The World-Famous Tower Site Calendar 2007

April 6, 2007

The Big Trip 2006, Part IX: Spokane, Washington

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

Leaving the Tri-Cities after lunch, we head out on one of the emptiest parts of the trip: the long drive north on US 395 through the lonely desert of eastern Washington. There's more than 70 miles of nothingness from Pasco north to I-90, then another 60 miles of I-90 heading north and east into Spokane, our next destination.

Though we'd never been in Spokane before this trip, we'd heard a lot about its colorful broadcast history, both from Bill Harms' excellent Spokane Radio History site and from fellow tower hunters impressed by the dense cluster of towers and studios that lie south of downtown Spokane in the neighborhood known as Moran Prairie or "South Hill."

It's there that we begin our tour (after checking in at a cheap hotel downtown and setting up our VCRs for the city's evening newscasts, of course), and it's that area that will take up most of this week's Tower Site of the Week installment.

The Moran Prairie area is also sometimes known as the "Regal Street Tower Farm," after the north-south artery that connects many of the sites there, and our journey down Regal begins 39 blocks south of downtown at Spokane's PBS outlet, KSPS (Channel 7), which has a modern studio complex next to a high school at 3911 S. Regal. (That's only appropriate, since KSPS is owned by the Spokane Public Schools.)

From KSPS, we can begin to see the rest of the tower farm to our south. Immediately south of KSPS, and looming above its building in our picture, is the tall day tower of KTTO (970), Spokane's Catholic radio station. From this 750-foot Franklin-style sectionalized tower - 107 degrees over 107 degrees - KTTO runs 5 kW non-directional by day, and at night the lower half of the antenna makes up one tower of a two-tower directional array with 1 kW.

Driving two blocks south to 4103 S. Regal, we find the KTTO site behind the studio of Spokane's CBS affiliate, KREM (Channel 2), reflecting the history here: this tower was KREM-TV's original transmitter site (there's still an old Channel 2 batwing antenna atop the tower), and 970 itself was KREM radio back in the day, under the ownership of King Broadcasting. Today, the TV station is owned by Belo, and it has a sister station, CW affiliate KSKN (Channel 22) operating here as well.

We have, sadly, arrived on Regal Street a decade or two later than would have been ideal. If we'd made it out here prior to 1993, we'd have looked from the 970 tower right across Regal at an even taller tower. KHQ (590) operated with 5 kW fulltime, non-directional, from a mighty 826-foot half-wave tower at 4202 S. Regal for many years, with the original late-thirties self-supporter (at the time, the tallest in America) giving way to a guyed tower in the early fifties. The studios of KHQ and KHQ-TV (Channel 6) were in the building out front from the early sixties until the nineties. Today, the building is used as a school, the TV station has moved downtown, its transmitter (originally here as well, with an antenna atop the AM tower) has moved south to Krell Hill, the AM station has changed calls and owners several times, and the tower itself is long gone, replaced by a new 590 site out to the east. (We'll see it in next week's installment.)

Another four blocks south on Regal finds us at the studios of Fox affiliate KAYU (Channel 28), which outsources its 10 PM newscast to KHQ. From here, we can see three more AM sites off to the south: immediately south on Regal is the KXLY (920) facility, and down Palouse Highway, which slants off to the southeast, are KPTQ (1280) and KMBI (1330).

We'll start with KXLY, which sits down a gated road, wedged between a school sports field and a condominium development just north of 53rd Avenue. Under the station's old calls of KFPY, and on its old frequency of 890, this 469-foot self-supporting tower was the first station to call Moran Prairie home, back around 1936, when this was a very rural area several miles south of downtown Spokane. The station became KXLY in 1947, as part of the "XL Group" of stations that included KXL in Portland, KXLE in Ellensburg (which we'll see a few installments from now), KXLF in Butte and several other Montana stations.

For many years, KXLY, like KHQ, was another of that rare breed of regional-channel AM stations with fulltime non-directional authorization at 5 kW; a few years ago, it raised its day power to 20 kW, making it an even more potent signal. It also picked up some company at this site: a second tower, built in 2002, forms a directional array that's used by KXLY's all-sports sister station, KXLX (700 Airway Heights), which moved 60 miles south from Newport, where it was known as KMJY. A third station, KTRW (630 Opportunity), has also been diplexed on the KXLY tower, with 530 watts by day, 53 watts at night, non-directional, since 1997. (It was running religion from the regional American Christian Network when we passed through, though it's since flipped to standards.) We'll pick up the earlier history of 630 in next week's installment.

There's a beautiful set of call letters mounted on KXLY's Art Deco transmitter building; alas, it's all fenced in now and hard to see from anywhere accessible.

Less than half a mile to the east sits KPTQ (1280), Spokane's progressive talk station. It was KUDY for many years, then briefly did standards as KAQQ (a call that had also been on 590), and today it runs 5 kW days, 33 watts night from the two-tower array behind its old studio on Palouse Highway. This site is now also shared with KEYF (1050 Dishman), Citadel's standards station.

