel 8 assignment thanks to a newspaper merger in the early 1950s. When the Cox interests, which owned the Atlanta Journal and WSB television and radio, bought the Atlanta Constitution in 1950, they acquired that paper's broadcast licenses, WCON 550 and the yet-unbuilt WCON-TV 2. WCON radio was simply shut down - imagine that today! - and WSB-TV promptly moved from its early home on channel 8 down to channel 2. Channel 8 was then used, briefly, by the new WLTV, which operated there from 1951 until 1954, when it moved to channel 11 to clear up some spacing issues with, if memory serves, channel 9 in Chattanooga. That freed up channel 8 again for assignment to Athens, and WGTV came along a few years later.)

And before we leave Stone Mountain completely, how about the view of the Atlanta skyline through a dozen miles of haze? Downtown Atlanta is at the left, with midtown in the center and Buckhead at right. Look carefully to the right of Buckhead and you can see a candelabra tower, which I believe to be that of WAGA (Channel 5).

We'll close out this week's installment with two more AM sites that we passed on the way to Stone Mountain that morning.

WPBC (1310 Decatur) runs 2500 watts by day, 31 watts at night from this most unimpressive little tower located - no kidding - right in the employee parking lot of a MARTA station. (It programs regional Mexican as "Planeta X.")

And a couple of miles away, near where Decatur Road crosses I-285 in Scottdale, these three towers are home to Multicultural Broadcasting's ethnic WATB (1420 Decatur) - and the middle tower is diplexed with Air America outlet WWAA (1690 Avondale Estates), a station that didn't even exist the last time we were in town! (It's the expanded-band sister to a station on 1470 way down in Adel, Georgia, at the southern edge of the state; the Avondale Estates move was a clever way to shoehorn a brand-new signal into Atlanta.) WWAA hopes to move from this site fairly soon, for two reasons: first, WATB has applied to move to 1430 and boost its daytime power from 1 kW to 50 kW (silencing WGFS 1430 Covington GA in the process), and second, WWAA hopes for better coverage from a move to a tower of its own near the Cheshire Bridge Road sites of WQXI (790), WGKA (920), WNIV (970) and WAFS (1190), a bit closer in to town.

All this, and it's still not even lunchtime yet! Join us next week for the second part of our 2004 Atlanta excursion, as we visit the transmitter site of the legendary WSB.

Thanks to Al Hardee and Roddy Freeman for their hospitality!

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