April 27, 2007
The Big Trip 2006, Part XII: Ellensburg, Wenatchee and on to Everett, 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 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 Eight - Thursday, September 28
It's a scenic 30-mile drive north from Yakima up through the Yakima River Valley to Ellensburg, where I-82 meets I-90. Ellensburg is a pleasant college town, home to Central Washington University, and we drive past that school's campus on the way out to Vantage Highway, where we find the tower of KXLE (1240) and the studios of KXLE(AM) and KXLE-FM (95.3). This is another of the "KXL Stations" that formed an early regional cluster in the late forties - so, yes, this was once a sister station to KXL in Portland and KXLY in Spokane.
On the map, it doesn't look like a very long drive from Ellensburg up to Wenatchee, our next stop - but 25 miles between the two cities, as the crow flies, turns into more than 60 miles by road as US 97 and US 2 twist their way through the east side of the Cascade Mountains. Our first glimpse of Wenatchee radio comes off the south side of US 2 as we approach Wenatchee from the west - up there in the hills is the tower of KKRT (900 Wenatchee), an ESPN Radio outlet that's a sister station to KWIQ (1020 Moses Lake North).
Just after passing the KKRT tower, we exit the highway on North Wenatchee Avenue and descend into the city, which is set deep in the valley of the Columbia River, stopping first for lunch at a burger stand within view of the KPQ (560) towers - which we'll see shortly - before heading downtown to see some studios.
The Cherry Creek Radio group has a large presence in Wenatchee and nearby Quincy, both in English and in Spanish. On the English side, the studio at 231 N. Wenatchee Ave. is home to hot AC "KW-3" KWWW (96.7 Quincy), country KYSN (97.7 East Wenatchee), AC "Apple" KAAP (99.5 Rock Island) and classic rock KZPH (106.7 Cashmere); in Spanish, it's "La Super Zeta," KWWX (1340 Wenatchee) - and yes, we noticed that there's no "Z" in "KWWX."
The KWWX tower is located on the south side of East Wenatchee, across the Columbia River, and it's home, ironically enough, to an FM booster owned by a direct competitor - Bustos Media's "Zorro" KZML (95.9 Quincy) runs 1900-watt booster KZML-1 from that two-bay FM antenna on this tower.
Wenatchee is home to one of Washington's oldest radio stations, and to the last new 3-letter callsign we'll add to our log on this trip. KPQ (560) signed on in Seattle in 1928, then moved to Wenatchee in 1929 under the ownership of the Wenatchee World, a fine local paper with one of the greatest (or at least longest) slogans we've ever encountered, to wit: "Published in the Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest."
They take their apples very seriously in these parts - those are apples making up the letters in the "K P Q" sign on the studio building at 32 N. Mission Street, a block west of Wenatchee Avenue, and the "O" in the nameplate of the World, right next door, is also an apple. (And just as this edition of Tower Site of the Week hits the web, the annual Apple Blossom Festival is starting in Wenatchee, too.)
KPQ has expanded over the years: this building is also home to KPQ-FM (102.1), a big-signalled classic hits station that goes by "The Quake," as well as to another cluster of stations under different ownership: Morris Communications' "Columbia River Media Group" that includes KKRT/KWIQ, country KKRV (104.7 Wenatchee), country KWIQ-FM (100.3 Moses Lake) and Spanish-language KWLN (103.3 Wilson Lake). And no, I have no idea how those stations all ended up sharing a building with KPQ and KPQ-FM.
(Nor, for that matter, can I adequately explain how it came to pass that Wenatchee never managed to sustain a full-power TV station; the place is isolated enough from other TV markets, certainly. Today, Wenatchee gets most of the Seattle stations and a few Spokane stations on cable, as well as the big Spokane stations via translator, but none of those stations spend much time covering the Apple Capital of the World, etc. Howard Fine in Los Angeles reminds me that there was a full-power station in Wenatchee, KCWT-TV 27, that went on in 1984 as an indie, joined up with Fox in 1986, went indie again in 1990, then spent a few years as a TBN outlet before going off the air when its transmitter failed in 1993. TV now in Wenatchee is represented by a local LPTV network, based at KWCC-LP 47, that's carried on cable and offers some local programming, including the daily "Toast and Coffee Show.")
From the KPQ studios, we head back north on Wenatchee Avenue to US 2, listening to AM 560 as we go. They're airing their 2 PM talk show, cleverly named "The Two O'Clock Show," as we make the drive to the transmitter site once known as "KPQ Ranch", tucked in between Wenatchee Avenue and the Columbia River next to the Wenatchee Confluence State Park on the north side of town. It takes a bit of a hike down a walking trail next to a big power plant to get a good view of the two towers, and we never did get a good look at the 1937-vintage transmitter building. The station's history claims the building floated on 15 feet of water during the huge Columbia River floods of 1948, and that's a site we'd love to have seen! (KPQ now uses 5 kW day and night, going directional only at night.)
It's a long (120-mile) but very scenic drive west on US 2 from Wenatchee through the Cascade Mountains to our next destination, Everett, just north of Seattle on Puget Sound. Along the way, we pass the faux-Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington, and one of those only-in-Washington signs: "Last Cappucino for 60 Miles," and at day's end, we pull into downtown Everett for a visit with Andy Skotdal, owner of KRKO (1380).
Andy wasn't a radio guy to begin with - his family is in real estate, and they came into ownership of KRKO through a real-estate deal a few years back. But he's been learning a lot about engineering and local politics over the last couple of years as he's battled to get a major upgrade to KRKO's transmitter plant built.
We meet up with Andy at the KRKO studios, on a top floor of a downtown office building that the Skotdal family owns. The station now does sports as "NorthSound 1380," but it has a very long history in town - indeed, that's a 1922 Land Radio Station license displayed on the station wall, and on the website too.
From the studios, Andy leads us south and east to the current KRKO site, a two-tower array on Larimer Avenue just east of I-5. Note the ATUs suspended above ground - this is the floodplain of a creek that feeds into the Snohomish River, and yes, the water does come up pretty high here at times.
The transmitter building here was once a studio as well, but the old studio space is now leased out for office use, leaving just a small transmitter room for the Continental main, a beautiful old Gates aux and a phasor for the station's current 5 kW DA-N operation.
After lengthy legal battles (with paperwork that fills an entire vertical filing cabinet in the studios, and at huge expense to Andy and the station), KRKO is finally getting ready to start construction on a new site along the Snohomish River, about 4 miles southeast of the current site. From that new four-tower site, KRKO will run 34 kW non-directional by day, 50 kW directional at night, greatly improving its signal in and around Everett and for the many commuters who head down I-5 and I-405 from here into the Seattle area every day.
And with the sun setting over Puget Sound, we enjoy a nice dinner with Andy, then head to our hotel east of Seattle to tune in some TV newscasts and get ready for a big day in the mountains. Join us next week for a look at Seattle's major FM sites, won't you?
(And join us over at Tophour.com on Wednesday, May 2 to hear the legal IDs of Wenatchee and vicinity!)
The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're about to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Fybush.com Store!