Edited by Tower Site's own Scott Fybush - and available now in print or as an e-book!

August 15, 2008

The Big Trip 2007, part XV: Twin Falls, Idaho

It's become an annual tradition here at Tower Site of the Week - load up the tape decks and the DVD recorders and the cameras, line up a bunch of station tours, gather a few friends, and hit the road for as much as two weeks of in-depth exploration of the radio and TV environment in some scenic part of this great nation of ours. Then we come home and share it all with you, in pictures here on fybush.com and in audio (of legal IDs) over at our sister site, tophour.com.

"Big Trip 2007" covered parts of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon over two weeks in late August and early September.

Day Eleven - Monday, September 3, 2007

This week's installment finds us in another one of those towns that, but for one significant distinction, we knew almost nothing about before setting off on Big Trip 2007.

Twin Falls, Idaho is a long way from pretty much anywhere - just under two hours southeast of Boise on I-84, just over two hours north west of Salt Lake City on I-15 and I-84, TV market 191, radio market 236 - and even that's only because of the presence of the ridiculously wealthy Sun Valley/Ketchum ski community making up the northern fringe of the market, two hours' drive from downtown Twin Falls.

It was Labor Day afternoon when we set out from Boise (after a late morning and leisurely lunch, a welcome break from the breakneck Big Trip pace) and made our way out I-84 to begin our exploration of the Twin Falls market.

The first stop was about halfway between Boise and Twin Falls, in the military town of Mountain Home, best known for its eponymous Air Force base. There's one AM station here, KMHI (1240), playing classic country as part of the Tester Radio Group. Look closely at the little KMHI studio building and you'll see a second sign here as well, promoting top-40 "KTPZ The Music Monster," 99.1 FM. That was KMHI's sister FM station, licensed to Mountain Home, but when we arrived in the fall of 2007, Tester had just completed a realignment of signals that moved The Music Monster off 99.1 and over to a newly-licensed signal on 94.3 in Hazelton (east of Twin Falls).

That freed up 99.1 to target listeners in Boise as a talk-sports hybrid called "99.1 the Man," KTMB. Tester used boosters on Table Rock, just southeast of downtown Boise, to bring KTMB and a sister station, oldies KAYN 100.7 Gooding, to listeners in the big city. In the summer of 2008, Tester pulled the plug on both formats, flipping the signals to a simulcast of ABC's True Oldies and changing KAYN's calls to KQLZ, a nod to True Oldies honcho Scott Shannon's use of those calls on his late-80s "Pirate Radio" in Los Angeles.

Two more stops completed our survey of the AM dial between Boise and Twin Falls: 90 miles outside of Boise, we turned off I-84 to the east on US 26 and headed into Gooding, where KRXR (1480) broadcasts in Spanish, often heard at night by DXers reporting its full 5000-watt daytime facility, and frequently (as when we passed through) without benefit of legal ID, either. (That thing in front of the building in our picture is apparently a funky flagpole.)

There was a full legal ID at our next stop, classic country KART (1400) in Jerome, another 15 miles to the southeast and about the same distance north of Twin Falls. KART's sister station, "Mix 103" KMVX (102.9) operates from these studios as well - and these two stations are sisters (under the Lee Family Stations umbrella) with several other signals in the market, as we'll see in a moment.

By late afternoon, we're in Twin Falls, passing the eponymous falls as we drive south on US 93 over the Snake River Canyon, just a few miles west of the spot where Evel Knievel made his famous motorcycle jump back in 1974. (See - Twin Falls is famous for something!)

After a quick stop at the hotel to set up the DVD recorders for the local news (about which more in a moment), we head off to see what there is to see in town, beginning with a cluster of studios on Blue Lakes Highway (US 93) and Falls Avenue just a few blocks south of our hotel. KMVT (Channel 11) is the big local TV station here, a CBS affiliate (formerly KLIX-TV) that also operates CW and My Network subchannels on KMVT-DT. It's almost directly across the street from KXTF (Channel 35), the Fox affiliate that operates as a satellite of Pocatello's KFXP (Channel 31).

Two more Lee Family stations operate from studios just south of KXTF: top 40 "Buzz" KZDX (99.9 Burley) and country "Kat" KKMV (106.1 Rupert) apparently share space with a nail salon at 953 N. Blue Lakes Boulevard. Lee Family has two other AM stations on the eastern edge of the market, and we didn't get to their sites some 30 miles away from here: KFTA (970 Rupert) does regional Mexican from the Bustos "Gran D" network, while KBAR (1230 Burley) is a mix of oldies and talk.

Just around the corner from KXTF and KZDX/KKMV is an office building at 834 Falls Avenue that houses Twin Falls bureaus for Boise's NBC and ABC affiliates, which each operate LPTVs to serve the Twin Falls market. NBC is on KTFT-LP (Channel 38), relaying KTVB (Channel 7), while ABC is on KSAW-LP (Channel 51), relaying KIVI (Channel 6); each carries local Twin Falls ads and some community calendar information, otherwise serving as a straight relay of the Boise parent station, including Boise newscasts.

