September 8, 2006

Another Look at Omaha, Nebraska

Tower Site Calendar 2007 just arrived from the printer this week, and we're now shipping copies out to everyone who's pre-ordered - and everyone who orders now by visiting the Store. (Remember, you can get a free copy of the 2007 calendar when you subscribe to as an industry professional!)

For the next few weeks here on Site of the Week, we'll be featuring some of the sites that you'll see on our sixth annual calendar - and this week, since we're on the road gathering new sites to show you in future weeks (and in future calendars), we're revisiting - and updating - some earlier features.

This is "Miss September" for 2007 - the seven 248' towers of KOIL (1020 Plattsmouth NE), which are actually located across the Missouri River in Glenwood, Iowa. By day, KOIL uses the four towers at the rear of the photo to send 50 kW west across the river to the Omaha market. At night, the three towers in front and three of the four in back form a six-tower array that sends 1200 watts in a tight lobe west to Omaha.

This photo was taken in July 2004, during a very brief revisit to Omaha - but Tower Site of the Week first took a look at the Omaha market in October 2001, as part of our recap of the very first "Big Trip" that summer. We didn't see this site then, for the simple reason that it was just in the process of being built! The station was then KOTD, and was a daytimer on 1000 kHz at the fringes of the Omaha market. When this site signed on with high power on 1020, it still had the KOTD calls, but it didn't take long for the KOIL calls to move here from 1180 Bellevue NE. It did classic country for a few years, but when 1180 (by then KYDZ) signed off earlier in 2006 as part of the expanded AM band transition, the Radio Disney format that had been on 1180 moved down here, and now KOIL on 1020 is all-Mouse, all the time.

Where did the KOIL calls come from originally? For that, and the answers to many more Omaha radio questions, we offer an annotated recap of our 2001 visit:

Friday, June 29 - We're approaching the halfway mark in our long journey across the country. After an exciting morning in Yankton, S.D. (see part seven) and some brief stops in Norfolk and West Point, Nebraska, we pass the outskirts of Fremont and begin to traverse the outer suburbia of Omaha.

Our goal is to arrive on North 72nd Street, home to most of Omaha's TV and FM dial, and we make it in late afternoon, under heavy skies that threaten rain. From a distance, this tower farm looks almost like a huge AM array, but these three towers are each well over a thousand feet tall!

Approaching from the north, the first tower we pass is that of WOWT (Channel 6), the NBC affiliate once known as WOW-TV. It leases tower space to KEZO (92.3, the former WOW-FM) and newer FMs KXKT (103.7, a move-in from Iowa) and KIWR (89.7, licensed across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa).

Next door to the south, behind the common fence that encloses the entire farm, is KETV (Channel 7), the ABC affiliate, sharing tower space with public radio KVNO (90.7). South of that tower is the KMTV (Channel 3) stick, shared with KQKQ (98.5), KGOR (99.9) and KSRZ (104.5).

A fourth tower, south of KMTV, is used solely by FM stations KTNP (93.3), KMXM (94.1) and an auxiliary antenna for KKCD (105.9).

2006 update: We couldn't have known at the time that one of those tall towers didn't have long to live. The KETV tower in the middle of the "array" came down during antenna-replacement work in July 2003, leaving the station at low power for more than a year from its old tower at its downtown studio site while a replacement tower was constructed at the 72nd Street site.

From here, with the weather worsening, we head into downtown Omaha, where your editor will spend the weekend attending a wedding, while Garrett returns to South Dakota for more radio travel fun.

Saturday, June 30 - We still manage to get some travel in, with a side trip to Lincoln, the state capital some 70 miles to the west.

Nebraska's state capital is interesting for two reasons: first, it's an imposing Art Deco-style tower built at the height of that architectural movement in the thirties; second, because Nebraska is the only state in the union with a unicameral legislature.

This building does have a Senate chamber, but it's now used purely for ceremonial functions.

Heading out of downtown, we're bound for the corner of 40th and "W" Streets, where the studios of KOLN-TV (Channel 10), the CBS affiliate, sit across from a tower that's home to KLIN (1400), KFOR (1240), KKUL (105.3) and KFRX (102.7).

A studio building a few blocks away, at 43rd and O, is home to a large cluster of Lincoln radio stations, identified by a rotating sign outside. (From the looks of the building, we suspect it might once have been a funeral parlor, reminiscent of the Cumulus cluster we'd seen earlier in the week in Davenport, Iowa...)

Among the stations in this building: KLIN (a news-talker), country "Froggy" KFGE (98.1), oldies KKUL (105.3), and KEZG (107.3).

