April 14, 2006

Towers from the North Country: The Big Trip, 2005

Part X: Green Bay, Wisconsin


Once every year or so, your editor gets together with other similarly radio-crazed folk for an event that's become known as "The Big Trip" - a week (or more) of dawn-to-dusk (and sometimes beyond) traveling in search of interesting new sites to showcase here on Tower Site of the Week, in the Tower Site Calendar, and so on. It's a chance for us to meet people we've only corresponded with via e-mail, and to gather airchecks and legal IDs for our new content partners at www.tophour.net, too. (In our version of a sitcom crossover episode, we're posting the legal IDs from each Friday's Tower Site installment the following Wednesday on Tophour - check it out!)

Our Big Trip in August 2005 took us all over Minnesota and Wisconsin, and on the afternoon of Friday, August 19, it found us near De Pere, Wisconsin, in southern Brown County about 15 miles east of Appleton and a dozen or so miles south of Green Bay.

This very rural area has long been home to pretty much all of the TV signals in the Green Bay market, and in more recent years it's become home to many FMs as well. Most of those FM signals come from a single tower on Shirley Road, at he southern end of the tower farm here, that's owned by Woodward Communications, whose flagship FM, WAPL (105.7 Appleton), crowns the 1039-foot structure.

At the base, there are two transmitter buildings. One houses Woodward's two FMs here - WAPL (whose BE and Collins transmitters are shown below) and WKSZ (95.9 De Pere), which uses the RCAs shown above as main and aux.

The other houses the many tenants here - there's a room for Wisconsin Public Radio's "Ideas Network" outlet WHID (88.1 Green Bay), one for religious WEMI (91.5 Green Bay), one for religious WORQ (90.1 Green Bay), and a big one shared by Cumulus' WOGB (103.1 Kaukauna) and WDUZ-FM (107.5 Brillion), which have a combined antenna about 300 feet below the top of the tower. (WHID is above WOGB/WDUZ, while WKSZ, WEMY and WORQ are below, in descending order.)

Immediately east of the Woodward tower (which went up in 1988) is another tower of similar vintage that's home to Green Bay-licensed NBC affiliate WGBA (26/DT41) and Appleton-licensed UPN affiliate WACY (32/DT59), and about a mile south of the Woodward tower is another tower that's home to several DTV signals - WIWB-DT (21 Suring), the WB affiliate whose analog 14 transmitter is far to the north of Green Bay; WFRV-DT (39 Green Bay) and WLUK-DT (51 Green Bay). Where are WFRV and WLUK's analog signals? That's our next stop - a cluster of tall sticks about two miles to the north, along Heritage Road (CTH X) and Tower Road.

Still in the company of Woodward engineer Erik Barklow, who gave us the grand tour at the WAPL/WKSZ facility, we head up to the oldest of the TV sites in the tower farm. What's now ABC affiliate WBAY-TV (Channel 2) was the first TV station in Green Bay, and the second in Wisconsin, when it signed on in March 1953, using what's now the shorter of two towers at this site. From the WBAY site, we can look east to the tower of Fox affiliate WLUK (Channel 11), which went on the air from Marinette, 60 miles to the north, but moved to Green Bay in the late fifties, and south to the tower of CBS O&O WFRV-TV (Channel 5), which traces its origins to the old WNAM-TV (Channel 42) in Neenah, back in 1955. (The calls don't have anything to do with local icon Brett Favre - they stand for "Fox River Valley.")

The WBAY transmitter facility is really three buildings in one: in front is the newest portion, a big open space that houses the transmitters for WBAY-DT (Channel 23) and Wisconsin Public TV's WPNE-DT (Channel 42); behind that is the building erected in the seventies for WPNE-TV (Channel 38) and Wisconsin Public Radio's WPNE-FM (89.3); and all the way at the rear is the original transmitter building for WBAY-TV and what's now WIXX-FM (101.1 Green Bay).

