August 28 & Sept. 4, 2009

KSPN (KMPC), North Hollywood, CA

What you see above is a bit of history: the only photo we'll ever take showing both the new and old transmitter buildings for ESPN Radio's Los Angeles outlet, KSPN (710). In the foreground of this photo, taken August 7, 2009, we see the just-completed new building - and in the background, one of the nicest bits of Art Deco architecture ever to grace a transmitter site, the longtime AM 710 transmitter building that began to be reduced to a pile of rubble just a few weeks after this photo was taken.

In this week's installment of Site of the Week, we'll show you photos taken during two visits to this site on Burbank Boulevard a few blocks west of the Hollywood Freeway (134) - one just a few weeks ago, the other back in April 2008, on our way up to the NAB Show.

First, the building circa 2008: while it had been through some changes over the years, including the addition and removal of stucco from the exterior and the removal of the big "K M P C" lettering that once rose over the front door, it was easy to see the history inside. The building went up in 1942, when KMPC was a 10 kW station on 710, and was expanded to the east (to the right of the front door) in 1946 when day power increased to 50 kW. The result was one long, narrow transmitter room, with a Harris MW50 transmitter in the space near the door where the original RCA 10 kW had once been, then a phasing cabinet, and then the gem of the place: an RCA BTA-50F that filled most of the 1946 expansion space.

Where the control console for the RCAs once sat, later generations of engineers had installed new racks of processing and STL gear and, still later, a Nautel XL60 transmitter that served as the main rig for 710, which by 2008 had been through a few more sets of formats and calls: talk as "The Zone," KTZN; Radio Disney as KDIS; and then, after a swap with its Disney-owned sister station on 1110 (the old KRLA, Pasadena), today's ESPN Radio format and KSPN calls.

To the left of the front door and the MW50 were several small offices for the engineering staff that once occupied this building full-time, back in the days when KMPC was one of the market's (and indeed the nation's) top stations.

The mighty power transformers for the big RCA filled a room behind the transmitter, later used for storage after the RCA was decommissioned and partially dismantled.

Behind those sat another split-level addition to the building; upstairs was another engineering office, also later used for storage, while below that sat the air filtration for the transmitter room.

Out back, the three towers ran along a north-south line, protecting co-channel stations including Seattle's KIRO while throwing a big signal south into Los Angeles and down the coast.

Those towers were about the only part of the old KMPC that survived the big reconstruction project that took more than a year here - but they got a new paint job, a new ground system, new transmission line and new, more spacious ATU buildings, seen in the 2009 tower photo at right.

Gene Autry owned KMPC for many years, and his legacy was still visible here - "The Station of the Stars" decorated its transmitter building with stars, everywhere from the front door to the portico above to the sidewalk outside.

It's no surprise that a building like this, so close to Hollywood, was used by plenty of film and TV productions as a set over the years - even if it didn't have the words "50,000 WATT TRANSMITTER" emblazoned in concrete over the 1946 addition, it just screams "radio station," doesn't it?

(But don't believe the story making the rounds that claims that this is where Wolfman Jack's scenes in "American Graffiti" were filmed. That was all northern California - the studio sequences were shot at the old KRE in Berkeley, while the exteriors were shot at KTOB in Petaluma. Wolfman's not here, kid...have a popsicle!)

In any event, the 1940s-era KMPC building is gone now; historic though it was, it was simply too hard to renovate for today's requirements. Faced with the cost of everything from roof repairs to asbestos abatement to HVAC to ADA compliance, KSPN concluded that it made better financial sense to build a new building next door and to tear down the old one. Our visit earlier this month gave us the chance to see that work near completion: in the new building, a new Nautel NX50 transmitter and the XL60 from the old building sit across from a new Kintronics phasor. It may not be romantic, but it works awfully well.

And we leave you with one more photo: the exterior of KSPN's new studios, part of a larger ESPN complex including west coast SportsCenter studios and an ESPN Zone restaurant in the "LA Live" development across from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. We didn't get a chance to see inside, since the engineering staff was busy making the final tweaks to the new transmitter site - but we'll get back there on our next swing through southern California.

In the meantime, we're taking one more week off to attend the NRC/WTFDA convention in Allentown, Pennsylvania over Labor Day weekend - but we'll be back in two weeks with some Sites of the Week from the new Tower Site Calendar!

Thanks to Mike Tosch, Tim Ahern and X-Rey for the tours!

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