December 21 & 28, 2007

Medium Trip '07, Part VIII: Cedar Rapids to Clinton, Iowa, via the Field of Dreams

Over the course of 2007, your editor set foot in 20 of our 50 states, visiting broadcast facilities all along the way. And now that the season of travel has ended, it's time to settle back and begin recapping some of what we saw as we criscrossed this land of ours.

This week, we wrap up our year and our recap of what we'll call "Medium Trip 2007," a 10-day family journey that began and ended in Chicago, taking in much of Iowa and a little of eastern Nebraska along the way, and in the process revisiting for the first time some of the territory from our original Big Trip back in 2001.

When we left off in our last installment, it was Tuesday morning, May 22, and we were zipping around Waterloo, Iowa, checking out the local scenery, enjoying lunch at Culver's (a favorite fast-food treat on trips that take us into the midwest) and getting ready to head east for some non-radio tourism.

But before that, we also spent some time 50 miles or so to the southeast in Cedar Rapids, making good on a promise related to that original Big Trip six summers ago. Back then, we made it to most of Cedar Rapids' AM sites, including big guns such as WMT (600), but we didn't make it to one smaller AM station: locally-owned KMRY (1450).

It didn't take long, once we'd posted that original Site of the Week segment back then, for a letter to arrive from Rick Sellers. He's the owner of KMRY, and he wondered why we hadn't stopped in to see his little local radio success story. We wondered, too, in retrospect - and promised that the next time we were through Cedar Rapids, we'd fix our 2001 oversight and spend some time with Rick.

But our first contact with KMRY came not at the station's studios or at its transmitter site - it came a night earlier, when Rick was kind enough to set your editor and family up with tickets to see the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the city's venerable (established, in an earlier incarnation, in 1891) and much-loved Midwest League entry in the Angels' farm system. Not only did we enjoy nice seats behind home plate - we also got a nice tour of the very nice press box at the recently-rebuilt (2002) Veterans Memorial Stadium, courtesy of an office staff that includes a Tower Site of the Week fan! (Who knew?)

That's veteran Kernels broadcaster Jack Rodgers calling the game in the KMRY booth as the Kernels shut out the Dayton Dragons, 2-0.

The next morning, after a jaunt over to Dysart to see the KXEL transmitter site that we showed you last week, we headed over to 1957 Blairs Ferry Road to meet Rick and see his studios and to learn a little more about this nifty standalone AM and its owner.

Rick is a native of Akron, Ohio and a graduate of Miami University, but he's been in eastern Iowa since 1975, when he came to town as program director of KCRG (1600, now KGYM). The next year, he went to work at WMT and WMT-FM, taking a partial ownership interest in the stations and serving as their general manager until 1998.

That's when new ownership came in, and things began to change, and Rick decided to move on. Rick bought what had been KCDR, a kilowatt signal on 1450, and renamed it KMRY ("K-Memory"), assembling a staff that included veterans of WMT and several other area stations and building a facility that any small station would be proud of.

KMRY was an early adopter of HD Radio, and its adult-standards music format sounds quite nice over the AM digital system (more so, to our ears, than most of the talk formats that dominate the digital AM dial.)

The station is live and local in morning and afternoon drive, with a full newsroom anchored by Rick Sampson, who's been with the station since the seventies, when it was known as KLWW.

After a visit to the studios, we head out to the transmitter site along the Cedar River on the northwest side of town. With the help of Jim Davies, whose fulltime job is chief engineer of WSUI/KSUI public radio down the road in Iowa City, Rick's put together a truly textbook small AM site. There's a Harris Dexstar transmitter as the main, an MW-1 as the backup, and a venerable Collins 20V3 (made right here in Cedar Rapids, at the plant across the street from the WMT studios) as an additional backup. And how many transmitter buildings have you seen that are this carefully landscaped?

Oh - one more detail: Rick's done all this while being legally blind (though he has enough vision to read large print and drive short distances within the city.) He's truly a great radio guy, and we're sorry we didn't make his acquaintance sooner!

With many thanks to Rick, we head out of Cedar Rapids for one more run through Waterloo (which we already documented in the last installment) - and for a quick look out the car window at a few more Cedar Rapids sites we hadn't adequately chronicled back in 2001. On the aptly named Collins Road on the north side of town, right across from the Rockwell Collins plant that was once Collins Radio headquarters, we drive by the boxy building that remains home to the studios of both KGAN-TV (Channel 2, ex-WMT-TV) and the now Clear Channel-owned WMT (600) and WMT-FM (96.5), as well as KMJM (1360).