Palouse Highway intersects with S. Freya Street near the KPTQ towers, and at 5408 S. Freya we find the studios of Moody Bible Institute's KMBI (1330) and KMBI-FM (107.9). The KMBI(AM) tower is here, too, running 5 kW, daytime-only. There was another AM on Freya once upon a time, the now-dark facility that operated on 1450 and then 1440 as KDNC and KXXR, but there's no sign of it to be seen today.

If we'd made it down here a decade or so earlier, there would have been two more major AM sites to see at the southern end of Moran Prairie: at 63rd and Regal, the two-tower array of Spokane's big 50 kW AM signal, KGA (1510), and at 57th and Helena, a mile or so to the west, the studios and former transmitter site of KJRB (790), erstwhile sister station to Seattle's KJR.

KJRB and KGA are now sister stations under Citadel's ownership, and while their studios are still at the 57th Avenue site, along with KEYF(AM), oldies KEYF-FM (101.1 Cheney), country KDRK (93.7), "Bob FM" adult hits KBBD (103.9) and rock "Buzzard" KZBD (105.7), the AM transmitters relocated in 1997 to a new site in Spangle, off US 195 about 13 miles south of downtown Spokane.

The former KGA site at 63rd and Regal has been thoroughly redeveloped with housing, so there's no sign left of KGA's presence there, but around the corner at 6019 S. Crestline we find one more Spokane radio relic: the former KPEG/KEZE (1380) tower, behind a building that once served as a studio for KEYF and KUDY, among other stations.

After 1380 went dark in the early eighties, the tower was used by a new station: KEYF (1050 Dishman) signed on here in 1984, taking a frequency that had been used briefly out east in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by defunct station KZIN in the late fifties and early sixties. There was a CP here as well for KSPO (740 Dishman), a 500-watt daytimer, in the early nineties, but it was never built. Ironically, its permittee, Thomas Read, now uses the studio building here for his American Christian Network, heard over his KSPO-FM (106.5 Dishman) and KTRW (630).

The tower here may yet see new life, too: KTTO (970) has a pending application to move here from the old KREM site up at 3911 S. Regal.

Now that we're this far south, we have a clear view east to Krell Hill (aka "Tower Mountain"), where most of Spokane's FM and TV stations have moved their towers over the years. There are two clusters of towers here, and both are behind locked gates. Above, we see the southern group of towers, including (at left) the first TV station up here, KHQ-TV (Channel 6), which arrived in 1960. It shares its tower with Gonzaga University's KAGU (88.7) and Clear Channel's KISC (98.1, the former KHQ-FM) and KCDA (103.1 Post Falls ID).

Next to the south is KAYU's tower, shared with KZBD (105.7), and shorter sticks here are home to Eastern Washington University's KEWU (89.5 Cheney), religious KEEH (104.9) and several LPTVs.

At the the right is the southernmost Krell Hill tower, KSPS (Channel 7) - but we should properly say that KSPS "was" the southernmost Krell Hill tower, since about a third of the 1967-vintage 600-foot tower came tumbling down during severe weather early on the morning of November 29, just two months after our picture was taken.

KSPS continued to serve most of its audience via cable and satellite (including a large Canadian audience that gets the station via satellite), and last we heard had mounted a temporary antenna on what remained of the tower while it works on rebuilding. (The KSPS tower was also home to KXMN-LP, Channel 11, the market's My Network TV affiliate and a sister station to ABC affiliate KXLY-TV. I'm not sure where it's operating from now, though it still has plenty of carriage via KXLY-DT and cable/satellite.

Up at the north end of Krell Hill, behind a separate gate, is the 1963-vintage tower of KREM (Channel 2), now shared with KSKN (Channel 22) and KZZU (92.9, the former KREM-FM). Another tower nearby is home to KEYF-FM and KKZX (98.9).

From here, with daylight waning, we make our way south and east over the hills to Spangle and the new KJRB/KGA site, which has four towers of varying heights in a southwest-northeast row, with a fifth tower (second from right in our photo) dog-legged to the east. KJRB runs 5 kW days from the northernmost three towers in the in-line array, using all four at night with 3.8 kW. KGA's 50 kW daytime array uses the northernmost two towers in the in-line array (the two at left in our photo), adding the dogleg tower at night.

From Spangle, we have just enough daylight left to get back into downtown Spokane to see the new KHQ studio at 1201 W. Sprague Avenue, not far from the commonly-owned (under the Cowles family) Spokesman-Review newspaper plant.

There's much more to be seen in downtown Spokane and points north, and we'll examine that in next week's installment (and after a night's sleep), but we'll leave you this time with a sunset view of the Spokane River's scenic path through downtown, complete with that nifty tram down into the gorge. And check out beginning Wednesday, April 11 to hear the legal IDs of Spokane!

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