August 4, 2006

Former 1150/96.3 site, Montecito Heights, 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.

Our action-packed Friday concluded in the late afternoon with a visit to a silent site, the three-tower array at 1050 Montecito Drive, just northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Why bother with a site that hasn't emitted a watt of RF in several years? Why...the history, of course!

The history here in Montecito Heights begins in 1948, when KRKD (1150) moved up here from the Arcade Building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. KRKD took its calls from the building's name (it moved there in 1932, having previously operated as KMIC and then KMCS from Inglewood), and the towers that once supported its antenna can still be seen to this day atop the building.

Why move? The debut of KRKD-FM (96.3), also in 1948, had to have been a factor. Higher power must have helped, too - moving up to Montecito Heights allowed KRKD to go from 2500 watts to 5000 watts by day. (As a nondirectional station - the outer two towers wouldn't be added until 1980 - it remained at 1000 watts at night even after the move.)

In 1961, KRKD was purchased by its AM share-time partner, the Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which shut down its own 1150 signal (KFSG, which was transmitting from the church's Angelus Temple in Echo Park) but continued to carry church broadcasts nightly from 6 until midnight over KRKD(AM). The rest of the day on AM - and the entire day on FM - was filled with showtunes, standards and even a bit of rock and roll.

In the early 1970s, the church restored the old KFSG calls and religious format to the FM side, and sold the AM, which took on what would become among the most famous calls in LA radio history: KIIS. No, it didn't stand for "Kiss" back then - the "IIS" was supposed to look like "115," the dial position! (The KIIS calls would finally come to FM, where they still live now, when 1150 was merged with then-KKDJ 102.7 in 1975.)

The AM dropped the KIIS calls in the late seventies, becoming religious KPRZ (and adding the two new towers for 5 kW night service), then returning to KIIS in 1984 under a semi-simulcast with KIIS-FM. In 1997, the simulcast came to a permanent end as 1150 became sports KXTA, simulcasting XETRA (690 Tijuana)'s sports programming. And a few months later, KXTA won the Dodgers contract for 1998, which mandated that the games be carried on a 50 kilowatt signal - which led to the 56-day crash project, with chief engineer Mike Callaghan at the helm, that moved 1150 from Montecito Heights to the KTNQ site in the City of Industry, silencing Montecito on the AM dial after half a century. (A few years later, KXMX 1190 was granted a CP to change city of license from Anaheim to Paramount and to move up to Montecito, but that CP expired unbuilt.)

In 2001, the church LMA'd (and later sold) the FM signal to Spanish Broadcasting System, moving the KFSG calls and format to the Redondo Beach class A signal on 93.5 (along with a simulcast on KFSB Ontario, also at 93.5) - and it wasn't long afterward that 96.3, newly renamed KXOL, also left Montecito Heights. It moved to the Flint Peak site in Glendale, which offered a considerable height advantage to reach into the San Fernando Valley, and eventually went up to the Verdugo Peak site we showed you last week.

With KXOL's departure (though it retains a licensed auxiliary site here), the Montecito Heights property fell silent - but perhaps not forever.

While the land - and the old transmitter/apartment building - up here are still owned by the church, the towers tagged along with the AM license, which means they're now owned by Clear Channel. There's some talk about putting one of the towers back into AM use as a temporary transmitter site for KFI, when and if the appropriate permits are granted and construction work finally gets underway at KFI's La Mirada site to replace the tall tower that was destroyed in a 2004 plane crash.

As for the building, we didn't get inside on this trip, but we're told that pretty much all the transmitter equipment has been removed at the church's behest, and it's now sitting more or less empty.

But it's sure neat to think about all the history that went through these towers over the years - everything from Aimee Semple McPherson's legacy to KIIS' hot hits - isn't it?

And after another day spent digging deep into LA's radio legacy (and a nice dinner with the traveling companions on the adventure, including Garrett Wollman of the, whose own photos of the day are here, Dennis Gibson from Santa Barbara and LA engineers Burt Weiner and Mike Tosch), we point the rental car back up I-15 for the long drive back (almost) to Las Vegas for NAB - and, yes, more towers. Stay tuned for that piece of the trip, soon...

Thanks to Mike Callaghan for the tour!

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