WMT-FM still broadcasts from the 707-foot tower out back, which was the original WMT-TV tower before that station moved north to the current Cedar Rapids tower farm north of Urbana, which we showed you back in part one of the Medium Trip saga.

Heading out of Cedar Rapids on I-380, we spot two more FMs off the east side of the highway. If I've got the story straight (and someone will surely correct me if I don't!), the first tower we pass, just south of Tower Terrace Road, is the 1089-foot stick that was the original home of KCRG-TV (Channel 9), before it moved north to the tower farm. It looks like there's still a Channel 9 antenna on top of the tower, which KCRG still owns; just below it is the eight-bay antenna of KZIA (102.9 Cedar Rapids). KZIA actually began life on another, shorter tower a mile north. This 505-foot tower belongs to Clear Channel now, but the station that calls it home is Cumulus' KDAT (104.5), which began life as the tower's original occupant, KTOF-FM. (There's a connection to Clear Channel there via the former KTOF(AM) on 1360, I believe.)

After our spin around the towers on Waterloo's east side, we're headed east on US 20 in search of some non-radio tourism.

The small town of Dyersville, 60 miles east of Waterloo, found a place on the tourism map as soon as the movie "Field of Dreams" became a hit. The farmhouse and field from the movie still exist off a dirt road just north of Dyersville, and they've become a favorite spot for baseball pilgrims of all kinds. Even late on this blustery afternoon (we've been chasing a stormfront across eastern Iowa, dodging rain as we drive), we're not alone out here - there's a college couple from somewhere back east re-enacting scenes from the movie on the field, and they kindly loan your editor a ball and a glove so he can "have a catch" with his little girl.

(One oddity: the field for the movie was actually built across two neighboring properties, and they don't get along at all. There's one gift shop near the farmhouse from the movie, which remains in the family that originally owned the field, and another separate "Left Field" parking lot and gift shop visible in the background of the picture above.)

A bit more baseball wraps up our day, as another 90 minutes of twisty driving through the hills that slope down to the Mississippi River brings us to the city of Clinton, Iowa, some 30 miles north of the Quad Cities. There's more Midwest League single-A action here tonight - the Clinton Lumber Kings (the Rangers' farm team) taking on our sorta-hometown Fort Wayne Wizards at tiny Alliant Energy Field. The Wizards shut out the Lumber Kings, 4-0, and we head off for a night across the river in Fulton, Illinois.

The next morning, we cross back into Iowa to see what the radio stations of Clinton look like. Technically, there are four of them, but the big FM signal in town, KMXG (Mix 96.1), has long since decamped down the river to the Quad Cities, where it's now part of the Clear Channel cluster there.

That leaves two AMs and an FM. The city's oldest station, KROS (1340), is the former AM sister to what's now KMXG, and I think its tower on 13th Avenue North is the original FM site as well. Up north of town on 442nd Avenue (a continuation of 16th Street in town), there's a two-tower array that's home to KCLN (1390), running 1000 watts by day and 91 watts by night, and to its sister FM station, KMCN (94.7). These Prairie Communications stations are sisters to another AM/FM pair in Muscatine, 60 miles down the river on the other side of the Quad Cities, and KMCN's "Mac FM" adult hits format is simulcast on KMCS (93.1) down in Muscatine.

And after our brief tour of Clinton radio, we head back across the mighty Mississippi one last time, eastbound on US 30 and I-88 to Chicago for an afternoon and evening of non-radio tourism that includes some mighty good deep-dish pizza and our third shutout ballgame in three days, as the White Sox lose to the A's, 4-0, at US Cellular Field.

That's it for the Medium Trip, and for Tower Site in 2007. We've got much more from our recent travels to recap for you in 2008, including some nifty Chicago and Milwaukee AM sites, plus our recap of "Big Trip 2007," a two-week odyssey that took us across Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and even some bits of eastern Washington and Oregon. We'll be back to kick it all off on Wednesday, January 2, after a brief holiday hiatus. In the meantime, you can hear IDs from Cedar Rapids next Wednesday at our sister site,, followed by IDs from Clinton and northern Illinois the following week. Enjoy the holidays!

Thanks to Rick Sellers and the staff of the Cedar Rapids Kernels for the tours!

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