December 19-26, 2001

The Big Travelogue: Part Fifteen

There's nothing like a good road trip to get a feel for the state of radio these days. From June 23 until July 7, your editor (accompanied by Boston Radio Archives creator Garrett Wollman) hit the road to see what's on - and in - the air across a broad swath of mid-America.

For the next few installments of Site of the Week, we'll be recapping the many highlights of what we like to think of as The Big Trip, 2001 edition. Come along...

Click here for part one

Click here for part two

Click here for part three

Click here for part four

Click here for part five

Click here for part six

Click here for part seven

Click here for part eight

Click here for part nine

Click here for part ten

Click here for part eleven

Click here for part twelve

Click here for part thirteen

Click here for part fourteen


Friday, July 6 - We're driving across southern Indiana, in a hurry to spend a few too-short hours checking out the sites in Louisville, Kentucky, a market deserving of an entire day to itself. Unfortunately, the schedule (and our impending return to real life) intervenes, and we're forced to do the whole thing in just an afternoon. Still, that's enough time to at least capture the highlights of this gracious city.

Any tour of Louisville broadcasting has to begin on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, in some of the hilliest terrain the Hoosier State has to offer.

This area, a pleasant rise of land just northeast of the I-265 loop that surrounds the Louisville metro, is known as "Floyds Knobs," and it's home to most of the city's TV and FM broadcasters.

Our visit, following a quick lunch just off I-265, begins where Spickert Knob Road rises, 900 or so feet above sea level, to meet Skyline Drive near the crest of this north-south ridge.

Here we see the southernmost of the Floyds Knobs towers: nearly a thousand feet of steel that carries Fox affiliate WDRB (Channel 41) and UPN affiliate WFTE (Channel 58). A sign at the entrance to the transmitter buildings suggests that WFTE's official studio address is up here as well.

Looking just a bit to the north up Skyline Drive, we can see the tall tower that's home to the Louisville area's ABC affiliate, WHAS-TV (Channel 11).

A shorter aux stick to the west is apparently where WHAS-DT (Channel 55) transmits, but without a mobile DTV receiver, it's hard to be certain who's actually on the air with digital TV signals.

(But hey, that's part of the excitement of surveying the broadcast scene at this interesting transitional moment in technological history, isn't it -- sort of like driving the FM signals of, say, 1942!)

The WHAS building appears unexciting as we drive past, so we head north on Skyline, to a spot where it bends to the east and presents us with a nifty panorama of towers.

Just north of the road, behind gated access roads, we see (from west to east) WLKY-TV, the CBS affiliate on channel 32 (with DTV on 26); far to the north, WVEZ (106.9), with two bays on a mast at the top of its towers; an unpainted stick festooned with two-way antennas; and the tower shared by Kentucky Educational Television's two Louisville outlets.

WKMJ (Channel 68) was the original KET station here, but some years back, KET merged its operations with the Louisville Public Schools' own educational station, WKPC (Channel 15).

KET's main service moved down the dial to channel 15, and channel 68 became the broadcast flagship of "KET2," a secondary service seen in the rest of the Bluegrass State via cable TV providers. The KET tower is also home to a construction permit for WBNA (Channel 21), the WB affiliate that currently transmits from the southern side of the market on a tower we don't have the time to see this trip.

Across the street to the south, we see a bunch of FMs. WDJX (99.7) is on the taller one to the left; on the right, six FM bays are shared by an interesting group of public radio operators.

There are three public FMs in Louisville, and until a few years ago, two public radio operators.

The University of Louisville put WUOL (90.3) on the air in 1976 as the second classical station in the market. It joined a noncomm scene that already included two entries from the Louisville Public Library, news-talk WFPL (89.3), on the air since 1950, and its younger cousin, classical WFPK (91.9), on the air since 1954.

In 1993, the three stations incorporated the Public Radio Partnership, and by 1996 they had coordinated their formats to eliminate duplicate programming and fundraising. WUOL kept the classical format, while WFPL took all the NPR and PRI news and talk offerings. That freed WFPK to try something new, becoming "Radio Louisville," offering a diet of AAA music, bluegrass and jazz. We enjoy tuning it in as we drive around for the rest of the afternoon...

What we don't enjoy, particularly, is the encounter we have with one of the locals as we're taking these Floyds Knobs pictures. Unsurprisingly, the folks who live on these rural ridge-top roads suffer a lot of interference to their TV and FM reception, and they harbor deep grudges indeed. In the case of the gentleman who approaches us as we're taking our pictures, it seems to have devolved from a deep grudge to an irrational paranoia, though!

