February 16, 2007
The Big Trip 2006, Part II: Eugene, OR
Once every year or so, when finances and schedules permit, your editor and a couple of his similarly-obsessed radio pals get together to spend a week or so exploring a corner of our great nation, packing our schedules as full as possible to visit as many interesting broadcast facilities as we can.
And then, a few months later, once we've caught our breath (and some much-needed sleep), we share it all with you here on Tower Site of the Week (and in audio form over on Tophour.com) in a feature we call "The Big Trip."
The 2006 version of the Big Trip began and ended in Seattle, and along the way took us as far south as Eugene, Oregon and as far east as Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Day Two - Friday, September 22
One of the challenges in planning a Big Trip is figuring out just how far afield to roam. We don't like to drive more than a few hours on any given day. We like to be sure we're spending at least one weeknight and one weekday morning in each TV and radio market where we want to aircheck. We try to allow enough time in each larger market for plenty of tower and studio visits, and maybe even some non-radio tourism along the way. But at the same time, we don't like the idea of knowing there's another interesting market just an hour or two down the highway that we're missing.
So as the Oregon plans for Big Trip 2006 began to come together in the spring (yes, we plan ahead, and then some), the calculus eventually produced the result that Eugene was in, but Bend and Medford were a little too far out of the way.
And thus it was that we sped through Portland, Salem and Corvallis on the first night of our trip, making the long drive that landed us at a motel in Eugene just after 10 PM. (Not only was that a little too late to tape the news on Fox affiliate KLSR-TV 34, but we'd soon discover that one of our VCRs was busted, thus costing us a shot at one of the city's 11 PM newscasts, too, and sending us on a detour the next day to buy another cheap VCR. But we digress.)
Friday morning dawned foggy, but the forecast called for sun later on, so we decided to get some driving out of the way early, heading about 10 miles south of Eugene to our first Oregon tower stop, at 50,000-watt KPNW (1120). By the time we turned off I-5 near Creswell, the fog was burning off, and after we'd driven through the farmland around the closely-spaced four-tower array looking for the gate (which was locked), the sun was out and we were locked in to some very nice weather for most of the rest of the trip.
KPNW, now owned by Clear Channel, was a distinct latecomer to the dial, signing on only in 1962 as 10 kW daytimer KPIR on 1500. It moved down the dial to 1120 in 1967, as one of the first Class II-A stations to break down the eastern clear channels, and remains widely heard at night up and down the West Coast.
With the fog mostly lifted, we head north again, into Eugene's sister city to the east, Springfield. That's where we find the pretty little studio/transmitter site of religious KORE (1050), complete with the vintage Chevy out front and a very curious employee wondering why all those guys are standing at the end of the driveway taking pictures of his building. In addition to KORE, this tower is also the construction permit site for KKNX (840), which now uses a short tower on the west side of Eugene.
From here, we begin working our way north and west, stopping at the Gateway Mall near the I-5/I-105 interchange for the aforementioned VCR, then moving north to the interchange of I-5 and the Beltline Road, where we find the office park that's home to KMTR-TV (Channel 16), the city's NBC affiliate and one of the last new "big three" affiliates anywhere, having signed on only in 1982.
Across I-5 to the west is another office park area on Chad Drive that's home to two more Eugene TV stations. KEZI-TV (Channel 9) moved into that huge facility at 2940 Chad Drive in 1998 from its original 1961 studios around the corner on Coburg Road, and if it looks awfully big to you for a station in market #121, we wouldn't disagree.
Turns out that KEZI's local owners, Chambers Communications, operate not only KEZI but also an entire studio complex, including five soundstages that have been used for several movies, out of the "Chambers Media Center" here. (A bit more history: the Chambers family was one of the original investors in Liberty Communications, which put KEZI on the air. When Liberty was sold to TCI in the eighties, the Chambers family bought back the broadcast interests, and thus was born this little hometown mini-empire. Like Eugene's other stations, KEZI operates satellite stations in the Medford and Roseburg markets to the south; it also has a brand-new, DTV-only ABC station to the east in Bend.)
Across Chad Drive is an office park that's home to Fox affiliate KLSR (Channel 34) and My Network TV affiliate KEVU-LP (Channel 23), and a mile or so to the north is the four-tower site of KUGN (590) and KRVM (1280), to which we'll return later in the day.
