The World-Famous Tower Site Calendar 2007

March 30, 2007

The Big Trip 2006, Part VIII: Walla Walla/Tri-Cities, Wash.

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 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 Six - Tuesday, September 26

Our very long Monday that started in Portland, Oregon ended many hours later in Walla Walla, Washington, 240 miles to the east on the far side of the Cascade Mountains. Approaching Walla Walla from the west on US 12 in the dark, our first glimpse of the city's radio scene was the blinking lights of the two-tower array of KUJ (1420), the city's oldest radio station by several decades. KUJ signed on way back in 1928, and now runs 5000 watts by day, 900 watts at night, non-directional...which has us wondering, in retrospect, why there are two towers out here at Campbell Road and US 12. (KUJ has a pending application to go to 10 kW days, 650 watts nights from Finley, Washington, which would move it into the Tri-Cities market to the west. Its former sister station KUJ-FM on 99.1 is already there, licensed to Burbank, and its current sister KUJJ 101.9 Weston also serves the Tri-Cities with smooth jazz.)

Our next glimpse of Walla Walla, once we've checked into the hotel, is of the uninspiring commercial strip on the east side of town, as we try to find anything at all that's still open for dinner at the fairly late hour of 9-something PM. Unimpressed so far, we end up at a fast-food chain, with promises of better eating to come on the remaining days of the trip.

Our conception of Walla Walla (which was pretty much nonexistent, beyond "city with a funny name and inexpensive hotel rooms," before our arrival) changed dramatically the next morning, when we made the short drive downtown to find an awfully nice Main Street retail district with tree-lined streets, funky businesses, and all the things that have disappeared from so many other small towns in recent years.

Just east of downtown is Whitman College and its little station, KWCW (90.5) - and it's at this point that we make an upstate New York connection: Whitman College, like the Marcus Whitman Hotel that's just beyond the stoplights at the center of our downtown shot, is named after Marcus Whitman, a physician and missionary who grew up in Rushville, New York, 40 miles or so from our home base in Rochester. The high school down there is named for him - and so are many things in Walla Walla, where he founded a settlement in the 1830s. There's even a Whitman County, Washington, though we don't get there on this trip (it's northeast of Walla Walla, encompassing the city of Pullman and Washington State University.)

The office buildings near the corner shown here (Main and Second) house two of Walla Walla's radio stations - one, just out of frame to the right, is home to religious KHSS (100.7) and talk KGDC (1320); another, to which my back was apparently turned as I took this picture, houses oldies KTEL (1490).

The towers for KGDC and KTEL are both south of downtown Walla Walla, within spitting distance of the Oregon border. (From here, several stations licensed to Milton-Freewater, Oregon, just over the border, are local to Walla Walla; it's also easy to hear stations from Pendleton, Oregon, 30 miles to the southwest.)

Also south of the border, up in the Blue Mountains, are most of the towers for Walla Walla's FMs and its lone TV station, CW affiliate KCWK (Channel 9), which serves the huge Tri-Cities/Yakima market; we don't have time to make the drive south and east to Pikes Peak (only 3858' high, a mere blip on the topo maps compared to its big namesake in Colorado) to see the tower farm there.

Instead, after a drive through the Walla Walla suburb of College Place (home to Walla Walla College, which owns religious KGTS 91.3 and an LPTV network called "Blue Mountain Television," which has a nightly newscast produced by college students), and a daylight swing past KUJ, we head back east on 30 miles of lonely US 12 to once again encounter the Columbia River, swelled wide amidst the desert landscape as it crosses the Oregon/Washington line. From the town of Wallula, on the river's west bank, it's another 20 miles north and west along the river to the "Tri-Cities" of Pasco, north of the river, and Richland and Kennewick to the south.

Our first stop is in Pasco, not far from the bridge that takes US 395 over the river to Kennewick. At 2621 West A Street, we find what passes for a big radio cluster in the Tri-Cities: a collection of low-slung buildings housing Clear Channel's local stations.

The 263-foot tower here is home to the Tri-Cities' most powerful AM outlet, talker KFLD (870 Pasco), which runs 10 kW days and 250 watts at night. (It's also where KUJ hopes to move.)

In addition to KFLD, the other stations in the cluster are country KORD-FM (102.7 Richland), which keeps alive the calls that were on 870 for most of its existence; hot AC "Key" KEYW (98.3 Pasco); oldies KOLW (97.5 Basin City), a fairly recent move-in to the market; and rocker KXRX (97.1 Walla Walla).

