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

December 12, 2008

Gaston County, North Carolina

As we wind down 2008 (we'll have one more new Site of the Week for next year, then go into "best-of" mode until the new year), we hope you'll take a moment to get your order in for the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2009, or better yet, show your support for Site of the Week and NorthEast Radio Watch with a subscription!

This week, we continue a multiple-installment "Little Trip," recapping our travels as we made our way to Charlotte, North Carolina for last year's NAB Radio Show.

We played hooky from the show for part of the afternoon to go tower-hunting with a corporate engineer of our acquaintance (and since his bosses don't know he was out tower-hunting with me, we'll let him remain anonymous for now) - and since both he and I had already spent some time on previous visits seeing the other towers of Charlotte (most notably the cluster of small AM sites northwest of the city and the TV/FM antenna farm to the northeast), we decided instead to head west and check out Gaston County, the next county west of Charlotte, where there have been some big changes on the tower scene in the last decade or so.

Before we made it to some of the new sites, we turned off westbound I-85 (southbound, technically, but the road goes east-west here) in Belmont, the first town across the Gaston County border, to check out an AM site we'd missed in our previous visit to the area in 2003.

WCGC (1270) is part of GHB Broadcasting's cluster of small stations in and around Charlotte, and when we stopped by, it was simulcasting a religious format with two other AMs, WHVN (1240 Charlotte) and WAVO (1150 Rock Hill SC). (A few months later, WAVO would go its own way with an oldies format.)

Look closely to see the actual towers here - it's not the STL tower directly behind the building; instead, WCGC's 10 kW day signal and 500-watt night signal come from those two towers way off in back at the right side of the frame.

Just a couple of miles to the northwest, we aim the long lens up toward the top of Spencer Mountain to see the birthplace of Charlotte TV. Spencer Mountain - at 1265 feet above sea level, barely a "mountain" as New Englanders or especially Westerners would understand the term - was nevertheless one of the highest points close to Charlotte back in 1949, when WBT added a TV sister station, WBTV (Channel 3), transmitting from a tower about 500 feet high up on the mountain. The site had actually been developed two years earlier for WBT-FM (then on 99.9, and eventually to be silenced in 1954 as FM went into its long hibernation), but it would end up in TV service for almost four decades.

By the nineties, however, WBTV's signal was being outclassed by newer stations that had (as we'll see in a moment) built much taller towers to serve the rapidly growing regions on the outskirts of Charlotte, where the Charlotte TV market shades into the adjoining Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville, Winston-Salem/Greensboro/High Point and Columbia, South Carolina markets.

So in 1984, WBTV moved off Spencer Mountain, putting up a 2000-foot tower about three miles northwest of its old site, in the rolling hills north of the town of Dallas, North Carolina. (We're now almost 20 miles west of Charlotte itself, by the way.)

This mighty tower today carries WBTV-DT (Channel 23) at its top, with the analog Channel 3 signal coming from a panel antenna directly below.

Below that is the successor to WBT-FM, today known as WLNK (107.9). The second WBT-FM came on in 1961 from Spencer Mountain, and went through a series of identities (WBCY, WBT-FM again, WWSN) before becoming "The Link" a decade or so ago, with a hot AC format that's gradually evolved into an unusual - and most interesting - FM talker aimed at women, anchored by the "Bob and Sheri" morning show, which is syndicated from Charlotte.

No, that's not really a 15-bay antenna carrying WLNK's 100 kW class C signal - it's an 8-bay Shively 6810 for the analog signal, interleaved with a 7-bay Shively 6810 for the digital signal (and an aux for the analog.) There's also another Channel 3 batwing side-mounted down the tower to serve as an aux for the analog TV operation - at least for the next few months!

Once WBTV had pioneered the northern Gaston County area for tall towers, other broadcasters quickly followed suit. What's now WLYT (102.9) moved into the Charlotte market from Hickory, where it's still licensed, with its 1987 sign-on from a 1491' tower near Alexis, a couple of miles northeast of the WBTV site. (We didn't get up to that tower on this trip, alas.)

