February 18-25, 2005

A Return to Atlanta (Part IV)

It's amazing how much a team of dedicated tower-hunters can accomplish in a little over one day, if they're sufficiently motivated. In the case of our November 2004 jaunt to Atlanta, just 44 hours elapsed between wheels-down at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and wheels-up on the return flight...yet with the help of a super local guide (thanks again to Roddy Freeman) and cooperative traffic and weather, we managed to see everything we'd missed on our first Atlanta trip a few years earlier.

In particular, the end of our one full day in town finally brought us to the last Atlanta-licensed AM station that had escaped the lens of our camera.

Today, WDWD (590) is the Atlanta outlet of Radio Disney, cranking out 5000 watts of Mouse by day, 4500 watts at night. But back in the day, 590 was a major player on the Atlanta dial. The station signed on way back in 1938 under the calls WAGA, and it was the CBS radio affiliate here in the waning days of radio's Golden Age, spawning early TV entry WAGA-TV, channel 5, which is still on the air as Atlanta's Fox O&O.

In later years, 590 was sold to the Plough Corporation, which changed the calls to WPLO and turned the station into a screaming top-40 outlet. With the rise of FM, WPLO declined, eventually changing calls to WKHX (matching what was by then a sister FM outlet, the Marietta-licensed 101.5) and flipping to country under ABC ownership - and then jumping on the Radio Disney bandwagon when it came rolling along. (The calls, we assume, stand for Walt Disney, Walt Disney.)

By then, the 590 signal had fallen victim to Atlanta's skyrocketing land values. The old WAGA/WPLO site on Druid Hills Road, just east of downtown, became an apartment complex - and in 1986, 590 moved way out of town to Powder Springs, in Cobb County northwest of Atlanta. These four towers, 428' tall, direct a narrow beam of a signal to the southeast, missing huge chunks of suburb that have sprung up since the eighties.

There's time for one more stop as we circle around the north side of town, and that's in Smyrna, where a rather run-down strip mall houses the studios of WAZX (1550 Smyrna), one of a whole slew of Spanish-language AM stations that enjoyed a nice little niche in the market until just before our visit, when Clear Channel launched a (nearly) full-market Spanish FM signal, WWVA-FM (105.3 Bowdon) to amazing ratings success.

But this isn't about "Viva 105" - it's about WAZX, which cranks out 50,000 watts by day from the three towers at the left of the photo, 500 watts at night from the four-in-a-box in the foreground. (We find the towers right behind the strip mall, with Roddy's direction.) It's effective in hitting Fort Wayne, Indiana at sunrise, as we discover a couple of months later, but not so good at surviving the miserable ground conductivity of north Georgia.

WAZX has a pending application to move a couple of miles away and to lose this array in favor of a single tower, running 33 kW day and 10 watts night, non-directional.

That about wraps up our daylight, and so it's back over to the east side and a delicious dinner at the Watershed restaurant in Decatur, which happens to be partially owned by one of the Indigo Girls. The fried chicken comes highly recommended, and with good reason.

And the next morning dawns with one more tower to see before turning in the rental car and heading to the airport for the trip home. Last week, we showed you East Point's WMLB (1160), but that station's not in East Point anymore. There's one station left in this southwestern suburb, and that's WTJH (1260), owned by the infamous Bishop Willis. We're not expecting much (even a legal ID, given our history with Willis Broadcasting stations), but this seems to be a cut above the usual lot - a legal ID every hour, a well-painted tower, and a decent-looking studio building, all deep in the piney woods on a windy suburban road. With 5000 watts day and a grant for 39 watts night (we never heard it in use), WTJH covers the southern part of Atlanta with black gospel as "Word Power 1260." And the ground conductivity being what it is, WTJH's signal is already more or less history by the time we get to the airport a few miles away and head for home.

Thanks to Roddy Freeman for his tour-guide services!

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