(A few notes before we leave the topic of Boise TV: KXTF carries a 9 PM newscast from sister station KFXP in Pocatello, which is in turn produced by KFXP's sister station, NBC affiliate KPVI; as a result, Twin Falls viewers have a choice of local news from Twin Falls itself on KMVT, from Pocatello on KXTF, from Boise on KTFT and KSAW, and even from Salt Lake City via KSL-TV, which lingers on the cable system as a reminder of the days when the only local signal in town was Channel 11. KLIX-TV/KMVT served for many years as an affiliate of all three networks, later yielding ABC to Channel 35, which started out as KKVI, a relay of Pocatello's KPVI. The Channel 35 switch to Fox and the sign-on of the LPTVs came in the late nineties. There's also PBS, via Idaho Public TV's KIPT Channel 13. And there's the elusive KBGH Channel 19, which carries tele-courses from the College of Southern Idaho when it's on the air, which it wasn't during our visit; rather than build out KBGH-DT 18, the college will apparently surrender its TV license next year. More recently, the market has added one more commercial station - KIDA Channel 5 from Sun Valley carries a non-stop diet of infomercials, and is seen in Twin Valley on cable.)

Enough TV: let's get back to radio! Continuing south toward downtown Twin Falls on US 93 brings us to Addison Avenue, US 30, where we turn west and keep going back out of town a couple of miles. It's out here that we find the stations of Locally Owned Radio, LLC, which is tied in with the Tester stations in the Boise market (the aforementioned 99.1/100.7, as well as the KSRV-FM 96.1 move-in from the other direction.)

The tower out back carries the 5000/1000-watt non-directional signal of "Supertalk 1270," KTFI, the city's oldest AM station, having signed on in 1928. The building here is also home to studios for KTFI's sister stations on the FM dial: "The Music Monster" at its new home, KTPZ (94.3 Hazelton); modern rock "I-Rock" KIRQ (102.1 Kimberly, which signed on just months before our visit); classic rock KIKX (104.7 Ketchum) and country "Canyon" KYUN (106.7 Hailey).

Just a mile or so to the southeast is the short tower and big antenna of oldies KLIX-FM (96.5 Twin Falls), running 100 kW at just 130 feet above average terrain. (This tower is a reminder of how late Twin Falls was to the FM game; KLIX-FM signed on here as the city's very first FM station - in 1974! The only older FM signal in the market is Jerome's KMVX, which is just four years older.)

KLIX-FM was part of the Clear Channel cluster when we visited, and we find its studios at 415 Park Avenue, on the south side of downtown Twin Falls. The rest of the cluster consists of news-talk KLIX (1310 Twin Falls), country KEZJ-FM (95.7 Twin Falls) and an LMA of classic rock "Snake" KSNQ (98.3 Twin Falls), and the tower out back belongs to KEZJ (1450 Twin Falls), once part of this cluster but now part of Boise State University's radio network, relaying news/talk/weekend Spanish KBSU (730 Boise).

Clear Channel sold this cluster not long after our visit, and these stations, like their former Clear Channel sisters across Idaho and Montana, now belong to Gap Broadcasting.

KLIX operates from a four-tower array (5 kW non-directional day, 2.5 kW directional night) out east of town, near the spot where US 30 bends to the south and Idaho 50 continues east. It's a fairly recent array, apparently built in 1982 to replace an earlier site closer to town.

Two more radio sites on the east side of Twin Falls complete our tour of the city itself, and one of them represents the only association that "Twin Falls" had with "radio" in our mind before the trip.

Yes, Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, heard across the country via translators of its KAWZ (89.9) and KEFX (88.9), really is here in Twin Falls, and its headquarters at the intersection of Falls Avenue East and Champlin Road is surprisingly modest for such a national religious radio powerhouse. When we visited, Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls had just recently settled a messy fight with a sister-entity-turned-rival, California-based Calvary Satellite Network, and the church was apparently still a bit touchy about publicity, at least judging by the questioning that we got just for parking alongside the road outside the church and snapping a few pictures.

Heading back to our hotel via Falls Avenue, we pass an interesting-looking church steeple on Eastland Drive, which turns out to be Amazing Grace Fellowship, licensee of KAGF-LP (105.5 Twin Falls). With 100 watts from those two bays on the steeple/tower, KAGF more than covers the city, and it wins our "cool tower award" for the day, too.

Day Twelve - Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We save one more site for the next morning as we're headed out of town. Flat Top Butte, 4275' above sea level and about ten miles north of Twin Falls via US 93, is home to most of the TV and FM signals in town. I'm not absolutely sure of who's where, but here's my best guess: The tower at left is home to the Tester/Locally Owned stations, KTPZ (94.3), KIRQ (102.1) and KMVX (102.9). The first guyed tower to the right of the phone pole appears to be KTFT-LP (38), along with Boise State's KBSW (91.7) and KTFY (88.1 Buhl), a relay of Boise religious station KTSY 89.5. The tallest tower, and the only one visibly painted in this picture, is KMVT (11), with public TV KIPT (13/DT 22) on the shorter tower next to it. I think that's KMVT-DT (16) on the very short tower next to that, and then KAWZ/KEFX on the self-supporter to the right of that. At the extreme right of the picture are KXTF (35/DT 34) and KEZJ-FM (95.7)/KSNQ (98.3).

Those ominous clouds would dog us for most of the rest of this penultimate Big Trip day. In next week's installment, we'll show you the rest of the day's travels in Idaho Falls and Pocatello, and in the meantime, stop by our sister site TopHour.com and hear the sounds of Twin Falls next Wednesday!