In 1986, another entry in the 2000-foot club arrived in the area, as a group of local investors put up a 1943' tower off Old Willis School Road, just a mile east of the WBTV site, to hold the antenna of Charlotte's newest independent station, Belmont-licensed WJZY (Channel 46).

WJZY was soon sold to Raleigh's Capitol Broadcasting, which eventually transformed the station into a UPN (and now a CW affiliate). Capitol was also responsible for the second TV station to use this tower: WFVT (Channel 55), licensed to Rock Hill, SC, signed on from here in 1995. It later became WWWB, as a WB affiliate, and is now WMYT, the market's My Network TV outlet.

Three class C FMs now use this tower, too: WIBT (96.1 Shelby), WPEG (97.9 Concord) and WNKS (95.1 Charlotte) - and as best we can figure out the antenna picture here, it stacks up like this:

WJZY's analog antenna is, logically enough, up top (though with WJZY-DT staying on 47, there may well be more changes coming here)

Below that, the WMYT analog 55 and WMYT-DT (39) antennas are side-mounted on opposite sides of the tower, and below those, for now anyway, is WJZY-DT.

WIBT's 4-bay directional antenna is the highest of the FMs, and below that are the directional WPEG and non-directional WNKS antennas.

A mile or so to the southwest, off Philadelphia Church Road, we come to the most recent addition to the 2000-foot club. The 1968' tower of WPCQ (Channel 36) went up here in the late eighties (though its ASR records say 1992), when Charlotte's NBC affiliate was owned by Renaissance Broadcasting, which had purchased the station from Group W, which in turn had acquired it from Ted Turner, who ran it as WRET (Robert E. Turner) before selling it to finance the startup of a cable news channel. (What ever became of that project, anyway?)

WPCQ eventually became WCNC (Carolinas News Channel), and the move from the shorter tower behind its old studio location in Newell, northeast of Charlotte (in the vicinity of two other major Charlotte TV towers, ABC affiliate WSOC-TV 9 and Fox affiliate WCCB-TV 18) to the new tower near Dallas finally gave it signal parity in the market. Current owner Belo doesn't lease space here to any other broadcasters, so it's just WCNC and WCNC-DT (Channel 22) up here.

(You can see some pictures of the Newell sites on our Tower Site of the Week from our 2003 Charlotte trip, by the way.)

Two AM sites wrap up our tour of northern Gaston County: WZRH (960 Dallas), off Robinson Road just south of downtown Dallas, was going through some big changes around the time of its visit. Long known as WAAK, the station had recently been sold to Truth Broadcasting (part of the Epperson family of Salem Broadcasting fame), and had just added two more towers to its existing two-tower array in order to boost day power from 1 kW to 10 kW so as to better reach Charlotte. (Night power remains at 500 watts.) A few months after we stopped by, WZRH became WCRU, its calls better matching sister stations WTRU (830 Kernersville) in the Winston-Salem market and WDRU (1030 Wake Forest) in the Raleigh market.

Less than a mile to the south, just off the north side of I-85, a drive down Plyler Lake Road brings us to one of the newest sites in the region, the three-tower array of WDYT (1220 Kings Mountain). This 25-kw day, 110-watt night facility moved in from Kings Mountain itself, a few miles to the west (where it was a 1000-watt daytimer, having operated for more than half a century as WKMT), and when we were there, it was being operated by former WBT talker Danny Fontana with a heavy diet of local talk in an attempt to compete with his former employer.

Since then, alas, the combination of stiff competition and the abrupt end of Charlotte's long economic boom have gotten in the way of WDYT's ambitious programming plans; as of a few weeks ago, it's all syndicated talk on AM 1220.

We'll be back in a week with one more set of tower pictures from this trip before the New Year...see you then!

(One final note - in lieu of a Big Trip this year, we're coordinating this series of Tower Site of the Week presentations with weekly audio updates over at our sister site, Tophour.com, so be sure to head over there each Wednesday to hear the IDs we gathered as we made this trip last year, including a full run of Charlotte-market IDs.)