July 14, 2006

KFWB 980 and KLAC 570, Los Angeles


It's become an annual routine for the last few years - spending a few days before (or just after) the NAB convention visiting the many fascinating sites in the Los Angeles market. This week, we begin a multi-part recap of our 2006 LA visit, which ended up being packed into a single day after your editor was asked to give a Saturday-morning presentation at NAB, forcing a quicker return trip to Las Vegas than initially planned.

After a late-night drive from the Las Vegas airport down to Burbank, this year's Los Angeles adventures began Friday morning, April 21, with a return visit to the new CBS Radio studios at 5670 Wilshire Boulevard. The first visit, in October 2004, was to the gutted shell of the old E! Entertainment Television offices, which were just in the earliest stages of being built out into studios for KFWB (980) and sister station KNX (1070). In April 2005, we were back to see the furniture begin to come in, and by August of 2005 both stations had fully moved over from their old homes, so it was a given that our next visit to LA would include a stop to see the finished product.

So there it is - KFWB's finished space on one side of the third floor, and KNX's on the other. (That's the KNX newsroom seen through the window at right; the main studio was empty at that mid-morning hour because the business talk programming was coming from the adjoining talk studio.)

And since we had KNX/KFWB chief engineer Paul Sakrison with us for the morning, the next stop was at a transmitter site we'd only seen from a distance: the shared site of KFWB and Clear Channel's KLAC (570), at the corner of Multnomah and Indiana streets just northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

We begin, as always, with some history: this site was built in 1948 for KLAC, which had recently changed calls from KMTR. (Its early history is well chronicled at Barry Mishkind's Broadcast Archives.) The station had been transmitting from 1000 Cahuenga Boulevard in North Hollywood, and it moved to this site as a 5 kW day/1 kW night non-directional facility, using the 436-foot tower at the center of the photo.

In 1965, the site configuration changed considerably, as two 357-foot towers were built surrounding the original tower, allowing KLAC to increase its night power to 5 kW. (KLAC's night pattern uses only the two "new" towers, which are top-loaded using the guy wires, and not the center tower.) At about the same time, KFWB moved its transmitter here, operating with 5 kW day and night, non-directional, from the center tower. KFWB's previous facility had been on La Cienega, just south of the KABC (790) towers, on a piece of land later occupied by a discount store. Long before that, in the late twenties and early thirties, KFWB's transmitter had been on a Hollywood theater rooftop, and it bears noting that one of the original KFWB towers, dating to the station's debut in 1925, still stands today at 5800 Sunset Boulevard - but instead of the "KFWB" letters that decorated it when it held the station's original wire antenna, it's now used as a sign for KTLA (Channel 5), which today has its studios on the old Warner Brothers lot there.

When our little caravan of radio people (including LA engineers Burt Weiner and Mike Tosch and Garrett Wollman of the Archives @ BostonRadio.org, where he has more pictures posted) pulled up at the KLAC/KFWB site, we were greeted by open gates and an open door at KLAC's transmitter building - and by KLAC CE John Paoli waiting for us inside. While the windows have been closed up, it's not hard to see what the Art Deco transmitter building must have looked like when it was new, at least from the outside. Inside, the wall facing the door that would once have been filled by a huge tube transmitter now has a Collins 820E1 (the station's aux) and a Harris DX-10 (the main transmitter) and a funky old chair in between. An equipment rack - including a brand-new HD Radio exciter - faces the Harris, just out of view.

When KFWB came up to this site, it installed its transmitter in the garage addition seen on the left side of the KLAC building photo above, but in 1980 it moved to a building of its own behind the KLAC facility. In addition to all the usual STL and processing gear, the original configuration here boasted two Harris MW-5 transmitters. In 2001, one of the MW-5s was removed and replaced with a Harris DX-10, which is now the station's main transmitter. (Veteran KFWB chief engineer Richard Rudman took lots of photos of that event, now documented on Steve Blodgett's Earth Signals page.)

As a result of the studio move, the KFWB building is also full of some artifacts from the old Yucca Street location, including the prototype Pacific Recorders BMX console that served as KFWB's master control board for many years (you can see it in its original home on that 2004 visit linked above).

A walk around the back of the KFWB building, out into the transmitter field, shows us what became of another important artifact from the Yucca Street building, the big neon "KFWB" sign that faced the parking lot. The sign actually came to Yucca Street from KFWB's earlier 6419 Hollywood Boulevard studios when the station moved in 1976, and we were glad to see that it was saved when KFWB left Yucca Street. (Look closely next to the building and you can also see the smaller metal letters, in that distinctive "Group W font," that were on the front of the Yucca building.)

The photo at right below gives a somewhat better view of the two transmitter buildings, albeit from behind - that's the back of the KFWB building on the left, and the back of the KLAC building (including the garage where KFWB's transmitter used to sit) on the right.

While this is a diplexed site, it's not a very complicated one - by day, both stations run 5 kW into the center tower, but at night it's only KFWB on the center tower, while KLAC uses only the two outer towers. The diplexing for the day signals takes place in the little building at the base of the center tower, shown below at left.

For a while, it seemed as though this site would get even less complicated - KFWB held a construction permit in the nineties to build a new 50 kW site way out of town and KLAC had plans to move its daytime operations to the KDIS (1110) facility in Irwindale, which would have left this site with only the two KLAC night towers. Neither station ever built the new facilities (judging that the signal improvement, if any, wouldn't have justified the cost), and both construction permits have long since expired.

KFWB and KLAC sit in the midst of a crowded radio neighborhood. It's less than a mile from here to the new six-tower array of KMPC (1540), which is our next stop this warm April morning - and just over a mile to the old three-tower 1150 array at Montecito Heights, which will be our last stop later in the day. (In fact, the long shot of the KFWB/KLAC towers was taken from the Montecito site.)

Thanks to Paul Sakrison of KFWB and John Paoli of KLAC for the tours!

STILL HERE - BUT WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT: If you're a fan of the national radio message-board sites, you're probably feeling a little disoriented lately by all the changes they're going through. (We are, too, though we've pretty well settled on the new radioinsight.com as the friendly spot to talk about all things radio and TV.)

Here at fybush.com, we're now in our twelfth year of regular, uninterrupted service to our readers, and we're not going anywhere. Same address, same weekly columns, same old design. (OK, perhaps a few things could use some freshening this year.)

And if we've learned anything after all those years in the radio website business, it's this: good things don't come for free. Or at least when they do, they don't last forever. But thanks to our loyal subscribers and our growing fleet of advertisers, we've built a solid community here. We were here in 1994, we're here in 2006, and assuming there's still a radio dial to cover, we have every intention - with your support - of still being here in 2018. (I wish I could say the same about my hairline.)

If you still haven't subscribed yet for this year, do it right now at our Support page - and enjoy another exciting year of Tower Site of the Week and NERW, guilt- (and password-) free. And if you have become one of our many subscribers, thank you!