February 25, 2011

Two Rivers and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 2009

Over the last five years, this column has crisscrossed the Badger State several times. There was the Big Trip of 2005 that covered most of Wisconsin's big markets, a return trip to Madison and Milwaukee in 2007, and the 2009 visit that we've been chronicling for the last few weeks.

This week's installment finds us in a corner of the state we missed completely in the 2005 and 2007 visits: southeast of Green Bay on the shore of Lake Michigan, two hours north of Milwaukee via I-43, we present the towers and stations of Two Rivers and Manitowoc, as visited during a sweaty August Saturday afternoon on the way back to Fort Wayne.

Our tour guide this day is a familiar face in the broadcast engineering community: Mark Heller is a board member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, and he's one of those rare station owners who's as comfortable proofing an AM DA as negotiating a trade with the local Cadillac dealer.

Mark's own station in the market is our first stop this day: WGBW (1590) isn't the only station licensed to Two Rivers, but it is the only station actually located on the Two Rivers side of this small market, and it makes sense to start here as we work our way from north to south en route to Milwaukee, Chicago and "home" to Indiana.

We find WGBW's transmitter site on Highway 42 just north of the compact downtown area, which is bifurcated by the dual rivers that give the town its name. There are two towers at the site, notwithstanding that it's a non-directional station: the actual AM tower is the painted one, while the other one provides Mark with a nice stream of rental income - and will continue to do so after WGBW moves away. (It has a CP to relocate to the Green Bay suburb of Denmark, boosting power from its present daytime kilowatt to 10 kW days, 200 watts at night.)

And it's not the first station to move to Green Bay from this site, either: it was briefly home to WTRW-FM (97.1), which subsequently moved to 97.5 in Glenmore, Wisconsin as WTAQ-FM, simulcasting news-talk WTAQ (1360) in Green Bay. (The WTRW calls were long heard on 1590, too.)

From the WGBW site - and a quick swing past the downtown studios so Mark can pick up his mail - we're off to the somewhat larger city of Manitowoc, a couple of miles south of Two Rivers. There are two ownership groups here, and some odd sharing of tower sites between them. Consider: above at right is the studio of Cub Radio's WCUB (980 Two Rivers) and WLTU (92.1 Manitowoc) on Mirro Drive, off Highway 42 on the north side of town. But that tower out back? It has WLTU on it, yes...but it also has an AM/FM pair belonging to another owner, Seehafer Broadcasting's WOMT (1240) and WQTC (102.3).

WOMT is a very, very old station: it dates to 1926, when it signed on from the Mikadow Theater (owned by one Francis Kadow), with calls standing for "World's Only Mikadow Theater," which it surely was. It's had only three studio locations in all those years: the theater until 1967, the Wisconsin Fuel & Light Co. building until 1980, and the present facility on Mangin Street, on the city's west side, ever since.

WOMT's FM sister, WQTC, actually started its life in 1965 as an FM sister to Two Rivers' WTRW, and it wasn't until later on that it joined forces with WOMT, leaving 1590 as a standalone AM.

Today, WOMT is a full-service station of the kind that's increasingly rare in small cities like Manitowoc; WQTC does classic hits as "Q102.3," and Seehafer has added a third station as well, WLKN (98.1 Cleveland), which we'll see in our next installment as we head south toward Sheboygan.

But before we get to Sheboygan (and just after a lunch stop at Culver's, always a must-stop when we're in the vicinity of Wisconsin) there's one more AM to be seen: WCUB's four-tower array down the road from said Culver's, on Viebahn Street just off I-43 on the south side of town. This array went up when WCUB boosted power from its old 1000-watt daytimer status (licensed, back then, to Manitowoc) to its present 5 kW DA-2, licensed to Two Rivers but shooting right over the heart of Manitowoc to get there. WCUB, incidentally, does country ("Cub Country 980"), while sister station WLTU (which started in 1966 as WKUB-FM) does oldies - as does WGBW, at least for now.

From here, our recap of this 2009 trip continues south to Sheboygan...but in the meantime, you can hear some IDs from Two Rivers and Manitowoc beginning Wednesday on TopHour.com...

Thanks to Mark Heller for the tours!

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