November 25, 2005

Four AMs for "Black Friday"


If you're anything like us, there's nowhere you'd rather not be on this day after Thanksgiving than the parking lot of a shopping mall.

It's not really the best spot for a broadcast transmitter, either - all that steel can wreak havoc on a directional pattern, and all that asphalt can make it hard to repair problems with a ground system.

But when land is scarce and expensive, sometimes there's just no choice, and that's where this week's featured towers come in.

We'll start this week's feature with a site we've never featured here before. This is KTAR, Phoenix, Arizona, with 5,000 watts at 620 on the dial. In 1940, when this site was built, this stretch of East Thomas Road must have been out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, several miles north and east of the downtown of what was then a small Western town.

Needless to say, Phoenix grew rather dramatically, and even by the late fifties, the land on which the KTAR site sat was worth lots of money for developers. So the site got paved and developed (as "Tower Plaza"), and then redeveloped in 1997. Now there's a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart sitting between the towers, one of which now sits, fenced-off, in the front parking lot, and the other of which sits out behind the Home Depot.

(You'll find this photo, by the way, on the May page of the Tower Site Calendar 2006, which would make a fine gift for the radio person in your life...)

KTAR may be important, but it's not the biggest signal to come from the middle of a shopping center. That honor goes to Atlanta's WSB, which is also featured in the Tower Site Calendar 2006 (on the December page), and which we've featured in great detail here on Tower Site of the Week back in February, 2005.

Our next stop comes in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where drivers heading north from US 22 on PA 145 once saw two directional arrays right across the street from each other. On the west side was WKAP (1320), playing the top 40 hits, and on the east side was WSAN (1470), playing album rock on AM.

Then came the developers. By the early nineties, the 1320 site was gone, paved over and replaced by a brand-new Best Buy. (After being dark for a bit, 1320 resurfaced a few miles to the south, diplexed with WHOL 1600. It's now a sports-talker with the calls WTKZ.) Across the street, 1470 ended up with the WKAP calls and an oldies format - and its three towers ended up right in the parking lot of the Whitehall Mall, crammed rather uncomfortably between what I think was a Sears store and the street.

I needed a wider lens when I visited that site in 1998 - that's a montage of two photos above, and I wasn't able to get quite far enough back to show just how these towers sit right in the middle of the lot, but there they are.

(An update: There's been a considerable amount of construction at the Whitehall Mall in the years since this picture was taken - it's been turned into a strip mall, and there's now a Kohl's right next to those towers. Definitely time for another visit!)

Our final stop this Black Friday is in Roanoke, Virginia, at another site we've visited before on Tower Site of the Week.

Back in July, 2003, we featured Roanoke in the column, including the Poor Mountain TV/FM farm that was featured in Tower Site Calendar 2005...and the site we're featuring again today.

This is WFIR (960), with one tower in the parking lot of the "Towers Shopping Center," and the other tower rising right from the middle of the mall!

We're told that the nifty sign shown at right is gone now, and apparently the WFIR towers will be gone from here sooner or later as well, since the station has a pending application to increase its power and to diplex with sister station WVBE (610) out in suburban Salem, Virginia.

In the meantime, though, bargain hunters in Roanoke - and in Atlanta and Phoenix and Allentown - might have a little more insight now into just what those blinking lights overhead were as they vied for their pre-dawn bargains today.

Know of a shopping-center tower we missed? Do tell...

(And indeed you did - WFAX in Falls Church, Virginia was submitted as a candidate, and indeed it sits right behind a shopping center that contains the WFAX studios, among other tenants. And there's the old KCBQ in San Diego, whose site is now a Lowe's home improvement center. We're not sure that really counts...)

AND IN THE MEANTIME - there's no need to get up early in the morning, or to head to a busy mall at all, to get your 2006 Tower Site Calendar! Click here for ordering information!