April 8 & 15, 2005

A Visit to American Samoa

In general, I like to use this page to feature photos I've taken myself. Not only do I enjoy showing off my collection, but it stands to reason that I'll be able to write more authoritatively about towers and studios I've actually seen.

But there are times when rules just have to be broken - like when the owner of the commercial FM station in Pago Pago, American Samoa asks, "So, do you want to see some pictures of my tower?"

That would be Larry Fuss, who sold off his stations in the southeastern U.S. a few years ago and decided to make good on his dream of owning stations on a remote island in the South Pacific.

So Larry and Kirk Harnack, whom many of you may know from his "day job" with Telos/Omnia/Axia, ended up as the principals of South Seas Radio, the proud owner of three signals in American Samoa...and Larry and Kirk have generously shared their pictures of this unusual (or at the very least, obscure) broadcast site with all of us.

Most of the pictures shown here are of Mount Alava, 491 meters above Pago Pago. There are two towers here - the taller one (seen in the corner of the center photo below and in the right-hand photo as well) is home to two government-run TV stations, KVZK-2 on channel 2 and KVZK-4 on (go figure!) channel 4.

The 30-meter tower next to the KVZK-2/KVZK-4 tower was once home to KVZK-5 (can you guess what channel it used?), but the antenna went down in Cyclone Val in 1991 and channel 5 (oops - gave it away!) went dark. The rest of the tower remained standing, though, and that's where Larry and Kirk put the two-bay SWR antenna for their new station on 93.1 in 1999.

Now, if you're starting a station on "93" and you're a big fan of classic top-40 radio, what do you call it? Why, "KHJ," of course - and it happened that the KKHJ calls had just become available, having been given up in Los Angeles when 930 there returned to its heritage KHJ callsign.

So Larry and Kirk snapped up the calls in American Samoa, and "93KHJ" was back on the air - albeit serving an audience tens of thousands of miles away on the other side of the Pacific.

It's a neat little radio station, programming hot AC with lots of local content, including the popular "Samoan Sunrise" morning show. (You can hear streaming audio and see pictures of the studios at the 93KHJ website, www.khjradio.com.)

And the South Seas Broadcasting empire has grown. Below, you can see KKHJ's translator, K229BG, licensed to Pavaiai, atop 494-meter Mount Oletele, near the village of Aoloaufuo. (It's another 2-bay SWR antenna, and that's a cellphone tower that it's mounted on. And no, I can't pronounce "Aoloaufuo.")

There's an AM station as well: WVUV, Leone operates on 648 kHz, though it lost its towers a while back and is using temporary facilities and simulcasting KKHJ. If that frequency seems odd for a station with US calls, it should: this is within a region that uses 9 kHz spacing, but most of the cars on the island are American and tune in 10 kHz increments. So WVUV has applied to move to 720 kHz, a frequency that's common to both spacing schemes. (Larry and Kirk have a pending application for a new signal on 900 as well.)

Now the South Seas empire is expanding to TV: Kirk and Larry just got their hands on an LPTV in Pago Pago. The former K30HO was a Trinity Broadcasting Network outlet, but it's now WVUV-LP, and it'll soon be on with NBC programming, the first commercial network affiliate in American Samoa, as "KHJ-TV30."

Neat stuff, huh?

Thanks to Larry and Kirk for sharing their photos - and here's a brief program note: because of our travels (we're headed to NAB - perhaps we'll see you there!), there will be no new Tower Site of the Week April 15. We'll be back the 22nd with more stories and pictures...see you then!

It's here - the 2005 Tower Site Calendar is now available at special clearance prices! Click here for ordering information!