February 1, 2008

Humboldt Ave. TV/FM Towers, Milwaukee

It's a new year here at Tower Site of the Week, and a new set of travel pictures to start us off. In August 2007, your editor and Mrs. Editor spent a few days traveling from her native Fort Wayne to Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and then back to Fort Wayne via Rockford, Illinois, and along the way we had a chance to see some very significant broadcast sites.

One big goal of the trip was to pick up some loose ends from one of the more enjoyable stops we've made in recent years. Our 2005 Big Trip (featured here on Site of the Week in two installments, here and here, in 2006, and subsequently in a later piece for Radio World, where we used to have a column) included about a day and a half in Milwaukee, which was not nearly enough time to see all the broadcast history that the Brew City had to offer. And even though the main purpose of our Milwaukee stop this time wasn't radio-related, we still managed to work in a few of the sites we'd missed the last time out.

This week, we continue our "catch-up" visit to Milwaukee with a stop at one of the busiest tower sites in town. The two towers at the end of North Humboldt Avenue are part of a cluster of towers lining the banks of the Milwaukee River about five miles north of downtown. The oldest of these sites, near the corner of Humboldt and Capitol Drive, belongs to WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) and WKTI-FM (94.5); just across the river to the east is the giant self-supporter of WITI-TV (Channel 6), and south of Capitol is a guyed tower that holds the analog sites of WCGV (Channel 24) and WVCY-TV (Channel 30). (There's also a shorter tower to the west on Capitol that's home to Clear Channel's WRIT 95.7.)

The site we're paying attention to this week was the last to be developed in this area. WTMJ had been in place here since 1947, WITI since 1962, and WCGV since 1980. The WITI tower had become overloaded by then, holding not only WITI but also the city's two public TV stations, WMVS (Channel 10) and WMVT (Channel 36). In the meantime, as we learn from Dick Golembiewski's excellent Milwaukee TV History site, independent WVTV (Channel 18) was looking for a better tower site than its longtime home atop the Schroeder Hotel (later the Sheraton-Schroeder, the Marc Plaza, and now the Hilton) in downtown Milwaukee.

The licensee of WMVS/WMVT, Milwaukee Area Technical College, owned the land at the end of Humboldt, and it reached a deal to let WVTV build a tower for all three stations there. The 1100' tower, topped by a distinctive "goalpost," entered service in the spring of 1981, and soon began to take on radio tenants as well. WFMR (96.5, later WMGF and now WKLH) was the first FM here, arriving in 1982. Later on the scene was WEZW (103.7 Wauwatosa), later WAMG and now "Kiss" WXSS, and it was in the company of WXSS chief engineer Chris "Doc" Tarr that we visited the site on this sunny August afternoon.

Chris has done a lot of work in a small space here, replacing an older Harris FM20H3 with one of the first Nautel V10s in late 2005. The V10 serves as WXSS' HD transmitter - and can also be switched into service, if need be, as an analog backup to the BE FM 30T, the station's main analog transmitter. (It puts out 2.1 kW in digital mode, 10 kW as an analog aux.)

Chris and Chicago engineer Mike McCarthy rigged up an unusual layout for the antenna switching and HD injector: with no space for them on the floor, they're mounted up in the ceiling!

(Where's the HD reject load? Look at the photo of the transmitter building - it's hiding behind that picket fence!)

Across the parking lot from this tower is the big building that houses all the transmitters serving the newest Humboldt tower.

This 1212', three-armed candelabra was built in 2002 as a joint project of WMVS/WMVT and American Tower, which operates the facility. It's now home to the analog signals of WMVS/WMVT, their DTV signals (on channels 8 and 35, respectively), DTV signals for Sinclair's WVTV (61) and WCGV (25), Pax/ion's WPXE Kenosha (40) and religious WVCY-DT (22) - and to two radio stations that recently moved over from the WCGV/WVCY analog tower less than a mile away, WLDB (93.3) and WMIL (106.1). It's become a very busy site, indeed.

We'll wrap up this Milwaukee visit in next week's Tower Site installment (even as we think about when we can get back to see still more sites that deserve a closer look in this most interesting market) - and we've got Milwaukee legal IDs for your enjoyment over at our sister site, Tophour.com, too!

Thanks to Chris Tarr for the tour, and to Dick "Nitelinger" Golembiewski for all the historical research!

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