Most of the FMs and TVs in the market, except the ones licensed to Walla Walla, are south of Kennewick on two buttes that sit east of I-82, Johnson Butte and Jump Off Joe Butte; again, with limited time and a vehicle ill-suited to mountain roads, we don't make it up to those sites on this trip.

A few blocks north of the Clear Channel compound, just off the Lewis Street ramps from US 395, we find the market's CBS affiliate, Pasco-licensed KEPR-TV (Channel 19), as well as the former KEPR radio. The TV station is owned by Seattle-based Fisher Communications, which has signals in almost every Pacific Northwest market. The radio station next door, now news-talker KONA (610 Kennewick), is owned by Cherry Creek Broadcasting, which also has AC KONA-FM (105.3 Kennewick) and regional Mexican KZHR (92.5 Dayton) in this building.

We have one more Pasco stop before heading across the river into Kennewick: on the west side of town, behind a nursery shop, we find the three towers of New Northwest Broadcasters' KALE (960 Richland), which does sports as "K-Jocks" with 5 kW days, 1 kW nights, DA-N. (New Northwest's studios are in an office park on the west side of Kennewick; it also owns country KIOK (94.9 Richland), classic rock "Eagle" KEGX (106.5 Richland), top 40 KUJ-FM (99.1 Burbank), adult hits "Bob FM" KNLT (95.7 Walla Walla) and talk KTCR (1340 Kennewick), the market's oldest station. (Even at that, KTCR came on only in 1945; it was the Cold War growth of the nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation that fueled much of the growth here, and with Hanford now closed, this market is again in a bit of a decline.)

Before we get to KTCR, we have two other Kennewick stops to make: at 3312 W. Kennewick Avenue, we find NBC affiliate KNDU-TV (Channel 25), in a building that was apparently once a funeral home. (KNDU and its sister station in Yakima, KNDO-TV 23, are owned by Spokane's KHQ, which is in turn owned by Cowles.)

About a mile to the west, at 601 N. Edison, sits the modern-looking studio of ABC affiliate KVEW (Channel 42), the last of the Big 3 to come on the air in the market. It, and sister Yakima station KAPP-TV 35, are owned by Spokane's KXLY, which is part of the Wisconsin-based Morgan Murphy Media Group.

(The rest of the TV dial in the Tri-Cities shapes up like this: Fox is on an LPTV, KFFX-CA 11; PBS is on KTNW channel 31 from Richland, a satellite to Pullman's KWSU-TV; Univision is on KVVK-CA 15 Kennewick; My Network TV arrives on a DTV subchannel from KAPP and KVEW.)

Channel 31 was once home to a commercial station, KTRX Kennewick/Pasco, which signed on early in 1958 and signed off again later that year; over in Walla Walla, KNBS channel 22 made a brief go of it in 1960, but failed as well.

Just north of the KVEW studios is the short tower of New Northwest's KTCR, and not far from that is the Kennewick high school FM station, KTCV (88.1).

It is odd, but true, that one of the Tri-Cities is home to no broadcast facilities of note. Richland, at the western edge of the market on a bend of the Columbia, has not a single studio to beckon us, nor any transmitters. The closest we can come is Badger Mountain south of Richland, near the junction of I-82 and I-182, where several LPTVs and LPFMs transmit, and we don't bother making that drive.

Instead, we make a stop for lunch at a fifties-themed burger joint near the KNDU studios, then head east through downtown Kennewick and south along the river to the three-tower array of KONA (610), which puts out 5 kW day and night, DA-2.

Just a few months after our visit, a new AM station signed on not far from KONA. What's now KVAN (1560 Burbank) runs 10 kW days, 700 watts nights from a new three-tower array a couple of miles to the east of the KONA site; it's simulcasting oldies with KLTB (92.1 Pilot Rock OR).

From KONA, we can look to the south and see the TV/FM sites on Jump Off Joe Butte (not quite visible in this picture, though you can see one heck of a line of wind turbines in the distance if you look carefully). And after that, we hear Spokane calling, 140 miles to the northeast across some very, very empty eastern Washington desert landscape. We'll start showing you all that Spokane has to offer next week; in the meantime, check out beginning Wednesday, April 4 to hear the IDs of Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities!

The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're about to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Store!