Despite (or perhaps because of?) the Maine plates and our very casual dress, our new friend is absolutely convinced we're from the government and there to investigate a link between these towers and cancer. He's also certain that we know much more than we're telling him, and that we're going to somehow generate a report that he won't be allowed to see. Sir, we didn't get your name - but here's the report, and as you can see, we were telling you the truth, even as you kept screaming at the car while we drove off!

Anyway...we head down from the ridge into New Albany, Indiana, where we find our first Louisville AM.

The 1080 station has been through many, many calls in the last few years, including a stint as a simulcast of WDJX-FM. At the moment, it's doing syndicated talk and standards as one of many Clear Channel outlets in this market, under the calls WKJK.

It's four towers, in any event, cranking out 10 kilowatts by day and a kilowatt at night from this site on Daisy Lane, sending its signal south-southeast towards Louisville (while nulling towards Dallas and Hartford, of course!)

New Albany is also home to a 1570 station, WXLN, but we don't see its single tower on this trip.

Instead, we wind our way through traffic in downtown New Albany and head east to Jeffersonville, Indiana, for our last Hoosier stop of this trip.

The 970 outlet that uses these two towers with 5 kilowatts day and night has a long history in the market, largely under the heritage calls WAVE.

Those calls disappeared a few years back, though, and since then the station has enjoyed several identities, including one as news-talk WLKY (sister to TV channel 32) and as WAVG, continuing the heritage of "WAVE" even after those calls were relegated to TV-only use on the NBC affiliate, channel 3.

A few months before our visit, though, Hearst-Argyle sold WLKY radio to Salem, and now the signal at 970 is cranking out conservative talk from Salem's network under the calls WGTK, which we remember from Middlebury, Vermont a few years back.

The WAVG calls, meanwhile, have landed on the Jeffersonville-licensed 1450 signal, which is using them with a classic country format that sounds pretty good despite the limited signal reach of that nondirectional kilowatt.

It's time for us to enter Kentucky for the second time this day, though, so we point the rental car south on I-65 past downtown Jeffersonville and over the bridge into downtown Louisville.

As we make that drive, we're airchecking some of the stations that we won't have time to see this day. At the bottom of the Louisville dial is WTMT (620), with ESPN sports from a site east of I-65 on the Indiana side. WJIE (680) from Newburg does gospel; WFIA (900) has more religion on its little signal (1000 watts day, 163 watts at night!) from the east side of Louisville, along the river; WLLV (1240) is still more gospel from just east of downtown; and WLOU (1350) is WLLV's sister station, also running religion from what appears to be a three-tower site west of Louisville.

We'll have to hit all of those next time we visit Louisville, though; for now, there's time just for some quick highlights before we're due to head east towards Frankfort, Lexington and dinner. First up is a drive past the downtown tower that's home to the 102.3 signal that was once progressive WLRS ("the Walrus") but is now urban AC WULV ("Love 102") under Radio One ownership. We see it as we park to get a shot of the most famous studio site in Louisville: 520 West Chestnut, the WHAS building.

The building at Fifth and Chestnut is home only to WHAS-TV these days, though; the radio and TV stations split ownership a few years back, with TV going to Belo and radio to Clear Channel, and it's been more than a year since Clear Channel moved all of its many Louisville properties to an office park on the edge of town.

Still, it's an impressive building, and a reminder of the long heritage of this old-line radio station. We pause for a moment to recall all the great music we used to hear on WHAS late at night, emanating from the basement of this very building, and then continue through downtown (including Muhammad Ali Boulevard, named for Louisville's most famous native) to the next TV destination on the agenda, over at 725 South Floyd Street on the other side of I-65. This is another case of a TV station that's parted ways with its radio heritage: WAVE-TV (Channel 3), the market's NBC affiliate. (WHAS was CBS for most of its existence, switching to ABC a few years back and causing a reciprocal switch at WLKY, channel 32.)

At first, we can't even see the WAVE building from the corner of Broadway and Floyd, just a sort of triangular canopy with a channel 3 sign (Garrett notes the similarity of the WAVE logo to the WFSB Hartford and WCAX Burlington "3" logos) that leads to a walkway into the WAVE studios.

As we continue down Floyd, though, we find the "front" entrance at the back of the building. This is one of the few photos that shows the trusty Grand Am that carried us halfway across the country; it also shows the old "WAVE" logo at left, complete with a stylized wave.

WAVE radio, as we noted earlier, is long gone, becoming today's WGTK 970.

