December 26, 2001 - January 2, 2002
The Big Travelogue: Part Sixteen
Saturday, July 7 - Our last wakeup call on the road finds us in the Bluegrass Motel in Frankfort, Kentucky, gathering up our VCRs and cassette decks and cameras one final time as we load up the rental car for a very long Saturday that will conclude back home in Rochester.
There's plenty of towering to be done first, though, and we begin (having already covered the Frankfort site) a half-hour or so to the east along I-64, with a stop at the AM 1580 licensed to Georgetown.
The 10 kilowatt daytimer (with a whopping 45 watt night authority!) uses these three towers on Kentucky Route 1973 to send most of its signal south-southeast (away, ironically, from its city of license!) towards Lexington.
After a series of formats, including a stint as "1580 WSAI," duplicating much of the format and many of the personalities of its Clear Channel sister station up north in Cincinnati (albeit with the calls WTKT, mentioned very briefly once an hour), the station is now standards "Sunny," WSNE, a call that should sound familiar around Providence, R.I...
Back down US 62 we go, east again on I-64, and we're off to see the sites of Lexington itself.
The city is neatly arranged in a tight core with a ring road surrounding it, and we start on the northwest side of the ring, where Kentucky 1977 meets US 421.
Just north of 421, we see a Colonial-style building that might once have been the studios of WVLK, and behind it the four towers that still are WVLK, 590 on the Lexington dial.
The WVLK transmitter is in a little building to the right of the old studios (or whatever that building was). WVLK puts out 5000 watts by day, using two towers, and a kilowatt at night with all four (aimed mostly southwest).
A mile or so to the east, on Greendale Road off Kentucky 1978, we make our next Lexington AM stop: the three towers of WLXG (1300). The all-sports station runs 2500 watts non-directional by day; at night, it's 1000 watts into all three towers, aimed southeast at downtown Lexington.
The studios here are also home to two FM stations: soft rock WGKS (96.9 Paris) and hot AC WCDA (106.3 Versailles - say it "Ver-SALES"!)
From there, we head down to the south side of town for a visit to the new home of the Clear Channel cluster in Lexington. Just an hour or so south of Cincinnati, this was one of the first markets Jacor moved into when that group began expanding, and it's still something close to a "hometown" cluster for the world's biggest radio group.
We'd made contact the night before with Girard Westerberg, who's not only the chief engineer of the group but a prominent TV/FM DXer (check out his Web site at www.dxfm.com to see what he's DXing tonight!), and he's been kind enough to spend part of his Saturday morning showing us around the building, a former furniture store that's been home to more than a half-dozen stations for less than a year.
The cluster, when we visit, includes news-talk WLAP (630), whose former studios on Russell Cave Road were the old home of most of the cluster's stations; WSNE over in Georgetown; "Mix" WMXL (94.5), the old WLAP-FM; country "Bull" WBUL-FM (98.1); classic rock WKQQ (100.1 Winchester); CHR WLKT (104.5) and oldies "Majic" WMKJ (105.5 Mount Sterling). A few months later, still more stations would be added to the group, including WHIR down in Danville, but we digress. The building is largely empty on this weekend, with Prophet Systems voicetracking handling most of the on-air duties, but we get a nice look at a very well-equipped set of studio facilities (which we somehow forgot to photograph - but that's OK; Jerry and his engineering team have put the whole building on the Web for you, at www.radiolexington.com!)
Bidding Jerry farewell, we head off under darkening skies to spend one final hour in Lexington, on track to a lunch appointment in Cincinnati (more on that in a bit!)
Circling the ring road on the east side of town, we pass the WBUL tower and turn off on US 60, Winchester Road.
We're soon within sight of two tall TV towers, starting on the left, just past I-75, at 2851 Winchester Road and the stately studio of WKYT (Channel 27), the CBS affiliate for Lexington.
We admire the topiary on the lawn that spells out "WKYT 27," as well as the tall tower that holds WKYT and Citadel AC outlet WVLK-FM (92.9), then look to the east to see the equally tall stick of ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36).
We find WTVQ's studios at the base of its tower, with a big sign at the driveway displaying a logo eerily reminiscent of upstate New York's own WENY-TV in Elmira (though the two stations are not co-owned) and a nondescript one-story building set well back from Man-O-War Boulevard. Yes, they name major roads after horses here!
Back down US 60 we go, then, heading for one last rendezvous with downtown (where we'd eaten the night before, while rolling tape on the very good AAA music of the University of Kentucky's WUKY 91.3), starting on Russell Cave Road at the studio and tower of WLEX (Channel 18), the NBC affiliate in town.
If you've ever owned a Lexmark printer, you might enjoy knowing that the "Lex" in the former IBM printer division comes from "Lexington," and the headquarters are right next door to WLEX!
Their tower, shown above, is also home to Georgetown-licensed WXZZ (103.3), a modern rocker that's part of the same Cumulus cluster as WVLK, WVLK-FM, classic hits WLRO (101.5 Richmond) and oldies WLXO (96.1 Stamping Ground). Their studios are in a Vine Street office building downtown, near the Rupp Arena where the big NCAA basketball tournaments are played.
Just southeast of downtown, on the edge of the University of Kentucky campus, we find the Kentucky Educational Television studios. "KET" operates two statewide networks, one with nearly a dozen UHF transmitters and the other, fed from WKMJ 68 in Louisville, sent to cable systems around the Bluegrass State as "KET2."
The studios, on Cooper Drive, are among the biggest we've ever seen for a public broadcaster in this sort of market, and we're suitably impressed.
We don't find the studios of Danville-licensed WDKY (Channel 56) around the corner, but we did see the Fox affiliate's newscast the night before.