We didn't make it out two other big studio complexes, one out on Antelope Creek Road and the other on Van Dorn Street, that house more clusters of Lincoln radio, alas, nor did we make it to the studios of KLKN (Channel 8), the ABC affiliate that was a recent move-in from distant Albion, Nebraska.

(Lincoln is part of the Hastings-Lincoln-Grand Island TV market, a strange beast that has little basis in TV reality. Hastings and Grand Island are another 80 miles or so to the west, and while they share a common CBS affiliate, thanks to a KOLN relay in Grand Island, there are separate ABC and NBC affiliates out in Hastings/Grand Island/Kearney, while Lincoln gets ABC on KLKN and NBC from Omaha's WOWT.)

Our last Lincoln tower stop is out to the east of town, at 98th and A, where we're surprised to find eight towers for KLMS (1480), an all-sports station. Wow!

Heading back into town, we turn up 33rd Street to check out the huge brick monolith that's home to Nebraska Educational TV, with its flagship here in Lincoln at KUON-TV (Channel 12).

A few bits of useless Nebraska Educational TV trivia: Channel 12 was KOLN's original home; it ended up in the hands of the University of Nebraska when KOLN's owner bought competitor KLIN-TV and took over its spot on channel 10.

The second bit of trivia comes from the mid-seventies, when NBC proudly spent lots of money developing a nifty new logo featuring a stylized red and blue "N" - only to find that the image they'd spent all that money developing had been in use for several years out here at KUON, which had spent all of $100 to create it!

A settlement was soon reached, and NETV began using a lower-case N that's still in use today.

On the way back east along I-80, we stop midway to Omaha to see the tall towers that are home to Omaha's Fox and WB affiliates (KPTM Channel 42 and KXVO Channel 15) and to KEFM (96.1) and KGBI (100.7) as well.

Sunday, July 1 - Wedding day, yes, but there's still time for a few in-city stops. KFAB (1110) is the 50,000 watt giant of Omaha radio, and it's been broadcasting for decades from this building at 51st and Underwood, now shared by the rest of Omaha's Clear Channel cluster.

A block away, the very large Waitt Radio cluster has moved into its new home at 50th and Dodge (the entrance is actually on Capitol, a block north).

This building is home to KOIL (1180), KKAR (1290), KAZP (1620), KQKQ (98.5), KZFX (101.9, actually licensed to Lincoln), and KCTY (106.9), all represented in signage out front. Quite a nice view as we drive down Dodge!

2006 update: Only the calls have changed here - the Waitt Radio complex is still there at 50th and Capitol, but the station lineup now consists of KOIL on 1020, 1290 KKAR, 1620 (now KOZN), 98.5 KQKQ, 101.9 (now KLTQ), 106.9 KCTY and one more FM, rimshotter 97.3 KBLR Blair, which reaches the Omaha market via a translator on 107.7.

Heading north on 72nd, we approach the tower farm by way of the new Journal Broadcast Group studios, recently moved north from 90th and Dodge. This cluster includes the former WOW (590), inexplicably renamed KOMJ ("Magic 590"), as well as KMXM (94.1).

2006 update: Again, mainly call changes here - Journal's 590 is now sports KXSP, 94.1 is KQCH, and so on.

Near the TV and FM farm are two nondescript one-tower AM sites, both richer in history than in visual appeal.

Closest to the tower farm is KCRO (660), the daytimer that was once known as KOWH. Under those calls (which originally stood for the Omaha World-Herald newspaper), this was Todd Storz' very first top-40 radio stations, one of the birthplaces of the format in the late fifties. Today, KCRO does Christian radio from its studios at 36th and Dodge. The other single stick is that 590 signal that was WOW for almost eight decades before changing calls last year.

Also on the north side of town, on 52nd Street a couple of miles north of Dodge, is the self-supporting tower of public radio KIOS (91.5), owned by the Omaha Public Schools and operating from a high school parking lot!

Dodge Street itself is home to plenty more radio and TV; at 70th Street is the studio of stand-alone KEFM (96.1), and we can remember when the 1420/104.5 combination, then known as KESY, was just a block away. (Today those stations, KBBX and KSRZ respectively, are part of the Journal Broadcast Group and housed in the cluster's main facility on John Galt Boulevard far out on the western edge of town, with KEZO, KKCD, KQCH (97.7) and KOSR (1490)).

2006 update: KEFM eventually ceased to be a stand-alone, becoming part of Clear Channel. It's now KQBW, "The Brew," and is in with KFAB at 5010 Underwood. And Journal has moved KEZO and the others out of John Galt Boulevard and up to 72nd Street.

A few blocks east of KEFM is the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus, crowned by a self-supporter that's home to KYNE (Channel 26), the local outlet of Nebraska ETV.