From here, we make our way through downtown traffic to the northeast side of town, just south of the Ohio River,where we find Mellwood Avenue. Up on a hill, at number 1918, is the third "major" TV station in town, WLKY-TV. Under Hearst-Argyle ownership, this former also-ran has become a serious market player, complete with the standard Hearst-Argyle graphics and news music. And you've got to love that helicopter...

From here, it's time to hit the real highlights that close out our visit to Louisville. We head east on I-64 to the I-265 loop out in the far eastern suburbs and hop south one exit to route 155, and after a quick stop for gas at the corner of Tucker Station Road, we're on our way to the four tall sticks seen at the top of the page.

Those belong to another Louisville oldtimer, the station variously known as WAKY (in its big top-40 days) and WWKY (more recently).

Under Clear Channel ownership, that 790 signal (sending 5 kilowatts south-southeast towards Lexington and north-northwest towards Louisville by day, and 1 kilowatt west-northwest towards Louisville by night) became an all-sports signal, and just a few weeks before we pulled up it changed calls to WXXA as "Fox Sports 790."

WXXA, of course, is a callsign we know much better back east from the Fox TV affiliate on channel 23 in Albany, but since WXXA-TV is also owned by Clear Channel, the call-sharing is at least understandable.

One tower in this array is also home to Louisville rimshotter WTFX (100.5), still another Clear Channel property; you can see its bays at the top right of the photo at the top of the page.

And then, of course, came the real thrill of this Louisville excursion: back out to I-265, north for two exits, past I-64 to US 60, and then a few miles east to the little hamlet of Eastwood and north on Flat Rock Road.

It's there that we find the Louisville station everyone can list in his or her DX log: the mighty 50 kilowatts of WHAS (840), complete with one of the most graceful looking transmitter buildings we've ever seen.

Unfortunately, the sun is at precisely the wrong angle this late (5 o'clock) in the afternoon to get a very good picture of the tower, but then this doesn't look like an original piece of steel, either: it's unpainted and apparently strobe-lit. There's no sign of sister FM outlet WAMZ (97.5), which has an application to move to this site.

(One major tower that we miss completely is WAVE-TV; they're far to the northeast of the city along the I-71 corridor, and we're just not going that way; they make up for the omission with a nice aerial view of their very tall tower in their station ID announcement much later that night, though!)

Having properly admired WHAS, and vowing to return some morning when we can see the tower better, we pull back out to US 60 and head east towards I-64 and our overnight stop in one of America's smallest state capitals, Frankfort.

We check into our motel and set up the VCRs to roll on Louisville and Lexington news (having deliberately chosen a spot where the cable system gets both!), then head off for a quick exploration of this little town.

The statehouse isn't hard to find; it's by far the largest structure in town, as you'd expect from a place where the state government is by far the largest employer.

Downtown is cute, too, though we're not sure we actually saw the building that houses the local radio stations. WKED (1130) and WFKY (1490) make up the AM dial, with WKED-FM (103.7) and WKYW-FM (104.9) on the FM side, and it's not hard at all to see all their sites at once.

We'd been warned by a fellow tower hunter that the site listed for WFKY, on the west side of the river across from downtown, was vacant, and we'd also noted a CP for WFKY to diplex with WKED, so we had a feeling we'd find both at the same place.

Indeed, a turn west on state route 1005 from US 127 on the west side of town soon brought us to a prefab home, and behind that, the two towers of WKED and now WFKY as well.

WKED uses both towers for its 500-watt day signal, sending most of its energy southeast towards downtown; WFKY uses one of them (we're not sure which!) for its 1000-watt fulltime signal.

When we were there, WKED was running satellite standards (and we didn't hear anything that sounded like a legal ID, either!), while WFKY and WKYW-FM were simulcasting news-talk. A few months later, Clear Channel bought them both, along with the FMs, and we hear there have been format changes since then.

Somewhere along the way, we passed little stations like WKXF (1600) in Eminence, WCND (940 Shelbyville) and their ilk; we hear a few from Frankfort, but the magnificent ground conductivity we were experiencing a week ago in the upper midwest is long gone, and the rockier soil hereabouts doesn't carry AM signals as well.

That said, we're getting good signals on most of the Lexington dial from Frankfort, and with the promise of a nice dinner awaiting us (thanks, Mr. Wollman!), we call the tower-hunting quits for the night and set off for Lexington, food, and the anticipation of one more day on the road.

You'll read all about that very long day, including Lexington, Cincinnati, and more, next week here at Tower Site of the Week...see you then! can still enjoy the Big Trip's lovely KFAB view and eleven more favorites from Tower Site of the Week all year long, if you order the Tower Site 2002 Calendar!

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