One more stop finishes Lexington for us: north of town on Russell Cave Road, the four towers of WLAP send out 5000 watts by day, 1000 watts by night in the same cloverleaf pattern.
WMXL and WKQQ both transmit from here as well; you can see their antennas in the photo at the top of the page, with both sharing the antenna on the tall tower as their primary and the one on the shorter tower as their auxiliary.
And with gray skies turning to heavy rain, the first of the trip, we point the car west on Kentucky 1973 and turn north on I-75 to begin the long drive home.
Two more appointments remain on our agenda, though; first, lunch in Covington, Kentucky with legendary tower hunter and AM coverage expert J.T. Anderton, who meets us at (yes, we said Covington!) the 12th floor headquarters of Clear Channel Radio itself for a tour of the place (including his own impressive set of tower photos covering his office wall) followed by a very long, leisurely conversation about all we've seen and done.
It's fitting, somehow, that our two weeks immersed in every variety of American radio should end here, at the epicenter of the changes that have rocked the business over the past few years. From the 12th floor, Clear Channel headquarters staff can quite literally download a new format to any of more than a thousand stations overnight.
It's easy to demonize Clear Channel; we know, we've heard all sorts of criticism of the company in e-mail, on message boards and in Salon. But to paint Clear Channel as the destroyer of all that is good and holy in American radio is, we now believe, to miss some important points.
Even if consolidation, to the degree allowed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has gone too far, Clear Channel is merely a symptom and not a cause. Lowry and Mark Mays and Randy Michaels had the funding and the motivation to roll up 1200-plus signals before anyone else, yes - but if they hadn't, someone else surely would have, and there's no guarantee that they would have been Broadcasters. Randy Michaels, and those working for him, are capital-B Broadcasters, with a passion for the history and legacy of the business that often goes unnoticed by those focusing on the job cuts and the voicetracking and the proliferation of "Mix"es and "Kiss"es and such.
And in the midst of the cost-cutting (in which, yes, too many good people have been left hanging) and the voicetracking (in which, yes, a few good formats and stations have been lost), the company has also taken more than a few mediocre (or worse) signals and turned them into listenable, professional-sounding, well-formatted, profitable operations.
These guys know what's been left by the wayside; they grew up doing the small-town radio that's become an endangered species, and some of them, at least, worry about where the next generation will come from now that the business has changed so dramatically.
Having solved all the problems of the world as we watch the Ohio River go by, it's time to say goodbye to J.T. and get going across Ohio.
The rain keeps falling as we head north again on I-75, turning off at the Tylersville Road exit to rectify a big gap in Garrett's tower-hunting life log with a stop to admire what may be the finest AM transmitter site in America: the big Blaw-Knox diamond tower of "The Big One," WLW.
I had been there once before (and you'll read about that 1998 visit in next week's Site of the Week), but Garrett had seen the site only in photographs. And after several minutes in the drizzle paying our respects to this icon of towerness (yes, the same one that graces the fybush.com home page), we got back in the car and headed east to I-71 and north to US 30.
Our final tower stop came a few hours later, as we turned off US 30 in Wooster to see WKVX (960) and WQKT (104.5), which share this self-supporter just south of the highway. Another hour or so later and we were in Canton, visiting fellow radio folk Clarke Ingram (who, irony of ironies, had just been ousted from his PD gig at a Clear Channel station in Pittsburgh) and W.T. Koltek and listening to the aftermath of the big call-and-format swap that had taken place a week earlier in Northeast Ohio while enjoying shakes and burgers at Steak and Shake.
And then it was over, after another six hours of driving through the August night. We pulled into the driveway of NERW Central about 3:30 Sunday morning, and Garrett was on his way back to Boston a few hours later.
We're glad you could come along!
Special Thanks to: George Molnar, WNDU; Brian Davis, KATF; Rod Haag and the staff of WNAX; Paul Swearingen; George Greene; Rob Walker, KLOU; Blaine Thompson, Indiana Radio Watch; Len Clark, WUEV; Rob Calhoun (even though we didn't get to Owensboro!); Girard Westerberg, Clear Channel Lexington; J.T. Anderton; Clarke Ingram; W.T. Koltek.
Very Special Thanks to: Garrett Wollman (who also deserves photo credit for several images this week and last!), and to Mrs. NERW, Lisa Fybush, for her unfailing patience in the face of trips like this.
By the way...we may have mentioned that we were rolling tape, video and audio, throughout this journey. We're still listening to the 160-plus tapes full of unscoped radio airchecks from every stop on the way - but there were a few things we missed! Your editor would love to hear from anyone who can provide IDs from the following stations on our route:
Please e-mail me if you're in or near any of these markets and might be able to grab some legal IDs to add to the collection; I'm in the midst of preparing an edited collection of all the IDs taped during the trip and would be happy to offer something in trade for anyone who can help complete the set, as it were. We were also rolling on local TV newscasts while on the road, and I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with access to TV from Sioux City, western South Dakota, western Nebraska, mid-Missouri, Louisville and Lexington who might be able to help fill in a few gaps there. Thanks!
Meanwhile...you 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!
This full-color, 8.5-by-11 inch, glossy calendar features a dozen exciting tower images, and it can be on your wall for just $15, postpaid! (NY residents include sales tax; US$20 postpaid to Canada).
Click here to see a sample page!
Most of our initial printing is already gone, but there are still about a dozen copies left, so it's not too late to send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush (that's me), to 92 Bonnie Brae Ave., Rochester NY 14618.
Your purchase of a calendar helps keep Site of the Week coming all year round...thank you!