We're already up on the north side of Eugene here, but we can see an even more distant site about two miles to the northwest. Up on Coburg Ridge, those towers are home to KEZI and KEZI-DT (Channel 44), KMTR and KMTR-DT (Channel 17) and KODZ (99.1), as well as a few FM translators and LPTVs.
With an hour yet to go before lunch, our whirlwind Eugene tour continues on its way around the city's northwest corner, around the Belt Line Highway and down the Delta Highway to the Goodpasture Island Road exit. This looping road heads through several residential subdivisions and past two nondescript guyed AM towers, one for sports station KSCR (1320), and the other for Spanish KLZS (1450). The KLZS tower is also home, for now, to KKNX (840) - and once KKNX moves over to the 1050 tower in Springfield, KSCR will move to the 1450 site and its own tower will come down.
At the southern end of Goodpasture Island Road is the office park that's home to both Clear Channel (recently relocated from a downtown office building that was long home to KPNW) and Cumulus, and we have a brief tour of the Cumulus studios, which are arranged in a "U" shape around a central engineering core.
Shown here is a typical studio, for news-talk KUGN (590); down the hall are rocker KZEL (96.1), country "Moose" KUJZ (95.3 Creswell), modern rock KNRQ (97.9), hot AC "Star" KEHK (102.3 Brownsville) and KSCR.
By now, it's time for lunch, so we make the short drive south on I-105 to downtown Eugene and a very pleasant outdoor meal in one of Eugene's nice city neighborhoods, a few blocks from the University of Oregon campus. (Actually, most of downtown Eugene is just a few blocks from the university, come to think of it.)
After lunch, we're off to the other TV/FM site in town - Blanton Heights, a couple of miles south of downtown Eugene in the hills that rise sharply from the Willamette River Valley. The star of the show here is Eugene's oldest TV station, KVAL-TV (Channel 13), which not only has its transmitter here, but also its compact studio building.
Next to the KVAL building is an 850-foot tower that carries the antennas for KVAL, KVAL-DT (Channel 25), and Oregon Public Broadcasting's KEPB (Channel 28/DT 29).
Across the KVAL parking lot is a big cluster of towers, including a 653-footer (second from right in the photo above right) that carries KLSR-DT (Channel 31), KEVU-LP (Channel 23) and a whole pile of FMs: country KKNU (93.3 Springfield) and AC KMGE (94.5) sharing the topmost antenna, KUJZ (95.3) below that, public radio stations KWAX (91.1) and KLCC (89.7) below that, and KZEL (96.1) below that. I think that's public radio KRVM-FM (91.9) in the foreground of that right-hand photo, and somewhere in the center photo above are Family Radio's KQFE (88.9 Springfield) and "Bob FM" KEUG (105.5 Veneta). Out of frame at right is another self-supporter with KNRQ (97.9) and KEHK (102.3). Also off in the distance somewhere here is KLSR (Channel 34)'s analog tower.
From Blanton Heights we head back downhill, through the city and north again to the Coburg area, for our final tour: the four-tower array that KUGN (590) shares with public radio KRVM (1280). (Yes, there's a lot of public radio here - the KRVM licenses are held by the local school district, which LMA's the AM side to the regional "Jefferson Public Radio" news-talk network serving southern Oregon and northern California, while KRVM-FM does AAA. Lane Community College's KLCC offers a mixture of news-talk and AAA over a regional network of stations, and the University of Oregon's KWAX is all classical.)
This site on Game Farm Road is fairly new, having been built in the early nineties to replace separate sites for 590 half a mile to the west and for 1280 about a mile to the southwest. Both stations run 5 kW non-directional during the day here, with KUGN using the three painted towers for its nighttime 5 kW signal and KRVM using two painted towers and that short unpainted tower for its 1500 watts at night.
And absent a few smaller sites (University of Oregon student station KWVA 88.1 on the campus, progressive talk KOPT 1600 on Day Island near the university and Spanish-language KXOR 660 up to the north in Junction City), that's most of the Eugene dial, all in the space of about five hours with a break for lunch. Not a bad little town, is it?
In our next installment, we'll continue our Friday adventures with a stop at a most unusual site in Corvallis - and in the meantime, join us over at Tophour.com for a whole heaping pile of Eugene/Springfield IDs, beginning on February 21!
The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're going to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Fybush.com Store!