June 4, 2010

WREK, Atlanta, 2009

There are some cities where it's our habit to visit in a leisurely fashion; later this summer, for instance, we'll be spending the better part of a week in Boston, mixing radio fun with some of our other hobby interests. Then there are cities that, for whatever reason, seem to prompt a rush of activity. Later this year here on Site of the Week, you'll see the results of a whirlwind two-day train trip from Rochester to Chicago last June to see that market's analog TV just days before it went away.

Another market that always seems to get jam-packed with activity for us is Atlanta. Maybe it has something to do with the often dirt-cheap plane tickets that make it easy for a quick getaway, or maybe it's something about the friendly radio folks who go out of their way to show off the market - but in any event, our February 2009 trip to Atlanta was another nonstop whirl of studios and transmitter sites, much like our last two-day visit back in 2004 (chronicled here and in three previous 2005 installments.)

Our last stop before heading to the airport for our flight home was at the Georgia Tech campus, just across I-75/85 from downtown Atlanta.

Tech has a very long history of broadcasting, dating back to the early 1920s and one of Georgia's first radio stations, WGST. While that station eventually became a commercial outlet with no student involvement (and was finally sold to a commercial operator in 1973), a new student station, 10-watt WREK (91.1), made its debut from the Tech campus in 1968, using a homebrew transmitter built by student Geoff Mendenhall, who later went on to BE (where he designed the BE FM-10A transmitter that WREK would later use) and eventually to Harris.

Today, WREK is a 40,000-watt signal with modern studios in the student center (replacing the old studios in the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where WGST had operated from 1956 until 1975) and a transmitter site on the western edge of the campus.

When we stopped by in early 2009, WREK had recently inaugurated HD Radio operation, with a new Harris HD/HT+ transmitter and a new HD2 channel carrying a mix of WREK's music formats and providing a home for shows preempted by Georgia Tech sports coverage.

Outside the transmitter building, in the last gasp of daylight, we catch a glimpse of the 12-bay Jampro antenna on the self-supporting tower - and then it's off to the nearby Varsity restaurant for a quick bite to eat before the end of another very satisfying visit to Atlanta.

Thanks to Thomas Shanks for the WREK tour, and to Roddy Freeman for playing Atlanta tour guide and driver!

This Tower Site of the Week installment comes with audio over at TopHour.com, where you can hear a whole bunch of 2009 IDs from Atlanta - and in the meantime, we urge you not to miss your chance to grab one of the dwindling remaining stash of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2010, just in time to fill that space on the wall where your 2009 edition once hung.

(It's more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support!)

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