A block south of Dodge, at 46th and Farnam, is the Pappas Telecasting facility that's home to KPTM and KXVO (KPTM was alone here when we visited in 1993). Eleven blocks east, another self-supporting tower announces the home of Omaha's NBC affiliate.

The building at 3625 Farnam was once home to WOW radio and television, and remained with Channel 6 when it was sold off to become WOWT.

As a relic of history, the tower out back carries auxiliary sites for not only WOWT itself but also for KEZO (92.3), the erstwhile WOW-FM. Both stations, as noted above, share WOWT's new tower up at the 72nd Street farm, as well.

(KEZO is a frequent summertime e-skip visitor to our home base in upstate New York; its hard rock format and "Z92" IDs are easy to recognize whenever it pops up!)

Under another big self-supporter just across I-480 is the studio of KETV, the ABC affiliate at 27th and Douglas.

2006 update: This was the tower that ended up keeping KETV on the air after its main stick on 72nd Street collapsed.

It, in turn, sits just a block or so away from still another self-supporter, the former home of KMTV (Channel 3). The CBS affiliate moved its studios out of downtown around the same time it moved its transmitter up to 72nd Street; it's now near the Journal cluster out west of town, at 108th and Mockingbird.

We make a quick dash across the Missouri River under rainy skies to take in three AM sites on the Iowa side: KOIL (1180) transmits Radio Disney from three towers on Sunnydale Road, northeast of Council Bluffs, while the two towers of Spanish KBBX (1420) sit just south of the one tower of gospel KLNG (1560) just off US 275, just east of the bridge to Omaha. (KOIL is licensed to Bellevue, NE, south of Omaha, while KLNG is licensed to Council Bluffs and KBBX to Omaha.)

2006 update: That 1180 facility, by then KYDZ, went dark in early 2006, having surrendered its license in favor of X-band sister KOZN on 1620. Waitt was one of several licensees petitioning the FCC for permission to put its standard-band stations back on the air, and 1180 returned in June with Spanish-language adult hits. KBBX moved its Spanish broadcasts to Journal's 97.7, and 1420 ended up joining KCRO (660) and KGBI (100.7) under Salem Broadcasting's umbrella. It's now talker KOTK.

Monday, July 2 - Garrett's back from his long weekend trip, all the way to Rapid City, S.D. and back, and we're reunited to continue our joint journey, beginning with the remainder of the Omaha sites.

First up, a single stick at 36th and Gold, home to KOSR (1490), the Fox Sports affiliate, then down S. 60th Street to its end at Harrison, where we find an attractive three-tower array.

Today, the AM 1290 facility is known as KKAR, but that's a recent call change. For decades, this was KOIL, the station that took on the top-40 mantle in town when KOWH faded (with a brief hiccup in the late-seventies when billing and contest irregularities caused KOIL's then-owners to lose all their licenses!)

The KKAR calls and talk format originated with the Bellevue 1180 when it signed on in the early nineties; later on, KKAR moved to 1290 and the KOIL calls went to 1180 as Radio Disney.

This site is also home to KAZP on 1620, the X-band ESPN Radio outlet that began as an offspring of 1180.

2006 update: KAZP became KOZN, "1620 the Zone," but it's still doing sports. KKAR recently received a construction permit to increase its day power to 50 kW from this site, replacing an identical earlier CP that was never built out.

And it turns out, as the clouds disappear towards late morning, that we've managed to save the best for last.

Southeast of the town of Papillion, some 20 miles south of Omaha in Sarpy County, we come to Capehart Road and S. 60th: the four towers of KFAB itself.

It's a nice looking site, especially with that one self-supporter amidst the guyed, top-hatted sticks. It turns out that, had we seen an engineer around, we could have seen a new transmitter being installed inside this old building. (A fellow DXer picked the right time to drive by later in the summer and was treated to the grand tour...)

2006 update: Did we say "four" towers? Well, yes, there are four towers here - but as several Nebraska radio folks pointed out as soon as the 2002 calendar appeared with KFAB in it, there are only three towers in KFAB's directional array.

What gives? The tower on the right is a cunning decoy, built several decades ago for what was then KFAB-FM on 99.9. It's completely detuned on 1110, and these days I don't think it's even used as an auxiliary for the FM, which is now KGOR and which moved to the 72nd Street tower farm years ago.

Want to see more Omaha? So do we - and you'll be pleased to know that a series of family committments mean that we'll be returning to eastern Nebraska on more or less an annual basis for a few years, beginning in the spring of 2007. Stay tuned!

The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! Be one of the first to receive your copy - order today at the Store!