From here, we follow a little bit of WBAY history, heading east into De Pere and then across the Fox River to West De Pere and the Lost Dauphin Road four-tower site of WTAQ (1360 Green Bay). As you may recall from last week's Fox Cities visit, the Norbertine Fathers, who operate St. Norbert's College in West De Pere, owned both WHBY radio (first in De Pere, later in Appleton) and WBAY radio and TV in Green Bay - and what's now WTAQ was the old WBAY radio. But before it was WBAY in Green Bay, the station actually began life in the thirties as WTAQ, operating in Eau Claire before the Norbertine Fathers moved it east to Green Bay with new calls.

After WBAY-TV and WBAY radio were sold off to separate owners, the radio side became WGEE, but the old WTAQ calls were restored a few years ago, and the station's now a news-talk leader under owner Midwest Communications.

We'll pick up one more thread of the WBAY history in a bit, but first it's the one tourism destination that no visitor to Green Bay, no matter how radio-obsessed, can ignore. A couple of miles north of the 1360 site, off the Lombardi Avenue exit from US 41, we find the place that put Green Bay on the map - the famed "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, now part of a huge campus that includes Packers training facilities and a museum of Packers history.

Just down the street, at 787 Lombardi Avenue, are the studios of WLUK, which began as NBC affiliate WMRE-TV up in Marinette, became ABC affiliate "Lucky 11" in Green Bay in 1959 (spawning WLUC-TV in Marquette, Michigan), then went back to NBC in 1983 before becoming a Fox affiliate as part of the big nationwide affiliation swaps of 1994. (NBC then moved to former Fox affiliate WGBA, channel 26.)

Across the Fox River, at 115 S. Jefferson Street, we find the historic WBAY Building, which began life in 1924 as a Knights of Columbus building, with an auditorium, a big gym and a swimming pool in the basement (in an area was later a bowling alley and is now the WBAY-TV newsroom!)

The old WBAY radio, now WTAQ, still has its studios here as well, along with the rest of the Midwest Communications family, including sports talker WNFL (1440 Green Bay), top 40 WIXX (101.1 Green Bay), country WNCY (100.3 Appleton), and what was then rhythmic top 40 WLYD (99.7 Sturgeon Bay).

A few blocks to the south, at 1181 E. Mason Street, sit the studios of WFRV, which went from ABC in 1955 to NBC in 1959 (trading with WLUK) to ABC in 1983 (trading again with WLUK) before being bought by CBS in 1992, at which point it traded affiliations with longtime CBS affiliate WBAY-TV, which flipped to ABC. (The sale to CBS also included satellite station WJMN-TV 3 in Escanaba, Michigan - and both WFRV and WJMN-TV really came along for the ride along with the star attraction in the deal, parent station WCCO in Minneapolis.)

A few blocks to the east on Mason, we find the studios for Cumulus' cluster of Green Bay stations, including the sports simulcast of WDUZ-FM (107.5 Brillion)/WDUZ (1400 Green Bay), with the AM tower right out back; hot AC "Star 98" WQLH (98.5 Green Bay); classic rock "Eagle" WJLW (106.7 Allouez) and country "Kicks" WPCK (104.9 Denmark).

Just south of there, on Bellevue Street, are the three towers and former studio building of WNFL (1440), which shoots a very directional signal into Green Bay, with a very deep null toward the Fox Cities to protect KFIZ (1450) down in Fond du Lac. (Yes, WNFL carries Packers football, along with sister FM station WIXX, but the flagship of the network is actually WTMJ down in Milwaukee!)

And from here, we head west on the recently-completed Wisconsin 29 expressway to our final destination for the day, the surprising little city of Wausau, with one more stop on the way. About 25 miles west of Green Bay, we stop in the small town of Shawano, where we catch a quick glimpse of the tower for WTCH (960), on CTH MMM just west of town.

What was so surprising about Wausau? Join us next week for the answer, in the penultimate installment of our 2005 Big Trip...

Thanks to Brian Davis, Steve Brown and Erik Barklow at Woodward Communications for the tours!