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September 4-11, 2003
The AM Stations of Flint, Michigan
been more than four years since we rolled through Flint, Michigan
- at the time no more than an afterthought on a weeklong trip
that took the intrepid tower-hunting team of your editor and
Boston's Garrett Wollman up to Sudbury and North Bay, Ontario,
into the studios of the legendary CKLW and down to the magnificent
WJR site south of Detroit.
At the time, we thought the dead AM facilities we were chasing
were stations like Sudbury's CHNO 550 (still on the air in July
1999, but now gone), Sarnia's CKTY 1110 (just silenced that summer)
and Leamington's CHYR 710/730 (already gone then, but with one
tower still holding CHYR-FM).
Little did we know as we drove around the cluster of AM towers
southeast of Flint that within a few years one would be history
and another would be heading for the (figurative) showers.
Speaking of showers, did we ever get pelted with rain as we
headed from the border crossing at Port Huron over to Flint!
A sudden summer storm forced us to seek shelter under an overpass
on I-69 - and just look at the water that collected in the parking
lot of WWCK (1570/105.5) by the time we made it over there late
in the afternoon. At the time, WWCK was simulcasting its top
40 format on AM and FM from this facility just east of downtown
on Lapeer Road (backing up to I-69); today, AM 1570 does ABC's
"Rejoice" black gospel format. (Nearby, but not shown
here, is the two-tower site of WFLT 1420, also programming black
Head south on Dort Highway (M-54) from WWCK and within a few
miles, you'll be in Burton, Michigan, where three AM sites are
lined up in close proximity along a stretch of Burton Road barely
a mile long.
First up, if you're
heading east on Burton from Dort, is a three-tower site that
belongs to WTRX (1330), which runs 5000 watts by day and 1000
watts at night from those old self-supporters. WTRX was then
doing a sports format simulcast with WMAX (1440) over in Bay
City; today, WTRX is still all-sports, but WMAX has gone to Catholic
Next up, just south of Burton on a little road that leads
back to the Flint Rifle & Pistol Club and the F.O.P. Lodge,
is another three-tower site. These three monopoles belong to
WFNT (1470), another 5000/1000 watt operation that programs ABC's
"Stardust" satellite format.
The building at the base of the towers, which you can just
make out in the shadows there, is also the studio complex for
Regent's Flint cluster, which included AC "Cars 108"
WCRZ (107.9 Flint), rock "Banana 101" WWBN (101.5 Tuscola)
and has since added two more stations.
And just east of WFNT and the Regent complex, at the corner
of Bristol and Howe Road, are the three towers of WFDF (910),
yet another 5000/1000 watt operation that was doing news/talk
for Cumulus (and enjoying a heritage that dated back to 1922)
when we stopped by.
Little could we
have guessed how much WFDF would change in the ensuing four years:
it was sold to ABC about a year ago, and that meant the start
of a process that will end with WFDF far away from the city where
it got its start.
There hasn't been a window open for major AM changes since
ABC bought WFDF, so any changes thus far have required that the
station remain licensed to Flint - but it's amazing what creative
engineers can still work out within those limitations. You see,
at the same time ABC bought WFDF, it picked up daytimer WFRO
(900) down in Fremont, Ohio, thus giving it the opportunity to
eliminate the major obstacle to a southward move for the station.
A few months later, ABC applied to build a new eight-tower array
for WFDF more than 50 miles away from its current site. The new
site would be located near the Monroe/Wayne county line, south
of Detroit, blasting a very directional 50 kilowatts back north
at Flint (and over most of Detroit) during the day; night operation
would stay in Flint, at least until an AM window opens up to
allow a city of license change. Did we mention that WFDF changed
format to Radio Disney along the way?
At this writing, the WFDF move remains on hold thanks to neighborhood
opposition to the new eight-tower site, but we suspect it'll
get done eventually, relegating these three towers to the history
But by the time WFDF finds its way to the history books, it'll
have company. Within the last few days, wrecking crews have been
hard at work just a couple of miles south of Burton Road, taking
down a site that brought top 40 music to Flint for many years.
The four-tower facility on South Center Road in Grand Blanc
began its life on April 27, 1947 as WTCB, but most people in
Flint still remember AM 600 by the calls it took a year later:
WTAC, "The Auto City." It's hard to see in this picture
(the sun was right in my eyes!), but WTAC had four self-supporting
towers in an oblong configuration here, behind a brick studio
building that began life as a private home and was later expanded.
For a few years, WTAC begat WTAC-TV, which operated on channel
16 from a studio building on Lapeer Road. As with so many UHF
stations of the era, it was a financial failure, signing off
midway through the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. WTAC eventually
sold its TV studios to the new WJRT-TV 12, a late VHF drop-in
that came on the air in 1958 (and is still there, albeit with
some renovations that were just getting underway in the summer
When we visited AM 600 in 1999, it had recently changed calls
to WSNL and was running a religious format, still with a blowtorch
of a signal from that old site. The land under those four towers
was evidently valuable for more than just AM radio, though; this
week's news brought word that WSNL has sold the site and taken
down three of the four towers. It'll use the fourth with lower
power (the four towers ran 1000 watts day, 500 watts night) until
a new transmitter site can be built southwest of Flint next spring.
The studio building will meet the wrecking ball next week, as
station operations have moved to 5210 S. Saginaw Street.
Wish we had better pictures of the old site...
Some late-breaking tower news: On Thursday afternoon, the
950-foot WAAY-TV (Channel 31) tower on Monte Sano Road, overlooking
Huntsville, Alabama, collapsed, killing three members of the
SpectraSite crew working on it.
The tower was built in 1977, and was being modified for the
addition of WAAY-DT (Channel 32).
We visited WAAY as part of our Huntsville
visit in March 2002; for some reason, we didn't show the
WAAY-TV tower as part of our page on the visit.
This is what it looked like; our condolences to the family
and friends of the workers killed in today's tower fall.
(That's WAAY's old tower at right; it was being used as an
auxiliary tower while DTV work was progressing on the main tower
- the analog antenna and "top cap" of the tower were
being removed - and was back in service on channel 31 later in
Tower Site Calendar 2004 is NOW AVAILABLE! Click
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Scheduling Note: We've already been knocked off schedule
this summer by a blackout - but be prepared for another brief
hiatus in Tower Site of the Week updates sometime in the next
couple of weeks. With the impending arrival of Baby Fybush any
day now, we may miss a week sometime in September - so if there's
no Site on Sept. 11 or 18, you'll be able to guess why. Thanks
for your patience! (And yes, Baby Fybush will get to take her
first tower trip this fall, stopping in Toledo en route to the
grandparents in the midwest...at which point we'll keep going
to the Windy City to get some more exciting sites for your enjoyment.